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"King Kong vs. Godzilla" (1962)


LiamCasey

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Tonight on METv's Svengoolie is 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla:

 


 

Let's be honest. A serious discussion of Kaiju movies of the Shōwa era is, for the most part, fairly meaningless. The grand majority of these movies are basically WWE for horror/science-fiction fans. Each has just enough plot to give two or more giant monsters an excuse to destroy a good deal of Japanese real estate and, ultimately, an excuse to fight each other while destroying even more real estate. Which, in many ways, makes these Kaiju movies no different than earlier Universal horror movies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Or later horror movies like Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator. Except for the fact that the monsters in the Kaiju movies have obviously overdone the steroids!

 

But, unless your expectations are too high (or your tastes too highbrow), these Kaiju movies are fun to watch (just like popcorn is fun to eat). And I have watched many of them in my time, including King Kong vs. Godzilla. And, if I am home tonight, I expect to be watching King Kong vs. Godzilla again.

 

P.S. Any James Bond fans who watch King Kong vs. Godzilla tonight should look for the lovely Mie Hama who portrays Fumiko Sakurai in this movie. She also portrayed the Japanese agent who pretends to marry 007 in You Only Live Twice.

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Well, I think it's more proper to say WWE is like THESE films.  But these obviously were taking TV Wrestling Scripts, using bigger sets, costumes and fireworks instead of tossing a chair into the ring.  Last fall, wins. 

 

I can have fond comments about Gojira, it's #2 film, Rodan, maybe Mothra.  But somewhere after 1960, the thinking-wheels fell off and TV wresting-meets-Lassie's-Kids took over as the major script devices and I never understood why.  GOJIRA remains a strong candidate as a film all by itself. 

 

I've wondered who in the Moneybags Department demanded these kiddie-style films instead of more GOJIRAs.

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In my opinion, the first seeds that led to the dumbing down of Kaiju movies of the Shōwa era were planted as early as that second Godzilla movie, Godzilla Raids Again. Although Godzilla Raids Again is (at least in its original Japanese version) a fine movie, it adds Anguirus as a sparring partner for Godzilla. And, ultimately, the monster vs. monster plot lines took precedence over the man vs. monster plot lines even though the former were simpler (and probably much easier to write) and less satisfying to adults. But were more appealing to children.

 

And then, with the fifth Godzilla movie, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, we start to get the kinder, gentler, Godzilla. Which was also more appealing to children.

 

And those children were, in the long run, probably where the money was. And probably why Godzilla has lasted as long as he has.

 

Random thoughts during Saturday night's viewing of King Kong vs. Godzilla:

 

1) I had forgotten that King Kong vs. Godzilla was released in America by Universal. Explains why that movie appears on Svengoolie like all other Universal horror movies.

 

2) With Gojira, the American version adds a newspaper reporter. So with King Kong vs. Godzilla, the American version adds a television anchor. A perfect example of thinking way inside the box. And, unfortunately, Michael Keith pales in comparison to Raymond Burr.

 

3) Of course, the original Japanese version didn't really go out on a limb either. Rumors of a giant something on some remote island? Check. Remote island has a native village and a really big fence? Check. King Kong causes havoc in native village? Check. King Kong gets knocked unconscious and is taken to civilization? Check. King Kong escapes and rampages through a major city? Check. King Kong kidnaps a girl and climbs a tall building? Check. King Kong gets knocked off tall building? Check. All in all, I suspect that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did a flyby in a biplane at some point in King Kong vs. Godzilla and I just missed it!

 

4) It was very odd that the characters early in the movie scoffed at the idea of a giant monster when discussing the possibility of King Kong. Yet they all instantly recognized Godzilla when he first appears. Duh! Having never seen the original Japanese version of this movie, I'm going to assume that this stupidity only exists in the American version.

 

5) Considering the number of times that I have seen Creature from the Black Lagoon, the use of that movie's music in King Kong vs. Godzilla was jarring. Just jarring. More blame to throw on the American version.

 

6) And, finally, I had forgotten that Akiko Wakabayashi was also in King Kong vs. Godzilla. As with Mie Hama, she was also in You Only Live Twice and portrayed the Japanese agent who was poisoned instead of James Bond when the two were sleeping together.

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I'd like to know if the inserted-children was an offering in generations of Japanese films.  It was in Hollywood - kids on adventures, kids in danger, etc.  I assume this was a storyline in Japanese films of the '30s.

 

Have you enjoyed the more dramatic James Bond films of late?  I have.  I was half-expecting kids to be inserted into the Roger Moore entries (if he'd done one more!) as if childish caricatures of Southern sheriffs weren't enough! 

 

These last few Godzillas have some additional drama but, ashamedly, nothing matches the original GOJIRA.  I did enjoy RODAN because of the insertion of additional 'creatures' but you're right in #2 having an additional "sparring partner".  The perfect phrase.

