First released in Japan as Kingukongu tai Gojira
, this 1962 Toho
production is a cause of much disparity among the giant monster
-enthusiast community, who either regard it as among the best of its genre (despite its many flaws it is reputedly both the most popular and highest grossing Godzilla
film of all time) or as the most cursory, exploitative cross-promotion in the admittedly small genre, at least until Power Rangers vs. Cthulhu 2000 hits the silver screen.
Of course, the appeal of such a conflict is immediately apparent to anyone who's ever sat up all night with friends in a diner establishing the results of hypothetical "a shark against a lion... in a tub full of Jell-o! ON THE MOON! Who'd win?" situations, though it should be noted that there's a deeper subtext here than in your average RAW is WAR marathon - Godzilla is a quintessentially Japanese creature, an atomic horror embodying the malingering cultural and physical menaces engendered by Hiroshima and Nagasaki upon the inhabitants of the bustling island-nation of Japan while god-gorilla King Kong, like most westerners, possesses an unattractive quantity of body hair. Well, in addition to which he is perennially found in South Pacific islands - formerly Japanese possessions then firmly unofficial colonies of the U S of A. Thus the battle royale being set up here is more than the mere Gorilla-vs-Angurusaurus duke-out it initially seems, but in fact occurs between iconic champions realizing physically the ideological conflict between East and West. Heady stuff for a giant monster movie, eh?
It may seem to you that a showdown between a radiation-breathing dinosaur and a monkey (uh, a real big monkey) is somewhat mismatched, and you would be right (what's Kong gonna do, sling feces at Godzilla?) and so the producers took a few liberties with the previously-established canon for these aggressive gargantua, including crippling Godzilla with a fear of power lines, allowing Kong the ability to increase his strength from drawing upon lightning and electricity and increasing his size by a factor of four or five (because entertaining as a midget in a lemur suit would have been as an opponent, the dramatic climax would have ended up being a single field-goal punt.)
Fans of the movie are quick to point out that the big lizard is played by the legendary Hauro Nakijama, the man who inhabited a series of foam-rubber costumes for decades and became practically synonymous with dinosaur acting. Detractors similarly emphasize the lacking qualities of King Kong's disappointingly man-like gorilla suit (the face of which one wit on Amazon.Com aptly described as "Ron Jeremy splattered with Play-Doh.")
Does anyone really care about the plots of these things? For the purists, it involves Godzilla being thawed from an iceberg and menacing Japan, while a greedy pharmeceutical executive gets the idea to pit King Kong, who lives on an island where the company harvests "non-habit forming narcotic effect berries" (which Kong is addicted to), against Godzilla in an attempt to get publicity for his company out of the deal. In the Japanese version this is seen as a scathing and hilarious send-up of the advertising industry, so naturally it was mostly edited out of the American release, replaced by dull and action-stopping updates from "UN reporters."
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL the editing that was done between releases! Oh no! The climactic tussle atop Mount Fuji ends with both monsters tumbling down its slopes into the ocean. The Japanese filmmakers felt it might be more diplomatically apropos to politely leave the movie open-ended and not assert that the encroaching Japanese powerhouse economy would flatten the US (represented through a one-sided triumph for Godzilla), maintaining the ambiguity by ending the movie with both monsters' characteristic howls (well, Kong's howl and Godzilla's SKREEONK!), as if to indicate "We're both okay, if a bit wet, and we don't really feel like fighting anymore, so you might as well end the movie." But. BUT! The US-version editors, convinced that American audiences wouldn't settle for a mere tie, fudged things such that you only hear Kong's victorious vocalization! How rude! I bet they wouldn't take their shoes off in a Japanese restaurant either!
What else am I missing? I've hit most of the important bits here, though I'm glossing over Kong's early fight with a (reputedly real) octopus and the hilarious spectacle of a doped-up Kong being transported to Japan by a brace of weather balloons, but there is one more crucial aspect to this crucial movie I have forgotten to mention; if not for this fine piece of cinema, I wouldn't be here!
Fear not, gentle reader - my parents did not substitute the crunching sounds of flattened cardboard cities for the velvet strains of Barry White as an aphrodesiacal "gettin' it on"-aid - but it is responsible for their initial meeting! My father first met the woman who would one day be my mother at the house of a mutual acquaintance, whence he had travelled specifically on the chance that this movie would be showing that day. As it turned out, the company ended up far more engaging than the afternoon's scheduled entertainment. An invitation for lasagne and a bit of vino, and out of nothing I suddenly became a gleam in a pair of eyes.
And to think that I owe it all to a giant green lizard... and a really bad ape costume.