Surprisingly MGM., a
respected Hollywood Studio, were responsible for some bizarre and controversial releases
in the horror movie genre. The Missing Link explores Kongo
starring Walter Huston a remake of Lon Chaney's West of Zanzibar.
(MGM.) 86mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: William J.Cowen; Sc: Leon Gordon; Ph:
Harold Rosson; Ed: Conrad E. Nervig; Art: Cedric Gibbons. From a play by Chester de Vonde
& Kilbourne Gordon.
Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Bruce, C. Henry Gordon, Mitchell Lewis,
Forrester Stanley, Forrester Harvey, Curtis Nero, Charles
No other film of the pre-Code era can lay claim to being as perverse as this
production. KONGO covers it all. Rape, torture, drug addiction, alcoholism, murder and
sado-masochism. For these reasons alone it is worth a cursory glance, but this is actually
a well made remake of Lon Chaney's West of Zanzibar
(1928) and completely out of sync with MGM's usual glossy output at this time and more
bizarre than Freaks, their other controversial
offering of the year.
Legs" Flint, (Walter Huston), a former sideshow magician and African trader, holds
sway over a tribe of superstitious natives with his illusions and is regarded by them as a
god. During one of his stagings he seemingly severs the head from his mistress Tula, (Lupe
Velez), who then talks to the natives from a tray her head is placed on.
For eighteen years, the crippled Flint has nurtured his quest for revenge against his
former partner Gregg Whitehall, (C. Henry Gordon), for causing his paralysis and for
abducting Flint's wife. Flint kidnapped Whitehall's daughter Ann, (Virginia Bruce), and
sent her to a convent in Capetown where she was brought up to be pure in mind and body
only to bring her to his kingdom in the "green hell" to corrupt, degrade and
pollute her soul. The result is a woman who is a drunken wreck.
All this time Flint has been plotting his revenge and summons Whitehall from a nearby
settlement to collect some ivory that Flint has procured from Whitehall's convoy.
At this time Dr. Kingsland, (Conrad Nagel), stumbles into Flint's lair where he is
detained and forced to operate on the cripple's painful legs. However, the doctor is
addicted to the powerful "bhiang" root and to cure him
he is promptly dropped into a swamp where the leeches begin to suck the poison out of him.
The doctor and Ann become close and plan to leave the jungle together when
Gregg Whitehall arrives and reveals that Ann is actually Flint's daughter.
Later on Whitehall dies, while the native drums pound their demand for Ann to become their
next fire ritual sacrifice. In a last bid to amend the damage he has
caused his daughter Flint delays the natives while Ann escapes with Dr. Kingsland. When
the natives discover that Flint has tricked them, they place him on the sacrificial pyre
KONGO's sordid tale surprisingly created little public interest or
controversy. Perhaps the film's intention to shock rather than thrill meant that it wasn't
Director William J. Cowen (1883-1964) improved upon Chaney's original with his
"sledgehammer" approach, but surprisingly this was to be his biggest film. After
KONGO's release, Cowen was then to churn out a series of modest poverty row
More credit belongs to cinematographer Harold Rosson who furnishes the film with as
much jungle atmosphere as possible. He would later earn himself a fine reputation as one
of the top photographers in his field receiving an Academy Award for THE GARDEN OF ALLAH
(1936), as well as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952).
Walter Huston (1884-1950), always a fascinating
actor, reprises his stage role, but he is probably remembered mostly for his role as
the Devil in All That Money Can Buy (1940).
Conrad Nagel (1896-1970), who usually displays more restraint in his performances, was a
respected figure of the theatre. His other genre appearances include Lon Chaney's London After Midnight (1927), filmdom's first
horror talkie The Terror (1928) and The Thirteenth Chair (1929). He can also be heard
as the narrator for One Million BC. (1940).
Not many other films of this period can claim a non-stop onslaught on a viewer's
sensibilities, which makes KONGO a unique entry to the history of horror cinema and
deserving of much more attention.
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