From the DVD case: American reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) is on the scene reporting on a 400-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex woken from undersea hibernation off the coast of Japan during atomic bomb testing. Now the “GODZILLA” has his sights on the destruction of Tokyo! (1956, b&w)
Mark says: Godzilla King of the Monsters is the Americanized version of the original 1954 Japanese film, Gojira. Ishirô Honda directed the original film, and Terry O. Morse (to make the story more palatable to an American audience) spliced in the scenes featuring Raymond Burr.
I enjoy this movie on two conflicting levels. First, I appreciate the camp aspect Raymond Burr brings to the movie. Because he was spliced in two years after the original film, Burr is reduced to narrating the story or standing around smoking a pipe and looking very serious. He plays his role very soberly, but because we know he is spliced in, it comes off as humorous.
However, I also savor the more somber elements of this film. As the movie progresses, we see less of reporter Steve Martin (Burr) and get a hint as to how the Ishirô Honda film (which I have not yet seen) originally played. In later scenes, Godzilla is more than just a beast from the ocean floor, he is the personification of the the atom bomb. This is something Japanese audiences took seriously in 1954.
The scenes depicting the destruction of Tokyo are marked by a noticeable lack of camp value. A particularly poignant scene shows a Japanese woman holding three small children to her as Tokyo burns.
After Godzilla passes, the city looks bombed out, and the people still living suffer with radiation burns. This is in stark contrast to the Raymond Burr pipe-smoking scenes.
This film has historical value to it, too. It’s Godzilla’s grand debut, and would inspire Godzilla films for decades to come.
Godzilla’s initial appearance is a bit disappointing, as he resembles a hand-puppet on the horizon. However, we do get a sense that this is a purely sinister monster, an aspect that seems to be lacking in following films.
It’s not until Godzilla strolls onto the shores of Tokyo that we see him in his full glory. The black and white grainy appearance gives the film a documentary feel, which seems appropriate. At times, Godzilla looks like that hand-puppet again, but some of the scenes are quite effective. His famous roar seems more menacing in this film than others, and some of the miniature work is very impressive.
Unfortunately, we are brought back to reality when the jet fighters arrive. They are obvious toys, and you can see wires when the missiles launch. Still, Godzilla’s rampage on Tokyo is an impressive sequence.
There is some human interest as well, primarily featured in a love triangle involving Emiko (Momoko Kôchi), Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), and Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). The storyline seems chopped up in the American version, but I imagine it plays a more significant and coherent role in the original.
Of all the Godzilla films, I treasure this one the most. It is both fun and poignant. I have a hunch, though, that I will appreciate the original Japanese version, Gojira, even more.
Scene to watch for: Are those natives in the ancient dance ritual wearing Richard Nixon masks?
Line to listen for: “I’m afraid my Japanese is a little rusty.”
Some history: Read more about the original 1954 Japanese version of this film, Gojira, by clicking here.
Trivia: Gojira was inspired by the success of 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.