Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mie Hama in King Kong Escapes (1967)

There's no getting around it but, objectively speaking, 1967's King Kong Escapes is a pretty crappy film. As a 7-year-old watching it on TV, I was a bit disappointed with the shoddy men-in-suits effects as I was already a fan of the original Kong which featured stop motion animation by Willis O'Brien. And Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad pictures were in the theaters at the time which made me an even bigger fan of stop motion animation as opposed to the men-in-suits monster movies that Japan sent our way in the 1960s and 1970s.

But looking back now, I feel a great deal of affection for this film. The score is nice and the miniatures are quite well done. And it's got a robot Kong!

King Kong Escapes operates with a kind of child's logic: the multiracial UN Science Team rides around on a cool sub with a hovercraft investigating monsters and fighting the "international Judas" Dr. Who (Hideyo [Eisei] Amamoto). Despite its faults, the film bears the creative touch of director Ishiro Honda and special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and, without question, King Kong Escapes is superior to the kaiju eiga films that would follow in the 1970s.

When I was a kid I can remember thinking how cute Linda Miller was as Susan, the nurse on the UN submarine that Kong takes a shine to. There's something about the dubbing that made her even cuter. The American girl had been a model in Japan, according to various sources, and this is one of her few films. I have no idea why her English was dubbed but it adds a weird level to her performance.

But now that I'm a bit older, it's Mie Hama as the villainess Madame Piranha that attracts me. The one-time Bond girl is having a blast in this nonsense and she rocks an impressive set of outfits doing it.

I venture to say that in 1967 the kids were looking at perky Susan Miller while their dads were checking out the seductive charms of Mie Hama.

[Photos: Universal Pictures/Toho Co., Ltd.]