Directed by Ishirō Honda
August 11, 1962
A pharmaceutical company running a newspaper and TV station want a sensation to use and find it on a island where the recently discovered King Kong resides. After the attempt to bring him to Japan fails, he escapes and battles Godzilla.
This is the original epic pairing of the two iconic characters brought to us by the same creative minds that helmed the original Godzilla series. At least as epic as you can get with the limitations of any effects process of the time.
King Kong vs Godzilla is exactly what you would expect from a mid-60s giant monster movie. It is a combination of people in suits interacting with miniatures and small figures standing in at certain moments for those individuals. There was even the occasional puppet all creating a hokey yet charming feel.
This film started out as a very different idea from Willis O’Brien, the animator of Kong in the original 1933 film. Originally the concept was for Kong to be fighting a giant Frankenstein monster but when it was believed Universal owned the rights to Frankenstein (they only controlled the design of the makeup in the films) changes to the story began to be made as this property traded around. Ironically Universal International acquired the English language rights to the film. Eventually the idea fell into the hands of Toho and the trek to what we got began.
Director Ishirō Honda wanted this film to be a parody of the Japanese television industry of the time. In ’62 various sponsors began producing out there programming after two individuals reportedly died because of something they watched on television. This was seen as a marketing tool and assorted companies began more and more bizarre and shocking shows. This film’s desire to parody is exemplified in Mr. Tako (Ichirō Arishima) who is frustrated with his company’s show’s low ratings and makes the logical conclusion that he needs to send two of his executives, Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yū Fujiki), to bring back a monster that was discovered on Faro Island. Makes sense.
This is all occurring with Godzilla (still a villain in the films) awakening and threatening Japan. The costume got a bit of a redesign here. Ears were removed. The plates on the back were larger. The costume itself became bulkier so he looked more like a dinosaur.
Unlike the Raymond Burr film, the American footage does not stop the story. It things keeps moving smoothly even if it is a bit heavy on exposition. These were added in to give the impression of a news cast with Eric Carter portraying a United Nations reporter (they have those?) and Harry Holcombe portraying the head of the Museum of Natural History in New York City to give things a pseudoscience glaze.
Production values on these films can be hit or miss. The big miss in this film are most definitely the American release scenes involving the news desk. It looks like they were filmed backstage at some small theater. I am not expecting a great and detailed set, but I am sure they could have found a local station or someplace similar to shoot at. Their short shooting schedule is very apparent.
One thing I need to mention is the octopus battle involving Kong early in the film. Kong: Skull Island had a similar incident in it. At least an incident where Kong battles an octopus in the river. I also took it after seeing this as an homage to this film. In fact the natives in Kong: Skull Island look more like the natives here then they do the natives from any of the previous versions of King Kong.
Watching that octopus was an experience. It was live action footage composited together with the occasional prop octopus inserted for scenes you would not or could not use a real octopus for such as when King Kong is ripping the creature off of his face. What they are using there was clearly some kind of plastic bag.
One thing I must say for the Godzilla films are that the battles satisfy. They are fun and maybe a little silly and they speak to the kid in you and will get you excited and impressed. At least you enjoy yourself. There is a certain joy you get by watching two people in costumes on a set populated with miniatures.
The King Kong costume was not nearly as sharp looking as the Godzilla costume. Or other Toho monster outfits for that matter. I am not sure why. The film’s effects supervisor was hard to please with their assorted ideas but the look they used here feels like they just decided to settle It did not have the same attention to detail.
Will this give us a preview of the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong? Probably not but it is a fun movie from a simpler time. I say give this a watch it!