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Gorgo

postercompany: King Brothers Production
and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
year: 1961
runtime: 78′
country: United Kingdom
director: Eugene Lourie
cast: Bill Travers, William Sylvester,
Vincent Winter, Christopher Rhodes,
Joseph O’Conor, Bruce Seton
writers: Eugene Lourie, Robert L. Richards
and Daniel James
cinematographer: Freddie Young
music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
dvd company: CMV Laservision
release date: January 8, 2008
retail price: EUR 10.99
disc details: Region 2 / PAL / single layer
video: progressive / 1.66:1 non-anamorphic
audio: Dolby Digital English, German (2.0 Mono)
subtitles: none
order this disc from Amazon.de
or order the VCI Destruction Edition
from Amazon.com


Plot: A mother monster goes on a rampage through London after its offspring is captured and put on display in a circus there.

Eugene Lourie was no stranger to the giant monster film when King Brothers Productions approached him to direct their modestly budgeted suitmation opus Gorgo.  Lourie had jump-started the modern genre (with the help of stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen) in 1953′s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a prime instpiration for Toho Company’s Gojira the following year, and would return to it as director of The Giant Behemoth (also about a monster attacking London, coincidentally) in 1958.  What had seemed fresh and new in 1953 was already feeling stale and mundane by the the end of the decade, and while King Brothers undoubtedly expected Gorgo to be another production from the same mold Lourie would deliver anything but.

The production would prove different in a number of major areas from Lourie’s earlier efforts.  Firstly, the special effects were to be handled in the same spirit as the pioneering miniature work done by Eiji Tsuburaya for Toho Company instead of through more traditional stop motion animation.  Secondly, the production was to be processed in glorious Technicolor.  Thirdly, the monsters of the picture would not be of the typical pitiable, misunderstood, and inevitably doomed variety.  Instead they would be given understandable motivation, and what’s more, they would be in the right.

Gorgo‘s human story is as engaging as it need be in setting up the action to follow but becomes nearly superfluous by the third act.  It follows a pair of salvage workers (Bill Travers and William Sylvester) who become stranded on the Irish coast after an undersea volcano erupts.  While hunting for supplies to repair their ship they discover the secretive community of Nara Isle, the site of many a Viking shipwreck.  The community turns out to be protecting more than just sunken treasure, and the salvagers are soon confronted by an amphibious monster nearly 70 feet tall.  Convinced that the creature is more valuable than any shipwreck, they capture it and ship it back to London where it is quickly put on display in a circus and amusement park.

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Unfortunatley for the salvage workers (and the entire population of London) the monster, dubbed Gorgo by its marketers, is little more than an infant, and its exponentially larger mother is none to happy about its kidnapping.  After a few entanglements with the Royal Navy, the scorned mother wades up the Thames and into the heart of London, destroying everything in her path on the way to freeing child.  The film ends with the mother and child headed out to sea, leaving the selfishness of man and the smoldering ruins of London behind.

Lourie’s daughter proved the inspiration for Gorgo‘s genre-defying sentimentality, having earlier been saddened that her father had allowed the rampaging Rhedosaurus to be destroyed at the conclusion of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. As such the director focuses squarely on the kidnapped infant and his avenging mother, knowing full and well with whom the sympathies of the children in the audience would lie.  Lourie had initially intended to go further, leaving military action against the mother Gorgo out of the production entirely.  The producers protested and the director complied, though none of the various armaments brought to bare against the creature are shown to have even the slightest effect.

Gorgo is crafted to be a crowd pleaser, devoting almost a full third of its brief running time to the truly epic destruction of London.  With few exceptions this is one of the best monster sequences ever put to film, and when it works (which is much more often than not) it can be every bit as astounding as the marketing would indicate (“Like nothing you’ve ever seen bedore!” screams the ad art).  This reviewer finds it easy to be taken aback as the mother Gorgo snarls with deep red smoke billowing up behind her, and is still fooled every time the monster encroaches upon Piccadilly and poetically destroys a massive advert for its caged child.  A shot of the monster approaching Big Ben is expansive, the night sky filled with fiery smoke.  Interestingly, the creature is almost always filmed travelling from left to right, evoking a strong sense of unstoppability and purpose.

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A largely uncredited effects team accomplishes great things here, including the vast miniatures of London, and cinematographer Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago, Battle of Britain) captures every inch of it with stunning precision.  A fantastic score from Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (Wild, Wild Planet) provides themes of appropriate giganticness – as Glenn says in his notes on the film, “the movie has a BIG, big feel.”  Marring proceedings are a few hefty chunks of stock footage which prove irksome no matter how well edited they may be.  Lourie is said to have removed the stock footage segments from his private print of the film.

