By Jerry Chandler
This is not exactly new news. As a matter of fact, it’s old enough that it was discussed as a part of the reason we’re seeing a new King Kong film in 2017. We’re getting Kong: Skull Island in part- perhaps in large part –because they want a “shared universe” in order to have King Kong eventually meet the King of Monsters for a big budget, Hollywood battle royal.
Now, I’m not as anti-remake as a lot of other people can be. My attitude towards remakes with regards to potential quality is that they have a no greater or lesser chance at being good than an original film. I don’t do the complaints that remakes always suck, shouldn’t be made, or are never as good as the original, so that’s not what this is about. But I do occasionally wonder what they’re thinking when they decide that they’re going to do a certain property and how they intend to do it. So, along with a bit of a review of the original film, that’s what I’ll be doing here.
Back in the 1960s when making decisions while on a coke jag and high out of your mind seemed to be a requirement for running a studio, Willis O’Brian brought an idea to the American studios that everyone involved thought was a real winner. His proposed project was going to be a film where King Kong (still more the RKO version) was going to fight a giant version of the Frankenstein monster in the streets of San Francisco. No, not the TV show, the actual city. This was seen as a possible moneymaker in the making, but the cost of the stop motion animation that would be needed to make it work caused investors and studios to be a little hesitant about backing the project.
Enter Hollywood backstabbing. Willis O’Brian was quietly cut out of doing his own project, the idea was pitched to foreign studios, and Toho saw some potential in it. They wanted to do a King Kong film and they wanted to bring Godzilla back for a third film. It seemed a natural fit for them to swap the Frankenstein monster out to make room for Godzilla and make a monster vs monster film as only they could do it. Sure, King Kong only came up to Godzilla’s ankle, but they could fudge that a bit.
Plus they’d have selling points for the film beyond just a massive monster beatdown. This was going to be the first “official” King Kong film in decades on top of being the first of two planned Toho King Kong films. This was going to be not only Godzilla’s return, but this was going to be the first Godzilla seen on color film. This was an event film for them, and there was no way there weren’t running with the ball they were being handed. So in 1962 the world was blessed with the joyous goofiness of King Kong vs, Godzilla.
Our story begins not entirely unlike the 1976 King Kong that would come along 14 years later. A corporate head honcho sends some people to a remote island, Faro Island, because he wants prop up his business. The difference here being that he knows there’s a monster on the island and he wants it brought back as his corporate mascot. Because, you know, bringing giant monsters to your hometown always works out so well for everyone.
Once our lead characters find their way to Faro Island, we get the kind of stuff you just can’t do in a film anymore. All of our island tribesmen and tribeswomen are the absolute personification of every movie stereotype you can think of. They can be convinced to do anything for our intrepid explorers in exchange for the simplest of trinkets. They seem to be very musically inclined, and they have an overwhelming desire to perform elaborate dance numbers for our explorers. Oh, and they’re all Japanese extras in blackface.
After our lead characters get the tribal leaders on their side with gifts they picked up at Dollar Tree before leaving for the island and cigarettes for the small children, they go to see Kong. This is not their finest moment as they don’t quite realize that the monster they’re looking for is in fact a monstrously large monster. But, since they can’t return empty-handed, they hatch a cunning plan. Kong, on top of being the King of the island, is a bit of a party club type of guy as well. He loves it when the islanders play their music, and he likes to sit back and enjoy his tunes while partaking of the local fermented fruits. Our explorers get the islanders to fix up barrel after barrel of berry juice that gets him drunk off of his backside. Like any good alcoholic, King drinks until he passes out and then sleeps a long sleep. This allows our explorers to tie him up, load him on their vessel, and set off on the voyage home.
Oh, I left out that we get to see Kong fighting a giant octopus while still on the island. The fight scene was done by using shots of a real octopus crawling along the ground and then the guy in the Kong suit fighting a Saran Wrap octopus that made some of Ed Wood’s prop creatures look good.
Elsewhere in the world a military team witnesses an iceberg collapsing, revealing Godzilla. The news goes out around the world. Even as a monster has been found to be brought to Japan, Godzilla has awoken from the frozen slumber that has kept him hidden from the world since 1955. He sets about causing damage and destruction and starts immediately swimming towards Japan because, well, you know, getting both monsters in the same place.
Freaking out because Godzilla is planning on visiting his old stomping grounds; the Japanese government informs the ship that’s hauling King Kong that it must turn around and return Kong to his island. The people are already freaking out enough, and the last thing they need is two monsters trashing the place. So, of course, Kong decides to wake up, enjoy a nice swim to shake off his hangover, heads for the beach, and starts trashing the place by seeking out Godzilla for a big boss battle.
This doesn’t last long as Godzilla has some lovely radioactive fire breath and tries to set Kong on fire. Kong retreats from the first battle, but now the Japanese are really unhappy because they have to fight two monsters that are settling down for a long visit.
The JSDF focuses most of its efforts on Godzilla. Having faced him twice before they feel that they know what doesn’t work, so they just amp up what didn’t work before. This actually works for them as they manage to hurt Godzilla by supercharging electrical wires to twice the voltage that didn’t work for fending of Godzilla almost a decade earlier. The also try blowing him up with standard military explosives. This never works in the Godzilla films. This depresses them as they now have to face the possibility of upping their kill power to a level that would do massive damage to Japan as well or getting used to living with Godzilla doing the same massive damage in smaller instalments over time. Plus, well, Kong is still out there.
They manage to deal with Kong with little real trouble. They play some island music for him through a massive sound system, launch island berry based gas bombs at him, and get him buzzed out of his mind until he passes out and drools on the pavement. They then tie him to a bunch of balloons and float him out of the city and towards a showdown with Godzilla that the Japanese military hopes will end with both monsters killing each other. No, I’m not kidding about the balloon thing.
