King Kong vs Godzilla (1963) Review
It’s hard to judge this 1962 production fairly, because I was only able to get hold of the American cut of the film which bowdlerised the satire in favour of spoon-feeding the US audience with exposition provided by new scenes of a UN Broadcaster (Michael Keith) and a straitlaced scientist (Harry Holcombe). Originally envisioned as a throwdown between Kong and Frankenstein, of all people, by Willis O’Brien, the visual effects maestro behind KING KONG, no studio was willing to take the pitch until it ended up at Toho and became KING KONG vs GODZILLA. I mean, who else were they going to pitch against Hollywood’s biggest star?
When Godzilla is accidentally released from the iceberg in which he was trapped (at the end of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN) by a stricken US nuclear submarine, he wastes little time in heading back to his old stomping ground of Japan to cause a bit of chaos. Enter the CEO of Pacific Pharmaceuticals who sees an opportunity for some great publicity by sponsoring an opponent to confront and defeat Godzilla and so sends men and equipment to hunt, capture and bring Kong back to the Japanese mainland.
The cut-for-US-consumption version never really feels like a cohesive movie and more like filler material until you get to the title bout that probably made you want to watch the movie in the first place. This is a Kong from a brand new continuity, so you can forgive the liberties taken with his massively increased size compared to his cinematic ape ancestors of thirty-odd years ago. While Godzilla, at this point, had been rocking the man-in-a-suit look for a while, those same craftsmen didn’t have quite as much luck or dedication when it came to crafting a sizeable simian for ‘zilla to beat on.
Directed by Ishiro Honda (director of the OG GZ 1954 film) doesn’t try to replicate the grand environmental themes of the original here and while there are traces of the gleeful swipes at the increasing commercialisation and consumerism of Japanese society, they’re blunted by the editing and rejigging of the story for western consumption.
Thankfully, the scenes which remain untouched, namely the ape-on-lizard action are a whole heap of goofy, rubber monster fun. It all ultimately leads to an epic confrontation on Mount Fuji which is jam-packed with exactly the kind of crazy, camp clobbering you’ll be expecting if you’ve ever seen any of the Toho films. Colourful and absurd, the fight is full of surprises and tricks including a never-seen-before-or-since ability of Kong to absorb and control lightning, KING KONG vs GODZILLA is exactly the fight you’d get if you gave two ten-year-olds a can of Monster energy drink each and told them to dress up and re-enact a Pokemon battle – and it’s glorious. As an overall movie, it’s a mess but the final twenty minutes are pure comedy fool’s gold.
Whatever its qualities (or lack thereof), KING KONG vs GODZILLA ended up not destorying the greatest of the great ape’s scaly nuclear nemesis but saving his cinematic skin. It was off the back of the success of this movie that Toho made the decision to go all in on Godzilla, propelling him from movie star to cultural icon and merchandising juggernaught – the latter being the cruelest irony for this explciitly anti-commercialism monster mash.