In 1949, the team of, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and RKO Pictures tossed the dice with one more giant ape film, this time with the film; Mighty Joe Young. Warner Brothers has released this classic film as a stand alone release or packaged as part of the King Kong Collection along with, King Kong (Review) and Son of Kong (Review).
Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong) is a nightclub owner that stumbles on a giant ape in Africa that is actually the pet of Jill Young (Terry Moore). O’Hara brings both Jill and ‘Joe’ to Hollywood where he has them headlining an act in the nightclub, the Golden Safari. ‘Joe’ is an immediate sensation, but Jill can sense his sadness and wants to take him home to Africa, but as you might expect, nothing turns out as Jill would hope. Some trouble-making customers of the club fill poor ‘Joe’ with some alcohol and the over-sized ape goes on the rampage, destroying the nightclub and releasing lions in the process. ‘Joe’ is basically put on trial following the rampage and it’s determined that he is to be destroyed as a result of his actions. With the help of O’Hara and Gregg (Ben Johnson), ‘Joe’ is assisted in an escape just before he’s to be destroyed. With the police hot on their tails, ‘Joe’, Jill, Greg and O’Hara speed through the country-side doing their best to outrun the police force.
While fleeing the police, Jill and Gregg come across an orphanage in flames and with the assistance of ‘Joe’, they save children from the burning building. ‘Joe’ races up the burning building to save one final child and is seriously injured in saving the child as part of the burning building collapses around them. While filmed in black and white, the burning orphanage scenes do appear in a pinkish/red tint. In the final scene, we see O’Hara watching a home movie of Gregg, Jill and ‘Joe’, all back home and very happy.
This is a fun little film, probably in all honesty, a stronger film than the 1933 sequel to the original King Kong, Son of Kong. While both, ‘Son’ and ‘Joe’ are very enjoyable films, Mighty Joe Young has a bit more of a ‘polished’ look to it. I’d imagine this is due to the fact that Son of Kong was rushed to be released in an effort to cash in on the success of, King Kong. There was a sixteen year gap between the films and while none of the characters are a carry over to Mighty Joe Young, it all feels very comfortable and seems to follow suit of the previous two films. The acting is strong and the story well written and as with both King Kong and Son of Kong, ‘Joe’ is a very likeable character. Once again, you can credit the writing, directing and effects team for making ‘Joe’ seem almost real.
Mighty Joe Young won stop-motion animation pioneer, Willis O’Brien a much deserved Academy Award for his work on the film and it was also the debut film for special effects master, Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen had long been a fan of O’Brien and after meeting O’Brien and showing him what he was capable of, Harryhausen was given his opportunity to show his talent off and this film jump-started Harryhausen’s career.
This disc offers some nice bonus features….a commentary track with Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston and star Terry Moore. Two featurettes, both showcasing Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen is an amazing presence and his memory for details from the film is wonderful. He’s relaxed and seems to completely enjoy sharing the background information for the special effects and the film itself.
If you’ve not seen this film, you might want to give it a try, it’s quite entertaining and well made. While not a sequel to either 1933 film, it’s nice to have this included as part of the Cooper/Schoedsack collection. Warner Brothers has done a nice job with this release and packed it with some very worth-while bonus features.
Buy the Mighty Joe Young DVD at Amazon.com
Buy the King Kong Collection on DVD at Amazon.com
Visit the official website for Peter Jackson’s King Kong