Direction: Eugene Lourie
Screenplay: John Loring and Daniel Hyatt
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Special Effects: Tom Howard, Ray Mercer & Company
Producer: Wilfred Eades
Executive Producers: Frank and Maurice King (the King Brothers)
"Better than any of the (serious) Japanese films” – so claims Bill Warren in Volume 2
of Keep Watching the Skies! Such a sentiment is bound to incite disagreement
among Japanese SFantasy fans. Yet it can’t be denied that, despite its British
origins, Gorgo remains one of the best kaiju eiga ever made.
The film tells the tale of Joe Ryan and Sam Slade, two
down-on-their-luck salvage seamen who discover that a 65-foot prehistoric
monster dwells in the sea near Nara Island; the
monster was apparently disturbed by a recent underwater volcano. In short
order, Joe and Sam manage to capture the creature and take it to London, where
it is put on display at Battersea Park. At the same time, Joe and Sam “adopt” orphaned Sean,
a young Nara Island boy. The lad is fascinated with the monster,
presaging the various kids in later Japanese Gamera movies.
Gorgo’s exhibit earns brisk profits for entrepreneur Dorkin
(who built the monster’s enclosure) and for Joe and Sam. But matters become
grave when paleontologists reveal that the imprisoned Gorgo is only a child –
its parent would be over two hundred feet tall.
Mama Gorgo takes her cue, arising from the sea at
night only to stomp Nara Island flat. It turns out that Baby Gorgo left a “track” in
the ocean as it was being transported on Sam and Joe’s sea vessel, and Mama
Gorgo is now in dogged pursuit of her offspring. En route she destroys a
battleship, and once she arrives in London, she proves herself to be every bit as destructive as
Like its Japanese cousins, Mama Gorgo proves
invincible to all military weaponry. She eventually rescues Baby Gorgo, and
mother and son take to the Thames River, leaving a chastised London behind.
The story is simple, but works because of its
elegance and because of three factors that, at the time, were almost unique:
(1) the absence of any “love interest,” (2) an actual motivation for the
monster’s fury, and (3) the survival of the monsters past the film’s ending.
The jettisoning of the usual “romance angle” allows
the story to move at a steady clip; indeed, at less than 80 minutes, Gorgo
is 100% lean with no filler. Making Baby Gorgo sympathetic, as when we see the
heartless crowds gawking and pointing at the enclosed prehistoric monster, is a
nice touch. This also helps to justify Mama Gorgo’s resolve to rescue her
offspring from the clutches of the ant-like humans. She visits her wrath on London not out
of crankiness, but out of righteous indignation. Having the monsters survive
at the end and even escape is a needed touch and the natural ending for such a
On a parallel plot structure, during Gorgo’s London
rampage, Joe rescues Sean, and at film’s end, Joe and Sam are reunited with
Sean just as Mama Gorgo is with her child. Bill Travers and William Sylvester
are effective as the two male leads, and Vincent Winter fares adequately as
Sean, the boy who sympathizes with the monster.
Of course, for many giant monster fans, even more
important than story and character are (1) the monsters themselves and (2) the
amount of urban destruction they cause. Gorgo excels in both
categories. Though clearly inspired by Godzilla, Gorgo – both mother and son –
cut a sharp profile. The claws tipped with formidable talons, the ridged
clusters of jagged white teeth, the hooded red eyes, the therapod body build,
the bumpily armored spine, and the flipper-like ears -- Gorgo’s most recognizable
feature -- combine to create a distinct and appealingly designed giant
monster. Both Gorgos are also well-photographed, heightening their realism and
disguising their shortcomings.
As for Gorgo’s scenes of mass destruction, they
equal and perhaps surpass anything Toho did during the fifties and sixties.
