Gorgo 4K

by Glenn Erickson Jul 18, 2023

We can hardly believe this — a nearly perfect 4K encoding of this all-time favorite monster epic has arrived, with only a few weeks’ notice. The sharp, brightly colored image finally reflects Freddie Young’s rich textures, returning the word ‘artful’ to writer-director-designer Eugène Lourié’s family-friendly yarn about a city-smashing ‘Irish sea fairie.’ Talk about childhood nostalgia — this was our ‘9th birthday’ movie outing, and remains an unashamed delight. Bill Travers and William Sylvester star; the two disc set also offers a Blu-ray copy and a tall stack of extras.

Gorgo 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
Vinegar Syndrome
1961 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 77 min. / Street Date July 25, 2023 / Available from Vinegar Syndrome / 36.99
Starring: Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter, Christopher Rhodes, Joseph O’Conor, Martin Benson, Bruce Seton, Maurice Kaufmann, Basil Dignam, Nigel Green, John Wood.
Cinematography: Freddie Young (F.A. Young)
Production Designer:
Art Director: Scott Elliot (Elliot Scott)
Visual Effects: Tom Howard
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Original Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Screenplay and Screen Story by John Loring, Daniel Hyatt (aka Robert L. Richards, Daniel James)
Executive Producers: Frank and Maurice King
Produced by Wilfred Eades
Directed by
Eugène Lourié

Amazing — just two weeks ago we learned of an upcoming 4K Ultra HD disc of everyone’s favorite aquatic beastie, and here it is already:  Gorgo. We’re happy to report that the new remaster looks sensational, with colors, contrast and textures that eclipse the 2013 Blu-ray. Vinegar Syndrome’s presentation brings back long-ago memories of spectacular theatrical screenings. This happy fan saw Gorgo first run in downtown Honolulu. Instead of its frequent double feature Konga, I caught it with the chilling Caltiki, the Immortal Monster. Were those not the best of times?  A first exposure to both Eugène Lourié and Mario Bava, on the same day.

Believe us, on a theater screen this show looked BIG.

Even better, Gorgo has Something to Say: a proto-ecological statement that our matinee audiences cheered. In most every previous monster romp, the giant threat was destroyed before the curtain came down. Gorgo and his Mum are the heroes: they not only survive, they prevail.

Although the King Brothers Gorgo was a major MGM release in 1961, its principal photography was done back in 1959. The scenes of the Gorgo flotilla motoring through Piccadilly Square were filmed in October of 1959, if the giant marquee for The Mummy can be trusted. When Gorgo actually attacks, I Want To Live! is playing at the same theater, which may have been in August of 1959.

The impressive poster shouted, “Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before!”  Some of England’s best creative talent worked on the picture, which employed the man-in-suit vs. miniatures art-craft favored by the Japanese, but with an altogether different cinematic effect. In Technicolor on a big screen, Gorgo was the Ben-Hur of colossal monsters from the deep, and a heck of a kiddie matinee ride. Little did we know that it was a ‘problem’ picture, that may have been saved in Post Production by a creative film editor. Distributor MGM may have stepped in to do some last-minute optical work — we’re told that the Mercer company in Hollywood augmented visual effects done in London.


It’s a designer’s movie, a Eugène Lourié genius showcase.

Unknown here, the film’s director Eugène Lourié was a renowned art director. His The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) was the first ’50s movie about a prehistoric monster on the loose; it’s likely that his designs supported Ray Harryhausen’s impressive animation techniques. Circumstances brought Lourié to direct the similar, less exciting The Giant Behemoth (Behemoth, Sea Monster) (1959). Enter the prolific producers Frank and Maurice King, who had made a bundle importing Toho’s Rodan (1956) and hired Lourié to undertake the same challenge for yet a third time. The big difference was that the King Brothers saw their movie as an expensive Technicolor production.

Gorgo’s main title towers on the screen in giant stone letters to the crashing chords of Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s symphonic score. The cinematography is by Freddie Young, who would soon dazzle the world with Lawrence of Arabia.  *  Claiming that their new show was a personal ode to mother love, the King Brothers spared no expense. A unit filmed on location in Ireland. Lourié built some very large miniature sets. American Cinematographer magazine devoted an article to the film’s enormous River Thames miniature, with its realistic model of the Tower Bridge.

