[May 8, 1961] Imitation is… (Gorgo)

Just a generation ago, King Kong introduced us to the spectacle of an oversized monster wrecking a modern metropolis.  The Japanese have taken this torch and run with it, giving us first Godzilla, and its rather inferior sequel, Godzilla Raids Again.  Not to be outdone, the British have unleashed a giant lizard on their own capital.

As my regular readers know (and I’m pleased to see that this number has grown since I began this endeavor just two-and-a-half years ago), my daughter and I are avid movie-goers.  I daresay we’ve watched every science fiction and fantasy flick that has mounted reel in our town since 1959.  That means we see a lot of dreck, but even the worst films often have something to recommend them, even if it is only their own awfulness.  And, there are the occasional indisputably great shows.

Gorgo is not among them, but then it never claims to be.  It delivers exactly what it promises: the gleeful destruction of London.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, the plot, such as it is:

During a salvage mission off the coast of Ireland, the M.V. Triton is almost capsized by the emergence of an undersea volcano.  Taking refuge in a provincial island port, the Triton’s captain, Joe Ryan, and his mate, Sam Slade, witness an assault on the village by a sea-based dinosaur.  They assist in its repulsion and then, fired by greed, hatch a plan to capture the creature.  They are warned against this endeavor by charming little Sean, a villager boy with a Gaelic lilt, but Ryan and Slade are determined.

Joe: How about we capture this thing and sell it for money?  — Sean: That’s a bad idea.

Surprisingly, their gambit of dangling Slade in a diving bell like fishing bait works; they net the poor creature and hoist it onto their boat.  This was the point at which I dubbed the film “Animal Cruelty: The Movie!”  At no time did events suggest a different title (and, in fact, they only reinforced it.) On the long trip to London, lured by the promise of a cash payout by a local circus, Ryan keeps the beast doused with water.  It runs off the creature, leaving a tell-tale trail in the boat’s wake – an important plot point.

Joe: Why did you try letting it free?  — Sean: This is a bad idea.

Once in the British capital, the newly christened “Gorgo” is tranquilized and placed in a spiked, electric-wire girdled pit for gawkers to admire.  All seems well for Ryan’s lucrative new venture, but Slade (urged by Sean) is having second thoughts.  It soon turns out that there are more than humanitarian reasons to free the creature; it is, in fact, an infant, and its mother must be several times larger – and none too happy!

I shan’t spoil the rest.  Suffice it to say that Mom does make an appearance, and the King Brothers (producers of this film) are not stingy with her screen time.  A full half of the movie is devoted to a pitched running battle between the giant oceanic saurian and Her Majesty’s Navy, Army, and Air Force, followed by some lovingly depicted destruction of London’s most recognizable landmarks as the mother comes to reclaim her child.  I must say, the British do collapsing stone walls much more convincingly than the Japanese.

Is it art for the ages?  Absolutely not.  Though there is some morality tacked on, mostly of the “humanity mustn’t think itself the master of nature” sort of thing, it’s an afterthought.  Characterization is abandoned around the halfway mark.  This is no Godzilla — it is knocking over of toy cities for the fun of it. 

At that, it succeeds quite well.  Gorgo makes liberal and reasonably facile use of stock footage (though the planes all inexplicably bear United States markings!) The cinematography is well composed, the color bright, the screen wide.  The acting is serviceable, and for anyone who wants to see what London looks like in this modern year of 1961, there are lots of great shots, both pre and post-destruction.

Joe: I can’t help but feel that I’m slightly responsible for all of this.  — Sean: No kidding.

Good, clean fun, and a cautionary tale to those who kick puppies.  Momma’s going to get you, and she has a mean bite.  Three stars.

But don’t just take my word for it; let’s hear from my co-reviewer, the Young Traveler:

I thoroughly enjoyed Gorgo for what it was, a movie about destruction and explosions, but I also wished there could have been a little bit more dialogue, especially with Sean.  It felt like he was just there, without much of a purpose, which I feel is really a shame since I really liked his character.

