The Summer of Kong: Part 2

MAY 9

KING KONG ( 1933 )

If you can find any flaw in this movie, it would be the stop motion animation. Stop motion animation just does not look real. It gets worse when a stop motion human is picked up by a stop motion monster. I guess it has something to do with the scale of the puppets being animated. If the Kong puppet is 8 inches tall, then the Fay Wray puppet would be only two inches tall, and much harder to animate. Another obvious flaw would be Kong's fur. It was unavoidable that the animation process would cause the fur to oddly move around in every frame. As bad as stop motion animation looks today, the special effect was state of the art in the 1930s. But it was a lot more effective in the film The Lost World ( 1925 ) where there was less interaction between humans and monsters, and the dinosaurs had no fur. So it is a testament to Willis O'Brien's animation and Merian C. Cooper's story telling that you are able to overlook the flawed special effects and enjoy the movie as if it featured the latest in CGI effects. Sure, it is obvious that a stop motion dinosaur is attacking a stop motion human, but it is still cringeworthy when the dinosaur eventually eats him. Despite it's age, King Kong remains one of the greatest adventure films ever made. Even if the basic story is completely stupid, the movie's overall execution keeps you thrilled. And that is what great movie making is all about. Allowing you to be pulled into the story despite the flaws in the special effects.

MAY 16

SON OF KONG ( 1933 )

You got to admire that the same team that put King Kong together could knock out a sequel in only six months. But then again, that is probably what kept the sequel from greatness. All the characters from the first movie are back, with three big exceptions. There is no Ann Darrow, possibly because by that time Fay Wray was already working for another studio. Also inexplicably missing is Jack Driscoll who was the first mate of the ship The Venture. Bruce Cabot was still under contract for RKO and could have been in the sequel, if only to show up for a brief cameo. And the third missing character, Kong himself, killed at the end of the previous film. The solution for a sequel was to bring back all the other characters, and introduce a brand new ape as a second Kong. In this case, Kong's albino son. The humans have returned to Skull Island, this time looking for treasure, and end up saving Kong Jr. from quicksand. Thankful for his rescue, Kong's son becomes their friend and protector against other giant creatures. The movie ends inexplicably with the island sinking during a combo earthquake and typhoon. Everything on the island is killed, including all the dinosaurs and the natives. Son of Kong himself drowns while saving lead character Carl Denham. The human cast does manage to survive, but without the island, there was no possibility for another sequel. Son of Kong is one of those forgotten films, and if not for being a sequel to a classic, would remain forgotten. It's only value is adding a little more to the King Kong mythos ( but not much ). However, for a effects movie rushed out in six months in 1933, it is pretty impressive.

MAY 23

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG ( 1949 )

Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer. It is also the weekend I finish the Cooper/O'Brien giant ape trilogy. Having not settled who owned Kong, Cooper decided to make a film about a different giant ape. While it is possible that the plot for Mighty Joe Young could have originally been an idea for a Kong sequel, in the end it was an entirely different ape on the screen. Joe may have been larger than the average gorilla, but he was nowhere as large as Kong. Not even as large as Kong's son.

This time around, a baby gorilla is adopted by a white girl growing up in Africa. Both girl and Joe grow to adulthood. A showman who came to Africa to capture lions, discovers that the girl can control Joe, and offers her a contract exhibiting the ape at his nightclub in California. Expectantly, this turns out to be a bad idea. Some alcoholics sneak behind the stage and decide to give Joe some bottles of champaign. Joe gets drunk and destroys the club. The authorities order Joe shot, and he and the girl end up on the run. Eventually Joe is forgiven when he helps rescue children from a burning orphanage.

Mighty Joe Young is a heartwarming film meant to introduce a heroic ape who could easily be in his own film series. But a sequel never materialized. I never really liked Mighty Joe Young that much. It was a monster movie with no monster. And I did not care much for a sappy movie about a gorilla. But it does have its moments. The sequence where Joe destroys the nightclub is well worth watching. And the ending fire sequence is thrilling. As visual effects go, Mighty Joe Young was the best of the three films. But I still prefer the menacing ape of King Kong.

