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After the disastrous results of his last expedition, Carl Denham leaves New York aboard a ship to escape all the trouble. After a mutiny, he and a few companions are left behind on Skull island, where they meet a smaller relative of King Kong and make friends with him. Written by
Michael Zolk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Little Kong fights the Nothosaurus in the cavern following the discovery of the treasure they are both reflected in the glass used in the process shot superimposed on Denham and the girl in the background. See more »
The cast credits in the opening titles identify the character played by Helen Mack as "Hilda", but nowhere in the story itself is she given a name other than her stage billing of "La Belle Helene". See more »
Of the films in what I like to call the Great Ape Trilogy ("King Kong," "The Son of Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young"), this is my pet favorite. I loved "The Son of Kong" as a kid but hadn't seen it in years until I rented it recently from my local public library. Was it as good as I remembered? No -- it was even better!
This movie generally gets a bad rap, and I admit that some of the criticisms are valid: It was rushed, it can't compete with "King Kong" in terms of spectacle or horror, it's a light dessert after a steak dinner. Because it's a sequel, it is fair to compare it to the original, and in some respects the comparisons are unfavorable. It's not exactly "Bride of Frankenstein" or "The Godfather Part II." But it's a wonderful film in its own right.
The best thing about "The Son of Kong" is that it makes perfect sense. Carl Denham (played, as in the original, by Robert Armstrong) is being sued by practically everyone in New York for the death and destruction caused by King Kong. That's exactly what would happen, not just in 1933, but especially today, which gives this old movie an unexpected freshness. Also, because of severe budgetary and time restrictions, the filmmakers knew they couldn't make another spectacle, so they wisely went in the other direction. The result is a smaller and far more lighthearted film whose titular character is a charming innocent who acts exactly the way a young ape would act. He's curious, he's playful and he's friendly, but he's also suitably ferocious when attacked or when protecting his human friends, as a watchdog pup would be.
There's also a sweetness and compassion about this film, not only in the kindly attitude toward animals, Little Kong in particular, but in the relationship between the remorseful Denham and the lonely Hilda, touchingly played by Helen Mack, a beautiful and underrated actress who gives what I think is the best performance in the picture.
"The Son of Kong" is wonderfully atmospheric, mainly in the scenes on Skull Island but also in those in Dakang and aboard the Venture. Considering they were so rushed to finish the film, the animators and technicians did a superb job, especially the great Willis O'Brien, who reportedly didn't like the final product. That's too bad, because he did some of his best work on this movie, as evidenced by Little Kong's alternately thrilling and amusing fight with a giant cave bear, by the cataclysmic storm and earthquake that rock the island, and by some of the small touches that set O'Brien apart from everyone else in his field. Kudos also go to Max Steiner, whose musical score is almost as good as it was in "King Kong."
Then there's the humor, which is delightful, contrasting nicely with the darker and sadder aspects of the film. It's provided primarily by Mickey the process server (played impishly by Lee Kohlmar) and, of course, by Little Kong himself. Yes, it's slightly overdone a couple of times, as when Little Kong scratches his head and anthropomorphically shrugs in a display of confusion, but overall it's a welcome and essential element.
In addition to Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack, the actors play their parts well. Frank Reicher (returning as Capt. Englehorn), Victor Wong (back in an expanded role as Charlie the cook, whom he plays with dignity and a certain twinkle), John Marston (marvelously slimy as the villainous Helstrom) and Ed Brady (as a surly mutineer) round out a good cast.
Ruth Rose's script is witty, gritty and realistic. It has been criticized for borrowing, clichés and all, from plenty of timeworn tales, but I don't care. For me, it works. And the finale can mist the eyes of even the strongest man.
All in all, "The Son of Kong" is a terrific, if brief (only an hour and 10 minutes), adventure. It's also a love story, as well as a tale of heroic sacrifice and ultimate redemption. I'm happy to say that one of my favorite childhood movies is now one of my favorite adulthood films, too. Here's looking at you, kid.
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