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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Often called the "British Godzilla", Gorgo scarcely qualifies as a sci-fi movie. No "science" is offered to explain the giant monster. Nor is any "science" used to battle it. Gorgo is pretty purely a monster movie. Yet, by association, it gets on sci-fi lists. The poster's tag line: "Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before!" is not very accurate. The Gorgo story is part Godzilla, in that a giant (rubber suit) monster stomps around destroying famous landmarks in a major city, and part King Kong. Shameless profiteers bring a huge beast into a major city to exhibit it and things go wrong. By 1962, audiences had seen quite a few giant lizard things stomping on cities.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A marine salvage team is working off the Irish coast when an undersea volcanic eruption creates a tsunami that grounds their ship off the island of Nara. Odd dead fish surface. A mysterious underwater monster appears too, upsetting the local divers. The harbormaster on Nara is illegally collecting shipwreck gold. The salvage men, Joe and Sam, offer to capture the monster in exchange for some of the gold. They net the 60' bipedal amphibian and take it to London. There, it is put on display in Dorkins' Circus. Worried professors tell Joe and Sam that their Gorgo is only a juvenile. The parent (gender never specified) looms up and destroys the village on Nara looking for Junior. Gorgo Senior follows the ship's trail towards London. The British military are called in to stop Senior. Naval fire and depth charges fail. Senior sinks a destroyer. Submarine nets across the Thames fail. Senior breaks through. Fire on the water and jet airplane attacks do not stop Senior from wrecking the Tower Bridge and Big Ben on its way to the circus. Giant high voltage lines also fail to stop Senior. Junior is freed from his exhibition pen. Junior and Senior trudge back to the Thames through the burning ruin of London. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As a monster movie, Gorgo is entertaining. The pace is brisk enough and the action plentiful. The monster itself, and the model work are pretty well done for the kaiju genre.

Cold War Angle
Gorgo is actually a beware-of-nature story. While the similarity to Godzilla (the nuclear metaphor) is clear, there is never any connection made to radiation. Gorgo just is.

Gozillas For Everyone! -- Seems like having one's own giant monster to ravage your capital city, was important back in the 50s and 60s. New York had the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1953. That seemed to kick off the sub-genre. Tokyo got the most famous monster, Godzilla, in 1954. The Danes got Reptilicus to ravage Copenhagen in 1963. The Brits were not the first in the kaiju parade, but they made a good example of it.

Ravaging Deja vu -- When Gorgo Sr. stomps through London causing great havoc, it wasn't the first time this had happened. In the 1925 silent film, The Lost World, Professor Challenger's party brought back a dinosaur from that remote Amazonian plateau. It, naturally, gets loose and does some rampaging through London's streets. Another bit of deja vu, and probably no accident, is Gorgo Sr. stomping in the midst of a roller coaster. This harkens to the big finale in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms which director Eugene Lourie just happened to have directed too. Yet another bit of deja vu is that Lourie also directed The Giant Behemoth ('59) in which another dinosaur comes to stomp around London. Some things just don't seem to change.

Missing Woman -- A distinctive feature of the King Brothers' production of Gorgo is that they avoided the typical Hollywood formula of including a female lead, to provide a love interest for the leading man. Joe and Sam start out as partners in the enterprise, but friction develops over the ethics of exploitation. The usual love-interest conflicts wold have cluttered that subtle subplot too easily.

A Boy & His Monster -- Before the Gamera franchise made it campy and trite, young Sean has a sympathy and protective feelings for Gorgo Jr. He tries to "free Willie" at one point. At the end, he smiles contentedly when Gorgo Sr. escorts Junior back to the sea. Never mind all the hundreds of people who were killed just minutes ago. Isn't it sweet that they're going home together? This young boy and his monster angle was (thankfully) not overplayed in the script.

Moral of the Story -- Nature is personified by the Gorgo pair. Junior is the abused and exploited side -- exploited by shallow and greedy men looking to hustle a buck (or pound). Senior, is the remorseless consequences side. Build your house on the beach? A big storm will come and wipe you out. Over clear the land? Rains will wash away all your soil in a deadly mudslide. Etc. etc. In case the metaphor escaped viewers, the screen writers made it plain at the end. An overly loquacious radio reporter sums it all up as the Gorgo pair walk out into the Thames, They are "leaving man to ponder his proud boast that he alone is Lord of all creation."

Bottom line? Gorgo as a sci-fi movie is questionable. It is, nonetheless, a well done monster movie in its own right, and not simply a British copy of Godzilla. For fans of rubber-suit monsters stomping model cites, It has all the appeal of a classic kaiju story.

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