Dr. Who (no, not that Dr. Who) is probably the worst supervillain in cinema history. By worst, I don't mean the most evil or the biggest threat to mankind, I mean he's really bad at being a supervillain. He lives the life of the supervillain - evil headquarters, dozens of henchmen, gorgeous babe as a sidekick - but he just can't do anything evil without failing immediately. His first evil deed in the film, using a giant Robot King Kong to dig up radioactive Element X out of the ground, fails within five minutes when the radioactivity completely fries Mechani-Kong's wirings. So Dr. Who gets the real King Kong (just go with me), hypnotizes him (stay with me now) and has him dig up Element X instead (bingo! there's a well thought out plan!). Unfortunately for Dr. Who, all the shininess of the Element X in its pure Element X state makes Kong too sleepy to be of any use, and Dr. Who fails again. Spectacularly, really, because moments later Kong wakes up from his hypnotic state and starts rampaging around the Evil Headquarters looking for the idiot who's been yelling at him in his hypno-earpiece for the past five minutes, and that idiot is... guess Who, Doctor? Madame Piranha (she is also called Madame X but I'm going with Madame Piranha because, hell, Madame Piranha!), the benefactor who bankrolls him so that she can get the Element X for her unnamed country called Communist China, becomes so disgusted with all the "FAIL" that she switches sides halfway through the film. She also gets the best moment of the movie, one that lasts less than a second, when she shoots Dr. Who (in mid-fail once again) a dubious look that shows she now realizes she's dealing with the king of all evil buffoons.
The reason I am talking about these two characters so much is because they are the only two things in KING KONG ESCAPES worth watching. As Dr. Who, Eisei Amamoto plays a supervillain who is so gleefully caught up inside his own imagined evil genius, he can't see what a complete and utter failure he truly is. After each misstep in his evil plan to make some unnamed country called Communist China the dominant nuclear power in the universe, he comes up with some lame excuse, flashes his patented Smirk of Superiority™ and gets right back at it! Gotta admire his attitude, even if his results would make Laurel and Hardy shake their heads in pity. Madame Piranha is played by the beautiful Mie Hama, who was previously seen in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA but who was now more famous, simultaneously being seen to much better advantage (and in a bikini) in theaters across the world as "Kissy Suzuki" in the the James Bond adventure YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. She has fun with her part in KING KONG ESCAPES - a typical Bondian-style villainess who winds up loving the hero she is supposed to hate - and has more real charm and screen presence than the rest of the cast combined.
There is not a single action sequence in KING KONG ESCAPES that rings true (watching Dr. Who and Madame Piranha lamely wrestle for a gun late in the film almost made me ashamed I liked either one of them), not a single performance other than the two mentioned above worth watching, and not a single convincing Giant Monster battle to be found anywhere. The King suit from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA has been remodeled a bit to give Kong more facial expressions, but it doesn't help at all. It's still so obviously a guy in a bad ape suit. The obvious borrowings from the original KING KONG only serve to remind us how great that film really was and how sad it is to be watching such lame recreations. Leading man Rhodes Reason rarely gets around to showing an emotion besides "handsome and superior", and leading lady Linda Miller, who I'm going to guess was not a very good actress to begin with (she's clearly not the same Linda Miller whose credits also included ALICE, SWEET ALICE), is hampered by a really annoying dubbed voice, even though she was an American model who spoke English. Series veteran Akira Takarada is wasted in a non-descript part as Miller's love interest.
What really kills this movie is the utter lack of a sense of fun. Perhaps it is because the Rankin-Bass company, who now owned King Kong, was a co-producer of the film, that somewhere along the line it was decided that Kong could not be a figure of amusement like Godzilla and his pals had become. So there are no gags, no wild moments, nothing to make you laugh out loud. The story is approached with such seriousness (Dr. Who and Madame Piranha excepted) that you just want to jump into the screen and yell "But that's the worst ape suit ever created!". The second best moment of the film, after Mie Hamm's dubious look, is Kong beating the crap out of Dr. Who's Evil Boat of Evil™, killing everybody on board, while the Japanese authorities stand on the dock looking as if that is exactly what they wanted to happen. Why bother trying to bring world terrorists to justice when you can just have a huge ape clobber them to death?
Oh, and one last thing: in many other Japanese Giant Monster movies, such as MOTHRA and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, the mysterious islands are inhabited by scores of natives. On Mondo Island, home of Kong and multiple other overlarge beasties in this film, there is exactly one native islander. Why only one? No friggin' clue. Maybe that's how they saved money to remodel the ape costume. ½ - JB
WHAT IS MADAME PIRANHA THINKING ABOUT THE FAILING DR. WHO?
|1) "Bernardo from West Side Story called; he wants his hair back."
2) "You couldn't be evil if it was National Evil Day in Evil-vania and they crowned you Evil King of All That is Evil."
3) "There already is a Dr. Who, moron."
4) "So what's your backup plan when you run out of giant apes?"