Godzilla (1956)


A filmography for Toho Studios’ other Godzilla and atomic monster films appears separately from the Dinofilm list.


PreCommentary: The 1954 Japanese film, Gojira, actually: derived fromthe nickname (blend of gorilla and whale) of a worker at TohoStudios. Americans Richard Kay and Harold Ross bought a batchof Japanese stock footage and were intrigued by the pieces fromthis film. For American release, scenes with Raymond Burr wereadded, other scenes were dubbed, 20 minutes were taken out–allcosting about $100,000. It grossed 2 million in two years, spawningnumerous other atomic monster films. This original tale was remadein 1984 (released in the US as Godzilla 1985 with an olderBurr) and another version appeared in 1998 by TriStar Pictures.

Notes: TohoStudios.
Steve Martin: Raymond Burr
Dr. Yogami: Takashi Shimura
Godzilla: Haru Nakamiji in a rubber suit
Rubber Suit Design: Ryosaku Takasugi
Directed: Inoshiro Honda
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya.

Summary: Burr narrates to scenes of city rubble: “This is Tokyo, oncea city of 6 million people. What has happened here was causedby a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond thescope of man’s imagination. Tokyo–a smoldering memorial to theunknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails andcould at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhereelse in the world.” He introduces his wounded self as SteveMartin, foreign correspondent for United World News, althoughhow he gets away with writing all that sanctimonious and uninformativecrap is the new question. His stop-over in Tokyo on his way toEgypt “turned out to be a visit to the living hell of anotherworld.” “The only thought left was the paralyzing fearthat it could happen again today or tomorrow. . . . The odorof scorched flesh permeated the air.” “What broughtthis upon us?” asks a woman, setting Burr up for more pompousnarration.

In retrospect, some atomic explosions 10,000feet below the sea didn’t prompt speculation that they “wouldshake the foundations of the civilized world.” Japaneseships begin exploding and sinking: “There was a blindingflash of light and the ocean burst into flame.” ReporterMartin asks, “Are there any survivors?” “No, notyet.” (Huh?) In eight ship disasters, “terrible seaof fire engulfs all.” Survivors die “in a matter ofminutes from shock and strange burns.”

A paleontologist blabs at a press conferenceabout “Odo island in the Pacific, home of several hundrednatives who were now paralyzed with fear.” We all go there. During native ceremony reminiscent of that in King Kong(1933), one “native” speaks of a monster and Martinsuspects “too much saki.”

Martin and a guy Inspector Clouseau would callhis “little yellow friend,” Dr. Yogami, camp in tentsduring a monsoon which bring Godzilla’s rage against a bamboohut and its inhabitants. Witnesses testify to having seen “aliving creature.” We all go aboard a ship on which an emotionlesslove triangle emerges among three Japanese people, one (Dr. Sarazow)recognizable because he wears an eyepatch. Back on the island,radioactive contamination is detected. Then Godzilla appearsand people run back and forth.

We go into lecture again, with a crappy slideshow supposedly connected to blab about the Jurassic Age and a400+-foot tall creature hitherto undiscovered, half land-livingand half sea-living (the word “amphibious” would havemade the film mercifully shorter). The bomb gets the blame forits reappearance. Burr, with what should have become his theme-line:”Well, it’s big and terrible.”

The Japanese decide to use depth-charges toblow up Gojira, the idiots. Someone’s daddy laments that thecreature should be studied, not destroyed, but he’s sitting inan armchair instead of walking up to Gojira with a magnifyingglass. “Hope and celebration were short-lived.” Gozeerahis in Tokyo Harbor, nope he’s out and knocking down powerlinesand tanks don’t work. A train sequence is also plagiarized fromKing Kong. We set up a corral of 300,000 volts aroundthe city and the Japanese evacuate themselves. Lizardo Montalbanemerges from the bay, is compared to a 30-story building, andturns Tokyo into “a sea of fire.” Worse yet, Burr sweats. That girl recalls how Patch showed her a weird fish-killing techniquein his lab aquarium once. She and her new fiancĂ© go toreason with him. No, never, okay, yes. A telecast of Japanesekids whining something musical persuades him where the sight ofhis ex and her new boy strangely don’t. It is a method of destroyingthe oxygen in water called the “oxygen destroyer.” He’s in an agony of moral indecision and will allow this deviceto be used only once, and he destroys the paperwork.

It works, and Patch cuts his own lifeline todie with Gojira, who surfaces once, sinks, dissolves to bonesand then to nothing. Hats come off.

Commentary: It is difficult not to read the film as an atomic age parable,especially during the first minutes of Burr’s narration and thedepiction of the consequences. As Joe Bob Briggs says on Saturdaynight’s TNT MonsterVision, surprised at how well the film didin the U.S., “Godzilla are us.”

Other Godzilla Films