Judge Dennis Prince admits his attention to this film sometimes lapsed as he struggled to learn how to wiggle his ears.
A mother's love knows no bounds, not even 40,000 leagues beneath the sea.
Back in the day when I was but a lad, I reveled in all manner of monster and science fiction fare that I could tune in through the rabbit ears atop my 15" black and white TV set. In a time when independent stations were truly independent (not snapped up and puppeteered to broadcast all manner of anti-family crap under the heavy hand of corporate movie companies-turned-station owners), a youth could typically be entertained by some of the best (and the worst) genre films from the previous several decades. While genuinely awed by the likes of 1933's King Kong or lulled into peaceful acquiescence over the child-like antics of so many 1960s Godzilla adventures, there seemed to be a handful of films that entertained yet somehow felt just a bit different than the rest. The two most notable are Denmark's Reptilicus and the subject of this case, Gorgo. Both pictures were released stateside in 1961 and both were off-shore attempts to cash in on the giant monster craze that was still running strong years after the A-bomb's debut. Reptilicus hailed from Denmark and was hastily re-cut and re-packaged by King of Crap, Samuel Z. Arkoff. Immediately, young viewers of 1970s monster matinee broadcasts could tell this picture wasn't from around here, thanks to the uniformly pasty-looking Danes and the unevenly-managed monstrosity dangled about miniature buildings. As for Gorgo, the British-made monstrosity that resoundingly trampled London, it too had an air of difference that had monster fans like me musing, "one of these things is not like the others."
Gorgo tells the tale of a couple of rag-tag sea salvagers trolling off the Irish coast, Joe Ryan (Bill Travers, The Smallest Show on Earth and Sam Slade (William Sylvester, Devil Doll. Following an unprecedented undersea eruption and subsequent tidal onslaught, the two row out to sea to investigate further, encountering an odd scattering of lifeless prehistoric fish. They land on a nearby island only to be verbally abused by the resident shady archeologist, McMartin (Christopher Rhodes, El Cid), who's in no mood for anybody snooping about in his work, despite the fact that several island divers have gone missing following the undersea disturbance. Only little Sean (Vincent Winter, The Three Lives of Thomasina) takes a liking to Joe and Sam and tags along with them. That evening, a 50-foot sea creature, with snarling and offsetting wiggling ears, rises from the depths to wreak havoc. Joe and Sam determine to drug and capture the creature, egged on by the financial promise of selling the newfound menace to nearby Dorkin's Circus. The creature, dubbed "Gorgo," is caught and is all the buzz throughout the London area. Local scientists, however, determine that the giant Gorgo is actually an infant and is likely to be pursued and rescued by its mother, a creature certain to be ten times larger. Well, she is, and that mutha' is not to be messed with, especially when the Londoner's greed gets between Mrs. Gorgo and offspring. In what becomes the oddest mother and child reunion you're likely to see, Lady Gorgo does London up a treat as the local military tries to thwart her advances.
It's a cute little film and a pleasant diversion on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Gorgo tries hard to compete with O'Brien's Kong and Toho's Godzilla and, in some respects performs admirably. Most interesting in the overall narrative is the fact that the titular creature(s) are not enraged by radiation provoked by military prodding but, rather, are merely working on survival instinct upon being separated. Joe, Sam, McMartin, and the Dorkin Circus folk are all garishly painted as greedy sons-of-guns with never a tinge of remorse over their money-grubbing indiscretion. This makes for a refreshing take on the whole rampaging leviathan routine.
The film's director, Eugene Lourie, is no stranger to larger-than-life excursions, having previously occupied the canvas-backed chair for the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth. Although he reportedly tried to secure the talents of Willis O'Brien or Ray Harryhausen for Gorgo, neither was available. Lourie went the route of Japan's kaiju approach and hired the proverbial "man in the rubber suit." The effect is still decent enough but the whole ear-wiggling effect elicits snickers where there likely shouldn't be any. This ultimately eliminates any true aura of threat in the picture and we can only sit by, disaffected. And maybe that's what felt different about this film to my 8-year-old intellect.
Fans of the film will no doubt cheer this new DVD release from VCI. It definitely is a marked improvement over the previous laserdisc release that was generally murky. Transferred from an original source print and presented in a widescreen aspect ratio, this time the picture looks significantly better than its large-format digital predecessor. It's no full-on restoration effort, however, despite the back cover copy proclaiming it as a digital remaster (not a complete lie, I suppose). The colors look OK but are generally muted and detail level is not as crisp as it could be. Since much of the picture is set in underwater sequences, there's a considerable amount of still-murky muddling going on. But, again, it's a far cry better than what you may have seen before. The audio is presented in a serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix. It's a bit constrained but is suitable to the material here. A few extras on board include a new documentary from fan/film historian Tom Weaver, some bio notes on Lourie and the actors, a photo gallery of film stills and poster art, and a theatrical trailer.
If you're a fan of Gorgo, you'll surely be a fan of this new disc. I can't deny, it does bring back some fond memories of my creature feature days gone by.
Not guilty. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
• Making of Documentary
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