Hey kids! You ever wonder what it would be like if England had it’s own version of Godzilla?
Oh… You hadn’t…? Seriously…?
Well, one exists anyway so you’re just gonna have to sit there read this review and sodding well like it. Yes, that’s right, back in 1961 an international co-production from the United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland (?) took a good long look at the monstrous goings on in Japanese cinema and thought to themselves: WE could do that!
Choosing to match the giant lizard species of Godzilla with… er, a different coloured giant lizard, Gorgo was an attempt to bring the man-in-a-suit monster movie to a different locale that banked on audiences wanting to see a rubbery rampager take out a different set of national monuments than the norm. An argument could be made that a small flat island of the coast of Ireland may not be a prime Kaiju stomping area but surely the sight of a giant behemoth ploughing a path through London during the swinging sixties is worth the price if admission alone, right guys? Right?
Joe and Sam are two typical, cleft-chinned, hero types who are salvaging wrecks off the coast of Ireland when a volcano pops up from the surface of the ocean and promptly blows it’s stack. As their ship limps into the nearest port for repairs they can’t help but notice the strange aquatic lifeforms floating lifelessly around them after the conflagration but find an unfriendly welcome at the remote Nara Island when they make land. Things go from bad to worse when a large lizard creature suddenly comes ashore and starts raising a kaiju-sized ruckus; but where others would see tragedy, Joe and Sam hear giant-sized opportunity knocking so our meat headed heroes – obviously deciding there wasn’t any obvious lessons to be learnt from King Kong – promptly catch and sell the creature to a circus who name it Gorgo.
As the drugged beast is paraded throughout London like a scaley Mardi-gras float it sees that everyone involved can’t see the obvious shit-storm that’s about to descend upon a city that’s weathered everything from WWII to a fucking plague and sure enough the creature’s mother arrives looking for it’s infant like a 200 foot Karen rampaging to find a manager to talk to.
As the beast gives the place a new coat of smashed, the military goes all out in firing every bit of ordnance it has but are unable to slow the monster’s roll in the slightest – can anything be thought of to save countless lives as this big bad mama flattens London on her way to pick her child up from the world’s largest daycare centre?
Watching Gorgo really makes you appreciate the artistry that Ishiro Honda put into his monster work over at Toho Studios during the 50’s and 60’s (not to mention the majesty of 1933’s King Kong). The well rounded, iconic creatures such as Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan were all gifted with both historical and mythical gravitas that wove them into part of the very culture of Japan – in comparison, Gorgo just smashes shit and shows parental concern – but you get the sense that the filmmakers where hoping for this creature feature to do for the blitz what Godzilla did for the bombing of Hiroshima. To be fair, the final act, which has the titular titan punch out Big Ben (with a satisfying clanging sound), curb stomp Tower Bridge into oblivion and obliterate a banner in Piccadilly Circus advertising her baby’s capture are a welcome change from the usual landmarks that get brutally renovated in this kind of movie and the grim sight of countless Londoners getting buried under tons of rubble does go some way towards evoking that dark period.
However, the reckless destruction is staged far too flat and is way too repetitive to truly be effective.
It also doesn’t help that the filmmakers insist on using a lot of stock footage that regularly contradicts what time of day it’s supposed to be as battleships launch a barrage of firepower against a bright blue sky only for them to impact in the smoggy light of dusk. Asking me to believe a man in a rubbery dinosaur costume knocking over miniature buildings is par for the course for films like these and even the 70’s Godzilla movies are guilty of refusing footage to save a couple of yen, but it happens in Gorgo so frequently that you wonder why they bothered to hire a cinematographer at all (who, by the way, is Freddie Young who went on to lens the David Lean epics Lawrence Of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago only a year later).
Something else that’s par for the course in Kaiju movies is the human characters are usually quite dull compared to the monsters and here Gorgo excels in spades, giving us two utterly insipid mouth breathers in Joe and Sam who don’t seem to have a decent bone in their body between them. Capturing a giant monster and willingly selling them for cash is bad enough, but they insist on hanging around to witness it forced into captivity with flamethrowers and electrocuted on it’s containing fence. Yet when one of these walking voids of morality actually grows something approaching a conscience he deals with it by getting hideously drunk and tries to let Lil’ Gorgo out of his cage IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF THE BUSIEST CITIES IN THE WORLD. Stunningly shitty lead characters aside, a truly baffling side plot involve a small Irish orphan stowing away with them only to be unofficially adopted by them without a second thought is distractingly bizarre – are the filmmakers subconsciously trying to squeeze an LBGTQ message in here about two dads adopting a child? It’s 1960 and gay tolerance was notoriously thin on the ground so probably not, but it would maybe explain why there isn’t so much as a single speaking role for a woman in the entire run time; unless you count Mama Gorgo, of course but I don’t think blood curdling roars count.
A well meaning attempt to bring an established genre to a new setting, Gorgo ends up being a somewhat dull and misjudged oddity and yet while it’s plot has turned up in other places as the years have gone by – Jaws 3, for example, is virtually identical if you were to swap London for Seaworld – this is forgettable stuff in the face of far superior monster mashes.
Gor-go fuck yourself.