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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (RKO Radio, 1932), directed by Ernest B.
Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, from the short story by Richard Connell,
is a highly suspenseful drama with a neat twist in theme. But for the
benefit for those who have never read Connell's original story nor seen
the movie, this is something to really consider, especially for action
and adventure fans. Categorized as a horror film, the only horror is
the thought of a hunter being the hunted, especially by a crazed
The story begins with an explosion and the sinking of a yacht with Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) becoming the sole survivor of the perished crew. He swims to safety on a remote island and soon encounters an ancient mansion where lives the Russian Count Zoroff (Leslie Banks), and his muted servant, Ivan (Noble Johnson) and Tatur (Steve Clemento). After getting into some dry clothes, Rainsford is introduced to Zoroff's other guests, Eve (Fay Wray) and her brother, Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong), also shipwreck survivors. Gathering in the living room, Zoroff discusses his interest in game hunting, but instead of hunting animals, which now bores him, he hunts his new interest - a most dangerous game. Later that night, Zoroff has made the drunken Martin his latest prey, and after returning from his all night hunt, Zoroff shows Eve and Rainsford his trophy room, consisting of human heads and corpses, with Martin's body being among them. Because Rainsford is a noted author and hunter, Zoroff wants him to go game hunting with him, the hunting of man. Refusing to take part in his mad scheme, Rainsford, in turn, becomes Zoroff's next prey. Zoroff promises that if Rainsford eludes him until sunrise, he and Eve are set free, and if he doesn't, gets to recapture Eve alive, since he doesn't hunt the "female animal." Being given a 12 hour head start for preparation, Rainsford, with Eve's help, works against time using his brains instead of his feet to try and outsmart the hunter, but after midnight, the hunt begins, with Zoroff's tracking them down with weapons ranging from bow and arrow, rifle, and, as the last resort, the release of his vicious dogs, climaxed by surprises for both hunter and the hunted.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME ranks one of the very best stories ever transferred on screen. In spite of alterations to Connell's original story, such as adding a female to accompany Rainsford, this adaptation is a fast-pace 65 minutes that never lets up for a minute. The first half hour devotes itself to character study, with Robert Armstrong's drunken performance somewhat slowing down the pace instead of providing humor. However, second half of the movie is tight on suspense, with the camera capturing every move and reaction from the three central characters, with Max Steiner's underscoring setting the mood and pace. Of course there's plenty of close calls and near misses to add to the excitement, making this a well staged and truly memorable experience after it is all over. What makes THE MOST DANGEROUSGAME worthy is the uncanny performance of British actor Leslie Banks, in his Hollywood debut, hamming it up to perfection, making his insane hunter come to life as intended by the author. Closeups of his eyes during the hunt is truly effective. If the jungle settings look familiar, it's the same set used for the much more famous adventure, KING KONG (RKO, 1933), that also features Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong.
While Joel McCrea has been on screen since the silent era, starting from small roles to the elevation of leads, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME showcases him to best advantage, but cannot take away from the performance of Leslie Banks. While never a high rank leading man, McCrea did become a Hollywood survivor, better known for westerns, retiring from his successful career by 1962.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME was remade as A GAME OF DEATH (RKO, 1945) with John Loder and Edgar Barrier; RUN FOR THE SUN (United Artists, 1956) with Richard Widmark, and recycled numerous times, but none have captured the greatness to the 1932 original. It's also interesting to note that the theme was used as the basis in one of the better episodes to the comedy series, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, titled "The Hunter" with Rory Calhoun guest starring as the title character who hunts people, namely Gilligan (Bob Denver).
