Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Son of Kong (1933)

Here's one of many, many movies whose general plot I already knew long before I saw it myself. As you can probably guess by this point, it was thanks to one of the Crestwood House monster books and, as was also the case with the original, I was very confused when I read about the film. Like I said in my introduction to King Kong, I was only familiar with the 1976 film of the same name when I was a very young kid, which made it confusing when I read up on the 1933 film in that book; similarly, I was confused when I read about the sequel to it and it wasn't anything like the "second" Kong film I was more familiar with: King Kong Lives. There was a baby Kong at the end of that film, but the whole movie wasn't about it, so it was just as baffling as when the book talked about Kong fighting dinosaurs in the first film, which didn't happen in the one that I knew. As I've said before, I was too young and naïve to understand the concept of remakes or the fact that that book was written nearly a decade before King Kong Lives was released, and it wasn't until I was a little older that I understood that there were two other films made many years before the ones I knew of. If you've read my review of the original film, you'd know that I first saw it in a colorized form late one night on TNT when I was somewhere in the seven-to-nine year-old range. Well, following that, they showed a colorized version of The Son of Kong, which I watched maybe the first five-to-ten minutes of before I lost interest and changed the channel, as I could tell it was going to take a while before it got to the monsters. After that, except for a trailer that was featured on Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies! (along with that of the original King Kong) and what I read in that book, I never saw anything of the movie until I was around twelve or thirteen years old, when I got it on video as a Christmas present, after having had the video of the original for a year or two. My impressions upon seeing it that first time were, "That was okay," which is often the biggest compliment that the movie ever receives. It's a movie that's infamous for being eternally overshadowed by its parent, with many possibly not knowing it even exists, and there's a good reason for it: it's not even close to being as spectacular or memorable as the first one. It never had a chance to be on par with it, due to its low-budget and rushed shooting schedule, and is a much smaller, less thrilling and exciting chapter of the King Kong story. However, after repeated viewings on video and DVD, I've decided that, those faults aside, it's not a bad movie at all; in fact, it has a fair amount going for it, proving that the production weren't content to rest on their laurels and tried to make it as good as they could under the circumstances. I'd say it's less a bad movie than one with a lot of unfulfilled potential.

A month after Carl Denham brought King Kong to New York City and the disaster that occurred when the giant ape escaped and caused a lot of death and destruction before being killed, the once energetic and adventurous director is now completely broke, having been sued for all of the damage Kong caused, and has been hiding out in his apartment from process servers, guilt-ridden over both the harm Kong caused and what happened to him. Denham is visited by Charlie, the Chinese cook of the Venture, who tells him that Captain Englehorn wants to see him. With the help of a sympathetic process server, Denham makes it to the docks, where Englehorn tells him that he has his own legal problems and will probably be sued big time as well. He proposes they get a skeleton crew together and leaving New York, traveling to the East Indies to make a living carrying freight. Denham agrees, especially when he's tipped off that he's about to be indicted by the grand jury. Some time later, the Venture arrives in the Dutch port of Dakang, hoping to find some much needed business. There, Denham, Englehorn, and Charlie see a very small animal show, capped off by a song sung by the showrunner's daughter, Helene Peterson. After the show that night, her father has a drink with Helstrom, a disreputable, seedy captain who's as broke as Peterson, and when the two of them get into a drunken argument over it, Peterson gets smashed over the head by a bottle and knocks over an oil lamp when he falls, setting the tent on fire. Helstrom flees and Helene lets the animals out to safety and drags her father outside, only for him to die in her arms before he can say what happened. After a friendly, formal introduction to Denham, who offers her sympathy and tells her to keep her chin up, Helene runs into Helstrom, whom she knows killed her father, and threatens to tell a Dutch magistrate who's arriving in a few days about it. Later at a bar, Helstrom comes across Denham and Englehorn, where it's revealed that he was the one who gave Denham his map of Kong's island. Ever the schemer, Helstrom tries to get some money out of Denham, only to learn that he's broke, and then tries to talk them into taking him somewhere out of Dutch jurisdiction, which they turn down because it'd be too far out of their way. Helstrom then tells them of a valuable treasure on Kong's island he never mentioned before, which convinces Denham and Englehorn to go back with him. However, far into the trip, they learn that Helene, whom Denham saw again before they left Dakang and reluctantly turned down when she asked him to take her, has stowed away. Also, unbeknownst to them, Helstrom has been turning the crew against them, telling them about all of the men killed during their first trip. When they arrive at the island, the crew, led by Helstrom, stage a mutiny and throw Denham, Englehorn, Helene, and Charlie off the ship, forcing them to row to the island. Helstrom is thrown off as well when he tries to become captain and joins the party, who row to the island, where their now meaningless search for the treasure leads them to encounter Kong's orphaned son.

Like King Kong, The Son of Kong was the idea of Merian C. Cooper who, a month before the first film's release, replaced David O. Selznick as RKO's Vice President in Charge of Production. Shortly after the movie's very successful opening in New York, Cooper suggested a sequel to the studio's production board, saying that he wanted to make it even bigger and better. The board was more than happy with the idea, but they told Cooper that, in order to capitalize on the movie's success while the iron was still hot, they wanted the film to be released that December. Cooper agreed, but he wasn't at all happy when the board later said that they were only willing to give him a budget of $250,000, half that of King Kong and not enough to make the movie on the scale that he and his team had hoped for. They had no choice but to scale the movie down considerably, resulting in the film having a compact and claustrophobic look and feel, the special effects not being quite on the level of the original, a more comedic tone to make up for the lack of spectacle, and ultimately a much more rushed nature overall (it's only 69 minutes long, whereas the first one was 100). The Son of Kong has always reminded me of Godzilla Raids Again, the second Godzilla film, in this regard: they're both smaller-budgeted, hastily-made sequels to legendary, groundbreaking monster movies, made only to cash in on the enormous success of their predecessors and released less than a year afterward. However, of the two, I'd much rather watch this than the horribly boring and forgettable Godzilla Raids Again any day of the week.


As opposed to how he and Cooper produced and directed King Kong together, Ernest B. Schoedsack was on his own in directing The Son of Kong, seeing as how Cooper was now too busy to take an active part in it (King Kong was one of the last films he would actually direct in some capacity altogether, as he spent the rest of his career acting mainly as a producer). However, he did have a lot of input, meaning that his "executive producer" credit wasn't just for show. This was the last true Kong movie both of them were involved with; afterward, they worked together on other films like The Last Days of Pompeii, Mighty Joe Young, and This Is Cinerama. In their separate careers, Cooper was far more successful, producing a number of notable films during his tenure at RKO, advocated the development and use of Technicolor and widescreen (This Is Cinerama was a demonstration of its effect), and, in the latter part of his career, forming a successful partnership with the legendary John Ford. Their last film together was 1956's The Searchers, after which the last credit on his IMDB page is as a co-producer on a 1963 documentary, Best of Cinerama. Cooper died of cancer in 1973 at the age of 79. As for Schoedsack, his most prominent film aside from those he did with Cooper is 1940's Dr. Cyclops, Hollywood's first sci-fi movie to be filmed in color. A big reason why his directing career never took off was because of horrible eye injuries he suffered during a high-altitude camera test during World War II; afterward, Mighty Joe Young was the only film he directed, not counting his contributions to This Is Cinerama. He retired and died in 1979 at the age of 86, a year after his wife passed away (she died on his birthday!)

