Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Adding new footage to “Americanize” a foreign film rarely works well. One of the exceptions is the 1956 version of Godzilla, which handles the re-edit tactfully and packs a punch that is almost equal to that of the 1954 original. 7/10

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 1956, USA. Directed by Ishiro Honda & Terry O. Morse. Written by Takeo Murata, Ishiro Honda, Tomoyuki Tanaka, Eiji Tsuburaya, Al C. Ward. Based on story by Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Frank Iwanaga, James Hong, Sammee Tong, Haruo Nakajima. Special effects: Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Edward Barison, Richard Kay, Joseph E. Levine, Harry Rybnick. IMDb: 7.1/10. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.7/10. Metacritic: N/A.

IMPORTANT: This is a review of the Americanised 1956 release Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Since I have already written a lengthy review on the original Japanese release, I will not be going into depth regarding the plot, themes or messages of that movie. If you are not familiar with the original version, I strongly recommend you read my review of it before biting into this text.

So, in 1954 director Ishiro Honda and special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya, along with screenwriter Takeo Murata created Gojira or Godzilla, depending on your translitteration. Inspired by the 1952 re-release of King Kong (1933, review) and the American giant monster movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), Gojira would become an instant icon in Japan, quickly demanding a sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review). But rather than just another giant prehistoric monster romp in the vein of King Kong, the original film was a bleak, harrowing drama dealing with the rage and trauma left not only by the US nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but of the entire experience of WWII, as well as the following American occupation of Japan, and the continuing nuclear tests outside of Japan. While the monster itself is iconic, and Tsuburaya’s miniature work of Tokyo on fire is breathtaking, it’s the focus on the characters as the victims of war that gives Gojira such an emotional impact, and makes it not only one of the greatest monster movies of all time, but also one of the best war films.

Gojira getting a snack.

Gojira got a limited release in the US in 1954, mainly in Japanese theatres, and thus sailed rather unnoticed through America — to all but a few independent movie producers, who saw the business potential in the revolutionary monster movie. Samuel Z. Arkoff at Roger Corman’s AIP is said to have been negotiating with Japanese studio Toho to acquire the rights to the film, but these finally went to independent producer Edmund Goldman for 25,000 dollars. The contract stated that the film would be “narrated, dubbed in English and completed by the revisions, additions, and deletions,” with final approval by Toho. But rather than produce the movie himself, he sold on the rights to Harry Rybnick (sometimes credited as Harold Ross) and Richard Kay at Jewell Pictures. Rybnick and Kay then screened the film for Joseph E. Levine at Embassy Pictures, who liked what he saw and coughed up 100,000 dollars for half of the movie rights. Levine brought in Edward Barison to create Trans World Corporation for the distribution of the movie and contracted Terry Turner to create a costly marketing campaign for 400,000 dollars.

Momoko Kochi.

In comparison, director Terry Morse and main actor Raymond Burr were each paid 10,000 dollars for their work. It was Rybnick and Kay at Jewell Pictures who brought in them both and settled on the format of the film – dubbing the movie (most of the time with lines that had nothing to do with what the actors actually said in Japanese), and inserting new footage of Burr as an American reporter commenting on the proceedings. Director Morse also handled the re-writes. According to Wikipedia “Morse viewed the original Japanese cut, with an English translation of the script, to find key scenes in which Burr could be inserted. Rather than dub the entire film, Morse chose to retain most of the original Japanese dialogue and have (actor) Frank Iwanaga translate (on screen), albeit inaccurately, those scenes and alternate with Burr narrating. Burr worked with body-doubles, who were filmed over their shoulder to conceal their faces. Editing techniques were also used to mask the body doubles and the original Japanese actors. Asian-American extras were hired to play minor roles. The new footage was filmed in three days on a rented soundstage at Visual Drama Inc. Since he was contracted for only one day, Burr was forced to work a 24-hour shift to shoot all his scenes. Set decorator George Rohr provided mock-up sets that resembled the sets in the original Japanese cut.”

