If you are reading this right now, chances are you're probably a fan of japanese monster flicks. In addition, you probably know who Eiji Tsuburaya is. If not, read on. If so... well just read on anyway. The driving force behind japanese kaiju eiga (or monster movies) was Mr. Tsuburaya, who created the special effects that make those films so memorable even today. From 1954 to 1969, Tsuburaya brought monsters to life, both on the big screen and on television (go Ultraman!). But every great man has his inspiration. It is very unlikely that Tsuburaya would have even gone into special effects in the first place if it had not been for one, very important factor: King Kong. Released in 1933, the original Kong is said to not only be the first real "monster movie", but also the film that has inspired more people to be film makers than any other film ever made. One of those people was... you guessed it...Eiji Tsuburaya! Ever since first watching the film, he yearned to make a monster movie of his own. As you all (hopefully) know, he got his chance in 1954. Needless to say, the film Gojira (Godzilla) has become a classic itself, and was responsible for launching more than 50 years worth of japanese monster films. Even after working on Godzilla and numerous other films during the fifties, Tsuburaya would get to fufill another dream in 1962... to create his own King Kong film! King Kong vs. Godzilla allowed Tsuburaya to combine the "inspiration" with the "inspired" (not to mention allowing him to get that Giant Octopus concept out of his head). But there was still more to come. In the mid 1960's, the American film studio Rankin Bass approached Toho Studios with the idea of combining forces to create a film version of their popular cartoon The King Kong Show. The film, featuring an amalgom of American and Japanese actors and actresses, was to be Rankin Bass' first foray into live action filmic entertainment, and trusted Toho, producer of many a monster fick, to make it work.
The King Kong Show told the story of the courageous Prof. Bond and his family, who work with Kong himself to regularly save the world, while avoiding the eeeeeeeevil Dr. Who (cue: creepy/ominous organ music), who (no pun intended) wants to use Kong for his own eeeeeeeevil plans (not the least of which is avoiding the lawsuit a certain British "Dr. Who" has been threatening him with). The new film version, now dubbed Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu (or King Kong's Counterattack), was to keep some aspects of the show intact, but really did it's own thing in terms of plot and characters in the end. Tomoyuki Tanaka, producer of all of Toho's kaiju eiga at the time, was signed on as producer, and director Ishiro Honda, who had helmed five of the then seven Godzilla films and numerous other science fiction/fantasy films also joined the project. Composing the score was the one and only "Monster Mestro" himself, Akira Ifukube, who had scored almost all of Toho's monster films for more than ten years. And last but certainly not least ,when it came to special effects, there was only one man for the job... the one and only... drumroll please... Chuck Berry! Well, that lame joke/disturbing visual aside, Eiji Tsuburaya eagerly jumped at the project and gave it his all. In 1967, Toho released not only Godzilla's eighth adventure (Son of Godzilla, in case you were wondering), but also the studio's second King Kong film, which would be released internationally as King Kong Escapes.
Our story starts on a submarine dubbed the Explorer, which has been sent by the United Nations to seek new oil wells. On board is the sub's Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), along with his friends Lt. Com. Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada), and Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller). Nelson has spent many years studying the legend of a giant ape known as Kong, which is said to live on the pacific island of Mondo. His friend and fellow Kong enthusiast Jiro Nomura explains their findings to Lt. Watson, who finds it hard to believe. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a whole different cast of characters awaits (and these are the bad guys). In a secret lair at the North Pole, the eeeeeeeevil Dr. Who has constructed a robotic King Kong dubbed Mechani-King (who is only known as "Robot Kong" in the American version). The purpose: to mine an extremely radioactive element from under the ice. Dr. Who is being backed by an unnamed asian country that wants this mysterious "Element X"... and I don't mean to display on their desks at work or to wear as jewelry. We're talking nuclear weapons here, people! Aided by Madame Piranha, representative of said nuke-crazy country, the eeeeeeeevil Doctor sends his robot out to retrieve the stuff. With a body modeled on the sketches made by Carl Nelson of the real Kong (which Dr. Who stole from his "friend"), the robot, according to the "good doctor" is "the strongest thing there is in the world today" and "can certainly do anything the real Kong could have done". However, Who's bragging rights are soon terminated when his robot halts right in front of the Element X and simply collapses... dead as a doornail. Needless to say, the Doc still has to work out a few kinks before Element X can be obtained.
