When the head of a large corporation sends a team to a tropical island to capture giant ape King Kong, the frozen body of Godzilla is reanimated by an American submarine. Kong is captured then escapes, eventually going on a rampage through Tokyo whilst Godzilla also tramples the Japanese populace. Eventually the two iconic creatures battle to the death at Mount Fuji…
From the brief synopsis above, you’d be forgiven for thinking King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) was going to be an epic giant monster action adventure, maybe the greatest episode of the long-running Godzilla franchise. I mean, who could be a greater foe for Toho’s favourite giant lizard than America’s most famous monster himself, King Kong? But sadly this turns out to be a real low point in the Godzilla series albeit entertaining but for all the wrong reasons. Originally pitched as an American sequel to King Kong (1933) called King Kong vs Frankenstein, the idea eventually travelled to Japan and transmuted into King Kong vs Godzilla, the third movie in the Godzilla franchise and the first time either of the characters had appeared on film in colour.
Despite becoming the most successful of all the Godzilla films to date (and there have been 28 in total not counting the American abomination some years back!) King Kong vs Godzilla looks like a severely cash-strapped poverty-row B-movie. There are shoddy costumes, a rambling and often incoherent storyline and way too much unfunny comic relief. The additional scenes filmed for the American market feature a newscaster commenting on the action from the UN headquarters and a professor in New York trying to explain the origins and motivations of our matinee idol monsters; both are poorly scripted and unintentionally hilarious.
Poor old Godzilla looks the worse for wear in a baggy rubber suit where you can literally see the joins and gaps but the real travesty here is the moth-eaten monkey costume and grotesque mask that try and pass for King Kong. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! One can only presume that all the money had been spent on the poster design and publicity campaign as there really are no excuses for a costume as hideous as Kong’s. The fight scenes also lack energy and are often filmed in “real time” ie; not slowed down, thereby making our two protagonists look literally like stuntmen in bad rubber (and furry) suits having a wrestling match in a film studio.
You must now be thinking that I am one of those snobby film reviewers who looks disdainfully down his nose at giant monster movies but you couldn’t be further from the truth. I love creature features and thrive on bad movies in particular but I just expected more from this one. I accept that this was made a long time ago and was aimed primarily at a child audience. I myself loved it when I first saw it on Sunday afternoon television aged about 12 but I guess it just hasn’t aged as well as most others of its era. Watched with an adult (and slightly inebriated) audience on a big screen, King Kong vs Godzilla is good for a laugh if you keep your expectations low and your inner 12 year old close to your heart.
Review by Rick Gladman
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