Gorgo (1961)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Gamera vs Guillon

Yongary, Monster from the Deep

Kraa! The Sea Monster


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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

"Dear Mom, you won't believe
the great time I'm having on my
trip to Europe. Enclosed is a picture
of me at the Big Ben tower!"
When you think about it, Japan and Britain have a lot in common. They are both islands, they both make a really big deal about tea, and neither one can seem to resist the urge to occupy China. So perhaps it isn't surprising that the first major Godzilla rip-off outside of Japan came from Britain, in the form of Gorgo.

Our main characters are Joe (Bill Travers) and Sam (William Sylvester), two salvage engineers with suspiciously American accents. Their ship runs into a bad storm off the coast of Ireland. Forced to dock at a small Irish town, the duo soon discover that the local harbormaster is hiding a Viking wreck full of gold. But what this has to do with anything soon becomes lost, because that night a huge honking dinosaur decides to take a midnight stroll through town. The villagers deal with this crisis in the same way that movie villagers deal with all crises: they throw lit torches and swear a lot. The monster, as confused by the Irish as the rest of the world, is driven back to the sea.

Emboldened by the success of
Jurassic Park, Hallmark rolls out
its new "Dino-Gram" product.
The next day Joe and Sam offer their services to the harbormaster. Salvaging ships and capturing Godzilla-sized monsters must be similar tasks, because our heroes quickly formulate a plan. Joe is sent down in a one-man diving bell, just for the hell of it. When the monster attacks the bell... Well, somehow it gets caught in a big net and they haul the critter up on deck. Why the bell needed to be manned was not really clear to us, unless Sam just hates Joe.

As the ship makes its way London, a horrible creature is kept on deck. Not Gorgo, but something worse. We're talking about Sean, a little kid from the Irish town. It is Sean's duty to establish a rapport with the giant monster, and to explain its actions throughout the rest of the film. Shawn spends a lot of time saying things like "It's a bad thing ye're doin'! A teddible bad thing!" That's right: Sean is this film's Kenny.

"Please, mister, I just want to go
back to the Charles Dickens novel
where I belong!"
Not only is Sean a Kenny, but he is, as near as we can tell, the world's very first Kenny. We were under the impression that the Kenny legacy began with Toshio in Giant Monster Gamera, but Gorgo predates that film and its precocious young star by four years. Sean performs his duties as proto-Kenny quite well, even to the point of nearly being squashed in his attempts to free Gorgo from the clutches of the greedy circus-owner. That his predictions come true and that Gorgo is the only character with a reasonably happy ending establishes the principle that Kenny Knows What Will Happen, and he shall have access to people in authority who will (usually) ignore his recommendations.

Christmas at Gorgo's house.
Gorgo is put on display at Dorkin's (snicker) Circus in London, billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. So Dorkin is angling for lawsuits from the makers of both Godzilla and King Kong. It's also here that the creature is actually dubbed Gorgo, a name that Dorkin explains is based on the gorgon, a creature from Greek mythology. Most Greek art and poetry depicts the gorgons as women with snakes for hair (Medusa was one), so exactly how Dorkin got from them to a huge dinosaur isn't clear. He says something about Gorgo's ugliness, but in that case why not use Scylla or Polyphemus, who were at least giant monsters? Then the captured monster could have been named either Cy or Polly. Does Polly want to crush a city? In an earlier scene little Sean claims to believe in a sea monster called Ograh or something similar. But not being a fully-formed Kenny, his suggestion is ignored.

The new name for London's bus
system didn't catch on right away.
Somewhat surprisingly, Gorgo doesn't escape from the circus and go on rampage. Instead it turns out that Gorgo is an immature specimen, and Mama Gorgo shows up in the Tokyo... er, London Harbor and stomps her way inland, somehow choosing a path that hits most of the famous architecture in the city. The film has fine special effects, though the smaller scale buildings (Gorgo is about twice the size of the original Godzilla) don't crumble quite as convincingly as Eiji Tsubaraya's models.

As a realistic dinosaur movie, Gorgo isn't going to fool anyone. The matte lines around Gorgo's tail practically glow as they swipe towards a dinosaur wrangler, who half-heartedly throws himself to the ground when the tail fails to connect convincingly. Still, even kids brought up on today's super-enhanced CGI dinos should recognize this as a good-natured tale of giant lizards run amok, a story that few of the movies featuring lifelike animals are likely to tell. Sure, Jurassic Park had its moments, but what is even the most realistic of T-Rexes when compared to a dinosaur who can crush the Tower Bridge?

Review date: 04/16/2001

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