That sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? If Godzilla’s feelings are hurt, please tell the big guy I’m not really giving up on him. However, the first Godzilla movie I actually watched kind of left me cold, and you know how I love to put alliteration in my titles.
Spoiler Alert! I am going to give away almost the entire plot of Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954). That is, the stuff that is in addition to Godzilla stomping Tokyo, which you probably already knew about. Come to think about it, most people only watch these flicks for the Tokyo stomping or other mayhem, so I guess I’m in the clear.
When I saw a Godzilla movie was on TCM, I thought surely my search for cheese had found a prize. Not just a big monster — THE big monster! The king of monsters, according to the title.
Actually, I think that’s a little false advertising right there. It turns out Godzilla is the only monster in the picture. I was kind of hoping for a battle of the beasts, so Godzilla would be, you know, king of somebody. But, no, it was pretty much a straight Godzilla-stomping-Tokyo-what-are-we-going-to-do that one expects when one see Godzilla in the title.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Any number of delightfully entertaining cheesy movies have been made around just that plot-line: people meet monster, monster terrorizes people, people destroy monster. It’s not the tale, it’s the telling.
The telling of this tale is dull. It starts out promisingly enough: we open on a devastated Tokyo and a ponderous voice-over lamenting the destruction. We find it’s Raymond Burr, in the handsome leading man role, which was kind of refreshing. I’m used to seeing him as the heavy or as Ironside.
Soon we are flashing back to our story thus far (viewers such as my husband Steven will be happy to hear that the whole movie isn’t a flashback) (he hates that framing device). Burr is a newspaperman. I think. Oh, all right, I didn’t pay any attention to the story except for one plot point, which I am about to spoil for you.
It seems there is this scientist who has a beautiful daughter who does NOT turn out to be Burr’s love interest (he doesn’t get a love interest. I bet Burr was pretty miffed about that: finally gets to be the leading man, doesn’t get a love interest! What’s that all about?). She is engaged to some big shot scientist — some arranged marriage bullshit — but has fallen in love with another guy. Burr intones (I mentioned it was a ponderous voice-over, didn’t I?) that a love triangle is nothing unusual, but this one will have Implications in our story.
I was all agog to find out what the implications would be. Would the spurned fiance sic Godzilla on the usurper? Would he be bitter enough to CREATE Godzilla?
Once again, I should have had a job writing 1950s monster movies. My wild ideas of what might happen next are much more exciting that what the actual writers came up with. Or perhaps I flatter myself.
I did not see that there were any implications at all. The girl goes to break if off with the fiance — whom she has liked and respected all her life — but before she can, he shows her… something horrible. So she’s too upset to break up. Later on, when a gazillion volts of electricity (I didn’t make a note of the number) fail to kill Godzilla, she breaks her vow of secrecy to reveal that the horrible thing was a weapon the guy discovered quite by accident that will destroy EVERYTHING in the water within a certain radius.
So the girl and the third point of the triangle go to convince the scientist to unleash his powerful weapon. I forgot to mention that the reason he is keeping it a secret is so it will not fall into the wrong hands, because he didn’t invent anything to counteract or fight against it. The fact that the girl cheated on him and wants to break up with him does not even enter the conversation. My personal suspicion is that he was never all that into her to begin with.
I may be selling the movie short. It was obviously dubbed from the original Japanese, so perhaps things were lost in the translation.
What remains, though, is deadly serious, and I think that was why the movie ultimately lost me. I don’t mind a movie that takes itself seriously; that often adds to the cheese factor. In this case, however, the seriousness leads to a dirge-like pace and one thing a monster movie needs is a good, brisk pace. In fact, the pace of this movie is so slow, I watched it in two parts. You know a movie is slow when you don’t mind pausing it to go to bed early. That’s what gave me the idea for today’s title, by the way.
To end on a positive note, the effects are very good, especially for the time. They used miniatures and pretty much kept people and Godzilla in different frames, so nothing looked obviously superimposed. It was good miniatures too: I never felt like I was watching a toy stomp dollhouses. Of course, that would have made the movie more cheesy, and you know how I love my cheese.
I discovered after I wrote this post that Godzilla, King of the Monsters was the original Godzilla movie. As such, perhaps some of you feel I should have treated it with more respect. Oh well, too late now.