The best thing that The Son of Kong has going for it is its cast, especially when it comes to Robert Armstrong's return performance as Carl Denham. Armstrong always preferred this film because of the depth he got to explore in the character of Denham and that definitely comes across onscreen, as he is amazing here and caries the movie very well. After a month of being sued and prosecuted for all of the death and destruction King Kong caused during his rampage in New York, Denham is now a broke, humbled, guilt-ridden recluse who can't leave his apartment for fear of running into process servers. All of the energy and admitted arrogance that he had before is now gone, as he not only feels guilty for all of the damage Kong caused but also how his bringing him to New York led to the mighty ape's demise. He tells a reporter who manages to barge into his apartment, "I thought I had him safe. Don't you think I'm sorry for the harm he did? I wished I'd left him on his island." He then looks at an exhibition poster of his ill-fated Broadway presentation and says, "Old Kong. I'm sure paying for what I did to you." Desperate to get out of his apartment after being stuck there for a week and wanting to leave all of his troubles behind when he gets served another summons and then hears that he's going to be indicted, Denham agrees to Captain Englehorn's offer to join him in making a living carrying freight. However, several months later, they haven't made much of anything and stop at the port of Dakang in search of business, which ends up being a bust. The only thing that lifts Denham's spirits somewhat is seeing Peterson's very low-rent animal show and Helene's singing, in spite of how pathetic it truly is. When he and Englehorn are at a local bar, some of Denham's old habits as an adrenaline-junkie come back, telling him, "It's a dull life, skipper. We need excitement." He then meets back up with Helstrom, whom he tells that he's ended up completely broke thanks to King Kong when he tries to get money out of him, but then his adventurous spirit piques back up when he mentions a treasure back on Kong's island. It's interesting, because both he and Englehorn were curious earlier about how close the island was to Dakang and when Helstrom tells them of the treasure, he says to Englehorn, "Skipper, you remember when I said there wasn't a reason on Earth for going back? Look: the answer to our prayers. We're off again!" It suggests that they both wanted to go back, for whatever reason (adventure or maybe for old time's sake), and were looking for an excuse. Regardless, despite the dangers involved, Denham is quite excited when they reach the island, although that excitement sours when a mutiny among the crew gets them thrown off the ship and they learn that the natives are angry at them for leading Kong through the Great Wall, destroying their village. But, once they make it to the jungle, some of Denham's old spirit does come back, as he's exploring with a gun and eager to find the treasure, in spite of how moot it is since they're stuck on the island.



There are two characters whose relationships with Denham bring out the best in him. One is Helene Peterson, who catches Denham's sympathy when he sees the tiny show she and her father put on. In spite of her rough singing, he feels she has some talent; it just needs some polishing. When he runs into her in the jungle of Dakang next day as she tries to coax the monkeys she had to let loose down from a tree, he's wonderfully sympathetic when she tells him of the tent burning and her father dying, saying, "Oh, what a tough break." He listens to her talk about how her father's drinking destroyed what was once a world-wide circus career and when she's constantly down on herself and the show, he says, "Say, that's no way to talk. 'I wasn't very good. The show wasn't very good.' Cut it out. You wanna tell everybody how good you are. Throw out your chest. Brag about yourself." He shows more concern for her when he then has to leave to meet up with Englehorn, telling her to keep her chin up, as he told Ann Darrow before, and before he leaves, he stops by where she's staying to give her some money so she can pay for passage on another ship, advising her, "You just make a plan and stick to it." He reluctantly turns her down when she repeatedly asks for him to take her with him, not wanting to put another woman into danger, but it's not until they're far out to sea that he learns she stowed away. At first, he's pretty irritated with her and the trouble it causes, telling her, "You ought to be beaten to a pulp," but he later admits he's not that angry with her, probably because he understands that she had nowhere else to go. During their adventures on the island, the two of them become closer and closer, with Denham becoming quite protective of her when she tells him that Helstrom killed her father and then told her that he'd be angry with him if she said anything about it. He often tells her, "Stick to me," and she takes it to heart when, at the end of the movie after they've been rescued and are now rich because of the treasure, she suggests dividing the treasure up in thirds, one of which will go to them together. Their embrace that closes the film says it all. The other significant relationship that Denham has in the film is with the son of Kong himself, whose very existence both freaks him out and arouses his sympathies. He and Helene help him out when they come across him stuck in quicksand, Denham later explaining to Englehorn that he felt he owed his family, and the best moment between the two comes when he's bandaging Little Kong's wounded finger after the fight with the large cave bear. As he does so, he tells him that he's the one who knocked out his father, took him away on the ship, and caused him to get killed, adding that what he's doing now is sort of an apology. He's obviously doing this just to get it all off his chest but Little Kong seems to understand him and, despite being a bit of pest and annoying him, he becomes Denham's guardian, ultimately saving his life by sacrificing his own.

There's an oddity about the character of Helene Peterson (Helen Mack) in that, even though she's introduced as such by her father in the actual film, she's called "Hilda" in the opening credits and Denham never calls her anything other than, "Kid," so her actual name is up for debate. For sanity's sake, I'll continue calling her Helene. And as controversial an opinion as this is, I'll also admit that I like her more than Ann Darrow. For one, she doesn't scream constantly throughout the movie, which is already a plus (whenever she does scream, it's usually recordings of Fay Wray from the first one). For another, while Ann, despite the sad backstory we got a hint of, was a rather naïve, child-like character who unwillingly became Kong's object of desire, Helene is more developed and even sadder, as we really see the pathetic circumstances she's living in. She and her father run this tiny, rundown little animal show in Dakang, barely making anything from it and never having much of an audience, and she has to watch him get drunk constantly with Helstrom, whom she obviously doesn't like before we learn what a piece of trash he is. Her sad like takes an even sadder turn when the tent burns down and her father dies from injuries he sustained during a drunken fight with Helstrom. Helene knows it was him who did it and when they run into each other in the streets of Dakang, she stands up to him and his threats, telling him that she's going to tell a Dutch magistrate who arrives in a few days about it. The one shining spot for her is Denham, who gives her some words of encouragement and also gives her some money to help her leave Dakang for wherever she wants to go. She begs him to take her with him on his voyage but when he reluctantly turns her down, she takes his advice of coming up with a plan and sticking it and stows away aboard the Venture. Apparently, she wasn't discovered until they were quite a ways into the trip but, when she is, Denham makes his displeasure clear and she's also horrified to see that Helstrom is aboard as well. He tells her not to say anything about what happened to her father, that it would Denham even madder at her than he already is, but when he leads a mutiny that gets them thrown off the ship, she does tell Denham everything, enraging him towards his former friend. Like I said, during their adventure on the island, Helene and Denham become closer and closer and, in a far cry from Ann, she's more amazed at the sight of Little Kong than afraid and shows sympathy for him when he's stuck in the quicksand and hurts himself in the fight with the cave bear. After they survive the earthquake and storm that destroys the island and leaves them stranded in the rowboat with the treasure, which she realized was pointless given the circumstances even when they first found it, it looks like they've had it when they're picked up by a passing ship. Instead of going their separate ways when they get back home, Helene decides to heed another piece of advice from Denham and stick to him.

