Varan the Unbelievable (1958)

Varan the Unbelievable is an extensively edited and recut Americanized version of the Japanese kaiju film 大怪獣バラン, or Giant Monster Varan for those of us who cannot read that. Giant Monster Varan was created by Toho to ape their own Godzilla movie on American television, but the US investors pulled out, so they changed a few things and put the film out for Japanese theatergoers. Crown International Pictures then managed to secure a distribution deal for the US, but they shot additional material with American actors and added in a new super weapon being tested in a move reminiscent of the original Godzilla. In other words, Toho created a knock off film of their own Godzilla, which was then edited to be an Americanized knock off of the Americanized Godzilla, only to now feature elements for the American version that were present in the original Japanese release of Godzilla. Confusing, no?

Only this time the cuts, edits, and splices were far more severe, entirely changing the plot so that it has almost nothing to do with the original film, removing many of the monster scenes and entirely cutting one of its abilities (the original Varan could fly. Apparently someone thought the American public would find giant flying monsters too far-fetched. We like our monsters on the ground, dammit. USA USA USA!), and even changing all of the locations and cities.

Instead of being about a scientific discovery involving butterflies, the edited American version involved the US Navy attempting to forcibly relocate an island village so an officer can test his new desalination weapon. While the American officer in question is just trying to be helpful to all of humanity, it still seems an odd point to (perhaps unintentionally) add an anti-occupation angle to a film that didn’t previously have one. It’s even weirder when considering that the occupation of Japan ended 6 years before the film was made, and a full decade before the edited version was released.

Anyway, the entire film is now a postscript of said officer looking back on the strange events involving the monster’s rise, which is never actually called Varan in the new movie. Most of the action focuses on this one man, who spends most of the movie either watching from afar or listening in on a busted radio as other people do all the hard work. Imagine the joy of watching someone who is hearing about something terrible on the radio…for half an hour. That’s exactly what you get in Varan the Unbelievable. Shoot, the edited version is only 70 minutes long, and the monster doesn’t really even arrive until about 30 minutes in. The first 30 minutes are all about this officer, how inept he is at handling the press, and how he’s cheerfully and unwittingly but basically forcing a mass migration on an unwilling native populace despite easily being able to perform his test somewhere like, oh, say, Southern California on US government property where no one will be made to leave(this happens in the end). Yes, it’s that kind of movie. It’s horrendously edited, poorly acted, horribly paced, and ludicrously put together.

Are there any saving graces to this movie? Well yes, there is one that I found, which is how it chooses to tackle said officer’s interracial marriage with a Japanese woman. As ignorant and dumbfoundingly innocent and idiotic this guy could be, he loves his wife, no questions asked, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Outside of his work, she is everything; I appreciated the positivity of how it is tackled, but also how tastefully they don’t force her Japanese heritage down the viewer’s throat. It genuinely surprised me considering how poorly everything else was handled.

Also that poster is for the original Japanese film release, not the American edit. The American edit poster is just bad.

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