Once regarded a "lost" movie, a print of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME was discovered in the 1970s, and introduced to the small screen for the first time on public television in 1976. Prints shown in its initial premiere were crystal clear, but sadly, by the early 1980s, in the wake of home video, transfers circulated by distributors had that third to fourth generation look. A public domain title, it's unfortunate that a movie as good as this couldn't be available with better better picture quality. Aside from TV showings on various cable channels such as Nostalgia Television, and currently on some public TV stations after the midnight hours, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME had yet to be shown on any commercial free classic movie channels until Turner Classic Movies aired it on June 28, 2007, but because of its reputation, continues to circulate in the VHS and DVD markets to a very favorable audience. An instant classic not to be missed. (***)
Films from the 1930s often featured imaginary and exotic worlds brought to
life on sound stages. For us today the sets are unreal, creations of both
limited imagination and limited budgets. Most of those movies are
justifiably in the "B" range. A few aren't and among those is the
relatively little seen "The Most Dangerous Game."
Joel McRae is globetrotting big game hunter Bob Rainsford on a yacht bound for exotic adventure. Deliberately misplaced channel lights cause the vessel to hit rocks and founder. Only Rainsford survives to drag himself onto the shore of a nearby island. To his surprise the island is dominated by an eerie mansion owned by Count Zaroff, Leslie Banks. A Cossack attended by a retinue of his countrymen, Zaroff exudes silken hospitality and refined culture. Already there as guests are two people from a previous shipwreck, Eve Trowbridge, Fay Wray, and her perpetually drunken brother.
Zaroff is the film version of that familiar figure from Russian literature, the eternally bored aristocrat whose anomie can only be defeated by extreme diversions. In Zaroff's case it turns out that he, a skilled huntsman since boyhood, is only brought to vibrant life by stalking and killing the most dangerous prey - man.
Zaroff offers Rainsford a deal he literally can't refuse. Escape being slain by the count by outwitting him for a number of hours and he goes free. Eve elects to accompany the intrepid hunter on his journey through impenetrable backlot settings. Romance is in the humid air.
Zaroff is, of course, evil but he's also oddly sympathetic. What's a count to do when he can buy anything and only the most extraordinary hunting will bring him happiness? In that light his trophy room becomes understandable, his bloody diversion almost sympathetic. Banks is very effective in this role where he swings between culture and carnage.
Directors Irving Pickel and Ernest B. Schoedsack made "The Most Dangerous Game" on the same sets they'd employ a year later for the universally revered "King Kong." This film is only 63 minutes long indicating they intended it to be a second feature. What they got was a truly engrossing movie with Fay Wray and Joel McCrea turning in first-rate performances. Max Steiner's score is excellent (did he ever compose a bad one?).
Released on DVD by Alpha Video, it's both a bargain and a pleasure.
The Most Dangerous Game is a film totally dominated by Leslie Banks's
florid portrayal of the mad Russian Count Zaroff who has built is own
little world on a Pacific island where he hunts for sport and pleasure
what he considers The Most Dangerous Game.
Though I'm sure he must have had a lot of offers from American studios after this film, Leslie Banks went back to the United Kingdom where he was a stalwart presence in a variety of roles for British cinema. Still Banks never got a part as good as Count Zaroff in which he could chew enough scenery for a three course meal and not be noticed.
Joel McCrea plays an American big game hunter who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck who is washed up on Banks's island. In the palatial home he's built out of an old Portugese fort, McCrea encounters brother and sister Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray. Armstrong, in an unusual part for him, plays a wastrel playboy who is consuming the liquor at the home at a prodigious rate. He's taken to the 'trophy' room and not seen again.
The next night McCrea and Wray discover that The Most Dangerous Game is man himself. Banks sends his guests out into the woods and stalks them like wild animals. Supposedly if they can elude him for 24 hours they earn their freedom, but no one ever has.
The Most Dangerous Game is one of those films where you have no doubt who the hero and villain are. No moral ambiguities in this one. For all of Banks's talk about man being the most challenging animal to hunt, the only other man besides McCrea we see him hunt is drunk and pathetic Robert Armstrong. In McCrea because he's a hunter Banks finally meets an opponent who's a challenge. If Armstrong is a sample of what he hunted before, Banks ranks as one of the most malevolent villains ever portrayed on screen.
