This review is for the 75th Anniversary Edition of The Most Dangerous Game from Legend Films. This RKO film from 1932 was originally shot at around the same time as the original King Kong, & it was made by many of the same people - Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B.Schoedsack, & it also stars Fay Wray. Many of the same sets were also used in the production. The plot: An evil Russian game hunter traps unsuspecting shipwreck survivors on his remote island and hunts them like animals for sport.
This version has been colorized, but it also features a fully restored black & white version - I am typically NOT a big fan of colorization. However, to produce a color version the producers needed to work from the best source materials available, so the image quality on both is top notch. Ray Harryhaussen oversaw the colorization process & made suggestions. There are tons of extras included, interviews, featurettes, & trailers. Unless you are willing to shell out big bucks for Criterion's excellent release, then this is undoubtedly the best way to go. You've also got the option on how you would like to view the film, I enjoyed both versions.
What if hunting for sport was taken to its extreme?
That's the chilling premise of "The Most Dangerous Game," an adaptation of Richard Connell's story about a madman who hunts other men for sport. It's a taut, tightly-written movie with some wonderfully shocking moments, and a sense of suspense that doesn't let up until the final seconds.
A ship is wrecked on a reef, and her crew and passengers eaten by sharks. Only big-game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) makes it to the shore of a jungle island, where he is welcomed into the palatial home of the bizarre Count Zaroff, who has several guests waiting for a boat back to civilization. Except according to another "guest" Eve (Fay Wray), his guests have a nasty habit of vanishing.
Bob and Eve find out why, when they break into Zaroff's trophy room... and find other humans on display as trophies. Now that they've found out his secret, Zaroff decides to have Bob as his next prey, with Eve accompanying him. If Bob can get away by sunset, they'll both go free. If not...
Surprisingly, "The Most Dangerous Game" was only made because of another movie -- the original "King Kong." The monkey movie shot during the day, and then the sets and actors were used on "Most Dangerous Game" during the night. It certainly accounts for the lush jungle sets and island setting.
That's where the resemblance ends. "Most Dangerous Game" is a more psychological, suspenseful movie, taking a look at what happens when "killer fun" is extended to human beings. It's a bit on the short side -- just over an hour -- but it's stripped of all extra scenes or dialogue. This is raw filmmaking.
While the first half is about the suspense, the second half is what pays off -- a desperate chase through overgrown jungles and misty swamps, trying to outrun Zaroff. It's all the more frightening because they're on a tiny island. The chase climaxes with a shocking fight on a clifftop with a savage hunting dog, but directors Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack have a few tricks up their sleeves.
McCrea and Wray do very nice jobs as the clean-cut American stud, and the English rose who seems to be a lot smarter than he is (why is she the only one who notices that the whole setup is strange?). But Satanic-looking Leslie Banks is the scene stealer. The fact that he is barking mad is underscored by his reasonable, pleasant attitude -- Banks is nothing short of brilliant here.
Obviously if you want the best version, Criterion has it. But for those on a budget, the Alpha print is surprisingly serviceable -- clear sound, clear picture, no static or skips. It's gotten a little dark over time (well, it was filmed at night), but that can be fixed by adjusting the brightness of the screen.
This short, intense movie is a brilliant piece of work, and may be eve more relevant now than it was in 1932. Thrilling, dark and suspenseful.
A ship full of mysterious characters is interring a harbor that is either misscharted or mislight. We are introduced to them and in two minutes and they are old friends.
A conversation is struck up on the subject of hunting. Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is asked if it is really fare hunt with superior file power and asked if he would change places with the tiger. He philosophically replies, "That is something I will never have to decide... This world is decided into two kinds of people. The hunter and the hunted. I am a hunter and nothing can ever change that."
I will not give you a detailed review of the movie as that is what you will buy it. However after watching once be sure to listen to the Criterion version voice over by xxx and then watch the movie again.
You can tell right off that this is a David O. Selznick picture as he has his name plastered over the credits.
Screen play by James Ashmore Creelman. From a story by Richard Connell.
I found it interesting that many of the actors and the sets will show up in the 1933 version of King Kong.
I also pretty much guesses the story ahead of time. Not because I saw it or read the book. But I saw most of the remakes and know the formula. Believe me this will not distract from this film.
on September 29, 2003
The Most Dangerous Game was a pet project of its producer,Merian C Cooper,and he did a bang up job of translating the Richard Connell short story to the screen.
The evil genius of the movie is demented Russian aristocrat ,Count Zaroff, who has his own private unchartered island .His passion is hunting and having become bored with the usual wild game hunts ,Zaroff has turned to the hunting of human beings for his kicks.
The objects of the hunt are a group of Americans headed by the resolute and stalwart Bob ,played strikingly well by the greatly under-rated Joel MacRae ,and including Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong.