Back in the pacific, the Explorer is caught in an underwater landslide and is forced to surface for repairs. As luck (and a conveniently laid out screenplay by Takeshi Kimura) would have it, the sub has surfaced near Mondo Island, giving Kong savy crew members Carl, Jiro and Susan the chance to explore. Flying over to the island in their nifty little hovercar, they are shocked to discover that the island appears to be uninhabited. However, in the distance, they spot a lone native man yelling at them, warning them to stay away. He repeatedly yells the phrase "Bong Kong" at the trio before dissapearing, and Carl tells his companions that "Bong" means "King" (ergo: King Kong!) Carl and Jiro go into the jungle to try to find the native, leaving Susan alone with the car. Apparently, they never saw the original Kong film from the thirties (if they had they would know better), but it is no surprise to us,the audience, when a large theropod dinosaur (dubbed Gorosaurus in the 1968 film Destroy All Monsters) lumbers out of the jungle, sees Susan, and decides that lunch is served. She screams (come on, wouldn't you?), and her screams awaken another giant native of the island. Thankfully, it turns out to be King Kong himself, and he quickly rushes out of his cave to see what all the fuss is about. He looks down, sees Susan, and is pretty much immediately smitten. Scooping her up off the ground, he gently takes her out of harms way and sets her down at the top of a tall tree. With Gorosaurus aching for a fight, Kong turns and attempts to engage the dinosaur. However, a quick kick from Gorosaurus' powerful legs send Kong rolling back. After getting kicked a couple more times, Kong finally gets the upper hand and begns doing what he does best (which, in this case, is beating the living crap out of Gorosaurus). After a few minutes of fighting, the reptile is out cold and Kong is victorious. The ape takes Susan out of the tree, and she pleads with the beast to "Put me down!" Amazingly, Kong complies, and sets Susan safely back down on the ground, where Carl and Jiro are waiting and ready to escape. Only seconds after setting Susan down, Gorosaurus suddenly makes one last attempt to best the King, and Kong turns around to fight yet again... giving out heroes just enough time to do a quick about face and flee the scene. Behind them, Kong finally shows his opponent why he is called "King" around here and breaks the dinosaur's jaw, defeating it for good. Having successfully handed Gorsaurus its butt in a basket twice in one day, Kong leaves the scene and heads towards the beach... and just in time! Our merry trio of humans are being attacked in their hovercar by a Giant Sea Snake. A couple of well hurled boulders distract the serpent long enough for Kong to wade into the sea and grab it. The hovercar makes it back to the sub safely, and Kong once again sticks it to the reptiles (in other words, he takes out the Sea Snake). However, the giant ape swims over to the sub and begins to bang on the hull, trying to get Susan to appear again. Knowing that it may be the only way to get out alive, Susan agrees to venture out to see Kong while the last of the repairs are being completed. Although Kong attempts to take her back to the island, she makes it perfectly clear that she has no intention of going. Kong sadly lays her back on the sub, and she makes it back inside safely. With the repairs complete, the sub leaves the island, and a heartbroken Kong, behind.
In light of the amazing discovery of "mammoth reptiles" (and a certain giant gorilla) on Mondo Island, Carl Nelson makes an announcement: "We're dropping everything and heading for UN headquarters in New York. Our report will create a sensation among the world's scientists." Once back at New York, Nelson, along with Jiro and Susan, make their report to the UN, and announce that they will soon be returning to study the various beasts, namely Kong, that call the island home. However, little do they know that they will not be the only visitors Mondo will soon receive. As it turns out, one of the audience members was none other than Madame Piranha, and she dutifully reports the UN's plans back to the eeeeeeeevil Dr. Who (cue: maniacal laughter, preferably in baratone for a more sinister effect...). Anywho, the Doc formulates a new plan: kidnap Kong and use him to dig the Element X out of the ice. In addition, Who plans to kidnap Carl, Jiro and Susan, the only people to have communicated with Kong. Susan imparticular would be important as she had previously gotten Kong to do pretty much anything she asked him to do. (To bad she didn't have much of a sense of humor; she could have gotten Kong to do some pretty ridiculous stuff... well, some things are best left to the imagination...) After using Carl, Jiro and Susan to get Kong to do what he wants, Dr. Who will simply take them out... and I don't mean for dinner.
