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|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Release date(s)||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, leaving most of the actual animation to Harryhausen. 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 Gregg.
Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) and his sidekick Gregg (Ben Johnson) are on safari in Tanzania, Africa, looking for large African animals to be captured and put on display in O'Hara's nightclub. They soon come across Joe Young, a 12-foot tall, 2,200 pound gorilla. They try to capture him, but soon learn that Joe becomes very aggressive and dangerous when provoked. Only Jill Young (Terry Moore), who raised Joe after he was orphaned, can control him. Angry at Max and Greg for trying to capture him, Jill is eventually convinced that Joe will do well as a performer in O'Hara's nightclub; she volunteers to help move him to America. After the move by O'Hara, Gregg, and Jill to Joe's new home in Hollywood, he becomes an instant hit in O'Hara's nightclub "The Golden Safari" (on opening night, Joe wins a tug-of-war with ten real-life strong men, including ex-boxer Primo Carnera, whom he playfully tosses into the audience). But the novelty of his new situation wears off after 17 weeks, and Joe becomes homesick and tired of performing. An ill-conceived skit with Jill as an organ grinder leaves Joe and Jill storming off-stage, and to make matters worse, three drunks sneak backstage, plying Joe with liquor and burning his fingers with a cigarette lighter. Intoxicated and now angry, he breaks out of his cage to escape his tormentors and heads back into the nightclub on a rampage, breaking glass and setting loose caged lions. Joe fights and kills several lions, who in their death throes smash tables and chairs. He inflicts massive damage to the nightclub and finally breaks out of the building; a court later orders Joe be destroyed as a dangerous animal.
Jill, Gregg, and O'Hara cook up a plan to get Joe safely out of California in a moving van before he can be put down. Joe is spotted by a itinerant worker who then informs the police and an all points bulletin is broadcast. On the way to the cargo ship that will take them away, 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. On their way to the ship, they must stop and help rescue trapped children in a burning, multistory orphanage. Joe redeems his public image by braving the now raging fire at Jill's urging, saving a little girl trapped atop the burning orphanage, carrying her to safety down the side the engulfed building.
The film ends with O'Hara receiving home movies from his friends in Africa, letting the audience know that Joe finally made it back to his home safely and is now happy and doing fine.
- 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.
See also 
- 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.