Have you seen it? Let me tell you about it. A big shot entertainment mogul (played by Robert Armstrong) journeys to remote lands with a group of tough guys intent on finding the biggest act to hit Hollywood. There, they find a gigantic gorilla with a heart as big as he is. He then offers stardom to the lovely lady the giant ape has befriended, and brings him to the United States, where the inevitable happens.
If it sounds derivative, trust me, this isn't. Those traits shared with King Kong are recognizable from its pedigree anyway. Mighty Joe Young is a Merian C. Cooper creation and is, in fact a Merian C. Cooper production (with no less a production partner than John Ford). Cooper's idea was written for the screen by none other than Ruth Rose and directed by her husband, Ernest B. Schoedsack. So, while it's true that Mighty Joe Young might look a bit like King Kong, it's safe to say that I look a little like my sister as well.
As I said, though, this is no mere retread of King Kong! Mighty Joe Young begins in Africa where innocent little Jill Young (Lora Lee Michel) talks her daddy into allowing her to adopt a baby gorilla. Dad (Regis Toomey) reluctantly agrees, as he knows that baby gorilla is going to grow up to be a great big gorilla. Dad didn't know the half of it! Years later, Jill is all grown up and now played by Terry Moore. Her best friend, Mr. Joseph Young, has grown up quite a bit himself (to the tune of around fifteen feet) and is now played by a fur covered rubber puppet. The tale focuses upon their platonic relationship and the bond that has kept them together all that time. It's that bond that keeps them going even after they leave the peaceful landscape of rural Africa for the rough industry of Hollywood. Luckily they're not alone. While the money loving Max O'Hara (Armstrong) is slow to find the humanity that Joe himself (ironically) shows in every facial expression, Ben Johnson's Gregg proves to be a faithful friend and a true Southern Gentleman.
For me to hint that Joe might have a bit of a Rampage in Tinsel town might be met by you all as a big, fat "Well, DUH!" instead of an accusation of Spoilers. But it's the way this happens, the build up to why and how Gentle Joe is pushed too far, and the rippling aftermath of this situation is what is truly fascinating and anything but derivative. Even better, it's touching and filled with Pathos, at least to the extent of Kong's own endearing endurance.
Naturally, this wouldn't have been possible without a convincing Joe Young, and we have one here. Technology had been kind in the years between 1933 and 1949 and our boy Joseph looks fantastic under the kind hands of Stop Motion animator extraordinaire, Mr. Ray Harryhausen (under the tutelage of "Obie" O'Brien of course)! In return, of course, Mighty Joe Young did launch old Ray's career quite nicely! Ruth Rose wrote Joe as a kind and truly sweet guy, who admittedly has a bit of a temper. Both sides of his "personality" shine like the top of the Chrysler Building in the very eyes of this small puppet. He doesn't simply act out being a neat guy, Harryhausen manages to make it show visibly. If you haven't yet seen it, you should!
Mighty Joe Young is anything but boring, and is, in fact, truly thrilling! There are always considerations when watching a film from decades ago with the hindsight of changing storytelling mores, but this one holds up quite well. Sure, now we can see how so much of this was done, but new heights of interaction and (usually) seamless matting elevated this to the high points of the Special Effects of the day (it would be decades still before this would be improved upon). Come into it with an open mind, and you might just walk out of it with a wide smile.
Four Outstanding Stars out of Five for Mighty Joe Young, the great and unusual adventure story with our most unconventional hero of all time. If that sounds a little hyperbolic, check it out for yourself. It's not just one of my "favorites", it's also really quite good. Joseph might not get quite the press or esteem that his big brother Kong does, but this is our more down-to-earth, heroic giant ape, who can be boiled down to "good buddy" much more than "monster"! Today is the 14th of December, 2005... I'm about to go see the new King Kong! I'd be remiss not to talk about Mighty Joe while I'm at it. So, until the descendants of Cooper get together for another variation on the idea, and call it Toughie Lancelot Link, I'll see you in the next Pathos laded reel!
Anybody got some Hardware you can sell me?
I asked Mighty Joe to CLICK HERE FOR MORE REVIEWS,
and he smashed my Mouse.
And my desk.
And the floor beneath it.
And my downstairs Neighbor's Mouse...
Hollywood's Biggest Star!
Now that its been released on DVD and I can drink it in until I've groked it all, it's time for a review for you.
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