Directed by Eugène Lourié
Screenplay by Robert L. Richards and Daniel James
Screen Story by Eugène Lourié and Daniel James*
Starring Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter
The 1950s was the heyday of the giant monster movie. You had things like Them!, Tarantula, The Giant Mantis, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Dinosarus,** and, of course, the Japanese monster films starting with Godzilla. Even the Danish got into the act with Reptilicus. The British also rode the trend with The Giant Behemoth and, their best monster film, Gorgo.
It follows the usual template. A volcano eruption off the coast of Ireland leads to mysterious doings, all eventually shown to be the work of a 65-foot-tall prehistoric beast that has awakened. Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) manage to capture the monster and take it back to London where he sells it to a circus. Dubbed "Gorgo" after the Gorgons of myth, the creature is put on display. But Gorgo is only a baby, and his 200-foot-tall mother soon comes to rescue her child, laying waste to London in the process.
What makes this all stand out is the ending (if you don't want a spoiler, stop reading now).
Unique among monster movies, in this case the monster wins. Mama finds Gorgo and takes him back to the sea, leaving London in shambles and the characters to wonder about the wisdom of playing with things you don't understand.
The special effects were high class for the time. They used the techniques pioneered in Japan -- monster suits and miniatures -- but with fine attention to detail. Gorgo was smaller than most movie monsters and thus required a different scale, and slow motion was used to enhance the effect.
Director Lourie knew his stuff: he had previously helmed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth***. Alas, the market for giant monster movies dried up and he didn't direct again, though he remained in films as an art director.
The movie has been obscured by other films of the genre. It even showed up on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which really isn't fair**** -- it's still a good example of the genre.
*The IMDB is wrong on this. The credits clearly show Lourie credited for the story with James (who used the name "Daniel Hyatt"; Richards was billed as screenwriter).
**Which scared the hell out of me as a kid -- it was probably the scariest movie I'd seen (of course, I was eight), though I doubt it would have that effect now.
***One of the more redundant film titles. Could there ever be a tiny behemoth?
****I think they knew they were showing a film that was much better than their usual fare, since they had Leonard Maltin show up to say he personally liked the film.