King Kong Vs Godzilla is a little bit of a big deal. It may not have been the most successful film of all time but it does hold the honour of having the highest box office attendance of all the Godzilla films in Japan. It also sent a message to Toho that big monster fights were a commercial draw and, more so that Godzilla Raids Again, it was this film that pushed the series in the direction we mostly regard Godzilla as having. The film almost didn’t happen. Back in 1955 Toho had put Godzilla on ice (That’s a pun you’ll get later) with no intention of making any new films. In the early 1960s the studio was working on making a Japanese King Kong film and intended to have Kong fight against another of their monster movie stars, Frankenstein. Frankenstein is 50 metres tall in Japan by the way. This was eventually scrapped when Toho learned they no longer had the license for Frankenstein and so they decided to defrost (also a pun) Godzilla after 7 years and create a battle of East Vs West with two of the biggest monster movie stars of the time. Click the link for my review.
Now, here’s an issue. The version of King Kong Vs Godzilla I have is the American version of the film. These days if a film is foreign film is released to Western audiences most often there will just be subtitles added and a day will be called. Even dubs have faded away from DVD releases in recent years. But King Kong Vs Godzilla was made in 1962. A time when studios didn’t think people would want to watch a film with words on the screen (similar to the idiot minority of today) and so Universal made a few tweaks. And by tweaks I mean shoot a whole load of extra footage intended to explain to their “moron” audience of the day what exactly is happening on screen. This seems to have created a little bit of a narrative problem for King Kong Vs Godzilla. The extra scenes take the form of a UN News broadcast updating the world on the current situation regarding Kong and Godzilla. Trouble is that the people making these parts didn’t seem to tell the people translating the actual film for it’s pretty ropey dub.
This manifests itself in two ways. First we have the issue where the UN appear to be filling us in on what’s going on, either side of scenes that they would not have been able to witness. The report is presented as if it were live and often the scenes in between these sequences are in locations where no military is present or on Kong’s home of Faro Island, a place where only the two Japanese leads and the staff of the pharmaceutical company they represent are visiting. The second problem is that the characters in the UN scenes appear to be completely oblivious tot he existence of Godzilla previous to this film. Now, you could argue that they presented this film as if it were a stand alone. Only trouble with that is that not only is does Godzilla first appear by escaping the iceberg (see, cos he was frozen!) he was trapped in at the end of Raids Again but the characters that witness him breaking free, who are American, recognise him instantly as Godzilla. This is further compounded by the Japanese characters being aware of who Godzilla is. To add to that the UN officials in the additionally shot material provide an origin for Godzilla that deftly sidesteps the nuclear testing issue that US audiences may not have enjoyed at a time when it wasn’t uncommon to hold a garden party in Nevada to watch nukes being set off for testing. So that’s all a bit of a mess.
Did I mention that the two Japanese leads, Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) & Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki), are off to the Faro Islands to capture Kong to help promote their bosses pharmaceutical company because the berries found on the island hold intoxicating properties? In the Japanese version it’s medicinal. Kong’s size, due to eating these berries, is seen as a prime advertising chance by the company’s boss Mr Tako (Ichiro Arashima). This medicinal quality is played down because the idea of Kong getting drunk on berry juice is funnier than them just having the side effect of knocking him out. To be honest, the idea of Kong beating up a giant octopus and then getting drunk is kinda funny. So while all that island nonsense is going on Godzilla is on his way to Tokyo because reasons. Kong escapes his bonds on the way back to Japan and is drawn towards Godzilla for other reasons.
Here’s another odd element to this film. For “some reason” King Kong gains extra strength from electricity. Now that’s not me being flippant. The scientific expert, who earlier told us Godzilla was a hybrid of a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus, says that “for some reason Kong gains strength from electricity”. That is his expert opinion. No theories as to why. He just says “for some reason”. The real reason was due to the film’s origin as a Frankenstein film. In the Japanese Frankenstein films the monster gets extra power from electricity. The team making this film must have figured that it wouldn’t work in the established canon of Godzilla and so they transposed that element to King Kong, likely because someone was too tired of rewrites to figure out an alternative to the Kong getting shocked scene in the climatic battle.
That climatic battle is easily the film’s highlight. There’s a few smaller clashes and action scenes but nothing matches the majesty of the final battle. It’s built up to slowly. There’s time for Kong to do a little lady kidnapping before the fight kicks off too. Once the fight is in full swing we get the sort of fight that makes the fight with Anguirus in Raids again look pretty silly. The man inside the Kong suit was bit of a brick shit-house named Shoichi Hirose. He was known for being very strong and an adept practitioner of Judo. In one sequence he forcibly throws Godzilla over his shoulder with suit actor Haruo Nakajima in the suit. That’s a fair old bit of weight to throw without the use of wires. The most infamous moment in the fight is easily when Kong stops fucking around and straight up shoves a tree into Godzilla’s throat. Seriously, he rips it out the ground and forces it in there roots first. It’s awesome. The climax is pretty darn cool but it does end rather abruptly. In fact the whole film ends suddenly. No conclusions for the human characters or moments reflecting on the aftermath of this huge battle. The film just ends when the fight is over.
Whilst there is a distinct step up in the quality of the effects work, mostly due to the budget being multiple times larger than either of the previous films, there is one nasty smear on the visual veneer. The Kong suit is easily one of the most laughably bad Gorilla suits in film history. The proportions are all off. The face looks like it was made by a drunk child. The fur seems to have been picks off the street. It is more of a disaster than any amount of the citywide destruction seen in the film. Toho got a lot of bad feedback for the suit, and yet they still used practically the same one in King Kong Escapes a few years later. Maybe, just maybe, the suit is so terrible that it begins to gain some level of charm for its awfulness. But even then it would still be an awful suit. By contrast the redesigned Godzilla in this film looks pretty great. The tiny ears are gone from the head. The snout is made a little longer. The dorsal spines are larger and much more dramatic in appearance. This is pretty much the archetypal Godzilla appearance. The spines do wobble about a fair bit though, but that’s still more tolerable than looking like a Gorilla designed by a blind man.
In the end King Kong Vs Godzilla is a lighter and enjoyable enough adventure but there is a constant feeling, with this American dubbed version that large amounts of the film are missing in order to accommodate the entirely pointless extra scenes. The film becomes incredibly disjointed with regards to its narrative and as a result you just cannot care about a single one of the human characters. There is no drama to match Serizawa’s internal conflicts with his morals in the original Godzilla. If you’re just after spectacular fights between giant creatures you’ll likely get what you need from this. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a very poorly stitched together film lacking in true cohesion and character. That tree scene though…