Big, Bad Mama Monster!: GORGO (MGM 1961)


When Melanie at The Film Detective offered me the chance to watch and review GORGO for them, I immediately said yes! GORGO was one of my favorites growing up as a little Monster Kid, a Saturday afternoon staple on Boston’s Channel 56, and the opportunity to see it without all that UHF “snow” was too much to resist (and if you don’t know about The Film Detective, I’ll clue you in a bit later).

Producers Frank and Maurice King were a pair of slot machine magnates turned low-budget movie moguls who had success with 40’s films noir like WHEN STRANGES MARRY (with Robert Mitchum), DILLINGER (making a star out of Lawrence Tierney), and the Joseph H. Lewis classic GUN CRAZY . When the stateside release of Japan’s Giant Monster Movie GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS proved a hit, the Kings decided to secure the American rights to another kaiju eiga epic, RODAN! THE FLYING MONSTER . Box offices across the country filled with more coins than any old slot machines, so the Kings set out to make a Giant Monster saga of their own, using the rubber suit and miniature set techniques of kaiju eiga, and throwing a touch of KING KONG into the script for good measure.

Salvage divers Joe Ryan and Sam Slade are searching for sunken treasure off the coast of Ireland when they’re rocked by a volcanic eruption. The upheaval has awakened the dormant Gorgo, a red-eyed, reptilian Prehistoric beast standing 65 feet tall! Joe and Sam hatch a plan to capture the giant, and succeed. Scientists want to study Gorgo, but Joe and Sam have other ideas, namely selling the monster to Durkin’s Circus in London and getting filthy rich! Gorgo is trussed up and hauled to Jolly Old England, where he’s exploited as a freakish main attraction – that is, until Gorgo’s Bigger, Badder Monster Mother emerges from the depths, a 200 foot tall behemoth who tracks ‘baby’ Gorgo to London demanding his return…

GORGO is a simple but effective Monster Movie that’s fast-paced fun for the whole family. The special effects of the pre-CGI era hold up surprisingly well, thanks to some clever editing and camerawork. There are plenty of shots of rampaging destruction (complete with panicked citizens running the streets and futile military retaliation), as London Bridge comes crumbling down, Big Ben gets toppled, and Piccadilly Circus gets blitzed by Mama Gorgo.

Director Eugene Lourie was no stranger to Giant Monsters, having helmed both THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH.  Stars Bill Travers and William Sylvester weren’t exactly household names, but both make fine leads. Travers starred in one of my favorite British comedies, THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH, and later achieved fame opposite wife Virginia McKenna and Elsa the Lioness in BORN FREE, while Sylvester headlined the British noirs HOUSE OF BLACKMAIL and A STRANGER CAME HOME before making his best-known appearance as Dr. Floyd in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Special mention should be made to child actor Vincent Winter as an Irish villager who stows away aboard Joe and Sam’s ship, and has a special bond with Gorgo.

As for The Film Detective , it’s a streaming service founded in 2014 specializing in hard to find films and TV, and can be viewed online, and on the SlingTV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and AppleTV platforms. GORGO can be enjoyed there beginning February 11th, and I highly recommend it to all you Giant Monster Movie Lovers out there. After watching, take a look around… you might discover some other hidden gems on The Film Detective!

 

Take the Money and Run: GUN CRAZY (United Artists 1950)

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GUN CRAZY is a thrill ride that will have you hanging on for dear life as it takes its protagonists on a downward-spiraling roller coaster ride that turns straight downhill into rock bottom. This is the ultimate noir, moving at breakneck speed towards its inevitable conclusion, a sordid tale of sex and violence that’s second to none. GUN CRAZY was a huge influence on many later films, especially 1967’s BONNIE & CLYDE, right down to the fashion style of lead Peggy Cummins.

Bart Tare loves guns. So much so that, as an adolescent, he smashes a store window to steal one. Busted by the cops, he’s sent to reform school until he’s of age. After a stint in the Army, Bart returns to his hometown, and with old pals Dave and Clyde, attends a carnival. It’s there he meets Annie Laurie Starr, a trick-shot artist. There’s immediate heat between the two, as their mutual love for guns is surpassed only by their unabashed lust for each other. Bart bests Laurie in a shooting contest, and he’s asked to join the carny. When Bart catches owner Packy trying to put the moves on her, he shoots, shattering the mirror behind the boss, who promptly fires them both.

