King Kong's White Haired "Son" Charms In Quickie Sequel
Simon Davis | 09/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Following hot on the heels of the classic monster love story "King Kong",whose central character is often referred to as the eight wonder of the world, this continuation story filmed and released the same year and featuring some of the same cast and settings certainly had its work cut out for it. While it could never top its famous "parent", there is much that is of interest in this effort and for sheer atmosphere alone it is miles ahead of any of the numerous King Kong followup movies that have been released over the years. "Son of Kong", continues the story of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), from one month after King Kong's demise at the top of the Empire State Building and one of its most interesting elements is that it reveals some progression in his character in that he now can see that taking Kong out of his own environment was a mistake. This sequel is played in a far more light hearted manner but there is still enough action to satisfy those that enjoyed the classic "King Kong". Benefiting from being filmed just after "King Kong", "Son", also boasts the same general look and feel to it in particular in the scenes taking place back on Skull Island. In "Son of Kong", we encounter another kind of ape to the noble Kong, in his white haired son who seems to have an almost sentimental side to his character but who still has that strong bond towards humans just like his father possessed in the earlier film.
"Son of Kong", begins during the fallout from Carl Denham's disastrous exhibition of King Kong in New York which resulted in numerous deaths and untold damage when Kong broke loose and went on a rampage in the city. Short of money and besieged by reporters and writ servers Carl sees that his only hope is to escape New York on one of the boats sailing to the far East. Work in transporting cargo is fairly lean however and when the boat docks at a small South Seas Island there doesn't promise to be much else on the horizon. While on the island Carl encounters Hilda (Helen Mack), a singer in her father's second rate travelling tent show. After a performance Helen's father is killed in a drunken fight with Helstrom (John Marston), who held the original map that led to Skull Island. In a desperate effort to leave the island before the authorities track him down he spins a tale of a great treasure that was buried on Skull Island just behind Kong's Great Wall. With no better prospects dawning Carl and the Captain (Frank Reicher),decide to travel again to Skull Island and find this treasure. Taking the untrustworthy Helstrom along despite their misgivings about him they also find that they have an unexpected extra passenger in Hilda who has stowed away on board to be with Carl. However it's not smooth sailing on the journey to Skull Island as Helstrom stirs up trouble with the crew who mutiny and send off the Captain, Carl, Helen and Willie the Chinese cook (Victor Wong) in a life boat . However when Helstrom tries to take command the crew throw him overboard and he joins the others who land on Skull Island. Once on the island the team encounter a white haired ape trapped in quick sand. Freeing him Kong Jr. as he is dubbed immediately takes on the responsibility for looking after the group on the island. He does battle to ward off attacks by a large bear and a number of assorted other dinosaurs. The group eventually find the inner temple where in actual fact a treasure is hidden but just as they are preparing to leave a massive earthquake erupts and the island begins to collapse into the sea. Trying to leave the others behind and save himself Helstrom meets a horrible end courtesy of one of the creatures in the lagoon and while the rest of the party make it out onto the ocean Kong Jr. and Carl are trapped on what is left of the Island. As the water level rises Kong's son in one final act of sacrifice holds Carl up above the water til he is picked up by the group. With that Kong Jr. sinks below the waves to his own death. Apart from that sad note all ends happily for Carl and Helen who look forward to a new life together thanks to Kong Jr saving all of their lives.
Admittedly "Son of Kong", can't compare with its predecessor in terms of characterisation and general excitement and it does at times have the feel of a rushed sequel to it. However there is a great deal to enjoy in this effort. The idea of creating a white furred ape to succeed the dark haired Kong on Skull Island is an interesting one and the "personalities", of the two creatures are vastly different which makes watching these two films in succession a worthwhile experience. Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack (who obviously is replacing the famed Fay Wray as the romantic lead in this effort) have a good chemistry and what both might lack in real screen charisma they more than make up for in their earnest playing. The film boasts some of the great qualities from the first film, for example Wills O'Brien's exceptional dinosaur animation most obviously displayed in the battle between Kong Jr. and the cave bear and scene of the charging Styracosaurus just after the group arrive on Skull Island. Kong Jr's animation is for the most part a continuation of the previous brilliant work achieved by Wills O'Brien in "King Kong". Because Kong Jr. is played in a much more light hearted manner the creature is not perhaps as memorable a character however he has some very enjoyable moments on screen such as when he unintentionally comes across Carl and Helen in an intimate moment and backs off with an embarrassed expression on his face. Performances by the human leads as a whole are fairly exceptable. Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack deliver good performances under the often trying circumstances they find themselves in. Helen Mack as the embattled female lead naturally has to compete with the memory of Fay Wray in the original Kong movie but she has a sweet, endearing quality to her playing in particular in the scenes where her father is murdered. John Marston as the villian Helstrom, who predictably gets his just reward for his treachery also delivers an interesting performance. With its short running time (around 70 minutes), "Son of Kong", is of course not strong in deep character or story development however that in a way works in its favour as it keeps the proceedings moving along at a fast rate.
