After 1962’s Godzilla vs. King Kong, Japan had not had enough of the big ape. After all, Kong was the first beast to both defeat and not be killed by Godzilla. Four years later, Toho paired up with Rankin/Bass, the creators of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The King Kong Show, a cartoon where Kong battled aliens, monsters and mad scientists. Interestingly, the designs for that show were by Jack Davis of EC comics fame. The show was the first cartoon produced in Japan for American audiences and was so successful, Rankin-Bass partnered with Toho for a first film called Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (or Ebirah, Horror of the Deep which is a much better title). Rankin-Bass rejected this movie as a starring role for Kong, but a lot of moments throughout point that the script was barely changed when Godzilla entered the picture. He’s revived by lightning (Japanese Kong, for some reason, gets power from the cloud…err, clouds) and the big lizard is in love with female character Dayo, which is also a Kong trait.
Finally, Rankin-Bass consented to this film, featuring Dr. No. No, not the Bond villain, but a character from the cartoon, here played by Hideyo “Eisei” Amamoto, who you may know as Dr. Shinigami/Deathgod from Kamen Rider. His voice is from Paul Frees, who listeners will recognize from many a Rankin/Bass holiday special. Interestingly enough, the German distributor of Toho’s movies often used Dr. Frankenstein’s name to sell these new monsters, claiming that he was creating all of them. So in Deutschland, the doctor goes by Dr. Frankenstein to try and tie all of these together. What does this have to do with the Frankenstein monster in Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965) and his spawn in War of the Gargantuas (1966)? Absolutely nothing, thanks for asking!
Dr. Who’s boss is Madame Piranha, who works for an undisclosed country that wants weapons. She’s played by Mie Hama, who would go on to play Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice (1967). Dr. No has invented a mechanical Kong that malfunctions just before getting that oh-so elusive Element X. Instead of rebuilding the robobeast, No decides he needs the real Kong. Again, you may ask why. You are permitted after all. However, I have no answer for you. These things just happen in these films and you shouldn’t be watching a kaiju movie if you’re looking for logic, dear reader.
Meanwhile, Carl Nelson — our hero — and his sub get to Mondo Island, where Kong lives. Almost instantly, Kong falls in love with Fay Wray analogue Lt. Susan Watson and prepares to fight Gorosaurus (who shows up again in the greatest of all Toho movies, 1968s Destroy All Monsters!). For some reason, this beasts fights like a kangaroo, but Kong gives him a headlock takeover and demonstrates a kaiju form of MMA ground and pound, punching the rubbery dino again and again until a giant mutant Big John McCarthy moves him away. Just kidding. Kong beats his chest, picks up the girl and the humans just watch and wonder what to do next. They find a very Commander Scarlet mini sub and Kong gives chase, finally being delayed by a sea monster.
Actually, come to think of it, Carl Nelson is thisclose to Admiral Nelson, commander of the mini-sub Seaview on the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968). Coincidence?
Here’s why I love this movie. In this scene, Kong’s head has grown to way larger than before proportion. Continuity be damned, by the next scene, as he catches up to the big sub, his head is back to normal and his eyes are not bugging out. Everyone finally figures out that Kong will listen to Susan and all is as well as it can be when you’re dropping anchor off Mondo Island, which one assumes is relatively close to Monster Island.
Remember Dr. No? Well, he comes back and takes Kong from the island, even killing an old man just to do so. He also wants you to know he has nothing to do with the Timelord, even if he does look like a Japanese John Pertwee. Kong is gassed and lifted away to complete the retrieval of Element X. Some flashing light and hypnotism later and Kong is all ready to mine away, using a set of headphones that Dr. No speaks orders into.
Those wacky Germans we mentioned before? Well, in their versions of the movies, both Jet Jaguar and Mechagodzilla are referred to as King Kong. Again, you’ll have that why question in your head and the answer is simple. King Kong is a marquee name, no matter if he’s properly named or not.
But I digress. Our human heroes (this would be the time that a child version of the author would tune out until the giant monkey was ready to actually do something) seek out Kong, who looks stoned as he mines in an ice cave. The headset breaks and Kong stops listening, which means that Dr. No needs Susan, because she’s the only one Kong will listen to. If only they hadn’t had that press conference telling that to the world!
While all this is going on, Madame Piranha puts the moves on Carl Nelson, who is all super stoic and not having any of this, well, monkey business. He won’t turn on his friends, so Dr. No slaps him around and makes some threats. Kong, well, escapes by swimming in the cold Arctic waters all the way to Tokyo. The Madame decides that even she can’t deal with Kong fighting his mechanical doppelganger and wants Dr. No to just chill. Obviously, something else happened, because she decides to free the good guys.
Just in time — Mecha-Kong and Kong are about to tear Tokyo apart. Susan tries to use reason, but Mecha-Kong has flashing lights and gets Kong all baked again. Seriously — watch this movie and dispute my findings, if you will. One thing leads to another and it’s on like Donkey Kong. No — it’s on like King Kong! This is why you showed up for this movie — two dudes wearing rubber suits dressed as giant gorillas dropping buildings on one another.
Madame Piranga makes her move on the nefarious doctor, but after a slow chop socky dance and some fighting between an end table, she gets shot in the arm. Yes. The arm. Meanwhile, Tokyo Tower is being ascended and destroyed by our ape combattants. Kong rescues the girl and climbs to the top where they invent the Skywalkers match that the NWA would use for the Great American Bash twenty years later.
Kong wins and then goes one further by tracking down Dr. No’s ship and killing him. Yes — this is a G rated movie. Then and only then does he give up on civilization and swim away.
Toho had intended King Kong to return for 1968s Destroy All Monsters!, but the rights had lapsed. The Kong suit shows up as Gorilla on the Toho show Go Greenman! (1973-1974) Weirdly enough, Toho had hoped to use Mecha-Kong to battle Godzilla, but when Turner Home Entertainment bought the rights, they decreed that Kong (and anyone looking like him) should not appear in a Japanese monster movie. Boo. Hiss.
All said, this is a pretty entertaining film. Don’t expect CGI quality. In fact, don’t expect any quality. Expect to be entertained and with a runtime of a little over 80 minutes, you honestly won’t waste much time. You are free to giggle at the silly Kong costume, but remember that in the mid 1970s, your author had big Coke bottle glasses and a bowl haircut and lived for this movie. He may still love it just that much.
This article originally appeared on That’s Not Current. You may read it at http://www.thatsnotcurrent.com/a-look-back-at-king-kong-escapes/
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I can’t remember her name, but there’s an interview online somewhere with the woman who played Susan, the heroine. She was an American model working in Japan, not an actress and not a member of the actors union, so she had to be dubbed by someone who was (she knew this when she was filming). Apparently, she hated her English dub, and much preferred her Japanese dub.