MAY 30

KONGA ( 1961 )

The movie posters may a bit misleading. The tag line is "Not since 'King Kong' has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!" and shows a painting of a giant ape holding a girl, towering over and smashing through buildings. To say the poster is a bit misleading is an understatement. A college professor returns from an expedition to Africa with some plants that have the ability to make animals grow large. Extracting the chemicals in the plant, he creates a serum, and experiments on his pet chimpanzee Konga, turning him into a gorilla. He then uses the gorilla sized Konga to kill all his enemies. The only one who knows his secret is his assistant, who agrees to keep her mouth shut because he agreed to marry her. But when she sees the professor fondling one of his students in the greenhouse, she decides to get even by giving Konga the entire growth serum. Konga grows to Kong size, kills the assistant, grabs the professor, and goes on a rampage through London with the professor in his hand. When confronted by the army, Konga throws the professor at them, killing him, and then is easily shot to death a few moments later.

Almost the entire budget for this movie went to paying RKO for the rights to call the ape Konga. Very little money was spent on the rest of the film. We see nothing of African expedition other than stock footage. Konga only destroys one building, the house he grows out of. The rest is jus blue screen special effects to have Konga walk past or behind buildings. The producers did not even bother building a giant puppet arm to lift up any actors. Instead, when someone is picked up, it is a doll. There was not even any attempt to make real looking dolls. The assistant doll has hair that is twice the size of it's head. Even Konga looks like one of those gorilla costumes you rent at a party shop. Like many British films from this period, most of it is just talk, talk, talk and very little action. Konga remains a normal sized gorilla for most of the film, and only turns King Kong sized in the last fifteen minutes. And unlike the poster, does very little destruction. That would have meant building models for the ape to destroy, which apparently the producers could not afford. The one saving grace is the performance by Michael Gough as the murdering professor Charles Decker. Decker is both mad and evil, and Gough does an outstanding job making him look creepy at the right times, and perfectly sane when confronted by the police. But otherwise this is just another formula mad scientist film where the villain creates a monster that kills at his bidding. The giant ape part is too little too late, and very underwhelming.

JUNE 6

KING KONG vs GODZILLA ( 1962 )

There had only been two Godzilla films previous to this one. In the first movie Godzilla is not just killed, but completely destroyed. The second movie, Godzilla Raids Again ( 1955 ) featured a second Godzilla along with another monster called Anguirus. Toho then abandoned Godzilla and began making one shot movies about other giant monsters, including Mothra and Rodan. When Toho got the rights to film their own King Kong movie, they had originally intended for him to fight a giant version of the Frankenstein Monster. But perhaps for budgetary reasons, a last minute decision was made to reuse one of their existing monster costumes, and it was decided that Godzilla was the best costume to stage fights with an ape costume. In other words, Godzilla was not that big a deal yet, not even in Japan. It would not be until Toho found it impossible to obtain the rights for any new King Kong movies that they turned their attention back to Godzilla, changing him from a villain to the heroic defender of Japan he would become by the 1970s. This should be kept in mind when watching King Kong vs Godzilla. King Kong is the star. The only reason he turns up in Japan is because once again some idiot wanted to capture him and bring him back for exhibition, only to have Kong escape. When Godzilla returns to Japan as well, the army goads Kong into fighting him. After both monsters end up in the ocean, it is only Kong who resurfaces, and then decides to swim back to his home island. Many rumors over the years claimed the Japanese version had Godzilla resurfacing, and Kong the one that drowned. But Toho was not thinking of this movie in terms of a U.S. monster vs a Japanese monster. And they had wanted to turn Kong into a franchise, not Godzilla. According to those who own the Japanese version, while Universal had made many edits, the ending on the Japanese version still had Kong resurfacing.

