The original Mighty Joe Young from 1949 is the third in our ongoing reviews through the history of colossal creature films. It continues the legacy of the married team of Ernest B. Schoedsack and Ruth Rose as they continue to push the boundaries of live-action and stop-motion animation, even in the late-40s. The two are responsible for the classic King Kong and Son of Kong.
Mighty Joe Young is the story of Jill (Terry Moore) and Joe Young (Himself). As a 6-year-old child, Jill steals her father’s valuables to purchase a baby gorilla from two locals passing by her family’s farm. When Jill comes of age, and after her father’s passing, she and Joe now run the farm.
“…O’Hara offers Jill a lucrative contract for Joe and herself to come to Los Angeles and be the center attraction for the club.”
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, producer Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong) is set to open a brand new nightclub and needs some unique theming to attract the Hollywood elite. O’Hara gets the bright idea to travel to Africa and bring back animals and artifacts to adorn his new club. He agrees to bring along master cowboy and lasso man Gregg Johnson (Ben Johnson).
O’Hara and Johnson are in Africa with a single cinematic wipe and already have several lions lassoed, caged, and ready to board the ship. Then out of nowhere, with a mighty roar, a large gorilla, Joe, begins to break the lion cages. In the mass panic, Gregg tells all the men to put down their guns as he tries to safely subdue the beast. When things look bad for Gregg and company, Jill appears to calm Joe down.
Seeing the potential that Joe could bring to his club, O’Hara offers Jill a lucrative contract for Joe and herself to come to Los Angeles and be the center attraction for the club. Whether it’s for the sense of adventure or a need to see the larger world beyond the only home she’s ever known, Jill agrees but soon regrets her decision.
"…employs a plethora of camera tricks to show Joe interacting with the cast on a human scale."