Mighty Joe Young


1h 34m 1949
Mighty Joe Young

Brief Synopsis

Showmen try to exploit a giant ape raised by an orphan.

Film Details

Also Known As
Mr. Joseph Young of Africa, The Great Joe Young
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Fantasy
Release Date
Jul 30, 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 Jul 1949
Production Company
Arko, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White, Black and White (tinted) (some sequences)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,428ft

Synopsis

Somewhere in Africa, little Jill Young buys a baby gorilla from two natives and, ignoring the warnings of her father, a farmer, names him Joe and adopts him. To lull the gorilla to sleep, Jill sings "Beautiful Dreamer," while feeding him from a baby bottle. Twelve years later, in New York, fast-talking impresario Max O'Hara prepares to leave for Africa, where he plans to collect animals and publicity for his latest venture, an exotic Hollywood nightclub. When he is approached by Gregg Johnson, a rodeo roper, about a job as an animal handler, Max gets the idea to use cowboys as part of his nightclub act and hires him. Weeks later, in Africa, Max is concocting adventure stories about himself and passing them on to his publicist, Windy, while Gregg and several other cowboys are rounding up lions for the club. As the safari is about to end, Max's camp is visited by Joe, now an enormous, full-grown gorilla. After Joe angrily frees a caged lion, he is encircled by the cowboys, who try to lasso him from their horses. Joe easily thwarts their efforts, however, and is about to throw Max over a cliff when Jill runs up and commands him to stop. Furious, Jill then informs Gregg that Joe is her friend and orders the safari off her land. Later, an apologetic Max and Gregg visit Jill, whose father has recently died, and Max convinces her to bring Joe to Hollywood to be a headliner at his Golden Safari nightclub. In Hollywood, Max advertises Joe as "Mr. Joseph Young of Africa," but refuses to reveal anything about him to the press. During the club's much ballyhooed opening, Joe dazzles the crowd when he rises up through the floor while holding a rotating platform on which Jill plays "Beautiful Dreamer" on a grand piano. Joe also plays tug-of-war with ten champion wrestlers and boxers and easily dunks all of them into a tank of water. Joe and Jill's stage success is tempered by the fact that Joe is locked in a cage every night, and Jill soon realizes that she has to return him to Africa. When she informs Max that she is quitting, however, the impresario talks her into staying until he finds a replacement act. Seven weeks later, Joe and Jill are still performing at the club, doing an act in which the audience is invited to pelt Joe, who is dressed like an organ grinder's monkey, with phony money. When one drunken customer throws a bottle at Joe's head, the great ape nearly explodes with anger. Later, while Jill and Gregg, who have fallen in love, are at their hotel, the drunken customer and his two equally intoxicated friends sneak downstairs to Joe's cage and offer him liquor to drink. Joe soon becomes drunk himself, and when one of the customers deliberately burns his hand, he breaks out of his cage in a rage. Joe chases the men upstairs, then begins to destroy the club's huge set, causing the terrified audience to run for cover. After Joe breaks the glass partition that separates the audience from a group of lions and begins fighting with the cats, Jill and Gregg arrive, as do the police. Although the police and Jill soon take control of the situation, Joe is later condemned to die. Just before Joe's execution, however, a guilt-ridden Max, who has always feared the ape, devises a scheme to save him. By faking a heart attack in front of Joe's police guard, Max gives Jill enough time to free Joe, who is then loaded into the back of a truck driven by Gregg. A furious race to the harbor, where Max has arranged for a boat to Africa, then ensues. Just before they reach the harbor, however, they see an orphanage on fire and stop to help. Gregg, Jill and Joe rescue several children from the flames, then as the building is about to collapse, Joe climbs to the roof and saves the remaining child, injuring himself in the process. Because of his heroics, Joe is freed and returns to his African home with the now-married Jill and Gregg.

Cast

Terry Moore

Jill Young

Ben Johnson

Gregg [Johnson]

