Happy Thankgsiving! I love this time of year, and Thanksgiving is one of my absolute favorite holidays. So, I figured what better way to celebrate today than with a look at what was, for New Yorkers, a holiday tradition for years: the annual Thanksgiving day broadcasts of Mighty Joe Young, King Kong, and The Son of Kong. Well, technically, just the 1979 airing of The Son of Kong (I’ll explain why only that one in a bit). From how I understand it, stations in other markets also traditionally ran at least King Kong on Thanksgiving, too, but the WOR airings particularly have become the stuff of legend. I’m not even from New York and I know that (I have been to NY, once, however; it’s an absolutely great city).
“Wh-what is this, Northeast Ohio Video Hunter?! You’ve already looked at this broadcast! WHAT IS YOU TRYIN’ TA PULL?!?!”
It’s true that one of my earlier posts (this one) did indeed spotlight this 1979 The Son Of Kong broadcast, but 1) that was one of my earliest articles, and I think I’ve become, in the several months since, quite a bit more accomplished (regular writing will do that for you), 2) the original article works fine as a nice overview of the broadcast, but it’s not as in-depth as I’d now like, and 3) this Son Of Kong tape was a monumental score. Seriously, it probably ranks in my top 10 finds, and out of the thousands of videotapes I own, that’s really saying something. Something of this magnitude deserves a more exhaustive review. Both for archival purposes as well as the fact that, frankly, I think it’s a perfect post for this turkey day (the first since this blog’s inception).
If you’ve read that original article, you’ll know that Mighty Joe Young and King Kong were also in the same lot of Beta tapes as this recording was. King Kong wasn’t a Thanksgiving broadcast, and since the original taper apparently skipped it the day this Son Of Kong aired, I’m assuming King came from earlier in ’79 (the commercials were all edited out, making dating it pretty tough). Now, Mighty Joe Young was from this 1979 marathon, but aside from the introductory bumper, all of the commercials were edited out of that recording, too (oddly enough, I found another recording of Mighty Joe Young from the exact same taper in another lot from them, this one taped off of a commercial-free station; I have no idea why they recorded it twice, but I’m not complaining).
From the many, many tapes I got from this taper, I know that they were very vigilant about editing out commercials, except for late night broadcasts, in which case they were undoubtedly asleep (regardless, I found a lot of terrific stuff from those late night movie broadcasts). For The Son Of Kong, though, they must have left for Thanksgiving dinner at someone’s house, or were occupied with their own dinner, because The Son of Kong ’79 was complete and unedited, and that’s what makes it a major coup in my book. For a broadcast that is now 34 years old (well, 33 years old when I made the DVD conversion), the quality is remarkably good. Not perfect, of course, but I’ve found things from a decade later (or more) that look waaay more trashed than Son Of Kong does.
I’m guessing this was timer-recorded, because the tail-end of King Kong‘s closing credits were captured at the start of the tape. Following those, things begin proper with this bumper, in which the voiceover announces: “Hugh O’Brian, Mickey Rooney and James Mitchum star in ‘Ambush Bay’ tonight at 8. Now stay tuned for a return to Skull Island in search of ‘Son Of Kong,’ next on part three of holiday movie special.”
Following a commercial break & editorial (we’ll look at all that in a bit), Son Of Kong begins with this introductory bumper, with the following voiceover: “Good afternoon! Welcome to part three of holiday movie special! We now conclude out trio of great gorilla classics with ‘Son of Kong,’ starring Helen Mack and Robert Armstrong.” This intro bumper also served as a mid-commercial break bumper, as well as a returning-from-commercial break bumper, sometimes in black & white (that black & white version is the one you see at the very top of this post).
When used as a returning-from-commercials bumper, there’s an animated ‘dissolve’ back into the movie, as seen above.
Let’s a take a look at The Son Of Kong itself (caution: some spoilers ahead).