Like many writers employed by the King Bros., Robert L. Richards and Daniel James had been blacklisted in America and were working under assumed names. Their storyline bears similarities to King Kong, but with an emphasis on the ‘capitalistic’ exploitation of a newly discovered marine animal. The somewhat shady salvage partners Joe Ryan and Sam Slade (Bill Travers & William Sylvester) almost lose their ship to an enormous underwater disturbance off the coast of Ireland. Seeking repairs on the island of Nara, they are given a cold welcome by McCartin (Christopher Rhodes), a corrupt archeologist who hoards valuables found on the sea bottom. Tipped to McCartin’s illegal cache by orphan Sean (Vincent Winter), Joe and Sam conduct their own search for ancient gold.

They instead find Sean’s sea-spirit ‘Ogra,’ an oversized sea monster with glowing red eyes and dragon-like ears. Joe descends in a diving bell, the beast is netted and the ship heads to London to take advantage of a lucrative exhibition deal with a Battersea Park circus run by Dorkin (Martin Benson). Sam and Joe restrain little Sean from setting Gorgo free. They ignore the advice of professors Hendricks and Flaherty (Joseph O’Connor & Bruce Seton), who calculate that the aquatic sideshow exhibit is a relative infant. Sure enough, a towering 200-foot parent monster rises from the deep. After stomping Nara Island flat it sets a course for London to liberate its captive offspring.


The screenplay imposes a powerful ecological theme, chastising the arrogance and hubris of civilized Man. As in John Huston’s earlier ‘save the elephants’ epic The Roots of Heaven, human greed is the villain. Joe and Sam exercise their business rights by strong-arming the competition and ignoring government experts that block their way to a fast profit. Just like old King Kong, Gorgo is exploited as a circus attraction. The pint-sized Sean predicts disaster, being a believer in pagan sea fairies of the kind later celebrated in Local Hero. Sure enough, Mother Nature strikes back with a vengeance. Interestingly, actor Bill Travers and his spouse Virginia McKenna were life-long nature preservationists, as later seen in their immensely popular Born Free. It too is about an animal species endangered and abused by meddling mankind.

Gorgo is the first monster movie to clearly understand that kids couldn’t care less about the handsome hero and his girlfriend, and instead want to root for the beleaguered monsters. It gave us ’50s kids a strong identification figure in Sean (Vincent Winter of The Three Lives of Thomasina). Joe finds Sean grinning in delight as Gorgo’s mother pulls half of London down around them: “You little knothead!” He yanks the kid to safety, but we’re on Sean’s side all the way — sharing the radical yet righteous notion that decadent mankind needs to be taken down a few notches, even at the cost of wholesale death and destruction. Only amplifying that sentiment is the film’s finale, in which an editorializing radio reporter voices a stirring moral on this king-sized Aesop’s fable:

“Yet, as though disdaining the pygmies under her feet, she turns back, turns with her young, leaving the prostrate city, leaving the haunts of man. Leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast that he alone is Lord of all creation.”

The King Brothers’ generous budget and English studio craftsmanship give Gorgo the most spectacular ‘giant monster’ effects seen before computer generated illusions. Young Gorgo rises determinedly from the sea with water pouring over its glowing red eyes, but retreats with howls of protest when Joe leads the Nara fishermen in pelting him with firebrands. Clever camerawork makes Gorgo’s mama appear suitably colossal as it wades upriver, smashing through “London’s oldest landmarks” and ripping a path into the city center. One breathtaking shot shows mother Gorgo approaching the Houses of Parliament under a blazing sky of purple and red smoke. In the awesome finale the monster’s giant foot flattens Dorkins’ circus enclosure, dwarfing the once-imposing Young Gorgo. The cacophony of music and destruction subsides for a moment as the creatures exchange squawks like the trumpeting of elephants. It’s a fairy tale saga of Mother Nature triumphant.


The amazing editor Eric Boyd-Perkins, unheralded Movie Savior.

All evidence points to Gorgo being stalled for months in post-productions. The cutting of the movie suggests a major rescue job by the creative editor Eric Boyd-Perkins… either to add excitement to a story that unspooled too slowly, or (more likely) to patch together an unfinished movie that ran out of money. Like the later The Day of the Triffids but at a much higher cost, the first cut of Gorgo may have clocked in under an hour in length, and still be missing essential materials.

