Son of Kong, The (1933)

The Son of Kong (1933)

SEE! The cannibals! The earthquake! The sea serpent! The fighting monsters of ages past!

After King Kong’s rampage through New York, filmmaker Carl Denham is counting the cost. Penniless and faced with numerous lawsuits served against him, he is approached by Captain Engelhorn, the captain of the ship of that brought Kong to New York and who is also facing charges, with an offer that the two men flee to avoid their inevitable prison sentences. After attempting to make money by shipping cargo around the Dutch East Indies on Engelhorn’s ship, they bump into Norwegian Nils Helstrom who originally sold Denham the map to Skull Island. He convinces them that there is great treasure hidden on the island and together they set sail to find it. But when they get there, they discover an ape that they believe is the son of King Kong.

 

After the phenomenal success of King Kong in 1933, a sequel was rushed into production. But Ernest B. Schoedsack was told that he would have a lower budget and would be only given six months to make the film so that it would be ready for release by Christmas…in the same year! That’s a harsh production schedule for any fantasy film to adhere to given the amount of painstakingly-detailed stop-motion animation shots on display, let alone the sequel to one of cinema’s titanic classics. And let’s face it, no sequel was ever going to be able to top the original for sheer spectacle.

Not many people are aware that King Kong spawned a sequel based around his offspring (the whereabouts of Mrs Kong have never been revealed but I hope she didn’t bolt on them both!) but The Son of Kong deals with just that. It’s hardly a lesser remake of the original like many a sequel is, though it shares many similarities once Denham and co. arrive on Skull Island by putting the human characters in danger from hungry beasts. This one goes off on its own tangent a little more thanks to Kong Jr. only being about twice the height of a normal man and not a giant ape. Plus it doesn’t end up back in New York but history repeating itself twice would have been a stretch too far.

The story picks up a few weeks after the events of the original, with distraught and disgraced Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) being the main character now – neither Fay Wray or Bruce Cabot return to their roles. Armstrong said that this was his favourite film out of the two as it gave Denham more character to play with. He’s right – he’s no longer a maverick producer with visions of dollar signs running through his brain but a man broken by tragedy. The responsibility that Denham bears for Kong’s death weighs heavy on him throughout the film and his sombre apology to Kong Jr. is rather heart-warming in its sincerity. Denham truly feels remorse for what happened and Armstrong is able to channel that to good success, even if there are few moments when the old Denham tries to break out. Frank Reicher resuming his role as Captain Engelhorn also adds some continuity to the film’s links with the original. However Fay Wray’s replacement, Helen Mack, doesn’t play a pivotal role in the film and has blatantly been cast as a damsel-in-distress for the sake of casting. Beauty did not kill the beast in this one.

But apart from Denham traversing a nice character arc between this and the original, The Son of Kong is clearly a rushed production which doesn’t deliver anything like the qualities of King Kong. It’s only a little over sixty minutes long and it takes the characters nearly half of the film to arrive on the island. Whilst the film eventually picks up pace when it gets to the island, things pick up too late and they’re over way too quickly to leave any lasting impression. Once on the island, the handful of human characters are put in peril with the island native beastly inhabitants desperate to make a meal out of them. And Kong Jr. is on hand to save the day.

Kong Jr looks alright to say that the animation was rushed along in six months by Willis O’Brien. He doesn’t have the same awe and majesty about him that his dad did and his less-than-imposing height and albino look does more to appeal to children than anything. The animation isn’t as complicated as it was before but O’Brien understands the need to give Kong Jr. the same sort of quirky mannerisms that his father had to add personality and humanity to the character. It’s hard not to warm to Kong Jr. in a way that we couldn’t with his father and it adds more emotional impact to the teary-eyed finale which was never going to top the infamous ascent to the top of the Empire State Building but does a good job of doing the best it can with the circumstances. The lasting impression that Kong Jr. makes on the audience is surprising given how little he’s on the screen but he’s a credit to the stop motion animation of Willis O’Brien. If only Denham and his gang had arrived on the island a little earlier in the film to give the film more of an overall impression.

 

More friendly in tone and approach than its predecessor, it can’t compete for spectacle or horror with King Kong but, like the infant ape on the screen, The Son of Kong is hard not to feel some affection for. It’s blatantly a missed opportunity however and it would have been interesting to see how much better it could have been had everyone been given a year or two to make it.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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