"Chang" (1927)

Produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Distributed by Paramount
Released 1927.
It was filmed entirely on location in Siam (Thailand). When reissued a few years ago, a new score was written by a well-known Bangkok composer and performed by one of Thailand's world-famous orchestras of traditional music.

The Story

The story of a farmer and his family who have settled a small patch of land on the edge of the jungle. Their existence is a constant struggle against the many wild animals around them-- bears, tigers, leopards, elephants (changs). The climatic elephant stampede is still one of the most exciting scenes in cinema history.

The film was the prototype for Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's later masterpiece, "King Kong," but it is a an entertaining film in its own right. In 1966 Cooper said that "Chang" was "still the best picture that I ever made."

Exciting Beginnings

The two directors had exciting beginnings. Cooper attended Annapolis, left before graduating, joined the army and spent time on the Mexican border chasing Pancho Villa. Reaching France in late 1918, he saw service as a pilot in the Signal Corp, and just before the war ended he was shot down by the Germans and was in a German prison hospital when the Armistice was signed. He left the army and joined the Poles, flying with the Kosciusko Flying Squadron, who were fighting the Bolsheviks. Shot down again, he spent ten months in a Bolshevik prison camp near Moscow before escaping. Returning to New York, Cooper worked as a reporter for the New York Daily News and The New York Times. When he learned that explorer Captain Edward A. Salisbury was planning a world cruise, he applied for and was chosen to join the expedition. When the expedition's cameraman absconded after a typhoon, Cooper suggested as his replacement a young combat photographer he had met in Poland. The photographer, Ernest B. Schoedsack, had been a cameraman for Mack Sennett at Keystone, and during the war he had served as a combat cameraman for the Signal Corps. After the war he continued as a newsreel cameraman.

When the Salisbury expedition reached Africa, Cooper and Schoedsack began filming a documentary on Ethiopia, but after shooting a great deal of film, a fire destroyed the film and the expedition ship. Deciding to make another documentary, they returned to the United States where they borrowed money and also acquired money from a new partner. The new partner was Marguerite Harrison, an adventurous journalist who had provided food for Cooper while he was imprisoned in Moscow. They then traveled to Arabistan to shoot their first documentary, "Grass," that was such a financial success that Jesse Lasky offered to release it through Paramount.

With the financial backing of Lasky, Cooper and Schoedsack then traveled to Siam and produced "Chang," another outstanding documentary. Their collaboration extended into fiction films, and their most famous was "King Kong" in which Schoedsack's wife, Ruth Rose, collaborated on the script. The film has remained a classic. Cooper, after serving as vice-president at RKO, gave up directing and became a producer. In 1936 he became vice-president of Selznick International Pictures. During World War II he served in China with General Claire Chenault, and after leaving the service, he formed his own production company, Argosy Pictures, with John Ford. His last film venture was "The Best Of Cinerama" in 1963. Schoedsack's last directing effort was the prologue of "This Is Cinerama" in 1952.

The Reviews

"Chang" received very favorable reviews:

Variety, May 4, 1927: " . . . best wild animal picture ever made."

Photoplay, June 1927: "Major Merian Cooper and Ernest
Schoedsack, those two young chaps who filmed 'Grass,' have returned from the Siamese jungles with this new study in elemental life. It compares favorably with Robert Flaherty's 'Nanook' and 'Moana' and provides a big dramatic kick of its own . . . Chang shows the eternal battle between man and nature. The protagonists are a native, his wife and their three children, not to mention a pet white gibbon."

copyright 2004 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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