What’s in the screenplay, that didn’t make it to the film?  Sam and Joe may be from Brooklyn, making Gorgo an ‘ugly American’ movie like Nigel Kneale’s The Abominable Snowman. We assume Sean is an orphan, but the script identifies his father as the diver who ‘died of fright.’ When the monster arrives at Dorkins’ Circus, it battles an elephant, killing it much like the Ymir in 20 Million Miles to Earth. The film’s good, sparse dialogue is almost identical — no characters are cut out.

We would guess that Boyd-Perkins was faced with big sequences that had to be assembled from stock footage. He then did a bold ‘save job’ on the entire picture, using every Film Doctor trick in the book. Boyd-Perkins expands and contracts time for maximum effect. He applies a faster, ‘cutty’ pace to shape the stock shots and occasionally-inadequate special effects into acceptable sequences. Scenes with the main characters barely seem to cover the story essentials, but the shooting script adds no major extra scenes. We have to conclude that Gorgo’s initial cut came up too short. Eric Boyd-Perkins’ job was to pad it out, but he also took responsibility for re-shaping the film as a whole. To do this he radically re-ordered the sequence of various actions.

1. In the opening scuba diving sequence one Scuba dive by Joe has been broken into two separate dives, apparently to slow the pace. When Joe announces that he’s going down again, his words are heard only in voice-over. That gives us three separate diving scenes, not counting the diving bell sequence.

2. The London destruction sequence is almost completely re-ordered. The most dramatic scene-shuffling occurs when the giant mother monster surfaces in the Thames, at 00:54:50. We first see an exciting sequence of sailors attempting to stop mama Gorgo by setting the river on fire with fuel oil. At the finish of this scene, in the background, sharp eyes will see the Tower Bridge already destroyed. In the original shooting continuity, Mama Gorgo destroyed the Tower Bridge as her very first act in central London. The editor swapped the order of actions: Mama Gorgo’s encounter with the unique-looking bridge is delayed so it can be the last thing she smashes before leaving the river. (note: the 1959 shooting script bears this out.)

2. In the city destruction sequence at about 1:03:00, Vincent Winter leaps into a truck on its way to central London, forcing Joe and Sam to follow. But the shot where the partners see Sean leaving shows them working with the cables of the portable apparatus brought in to improvise the electrical trap for Mama Gorgo. That scene doesn’t get going for another reel. (In the script, the electric defense is initiated much earlier, as soon as Mama Gorgo alights in London.)

3. An odd set of cuts at 1:06:22 may have been a mistake: in three identical wide street shots we can see a man in a 2nd story window at the left of frame, reacting to the chaos outside. They form a sequence — he walks forward — then falls when his ceiling caves in — and then the whole building collapses into the street. But the shots are out of order: the ceiling first caves in, but in the next cut-back we see him from before, unharmed. Unless Boyd-Perkins had some radical theory in mind, this looks like a mistake in negative assembly.


Gorgo has some of the Best Panicked Mob footage ever — design-wise, Eugène Lourié may have directed this material himself. A multitude of angles shows a terrified human stampede that perfectly expresses H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds quote about “the rout of civilization, the massacre of mankind.”  The run-for-your-lives frenzy is on a huge scale compared to Lourié’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms; the citizens fleeing The Giant Behemoth are okay but the laughably casual Danes in Reptilicus look like they’re having fun. Curiously, the frightened civilians in Toho’s spectacles almost always flee in an orderly fashion, following the guidance of helpful civil defense workers.

Editor Boyd-Perkins contributed fine work to several Hammer Films, including the suspenseful Cash on Demand and the spectacular Ursula Andress She. He’s also the editor of the sublime The Wicker Man. Minus his film-surgical decisions Gorgo might not have worked at all. Its final twenty minutes is an unbroken action-destruction montage, adopting a more frenetic pace than generally seen in 1961. Boyd-Perkins’ cutting patterns revisit the rhythmic montage of William Cameron Menzies’ London Blitz set piece in the classic Things to Come. Actor John Wood has a bit as a sandwich-board seer (Repent!) trampled by the mob. The frantic fast cuts of terrorized victims in flight climax with the collapse of the Underground station. The audience can feel the panic-frenzy.

