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Konga

Part Two of Monkey See --

Monkey Doo-Doo!

     "There is very little room for sentiment in the life of a scientist."

-- Dr. Decker, who puts the MAD in Mad Science     

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

All together now ... "When the monkey die, everybody gonna cry."

Aww ... Poor little monkey.

 

Watch it!

AMAZON

DVD

 
Sights &
Sounds:
Konga
(1961)
 American
 International

I Was a
Teenage
Monster
Movie Maker:
The Films of
Herman Cohen.

Bela Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein

Blood of Dracula

How to Make a Monster

Konga

Black Zoo

Berserk

Trog

 

After some nifty, Saul Bass inspired checkerboard credits, accompanied by a rousing Gerard Schurman score, our movie proper begins in glorious SpectaMation with a small plane flying over the jungles of Africa. And judging by the engine's constant burping fit, the aircraft appears to be in some serious trouble -- and that's confirmed when the plane quickly goes into a terminal nosedive and explodes on impact. 

And judging by the size of the explosion and fireball, the plane was carrying a load of paint thinner, kerosene, dynamite, and several cases of Mercury Fulminate!

Cut to London's Piccadilly Circus, where a newsie informs us that famed botanist, Dr. Charles Decker, was lost in that tragic plane crash -- but then we immediately time-warp to one year later and watch the same newsie (-- and the same costumers, including the film's producer, Herman Cohen --), who tells us that not only did Decker survive the crash, but after spending a year in the jungle, he is returning home to London that very day.

At an impromptu news conference, Dr. Decker (Michael Gough) reveals he also brought a friend back with him; a baby chimpanzee heís dubbed Konga. When a reporter asks if he feels fortunate to be back in civilization, we get the first inkling of Deckerís all-encompassing smugness and pompous douche-itude when he answers "It depends on what you call civilization." Claiming the air disaster was a lucky break (-- and I'll bet the pilot has a different opinion on that), the marooned Decker made friends with the natives and spent the year studying rare plants with "animal tendencies." As Decker continues, he claims his new discoveries will also rewrite a few textbooks but refuses to go into specifics -- except for a tantalizing and incendiary tidbit about finding the evolutionary link between plants and man! 

[Heston/] "A planet where men evolved from plants? Get your stinking leaves off me you damn dirty lilacs!" [/Heston].

Returning to his palatial estate, Decker finds his house and lab in perfect order, thanks to his loyal assistant, Margaret (Margo Johns); although I think she wants to be a little more than just his assistant (-- if you know what I mean), and who is a little perturbed when Decker seems more concerned about the arrangements made for Konga instead of being happy to see her. (See what I mean?) But the doctor calms her, saying his discoveries might soon make them the rulers of the Earth. His excitement proves contagious and, wanting to start his new experiments right away, they place little Konga in his suspiciously spacious cage -- a cage a concerned Decker fears might still not be large enough. (Uh-oh.)  

Moving on to the greenhouse, as Decker starts tearing up all his old flowers to make room for the plants heís brought back from Africa, his maniacal behavior is beginning to frighten Margaret a little, who begs him to slow down and get some rest. Somewhat surprisingly, he agrees and they call it a night.

Early the next morning, Margaret finds the doctor already hard at work in the lab. Apparently, while he was in Africa, Decker observed the rituals of a witch doctor, whose experiments with the extracts of several carnivorous plant had some amazing results on his test subjects: seems the injected animals grew and matured at an amazing rate. Also of note, the native doctor had some "seeds of obedience" that allowed him to control his experiments. (And at this point we wonder if Decker might have been out in the sun a little too long.) Not surprisingly, Margaret doesnít believe his wild tale -- until his boiling plant extract bubbles over onto the floor, where the family cat pounces and begins to lap it up. Horrified, Decker rummages for a revolver and shoots the animal dead. Now Margaret is the one horrified as he explains, in all seriousness, that the world isnít ready for a cat the size of leopard running loose in London. (Oh, I donít know ... Hainesville got along alright.) No. Not a giant feline. You see, Decker wants Konga to be the inaugural test-subject of his rather dubious and diabolical accelerated growth experiments...

Thankfully, our Mad Mammoth Monkey Marathon shakes off the rough start of King of Kong Island by picking up some much needed momentum in the Isle of Britain. (Blimey!) And if nothing else, at least this one has a giant monkey in this one! Hurray!