Exquisitely crafted miniatures of Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Piccadilly
Circus, and assorted hapless high-rises crumble
beneath Mama Gorgo’s London attack. Not only are the miniatures on a par with
those of Eiji Tsuburaya, but they are also so ingeniously lit that they often
appear completely convincing. Indeed, Freddie (F.A.)Young’s cinematography is
Due to expert use of horizontal and vertical split
screens and slow-motion photography, you really believe Gorgo is smashing
through a row of apartment buildings as shattered masonry falls on frenzied
crowds fleeing the monster’s rampage. The London miniatures slowly crumble apart in plausible detail.
And not since Godzilla, King of the Monsters had Western eyes
seen a monster movie featuring such a wealth -- indeed, a virtual symphony -- of
city-smashing set pieces. We often see hapless humans fleeing in the
foreground, and the mating of the London models with fleeing extras is generally flawless.
Indeed, the crowd scenes are downright harrowing.
These crowds seem terrified, the whole lot of them, and there’s a real sense of
panic and frenzy as they rush head-long out of Gorgo’s path. In a quick scene
of dark irony, a man wearing a sandwich board declaring “The end is night”
finds himself trampled by the fleeing crowds he is striving to warn.
Of course, as is so often the case with British
SF/monster films of the fifties and sixties, Gorgo is grimmer than most
of its American and Japanese counterparts. For example, a group of young men
watching the Thames River set on fire stand too close to the water’s edge and
find themselves ablaze. We also clearly see soldiers being killed. After
Gorgo demolishes Tower Bridge, on which dozens of military men had been stationed,
we see two tiny soldiers fall from a piece of bridge debris Gorgo holds in her
Mama Gorgo’s confrontations with the military provide plenty of fodder for the
special effects mill. Her sinking of a battleship, though brief, is highly
effective. Later, in London, Gorgo swats Big Ben, and the famous landmark topples
earthward, burying a squad of soldiers in an avalanche of debris. This scene
is atmospherically lit, with red-tinged smoke slowly drifting in the
background. The sound effects are also imaginative – we hear Big Ben gonging
drunkenly as Gorgo bashes into it.
In addition to the film’s opulent spectacle, Angelo
Francesco Lavagnino’s music score offers an evocative main theme, a gentle
melody played to full effect during the movie’s poignant finale.
Of course, Gorgo is not without its flaws. One of the biggest is the
decision to let a reporter narrate Mama Gorgo’s obliteration of London. The
reporter chatters incessantly into his microphone, gratuitously describing the
visuals we are already looking at as though the film is being broadcast on
radio. His narration is often heavy-handed as well, and somewhat damages the
final sequence in which Mama Gorgo frees Baby Gorgo and the two monsters lumber
into the Thames.
In addition, Tom Howard’s special effects -- which
I’ve lavished with praise -- may be mostly first-rate, but some of his matte
work is occasionally flawed. Gorgo’s jaws also flap a bit too loosely at
Trivia: As most monster fans know, Gorgo
director Eugene Lourie also directed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953),
The Colossus of New York (1958), and The Giant Behemoth (1959). Gorgo’s
executive producers, Frank and Maurice King, known as the King Brothers, were
responsible for bringing Rodan to the West in 1957. And William
Sylvester, who plays Sam, went on to appear in one of the true science fiction
masterpieces of the twentieth century – 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
More trivia: Given that Gorgo features such
elaborate and detailed devastation, it’s ironic that director Lourie originally
conceived the film without any scenes of mass destruction whatsoever! Instead,
Lourie wanted Gorgo to be poetic, a different kind of monster movie.
The more commercially minded King Brothers won out, and the Gorgo we
have today was the result.
Easily one of the best giant monster movies of the
fifties and sixties, Gorgo receives praise even in most current video
and DVD books. Leonard Maltin’s tome gives it three stars, while the popular Video
Movie Guide awards it three and a half. Available in widescreen on both
video and DVD, the latter also includes the film’s original theatrical trailer
as well as a behind-the-scenes short written by genre scholar Tom Weaver.
For any fan of kaiju eiga, Gorgo is must-see
viewing – and keeping.