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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.
King Kong is the benchmark against which all the monster films for the
past 70 years have been measured. Some- like Gorgo, and the Godzilla
series, have certainly exceeded Kong in terms of mayhem and carnage,
while others, like the Jurassic Park franchise have used the latest CGI
technology to, (technically at least) surpass the painstakingly crafted
models brought to animated life by Willis O'Brien. However, Kong
himself has defied the ages.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for The Son of Kong. This film has been much-maligned, and some of the criticism is justified. Still, The Son of Kong is an entertaining, if not magnificent film. Son has the distinction of being the first monster movie sequel: probably, ironically, this is the reason it could not live up to its predecessor. Since the plot has already been discussed at length in other comments, I won't rehash it here.
Considering the phenomenal financial success of King Kong it seems incredible RKO did not allocate a bigger budget for The Son of Kong. In this day of multiple movie franchises, the opposite is often true: each sequel gets a bigger and bigger budget (though in most cases an inferior script). In 1933 however, despite King Kong's huge profits, RKO was still floundering, and the front office considered Kong's success a fluke. They weren't willing to invest more money for a bigger sequel; instead they believed the first film's popularity would 'sell' it, no matter what the quality. Thus, only about half of King Kong's budget was allotted for the sequel. To make matters worse, only about eight months was allowed for its production! Under such circumstances, the Son of Kong was virtually sabotaged from the start. Even so, the film had elements of style and technical polish that salvaged it from being a total loss. The Son of Kong can be considered a legitimate (if not auspicious) heir to his mighty father.
What I find interesting is that the film was promoted back when first released as a 'serio comic phantasy' though little of it was intentionally funny. Robert Armstrong (once again as Carl Denham) was allowed a wider range of emotion, and had some humor imbued in his character, even allowing the formerly hard-boiled Denham to 'crack up and go sappy' for the dark haired Hilda (played by Helen Mack). Likewise, Frank Reicher (as Captain Englehorn again) and Victor Wong (Charlie the cook) got a lighter treatment than the original film, but for the most part the actors played it 'straight.' Likewise with the prehistoric denizens of Skull Island- the Styracosaurus was a definite, if brief, menace, as were the cave bear, the quadruped dinosaur that enters the treasure cave, and the sea monster. In fact the only real comedian was little Kong himself- and sadly, that's the part that jars me the most. In a film that looked as carefully crafted as the original, complete with impressive glass paintings, miniature jungle sets, and even improved compositing, the almost cartoonish style in which Kong Jr. was animated undermines what could have been. Willis O'Brien, who'd labored so hard on King Kong, had reservations over the sequel and script, and supposedly did not contribute that much to the overall picture. Also, tragedy struck during production when Obie's estranged wife shot and killed their two sons, then attempted suicide. It's small wonder Obie had little enthusiasm for the Son of Kong, and for the rest of his life he was reluctant to discuss the film. Instead, it was Obie's assistant Buzz Gibson who completed much of the stop motion. It's possible both Obie and Gibson animated different scenes with Kong Jr., for the ape's animation is smoother in some sequences (for instance, when Denham bandages Kong's over-sized middle finger) than in others, possibly due to Obie's ability to handle more 'subtle' gesture and performance.
Max Steiner, King Kong's composer, created an original (if not quite as memorable) score for the Son of Kong, although during the climatic submersion of Skull Island, much of King Kong's score was inserted, probably due once again to budgetary restrictions. One interesting note about the score; whether it was intentional on Steiner's part or not, he derived a three-note motif for the conniving, cowardly Helstrom (portrayed by John Marston) that is an exact reversal of the famous three-note theme for King Kong. Musically, this unconsciously underscores the fact that indeed, Helstrom is Kong's opposite: while Kong was ferocious, fearless and yet chivalrous and tender with Fay Wray, Helstrom is full of human failings. As the bad guy of the picture, Helstrom isn't a larger than life villain; just an inept drunk who konks his drinking companion with a bottle of booze, killing the man unintentionally. He lies, incites mutiny, and finally tries to abscond with the castaways' only means of escaping the doomed island. He basically represents someone nearly all viewers may have known at one time or another. In other words, Helstrom is a loser.
