What’s this? Orchestral soundtrack? Hand-illustrated title font? Technicolor? Hey, wait a minute…did this film have a respectable budget? Sacrilege!
The October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow carries on with Gorgo, Britain’s very own kaiju film. From 1961, Gorgo was directed by Eugène Lourié (making his third appearance in the Monstershow) from a screenplay by Robert L. Richards and Daniel James.
The last thing I expected out of Lourié was another monster flick. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth were films all-but identical in plot and tone. Why do this again? Possibly because the two previous efforts were lacking? Third time’s the charm? The check cleared? There are any number of possibilities, and, in the end, the reasons why Lourié chose to return to this subject matter again aren’t important. What is important, for us viewers, is that Lourié got it right this time.
An underwater volcano is erupting off of the coast of Ireland. Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and his first mate, Sam Slade (William Sylvester), are hunting for sunken treasure when the volcano erupts, and they soon discover that the eruption has precipitated a release of strange aquatic creatures into the waters off of Ireland. Not long after, a giant monster begins attacking small fishing villages along the coast. The monster is, of course, Gorgo.
Gorgo is something of a Godzilla lookalike. Like in Toho flicks, it’s a guy in a rubber suit stepping on models. The quality of the costume is more akin to what one would find in a Gamera flick rather than a Godzilla flick, but it’s clear where the effects team drew their inspiration. Unlike the creatures that regularly destroy the cities of Japan, Gorgo is of a more restrained size. That makes this whole silly enterprise a little bit more believable.
After some machinations that, truth be told, are not all that convincing, Ryan and Slade manage to capture Gorgo. Looking to cash in on the beast, Carl Denham-style, they take Gorgo to London, where it will be put on display in Battersea Park. Now we are in the meat of the film. The preliminary stuff has been gotten away with, and a giant monster is in London ready to wreak some havoc in the final act. After a very satisfying twist, which I will not spoil here, London comes under attack.
It’s a full-on kaiju assault. Rockets, bombs, and tank shells have no effect on the lumbering beast. Panicked people run and scream through the streets. The very sky seems aflame as it silhouettes the huge creature. If one doesn’t get distracted by the cheesy Gorgo costume, it’s easy to get sucked into this last act. It requires a strong suspension of disbelief, but the monster attack through the great city has wonderful pace and tension. Everything lacking from Lourié’s previous forays into this genre of film have been addressed and corrected. This is a highly entertaining movie.
It’s tempting to excoriate the effects team, but this was from the era before CGI, and despite good production values, this was a film coming from England, which meant there were only so many resources to be had. That can be seen in the location shooting of this film, as well. Early 1960s Britain, when this film was made, is indistinguishable from 1930s Britain. World War 2 really walloped their economy, and one place where it’s easy to see this effect is in movies. So, an earnest effort like Gorgo can’t really get by without some very noticeable flaws.
That being said, this movie overcomes its limitations by being simply good. I was expecting yet another b-movie, and was pleasantly surprised.