Several Asian American actors were auditioned for the voice-over and dubbing work. However, probably in an effort to save money, only three were chosen for the actual work, James Hong, Sammee Tong and an unfortunately unidentified female voice actress. Hong would voice the older characters and Tong the younger ones. The actors were sat in front of a microphone and had to record all their lines in a single 5-hour sitting, without even having the chance to do watch the film. They did the lines in different speed, and Morse chose the ones that suited the footage best.

Raymond Burr and Frank Iwanaga.

Much has been written about how the American version omitted direct references to the atom bomb. In retrospect, this aspect has probably been blown somewhat out of proportion. It’s not like Godzilla as a metaphor for the A-bomb would have gone unnoticed on American audiences, and the bomb is mentioned in several places in the movie. But, as Erin Brookins at Collider points out, the bomb is directly referenced 22 times in the original movie, while it only gets 4 mentions in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Brookins also rightly points out that one reference that probably would have gone past the US audience was the nuclear testing at the Marshall Islands, just a five-hour plane ride away from the Japanese coast. In particular, the original film references the infamous Castle Bravo test in 1954, in which a super-powerful bomb exceeded the safety area burned the crew on a fishing boat and contaminated hundreds more, as well as led to the contamination of tons upon tons of fish that went out to Japanese markets. To be fair, the original film does not mention these tests by name, and the references that are made would not have been comprehensible to an American audience anyway, as the American audience, by large, weren’t aware of these these tests nor the devastation they caused. Also, as these tests were still being carried out in 1956, referencing them explicitly would probably have gotten the film into trouble with US censors.

In the middle Burr and Iwanaga, with Asian American extras.

The film begins dramatically in medias res with American reporter Steve Martin (Burr) being brought to a makeshift hospital in Tokyo after having been buried under rubble. He is discovered by an old friend, Emiko (Momoko Kōchi), daughter of esteemed scientist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), and begins recollecting his experiences in a flashback, which takes up around half of the movie. The film then follows the original plot of Gojira rather faithfully, with several omissions, re-edits and a lot of changed dialogue, in order to fit Burr’s character into the plot. In some places, the Japanese dialogue is dubbed, in other places it is left as is, and “translated” for Martin by his host, security officer Tomo (Frank Iwanaga). And, as stated, in other places Martin interacts with the characters from the original film, either through clever cross-editing or by the use of body doubles. This goes on until Godzilla’s first major attack on Tokyo, when Martin is buried in the rubble. After this, the movie proceeds as a linear story, and Martin’s narration is changed from flashback mode to present mode, as he reads his reports onto tape for his editor. Godzilla’s final attack on Tokyo is narrated by Martin from an office window.

“Steve Martin’s last report.”

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! has been rather badmouthed over the years, which is probably the reason I have never watched it before now. However, in recent years it has been somewhat re-evaluated, and all in all, I was very surprised at how well it all held together, and, being mostly acquainted with later, clunky, Americanisations of Japanese movies, I was pleased to see how well Morse & co had been able to retain the overall feel and atmosphere of the original film. It is true that the characters from the original films suffer from the re-edit, but to be honest, the character work was the least accomplished aspect of the Japanese version anyway, with the romantic heroes Akira Takarada and Momoko Kōchi failing to work up any sort of chemistry. Akihiko Hirata, playing Dr. Serizawa, the reluctant anti-hero who invents the “oxygen destroyer” which ultimately sends Godzilla to its watery grave, was the most engaging actor of the original film, and is probably the character who suffers the most in this retelling, along with Takashi Shimura, whose part is significantly reduced. Burr’s narration is somewhat intrusive and purple at times, but also adds to the drama of the movie when it is at its best, such as when he narrates the destruction of Godzilla from his window.

Akihiko Hiarata and Momoko Kochi.

The film opened in close to 300 theatres in the US, making close to 2 million dollars at the box office, netting its producers a tidy 200,000 dollar profit. It was the first Japanese film to become a major foreign hit, and the fourth foreign film to gross over 1 million dollars in the US. Because of its success, foreign distributors became interested in acquiring the the US cut of the movie, and the producers re-negotiated their contract with Japanese studio Toho, which resulted in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! becoming the introduction to Japanese kaiju all over the world — it was even released in Japan in 1957 to general approval.

