Saturday, June 1, 2013

Son of Kong (1933)

Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack                      Writer: Ruth Rose
Film Score: Max Steiner                                Cinematography: Eddie Lindon
Starring: Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack and Frank Reicher

At the end of Gerald Peary’s B List review of Son of Kong, he makes this closing statement, “seventy-five years later, hardly any King Kong fan remembers a son of Kong at all.” Of course they don’t, and for a very good reason: Son of Kong is a bad movie. Not Ed Wood bad, not Heaven’s Gate bad, more like “there’s seventy minutes of my life I’ll never get back” bad. Sure, it’s a B film all right, but the subtitle of The B List reads in part, “Low-Budget Beauties and Cult Classics We Love.” In no way is Son of Kong a beauty or a cult classic, and hardly anyone loves it. Like Skull Island itself, there’s a reason it’s not on the map.

In an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of King Kong, RKO rushed Son of Kong into production, using Robert Armstrong and Frank Reicher to reprise their previous roles for a return trip to Skull Island, this time to recoup the losses sustained by Kong’s ill-fated trip to New York. But where the original was full of mystery, adventure, and suspense, the sequel is played for laughs. In Stephen King’s non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre, he bemoans the fate of the Universal Monsters saying, “instead of being retired with honors and decently interred in the moldy soil of their European churchyards, Hollywood decided to play them for laughs, squeezing every last quarter and dime admission possible out of the poor old things before letting them go. Hence, Abbott & Costello met the monsters . . .” Apparently RKO decided to avoid the holiday rush and make a mockery of the Kong franchise right away, essentially destroying it before it could really get started.

First stop on the journey is to Dakang, where an awful musical show featuring Helen Mack and a team of monkeys sets the stage for the dreary plot that follows. Taking Helen back to Skull Island to look for treasure, they meet the 12-foot albino ape, Little Kong. One of the positives is that Max Steiner was tabbed to revisit the score for the film, with positive results. And of course, the special effects work on the new giant ape and the usual cast of dinosaurs by Merian C. Cooper and Willis O'Brien is great, but without the ferocious results of the first it’s something of a let down. For example, in his battle with the giant bear, Little Kong has some goofy takes that diminish what could have been a suspenseful scene. And the ending is especially offensive. After Little Kong saves Denham from dying in a typhoon he forgets about him instantly once he’s aboard the lifeboat with the treasure.

In his B-List review Gerald Peary manages to discuss the film without ever say that it was good. First he states that the film’s story was co-opted from a silent adventure called The Enchanted Island from 1927, then goes on to show how Armstrong’s character, Denham, was completely changed and subverted. So by the time he gets around to equating the story with “a tranquil beauty reminiscent of Shakespearean romance,” it’s too much to take. He finishes by relating the underwhelming final scenes in just as underwhelming a tone and finishes with his damning final line. In the end, Son of Kong was a missed opportunity for RKO, and a film that should have been missed by The B List.

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