A stroke of inspiration that Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Ruth Rose had when they were developing the story was taking the captain of the Norwegian ship who Denham mentioned gave him the map of Kong's island in the first movie and making him into an actual character in the sequel: Nils Helstrom (John Marston). As you've no doubt gathered by this point, Helstrom is a pretty slimy guy: a raggedy drunkard, whose relationship with Helene's father is a tenuous at one best and probably only exists because Peterson supplies him with liquor. They don't seem to like each other, trading insults about their sorry states, and when Peterson calls Helstrom a "rotten captain" who lost his ship on purpose to try to collect the insurance, he becomes enraged and smashes him over the head with the bottle when he tries to take it away from him. This ends up causing a fire in the tent, which Helstrom pathetically tries to put out with his cap before running off like a coward, forcing Helene to let the animals out and attempt to save her father, only for him to die in her arms. Not realizing that she was there and knows what happened, Helstrom acts sympathetic towards her in the street, only to become irritated and threatening when he hears her accusations, and becoming worried when she says that she plans to inform the Dutch magistrate of what happened. He thinks his luck has changed later when he comes across Denham and Englehorn in a local bar, where Denham informs the skipper of who he is. Having heard of Denham's capture of Kong in Singapore, Helstrom tries to take advantage of his part in it by having Denham pay him for it, only to learn of how broke he now is. When that plan fails, he then tries to make them give him passage on their ship, telling him that he lost his own ship and then lying that he lost it on some reefs and that the Dutch are down on him because of it. They're reluctant to do so, seeing as how they would have to travel far out of their way in order to get him out of Dutch jurisdiction, and Helstrom then makes up a story about a treasure back on Kong's island, coming off convincing enough to make them decide to go back to it. Once aboard the ship, Helstrom proves to be even more of an untrustworthy shit when he begins turning the crew against Denham and Helstrom by telling them of all the men who were killed during their first venture to the island, implying that it was because of them. He's also despicable enough to tell Helene not to say anything about what happened, using Denham's frustration of her stowing away to his advantage, which doesn't matter when he leads the mutiny that gets them thrown off the ship. However, Helstrom does himself in when he then tries to order the crew around and they throw him overboard as well, with Denham, Englehorn, and the others reluctantly helping him. One thing he does once they're on the island that is nauseating is when he tries to offer Englehorn a half-hearted apology for the mutiny, which the skipper doesn't buy at all. He also proves to be even more of a coward when he panics upon learning that both of the shotguns they had have been destroyed and, after admitting that he lied about the treasure (not knowing that there really is one), is frightened by the sight of Little Kong and runs back to the rowboat, intending to take it for himself. He ends up as a large sea serpent's snack instead.

Like Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher returns to reprise his role of Captain Englehorn and gets significant more screentime and more of a personality than in King Kong. He proves what a good guy he is once again when, knowing that Denham is in financial trouble even worse than he is, offers to take him with him when he decides to leave New York and his problems behind. When they arrive in Dakang, without having made much money from the their shipping business so far, Englehorn reveals that, like Denham, he's been thinking about Kong's island, having taken a look at their old chart and seeing how far they are from it, but they don't have any reason for going back until Helstrom tells them of the treasure. What's really great about Englehorn here is the dry, witty sense of humor he develops. I like how, when they're watching the show being put on by Peterson and Helene, Denham's kind of into it while Englehorn is sitting there, bored out of his mind. And when Helene starts singing very roughly, Denham says, "You know, she's got something," to which Englehorn remarks, "It certainly isn't a voice." I also love how Englehorn's sharp enough to not be completely taken in by Helstrom. When he's talking about "losing" his ship in an accident and the Dutch being on his case because of it, Englehorn's looking at him in a very suspicious manner, wondering why he doesn't elaborate on exactly why the Dutch are down on him for it and tells him, "Do you realize how far we'd have to go to land you out of Dutch, uh, jurisdiction? We can't run all over the Indian Ocean carrying one passenger." He also becomes suspicious when Helstrom gets overly chummy with the crew and feels that he's scared of going to the island because of what happened on their first trip there. Like Denham, he's none too pleased when Helene stows away and holds him responsible, which Denham protests. When all four of them standing on the deck, Denham remarks, "Well, here we are: just one big, happy family," to which Englehorn says, "Took the words right out of my mouth." He does try to reason with the men when the mutiny happens, to no avail, and he is good enough to save Helstrom when he gets thrown overboard, but I think his best moment is when, once they reach the island, Helstrom picks up a gun and Englehorn swipes it away from him, saying, "A smart man like you don't need a gun," something Helstrom said to them when they were being forced to row to the island. I always love it when an asshole's own words get thrown back in his or her face. Throughout the time on the island, Englehorn is continuously cool, calm, and reasonable, advising Denham not to mention Kong's son to Helstrom for fear of what he'll do, and acting a really good leader to his section of the group. And he's the one who spots the ship that saves them when they're stranded out in the rowboat after the island sinks.

Another returning actor from the first film is Victor Wong as Charlie, the Venture's Chinese cook, who gets a little more screentime here than he did before, although his function is still little more than comic relief. Regardless, it's nice to see him back again and he has some memorable moments, like when he tells Denham, "Maybe next time you leave big monkey alone," to which Denham says, "Next time? Charlie must think Kongs are plentiful," and when you learn that, rather that being forced off with the others during the crew's mutiny, he got off the ship himself because, "Me no like them men." Also, as they row away, he yells at them that they'll have to cook for themselves now and that they'll all starve, and when Englehorn throws Helstrom's own words back in his face as I mentioned earlier, Charlie randomly goes, "Ha!" in response. Besides bringing Denham Englehorn's message to meet him on the docked Venture, Charlie's most significant parts in the movie are finding Helene stowed away down in the hold and sneaking a couple of rifles into the lifeboat during the mutiny. Not much else to say about him other than it's nice to see him again.

