King KongAkira TakaradaPaul FreesMie Hama
King Kong Escapes
Medium: film
Year: 1967
Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Takeshi Kimura
Country: USA, Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: King Kong, SF, giant rampaging monster
Actor: Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller, Akira Takarada, Hideyo Amamoto, Paul Frees [Doctor Who's voice in the American dub]
Format: 104 minutes
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 6 June 2012
It's the third Doctor Who movie of the 1960s.
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)
King Kong Escapes (1967)
Okay, I'm being disingenuous. This has nothing to do with the BBC's SF TV series, but instead stars an unrelated character who's also called Doctor Who. More specifically it's a Japanese/American live-action tokusatsu film inspired by a 1966 animated children's TV series called The King Kong Show, which had happened to have a villain called Doctor Who. Nothing outrageous in that. The world's full of coincidences. There he was a bald goofy-looking mad scientist who'd built a Mechani-Kong, among other things, while here he's played by Hideyo Amamoto and is helping Mie Hama try to conquer the world.
To digress for a moment, incidentally, The King Kong Show was apparently the first animated show made in Japan for broadcast in the USA. It doesn't look like anime. It's also two shows in one, using the Pink Panther format of splitting each episode into three mini-episodes, the first and last starring the title character and the middle one being an unrelated series (Tom of T.H.U.M.B.). Doctor Who fans might be interested in King Kong episodes called "Dr. Who", "The Vise of Dr. Who" and "The Legend of Loch Ness", but it's Tom of T.H.U.M.B. that has eyebrow-raising episode titles like "All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps", "Tom Scores Again", "Blow, Jack, Blow!", "Just One of those Nights" and "What Goes Up..." Mind you, King Kong might have been getting in on the act with "Dr. Bone".
The show sounds quite good, actually, and had some big-name animators on the Japanese staff. However I was talking about King Kong Escapes.
In summary, the first fifteen minutes are great if you're a Doctor Who fan. I wanted to like it, but unfortunately it gets a bit boring and there aren't enough apes going apeshit. Kong and Mechani-Kong improve the film no end when they're on the rampage, but unfortunately there's not enough of them and way too much of Rhodes Reason, Linda Miller and Akira Takarada.
The Doctor Who stuff is jaw-dropping, though. I can't believe there isn't a dub of this with William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford, or at the very least a Big Finish release with sound-a-likes. I'll be emailing them later to suggest this. I don't even think it's had a proper DVD release with the Japanese audio track, so all they need to do is get the rights, record an additional dub in which they've cast as many Hartnell-era voices as possible and then sell it to the fanboys. That would be awesome. Not only would it supercharge the "you have got to be kidding me" buzz of Hideyo Amamoto's Doctor Who at the beginning, but by maintaining the Hartnellisms it would help to sustain the later, slower stretches of the film, when it turns into a plodding attempt at a Connery-era James Bond film. RKO might be a pain over Kong, though.
The thing is, it's not just the name "Doctor Who". If it were that, I wouldn't be so fussed. The show had a British connection as well as a Japanese and American one (theme music recorded in London), while it doesn't seem surprising for an ongoing TV show to at least be vaguely aware of a massive mega-hit TV show in the UK that's using its character names. Here's the list of similarities:
(a) a brilliant mad scientist called Doctor Who, who looked like this in the cartoon:
King Kong Doctor Who anime
but like this in the movie, with flowing silver hair:
King Kong Doctor Who Amamoto
He wore Hartnell's cape (Planet of Giants, The War Machines) and something a lot like Hartnell's Astrakhan hat (An Unearthly Child, The Tenth Planet):
Hartnell capeHartnell Astrakhan hat
(b) he has a companion who's a hot babe
(c) the female one of the three protagonists is called Susan, although in fairness that's a reference to the cartoon too
(d) the film's heroes are working for the United Nations, which could perhaps be updated in a Big Finish dub to specify Intelligence Taskforce.
(e) the plot's about unconvincing monsters, dinosaurs, giant robots and a scheme to conquer the world.