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I can't speak for Japanese movies in general, but children (both of the human and the monster variety) became more and more important within the Kaiju movies of the Shōwa era which eventually resulted in All Monsters Attack which is about a bullied child who daydreams about Godzilla and his "son" Minilla.

 

As for the James Bond series, I have enjoyed the latest movies in that series with Daniel Craig as 007 and am looking forward to the upcoming Spectre.

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I brought up the "inserting children" concept because I see this as a 'reduction' or childishness of the Godzilla (and more) movies.  I brought up the more dramatic Bond films because they've consciously moved away from their predecessors' cartoonishness (invisible cars, Beach Boys while wind surfing, etc).

 

I think there's always been a strong market for dramatic monster films and, while it's impossible to argue IF a child-less Godzilla series would have been as or more profitable, the American market didn't immediately move in that direction.

 

CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON was played, straight up, as a pure drama.  THEM, certainly was. 

 

But INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN is full of jokesters and comic-relief, but still acted 'pretty straight'.  INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) starts with a lad's view of strange goings-on outside his window.  He's of course dismissed entirely.  He's not playing a central role in the film, but it's interesting that those writers inserted a child and then didn't make the film dependent on him.

 

When children were 'inserted' in these '50s monster films, they were generally for sympathy's sake, not as an adventurous motivation. 

 

I do wonder if the Japanese filmmakers received motivations - other than anticipated profits - for the 'childishness' of their monster films.  I mention this because, while US occupation forces had left Japan formally by GOJIRA's 1953 writing and filming, American nuclear issues were considered off-limits.  GOJIRA blames the French tests, instead.

 

(I don't consider the Japanese babyboom era to be substantially different from the American babyboom - not in terms of percentage-growth of population.  But I don't know this.  IF the Japanese baby-boom was substantially larger than the American, then perhaps 'catering to kids' was enough of a motivation.)

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Although the United States was not mentioned by name within the original Gojira, the nuclear testing performed by the United States is definitely the catalyst for Godzilla within that movie.

 

Prior to the release of Gojira in 1954, only three countries had performed a nuclear test: the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom. And America's testing in the Pacific was performed in nearby areas that were under the control of Japan prior to the end of World War II. The other two countries had performed their testing in Kazakhstan and Australia. So, if nuclear testing was at fault, then only the testing by the United States fit the bill.

 

The first nuclear test by France, by comparison, did not occur until 1960.

 

The 1998 American remake did put the blame on the nuclear testing performed by France. And even introduced the Matthew Broderick character at Chernobyl. Did the makers of the remake assume that Americans couldn't accept the fact that Americans could screw up? It is a shame, really, since it could have given that movie more of a "sins of the father" vibe. But that would assume a certain level of seriousness that they obviously weren't striving for.

 

Although on the plus side, by making the French the fall guys, the makers of the remake had an excuse to cast Jean Reno in their movie.

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I really like that Universal "separated" their kid's funny horror from their adult horror. 

Re: "Abbot & Costello Meet" (insert monster) and later MUNSTER GO HOME and GHOST & MR CHICKEN work well for me.

 

I much prefer serious GODZILLA movies. The sets and lip un-synch are enough comic relief. 

 

It's the same "right brain left brain" mechanism that makes Mystery Science Theater work for some and not others.

 

Has anyone here seen any Godzilla movies in a theater with an audience? An experience. The theater where I see these has decided to discontinue the series- sadly, it loses money.

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I am in absolute agreement with regards to those Abbott and Costello movies. Which probably explains why I have all four volumes of The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello - The Franchise Collection DVD sets on my shelves.

 

I have only seen three of the Japanese Godzilla movies on the big screen: Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla 2000.

 

Of those three, Destroy All Monsters supplied the best audience experience because I saw it as a kid in a theater full of kids. And it had multiple monsters. And multiple cities under attack. And aliens. An ideal combination for that particular audience. Which, I guess, is further proof that these types of movies were made to appeal to children more and more as time went by.

 

Although not everything in Destroy All Monsters was child-friendly. That scene where the earring was ripped off shocked the heck out of me as a child sufficiently to cause that image to stay with me even as an adult.

 

As for the other two movies, I saw them as an adult in theaters that were mostly empty. No audience experience whatsoever.

 

I have also seen both of the American Godzilla movies on the big screen.

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GOJIRA was re-released in 2002 in many American cities and I saw it in packed theaters for weeks.  Even now, when it comes around annually, it's usually got only 3 or maybe 4 days but those screenings are jammed, too. 

 

The film's many weak points highlights another issue: why am I willing to accept so many technical flaws in the classic films, but absolutely loathe the most minor issue with the far more realistic modern ones? 

 

And the audiences seem to echo at least their willingness to dismiss any need for 'realism' and just enjoy it.

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