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Sunday, October 25, 2015

SON OF KONG -- Movie Review by Porfle

(Caution: the last couple of paragraphs contain spoilers.)

I watched SON OF KONG (1933) again last night, and this toned-down sequel affected me just the same as ever. Most of the ingredients of KING KONG are there, but mixed together in such a different way as to explore whole new areas of cinematic enchantment.

The opening titles are reminiscent of KONG at first, but then they go into a cast montage and the music shifts dramatically to the jaunty but melancholy "Runaway Blues", and darned if that alone doesn't make me start to get misty-eyed. 

The stop-motion creatures are great as usual (although with little participation from special effects wizard Willis O'Brien, who was disillusioned with the project), and there's an exciting climax which anyone who saw this as a kid should vividly recall.

After the disaster of Kong's opening night in New York, showman Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is forced to flee lawsuits and creditors by going into the shipping business with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) in the South Seas. 

Along the way he meets a sweet young down-on-her-luck woman named Hilda (Helen Mack), loses his ship to mutineers, and ends up back on Skull Island, where he and the rest encounter a baby Kong who protects them from danger as they search for a fabled island treasure. 

There's considerably less tension in this laidback sequel--the nightmare of KONG is over, and despite the hardships it caused this seems to have been cathartic for Denham as a person. He's no longer so manic and driven, content now to be Englehorn's business partner, and can enjoy little things in life like a two-bit tent show with dancing monkeys and an adorable young girl (Hilda) playing the ukelele.

The romance between Denham and Helen Mack's plucky, lovable Hilda is low-key and very sweet, more so because of the recurring "Runaway Blues" theme. The trip to the island and their adventures on it aren't dark and heavy as in the previous film, but KONG had already been done. Rather than trying to do it over again or continue its nightmarish tone, SON OF KONG gives us a fairytale ending.

It's not as much a sequel as it is a prolonged denouement--a long sigh of relief after the horrors that ended when Kong hit the pavement. All the sexual tension and Freudian complexities of KING KONG have been resolved, leaving Denham free to lead a simpler life with Hilda and, we assume, a happy ending. 

And then, of course there's little Kong (known by many as "Kiko") himself.  Some viewers fault the film for being too comedic, and indeed, this 12-foot albino ape is quite the clown.  Still, his interactions with Denham and Hilda are fascinating to watch, as are several furious battles between him and a variety of giant island creatures.  While rushed into production the same year as its predecessor, SON OF KONG still boasts some amazing special effects.

The grand finale is a terrifying earthquake which threatens to destroy the island, with Denham, Hilda, and Englehorn scrambling to escape in a rickety rowboat.  In the film's most heartbreaking moment, little Kong's foot is caught in a crevice as the island begins to sink beneath the waves, and as he wails in distress you can clearly make out the words: "Mom-my!  Mom-my!" 

Seeing Denham and Hilda at the rail of a rescue ship in their robes, as it begins to sink in that they're really in love and "Runaway Blues" creeps in one last time, still plucks the old heartstrings.  (It's here that Denham the "no funny business" mug finally cracks up and goes sappy.)  More than anything, SON OF KONG is, to me, a lovely fairytale adventure that gets a little more magical every time I see it.

Read our review of KING KONG

"The Runaway Blues" -- instrumental


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