Robert Armstrong

Max O'Hara

Frank Mchugh

Windy

Douglas Fowley

Jones

Denis Green

Crawford

Paul Guilfoyle

Smith

Nestor Paiva

Brown

Regis Toomey

Mr. Young

Lora Lee Michel

Jill, age seven

James Flavin

Schultz

Madame Sul-te-wan

Kifa

Cliff Clark

McManus

Primo Carnera

Strongman

Man Mountain Dean

Strongman

Super Swedish Angel

Strongman

Ivan Batchelor

Strongman

Ivan Rasputin

Strongman

Sammy Stein

Strongman

Sammy Menacker

Strongman

Wee Willie Davis

Strongman

Henry Kulky

Strongman

Karl Davis

Stronman

Joel Fluellen

Tall native

Mansfield Collins

Tall native

Kermit Maynard

Red

Fred Kennedy

Cowboy

Frank Mcgrath

Cowboy

Dick Farnsworth

Cowboy

Bryan Hightower

Cowboy

Robert Johnson

Ali

Milton Shockley

Native

Edward Short

Ahmed

Lee Tung Foo

Chinese waiter

Mary Field

Secretary

Ray Walker

Agent in office

Byron Foulger

Mr. Jones

Eugene Borden

Costume designer

Max Willenz

Sketch artist

Chester Clute

Doctor

Janet Warren

Receptionist

Kay Christopher

Nurse

Ellen Corby

Nurse

Ann Archer

Nurse

Luella Bickmore

Nurse

Hal Melone

Bank messenger

David Mckim

Soda jerk

Cerrita Camargo

Speciality dancer

Leonard Bluett

Speciality dancer

William Newell

Agent

Jack Gargan

Waiter

Joe Gray

Waiter

Dick Ryan

Waiter

Pat Barton

Cigarette girl

John Gallaudet

Reporter

Michael Brandon

Reporter

Al Murphy

Reporter

Joe Devlin

Reporter

Joey Ray

Reporter

Bill Wallace

Player

Billy Wayne

Stage manager

Charles Lane

Producer

James Burke

Producer

Irene Ryan

Southern belle

Juan Varro

Gigolo

Garry Owen

Bartender

Eddie Dunn

Bartender

Rory Mallinson

Bartender

Charles Regan

Bartender

Ray Hyke

Deputy

Mike Lally

Deputy

Russ Clark

Deputy

Duke Green

Deputy

Carey Loftin

Deputy

Bud Wolfe

Deputy

Edwin Parker

Policeman

Tom Steele

Policeman

Tom Kennedy

Policeman

Anne O'neal

Autograph hound

Netta Packer

Autograph hound

Max Wagner

Tough

Jack Perry

Tough

Robert Tafur

Headwaiter

Wilbur Mack

Mr. McTavish

Joyce Compton

Alice

Iris Adrian

Gloria

Frank Scannell

Pierson

Franklin Parker

Photographer

Dick Lane

City attorney

Addison Richards

City attorney

Selmar Jackson

Judge

Marc Krah

Desk sergeant

Harry Strang

Patrolman

Joe Ploski

Bindlestiff

Eddie Parker

Sheriff

William Schallert

Gas station attendant

Jack Pennick

Sam, truck driver

Charles Flynn

Deputy sheriff

Mary Gordon

Old lady

June Hedin

Girl

Gloria Moore

Girl

Carol Coombs

Girl

Pamela Payton

Girl

Peggy Miller

Girl

Marsha Northrup

Girl

Marilyn Brennan

Girl

Katherine Brennan

Girl

Sharon Bell

Girl

Dwayne Hickman

Boy

George Mcdonald

Boy

Gregory Marshall

Boy

Wally Koford

Boy

Lew H. Snowden

Orchestra leader

Paul Maxey

Bascomb

Bobby Barber

Customer

Don Kerr

Sandwich stand operator

Norman Nesbitt

Police announcer

Tom Daly

Carl Sklover

Robin Raymond

Carol Hughes

Jacqueline Dalya

James Craven

Jack Norman

Jane Weeks

Jerry Jerome

Dorothy Granger

Luana Walters

Clarence Straight

Allen Ray

Film Details

Also Known As
Mr. Joseph Young of Africa, The Great Joe Young
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Fantasy
Release Date
Jul 30, 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 Jul 1949
Production Company
Arko, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White, Black and White (tinted) (some sequences)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,428ft

Award Wins

Best Special Effects

1950
Ernest B Schoedsack

Articles

Mighty Joe Young (1949)


The first major movie that benefited from the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen is the Academy Award®-winning Mighty Joe Young (1949). Harryhausen was a teenager when he first saw King Kong (1933) and was entranced. "I made it my duty to find out how King Kong was made. Occasionally there would be something in magazines describing ball-and-socket joints, etc. I collected every bit of information I could about stop-motion animation and it all developed from there." This led to work with George Pal on his Puppetoon shorts but it was his work on a personal film called Evolution that led to a dream job. Willis O'Brien, the animator behind King Kong, saw rushes for Evolution and hired Harryhausen to work on a new film with the King Kong team.

That team, producer-writer Merian C. Cooper and director Ernest B. Schoedsack, had been fascinated by the way audiences had reacted to their gigantic ape. They had intended Kong as an object of horror but audience members, especially children, looked on Kong with affection and sympathy. They decided to make a movie with another super-sized gorilla but one with more humor, personality and whom the audience could see as a hero. Mighty Joe Young had to wait until after World War II as both Cooper and Schoedsack were heavily involved in the war effort. Their new story strongly resembled the old one. Again Robert Armstrong leads an expedition to a remote land to find a new attraction he can exploit, again a young woman (Terry Moore) and a giant ape are closely linked, again an exhibition of the ape in America leads to disaster. The difference is that here, the girl rescues the ape at the beginning and they become life-long friends. Mighty Joe Young never acts maliciously but is driven to bad behavior by the unthinking actions of civilized mankind.