The Son Of Kong begins with this opening card, showing us that this is an old print prepared by C&C. C&C distributed a lot of movies to television, including many RKO titles, and from how I understand it, they initially prepared The Son Of Kong for TV waaay back in 1955! You won’t being seeing this C&C print of the film on TCM anytime soon, that’s for sure. Maybe there are some titles with their imprint still floating around today, but I know you could catch old C&C prints of whatever up till at least the late-1990′s (the copy of the 1931 film The Painted Desert I recorded off of a local indie station around 1997 had the old C&C card).
The actual title screen. As you can see, the original “Radio Pictures” credit has been edited out and replaced with C&C’s. Yep, definitely an ancient print that won’t be showing up on TCM. For many years, this is how Son was seen on TV, and it wouldn’t be until later that the original title card was restored for TV airings (for the late-80′s/early-90′s cable broadcasts, perhaps?).
Robert Armstrong as, as… as who?! A hallmark of the opening credits (and maybe the rest of the film, too, I don’t know) is that the bottom portion is cut-off, rendering several credits (the cast’s in particular) incomplete. It’s something that will drive movie purists straight-up ‘nanners, but I love it, because no way would something like that fly nowadays.
The Son Of Kong, for those unaware, is the 1933 sequel to the original King Kong, released later the same year as the original film. It’s more or less a direct sequel, taking place shortly after the events of the original film. Carl Denham, the one responsible for bringing Kong to New York and thus the ensuing rampage, is back. He’s obviously not the most popular guy in town, so he decides to leave the city in favor of other business pursuits.
This isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive recap of the whole film, just a look at the entire 1979 broadcast, so excuse me for giving a very streamlined account of the movie’s plot. Anyway, it’s rumored that there’s treasure on Skull Island, the very island that King Kong was found and captured. Eventually they land there (where it turns out the natives are about as happy with Denham as the New Yorkers were), and they happen upon Kong’s baby son, the titular Son of Kong! He’s about 12 feet tall, albino, and a helluva lot friendlier than his Pops was.
Denham feels bad about everything that’s transpired, so he strikes up a sort of friendship with lil’ baby Kong, It’s worth noting that The Son of Kong is far more comedic and lighthearted than the first film. This was done on purpose, since there was no way a sequel was going to match the original. It was probably a good idea, though many people aren’t fond of Son. True, it’s nowhere near as big in scope or anything when compared to King Kong, but it wasn’t meant to be. Taken on its own merits, though, it is an entertaining film, one that I’ve always liked. I actually saw this sequel before the original way back in ’97 or so, so maybe I have a higher tolerance for it than others, but as it stands, I really like The Son Of Kong.
It may be comparatively smaller (GET IT?! BWAHAWaw never mind), quite a bit shorter and occasionally comedic, but there are still some good bits of action, like the scene above where Baby Kong beats the hell out of some sort of dinosaur. The stop-motion animation, like that of the original, is terrific. Willis O’Brien handled it in the first film, though from how I understand it, he (voluntarily) had less to do with Son‘s animation. Nevertheless, it looks great.
Anyway, real treasure is indeed discovered on the island, which Denham procures, but shortly afterwards a large earthquake/storm hits the island, causing it to begin sinking into the sea. How’s that for coincidence? I’m guessing the natives are really irked with Carl now!
Denham and lil’ Kong end up stranded on the very summit of the island in the middle of this storm, and they’re sinking fast, faster than Denham’s shipmates can get to his rescue. Whatever someone may think of the rest of the film, what transpires next is certainly very moving.
With his foot caught in the summit and unable to free himself, lil’ Kong nevertheless grabs Denham and holds him above water long enough for his shipmates to row over and rescue him. As they leave, Kong’s hand sinks below the water’s surface. Obviously, it’s an ironic scene: Denham was pretty much responsible for Kong Sr.’s death, yet lil’ Kong saves Denham’s life. It’s obviously the most emotional scene in the whole film, sad but heroic.
The film doesn’t end on that downer note, though. Eventually the lifeboat is picked up by a ship, the four survivors (Denham, the cap’n, the cook and Denham’s lady friend Hilda) are safe, and wealthy, too, because Denham still has the treasure from the island. Denham and Hilda decide to stay together, and all is well as the film fades out. Except for lil’ Kong, that is.