It is worth noting that by the time of the film’s release, even some trade papers seemed unaware that Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was actually a bastardised version of a Japanese movie, but rather thought it a joint US-Japanese production. Variety, for example wrote of the “joint direction” by Honda and Morse. Variety, by the way, gave the film thumbs up, even though critic “Gilb.” wrote that the “fantasy […] taxes the imagination”, and had little praise for the cast. But, continued the critic; “these deficiencies are more than offset by the startling special effects”. Variety also praised the direction, photography, music and editing. Both Harrison’s Reports and The Exhibitor did, however, deduct that the Raymond Burr segments had been filmed in America added added to the film for American audiences, but both agreed that this had been expertly done. Harrison’s Reports wrote that “except for the scenes dealing with the monster, most of it is quite dull. What really puts the picture over is the exceptionally good special effects”. The Exhibitor wrote: “The special effects is very good and the monster is frightening enough to scare the thrill-seekers. The story is interesting and the acting, direction and production is efficient.” At the New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther was not amused, however, complaining about the “bad” special effects, the dubbing and the similarity to King Kong: “The whole thing is in the category of cheap cinematic horror-stuff, and it is too bad that a respectable theater has to lure children and gullible grown-ups with such fare”.

Gojira wreaking havoc in Tokyo.

Today Godzilla, King of the Monsters! has a 7.1/10 audience rating on IMDb, based on over 7,000 votes, and a 6.7/10 critic rating (and 83% “Fresh” approval) at Rotten Tomatoes. The Metacritic score is not to be trusted, as it mixes reviews of the uncut and the bastardised versions. “The special effects are the star in this […] movie”, says Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide in its 2.5/4 star review. While praising the original Japanese cut, Bill Warren in his magnum opus Keep Watching the Skies! writes that “the American version […] is itself only fair”. Japanologist and Godzilla expert William Tsutsui writes: “although Gojira was not exactly eviscerated in this transition, with the terrifying charm of the monster thankfully surviving the cinematic surgery, much of the emotional power, intellectual depth, social relevance, and visceral impact of Gojira was lost in its translation to US movie screens”. AllMovie gives the American edit 3/5 stars, and TV Guide has the audacity of of calling the US version superior; ” in many ways, Godzilla is an improvement. While the original film is more horrifying in portraying the carnage wreaked by Godzilla, it also spends far too much time on a love triangle linking its central characters.”

Despite getting massive amounts of flack from time to time by purists, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! gets approval from my go-to online critics. The late, great Gary Loggins at Cracked Rear Viewer wrote: “Inoshira Honda’s footage looks much better than the film shot in America under Terry Morse’s direction. They give it a good try, using actors with their backs to the camera to meet with Burr, but Honda’s darker vision just doesn’t quite match the more pedestrian American scenes. Even with this quibble, the movie kept me enthralled, though I’ve just got to see the original Japanese version one of these days.” Dave Sindelar at Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings opines: “Despite the fact that these tactics to Americanize a movie rarely work, this is one of the more successful examples along these lines; the movie is not ruined by them.” And finally, Richard Scheib at Moria writes that the Americanisation “is at least sensitively done, if not entirely convincing”.

Raymond Burr in rubble.

One can argue about the merits and flaws of the US version of Godzilla, but the truth is that without Terry O. Morse’s adaptation, there probably wouldn’t be an international Godzilla fandom today. It was the film’s American success that opened the eyes of the rest of the world to Godzilla — and it is worth noticing that Japanese studio Toho whole-heartedly supported the Americanisations of the Godzilla movies, they even went as far as shipping the Godzilla suit to Hollywood for the Americans to use. The film quickly spread over the world in 1956 and 1957, and, along with the huge success of Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again in Japan, prompted Toho to keep churning out more monster/kaiju movies; Rodan (1956), Varan (1957) and The Mysterians (1957). The only thing keeping Godzilla from returning for a third time was original director Ishiro Honda’s reluctance to turn his symbolic monster into a pop commodity. However, he was finally swayed in 1962, the year which saw the release of King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Tokyo on fire.