Just the same, the editor eventually exhausts his film material. At around 01:09:38 Boyd-Perkins becomes desperate to find enough shots to cover a stirring ‘the jets are coming’ music fanfare. To ‘keep the kettle boiling’ he must recycle leftover action from previous scenes, like the vehicle drive-ups at the Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

True, director Lourié’s basic scene coverage must have been slim, as the editor is forced to repeat cutaway shots from the very beginning, as with the sailors watching the boiling water of the undersea eruption. Angles on the same truck turning on its side and catching fire are used in at least three scenes. We return at least three times to a nice stage effect of the corner of a building crumbling onto some victims. An expressive shot of the ship’s propellor turning — out of the water, as if the ship had run aground — is repeated here and there to serve as a generic scene buffer.

Skilled editing disguises these repeats. But Eric Boyd-Perkins gives the movie a shape and a flow that’s almost musical. An extremely thorough sound effects job helps create the atmosphere of panic and total destruction. Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s exciting music score is used exceedingly well, blasting in where needed and staying absent when images and sound effects tell the tale.


Yeah, but those Special Visual Effects are All Over the Place.

Gorgo is a superb monster; kids love the way his ears flap. His design has more personality than the average Toho Kaiju character, with a chicken-leg ankle that almost overcomes the stigma of the rubber costume, man-in-suit-asaur concept. His jaw does hinge in a slightly too-mechanical way, perhaps. But Gorgo cuts a fine figure on screen. His presumed designer Eugène Lourié finds scores of expressive angles — he looks good from all directions.

The show teems with visual effect spectacles that succeed 100%, starting with the shots of huge flat monster heads bursting up through the water, eyes blazing. We were stunned by the sight of Mama Gorgo overturning the destroyer; the approach to Big Ben with that blazing sky; and the wide shot of Mama Gorgo closing in on Piccadilly Square, a towering shadow in the background.

Those are of course the good effects; we’re happy that their impact outweighs the effect of many really terrible effects. Here are a few:

Feeble matte paintings, the worst of which is a big color circus tent with painted human figures — it’s awful.

We expect the onslaught of stock shots, but scenes with warships and fighter planes intercut day and night footage. One shot of an obviously American jet strafing Battersea Park has a desert background. One shot of the circus midway appears to have come from the King Bros.’ 1954 German production Carnival Story. Many of these stock shots are of iffy quality. An entire mini-sequence is lifted from a submarine movie, and some shots of men at controls are familiar images from a nuclear test film. Shots of a torpedo and ‘underwater nets’ being closed are tinted B&W from the wartime Destination Tokyo!  (No shame there — ‘1941’ uses a couple of torpedo shots from the same source.)

Quite a few blue-screen composites don’t quite come together — we can frequently ‘see through’ people and vehicles. We even see through Gorgo Jr. at the finale. And that’s not to mention the addition of rotoscoped human figures, so crudely composited that they look like glowing cut-outs — the zookeepers running up to Gorgo Jr.’s enclosure, the soldiers falling from the top of the Tower Bridge. Seeing Gorgo now, we accept the bad with the good. But yes, we sometimes wish that all the raw optical negative elements existed, to be re-composited by modern methods, improving everything.  Such are daydreams of forbidden filmic revisionism.


🎶  I get all the news I need on the Weather Report.  🎶

There is no ‘roving radio reporter’ character (Maurice Kaufmann) in the 1959 shooting script. He pops up on rooftops all along the monster’s path, chattering away even as building masonry collapses on top of him. His appearances are all crude traveling matte composites, pasted into whatever background shot was available. The optical bill on Gorgo must have been staggering . . .

Yet the addition of the roving reporter is what connects with audiences on an emotional level. His eloquent sentiments lend direction and purpose to the destruction, and acknowledge that the monsters are the film’s real heroes. The King Brothers may have been given the idea by their own re-edit of Toho’s Rodan, which plays better with their added narration that sympathizes with the flying monsters.  At matinees in 1961, Gorgo’s finale was met with applause and cheers.

MGM clearly believed in Gorgo’s box office potential. It did well thanks to unusually strong distribution and positive word of mouth. Reviewers prone to snubbing genre films found merit in its surprise ending. What a great childrens’ film this is — an eco-fairy tale and a civics lesson for Anarchists. This time the monsters win!  Mother Nature stomps on civilization and walks away with her head held high.



Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray of Gorgo 4K is really an eye opener. The frame grabs at VS’s sales page don’t lie; I’ve used them to illustrate the review.

