UK (1961) Dir. Eugène Lourié
You know when you are onto something by the volume of often inferior imitators that appear in the wake of your creation’s debut. While giant monster movies were not a new phenomenon thanks to King Kong and the works of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, it was the arrival of Godzilla in 1954 that really saw the genre explode, spawning a new franchise for Toho studios and many similar facsimiles from around the globe.
Of course, we Brits had to jump on the bandwagon too – presenting Gorgo! Originally intended as a tribute to Godzilla, it was to be set in Japan, then France and at one point Australia before settling here in England. The story offers no real surprises aside from the mammoth beasties not being radioactive like its predecessor but it’s all good cheesy fun just the same.
A crew of treasure hunters, headed by Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) run into trouble off the coast of Ireland and detour to the small island of Nara for repairs. Shortly after a nearby volcano erupts and they find strange mutant fish floating dead about the sea. Later many of their crew are also found dead, once having been frightened to death.
That night a giant reptile like creature rises from the sea and attacks the local fishermen but they manage to drive it away. Ryan and Slade decide to capture the creature, named Gorgo by a young island lad Sean (Vincent Winter) and take it back to London to show off as a circus exhibit. They succeed in this ambitious task but overlook one tiny thing – Gorgo’s mother!
There is no point discussing the plot further because you can figure it out for yourself since it is pretty every much Godzilla/rampaging monster film revisited. The only difference is that the beasts here, Gorgo and Ogra (the mother) are not naturally malevolent but are reacting to the intrusion of the humans into their lives as only a feral beast knows how to.
But it still has a curious entertainment value despite being a second rate cousin of a truly original and classic film, although arguably not the worst of the many Godzilla clones to hit the big screen. In fact, the special effect in Gorgo were quite hi tech for their day and drew great praise at the time, but sadly they won’t haven’t aged well for modern audiences, making the original Godzilla seem like Jurassic Park.
Shot in colour, Gorgo boasts plenty of what was then known as Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) which today has been supplanted by the green screen technique, and super imposing of much of the destruction, such as flames, falling buildings, etc. The creatures themselves are a man in a rubber suit (Mick Dillon), there is no avoiding that, with a giant model built of Gorgo for the scene in which it is driven through London on the back of a flatbed truck.
This exposes a small issue with the proportions of Gorgo, purportedly being around 65 feet yet can fit on the back of a truck, only to tower above buildings when stood up. Ogra by comparison is said to be around 200 feet, so more CSO and camera trickery was employed when the mother and child were reunited and stood side by side. The sets were built on a smaller scale for when Ogra appeared to illustrate the vast height difference, although she is barely dwarfed by Big Ben like she should have.
After years of seeing Tokyo and, in some cases, New York being trampled on and destroyed it is London’s turn as Ogra tears apart Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament (yay!) and the aforementioned Big Ben. The streets are full of panicked people fleeing for their lives and the military arrive with enough firepower to start and finish World War III yet none of has any effect on this monstrous invader.
One of the more ridiculous sights is a radio reporter (Maurice Kaufmann) relaying every bit of the carnage and destruction as it occurs, as calm as cucumber while people are running past him in horror and buildings are being torn down all around him. I can only assume this was a riff on the US version of Godzilla, in which scenes with Raymond Burr playing a reporter and narrating the action were inserted into the original Japanese footage.
While it is incredibly easy to mock the now dated and rather rudimentary effects, it has to be said that there is still an endearing joy to seeing a real and tactile monster causing havoc even if it is inferior in terms of appearance, movement and visual integration like modern CGI monster are. I say “visual integration” as it may look good on the screen but we know the buildings are also CGI; in this instance the sets may be plasterboard or balsa wood but it feels real. You can’t replicate that with computers.
Much like his Japanese counterpart, Gorgo did enjoy a brief spin-off run via Marvel comics where the scaly beast was recast as a hero, defending the earth against alien invaders and the such, similar to the role Godzilla would assume in the films of the late 1960’s. Not bad for a supposed ersatz rip off, eh?
As you may have gathered from this review the comparisons between Godzilla and Gorgo are inescapable, as is the fate of any film that follows this particular concept. Yet in this instance there is enough inherent charm and substantial natural essence of its own for Gorgo to be enjoyed as a pseudo-cult outing, albeit one which is heavy on the hokey but low on pretension.