However I can give the movie credit on the ending.  I won’t spoil it, but I did like it.  It seems I’ve got a knack for guessing the endings of movies and shows from the beginning.  Similar to a few Twighlight Zone episodes, I guessed Gorgo’s ending (and about the appearance of Mama Gorgo) in the first ten minutes!

I do want to also point out the special effects. Some of the stock footage splicing looked a little silly, going from a red smoky sky to a clear blue one, but other than that they were very well done. The buildings always fell with a satisfying crash; the gunshots and electrical shocks, though also a little silly, were edited in well; and finally, the monsters looked amazing.  At one point I commented that Gorgo looked like “an adorable kitty fish” but that aside, they looked fairly realistic throughout the movie.  I think the best effect was their eyes.  Even through the hard monster exterior, they always showed emotion via their red eyes.  The eyes would also look around at things and not just stay in one place.  Overall, it was a really convincing suit, even if it did constantly vary in size. 

Truly a step up from Konga.  I also give it three stars.

11 thoughts on “[May 8, 1961] Imitation is… (Gorgo)”

  1. Thank you very much for those good reviews. I do like the term kitty fish.

    Maybe a USAF base close by?

    1. They did mention NATO a few times, but I had an issue with F-9s taking off from the “Royal Oak.”  I even have a model of one, complete with the same NAVY and American star decals as in the movie.

  2. Well, I don’t regret the 60 cents for a matinee ticket and I didn’t have anything else to do anyway. It certainly beat mowing the lawn.
    I will give them credit for trying to make this a bit more than a guy in a rubber suit smashing stuff, but they lost that focus somewhere along the way. That may be due to a conflict in vision between the studio and the director. The studio forced them to shoot some scenes of Gorgo fighting the military over the director’s objections. They also couldn’t decide what part of the world for Gorgo to attack. First it was going to be Japan, then France, and then Australia (but they decided no one would care), before settling on England. (The things you can learn having family in the business.)

    So, it didn’t quite live up to what it wanted to be, but at least it wasn’t another atomic insect terrorizing the Mojave. Not a swing and a miss, maybe an exciting line drive single.

    1. You’re so right.  It was sort of heading somewhere, and then they just chucked it all.  It was also kind of a short movie.  I wonder if they simply ran out of budget.

  3. This one sets out to be a Monster Movie and achieves that modest goal. 

    This whole “big lizard comes out of the ocean and wrecks things” genre is getting internationally popular.  I understand that even the tiny nation of Denmark has made one (although not yet released in the USA.)

  4. The one set in Denmark is Reptilicus, and I do not have words to describe how agonizingly, ludicrously sublime it is. Half tourist guide to Copenhagen, half no-budget monster movie (at one point, it looks as thought the creators might have created a special effect by scribbling on the film with crayons), Reptilicus is a unique and unforgettable experience.

    But then, I kinda liked Gorgo.

    1. Thank you, sir or madam!  One wonders if giant monster movies are tourist advertisements more than anything else.  “Come see our scenic wonders…before something knocks them down!”

      Hmmm.  Did I just find a subtext embodying our subconscious, omnipresent fear of nuclear war?

      1. I think you might have! It is interesting, then, how modern disaster schlock movies have largely shifter away from nuclear-created horrors and into climate and eco-horrors.

        It’s madam, and my hubby confirms that Reptilicus does have a distributor in the US market, if that applies to you, good Sir (?).

        1. It does, indeed.  San Diego is my town, and May 9, 1961 is my year.  Let’s hope (perhaps that’s too strong a year) that Reptilicus comes out in a movie-house nearby, soon.

          Thanks for joining the Journey!  I hope we see you around again.

  5. I think gorgo rules. It’s not supposed to be believable it’s for entertainment and I’m thoroughly entertained when I watch this movie as well as other low budget fictional movies. Take for instance Gone with the Wind it’s not believable do you really think this North won the Civil War hahaha

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