KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA (1962) or I Can Haz Franchize? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA (1962) or I Can Haz Franchize?

Gordon Hopkins looks back at the first meeting of the monsters.
The thirties and forties are widely acknowledged to be a golden age for monster movies. Perhaps there is no better evidence of that than the shear number of films most of the truly great monsters of those halcyon days appeared in after their debuts. Frankenstein's Monster. Dracula. The Mummy. The Wolf Man. The Invisible Man. Hell, even third stringers, like Rondo Hatton's Creeper and Paula Dupree the Ape Woman got three films each.

There are two notable exceptions. The first is The Phantom of the Opera. While Erik the Phantom has shown up in a great many films since his debut, they have always been remakes of the original story. No one seems interested in what happened next. It looks like The Further Adventures of the Phantom is not in the offing.

The second example is Kong. The movie, King Kong, hit screens in 1933 and few monster have been bigger, both figuratively and literally. Yet, despite both box office and critical success, the big ape has never managed to land a successful continuing series on his own. The sequel to the original movie, Son of Kong, came out later the same year. Rushed and, frankly, goofy, Son pretty much put the kibosh on any future sequels. Another nail in the coffin was the vastly superior Mighty Joe Young, which came out in 1949 and proved giant monkey movies were better off distancing themselves from the original. There would be plenty of pretenders to the throne, with varying degrees of success. Kong would suffer the same fate as another monster movie franchise many moons later. Like Jaws, the copycats were usually superior and more successful that the official follow-ups.

But all that would change when the big ape met a certain prehistoric radioactive lizard.
As badly as Kong was treated by Hollywood, it compares not one whit to how they treated his father.

One would think that the man who created not only a hugely successful movie but a cultural icon that permeates the mass consciousnesses, like Sherlock Holmes and Superman and Bugs Bunny, not to mention earning the studio boatloads of money, would be able to write his own ticket in Hollywood. Alas, this was not the case for poor Willis O'Brien. The special effects master who literally made the impossible possible and helped created the modern film industry, spent his entire career fighting to bring dream projects to the screen. In nearly all cases, they remained dreams.

As monster movies proliferated throughout the fifties and into the sixties, one of O'Brien's dreams was to created a sequel to King Kong, this time in full color.

Titled King Kong versus Frankenstein, O'Brien's plan was to pit the big ape against a creature created by the grandson of ole' Doc F. Occasionally also called King Kong versus Prometheus (remember, the subtitle of the original novel was The Modern Prometheus) and King Kong versus the Ginko (don't bother asking, I have no idea), the concept was rather intriguing. The original Frankenstein of the movies constructed his monster out of the corpses of human beings. His descendant was to make his monster out of the parts of various animal. Big animals, likes elephants and bulls, which explains how the new Frankenstein monster would be big enough to take on Kong.

O'Brien took his film treatment to producer John Beck. Bets known for producing the Jimmy Stewart flick Harvey (1950), he enthusiastically bought the rights to the film.

And then, in classic Hollywood, back-stabbing fashion, promptly kicked O'Brien off the project.

Remember, sleazy is as sleazy does (to paraphrase yet another Hollywood icon). While it was quite unintentional, O'Brien did have a sort of revenge. It wasn't until after buying the rights to the film that Beck discovered O'Brien didn't actually have the rights to Kong. O'Brien had been under the mistaken assumption, shared by Beck, that because he helped create Kong, he owned Kong. Not so, explained RKO mogul David O. Selznick. RKO still owned Kong. Lock, stock and barrel.

If Beck wanted to bring a new King Kong movie to the screen, he would first have to find financing to pay the not at all cheap licensing fee. Unable to secure the money in the U.S., Beck looked overseas.

After the success of the first two Godzilla movies, and the discovery that giant monsters stomping the daylights out of models of Japanese cities was a real crowd pleaser, Toho Studios was understandably anxious to unleash more Kaiju mayhem on theaters. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and director Ishirō Honda created a veritable menagerie of giant prehistoric and/or radioactive critters to sell tickets, including Rodan, Mothra and Varan. So the return of Godzilla wasn't going to be a cheap quickie, like Godzilla Raids Again.

Toho was prepared to spend the money to bankroll King Kong versus Frankenstein, with the clear understanding that Frankenstein as out and Godzilla was in.
It was the first Godzilla movie filmed in color and shown in “Tohoscope” (widescreen). The filmmakers's bias for their homegrown monster was clear. Godzilla was given a spanking new suit, making the scaled behemoth bigger and more intimidating. Kong, on the other hand, looked like a wrestler in a moth-eaten nutria coat.

