Kongo (1932): William J. Cowen’s Remake of Tod Browning’s West of Zanzibar

An adaptation of the 1926 Broadway play, which starred Walter Huston, Kongo is also a remake of Tod Browning’s 1928 film West of Zanzibar, starring Lon Chaney and Lionel Barrymore, based on the same play.

Directed by William J. Cowen, Kongo was made in the same year as the scary horror film, Freaks, also directed by Tod Browning.

Rarely seen, the film has been brought back to life vis TCM, where I caught it on August 14, 2018, as part of a tribute to the actress Lupe Velez.

“Deadlegs” Flint, an embittered paraplegic who lives in Kongo, controls the natives by using cheap magic tricks, assisted by his fiancee Tula, thugs Hogan and Cookie, and loyal native Fuzzy.

Flint has spent years planning revenge against Gregg, who had stolen his wife, taking her away from the jungle. To that extent, he had built a huge compound that prevents any entry or departure without his approval.

Having arranged for Gregg’s daughter Ann to be brought up by nuns in a convent in Cape Town, Flint sends Hogan to bring her to his compound. In Cape Town, Hogan, dressed as missionary, convinces Ann to go with him into the Kongo by promising to take her to her father.

When she arrives at Flint’s compound, Ann is held as a prisoner. After spending months confined to a brothel in Zanzibar, Ann has become an alcoholic, who does Flint’s bidding for whiskey, clueless as to why he has brought her to his camp.

When the cynical, drug-addicted doctor 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, puts the doctor in the swamp so that leeches can suck all of the drugs’ poison out of his system.

After the operation, Gregg arrives at the camp, summoned by Flint, who has stolen a shipment of his rival’s ivory. Flint hopes to have a revenge against Gregg by showing him his degraded daughter, then kill him, and burning Ann as the sacrifice in the natives’ ceremony.

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, paralyzing him, and leaving him for dead. Flint began plotting his revenge against Gregg and the girl who he thought was Gregg’s daughter.

When Gregg proves, however, that Ann is actually Flint’s own daughter, Flint begs Gregg not to leave the compound or he will be killed. Gregg refuses to listen to his old enemy and gets killed by Fuzzy.

Desperate to save Ann from the natives, Flint arranges for her and Kingsland to escape through a tunnel that only Fuzzy knows.  Just before Flint dies, he prays that Ann will get away safely, and indeed, Kingsland and Ann sail away from Africa, about to be married by the ship’s captain.