One member of the crew who has a serious attitude problem is the boatswain (Ed Brady), who's simply called "Red" in the opening credits (they call him by his surname in the movie but I can't remember what it was). You can tell from his first scene that has a major chip on his shoulder, sneering, "That won't take very long," when Englehorn tells him to unload the cargo when they get to Dakang, and the skipper himself says that if they weren't so shorthanded, he'd get rid of him. He's the one who Helstrom rallies against Englehorn once he gets aboard the ship, telling him of what happened to the other sailors and that Englehorn expects him to go ashore because he needs a bodyguard. This plays upon Red's Marxist nature (before he throws them overboard, he gives Denham and the others a speech about how they think they own him and the others because they work them so hard) and prompts him to lead a mutiny, forcing Denham, Englehorn, Helene, and Charlie off the ship, refusing to listen to reason and ignore Denham's promise that they'll turn back and he won't turn them in for it. He's good enough to have given them food and water in the boat but refuses to let them have any weapons, saying they were lucky that they got the former. And when Helstrom makes the mistake of throwing his weight around, Red and the others disarm him of his gun, snarling, "Do you think we got rid of a good captain for a bad one?" before declaring they're through with captains and throwing him overboard with the others.


One of the most pathetic characters is Peterson (Clarence Wilson), Helene's alcoholic father who lost his job as a profitable circus ringmaster as a result of his problems. He puts on a happy front while presenting his little animal show to what paying customers he can get but when they've all gone, you can see how bitter and sad he is when he sets up for Helstrom's visit and when Helene asks him if he's coming again, he growls, "Yes, he is. Any objections? Can't I have a friend over?" Helene tells him he isn't a friend, leading to this exchange: "Well, he's a white man, somebody to talk to." "Somebody to drink with." "That's enough. Shut up now and go to bed." He's truly pathetic when you see him completely drunk, horribly slurring his words and speaking in a much higher-pitched voice. He takes offense when Helstrom, in his drunken state, acts like he's above him and decides to tell him that he knows he lost his ship on purpose to try to collect the insurance. This leads into the argument turning violent when he tries to take the bottle away from Helstrom and he gets cracked over the head by it. When Helene drags him out of the burning tent afterward, Peterson tries to tell his daughter what happened but dies from his injuries before he can get a word out. One character who's only in the film for the first little bit but is memorable nonetheless is Mickey (Lee Kohlmar), a garbage-man and process server who, after giving Denham his fifteenth summons, gladly helps him get out of his apartment building without being noticed, grateful for all of the business his misfortune has brought him. He's a memorable character because of his rather jolly attitude and pride in himself, telling Denham that he's an artist when it comes to what he does, and he's also good enough to tip Denham off that he's about to be indicted and even suggests that he get out of town. When he leaves after that, he says, "Such a fine customer!" Finally, Noble Johnson returns for one scene as the chief of Kong's island, who meets Denham and the others at the beach, making it clear that he's not happy to see them by throwing a spear at them. He then rants in his native language, with Englehorn translating that he's angry because they led Kong through the Great Wall and, as a result, his people are dead and his village is destroyed. The threats given off by him and his warriors forces them to find another part of the island to land on.




It's interesting, during my respite between finishing my review of King Kong and starting this one, I listened to a podcast where it was discussed that, even though the original film does take place in the time in which it was made, it can be seen as an allegory of the roaring 20's, with Carl Denham's passion and vitality exemplifying it, and that Kong's fall off the Empire State Building at the end can be viewed as the beginning of the Depression. After re-watching The Son of Kong, I can kind of see that, because that latter notion definitely carries into this film, which is most definitely a film of the Great Depression. There is no wealth anywhere here, as all of the main characters are struggling to get by, from Denham being completely shattered and having to disguise himself as a garbage-man in order to get out of his apartment to avoid process servers and his and Englehorn's plan to make money by carrying freight in the East Indies not panning out at all, to the bottom-of-the-barrel show that Helene and her father put on in Dakang and Helstrom being down on his luck as well. Plus, if you were to ask me to come up with one word to describe the film's tone, I would have to choose "melancholic." There's a very sad pall over this movie, with all of the characters being depressed as well as not getting along well in life. That's especially true when it comes to Denham, who's very regretful and sorry for both the harm that Kong caused and for how he caused his death by taking him from his island. That scene at the beginning where he tells that female reporter about how he feels while looking at Kong's image on an exhibition poster on his wall is dripping with sadness and regrets. The same is equally true about Helene and her sad life, where she's had to see her father's promising career as a circus ringmaster who once worked worldwide fall apart due to his drinking and now, is unable to stop him from drinking with the disreputable Helstorm out of self-pity after the sad little shows he puts on, which is to say nothing about how sad it becomes after she loses everything, including her father, in the tent fire. And on top of that, when she first talks to Denham, she's really down on herself, saying that she sucked at ballet and their little show wasn't any good, and is so desperate to leave Dakang behind that she stows away aboard the Venture. Even the music that Max Steiner composed for the film has a very melancholic texture to it, with little of the energy and adventurous spirit of his score for King Kong (save when he reuses themes from it), including the music heard during the scenes on the island. Case in point, the main leitmotif for the entire movie is taken from the song that Helene sings at the end of the show, which is called "Runaway Blues." Enough said.





You could also say that the tone of the film reflects the circumstances of its cheap, rushed production, as does its look and scope. When compared to the large size of King Kong, with the big village, the Great Wall, and the ongoing wild terrain of the island, as well as all of the scene that took place in New York City and atop the Empire State Building, The Son of Kong comes off not only as cheaper and smaller but also downright claustrophobic in some spots. Most of the film's first section is spent in the confines of the apartment building Denham lives in, with only a very restricted look at the New York street, and at the tiny port of Dakang, with its small streets and cheap bars and show tents, and it doesn't get much bigger as the movie goes on. The scenes aboard the Venture, which were mostly shot on a real ship, don't feel as big as they were before, mainly because everybody's often crowded around on the deck, but the most disappointing environments are on Kong's island. For one, the confrontation they have with the chief and his people upon arriving was originally supposed to take place in the ruins of the village but, because of the budget, they had to move it to a forgettable section of beach. For another, once they find a spot of the island where they can safely go ashore, the only elements that give the place some scale are the matte shots of the shoreline, because the action takes place within a very small, confined section of jungle that's right below the side of Skull Mountain where the temple containing the treasure is hidden. They had no choice but to do it this way because of budget issues but it makes the place feel much tinier than we know it is from the first movie. (This, again, reminds me of Godzilla Raids Again, where the first encounter with Godzilla and Anguirus occurs around a small, rocky gorge where the characters are stuck.) The jungles have little of the depth and detail that they did before, coming across as very typical and flat, and the same goes for the rocky cliffs Denham and the others are often climbing around on. And as impressive as the set of the temple interior is, with that large, creepy-looking stone head that the treasure sits on, it's actually a miniature set, with the actors filmed in front of a rear-projection screen of it.



