The third film for both Kong — well, Son of Kong doesn’t feature him — and Godzilla and the first in color for both, King Kong vs. Godzilla gave Toho the idea to keep making Godzilla movies after retiring him for seven years.
The original idea came from King Kong stop motion animator Willis H. O’Brien, who had the idea that Kong should fight a gigantic Frankenstein’s Monster. He gave a script to producer John Beck, who gave Toho the idea to make this movie. Maybe he was inspired by the fact that Toho kept trying to make Frankenstein movies? Or maybe he liked that the Godzilla movies were released in Germany as Frankenstein movies, with the explanation that Dr. Victor Frankenstein had created all of the many creatures that Godzilla does battle with?
Kong creator Merian C. Cooper hated the very idea of this movie, saying “I was indignant when some Japanese company made a belittling thing, to a creative mind, called King Kong vs. Godzilla. I believe they even stooped so low as to use a man in a gorilla suit, which I have spoken out against so often in the early days of King Kong.” He even tried to file a lawsuit against Toho, Universal and Beck before discovering that he did not hold the sole rights to Kong.
Director Ishiro Honda actually had a theme that was anything but banal. Perhaps he and Cooper should have just spoken in person, because Honda was against the TV industry in Japan, which was pushing the envelope further and further, including airing a Fred Blassie pro wrestling match that was so intense that two elderly viewers had deadly heart attacks. I’ve always found that story to be pure Blassie hyperbole, but it really seems true.
This led to the idea that Pacific Pharmaceuticals would want to boost. the ratings of the shows they advertise on and bring a giant ape back from Faro Island. At the same time, the iceberg that Godzilla has been trapped in for nearly a decade hits a nuclear submarine and the big green monster is free once more. So he does what anyone would. He goes back to Tokyo to destroy everything.
Kong pretty much is the babyface in this, constantly getting set on fire and dropkicked and knocked out by the humans. Yet Japanese King Kong has an advantage over his American cousin. That’s because electric power and lightning give him energy, enough to finally defeat Godzilla, whose survival is unclear at the end of the film*.
Special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya and Honda didn’t agree on the softening of Godzilla in this movie, which would only increase as time went on and his appeal to children became his biggest selling point.
For selling the story idea to Toho — once called King Kong vs. Prometheus — Beck got rights to all nin-Asian territories. He brought together a crew of writers Paul Mason and Bruce Howard with editor Peter Zinner (The Godfather) to make an Americanized version of the movie that would combine scenes from The Mysterians with a Westernized soundtrack remixed from several movies, including Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bend of the River, Untamed Frontier, The Golden Horde, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Thunder on the Hill, While the City Sleeps, Man Made Monster, Against All Flags, The Monster That Challenged the World, The Deerslayer and the TV series Wichita Town.
Both films were a big success, so much so that Toho wanted to make another one called Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla. This led to Mothra finally battling Godzilla and the idea of a shared universe being born decades before Marvel. Toho also tried to make more King Kong movies, but RKO refused. They did help Rankin/Bass make King Kong Escapes in 1967 and reused the suit for Goro on Ultra Q.
Thanks to Famous Monsters of Filmland and their sister publication Spacemen, the rumor that Japanese audiences got an ending where Godzilla won persisted to the point that major newspapers reported it as a fact and it showed up in Trivial Pursuit. That said, the Japanese version does end with Godzilla’s roar and then Kong’s, as if the creatures were saying goodbye and making a curtain call, ala The Bad Seed. In the American version, only Kong is heard.
Take it from Art Adams, who knows all things kaiju. The double ending story is just a myth.
*King Kong a bigger box office star and Godzilla was still a villain at this point in the series. That’s why Kong gets top billing and wins the battle, which Toho confirmed in their book Toho Films Vol. 8, which says, “A spectacular duel is arranged on the summit of Mt. Fuji and King Kong is victorious. But after he has won…”