By the mid-1960s, the Japanese seemed to have cornered the market on films featuring giant beasts terrorizing the hapless citizens of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and other major cities. Of course, the majority of credit for the success of these films must go to Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, and Tomoyuki Tanaka of Toho Company Ltd. Their stable of movie monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, et al) proved their box office might throughout the world. Toho's success in this genre was not lost on other Japanese film producers such as Shochiku Films and their THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967); Nikkatsu Films and their GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER (1967) and Toei's weekly television series, JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT (1967-68). However, the monster that most rivaled the Toho stable of monsters was introduced to Japanese cinemas in 1965 by a company called Daiei Films. Most hardcore genre fans probably already know the name by now..., yes... it's the titanic turtle of Tokyo himself... GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE!!!
The plot of the film is not unlike any other giant monster flick of the era. A Soviet warplane carrying an atomic bomb flies of course over the Arctic Ocean. When American fighter planes shoot it down, the resulting crash and nuclear explosion release the monster Gammera, a huge prehistoric turtle that had been imprisoned under the ice almost since the beginning of time. Gammera attacks Japan and all man made weapons seem powerless to destroy this menace. Gammera's mammoth size is augmented by his ability to fly and to spit fire. When all hope seems to be gone, the nations of the world rally together and devise an ingenious plan to lure Gammera into the head of a rocket and shoot him to Mars. The ending of the film is an example where the producers deviated from the traditional killing of the monster in order to have it live at the end (1960's GORGO being the only other notable example). Could Daiei have already been thinking about sequels?
Of course sequels did come fast and furious beginning with WAR OF THE MONSTERS (1966). This was followed by RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (1967), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968), ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969), GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (1970), GAMERA VS. ZIGRA (1971), and SUPER MONSTER GAMERA (1980). With the exception of the last two films, all of the giant turtle's other epics were released in the United States by American International Television (AlP- TV). These AlP-TV releases are the films that most genre fans of this reviewer's age group remember with particular fondness. This is especially true if you lived in the New York City/Long Island area during the 1970s and WABC-TV's (Channel 7) THE 4:30 MOVIE showed several of these films in the same week!!!!
GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE was originally released in Japan with a running time of about 80 minutes. The American producers (who released their version to theaters in December 1966 and added an extra "M" to Gamera's name) edited some of the Japanese footage out (including the opening scenes which feature some very poor American actors) and filmed sequences in Hollywood featuring some familiar American thespians. This practiced was already done before to three Toho films: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956), VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962), and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963). The actors who grace the celluloid of GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE include Brian Donlevy as General Arnold. By now, Donlevy was well past his successes in Preston Sturges' comedies of the 1940s and his fine performance in Fox's 1947 film noir classic, KISS OF DEATH as well as his great science fiction ventures as Professor Quatermass in two classic Hammer pictures (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT and QUATERMASS II). Here, Donlevy is just picking up a quick paycheck and his notorious drinking habits seem to have caught up with him on camera as he appears to slur some of his words at times.
Albert Dekker is the other notable American actor added for the domestic version and he also had a career similar to Donlevy's. Dekker's most notable science fiction film prior to GAMMERA was Paramount's excellent DR. CYCLOPS (1940). Dekker also served as California State Assemblyman in 1944 and made appearances in many distinguished films. These include THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939); BEAU GESTE (1939-which also co-starred Brian Donlevy); AMONG THE LIVING (1941); SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959); and his last role in Sam Peckinpah's classic western, THE WILD BUNCH (1969). Dekker's death in 1968 was shrouded in a great deal of scandal and mystery. He was discovered handcuffed and two hypodermic needles were found jabbed into his body. The police originally ruled his death a suicide, but later changed the verdict to an accident.
Alpha Video's transfer is from a 16mm print and it is not that bad when you take into account that it retails for $7.99. The mono audio is in English only (with no subtitles) and sounds decent featuring all the familiar voices from Titra Sound Studios in various dubbed roles. Sharp listeners will easily identify Peter "Speed Racer" Fernandez's voice and Jack "Pops Racer" Curtis' voice in featured roles. The picture is a little blurry, but that most likely is the result of blowing up the original scope film to full screen. The DVD clocks in at 85 minutes and the print appears to be complete. There are some minor breaks on the film, but it is nothing to distract the viewer. The extras on the disc include a catalogue of other Alpha Video titles, plus an excellent display of posters and advertisements from the film's original release. One poster features a double bill of GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE and Mario Bava's KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (WOW! That must have been one hell of a drive-in double bill). These extra goodies were provided by Mark Suggs and they are a real treat for Gamera fans.
Alpha Video DVD has provided genre
fans with some real treats over the last year. Some of their films have very
good quality (BATTLE OF THE WORLDS), while some have very poor quality (ATOM
AGE VAMPIRE-which is also cut by 14 minutes). GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE falls about
in the middle range. For the $7.99 (plus the great extras), it is well-worth
having in a serious genre fan's collection. (Joe Cascio)
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