In France, a completely different version of Godzilla was released in 1957, as the French studio S.I.M. edited together their own version using both the Japanese and US edits as material, and dubbed it. Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, reared its head once more in 1977, in Italy. By that time, the popularity of Toho’s ever goofier and more kid-friendly Godzilla franchise had waned, and The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) was to be the last of the “original” Godzilla films. However, some Italian fans were still hungry for more Godzilla action, which prompted later cult Italsploitation director Luigi Cozzi to dig up an old, rather degraded print of the US edit, and “colorize” it. Rather, this was done more in the vein of old tinting processes, as Cozzi would smear colored gels over the prints, thus colouring sometimes half the screen with orange and the other half with blue, leading to a strangely psychedelic rendering of the film. Then, of course, he dubbed the film from the American, often “incorrectly” dubbed version. This version of the movie is colloquially known as Cozzilla. Several home media releases of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! have been done, the latest in 2020, when Criterion chose it for its 1000th release, along with 17 other of Toho’s original kaiju movies. For a while, at least, the movie seems to have been available for streaming only on the Criterion Channel (in Finland, at least), although I have seen mentions of it being available on Amazon Prime and/or HBO at some recent point in the US.

One of the poignant scenes from an improvised field hospital.

Director Terry O. Morse, born Terrell Morse in St. Louis in 1906, entered the movie business some time in the early-to-mid-1920’s at First National Pictures, which would in 1928 be merged into Warner Bros. His first credit on IMDb is from 1924 as a title photographer, and his first credit as an editor comes from 1927, so one can assume that he rattled around the editing department of the studio for some time. Recognised as a competent, fast-working editor, he found steady, if unheralded, employment at Warner, but yearned for directing. And he got his chance in 1939: between 1939 and 1940 he directed eight movies, primarily crime potboilers (incidentally one starring Boris Karloff and one Ronald Reagan), but after this directorial duties dried up. He stayed on at Warner for three more years, but realising his career was not progressing there, decided to go freelance. His first work post-Warner was the “exotic lands” documentary Dangerous Journey. Despite being released in 1944, it was a compilation of footage from explorer couple Armand Denise and Leila Roosevelt’s journeys in India, Burma and Africa before the war. The film contained a famous depiction of a Burmese “snake priestess” kissing a King Cobra. While credited only as associate producer, it is clear that Morse is the person who edited together this moderately successful documentary.

In 1945 Morse was again credited as associate producer, but also director, for low-budget studio PRC’s late-coming old dark house movie Fog Island, best remembered for starring Karloff replacements George Zucco and Lionel Atwill. He directed two Charlie Chan movies for low-budget studio Monogram and a couple of other forgettable B-movies, and then seems to have had a dry spell between 1947 and 1949, before again returning to editing. He did briefly return to the director’s chair in 1951, with a film we’ve reviewed on Scifist, the promising but ultimately disappointing “hollow Earth” movie Unknown World (review), produced by special effects wizards Irving Block and Jack Rabin. By 1955 Morse had gained a reputation as a competent “film doctorer”, able to raise the quality of a sub-par film through creative editing, which was probably one of the reasons he was attached to Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.

Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya with a Godzilla hand puppet used in the film.

While Godzilla did not win Morse any accolades as a director, it did, sort of, relaunch his career in the major studios — sort of. Jewel Pictures continued to milk the monster market, with Morse as editor, with two films by writer-director Curt Siodmak: Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956), as well as Love Slaves of the Amazons (1957), both distributed by Universal. In 1958 he hooked up with another SF legend, Jack Arnold, to edit The Space Children for Paramount, for whom he would continue to edit movies up until the end of the 60’s. His best known titles from the era are probably Blue Hawaii (1961), starring Elvis, John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), as well as the Ib Melchior-Byron Haskin movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). Morse kept at it, both directing and editing, until 1973, when he retired.

Producers Barison, Kay and Rybnick continued making cheap monster and exploitation movies with Jewel Pictures for a couple of years, and then seem to have vanished from the movie scene. Joseph Levine, on the other hand, soon moved on to bigger and better things.

