Review of “Mighty Joe Young” (1949)

From YouTube

Alas! The tummy has been complaining, so I had to forgo the jalapenos on the pizza for this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night. But there was still Svengoolie.

Plot:

Seven-year-old Jill Young (Lora Lee Michel), living with her widowed father in “darkest” Africa, trades her toys, some jewelry, and her daddy’s flashlight for a baby gorilla.  She promises to always take care of him, despite her father’s misgivings about what little Joe will grow up to be.

Twelve years later, a New York nightclub owner Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong), is touring darkest Africa searching for stories of derring-do—even if he has to manufacture them—for an Africa-themed nightclub he’s opening. With him is Oklahoma cowboy Gregg (Ben Johnson). They’ve captured a lion.

The appearance of an enormous gorilla causes the crew to scatter. The gorilla ignores the human and harasses the lion, getting bit for his effort.  While O’Hara and Gregg watch (from a safe distance), the gorilla flies into a rage and breaks the lion’s cage, sending the beast flying away.

Now O’Hara has a new idea for an attraction and sends men on terrified horses out after the gorilla. Yeah, they’re going to… lasso him. When all else fails, there’s a rifle. A young lady (Terry Moore) steps in at the last minute and prevents them from harming the gorilla. And furthermore, they’re on her land—they’ve got no business camping there without her permission!

Everyone watches in awe as the gorilla picks her up over the cliff face, and the two walk away, hand in hand.

O’Hara sends Gregg to set up a meeting with Miss Young, now all grow up. Her father passed away about six months earlier, so she’s running the farm by herself—well, with the help of field hands and servants.

After some prodding and a lot of promises, Miss Young agrees to take Joe back to New York to put him on exhibit in O’Hara’s night club, where he is billed as “Mr. Joseph Young of Africa.”

Really—what could go wrong? Didn’t these people see the end of King Kong?

Thoughts:

Mr. Joseph Young is billed as “himself.” This is a bit of a stretch. A real baby gorilla is used early in the film, though none of the actors actually handles the animal. The adult gorilla is a stop-action figure, capable of thumping on and throwing full-grown lions with near impunity.

There are real lions in the movie as well, some of them kept behind thick glass behind the bar in O’Hara’s New York nightclub. (Not tempting the gods at all, are you?)

The scenes in the nightclub are indeed lavish, if not altogether convincing. Jill Young appears, sits at a grand piano, and plays “Beautiful Dreamer,” much to the patrons’ disappointment. Before rotten fruit starts flying, they notice the platform she and the piano are perched on begin to rise and spin slowly. Beneath her is an enormous gorilla, lifting the platform into the air over his head. The crowd goes wild. Joe is a hit alongside Jill, the Jungle Queen.

The nightclub scenes are fantastic, in the sense of fantastical. After the disaster that no one could have predicted happens, the authorities decide to put Joe down by shooting him. What ensues is an escape and chase—including a rescue of children at a burning orphanage— worthy of any Disney movie.

This is definitely a play for the kiddies. It had me rolling my eyes, though. While there are entertaining aspects to this movie—the stop-motion animation and the doomed lasso-the-gorilla fight—overall, this is treacle.



Title: Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Directed by
Ernest B. Schoedsack

Writing Credits
Ruth Rose…(screenplay)
Merian C. Cooper…(from an original story by)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
Terry Moore…Jill Young
Ben Johnson…Gregg
Robert Armstrong…Max O’Hara
Mr. Joseph Young…Self
Frank McHugh…Windy

Released: August 29, 1949
Length: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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