Kongo (1932)

“My one purpose in life is to see that sneer turn into fear!”

Synopsis:
A crippled, monomaniacal magician (Walter Huston) who holds sway over a tribe of African natives seeks revenge on his wife’s lover (C. Henry Gordon) by torturing Gordon’s daughter (Virginia Bruce), who was raised in a convent before being brought to Africa as a white slave, and seeks solace from her life of misery through the love of a kind but drug-addicted doctor (Conrad Nagel).

Genres:

Review:
This “talkie” remake of Tod Browning’s West of Zanzibar (1928) — itself based on a 1926 Broadway play — is primarily notable as one of a handful of films that led directly to Hollywood’s self-censoring Production Code. As noted in TCM’s article, “The plot alone was enough to cause controversy as it had every element the Hays Code would later list as unmentionable: rape, torture, drug addiction, alcoholism, and sado-masochism” (not to mention “white slavery”). Huston is appropriately menacing and maniacal in the lead role — though Lon Chaney was perhaps even more memorable, which points to the fact that the original (silent) film basically achieved its goal well enough, and Kongo thus remains simply an equally-sordid retelling. However, this version is worth a one-time look to see Lupe Velez in a pre-“Mexican Spitfire” role, and for its historical notoriety (it’s a potent reminder of what used to be considered acceptable narrative fodder).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography


Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical relevance and notoriety.

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One Response to “Kongo (1932)”

  1. First viewing, not must-see.

    I had a glance at my post on ‘West of Zanzibar’ – and apparently I find that’s the better film.

    This remake – in typical fashion – serves to remind that remakes tend to be unnecessary. There’s a lot of over-acting here – not that hard to understand, given the nature of the script…but it doesn’t help to make the proceedings all that believable.

    With this version, it’s somewhat harder to get wrapped up in what’s going on; there’s some heat in what we’re watching but not a whole lot of conviction.

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