Is The Son Of Kong high art? Maybe not. No, it doesn’t measure up to King Kong, nor should one expect it to. As previously stated, taken on its own merits, it’s an entertaining film. To be completely honest, I like it more than Mighty Joe Young, though I know that will irk some people out there.
Of course, the actual movie is only one facet of this vintage 1979 broadcast. Sure, the scratchy old print used for this local airing is a product of a bygone television era (you probably won’t see a print this rough-looking being aired anywhere nowadays), but the real element of the broadcast that will set the nostalgia-meter in overdrive is the commercial breaks. Without them, you might as well watch an early VHS release of the film. But with them, it’s an instant trip back in time. And man, Son Of Kong had some real winners. Here now are some of the inter-movie bits (technically, a few aired right before the flick, but small difference). I can’t look at every commercial, but here’s some of the more interesting between-movie-bits (in order of appearance):
Playworld was a major sponsor of WOR’s monkey marathon, so it stands to reason that their ads were all over this broadcast. In fact, as you may imagine, The Son Of Kong was a very kids-oriented showing, and aside from the WOR editorial, every commercial was aimed at the lil’ babychilds. I’d guess that every toy seen in the commercials could be had at Playworld, and if they couldn’t, man, that’s cold. Anyway, this spot features a variety of the childrens singing about the wide selection and low, low prices of Playworld. As you can naturally surmise, this was supposed to be your one-stop-Christmas-shop!
Coleco’s Mr. Quarterback!
I love this one, though I’d be surprised if the thing worked half as well in practice as it did in the commercial. Coleco’s Mr. Quarterback was an “automatic football passer” in which you’d set the timer, choose a pass, and load a fresh pigskin into the arm. In mere seconds, Mr. Quarterback would wing the football into the heavens, and it was up to you to catch the damn thing for everlasting backyard football glory.
A WOR TV-9 Editorial!
An editorial?! Does anyone even do these anymore? Not around here, or at least not that I’ve seen. In this one, Robert T. Fennimore, VP & General Manager of WOR, takes the time to mention some positive things in honor of Thanksgiving, including The Pope’s then-recent visit, the surgical team at Bellevue Hospital, an uptick in New York city’s employment, and the revitialization of some NY neighborhoods. He admits there are still problems, but ends on a lighthearted thanks: the cost of turkey is still below inflation rate!
Aurora’s AFX Flex-Track Racing Set!
I don’t know if they still are, but slot cars were big business in the 1970′s & 1980′s, and there were a couple really neat spots for racing sets during The Son Of Kong. The selling point of this particular set was that it was a “Flex Track.” That is, you could bend/shape your track into any form your lil’ heart desired. Put the curves wherever you like, and I’d assume with the help of some inanimate object, bumps, too. It’s not my favorite racing car commercial aired during the movie, but it’s a close second.
Playworld’s Crossword Puzzle Game!
More Playworld stuff, this one for their TV crossword game. Basically, at several points throughout the broadcast, crossword clues were given, which you’d fill in with the Playworld crossword sheet that was provided in the daily newspaper or at Playworld stores. The clues are agonizingly easy, but then, I’m probably quite a bit older than the target audience. It seems that clues were given throughout the entire movie marathon, so if you wanted to win, you had to sit there for the whole thing or fire up the Betamax. The grand prize for this contest was a 5-minute one cart shopping spree, and ten runners-up got $50 Playworld gift certificates, which was nothing to sneeze at, either. Given that you could buy more with less back then (family cars were only like $175, weren’t they?), that $50 could potentially buy quite a bit.
I should be a smartass and make up my own crossword sheet, fill in what I can, and mail it in today. Are there even Playworld stores around anymore? Someone, somewhere would have to reject me, right? Right?!
Marx Command-Drive Dirt Bike Game!
This one’s pretty cool, and it’s by Marx, which means it’s probably worth a small house nowadays. Basically, you had your little motorcycle guy, and drove him over your revolving (?) ground, avoiding rocks and I assume dead animals. Many of us had toys like this, where the ground was paper and moved on a roll. The presence of little plastic rocks makes this one quite a bit more advanced than any of the ones I had as a kid, and it seems the motorcycle isn’t on a stick or anything, he moves/turns freely at your command, which looks pretty neat. The ad mentions setting a lap-timer, as well as a fuel-gauge, but nothing more is really made of it. Their functions are pretty self-explanatory anyway, I guess.
