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Varan the Unbelievable

Varan the Unbelievable (1962) Movie Poster
USA / Japan  •    •  70m  •    •  Directed by: Jerry A. Baerwitz, Ishirô Honda.  •  Starring: Myron Healey, Tsuruko Kobayashi, Clifford Kawada, Derick Shimatsu, Kôzô Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumindo Matsuo, Hiroshi Hisasume, Yoneo Iguchi, Hideo Inamura, Roy K. Ogata, George Sasaki, Michael Sung..
       In an effort to find an economic means of purifying salt water, a joint U.S.-Japanese military command is set up on an isolated Japanese island where an unusual salt water lake is situated. However, their purifying experiments arouse the prehistoric monster Obaki from hibernation at the lake's bottom, and it proceeds to attack Japan.

Trailers:

   Length:  Languages:  Subtitles:
 1:05
 
 
 1:37
 
 

Review:

Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
Image from: Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
As we all know, ABC-TV commissioned the Japanese original in 1958, but pulled out of the deal. Toho went ahead and made it anyway, although, since it was geared towards American audiences, it never caught on in the Land of the Rising Sun (in fact, the monster only shows up for Toho once more, for a few seconds in "Destroy All Monsters"). In 1961, smalltime producer Jerry A. Baerwitz ("Fright Night") bought the American rights and came up with a hatchet job that tried to emulate Raymond Burr's version of "Godzilla" but failed miserably.

In the original, a butterfly scientist (Kozo Nomura) and a reporter (Ayumi Sonoda) break a village's religious taboo to save a kid and they accidentally rouse Baradagi, a species of dinosaur known as a Varanopod (or Varan, for short). The monster shrugs off a massive Army attack and flies out of northern Japan heading for Tokyo. Huge air and naval battles ensue.

In this Americanized version, we get TV western heavy Myron Healey ("The Gene Autry Show," "The Roy Rogers Show," "Wagon Train," "Annie Oakley") as Cdr. James Bradley. Instead of northern Japan, he is near a lake supposedly on an island near Okinawa. He is conducting desalinization tests on the lake and he kills a lot of fish, which angers the local villagers. I'm not sure why Baerwitz made him such a callous character. America comes off pretty rude and vain in this film. Tsuruko Kobayashi plays his wife Anna and Clifford Kawada plays military liaison Capt. Kishi, in a role clearly meant to emulate Frank Iwanaga's sidekick role to Raymond Burr in "Godzilla." Nomura's Kenji and Sonoda's reporter are strangely referred to as scientists named Paul and Shidori Isoh, who are working with Bradley. Unlike "Godzilla," there are no stand-ins to try to make it seem like Bradley knows them intimately.

The American version cuts the length from 90 minutes to 70. Many action scenes are cut, including the infamous Varan flying scene. The creature is called "Obaki," not "Baradagi." Instead of heading for Tokyo, Varan is said to be heading for Naha, Okinawa's largest city.

The worst part was that Baerwitz went even cheaper in the editing department. Terry Morse was able to use sound stages and outdoor shots to make it seem like Burr was interacting with the "Gojira" cast. Here, Healey, Kobayashi and Kawada either stay in a flimsy tent or drive around in a jeep. In fact, the trio had to eat up 10 minutes pretending like their jeep wouldn't run and they're scrambling to fix it so they can tell the Japanese military how to kill Varan. The trio look up off-screen as if looking at Varan, but they're still in daylight while Varan is attacking at night.

Much of the film was done in Bronson Canyon (yes, the same one seen in the likes of "Robot Monster," "Monster From Green Hell," "Night of the Blood Beast" and "It Conquered the World"). In fact, in one scene, the trio hides in a deep cave and tries to avoid the long raking claw of Varan. In long distance shots, though, they're actually in a shallow cave trying to avoid being hit by daylight.

Healey barks commands to Capt. Kishi who relays them by radio to the same Japanese radioman throughout the entire film. He even suggests using the desalinization chemicals as a way of killing Varan, thus cutting out the actual ending of the Japanese original, which was spectacular. The new cut makes it seem like Healey, whose character started the whole thing, singlehandedly saves the day. Hooray for the U.S. Navy!

It really will seem like two different films here. No interaction between casts. Completely different scenery. Two-dimensional characters. Myron Healey at least seems like he relishes the role, although he probably knew it wouldn't get him off TV and onto the big screen permanently. As Healey himself later lamented, his version of "Varan" makes you wish that ABC had stuck with the original production.

Trivia: Healey did recurring roles with Raymond Burr on "Perry Mason" and "Ironsides." He lamented to Burr that Raymond got to spend two wonderful months in Japan making "Godzilla," while he was stuck in the broiling heat of Bronson Canyon. Burr's inserts were so convincing Healey thought Raymond had actually been in Japan.

Also, most of Akira Ifukube's score is left out of the American version. Instead, Baerwitz casually borrowed the score from friend Bert I. Gordon's "Amazing Colossal Man." Finally, this travesty would not be the last hatchet job America would do on a Japanese monster movie. Check out John Carradine in "Half Human" and, later, "Godzilla 1985" with an embarrassed Raymond Burr. These wrecks are why Japan decided to go with atrocious dubbing effects.


Review by pv71989-2 from the Internet Movie Database.