The atmosphere is genuinely menacing from the sinister decor of Zaroffs home to the misty promordial swamp through which the relentless Zaroff and his baying hounds pursue the prey.The tone is grim and the pace unrelenting-here truly is a lean and economical movie that wastes not a single frame.
In some ways this can be viewed as a warm up for King Kong which re-used many of the personnel and ingredients from this movie --Fay Wray ,Robert Armstrong ,and a stirring brass heavy score from the great Max Steiner ,not to mention the producer/director team of Scoedsack and Cooper.It also used the same oppressive ,gloomy, miasmatic sets for the jungle and swamp scenes and these help give the movie its potency and power.
It lacks the one added dimension that helped transform King Kong into a genuine cultural phenomena-the mythic dimension -but is a gripping well made movie that still holds the attention over half a century from when it first saw the light.
The Most Dangerous Game is a pretty familiar story, and that foreknowledge somewhat blunts this movie's shock value and effectiveness to modern audiences. Be that as it may, the film still provides a decent amount of suspense and even some comedy. Bob (Joel McCrea) is a famous hunter en route to a new expedition when he finds himself shipwrecked. He alone of the crew survives and makes it to the shore of a nearby island. He counts himself fortunate to discover that the island is in fact inhabited, especially since Count Zaraff (Leslie Banks) is a seemingly genteel yet eccentric host. Not accidentally, the reef off of the island's coast has been the cause of several shipwrecks, and Bob joins two survivors of the most recent one-Eve (Fay Wray) and her increasingly intoxicated brother Martin; the more Martin drinks, the funnier he gets. The Count speaks passionately of his one true love, hunting, and tells his guests that he hunts the most dangerous game of all on his island. It doesn't take long before Bob finds out what he means and becomes the designated prey for the evening; taking Eve with him, they struggle to live through the night and thus "win" the game. You have to give the Count some credit for being a sportsman; he provides his target with a knife, supplies and a head start. The fact that Bob is a noted hunter himself makes this particular game especially thrilling for the Count.
I'm no hunter, but some of the traps Bob sets for the Count seem pretty lame and obvious. Beyond this the hunt itself doesn't seem to provide the type of suspense found in the original story by Richard Connell. Bob and Eve are likable enough characters, but neither of them seems to shine; this may perhaps be due in part to Banks' dominating performance as the mad Count Zaraff; he basically carries this movie with his forceful presence. Wray would of course go on to star in King Kong the following year, and I swear one log in this movie looks just like a log later seen in Kong's jungle. I think that anyone with no knowledge whatsoever of the plot would be fascinated and impressed by this early classic, but as man's inhumanity to man continues to increase from year to year, modern audiences will be somewhat inured to the underlying premise. One rather philosophical note from early in the film really stands out in my mind-namely, that an animal that kills just to sustain its own life is called savage, but a man who hunts merely for sport is called civilized.
This 1932 David O. Selznick production remains both timely and enjoyable today, presenting a fascinating if somewhat macabre study of human nature. At just over an hour in length, the movie is comparatively short and could have benefited from additional scenes of the actual hunt, but all told The Most Dangerous Game holds up very well, and the fortuitous casting of a pre-King Kong Fay Wray affords the viewer a special treat.
on January 19, 2003
Florid and exciting film of Richard Connell's famous short story stars Leslie Banks as the mad Count Zaroff, a Cossack big game hunter who has discovered a superior form of prey: humans. He resides in a castle on a remote island where he has arranged to alter the courses of ships passing nearby so that they inadvertantly wander into his domain. Inevitably, they crash and the survivors are treated to royal hospitality before they are hunted down on the island one by one by Zaroff. He then mounts their heads in his locked Trophy Room. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray are next on his agenda using a bizarre sex angle: the male of the species will be hunted down and killed and the female saved as the "prize" to be ravaged in bloodlust fury. A hideous prospect either way. Banks is magnificent as Zaroff, so demonically diabolic in his ultra civilized manner---not only is he the perfect host, he even plays classical piano. McCrea is blah in a handsome way and Wray the perfect damsel in very dire distress. Robert(R.G.)Armstrong is featured as Wray's soused braggart brother who winds up as human prey early on. He would team with Wray in "King Kong" also in production at the same time as "Game". In fact, this would be a perfect companion peice to "Kong". Criterion has "Game" restored in a beautiful print and sound. It's a must for collectors. Now when will someone get around to doing the same justice for "Kong"? We can only wait and hope.
