Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a 1956 kaiju film directed by Terry O. Morse and Ishirō Honda. It is a heavily re-edited American adaptation, commonly referred to as an "Americanization", of the 1954 Japanese film Godzilla. The film was a Japanese-American co-production, with the original footage produced by Toho, and the new footage produced by Jewell Enterprises. The film stars Raymond Burr, Frank Iwanaga, along with Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, and Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla. In the film, an American reporter covers a giant reptilian monster's attack on Japan.
|Godzilla, King of the Monsters!|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terry O. Morse|
|Produced by||Tomoyuki Tanaka|
Edward B. Barison
|Screenplay by||Takeo Murata|
Terry O. Morse
|Story by||Shigeru Kayama|
|Narrated by||Raymond Burr|
|Music by||Akira Ifukube|
|Edited by||Terry Morse|
|Distributed by||TransWorld Releasing Corporation (US, West)|
Embassy Pictures (US, East)
|Box office||$2 million (US rentals)|
In 1955, Edmund Goldman acquired the 1954 film from Toho and enlisted the aid of Paul Schreibman, Harold Ross, Richard Kay, and Joseph E. Levine to produce a revised version for American audiences. This version dubbed most of the Japanese dialogue into English, altered and removed key plot points and themes, and added new footage with Burr narrating most of the film and interacting with body-doubles and Japanese-American actors in an attempt to make it seem like Burr was part of the original Japanese production.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was theatrically released in the United States on April 27, 1956 and was followed by an international release. The film was responsible for introducing Godzilla to a worldwide audience, as the 1954 film remained unavailable overseas until 2004.
Injured American reporter Steve Martin is brought from the ruins of Tokyo to a hospital filled with maimed and wounded citizens. A recent acquaintance, Emiko, discovers him by chance among the victims and attempts to find a doctor for him. Martin recalls in flashback stopping over in Tokyo, where a series of inexplicable ship disasters catches his attention. When a victim of those disasters washes up on Odo Island, Martin flies there for the story, along with security officer Tomo Iwanaga. There he learns of the island inhabitants' long-held belief in a sea monster god known as "Godzilla", which they believe is causing the disasters. That night, a storm strikes the island, destroying many houses and killing some villagers. The islanders believe that Godzilla is responsible for the destruction.
Martin returns to the island with Dr. Yamane, who is leading a team to investigate its ruins. Huge radioactive footprints and a prehistoric trilobite are discovered. An alarm rings and Martin, the villagers, and Dr. Yamane's team head up a hill for safety. Near the summit, they encounter Godzilla and quickly flee downhill. Dr. Yamane later returns to Tokyo and deduces that Godzilla is 400 feet (122 m) tall and was resurrected by repeated H-bomb tests in the Pacific. To Yamane's dismay, the military responds by attempting to kill the creature with depth charges. Martin contacts his old friend, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, for dinner, but Serizawa declines due to planned commitments with his fiancé and Dr. Yamane's daughter, Emiko.
Emiko goes to Serizawa's home to break off her arranged engagement to him because she is actually in love with Hideo Ogata, a salvage ship captain. Dr. Serizawa, however, gives her a demonstration of his secret project, which horrifies her. She is sworn to secrecy and unable to bring herself to break off the engagement. Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay, unharmed by the depth charges, and attacks the city, destroying a train before returning to the bay. The next morning, the JSDF supercharges the tall electrical towers along Tokyo's coast to repel the monster.
Godzilla resurfaces that night and breaks through the electrical towers and JSDF defense line using his atomic heat breath. Martin documents Godzilla's rampage via tape recorder and is injured during the attack. Godzilla returns to the sea and the flashback ends. Martin wakes up in the hospital with Emiko and Ogata. Horrified by the destruction, Emiko reveals to them the existence of Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer, which disintegrates oxygen atoms in salt water and causes all marine organisms to die of acidic asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Dr. Serizawa to convince him to use his weapon on Godzilla, but he initially refuses. After watching a television broadcast showing the nation's plight, Serizawa finally gives in to their pleas.
A Navy ship takes Ogata, Serizawa, Yamame, Martin, and Emiko out to the deepest part of Tokyo Bay. Ogata and Serizawa are lowered down by lifelines near Godzilla to plant the weapon. Ogata is pulled up, but Serizawa delays his ascent and activates the device. He radios the surface of its success and wishes Emiko and Ogata happiness together. Serizawa cuts his lifeline, taking the secret of his invention to the grave. Godzilla succumbs to the Oxygen Destroyer, dissolving his body and bones. All aboard the ship mourn the loss of Dr. Serizawa. Martin reflects that the world can "live again" due to Serizawa's sacrifice.
