SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Wasei Kingu Kongu (1933)

Shochiku Kinema was the film company that handled the Japanese distribution of King Kong for RKO.

Sadly, much like 90% of all Japanese movies made before 1945, this has been lost in the wake of World War II, with only a few flyers and posters left to prove that it even existed.

A three-reel silent comedy directed by Torajiro Saito, this film has the original in the background as an unemployed man named Santa (Isamu Yamaguchi) who graduates from being a pickpocket to dressing as a gorilla to get work and keep his girlfriend.

Santa ends up performing in a Kong-themed show in which he dresses up and attacks the city props on stage. However, his girlfriend has already left him and shows up at the show with her new boyfriend, which causes him to chase them and the authorities believe that a gorilla really is on the loose.

Either this movie was made to case in the fame of the release of the American film or used Yamaguchi’s comedy fame to sell King Kong to Japanese audiences.

Regardless, this is a movie that has been lost to the mists of time and presents an interesting footnote as we review so many kaiju films over the last few days.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Son of Kong (1933)

Released nine months after the original — perfect timing for the son of King Kong to spend in the womb, when you think about it — this sequel ran every Thanksgiving on WOR and by the end, I was emotionally devastated. I still have difficulty watching it in my late 40’s and have no idea how young Sam made it out of repeated watches of this without permanently drying his tear ducts.

Scriptwriter Ruth Rose — who Ann Darrow was based on — made no attempt to make a serious film because she felt that there was no way that a sequel could be better than the first movie. She said, “If you can’t make it bigger, make it funnier.”

She has a funny sense of humor.

This film had a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule, which meant that the original ending — in which audiences would have seen a dinosaur stampede during the weather-related chaos that sinks Skull Island. Instead, they were left with the emotionally crippled conclusion.

It’s director by Ernest B. Schoedsack, who also made Mighty Joe YoungThe Monkey’s PawDr. CyclipsThe Most Dangerous Game and was the uncredited director for the actors on the first film, with Marian C. Cooper taking the credit.

No, I am not overstating the hyperbole.

A month after Kong destroyed New York City, filmmaker Carl Denham and Captain Englehorn leave behind the lawsuits and prosecution waiting for them by going to the Dutch port of Dakang, where Denham again falls for a lady, this time a singer named Hilda Petersen.

Of course, he’s also willing to buy a map to Skull Island from the man who kills her father in a drunken argument over monkeys, so there’s that.

Things don’t get any better on the ship — a mutiny forces everyone in the main cast into a lifeboat — or on the Island, where the natives blame Denham for everything that’s gone wrong since he left, including the destruction of their village and the many prehistoric animals that now run free in the absence of Kong.

By the end, a flood takes over the island and despite Denham being more on the bad side of the equation, the young Kong saves him again and again, eventually ending the movie by sacrificing his life to ensure that the humans make it. Damn dirty humans.

This didn’t do anywhere near as great at the box office as the original, so RKO stayed away from apes until 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, another WOR turkey day regular.

There’s an even worse tragedy than the end of this movie and it’s a real-life one. During the making of Son of Kong, Kong animator Willis O’Brien lived through his wife killing their two sons and their committing suicide. He finished the film, but refused to ever discuss it, even with his student Ray Harryhausen. The memories were just too painful to relive and one wonders of the poignant end of this film was the true result of O’Brien trying to process such a horrific life event.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: King Kong (1933)

Even before King Kong, jungle films in which scientists went into the dark underbelly and emerged not unscathed were a popular genre. A big reason why was that primates didn’t live in captivity at the time, so Tarzan films and The Lost World did big business.

Producer Ernest B. Schoedsack — and actual director of the humans in this movie — had earlier experience in these types of movies by making Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness and Rango.

There was also Ingagi, a movie that was a fake documentary about human sacrifice fifty years before Cannibal Holocaust. It’s also a completely reprehensible film that features black women making love to gorillas and giving birth to ape babies, which many today would find horrifying, but audiences spent $4 million ($63 million in today’s dollars).

King Kong isn’t as problematic, but it also recognized that when you put a sexy white woman into jungle peril, audiences are going to spend money.

The real start of King Kong was two years earlier, when David O. Selznick brought Merian C. Cooper to RKO as his executive assistant and told him that he could start making his own movies. He started with Schoedsack directing The Most Dangerous Game — a movie that continually gets remade in different forms to this day — and built a giant jungle set to make that movie (along with hiring Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, who would play Carl Denham and Ann Darrow).

Cooper was also supposed to make Creation, a story of adventurers on an island of dinosaurs, with stop motion special effects master Willis O’Brien. Once he saw the test footage, he realized that all of the costly locations and dangerous real Komodo dragons could be scrapped and King Kong could be made in a single room. Creation was shelved and the big ape was on his way.

