Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

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Godzilla, King of the Monsters![1]
GodzillaKing.jpg
Directed by Terry O. Morse
Ishirō Honda
Produced by Terry Turner
Joseph E. Levine
Written by Ishirō Honda
Takeo Murata
Shigeru Kayama
Al C. Ward
Starring Raymond Burr
Takashi Shimura
Akira Takarada
Momoko Kochi
Akihiko Hirata
Haruo Nakajima
Katsumi Tezuka
Narrated by Raymond Burr
Music by Akira Ifukube
Cinematography Guy Roe
Edited by Terry Morse
Production
  company
Jewell Enterprises Inc.
Toho Studios
Distributed by Embassy Pictures Corporation
(USA: Eastern)
TransWorld Releasing Corp. (USA: Western)
Release date(s)
  • April 27, 1956 (1956-04-27)
(US)
May 29, 1957 (Japan)
Running time 80 min.
Country Japan
United States
Language Japanese
English
Budget $650,000

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a 1956 Japanese American science fiction kaiju film. It is a semi-American production incorporating most of the footage of the Japanese film Godzilla, which had previously been shown subtitled in the United States in Japanese community theaters only, and was not known in Europe. For the American production, some of the original Japanese footage was dubbed into the English language and new footage was shot with actor Raymond Burr.

Although a handful of independent, low-budget films had previously been filmed in Japan after World War II by American companies and featuring Japanese players in the cast, Godzilla represented the first to present Japanese in principal, heroic roles or as sympathetic victims of the destruction of Tokyo (albeit by a fictional giant monster) to the American public in a commercial release given A-picture status and bookings.

It was this version of the original Godzilla film that introduced most audiences outside of Japan to Godzilla and labeled the character as "King of the Monsters".

Plot[edit]

The story begins at a hastily established emergency hospital in an evidently devastated Tokyo, to which is brought American reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr), one of the wounded. In flashback, Martin tells of his stopover in Tokyo on a routine assignment to Cairo for United World News, where he finds himself confronted by the emergence of an inexplicable menace to navigation in the Sea of Japan. Something is causing ships to be destroyed without warning and sink with no time for escape. When a dying seaman finally washes up on an inhabited island, Martin flies there for the story with Tomo Iwanaga, a representative of the Japanese security forces (Frank Iwanaga, also part of the American cast), and learns of the island inhabitants' belief in a monster god which lives beneath the sea, which they believe is causing the disasters (a claim which appears to have been borne out by the crewman before he died). Martin phones his editor at United World News, George Lawrence (Mikel Conrad, part of the American cast) and is given permission to stay and cover the story.

Martin's involvement in the unfolding events broadens when paleontologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura, of the original film), is consulted and, returning to the island with his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kōchi) and her young naval-officer boyfriend Ogata (Akira Takarada) to investigate, sees the monster when it attacks the island village. Returning to Tokyo with clear evidence of the monster's existence and power, Yamane becomes a leading consultant to Japan in mounting a defense, as it becomes apparent the monster is moving towards Tokyo.

The Japanese navy is unable to faze the monster with depth charges. In the dark of night, the monster attacks Tokyo, and it proves invulnerable to conventional military weaponry no matter how concentrated. Martin is one of millions injured in the attack, and here the flashback ends: Godzilla (a giant mutant dinosaur) has returned to the sea, but it is certain this is only for the moment.

Emiko reveals she may know a solution to the monster's apparent indestructibility. She loves the young naval officer, but had until recently been engaged to a young scientist Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who was also Steve Martin's friend in college. She has lost interest in him because he has become almost a recluse, to her and others. After her breaking up with him, he revealed to her the reason for his reclusiveness — over the course of his research, he had accidentally developed a formula capable of destroying all oxygen in water, in the process of which any animal coming in contact with the "Oxygen Destroyer" is stripped clean of all flesh and organs, reduced to a skeleton. His anguish over what to do with this discovery has become a constant preoccupation. She had agreed to keep her knowledge of this a secret. But with Godzilla loose, she realizes this may be the only thing capable of stopping the monster, and informs her boyfriend and father.

The scientist is only reluctantly persuaded to use his remaining sample of the oxygen destroyer to try to kill Godzilla, provided he accompanies the young officer, in a diving suit, to the sea bottom to place and release the formula more or less at the monster's feet. After concluding this agreement, the scientist destroys all his notes and papers on the formula. Emiko, upon seeing this, breaks down in tears, as she realizes that Serizawa is sacrificing his life's work to stop Godzilla. Once on the bottom of the sea, he sends the young officer back up to the boat, releases the destroyer, and cuts his own oxygen hose and lifeline, to ensure no one else will ever know the chemical composition of his horrid formula. The young officer joins Dr. Yamane, Emiko and Steve Martin on the ship to watch as the oxygen destroyer does its work, reducing Godzilla to a skeleton. Afterwards, Martin's last words were, "The menace was gone, so was a great man. But the whole world could wake up and live again."