Anyways, when independent producer Herman Cohen put together a string of modest money-making B-pictures for United Artists, the filmmaking wunderkind, barely in his twenties, got the studio's backing for his inaugural A-Picture, Crimes of Passion. But despite the combined star-power of Sterling Hayden and Barbara Stanwyck, the steamy film-noir never found an audience, and suddenly, United Artists was no longer taking any of Cohen's calls. Needing a quick turnaround, when Cohen's old buddy Jim Nicholson called, wanting him to do a picture for his fledgling American International Pictures, the producer dusted off an old idea about a teenaged wolfman and his stock was soon on the rise again when I Was a Teenage Werewolf hit and hit big, triggering a profitable but somewhat tumultuous relationship with AIP over the next several years.

It was during his days with United Artists that Cohen first went into business on a mutual distribution deal with Nat Cohen's England based Anglo-Amalgamated (-- and for the record, the men were not related); and after wringing the teen-angst fueled monster niche to within an inch of its life, Cohen was ready to try something else and struck another deal with A-A and American International to co-finance a color feature, The Horrors of the Black Museum; a murder mystery based on Scotland Yard's nefarious collection of dastardly criminal contraband -- yeah, the one where the lady with the tricked-out binoculars gets impaled through the eyes -- which proved such a big hit a follow up was soon put on the fast-track. As both a fan of the original King Kong and gorillas movies in general, Cohen turned to his long time writing partner, Aben Kandel, and collaborated on Konga, -- a tale about a giant ape trashing London, with a little mad maniacal science thrown in, free of charge. The producer even went so far as to pay a cash-strapped RKO in advance as to not get sued for plagiarism; and also secured the rights to use King Kong in all the advertising materials. Was the FURY and SPECTACLE of Cohen's Konga a worthy successor to Merian C. Cooper's Kong? 

Well, yes and no. But mostly no. Stick with me, here, and all will be explained as we now rejoin our review after several weeks have passed and the monster plants in Decker's greenhouse have finally reach maturity. Most resemble giant Venus flytraps, while others resemble a cobra, ready to strike, complete with flicking tongue! After some pruning, Decker takes the leafs back to the lab, where he distils them into a liquid. Then Margaret watches as Decker injects the extract into Konga, causing the baby chimp to quickly grow to adult size. With this success, Deckerís manic glee at this point is almost palpable.

This growing sequence is accomplished by matte-effect, with the screen going all psycho-wavy as the monkey grows larger. I've affectionately dubbed this the Dramamine Effect.

But further experiments will have to wait. Remember, Decker is a Professor of botany and must resume his teaching responsibilities at the University. When his current class ends, we meet his prize pupil, Sondra (Claire Gordon). Ogling the full-figured girl rather lecherously, Decker comments on how much sheís *ahem* matured while he was away. Though the girl seems genuinely interested in the new discoveries heís alluded to, unfortunately, he only appears interested in what's underneath that very tight sweater. (The creep.) Promising her fortune and glory if she becomes his special assistant, Sondra agrees -- much to the dismay of her boyfriend, Bob (Jess Conrad).

Later, Decker is summoned to a meeting with Dean Foster (Austin Trevor), who is none too happy about those wild claims about plant evolution Decker has been feeding the newspapers. Believing these notions to be utter nonsense, and that it reflects badly on the college, their conversation quickly turns ugly; and then Foster signs his own death warrant when he proclaims that as long he's the boss, Decker will do as he says -- or else. (Poor guy, ainít he ever seen one of these B-movie potboilers?) Returning home, a livid Decker finds Margaret teaching Konga a few parlor tricks. Asked to be left alone, Decker gives the chimp another injection, and after Konga grows to about the size of a George Barrows, the mad doctor uses a penlight to hypnotize the ape to do his bidding ( -- leaving that "seeds of obedience" thread to wither and die on the vine). That night, an enthralled Konga breaks into Fosterís office and kills him.

The next morning, the Scotland Yard inspectors assigned to the case are baffled by the homicide. All the evidence says a large primate killed the victim but the zoo has reported no animals running loose, leaving them stumped. Meanwhile, Decker is strangely unaffected by the headlines proclaiming Fosterís brutal death. But Margaret isn't stupid; she knows he had Konga kill him. Decker doesn't deny this, claiming itís all part of his grand experiment to test Kongaís obedience, and then compares Foster's death to all the lab rats killed in scientific experiments; all worth it for the advancement of knowledge, right? (Wow, this guy is cold.) When this ruthless logic pushes Margaret's blind devotion past even her limits, he turns the tables on her by pointing out that, technically, sheís an accessory to Foster's murder. Knowing that's a bit of stretch, and fearing she might still crack, Decker promises to marry Margaret if sheíll keep quiet. (A similar tactic used by Whit Bissel in Cohen's I Was A Teenage Frankenstein. And someone should probably point out to Margaret how that turned out...)

