King Kong Escapes (1967).

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Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Takashi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya

Cast: Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Akira Takarada (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Linda Miller (Lt. Susan Watson), Hideyo Amamoto (Dr. Who), Mie Hama (Madame X), Susumu Kurobe (Henchman)

__________

The highly-radioactive Element X can only be found at the North Pole. Madame X (Mie Hama) wants the element for her country, so she enlists the evil genius Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) to retrieve it. Dr. Who knows the only creature capable of digging up the dangerous element is the mighty King Kong, so Dr. Who builds a robot Kong that he can control. The mechanical ape’s circuitry gets zapped by the radiation, leaving Dr. Who with no alternative but to journey to Mongo Island and capture the real King Kong — much to the dismay of the increasingly impatient Madame X.

Dr. Who and Madame X

Dr. Who’s plan becomes even more complicated when Cmdr. Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Jiro Nomura of the UN become involved. You see, Kong has a thing for Lt. Watson. Only she can control the beast — which makes her a valuable asset to Dr. Who and his scheme. So he kidnaps her and her cohorts. Before it’s all over, King Kong and Mechani-Kong battle it out atop Tokyo Tower.

King Kong Escapes (1967) is a crazy movie, even by Japanese Kaijū (“strange beast”) movie standards. From the logic of using King Kong to mine radioactive material to the mad scientist and his nagging sponsor, it’s just plains nuts. But these movies exist in a world all their own, where the laws of reason and science are of very little concern.

Linda Miller and some fake monsters

The story of how the movie came to be is almost as crazy. Toho had been very successful with King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), which was released (heavily modified) in the States by Universal in 1963. In 1966, Rankin/Bass, the stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer people, produced a King Kong cartoon, The King Kong Show, animated in Japan. The cartoon featured both Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong. Rankin/Bass entered into a joint venture with Toho, combining story elements from the Rankin/Bass Kong series with Toho’s outstanding technical people and mangy-looking gorilla suit.

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Rhodes Reason, who plays the American commander, is the younger brother of Rex Reason from This Island Earth (1955). Reason dubbed his own voice for English-language prints, while the American model Linda Miller was upset that hers was not used. The great Paul Frees (of Disney’s Haunted Mansion fame) provided the voice of Dr. Who and a number of other characters.

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Mie Hama had just appeared with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967), the fifth James Bond movie, which was filmed in Japan. Hama, Hideyo Amamoto and Susumu Kurobe can also be found in Key Of Keys (1965), the Japanese spy movie Woody Allen re-worked for What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).

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In theaters, Universal paired the picture with The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), a remake of The Paleface (1948) starring Don Knotts. That’s a double feature I would’ve loved as a kid — I was precisely the demographic Universal had in mind. Incidentally, the Japanese version of King Kong Escapes (called Kingu Kongu No Gyakushû) is longer than the US cut.

Ishiro Honda between takes with Mechani-Kong and King Kong

What is it about these movies? They’re ludicrous and obviously aimed at kids. The special effects are both accomplished and pitiful at the same time (consider that Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey was in theaters that same summer). The Technicolor and TohoScope cinematography is gorgeous, and some might say it’s wasted on something like this. There’s a sense of wonder to these movies that I attribute to the director, Ishiro Honda, and the special effects crew headed by Eiji Tsuburaya. As a kid, I really liked this one because the monsters had a sizable amount of screen time — back then, my enjoyment of such things was often based on the monster-to-people footage ratio.

By the conventional idea of what constitutes a good movie, King Kong Escapes is way off the mark. But there’s nothing about it that’s conventional. Japanese monster movies are their own thing, and that thing can be pretty wonderful.

Here in the States, you’ll find King Kong Escapes available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, sometimes paired with King Kong Vs. Godzilla. It always looks splendid. The color is eye-popping and it’s sharp enough to reveal every wire on every toy helicopter. For those attuned to this type of nonsense, it comes highly recommended.

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3 Comments

Filed under 1967, Don Knotts, Ishirō Honda, James Bond, Kaiju Movies, Sean Connery, Toho, Universal (-International)

3 responses to “King Kong Escapes (1967).

  1. john k

    Great choice and really cool post.
    In the UK the film played as the B Flick to CARRY ON UP THE
    KHYBER.
    Over at Laura’s you said NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY makes KING KONG
    ESCAPES look like CITIZEN KANE…that really cracked me up!
    I might add the THE MIGHTY GORGA makes KING KONG ESCAPES
    look like CITIZEN KANE. THE MIGHTY GORGA is a film so bad it
    wouldn’t even be considered for one of Mr Oravitz’s bad film,good
    wine evenings. 🙂
    The Honda flick I’d love to see on Blu Ray is FRANKENSTEIN
    CONQUERS THE WORLD possibly his goofiest movie ever.

    Toby,several threads back you mentioned the Carlotta France
    Blu Ray of THE NEW CENTURIONS-just received mine and the transfer is
    a doozy.Mine appears to be region free and the French subs are
    easy to remove.
    There is a Fleischer documentary in French only and a 45 minute
    feature on the making of the film in English with removable subs.
    THE NEW CENTURIONS was one of the best and most underrated
    70’s cop movies;with themes still relevant today.
    Strikingly filmed on location with knockout performances from the
    entire cast.
    Stacy Keach obviously thought a lot of Richard Fleischer who he found
    meticulous and very personable and certainly not a “screamer”
    How long before we finally see those other two 70’s Keach classics
    finally get released,namely THE GRAVY TRAIN (a Tarantino fave)
    and THE KILLER INSIDE ME.

    Like

    • Glad you liked the post. I’d been wanting to cover a Toho picture for a while.

      The Mighty Gorga is an awful, awful thing. Scott Brady had come a long way (down) since Johnny Guitar.

      The New Centurions is very overlooked. Scott Wilson, from my hometown in Georgia, is a terrific actor — and I thought he was great in Centurions. His scenes with Clifton James are so well played. Of course, Stacy Keach is very under-appreciated. You’re right about the movie’s relevance. I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

      Like

  2. john k

    Ha! I didn’t think anyone else would have seen THE MIGHTY GORGA.
    Actually the same director’s (David L Hewitt) JOURNEY TO THE CENTER
    OF TIME (also with Brady) is not half bad and Brady is very good in it
    considering the circumstances.
    I remember Diana Dors saying that Brady was more interested in chasing
    the ladies than his career-you are so right,such a long way down
    from JOHNNY GUITAR.

    Good to see some love for the great Scott Wilson-a wonderful actor.
    That scene in THE NEW CENTURIONS where George C Scott loses
    it with the scuzzbag slum landlord-powerful hair raising stuff.

    Like

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