Halloween Endurance Test: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is more widely known than its inspiration, Gojira, as it was the version released in America. Faced with the challenge of making a “Welcome to the Nuclear Age!” film palatable to the same audience that unleashed the bomb, Embassy Pictures and TransWorld Releasing did what any distributor(s) would do: excise any footage that could be offensive, and insert new footage with Raymond Burr; still fresh off his success in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Amazingly, the gamble worked, leaving Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Gojira as big hits around the world. The added footage certainly isn’t seamless, but the resultant popularity the extra market(s) allowed the film(s) to reinvent the “giant monster” genre. Claymation was suddenly out, and stunt men wearing suffocating monster suits were in.

And how this new era was ushered in! Rather than being plain-jane Gojira, here Godzilla has a bona-fide title: King of the Monsters!. Not the Crawling Eye[s], nor the giant octopus from either It Came From Beneath the Sea or Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster stood any chance at challenging Japan’s giant lizard. Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop-motion animatronics giving way to stilted acting so bad it could be mistaken as stop-motion.

One must marvel at the audacity in making two different films, with two distinctly different messages, out of one rather political source film. (A feat still rarely seen. It wouldn’t be until Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman doubled his take selling the foreign distribution rights to the Toxic Avenger II by splitting it into two films. Unfortunately for Troma, neither was a hit.) Bringing in a new era, not just of rubber monster suits, but of horrendously overdubbed dialogue!

While many hold that the footage of atomic testing and now-homeless families was removed make this film more digestible to American audiences. After all, no one wants to go to the movies Friday night to be reminded of some of your country’s more shameful behavior.

The missing footage seems more innocent though. As if Gojira’s social message was diluted not to diminish the US’ on-screen involvement, but rather to bring the film back in line with all the other “giant monster” films. Besides the Day the Earth Stood Still, it’s hard to name another sci-fi film of the 50s that had much of a social message.

Raymond B(l)urring the line between “psuedo-documentary” and “serious sci-fi film with a social message” until all that is left is 20-30 odd minutes of “giant, rampaging monster action flick.”

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