Only hours before the sub is expected to return, Dr. Who and his minions arrive on Mondo Island in full force. Lured out by the unfamiliar noise of the helicopters, the 20 meter tall gorilla leaves his cave and is caught off guard. The helicopters drop ether bombs at the feet of the beast, and it doen't take long for Kong to start looking like he should have stopped after that sixth or seventh... eh, gas bomb (?). Long story short, Kong falls out cold real fast, and Dr. Who's eeeeeeeevil (and probably underpaid) minions quickly work to secure his arms and legs in preparation for an airlift. As Dr. Who watches, the old native that first appeared before Carl, Jiro and Susan runs out of the jungle yelling again (probably saying something like "What the hey are you doing with my pagen deity?"). Dr. Who, always the kind and patient bloke, waists no time in whipping out a gun and shooting the poor native in cold blood. With that out of the way, Who gives the signal and Kong is lifted via four helicopters off of Mondo Island and into the cargo hold the Doctor's ship (duh duh DUUUUH...).
Soon after, the Explorer returns a little too late, and Carl, Jiro and Susan head out to find their big, hairy pal. However, all they find are a large number of small craters filled with ether powder and shell casing fragments. Even a complete doof could deduce that something nefarious had taken place, and the team quickly set out to see if Kong is still on the island. However, all they find is the barely living body of Mondo Island's lone native, still laying where he was shot. Susan checks him, but knows that nothing can be done. Before passing, the native tells Carl what he saw, and Carl quickly formulates his own hypothesis: Kong was kidnapped by none other than his old "friend"... can you guess what I am going to say? That's right... the eeeeeeeevil Dr. Who! A brilliant deduction, Commander Holmes, but that leaves one important question: just where is Dr. Who and his overgrown captive? Despite having no leads, Carl is hopeful that they can find Kong, "unless..." he tells Jiro, "they've taken him to the North Pole!"
Meanwhile, at the North Pole (snigger), Dr. Who gloats over the chained and shackled Kong. Carl, Jiro, and Susan will soon be in his eeeeeeeevil grasp as well, but the doc isn't willing to wait. As his minions travel to Mondo Island in an attempt to dupe the three into boarding the helecopter for that loooong ride up north, Who attempts to use Kong's "hypnotic susceptibility" against the beast. Using a blinking light, the doc puts Kong into a state of hypnosis, and commands him to dig up the Element X. It works like a charm... for a while. Eventually the big guy snaps out of it and must be locked out of the lair inside of the tunnel. Guess it sucks to be you, doc! However, on the bright side (or actually the dark side for those of us on the side of good), our three Kong savvy (but rather gullible) heroes have been tricked and soon arrive in Dr. Who's eeeeeeeevil lair. Carl is shocked to discover the Mechani-Kong, a robot based on his own designs, standing in the lair. Dr. Who arrives to greet his "guests", gloats for a while, and then tells them what he expects of them. Shockingly, none of them are willing to help. For this, they are thrown into a small cell to consider their mortality (well, not really but you know that's what they were considering). Carl knows that "if Who manages to extract the Element X, then there will be no object in keeping us alive." A reassuring thought, to be sure.