Joseph E. Levine.

Levine had mainly worked as a distributor, beginning with westerns, then moving on to foreign movies, Italian fare in particular, which he sold to audiences with aggressive marketing campaigns. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was the first major hit for his newly-founded Embassy Pictures, largely thanks to the advertising campaigns he worked out with Terry Turner. If Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was a hit, then Levine, Turner and Embassy Pictures really made their names with two Italian pictures they imported, Attila and Hercules, in 1958 and 1959. More than anything, the films’ US successes relied on the way they were distributed and marketed. With Attila, Levine devised a method that would later be referred to as “saturation booking”. Instead of opening nation-wide in large theatres, Levine would book all his 90 prints in cheap, second-grade theatres in a fairly small area for a short period of time, often no longer than 10 days, and then move on to the next area. The focus on small geographical areas at a time allowed Levine and Turner to do very aggressive marketing on local TV and radio stations in short bursts, without fear of running out of tickets. Attila, produced in Italy in 1954, starring Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren, originally failed even to find a US distributor. Thanks to the distribution and marketing by Embassy in 1958, it became a surprise hit, racking up 2 million dollars at the box office, and launching Sophia Loren’s Hollywood career. Warner Bros took notice, and contracted Levine to do the same for them. Que the next Italian blockbuster, Hercules (1958), starring Steve Reeves, which Levine brought over in 1959. Hercules opened in over 500 theatres, with a very costly PR campaign, and made close to 5 million dollars at the US box office, making it one of the most successful films of the year, and turning Steve Reeves into a major movie star.

In 1960 Levine also distributed Vittorio de Sica’s anti-war film Two Women, featuring Sophia Loren. Predicting Loren had a good chance of winning the Oscar for best female lead actress, Levine took pains to distribute the film close to where the Academy members lived, and built much of the advertising campaign on a single photograph of Loren on a beach, crying in a torn dress. Levine’s campaign paid off: Sophia Loren became the first actress in a “foreign” film to win the best actress Oscar. In 1963 Levine became a major shareholder in Paramount, where he produced hit films like Carpetbaggers (1964), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), The Graduate (1967), The Producers (1967), A Lion in Winter (1968) and A Touch of Class. After resigning from Embassy/Paramount he spent over two years producing A Bridge too Far for his own company. In 1964 Levine received the Golden Globe’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for his contributions to cinema.

Raymond Burr.

“Lead actor” Raymond Burr makes his second appearance on this blog with Godzilla, King of the Monsters! We previously praised Burr for his work as one of the villains in William Cameron Menzies’ underrated SF thriller The Whip Hand (1951, review). Burr’s life and career are too rich to fit into a short description, but suffice to say that this extraordinary man later had a triumphant career in television, first as the legendary criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason (1957-1966), and then as the wheelchair-bound Ironside (1967-1975). Mason brought him two Emmy wins and Ironside no less than six nominations. Both roles got him nominated for Golden Globes. Burr returned as Perry Mason in a string of TV movies between 1985 and 1993. In 1996 TV Guide ranked him as N:o 44 of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

His lauded performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) opened up new career opportunities for him, although before TV fame, he still managed to squeeze in his performance in Godzilla. Little did Burr anticipate then that his character Steve Martin would make a comeback in 1985, in the big-budget movie Godzilla 1985, marking the 30th anniversary of the classic kaiju movie. Burr was now first-billed in this Japanese movie, even if his character was of little consequence for the plot. He also appeared in the low-budget movie The Return (1980) and Airplane II: The Sequel (1982).

Raymond Burr.

While his film career suffered, partly from the fact that he was so recognisable from his TV work, Raymond Burr wasn’t exactly poor and forgotten. In a loving relationship with longtime partner Robert Benevides, Burr amassed a fortune on his TV work, started a chain of orchid retailers, started a vineyard, and bought and sold an island in Fiji. His one tragedy was perhaps that he had to remain deeply closeted for years in Hollywood, despite living with the same male partner for over 30 years. While he did have a short marriage to a woman in the early fifties, he also concocted wild lies about his past, including two dead ex-wives and a son that never existed, in order to cover up his homosexuality. Burr passed away from liver cancer in 1993.