After Fosterís secretary comes forward and recounts the heated argument her boss had with Decker on the day he was murdered, when the inspectors interrogate him, their new suspect keeps his cool, saying the argument was purely over philosophical differences and that's all there was to it. And besides, he is a man of science -- and scientists donít resort to violence; they just talk things out ... Later, at a faculty gathering, a visiting professor corners Decker. Seems Dr. Tagore (George Pastell) has read about his rivals theories on plant extracts to accelerate growth in animals. And since he, too, has experimented along the same lines with the same startling results, Tagore is about to go public with his discoveries. (Thus stealing Deckerís thunder.) Asking if they might join forces and pursue the research together, Decker is flatly turned down; Tagore has all the proof he needs and has no desire to share the spotlight. (So we know he wonít be around much longer, either.) Mental wheels spinning, Decker coyly asks if he might see his rival's results. They agree to meet in Tagoreís lab later, but when Decker arrives to talk things out, he isnít alone. And while Konga strangles the other scientist, Decker confiscates his notes and taunts the dying Tagore that heís earned the right to all the glory of these growth experiments. He then orders Konga to destroy the lab, leaving no evidence of Tagoreís experiments in one piece.

A few days later, as Deckerís class piles into a van for a field trip, he tells Sondra to ride in front with him. In the back, the other students rib Bob constantly about all the attention the new teacherís pet has been getting. When they reach the forest and scatter to collect some ferns, Bob manages to get Decker alone and warns him to leave Sondra alone. Of course, with Decker being Decker, things soon come to blows. The younger Bob quickly gets the upper hand, catching the older man in a deadly stranglehold, but manages to come to his senses before it's too late. Begged for forgiveness, Decker makes the boy promise if he can keep his emotions under control, before he kills someone, Decker will tell no one about the incident. But later that evening, on his way to apologize to Sondra, Bob says goodbye to his family for the last time -- and doesnít even get out of the front yard before Konga strikes!

As the bodies keep piling up, the police arenít any closer to nabbing the killer. Convinced that all three murders are related, they canít find a common motive. Throwing a canvas over the school, they question everyone and also recheck the zoos and every private monkey owner in London. Reading all of this in the dailies, Margaret scolds Decker for killing the boy, who say why he killed him. Besides, Decker says, technically, he didnít kill him -- Konga did. Accused of hiding behind technicalities, he counters with some Nietzchien B.S. about his experiments being beyond normal comprehension. (The man is smuggest S.O.B.) However, he does think it's time to destroy Konga and start over before theyíre caught. He also wants to return to Africa and continue his experiments there; but they canít leave right away, or theyíll rouse suspicion. Besides, there are a few other experiments that need concluding before they go -- namely getting into Sondra's panties

Inviting the girl over for supper, while they eat, Margaret is beginning to feel like a third wheel. And when Decker offers to show Sondra his giant plant collection in the greenhouse, Margaret is left behind to do the dishes -- but secretly follows them instead. Sondra is fascinated by the meat-eating plants, and Decker promises her more scientific wonders if she will only come to Africa with him and be his new assistant. When she isnít sure, he tries to convince the girl by assaulting her (-- rather clumsily), in an attempt to steal a kiss. She rejects him wholesale but the assault continues. Observing all of this, Margaret has seen enough and heads to the lab. Using the penlight, she re-hypnotizes Konga to obey her, and then gives the ape another injection. With that, Konga goes through another growth spurt and becomes larger -- a lot larger. Maybe too large. For as Margaret tries to order him around, the confused Konga goes berserk and kills her. (Well, he kills a doll that kind of looks like her.) He also appears to still be growing as he trashes the lab and accidentally sets it on fire. To escape the flames, the ape busts his way outside.

Meanwhile, back in the greenhouse -- seemingly unable to hear a fifty-foot gorilla destroy his house a few feet away, Decker is still trying to have his way with Sondra. From above, Konga jealously watches them through the skylight before breaking in and seizing Decker (-- well, a doll that kind of looks like Decker), and knocking Sondra into the mutant plants, who when last seen was up to her armpit in a giant Venus flytrap!

