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Mighty Joe Young

A 1949 fantasy movie about a giant gorilla.

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Mighty Joe Young, a really big monkey

  • Sep 17, 2000
  • by
Pros: Production was outstanding

Cons: Not a comparison to Kong - a much different monkey in this release

dedicated to a friend, whom shall remain anonymous, but she knows who she is......lol....There, Denise, I didn't embarrass you this time :)

Released in 1949, approximately 15 years after its predecessor King Kong, Mighty Joe Young didn't equal his counterpart in glory and fame. MJY was the brainchild of Merian Cooper, the daddy of Kong and released by the same studio, RKO, obviously hoping to garner a large profit riding on the coattails of Kong.

While MJY did not succeed in the box office as well as Kong, it has remained a classic in the horror genre. Although I thought I had seen MJY in the past, I realized after getting into it that I had never seen it before. While I didn't feel the same way about it as I did Kong, I found the production to be of the highest caliber.

MJY was a black and white release back when the production numbers far outweighed the script. The scenery is grandiose, and the action spectacular. Of course the cinematography was horrid, using still stages with the action superimposed over it. A lot of shadows and outlines can be seen, but this was before the ‘green' screen and the ‘blue' screen effects that we use now.

The story centers around an irritating little girl, Jill Young (Terry Moore), growing up in Africa. She trades the local natives a few trinkets for a darling little monkey that evolves 12 years later into Mighty Joe Young. When a group of entrepreneurs come to Africa to gather lions for a nightclub they are opening, they find Ms. Young and her darling pet. Convincing her to return to civilization with MJY, they become the center of a nightclub act, that eventually goes bad - as all captured animal flicks do. Ms. Young is able to maintain her control over MJY and they return to the darkest jungles of Africa to live a happy life together. Ok, that is the basic story.....

The difference, and probably the downfall, between Mighty Joe Young and King Kong, was the love and dedication between man and beast. In Kong, the beast is so enthralled with his love of his woman, he sacrifices his own life to protect her. In MJY, the love between the two is entirely different, more what you would expect between any human and its' pet. Of course, the love is just as deep, but I believe the viewing public was hoping for another Kong love affair.

There is more of a story to Mighty Joe Young than there was to Kong, and the production numbers are much larger. Of course, there is also the engaging scene where the drunks ply Joe with some alcohol and he gets into an alcoholic rage (as they say, imagine the size of HIS hangover). There is less destruction to the city than in Kong, as Joe never actually turns lose on the population, rather he just destroys that overpriced nightclub he is held captive in and rightly so. Joe does do some destruction on the lions that are captive, but that is just survival of the fittest.

Joe's redeeming quality, though, is when he rescues orphans from a burning building. Kong would have probably eaten the children, but that is Kong. In other words, Mighty Joe Young was a more loving monster, not a destructive one, so it probably lost popularity on that measure alone.

Joe is an enchanting creature that interacts well with the camera. He is particularly hysterical when riding in the back of the ‘get away' car (van), sitting there on the edge and drumming his fingers on his knees. Had to laugh at that one! He also tends to play peek-a-boo around the curtain at the back of the van.

His facial expressions are much more humanized than were Kong's, in fact, he seems more human in all his characteristics. His suit left a little to be desired, you could see the seam plainly down the back of the suit, but this was 1949 after all and to be expected. Despite the tacky fur suit, Joe was much more fluid in his movements, his size more believable.

Overall I preferred King Kong for the creature effect, but liked Mighty Joe Young for the story line, special effects and outstanding production numbers. In fact, MJY won the Academy Award for special effects, a much deserved award. The young Jill Young was played by Lora Lee Michel, a very Shirley Templeish type, that I found quite irritating. Robert Armstrong, the nightclub owner, played in King Kong as the gentlemen that brings Kong to New York and puts him on display (seems no matter how hard he tries, he just can't bring a big monkey to NY).

It's great to watch these old movies with their overacted parts and campy stories, despite the quality of the production. So a four star rating for Mighty Joe Young!


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Susi Dawson ()
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