King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
“Now an all-mighty all-new motion picture brings them together for the first time in the colossal class of all time!”
Director: IshirÃ´ Honda
Cast: Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, YÃ» Fujiki
Synopsis: A pharmaceutical company captures King Kong and brings him to Japan, where he escapes from captivity and battles a recently released Godzilla.
I ask you, how could anyone not want to watch a movie called King Kong vs Godzilla? A title like that is a siren call to some of us, and I could no more pass this one up than I could sit through another screening of Dirty Dancing. Even before we see the cloudless orb of Earth suspended amongst red and white stars we know it’s going to be awful, atrocious, a true affront to moviemaking, and yet we simply can’t resist. I mean, come on: King Kong! Godzilla! Duking it out toe to toe on the big screen!
King Kong vs Godzilla does actually have some pretty close ties to the original King Kong movie. Back in the 1950s, Willis O’Brien was trying to put together a new Kong movie called King Kong vs Frankenstein in which the giant ape would take on a monster stitched together from various animal parts. When Hollywood failed to show an interest — Lord only knows why — producer John Beck started touting it around Europe, and the Toho Studio bought the idea, but decided to match him up against their own monster who, like Kong, had already made two screen appearances by 1962. Two versions were made — one for the Japanese market, and the other for the American — although persistent rumours that each version had a different monster emerging victorious have proven unfounded.
The US version repeatedly cuts away from the action to take us back to the studio where we find not Alastair MacDonald or Bill Turnbull, but some bland UN newsroom presenter (Michael Keith) who keeps us updated on international reaction to the events unfolding without ever once allowing the cheesy grin to slip from his face. He informs us that some professor has discovered a berry with non-addictive narcotic properties which grows only on the remote and backward island of Faro Island. The natives of the island, our smarmy friend informs us, worship a monster they have never seen, but whom is rumoured to be as tall as a mountain. Meanwhile, another hot piece of news is that an unnatural spell of warm weather along the Bering Straits has been traced to a rapidly melting iceberg. A nuclear submarine sent to investigate observes a strange green glow emanating from the ‘berg before accidentally ramming it, thereby precipitating its total disintegration and revealing one ticked off Godzilla.
While the UN is getting itself in a tizzy over the re-emergence of Godzilla, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), the head of the pharmaceutical company to whom the professor has taken his recently discovered berries, is berating his underlings for the dull and boring TV shows his programme sponsors. Hearing about the rumoured monster on Faro Island, he instructs the hapless aides to ‘find me a genuine monster, if he exists or not!’ While they’re sailing off to Faro, Godzilla is heading for Tokyo, and he’s not too fussy about who or what he treads on to get there.
The two pharmaceutical company executives — the inevitable straight man and painfully unfunny ‘comedy’ sidekick — arrive on Faro Island. While there they see the beachside village attacked by a giant octopus in what is probably the best sequence of the movie because they mostly film a genuine octopus slithering with a frightful… slithery… noise over a model of the village. Just as it looks as if the octopus will destroy the village the fable Kong finally makes his appearance, effortlessly tearing down the fence which is supposed to keep him enclosed. Now, it has to be said that Toho’s version of Kong looks just a little bit… threadbare, as if he were a toy that had been left too long on spin while in the wash. In fact, I could be wrong, but I’ve got the sneaking suspicion he might actually be a man in a monkey suit. A Japanese man, probably, about 5’5” tall, and shot from a low angle to make him appear taller than he really is.
Anyway, having safely seen off the octopus, Kong helps himself to the islander’s magical berries, and it’s not long before he’s sleeping peacefully. While he sleeps, the executives hit on a brilliant idea: why not tie him to a raft and sail him back to the mainland for their boss? This they duly do, securing explosives to each corner of the raft just in case the monster wakes up in a mood during the voyage. So, what we now have are two monsters, who are apparently sworn enemies, heading for Japan from opposite directions, and when the military’s attempts to halt Godzilla’s march on Tokyo fails the only sensible option — other than a nuclear bomb — is to sic Kong on Godzilla and hope for the best.
King Kong vs Godzilla is one of those movies that are so deliberately stupid that it’s impossible either to take them seriously or criticise them in any meaningful way. It would be like criticising a chair for being a chair. Having said that, the cheapness of it all is inescapable; the monsters are men in suits, the blue sky background is a sheet which is occasionally rippled and the buildings crushed beneath giant feet are never more than 12 inches tall. If you can overlook all this and embrace the sheer silliness of it all there’s a fair chance you’ll have a good time, but if you’re looking for anything other than mindless entertainment you’ll never make it to that ‘epic’ confrontation.
(Reviewed 12th September 2013)