Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

It’s the way of things. Sometimes a beloved old movie just doesn’t hold up. Today’s heartbreak: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which I may have seen about twenty-five times when I was much younger and have often said is my favorite monster movie. That’s not a claim I’ll make again. I’ve also said that the human stuff is the most interesting material in these movies, and while the material here remains interesting and very watchable, the giant monster stuff is, bluntly, wretched. This is not how I remembered it, but watched just two weeks after Mothra vs. Godzilla, I can see both a far smaller budget for special effects and the intrusion of kid-friendly comedy for the first time. When Mothra shows up to convince Rodan and Godzilla to join forces against a new monster from space, the bigger beasts’ brawl has deteriorated into playing volleyball with boulders.

I still like the human stuff. It revolves around a princess from a south Pacific nation who’s been targeted by killers in a political coup. Someone who looks just like her turns up in Japan, dressed like a bum and drawing crowds with her wild predictions of imminent doom for the planet. She claims she’s from the planet Venus, but the rival faction in the missing princess’s home country wants her dead anyway. I love the leader of the gang. He never once removes his sunglasses in this movie. Instead of the usual battles between Godzilla and the military, this movie goes for a smaller scale, and has a policeman trying to protect the “Venusian” from the four killers in several shootouts. None of these guys could hit the broad side of a barn.

Even though I was underwhelmed by the monster business, our son loved it. The comedy of the squabbling monsters – Rodan in particular enjoys a good laugh – had him charmed and the action had him enthralled. King Ghidorah is, at the end of things, an absolutely amazing design, and the destruction of that city with his lightning-rays remains a pretty impressive bit of miniature effects. It’s a movie that’s pitched straight at eight year-olds, and this one says it’s his favorite of the five that he’s seen so far. We’ll see how he feels when Nick Adams shows up in the next one we watch, in April.

Image: Criterion

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

When Criterion announced their Blu-ray collection of the original fifteen Godzilla movies, my inner twelve year-old smiled, but the more practical middle-aged part of me said no, because I’d honestly rate only five of them as being worth a darn, and that’s a big price to pay for five movies. Then Criterion had a flash 50% off sale and I was told I’d have a bonus coming at work and I’ve got an eight year-old kid who absolutely loved the original, which we saw at the Silver Scream Spook Show in 2018. A boy should have Godzilla movies. I figured we’d watch and blog about the other four that I enjoy over the course of the next few months, and he could enjoy the other ten at his own pace.

He surprised me yesterday by asking to watch the worst of the ten first, so we put on the infamous All Monsters Attack, aka Godzilla’s Revenge, which is a 70 minute cheapie that reuses half of its monster footage from two other movies and tells a kiddie tale about a bullied latchkey eight year-old foiling some bank robbers. He certainly liked it, but this morning, we put on something more impressive.

Mothra vs. Godzilla is the fourth to feature Godzilla, and the last where he’s unequivocally a threat and a menace. It’s a story of newshounds and scientists pitted against two greedy businessmen, and shows that things were just as crappy in the world fifty-six years ago. Newspapers have a critical need to provide information, corporations are unethical and run by monsters, nuclear radiation kills the fields of verdant islands, all that. These movies are only ever as good as the human stuff, and the human stuff in this one is great to watch. I especially like the fellow they cast as the prefecture’s alderman, who looks precisely like he stepped out of an editorial cartoon. His heart may be big, but his civic pride is wrapped in Coke-bottle glasses, buck teeth, and a stringy mustache.

But the wow factor comes with the enormous soundstages and incredible miniature work, and the bizarre spectacle of using a moth prop about the size of a Cadillac and dropping it repeatedly on the head of that poor fellow in the Godzilla suit and never once seeing a line or a wire holding the huge thing up. There are a couple of unfortunate seconds of sped-up film, and that’s the only quibble I’d make with Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsubaraya’s amazing direction and special effects decisions. And even that makes sense because this movie depicts Godzilla as slow, tired, and clumsy as he stumbles around before the first fight. Mothra’s only advantage is speed. Overall, the special effects are completely astonishing. Sure, we’re at an age where we understand how every shot was done; it’s not a case of wondering how they did it, it’s marveling at knowing how much resources and work were required to make it all happen.

The kid agreed. He thought All Monsters Attack was great fun, but he liked this morning’s film better. “There was more Godzilla getting totally really mad and wanting to destroy stuff. Basically there was more destroying stuff.” He is at the age where the monsters are the prime attraction and the people get in the way, of course. That’s fine. More cities will be knocked over for him soon enough.

Image: Criterion