- Raymond Burr as Steve Martin
- Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane
- Momoko Kōchi as Emiko
- Akira Takarada as Ogata
- Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Serizawa
- Sachio Sakai as Hagiwara
- Fuyuki Murakami as Dr. Tabata
- Ren Yamamoto as Seiji
- Toyoaki Suzuki as Shinkichi
- Tadashi Okabe as Dr. Tabata's Assistant
- Toranosuke Ogawa as President of Company
- Frank Iwanaga as Security Officer Tomo
- James Hong as Ogata and Dr. Serizawa (English voices)
- Sammee Tong as Dr. Yamane (English voice)
- Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla
- Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla
—Richard Kay on the film's alterations.
In 1955, Edmund Goldman approached Toho International Inc., (a Los Angeles-based subsidiary created to distribute Toho films overseas) about purchasing the rights to Godzilla. Toho had shown Goldman advertisement materials, which interested him in a screening of the film. Goldman then made Toho an offer of $25,000, which they accepted quickly. The contract was forged on September 27, 1955. The contract stipulated that Toho and Goldman agreed that the film would be "narrated, dubbed in English and completed in accordance with the revisions, additions, and deletions," with final approval by Toho.
Paul Schreibman assisted in the film's acquisition. Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures also made a bid for the film, negotiating with Toho for three months until he discovered the rights were already sold to Goldman. Goldman enlisted the help of Harold Ross (sometimes credited as Henry Rybnick) and Richard Kay of Jewell Enterprises to distribute the film. According to Goldman, it was Ross and Kay's idea to dub the film and hire Raymond Burr. Goldman would later sell his interest to Jewell Enterprises.
Ross and Kay turned to Joseph E. Levine to further finance the project. The duo arranged a screening of the film for Levine in Los Angeles. The film's possibilities excited Levine and paid $100,000 for half of the rights. This arrangement allowed the rights to Godzilla to be split between Jewell Enterprises and Levine's Embassy Pictures. Levine enlisted Edward Barison to create Trans World Releasing Corp., to distribute the film. Levine also enlisted producer Terry Turner to develop promotional strategies, which cost $400,000. Turner managed to get the film mentioned by Steve Allen on The Tonight Show. Levine and Turner initially considered the title Godzilla, the Sea Beast but eventually settled on Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Ross and Kay hired Terry O. Morse to direct the film. Schreibman had arranged for Burr to participate in the film. Morse was paid $10,000 for re-writing and directing the film and Burr was paid the same amount for a single day's work.
Filming and dubbingEdit
Alterations and new footage with Burr interacting with body doubles were produced in order to appeal to American audiences, as foreign films held no appeal to the mainstream public at the time. Morse viewed the original Japanese cut, with an English translation of the script, to find key scenes to insert Burr. Rather than dub the entire film, Morse chose to retain most of the original Japanese dialogue and have Frank Iwanaga translate, albeit inaccurately, those scenes and alternate with Burr narrating. Burr worked with body-doubles, who were filmed over their shoulder to conceal their faces. Editing techniques were also used to mask the body-doubles and the original Japanese actors. Asian-American extras were hired to play minor roles. The new footage was filmed in three days on a rented soundstage at Visual Drama Inc. Since he was contracted for only one day, Burr was forced to work a 24-hour shift in order to shoot all his scenes. Set decorator George Rohr provided mock-up sets that resembled the sets in the original Japanese cut. Overt references to the atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb, such as the bombing of Nagasaki, the Bikini Island tests, radioactive contamination of tuna by American and Russian bomb tests, were omitted.
The dubbing required for the entire film was recorded in under five hours. James Hong and the other voice actors were not given any details of the film's production. The voice actors were locked in a room with Morse and were told to read for every role. Each line was recorded at different speeds and the best one was chosen to match the footage. The voice actors never saw the film as they recorded their lines. The voice actors dubbed the entire film sitting at a table with a microphone before them. Hong confirmed that a number of Japanese actors auditioned for the voice-over job. However, Hong and Sammee Tong were hired due to their versatility. Tong recorded six voices (older characters) while Hong recorded seven voices (younger characters).
