Mighty Joe Young (1949)

“Am I dreaming, or did I see a gorilla and a beautiful dame?”

Synopsis:
A nightclub owner (Robert Armstrong) convinces a young woman (Terry Moore) living in Africa to come to Hollywood with her giant ape, Joe, and perform in shows with a rodeo star (Ben Johnson) — but will Joe adjust to life on the stage rather than in the wild?

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while the “script wavers” for this “underrated fantasy gem about a friendly, incredibly strong 10-foot gorilla”, Joe remains “a fabulous, lovable (yet not completely domesticated) creature”, and “the special-effects and stop-motion work by King Kong‘s famous Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen are marvelous.” He praises the fact that “Joe actually seems real, so subtle are his movements and expressions” — which is indeed true; it’s easy to forget exactly how much work went into creating this pre-CGI film. Moore is sweet yet strong as Joe’s “owner”, and her dedication to ensuring he doesn’t remain stuck in a life of humiliation is endearing. The final sequence at the burning orphanage is genuinely harrowing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen’s deservedly Oscar-winning special effects and animation

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as Harryhausen’s breakthrough debut.

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One Response to “Mighty Joe Young (1949)”

  1. Agreed – a must, mainly for Harryhausen’s work. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Look, Joe – a banana!”

    ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949): This 3rd part of the Kong trilogy was made 16 years after the first two entries – and, though it may still be keeping a lower profile, it could possibly be the most entertaining of the three films. With some of the key people still on-board (in front of and behind the camera), it fulfills a desire for the Kong franchise to ultimately have a genuinely redemptive (or, at least, uplifting) conclusion. The biggest plus this time out is that we are seeing the debut work of Ray Harryhausen – who handled the bulk of the film’s more-than-considerable amount of stop-motion animation. There’s a good deal of very impressive effects work here (particularly midway and then during the lengthy, thrilling conclusion). A little less effective is the acting by the three leads: Robert Armstrong, Terry Moore and Ben Johnson (this is a long way from his Oscar-winning turn in ‘The Last Picture Show’). ~but the good news there is it doesn’t matter! All three are serviceable – and, like ‘King Kong’ and ‘Son of Kong’, ‘MJY’ doesn’t demand serious acting chops. I’d seen this once before – as a kid – but, surprisingly, i think it has held up rather well over the years.

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