Toho’s Successful Kong Attempt: King Kong Escapes (1967)

Toho wanted nothing more than to make movies with King Kong in them…

In 1966, King Kong received that which every franchise dreams of: an animated series. This particular series was spear-headed by Rankin/Bass (which you may remember from every holiday special ever) who commissioned Toei Animation (whom you may recognize as the studio behind a lot of major anime) to create the series but no one working for the Fictosphere has seen it and it was decided to ignore the multiple Kong animated series this month. All we know is that the show apparently has a theme song that makes it sound like King Kong is a Columbian drug lord:

Luckily for us, the success of this collaboration led Rankin/Bass to want to bring King Kong back to the silver screen with the able assistance of Toho Studios. The first attempt was a script called Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong Vs. Ebirah and for whatever reason, Rankin/Bass passed on it and it became Ebirah, Horror of the Deep which featured Godzilla (who got top billing sometimes) and Mothra (who did not) while not doing much to hide the fact that Godzilla was supposed to be Kong. The next attempt at a Kong movie was King Kong Escapes. As you can probably tell, they actually made this one.

Unfortunately, Kong never travels by submarine in this movie.

The movie largely concerns Madame Piranha and Doctor Who (no, not that one, but you can feel free to imagine your favorite Doctor in the role) as they attempt to mine the rare Element X far beneath the surface of the North Pole. Madame Piranha is a spy, you see, and her undisclosed country wants the Element X so they can be the world’s foremost nuclear superpower and Doctor Who just wants to get paid. Their first attempt involves a robotic duplicate of King Kong named Mechanikong but its circuits get fried after exposure to Element X and it’s decided that the original King Kong would be more suited to the task. It should be noted that, at this point, King Kong’s existence hasn’t yet been confirmed and neither Doctor Who nor the man he stole the Mechanikong plans are basing their plans on anything but imagination.

That man is Commander Cody Nelson, who is a boring science hero. He is joined by Lieutenant Commander Jiro Nomura and Lieutenant Susan Watson on a United Nations submarine. These three find Mondo Island, the suspected home of King Kong, and are almost immediately attacked by Toho superstar Gorosaurus. Luckily, Kong arrives moments after to brutally beat Gorosaurus to death and then do the same to a large snake as Susan and the others make their escape and are able to return to the United Nations to let everyone know that Kong’s real and he lives on Mondo Island.

This, inevitably, leads to King Kong’s capture by Doctor Who. Kong is immediately put to work and mines for a bit before breaking free of Doctor Who’s control. Susan and the others arrive to free him but their only able to escape with the help of Madame Piranha, who has opted to betray her country and Doctor Who after coming up against Nelson’s brick-like charms and the fact that a Kong rampage might destroy thousands of lives.

King Kong then travels the four-thousand miles from the North Pole to Japan and everyone else follows, including Doctor Who and Mechanikong. The two Kongs fight for a bit and then Mechanikong grabs Susan and carries her up Tokyo Tower while Kong follows and tries to save her and kill the robot. He does both and then wrecks Doctor Who’s ship, seemingly killing the good doctor in the process, and then swims back home.

The human portions in this film aren’t bad, though Commander Nelson and Lieutenant Commander Nomura are just kind of there to be bland plot device (Nelson) and kind-of love interest for Susan (Nomura). Susan makes the most of her part, having to act alongside Kong an awful lot, while Doctor Who is cheerfully sinister. Madame Piranha is all right and is a decent femme fatale though her decision to turn against Doctor Who could have used some more work.

The real star of the film, obviously, is King Kong and this time they’ve given him a suit which more closely resembles his classic appearance. This is good, as since he doesn’t share top billing with anyone else he gets a lot of time to shine. He’s also been shrunk to sixty feet here to allow him a greater ability to interact with Susan and the other humans. The battles in this film are generally strong, though the final battle with King Kong and his robotic doppelganger comes off as vaguely anti-climatic though the race and struggle up the Tokyo Tower is imaginative.

This was Toho’s last tango with King Kong, much to their dismay since they had plenty of plans for him. Another Kong-led picture never materialized, nor did his appearance in Destroy All Monsters. You’d think that Mechanikong was fair game, but when Toho wanted to make Godzilla Vs. Mechanikong they discovered that they no longer even had the rights to use something that shared his name. They did use the suit again for episodes of a show called Greenman, but King Kong Escapes was the last we’d see of Toho Kong, though the world would see him again fairly soon…

NEXT: Hammer’s King Kong (1960s/1970s)

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