King Kong Escapes (released in Japan as Counterattack of King Kong (キングコングの逆襲 Kingu Kongu no Gyakushū), is a 1967 Japanese-American science-fiction kaiju film featuring King Kong, co-produced by Toho and Rankin/Bass. The film is directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya and stars Rhodes Reason, Linda Jo Miller, Akira Takarada, Mie Hama, Eisei Amamoto, with Haruo Nakajima as King Kong and Yū Sekida as Mechani-Kong and Gorosaurus. The film was a loose adaptation of the Rankin/Bass Saturday morning cartoon series The King Kong Show and was the second and final Japanese-produced film featuring King Kong. King Kong Escapes was released in Japan on July 22, 1967 and released in the United States on June 19, 1968.
(Apparently, Kong understands English perfectly.) Problems with the earpiece ensue and Who has to kidnap Susan Watson, the only person who can control Kong.
After Watson and her fellow officers are captured by Who, Madame Piranha unsuccessfully tries to seduce Nelson to bring him over to her side. Eventually Kong escapes and swims all the way to Japan where the climactic battle with Mechani-Kong transpires. Standing in for the Empire State Building from the original film is the Tokyo Tower where the two giants face off in the finale.
The story is partly a remake of the animated series (itself a retelling of the original 1933 film) about a tamed Kong who is befriended by a boy and directed to fight for the forces of good. That concept (minus the boy) is combined with a mad scientist story with elements from the then-popular spy film genre. The sinister Dr. Who (not to be confused with the British television series or its main character) is patterned after James Bond villains Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. His partner, Madame Piranha, is an Asian spy played by Mie Hama, fresh from the Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). Submarine commander Carl Nelson is similar to Admiral Nelson, commander of the Seaview sub in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a series that also featured giant monsters and stories about international espionage.
Veteran voice actor Paul Frees dubbed the voice of Dr. Who in the American release.
In an interview with Reason on the making of this film, Paul Frees did almost all the male voices for the dub. Paul apparently asked Reason why he was there, and said as a joke, “Why are you here? I could probably do a better version of you than you could.”
Linda Miller hated her dubbed voice in the American version, but loved the Japanese voice. She was extremely mad at Mr. Rankin, the producer, for not inviting her to dub her own lines when Rhode Reason (Nelson) was able to re-dub his. It turned out to work this way because Reason was a part of the Screen Actors Guild, and Linda Miller was only a model, and still residing in Japan at the time (transportation costs to New York would have been prohibitive).
The shot of Gorosaurus living on Monster Island seen in the 1969 film All Monsters Attack was actually stock footage taken from this film.
Toho reissued the film in 1973 as part of the Champion Matsuri (東宝チャンピオンまつり), a film festival that ran from 1969 through 1978 that featured numerous films packaged together and aimed at children.
Afterwards it was screened as part of a specialty festival in 1983 called The Godzilla Resurrection Festival (Gojira no Fukkatsu). This large festival featured ten Godzilla/kaiju films in all. (Godzilla, King Kong vs Godzilla, Mothra vs Godzilla, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Atragon, and King Kong Escapes).
Outside Japan and the U.S, the film received a wide release in most International markets where it went by different titles. The film was released in Germany as King-Kong, Frankensteins Sohn (King Kong: Frankenstein's Son), in Belgium as La Revanche de King Kong (The Revenge of King Kong) - a direct translation of the Japanese title, in Italy as King Kong il gigante della foresta (King Kong, the Giant of the Forest), in Turkey as Canavarlarin Gazabi (Wrath of the Monsters), in Mexico as El Regreso de King Kong (The Return of King Kong), in Finland as King Kong kauhun saarella (King Kong on the Island of Terror), and in Sweden as King Kong på skräckens ö (King Kong on Terror Island).
The film opened in the United States in June 1968 on a double-bill with the Don Knotts comedy The Shakiest Gun in the West. Contemporary American reviews were mixed. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby gave it a particularly insulting review, commenting, "The Japanese...are all thumbs when it comes to making monster movies like 'King Kong Escapes.' The Toho moviemakers are quite good in building miniature sets, but much of the process photography—matching the miniatures with the full-scale shots—is just bad...the plotting is hopelessly primitive..."
The July 15, 1968, issue of Film Bulletin, however, gave it a more positive review, saying, "Grown-ups who like their entertainments on a comic-strip level will find this good fun and the Universal release (made in Japan) has plenty of ballyhoo angles to draw the school-free youngsters in large numbers."
Toho had wanted to use King Kong again after this film. King Kong was included in an early draft for the 1968 film Destroy All Monsters but was ultimately dropped due to the fact that Toho's license on the character was set to expire. Toho managed to get some use out of the suit though. The suit was reused to play the character "Gorilla" in episode #38 of the Toho giant superhero show Go! Greenman. The three-part episode, titled "Greenman vs. Gorilla", aired from March 21, 1974 through March 23, 1974.
Toho would bring the character Gorosaurus into the Godzilla series in Destroy All Monsters using the same suit from this film. The suit was reused again four years later (at this point in dilapidated condition) to portray the character in episode #6 of the Toho giant superhero show Go! Godman. The six-part episode, titled "Godman vs. Gorosaurus", aired from November 9, 1972 through November 15, 1972.
In the early 1990s when plans for a King Kong vs. Godzilla remake fell through, Toho had planned to bring back Mechani-Kong as an opponent for Godzilla in the project Godzilla vs. Mechani-Kong. However, according to Koichi Kawakita, it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be difficult. Kawakita stated:
"Toho wanted to pit Godzilla against King Kong because King Kong vs. Godzilla was very successful. However, the studio thought that obtaining permission to use King Kong would be difficult. So, it instead decided to use MechaniKong. Soon afterward, it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be difficult. So, the project was canceled. MechaniKong was going to have injectors. A number of people were going to be injected into Godzilla while the robot was wrestling with him. They then were going to do battle with Godzilla from within while MechaniKong continued to do battle with him from without. There were going to be many different strange worlds inside Godzilla. The concept was very much like the one on which Fantastic Voyage was based."