When one thinks of a giant reptile rampaging through a city the first that comes to mind is, of course, the King of the Monsters himself Godzilla, but he is far from the only such creature – he wasn’t even close to being the first – and today we will be looking at Gorgo, an international co-production led by the King Brothers and would be directed by a man who made quite a name for himself with this particular subject matter, a man by the name of Eugène Lourié.
In 1953 Eugène Lourié was the director for hire on Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms which then led him to getting the job to helm its carbon copy film The Giant Behemoth, which in turn landed him the job as director of Gorgo. I guess the lesson here would be, stick with what works. Now, as monster movies go Gorgo doesn’t do anything really ground-breaking with its subject matter as we get the standard introduction of our two leads, who in this instance consists of a salvage captain named Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and his first mate Sam Slade (William Sylvester), who while attempting to do some treasure hunting off the coast of a small Irish island they run into a spot of trouble when some undersea volcanic activity unleashes a 65-foot prehistoric beast into the neighbourhood.
With the help of some stock character locals, the creature is netted and loaded aboard Ryan’s boat and they set sail for the big city where it will be the star attraction at Dorkin’s Circus, that is if a couple of Irish paleontologist busybodies don’t spoil all the fun. This leads to the only interesting element of Eugène Lourié’s Gorgo which would be the revelation that the creature is not yet an adult and that its mother would most likely be at least 200 feet tall. It’s at this point we get all that glorious monster versus city destruction we paid to see, with Gorgo’s mom stomping through London on its way to retrieve her stolen offspring, and despite the film’s modest budget the model work on display is fairly topnotch and the destruction of the Tower Bridge is quite spectacular.
Unfortunately, the film has a rather anti-climactic ending with the monstrous mom riding off into the sunset with her wayward kid, with mankind sitting around with their collective thumbs up their asses, and even if one were to credit this as a bit of a change from the standard monster death climax it still left me feeling kind of a letdown. Apparently, Eugène Lourié’s daughter was unhappy with the dinosaur dying at the end of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and he’d promised that his next monster movie would have a happier ending. This is a fair point, and I’m not saying Gorgo and his mom needed to die for this movie to work, but as is the film doesn’t so much end as it just peters out.
• A volcanic eruption causes prehistoric fish to float to the surface but our “heroes” don’t think to grab any of them for study.
• A scuba diver is announced to have been “Scared to death” which is a pretty odd diagnosis considering they don’t even bother with an autopsy.
• There is a bathysphere scene that is an obvious lift from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.
• Joe Ryan’s ship must have a magical winch to be able to lift a 65ft Gorgo out the water and onto the deck. That the weight of the creature didn’t sink the tramp steamer would be the second miracle.
• Gorgo is touted as being “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and I’d think Carl Denham and Kong would have something to say about that.
• A television announcer states, “Gorgo, as he is called, we don’t know why, will be exhibited to the public,” but later promoter says it’s named after the gorgon Medusa, “A creature so terrifying it will turn a man to stone.” I’m not sure what a giant dinosaur and the mythological Medusa have in common so that name is a bit of a stretch.
• A photographer’s flashbulb enrages the young Gorgo causing it to break free, which is an obvious lift from the original King Kong.
• After the monstrous mother trashes Piccadilly Circus we get a General stating, “We have no idea where it will turn next.” Dude, it was established that the creature was following the trail of its baby, so my guess is that it’d be turning in that direction.
For obvious budgetary reasons and time constraints the stop-motion technique used for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth would be set aside in favour of the standard man-in-a-suit creation that has been used quite effectively in the Godzilla movies, and I will admit that the design of Gorgo’s was quite excellent, I just wish the special effects that supported them were a little better. Visual effects artist Tom Howard had previously provided his skills to such films as Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey but in the case of Gorgo, well, most of the effects shots are plagued with terrible blue halos and many moments of optical compositing left both monsters and people transparent. Going by Tom Howard’s resume one must assume this lacking of good effects processing in this film had more to do with time and budget constraints than his skill but regardless of all that the end result is all we have to judge.
Sadly, the only thing thinner than the effects in this movie would be the two leads who we were stuck following as they are about as likable and appealing as a case of genital lice. The only positive thing I can say about the characters of Ryan and Slade is that they weren’t depicted as sexist assholes, but this was most likely because the film contained no female characters for them to be sexist towards.
With Gorgo, Eugène Lourié gave us a standard monster rampage movie and though it is far from the worst of its kind there isn’t much to offer fans that they couldn’t get watching a half-a-dozen other kaiju movies. It had a good monster design, and there was some nice citywide destruction, but with the two rather unpleasant “heroes” – who take up way too much of the film’s 76-minute runtime – there isn’t much for one to recommend unless you are a true diehard monster lover.
Note: The revelation that a captured monster is just the baby, and that an angry mom is on the way, is also the plot of Jaws 3D.
Movie Ranking - 5.5/10
As a kid, I remember seeing Gorgo as a Saturday matinee and loving it, but time and age have not been all that kind to this film and nostalgia blinders can only do so much.