Monday, February 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Mighty Joe Young (1949) ***

NR, 94 min.
Director: Ernest B. Shoedsack
Writers: Merian C. Cooper, Ruth Rose
Starring: Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Douglas Fowley

I’d never seen the original “Mighty Joe Young” and I decided to show it to my kids for our weekly family movie night. I liked it. It was fun. It doesn’t have all the heavy undertones of Ernest B. Shoedsack and Merian C. Cooper’s other big ape movie. It’s much more of a fun and, at times, funny adventure.

Made well after “King Kong”, I can’t imagine what inspired these two to try another big ape movie, but this ape isn’t quite as big. That’s a nice change of pace. He’s only a slight exaggeration on a silverback gorilla. This time the ape doesn’t try to dominate the dame, but she’s still the holder of his heart.

I was surprised to see a very young Ben Johnson in a movie of this more lighthearted nature. I came to know Johnson mostly from later work in the more craftily made westerns that tried to keep the genre relevant. Robert Armstrong is wonderful as the promoter Max O’Hare.

It was also nice to see the improvements Cooper had made to the stop motion animatronics of his earlier work. They put a lot more work into the ape’s eyes this time around and they use his expressions well throughout the movie. There’s also an increased use of stop motion animatronics on all of the action sequences. You can easily see the seams in this day and age of CGI, but they actually did a pretty good job blending the stop motion with the live action considering the limitations of the technology.

“Mighty Joe Young” isn’t the great movie that “Kong” is, but its still holds great technical achievements, and it’s a lot of fun. 

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