Minutes later, Carl is called out of the cell and into the lair of... Madame Piranha (?). She attempts to shmooze him into cooporation, bribing him with power and money. Although Carl is not falling for it, his drink with his "special new friend" is cut short when Dr. Who shows up and promptly escorts him back to his cell. However, he is not there long before he is called out again, this time by Who. This time, the Doc cuts right to the point: he lowers the temporature in the cell to zero degrees, and tells Carl that the only way to save his two friends from freezing to death is to cooporate. (Why that no-good, sadistic, uni-browed son of a...), well anyway, Jiro and Susan soon begin to suffer in their cell. Some time later, Dr. Who enters the sub-zero room, and tells them "Carl can aid you no longer. He's been canceled." The eeeeeeeevil doctor then procedes to chain Jiro to the wall and press poor Susan's face against the frozen, metal walls of the cell. Thankfully, before half of Susan's face is becomes perminantly affixed to the wall, Kong finally wins his battle against the door sealing him out of the lair. Who and his minions flee to minimize the damage, and Susan quickly frees Jiro. Togeather, they find Carl, still safe and sound, and they prepare to escape (where to, I'm not sure, seeing as they are at the North Pole and everything). However, they are stopped by Madame Piranha, who invites them to her room for a drink (?). Meanwhile, Kong has dug his way out of the lair and is making a break for it. In desperation, Dr. Who launches his Mechani-Kong to bring the big guy back. But it is too late: Kong has jumped into the freezing Arctic Ocean and has begun his swim to freedom. However, our trio is less fortunate. Still in the clutches of Dr. Who and his men, they, along with Mechani-Kong and a somewhat more reluctant Madame Piranha, are brought along in the barge as it leaves in persuit of Kong.
As Dr. Who's ship nears Japan, news reaches them that Kong has indeed come ashore and is approaching Tokyo (where else...). Dispite the odds, Who still intends to capture the beast to retrive the element X. Madame Piranha, however, is less anxious. When Who anounces a plan to send Mechani-Kong ashore (with the flashing light first used to mind control Kong attached to its head), the former villian pleads with the doctor to reconsider. "If those two fight in Tokyo," she tells him, "thousands will get killed and you and I know it." The doc, indifferent, refuses to listen, and prepares to unleash his mechanical marvel against Kong and a defencless city. Inside the "Ship of Doom" (if I were an eeeeeeeevil genius/criminal mastermind, don't think that I wouldn't call it that), poor Carl, Jiro, and Susan are chained up and unable to do anything... untill Madame Piranha shows up and frees them! She tells them to lead Kong out of the city to protect the citizens, a stunning statement coming from someone who, at the beginning of the adventure, wanted to obtain "nuclear domination of the universe". "I'm so sorry..." she tells the heroes, "that my country wasn't right." She helps them get safely off of the ship, but stays behind to pay the piper, guilt-ridden for her complicity in Dr. Who's plan.
In Tokyo, Carl goes to the JSDF (Japanese Self Defence Forces) HQ and tells them not to fire on Kong for risk of him going berzerk and destroying the city. Meanwhile, Kong, lost in the alien environment of Tokyo, wanders through the maze of buildings. Jiro and Susan join a crowd in the streets, and Susan breaks through and rushes to Kong. Happy to see her again, Kong gently picks the tiny human up and brings her to eye level (as a JSDF officer on the ground asks Jiro the obveous question: "Is she insane?"). However, no sooner has Susan asked Kong to "calm down", then a building behind them crumbles and Mechani-Kong emerges, aching for a fight. Kong knows what must be done, and places Susan safely back on the ground. The great ape then charges into battle, but Mechani-Kong activates bright lights in its eyes that temporarily blind Kong. The flashing hypnotic light on Mechani-Kong's head is activated, and Kong slowly begins to fall, once again, under its control. On the ground, Jiro comes to the rescue and, using a rifle, shoots and destroys the device, freeing Kong. The two then begin to bash each other in typical giant monster battle fashion, but it doesn't take long before the robot utilizes Kong's only apparent weakness and scoops up Susan, turns around, and takes her on a little trip up Tokyo Tower... the tall, very tall Tokyo Tower. Dr. Who warns Kong via speaker in Mechani-Kong's mouth that if he does not return to the doc's ship, he will order his robot to drop Susan (didn't see that one coming)! Kong, despite the risks, begins to climb after his robotic duplicate. As the two get higher, Mechani-Kong finally drops Susan in order to climb faster. Fortunatly, Kong grabs her and sets her safely (?)on one of the conveniantly placed platforms within the tower. He then continues his climb, but when you're climbing a tower, there is only so far you can go before...
