Classic Intel: The Son Of Kong - Online Review

With the original film reaching its 80th birthday this year, Ben has set out on a journey to a land that time forgot, watching all of the King Kong films along the way.

'Shot and released in the same year as its predecessor, this was essentially a chance for RKO Radio Pictures to gain as much money from their giant ape franchise as quickly as possible'

Shot and released in the same year as its predecessor, The Son Of Kong is the amiable sequel to King Kong that has rightfully been dwarfed by the success and legacy of the original. Essentially a chance for RKO Radio Pictures to gain as much money from their giant ape franchise as quickly as possible, The Son Of Kong turned a profit but never came close to the success of King Kong. Viewing the film objectively eighty years on, it’s not too hard to see why.

The film retains only one of the lead trio from the original, with Robert Armstrong reprising his role as Carl Denham. Armstrong’s performance here is one of the film’s highlights, as arguably the best thing The Son Of Kong manages is to develop Denham’s character from the first film. Armstrong was allegedly more of a fan of this film than King Kong because of this, and this shows through his performance which is as charming and engaging as that seen in the original.

Elsewhere the success of the cast varies. Frank Reicher’s role as Captain Englehorn, also carried over from King Kong, is also developed a little from his dual function in the first film of steering the ship and inexplicably being able to speak and understand the language of the natives of Kong’s island. John Marston as Nils Helstrom is a satisfying enough foil to Denham, although his character comes across as somewhat inconsistent. Helen Mack as the story’s damsel is also fine, but suffers from never having the presence on screen of Fay Wray, nor being given anything as interesting to do as Wray was as Ann Darrow in the original.

The effects, mostly either unused or reused from King Kong, are scattered more sparsely here but impressive enough in their own right. The problem is that everything you see here was done better in the first film. 'Little Kong', as he’s referred to affectionately by Denham, is technically wonderful with some charming personality coming through his facial expressions, but never dominates the screen or the story anywhere near as effectively as Kong. Little Kong’s fight with a giant bear is a prime example: it should astound considering the film’s age, but in reality it’s laid bare as a half-hearted imitation of Kong’s T-Rex battle in King Kong.

This lacklustre feel that permeates throughout is by far the biggest problem with Son Of Kong. After a promising start in which Denham flees New York to escape the multitude of lawsuits being filed against him for Kong’s Manhattan rampage, the story basically falls apart. At a little over an hour in length this is slight stuff, and yet the film takes far too long to get to Kong’s island leaving too little time for anything to develop properly once we get there. A quest for treasure on the island is essentially remembered and forgotten as is convenient, and too much relies on coincidence to ring anywhere near true. Whereas King Kong was a hybrid of the adventure and disaster genres, this is firmly in family friendly adventure-comedy territory and the script follows: it is too weak and lacking in jokes to succeed. The destructive climax on Kong’s island should provide an emotional high point, but with so little in the way of relationship development throughout it just feels empty.

In the end, The Son Of Kong remains worth a look as a cinematic curiosity, the little-known sequel to one of the most iconic Hollywood pictures of all time. However, whilst it entertains here and there, The Son Of Kong is never more than a pale and underdeveloped imitator to its father.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. Not in the same league as Kong, but this film has grown on me over time. I 'm especially fond of Helen Mack's very period performance. By the way, the actor was Robert Armstrong, not Robert Altman. Robert Altman is a director.

    1. I found this charming enough, but completely lacking in anything of real substance, and never anywhere near the greatness of the original film. Mack's performance is entertaining, but perhaps unfairly will always be compared to Wray's iconic turn.

      Thanks for spotting the error as well, I must have had Altman on my mind whilst writing this one and substituted him in! Armstrong has now been fully credited instead of Altman where necessary.