Friday, December 20, 2013

Worth Mentioning - 80 Years of Laughs, Thrills, & Pathos

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody marks the 80th anniversary of a monstrous adventure.


Upon its release in March/April of 1933, King Kong proved to be such a huge success that RKO Pictures immediately greenlit a sequel. Executive produced by Merian C. Cooper, the man who had the original idea for Kong, produced and directed by Cooper's Kong co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, written by Schoedsack's wife Ruth Rose, and again featuring amazing stop-motion special effects by Willis O'Brien, The Son of Kong reached theatres on December 22, 1933, just over nine months after its predecessor had its first premiere.

The film picks up with showman/filmmaker Carl Denham just one month after the events of King Kong. Due to how his New York presentation of the giant beast went, Denham is now flat broke, hounded by the press, and facing multiple lawsuits, both from people who invested in the Kong show and from those who were injured by the giant ape's rampage. When word comes down that he'll be receiving a grand jury indictment, Denham escapes from New York on the ship that took him to and from Kong's uncharted natural habitat of Skull Island. The ship is again captained by a man named Englehorn, who's afraid he'll be charged with something himself for transporting Kong, with a Chinese man named Charlie still working as the ship's cook.

The men intend to make a living hauling freight in the East Indies, but don't get off to a great start. During a stop in the port of Dakang, they take in a show - Petersen's Famous International Show - that promises "musical monkeys and sagacious seals". The show ends with a performance by Petersen's daughter, a guitar strumming woman named Hilda, whose stage name is La Belle Helene. The show isn't very impressive, nor is Hilda's singing voice, but watching her perform dredges up the old showman within the seaman that Denham has become - she has potential because she has personality. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the ability to take her anywhere anymore... But fate does end up bringing them together.

After the show, Petersen is killed in a drunken confrontation with his drinking buddy, a disgraced ship captain named Helstrom. The show's tent, which doubles as Petersen and Hilda's home, burns to the ground in the ensuing fire. With no home, no show, no way to fend for herself, and knowing that Denham is a nice guy, Hilda stows away on Denham and Englehorn's boat... unaware that Helstrom is also on board. As it turns out, Helstrom is the man Denham originally got the map to Skull Island from. By telling Denham that there's buried treasure on the island, Helstrom uses his acquaintance to book himself a getaway from Dakang and convince Denham to return to Skull Island.

The ship's crew is less than eager to reach this new destination, and a mutiny leaves Denham, Englehorn, Charlie, Helstrom, and Hilda stranded on Skull Island with its angry natives and prehistoric creatures. 41 minutes into the film's 69 minute running time, the titular beast finally makes its appearance.

The Son of Kong (the question of who his mother might be is unasked, unanswered, and probably best left unpondered) is a 12-foot-tall albino gorilla, baby-minded and kind-hearted. Denham and Hilda quickly get on Little Kong's good side by helping him escape from a patch of quicksand, which Denham feels compelled to do because of the regret he has over what happened to King Kong. Due to this saving act, Little Kong becomes a helpful companion to Denham and Hilda on the island, and like his father before him he ends up engaging in fights to the death with other creatures as the humans look on.

It all builds up to an utterly absurd ending that seems designed to make sure, for some reason, that there could be no third installment in the series.

Unlike King Kong, The Son of Kong is not a great film. Compared to the first, it's a disappointment. It feels like a cheaper rush job; smaller in every way, it lacks the excitement and the spectacle. When I watch it, I'm left feeling that they could've done so much more with this movie. Even when it gets to the creature action in the final twenty minutes, it doesn't reach the level of the earlier picture's creature action.

Yet when you cut The Son of Kong some slack and take it on its own merits, it is still an entertaining little movie. The creature action may not be awe-inspiring in the way King Kong's was, but the quality of O'Brien's effects did not decline in the slightest, what's there is still a delight to behold.

The actors all deliver fine performances, with Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher, and Victor Wong reprising their roles as Denham, Englehorn, and Charlie. Helen Mack is a great addition as Hilda.

Ruth Rose knew going into the film that there was no way to match what they had done with King Kong, and there's a quote from her that goes, "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier." There is more humor throughout the film, and the antics of Little Kong (or Kiko, as he was called during production) have a comedic slant to them, which makes him fun to watch in a different way than King Kong was. The same can be said for the film as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. I went into Son of Kong with beaming optimism, and I was fully expecting that I'd love it...and I got burnt. While I like the idea of following on with Denham, as well as having he, Englehorn, and Charlie as the main charactes, I found this film to be a drag. I agree-If they had waited a year or so, maybe they could have produced a better script.