Tuesday, June 30, 2009

King Kong Escapes (1967)

A small but evil Asian nation has hired the mad scientist Doctor Who (Eisei Amamoto) - finally driven mad through the syphilis all that making out with centuries younger women has brought upon him, I suppose - to recover a gigantic deposit of Element X. The problem is that the radioactive isotope is buried under quite a bit of ice and stone. Obviously, what the Doctor needs is to build himself a Mechanikong, a giant robot copy of everyone's favorite giant ape King Kong who is known for his proficiency in tunnel digging. At first, Mechanikong's digging is mighty impressive to Who and Madame Piranha (Mie Hama) the cute international spy the country of evil has dispatched to supervise the rather unstable scientist's work, but the robot isn't able to withstand the radiation Element X gives off.

Madame Piranha is mightily annoyed, but gives Who another chance for his plan B to come into action.

Coincidentally, a UN research submarine (with a neat flying hovercraft dinghy) commanded by Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), an old acquaintance of Who's as well as a giant ape expert who has never seen a giant ape, has landed on the island where the original King Kong lives. The pervy ape takes a shine to the ship's doctor Susan (Linda Miller, her only other acting credit bizarrely being the Evangelical anti-Communist propaganda nightmare If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do), one supposes on account of her being the traditional blonde, and fights a dinosaur and a sea serpent for her, only to find her slink away to the UN with his heart in tow.

Thanks to the following press conference Doctor Who now knows where and when to find the original digger he needs for his nefarious digging plans.

The big ape is easy to catch, but the Doctor's plan to control Kong through electronically induced hypnosis backfires when Element X's radiation (and I'm sure this comes as a total surprise to everyone) wreaks havoc on the hypno gadget. Kong is easily caught again, but how to control him? Who's solution is as logical as it is obvious: kidnap the blonde woman!

What follows is a nice digression into light 60s spy movie shenanigans (including ineffective seduction attempts and torture like Dick Cheney loves it) with a climactic ape versus robot battle on the Tokyo Tower.

King Kong Escapes is one of the few films Toho got out of their licensing of King Kong from RKO for $200,000. Why they didn't use the giant lug much more extensively is quite beyond me. It is a mystery, as is the reason why this film is mostly based on an American children's cartoon show I have never seen - but this way I can at least blame the American co-producers for most of the flaws of the film.

And flaws there are aplenty. The film's problems start with some of the more dreadful monster suits in Eiji Tsuburaya's career. Our monstrous hero Kong just looks like a ratty carpet with an expressive but goofy face, while Mechanikong has a certain whiff of aluminum foil about it.

The film's pacing is also troubling with too many stretches following Rhodes, Miller and an underused Akira Takarada, which is to say long stretches full of insanely boring people, interlaced with at times underwhelming monster fights but also sudden spikes of goofy coolness.

Having said that, I also have to say that I at times enjoyed myself immensely while watching the film. Basically, every scene with Kong or the mangaesque villains of the piece is fine, even fun. It's all very childish (yes, even when it comes to the torture and seduction), but also quite loveable when you approach it with a little childlike openness of mind and just smile at the goofiness.

It's all well and good to lament that everyone involved (well, except for Miller and Reason) was able to do so much more, but it's also the easy way out for the grown-up confronted with the sort of film he would have just loved as a child.



Todd said...

Ah, one of my favorites, despite its flaws.

Having recently suffered through If Footmen Tire You..., I have to say I'm skeptical about the claim that this same Linda Miller appeared in it. An IMDB mistake (gasp!) due to her common name, maybe? In any case, I was prompted to do a little research (curse you), and while I couldn't find anything to confirm or disprove the charge (though some other filmographies list a couple other movies in addition to KKE, but not Footmen), I did find out that she was Jackie Gleason's daughter!

houseinrlyeh said...

Yay! Or something. Jackie Gleason's one of those US phenomena that leave my poor European brains puzzled.

I'd go with an IMDB mistake.