HCF REWIND 130. KING KONG ESCAPES AKA KINGU KONGA NO GYAKUSHU, KING KONG’S COUNTER-ATTACK [Japan, 1967]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 104 min/ 96 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Evil genius Dr. Hu creates Mechni-Kong, a robot version of King Kong, to dig for a highly radioactive element called Element X, found only at the North Pole, but Mechni-Kong is injured by the radiation. Meanwhile, a submarine from the United Nations is damaged and forced to weigh anchor off the coast of Mondo Island. When Carl Nelson and Jiro Nomura go off to confront an old man warning them to leave, Susan Miller is attacked by the dinosaur Gorosaurus and saved by Kong, who then also bests a giant serpent as, love-struck by the sight of Susan, he pursues the humans to their submarine until Susan calms him down. Back in America, the submarine crew relates their amazing discoveries on Mondo Island to the UN and decide to return to study the creatures on the island, but a spy informs Dr. Hu of this, and the villain decides to capture Kong and use him to get Element X…..
This juvenile adventure is minor Toho, but it’s enjoyable as long as you don’t expect too much. Not really a sequel to King Kong Vs Godzilla, it seems to exist in a different universe to it, and this time Kong, previously made much larger than he had been in King Kong, is now back to his original height. Even more than in King Kong Vs Godzilla, this seems to replay bits and pieces from the 1933 classic. It then drafts them on to a comic book plot involving an evil super villain who builds a robot version of Kong. Now if you’re trying to obtain a substance that is buried underground, to do it, why would you build a robot that looks like an ape? That kind of sums up the level of this film, and as long as you put yourself in the mind of a child there’s much entertainment to be had, though its initially fast pace sags noticeably around the middle and the usual Toho ingenuity is mixed with some sloppiness, while the ape suit is almost as bad as their previous atrocity.
As you may have read in my review for Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster, Toho wanted to make a film spin-off from the Rankin-Bass TV cartoon series King Kong Adventures in a co-production with the American company. The series was set on Mondo Island where a scientist and his two children encounter Kong and various dinosaurs and battle the evil Dr. Who, who wants control of the ape for himself. The first treatment, perhaps because it differed from the series too much, was rejected by Rankin-Bass and ended up as Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster. Surprisingly, considering he was usually assigned the studio’s more adult fare, it was Takeshi Kimura who eventually scripted the film. Ishiro Honda had just had a break from ten consecutive monster movies with the comedy Will You Marry Me, and really wanted to make more human dramas, but the studio just would not allow it, and Eiji Tsuburaya, who was becoming more of a special effects supervisor, was brought back to direct the effects. With two American stars, this second Kong adventure was a minor hit in the US but not so much in Japan, and the giant ape wouldn’t appear in any more Toho productions, a good thing in some people’s books.
King Kong Escapes gets going almost immediately with the sight of Mechni-Kong mining for the mysterious Element X, and interestingly we neither learn what Element X actually is [it’s nuclear and will enable Hu to “control the Universe”!] nor is it ever actually possessed by anyone. Then the action switches to Mondo [not Skull or Faroe] Island, and no time is wasted in getting to its monstrous inhabitants, nor in copying King Kong. The ape battles a dinosaur [Gorosaurus] that resembles a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a serpent [though here in the sea] and quickly falls in love. Now, except for maybe her nice legs, it’s hard to understand what Kong sees in Susan, because Linda Miller is an absolutely appalling actress, barely able to register even the most basic emotions like fear, though she’s not helped by being dubbed by a cartoon vocalist with the most irritating voice after Rosie Perez’s. I don’t think even Meryl Streep, though, could have done much with some of her lines where she tells Kong that their relationship couldn’t work, though I wonder if these scenes influenced bits of the 1976 King Kong?
