Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mighty Joe Young

Mighty Joe Young; Fantasy adventure, USA, 1949; D: Ernest B. Shoedsack, S: Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh

The little girl Jill lives with her father somewhere in Africa. One day, she exchanges some of her things to local natives for a box with a baby ape inside, naming it Joe Young. Over a decade later, some cowboys come from New York to Africa and spot Joe, who in the meantime grew over 12 feet tall. They try to catch him at first, but the ape is too strong. Max O'Hara though persuades Jill to sign a contract which will enable him to make the ape perform in his night club in Hollywood. At first, Jill is thrilled, but Joe is degraded to a humiliating circus attraction. After some people give him whisky, Joe wrecks havoc in the club and the judge orders the police to shoot him. Luckily, Max, Gregg and Jill manage to bring Joe back to Africa.

Ernest B. Shoedsack's penultimate film once again brought him back to his roots, trying to re-capture his most famous film "Kong". Unlike the above mentioned film, "Mighty Joe Young" only has one special effect - the one of the 12 feet tall ape - but it is used so extensively, so painstakingly detailed and so richly that it amazes completely and deservedly won the Oscar for best visual effects to Willis O'Brien. Story wise, though, it again follows the same formula from "Kong", who brought up some messages about the abused creatures that are different, human egoism and backwardness - "Joe" tries to tell this story line again, but only manages to rehash old stereotypes. Still, the scenes where the giant ape has to give performances in a Hollywood night club, where he is degraded to a humiliating freak show while the audience thinks its all right that way, subversively shows the dark, exploitative nature of show business. The human characters are again just bland puppets when placed in front of a monster - frankly, even though Gregg is suppose to be the leading male character, his role is so palely written that nobody even notices him - while the sequence where Joe saves children from a burning orphanage (in an sequence entirely tilted red!) is too blatant to work. The film is hardly a classic in cinema, but is definitely a classic in special effects history, especially in the thrilling scene where Joe swings on a wine through the nightclub and hits numerous guests.


No comments: