Thursday, September 28, 2023

Kongo (1932)

One of the more lurid pre-code movie genres was the lust in the jungle movie, and the sleaziest and most over-the-top of these movies was Kongo, made (surprisingly) by MGM in 1932. It was directed by William J. Cowen and was a remake of the 1928 Tod Browning-directed Lon Chaney vehicle West of Zanzibar.

Flint (Walter Huston) uses stage magic tricks to convince the local tribes that he possesses immensely strong ju-ju. They regard him as a god, quite literally. He has created an 80 mile wide personal empire and controls the ivory trade in this zone.

The local tribe burns its dead on funeral pyres. When a man dies his wife (or if he doesn’t have a wife his daughter will do) is burned alive with him. Which will later become a vital plot point.

Flint is confined to a wheelchair and he has spent years planning his revenge on the man who stole his wife and smashed his spine leaving him a cripple. Flint’s personal retinue comprises the sleazy Hogan, an alcoholic cook and a cheerful Portuguese prostitute named Tula (Lupe Velez).

And two years earlier there was another addition to Flint’s human menagerie, Ann Whitehall (Virginia Bruce). Flint lured the innocent girl from a convent and put her in a brothel in Zanzibar until her spirit was broken. Now she’s ill and despairing. This was Flint’s revenge on Ann’s father.

Then a doctor named Kingsland (Conrad Nagel) turns up. Kingsland falls for Ann. He hopes to cure her after which they will escape together.

Flint’s plans for his final revenge are coming to fruition and then comes the major plot twist that changes everything.

The more I see of Walter Huston the more I’m convinced that he was the greatest of all male pre-code stars. He plays Flint as a force of nature and as a man whose obsession with revenge has turned him into an insane tyrant. In this movie he gives a totally crazed performance which is exactly what is required. Flint is a madman and he’s capable of extraordinary cruelty but he’s fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

Huston had played the role on stage before the Lon Chaney movie was made so his performance really is the original.

Virginia Bruce as Ann veers between hysteria and despair and her performance works too.

Lupe Velez is great fun.

Conrad Nagel gives a terrible performance which, perversely, works. This is the kind of movie in which conventional good acting would be ludicrously out of place. In fact none of the performances could be described as good acting in any conventional sense.

Does this movie contain any characteristic pre-code content? Well for starters there’s alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, white slavery, sadomasochism and human sacrifice. That should be enough to be going on with.

While it’s set in Africa don’t expect any expansive shots of herds of antelope or lions or anything like. It was shot on a sound stage on just a couple of sets and it’s incredibly claustrophobic.

is a totally mad depraved movie but it’s inspired madness and pre-code movies don’t come any more outrageous than this one. Nothing about the movie is good in a conventional sense but it works anyway. Highly recommended.

The Warner Archive DVD release looks fine. Everything looks grimy and sweaty and scuzzy which is as it should be.

If you just can’t get enough of pre-code jungle sleaze I also highly recommend White Woman (1933).


  1. Replies
    1. It's almost impossible to describe in a review just how crazy and fun it is. When we think of really crazy movies we think of the 60s and 70s, but KONGO is crazier.