Kong wakes up just in time to be cut free from his balloons and dropped down to face Godzilla. Cranky with a hangover and spoiling for a fight, Kong takes it to Godzilla and proceeds to get his butt handed to him. But this version of Kong has a special power. On top of being much taller than he ever was before, he also feeds on electricity and lightning. In a stunning coincidence, the film has earlier shown us that this version of Godzilla is hurt by electricity.
As an unconscious Kong is almost literally being buried and left for dead by Godzilla, a thunderstorm springs up and starts supercharging Kong with bolt after bolt of lightning. At first this only causes Kong’s face to glow, and then he wakes up, jumps up, and starts going after Godzilla with his only ever seen here taser hands. This seems to even the odds as Kong now has a weapon and the electricity amps up his strength as well. Our monsters beat the snot out of each other until finally going over the edge of a cliff and falling into the sea.
After several moments of uncertainty, Kong alone surfaces and begins to swim out to sea and towards home. Godzilla is nowhere to be seen, but the JSDF speculates that it’s likely he survived as well and departed the area under the water. They decide to leave Kong alone, grateful that he saved them all, and everyone has their happy moment to end the film.
There are basically two versions of this film. The Japanese cut of the film does in fact contain scenes that are not in the American cut, and still other scenes were changed for the American release by recutting them or moving them to different points of the film. The music is different as well. When the American distributors got the film, it was rescored it with existing music used in other American horror and monster movies. The most recognizable of these for most people would be the snippets of Henry Mancini’s music from The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The American version shares a major feature in common with both the original Godzilla and the later Godzilla 1984 films in that some of the scenes removed from the Japanese print made room for an American actor to be cast as a reporter and scenes filmed after the fact for insertion into the release. Whereas the other films had Raymond Burr as ace reporter Steve Martin, this film’s not so wild and crazy guy was Michael Keith as UN Reporter Eric Carter. His insertion into the film was used largely to explain both existing and new plot points created in the new script made for the American version.
One scene that you won’t find changed from one cut to the other is the end of the film. Much as Highlander should have remained, there was only one. There has long been an urban legend that there were two endings filmed. One was the American release with Kong swimming away and the movie indicating that he was the likely winner while another ending was filmed for the Japanese/Asian release cut where Godzilla is the clear winner. This even became the stuff of major trivia game releases and actual news reports about the Godzilla franchise well into the 1990s.
It never happened. It was an inaccurate report in Spaceman Magazine that was later reprinted in Famous Monsters Magazine and then quoted by other sources for decades. The thing was, back in the day it was harder to get a hold of international copies of some films, there was no internet, and fact checking was a tad harder. It wasn’t until the Japanese prints were starting to become available to people who had Laser Disc players that the news started get around that Forrest J. Ackerman's publications got it wrong, and the legend of the two endings started getting sorted out. As it is though, there are still people around today who- having had no reason to actually research it –will talk about the clever gimmick of the two endings for the two different markets.
King Kong vs. Godzilla is, for all the cheap effects and cheesy plotlines, a classic of the genre. It’s goofy, it’s fun, it’s men in rubber monster suits beating the snot out of each other. It has a charm to it that’s undeniable, and even the stuff that you might look at in this day and age of PC as insanely offensive somehow still doesn’t come off anywhere near that bad in the film. It’s also a film that everyone in the family can enjoy because the violence is your basic, tame, Toho rubber suited monster movie violence that started up back then after the success of this film helped reboot the Godzilla franchise. It’s not scary, it’s not vulgar, it’s not bloody, and most of the violence is from two monsters hitting each other with foam rubber boulders and plastic trees.
Again, it’s a classic, and it’s a great film to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon when in a goofy mood. So, of course, American studios are just dying to remake it with these guys.
This kind of makes me wonder why they want to do it. The original is not seen as a serious film by fans. It’s high camp at its best moments. Making it a serious film doesn’t do it any favors, and a realistic, fully rendered CGI Kong inflated to anywhere near the size of the American Godzilla is going to look really strange on film. I’m not sure fans would just let it slide if you gave Kong all sorts of new powers for a film like this, so you’re once again looking at a big ape facing off against something that basically possesses a radioactive flame thrower in its throat.
Maybe they’ll surprise us all. Maybe they’ll give us a serious film where they somehow make this stuff work. Maybe they’ll slip in a third monster as the real threat that Kong and Godzilla instinctively understand they must join forces against in order to defeat. But, really, do you expect them to actually have one monster definitively defeat the other? They’d send half the fans home pissed off even if they finally made the duel ending thing a reality.
I’m a sucker. I’m a dope. The odds are that I’ll see it the opening weekend unless the trailers just make it look god awful. There’s also the chance that it will go the way of the sequel to Godzilla vs King Kong. No, I don’t mean King Kong Escapes. They were lining up round two for the big guys to go at it again in a second film picking up after the first, but the project slowly fell apart. That may have been for the best as well since it blessed the world with Kong’s counterpart to Mechagodzilla in the form of a Robot Kong. I love that thing.
The 2014 American Godzilla film gave us a nice relaunch for a Godzilla franchise. The upcoming Kong film looks like it could do the same for the big hairy guy. Maybe this is one of those times when Hollywood should pull back from whatever recreational substance is being partaken of, rethink what it’s doing, and not remake a film in such a way as to totally change its tone and nature, to undercut the very things that have made it a beloved cult and camp classic. Maybe the best thing they can do is to just focus on the separate properties as separate properties. They can’t recapture what made the original work, and I don’t think they can make a new version that works anywhere near as well as the old.
I’d love to be proven wrong here, but I don’t think I am.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the ESO Pro: The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.