If the sets look familiar to you remember the team of Meriam C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack is bringing you this film. A year later these same sets were utilized by RKO for the classic King Kong. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong got to know that back lot jungle very well.
Banks meets a most fitting end for one as evil as he which I can't reveal, but viewers will find it poetic indeed. After 75 years, The Most Dangerous Game is still one exciting, heart pounding, entertaining film.
Cooper and Schoedsack are, of course, the same directors who made King Kong. They actually made it right after they made this film on some of the same sets, and you'll recognize that, if you're a Kong aficionado. The Most Dangerous Game probably would be as well known as King Kong if it were a half-hour longer. As it stands, it's only 63 minutes. Half of that is exposition, and the other half the chase. That first half does drag a little. Some people will say the same thing about the exposition of King Kong, though I'd disagree. The comical drunk in The Most Dangerous Game is quite annoying, I must say. No matter. Once the hunt begins, I dare you to try to take a breath. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat that entire half-hour. Bravo, good sirs. Once again, you have proved yourselves to be entirely undervalued filmmakers. Make sure, if you like this and/or King Kong, to see their early documentaries Grass and Chang, which are two near masterpieces themselves. 8/10.
The second most used plot device (boy meets girl is the first) happens
to be one of my favorites, Man Vs. Man. The Most Dangerous Game (based
upon a short story) is about an eccentric hunter who has hunted every
single animal there is to hunt except one. Man. On his tropical island
surrounded by dangerous coral reefs he seeks out prey so he can add
them to his trophy case. That is until the day he happens to meet the
world's most famous big game hunter. This excellent film was shot by
the same crew that was shooting King Kong (both films nearly have the
same cast) Between takes they would shoot this one. If you want to see
where it all started, then this is it!!
Imagine this: a remote jungle island set in a lonely sea.
solitary chateau outfitted with every luxury & inhabited by
charming lunatic. A lovely young woman & her drunken,
boorish brother. And a celebrated big game hunter who
suddenly finds himself to be the prey.
This is an excellent adventure movie, imitated many times but never equaled. Once the hunt begins, the suspense doesn't let up. It keeps on pounding until the last bark of the savage hounds used to track down the helpless quarry.
The film was shot, largely at night, on the same jungle sets being used by day for KING KONG; four cast members appeared in both films. Joel McCrea & Fay Wray make a fine romantic couple, with Robert Armstrong suitably annoying in the small role of the intoxicated brother.
But it is Leslie Banks as the mad Russian, Count Zaroff, who remains in the mind the longest. Like a sophisticated & urbane serpent, he coils himself around his florid role of the master huntsman who has discovered a new sensation - that of stocking his island & hunting through its jungles the most dangerous big game of them all...
"Until you've hunted men, you haven't hunted" -Jesse Ventura, April
The story of a hunter having the tables turned on him is overly familiar to today's audiences. The basic premise of Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" has also been reinvented as a Game of Death, Run for the Sun, Hard Target, Surviving the Game, The Running Man, and even Predator (starring the Governor Ventura himself). But the irony and purity of the story are exercised best in this 1932 quickie, made by the King Kong team, using the same cast members and sets. It's legacy has been somewhat overshadowed by the popularity of Kong, but don't let it slip away, The Most Dangerous Game is a game worth playing.
Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is a big game hunter who is shipwrecked somewhere off the east coast of South America. He washes up on a beach of a lonely island and makes his way through the jungle where he is greeted by the eccentric Count Zaroff who has settled in a restored Portuguese fortress. The Count escaped Russia before the revolution and travelled the world hunting animals. But having killed all of the most savage he has grown bored and needs an animal with wits, cunning, and intelligence. Man; the most dangerous game of all.
