Mighty Joe Young (1949)

93-94 mins | Comedy-drama, Horror | 30 July 1949

Writer:

Ruth Rose

Cinematographer:

J. Roy Hunt

Editor:

Ted Cheesman

Production Designer:

James Basevi

Production Company:

Arko, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

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 Dec 1947, LAT 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 Jun 1947 news item in LAEx, Mighty Joe ...

More Less

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 Dec 1947, LAT 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 Jun 1947 news item in LAEx, Mighty Joe Young was to have been shot in part in the Belgian Congo, but no evidence of foreign location shooting has been found. HR production charts indicate that the live action sequences were filmed between mid-Dec 1947 and early Mar 1948. According to a May 1949 HR news item, the entire production took nine months to shoot. Modern sources, however, claim that the animation alone required fourteen months. Although HR announced in Dec 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.

Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
29 May 1949
---
Daily Variety
30 Mar 1949
---
Daily Variety
24 May 1949
p. 3
Film Daily
31 May 1949
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1947
p. 14
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jan 1948
p. 12
Hollywood Reporter
5 Mar 1948
p. 16
Hollywood Reporter
20 Dec 1948
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1949
p. 8
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1949
p. 3
Los Angeles Examiner
9 Jun 1947
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1947
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 May 1949
p. 4625
New York Times
28 Jul 1949
p. 19
Variety
25 May 1949
p. 8
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Sammy Menacker
Juan Varro
Edwin Parker
Selmar Jackson
Eddie Parker
Marsha Northrup
Jack Norman
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Samuel Ruman
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres
WRITERS
Scr
Orig story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Linwood Dunn
Optical photog
Gaffer
Alex Kahle
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dressing
COSTUMES
MUSIC
C. Bakaleinikoff
Mus dir
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Photog eff
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech creator
1st tech
Tech staff
Tech staff
Tech staff
Unit prod mgr
Prod eff
Scr supv
SOURCES
SONGS
"Beautiful Dreamer," words and music by Stephen Foster.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Mr. Joseph Young of Africa
The Great Joe Young
Release Date:
30 July 1949
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 27 Jul 1949
Production Date:
live action seq: mid Dec 1947--early Mar 1948
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Arko, Inc.
13 July 1949
LP2464
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
93-94
Length(in feet):
8,428
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12893
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 ...

More Less

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.

Less

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

Shoes

The print viewed for this record was a restoration of filmmaker Lois Weber’s 1916 feature-length picture, Shoes, completed in 2010 by the Eye Filmmuseum, Netherlands, ... >>

The Symbol of the Unconquered

This Black independent film was shot in Fort Lee, NJ, under the working title The Wilderness Trail. A 6 Nov 1920 Moving Picture World item ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.