“Gorgo” (1961): The British Godzilla becomes an oversized circus freak, pissing off his mama Ogra

By on December 27, 2018

In 1961, merry ol’ English audiences were given their very own Godzilla-like kaiju with a 65-foot amphibious sea monster named Gorgo, who, it turns out, is just a juvenile, and his mama, 200 ft. tall Orga, is pretty pissed off that she’s gotta come to her baby’s rescue.

Watch Eugène Lourié’s Gorgo — just one of our great New Cult Arrivals — on Night Flight Plus!

GORGO2

Gorgo opens with a bang when a huge volcanic explosion occurs in the North Atlantic.

Two adventurous seafaring partners salvaging for treasure off the coast of Ireland — “Captain Joe Ryan” (Bill Travers) and first officer “Sam Slade”(William Sylvester) — are nearly killed, washing up ashore on Nara Island, an anagram for the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, which we learn was once inhabited by the Vikings.

GORGO11

That night, we see Gorgo for the first time as villagers drive the monster back into the sea by flinging their torches at him.

Gorgo is what the Japanese call “kaiju” (怪獣), a word (meaning “strange beast”) used to describe monsters like Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira or 呉爾羅).

Japanese film studio Toho’s 1954 classic Godzilla — a cinematic reaction to the horrific nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — is generally regarded as the first kaiju film.

GORGO7

Ryan and Slade realize people would pay to get a good look at Gorgo, and so they capture him in their nets.

Meanwhile, “Sean” (Vincent Winter) — the ward of a mercenary archeologist collecting valuable Viking artifacts to sell — begins communing with the captive monster.

Ryan and Slade bring Gorgo to London’s West End, parading it through Piccadilly Circus on the back of a flatbed lorry on its way to Battersea Park.

An enclosure is being built by a circus owner named “Dorkin” (Martin Benson) to display the oversized circus freak. It’s Dorkin who gives Gorgo his name, a reference to the Gorgons of Greek mythology, the sight of which turned faces to stone.

Most sources actually claim it comes from Gorgosaurus, a real theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period.

GORGO6

We then return to Nara Island, where mama Orga is searching for her baby, rampaging through Ireland and the West of England as she makes her way up the Thames River, destroying planes, tanks and ships.

Read more about Gorgo below.

IDevices-For-NF-web

Hey! Do you have a Night Flight Plus subscription?

We’re offering up original uncut air masters of Night Flight programming from the video vaults of the 1980s TV show, as well as provocative new selections from the world of music, documentaries, animation, cult films and more. Sign up today!



GORGO3

Gorgo was director Eugène Lourié’s third dino-monster-on-a-rampage movie following The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and The Giant Behemoth (1959).

He was inspired to direct Gorgo after his daughter — after a matinee screening of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms – tearfully complained that he’d killed the “big, nice Beast.”

GORGO14

Gorgo was actually based on a pulp paperback novel, published in July 1960, by Bruce Cassiday (1920-2005) using the pen-name “Carson Bingham.”

Cassiday considered Gorgo and mama Orga to be manifestations of evil, though, metaphors for Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror during World War II.

GORGO9

Cassiday’s novel didn’t hold back in the way he describes Ogra smashing her way through London’s Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the Houses of Paliament (a reporter describes this devastation as “worse than the blitz!”).

Lourié hadn’t wanted any military action against Gorgo, removing these shots from his own 35mm copy of Gorgo, although producers Frank, Maurice and Herman King kept these shots in the final theatrical print.

GORGO5

Lourié and collaborator Daniel James originally called their script “Kuru Island,” and based their story (an homage to Godzilla) around a fictitious atoll in the South Pacific.

When their Japanese-based financing fell through, the film’s locale was moved to Paris before eventually setting in the British Isles.

The final screenplay was co-credited to “Daniel Hyatt” (James) and “John Loring” (Robert L. Richards), both writers using pseudonyms due to the Hollywood blacklist, still a powerful force at the time.

GORGO13

Like many films made in the 1960s, Gorgo had a “message,” focusing on the exploitation and monetization of native culture and artifacts, as well making a statement about colonialism, immigration and Britain being dwarfed by the U.S. as a super-power.

The sailors were presented as demented capitalists hell-bent on charging audiences admission to get a look at Gorgo, much like the 1930’s classic King Kong, where the colossal island ape Kong is displayed to Broadway theater audiences as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

GORGO8

Gorgo likely influenced many Japanese kaiju films that followed, including King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Varan the Unbelievable (1962), Gozilla vs. Mothra (1964), and Gappa, the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Daikyoju Gappa, 1967), shown on U.S. television as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet.

These films typically all begin with scientific expeditions or military exercises in far-flung exotic island locales before someone decides to make a lot of money exploiting whatever it is they’ve found after stumbling across a “primitive” village.

Usually the awakened kaiju, who has been protecting them, ends up destroying the colonialists, which is also the underlying theme in Gorgo (it’s also pretty fun to watch without dwelling on the message).

GORGO4

Most of Gorgo was filmed at the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England, while exteriors set in Ireland were filmed at Bulloch Harbor and Coliemore Harbor, both near the County Dublin town of Dalkey.

Gorgo‘s world premiere was held in Japan in January 1961, and arrived on UK movie screens in glorious vivid color — it was the first film to use Eastman Fastcolor film stock — on February 10, 1961 (March 29th in America).

GORGO10

Like Godzilla, Gorgo also starred in twenty-three Charlton Comics issues (1961-1965), featuring work by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, among others.

Gorgo was also mocked during the ninth season of Joel Hodgson‘s “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Watch Gorgo on Night Flight Plus.

GORGO1

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.