The Son of Kong (1933)

Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher, John Marston,
The Son of Kong is a movie starring Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, and Frank Reicher. The men who captured the giant ape King Kong return to Skull Island and find his likewise gigantic but far more friendly son.
  • 5.6 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Ruth Rose, Writer:
  • Ernest B. Schoedsack, Director:
  • Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

"The Son" also rises

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.

7 / 10

A chip off the old block

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? Well, actually it was, and with a grand jury about to rule against him, Denham decides it's time for a long ocean voyage.

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.

7 / 10

A nice, quick snack

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

7 / 10

Very entertaining sequel that shouldn't be compared to its predecessor. It stands alone as its own somewhat satirical and lighthearted adventure tale.

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 still 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.

6 / 10

"You'll never catch a monkey that way."

Following the events of King Kong, director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) finds himself being sued right and left for all the damage Kong did. To add to his troubles, he discovers a grand jury is about to indict him so he sets sail with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). These are the only two of the main cast members from the first film to return. Eventually the two run across the man who sold Denham the map to Skull Island and he tells Denham there is treasure on the island that they left behind when they captured Kong. So they all return to Skull Island, along with a pretty stowaway (Helen Mack). Once there, they find an albino "Little Kong," the son of Kong from the first picture.

Obviously this was a rushed production. It was written, shot, and released the same year as King Kong. In many ways it feels like a B movie. It takes over forty minutes of this barely over an hour movie for Little Kong to show up. Out of those forty minutes, there's maybe ten or fifteen minutes of necessary story. The rest is filler. When Little Kong does show up, it's not that impressive. He's played mostly for laughs, at times resembling the Bumble from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! But he does have some nice fight scenes with dinosaurs and a giant bear.

Robert Armstrong reportedly liked this movie more than King Kong. If that's true then it probably speaks to Mr. Armstrong's vanity since he got to be the romantic leading man and hero for this one. He's likable and his performance is fine but Carl Denham being made into the hero is one of the many problems with this movie. Denham's rough edges are what made him such a good character in the first film. Softened up, he's a rather bland character and a poor fit for leading man. Helen Mack is no Fay Wray but she's very attractive and does about as well as can be expected given the weak script. Willis O'Brien's special effects are not surprisingly the highlight of the picture. Ernest B. Schoedsack returns to direct, although noticeably without Merian C. Cooper, who is only an executive producer on this one.

Doing sequels is tricky business, then and now. Even more so when you're following up one of the greatest films of all time. The truth is King Kong didn't need any sequels. But greed always wins out in Hollywood. Is Son of Kong a bad sequel? Yes, of course. I don't see how that could be disputed. Is it a bad movie? Not really. It's watchable and even entertaining in spots. But the specter of its predecessor is always looming over it.