We’re holding a King Kong Kountdown to the December 14 release of Peter Jackson’s epic remake, starting with the first sequel to the original, available on its own or as part of the King Kong Collection


Son of Kong

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack

Written by Ruth Rose

Cast:

Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham
Helen Mack as Hilda
Frank Reicher as Englehorn
John Marston as Helstrom
Victor Wong as Charlie

Premise:

The monstrous success of King Kong (1933) had viewers and studio executives demanding a sequel. Despite the time-consuming techniques used to create Kong and the various prehistoric creatures, RKO had a follow-up film in theaters before the end of the year. Shorter than its predecessor, The Son of Kong also has an entirely different tone. Kong had distilleed old-style yarns, pulp adventures, Victorian ideas about Darwin and dinosaurs, and Hollywood exotica into an original adventure film with a good dose of horror. The sequel retains many of these elements, and audiences once again go seafaring to a lost world, but the fright factor has been reduced. Whereas Kong had been a monster with heart but also terrific rage, his son is a bonafide hero with a clownish side. The original Kong had drawn some sympathy from his audience, and this film chooses to develop that aspect of the giant ape. Son tames the beast, making him a friend and a source of amusement.

Kong, it turns out, brought Carl Denham disastrous luck; everyone in New York City wants to sue the explorer/filmmaker for damages caused by the monster’s rampage. In an Asian port town he receives a dubious tip regarding Kong’s treasure. In need of money, he returns to Skull Island which, inexplicably, has not become the object of scientific research. He’s accompanied by the treacherous man who had originally provided the map to the island, a fearful crew who have mutiny on their mind, and pretty Hilda, who stows away after the death of her father.

Denham, his captain, his cook, and Hilda soon encounter and assist the young, fair-haired ape. He becomes attached to them, an oversized Quasimodo with a special fondness for Hilda, but a boyish fondness. We see none of the primal lust his father had for Ann Darrow. Like his famous father, he’s a fighter, but he he fights in defense of his newfound human friends. His opponents include a prehistoric cave bear and a bizarre sea creature unknown to paleontology.

The one opponent he cannot defeat is an earthquake, which destroys the island and its fantastic fauna. It also provides the young ape with the opportunity to die a hero.

High Point:

Despite problems with the effects noted below, the film does a remarkable job investing Kong Junior with a believable, child-like personality. The fight scenes also stand out. When done well, the old stop-motion animation has a charm which today’s more sophisticated, realistic computer-generated effects cannot seem to duplicate.

Low Point:

The original Kong came in two sizes. Promotional claims may have made Kong fifty feet high, but he was scaled to appear just under twenty feet while on Skull Island, but he stood slightly higher in New York City. This subtle shift goes unnoticed by most viewers. His son, however, changes size visibly, often within the same scene.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. Basically, this is a softened return to familiar territory. However, it treats the title character differently, and it’s one of the few monster movies to deal, in a fashion, with the practical consequences of having a giant creature trash part of a city.

Effects: 5/6. They aren’t as good as King Kong’s, but they remain landmarks of their time. Obviously, they are less impressive now. Like his father, Kong Jr. conveys a believable personality.

Story: 4/6.

Acting: 4/6. Helen Mack stands out among the human performers; the others do passably well, and little more is expected from them.

Production: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6. The Son of Kong does not match the original film in quality, but it remains an entertaining adventure. A model ape once again gives the winning performance, and the movie itself ranks above most of the original film’s imitators.

In total, Son of Kong receives 28/42, +1 for period charm, so 29/42.

Our Kong Kountdown will include Mighty Joe Young (1949), King of Kong Island (1968), King Kong (1933), King Kong (1976), and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).

A variation of this review first appeared at E2