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Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Jill Young has brought up her pet gorilla since she was a child. Twelve years later, when the gorilla is fully grown, Hollywood promoter Max O'Hara travels to Tanzania, Africa, and convinces Jill to bring her extraordinarily large gorilla, Joe, back to America. While in Hollywood, Joe is used in a stage production and is exploited to no end. It doesn't take long until Joe is sick of being mistreated and he escapes to run loose in civilization.
Terry Moore ... Jill Young
Ben Johnson ... Gregg
Robert Armstrong ... Max O'Hara
Frank McHugh ... Windy
Douglas Fowley ... Jones
Denis Green ... Crawford
Paul Guilfoyle ... Smith
Nestor Paiva ... Brown
Regis Toomey ... John Young
Lora Lee Michel ... Jill Young, as a Girl
James Flavin ... Schultz
Great film about an oversize gorilla (about 10-11 feet), its owner (Terry Moore) and what happens when an unscrupulous promoter Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) lures them from Africa to America to become a hit. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way--the story is nothing new; Terry Moore and Ben Johnson are among the worst actors I've ever seen and there's zero lack of characterization among the humans. But when Joe Young appears all is forgiven. He looks great, moves realistically and has incredible facial motions. You can tell exactly what he's thinking by his expressions! Also, the scenes where he's grappling with humans, horses, lions look extremely realistic--that's saying a lot for a film that's over 50 years old! A fun family film. Try to see restored prints--there's a final sequence involving a burning building in which the whole reel is tinted red--very nicely done.
Of all the great ape films, this one made by the same folks that brought us King Kong and Son of Kong has to be the most charming. The story is simple enough about a young girl that raises a gorilla from infancy in the wilds of Africa to be wooed and wowed by an American showman looking for acts in Africa. The showman sees her gorilla and the way she can make it listen and do tricks...and soon both beast and beauty are off to the US to star in a night club act of all things. Terry Moore is a real cutie portraying the girl. The showman is played by...well who else but the same man responsible for bringing King Kong to New York City 16 years earlier...Robert Armstrong. The rest of the cast is adequate with Nestor Paiva in a small but crucial role standing out. The real star, however, is the ape itself and the special effects centered around it. This gorilla is brutish yet humane. He is playful and yet serious and somber at times. Willis O'Brien has done it again with the effects and his stop motion animation, with a great deal of improvement since Kong. The best thing about this movie is its heart, and the heart shown between the young girl and her pet/child. Some scenes are very striking in the film. One that stands out the most is the introduction of Mighty Joe Young in the night club with Terry Moore playing the piano. It looks like Busby Berkley choreographed it. Another very powerful scene involves Joe with an orphanage on fire. The scene is tremendous and even tinted red. Very impressive for its release. A True Classic!
From many of the same folks who gave us the classic KING KONG, we have Joseph Young of Africa.
The FX are great, especially considering that this film was done long before razzle-dazzle computer work. The movie is an interesting, amusing, and touching variation on KING KONG but stands up as a strong, entertaining film in its own right. Robert Armstrong is once again the big showman who has to knock the public dead. In this case, nobody dies, but the public is still impressed.
It's interesting to note the different reactions of the theater audiences when Kong was first displayed and when Joe is first seen on stage. Perhaps the audiences were actually getting more sophisticated in 1949, and the difference could be an interesting comment by the movie makers on how jaded people were getting by 1949.
In any event, Joe Young is definitely worth seeing.
* Terry Moore claims that another actress was already hired for the role of Jill. She claims that she got the role by running to the end of the RKO lot and back after Ernest B. Schoedsack asked her, and claims that she was then hired on the spot.
* Though Willis H. O'Brien gets top special-effects billing, Ray Harryhausen actually did 85%-90% of the stop-motion animation for this film, although the animation is based on O'Brien's designs and storyboards.
* This was the first feature film for which Ray Harryhausen used his newly created stop-motion technique.
* This film was stop-motion animator Pete Peterson's first animating job. He was hired as a grip but became so enamored with stop-motion while watching Ray Harryhausen work that 'Willis H. OBrien allowed him to try his hand at animating some scenes.
* The night club set was based on a real-life night club called the Cocoanut Grove, which was located at the famous Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
* The "cowboys in Africa" sequence in this film used footage originally shot to be used in a planned but not completed follow-up to King Kong (1933), "The Valley of Gwangi". That film (as The Valley of Gwangi (1969)) was eventually made by Ray Harryhausen.
* When Mighty Joe Young gets frustrated, he pounds the ground with his fist. Ray Harryhausen was inspired to do this by the scene from King Kong (1933) where Kong pushes open the gates, then forcefully brings his hand down.
* A sequel called "Joe Meets Tarzan" was planned in 1950 and would have had Mighty Joe Young team up with Tarzan, played by Lex Barker, who had just filmed "Tarzan And The Slave Girl" that same year. The film was canceled due to the disappointing box office of "Mighty Joe Young".