|Joe goes into his dance while Jill plays piano|
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Hoping to incorporate a wild new theme into his new nightclub, entrepreneur Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) travels to Africa wherein he encounters a huge gorilla who goes by the name of Joe Young. From infancy Joe has been the pet of Jill Young (Terry Moore), the only person who can control the very big ape [not quite of King Kong-proportions, but much large than the normal gorilla]. Smitten with a cowboy named Gregg (Ben Johnson), who works for O'Hara, and starry-eyed at all the thoughts O'Hara puts into her head, Jill agrees to take Joe and fly off to Hollywood. The two do an act that involves a rising piano, and in a great scene Joe plays tug of war with a dozen famous strongmen [leading to a brief and funny fight between him and Primo Carnera], but when patrons start throwing coins -- and then bottles -- at him, Joe gets a little upset. Jill isn't too thrilled by the fact that he can't roam free as he did on her ranch but has to be kept in a cell every night. Before long you know there has to be a disaster and Joe eventually runs riot in the nightclub in a rousing sequence ... Mighty Joe Young taps into the King Kong mystique but never achieves its mythic stature [and probably wasn't meant to] but on its own terms it's a wonderful picture with superb special effects and a certain amount of sentiment. Brought to life via stop-motion by Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and others, Joe is a memorable creation, equally frightening and pitiable, with priceless sensitive facial expressions. The harrowing conclusion, which features a fire in an orphanage and is in color, is notable. Along with Joe, the three human leads all give good performances, and child actress Lora Lee Michel is a charming stand-out playing Jill as a little girl [she was also in The Snake Pit]. Schoedsack co-directed King Kong. Nice score by Rob Webb. Regis Toomey plays Jill's father in the opening sequence, and Nestor Paiva is a drunk in the nightclub who plays a role in the riot that occurs.
Verdict: King Kong "lite" perhaps but very entertaining and well-done. ***1/2.