Gorgo

Except for endless juvenile-aimed product from Japan and embarrassing atrocities like Konga and Reptilicus, MGM’s 1961 Gorgo pretty much signaled the end of the giant-monster-on-the-loose genre that had continued unabated since 1953.  Although many of the genre’s plot conventions were recycled for Gorgo, Eugene Lourie (co-writer of the original story) can be forgiven, as he also directed and helped write The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the film that began the giant monster assault.

The storyline of capturing a giant monster, transporting it to a major metropolitan area, and putting it on display, whereupon it escapes and wreaks havoc, had been done to death since The Lost World and King Kong in the 1920s and ‘30s.  What set Gorgo apart from others of its ilk was a happy ending due to the beast not being destroyed at the finale.  Although 1949’s Mighty Joe Young had a similar upbeat ending, Joe Young was a very human-like ape, so it was safer for the filmmakers to let him live than it was for Gorgo, a savage-looking dinosaur.

The story’s other novel twist is that Gorgo turns out not to be a beast at all, but rather a beastlet, a mere thirty-feet tall.  When Gorgo is captured and its mother discovers Junior is missing, the angry Mamasaurus comes to the rescue, sinking ships and destroying London until she frees her child and they both return to their home in the sea.  The idea for this warm-hearted ending came to Lourie years earlier when his young daughter tearfully watched The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms perish in flames, and the director vowed to one day make a film where the monster survives. 

Gorgo’s man-in-a-suit monster is inferior to most stop-motion dinosaurs, but better than many of its type.  Some of Gorgo’s other technical effects are overly ambitious for the budget, resulting in too many cheesy-looking shots, whereas some of the effects come off very well.  The producers also added an interminable amount of military stock footage to pad the film’s length, and Lourie’s initial story was altered by other writers, resulting in an unfocused screenplay full of missed opportunities. 

But all of this is more than compensated for by the ending and the allegorical nature of the story.  While most giant monster movies try to convince you that their implausible premises are plausible, Gorgo was not meant to be a realistic film.  Unlike It Came From Beneath The Sea’s octopus, who comes to the surface to feed on humans, and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, who gobbles down a policeman first chance he gets, Gorgo and his mom don't have any appetite whatsoever.  There are two reasons for this:  first, so we don't lose sympathy for them because they snack on us, and second, because they're not supposed to be real animals.

Gorgo is about man’s plundering of the environment, as personified by the islanders who steal the pirates’ treasures, as well as the two lead characters who abduct Gorgo from his home in the sea.  When Mother Earth strikes back in the form of Mama, it’s a symbolic retribution for all of the previous cinematic monsters who met their downfall at the hands of rapacious entrepreneurs.  While conventional weaponry was sufficient to bring about the demise of Them!’s giant ants, 20 Million Miles To Earth’s Ymir, and practically every other oversized creature let loose during the 1950s, Gorgo’s mother is clearly unstoppable.  Despite almost every imaginable weapon being thrown at her, she isn't even phased.  She’s clearly on a mission to warn us that the Earth will strike back if we don't treat it with the proper respect, a theme Lourie also explored in his third monster opus, The Giant Behemoth.  Despite more death and destruction than in a dozen monster movies, Gorgo is a deeply-touching film that was a fitting and satisfying end to the cycle. 

To learn about Gorgo’s remarkable music score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, click HERE.

 

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