Kong count #56 – The Ivory Ape

Want to talk about that creature-on-the-loose TV movie that Tsugunoba “Tom” Kotani directed? The Tsuburaya/Rankin-Bass co-production. The one filmed in Bermuda (but isn’t The Bermuda Depths), and has an aging big-game hunter with an existential crisis tracking a dangerous, super-rare animal (but isn’t The Last Dinosaur). By process of elimination, you must have concluded, I mean The Ivory Ape.


Whether or not to count this as King Kong-inspired is debatable. On one hand, the titular ape isn’t particularly large, or even implausible, as an actual albino gorilla did live in the Barcelona zoo for many years. On the other,the movie is about a gorilla taken from its homeland, only to escape and rampage in human civilization, ultimately meeting its dire end in a large tower. Adding to that Rankin-Bass’s long history of Japan-based Kong co-productions, I figure this is worth a shout-out.

Released in 1980, this is the last entry in the Rankin-Bass/Tsuburaya TV trilogy, and unfortunately the only one not available on DVD through the Warner Archive; in fact, any viewing of the movie through non-grey-market means is quite the hassle (i.e. tracking down a VHS from the Netherlands). Apparently it somehow has rights issues that’s held it up, but hopefully a legit release manifests itself eventually. Still, if I had to pick one of these three movies to throw under a bus, it probably wouldn’t be The Last Dinosaur.


The film begins with a super-rare albino gorilla being taken into captivity by poachers, who you know are bad dudes because they go to the small African community who initially caught it, and show them Frosty the Snowman (oh, and open fire with their guns, too). We cut to a zoo where government agent Baxter (Steven Keats, who the movie really wants to make you believe is irresistible to women) explains  to his temporary girlfriend why an albino gorilla is worth major scratch. Love interest #1, Lil, a tsundere wildlife activist, calls Baxter to tell him how the boat carrying the ape was caught in a storm (in some glorious Tsuburaya studios miniatures) and wound up in Bermuda. Bax abandons whatsherface and goes to spend the rest of the movie on the island, staying with his old friend/former big game hunter Marc (Jack Palance), whose wife will hit on him.

It turns out that in the kerfuffle of the shipwreck, the singular simian specimen got sprung from its cage, killing one of the poachers, and soon it turns into a manhunt – the surviving psychotic poacher wants to get rid of the evidence of his crime, the police captain wants to get the ape for murdering one of his men (and grabbing a young child… how prescient), and Marc, despite being haunted by past demons that inspire a Jaws-tier monologue, is persuaded to come out of retirement for one last hunt (man, Jack Palance is really good in this). Bax and Lil try to keep the beast from harm, leading up to a solidly tragic plot twist that’s been subtly hinted at throughout the whole film.

This does have one of Tsuburaya’s better gorilla costumes (there appears to be some animatronics going on in the mask), and the end brings things together nicely, but there is a little drag in the middle and the music isn’t quite as catchy as the other two films. As such, it’s hard to recommend unreservedly to any general kaiju fan, but for the aficionado of TV movies and gorillas-run-amok, you could do much worse.

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