If the first forty-five minutes hadn’t have been so lame with some bad attempts at comedy this would have been a really great movie. As it is the final forty minutes almost make up for it. Despite a bad start this is a must see with some great suspense and Oscar winning special effects from Ray Harryhausen.
Comparisons were made to 1933’s classic “King Kong.” Yes there’s a big ape and Robert Armstrong does his manic impresario character but that’s where the comparison ends. He was Carl Denham in “King Kong.” In this one he’s Max O’Hara.
It opens in Africa with a little girl named Jill Young trading some coins and a large flashlight to some natives for a baby gorilla. She names him Joe. Her father John (Regis Toomey) says she can’t keep him. Of course she does. The gorilla is fond of the song “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Twelve years go by and the scene switches to New York where Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong) is making plans to open a nightclub in Hollywood with an African theme. He hires a rodeo roper, Gregg Johnson (Ben Johnson) to go to Africa with him to capture lions for his club. Max is sending back press releases full of tall tales about his adventures there.
It’s time to wrap it up and head home when a big gorilla invades the camp and causes havoc. It even picks up Max and is about to toss him away when a grown up Jill (Terry Moore) makes him drop him. Max wants to make a deal. He offers her stardom and a contract to appear in Hollywood. Joe is part of the deal. Her father died six months ago and she’s alone on the farm with the servants and Joe. She signs.
The segment has some really bad attempts at comedy with Armstrong running around as if in a speeded up silent movie trying to get on a horse and then being captured by Joe. But…be patient the best is yet to come.
In Hollywood The Golden Safari opens. There’s a big sign outside advertising Mr.Joseph Young. No one knows who that is. The floor show starts. There’s a big production number with African dancers and lions behind glass. Then the big moment. Max introduces Jill. She sits at the piano and plays “Beautiful Dreamer.” Now a full orchestra joins in and it’s time to meet Mr.Young. The crowd goes wild.
A few weeks later Max arranges a tug of war between Joe and ten strongmen who are pro wrestlers. They include future actor Henry Kulky and wrestlers Karl “Killer” Davis, Man Mountain Dean and current champ Primo Carnera. There’s also a Swedish Angel. It’s not Tor Johnson but Phil Olafsson. The two supposedly had a match to determine who was the real Swedish Angel. In the tug of war Joe dumps all of them into the water.
Joe is locked in a cage every night and Jill finally has enough after ten weeks and wants to go home. Max soft soaps her and another seven weeks go by. The next act is demeaning and ends early thanks to some drunks. Max threatens to throw them out after they destroy a cigarette girls tray. They’re out for revenge. They find Joe. From here on out it’s chaos as the movie kicks into don’t miss status. There’s a great sequence to come where the film is color tinted.
This is worth repeat viewing and you may find yourself skipping the opening forty. Not a great loss.