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! opened on April 4, 1956 in Loew's State Theater in New York City and theatrically released in the United States on April 27, 1956, on a double-bill with Prehistoric Women. The film was released to 283 theaters in Boston. The film earned more than $2 million in rentals during its initial theatrical run. The film earned a $200,000 profit for its producers. The TV rights were then sold to RKO and the film made its broadcast debut in 1959 on KHJ-TV in Los Angeles.
The film was theatrically released in Japan on May 29, 1957 as Kaiju Ō Godzilla (Monster King Godzilla) to a positive reception from Japanese audiences, with the English dialogue subtitled in Japanese. The film was the first Japanese film to become a commercial success in the United States and was the fourth foreign film, at the time, to have grossed passed $1 million at the American box office. Goldman originally acquired the film to distribute in American and Canadian markets, however, due to the film’s commercial success, foreign distributors became interested in acquiring the American cut. As a result, Trans World renegotiated with Toho to license the American cut to foreign markets.
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review, dismissing it with: "'Godzilla', produced in a Japanese studio, is an incredibly awful film". After complaining about the dubbing, the special effects ("a miniature of a dinosaur") and the similarity to King Kong, he concluded, "The whole thing is in the category of cheap cinematic horror-stuff, and it is too bad that a respectable theater has to lure children and gullible grown-ups with such fare".
On the film's alterations, film critic Danny Peary accused the producers of making "deletions that arouse suspicions regarding the cover up of references to damage done by the A-bomb." Film critic Tim Lucas noted, "Much has been done to Americanize the Godzilla series over the decades, much of it inane and destructive, but the craft and cleverness that went into Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is immediately apparent." Over the years, original director Ishirō Honda was asked by film historians if the alterations made by the American version without his permission had offended him. Honda found the alterations amusing, stating that his film was "trying to imitate American monster movies."
In writing for Ritual and Event, Aaron Kerner stated, "the 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters transforms Gojira into a run of the mill science fiction film." William Tsutsui criticized the film for watering down the original themes, stating, "although Gojira was not exactly eviscerated in this transition, with the terrifying charm of the monster thankfully surviving the cinematic surgery, much of the emotional power, intellectual depth, social relevance, and visceral impact of Gojira was lost in its translation to US movie screens."
Author David Kalat felt that Burr’s narration during Godzilla’s rampage improves upon the original scene, stating, “Burr’s speeches here are chilling, and memorable.” Kalat further praised how the narration renders Burr’s character as impotent, stating, “not even the American hero can save the day this time.”
In 2006, Classic Media and Sony BMG Music Entertainment Home Entertainment released a two-disc DVD set titled Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece. This release features both the 1954 film and the 1956 American version, making the original Japanese version of the film available on DVD in North America for the first time. This release features theatrical trailers for both films, audio commentary tracks on both films with Godzilla scholars Steve Ryfle (author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G) and Ed Godziszewski (editor of Japanese Giants Magazine), two 13-minute documentaries titled "Godzilla Story Development" and "Making of the Godzilla Suit," and a 12-page essay booklet by Steve Ryfle. This release also restores the original ending credits of the American film which, until recently, were thought to have been lost.
In 2012, the Criterion Collection released a "new high-definition digital restoration" of Godzilla on Blu-ray and DVD. This release includes a remaster of the 1956 American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, as well as other special features such as interviews with Akira Ikufube, Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, actor Akira Takarada, Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai and audio commentaries on both films by David Kalat, author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series.
In 2014, Classic Media reissued Gojira and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in a 2-disc DVD release, to commemorate the release of Legendary's Godzilla film. This release retained the same specs and features as the 2006 DVD release. In 2019, the film was included as part of a Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era.
Italian re-release Edit
In 1977, Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi released to Italian theaters a further modified and colorized version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, with a soundtrack that used a magnetic tape process similar to Sensurround. Though the Italian colorized version was released as Godzilla, it is referred to by fans, and Cozzi himself, as Cozzilla. Cozzi coined the title Cozzilla as a pen-name when he was writing for magazines, and later adopted it as the production company name for re-releasing the film. According to Cozzi, Toho had licensed the colorized version to Turkey. Cozzi noted that his colorization was the first attempt ever done at colorizing a black-and-white film.
