Plot: What’s it about?
Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong) runs a nightclub and he wants to have the hottest acts in town, exotic acts that people will come in droves to witness. When he sees an exhibition of cowboys roping in lions, he realizes he needs to bring in something no one has ever seen before. He kicks off an expedition to Africa, where he hopes to find a wild animal attraction to spice up his business. The goal seems simple enough, after all Africa is exotic and finding a suitable act shouldn’t be a problem. But he is unable to find anything even close to what he wants, so perhaps his idea was not that great. Just when he is about to give up on the concept, he meets a young woman named Jill Young (Terry Moore). She has a unique friend, a tame ape that stands twelve feet tall, an ape who goes by the name Joe. Soon enough, Max has persuaded Jill to bring Joe to America, but will that decision prove to be a smash success or a fatal mistake?
No, this is not the miserable remake with Bill Paxton, this is the original and unlike the remake, this Mighty Joe Young is a good movie. While not the same level as the original King Kong, this movie is well crafted and has some delightful moments. Of course, the main attraction is Willis O’Brien’s special effects, which bring Joe to life with his usual high level of performance. Not just one or two memorable sequences either, as O’Brien’s stop motion magic has more than a handful of remarkable set pieces. As film buffs know however, O’Brien had more than a little help from Ray Harryhausen, who would become no less than a cinematic legend in his own right. In any case, the animation is superb and really makes the movie. The storyline is solid, if a little retread at times, but the real draw is the stop motion animation. Warner’s DVD is a great one, so if you’re a fan of O’Brien or Harryhausen, you can’t go wrong with Mighty Joe Young.
Video: How does it look?
Mighty Joe Young is presented in full frame, as intended. If I didn’t know better, I would swear this is a recent theatrical film due to the incredible visual presentation on this disc. This is a black & white movie, so contrast is what makes the clock tick, and this transfer has no issues in that area. The shadows are accurate and complex, with very high detail level in even the darkest scenes. The source print looks much better than expected also, and I noticed no compression hiccups here either. The tinted finale is a little worse off, but on the whole, the movie looks terrific.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release contains the original mono track, which is by no means provides the stereotypical mono audio experience. This track is crisp, clear, and effective that I think some level of restoration was undertaken. Even though the film is over fifty years old, this audio track sounds wonderful, one of the best mono tracks I’ve taken in. The music and effects come through loud and clear, with no distortion present at all. The dialogue also sounds great, with no volume or separation issues to contend with. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary is up first, as special effects veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston are joined by star Terry Moore. The two effects wizards provide candid thoughts on the production, even noting some of the flaws in the handiwork. I always love to listen to Harryhausen and while Moore isn’t given much time, she does have some interesting comments. This disc also includes two interview featurettes with Harryhausen, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.