Once Kong is imprisoned by Hu, the film slumps a little with a little too much chat, mostly involving Hu and his co-conspirator Madame Piranha, who works for an unnamed country. A scene where she begins to seduce Carl takes the proceedings into more adult territory, as do some surprising instances of violence: Hu shoots a Mondo Island native three times, shoots Madame Piranha once bloodily in the arm and twice gorily in the chest, and gargles up blood as he’s crushed to death by his control console. Though you had a bit in Mothra Vs Godzilla where someone bashes a head in with the butt of a shotgun and is then shot, Honda generally avoided graphic violence in his films. Maybe here he is venting his frustration at having to make another monster film with little subtext? I will say, though, that the direction, editing and camerawork [this was Hajime Koizumi’s last film for Honda] seem sometimes fresher than in Honda’s last two or three films. There’s a neat bit where two people on a phone are superimposed on either side of the screen, while the climax, which cuts frantically from Kong and his metal double battling atop Tokyo Tower to Carl trying to rescue Susan, is one of several sequences which are quite quickly edited.
Mechni-Kong, who later inspired Mechagodzilla, looks quite impressive and the briefly seen Gorosaurus is a beautifully detailed, yet restrained, creation that shows Suitmation at its very best, though any attempt at reality is dispelled when he uses dropkicks against Kong. However, the limp sea snake that Haruo Nakajima, playing Kong, wraps around his neck to pretend he’s being attacked, is pathetic, and once again, Toho fail to do Kong justice. They actually built two Kong suits, and you can tell the difference between the two because one has a grossly large head which is virtually immobile, and the other looks better and is a bit more expressive but always seems to the verge of crying. Both suits make Kong resemble a giant teddy bear with a deformed Homer Simpson’s head. Elsewhere, the effects are pretty good. The reduced size of the monsters means that there is little city-stomping, and some of the matte paintings of the sky are a little shabbier than normal, but the scenes where Kong picks up Susan are well put together, and the miniature forest landscapes are almost as detailed as those in War Of The Gargantuas. The script….well, it’s mostly juvenile – this Kong really does seem to understand English, for a start – though it’s perhaps a little too serious. The film does climax amusingly, though, with Kong racing down a harbour to get to Hu [who waits until the morning after the Kong/Mechni-Kong fight to make his escape] while Susan, Carl and Jiro are in a car driving alongside him.
Rhodes Reason is an adequate straight-jawed ‘B’ type actor though you can understand why Susan gravitates to the far more charismatic Akira Takarada, appearing for the umpteenth time in one of these movies. The human star of the show though is Eisie Amamoto, who with his black cape, exaggerated awful teeth and constant scenery chewing, makes a memorable Dr. Hu. Akira Ifukube’s score is decent. Kong had a new theme, though it resembles King Ghidorah’s, while Mechni-Kong’s theme evokes the relentless power of the giant robot [though it’s oddly used during one portion of the Gorosaurus fight] but is actually three previous themes joined together; Baragon’s theme from Frankenstein Conquers The World, a ‘work’ motif from King Kong Vs Godzilla and a very slowed down version of a frantic motif heard in several previous films beginning with Varan The Unbelievable. Even his title music borrows from the Mothra Vs Godzilla Infant Island theme, but he does provide a rather touching love theme for Kong which almost succeeds in bringing to the table an emotional dimension. Mostly, King Kong Escapes is empty fun that was just marking time for Toho, and doesn’t really add much to the legacy of the great ape, but it’s a decent time-waster, especially if you’re either a ten year old boy or are able to put yourself in the mind of one [I plead guilty].
They cut eight minutes out of this film. Like King Kong Vs Godzilla, the original Japanese version is unavailable in the West, but on this instance the US version is more than adequate. The dialogue scenes shortened or cut don’t really alter the film [and actually speed it up a little] except removing the information that Madame Piranha is actually a secret agent workng for the good guys, rather than just being a baddie who has a change of heart. Some edits to the final battle, mainly of the rescue attempt of Susan, are barely noticeable visually though the musically inclined will notice some jaring edits in the music. Oddly, Madame Piranha’s attempted seduction of Carl is longer in the US cut. The dubbing is okay too.