I always view "Son of Kong", as its own individual work and try not to match it up against the far more memorable "King Kong". Smaller in almost all ways than its predecessor it still is an enjoyable action film that still contains some of the best monster stop motion animation to come out of the 1930's. Kong Jr. is an endearing creation so in some ways calling him a monster seems inappropriate. What I admire the most about this little film is the great expertise on display in the stop motion sequences and the great atmosphere of Skull Island. In many respects this work was years ahead of their time long before computers were capable of working their miracles and they pay great homage to Wills O'Brien and his expert team of animators. Try and catch King Kong's comical white haired son some time soon in "Son of Kong", as a visit to Skull Island and its mysteries is always enjoyable."
"The Son" also rises
Jerry Z | USA | 08/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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, cliches 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.
A FUN SECOND TRIP TO SKULL ISLAND!
Darryl M. Haase | Cleveland, OH United States | 04/05/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Son of Kong" was a hurried sequel to "King Kong" made the same year. While it cannot dramatically compete with "Kong" it certainly has alot to like about it. Star Robert Armstrong once said he liked playing Denham in "Son" because his character was more dimensional with "swell love scenes", as he put it. Helen Mack is no Fay Wray, and her brunette bob contrasts nicely with Little Kong's white fur. The animation is actually better in places than in "Kong", specifically with the elimination of the unwanted movements of the ape's fur due to the animator's fingerprints left on the models. Despite these achievements, animator Willis O'Brien never liked to talk about the sequel in his later years and resented the tongue in cheek approach to the material."
An under-rated movie.
Darryl M. Haase | 07/07/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Son of Kong" hasn't the primitive fury of "King Kong", but it projects a melancholy that most of us could relate to if we don't compare the film to its predecessor. How many of us feel we ruined opportunities or fear life passing without our making significant contributions? Not only Denham's plight but the entire sequence with Hilda and her father's show brings this out. I find the pre-Skull Island part of the movie more interesting from a human interest direction. Aspects of the movie engage in a wonderful 19th century melodramatic approach especially with the villain Helstrom. The acting in the movie is more polished and the shipboard sequences on a real freighter come off better than the studio staged decks of "King Kong." Except for the styracosaurus that charges Capt. Englehorn and company, the dinosaurs are lame. According to lietrature I've read, the styracosaurus originally chased the sailors across the log in "King Kong" but was cut from the final release print. Too bad! Take "Son of Kong" as a separate entity with no comparatives and you might find an interesting, somewhat Conrad-like little drama."
A sweet heart-tugger ties up loose ends
S. H. Towsley | Fort Wayne, IN & Los Angeles, CA | 09/04/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maybe we've forgotten that sequels were originally designed, not only to capitalize on a movie's success, but also to continue storylines and tie up loose ends in a plausible fashion. This movie is a deceptively simple heart-tugger of a sequel that, instead of topping the first movie as we often expect today, goes in another direction in terms of tone to provide further story resolution - and succeeds at that pretty well. Not only do we learn what became of Carl Denham and the other KING KONG main characters but we learn what happens to the man who sold him the map to the island, as well as what becomes of the island, the dinosaurs, and Kong's lineage. Wrapped up in all of this is a very cute story about, believe it or not, how some people treat animals and are rewarded for it. Anybody who loves a dog or cat can probably understand the dynamics of the Son of Kong storyline and why its ending is so doggoned effective in proportion to its scope -- this is a movie mostly about characters that winds up setting us up and knocking us down without loading on more special effects, though the effects that are here are judiciously used and effective. The little Kong is even more anthropomorphic than his dad, and there are some cartoon beats in it, but this is a cleverly handled scaled-back sequel that leaves the viewer feeling somehow more complete in terms of the Kong saga, though we long for that island to survive the storm and little Kong with his bandaged hand to -- well, you'll see. Technically, this is the release to own, by the way, if you are buying VHS. The hi-fi processed sound is far superior to earlier editions of this movie and the picture quality is nice throughout. So if you own the old color box version, upgrading to this release is worth it, in my opinion."