(Eugene Lourie, UK, 1961)
The idyllic lifestyle of a remote Gaelic fishing village on the coast of Ireland is destroyed after a ship accidentally disturbs an enormous reptilian creature from its slumber beneath the sea. A couple of professors are soon on the scene hoping to claim the remarkable discovery for Dublin University, but before the authorities can get their act together, it is a canny circus entreprenurer whose offer to the locals of £30,000 secures the incredible monster. Claiming it is for the public, he makes Gorgo, as he names it, the headline attraction at his London fairground. Things don't go as hoped however, and get decidedly worse when the monster's gargantuan mother turns up to claim her offspring and punish everyone who gets in her way.
This cracking British combination of King Kong and Godzilla may not be original, nor have the luxury of a large budget, but what it lacks on those fronts is more than made up in its creative, energetic and exciting execution. From the expressively moody opening sequences on the Irish coast of a mist-shrouded fishing community, through to the complete destruction of central London in the climax, Gorgo is a delight from start to finish. Sadly, rarely seen today, Gorgo owes a great deal to director Eugene Lourie's more famous predecessor, the 1953 The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In fact, it's virtually a remake of the earlier film. Yet, for my money, Gorgo, despite its shortcomings, is the better of the two. It's certainly more entertaining.
Whereas The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms boasts a Ray Harryhausen/Willis O'Brien stop-motion animation monster, Gorgo's limited budget dictates that a guy in a suit, Godzilla style, must fit the bill. Sure, it looks just like a guy in a suit at times, but this is combined with King Kong-like full-scale mock-up body parts, puppetry, animatronics and some excellent model work. But it isn't the monster that makes this film so good. It is the enthusiastic, ambitious and imaginative production. The climatic scenes that depict the wholesale trashing of central London are as thrilling as they are uncommon. World-famous landmark after world-famous landmark is comprehensively destroyed by the concerned mother monster. As mum wades up the River Thames, Tower Bridge is the first to go. Big Ben and the Parliament buildings swiftly follow, as does Piccadilly Circus - all in dramatic colour (something 20,000 Fathoms and predecessors lack).
the army fail to stop the beast's mass slaughter and destruction, our boys in
the RAF are called upon, but they too cannot bring a halt to the terror. These
special effects-laden climatic scenes feature hundreds of screaming extras. Some
of the mass hysteria footage is still quite disturbing, as innocent people are
crushed by collapsing buildings, trampled by terrified crowds and burned in flash
fires. Even the conclusion is typically British too, in that there is no happy
resolution that stops either the large scale devastation or spares any lives.
If you don't like monster movies then Gorgo will do little to convert you.
However, if you're a sucker for them (even if the monster is a stuntman in a rubber
suit) and you haven't seen Gorgo - then you must. It's a fine example and
deserves wider recognition. 8/10
Rob Dyer (March 2006)
From 20,0000 Fathoms, The
King Kong (1933)
War of the Worlds, The (1953)
A-Z of Film Reviews