Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a 1956 Japanese American science fiction kaiju film co-directed by Terry O. Morse and Ishirō Honda. The film is a heavily re-edited version, commonly referred to as an "Americanization" of the Japanese film Godzilla, originally produced by Toho in 1954, which had previously been shown subtitled in the United States in Japanese community theaters only, and was not known in Europe.
For this version of Godzilla, some of the original Japanese dialogue was dubbed into English and some of the political, social, and anti-nuclear themes and overtones were watered down or removed completely, resulting in 30 minutes of footage cut from the original Japanese version and replaced with new footage shot exclusively for the film's North American release, featuring Canadian actor Raymond Burr playing the lead role of American journalist Steve Martin, from whose perspective the film is told, mainly through flashbacks and narration. The new footage featured Burr interacting with Japanese-American actors and look-alikes to make it seem like he was part of the original Japanese production.
Although a handful of independent, low-budget films had previously been filmed in Japan after World War II by American companies and featuring Japanese players in the cast, Godzilla represented the first to present Japanese in principal, heroic roles or as sympathetic victims of the destruction of Tokyo (albeit by a fictional giant monster) to the American public in a commercial release given A-picture status and bookings.
It was this version of the original Godzilla film that introduced most audiences outside of Japan to Godzilla and labeled the character as "King of the Monsters".
American reporter, Steve Martin, is brought to a hospital with dozens of maimed and wounded citizens. In flashback, Martin recalls stopping over in Tokyo, where a series of ship disasters catches his attention. When a survivor finally washes up on Odo Island, Martin flies there for the story with Tomo Iwanaga, a representative of the Japanese security forces and learns of the island inhabitants' belief in a sea monster god known to them as "Godzilla", which they believe is causing the disasters.
Martin returns to the island with Dr. Yamane, who leads an investigation crew to Odo Island, where radioactive footprints and a Trilobite are discovered. An alarm rings and Martin, the villagers, and Dr. Yamane's crew head to a hill for safety, only to come across Godzilla. Dr. Yamane returns to Tokyo to present his findings and concludes that Godzilla was resurrected by repeated nuclear tests. Martin contacts his old friend, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, for dinner but refuses due to planned commitments.
Emiko, Dr. Yamane's daughter, goes over to Serizawa's to break off her arranged engagement to him, due to her love for Hideo Ogata, a salvage ship captain. However, Dr. Serizawa gives her a demonstration of his recent project which horrifies her and is sworn to secrecy while unable to break off the engagement. Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. The next morning, the JSDF construct a line of tall electrical towers along the coast of Tokyo to use against Godzilla.
Godzilla resurfaces that night and breaks through the electrical fences. Martin documents Godzilla's rampage via tape recorder and is nearly killed during the attack. The flashback ends and Martin wakes up back in the hospital with Emiko and Ogata. Horrified by the destruction, Emiko reveals Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer to Martin and Ogata, which disintegrates oxygen atoms and the organisms die of a rotting asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Dr. Serizawa to convince him to use the Oxygen Destroyer but initially refuses. After watching a program displaying the nation's current tragedy, Dr. Serizawa finally gives in to Emiko and Ogata's pleas.
A navy ship takes Ogata and Dr. Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. After finding Godzilla, Dr. Serizawa unloads the device and cuts off his air support, taking the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer to his death. The mission proves to be a success but many mourn at the unexpected loss of Dr. Serizawa. Martin ends the film by saying, "The menace was gone, so was a great man. But the whole world could wake up and live again".
Raymond Burr as Steve Martin
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane
Momoko Kochi as Emiko (as Momoko Kochi)
Akira Takarada as Ogata
Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Serizawa
Sachio Sakai as Hagiwara
Fuyuki Murakami as Dr. Tabata
Ren Yamamoto as Seiji
Toyoaki Suzuki as Shinkichi
Tadashi Okabe as Dr. Tabata's Assistant
Toranosuke Ogawa as President of Company
Frank Iwanaga as Security Officer Tomo
Poster for the Japanese release of Monster King Godzilla (1957)
It was Edmund Goldman who found the original Godzilla in a California Chinatown theater. He bought the international rights for $25,000, then sold them to Jewell Enterprises Inc., a small production company owned by Richard Kay and Harold Ross which, with backing from Terry Turner and Joseph E. Levine, successfully adapted it for American audiences. Levine paid $100,000 for his share.