Like the first flick, King Kong versus Godzilla was an unsubtle message film hidden inside a monster movie. Here the message was all about corporate greed. Director Ishiro Honda was back at the helm and he saw the movie as a satire of the television industry in Japan, but it could also be seen as a satire of how little thought big corporations have for the public in their quest for money.

As the story goes, a pharmaceutical company is on a quest for some big red berries for medicinal purposes. Inconveniently, those berries grow only one one small, tropical island, which also happens to grow one really big ape. Once Mr. Tako, CEO of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, learns of King's existence he immediately makes plans to exploit him in a marketing campaign. In an interview many years later, Honda said, “All a medicine company would have to do is just produce good medicines you know? But the company doesn't think that way. They think they will get ahead of their competitors if they use a monster to promote their product.”

Meanwhile, in another part of the plot, a submarine discovers a glowing, radioactive iceberg. In a nod to continuity, Godzilla breaks out of what is presumed to be the same icy tomb he had been buried in since the end of Godzilla Raids Again.

Mr. Tako declares, “I'm sick of Godzilla. I want my own monster.”

Despite the seriousness of the themes, King Kong versus Godzilla is a much lighter flick than the previous Godzilla movies. There is more humor, provided in large part by Mr. Tako, as portrayed by hugely popular actor and comedian Ichirō Arishima, dubbed by some in the press as the “Japanese Chaplin.”

While a more frivolous film than other, it certainly contained what the audiences really wanted, monster action. There are really nifty and memorable scenes, like when a drugged Kong is airlifted by helicopters.

The fight scenes, while fun, are rather more cartoonish than in the past. It is less battle to the death and more pro wrestling. There is a bit when Kong tries to shove a tree down Godzilla's throat, which is echoed decades later in Godzilla versus Kong.

The film was a massive success and a clear indicator of things to come. It was so successful it lead not only to more Godzilla movies, but also a new King Kong adventure.

In King Kong Escapes, a giant robotic version is constructed by a dime store James Bond villain called Doctor Who. This is no relation to the BBC science fiction series of the same name, though I have to admit, with his white hair and gaunt visage, the actor does look a bit like a Japanese Peter Cushing, who played the Doctor in a couple of Doctor Who movies.

The plot of King Kong Escapes is a bit of nonsense about the quest for the valuable “element-X.” It's a flimsy framework on which to hang a series of battles between Kong and other giants, including his own robotic clone, but it gets the job done. Toho Studios series would recycle the concept with Mechagodzilla.

The American Version: There has long been a rumor that there were two versions of this film, one for American audiences that showed King Kong emerging victorious, and one for Japanese audiences that had Godzilla winning the final battle. Today, it is generally accepted this rumor is so much hot gas.

Still, the film shown on American movie and TV screens is dramatically different from the one in Godzilla's country of origin. About 20 minutes were cut from the Japanese version in prepping it for western eyes. What was left was reshuffled, making the American version a distinctly different experience than merely being dubbed into English.

Like the original Gojira, which became Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a lot of additional footage was filmed by American distributors. Another reporter, this time for television, acts as narrator to explain what is going on to those dumb Americans who couldn't figure it out for themselves, or so studio executives evidently thought.
Unlike Raymond Burr's somber Steve Martin, Michael Keith as newscaster Eric Carter isn't integrated into the story. His shots are simply inserted at various spots throughout the film. Stock footage from a completely unrelated film, The Mysterians, was also used.

One of major difference between the Japanese and American version is the music. Almost the entirety of composer Akira Ifukube's score was jettisoned and replaced with stock music from Universal's library. If the music of the American version sounds familiar, it is because it came from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Man Made Monster, While the City Sleeps, The Monster That Challenged the World, The Deerslayer and a host of other films. The most notable example is probably the iconic lifted sting from Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Odds: It would take nearly 60 years for Kong and Godzilla to have a rematch. Will it take that long for bout number three? I doubt it. Kong and Godzilla are both established as major parts of the new American Monsterverse. If there is another Monsterverse movie, and there seems to be some doubt of that due to licensing issues, then it is a given that we will see Kong again. On the other hand, if future Godzilla movies are strictly Japanese affairs, I suspect we sill still see Kong again, if for no other reason than, after every American attempt at Godzilla, Toho likes to put out another movie just to show how it's done. I'm going with 10 to one in favor of Kong showing up in a future Godzilla movie. However, I'm going to qualify my bet a little here and say Kong and Godzilla may not be adversaries in the next movie. Instead of a rematch, we may see a team up.

Time will tell.

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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