In spite of its very melancholic feel, the film is also much more overtly comical than the first one, which, as I said earlier, was what writer Ruth Rose put in to offset the lack of spectacle. The humor ranges from memorable one-liners courtesy of Denham and Englehorn, to full on cartoony slapstick with Little Kong's antics, and finally, really quirky stuff like the opening with Mickey helping Denham get out of his apartment building by putting him in overalls and covering his head with a small barrel and the way Denham suddenly jerks his head back around at Helene after telling her she ought to be beaten to a pulp. The oddest moment in the entire film is the sequence in Peterson's show tent where you see a little routine comprised entirely of monkeys. For about a full minute, the film comes to a halt as we watch the monkeys bang on small instruments, hop around in a belly-dancer outfit in the case of one, and play up to the camera, with one who's hitting a drum apparently being distracted by it at one point and another who's playing a cello scratching the strings, causing everything to stop dead for a couple of seconds (the way the drummer monkey reacts to this is pretty funny). It's an offbeat scene that must've taken an excruciating amount of time to get right and if, nothing else, is one of the movie's most unique moments.

According to Ray Morton's book, King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon (a must-read for any fan of the character), the shooting of the stop-motion was a very troubled one, mainly due to Willis O'Brien. O'Brien was initially enthusiastic at the prospect of doing a sequel to King Kong but his mood soured when the film was scaled back so drastically, particularly when an intended dinosaur stampede was cut altogether. During the miniature shoot, O'Brien clashed constantly with both Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, who both now knew a fair amount about the technical aspects of stop-motion and begin giving input on that side much more than they had on the first movie, which really irritated O'Brien. As the shoot wore on and his mood worsened, O'Brien became more and more reclusive, often not showing up for work for weeks on end, forcing his assistant, E.B. Gibson, to do the animation himself. His doing so strained his relationship with O'Brien, who saw this as a sign of disloyalty. Worst of all, O'Brien's personal life took a tragic turn in October of 1933, not too long before the shoot came to an end, when his estranged wife murdered their two sons before attempting suicide (she survived but lingered before finally dying in early 1935). He was so devastated that, after the movie had officially wrapped, he asked for his name to be removed from the credits, which Cooper refused to do. If you read my post that I called Monster Makers, where I talked about legendary makeup and effects artists, you'll see a photo of O'Brien taken during the production, one where the personal torment he was going through at the time was all over his face.


These unfortunate circumstances, coupled with the film's small budget and rushed shooting schedule, are possibly a big part of why the stop-motion animation in The Son of Kong isn't on the level as its predecessor. Don't get me wrong, given the amount of time the process takes and how short the production was, it looks quite good, especially the fight scenes between Little Kong and the monsters, but it's not quite as finessed as it was before, coming across as much more jerky and unnatural and it's obvious that it was a rush-job. The overly comical and goofy animation of the title character is also a huge detriment and really makes the work feel more like a joke and less dignified than its predecessor. Now, the optical work is better, with the compositing of the real actors with the stop-motion and miniature sets, the matte paintings, and such looking pretty good, particularly during the scenes where they're paddling around the island, trying to find a safe place to land. If you look closely enough, though, you can easily see where the miniature set leaves off to where the real actors are being projected into them, and the scale of the rear-projected images when they're rowing through the gorge that leads to the jungle and when they run aground looks off, as if they're actually real small people in a normal-sized place. So, it's far from perfect but, again, given the time and money constraints, it's a testament to the talent of those involved that the effects shots came out looking as good as they did.


I've noticed that this movie has a weird thing with names, one that not only extends to the characters of Helene and Red but also to the son of Kong himself. In the Crestwood House book I read as a kid and in other sources, he's always referred to as "Kiko," a name that was given to him during production but is never used in the actual movie; instead, Denham and the others refer to him simply as either Little Kong, Baby Kong, or just Baby. This has left me unsure of what exactly to call him but, since I always like to be as consistent with the review subject itself as possible, as well as because I know I'm going to be repeatedly prone to writing Kiko as "Kikyo" (if you're into anime, you'll probably know what I mean by that), I'll just continue to refer to him as Little Kong like I have been for the entire review. Whatever you want to call him, though, Little Kong's very existence is a massive contradiction with the first film. First off, there's the question of where was he before? In addition, what happened to the mother (a question that also plagues the various incarnations of Godzilla's son)? And finally, given Kong's solitary existence in the first film, where you would have thought he was the only one of his kind as well as the alpha of all the island's creatures, is it feasible to think of him actually having a kid somewhere? At the end of the day, though, these questions are all moot, since the filmmakers only threw him into the story to retain some element of the now deceased Eighth Wonder of the World, regardless of its plausibility. He exists simply because they needed another large ape to work the movie around. That's all you need to know. Putting those issues aside, it's not at all far-fetched to say that Little Kong is the polar opposite of his father. While Kong was wild, vicious, and territorial, his son is much friendlier and more innocent, seeing Denham, Helene, and the others as friends rather than intruders in his domain. He's a very loyal creature as well, becoming Denham and Helene's guardian after they help him get out of the quicksand he's stuck in when he's introduced and rushing to their aid whenever they're in danger. One thing he does share in common with his father is that he's very brave, undaunted by whatever beast he finds himself up against, and, as Denham himself points, can fight just about as well as his father (although, Denham never saw Kong's battles in the first movie, so I guess he's just assuming he knew how to fight really well).



Despite his good points, though, Little Kong has never been a character I've really liked, mainly because of the overly cute and comical manner in which he's portrayed. I don't mind something being cute or sweet and I know that they wanted Little Kong to not be as ferocious as his father to keep with this film's more lighthearted touch, but Willis O'Brien and his team went a little too far with it. He's very buffoonish and silly, like when he makes that over-the-top, dazed expression when the cave knocks him against the rocks, or, most cringe-inducing to me, the cartoonish manner in which he scratches his hand and shrugs his shoulders, with that goofy look on his face, near the end, and it's not good. I didn't like that stuff when I first saw it and, watching it again, I still don't like it, as it feels so detached from how Kong himself was portrayed. Admittedly, Kong did have some humanistic qualities put into him, courtesy of O'Brien, like the sucker punches he threw at the T-Rex and when he picked up a flower to give to Ann, but his overall feel was still that of a big, wild animal; Little Kong just acts like a silly, overgrown, hairy human who can't talk, like when he raises his hands up over his head when he's startled by Denham shooting his gun at one point and how he appears to try to talk him and Helene during a short respite in the cave bear fight. That brings me to another thing: his appearance. The way he looks is too cute, with his big head and humanized eyes, and his inexplicably white fur (he was built from the same stop-motion armature that was used for Kong), as well as those cooing, chirping, and hooting sounds he makes. The part of the movie where he feels the most animalistic is during the climactic earthquake, during which he looks more savage and is emitting raspy, bestial roars and growls. And like his father, he's ultimately a tragic hero, as he sacrifices himself to save Denham by holding above the water while he sinks down beneath with what's left of the island, his foot stuck in a nook in the rocks.

