King Kong vs. Godzilla (American version, 1963) – The 3rd Godzilla Movie – Directed by Ishiro Honda and Thomas Montgomery – Starring Michael Keith, Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujiki, Arnold Johnson, Ichiro Arishima, Mie Hama, Shoichi Hirose, and Haruo Nakajima.
This movie is insane.
I love it.
I watched the American version of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. There wasn’t any real logic to this decision except that’s what started playing when I hit play. I’m glad this is the version I watched, though, because it’s one of the most compelling stews of insanity and genuine emotion around. It strikes the perfect chord for what I want when I throw a Kaiju movie into the Blu-ray player – it’s big, wild, crazy, and infused with genuine human drama. I don’t know if I’d prefer the original version, as it’s the American version that adds the newscaster angle into the plot.
Yeah, there’s a newscaster in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and he’s not out reporting from the scene or being, in any way, dramatic. No, newscaster Eric Carter (Michael Keith) is as calm and cool reporting on the arrival of King Kong and Godzilla into the world as if he’s reporting on the pie eating contest at the State Fair. It’s genius. And rubbish. And totally bizarre. Eric Carter is the kind of guy who could read, “Asjd sdfsdf suodffjop0 roerpdjj aoweujfoj aofjoaue9iopifjoidjfdf dfia” off the teleprompter without a second’s hesitation.
Carter’s news center is apparently at the United Nations and he spends a lot of time talking through the International Communications Satellite with his Japanese analog. What I absolutely love about this whole set-up is that I can’t tell if Carter thinks he’s broadcasting the news or if he thinks we’ve all popped over to his house to make friendly banter about the latest in Kaiju happenings. I half expected a fondue pot to be sitting on his desk, and his pin-up wife with her beehive hairdo to be visible over his left shoulder, lounging on a rag sofa and reading a magazine while sipping on and orange mescaline cocktail.
This is not Walter Kronkite sitting at a desk and somberly delivering the news of monster devastation. No, this is High Hefner in a smoking jacket talking about how he and some buddies went fishing and accidentally saw his neighbors having sex in a canoe. Carter has this bemused, aloof air the whole time, and you can almost see the actor playing him imagining the vacation in Palm Springs this acting gig is going to bring him.
It gets even better when Carter brings in a scientific expert (Arnold Johnson) to explain why Godzilla and King Kong have shown up and are stomping around the world, heading for Japan on a collision course. The scientist actively looks for the camera to make sure you’re understanding that what he’s saying is important. “You see,” he says sincerely, “the man was putting his penis into her vagina while in the canoe. It was quite the thing.”
There’s a subplot involving red berries from Faro Island that can cure all the bad things in the world or something. A pharmaceutical company wants to harvest the berries, but the natives won’t allow this because their mysterious giant god who lives on their island that no one has ever seen likes them. One of the pharma reps is made that they’re not getting enough press, so he screams like a five year old that, “I want my own monster!”
What’s important is that the invisible giant god who the Faro Islanders worship but have never seen is King Kong. He reveals himself to protect the islanders from a giant octopus. Kong defeats the giant octopus and then drinks two big barrels of the red berry juice and falls asleep, which allows to reps from the pharmaceutical company to tie Kong to a raft and haul him in the direction of Japan, where the pharma company that now “owns” him wants to use him for publicity.
All of that actually happens.
Godzilla enters the movie because he was trapped in an iceberg. Now, I believe the original version meant this to be a direct continuation of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, where the Kaiju is defeated by burying him in snow and ice and rock. The American version doesn’t really bother with this because ol’ Eric Carter is too busy thinking about heading to Atlantic City for the weekend.
There’s an intriguing difference in how humans relate to the two monsters. With King Kong, it’s the two pharma reps doing their best bumbling idiot routine. They provide a bit of comic relief to the proceedings, while Godzilla brings the tragedy. The humans embroiled in the Godzilla half of the film are just normal folks trying not to get killed by a giant freaking lizard.
Oh, that reminds me. The expert scientist? He explains to the people at home that Godzilla is likely part Tyrannosaurus Rex and part Stegosaurus by flipping through pictures of a dinosaur book.
Does anyone else suddenly picture Doctor Hammond sitting off-screen, eating melting ice cream, mumbling, “Spared no expense” into his Alka Seltzer and absinthe?
King Kong and Godzilla eventually fight because it’s in the movie’s title and all of the action scenes provide the goods.
Through it all, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA has the right mix of fun and drama. The fact that newscasters can treat the arrival of King Kong and Godzilla with such easy charm should not work, yet it gives the movie the right added bit of nostalgic charm. It’s almost like they approach it all like they know it’s just two guys in rubber suits stepping on toys and cardboard. At the same time, though, we’ve got the folks who are having their lives turned upside down by Godzilla to balance off the absurd with some genuine emotion. It’s a perfect mix, and this is a strangely perfect movie.
When he’s not talking to other writers, Mark Bousquet is doing some writing himself. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including the recently released The Haunting of Kraken Moor, Gunfighter Gothic, Stuffed Animals for Hire, Dreamer’s Syndrome, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches, and Adventures of the Five. He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.