Saturday, September 12, 2009

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

Back in the day I would come home from school and turn on channel 56 (WLVI Boston) to watch Creature Double Feature. This is where I got my love of old B horror movies. There is where I learned to love Godzilla. This is the film that started it all, in America, at least.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is an edited version of the 1954 film Gojira. Ok, go ahead. I know you want to. Take a moment and point at the crown molding and say "Gojira" in an accelerated, fake Japanese accent. I'll wait.

Are we done? Good. So, we're all familiar with the giant, long-armed, fire breathing tyrannosaurus with a penchant for noshing on Tokyo. For it's American release, they edited out the parts blaming us for the monster (that's right, it's all our fault) and inserts an American as a witness/narrator.

Raymond Burr is Steve Martin, a decidedly unwild and non-crazy newspaper reporter who just happens to be in Tokyo. Despite not speaking the language and having no official status, he leads Japanese officials around to witness first hand each plot point. There he watches with detached concern as toy trains and cardboard buildings are chomped, squashed, and set ablaze.

The Japanese characters are a white-hair scientist, his hot daughter, his enigmatic, one-eyed assistant who is engaged to the hot daughter by arrangement, and another guy who the hot daughter actually loves. Their story may have been interesting, but it was radically watered down for the American release. US audiences apparently would rather see Burr relight his pipe and look on with vague disinterest than watch a love-triangle sub plot.

It wasn't hard to determine which scenes came from Japan and which were added later. The Japanese film was rather thin with poor contrast and noticeably more scratches. The American parts had much sharper detail. Using the visual clues, you can see where when Burr/Martin talks to a major character it's with their back to the camera. When they do face the camera, Burr is not in view.

IMDB tells me that Burr's scenes were shot in a 24 marathon session because he could only work on the film for one day, per some contract. No, that doesn't make sense to me either. Also, the beast was supposed to be 400 feet tall. I suppose that means the high tension wires in Tokyo are about 400 feet high. I understand Gojira was much shorter in the Japanese version.

I won't be watching this film again, but I would consider the Japanese version. It was clear that a lot more was going on with the Japanese characters than we were led to know. I had the boys watch, but they weren't very interested when the monster wasn't on screen. And it wasn't on screen much. The movie makers were masters of not showing the action. Many times we saw lengthy reaction shots before we saw what they were looking at. Man, that was annoying. AMRU 3.

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