This is one of the more…let’s go with interesting…entries in this project. King Kong vs. Godzilla is a crossover, a comedy, and a curiosity. And it is something to behold that’s for sure.
It began life as a sequel to the original film called King Kong Meets Frankenstein. The proposed treatment was by Willis O’Brien (the original animator of King Kong) and was to feature a giant sized Frankenstein’s Monster battling King Kong in San Francisco. The preceding words I just wrote are in my mind both baffling and beautiful and are something I truly wish had been made and something I could watch right now. Alas it was not to be.
Due to budgetary concerns the rights were eventually sold to the Japanese studio Toho who exchanged Frankenstein with Godzilla and then proceeded to change everything else as well with the exception of having King Kong in it. And the results are…again, let’s go with interesting.
Before I begin I should note that I will be talking about the English dubbed version of the film. Like many of the US versions of Toho Kaiju films King Kong vs. Godzilla has added scenes featuring American actors to act as a framing device and to add exposition. Also there is dubbing that is…questionable. No doubt the “better” version of this movie would be the Japanese cut with subtitles but the US version was the one I saw as a kid and I felt that for nostalgic reasons I should keep it consistent and only re-watch the same versions that I did back then. Also, if I’m honest, this is the version that is most readily available and the easiest to track down. Yes, I could have gone to the effort to get the Japanese version but that would be difficult and/or cost more money. And while I’m committed to this project to a certain extent there are limitations.
Okay, that being said let’s talk about King Kong vs. Godzilla.
This is an odd duck of a movie. This is the third entry into the Godzilla franchise and an obvious attempt to lighten things up. Godzilla had become extremely popular and the studio it seems wanted to make him if not a hero than a lovable villain. And humor abounds.
Now the first Godzilla film – Gojira – was played pretty much straight. Filmed in stark black and white, it made the titular monster a rampaging…well, monster…with all the horror, death, and destruction made to feel that it was in fact horrible. And add to that the fact that there was a message behind the film. The whole point of Gojira was to be a metaphor for nuclear power and the rampaging monster was meant to be a stand in for the way the bombs dropped on Japan devastated the country. Pretty neat.
Skip ahead now to King Kong vs. Godzilla and we have full color and a much lighter tone. But still there remains the notion of at least playing lip service to a greater social issue. The overall plot revolves around the head of a pharmaceuticals company who is upset about the declining ratings of the various shows he sponsors and in an attempt to improve those rating sends two of his employees off to a mysterious island to capture a giant ape. You know an obvious solution to TV ratings.
Meanwhile US submarine smashes into an iceberg releasing Godzilla who has been trapped there since the last time we saw him. Long story short – the two giant monsters make their way to Japan where they are thrust together to fight at the foot of Mt. Fuji (actually, now that I think of it there was no need to make that long story short as that is the entire story).
There are attempts to add a romantic subplot which is just forced and awkward and of course the pharmaceutical company story is there as well. Now I get what the film was trying to do. They were trying to make a point that big business will do anything to increase its profits including endangering people’s lives and property. And that is a valiant attempt. But this movie basically boils down to getting the monsters together to fight anyway necessary; everything else really does not matter. So kudos to the filmmakers at least trying to put a little substance into it, alas the subplot is just superficial and hollow and in the end is simply abandoned to make way for giant monsters pummeling each other.
Where the first movie had an actual point to make, in King Kong vs. Godzilla the point is tacked on and is ultimately just an obligatory hand wave to social consciousness and becomes in the end filler.
King Kong vs. Godzilla(1962)
“King Kong could kill us all! You wouldn’t care! Publicity’s all you want! Publicity!” – Furue
What I Remember
This was in perpetual rotation on Saturday afternoon UHF programming (for me it was Creature Double Feature that played all the Kaiju movies). But this one always stood out as the one I liked the least. There was just something fake about it. Look, I realize all of these Toho films are fake seeming. Even as a kid I could tell it was just a man in a rubber suit stepping on model houses and toy tanks – I wasn’t stupid. But with Godzilla or Gamera or Rodan, etc. there was something otherworldly about them. They were fantasy creatures. And it was just easier to suspend disbelief and get into the world they inhabited. You could let the silliness and “unreality” wash over you and just enjoy the weird coolness of the film.
But King Kong in this movie is, let’s face it, a guy in a gorilla suit. And not a good one at that (the face is squishy and the arm extenders randomly appear and disappear whenever Kong has to hold something). For me as a kid I just couldn’t get past that. A guy in a gorilla suit was a long time cliché in comedies both in movies and on TV, not to mention comics. So there was no suspension of disbelief – this was not a fantasy creature – this was a Laurel & Hardy skit.
I know it may seem strange but as a kid I could watch Godzilla fight a giant moth and think, “That’s so cool!” but seeing Kong fight the same monster I’d think, “Boy that’s stupid.”
I don’t know, there is no accounting for a kid’s mentality.
How Does It Hold Up?
Well, that depends on how you are watching this. By that I mean the attitude and expectations you are coming in with. If you are expecting a classic – well, you will be sorely disappointed. It is a poorly made movie. The effects and acting are cheap even by 60s Toho standards. And there are so many questionable actions by the characters (giving out cigarettes to appease the natives – including children – for instance).
But if you are looking for a fun romp full of camp and goofiness, this is your film! I’m usually not one to advocate watching a film “ironically” but this is definitely a movie to do that with if you are so inclined.
I watched this having not seen it since I was at least 12 with all the memories of my childhood and at the start I felt that this was going to be a slog. But at some point in the movie (the point where the natives get Kong drunk and do a sexy dance for him to be exact) I just let go and enjoyed it for what it is…a camp comedy with guys in rubber suits throwing Styrofoam rocks at each other. And in that vein I laughed and smiled and honestly enjoyed myself.
So, yeah, do that and you will have a good time.