The adaptation process consisted of filming numerous new scenes featuring Raymond Burr and others, and inserting them into an edited version of the Japanese original to create a new film. The new scenes, written by Al C. Ward and directed by Terry O. Morse, were photographed by Guy Roe with careful attention to matching the visual tone of the Japanese film. Burr's character Steve Martin appeared to interact with the original Japanese cast through intricate cutting and the use of doubles for the Japanese principals, in matching dress, shot from behind in direct interaction with Burr's character.
A documentary style was imposed on the original dramatic material through Burr's dialogue and stentorian narration; he plays a reporter, replacing a comical reporter character in the Japanese original. More importantly, his presence as the lead character served to ease American audiences into comfortable relationships with characters, whose mere nationality might otherwise have made them difficult to relate to. For similar reasons, protracted dialogue regarding the arranged marriage between the Japanese heroine and a scientist was greatly reduced, as the concept would have been unfamiliar to an American audience, and scenes evincing an active affair between two characters was cut to avoid offending parents of the film's youthful target audience. A raging debate in Japan's Diet over the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued nuclear testing was considered unlikely to be approved of by American veterans of the recent war, and the theme of devastation of Japan by nuclear holocaust became sublimated in the editing. This theme was not eliminated, giving the film a subversiveness on the nuclear question that would later be consciously recognized by the youngsters at whom the film was aimed as they entered adulthood.
This production is one of a select few general release American films (including Night of the Living Dead) that were not composed for widescreen despite being released after the widescreen transition of the early to mid 1950s. The new Guy Roe-shot sequences were composed for the Academy ratio just like the Japanese footage, and the ending credits were blocked much too tightly for any amount of matting to be possible without causing lines of text to trail off the screen. Since 80% of downtown theaters and 69% of neighborhood theaters had already converted to widescreen by the end of 1953, and since theaters that made the transition would not have had the Academy ratio aperture plates anymore, it is very likely that many people saw the film in a matted widescreen ratio such as 1.85:1, which had become the non-anamorphic industry standard by September 1956.
There is sometimes confusion about who distributed the film to the U.S. The poster for the film states only that it is "A Transworld Release", while the poster itself bears a copyright notice for "Godzilla Releasing Corporation". Trade reviews from its New York showing indicate that it was released by Embassy Pictures. Classic Media indicates that it was released by Jewell Enterprises, but in fact the credits only show this company as presenting the film. In fact, the film was adapted from the Japanese original by Jewell Enterprises, which took "presentation" credits on the screen and in some advertising copy, copyright by Godzilla Releasing Corporation in its adapted form, and nationally released under control of Transworld Releasing Corp., all of which were companies owned by Rybnick and Kay. It was actually distributed in the western U.S. by Godzilla Releasing Corp. and in the eastern half by Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures Corporation, then just a Boston-based states rights exchange. Embassy was most frequently noted as sole distributor in reviews and trade annuals published in New York: the movie was given "A-film" promotion, and opened at Loew's State Theatre on Broadway and 45th Street in New York City on April 27, 1956.
New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review the following day. He dismissed it with, " 'Godzilla' produced in a Japanese studio, is an incredibly awful film." After complaining about the dubbing, the special effects ("a miniature of a dinosaur"), and an alleged similarity to King Kong, he concluded, "The whole thing is in the category of cheap cinematic horror-stuff, and it is too bad that a respectable theater has to lure children and gullible grown-ups with such fare."