Sorry, kid, but you're no star like your dad.
Ultimately, the biggest failing with Little Kong is something I didn't even think about until I read Ray Morton's book that I mentioned earlier: he's not the focus of the story. The first film was all about King Kong himself, as he was the reason why Denham went to the island in the first place and, once he was introduced, he became as much of a main character in the story as the lead human cast; here, Denham and the others go to the island to look for treasure and they simply stumble across Little Kong, whom they didn't even know existed before then because they had no reason to think so. And once he is introduced, he's just there to fight off any monsters that menace our main characters and provide some silly comic relief, while the real story is about them trying to survive and continue searching for the treasure. As a result, a better title for the movie might've been, Return to Kong Island or Treasure of Kong Island, as it would've been much more consistent with the story they were telling.




The other creatures that inhabit the island aren't as numerous as they were before and they're also not as memorable or cool, either. The most notable one from a historical point of view is the Styracosaurus that chases Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie into this large crevice in a cliff, trapping them there, mainly because he finally made it into a movie after originally being made for Creation, which was canned, and meant for a section of King Kong that was cut. Other than that, and the fact that his scenes here provided great reference for Peter Jackson, who owns the actual model, and his crew when they recreated those lost scenes for the DVD release of the original movie, there's not much to say about the Styracosaurus, since all he does is trap them and break Englehorn's gun in half with his mouth. The first of two monsters that Little Kong has to defend Denham and Helene from is this big-ass cave bear that shows up out of nowhere and proves to be a pretty tough opponent for him. While he does manage to defeat him, the bear is able to injure him the most by causing him to whack his head on the rocks and give him a nasty cut on his finger. The other creature that he fights is what can only be described as a dragon, one with the same general shape as the Brontosaurus from the first movie and a jaguar-like, hissing growl. It's not a bad-looking creature, its completely blank, white eyes are fairly unnerving, and it does provide Little Kong with another challenging fight, one that's quite reminiscent of his father's battle with the Elasmosaur in the cave, so that probably makes it one of the film's most memorable monsters for me (isn't odd how all of the monsters they run into here are conveniently not much bigger than Little Kong?) Finally, there's this sea serpent that rises up out of the water to kill Helstrom at the end. He's onscreen the least of these monsters, so there's not much to say about him other than, like the dragon, he looks like something that belongs in a fantasy movie more than one about prehistoric beasts. I could definitely see Ray Harryhausen animating a creature like him in something like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, can't you? According to Wikipedia, those latter two creatures are like a couple of obscure dinosaurs that did exists but I'd never heard of them until now. In any case, that's all there is to say about the other monsters in this film, aside from a brief glimpse of the same Brontosaurus model from the original during the climax when the island is sinking.


There are a couple of significant scenes that happen before Little Kong and the other monsters make it onto the scene, the first of which is the burning down of Peterson's show tent and his death. At the peak of the drunken argument between him and Helstrom, Peterson tries to yank his bottle of liquor out of his hand, only for Helstrom to smash it over his head, sending him tumbling backwards and knocking over an oil lamp. The lamp immediately ignites some straw on the floor and the fire becomes quite big very quickly. Staggering over to Peterson, Helstrom takes his cap off and pathetically tries to fan the flames out with it, which does absolutely nothing, and when the side of the tent is set ablaze, he runs for it. Helene, who's been trying to sleep this whole time, awakes and, realizing something's wrong, opens the drapes that separates her small bedroom from the rest of the tent and sees the blaze. Yelling for her father, she quickly lets out the seals and the monkeys, which manage to escape, and runs over to Peterson's limp body and drags him out by his arms. She gets him far enough away from the tent and grabs a dress and a small trunk she had in her bedroom before the fire reaches them. Cradling her father in his arms, she asks him what happened and, still conscious, he tries to say something but succumbs to his head trauma and dies, leaving Helene to helplessly watch the fire engulf the tent completely.





Much later in the film, after the mutiny, Denham, Englehorn, Helene, Charlie, and Helstrom row their little rowboat to a sandy beach on the island and prepare to disembark. Denham tells Englehorn that he thinks the natives will throw a party when they see them again and he's half-right... they throw something but it's a spear, rather than a party, and it sticks into the ground just feet away from where Denham and Charlie stand on the beach. The chief and a large group of armed warriors emerge from the nearby bushes, and when Denham angrily asks, "Hey, did you throw that, you rat?!", he angrily speaks in his native language and his gesturing is no friendlier. Englehorn translates, telling Denham, "He says yes, he did, because his village is destroyed and his people are killed and it's all our fault for leading Kong inside the wall." Denham tells Englehorn to tell them of their situation, which he tries to do, but when they continue to approach them in a menacing fashion, it's clear that they're not going to be allowed to come ashore safely and they quickly shove off to find somewhere else to land. They row around the island and find a small inlet that runs around inside a gorge where the walls are hundreds of feet high and seemingly impossible to climb out of. Telling Helene to stick with him, Denham has a look around and finds a spot with some stair-like rocks that he can easily climb up. The two of them climb up and when they reach the top, they get their first look at Little Kong, who's trying to pry himself out of a pool of quicksand. (Do you see what I mean about his not being the focus of the story? He makes his first appearance here, when there's less than a half-hour left.) He looks up at them, seeing them for the first time, and then continues trying to pull himself out, moaning and hooting when he's unable to. Helene says that they should help him, suggesting getting a log or something to him so he can pull himself out, and the two of them reveal that they feel sorry for him, albeit for different reasons. She says that she doesn't think he'd hurt them if he got out, saying that animals know when you're trying to help them (boy, that's a crock!) Deciding to do it, Denham pushes against a small, dead tree at the edge of the quicksand, shoving it over towards Little Kong, allowing him to get a handhold and pull himself out, while Denham and Helene run up a flight of stone stairs just to be safe. Once he's out, the twelve-foot tall ape looks up at his saviors and at his hands before walking off into the jungle.