Overall, the Son of Kong is something of a missed opportunity. There is much of King Kong carried over into this film, due largely to most of the first film's crew (from director Ernest B Schoedsack on down) having worked on this sequel. Considering what little budget and time was allotted, it's a wonder what sumptuous and engaging visuals they were able to deliver. On the other hand, had Willis O'Brien's personal fortunes been kinder, perhaps little Kong would have been given a little more dignity. Next time you decide to view King Kong, try to follow it up with his nearly-forgotten offspring. You may not be as awed, but as sequels go, it's a fine way to spend an hour and some minutes. As a moderately-scaled adventure, and as a footnote to an enduring classic, it's worth taking that extra journey back to Skull Island.
It's one month after the King Kong fiasco and Carl Denham can't get a break
from the relentless stream of reporters and lawsuits hounding him. Kong
might have caused a lot of damage and killed a few people, but don't you
think that Denham is awfully sorry about it all? And was it really his fault
that the chains weren't strong enough? Maybe not, but with a grand jury
about to determine otherwise, Denham decides it's time to take a long ocean
Poor Denham must've done something to insult Poseidon, though, because no matter how much he wants to avoid it, he gets blown right back to Skull Island. This time he's looking for a treasure, but when the ungrateful natives force him to land on a remote part of the island, he immediately stumbles upon the orphaned Son of Kong. He knows this because of the obvious family resemblance. We never do find out what happened to Mrs. Kong.
The original was the greatest special effects film ever made, and for reasons more than just the outstanding effects. Any attempt to duplicate this, particularly in a quickly made sequel, could not possibly have come close and would have been nothing more than a shameless attempt to make some quick cash. In other words, a typical Hollywood sequel. The creators of Son wisely do not make this attempt. Instead, using the original's subtle satire of the film industry as its starting point, "Son of Kong" becomes a broad parody of Hollywood movies in general and of the original "King Kong" itself.
At one hour and 10 minutes, this movie is exactly the right length of time. No gag or idea is drawn out for even a moment longer than it is capable of sustaining. The special effects are still excellent, but are now secondary to the antics of the characters, including the comic mugging of Kong Jr. himself. Make no doubt about it, this film is no "King Kong" - but it's not a typical Hollywood sequel either.
No one ought to expect lightning to strike twice. No one ought to expect a
sequel to King Kong, easily one of the greatest films of all times, to be
that great, especially one cranked out in only 8 months, as this one was.
Plus, the budget of this one was less than 1/3 the budget of the original.
This is why the special effects are so few (and so much less than those of
the original). Still, Son of Kong is some fun RKO entertainment. Robert
Armstrong is back as Carl Denham, and he is good, although a little weary
after his adventures in the first one (it has been a month since Kong died).
Fay Wray does not return, and they have replaced her character with a
stowaway girl played by Helen Mack. No, she's no Fay Wray, but she's cute
and likable. Charlie, the Chinese cook, is back with a bigger part. Although
he seems nothing more than a racial stereotype now, for the time his role
was probably seen in a better light. He may speak pigeon-English, but he's
seen as a human being by the other characters.
The son of Kong is unfortunately more humanized than Kong was (they tried to make him seem more like a curious animal, which I think was the right decision), but he's a chip off the old block, at least when it comes to monster fighting. The animation is cruder, but it is passable. It's a decent flick that runs at only 70 minutes. Don't expect too much more. 7/10
Kong's small son stars in a small movie. Its greatest assets are its
amusing effects sequences designed by the legendary Willis O'Brien and the
vibrant playing of its female star, Helen Mack, who admirably succeeds Fay
Wray in the series. Only the wooden Armstrong has returned from the Kong
Sr. cast (as far as I know).
This one aims more for laughs than thrills, correctly assuming that audiences fully exposed (already) to Kong's menace could only be affected in a diminished degree if they had tried to follow similar lines in the sequel. Thus, it is more similar to the director's (and O'Brien's) later collaboration with John Ford, "The Mighty Joe Young", but it's not as charming or fun as "Young".
This was a pretty decent sequel to one of the greatest films of all time. Of course, when it first came out it was pretty much a flop. This was due to the fact that it had a lot to live up to, especially since it was released just a relatively short time after the original Kong was released. However, taken alone this film does hold up well as a nice little adventure film and for a change of pace the big ape is not a vicious and destructive creature, but rather a cute and gentle imp who when pushed is a fighter. Also, what is nice about this film is the fact that Denham gets the girl for a change. In the original he was too driven to have a relationship, but at least in this film you are allowed to see his softer side. This film, though not a classic like its predecessor, is still a great film.
