Mighty Joe Young (1949 film)
|Mighty Joe Young|
|Directed by||Ernest B. Schoedsack|
|Produced by||Merian C. Cooper
John Ford (executive producer)
|Written by||Ruth Rose|
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||J. Roy Hunt|
|Editing by||Ted Cheesman|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Release dates||July 27, 1949|
|Running time||94 minutes|
Written and produced by Merian C. Cooper (who provided the story) and Ruth Rose (who wrote the screenplay) the film was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack. It tells the story of a young woman, 'Jill Young', played by Terry Moore, living on her father's farm in Africa, who ends up bringing the title character, a giant gorilla, to Hollywood. The movie co-stars Ben Johnson, as 'Gregg', in his first major Hollywood role.
Willis O'Brien, who created the animation for King Kong, was the supervisor of the film's stop motion animation special effects. Ray Harryhausen was hired in 1947 on his first film assignment as an assistant animator to O'Brien. But O'Brien ended up concentrating on solving the various technical problems of the production, delegating most of the actual animation to Harryhausen; Pete Peterson and Marcel Delgado also animated a few sequences in the film. The models (constructed by Kong's builder Marcel Delgado) and animation are more sophisticated than King Kong, containing more subtle gestures and even some comedic elements, such as a chase scene where Joe is riding in the back of a speeding truck and spits at his pursuers. Despite this increased technical sophistication, this film, like Kong, features some serious scale issues, with Joe noticeably changing size between many shots. (The title character is not supposed to be as large as Kong, perhaps 10–12 feet tall.) Harryhausen attributed these lapses to producer Cooper, who insisted Joe appear larger in some scenes for dramatic effect.
Buoyed by the enormous success of King Kong in 1933 and its profitable theatrical reissues in 1938, 1942, and 1946, RKO had great hopes for Mighty Joe Young. Upon its release in 1949, the film was honored with an Academy Award for Special Effects (a category that did not exist in 1933 for King Kong), however, it was unsuccessful at the box office and, as a result, plans to produce a sequel (tentatively titled "Joe Meets Tarzan") were quickly dropped. The film has become a stop-motion classic and has an affectionate following. Special effects artists consider it highly influential, with the elaborate orphanage rescue sequence lauded as one of the great stop-motion sequences in film history. It was remade in 1998 with Charlize Theron playing Jill and Bill Paxton as Greg.
In 1937 Tanzania, Africa, 8-year old Jill Young (Lora Lee Michel) is living on a ranch with her father. While playing in the yard, two Africans come by with a sling containing an orphaned baby gorilla. Jill so wants to have a pet that she trades all her toys and money for the orphan. She names the gorilla "Joe," and despite her father's warnings that it will grow up to be very big and dangerous, she vows to care for him for the rest of his life.
Twelve years later, Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) and his sidekick Gregg (Ben Johnson) plan a trip to Tanzania. O'Hara and Gregg are looking for animals to headline in O'Hara's new Hollywood nightclub; O'Hara's plan is to use the nightclub to make them both rich. The two men arrive in Africa and capture several lions; they are about to leave when Joe Young appears, now having grown to 12 feet tall and weighing nearly 2200 lb (1000 kg). After one of the caged lion bites Joe's fingers, he grows angry and goes on a rampage. Visualizing Joe as their big nightclub attraction, O'Hara and Gregg try to capture him; he throws both men off their horses, breaks free of their ropes, and nearly kills O'Hara. Just in time a grown Jill Young (Terry Moore) arrives, calming Joe down, and commanding him to drop O'Hara. Jill is furious with both O'Hara and Gregg, and she storms off with Joe.
Later, they meet again with Jill, and Gregg becomes hopelessly smitten with her. Having now calmed down, Jill, cautiously hears out their nightclub proposal. Gregg insists that both she and Joe will be a huge hit in Hollywood, and that they will get rich within weeks. Jill considers the proposal; she does need the money, having lived on a very poor ranch her entire life. She finally decides to take Joe to America to make their fortune in Hollywood.
On opening night, a large crowd comes to see the lions and the large gorilla. Joe makes his first appearance on stage, and his first task is to lift an entire piano above his head while Jill sits playing the piano. Joe's strength is again put to the test when he is later pitted against the ten strongest men in the world, including heavyweight boxer Primo Carnera; Joe easily wins the tug-of-war. He is then put up against Carnera in a faux boxing match, but Joe does not understand and just playfully tosses the boxer into the audience.