Ten years ago VCI’s Blu-ray thrilled because it was the first time we saw Gorgo looking better than Public Domain junk. Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K makes it look 99% like a Technicolor screening back in an old-style movie palace. The full range of color, contrast and texture is back — the monster’s slippery green hide, the London skies blazing with red smoke, Freddie Young’s beautifully-lit night shots of Nara harbor. When Eugène Lourié zooms into a giant dark monster head bursting from the water, red eyes ablaze, our first reaction is to recoil.

The excellent transfer and grading can make some shots look only so good — scenes with superimposed smoke are as shabby as some of the blue-screen work. But the shots of Piccadilly  (Top image  ) and Big Ben take our breath away, as do the acres of stampeding Londoners.


On a big video screen Gorgo takes charge and pulls us in. The film does indeed finish with 20 minutes of screaming crowds, explosions and falling building noises. The sophisticated soundtrack keeps it lively and dynamic. The editor knows when to interrupt the audio din, as when everything pauses for Gorgo Jr. to call out to his mother, now towering over him.

A couple of observations: after the roar of the MGM lion, the initial note of the Lavagnino title cue rudely cuts on — somebody trimmed it too tight. This would have been easy to fix, as the music on the disc’s German, French and Isolated Music tracks all begin CLEAN.

The only remastered material that seemed wrong to us were shots of Gorgo underwater. Here we can see them very clearly, whereas original Technicolor prints timed them almost completely dark, probably on purpose. No big sin, that.

VS has several new extras, leading with a commentary and video discussion (34 minutes) by illustrator and collector Stephen R. Bissette. He certainly knows a lot about the film and approaches it from a nostalgic POV. The lengthy video talk never gets dull because Bissette keeps showing new collector’s items, some of which I’d forgotten about and others that escaped me entirely, like a Roan laserdisc for the movie.


Of special note is the Isolated Music & Effects track, which helps us appreciate the movie’s sound design and mix. The editor thinks musically, pausing the orchestral score to let a key sound effect slip through. Then he’ll drop the explosions and crowd walla entirely, to allow a music fanfare to seize full attention for a few seconds. It’s quite dynamic.

The older Ballyhoo documentary’s fan experts deliver sound bites to tell a fuzzy history of giant dinosaur movies. The film’s genesis is known largely through a few remarks in Eugène Lourié’s autobiography. Prime research by authors Bill Warren and Tom Weaver have unearthed a few interesting facts, but not enough to piece together a history of the film’s making. Hardly any BTS photos were taken of the miniatures or the monster suit(s), which in these days of over-documented special effects seems unthinkable.

Other galleries repurposed from the VCI disc show us those two very impressive, high-quality photo images of the monster costume ‘headdress,’ along with a shot of what seems to be a body harness rigged with bulky hydraulic gear to operate Gorgo’s mouth and ears. One of the on-camera spokesmen is our late friend Ted Newsom.

The (remastered?) trailer looks great. So do the galleries of pub and ad material, all except for the production notes, which are simply too small to be read. What an encouragement to get my Gorgo one-sheet down from the attic, and frame it for my daughter.

We waited a year for the wonderful restoration of Invaders from Mars, and the gestation period for fab 3-D restorations can sometimes be longer. Gorgo was a surprise because we learned it was on the way just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a very welcome and much appreciated surprise.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Gorgo 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent DTS Mono; original Mono, French and German mono
New commentary track with Stephen R. Bissette
Isolated music & effects track
Alternate feature tracks in French and German
New Gorgo Lives! talk by Stephen R. Bissette
Extended docu The 9th Wonder of the World: The Making of Gorgo from Ballyhoo
Featurette Gorgo: Behind the Scenes– archival making-of featurette
2009 short film Waiting for Gorgo by Benjamin Craig, plus BTS featurette
Original theatrical trailer
Promotional image galleries: original production notes, Lobby cards & posters, Pressbook, Photos
Comic book Gorgo: The Monster from the Sea
‘Anatomy’ poster by Matt Frank
Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One 4K Ultra HD disc + one Blu-ray in Keep case
July 16, 2023

*  It’s possible that Freddie Young only filmed Gorgo’s live-action scenes. The ones not obscured by optical work look sensational.CINESAVANT

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Chuck Shillingford

Hi Glenn, Merry Christmas again and I meant to contact you back in July on Gorgo to say that it didn’t look this good back in 1960 when I saw it at the Tower in Upper Darby, PA. Phenomenal picture sound and extras. I always look for your recommendations to ascertain that it’s a great value; Gorgo DEFINITELY was.

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