Gorgo (1961)

It rather surprised me to learn that not only did Eugène Lourié — the prolific art designer who started his career with legendary French director Jean Renoir — direct Gorgo, but he also directed The Giant Behemoth and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, three of the better attempts to imitate Godzilla.  For that matter, they were also three of the best Godzilla copies made outside of Japan.

And, of course, the only other film he directed, The Colossus of New York, also featured a giant (if rather smaller) monster.  Let’s talk about typecast!

I haven’t seen this one for a long time, and didn’t think that much of it at the time.  So it came as a bit of a shock to find that is was far better than I remembered.

Like his two earlier monster epics, this one is also centered around the sea.  A ship off the coast of Ireland is damaged by a mysterious disturbance, and when they pull into the nearest port, they are decidedly not welcome.  The local Harbor Master has been pulling gold out of an old wreck and doesn’t want anyone to know, but then a monster attacks the town, and he reluctantly asks the ship’s crew to help him.

Of course, we know which movie they’re ripping off when they manage to capture the beast, then sell it to be put on display in London.

Hint:  it has a giant ape in it.

What impressed me more than anything else was the sheer scope of the destruction the creature causes in the final rampage through London.  While The Giant Behemoth used photographs as backgrounds for many of the stop-motion monster sequences (a trick that is very hard to spot in the final movie), here, with a “giant suit-mation” monster, they’ve constructed an impressive number of miniature sets which get demolished with cinematic glee.  One does notice that they reused the same rooftop set in many scenes, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they might have had more than one face on a model so that its destruction could filmed from a second angle and double as a second building.  But they clearly had large scale sets of such famous landmarks as the Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and, naturally, the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben clock tower.  I can’t think of another non-Godzilla film that put so much effort into its miniatures.

Still, the film’s basic setup offers more complexity and plot than your average Giant Monster movie.  I particularly like the heroes’ cupidity and their willingness to cash in on the creature once they’ve caught it.  Okay, the orphan boy is a touch sugary, but then, we expect that sort of human interest nonsense in these sorts of movies.

And we have to give them points for giving us a monster that wasn’t stirred up by nuclear testing.

Don’t expect Shakespeare, of course.  This is a giant monster movie, after all.  But it is rather fun, if you’re in the mood for it.  Let’s face it:  we watch these things for the epic destruction and not their dramatic excellence.

And trust me, we get plenty of destruction here.

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