The most recognisable name in the cast, aside from Burr, is James Hong, who takes on much of the dubbing duties. At the time, Hong was in his late twenties and had appeared in handful of small roles in film, radio and TV. Born in 1929 to Chinese immigrants, he received his early education in Hong Kong and moved back to the US at the age of 10, and studied to become and engineer, a profession in which he worked during his twenties. However, he acted on the side since youth, and eventually left engineering to pursue a career in acting. He got his first major shot playing detective Charlie Chan’s “Number One Son” in The New Adventures of Charlie Chan for 25 episodes in 1957-1958, but was fired by J. Carrol Naish, who played Chan, after missing one day of work. Hong slowly worked his way up the career ladder, and in the 60’s he had become a respected character actor on TV, albeit mainly appearing in minor guest parts, due to a lack of Asian representation in US television (while blackface gradually disappeared with the civil rights movement in the 60’s, Hollywood was largely untroubled by yellowface well into the 80’s).

James Hong.

James Hong appeared frequently in different roles in shows like I Spy (1965-1967), Hawaii Five-0 (1969-1974) and appeared nine times on Kung Fu (1972-1975), including the final episode. In the latter part of the 70’s he started getting recurring character roles in shows like Jigsaw John (1975), Switch (1977-1978) and Dynasty (1983). He had also been working steadily in feature films, memorably as the butler in Chinatown (1974), but the 80’s was his breakout decade, starting with his iconic role as the eye manufacturer Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner (1982). He also appeared in large supporting roles in the Chuck Norris vehicle Missing in Action (1984), played the immortal ghost sorcerer in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), appeared in the Eddie Murphy action comedy The Golden Child (1986) and in the Stallone/Russell classic Tango & Cash (1989). He had a rare leading role in the horror movie The Vineyard (1989), albeit a film that he directed himself. He has worked steadily in projects both large and small throughout the 90’s to the 20’s, and reached what had probably been a career high, at least commercially, as the voice of Jack Black’s adoptive father Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda universe.

Beside his career as a film and TV actor, Hong has also been active in theatre. In 1965 he co-founded the East West Players, the first Asian American theatre organisation, and by today the longest running theatre of colour in the US. In 1972 he branched out to movie directing and producing with the sexploitation films Hot Connections (1972) and Teen Lust (1978). In 1989 he directed and starred in the horror movie The Vineyard and produced another sexploitation film, Caged Fury, in 1990. In 1999 he directed the straight-to-video thriller Singapore Sling and is currently (as of April 2022) producing and starring in the upcoming fantasy adventure film Patsy Lee and the Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms, directed by actor-turned-director Zack Ward, whose prime directorial work thus far is the low-budget horror movie Restoration (2016).

James Hong in Blade Runner.

James Hong is a well-known face for SF fans, having appeared in 17 science fiction feature films, a number of TV movies and over 30 SF TV shows. In 1960 he voiced the title character in the US dub of the Japanese cult classic The Human Vapor. Prior to his iconic work in Blade Runner, he appeared in John Sturges’ The Satan Bug (1964), Destination Inner Space (1966), The Bamboo Saucer (1968), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and the comedy China Girl (1974). In the 90’s he appeared in a number of B-movies, often in large supporting roles. He had featured parts in Shadowzone (1990) and Dragonfight (1990) and appeared in the contested, star-studded comic book movie Tank Girl (1995), as well as in the clunker Cyber Bandits (1995). He supported in the panned 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still and shared the screen with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Bacon in R.I.P.D. (2013). He had a cameo in the super-low-budget flick Cross 3 (2019) and a featured role in the interesting but flawed low-budget film Dropa (2019). In 2022 he co-starred in Dan Kwan’s Chinese American action adventure film Everything Everywhere at Once, alongside Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan, best known as Short Round in The Temple of Doom (1985). In other words, at 93 years of age, James Hong still doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Sammee Tong.

