Alan Smithee Podcast 79: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956, Ishiro Honda & Terry O. Morse) / Godzilla (1998, Roland Emmerich)

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Why is a giant humanoid rampaging through a city such a potent vision of apocalypse? In the best case scenario for humanity, such a giant could be like an unknowing child, wreaking havoc on a world his brain doesn’t comprehend. A particular scene in the trailer for the long-forgotten sequel Honey I Blew Up the Kid frightened me as a child: as the parents are lifted up inside a car by their now-gargantuan toddler, they scream “No honey, don’t eat us!” The thought of being brought to your destruction by something unknowing and possibly indifferent was, and is, unsettling on a cosmic scale. King Kong, the grandaddy of movie giants understood this. His tale is a clash between primitive id and a New York City recently modernized by the showbiz glitz and mechanical industriousness of the 1920s. The flappers and hucksters were brutally reminded that still there be monsters in the recently departed old world.

Godzilla was different from all that, emerging directly from the folly of men as a visceral gut punch and rumination on the new definition of mass destruction, after World War II went out with two bangs. This monster doesn’t just destroy Tokyo, he dwarfs it. His appearance is like a bipedal dragon, a cold-blooded demonic reptile beyond even the temptations of pretty blonde things that ultimately felled the beast Kong. The original Japanese film is all of these things and a lot more. Unfortunately, the heavily recut American version with Ray Milland (as the distractingly named reporter Steve Martin) makes soup out of Gojira‘s narrative while Rosie Grier’s other head looks offscreen and pretends he’s listening to Japanese actors. The tone barely survives and the subtext is reduced to the most minimal lip service, but certainly this was heady stuff for American audiences used to the oft-goofy giant bug flicks of the 1950s.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is useful as a cultural history lesson and nothing else when the original cut is available from Criterion.

The 1998 American film of Godzilla is surely one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for Hollywood Summer movies in the late 90s, bestride Batman and Robin, The Phantom Menace and, I’ve recently been convinced, Blues Brothers 2000. Roland Emmerich’s film is kind of like a bad sitcom pilot with a two hour giant monster movie attached, and it’s hard to say which component is worse. The ridiculous “human” story is an ensemble of decent actors in horrifically written and miscast non-roles, and whose banter is so achingly self-congratulatory and smug that Emmerich actually pauses between jokes to leave the audience time to laugh. The scenes with Godzilla himself weren’t even impressive for the day, and today they’re somewhere on par with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie about a dinosaur-gorilla hybrid or some such thing.

Kicking a dead horse isn’t hard when it’s the size of a building, and by the end of this episode there’s barely enough rubber left on our sneakers.

NEXT EPISODE: POST-HALLOWEEN SPECIAL! HALLOWEEN (THE TELEVISION VERSION) (1978, JOHN CARPENTER) & THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979, SIMON WINCER)

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Episode 38: This Gun for Hire (1942, Frank Tuttle) / Congo (1995, Frank Marshall)

Where would Hollywood be without the literary adaptation?

Accusing the system of unoriginality has never been out of style and with good reason: before there was other media to plunder, turning books into movies was a great way to turn a profit, from Gone With The Wind to the bible. During the golden age of the airport novelist, which came and went between the creation of television and the ability to watch Lost on a Game Boy, pulpy imaginations like that of Stephen King and Tom Clancy ruled the skies. Our movies in this episode reflect the best and worst of the mass-produced page turner seat filler fodder – fifty years, a thousand worlds and one Frank apart.

This Gun For Hire came from the pen of The Third Man author Graham Greene under the original, subtler title of A Gun For Sale. Partially fashioned as a showcase for the up and coming Veronica Lake, the scant 80 minute story allows her two nightclub song and magic numbers before throwing her on the lam with Alan Ladd in a fast paced plot of espionage and cold blooded revenge. Rumors have persisted that this pairing was conceived in consideration of the two rising stars’ relatively low stature – literally 4″11′ (hers) and 5″6′ (his).

