Monday, July 05, 2004

Movie: Godzilla (1954)

To mark the big green guy’s 50th anniversary, Rialto Pictures is releasing the uncut Japanese version of his debut in the United States for the first time. Which means no Raymond Burr as reporter ‘Steve Martin.’ Rosemarie wanted to stage a protest outside the theater as Burr fans demanding that his scenes be restored just to see if we’d make the local news. I think it would have worked.

The structure of this version is the same as the one I spent far too many Saturday afternoons watching. The beats have been cannibalized for every disaster film since – an escalating series of odd events in a remote location is given a fantastic explanation, which then lays waste to a more populous area – but there’s a primal kick in seeing the originator and not the imitators.

Still, this cut plays like an entirely different film. World War II isn’t merely a subtext here but the movie’s raison d’etre. The ingénue points to a headline about Godzilla and says, “The contaminated tuna, the black rain, and now this,” then makes a casual reference to having survived the bombing of Nagasaki. A Geiger counter erupts when waved over a child in the aftermath of Godzilla’s attack. A scientist has discovered a weapon that might destroy Godzilla, but he doesn’t want to reveal its existence out of fear that his project will simply become the next H-bomb. It’s little wonder this version wasn’t made available to American audiences.

As for the special effects, there’s more character in these miniatures and the baggy lizard suit than in most CGI sequences.

Video: Lord Love A Duck (1966)

This post by Filmbrain as well as my own recent ramblings about sex comedy led me to check out George Axelrod’s pitch-black satire about ... well, everything. Axelrod wrote the screenplay for THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and the stage version of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?, and his directorial debut has a hardcore legion of fans. Would that I could be included in their number.

The movie’s impetus seems to be the era’s beach party films, with their sanitized anarchy. Axelrod adds a genuine anarchic spirit to the mix, a student at a progressive SoCal high school (Roddy McDowall) who seems more like the trickster figure from folklore. McDowell devotes himself to making the dreams of fellow student Tuesday Weld come true, no matter the cost.

Axelrod takes aim at all the sacred cows of the period, and this scattershot approach is part of the problem. Watching this movie is like talking to a misanthrope with attention deficit disorder. It’s also too arch, a failing common to many comedies of the mid-‘60s (like THE LOVED ONE, released the previous year). The movie would play better if its excesses were either toned down or amped up. The performances, though, are uniformly strong, especially Weld’s. McDowall may be too old to play a high school student, but he came across as 40 even in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

Filmbrain isn’t kidding about the scene with Weld and her father being among the most disturbing of the 1960s. I had to go down to the lab for some eyewash when it was over. Here’s another disquieting thought: based on her recent appearances, I think Carrie Fisher is turning into Ruth Gordon.

Miscellaneous: Links

From GreenCine, a great 2002 Rolling Stone article about life with Brando. Also, Vertigo then and now.