In the beginning, this sent me berserk. I loved it. It's easy to fool your brain into thinking you're watching Doctor Who from a Japanese parallel universe. Hideyo Amamoto is a lot of fun as an evil Hartnell and his sidekick is the outrageously hot Mie Hama. Not only had she also been in Toho's last King Kong film (King Kong vs. Godzilla), but this was also the year she acted opposite Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. "I am Doctor Who!" cracked me up.
As well as being Hartnellish, incidentally, it's also like Pertwee before his time. Bond-style trappings, dinosaurs, exotic vehicles, the U.N., the fact that it's in colour and even something about Amamoto himself gave me that impression.
However after a while, it becomes a Bond film. It's when we reach the U.N. Those 1960s sets look just like Goldfinger or Thunderball, while Amamoto becomes a Bond villain with black-clad henchmen and a base at the North Pole. He gets a good bit where he shoots someone for talking to him, but that gives rise to a silly story point where Amamoto's victim clings to life exactly long enough for our heroes to sail to Mondo Island, find this mortally wounded guy and hear his dying words.
Now in fairness, I like James Bond movies. They're good. However this isn't, because the plot goes too slowly and doesn't put obstacles in its characters' way. Doctor Who goes about his business. The heroes go about theirs. The film continues like this for a while. Eventually Doctor Who captures the heroes, but even now nothing happens. The audience looks at the clock and estimates that it's been an hour or so since they thought this film was good. King Kong and Mechani-Kong get bizarrely little action, although on the upside they do climb the Tokyo Tower. (Are gorillas arboreal? They're too big, surely? It's an iconic image, but I'm imagining Kong as a kitten who's always having to be rescued from trees by the fire brigade.) The film resolves itself with an unmotivated change of heart from Mie Hama, then eventually ends with King Kong swimming back from Japan towards Mondo Island. Fingers crossed for you, big guy. Hope you've got your satellite navigation installed there.
Then we have the heroes, of whom two are American and only one Japanese. Hurm. Well, it's a co-production. They all speak Japanese in the dub I watched, with Rhodes Reason and Linda Miller blatantly being overdubbed by voice actors even over and above the obvious reason. Real people don't sound like that. (Mind you, Miller was dubbed by someone else even in the English soundtrack.) Nevertheless my issue with them isn't their performances, which are okay. Reason and Miller are both acceptable actors, Miller isn't far behind Hama in the hotness stakes and Akira Takarada is a Godzilla movie veteran. Reason's next role after this would be a Star Trek episode, incidentally. No, what I don't like about these heroes is that they're one-dimensional and don't get much to do. The film wants us to think Reason is the new Sean Connery, but no evidence for this is provided and so it just becomes silly.
Amamoto and Reason are old friends/enemies, for what it's worth. This film thus feels like a sequel to a movie that doesn't exist.
You want to know about Doctor Who though, don't you? Amamoto is a highly recognisable actor who's had a long career for some highly respected directors, doing all kinds of projects from Yojimbo to Godzilla movies. He's also played Satan. Meanwhile his American dub actor, David de Keyser, was a prolific voice actor who was also voicing The Thing in a Fantastic 4 TV series at the time.
I was disappointed. I loved this film when it was reminding me of Doctor Who, so that hypothetical Hartnell-a-like dub I was wibbling about earlier would probably help a lot. I quite liked it when it was being a monster movie, so for instance Kong trashing Doctor Who's ship was fun. However I wasn't a fan of the sub-Bond middle section, which is unfortunately most of the movie. It also has dumb plot points, only some of which I've mentioned above. The suddenness of Kong's infatuation with Miller is unconvincing, for instance. He's doing it in an attempted echo of Fay Wray in the 1933 film, rather because of anything we can believe in the movie we're watching. However for obvious reasons he's much more sympathetic than the Rampaging Kong we got last time, in King Kong vs. Godzilla, and if nothing else he's a killer shot with a rock.
Recommended if you like funky and vaguely rubbish monster flicks that contain hot babes, dinosaurs, robots, sea serpents and King Kong. Oh, and Doctor Who.