Godzilla vs. Big Monkey
Godzilla vs. Big Monkey
They promised us the original...
Godzilla vs. Big Monkey
They lied.
Everybody knows the story of the original Big Monkey: a band of intrepid heros journeys to Big Monkey Island, where they brave long lines at Big Monkey Mountain and the Big Monkey Gift Shop. Subduing the great ape, they tie him up to bring him back to Civilization.
        On the boat, much to the chagrin of Fay Wray, Big Monkey falls in love with Deborah Kerr. The two lovebirds vow to meet on top of the Empire State Building when they get back to New York. Unfortunately, on the way to the rendezvous, Big Monkey is shot off the building by an airplane: Fay Wray, having bid a tearful farewell to Humphrey Bogart at the airport, has stolen a Sopwith Camel from a beagle to get her revenge. Big Monkey plummets to the ground, breaking his leg and squishing Cary Grant, who was standing underneath looking very confused.
        Naturally, there is a heartwarming reunion many years later, with the older Big Monkey and Deborah Kerr played in color by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The original Big Monkey has proved to be such an enduring hit with moviegoers that when the AFI named the 100 best American movies, Big Monkey was about six of them 1.
        But classic or no, by the '60s the creator of Big Monkey, Brian McWillis, had fallen on hard times. Anxious to recapture the glory days, he went to the studios with a scenario to bring back Big Monkey. He wanted Big Monkey to have an opponent this time, something equally vast and powerful. Deborah Kerr would divorce Big Monkey, and he would be forced to go live with his arch-foe in a little apartment in Manhattan. But while Big M. is a primate, his opponent is a reptile -- one is warm-blooded, one is cold-blooded -- and oh, the merry squabbles they would have!
        McWillis was convinced it would be a wildly successful movie, and maybe even a TV series. The studio heads were less certain.
        Desperate, McWillis turned to his last hope: John "Hansen" Beck. Beck stole the idea outright and took it to Toho Studios, where he pitched it to producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. The exchange went something like this:
Beck: I've got this great idea for a monster movie. It's got Big Monkey, see, and...
Tanaka: Does it have an octopus?
Beck: Er... what?
Tanaka: An octopus. Does it have an octopus?
Beck: Ahhhm...
Tanaka: I always wanted an octopus. Godzilla was going to be an octopus, but Tsuburaya wanted a damned dinosaur. I am sick of dinosaurs. I want an octopus. You got me an octopus?
Beck: Oh! An octopus! (scribbling furiously on his proposal) Sure I got an octopus! A BIG one!
Tanaka: OK, I'll buy it!

        The rest is history. McWillis didn't get a penny and died shortly 2 afterwards. Toho didn't want to spend the money re-creating the original Big Monkey, so they put together a cheap imitation (see above). Beck took the finished project and prepared an English language version himself, using only two turntables and a microphone. To finish the American cut, he spliced in footage by another director featuring American actors and a whole new plot. The American director wasn't happy with the way things turned out; but it is in this form (under its U.S. title, The Magnificent Ambersons) that American movie lovers have always seen it in theatres, on TV and video.
        Post Script: In later years, John "Hansen" Beck split up with himself over whether to spell "Hansen" with an "o" or an "e". Half of him took the "o" spelling and became a cloying teen pop phenomenon, while the other half dropped the "Hansen" bit entirely and... oh never mind.

1. The reviewer apologizes: he fell asleep during the Late Movie and may have absorbed two or three others in his semi-conscious state.

2. About 5' 3"