Movie Review: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) – Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films (Bonus)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)

Premise: A 400-foot (122-meter) dinosaur-like beast, awoken from undersea hibernation off the Japanese coast by atomic-bomb testing, attacks Tokyo.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes all the nuance out of Godzilla (1954) and throws in Raymond Burr’s awkward and stilted as all hell Steve Martin character. It’s maybe a little reductive to say this version of the original film is completely unnecessary. But it’s true. King of the Monsters feels so ridiculously hollow and dry  that it makes it very difficult not to view it as an affront to the 1954 original. It relies on Burr’s character narrating the story to us in order to make it at least appear to have some cohesion. But in the end it just feels like a dry voice performance recapping the original movie for US audiences.

The film tries to cram the original Japanese film’s characters and plots into a weak story about a foreign correspondent (Raymond Burr) who’s witnessing the attacks. If that was all the film did, it would be a passable bastardization. Unfortunately, there are extremely awkward moments where Momoko Kochi’s Emiko character is inserted into Burr’s character’s plot line. Shots from behind with a body double and English dubbed dialogue leaves a lot to be desired; even by 1956 standards.

But there are more grievous dubbing issues plaguing Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The tremendous Takashi Shimura’s Yamane character is dubbed in English in order to deliver passionless expository dialogue. To its credit, King of the Monsters does include Yamane’s conflict over the potential destruction of Godzilla. However, in order to cram in the American plot, so much of the nuance and drama behind Yamane’s characterization is cast aside. Considering Shimura’s immense talent and range as an actor, the handling of Yamane in King of the Monsters is a betrayal that the film does not come back from.

The most aggravating aspect of Godzilla: King of the Monsters was the use of the original film’s most heartbreaking scenes as set dressing and exposition dumps. The most poignant scene of 1954’s Godzilla involves children being checked with Geiger counters. It comes in the aftermath of a devastating attack and brings home the horror facing Japan. In the original film, it evokes heartbreaking reflections of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. King of the Monsters, however, uses this scene as one of its opening shots while Burr brings the audience up to speed in awkward voice over narration.

In a lot of ways, this mistreatment of the original film’s storytelling is indicative of the feeling of meaninglessness that permeates throughout King of the Monsters. Sure, it’s an interesting experiment and, in parts, is intriguing to see how Burr is inserted into the narrative. However, because it’s poorly repurposing such a fantastic Japanese film, much (if not all) of Godzilla, King of the Monsters feels like a waste of time meant to dumb down a good story for an American audience.

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About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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