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Poster for the Japanese release of Monster King Godzilla (1957)

It was Edmund Goldman who found the original Godzilla in a California Chinatown theater. He bought the international rights for $25,000, then sold them to Jewell Enterprises Inc., a small production company owned by Richard Kay and Harold Ross which, with backing from Terry Turner and Joseph E. Levine, successfully adapted it for American audiences. Levine paid $100,000 for his share.[1]

The adaptation process consisted of filming numerous new scenes featuring Raymond Burr and others, and inserting them into an edited version of the Japanese original to create a new film. The new scenes, written by Al C. Ward and directed by Terry O. Morse, were photographed by Guy Roe with careful attention to matching the visual tone of the Japanese film. Burr's character Steve Martin appeared to interact with the original Japanese cast through intricate cutting and the use of doubles for the Japanese principals, in matching dress, shot from behind in direct interaction with Burr's character.

A documentary style was imposed on the original dramatic material through Burr's dialogue and stentorian narration; he plays a reporter, replacing a comical reporter character in the Japanese original. More importantly, his presence as the lead character, along with trimming (though not outright deletion) of protracted dialogue regarding the arranged marriage between the Japanese heroine and a scientist (a concept unfamiliar[citation needed] to Westerners[clarification needed]), scenes evincing an active affair between her and the young naval officer–hero (a concept unlikely to be accepted by many parents of the film's youthful target audience), and a raging debate in Japan's Diet over the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued nuclear testing (a concept not likely to be approved of by American veterans of the recent war), served to ease American audiences into comfortable relationships with characters, whose mere nationality might otherwise have made them pariahs. The theme of devastation of Japan by nuclear holocaust became sublimated in the editing, but was not eliminated, giving the film a subversiveness on the nuclear question that would later be consciously recognized by the youngsters at whom the film was aimed as they entered adulthood.

Notably, this production is one of a select few general release American films (including Night of the Living Dead) that were not composed for widescreen despite being released after the widescreen transition of the early to mid 1950s. The new Guy Roe-shot sequences were composed for the Academy ratio just like the Japanese footage, and the ending credits were blocked much too tightly for any amount of matting to be possible without causing lines of text to trail off the screen. Since 80% of downtown theaters and 69% of neighborhood theaters had already converted to widescreen by the end of 1953, and since theaters that made the transition would not have had the Academy ratio aperture plates anymore, it is very likely that many people saw the film in a matted widescreen ratio such as 1.85:1, which had become the non-anamorphic industry standard by September of 1956.[2]

Release[edit]

There is sometimes confusion about who distributed the film to the U.S. The poster for the film states only that it is "A Transworld Release", while the poster itself bears a copyright notice for "Godzilla Releasing Corporation". Trade reviews from its New York showing indicate that it was released by Embassy Pictures. Classic Media indicates that it was released by Jewell Enterprises, but in fact the credits only show this company as presenting the film. In fact, the film was adapted from the Japanese original by Jewell Enterprises, which took "presentation" credits on the screen and in some advertising copy, copyright by Godzilla Releasing Corporation in its adapted form, and nationally released under control of Transworld Releasing Corp., all of which were companies owned by Rybnick and Kay. It was actually distributed in the western U.S. by Godzilla Releasing Corp. and in the eastern half by Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures Corporation, then just a Boston-based states rights exchange. Embassy was most frequently noted as sole distributor in reviews and trade annuals published in New York: the movie was given "A-film" promotion, and opened at Loew's State Theatre on Broadway and 45th Street in New York City on April 27, 1956.

New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review the following day. He dismissed it with, "'Godzilla' produced in a Japanese studio, is an incredibly awful film." After complaining about the dubbing, the special effects ("a miniature of a dinosaur"), and an alleged similarity to King Kong, he concluded, "The whole thing is in the category of cheap cinematic horror-stuff, and it is too bad that a respectable theater has to lure children and gullible grown-ups with such fare."[3]

Crowther notwithstanding, the film was a notable success with the American public. The film was a box office success, grossing up to $2 million in the United States alone. It easily exported to Europe and South America, where the original was unknown and where it also had a major impact. The door was thus opened in the Americas and Europe for the import of unexpurgated Japanese science-fiction, horror, and other commercial film products; it also garnered western awareness of Toho Studios, which had retained producer credit. In 1957, the film made its way full circle back to Japan, where it was exhibited as Kaiju Ō Gojira (怪獣王ゴジラ?, lit. "Monster King Godzilla"), where it became at least as popular as the original, replacing the latter in Japanese theaters and influencing sequels and remakes there.

