I liked this movie. I really did. And you can like it too provided you shut down all higher brain functions for, oh, say ninety minutes. (Don't forget to continue breathing. Remember folks, the diaphragm is a voluntary muscle.) This nearly fifty year old rubber monster movie is pure fun for your animal hind-brain, and what's not to like? You got your Godzilla, your Rodan, Mothra, and the new bully on the block, Ghidorah, a thunderbolt-throwing three-headed, double-tailed flying space invader.
Now about sixty minutes of the plot has to develop with our human characters before the monster throw-down can begin in earnest. The movie opens with stargazers atop a downtown building looking for the saucer people because it's January and it's steaming hot rather than wintry cold. Weird, right? These folks aren't satisfied with "scientific" answers so they want the saucer folks to let them in on what's going on. Of course, we will never actually see a saucer or even saucer people, but that's okay. Meteors, however, are observed streaking through the sky. Meanwhile, in another plot line, a princess from a Himalayan kingdom is reportedly on her way to Japan. A member of Japanese intelligence is assigned to guard her Royal Highness because of mysterious threats to her person. She will be traveling incognito the officer is told. Cut to the toy aircraft carrying the beautiful princess. You know she's royal because she is dressed in finery and jewels and her manservant is sporting one of those folded paper Elizabethan-era neck ruffles. (Who knew that was a Himalayan thing?) Now cut to the throne room where sinister, plotting Himalayan-types wearing more neck ruffles and gold bric-a-brac basted to their vestments assure one another that, yes, the bomb has been placed aboard her Royal Highness' toy plane. She will never reach Japan! Before the bomb can detonate, however, the princess will go glassy-eyed as a light flashes outside the aircraft cabin window. She walks in a catatonic state to the cabin door. She steps out. Cut to the toy aircraft which suddenly explodes! Don't worry. She wasn't shredded by the slip-stream or cut in two by the tail elevators or smashed to bits of fish chum when she impacted the surface of the ocean at terminal velocity. When she appears in fisherman's garb later, a venerable professor-type will explain that she must have fallen inter-dimensionally. Got that?
Now the intelligence officer has a sister. She's a reporter, and so she begins following the story of a mystery woman claiming to be a Martian and prophesying doom for all of humanity. Her brother, the intelligence officer, will pick up a newspaper, see the story on the prophetess, and pull out his picture of the princess-who-never-arrived and lay it down next to the image in the newspaper for the benefit of the viewer. See, it's the same woman! The princess doesn't remember herself, however, because she's now a Martian. This quasi-amnesia/Martian possession requires the sister/reporter and the brother/intelligence officer to combine their efforts to seek treatment for the unfortunate royal. Meanwhile, a Himalayan hit squad has been tasked with eliminating the princess who has somehow miraculously survived. This amnesia will cause the hit squad to hesitate in their task which gives time for the brother to intervene. Shots are fired but, thank goodness, everyone's a wild and terrible shot even at point-blank range. The hit squad escapes, but our princess remains disturbingly serene.
Did I mention the tiny, identical fairy twins? You know, the ones who commune telepathically with the larval Mothra? No? Well, they are now celebrities in Japan appearing on a game show which makes them important. So important that their six-inch high counsel will be eagerly accepted by the Japanese national defense committee. The twins recruit Mothra who is first seen on its personal island being worshipped by primitive tribal types complete with four-foot feather headdress atop the head shaman. The fairy twins speak almost, but not quite, simultaneously in their high-pitched dubbed-in voices. The first few times I smiled at this, but they get a good bit of screen time. After sufficient exposure, they just become another surreal addition to the complicated tangle of plot lines. Magical, tiny fairy twins, I mean, why the hell not?
Summoned by the twins, Mothra inchworms his way to the Japanese main islands and just-in-the-nick-of-time too. Rodan has emerged from his rocky crypt, and Godzilla has arisen again from his oceanic lair. The demon of wind and the demon of water have taken up their old grudge and it's up to the giant worm to sort them out. Now I remember seeing Rodan in another film on UHF long ago. That Rodan had a laser in his throat if I recall. This one doesn't. He's got the power of great wind from his wings and soars like a B-2 stealth bomber with an turkey head stuck on the front. He also has the power of feet-scratching and beak -pecking. Godzilla, in other iterations, has glowing back spines and a heat ray. This one doesn't. Instead, he seems to spew a gust of steam which imparts very little damage to Rodan. Frustrated by their mutual inability to inflict lasting harm, they resort to kicking rocks at one another. The rock kicking goes on to the point where, honest-to-god, they are volleying boulders back and forth between one another while Mothra observes, his puffy snout moving to and fro like a tennis spectator.
Now I've seen a Mothra movie or two. In at least one of those flicks, Mothra actually graduates from corpulent larva to giant moth. This one doesn't. Instead, he stays in his larval form throughout the film. The segmented giant caterpillar has no eyes worthy of the name and only one small pore at the tip of that turgid body. The phallic comparison might be avoidable if Mothra had any other way of intervening in a monster fight. Unable to talk the two down in conversation conducted in monster-speech, Mothra resorts to - not making this up - shooting a thin stream of sticky, white liquid at the combatants. Their faces liberally splashed with the caterpillar's ejecta, Godzilla and Rodan take five.
Before, during and after the three-way monster brawl, the humans are still trying to sort themselves out. Sister/reporter has a romantic connection with a virile scientist-type (as opposed to the white-haired sage variety). This hale fellow will lead his scientific expedition into the Japanese hill country to make observations of the main meteorite fall. The film will return several times to the glowing meteorite until Ghidorah can be born. Meantime, the Martian/princess, still being pursued by the Himalayan hit squad, requires the attention of a psychiatrist. The drugs aren't working so it's time for - what else? - electroshock therapy. [This is the second movie, coincidentally, I have recently seen which features the application of electrodes to pretty lady temples. The other was John Carpenter's "The Ward" (see my review of same) which, though released in 2010, is set in 1965. I realize that's only two data points, but 1965 cannot have been a good year for pretty ladies with perceived emotional issues.]
Ghidorah, finally on the scene, begins laying waste to things and, of course, encounters our three earthly terrors so the ultimate battle can commence. Thunderbolts are thrown. Boulders are kicked. Rubbery wings are flapped. Rodan allows wormy Mothra to mount his back the better to shoot more streams of sticky white juice upon the king of all monsters. Ghidorah, pummeled by Godzilla's boulders, pecked by Rodan's power-beak and covered with Mothra's goo, takes his leave of Earth in sheer disgust.
Now in rating a movie such as this one must offer, I believe, an age-appropriate handicap. To employ a golf analogy, a Toho movie from 1965 gets to start at the ladies' tee and can take 8 shots at every hole before entering bogey territory. I did a ton of research into this film (all the way to page 3 of Google results) and found a New York Times review from December 16, 1965. Mr. Vincent Canby didn't like the film much at all, but that's probably because he watched it at the New Amsterdam theater as a double-bill with Elvis Presley's "Harum Scarum". See? That's how old this monster movie really is. Granting, therefore, a very generous handicap, I graciously bestow 4 skulls for thorough brainstem entertainment.