If you've only watched American-made King Kong movies, you know that the big ape has never made it through a movie alive. In stark contrast, in his two Japanese outings, King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes, Kong is very much alive, but looks as if he's been doing heavy drugs and caught a bad case of mange.
King Kong Escapes (1967)
Starring: Rhodes Reason, Linda Miller, and Akira Takarada
As you may know, in Japan, many monster movies were made by putting men in rubber suits and having them smash model cities instead of using more expensive and time-consuming Western techniques such as stop-motion animation or large scale animatronics. That methodology worked pretty well when the monster was reptilian and supposed to possess rubber-like skin. A rubber suit version of a furry creature like Kong tends to look like a guy in an ill-fitting ape suit with a poorly sculpted, paper mache face and teeth that look like they belong to a carnivorous beaver. In other words, you've got one terrible looking version of King Kong.
In King Kong Escapes, United Nations Submarine Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) and his crew -- including Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada) -- are looking for oil in the Java Sea. An underwater landslide damages their rudder and the sub is forced to surface near Mondo Island. Coincidentally, Mondo Island is reputed to be the home of legendary giant ape, King Kong, which Commander Nelson has spent many years researching in the past. Carl, Susan, and Jiro visit the island to see if they can spot Kong while the sub is being repaired. They not only spot him, but he rescues Susan from certain death by fighting and killing a Gorosaurus that was going to eat her. Kong falls in love with Susan and attempts to carry her off, but he respectfully responds to her commands to put her down and allow her to return to the submarine unharmed.
Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Who (Eisei Amamoto) has been hired by Madame X (Mie Hama) to mine Element X, a powerful and rare mineral that can be used to create nuclear weapons. Madame X works for an unnamed country that wants to become a superpower and Element X will allow them to leapfrog the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in nuclear superiority. Dr. Who has constructed a giant robot version of Kong to mine the mineral from a cavernous area at the North Pole. Unfortunately, the robot breaks down when it comes in contact with the highly radioactive element. Dr. Who sees the press accounts of the submarine crew's contact with the real King Kong and sets off to Mondo Island to capture and use him to mine the precious but dangerous Element X. Dr. Who also plans to kidnap Carl, Susan, and Jiro after hearing how Susan was able to tell Kong what to do. (And, no, this Dr. Who has no relation to the long running British sci-fi show. He does, however, wear a cape and have horribly rotted teeth.)
If you're a kaiju fan, King Kong Escapes is enjoyable in spite of its shoddy production quality. The goofy comic book logic and the wild retro-futuristic technology are all part of its charm. The ties between this movie and an animated King Kong series that aired in the 1960s cause some weird anomalies in the plot that make the film even more nonsensical. For example, if you're wondering why or how Dr. Who built a robot version of a creature that no one had seen before, it's because in the original animated series, Dr. Who battled the Bond Family, who had befriended King Kong on Mondo Island. However, in the movie, the Bond Family has been removed, but other plot elements remained, including Dr. Who's knowledge of Kong's existence.
The terrible looking Kong suits ruin one's ability to fully disengage disbelief and enjoy the mindless plot. Several shots even allow glimpses of the suited actor's nose and mouth inside the suit . Still, King Kong Escapes contains some fairly decent effects for a Japanese kaiju film. While the models and suitmation monsters would never fool anyone but the smallest child, there are some interesting and well-done sequences, including the fantastic kangaroo-kicking Gorosaurus battle and a shot of the aurora borealis above Dr. Who's North Pole lair.
If you're not a fan of giant monster movies, King Kong Escapes will probably test your patience to the limit. However, fans of the genre will be entertained for a solid 97 minutes.
Trivia: The way Kong kills Gorosaurus, by splitting his jaws apart, is the same
way the original Kong kills the tyrannosaurus in the original King Kong (1933). (Source: The Internet Movie Database)