Back in 1962 Toho managed to revive their Godzilla film series by pitting the big G against King Kong. Toho had licensed the character from RKO and after the success of King Kong vs. Godzilla Toho wanted to make another King Kong film.
Arthur Rankin Jr. came onto the project as co-producer. The first script was rejected because it wasn’t close enough to Rankin’s King Kong cartoon that he was producing in the States. The rejected script was turned into the Godzilla film Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster by skillfully crossing King Kong’s name out and substituting Godzilla’s name into the script. It’s the only Godzilla movie where lightning revives him and he suddenly develops an “interest” in the only female member of the cast. Toho and Rankin finally agreed on a script and made King Kong Escapes in 1967.
The movie doesn’t quite follow Toho’s last outing with Kong, it kind follows Rankin/Bass’ cartoon The King Kong Show. It starts with the evil Doctor Who trying to extract Element X out of the arctic by using a robotic King Kong that he made. Element X is so radioactive that it interferes with the robot making the extraction impossible. Dr. Who decides that he needs the real Kong to extract Element X.
Meanwhile the United Nations have sent a submarine to Mondo Island to study Kong. American Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) leads the expedition. Kong fights a dinosaur, becomes infatuated with Lieutenant Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and then fights large serpent. After the expedition leaves the island and announces their findings to the world. Dr. Who then goes to the island and kidnaps Kong. Who then brainwashes Kong using hypnosis. Kong is then sent out to retrieve Element X but the radiation interferes with the communicator that Dr. Who installed to give Kong orders. Dr. Who then decides to kidnap Lieutenant Susan Watson because she’s the only person who Kong listens to. Meanwhile Madame Piranha (Mie Hama), who hired Dr. Who to retrieve Element X for her unnamed country (it’s hinted its North Korea), keeps berating Who for continuously failing to retrieve the element. After the colonel, Susan and Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada) are captured Madame Piranha falls for the colonel and decides to help. Kong escapes from Dr. Who and makes it to Tokyo. Who sends out Mechani-Kong to fight Kong and entertaining giant monster fighting ensues.
Like lots of Toho’s kaiju output in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the film is pretty ridiculous. The Kong costume is reused from Godzilla vs. King Kong and it really is one of the worst gorilla costumes ever to grace the big screen. That aside, the film plays out like a weird mix of a Saturday Morning Cartoon and campy James Bond villainy. It’s been a long time since I’ve since the 1976 King Kong but I think this might be more entertaining than it and it’s definitely way better than King Kong Lives.