After its theatrical run, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! became a television staple for decades, even into the cable years, and opened the international market for dozens of Godzilla sequels. In the era before widespread home videos, the movie was regularly re-shown in repertory theaters and drive-in theaters. As of May 2014, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! holds a rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In its original theatrical version, the film opened with the logo of TransWorld Releasing Corp. - merely the Toho logo with a rotating globe pasted over it and the text "A TRANSWORLD RELEASE" overlaid - and following the fadeout of the final shot, the hymn being sung by the schoolchildren was reprised over cast and credits, after which the "The End" title appeared in white lettering on a black background, with Godzilla's echoing footsteps eerily replacing the soulful music. However, when Viacom acquired the film for TV re-syndication and first publication on videotape around 1980, Viacom removed the Transworld logo and all cast and credit material from the closing of the film, leaving only the "The End" title, and re-publications made thereafter were taken from the Viacom-revised master (even the so-called "uncut" version released on DVD in 1998 by Simitar). This missing material was partially restored in 2006 on a Sony release; however, the Transworld logo was left out and the end cast and credits were presented in a squashed widescreen letterbox format and mis-edited after the THE END credit instead of before. In 2012 the Criterion Collection restored the film in high definition and reinstated all missing material in the correct order for their Blu-ray/DVD release.

In its original TV syndication, a minimal credit screen reading "Starring Raymond Burr, directed by Terry Morse and I. Honda" in white lettering over a black background was spliced between the main title and the opening shot of Tokyo in ruins. These "opening credits" have never appeared on home video.

Sequel[edit]

In 1985, New World Pictures released Godzilla 1985, based on the Toho production of The Return of Godzilla. Like Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, it used footage from the Toho film, with added footage shot in Hollywood, and the dialog re-recorded in English. Raymond Burr would reprise his role as Steve Martin, acting as an adviser to the Pentagon. Return of Godzilla was a sequel to the original 1954 film, and Godzilla 1985 served as a sequel to Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.

Cozzilla[edit]

Italian film poster of Godzilla (1977), later became the cover for the first issue of Fangoria

In 1977, Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi released a modified and colorized version to magnetic band and sensurround theaters in Italy. Originally, Cozzi planned to re-release the original 1954 Godzilla without the Raymond Burr scenes but was unable to secure the rights from Toho and instead was sold the Americanized version of the film. Since the film was in black and white, regional distributors in Italy refused to release the film. In order to release the film, Cozzi hired Armando Valcauda to colorize the whole film frame by frame, using gels attached to the negative, becoming one of the first black and white movies to be colorized. This process was called Spectrorama 70, in fact the slogan of the new version is: "The greatest apocalypse in the history of cinema with the sonorous and visual wonder of Spectrorama 70". The film's content was re-edited, removing several scenes and adding lots of stock footage of graphic death and destruction (including a famous scene where Godzilla destroys a train),[4] which made it 105 minutes long. The film soundtrack was edit by Fabio Frizzi, Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera, and when the film was released in cinemas was added in Futursound, an 8-track magnetic sound system based on sensurround, with a special effect that shook the seats each time that Godzilla took a step. Cozzi's film was a great success and received mixed to positive reviews, and some fans consider it superior to the 1957 American film, even appearing on the cover of Fangoria no. 1.

Most prints of the film were lost but some still exist. As of 2012, the Cozzi colorized version (also known as Cozzilla by fans) has only been released in Italy, and possibly Turkey.[5]

Note[edit]

  1. ^ This WikiProject Films infobox contains information regarding the Americanized U.S. release; for information on the Japanese original, see Godzilla.

References[edit]

  • Galbraith, Stuart. Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films : A Critical Analysis of 103 Features Released in the United States, 1950-1992. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. 1994.
  • Lees, J.D.; Cerasini, Marc (1998). The Official Godzilla Compendium. Random House. ISBN 0-679-88822-5. 
  • Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan's favorite mon-star: the unauthorized biography of "The Big G". Toronto, ON: ECW Press. ISBN 1-55022-348-8. 
Notes
  1. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (1959, Jul 27). Meet joe levine, super(sales)man! Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/167430798?accountid=13902
  2. ^ "Widescreen Documentation". 3dfilmarchive.com. Retrieved June 26, 2014. 
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 28, 1956). "Screen: Horror Import; 'Godzilla' a Japanese Film, Is at State" (PDF, fee required). The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  4. ^ Ryfle 1998, p. 209.
  5. ^ "Talking COZZILLA: An Interview with Italian GODZILLA Director Luigi Cozzi". scifijapan.com. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 

External links[edit]