A great little film (about 65-70 minutes) that's every bit as
entertaining, though not quite as dramatic as "King Kong". This film
has it all. The early part of the movie gives a gritty and realistic
depiction of the squalid little fever ports of the South Seas where an
old tramp steamer would have gone searching for cargoes in the early
part of the 20th century. The atmosphere, down and out characters, and
their pathetic circumstances are straight out of a Joseph Conrad novel.
It should be noted that Merian C. Cooper, who produced both this film
and its precursor, was a former World War I aviator who became a real
life "Carl Denham", producing a number of high adventure and "cannibal
and jungle" documentaries (often a loosely applied term) that were
popular with movie audiences of the times.
After what amounts to a Marxist mutiny (led by a mate known as "Red") the principal players eventually reach "Kong" island in the boat in which they were cast adrift. There they meet up with Kong Jr., a sweet, playful giant gorilla who's nevertheless no slouch when it comes to fighting other monsters to protect his human friends. The movie becomes a bit too cutesy towards the end and almost seems to be rushing to a conclusion. I usually find that movies are overly long, but this one could have used more development of its denouement.
I won't spoil the ending but I will say that this is one of the few movies that ever made me cry. Nothing morbid or truly depressing though. A fine family film and truly unique in many respects.
Son of Kong certainly is NOT in the same class as its predecessor King Kong. It lacks that film's inventiveness, creativity, dark mood, and overall horror, yet it is a fine film in its own right. Where King Kong was horrific, Son is charming. It never really takes itself quite as serious as Carl Denham and the captain from the first film leave New York for fear of lawsuits. They end up back on Skull Island with a cute stowaway(played convincingly by Helen Mack), the ship's cook(Victor Wong) and an unscrupulous captain. The better part of the film is the interaction with Robert Armstrong(as Denham again) and Mack with the pint-sized(in comparison to his daddy) Kong. Again we are given natives(briefly) and prehistoric creatures. Baby Kong is adorable and shows how he and his father were thinking creatures as opposed to the mechanical killing of giant reptiles. A nice little film!
Exploitative cinema seemly is of all times
Even in the classic and
respectable 30's, whenever a slick producer saw the chance of making
extra money of a certain success-formula, he took it. And righteously
so! Who could possibly blame director Ernest B. Schoedsack and his film
crew for trying to gain some more dollars out the tremendous box office
hit "King Kong", released only 8 months earlier? Unlike the milestone
his daddy starred in, "Son of Kong" certainly isn't a must-see film,
but it nonetheless remains an enjoyable, light-headed little film that
still features all the nifty elements of its predecessor, only to a
lesser degree. The mini-ape is still an engaging Willis O'Brien
creation but his appearance is a lot more brief and comical. The story
of this sequel supposedly takes place one month after King Kong climbed
up the Empire State Building, and has Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong
reprises his role) fleeing from all his New York creditors. He sails
off to see and, along with a whole bunch of people that aren't worth
introducing, he washes ashore Skull Island again where they encounter
the son of King Kong. The film is never boring, but it's totally
pointless and it can't seem to decide whether it wants to be
adventurous or simply cute. Also, it's difficult to accept the
character of Carl Denham as a hero all of a sudden, since he was the
greedy bastard responsible for King Kong's downfall.
Oh, and another thing I'm not a great biologist, but apes don't come crawling out of eggs as far as I know. So, assuming King Kong isn't a hermaphrodite, there should also be a Mother Kong somewhere! Where the hell is she? Wasn't her story interesting enough to tell? Is she such an atypical female that she decided to stay out of the picture during the cinematic adventures of both her man and son? Or maybe she went back to living with Mother-in-Law Kong when she noticed her husband fancied Fay Wray and followed her all the way to New York? Now that's something to think about!
Carl Denham played by Robert Armstrong flees New York City leaving behind the law suits accrued from his King Kong disaster. Denham meets up with same ship captain (Frank Reicher) and ship that brought the original Kong to America. Having no luck as commercial shippers; they decide to go back to the Isle of Kong and find an offspring of the eighth wonder of the world. Special effects were very good, but few. The cast is rounded out by Helen Mack and John Marston. The thrills and excitement of the original did not lapse over to the sequel.
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