Today marks the 45th anniversary of the release of Ishiro Honda’s KINGU KONGU NO GYAKUSHU (1967). It would be released 11 months later in the USA as KING KONG ESCAPES (1968). Co-produced by Rankin-Bass, it’s a loose adaptation of the cult classic KING KING SHOW cartoon series, produced by Rankin-Bass 2 years earlier. The villain, Dr. Hu – memorably portrayed by Toho veteran character actor, Eisei Amamoto- and his creation, Mechani-Kong, were both taken from the cartoon. Toho had licensed Kong from Rankin-Bass for this movie, after reviewing the popularity of a re-release of Ishiro Honda’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). Originally, Jun Fukuda’s GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966) was meant to be a Kong vehicle, but got changed to Godzilla. An early draft of Honda’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) featured Kong, but Toho pulled him as the rights were due to expire. Kong’s Kaiju co-star in Escapes, Gorosaurus got the nod instead. The cast featured American actors – Rhodes Reason & Linda Watkins – and Japanese actors – Toho vet Akira Takarada, the afore-mentioned Eisei Amamoto and the perennial Toho femme fatale, Mie Hama. The film was distributed in the US by Universal Internation. As of this writing, only the US version has been released on Region 1 DVD.
On a personal note, King Kong Escapes has long been a personal favorite of mine, especially as a kid growing up in the NYC Greater Metropolitan Area, where every Thanksgiving weekend, local station WWOR Channel 9 aired King Kong movies on Thursday (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack’s KING KONG (1933), Ernest B. Schoedsack’s SON OF KONG (1933), plus Schoedsack’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). On Friday, they’d show KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, KING KONG ESCAPES and two or three Godzilla films, varying from year to year. 70s NY local TV was great for a young Kaiju fan.