Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (Japan 1956)

Rating: **
Review Date: 7/12/02
Cast: Raymond Burr

The movie that started it all. This is a dark and vicious monster movie classic that raises a desperate plea for world peace and nuclear disarmament. Several ships have mysteriously disappeared near Japan, and an American journalist named Steve Martin (a soulful Raymond Burr) happens to be in Tokyo to investigate. The investigation leads to Ohta Island, where they discover a giant radioactive monster who the islanders refer to as "Godzilla" (or Gojira if you prefer). Godzilla makes an assault on Tokyo, and it becomes clear that the humans are utterly helpless. Fortunately for the human race, a reclusive scientist named Sarazawa discovers a horrific weapon which he calls the oxygen destroyer, and ultimately uses it to kill Godzilla. But he'll be back for at least another twenty-five films...

It's interesting to note how different this film is in tone and execution than the franchise that would spring up in its wake. While many of the effects are laughable by today's standards, they certainly have a no-nonsense intensity about them. Tokyo has never been so fully and horrifically flattened. Godzilla is an interesting combination of a man in a suit, a puppet, and a stop motion model, which is very different looking than the monster in the sequels. The film's biggest flaw is its dreadfully slow pacing, which is made worse by the awkward insertion of American shot footage featuring Raymond Burr. He's horribly out of place in the film, and spends most of his time looking pensive and narrating the story. In defense of the American version of the film, I was pleased and fascinated by the amount of original Japanese material that was left intact. Nearly half the dialog is still in Japanese, and there's a definite feeling of respect and goodwill towards the material. This is particularly impressive considering the post-war time period when it came out.