Perhaps I should mention here that Universal has blocked the original Japanese version from being available in the United States. Back in 1962 both studios were on friendly terms. Toho made two King Kong films, and Universal distributed the English language version. Universal had Toho's permission to reedit the film. That reediting consisted of removing some of the scenes with Japanese actors, filming new scenes with American actors playing news reporters, and a complete redubbing of the film which allowed a re-write of the dialogue. Even the original music is gone, replaced with familiar music cues from the Universal archive. The same music from Creature from the Black Lagoon is used for Godzilla's theme. While King Kong vs Godzilla was dumb to begin with, Universal had dumbed it down even more. Fans of Godzilla who own bootlegs of the Japanese version say they prefer it over the American version. But since the only version available to me was the American version, that is the one I watched and reviewed.

Much of what is wrong with King Kong vs Godzilla can not be blamed on Universal. Toho monsters were men in costumes. These costumes were not so bad when they were reptiles, but just did not look good with higher evolved animals like gorillas. It was not just a matter of possibly seeing a zipper, or a gap appearing between the head and the rest of the body. You need an expressive face to pull off a good gorilla costume, and the Toho costumes were not very expressive. Not a problem with reptiles like Godzilla, but very obvious when Kong had a frozen face. Substandard Kong costume aside, the film's biggest problem is that it spends most of it's running time trying to explain how King King and Godzilla ended up on the same continent in the first place. After seeing how explorers discover Kong, and then decide to drug him and bring him back to Japan. After seeing how Godzilla is accidentally freed from the iceberg he had been trapped in the previous film. After seeing how the Army decides the only way to stop Godzilla is to trick King Kong into fighting him. After all of this, and the monster battle itself, there is very little time for any real story. King Kong vs Godzilla may be very memorable for being the only fight between motion pictures two most famous giant monsters. But it is barely entertaining. Not as bad as Konga, but still one of those disappointing films that drags most of the time.

JUNE 13

MAD MONSTER PARTY? ( 1967 )

With a script co-written by Mad Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman, I had high hopes for this Rankin/Bass stop motion animated film. And considering how endearing the Rankin/Bass holiday specials have been, this film should have been better. But it sort of dragged, and pretty much all of the gags were duds. Dr. Frankenstein is the leader of all of Earth's monsters. He invites them all to his island for a party, where he announces he is retiring, and his only living heir, his nerdish nephew Felix Flanken, will be his successor. Not happy with their new "human" leader, the monsters revolt and hunt down Felix, who throughout the movie is both clueless to his peril, and that the rest of the inhabitants of the island are monsters. Dr Frankenstein's assistant, the beautiful Francesca, also wants Felix dead, believing she herself should be the heir. But after a few attempts at killing Felix fail, she ends up falling in love with him, and lets him know of the danger he is in. The one monster Dr Frankenstein failed to invite to the party was a giant ape called "It". In one of the films few good jokes, Frankenstein says he did not invite "It" because "It" was a crushing bore, expanding that statement to say at the last party, "It" was literally crushing wild bores. Francesca sends a message to "It" that brings him to the island, and he soon takes his anger out by capturing all the monsters, along with Francesca, and while holding them climbs to the top of a mountain. Dr Frankenstein along with an air force of zombies attacks "It" with bi-planes. ( an obvious parody of the final scene from King Kong ). During the battle Francesca is freed, but Dr. Frankenstein is captured. But it turns out that he had brought with him his ultimate invention, an explosive liquid that is as powerful as a nuclear bomb. Announcing he is not at all happy that the other monsters had tried to kill his nephew, he decides to drop the explosive, destroying the island, himself, "It", and all the rest of the monsters. Out on the ocean in a rowboat, Felix and Francesca watch the destruction of the island from a distance.