When the fire brigade shows up, they spy Konga with Decker clasped in his paw, who orders his experiment gone awry to put him down. But Konga isn't listening anymore and proceeds to rampage his way into London proper. Obviously, the giant ape is too much to handle for the local police, who call in the army. Surrounding the beast near Big Ben, and even though heís still holding onto Decker, the order to open fire is given. And as the night lights up with tracers and the roar of machinegun fire, Konga is hit and wounded badly. And since the only weapon he has is Decker, the ape throws him at his attackers. Alas, a mad scientist doesn't make for a good or sturdy projectile and is killed on impact. Meanwhile, the soldiers keeps on firing until the giant ape collapses. (But according to the tracers, I donít think they ever actually hit him.) Before he dies, Konga reverts back to his original form, and as Big Ben strikes midnight on our monkey, and Schurman's syrupy score crescendos and slowly fades away, everyone gathered looks around solemnly.

D'aaaawwwwww, poor little monkey.

The End

Konga is surprisingly pretty good until itís, for a lack of better word, silly slam-bang conclusion. The ending isnít terrible, mind you, it just isnít executed very well and spoils a pretty decent set-up. But damn it all if it isnít freakin' hilarious.

It took almost a year and half, and one near, catastrophic International incident on the last day of filming, to get Cohen's film into theaters -- and most of that time was spent trying to get the F/X in the can, which runs the gambit from the wonderfully mediocre to the hysterically inept. Those killer plants in the greenhouse were farmed out to Hammer studios' prop department and are a real kick to behold (-- and we never do find out what happened to poor Sondra). As for our furry star attraction, originally, Cohen had slated Steve Calvert to play Konga, who had played apes for both his Bride of the Gorilla and Bela Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla. But Calvert had retired by 1960, so Cohen turned to veteran gorilla man, George Barrows. However, it was cheaper to just ship the costume over to England than the actor, so Cohen rented the suit and filled it with an actor named Paul Stockton. Stockton's suit-inexperience kinda shows, and I understand Barrows wasn't real thrilled with the battered condition of his suit when it was returned after the film was completed. Now, the miniature sets that Stockton got to trash were really quite good, so kudos to art director Wilfred Arnold, but the problem was trying to matte all that mayhem into one master shot. And though Victor Marguetti and Rank Labs tried their darnedest, and made some innovative headway with a new traveling-matte technique using yellow sodium lights, there are just too many shots of a static Konga, standing too stiffly and too erect, holding onto Decker that brings the action to a screeching halt. And as silly as those scenes are, they pale in comparison to the scenes where Konga holds the all too obvious Barbie and Ken dolls.

As for that International incident, seems that on the day of shooting the climactic fight scenes in the streets of London, Cohen had been warned the authorities-that-be would never allow a night shoot with all that military hardware popping off. But after bribing the local constabulary -- without telling them what they really intended to do, and with a quick escape plan ready to be executed to evacuate the cast and crew at the first sign of trouble -- the order to open fire was given and the cameras rolled. Well, they got the shots they needed but many Londoners were a little cheesed by all the noise and thought The Blitz was back on, and so, Cohen spent the next few days charming several old ladies, who threatened to bring suit, with flowers and chocolates.

Before I wrap this up, mention of a positive nature should be made for our main players. To me, Michael Gough was born to play dastardly screen villains and is just great as the mad scientist in this piece. And matching him toe to toe is his scheming assistant, played wonderfully by Margo Johns. A quick check of her credits proves this was danged near her only feature film role, which is kinda disappointing. She's that good. Gough, meanwhile, played a similar misanthrope in The Horrors of the Black Museum, and Cohen kept featuring him in the likes of Black Zoo, Berserk! and Trog. It should also be noted that Konga was turned into one of those seamy novelizations put out by Monarch Books, who also adapted Gorgo and Brides of Dracula, but the most notorious one, of course, was for Sid Pink's Reptilicus, with the infamous line "He took her with his savage lance of manhood." (I donít remember any savage lancing in that movie? Do you?)

All in all, Konga might not be very good but it makes for good entertainment. Itís got everything a mad scientist movie needs: a truly loony kook of a mad doctor; man-eating plants; seedy experiments with icky side-effects that go horribly, horribly wrong; and said horribly gone wrong experiment that break loose and run amok. And, of course, the evil mad scientist eventually gets hoisted with his own patootie in the end. What more could you ask for?

Konga (1961) Merton Park Studios :: Anglo-Amalgamated :: American International / EP: Herman Cohen, Nat Cohen, Stuart Levy / P: Nathan Cohen / AP: Jim OíConnolly / D: John Lemont / W: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel / C: Desmond Dickinson / E: Jack Slade / M: Gerard Schurmann / S: Michael Gough, Margo Johns, Jess Conrad, Claire Gordon, George Pastell
More Monkey See --
Monkey Do-Do!

Originally Posted: 03/29/01 :: Rehashed: 06/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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