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (which, in this case is Dr. Who's ship), our resident villain turned heroine Madame Piranha pays a visit to the good doctor... and promptly draws a gun on him, stating in no uncertain terms "You're going to die". (Wow, didn't leave much open to interpretation, did she?) Dr. Who, however, has no intention of dying and promptly steals the gun and shoots her insted. With Madame Piranha wounded and under guard, Dr. Who continues to control his machine to climb and fight. Back in Tokyo, Jiro climbs Tokyo Tower to save his lady-love. As the two attempt to decend the wobbling tower, both Kong and Mechani-Kong continue to fight and near the top. Eventually, after nearly falling off the tower, getting cruched, and avoiding death in general, the JSDF finally save Jiro and Susan, who rejoin Carl on the ground. Near the top of the tower, Mechani-Kong accidently snags his foot on a wire and begins to short-circuit. The doc and his crew attempt to save the situation, but an intervention by the wounded Madame Piranha ("intervention" here meaning to jump up and rip wires from the wall/circuit board) saves the day. In a tragic but forseeable reaction, Dr. Who shoots poor Madame Piranha dead. However, her herioc actions defeat Mechani-Kong, who falls off of the tower and crashes to the ground, smashing into a hundred pieces. Kong beats his chest in victory.
As the sun rises, Dr. Who orders his crew to prepare to depart. When a crew member questions him, he yells "Moron! The real Kong is lost to us!" He is horrified to hear that Kong himself has been sighted on the dock, heading towards his ship. Now panicked, he orders the ship to leave NOW! Sure enough, Kong, along with his human compadres Carl, Jiro, and Susan, arive on hte dock, and Susan tells Kong to "Stop that ship!" Not needing to be told twice, Kong jumps into the water and swims over to the escaping vessel. He promptly rips the propelers off and proceded the climb onto and pound on the ship. Unable to stay afloat with Kong's added weight, the ship begins to sink. Inside, the eeeeeeeevil (last time, I swear) Dr. Who is pinned underneith the debris and equipment in the control room and soon begins to bleed from the mouth (uh... yuck). Needless to say, he can do nothing as his ship is destroyed around him. Within minutes, what is left of the giant boat is submerged, and our man King Kong beats his chest, victorious once again. As Carl, Jiro, and Susan watch, the giant ape turns to the open ocean and begins his long jurny back to Mondo Island. "He's going home.", Carl tells his friends. "I think he's had enough of what we call... civilization."
Whew! Now that that's out of the way, on to the good stuff. The story of King Kong Escapes, although unique (in most respects) among the various Kong films, is, in many ways, a Japanese remake of the original 1933 King Kong. There are many similarities between the two films, and director Ishiro Honda, writer Takeshi Kimura, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya were obveoulsy influenced by many ideas and instances from the original film. The flow of the story is very similer to the original Kong, with the heroes landing on an island, descovering Kong, and Kong eventually being kidnapped and subsequantly escaping, running loose in a big city, and climbing that city's tallest structure in the climax. It is the ending of King Kong Escapes that truely sets it apart from the original: In the end, Kong does not fall to his death, but survives to return to his home. This ending stems from the fact that Kong plays the good guy in this film, and as such, deserved to live through the events of the film. In the original, Kong is seen (for most of the movie) as a murderous, rampaging monster intent on causing death and property damage. However, by the end of the film, the audiance has come to understand and sympathize with Kong, and the end where Kong is brutally gunned down off the top of the Empire State Building and killed is truely one of the saddest moments in motion picture history. In King Kong Escapes, Kong is the hero from the beginning and, in the end, lives to fight another day.
