Column: The Vault of Secrets: Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo (1961). Directed by: Eugene Lourie. Starring: Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight’s picture is Gorgo, the British answer to Godzilla. Gorgo has appeared on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which doesn’t speak well for its quality, but it’s actually a much-beloved giant monster movie, and quite a bit better than the usual run of MST3k fodder (though that certainly counts as damning with faint praise).

Gorgo is one of those movies that I’ve long been familiar with thanks to write-ups in various books about movie monsters. It’s probably best known for its (admittedly very clever) idea of having the initial monster actually just be an infant, prompting a much-larger version to show up midway through the movie. This also leads to the movie’s other interesting trait, which is that the monsters are actually victims of human meddling, with the mother Gorgo simply trying to rescue her child. Making the giant beast a figure of sympathy is nothing new to big monster movies, but few before this had ever made them as emphatically the wronged party as Gorgo does and few others let them disappear back into the sea at the end, “leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast that he alone is lord of all creation.”

Probably the most interesting thing about Gorgo for giant monster fans is seeing a kaiju (a Japanese word meaning “strange beast” that has come to be synonymous with the giant monsters popularized in seemingly endless Japanese films) stomping around in a different-than-usual locale and those are the places where Gorgo shines brightest. Seeing the monster hauled through Piccadilly Circus on a trailer (with a billboard for the Hammer version of The Mummy in the background), or watching it tear down Big Ben and Tower Bridge, are all great fun. (Gorgo isn’t quite the only British kaiju picture. Konga, the British answer to King Kong, came out the same year.)

Around those scenes is all the usual stuff you’ve come to expect from giant monster movies, including lots of scenes of panicking crowds and stock footage of military stuff. It was the final film from director Eugene Lourie, who was no stranger to giant monsters, having previously helmed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth, as well as the Frankenstein-ish Colossus of New York. Supposedly, Lourie (who also came up with the ending of the monsters surviving after his daughter cried at the end of The Giant Behemoth) didn’t want any of the military action to take place in the film. He later acquired a 35mm print for his own personal use and cut out all the military shots, which would have made for a much shorter picture.

Like Godzilla, Gorgo also starred in a series of comics, published by Charlton Comics between 1961 and 1965, featuring work by Steve Ditko, among others. They’ve since been collected by Craig Yoe into a very attractive hardcover volume.

One of the strangest things about Gorgo is that there is no love interest. In fact, there are no female characters at all. In the MST3k episode, they make several jokes about this fact, even going so far as to make it the focus of one of their host segments, in which the ‘bots attempt to find female characters to fill out their Gorgo pin-up calendar. The MST3k episode is also notable for actually guest-starring Leonard Maltin (as himself), after many previous digs at him on the show.

The version of Gorgo that I watched had really terrible picture quality, but there’s a recent Blu-ray version of the movie floating around that seems to look pretty sharp, based on the trailers I scared up. So, if you’re aiming to see Gorgo, that’d probably be the way to do it.

That’s it for tonight’s program, but be sure to join us next time when we’re menaced by some very different giant monsters.

Orrin Grey

About Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. His stories of ghosts, monsters, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. He can be found online at orringrey.com.

Orrin GreyColumn: The Vault of Secrets: Gorgo (1961)