Eugene LourieBill TraversWilliam Sylvester
Medium: film
Year: 1961
Director: Eugene Lourie
Writer: Robert L. Richards, Daniel James
Keywords: giant rampaging monster
Country: UK
Actor: Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter, Christopher Rhodes, Joseph O'Conor, Bruce Seton, Martin Benson, Maurice Kaufmann, Basil Dignam, Barry Keegan, Tommy Duggan, Howard Lang, Dervis Ward
Format: 78 minutes
Website category: British
Review date: 14 April 2011
It's a 1961 British Godzilla rip-off. A giant rubber-suited monster is going to trash London and the British army will go nuts pelting it with everything they have. It's a stupid film, but it's also rather entertaining.
What's good about it is that it's rather well made. It's better than a Hammer film of the same vintage, because it never feels stagey. It's got an endearing pulp vigour and the production values are solid, with impressive military footage and modelwork that manages to look good despite containing both water and fire. As for Gorgo himself, he's cute. This is probably a minority opinion when it comes to city-crushing dinosaurs that eat anti-aircraft missiles for breakfast, but I stand by it. Look at his squirrel hands when he's curled up in the net. Look at his wiggly ears. Even those red eyes are lovable.
I also think it works as a movie. It doesn't have the atomic theme of either Japan's Godzilla or the American atomic bug movies, but what it has instead is a healthy disrespect for authority. This could almost be a theme. We begin with Bill Travers and William Sylvester's ship getting trashed by a volcano off the coast of Ireland. They make it to the nearest harbour, only to be told by the harbour master (Christopher Rhodes) that they need a licence (which they don't have) to stay there and so they're going to have to sail away within the next 24 hours. Our heroes take this surprisingly well, by which I mean that they don't cut off Rhodes's head and use it as a football. As it happens Rhodes is running a dodgy scam and doesn't want them around, but don't expect that plot thread to be going anywhere with Gorgo in the wings.
However when they reach London, the real authorities are nearly as silly. The minister in charge of the British army is pompous, arrogant and about to be proved about as wrong as anyone in all history. "No living creature could have survived that." Ahahahaha, no. The military hardware unleashed upon Gorgo is impressive, yes, but useless. The authorities get the world's biggest smackdown in this movie, which then hammers home the point at the end with a laughably florid but still interesting voice-over from that TV commentator. You certainly can't call the message unclear.
For me, it falls between the Japanese and American rampaging monster movies. It lacks the terrifying resonances of Godzilla, but it's closer to being a proper film than those American 1950s dinosaur/insect flicks. It feels based in character. The third act has lots of military action, yes, but I never felt they'd abandoned the very concept of drama and were instead thinking I got a hard-on watching soldiers.
Even towards the end, look at touches like Mr "Repent the end is Nigh". Or alternatively, look at how Travers and Sylvester react to that offer from the university. Will that make them rich? No. Have they been offered thirty grand in 1961 sterling to start a circus? They sure have. Yes, that's what they're thinking too.
That said, there's a lot of stupidity here. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 did Gorgo, you know.
1. We begin with the fact of Ireland being volcanically active and that this is the origin of rubber monsters. (It's not just Gorgo. Travers and Sylvester also find some comedy rubber fish.)
2. The accents don't convince, with Travers unable to decide whether he's American or from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
3. Sylvester is redundant despite being one of the two leads, since his only plot function throughout the film is to follow around Travers and occasionally ask a convenient question.
4. On seeing Gorgo on the rampage, Travers's reaction is to try to capture him! (As opposed to, say, leaving the planet.) This he accomplishes by going down in a diving bell, waiting for Gorgo to attack and then getting the boat above to drop a net down through the water on to them. A net made of rope. Hilariously this works. I can only presume that Gorgo thought he was being offered a blanket and chose to cuddle up in it. (Incidentally, given the fact that Gorgo could have eaten the diving bell, why did Travers even need to be inside it in the first place?)
5. A small boy (Vincent Winter) tries to free Gorgo once they've caught him, describing this as "maybe saving your skins." As it happens he's going to be proved right, but even so it seems like a bit of a leap to equate "releasing a giant dinosaur" with "safety".
6. Look at the scene where Gorgo gets loose. It's as if he'd only been held down by ropes... oh, he was.
7. "A creature which should have been extinct ten million years ago." Not 65 million? Do these people know something about Irish dinosaurs that the rest of us don't?
8. The dubbing can get really obvious.
9. I didn't notice this for myself, but it's funny enough that I think it's worth passing on anyway. Watch out for the battle scenes. Not only is most of the stock footage of the American military rather than the British, but the armed forces keep using ever-less powerful weapons against Gorgo. What, you're immune to the navy's depth charges, 152mm guns and 533mm torpedoes? Well, let's see what you make of the army's 75 and 105mm tank guns! Unbelievable! That didn't work either? Well, let's send in the infantrymen with their 7.62mm rifles! Admittedly this could be argued to be realistic, since of course you'd start with your biggest guns and only fall back on the smaller stuff when you're desperate and there's nothing left, but if that's the case then you'd expect the generals to be less surprised at the results.
However these don't hurt the film. It's a rubber monster movie. You know what you're watching right from the opening titles, in their Cecil B. DeMille stone-tablet font. The more over the top the better, when it comes to entertainment value. Besides, there's some genuine style here. I liked the London chaos in the final act, complete with people throwing themselves from windows. You've got to love Gorgo trashing Tower Bridge and Big Ben, although note that the first injury to the latter comes from the army's shells. The director, Eugene Lourie, had previously helmed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth and it would seem that he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing. Interestingly he didn't want all that military action in the third act because he thought that should have killed even Gorgo. The producers overruled him, but Lourie later acquired a 35mm print of the film for himself and cut out all the military stock footage.
They'd originally been going to set this movie in Japan (!), then Paris, before finally settling on London. The producers felt that no one would care if a monster trashed Australia. However there's a possible Godzilla homage in the fact that Gorgo pops up near the Irish island of Nara, which is actually the name of a city in Japan. My favourite fact though about this film is that Charlton Comics published 27 issues of Gorgo comics from 1961-1965.
It's a rarity. You don't expect to find any British rampaging monster films at all, let alone one that a biased observer could call good. However I like its unusual thematic thrust and the way it uses Gorgo himself, with a twist halfway through and an ending that might be unique in rampaging monster movies. Even the kid, Winter, isn't annoying. I quite liked him, although I didn't quite believe in him. It seems fun and interesting to have him around, instead of an argument in favour of King Herod. Obviously we're still talking about a rubber monster movie that's full of stupidity and whose third act has insane destruction and almost no involvement for the lead characters, but within those parameters it's good.