Saturday, 15 March 2014

Son of Kong (1933)

Released just months after King Kong, and using much of the same cast and crew, Son of Kong is no match for the original. Despite some unique touches, and a likeable title character, the rushed ending and talky script make this sequel sometimes exciting, but, too often, dull.

The film opens with Carl Denham, the man who bought King Kong to New York, penniless and up to his neck in lawsuits from the death and destruction that caused by Kong. Jumping at the chance to get out of the country, he takes a job on a cargo ship, where he meets Nils Helstrom, the man who sold him the map to Kong Island in the first place. Helstrom is now full of tales of buried treasure on the island and says he wants to go back there - but is something much dangerous waiting for them instead?

The screenplay feels poorly thought out and put together in a rushed manner, which, given how quickly the film was released after the original, surely must have been the case. It assumes you have some knowledge of the first film, but given how fresh it would have been in the minds of the movie going public (and the extent to which the character of King Kong is still part of popular culture) this is unlikely to be a problem.  The first half is relentlessly talky, with dull dialogue delivered in a wooden manner, and while things pick up slightly when the characters reach Kong Island, there is still no momentum to the search for the treasure, a wasted opportunity.

The film only really comes to life during the action sequences, particularly the fights between Kong Junior and the assorted beasts, such as giant bears and dinosaurs that inhabit the island. While the special effects look dated, and not as carefully constructed as in the first film, presumably due to lack of time and money they are still elaborate and well done. Kong Junior comes across as more than just a roaring beast, being quite charming at times, and even a bit goofy and childlike, at one point doing a shrug of his shoulders to camera.

As is common in many of the films of the time, the attitudes to race look very dated. However, both the “Ooga Booga” tribesmen that the party encounter on the island, some of who look obviously blacked up, and Charlie the Chinese cook and his broken English are both too silly to cause any serious offence, being more insensitive than intentionally offensive.

In the closing few minutes, with an earthquake appearing from out of nowhere to destroy the island, we finally see the characters in some real peril, with a chance they might not all get out alive. Unfortunately, the rushed nature of the film means that we have not had time to get to know any of them, and when one does make the ultimate sacrifice, there is little emotional impact.