Another similarity between the two Kongs are it's main three charactors. Carl Nelson, the "main man" in this film, is clearly inspired by the original King Kongs "main man, Carl Denham (Robert Armstong). Both share more than just a first name: both are adventurous, natural leaders, and risk takers. Both Carls also have previously studied Kong and his island home prior to the film's begining (Denham has a map leading to Skull Island and has heard of a creature known as Kong living there; Nelson has studied the culture of Mondo Island and has also studied the legends of Kong). Unlike Denham, however, Nelson has no intention of hurting or exploiting Kong, and would never put his friends in harm's way for his own gain. In previous Kong films, the charactors who wish to exploit Kong are usually so blinded by the promise of wealth and fame that they are willing to risk the lives of others in order to achive their goals. Carl Denham in the original King Kong put his friends Jack Driscoll and Ann Darrow (the inspirations for the charactors of Jiro Nomura and Susan Watson, respectively) in extreme danger in order to capture Kong, and later, after opening the broadway show to display his catch (and make a lot of cash), puts all of New York in danger. Indeed, Kong escapes and kills many people, an event which can be placed solely on the shoulders of the greedy Denham. In Toho's previous Kong flick, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mr. Tako of Pacific Pharmaceuticals kidnaps Kong from Faro Island to be used as the "spokesperson" for a TV show his company sponsers. However, Kong escapes here as well, and trashes Tokyo compleatly. Like in the original, Kong's rampage can be blamed on the greedy person (Mr. Tako) who wished to exploit the monster for money (and/or higher television ratings), even at the expense of inocent lives being lost. However, Carl Nelson is a compleatly different charactor. His heroic actions and compassionate personality make it easier for the audiance to sympathise with him and, by extention, the other human heroes. Jiro Nomura, as previously stated, was inspired by the charactor of Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Both are the buddy and right hand man of the main charactor (being Denham in the original and Nelson in this film), and both are the love interest for the main female charactor. Both play similer narrative roles, and take similer parts in the action (for example, both Driscoll and Nomura climb the respective "tall structure" to rescue the female charactor at one point in the climax). The main female protagonist in this film, Susan Watson, is basically a walking homage, and her charactor is directly inspired by Ann Darrow (played by the late and great Fay Wray). There is not much to clearify here: both are blond, rather attractive, and have a way of making giant apes a little weak in the knees.
However, the largest tributes to the original Kong found in this film are easily its special effects shots. As previously stated, Eiji Tsuburaya's career in special effects came about because of his love of the original film, so it is not suprising that Tsuburaya could not help himself and recreated many of the scenes from the original himself. The greatest and most well known of these recreated scenes is undoubtedly Kong's fight with Gorosaurus (who remains unnamed in this film, but would return the following year for the Godzilla film Destroy All Monsters (1968)). In King Kong (1933), Kong has a tussle with a large, therapod dinosaur (known alternatly as a T-Rex and an Allosaurus). The scene has proven to be one of (if not the) most memorable scene in the film, and stands as one of the first true giant monster battles in cinema history. Tsuburaya recreated this iconic sequence using the suitmation techniques that have made him (and his films) famous around the world. The battle has the same "flow" as the original, and even restages several moments exactly. Before the fight in both films, Kong places his "special new friend" in the top of a tall tree to keep her out of harm's way. Both fights include a number of "sucker punches" from Kong and some of the same stunts. Finally, both battles conclude in the same way, with Kong defeating his opponent by breaking its jaw. There are a number of other moments Tsuburaya resurrected for his version of Kong through out the film. After defeating Gorosaurus, Kong takes on a Giant Sea Snake in a sequence mirroring the original Kong's battle with a Pleseosaur from the 1930's. The 1967 Kong, like the original, is knocked out by gas bombs before being kidnapped from his island home. Scenes of Kong chained up in Dr. Who's lair are similer to scenes of the beast chained on the Broadway stage near the original film's climax. Finally, Eiji Tsuburaya films his own version of the famous "Empire State Building Sequence" from the original, substituting New York's famous skyscraper for Tokyo Tower (a sight of much monster mayhem over the decades).
Takeshi Kimura's screenplay, while reliant on many ideas used in previous Kong films, is suprisingly original and mature in a lot of places. The concept of Element X is handled very well, and the idea of tipping the balance of power away from the two Cold War superpowers (America and the Soviet Union) towards another country using a powerful, new weapon would crop up again in later films (although careful vewiers of the original Gojira (1954) will find this theme present within that film, as well). The scenes where Madame Piranha attempts to use her femenine wiles (and a fair bit of expensive-looking booze) to buy off Carl are shockingly mature when compared to a lot of the film. In fact, the entire part of the film that shows Carl and his friends captive at the North Pole is very tense and realistic. The fact that they could be killed at any time keeps the audiance in suspense. When Dr. Who turns off the temporature control in Jiro and Susan's cell, letting the freezing Arctic temporatures in, the audiance (yes, that includes you!) can't help but shiver right along with them (come on... admit it!). The intensity mounts as we see the doc and his "pal" Carl sitting and playing chess as our two heroes continue to freeze in the other room. Ishiro Honda shoots these scenes very effectively, milking every bit of intensity that he can from the script. The intensity reaches its peak when Dr. Who chains Jiro to the wall and tries to force Susan's face against the icey wall. It is at this point that the monsters re-enter the story, and Kong's destruction of the base saves Susan's neck... literaly!
