The monstrous success of King Kong (1933) had viewers and studio executives demanding a sequel. Despite the time-consuming techniques used to create Kong and the various prehistoric creatures, RKO had a follow-up film in theaters before the end of the year. It's shorter than its predecessor, and also has an entirely different tone. Kong had channeled old-style yarns, pulp adventures, Victorian ideas about Darwin and dinosaurs, and Hollywood exotica into an original adventure film with a good dose of horror. Son of Kong retains many of these elements, and audiences once again go seafaring to a lost world, but the fright factor has been reduced. Whereas Kong had been a monster with heart but also terrific rage, his son is a bonafide hero with a clownish side. The original Kong had drawn some sympathy from his audience, and this film chooses to develop that aspect of the giant ape. Son tames the beast, making him a friend and a source of amusement.
Kong, it turns out, brought Carl Denham disastrous luck; everyone in New York City wants to sue the explorer/filmmaker for damages caused by the monster's rampage. In an Asian port town he receives a dubious tip regarding Kong's treasure. In need of money, he returns to Skull Island which, inexplicably, has not become the object of scientific research. He's accompanied by the treacherous man who had originally provided the map to the island, a fearful crew who have mutiny on their mind, and pretty Hilda, who stows away after the death of her father.
Denham, his captain, his cook, and Hilda soon encounter and assist the young, fair-haired ape. He becomes attached to them, an oversized Quasimodo with a special fondness for Hilda, but a boyish fondness. We see none of the primal lust his father had for Ann Darrow.
The effects have been rushed. The original Kong came in two sizes; he was scaled to appear just under twenty feet while on Skull Island, but he stood slightly higher in New York City. This subtle shift goes unnoticed by most viewers. His son changes size visibly, often within the same scene. Like his famous father, he's a fighter, but he has fewer opportunities to show it, and he fights in defense of his newfound human friends. His opponents include a prehistoric cave bear and a bizarre sea creature unknown to paleontology.
The one opponent he cannot defeat is an earthquake, which destroys the island and its fantastic fauna. The young ape dies heroically, saving the lives of his human friends1.
The Son of Kong does not match the original film in quality, but it remains an entertaining adventure. A model ape once again gives the winning performance, and the movie itself ranks above most of the original film's imitators.
Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Writer: Ruth Rose
Robert Armstrong...Carl Denham
1. Some people view the original King Kong as a film about western exploitation of various peoples and resources. While I don't entirely buy their arguements, they put an interesting, disturbing gloss on Kong Junior's final sacrifice.