Joe's popularity continues to grow, and by the 10th week he is the biggest nightclub attraction in Hollywood. By then, though, Joe is beginning to miss his home in Africa, and so does Jill. Jill goes out with Gregg one night and tells him that she is having second thoughts. Gregg later talks to O'Hara about letting Joe go home, but O'Hara, seeing only more profit with the gorilla's continuing popularity, refuses to hear it.
By the 17th week, Joe is miserable; he has grown tired of performing and is very homesick. To make matters worse, his next act is a humiliating performance playing a organ grinder's monkey with Jill acting as a little girl turning the handle; Joe refuses to perform. Jill and Gregg both plead for O'Hara to send Joe back home to Tanzania.
Three drunks sneak backstage. In his cage a very unhappy Joe tries to ignore them, but they offer him an open whiskey bottle. He soon becomes intoxicated when given two more open bottles to finish off. Thinking it is now safe to toy around with the drunken gorilla, they burn Joe's fingers with a cigarette lighter. Roaring with pain and anger, he breaks out of his cage, smashes through a wall, and goes on a rampage. Joe breaks pianos and tears apart the decorative interior of the nightclub. Worst of all, he smashes the glass of the lion habitat, letting the lions escape into the crowded nightclub. Joe fights and kills several of them, who in their death throes smash more tables and chairs; he then breaks out of the building.
After the disaster, a court orders that Joe be destroyed as a dangerous animal; Jill cries and begs the court not to do it. Later, Jill, Gregg, and O'Hara cook up a plan to get Joe safely out of California using a moving van and then a cargo ship. When the execution team arrives to put Joe down, they find his cage empty and themselves suddenly locked in the closed nightclub. Just as the van containing Joe is leaving, he is spotted by an itinerant worker, who later informs the police; an all points bulletin is quickly broadcast. On the way to the ship, the police spot the moving van on its escape route and give chase. But Joe has been cleverly transferred from the van to a covered truck, and the moving van, driven by Gregg, is now a decoy to misdirect the police pursuit. When the police finally stop the moving van, Gregg is forced to give away Joe's location to avoid jail, and the police give chase.
Meanwhile, the truck, driven by O'Hara and carrying Joe, gets its wheels stuck in mud. Joe is forced to get out, and with Jill's encouragement, he manages to push the truck free. They leave the area just as the police arrive, getting stuck themselves in the same mud. Before reaching port where a cargo ship is waiting to transport Joe home, they come upon a burning, multistory orphanage. Jill and Gregg immediately get to work with helping the caretakers save the children. They act fast and most of the children are saved; but the flames spread quickly, and the last group, along with Jill and Gregg, are suddenly trapped in the top story of the engulfed building.
Joe redeems his public image by braving the now raging fire at Jill's urging. He climbs a tree and smashes a window, allowing Jill, Gregg, and the remaining children to escape. While Joe carries Jill to safety, Gregg lowers each child on a rope to the ground; one child is left behind, and Gregg almost loses his life trying to save her. At Jill's urging, Joe climbs the tree again and grabs the little girl, carrying her to safety, just as the orphanage collapses.
The film ends with O'Hara receiving home movies from his friends in Africa, letting the audience know that Joe made it back home safely, where he is doing fine. Gregg and Jill, who have fallen in love, and Joe are now happier than ever. Joe signs "Goodbye" and waves at O'Hara along with Jill and Gregg.
- Terry Moore as Jill Young
- Ben Johnson as Gregg
- Robert Armstrong as Max O'Hara
- Frank McHugh as Windy
- Douglas Fowley as Jones
- Denis Green as Crawford
- Paul Guilfoyle as Smith
- Nestor Paiva as Brown
- Regis Toomey as John Young
- Lora Lee Michel as Jill Young, as a girl
- Paul Stader as Ben Johnson's double
- Mahone T. Scott as Mighty Joe Young's double*
Mighty Joe Young won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; the only other nominee that year was the film Tulsa. At the time, the rules of the Academy dictated that the producer of the winning film receive the Oscar. However, in recognition of his work on this picture and on "King Kong," producer Merian C. Cooper presented the award to Willis O'Brien.
- List of American films of 1949
- Mighty Joe Young (the 1998 remake)
- List of stop-motion films
- King Kong
- Harryhausen, Ray. Film Fantasy Scrapbook. A. S. Barnes. 1974. ISBN 0-498-01632-7.
- Harryhausen, Ray and Dalton, Ray. The Art of Ray Harryhausen. Watson-Guptil. 2008. ISBN 0-8230-8464-7.