Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gorgo (1961)

Salvage divers and professional assholes Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) stumble upon a very large and dangerous giant reptile probably woken up by a volcanic eruption off the coast of an Irish island.

Initially, the boys were going to grab themselves a treasure buried under the sea there but they decide that catching and stealing a member of a giant unknown species of reptiles is much better business; particularly since it always seem to be others who pay with their lives for the mistakes these two make. Despite a small Irish boy knowing better (Vincent Winter), Joe and Sam manage to catch the animal and rent it out to a circus in London. As it usually goes, nobody involved is actually prepared to secure the dangerous monster they are trying to sell to the public – and the Better Business Bureau is asleep at the wheel – so the animal, now dubbed Gorgo, manages various near breakouts.

Gorgo will be the least of London’s problems, though, for it turns out that it is only the junior version of Gorgo, and its quite a bit more gigantic Ma or Pa does go out of its way to get its baby back, however many famous landmarks may have to be crushed on her or his way.

Gorgo is the final film directed by Eugene Lourie, before he returned to exclusively working as art director and production designer. His handful of films showed Lourie to be a director who really knew his way around giant monsters, resulting in films with generally stronger scripts than most other American or British films of the genre had to offer, as well as with more of a visible personal handwriting.

Despite using the old “giant monster as a circus attraction” bit, Gorgo fits nicely into the cycle of Lourie monster movies. Where, after all, can you find a giant monster movie whose protagonists are quite as unpleasant as Joe and Sam are, with a supporting cast of arrogant military, ineffectual scientists, a greedy Irish harbour master and so on and so forth, with only the usual annoying stupid little boy as the voice of moral and reason (the latter when he’s not running towards giant monsters)? Why, it is as if the film were saying something about the ineffectual and shabby nature of humanity when confronted with things that are metaphorically and literally much larger than themselves; Gorgo is somewhat Lovecraftian in this regard. Of course, a slightly less cosmically horrific worldview tries to assert itself at the end, for there is some child-rescue-based redemption coming for Joe and Sam. One can’t help but ask oneself, though, if the inevitable mob of angry people they’re bound to meet after the end of the movie will care much about our protagonists’ personal redemption.

Other attractions here are Lourie’s decision (not for the first time in his small but valuable giant monster movie making career) to emphasize the human loss like hardly anyone else making these films after the first Godzilla and before Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy did: people are crushed by crumbling buildings, trampled by Gorgo senior, jump desperately out of windows. Lourie was clearly interested in making Gorgo as threatening as possible, with the film’s final scenes of destruction, mostly bathed in red flames, effectively driving the monster home as a natural power humanity has no control of whatsoever, despite a monster suit quite below the Japanese standards as well as the need to use a lot of library and repeat footage during the final half hour of destruction.

Lourie again shows himself as a visual inventive and creative director here, unlike a lot of his low budget colleagues at the time putting visible thought into the staging of scenes, as well as into providing the things the audience was coming to see (giant monsters crushing things) with a degree of thematic resonance. I also applaud the absence of the usual horrible romance, even though I’m not at all happy with the fact that an absence of “romance” in Gorgo’s case also means the complete absence of women from the film outside of the (effective) mass panic scenes. Oh for times when films are allowed to do as much with women as they do with men!

As a whole, though, I find Gorgo nearly as satisfying, and just as interesting as Lourie’s few other directorial efforts, which makes it as fine as Western giant monster movies get.

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