Saturday, 21 November 2015

Kin of Kong: Part One - Clown Prince

"You're not a patch on your Old Man"

We tend to suffer from sequel fatigue these days, and for good reason. Few films are made without a franchise in mind, actors signed up for a series of continuations stretching years ahead before production even begins.
And generally these films tend to be grander in scale, bigger, but rarely better than the original which spawns them.
Inflation accounts for some of the greater cost, but mainly the perception seems to be that the next film has to be bigger, louder and longer to justify itself, budgets soaring to hundreds of millions of dollars.

But there was a time when sequels were regarded as quick knock-offs, hurried into cinemas to capitalise on the still-current interest in the original film.  And sadly, this is very much the case for Son of Kong - rushed out at the end of the same year as the release of 1933's King Kong.

Given that the original Kong had a then-lengthy production schedule of 55 weeks (and utilised some models and sequences created for an earlier, unmade film), it was obvious that the miracle could never be repeated in mere months.  To their credit. the producers were well aware of this and Kong screen writer Ruth Rose wisely decided: "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier"

Denham bandages young Kong's injured finger.
Consequently, Son Of Kong is a better film for the human actors, and far less focused on the wonders of stop motion animation.  Young Kong still has his moments, but more about this later.
Robert Armstrong in particular benefits from this shift in emphasis, with generous screen time allowing hi m to really flesh out the character of Carl Denham. No longer in a certain someone's giant shadow Armstrong projects genuine charisma, somehow making the opportunistic huckster Denham a likeable character. Quite rightly the film opens with him practically a fugitive, bankrupt and in hiding from a city which is determined to make him pay for the destruction wrought by his abduction of Kong.

To his credit, he does appear to acknowledge his terrible injustices against the 'Eighth wonder of the world', which we later find the surviving villagers on Kong's home are not about to forgive.

The other returning characters from the first film, Captain Englehorn and his cook Charlie throw Denham and unexpected lifeline, and soon all three are heading for Indonesian waters once more.  The fact that they will eventually wash up on Kong's Island is a given (note: In a similar vein to Sherlock Holmes's most famous line never actually having been written for the Great Detective, Kong's home is not referred to as 'Skull Island' here, in the first film or even the '76 remake.)

And just as the female lead, Helen Mack, is a brunette in this film, young Kong himself is now blond, possibly even albino.  At a mere twelve feet high he is lighter than his father in every sense, and not above gurning directly to the camera, shrugging with upturned palms like a vaudeville comedian.
Worse still, he appears to be accompanied by the chattering of a chimpanzee in some scenes, and during an otherwise impressive battle with a huge cave bear is literally knocked cross-eyed at one point.

Pooh Bear felt Hundred acre wood wasn't as friendly a neighbourhood as it used to be.
Despite this, the sequence is also possibly also the nearest the film comes to capturing the excitement and spectacle of the original.  A later tussle with a dragon-like creature is over far too quickly.
Infamously the film ends abruptly with a massive earthquake which submerges the entire island in a matter of minutes, the trapped little Kong lifting Denham to safety before disappearing beneath the waves.  Kong's Island, perhaps the world's final great place of mystery and wonder, painstakingly realised in the first film, is hastily erased - surely the final insult to the memory of the movie legend this one seeks to exploit. 

I should abhor Son of Kong, but I really can't.  Although an obvious cash-in, the good outweighs the bad in terms of Armstrong's performance, and in young Kong's relatively few scenes some of the magic does still shine through. 

Rather than detracting from the film which came before it, by comparison this all-but-forgotten and inessential adjunct only further highlights the achievements of the original King Kong.

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