Sammee Tong was the older of the two male actors dubbing the US version of Godzilla. Born in San Francisco, Tong began acting at an early age on stage, and played vaudeville during the 20’s and 30’s. In 1934 he signed with Columbia, worked as a character and bit-part actor in films, and worked extensively in radio in San Francisco in the 40’s. He returned to Hollywood in the early 50’s, and made his TV debut in 1953. By 1956, he already had around 20 films under his belt. In 1957 he landed a co-lead in as the family valet in the TV show Bachelor Father, which ran until 1962. After that he got another featured part in the Mickey Rooney show Mickey (1964-1965). However, Tong took his own life in 1964. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was his only foray into SF territory.

Frank Iwanaga and Raymond Burr.

Little is written online about Yasuo “Frank” Iwanaga, the actor playing the Japanese security officer who works as Steve Martin’s aid in the film. Apparently Iwanaga worked as a real estate agent and did some acting on the side. Although credited last of all the actors, Godzilla was the only one of his 10 films in which he received an on-screen credit. It also remained his last film role. Iwanaga passed away in 1963, only 40 years old. A small character inserted into the US version of Godzilla is played by the enigmatic Mikel Conrad, the man responsible for America’s first UFO movie, The Flying Saucer (1951, review). This odd and clunky vanity project is little more than a tourist ad for Alaska, featuring Conrad as a gruff anti-hero “looking” for a Soviet test aircraft between the glaciers. The movie was produced, directed and starred by Conrad. It was also one of three similar leads he played between 1949 and 1952, the others being Universal’s Arctic Manhunt (1949) and the UA lost world potboiler Untamed Women (1952, review). Godzilla was his first movie appearance since 1952, and it remained his last.

Mikel Conrad.

Godzilla was also one of the first on-screen appearances (as a police officer) for show wrestler, stuntman and occasional character actor and stuntman Shuji Nozawa, who went under the moniker of Fuji for his entire career (not be be confused with the better known wrestler Mr. Fuji). Between 1955 and 1978 Fuji turned up in over 30 films or TV shows, often in small but memorable parts as samurai, soldier, henchman or bodyguard.

Janne Wass

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 1956, USA. Directed by Ishiro Honda & Terry O. Morse. Written by Takeo Murata, Ishiro Honda, Tomoyuki Tanaka, Eiji Tsuburaya, Al C. Ward. Based on story by Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Sachio Sakai, Fuyuki Murakami, Ren Yamamoto, Toyoaki Suzuki, Tadashi Okabe, Toranosuke Ogawa, Frank Iwanaga, Mikel Conrad, Paul Frees, Fuji, James Hong, Sammee Tong, Haruo Nakajima. Music: Akira Ifukube. Cinematography: Masao Tamai, Guy Roe. Editing: Terry O. Morse. Production design: Satoru Chûko, George Rohr. Special effects: Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Edward Barison, Richard Kay, Joseph E. Levine, Harry Rybnick for Toho, Jewel Enterprises and Embassy Pictures.


6 replies

  1. Another “foreign version” of the original “Gojira” was also produced in the Phillipines, it was called “Tokyo 1960”, and made in the mood of “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”, I mean they used additional Filipino actors for some sequences, like Tessie Quintana, Eddy del Mar and Zaldy Zshornack. The executive producer was Cirio H. Santiago. Unfortunately, as too many Filipino production, this movie seems now “lost”… You can find the movie ad on Google Images. Jean-Claude

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks again! Now that you mention it, I remember reading about it at some point. Would be great if it turned up in some film archive somewhere!

      Like

  2. You missed my all time favorite James Hong moment! In the best moment of the film Cyber Bandits, James Hong puts on an athletic performance of Chinese Opera! (which is reprised in the end credits)…

    Like

  3. While Mr. Burr himself told the tale of his 24-hour workday, Terry Morse Jr. said he worked three days, including a location shoot. The logic of making the entire cast and crew work 24 hours does hold up. The number of camera sets, wardrobe and make up changes make the tale seem unlikely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Richard! I suspected something of the sort, which is why I quoted Wikipedia rather than state it as a fact.

      Like

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