Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Retro Monster Movie: King Kong Escapes

What do you get when you combine the monster, sci-fi & spy film genres, and toss in a bit of a cartoon series for good measure? The result is 1967’s King Kong Escapes, a co-production between Japan’s Toho studios & Rankin-Bass, the US animation company responsible for classics like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer & Mad Monster Party. Based in part on the Rankin-Bass animated series The King Kong Show, the film features the evil Dr. Who (no relation to the title character of the long running BBC series) who has created a robot replica of Kong called Mechani-Kong. He’s using the robot to obtain an ore called “Element X” which will help his employer, Madame X, and her unnamed country, make weapons that will enable them to..…you guessed it….RULE THE WORLD. Meanwhile a submarine commanded by Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason, brother of Rex, star of This Island Earth) ) gets waylaid while on a mission for the UN, and ends up at Mondo Island, the real Kong’s home. Nelson & his crew have an up close & personal encounter with Kong. The big, furry guy takes a shine to Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller), and battles a couple of giant creatures in order to protect her. Our stalwart heroes barely escape the island alive.

Back at villain central, the bad guys have a problem: the radioactivity in Element X has fried Mechani-Kong's circuits. So what’s a super-villain to do? Dr. Who sets out to find the real Kong and bring him back to his Arctic lair, so he can use the giant ape to mine the ore. Of course, it’s inevitable that the bad guys will cross paths with our heroes. And in true pulp movie fashion, we discover Dr. Who is an old nemesis of Nelson’s. When the nefarious villain successfully captures Kong, he has trouble controlling him, and kidnaps Susan (along with the rest of the sub's command crew) in order to control the lovelorn ape. The beautiful but deadly Madame X tries to use her charms to get Nelson to turn to the dark side, but has little success. Of course, an angry & not so complacent Kong escapes (hence the title), a repaired Mechani-Kong is sent after him by Dr. Who, and a battle of titans ensues in Tokyo, with Susan in the middle. Can Kong rescue his lady love and save the day? Will Tokyo get stomped once again? You have seen one of these films before, right? ;)

A blogger meets Kong's lady friend:
With co-star Linda Miller at Chiller Con in April 2015
King Kong Escapes is an enjoyably silly Saturday matinee adventure. Dr. Who & his minions seem to have stepped right out of a 60s spy film, and the movie even features a bona fide Bond girl, Mie Hama of You Only Live Twice, as Madame X, the evil femme fatale. Ms. Miller (who also appeared in The Green Slime) makes for an attractive damsel in distress, and Reason is a determined square-jawed hero, along with Akira Takarada as his right hand man, Jiro Nimura. You’ll also notice the talents of the ubiquitous Paul Frees, who did vocal work for a lot of cartoon shows in the 60s & 70s, as the dubbed voice of Dr. Who. If you’re in the mood for some old school monster mayhem, grab some popcorn & drinks, and sit back & indulge the young creature features fan inside you: this is the perfect film for it. It’s the second and final Toho epic to feature Kong, after the battle of titans in King Kong vs. Godzilla. The monster clashes (with a dinosaur & a giant snake on Mondo island and Mechani-Kong in Tokyo) are fun, and while the movie may not be quite as well-regarded as some of the other late 1960s Toho entries, like Destroy All Monsters, it’s still a great ride for genre aficionados. I've certainly had a soft spot in my heart for the film since my younger days, and still enjoy watching it. The movie is now available on Blu-ray & DVD: sadly, there are no special features. Here’s a link to the trailer:

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