Lake is every bit as wry and sexy as she was in Sullivan’s Travels but the show surprisingly belongs to Ladd, whose morally shifty hitman makes the film one of the most formative early works of fim noir. Also great is Tuttle’s direction and the supporting cast, particularly Laird Cregar as the slimy, corpulent double-crosser whom Ladd is gunning for.

Despite a more prolific involvement in film from the very beginning of his career than Greene, Michael Crichton still had to wait 15 years to see the film version of his 1980 thriller Congo. Upon seeing the results he may well have preferred to wait longer or not to have begun the process at all. This film is an abject disaster on every conceivable level, failing to produce either the escapist fantasy the filmmakers intended or an unintentional work of hilarious incompetence.

Being produced on the heels of Jurassic Park, one gets the sense that the studio responsible felt that Crichton’s name alone guaranteed a hit. Thus the low cost casting of b-movie hired guns like Joe Don Baker, Tim Curry and Bruce Campbell alongside low cost indy darlings like Laura Linney and Dylan Walsh. Even more cynical is the withholding of the story’s star creatures, a bunch of marauding killer gorillas, until literally the final 15 minutes of the film. Jurassic Park would not be the same film with only 15 minutes of dinosaurs, and killer apes are a poor substitute for dinosaurs in the first place.

To make the children of America who only wanted to see more people being chased through jungles by PG-13 monsters wait through over an hour of idiotic banter between Ernie Hudson and an animatronic gorilla is nothing short of fraud. For sheer lack of even the most rudimentary distracting spectacle, Congo is perhaps the worst film of 1990s Summer blockbuster era.

NEXT WEEK: PSYCHO SPECIAL! PSYCHO II (1983, RICHARD FRANKLIN) & PSYCHO (1998, GUS VAN SANT)

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Episode 29: The Bank Dick (1940, Edward F. Cline) / The Beach (2000, Danny Boyle)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, the great W.C. Fields makes a grand return and Leonardo DiCaprio does some dopey navel gazing.

The Bank Dick like many Fields pictures is the story of a man who never meant anyone a bit of harm, whom the whole world has conspired against to keep from his next drink. With the sudden opportunity to be mistaken for a hero, he takes it. With the sudden opportunity to better himself and his family, he wastes it. With some good production value from Universal, there’s a little more traditional plotting happening than at Paramount Pictures in 1934 (the place of his last film we saw, It’s A Gift) but Field’s fractured, unique approach to funny screenwriting is perfect onto himself: never before has one man been so besieged by everyday life and taken it so laconically.

As if he needed it, Fields is joined by an excellent supporting cast of comic supporting actors like Preston Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn as J. Pinkerton Snoopington, baby faced Grady Sutton as Og Oggilby, chorus girl Una Merkel and spinster Cora Witherspoon as Agatha and Myrtle Souse, and America’s least favorite stooge, Shemp Howard as Fields’ faithful bartender.

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From 1997 to 2000, Leonardo DiCaprio was the biggest movie star in the world thanks to a little sleeper called Titanic and every 12 year old girl who saw it 12 times each. By not starring in any movies during that period, he rode a rising tide of expectations for his next role as one in a series of many great roles to come. Then he starred in The Beach, a completely pointless exercise in Thai island cinematography. As an aimless jerk, DiCaprio travels to a secret island that’s an exclusive club apparently for underwear models, where everyone can party all day and all night and look fabulous. How boring is the dark secret behind this seeming paradise? More boring than you can possibly imagine, and not even really a secret. There’s actually sharks in the water, and that’s not even the dark secret. What dark secret is about to harsh Leo’s mellow buzz?

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If this hipster porn came out today it’d be a huge hit, and would still suck.

NEXT WEEK: SLAP SHOT (1977, GEORGE ROY HILL) & CRUISING (1980, WILLIAM FRIEDKIN)

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