Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Gorgo by Carson Bingham. Originally published by Monarch Books, July, 1960. Approx. 141 pages.

Ok, so here we go with another movie novelization. Most of you who follow the blog know that I am a fan of Godzilla, as well as other giant monster (daikaiju) films. Now, as we all know, the good ol' U.S. of A and Japan are not the only countries to have made giant monster movies. Many others have stepped into the ring, with varied results. Some are great, and some only maintain their notoriety through their lasting mediocrity. Back in 1961, England, land of fish, chips, great actors, and inclement weather, offered the world "Gorgo". It was....well, it's not a bad film.

The acting is pretty wooden, the production values are decent, London makes a great destruction destination, and the costume is clunky as all hell (makes you truly appreciate the Godzilla suit actors). The leads are pretty forgettable, and there's an annoying kid who looks like he was plucked out of a Lassie sequel. And, for some reason, it's not as much fun to watch Brits run in terror as it is Japanese people. Must be the stiff upper lips.

You could say, in the end, that Britain got a Participation Trophy for its involvement in the global kaiju film trade.

Honestly, it's not much to be proud of. Even North Korea won one of those.

All that aside, Gorgo still has its fan base. It even had a comic run with Charlton Comics as well.

But, did you know that Gorgo had a novelization as well? Back in 1960, American pulp novel producer Monarch Books released a treatment of the movie. Let's take a look at the blurb on the back:

If you've actually seen the movie, something about that description will be glaringly odd to you. Namely, who the heck is this Moira character? Gorgo is a movie that is exceedingly bereft of women/romance. If you've seen the Mystery Science Theater treatment of the film (I was going to link it but it's no longer available due to copyright. So much for share the tapes.), Segment 5 of that episode centers around Crow and Servo making a "Women of Gorgo" calendar; the joke being, of course, that there are no women to include on it. So, who is this mysterious, virginal, Moira? Well, more on that in a sec. The way that the novel is structured, it is almost segmented into three parts; and it's best to look at each one at a time.

The opening portion sets the story for us: we meet Joe and Sam, two American salvage trawler operators working off the coast of Ireland. A freak storm tosses them, landing them on the Island of Nara. The crew receives a frosty welcome, courtesy of the shady harbormaster, McCartin. There's more afoot: strange happenings are claiming the lives of local sailors/fishermen. This comes to a head when a nightmarish, prehistoric beast rears its head off the shore. Joe and Sam strike a deal to capture the monster. Then, after making a deal to tender it to the Irish authorities, conniver Joe sells the beast to the owner of Dorkin's Circus in London. Monster in tow, they head off.

This opening act was actually a bit of a surprise. I was expecting some real pulpy, purple, mediocre stuff here. But Bingham (actually a pen name) gives us some authentic seafaring scenes. He even creates some suspense and tension in underwater scenes featuring Gorgo. He fleshes out the leads as well; instead of stiff, B-movie vets, we get a pair of brawling sea dogs (actually, he makes Joe into a yellow-eyed, murderous one).

All fine and good. Then, we get to the second portion; or should I say, the Moira portion. A bit of perspective here; Monarch Books was, as mentioned, best known for pulp books. For an idea of their average offering, let's take a peek at some ads from the back pages of Gorgo:

So, I'm guessing someone at Monarch took a look at the Gorgo material and announced "You know what this needs? It needs a dame angle." And, that's what it got. Enter Moira, a completely naive, consummately buxom young lady living in isolation on Nara. Her and Sam fall predictably hard for one another; to the chagrin of both her dictator-like father, and wolf-eyed Joe. They romance one another, while Gorgo languishes firmly in the background, trapped in a net on the ship. Joe makes a play for her, getting it into Sam's head that she's using him. Sam, in turn, ends up believing whoever is talking to him at the moment, leading him to keep flipping like an epileptic pancake. It's pretty funny. There's a lot of what they used to call "heavy petting". Moira can't seem to move without her clothes hugging and accentuating her ample, nubile curves.

To be honest, this is all a lot of fun. I mean, it is the stuff right out of the time when men's men needed to fight off blood-thirsty weasels and win the swooning girl.

Man, do I remember those days.

What exactly does this have to do with Gorgo, the plot, or the movie it is based on? Absolutely nothing. But then, to play devil's advocate, it's a better substitute than the boring bits in the film.

Finally, we get to the meat and potatoes of any monster film/book; the arrival of the beast. Well, it's no secret (heck, it's mentioned in the linked trailer above), that the captured Gorgo is actually just a baby, and a two hundred foot tall mother is coming to claim it.

I'd say Bingham does this portion fairly well. To be honest, there's not a lot of detail surrounding the monster itself. I don't know if he didn't have a final model to work from, or just couldn't write about Gorgo's flipper ears and over-sized claws without it sounding silly. He even seems to be poking fun at it at one point, mentioning that its motion look more like "someone doing calisthenics" than anything else.

The scenes of destruction and chaos are done well, though. We are given a nice panoramic view of London being destroyed; and it comes off with a realism that trumps what made it to the screen. Heck, throughout the book, the portions which match the movie are all done in a serviceable manner. The problems usually arise whenever Bingham tries to shoehorn Moira back into the narrative. Case in point: one laughable moment when Joe, Sam, and Moira escape an underground rail tunnel after a water main break. Never mind all the collapsed buildings and bodies floating by. Moira turns to Sam, her wet clothes dutifully clinging to her form, and proclaims "Sam! Tis cold I am!" Yeah. Okay, sweetheart. That's the primary concern as London is being destroyed and we are making our egress over the bodies of the fallen.

Other scenes that elicit a good chuckle revolve around London's military defense. Why exactly would you line up your tanks on flimsy bridge to fight a monster that just recently flipped over a Navy destroyer like a dollar store toy boat? Why would you set the Thames on fire and then act surprised when a gust of wind carries the flames to the wooden roofs of nearby buildings? These things make no sense; not in the movie, and certainly not in a book.

And there you have it in a nutshell. The book is not great; but then again, the movie wasn't great either. However, the book is not amateurish, which is what I had feared. The introduced scenes with Moira add a little 'excitement' to the boring parts, but the incongruity of these scenes cannot be overlooked. This is a book whose greatest assets, as well as weaknesses, lie in how dated it is. It is irrefutable fun for giant monster enthusiasts, completist collectors, and fans of novelizations. For all others, you might want to pass. This book does not usually come cheap (this copy set me back about $25 after shipping), and that's a lot of buck for a little bang.


Decent grab from the movie. The reddish hue is a nice touch; but honestly, they should've used a different tone, so as to be able to showcase Gorgo's famous blood red eyes.

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