Crowther notwithstanding, the film was a notable success with the American public. The film was a box office success, grossing up to $2 million in the United States alone. It easily exported to Europe and South America, where the original was unknown and where it also had a major impact. The door was thus opened in the Americas and Europe for the import of unexpurgated Japanese science-fiction, horror, and other commercial film products; it also garnered western awareness of Toho Studios, which had retained producer credit. In 1957, the film made its way full circle back to Japan, where it was exhibited as Kaiju Ō Gojira (怪獣王ゴジラ?, lit. "Monster King Godzilla"), where it became at least as popular as the original, replacing the latter in Japanese theaters and influencing sequels and remakes there.
After its theatrical run, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! became a television staple for decades, even into the cable years, and opened the international market for dozens of Godzilla sequels. In the era before widespread home videos, the movie was regularly re-shown in repertory theaters and drive-in theaters. As of May 2014, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! holds a rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In its original theatrical version, the film opened with the logo of TransWorld Releasing Corp. - merely the Toho logo with a rotating globe pasted over it and the text "A TRANSWORLD RELEASE" overlaid - and following the fadeout of the final shot, the hymn being sung by the schoolchildren was reprised over cast and credits, after which the "The End" title appeared in white lettering on a black background, with Godzilla's echoing footsteps eerily replacing the soulful music. However, when Viacom acquired the film for TV re-syndication and first publication on videotape around 1980, Viacom removed the Transworld logo and all cast and credit material from the closing of the film, leaving only the "The End" title, and re-publications made thereafter were taken from the Viacom-revised master (even the so-called "uncut" version released on DVD in 1998 by Simitar). This missing material was partially restored in 2006 on a Sony release; however, the Transworld logo was left out and the end cast and credits were presented in a squashed widescreen letterbox format and mis-edited after the THE END credit instead of before. In 2012 the Criterion Collection restored the film in high definition and reinstated all missing material in the correct order for their Blu-ray/DVD release.
In its original TV syndication, a minimal credit screen reading "Starring Raymond Burr, directed by Terry Morse and I. Honda" in white lettering over a black background was spliced between the main title and the opening shot of Tokyo in ruins. These "opening credits" have never appeared on home video.
In 1985, New World Pictures released Godzilla 1985, based on the Toho production of The Return of Godzilla. Like Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, it used footage from the Toho film, with added footage shot in Hollywood, and the dialog re-recorded in English. Raymond Burr would reprise his role as Steve Martin, acting as an adviser to the Pentagon. Return of Godzilla was a sequel to the original 1954 film, and Godzilla 1985 served as a sequel to Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.
In 1977, Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi released a modified and colorized version to magnetic band and sensurround theaters in Italy. Originally, Cozzi planned to re-release the original 1954 Godzilla without the Raymond Burr scenes but was unable to secure the rights from Toho and instead was sold the Americanized version of the film. Since the film was in black and white, regional distributors in Italy refused to release the film. In order to release the film, Cozzi hired Armando Valcauda to colorize the whole film frame by frame via a process called Spectorama 70 consisting of applying various colored gels to the original black and white footage, becoming one of the first black and white movies to be colorized. The new version of the movie was advertised as: "The greatest apocalypse in the history of cinema with the sonorous and visual wonder of Spectrorama 70". The film's content was re-edited, removing several scenes and adding lots of new ones and stock footage of graphic death and destruction (including a famous scene where Godzilla destroys a train), which made it 105 minutes long. The film soundtrack was edit by Vince Tempera, Franco Bixio and Fabio Frizzi, and when the film was released in cinemas was added in Futursound, an 8-track magnetic sound system based on sensurround, with a special effect that shook the seats each time that Godzilla took a step. Cozzi's film was a great success and received mixed to positive reviews, and some fans consider it superior to the 1957 American film, even appearing on the cover of Fangoria n.
Most prints of the film were lost but some still exist. A bootleg version of the film was also released on some VHS tapes, but in poor quality compared to the theatrical version. As of 2012, the Cozzi colorized version (also known as Cozzilla by fans) has only been released in Italy, and later in Japan and Turkey.