If you thought that rushed, unnecessary and inferior sequels to hit films were a recent phenomenon, think again. Son of Kong is proof positive that wringing every last dollar out of success has been standard operating procedure in Hollywood almost since before the ink was dry on Thomas Edison‘s patents.
This quickie sequel reunites most of the creative team from the original King Kong, including producer, Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest Schoedsack, screenwriter Ruth Rose and special effects supervisor Willis O’Brien, but with a fraction of the budget and time allotted to the first, this film lacks virtually every quality that made its predecessor a classic.
Son of Kong picks up about a month after Kong’s famous rampage through New York City and Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is holed up in a boarding house, hiding from a virtual army of process servers hitting him with dozens of lawsuits resulting from the simian-induced carnage. When Denham learns that the grand jury is also looking to indict him, he hooks up with Englehorn (Frank Reicher), the captain of the ship that originally took him to Kong’s island, and they decide to try their luck plying the cargo trade in the East Indies.
Something is very wrong when a film about returning to the island doesn’t even get close to that destination for almost 40 of the film’s 69 minutes. The brief time spent on the island is probably a product of the film’s miniscule budget and tight production schedule. They’re simply wasn’t the time or the money to match the scope of the original’s special effects. As a result, the story plods aimlessly, trying the patience of an audience that no doubt paid good Depression-era money to see another giant ape.
And what we do finally get is nothing to be terribly excited about. The titular character, Little Kong, completely lacks the personality and charisma of his “father.” He looks less like Kong than a second-string character from a Davey and Goliath cartoon. And this film may have started the Hollywood tradition that when you bring back a successful villain for a sequel, you have to make him a hero. Come to think of it, Terminator 2 may be the spiritual descendent of this forgotten little movie. Rather than menace our heroes, once they save him from a pit of quicksand, he follows them around like a 12-foot-tall, occasionally helpful puppy dog.
As Hilda, Helen Mack makes a pleasant if forgettable replacement for Fay Wray while John Marston shamelessly mugs his way through the role of Helstrom, the disreputable sailor who first sold Denham the map to Kong’s island.
There is one thing about this film that might interest film buffs. The ending, where Kong’s Island is destroyed by a giant earthquake, is probably lifted from the unfinished movie Creation, which was the project that Willis O’Brien abandoned before starting King Kong. The dinosaur models used in Kong were, in fact, built for Creation. Also, the dinosaur that chases Englehorn, Helstrom and Charlie the cook (Victor Wong) into the cave was not only built for Creation, but was then cut from King Kong. It was actually what chased the sailors out onto the log for their fateful encounter with Kong. The original model is currently owned by director Peter Jackson.