Friday, May 09, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) **

NR, 80 min.
Directors: Ishirô Honda, Terry O. Morse
Writers: Ishirô Honda, Takeo Murata, Al C. Ward, Shigero Kayama (story)
Starring: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata

So, there’s this monster movie from Japan that has become the b-movie talk of the town. You’re an American film producer and you think to yourself, “I’d really like to bring that across the Pacific to American audiences. But surely, stupid Americans aren’t going to want to watch a Japanese movie dubbed into English. How can I remake this thing in English with an American star, but not have to spend any money on it? Reshoot half of it with Raymond Burr as an American news reporter so he con provide voiceover narration for all the story points we want to keep from the Japanese version of course! I’m a genius!”

Well, that producer might actually have been a genius. He just wasn’t a very good filmmaker. That’s what “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is. It’s the 1954 Japanese film “Gojira” with a bunch of scenes starring Raymond Burr stuck in throughout to make it appealing to American audiences. I don’t really know if the original “Gojira” was any good or not. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen it. For a good deal of time, this movie was “Godzilla” to American audiences. “Gojira” did get a 50th Anniversary rerelease in the U.S. in 2004 restored to its original Japanese cut. I didn’t get a chance to see it.

Of course, no matter which version you’re looking at, the Japanese portions of the movie have a good deal to say about scientists having to choose between the lesser of two evils with the weapons of mass destruction they help to develop, certainly not a lesson lost on the Japanese considering the conclusion of their involvement in World War II, which is very much the inspiration of the Godzilla story. Those elements survived the U.S. recut of the film, and they save it from utter disaster.

The scenes featuring Burr are goofy to say the least. They mostly involve Burr and some English speaking Japanese character watching the events depicted in the Japanese footage. By the film’s final scenes, the gimmick gets to be laughable. The final scenes take place at sea and when the camera cuts to Burr, he’s obviously standing by himself with a sky-like backdrop in a studio while the surrounding edits look to be shot on location. Burr stands stony-faced so consistently throughout this film that I had to wonder if perhaps he was snockered and the greatest acting feat he was pulling off was concealing just how wasted he was. I can’t imagine it was an assignment an actor wouldn’t have drunk his way through in that day and age.

Today when a foreign film is a hit, Hollywood just remakes it if they think people really want to see it. In fact, they are remaking “Godzilla” yet again, and its’ release is only a week away. Surely it won’t consist primarily of scenes of Bryan Cranston just looking on and providing narration over all of the action to spell it out for the audience. Then again, I can think of a good deal of modern U.S. remakes that would’ve greatly benefitted from that approach.

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