Harryhausen ended up taking over eighty percent of the animation work on the film. Four models were used for the ape. They were fashioned from a bone structure of small machine parts with ball-and-socket joints. Muscles, made of foam rubber, were placed over this followed by fur. The face was controlled with interior wires to allow full expression. Models of Terry Moore, Ben Johnson and others were also used for some scenes when they were in the same shot as Mighty Joe Young. Split-screen, traveling matte shots and front and rear projection completed the seamless incorporation of models and actors. The results not only thrilled viewers but also netted the animator the Special Effects Oscar for 1949.

Ernest B. Schoedsack directed the film although at the time he was legally blind. His sight had decreased to a blur during World War II and while filming, he relied on his assistant director Sam Ruman to describe what was happening on set. Ten real-life musclemen and wrestlers appear in the tug-of-war with Mighty Joe Young including former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera (he's the one who pops metal bands off his arm muscles). Another cameo is Irene Ryan (Granny on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies), who is one of the girls at the bar in the nightclub scene. The human love interest, Ben Johnson, was just beginning his film career when he appeared in Mighty Joe Young. He would become much better known in John Ford Westerns and for his Academy Award®-winning role in The Last Picture Show (1971). Speaking of Ford, although credited as a co-producer on this film, he left the production before the beginning of principal photography. Shortly before the film's release, star Terry Moore secretly married RKO Studio head and multi-millionaire Howard Hughes in a secret ceremony aboard his yacht. Their wedding cake was topped with a recreation of a scene from the film, Ms. Moore playing the piano while held aloft by Mighty Joe Young.

Producer: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford
Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenplay: Merian C. Cooper, Ruth Rose
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Film Editing: Ted Cheesman
Art Direction: James Basevi
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Terry Moore (Jill Young), Ben Johnson (Gregg), Robert Armstrong (Max O'Hara), Frank McHugh (Windy), Douglas Fowley (Jones), Denis Green (Crawford).
BW-94m.

by Brian Cady
Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

The first major movie that benefited from the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen is the Academy Award®-winning Mighty Joe Young (1949). Harryhausen was a teenager when he first saw King Kong (1933) and was entranced. "I made it my duty to find out how King Kong was made. Occasionally there would be something in magazines describing ball-and-socket joints, etc. I collected every bit of information I could about stop-motion animation and it all developed from there." This led to work with George Pal on his Puppetoon shorts but it was his work on a personal film called Evolution that led to a dream job. Willis O'Brien, the animator behind King Kong, saw rushes for Evolution and hired Harryhausen to work on a new film with the King Kong team. That team, producer-writer Merian C. Cooper and director Ernest B. Schoedsack, had been fascinated by the way audiences had reacted to their gigantic ape. They had intended Kong as an object of horror but audience members, especially children, looked on Kong with affection and sympathy. They decided to make a movie with another super-sized gorilla but one with more humor, personality and whom the audience could see as a hero. Mighty Joe Young had to wait until after World War II as both Cooper and Schoedsack were heavily involved in the war effort. Their new story strongly resembled the old one. Again Robert Armstrong leads an expedition to a remote land to find a new attraction he can exploit, again a young woman (Terry Moore) and a giant ape are closely linked, again an exhibition of the ape in America leads to disaster. The difference is that here, the girl rescues the ape at the beginning and they become life-long friends. Mighty Joe Young never acts maliciously but is driven to bad behavior by the unthinking actions of civilized mankind. Harryhausen ended up taking over eighty percent of the animation work on the film. Four models were used for the ape. They were fashioned from a bone structure of small machine parts with ball-and-socket joints. Muscles, made of foam rubber, were placed over this followed by fur. The face was controlled with interior wires to allow full expression. Models of Terry Moore, Ben Johnson and others were also used for some scenes when they were in the same shot as Mighty Joe Young. Split-screen, traveling matte shots and front and rear projection completed the seamless incorporation of models and actors. The results not only thrilled viewers but also netted the animator the Special Effects Oscar for 1949. Ernest B. Schoedsack directed the film although at the time he was legally blind. His sight had decreased to a blur during World War II and while filming, he relied on his assistant director Sam Ruman to describe what was happening on set. Ten real-life musclemen and wrestlers appear in the tug-of-war with Mighty Joe Young including former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera (he's the one who pops metal bands off his arm muscles). Another cameo is Irene Ryan (Granny on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies), who is one of the girls at the bar in the nightclub scene. The human love interest, Ben Johnson, was just beginning his film career when he appeared in Mighty Joe Young. He would become much better known in John Ford Westerns and for his Academy Award®-winning role in The Last Picture Show (1971). Speaking of Ford, although credited as a co-producer on this film, he left the production before the beginning of principal photography. Shortly before the film's release, star Terry Moore secretly married RKO Studio head and multi-millionaire Howard Hughes in a secret ceremony aboard his yacht. Their wedding cake was topped with a recreation of a scene from the film, Ms. Moore playing the piano while held aloft by Mighty Joe Young. Producer: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack Screenplay: Merian C. Cooper, Ruth Rose Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt Film Editing: Ted Cheesman Art Direction: James Basevi Music: Roy Webb Cast: Terry Moore (Jill Young), Ben Johnson (Gregg), Robert Armstrong (Max O'Hara), Frank McHugh (Windy), Douglas Fowley (Jones), Denis Green (Crawford). BW-94m. by Brian Cady

