Sixteen years after King Kong, RKO brought back much of the same team to make Mighty Joe Young. They even reused Fay Wray's screen. Here, a rich little girl on an African plantation buys Gorilla Joe as a baby and they grow up as great friends. And Joe grows to a great size, between eight and twelve feet, depending on the situation. Much larger than real gorillas but tiny compared to Kong’s fantastical 18 to 60 feet, depending on the situation. Pretty Jill is convinced by the promoter (Robert Armstrong) to bring her friend to America for fame and fortune, so no need for gas grenades here. While it was easy to sympathize with the monster Kong, Joe is intended entirely as a sympathetic character.
This was Ray Harryhausen’s first job as special effects animator, and there are a lot of effects on display. Not just Joe, but lions, people, cars, and a climatic building fire. It is easy to criticize the end result (visible wires, overlaid scenes sometimes shake) but this stuff was very new at the time and the effects took fourteen months to complete. I would guess that some sort of special effect was on screen for the majority of the 84 minute runtime.
Ben Johnson played the awe-shucks cowboy sent to Africa to rope the wild animals. He did a lot of westerns so our paths haven’t crossed much. But he was very memorable in The Last Picture Show. Less so in The Outlaw. Many familiar contract players appeared, particularly in the night club scenes. Specifically Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton) and Irene Ryan (Granny Clampett). Charles Lane had appeared in 241 feature films, this being the eleventh I’ve seen him in. He died thirteen years ago at a hundred and two, and somehow has a short film coming out soon.
It is mentioned that Jill’s contract was not legal because she was under aged. Maybe that meant she was under 21 (actress Terry Moore was twenty when the film was released) but in 1949 I suspect that means under 18, which makes the 30ish Johnson going off with her a bit suspect.
Mighty Joe Young isn’t a bad film and the effects were fun, but it comes off as sappy, especially when compared to the masterpiece. It felt targeted more for children. AMRU 2.5. In lieu of a good quote, I’ll leave you with one of Terry’s:
“I hate silicone, because now everyone can have what I have.”