*. The posters blared: “Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before!” I’m not sure this was the right approach. Gorgo is a film that very much wanted to be seen as something like you’d seen before. Specifically, it was meant to be an homage to the nascent Godzilla franchise (by 1960 Toho had still only made two Godzilla movies: Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again).
*. The debt to Toho was so great that Gorgo was initially planned as a Japanese co-production, and was to be set in Japan. As it is, I think they did a nice job moving the action to an Irish fishing village and then London, with the explicit likening of Gorgo’s rampage to the Blitz being the proper Second World War analog to memories of the atom bomb in Gojira. It’s even worth noting that the world premiere for Gorgo was in Tokyo, six months before it opened elsewhere.
*. Another connecting link is director Eugène Lourié, who had done The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was the inspiration for Gojira. Things really had come full circle.
*. So . . . yeah. This is your basic Godzilla clone. Or maybe not “basic,” since its production values are actually pretty good. There’s no comparing it to a piece of junk like Reptilicus (which came out the same year). But the story is identical. A giant prehistoric monster is awakened and rises out of the sea, only to be captured and turned into a circus attraction à la King Kong. This leads to one nice meta-monster mash bit where Gorgo smashes its own marquee.
*. Unfortunately for our entrepreneurial monster-catchers they have only bagged Minilla, and before long Mama Gorgo comes looking for her baby, leading to a finale that has her tearing apart London landmarks (Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus). The military are called and go through their predictably useless drill of firing cannons and rockets at the beast. Crowds run through the streets. A radio reporter provides play-by-play. There’s a cute kid looking on.
*. I’ll add here that it is the baby lizard that is called Gorgo in the movie. So the big monster isn’t really Gorgo but Gorgo’s Mother. I don’t know if that makes a difference, but I think it may be confusing.
*. In short, it’s quite a bit like everything you’ve seen before in this genre, but it’s not Godzilla. Gorgo doesn’t have the same personality as the Toho monster, which may be down to his inexpressive red eyes. (Guilala in Shochiku’s The X from Outer Space would suffer from the same disability. Eyes are supposed to have pupils. Didn’t the producers read comic books?). I also found his twitchy ears to be a bit distracting. And the model buildings aren’t as convincing as the Toho miniatures, looking like cardboard and coming apart like cardboard too. Finally, the stock footage of the navy is clumsily intercut. Lourié hated this stuff so much he apparently cut his own version of the film where he took it all out.
*. But for a non-Toho kaiju this is as good as it was going to get. You can see that as being the result of Westerners not putting a lot of effort into what was seen as a trash genre, or as credit to Toho for the quality of their work. Probably some of both. But in any event this was the last we were going to see of Gorgo (unless you followed his comic book, which ran for a few years in the early ’60s).
*. How can I not give the last words to the radio reporter, which even manage to outdo those of Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Truly this was the golden age of broadcasting rhetoric: “We prayed for a miracle. Maybe our prayers have been answered. A great city, overwhelmed, exhausted, lies helpless under the immeasurable power and ferocity of this towering apparition from before the dawn of history. Yet, as disdaining the pygmies under her feet, she turns back! Turns with her young, leaving the prostrate city, leaving the haunts of man, and leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast that he alone is lord of all creation.”