Cooper gave the writing job to best-selling British mystery/adventure writer Edgar Wallace — yes, the man responsible for the creation of the giallo — who turned in one draft before he died. That said, having the claim “based on the novel by Edgar Wallace” could mean even more box office.

After several rewrites, Schoedsack’s wife Ruth Rose (who also wrote Son of Kong, the 1935 adaption of She and Mighty Joe Young) finished the story, understanding exactly what Cooper wanted and basing the character of Denham on him, Driscoll on her husband and heroine Ann Darrow on herself.

Kong took eight months to make, so much time that nearly every actor had time to make another movie at the same time (and Wray made two, Dr. X and Mystery of the Wax Museum). To save more money*, the set from The Most Dangerous Game was used for all the jungle scenes and because the script was still being written — they had to hurry up and shoot before the set was taken down — a lot of that dialogue is improvised.

When you watch this movie, understand that its effects were as groundbreaking** — and time-consuming and money-burning — as today’s most advanced CGI. For example, there’s one scene where Fay Wray watches Kong battle the T. Rex. She had to sit in a tree for twenty-two straight hours of shooting to ensure that that scene looked perfect.

This movie even broke ground when it came to music. King Kong had the first feature-length musical score — instead of just background music — written for an American talkie film. It had a 46-piece orchestra and was also the first movie that would have three separate audio tracks for sound effects, dialogue and music. And to show how penny-pinching RKO was, Cooper paid for that entire soundtrack all out of his own pocket to the tune of $50,000***.

This wasn’t just a movie. It was an event. Premiere showings had seventeen acts before the movie even began, with troupes of African American dancers performing rituals and dances to get audiences even more frenzied for the appearance of Kong.

It’s still amazing how frightening moments of this movie are in 2021. In 1933, people had to be losing their minds. That also led to plenty of censorship, with scenes of a dinosaur mauling the crew members, Kong undressing Ann and sniffing his fingers and Kong dropped a woman who he mistakes for Ann to her death were all eventually cut from the film. There were also several instances of self-censorship, with a series of monsters, insects and spiders earing crew members and Kong battling a tentacled creature cut by RKO****.

As a kid, I watched this movie at least once a year. The WOR Holiday Film Festival always worked like this:

Thanksgiving Day

  • King Kong
  • Son of Kong
  • Mighty Joe Young

The Day After Thanksgiving

I was fascinated and frightened by Kong, keeping a special issue of Famous Monsters in a back room of the house, afraid to even look at the picture of Kong’s face, sure that he could come out of the magazine and pull me inside his world, bringing me to Skull Island. Now that I’m older, I wish that that had actually happened.

*There was even more recycling, as the wall behind Kong on Skull Island was taken from Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, which was used as part of Atlanta burning within Gone with the Wind.

**This is also the first movie to feature rear projection special effects.

***To be fair, RKO eventually paid him back.

****These scenes were found in Philadelphia in 1969 and added back in. In 2005, a 4K scan of the film added the best possible versions of this censored footage.

Victoria and Victoria (1933)

Many know Blake Edwards’s 1982 film and the 1995 Broadway production, but few have seen the original 1933 film until now, thanks to this new release by Kino Lorber.

A young woman (Renate Müller) can’t find work as a singer, so she works with a down on his luck actor to revise her act and become a man on stage. Now, Victoria has become Victor, but her life has become even more complicated.

Director Reinhold Schünzel also shot a French-language version of the film as George and Georgette starring Meg Lemonnier and a French cast. Victor Saville directed an English version, First a Girl, in 1935 and there was a West German remake by Karl Anton in 1957. Before the aforementioned Edwards film, there was also the Argentina remake My Girlfriend, the Transvestite.

You can get this on DVD and blu ray from Kino Lorber, along with Mädchen in Uniform, which we covered earlier this week. It comes complete with commentary by film historian Gaylyn Studlar. They sent us a copy and it’s well worth adding to your collection. It taught me that even though I think I know something about film history, there is also something new to discover.

La Llorona (1933)

The first Mexican horror film, this movie is all about the legend of “The Crying Woman.” There’s been a film made about this story every few years and few of them are good. This one at least has some interesting atmosphere and is historically important.

Maria is a woman who has two children and is quite poor, but finds a wealthy man to marry. However, he cares more about the kids than her, so in a jealous rage she drowns them both and kills herself. Now, she’s trapped between life and death, unable to ever stop crying. She can never move to the next plane of existence until she finds her sons.

The film also relates other tales of women who took the lives of their children, all reduced to being crying women as well. Obviously, this movie is very influenced by Universal’s horror movies, yet it isn’t the same level of quality. That said, it’s still worth a view.

You can watch this on YouTube.