Film Review: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Also known as: Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira (Japan)
Release Date: August 11th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda (Japan), Thomas Montgomery (USA additions)
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujiki, Ichirō Arishima, Mie Hama, Shoichi Hirose, Haruo Nakajima, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, Universal International, 97 Minutes (Japan), 91 Minutes (USA)

king_kong_vs_godzillaReview:

In the 1960s, Toho acquired the rights to the King Kong character from RKO Radio Pictures. In the time that Toho had the monster, they made two movies. The first one being King Kong vs. Godzilla. The second being King Kong Escapes, which I will review at a later date.

King Kong vs. Godzilla was quite ambitious for its time. While pitting two famous monsters against one another was nothing new, as Universal had done it towards the end of their Universal Monsters franchise, it had never really been done with two giants who were born on different continents.

King Kong, an American creation born in 1933, was the most famous giant monster, at the time. Godzilla, however, was a giant beast born in the minds of Japanese filmmakers. He would become larger than King Kong but wasn’t quite there yet in 1962. But like the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair always says, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man! Woooooooooooooooooo!” Well, in 1962, King Kong was the man.

There are two versions of this film, the Japanese original and the American version that is shorter and has new scenes edited in. This was similar to how America added in the Raymond Burr scenes to the original Gojira in order to create Godzilla: King of Monsters. Both are the same film yet different films. For the record, the Japanese version is superior. Watch it in its native language with subtitles.

Also, contrary to popular belief, there is not a Japanese ending and an American ending to this movie. There is just one ending: both monsters fall off a cliff into the ocean. King Kong eventually emerges, swimming back to his island, as Godzilla is nowhere to be found. Again, Kong was more popular at the time and in this film, was the good guy, as Godzilla hadn’t yet been established as a hero and Japan’s protector.

Despite both monsters coming from long-running franchises, this was the third film for both kaiju. King Kong had King Kong and Son of Kong. Well, King Kong wasn’t actually in Son of Kong. Godzilla had Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again. King Kong vs. Godzilla is also the first color movie for either monster.

The movie is directed by Ishirō Honda, the special effects are handled by Eiji Tsuburaya and the score was orchestrated by Akira Ifukube. So, once again, the creative Holy Trinity of Shōwa era Godzilla movies have teamed up to make a stellar kaiju motion picture. They did not fail and this is some of the best work for each of the three men.

The American version of the film alters the score, as it does the movie itself. It actually throws in some musical sound effects from Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The cast of the film is made up of many Toho regulars, especially those who have already played major roles in the studio’s other kaiju pictures. As always, they do a good job with their roles. Ichirô Arishima’s comedy antics are really great in this and he steals the show quite often.

The story is weaved together well. Godzilla wakes up and heads for Japan. A few adventurers then head to an island to find the legendary King Kong, in the hopes that the giant ape exists and can then be used as an equalizer to the rampaging Godzilla.

The Tiki vibe of the island setting when the adventurers go off to find King Kong is a highlight. The scene where the adventurers meet the islanders is hilarious. The village with its tribal dancers, drums and grass roof huts is alluring. The big battle in the village between Kong and the giant octopus is still one of my favorite kaiju battles ever filmed. Granted, the final battle between King Kong and Godzilla is even better.

This is my second favorite Godzilla film after the original. It is also my second favorite King Kong film after its original. So, all in all, this is a pretty great film. It is especially great for those who love kaiju and for those who want to see the two most famous kaiju throw down. The last ten minutes of this picture is kaiju action at its absolute finest, highlighted by the destruction of some of the best miniatures that Eiji Tsuburaya has ever created.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is just about as good as it gets for its genre. Honestly, I wish that Toho would’ve had a rematch before losing the rights to Kong.

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