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The two get hitched, despite Laurie telling Bart she’s “no good”. They live it up awhile in Vegas, but when their money runs out, Laurie suggests they turn to robbery. Bart’s reluctant, but Laurie’s sexual sway over him is too powerful, and they go on a mad crime spree. They start small, and wind up pulling a bank job. This scene is done in one long take, shot from the backseat of Bart and Laurie’s hot car, and the tension is ratcheted high as can be from start to finish. It’s a pure adrenaline rush of a scene, and the thrill in Laurie’s eyes as they make their getaway says more about her character than words could do justice.

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They plan out one last score, taking jobs in a meat-packing plant in order to rob the payroll. Bart tries to play it cool, but kill-crazy Laurie shoots her supervisor and a guard during the escape. They separate into two cars, planning to meet later. But the codependency they have for each other is too great, and they can’t even make it down the street without rushing back to each other.  The duo plan on heading to Mexico with their loot, but go out for a night on the town first, where the serial numbers on the bills lead the FBI to them. Scramming out of town, leaving their money behind, Bart and Laurie hop a freight train to Bart’s sister’s place. Bart’s childhood friends, now a reporter and sheriff, confront Bart, hoping he’ll give himself up. But it’s no use, as Bart and Laurie speed off, police in hot pursuit, driving up into the mountains where they meet their final destiny.

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Peggy Cummins as Laurie is the baddest of film noir bad girls. When she tells Bart she’s never been good, she means it. There’s something in her eyes that tells you this is one sick chick, not afraid to kill to get what she wants. It’s a tough, realistic performance that puts Cummins in the pantheon of femme fatales with Claire Trevor and Ann Savage. The Irish actress tried her hand at Hollywood a few years, but moved back to England after this film. Her most notable other role was in Jacques Tourneur’s horror classic CURSE OF THE DEMON. As of this writing, Peggy Cummins is still with us at age 91, occasionally granting interviews to fans who’ll never forget her as the wild, sensuous Annie Laurie Starr.

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John Dall (Bart) made his debut in 1945’s THE CORN IS GREEN, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. He was one of the young murderers in Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated ROPE, but his film career never quite got off the ground. His Bart is a conflicted man, an expert marksman afraid to kill (a flashback tells us why), and unable to say no to Laurie. Bart knows he’s doing wrong, but his desire for her is so strong, he’s willing to go to any lengths to keep her. It’s a tricky part, but Dall is more than up to the task. Adolescent Russ Tamblyn plays Bart as a youngster. Other cast members include Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, and Nedrick Young, who was blacklisted and became a screenwriter under the alias of Nathan E. Douglas, penning Elvis Presley’s JAILHOUSE ROCK, THE DEFIANT ONES (for which he won an Oscar), INHERIT THE WIND, and SECONDS.

Screenwriter Millard Kaufman was actually another victim of the blacklist, Dalton Trumbo, now relegated to B-movies. Director Joseph H. Lewis was a veteran of the B’s, learning his craft on Westerns and East Side Kids flicks. He was in the director’s chair for THE INVISBLE GHOST, the best of  Bela Lugosi’s Monogram series (which is faint praise, given the quality of the others). Lewis made the well-regarded MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS and THE BIG COMBO, but GUN CRAZY is his magnum opus. Using every trick at his command, Lewis (along with cinematographer Russell Harlan and editor Harry Gerstad) keep the pedal to the metal as Bart and Laurie fall farther and faster into a life with no way out.

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And finally, let’s talk about the producers. Frank and Maurice King (née Kozinski) were a couple of shady characters straight out of Damon Runyon. Turning their slot machine empire into an entry to Hollywood, the King brothers hit the jackpot with 1944’s WHEN STRANGERS MARRY,  a noir thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Kim Hunter directed by William Castle. The film got noticed, as did the King’s next, 1945’s DILLINGER with Lawrence Tierney as the notorious gangster. They went on to produce low-budget but moneymaking pictures right up until 1969’s HEAVEN WITH A GUN, starring Glenn Ford. A third King brother, Herman, is credited in GUN CRAZY as “technical advisor”. I don’t even want to guess what that means in a movie like this!