Alongside Kimura's smart screenplay and Honda's usual amazing directorial job are some great actors and actresses, an amalgom of Japanese and American stars working to create a unique monster movie experiance. Rhodes Reason, as Carl Nelson, gives a believable and realistic performance in a role that could have led to overacting and a healthy supply of cheese to boot. Reason, a western star, takes his place along side the many other American actors who had lent their talents to Toho's sci-fi films durring the "Golden Age", including Nick Adams, Russ Tamblyn, and Joseph Cotten. Linda Miller, another American, portrayes Fay Wray wanabe Susan Watson, and gives an adequate performance at best. While she does well interacting with Kong in most scenes, many of her lines come off as... well... bad. (Next time I watch the film, I am going to sit down with a pad and pen and write down just how many times she says the word "Kong" in the film... laugh if you will, but I did the same thing for Titanic ("JACK!!!!!"... "ROSE!!!!!"... "JACK!!!!!"... "ROSE!!!!!"... "JACKJACKJACKJACKJACK!!!!!..." ROSE!!!!!") and I got some interesting results... does anyone else hear a cricket?) Well anyhoo, on to Jiro, played by frequent Toho player Akira Takarada. As always, Takarada gives an amazing performance, and plays the Jack Driscoll-like charactor with ease. Now for the villians! The eeeeeeeev (oh, sorry, I forgot...) the, uh... just plain Dr. Who (happy?) was played by another familier Japanese face: Eisei Amamoto (who would play the somewhat less evil charactor of Enami the toy consultant in the Godzilla film All Monsters Attack (1969)). Amamoto gives a devilishly maniacal performance as Who, the only charactor from the original The King Kong Show to be featured in the film version. The last of the major players, the villian-turned-hero Madame Piranha, was portrayed by the alluring Mie Hama, who had appeared as the charactor Fumiko in King Kong vs. Godzilla (a less rounded version of the Anne Darrow/Susan Watson charactor who spends one half of her screen time screeming and the other half unconcious). For you James Bond fans out their, look for Hama (along with Godzilla series actress Akiko Wakabayashi) in the 1960's 007 flick You Only Live Twice (1967). Hama fits the charactor of Madame Piranha like a glove, and the charactor is considered today to be Toho's best villian in the genre. (Oh, and just for the record, I have nothing against the film Titanic..., in fact, I love that movie!)
Legandary composer Akira Ifukube takes up the baton again and provides one of his most memrable scores. Insted of relying on existing cues from his work on King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ifukube insted updates other pieces from other films as well as create compleatly new pieces of music. The theme for Kong himself was a slightly altered version of Ifukube's King Ghidorah theme that first appeared in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). The theme for Mechani-Kong, while mostly original, is based on the theme composed for Baragon in Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), and is said to have influenced Ifukube's theme for the Heisei Mechagodzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). Ifukube's love theme for Kong and Susan, as well as the film's main theme are original, and variations of many of the film's pieces would be used for future film scores. In addition, the Ghidorah-esque Kong theme would be reused for the stock music-driven Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972).