I must have seen Gorgo a thousand times as a child, renting it time and again from local video stores and even tuning in to Pat Robertson’s TBN to catch a late night showing.  It holds a special place in my heart, which makes it all the more shameful that its condition on home video is so dire.  The problem with Gorgo seems to be two fold, an issue of rights and conservation.  On the latter front, whether any of the original Technicolor prints of the film remain in existence is questionable and the elements tapped for its multitude of home video transfers are in dire need of restorative work.  As for rights, MGM distributed the picture in the states but seems to have lost track of the paperwork in following years – VCI has since assumed some responsibility for its home video distribution in the USA.

There are currently no domestic releases of Gorgo in the country where it was produced, and VCI’s iterations have been lacking to say the least.  Their latest Destruction Edition from 2005 improved a bit in the image department, but is limited by its poor interlacing and lack of anamorphic enhancement.  The loathsome 5.1 surround remix of the original monophonic audio is the real deal killer here, and while it works well enough in places it renders the climactic final act almost unlistenable.  An original unrestored monophonic track is available on the disc – in French.  VCI is currently re-issuing some of their catalog titles on Blu-ray (and with fine results), so one can hope that an HD version of Gorgo is swimming somewhere out on the horizon.

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The VCI transfer (top) is more detailed and slightly brighter as well as more tightly cropped.  It is also terribly interlaced, squished vertically, and presents with a strange color anomaly (color is shifted upwards and to the left by a couple of pixels) throughout.  The CMV Laservision transfer (bottom) is slightly darker and softer, but is progressive and has more intense color.
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Stepping up in the interim is German DVD outfit CMV Laservision, and while their release is far from perfect it is a step up from the domestic Destruction Edition in several important areas.  While the VCI and CMV Laservision editions seem to share the same original source material (right down to the running time), the CMV Laservision transfer is progressive.  Detail is softer in the German release and contrast a shade darker, but an annoying color shift (a couple of pixels up and to the left in the VCI edition) is thankfully not in evidence.  Even with less in the way of fine detail the German transfer upscales better when blown up and cropped off for widescreen sets.  Audio is presented in the original and preferred monophonic but is, unfortunately, unrestored.  Both English and German language options are included – there are no subtitles.

Supplements kick off with the same brief but informative Behind the Scenes featurette that graced VCI’s two previous DVDs.  The segment is written by the extremely knowledgeable Tom Weaver and gives an excellent overview of Gorgo‘s production.  An extensive image gallery of various memorabilia for the picture and two theatrical trailers (American and German, the latter of which is in much better shape) round out the film-specific extras.  Additional trailers for other CMV Laservision releases are also included,  Krieg der Infras (a Taiwanese Kamen-Rider film), Roboter der Sterne (a compilation of episodes of the Toei television series Super Robot Red Baron), and Godzillas Todespranke (the German variant of the South Korean monster picture Yongary – Monster from the Deep), as well as an advertisement for a German book on giant monster cinema.

Gorgo has been a lifelong favorite and its state in the home video market is disparaging to say the least (a Japanese release from a few years back may be superior to all the English variants for all I know, but it is long OOP).  While I can hope for better editions in the future, the CMV Laservision remains the best option for the moment.  The film itself comes very highly recommended.

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6 thoughts on “Gorgo

  1. ”Like nothing you’ve ever seen before!”

    Yes… if you’ve not seen “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” or “Godzilla” or “Godzilla Raids Again” or “Rodan” or “Varan the Unbelievable”.

    I firmly believe the Brits just wanted their own Godzilla and didn’t care about the mundane story they used to get it. Interesting, I’d like to see Gorgo come back some day. Perhaps… “Gorgo vs. Reptilicus”?

  2. . . . except that the producers (that is to say, the three brothers King) weren’t British at all. Nor was director Lourie. The British element to Gorgo seems to be happenstance at best – it was where the film could best be produced after a co-production deal with an unspecified Japanese company fell through.

    As for mundane story, I’d rate Gorgo well ahead of Varan, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, or Godzilla Raids Again any day. The human drama loses itself a bit in directionless subplots about alcoholism and infighting, but the core of the story – the unshakable bond between parent and child (monsters though they may be) – stays solid right up to the final fadeout.

  3. Perhaps, but “Varan” has Ifukube’s wonderful score, which for my money, sets it head and shoulders above “Gorgo”, which I find a chore to get through. Also, it’s shot in black and white and scope, one of the most beautiful film mediums ever. I’ll give you Beast and Raids Again, though (though I wouldn’t rate Gorgo above them).

  4. I enjoy Ifukube’s score for “Varan”, of course, but it’s not enough to make me like the film proper. I expect I find it as much a chore to sit through as you find “Gorgo”.

  5. Hi Ian – the titles are in their original English. From what I can tell the German disc used the same video master VCI has been encoding from for years, only processed more appealingly. The film still looks like hell, of course, but better than on other home video editions I’ve seen.

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