I was seven-years-old in 1963, the year KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was released in the United States. I desperately wanted to see this film but as I recall, the film was never booked into any of the regular, walk-in theaters in Austin. Instead, it played the drive-in circuit and there was just no way I was going to get to a drive-in movie at the age of seven. My parents never took us to the drive-in and I had to wait until I was in high school to savor the drive-in movie experience.
The funny thing about this movie was that I had, at that time, seen none of the existing KING KONG films (KING KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG if you will), nor either of the two GODZILLA films (GODZILLA and GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN). In fact, what I knew about these two giant monsters was derived from two main sources. The first was (say it with me), FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND Magazine which ran a feature article on the film. The other was the two all-plastic assembly kits of the monsters manufactured by Aurora Plastics Corporation, both of which I had purchased, painted and assembled.
But, oh, how I so desperately wanted to see this movie. In fact, I wanted to see it so badly that I lied to the neighborhood kids and told them that I had indeed seen the movie. This gave me instant (if ill-gotten) street cred. Using the article and published stills from FAMOUS MONSTERS, I cobbled together my own version of the events of the film and regaled the other kids with it. Turns out my version wasn't too far from the truth.
After waiting forty-nine years, I finally saw KING KONG VS. GODZILLA in its' entirety this afternoon. The DVD version contains the American version of the film which is a bit of a disappointment. I enjoy watching the original, uncut Japanese versions of these films in Japanese with English sub-titles. It's a purer, more authentic way to experience Japanese giant monster movies. But it appears that this is only version of KKVG that's currently available and it is the version I would have seen as a kid, so I can't complain too much.
The American version of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA resembles the American version of GODZILLA with lots of scenes of American television reporters commenting on the plot and advancing the action. These scenes are numerous and, while well integrated into the storyline (they disappear completely about half-way through the film), they serve to remind us that what we're seeing is something different than what was originally filmed. Plus, the source music appears to be made of cues from the Universal Studios (which released the film in the U.S.) music library. I swear I heard music from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and other '50s science fiction films more than once in KKVG.
It's evident that we're missing material concerning two major plot threads from the original film. One involves a comic relief television film crew and their voyage to the island where Kong resides. It's during this segment of the film that Kong battles a giant octopus (a real, rear-screened octopus is used). This was a sequence that I greatly embellished when I was seven.
The other plot thread concerns two young lovers in Tokyo (the man resembles Gregory Peck) and this storyline appears to be missing the most footage. But all of this is secondary to the main event. After all, we bought our tickets to see KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and the sooner we get to that monumental clash of titans, the better.
The fight scenes are well staged. The King Kong costume sports a grotesque face and looks a little ratty. The Godzilla suit is visibly rubbery and flexible as it needs to be when these two start throwing each other around. The climatic battle atop Mt. Fuji is played fairly straight with a minimum of the laughs and silly stuff that came in later entries in the GODZILLA series.
For years a rumor persisted that there were two endings of this film. In the Japanese version, Godzilla wins, in the American version, Kong is the victor. This is erroneous. There's only one ending which has both monsters toppling into the sea. Kong emerges and begins swimming for home while Godzilla remains underwater until his next appearance in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964).
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is not a great film. But it is competently staged and fun to watch. It made me feel like that seven-year-old kid again for an hour and a half and that's not a bad thing at all.
And I didn't make any of this up.