After the group meets up at the top of the stairs, they split up in order to find more food so they can save their rations for emergencies, with Denham and Helene going one way or the others heading somewhere else. Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie are walking around the jungle when Helstrom spots a Styracosaurus across from them in a clearing, which immediately charges at them. Englehorn takes a shot at the dinosaur but it slows him down for only a brief moment and he chases them across the path to a large crevice in the wall of a cliff. He's momentarily stunned when he rams his head against the rock but shakes it off and shoves the tip of his pointed face through the crack, trying to get at them. The three men are forced to get back as far into the cramped space as they can, with Helstrom appearing to force Charlie in front of him in order to try to use him as a human shield. Englehorn tries to push back against the Styracosaur with his rifle, only for the dinosaur to grab it with his mouth, pull it out of the crack, and fling it to the ground, before resuming his attack on them. Charlie tries to fend him off with a meat cleaver that he brought along with him and the scene fades to black as the dinosaur continues trying to get at them.





Following the scene transition, Denham and Helene are heading back to the steps with some food, when the giant cave bear makes his appearance by charging out of the jungle behind them. Denham fires a shot, causing the bear to drop and roll across the ground but it stops him for only a second. He joins Helene at the top of the stone steps, the bear following after them and catching their scene again after momentarily losing them. He raises up on his hind legs and prepares to attack, prompting Helene to scream and, unknowingly, alert Little Kong nearby. He charges into the clearing, just as the bear has Denham and Helene cornered at the top and is about to swipe, and grabs him and pulls him down by his left hind leg. Little Kong tries to attack while the bear is on his back, only to get shoved off, but he quickly puts the bear into a headlock before he can attack and, after some struggling, manages to fling him down to the ground. The bear gets back up and tries to swipe at him but Little Kong swings at him, gets knocked down, does a roll, and manages to get him in another headlock and twist him around, back onto the ground. He follows that up with a barrage of punches and while the bear manages to knock him off his feet, he gets right back up, briefly headlocks him again, throws some more punches to the head and an uppercut to the chin, and grapples with him. During this, the bear lifts him up and flings him hard against the rocks, momentarily knocking him senseless. After moaning and holding his head in pain, Little Kong rushes the bear, grabs his head, and contorts his body around him, grabbing his head with his legs while wrestling his left, front with his hands. The bear flings him off and he gets knocked back to the ground when he tries to knock him and flung when he tries to grapple. The bear gets on top of Little Kong, trying to get at him with his claws, while the ape struggles to keep his head at bay and, after getting loose and dodging some grabs, bites into his front, leg. He tries to get up several times, only to get knocked back down, but after grappling with his head some more and doing the simultaneous head and leg-hold again, Little Kong gets back to his feet. They both come at each other and Little Kong manages to get his left arm around the bear's neck and hold his head in place while delivering a series of fast punches to his head, mostly to his chin. After getting flung to the ground again, he grabs hold of the bear's legs, forcing him into a sitting position and rolling him over on his side, before delivering a punch right to the face. This appears to do the trick and Little Kong attempts to communicate to Denham and Helene, who've been watching the fight from their safe vantage point the whole time, and seems to try to assure them that it's okay. However, the bear awakens and tries to jump Little Kong from behind, managing to knock him to the ground, but he crawls underneath him and bites his left, hind leg. He then scoots out from under him altogether, grabs the dead tree Denham and Helene used to help him earlier, and smacks the bear repeatedly across the head with it, finally driving him off.

As Little Kong sits down, Denham remarks on how well he can fight, when Helene notices his bleeding, right middle finger. Denham initially refuses to believe that he was intentionally helping them but Helene feels differently and suggests that they go help him. The two of them walk down the steps and cautiously walk towards him, Helene then tearing off a large part of her slip for a makeshift bandage and tells Denham to talk softly in order to keep Little Kong calm. They then walk up to him, as he actually points at the cut on his finger, and Denham then tries to put the bandage on but ends up scaring Little Kong, causing him to recoil and squeal in fright. Denham then approaches again and begins wrapping the cloth around the cut very gently, all the while talking to him and telling him who he is. Little Kong, judging by his facial expressions, appears to genuinely listen and understand what he's saying, while Denham finishes his first aid treatment and ties the bandage off (I've read that the way the middle finger on the practical hand sticks out from the others during this entire sequence was a not too subtle message from Willis O'Brien to Merian Cooper after all of his interference during the shooting). As Little Kong looks at his now bandaged finger and seems to realize it's not hurting anymore, Denham and Helene walk back up the steps, the former remarking that they ought to be caught up on their good deeds for a year after all the times they've helped Little Kong. The scenes ends on a funny note when Denham tries to get some coconuts down out of tree for Helene and Little Kong, seeing this and wanting to pay him back, shakes the tree and sends the coconuts tumbling down on both of them. Denham angrily scolds him for this and when he slumps away, he tells Helene, "I wish you'd be a little more careful what you wish for."

Following a scene around a campfire where Denham keeps watch while Helene gets some sleep, with Little Kong keeping watch on both of them from nearby, the scene transitions to the next morning. After Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie are finally able to come out of their crevice now that the Styracosaur is gone, and finding that Englehorn's gun was broken by the dinosaur, it cuts to Helene waking up Denham, who feel asleep while keeping watch. When Helene tells him that there still hasn't been any sign of the skipper and the others, Denham fires off a shot to try to signal them, freaking out Little Kong, who was sleeping at the foot of the stairs. After laughing at the sight, Denham tells him his intentions to try to get into what appears to be the sealed entrance of a temple carved into the side of Skull Mountain and asks for him to just mind his own business. Grabbing a large branch, Denham finds a spot in the side of the sealed opening and tries to wedge it open from the inside-out. As he struggles to do so, Little Kong climbs up to see what he's doing and then pushes against the rocks, causing them to collapse inside, revealing the inside of a temple with an idol that holds the island's treasure. Excited, Denham rushes in followed by both Helene and Little Kong, whom he allows to join them. Rushing up to the idol, Denham tries to climb up it to grab the treasure but Little Kong has to hand it down to him. Denham is initially overjoyed at the diamonds in his hand, exclaiming that they're all rich, but then Helene makes him remember that they're still stuck on the island, making them pointless. Things then get worse when Little Kong curiously picks up Denham's rifle and inspects it, ignoring Denham's yelling at him to put it down. He actually points the barrel at his eye at one point, Denham yelling, "Hey, look out! You'll shoot yourself, ya half-wit!" and then in his mouth before pointing it off to his right. Fooling around with the trigger, he shoots the gun, recoiling and squealing from the barrel burning his hand, and when he looks at the bullet-hole the gun left in the side of the large podium, he plays around with the gun some more before accidentally snapping it in half. Denham is none too pleased about this and Little Kong tries to give it back to him, as he calls him, "Ya big rummy!"




