Love Finds Carl Denham
RKO's Rush Order That Was Son Of Kong (1933)
In keep with habit of doing everything backwards, I saw this a year ahead of King Kong, a Sunday afternoon filler from
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Armstrong could and did overact at times (The Most Dangerous Game), but never here. It's like he became Carl Denham for willing take of burden for chained KK and awful price of those chains being broke. Denham/Armstrong's declare after assist of Junior Kong that he "owes something to the family" sounds out of context like a gag line, but plays almost straight in the movie. Armstrong knew by third quarter 1933 that King Kong was past mere popularity to something like folklore and that he'd travel with it to whatever posterity yielded. Many a theatre had incorporated Kong into prologue/stage revues, and references to the big monkey were all over newspaper cartoons (and movie ones) within months of KK's release. From such awareness came the most thoughtful performance of Robert Armstrong's career. Same too for Frank Reicher, whose Captain Englehorn has shadings that had to come of Reicher's also-appreciation for impact King Kong had and this being the role for which he'd be remembered. However business-as-usual a cast may have been shooting King Kong (and how could they know during filming just how amazing it would be at a finish?), such wouldn't be the case during weeks of urgency to wrap a sequel RKO was determined to get into theatres by holiday season of 1933.
Lead lady Helen Mack is more effective, more proactive, than Fay Wray from the original. She understands, is protective of, little Kong right off, and never once screams, which Wray did to excess in King Kong. Mack offers useful guidance to an at times skittish Armstrong: "Animals always know when you're trying to help them," as little Kong does when the two bandage his wounded finger. Some have said Son Of Kong has a fairy tale quality as opposed to the brute entertainment King Kong was, and yes, I'd agree. Add to that the partnershio of Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack, their developing relationship a Son Of Kong asset, enhanced by Max Steiner use of "Runaway Blues" as recurring theme. The composer was like the rest of crew for being harried to completion, so there is reprise of cues from King Kong, all welcome for linking sound with sights we revisit. The title character need not be threatening; in fact, it would have been a mistake designing a Son to out-roar Kong. The half-Dad's size snowball ape does a few too cute reactions, but fights to respective deaths a phalanx of threatening monsters ("bad eggs," said Variety, " ... of the stone age jungle"), so there's no dearth in terms of special-fx once they kick in with a second half of the 69 minute show.
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Variety called Son Of Kong "a wash-up of the King Kong theme," which frankly it was, RKO pretty well fencing itself off from further sequels by making KK's offspring "a bit of a pansy." Los Angeles got Son Of Kong for a Christmas Day opening at the RKO Hillstreet Theatre, with New York's Roxy in receipt the following week, where "kids laughed plenty yesterday afternoon" (12-29), according to Film Daily, this causing the trade to brand Son Of Kong "strictly juvenile entertainment" that was "hardly for grown-ups." Christmas may have been a wrong time to unwrap this gorilla, the Hillstreet doing a west coast swan dive with $4,900 in a first week, the house average being $8,000. Bad weather spelled bad luck in Frisco, "torrential downpour" which "cut biz to the bone" on opening day that was culmination of weeks thumping the pic. The
In the end, Son Of Kong was treated like a programmer and paid off like one. Approving notices might have damned it with praise for being not so "terrifying" as King Kong and therefore safe for kiddies ... but who among kiddies wanted that? There were even favorable comparisons to
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