It is not as if Rankin/Bass did not try. They had the writer of Mad comics on the script. They had all the popular monsters, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and The Mummy, along with the Frankenstein Monster and his Bride. It had the vocal talents of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller. And the same people who wrote the songs for those classic Rankin/Bass holiday specials would write the songs for the movie. And yet somehow this film felt very uninspired. It is also a mystery why Rankin/Bass felt the need to call King Kong by the alternate name "It". This was during the time they had the rights to the character for the cartoon series, and had expanded those rights for a co-production with Toho called King Kong Escaped ( which will be watched and reviewed next week. ) It seemed as if Rankin/Bass was worried about the Kong copyrights, even more that the copyrights to Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon which was also in the movie.

JUNE 20

KING KONG ESCAPES ( 1967 )

The problem with King Kong vs Godzilla was that it spent most of its running time trying to explain why the two monsters were in Japan at the same time. King Kong Escapes, the second Kong movie produced by Toho, is a vast improvement because you get much more of a story. A mad scientist called Dr Who builds a giant gorilla robot to mine a radioactive element out of a polar cave. But the radiation keeps shutting the robot down. So Dr Who goes to plan B; kidnap King Kong, hypnotize him, and make him dig out the radioactive ore. There is also a sub plot involving the good guys agents, one of which is a woman who ( surprise surprise ) Kong falls in love with and wants to carry around. They also end up prisoners of Dr Who and his army of thugs, but soon both the humans and Kong escape and make their way back to Japan. Dr Who retaliates by sending the robot Kong after them. But after a battle atop the Tokyo Tower, Kong destroys the robot, and soon after destroys Dr Who's ship as well. Kong then swims back to his island while the happy humans wave goodbye.

One of the better Toho films that is usually forgotten in the shadow of King Kong vs Godzilla, I would say that this is the best giant ape film I have seen in this marathon since seeing King Kong back in May. Perhaps the only problem this film has ( aside from yet another underwhelming Kong costume ) is the choice for the dubbed voice of Dr Who. Since this was a co production with Rankin/Bass, their contribution was to use their own voice artists to dub the American print. The problem was that vocal actor Paul Frees had a very distinctive voice that had been used in several cartoons and television specials, including the voice of Boris Badenov in Rocky & Bullwinkle and Burgermiester Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin' To Town. Hearing a familiar cartoon voice come out of Dr Who's mouth is very jarring. As is the name Dr Who, which is exactly the same as the famous British time traveling hero Doctor Who.

JUNE 27

THE MIGHTY GORGA ( 1969 )

Gorga is cheap. An extra extra low budget film shot entirely at some California animal park, which doubles for a circus, a zoo in Africa, and who's animal exhibits are shot in close-up and used as stock footage of wild animals later in the movie. The plot has a circus near bankruptcy. The owner decides to take a trip to Africa where an acutance has reported seeing a giant gorilla named Gorga. The expedition ends up being captured by the tribe that worships the giant ape. But fortunately the expedition had already found and made friends with Gorga, and he both helps them escape, and defends them against an evil group of rival hunters. Having found a treasure chest in a cave, the circus owner no longer needs to bring Gorga back, so he parts ways with the giant ape.

The only two good things I can say about this film, is that it does not get completely boring, and you get to see Gorga in the opening minutes instead of having to wait 40 or more minutes to see a giant ape as with the past films. Gorga appears to be the top half of an ape costume, as that is all you see. To achieve the illusion of a giant ape, you see the actors looking up at something, then cutting to the head of a gorilla looking down trough some branches. There is also a really bad dinosaur which is either a dinosaur toy held close to the camera, or a very terrible dinosaur costume. To give you an idea of how cheaply this film was made, there is the scene where the expedition helps an injured Gorga by putting a bandage on his cut finger ( an idea stolen from Son of Kong ). Gorga has passed out after fighting the ridiculous dinosaur. The girl on the expedition notices that his finger is cut, and then disappears off camera while the circus owner describes her putting the bandage on Gorga's finger. Gorga wakes up, and his finger is bandaged. Never are the actors and Gorga in the same shot.

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