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MIGHTY JOE YOUNG

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Mr. Joseph Young of Africa
Director:  Ernest B. Schoedsack
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  November 22, 2005

Film ***

Mighty Joe Young was the film that brought the fun back to the giant ape picture.  It came from the same creative minds that gave us King Kong, as well as one of the main stars, and it also introduced a young stop motion guru named Ray Harryhausen to the scene.

It's more comedic than Kong, with a more loveable and heroic character, and a more upbeat ending.  The effects, while not showing anything as spectacular as Kong's battle with prehistoric monsters, are improved, making it even easier to believe that Joe is taking up a large amount of physical space next to his human compatriots.

It starts when a little girl living in Africa makes a dubious transaction: buying a baby gorilla from a pair of natives.  She raises it despite the obvious concern of her father.  But this is no ordinary simian.

Cut forward twelve years, and the teenage Jill Young (Moore) and her friend Joe, who's grown to such enormous size that he'd be in front of a Senate committee today, have a misadventure when hot-aired nightclub owner Max O'Hara (the always great Armstrong) encounters them while he's trying to round up beasts for his new jungle-themed hot spot back in California.  Joe is a little too much for him to handle, so he makes Jill and her furry friend an offer they can't refuse:  he wants them to be the stars of his show.

You'd think Robert Armstrong would have learned by now the dangers of taking gargantuan apes back to the big city, but no matter:  Mr. Joseph Young of Africa indeed becomes a star, though the poor fellow really has no clue what he's doing or what's being done to him.

He does spectacular feats for his enthusiastic audience, but soon he and Jill's biggest adventure will be trying to get back home.  This culminates in two of the picture's most memorable sequences.  One is where some unruly patrons feed Joe some liquor and he goes berserk, literally bringing the house down.  The second is the climax where an on-the-lam Joe has to rescue some helpless children from a great orphanage fire. 

It's all light, to be sure, but very entertaining.  I've always found Mighty Joe Young a more-than-worthy companion piece to King Kong.  With the legendary Willis O'Brien serving as technical creator, Ray Harryhausen stepped up with extraordinary visuals, some of which still have fans wondering some 50 years later how it was all done.  I'm still not sure how Joe played tug-of-war with a team of musclemen in shots that show them all on screen at the same time.  Other shots are easier to figure out, but that doesn't make them any less impressive.

There may not be a Fay Wray this time around, but Joe is big enough and charismatic enough to carry the film squarely on his hairy shoulders.  He may have retired from the business after one movie, but he made enough of an impression that his star will never fade away.  I like to picture him watching the remake back in Africa and going on and on about how they did it in HIS day.

Video ****

This is one of the best transfers I've seen for a classic black and white film.  The print is in top-notch condition; very little in the way of aging effects is visible.  The deep blacks and clean whites make for startling contrast, and images are very crisp and well detailed throughout.  The orphanage fire, presented with its original color tinting intact, is simply stunning.

Audio ***

The mono track is more than serviceable, with pretty good dynamic range offered by the action sequences and the musical score.  It's a clean offering; not a lot in the way of noticeable hiss or pops in the audio.  Most impressive for a film of its age.

Features ***

There is a good group commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston and Terry Moore, plus two new featurettes:  "A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo Brothers" and "Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young".  The special effects maestro discusses how the movie was made, and even shows off an original skeleton for Joe.  Rounding out is a trailer.

Summary:

Mighty Joe Young is mighty indeed...the great ape looks better than ever on DVD.  This is a fun, frolicking and entertaining classic that the whole family will enjoy.

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