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Mighty Joe Young Review

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African-raised Jill Young is best friends with Joe, a giant gorilla. Promoter Max O’Hara brings Jill and Joe to Los Angeles to headline his new nightclub – but Joe, abused by patrons, goes on the rampage.

★★★★

Seventeen years after producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest B. Schoedsack and special effects man Willis H. O’Brien created King Kong, the team reunited for this kiddie matinee reprise.

Even Robert Armstrong, Kong’s discoverer, returns in an equivalent, even broader role – and the storyline is almost exactly the same, as a giant gorilla is brought to ‘civilisation’ and driven to a destructive rage. However, the savagery and horror are missing, and this is closer in feel to My Friend Flicka than Beauty and the Beast.

The winning Terry Moore is a big sister to ‘Mr Joseph Young of Africa’, a genial gorilla – no one in the movie even mentions that there might be something unusual about a sixteen-foot-tall ape – who performs with her in a memorably weird nightclub act (holding her above his head as she plays ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ on a grand piano), only becomes destructive when troublemakers get him drunk and finally redeems himself by rescuing orphans from a fire. O’Brien worked with newcomer Ray Harryhausen, would become the leading monster-animator of the next generation, in bringing Joe to life: he’s a smoother character than Kong, with a lot of heart, but he’s a pretender rather than a king.

Fresh-faced Ben Johnson makes his screen debut as a cowboy in Africa – the film was co-produced by John Ford, and a few other familiar faces from his stock company get tossed about by the gorilla. Remade likably in 1998 by Ron Underwood with Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton and a lot of CGI pixels who still aren’t as alive as the furry, manipulated puppet from the original.

A 1949 for-kids version of teh King Kong story still boasting a lot of charm.

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