Little do they know that they've got a visitor: the dragon I mentioned earlier shows up outside the entrance and walks in, snarling and hissing the whole way. Denham and Helene back up against the podium as he walks in, when he notices Little Kong and snaps at him, causing the two of them to square off. The dragon snaps at him a couple of more times and Little Kong grabs his neck, wrestles his head, and forces him to the ground, pounding him on the side. While struggling with him, the dragon manages to lasso Little Kong's neck with his tail and snap up at him when he reaches for it. The two of them tumble around together, Little Kong managing to get loose and on his feet, the dragon snapping at him a couple of more times and him responding with some knocks to the head. The dragon then goes for a bite and Little Kong grabs his neck again and wrestles him back to the ground, but when he picks his body up, the dragon bites his right arm with choking him with his tail again. Little Kong struggles to get free while, at the same time, trying to keep the dragon's jaws at bay and even attempts to break them in the same way in which his father broke the T-Rex's jaws. After some more struggling, he gets loose and pounds on the dragon, grabs his neck again, and then picks his body straight up, only to topple over momentarily before holding him down and punching him repeatedly in the head. He seems to finally manage to put him down with two strong socks to the noggin, picking his head up, opening his mouth, and socking him again in the chin for good measure. He then wipes his hands in satisfaction and then turns around to try to let Denham and Helene it's okay, only for it to be revealed that the dragon was faking as he reaches up and bites Little Kong on the hip. He quickly pulls him off and gives him another hit to the head, which finally seems to do the job. Hearing Englehorn calling for them outside, Denham and Helene rush out to meet him, leaving Little Kong momentarily confused but deciding to follow them anyway. Meeting up with Englehorn and the others outside, Helstrom panics when Denham says that his gun is broken too and, in his haste to run back to the boat, reveals that he lied about there being a treasure on the island. Before Denham can reveal that there actually was one, Little Kong walks out into the doorway, horrifying Helstrom and causing him to run for the boat. Realizing that he's crazy enough to steal the boat, they all walk down the steps to stop him, as Little Kong ducks back inside the temple. Denham then decides to go back for the rest of the treasure, while Helene, Englehorn, and Charlie go to try to stop Helstrom.




Helstrom reaches the boat but then probably wishes he hadn't, as a large, dragon-like sea serpent rises out of the water behind it. He panics upon seeing the monster and falls into the water, where he's quickly grabbed and shaken within the serpent's tight jaws. As Helene, Englehorn, and Charlie head down the rock-like steps, they heard a loud rumbling and Helene realizes it's an earthquake when the place starts shaking. It turns out to be both a quake and a storm, as monsoon-like rain also begins pouring down as the "steps" crumble. A cutaway shows some natives running for cover and ultimately falling to their doom, while everything around the temple is coming down as well. Helene and the others are forced into the boat as the whole island starts to come down, with the mountains crumbling and the ceiling of the temple's interior collapses around Denham and Little Kong. Englehorn and Charlie paddle the boat out of the gorge, missing a large rockslide that hits the water, and Denham and Little Kong try to get to safety, as you see the island's whole shoreline sinking. The jungles and the outside of the temple are pulled underwater while thunder crashes (seriously, where did this freaking typhoon come from?) and the interior begins filling up with water. Little Kong helps Denham get to safety, as they try to avoid the crumbling ceiling and rising water, while outside, those in the boat barely avoid a drowning Brontosaur. As the island has now almost completely sunk, Denham manages to reach the quickly-shrinking tip, all the while aided by Little Kong. The top of the island breaks off and falls into the ocean and then over half of the right side crumbles, leaving them with a very small spot. Helene spots them and points them out as Little Kong helps Denham make it to the top of the sinking mound. When they reach it, Little Kong gets his foot stuck in a tight crevice in the rocks and Denham is so exhausted that he can't even stand up against the wind and rain. As they're pulled down towards the water, Little Kong tries as hard as he can to pull his foot out but is unable to do so and, realizing that Denham will die as well if he doesn't do something, picks him up and holds him above the water as he sinks beneath the waves. By the time the others make it over to Denham, all that's left of Little Kong is his hand sticking up out the water but it's enough for Englehorn and Charlie to pull him into the boat. Little Kong then lets go and vanishes completely beneath the waves, as they row away into the storm, leading into the ending where they're eventually found by a passing ship and are sent home, with Denham and Helene sticking together.

Composer Max Steiner is another key member of the King Kong team who returned for the sequel and he provides another memorable score, albeit one that's very different from its predecessor. If you remember back when I was talking about the film's very melancholy tone, you recall that I said it's partly due to the music and it's true. The movie starts up with an opening theme that has some of the same feel as that of the original but with little of the might and none of the excitement, instead going for a slow and rather sad feel, which fits well with the analogy I mentioned earlier about the first film being about the roaring 20's and the end the beginning of the Depression, which leads into the sequel. It goes on from there, with a good chunk of the score being an instrumental version of Helene's sad song, "Runaway Blues," which you first hear during the listing of the actors and their roles during the latter part of the opening credits and re-orchestrated a number of different ways afterward but often sounding very poignant. However, I'm not too big a fan of some of the other pieces Steiner composed for the movie, especially his theme for Little Kong which, just like the character, is too comical and dopey-sounding (the high-pitched, scratchy string version that you hear after he's pulled himself out of the quicksand is especially bad). Since this movie is not as action-oriented as the first one, he didn't compose as many corresponding themes and those that he did range from okay, like when the Styracosaurus chases Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie and the latter part of Little Kong's fight with the cave bear, to too overly childish-sounding, as in the first part of the bear fight and when Little Kong opens the way to the temple for Denham. Steiner also begins reusing a fairly large chunk of his score for the first movie once they arrive at the island, such as the mysterious, drumming theme, the native score when they search around for a place to land, the chief's theme when he threatens them upon arrival, the piece when Kong battled the Elasmosaur in the cave (Steiner uses that to cover Little Kong's battle with the dragon, creating another link between these two scenes), and the exciting chase themes for the climax during the earthquake. Not surprisingly, this recycled music ends up being some of the more memorable aspects of the score.

The Son of Kong is, as Denham describes the title character, not a patch on its parent and will probably be forever confined to near obscurity as a result but it's certainly not a bad movie. It does suffer from its low budget and rushed production, resulting in a more confined, cheaper feel, sets that don't have the depth and detail of what was seen before, and stop-motion animation that, while still impressive given the conditions, isn't as finessed as the work in its predecessor, and, as James Rolfe once said, is ultimately what's so disappointing about it because it could've potentially been on par with the original given better circumstances. In addition, Little Kong is far too humanized and comical, isn't even the focus of the story, and the score, while good for the most part, is also a mixed bag. All that said, the film does have a fair amount to recommend it, most notably the memorable characters and the great performances, especially Robert Armstrong's superlative second turn as Carl Denham, as well as an enjoyable sense of humor that is sometimes delightfully quirky, an interesting tone that builds upon the ending of the first movie, good compositing and matte work (even if it is fairly noticeable at points), and a very well-done and exciting destruction sequence of the island. It may never be a major classic but I think it deserves to be reevaluated and viewed as, if nothing else, an entertaining, fast-paced, little adventure flick that has its heart firmly in the right place.

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