Day 4, and everyone’s favorite Godzilla faces off against everyone’s favorite giant ape. #4: King Kong vs. Godzilla.
While today’s pro-Godzilla social environs typically dictate that, as stated in the title of the last Godzilla film, Godzilla is indeed the King of the Monsters, one has to recall with perhaps a wince of regret that, in 1962, Godzilla was still considered something of an evil villain and a symbol of unstoppable destructive force. That’s right. While people loved Godzilla from the git-go, he was not on our side yet in the early ’60s. He was more like Freddy Krueger. A character we love to watch, but also a character we know must eventually be defeated/killed by a hero. He was a supervillain.
As such, when it came time for the ultimate throw-down to end all throw-downs, giant ape King Kong, as first dramatized in Ernest B. Shoedsack’s 1933 classic King Kong (to this day, one of the best monster movies ever made, easily surpassing its imitators and remakes), was the true hero of the people. It was King Kong vs. Godzilla, not Godzilla vs. King Kong. The favorite to win was King Kong, and Godzilla only lived to die. They were equally matched as combatants, but the conclusion in many of these early Godzilla films is essentially foregone. Godzilla is to lose. It won’t be until King Ghidorah first appears that a more evil monster will have to be dealt with.
And here’s the weird thing: King Kong vs. Godzilla was not the original idea for Godzilla’s return after seven years. In the time since the last Godzilla film, Japan began producing kaiju films at an astonishing rate, introducing creatures like Baragon, Rodan, Gamera, Moguera, and many, many others into the kaiju firmament. Toho and Gojira director Ishiro Honda had an idea to, oddly enough, stage a battle between Godzilla and a 50-foot tall version of Frankenstein’s monster. That idea would eventually be used in later films Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and War of the Gargantuas (1966). The original script was changed to include King Kong instead, although certain conceits remained. For one: When King Kong is electrocuted, he gets stronger. This makes more sense if you see Frankenstein’s monster in the role.
Although this is technically the third of the Godzilla films, it was here that the series began to pick up in earnest. It was shot in glorious Technicolor, and the film skews decidedly more kid-friendly than its predecessors. When people talk about Godzilla movies, they talk about the tonal shift that began with King Kong vs. Godzilla. It won’t be long before we’re dealing with fairies, aliens, flying saucers, and Planet X.
King Kong lives on Pharaoh island. Godzilla is still frozen in a glacier following the events of Godzilla Raids Again. King Kong is discovered drinking booze (seriously; the natives placate him with intoxicating berry juice), and is transported to Tokyo to repel Godzilla. Why do Godzilla and King Kong fight? It’s explained by an American scientist: They are natural enemies. Heck, why not? Monster gonna do fight. Also, there’s an ancillary monster in this film in the form of a giant octopus. The fight human beings have with the giant octopus offer up some of the better special effects in these notoriously cheap movies.
Some of the music in this film is copied wholesale from Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
At the end of the film, King Kong literally stomps Godzilla into the dirt, and heads out into the ocean to go home. Oh, there is so much joy to be had with King Kong vs. Godzilla. Even if you didn’t grow up with it, there is a lingering spirit of Saturday morning television hanging over it, a weird childhood fantasy realized, something primal about my pop culture associations, even more than with Freddy fighting Jason. I assume that King Kong vs. Godzilla was intended to be a final hurrah in the Godzilla series, but, well, you can’t keep a good monster down.
Up next: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)