This brings us to the final and probebly most important part of the film's production: it's special effects. Although it has been stated by many critics that Tsuburaya's two Kong films showcase effects that are somewhat below the "Master of Monsters'" usual standards, that does not mean that the effects are not good. On the contrary, King Kong Escapes' effects are, at least in my opinion, quite stellar (something that one expects from Tsuburaya's work). The sets in the film represent the change of direction Toho's special effects-based films were taking at the time. With budgets being slashed, Toho's SPFX department compansated by relocating the monster action to tropical islands, places generally free of large infrastructure. Films like Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), and Space Amoeba (1970), among others, took place largely on South Pacific islands, which were cheaper to build then cities but still looked good on screen. While the climax of this flim does take place in Tokyo, the majority of the film is set in the jungles of Mondo Island or in the frozen tundra that is the North Pole. The sets, while dirt cheap, are still extremely detailed and very realistic. The film's miniatures are a bit of a mixed bag: while the buildings (such as the various models of Tokyo Tower used at the end of the film) are very detailed and well built, the vehicles, such as Dr. Who's helicopters, the Explorer sub, the hover car, and the JSDF tanks are slightly under detailed. In fact, the only really detailed miniature in the film was Dr. Who's "Ship of Doom" (my name, not theirs). However, the under detailed... uh, ...ness (?) of the various vehicles is all but erased when seen in the sets and next to the monsters. And speaking of monsters, on to the suits! Starting with King Kong himself, it is easy to see the improvement over the 1962 version of the beast that appeared in King Kong vs. Godzilla. This version of Kong is better proportioned, less ratty-looking, and has more realistic facial movements then it's predicessor. Horuo Nakajima, famous for playing most of Toho's other monsters, including (as most know) Godzilla himself, here portrays Kong for the first time (the part having been played by fellow suit actor Soichi Hirose in 1962), and gives a remarkable performance. With legs too long and arms too short to play a gorilla, Nakajima had to cope with the odd proportions of the suit (most of his upper leggs were inside the torso and arm extentions made it hard to move the arms and impossible to control the hands). Nevertheless, Nakajima gives a realistic and memorable performance that succedes where Hirose had failed five years earlier. (Not that Hirose didn't do an amazing job himself, of course.) Hiroshi Sekida, a relative newcomer to the suit-acting scene who had previously doned costumes for Ebirah and Sanda the "Brown Gargantua", here plays both Gorosaurus (although he was not credited for it when the film was released) and Mechani-Kong. Sekida does an amazing job in both roles, portraying Gorosaurus as an animalistic dinosaur and providing the robotic look needed to pull off Mechani-Kong, as well. The Gorosaurus suit is really well built, and takes pains to look as close to a real dinosaur as possible, posture and all. The Mechani-Kong suit had to be applied to Sekida like a suit of armor (in a similer way to the various Mechagodzilla suits of the following decades). The film's final creature, the Giant Sea Snake, was a marionette puppet, brought to life by overhead wires.
Sadly, King Kong Escapes would be the final time King Kong would be featured in a Toho film (at least as of this writing). In 1966, Tomoyuki Tanaka had given the green light to a film entitled Robinson Crusoe Adventure: King Kong vs. Ebirah (no kidding!). The film would have focused of a group of castaways who land on an island, only to discover that it is controlled by a terrorist organization that is making nuclear weapons and uses a monster named Ebirah to guard the island. The castaways soon find Kong Kong sleeping on the island, and, using an electric shock from a thunderstorm, awaken the beast, who fights Ebirah, destroyes the terrorists and saves the day. Sound familier? Well,if you've ever seen the movie Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (A.K.A. Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster), it should. Just prior to shooting the film, the decision was made to replace Kong with Godzilla, and Kong would surface the following year in the film that is the subject of this review. The only reason the film even occured was due to the involvement of Rankin Bass, who supplied the rights to the charactor. The idea that became King Kong vs. Godzilla also began in the U.S. and was subsequently brought to Toho to be produced. In other words, unless an American company arives on Toho's doorstep and asks them to make another Kong-related film... well, lets just say ol' Kong will be on Faro/Mondo Island waiting for a call from his agent for a very long time. Perhaps, as many have suggested, some Americans are fed up with Kong, a monster with American origins, being featured in a foreign film. However, films such as King Kong Escapes show, at least in my opinion, that Kong is in safe hands outside the U.S. After all, if you want to make a good monster movie, with good acting, well written stories, supurb directing, a memorable musical score, and breath-taking special effects that, even after more than 40 years, have sood the test of time and are still captivating audiences of all ages... who ya gonna call? (Jeez, where's Ray Parker Jr. when you need him?) Well, anyhow, my work here is done. I'd give King Kong Escapes a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars (or perhaps a solid 4 Mothra vs. Godzillas out of a possible Gojira... what ever floats your boat!) Thanks for reading!