(1933) director Ernest B. Schoedsack
This progeny of the great King Kong (1933) doesn’t measure up to its forebear by any significant measure, but it’s still a heck of a fun flick. Put into production following the explosion of the original’s success, the film was released only six months after King Kong took New York and the world by storm. But the limited budget and production schedule certainly hindered the potential for this sequel, while not snuffing it out altogether.
Picking up the story only one month after the end of the original, we find Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), hiding out from creditors and lawsuits resulting from the destruction left in the wake of his folly of bringing a giant wild ape to New York City. Lucky for him, Captain Englehorn and Charlie (Frank Reicher and Victor Wong, also reprising their roles), persuade Denham to rejoin them on shipping voyages before the creditors come for the captain’s ship as well. They head out on the high seas.
In the port of DaKang, they meet a plucky young woman (the very pretty Helen Mack) and a sailor who accidentally killed her father, who also happens to turn out to be the guy who put Denham on the track of Skull Island in the first place. Several complicated but quick plot turns later, they ship out for Skull Island, seeking a treasure that the villainous sailor now informs them lies there.
But what they discover once they get there is that Kong had a son, an albino giant gorilla. Much smaller and a lot more friendly, Baby Kong gets rescued and rescues Denham and the girl, from a giant bear, a dragon-like creature, and ultimately from the island itself, which sinks in a rainstorm/earthquake. Little Kong nobly dies rescuing Denham, holding him above the raging seas, while his foot is stuck in the sinking mountain.
The film is really more about the charms than anything. Denham gets redemption, ruing his great mistake in capturing Kong and taking him from his home. And “Kiko”, as Little Kong is known (outside of the film), while quite a bit hammier than his old man, is cute and likable, and of course, ultimately a martyred hero, by no means just a wild beast.
We’d actually planned to see the first Harry Potter movie this night, but an apparent backlog on the film at Netflix set us in the way of a back-up plan. Having only re-watched the original King Kong one week ago, it was kind of a treat to watch this hot-on-its-heels sequel so quickly thereafter. The kids really enjoyed it, particularly once Kiko showed up. Like the original, there is quite a bit of narrative build up before they get to Skull Island, but once on Skull Island the action is pretty non-stop. This film, unlike the original is pretty darn short, running 69 minutes. And while the effects were also overseen by the great Willis O’Brien, who did the effects in the original, nothing quite lives up to the qualities of that film, no doubt as a result of time and budget.
That said, it was a lot of fun. I think I’d only seen it once as a kid myself, possibly around Felix’s age, which would put that back around 30 years ago. If we want to complete this cycle of sorts, we’ll need to see Mighty Joe Young (1949), which was also directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and included work by O’Brien and a prodigy named Ray Harryhausen who had been inspired to become a stop-motion animator after seeing the original Kongs. We’ll get there, but maybe after a break for something different.