Sunday, April 13, 2014

#1,336. Son of Kong (1933)

Directed By: Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher

Tag line: "Laughs! Thrills! Pathos!"

Trivia: Recordings of Fay Wray's screams from King Kong were used in this movie

Following the runaway success of King Kong in 1933, RKO approached Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack about making a sequel. Naturally, the studio wanted to rush it into theaters as quickly as possible, thus giving the two men only a limited amount of time to put something together. The resulting film, Son of Kong, was released nine months after its predecessor, and while it’s definitely a step below King Kong, the fact that it’s a decent movie, considering how quickly it was produced, is itself a minor miracle.

We pick up one month after King Kong tore New York City apart. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), the man responsible for bringing “The Eighth Wonder of the World” to America, is facing numerous lawsuits, and has just learned the Grand Jury is going to investigate the disaster, which could result in jail time. Looking for a way out of this situation, Denham hooks up with Englehorn (Frank Reicher), the ship’s captain who helped him bring Kong back, and agrees to accompany him to the Far East. While attempting to take on cargo in the Dutch port of Dakang, Denham befriends a young lady named Hilda (Helen Mack), whose father was murdered by Nils Helstrom (John Marston), the Norwegian Captain who originally gave Denham the map of Kong Island. Looking for a way out, Helstrom tells Denham and Capt, Englehorn there’s still treasure on Kong Island, leading the two men to quickly change course. But Helstrom is working an angle of his own, one that might just maroon his new “partners” on the island where their troubles first began.

As a sequel to what is arguably the greatest monster film ever produced, Son of Kong is something of a letdown, they key problem being the majority of the movie is spent away from Kong island, following Denham as he attempts to put his life back together. It’s not that these scenes are bad; on the contrary, Robert Armstrong takes advantage of the added screen time to flesh out his character more thoroughly (in the end, he even gets the girl). But, alas, very few people go into Son of Kong wanting to know more about Carl Denham. They want an exciting, action-packed movie that rivals the original, and Son of Kong isn’t it. Once the group finally arrives on the Island, the special effects take over (one of the film’s more thrilling moments comes when a Triceratops chases several characters through the jungle), but this entire sequence, while effective, is also abbreviated. And as an unrelated aside, if “Little Kong” is King Kong’s son, what happened to Mama Kong?

I have to admit that, even with its weaknesses, I enjoy Son of Kong. Robert Armstrong does a decent job carrying the action forward in the early scenes, and the special effects (once again provided by Willis O’Brien) are, at times, on par with the original. Taken for what it is, Son of Kong is an entertaining diversion. But if its action and thrills you’re after, re-watch the classic original.

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