It’s strange how quickly it happened.
The original Godzilla – and by that, I mean the version without Raymond Burr, thank you very much – was a very serious film, which worked hard at showing us the human cost of Godzilla’s rampage. But a mere eight years later – and in only his third screen appearance – we get a remarkably lighthearted film in which an advertising firm, trying to promote their latest client, discovers King Kong. They then decide to bring him back to Japan in a campaign so big it’ll outshine their “rival” – the unexpected return of Godzilla, from a short iceberg nap.
After a series of goofy adventures with the comic relief company men sent to the island, a battle with a giant octopus, Kong getting himself thoroughly sozzled on the local berry brew, a sunken submarine, lots of military action, and a thoroughly impossible balloon flight, the film finally gets to where it is going, with the advertised giant monster mayhem.
Despite the persistent myth, the ending is the same regardless of whether you’re watching the original version or the American one – although the Japanese version does seem to spend more time on its beleaguered Ad executives.
It seems to have set the pattern for Toho’s monster battles to come, with its lighter, kid-friendly tone and little emphasis on the human toll. And it is one of the better monster fights, as Kong has a fighting style unique among the Toho stable.
This is one of the stronger entries in the series, with the big green guy still a deadly force of nature and not the giant superhero he later became. If you love Godzilla, giant monsters, or Toho film, you’ll have to see this one.
Curiously, Ray Harryhausen claimed that he was responsible for this film: he had conceived of a King Kong vs. Frankenstein movie, where the legendary monster would be an incredible twenty feet tall to match Kong. He never exactly explained how Toho ended up with his project, though, and he definitely did not have a Godzilla-sized Kong in mind, either. As usual, with his lost projects, one looks at his illustrations and wishes he’d been able to make it. But then, no one ever had such impressive unrealized dreams as Ray did.
Except, perhaps for Willis O’Brien’s War Eagles.