Kongo


1h 26m 1932
Kongo

Brief Synopsis

A crippled madman seeks revenge on the daughter of the man who betrayed him.

Film Details

Also Known As
Conga
Genre
Adventure
Horror
Release Date
Oct 1, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Kongo by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon (New York, 30 Mar 1926).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

"Deadlegs" Flint, an embittered paraplegic who lives in the Kongo, controls the natives by using cheap tricks that appear to be magical. His mistress Tula assists him in his magic tricks, as do two thugs, Hogan and Cookie, and the loyal native Fuzzy. Flint has spent the last eighteen years planning revenge against a man named Gregg who stole his wife and took her away from the jungle. Flint has built an eighty-mile, fortified encirclement of his compound that prevents anyone from entering or leaving without Flint's consent. Having learned that Gregg's daughter is now grown, Flint sends Hogan to bring her back from a convent school in Cape Town. There the girl, called Ann Whitehall, willingly goes with Hogan, because Hogan is dressed like a missionary and says that he will take her to her father. Two years later, Ann has become a prisoner at Flint's camp. After spending months confined to a brothel in Zanzibar, Ann has become a hardened alcoholic, who does Flint's bidding for whiskey, and has no idea why he has brought her to his camp. When a cynical, drug-addicted doctor named Kingsland arrives at the camp, he and Ann fall in love. Flint, who needs Kingsland to be free from drugs in order to perform an operation on his legs, places the doctor in the swamp so that leeches can suck all of the drugs' poison out of his system. Flint also tolerates Ann's relationship with the doctor and its purifying effect, even while he ridicules her. Some time after the operation, Gregg arrives at the camp, summoned by Flint, who has stolen a large shipment of his rival's ivory. Flint hopes to have the ultimate revenge against Gregg by showing him his daughter Ann, then having him killed and Ann burned in a native sacrifice. Flint taunts Gregg until Gregg finally recognizes Flint for the man he once knew as Rutledge. Years before, when Gregg was known as Whitehall, he ran away with Flint's wife after kicking Flint in the back and leaving him for dead. From that time, Flint plotted his revenge against the girl whom he thought was Gregg's daughter. When Gregg proves, however, that Ann is actually Flint's daughter, Flint is stunned, and begs Gregg not to leave the compound or he will be killed. Gregg does not listen to his old enemy and leaves, after which the natives kill him. Now desperate to save Ann from the natives' fire, Flint arranges for her and Kingsland to escape though an outlet in the swamp that only Fuzzy knows. Just before Flint dies trying to keep the natives at bay, he prays that Ann will get away safely with Kingsland. Some time later, Kingsland and Ann are on a boat sailing away from Africa, about to be married by the ship's captain.

Film Details

Also Known As
Conga
Genre
Adventure
Horror
Release Date
Oct 1, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Kongo by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon (New York, 30 Mar 1926).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

Kongo


In the era of pre-Code Hollywood, Warner Brothers took the lead over all other studios in terms of producing films with racy and risque subject matter. One of that studio's key directors, William A. Wellman, made some strong films that challenged then-conventional mores by enacting scenarios of debauchery. For the epitome of this genre, you need look no further than Wellman's Safe in Hell (1931), a sensational drama about a prostitute who kills a john and escapes to a South Pacific island only to discover that it is populated with every pervert and lecher imaginable.

In recent years, film historians have taken note of some of the more salacious melodramas from the MGM catalog of the early 1930's that also led directly to the Hays Code, a Hollywood form of self-censorship established in 1934 to deflect growing criticism by religious organizations. Foremost among these films was Kongo (1932), a dark, unsavory revenge drama that was completely out of step with MGM's usual glossy output at this time (with the possible exception of Tod Browning's Freaks, their other controversial offering of the year).

Set in the African jungles, Kongo offers an unsettling portrait of an embittered and deranged megalomaniac who vents his rage against his imagined enemies. Walter Huston (in a robust performance) plays Flint, a former magician who lost the use of his legs during a battle with his wife's lover, Gregg (C. Henry Gordon). Years later, a young woman named Ann (Virginia Bruce) pays a visit to Flint. Believing her to be the daughter of his arch-rival Gordon, he gleefully embarks on a reign of terror, subjecting Ann to such psychological torment that she is nearly destroyed. But why stop there? Flint also sees to it that the new village doctor (Conrad Nagel) becomes addicted to drugs and at the same time inflicts numerous degradations on the woman who loves him (Lupe Velez). The horror continues until Gregg is lured to the jungle compound thus setting in motion Flint's final act of revenge.