Finding his match with Rainsford, the Count releases him into the jungle, along with the screaming Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray), and promises him freedom if he can survive the next 24 hours. The sets, the Gothic atmosphere, and even the loneliness creates a wonderful atmosphere. As one of the first "talkies" the film is backed-up by a score (in a time when music really had to carry wordless motion pictures) that really stands out to me for several reasons. It's certainly the earliest film I have seen with a recognizable melody and even goes as far as having the Count play the theme on his grand piano; a nice little in-joke. I never thought I'd recommend a score from a 1932 movie for being mysterious and action-packed but, if you excuse the pun, I suggest you hunt it down.
At 63 minutes the film doesn't outstay his welcome, but James Ashmore Creelman's screenplay was written as a film lasting no less than 85 minutes, so I'm curious to know what RKO Pictures cut out to keep the budget down.
Criterion did a good job with the DVD, but the film desperately needs a full HD restoration. I suppose the original camera negative is gone, but a 4k master from a complete 35mm print is what this film needs. No nicks, no scratches, no missing frames. If The Most Dangerous Game doesn't get this an overlooked classic may be lost forever.
A solid little thriller with several things going for it, "The Most
Dangerous Game" easily holds your attention all the way through, even
at the more predictable points. It takes good advantage of an
often-used plot idea, without trying to squeeze too much out of it.
Joel McCrea makes a likable and confident hero, and he fits in well
with Leslie Banks and with "King Kong" stars Fay Wray and Robert
Armstrong. Banks's performance is a little on the eccentric side, but
he has enough energy to make the character and the plot work most of
The opening sequence is a little slow, but it does set up some of the themes of the rest of the movie. The first half of the movie is generally predictable, yet even so it builds up a good amount of tension. In the last half, the suspense is sustained quite well for an extended time, and though the last few scenes may lack plausibility, they work well dramatically because they were set up carefully. Overall, it is an effective and rather efficiently-made thriller.
I must have been about 5 years old when I saw this film just before the WAR, in a flea-ridden "picture-house" in Dublin, Ireland, where I was born and brought up. It made such an impression on me that I remembered it all my life, but never remembered the name or any of the cast. I tried without success, and as time passed I began to believe that the Island owner was, perhaps, Conrad Veidt, this was the sort of persona he portrayed to me. I remembered that there were people on a luxury yacht, suddenly wrecked, and that a man and woman were washed up on an island, and after having been given hospitality by a recluse in a large house, were set loose to be hunted. The young man was a famous big game hunter, and he had only a knife with which he devised traps to catch their pursuer who hunted them with a bow and arrows. One trap, I remember was an old log which was triggered somhow to fall and kill whoever who set it off. This film always stayed in the forefront of my mind, and, when, at age about 70, I met a compatriot, a little older, I began to tell him about this film, asking him if he'd ever seen it or knew anything about it. He interrupted me to tell me that it was a story, and gave me the name of the writer, Richard Connell. How did he know this immediately, having barely heard the beginning of my story?? He was a retired English teacher who admired this story so much that,year after year, he always set it for his classes. So then I was able to look it up on the internet and not at all to my surprise found the close connection of the cast and scenery to KING KONG. You see, KING KONG has been my all-time favourite film. I think I've seen it at least 25-30 times and have several video copies of it.
"The Most Dangerous Game" is a surprisingly good little thriller that runs
just over an hour. It was made the year before "King Kong" by many of the
same people that were involved that classic. In fact many of the "run
through the jungle" scenes are very similar to those in the later
The film opens with a realistic staged ship wreck (achieved mostly with convincing miniatures) from which only Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) survives. He crawls ashore on a mysterious island and finds his way to a creepy castle inhabited by a Russian Count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks). There he meets the lovely Eve (Fay Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), who were also ship wrecked.
It turns out that the "Game" of the title is the mad Count hunting down and killing human prey. Naturally, McCrea and Wray ultimately wind up as the hunted.
A very young McCrea is excellent as the hero and Wray, fetching as the heroine. Banks, however, and Armstrong for that matter, are way over the top in their roles. Banks in that early talkie style, enunciates every syllable and bugs out his eyes at every opportunity.
Still and all, "The Most Dangerous Game" is exciting and well made and worth a look.
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