Due to the success of the 1976 remake of King Kong, Cozzi attempted to cash in on the film's success by re-releasing Gorgo. Cozzi, however, was unable to acquire the film because "the King Brothers asked for too much money". Cozzi then chose Godzilla as a second option. He originally intended to acquire the 1954 film, but Toho was only able to provide negatives for the 1956 American version. Cozzi's regional distributors refused to release it after discovering the film was in black-and-white, so he chose to colorize the film to secure its release. Cozzi renegotiated with Toho, gaining their approval. Included in the new deal was that Toho retained sole ownership of the colorized negative. Cozzi had final approval over the stock footage, music, and the colorization. At the time, theatrical films were required to run 90 minutes. Therefore, Cozzi was "forced" to add the stock footage to extend the film's runtime:
"The decision to insert extra footage was because the original picture was 1 hour and 20 minutes. This was normal length in the fifties but in the mid seventies a picture to be shown theatrically had to be at least 1 hour and 30 minutes long. So we were forced to add material to it in order to reach that length. Its final length was 1 hour and 45 minutes".
The decision to specifically add real footage of death and destruction from war-time film reels was intentional on Cozzi's part. Cozzi wanted to give an old film an "up-to-date and more violent look". While editing the film, Cozzi was aware that certain stock footage didn't match the Godzilla footage, but he chose to proceed, feeling that the "effect would have been stronger than the defects". Additional footage was recycled from The Train and The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Cozzi added brief clips from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Godzilla Raids Again as tributes, taken from his personal 16mm prints. He coined the term "Spectrorama 70" for advertising purposes, the term referring to colorization and the feeling of 70mm. Cozzi stated that it "helped to give a 'bigger' look at my Godzilla theatrical re-release advertising materials".
For the soundtrack, Cozzi reprocessed the original 1956 soundtrack, turning it into a eight-track magnetic band stereophonic variation by adding new music and sound effects. Cozzi later added Sensurround effects and special giant loudspeakers to the theaters playing the film. Using the pseudonym "Magnetic System", Vince Tempera composed the film's additional score using his personal electric piano. Cozzi hired Tempera after he expressed interest in collaborating on a project. Tempera immediately accepted due to his being a fan of Godzilla. Cozzi selected synth music because he wanted the score to give his version of the film a "modern look" and have audiences see the difference between the new scenes and the originals. During the film's opening weekend, Tempera's additional score was released as a 45 rpm record. It was later released as a 33 rpm LP.
Cozzi hired Enzo Nistri to paint a new poster for the colorized release (Nistri's poster was later used on the cover of Fangoria magazine). Cozzi hired Armando Valcauda to do the colorization of the film, while Alberto Moro, Cozzi's mentor, was hired to edit the film. It was colorized frame-by-frame using stop motion gel photography. The process took only three months, as they were in a rush to release the film. Valcauda did all the colorization himself, while Cozzi edited the film with Moro. Cozzi noted that Yamato Video in Milan owns one new 35mm print of the colorized version, as well as an original colorized 35mm film negative, acquired from Toho. Yamato planned to release the 1954 film, the 1956 American cut, and the 1977 Italian color cut on DVD. Those plans, however, were abandoned after the DVD release of the 1954 film flopped financially.
While the 1954 film is credited for starting the franchise and establishing the template for tokusatsu filmmaking, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was responsible for introducing international audiences to the character Godzilla. The Japanese version was unavailable overseas until 2004, when it was given a limited theatrical run in North America to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary. In 1982, a subtitled version of the Japanese cut was screen in New York and Chicago film festivals honoring Takeshi Shimura's work. After the release of the 1956 American version, Toho adopted the moniker "King of the Monsters" in publicity materials. The moniker was used as the title for the 1983 unproduced American film and as the title for Legendary's Godzilla sequel. Subsequent Godzilla films featured reporters as the leads. Author David Kalat credits Burr for this trend, stating, "these reporter heroes may owe their prominence to the legacy of Raymond Burr's Steve Martin."
In 1985, New World Pictures released Godzilla 1985, an American adaptation of Toho's The Return of Godzilla. Like Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, it used footage from the Toho film, with added footage shot in Hollywood, and the dialog re-recorded in English. Raymond Burr reprised his role as Steve Martin, acting as an adviser to the Pentagon, but did not interact within the main story as he had done in King of the Monsters. The Return of Godzilla was a sequel to the 1954 film, and Godzilla 1985 served as a sequel to Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.
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