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. Director Cowen's blunt, sledgehammer approach to the material is downright relentless in its intemperance, imbuing the film with the kind of overheated sexuality that religious organizations found immoral. Equally disturbing is the original 1928 silent version of the film - West of Zanzibar - starring Lon Chaney in the role of Flint. It's a tossup as to which version is the most depraved but both films inadvertently contributed to a new era of censorship in Hollywood.

Director: William Cowen
Screenplay: Leon Gordon (based on the play by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon)
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Walter Huston (Flint), Virginia Bruce (Ann), Lupe Velez (Tula), Conrad Nagel (Dr. Kingsland), C. Henry Gordon (Gregg), Mitchell Lewis (Hogan), Forrester Harvey (Cookie Harris).
BW-87m.

By Michael Toole
Kongo

Kongo

In the era of pre-Code Hollywood, Warner Brothers took the lead over all other studios in terms of producing films with racy and risque subject matter. One of that studio's key directors, William A. Wellman, made some strong films that challenged then-conventional mores by enacting scenarios of debauchery. For the epitome of this genre, you need look no further than Wellman's Safe in Hell (1931), a sensational drama about a prostitute who kills a john and escapes to a South Pacific island only to discover that it is populated with every pervert and lecher imaginable. In recent years, film historians have taken note of some of the more salacious melodramas from the MGM catalog of the early 1930's that also led directly to the Hays Code, a Hollywood form of self-censorship established in 1934 to deflect growing criticism by religious organizations. Foremost among these films was Kongo (1932), a dark, unsavory revenge drama that was completely out of step with MGM's usual glossy output at this time (with the possible exception of Tod Browning's Freaks, their other controversial offering of the year). Set in the African jungles, Kongo offers an unsettling portrait of an embittered and deranged megalomaniac who vents his rage against his imagined enemies. Walter Huston (in a robust performance) plays Flint, a former magician who lost the use of his legs during a battle with his wife's lover, Gregg (C. Henry Gordon). Years later, a young woman named Ann (Virginia Bruce) pays a visit to Flint. Believing her to be the daughter of his arch-rival Gordon, he gleefully embarks on a reign of terror, subjecting Ann to such psychological torment that she is nearly destroyed. But why stop there? Flint also sees to it that the new village doctor (Conrad Nagel) becomes addicted to drugs and at the same time inflicts numerous degradations on the woman who loves him (Lupe Velez). The horror continues until Gregg is lured to the jungle compound thus setting in motion Flint's final act of revenge. 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. Director Cowen's blunt, sledgehammer approach to the material is downright relentless in its intemperance, imbuing the film with the kind of overheated sexuality that religious organizations found immoral. Equally disturbing is the original 1928 silent version of the film - West of Zanzibar - starring Lon Chaney in the role of Flint. It's a tossup as to which version is the most depraved but both films inadvertently contributed to a new era of censorship in Hollywood. Director: William Cowen Screenplay: Leon Gordon (based on the play by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon) Cinematography: Harold Rosson Editor: Conrad A. Nervig Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Cast: Walter Huston (Flint), Virginia Bruce (Ann), Lupe Velez (Tula), Conrad Nagel (Dr. Kingsland), C. Henry Gordon (Gregg), Mitchell Lewis (Hogan), Forrester Harvey (Cookie Harris). BW-87m. By Michael Toole

Quotes

Trivia

The original play opened in New York on 30 March 1926, with Walter Huston in the role of Flint.

Virginia Bruce married 'Gilbert, John' during the production.

Notes

Walter Huston reprised the role of Flint from the Broadway stage. A pre-production news article in Hollywood Reporter refers to the film as Conga, however, it is possible that this was a typographical error rather than an alternate title of the film. A Hollywood Reporter news item on August 12, 1932 noted that cameraman Merritt Gerstad was being "borrowed from Jack Bachman" to photograph the picture, but this May also have been an error as Gerstad was not listed in any other source for Kongo and began photographing M-G-M's Payment Deferrred (see below) during the same week. According to other news items and reviews, actress Virginia Bruce married M-G-M star John Gilbert on August 10, 1932, in a bungalow on the M-G-M lot, and subsequently expressed the desire to get out of her contract with the studio "to become a wife." This was her last film until 1934, the same year as her divorce from Gilbert, when she returned to the screen in Monogram's Jane Eyre as the title character. In 1935, Bruce returned to M-G-M, where she appeared in many films throughout the late 1930s. The Chester De Vonde and Kilbourne Gordon play was also the basis the 1928 M-G-M film West of Zanzibar, directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.6161).