…And The Horse You Rodan On

  • videoarchives
  • May 9, 2023

The Video Archives Podcast is the hell-creature no weapon can destroy! It’s an Archives staff reunion as Jules “Unruly Julie” McLean joins Quentin, Roger & Gala in the stacks to unearth one of Toho Studios’ legendary creature features, Rodan. Then they’ll go undercover for British spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum, before contending with Treachery and Greed on that godforsaken Planet Of The Apes. I have all sorts of movie ephemera on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s get started…

We’ve welcomed guest customers to the Video Archives shelves before, but Julie is our first returning Video Archives employee! Hearing her reminisce about the store days with Quentin and Roger was just the best, one of my favorite recording days so far. She’s also the Director of Operations at the New Beverly Cinema, so if you’ve been lucky enough to catch a Video Archives screening there, you have her to thank! Here she is, enjoying a RC Cola out of her very own Planet Of The Apes cup before we started rolling.

In that photo you can see Julie holding a miniature Rodan and Godzilla set, which she brought in from her own collection:

In terms of pure spectacle, few of the Video Archives titles we’ve watched so far this season can match Rodan, a tour-de-force of breathtaking practical effects from director Ishirō Honda. Most movie buffs know that Godzilla was an analogue for the atom bomb and the nuclear threat posed by the US, but did you know Rodan was inspired by similar fears about the USSR?

Japan was uniquely positioned between both nuclear superpowers during the Cold War, and in 1956, the year Rodan was released, they signed a fragile pact with the Soviet Union, ending the official state of war that had existed since WWII without officially declaring peace. It didn’t calm the nerves of the Japanese much, and the dual threat of the Rodans resonated with a country trapped between two monster nations that could strike at any moment.

The Video Archives gang didn’t watch any of our three featured films on traditional VHS this week, instead watching Quentin’s 35mm print of Rodan. The film did get a handsome Video Treasures release, though, with a gorgeous cover bathed in plumes of fire and smoke.

The first incarnation of Rodan seen in this film had a menacing face and jagged beak; despite the film’s heartbreaking ending, and the sense that the miners who woke Rodan antagonized it first, the creature was designed to be a full-on villain. By the time it reappeared in 1964’s Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster, its design became more comical, turning it into an almost slapstick character compared to the mightier monsters of the Toho universe.

The Rodan on this King Brothers poster has a bit of that bug-eyed slapstick look, accompanied by some P.T. Barnum-level hyperbole and a big “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN” label. (As a child, nothing would make me want to see this more.)

Longtime Counter Talk readers know the Japanese posters for our featured films are consistent standouts. Does the Japanese poster for our first Japanese film disappoint? Reader, it does not. Where the King Brothers poster looks like a circus attraction, this anarchic piece emphasizes the utter chaos and terror wreaked by Rodan.

If you love secret agent movies, The Quiller Memorandum has a lot going for it - killer performances from the likes of George Segal and Alec Guinness, a very memorable John Barry score, and plenty of cool, cryptic dialogue about sharing cigarettes. That dialogue comes from none other than Nobel Prize winning dramatist Harold Pinter (adapting Adam Hall’s novel), one of Britain’s most influential playwrights, and someone who seems wildly overqualified for a spy thriller adaptation. I didn’t realize, however, that Pinter wrote over 20 other screenplays, mostly adaptations of his own work (William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party) and adaptations of other acclaimed novelists (1990’s film version of The Handmaid’s Tale). Even if The Quiller Memorandum isn’t quite up to the pedigree of those works, it did get Pinter a BAFTA nomination for Best Screenplay.

Here is the official Video Archives copy of The Quiller Memorandum - a taping of a TiVo recording of a Fox broadcast of the film, cataloged by Julie herself when she was working as Quentin’s personal assistant:

Gala did pick up a Key Video copy of Quiller for the Archives, here in the alternate version of Key’s classic rainbow box, where the blue background has been switched out for dark brown. One of the best things about collecting Key Videos is the uniformity of the design, so the switch to brown is a puzzling choice!

I love this classy poster for this very classy spy movie, with not one but two giant Qs for Quiller to reach through:

Like Gala, I was stunned to learn during this episode that there are five other Planet Of The Apes films I’d never heard of before – no, not the Tim Burton movie or the modern series, but five telefilms adapted from the Planet Of The Apes TV series that aired for one season in 1974. The original Apes films did so well when rebroadcast on network TV, CBS decided to put an Apes series into production, which they later cut into movies to keep those Movie Of The Week ratings going. (Roger and Gala might be sad to learn this is why CBS prioritized making an Apes show over picking up Gene Roddenberry’s pilot “Genesis II” to series.)

The TV season ended on an unresolved note, with astronauts Virdon and Burke still trapped on the planet, but a series of bumpers for the TV movies that Roddy McDowall recorded years later (in character as Galen) explained their fates – you can hear one of these in today’s episode.

The telefilm versions of the Apes episodes were never released on home video (the Video Archives crew watched this on 16mm), so I have no VHS art for you! The best I can do is this undated (and frankly low-effort) promotional still:

I did find this blurb announcing the series premiere, with what looks like a ready-to-cut-out photo so you can keep Ron Harper, James Naughton and Roddy McDowall in your pocket.

You can also learn more about the stars of the series with this profile from the teenage fan magazine 16. From the “lean and luscious” Naughton to the ruggedly handsome Harper - “yes, girls, he’s married” - these sexy stars will not be forgotten!

On the next After Show, we’ve got our last mailbag episode of the season – if you wrote in, get ready to find out if your question got answered! Until then, get merch and more show info at videoarchivespodcast.com, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and I’ll be back next week.