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Mr. Joseph Young of Africa and The Great Joe Young. The picture ends with the words, "Goodbye from Joe Young." In the onscreen credits, set dresser James Altwies' name is incorrectly spelled as "George Altwils." Arko, Inc. was formed to make this picture by RKO and Argosy Pictures, a production company owned by presenters John Ford and Merian C. Cooper. Cooper also produced and co-directed RKO's 1933 hit film King Kong (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2288), to which this film bears much resemblance. Ernest B. Schoedsack worked as director on both pictures, and Ruth Rose wrote the screenplay for both. Other shared contributors include actors Robert Armstrong, James Flavin, Milton Shockley and Harry Strang; editor Ted Cheesman, chief animation technician Willis O'Brien; animation technician Marcel Delgado; and cameraman Bert Willis. Armstrong's character in Mighty Joe Young is a comical version of "Carl Denham," the character he played in both King Kong and its 1933 sequel Son of Kong (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4194).
       In December 1947, Los Angeles Times announced that Regis Toomey was to co-star with Armstrong and Ben Johnson in Mighty Joe Young, but Toomey did not appear in the final film. RKO borrowed Terry Moore from Columbia for the production. Ten professional wrestlers and boxers, including former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera and wrestler Man Mountain Dean, were featured in one of the nightclub scenes. According to a June 1947 news item in Los Angeles Examiner, Mighty Joe Young was to have been shot in part in the Belgian Congo, but no evidence of foreign location shooting has been found. Hollywood Reporter production charts indicate that the live action sequences were filmed between mid-December 1947 and early March 1948. According to a May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, the entire production took nine months to shoot. Modern sources, however, claim that the animation alone required fourteen months. Although Hollywood Reporter announced in December 1948 that Cooper had ordered the "scripting of a sequel" to Mighty Joe Young, no sequel was ever made.
       Mighty Joe Young, which employed the same stop-action animation techniques used in King Kong, was renowned animator Ray Harryhausen's first feature film. According to modern sources, the twenty-seven-year-old Harryhausen, who was hired by O'Brien to aid in the preparation of drawings and other menial tasks, ended up doing most of the film's animation. Modern sources add the following information about the production: Over the course of pre-production, many aspects the film's script were altered; in one early draft, for example, the character of "Jill" was conceived as a Tarzan-like wild woman. As with King Kong, the PCA required screenwriter Rose to submit for censorship approval translations of her "native" dialogue. Before starting on the actual animation, Harryhausen studied live gorillas and read Toto and I, a non-fiction account of a gorilla raised from infancy by a woman. Harryhausen used six or seven "Joe" models, which were between five and eighteen inches high and were made of cotton, foam rubber and metal and included 150 moving parts. Joe's fur was made from the skin of unborn lambs, which alleviated the "rippling" problem encountered during the shooting of King Kong. Many stop-motion lions, men, horses and miniature "Jills" were also built. As with King Kong, traveling mattes, glass transparencies and miniature props were employed to create the various special effects in the film. For the nightclub rampage scene, for example, three separate sets were built. The first was full-sized and was used to show the panicked audience. On the second, miniature set, the fight between Joe and the lions was animated. The third set, constructed in Billy Richard's World Jungle Compound in Thousand Oaks, CA, was used to film a lion skidding across the dance floor after it is tossed by Joe. Built on a twenty-degree slope, it contained a see-sawing chute that forced the lion (and in one take, its trainer, Melvin Koontz) to tumble onto the set. To achieve verisimilitude within the scene, details of the audience set, such as the placement of ashtrays, were transferred precisely to the third set.
       The film's budget was $1,800,000. Mighty Joe Young lost money at the box office and was the last major animation film that Willis O'Brien ever made. O'Brien won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. Modern sources credit Harry Cunningham as a model maker. (For more information about stop-action animation, see entry for King Kong). In 1998, Disney Pictures released Mighty Joe Young, an updated version of the story, directed by Ron Underwood and starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton.