Godzilla 1956, a re-examination.2,050 Views11 RepliesAdd A Reply
I am going to post something controversial. But before you all flame me for it, just reflect on what I said first.
I am talking about Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956), the American edit with Raymond Burr. Its been slammed for toning down the anti-nuclear message of the original, cutting out much of the core human story (i.e. the love triangle was only briefly touched upon) and giving an out-of-place cheerful tone to the ending by Burr. All those vices are true. That being said, and here is the controversial part, Godzilla 1956, in my opinion, is still a reasonably good and watchable film on its own.
Sure, it can't be compared to the original. And its far from perfect. But as "Americanized" movies go, it really wasn't that bad. Yes, Burr, as Steve Martin, looked awkward in places and its pretty obvious some of the scenes were edited in later (i.e. the lighting gives it away easily). But still, Burr gave a good performance. He treated his role seriously and didn't winked at the audience in a tongue-in-cheek manner (that would have surely destroyed the film). And despite cutting way too much of the original, the essential horror and destruction of Godzilla was retained. As was the grim mood of the original.
The 1956 director, Terry O. Morse, I think actually tried to do the best he could. Maybe given a choice he might not have edited the film at all, but being as it is, I think he tried his best to mesh his scenes with the original under the cir***stances.
So, all in all, yes the 1956 version is inferior to the original. But I don't buy the argument it is a mere hack-job. On its own, it is a decent and watchable film. Maybe not necessarily great, but not really awful as it could have easily been.
I prefer the American version personally. I didn't find love triangle that compelling in the original version and preferred the start with the destruction followed by an account that led up to it, I also liked that they didn't dub a lot of the actors but had a translator with Steve Martin as he walked around to tell him what was happening it gave it a much better feel than most of the dubbing would have.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a good movie, it's just an inferior piece to the 1954 film.
The fact is the film in its original version wouldn't have sold well in the States. The atomic fear and cultural references to post-war anxiety simply wouldn't have resonated with western audiences. And the addition of Raymond Burr gave Westerners a recognizable face to cling to. It wouldn't have worked with Takarada and Hirata.
A lot of the splicing is jarring, but not immediately bad and I thought the way Burr interacted with some of the characters was clever in a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers splicing sort of way. You could tell the footage didn't match, but Burr kept things fairly believable.
Fans should remember that this is the version that made Godzilla an international star, not the Japanese version. It was Godzilla: King of the Monsters that was used as Toho's international foray into world wide success and it even got a Japanese theatrical release for it. It may be an inferior film, but it was always more widely accessible.
That being said, I don't really revisit it very often. The original Godzilla is a movie I watch all the time and I'm constantly finding new things to love about it year after year. Meanwhile there is a sort of shallowness Godzilla: King of the Monsters that goes beyond the atomic anxiety of a nation. The movie has no tension and it's immediately obvious due to the film's opening: Martin's prologue gives away everything. We know what happens to Tokyo from the get go. We know people died. And we know a monster probably did it.
Granted this was done to alliviate the atomic anxiety throughout the film, but as a filmmaker I'm perplexed by Morse's decision to make the majority of the movie a flashback. Perhaps it gives the movie an American film noir feel, but it doesn't hold up. Meanwhile, Ogata might as well have been omitted from the film entirely as the love triangle subplot is thoroughly tarnished. I recall one reviewer calling the love triangle omission, "marginalized racism" with the idea that the editors didn't want to promote the idea that Japanese are capable of love. I don't know where he got that and I don't think I agree, but it's an interesting opinion non-the-less.
At the end of the day I look at Godzilla: King of the Monsters as a very unique companion piece to the original movie. It's not too weak of a standard monster movie and it should be recognized by fans, and film historians, as the cut that introduced Godzilla to the international market.
I love the film, I love Burr's work in the film despite it being added to the original. In my opinion both GKotM and Gojira are equally great to me. They each had their own "uniqueness." Both are great films to watch and set the standard for most large monster films.
GMAN, well said as usual.
Koldwarkid-I have the same sentiment.
I can't really think of any other American edit that actually worked to be honest.
i like the 1954 version best
Gojira is easily the better film, that much is clear. A big problem with Hollywood back then, as well as today, is the assumption that Western audiences require a white cast in order to be compelled to care about the film. That being said, I think Godzilla: KotM could have been a lot worse (I'm thinking KKvsG) in terms of Westernization and although it has some glaring faults, I believe the fact that it works at all is due to Burr. He brought a gravitas to the role that complimented the tone of the original. I mentioned this in another thread a bit ago, but I'm thankful that Burr was picked for Morse for this version. By all accounts, he seemed to take his role in Godzilla history seriously and would later refuse to desecrate Gojira(84) with a lampoon-style redux.
Why would you think you would be flamed for saying that? You're basically stating exactly the most common opinion about it in the Godzilla fandom.
Maybe, but I'm addressing the perception among some film critics that King of the Monsters was a mere rip-off/hack job to the original. :)
^I think most level-headed fans agree King of the Monsters was a compitent variation of the original movie. But it does seem that after Rialto Pictures brought the original to American cinemas in 2004 more critics take to bashing it.