Computer Perfection Game!
I find this commercial obnoxious, so why am I including it? Even I don’t know. Looks like someone was inspired by The Coneheads, because these are “The Domeheads,” the perfect family that plays the perfect electronic game (and also speaks in a very Conehead-ish monotone). The “perfect electronic game,” huh? I guess they haven’t played Atari’s Touch Me. Actually, it seems a lot like Touch Me and/or Simon, in which you had to repeat a sequence of blinking lights or some crap like that. The name doesn’t lend itself as well to lewd jokes, so I’m guessing this was essentially inferior to Touch Me.
Matchbox Race And Chase Set!
It doesn’t beat the Flex Track thing above (in my opinion), but Matchbox’s Race And Chase had some unique features. First off, your little cop car had real blinking lights. Even better, though, is that you could make your cars do U-turns! Every time I do that in real life, it causes a major accident! It was a probably a welcome feature for kids that were tired of being limited to one direction and one direction alone. They could recreate The Rockford Files on their living room floor! Like Mr. Quarterback above, I’d be surprised if it worked as well in practice as it does in the commercial, but there’s no doubt it’s a cool idea.
Funstuf’s The Thing Rock Trap Toy!
“Wh-what is this, Northeast Ohio Video Hunter?! You’ve already looked at this before, too! WHY THE MIND GAMES?! WHY THE TORTURE?!?!”
Yep, we saw this one in the past. My Thing Rock Trap Toy article has become one of the most popular on this blog, having accumulated (and accumulating) a number of views that regularly cause me fall to my knees and weep tears of pure, unadulterated
shame joy. You can read the article for a more in-depth look, but basically, it was a rubber Thing doll that you could lock in the rock trap. Then, with the included inflator, pump The Thing until he burst out of his rocky prison. So simple, yet so amazing.
Aurora’s AFX Data Race!
I don’t know, I’m having second thoughts about my ranking of these slot car commercials. That U-turn one was pretty nifty. Still, I cautiously maintain that this is my favorite of the bunch. This was what appeared to be your standard slot car set, except you had a lil’ computer, where you could program an actual number of laps, as well as monitor your fuel-consumption. If you run low, you could actually drive your car into the pit for a refill, which is pretty badass. Run completely out of fuel, and you’re SOL. I think the combination of a computerized system along with the race track (plus the cardboard crowd displays, which assuredly weren’t unique to this set but welcome nevertheless) is what endears this one to me so much.
Yeah, this is my favorite slot car ad of the group, definitely.
Energized Spider-Man Toy!
Oh, we’re ending with a bang, hardcore yo. It’s the energized Spider-Man toy! This thing actually had a motorized web climber, which you could use to lift Spider-Guy to higher plateaus, or to help him lift objects far too large for Spider-Guy to lift himself (at one point, the commercial shows him lifting a big damn orange). An energized Spider-Light (“To climb at night!”) and a Spider-Copter (sold separately, of course) are also touted. If there’s one bad thing I could say about this, it’s that it appears Spider-Man featured no points of articulation, and his arm was constantly raised. Probably kinda limiting when fighting villains, but nevertheless, I’d fight someone at a yard sale for energized Spider-Man.
That’s it, gang. Like I said before, the scoring of this 1979 broadcast is almost certainly in my top 10 videotape finds. It features a movie I really like, it’s from a legendary annual marathon, it’s from a city I’m enamored with, the commercials are amazing, and it’s of a vintage that is, much to my chagrin, not always easily found in this hobby (VCRs being a somewhat limited market at the time) So how can I not love it? The whole thing is an instant trip back in time. I may not have been able to grow up in the area and/or during the time period to have watched this first-hand, but having this copy is the next-best option. Well, the only option, really.
Have a terrific Thanksgiving everyone!
Even the end card is C&C-ized. Baby, I loves it!