on December 23, 2002
Bob, a big-game hunter shipwrecked off a remote island, encounters Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Typical of guys named "Bob," Bob (Joel McCrea) is handsome and rugged. Zaroff is wide-eyed and quite mad on the subject of hunting. Finding that animals are a lesser challenge, Zaroff moved on to hunting humans. Zaroff's houseguests, Eve (Fay Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), were also shipwrecked. It seems that Zaroff keeps moving the buoys. Since Bob is a famous hunter, Zaroff finds particular pleasure in making him the prey. After Martin disappears, Bob and the delectable Eve get a head start. Zaroff releases the pack, and the grim fun begins. If nothing else, this old movie proves that it is possible to make a great action/suspense flick without fiery explosions, computer-generated FX, and stylized violence. Since some of the same people who made "King Kong" also made this flick, it has a familiar look, even for a first time viewer. For example, Bob and Eve race across the log bridge where Kong encountered the sailors, albeit from the opposite direction. Eve wears a tattered dress, much the same as the famous one in "Kong." Nobody looks better in revealing rags than Fay Wray. There aren't any giant monsters running through this murky jungle. Zaroff is monstrous enough. Finally, Zaroff gets the point of the real danger. The stone-faced Noble Johnson is around as one of Zaroff's menacing minions. The story races right along and doesn't waste time on subplots. Based on the often-anthologized story by Richard Connell, this little film is a good change of pace. ;-)
I keep forgetting that Fay Wray made dozens of films before "King Kong," including this 1932 film which proves that you do not need special effects or lots of make-up to create a monster that will frighten audiences. Leslie Banks is Count Zaroff, a mad nobleman who has grown tired of hunting big game and decides to stalk human beings instead. Providence proves most accommodating when shipwrecked on the island are Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), a famous big-game hunter, Eve Towbridge (Wray), and Martin (Robert Armstrong). After a few diverting attempts at hospitality, Zaroff sends the trio off into the jungle to try surviving until sunrise and the fun begins in earnest.
I give high marks for the tense and atmospheric direction by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, but I must admit to be bothered by what Hollywood did to Richard Connell's classic short story of the hunter and hunted. Yes, the original has General Zaroff hunting a world famous big-game hunter (named Sanger Rainsford in the story), and there is certainly something compelling about the hunter now becoming the prey (not to mention the hunter's prey becoming the hunter of the hunter hunting the prey...if you know what I mean). But tossing two more characters into the picture is hardly cricket, the equivalent of hunting a lion and strapping a couple of manikins to its back. Of course with three people out in the jungle you can lose one of them (gee, you will never guess which one) and still have fun and a touch of romance. But while I am disparaging of these tacky Hollywood tack-ons, "The Most Dangerous Game" has a primal elegance that makes this one of the most effective horror films of the 1930s.
on July 8, 2001
The Most Dangerous Game is a superb early horror film. It is a really creepy, chilling film with great atmosphere. I always prefer this sort of moody horror to more modern films in the genre that depend on shocks and gore. The Most Dangerous Game can really get under your skin with its central theme of a manhunt. I had always thought, until watching the movie, that the 'Game' of the title was referring to a game like Poker or Baseball, but really it is game in the sense of big game, lions and tigers and such. It is man who is 'the most dangerous game.' For humans with their intellect are more of a threat to the hunter. This idea of a hunter matching his wits against a fellow human being is a deeply disturbing idea.
The film has a really fine cast. Leslie Banks plays the villain Zaroff and is suitably sinister without using histrionics. Joel McCrea shows why he would remain a leading man for the next thirty years and more. He had real star quality and a quiet acting ability similar to that of Gary Cooper. Fay Wray is delightful in a role which gives her more to do than just scream.
The Criterion DVD is very good indeed. The print is superb. There is some occasional damage, but it is hardly noticeable. The images are nearly always clear and sharp and show off the black and white photography very well. Best of all however is the sound quality. Many early talkies have terrible sound with indistinct dialogue and lots of background noise. This DVD has great sound and Criterion should really be congratulated. The DVD also has an audio commentary track by film historian Bruce Eder. His commentary is worth listening to as he is obviously enthusiastic and well informed about The Most Dangerous Game.
on January 7, 2001
Richard Connell's famous short story that dates back to 1924 about a deranged Russian nobleman who shipwrecks vessels passing by his remote island and hunts down the survivors is still anthologized today. Like many works of naturalistic fiction, Connell's tale is a disquisition on the thin line separating civilization and the state of nature. When the sportsman Sanger Rainsford--the latest victim to arrive at Zaroff's front door--realizes what the madman is up to, he reacts in horror, rejecting the General's invitation to join the latter in his favorite pastime, and the hunter soons finds himself the hunted. At the conclusion, however, Rainsford not only defeats Zaroff but takes his place in the latter's bed. In effect, the two men have exchanged not just places but roles--the struggle for survival has transformed Rainsford himself into another Zaroff. The 1932 screen adaptation, directed by Ernest Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, eliminates the bitterly ironic reversal of the original story and turns the grim fable into a straightforward survivalist sermon. In addition, the movie dubiously improves on Connell's mano a mano conflict between Rainsford and Zaroff by introducing a love interest, another shipwrecked refugee played by the all-purpose virginal heroine Fay Wray, who becomes the principal stake in the contest between the two men. There seems to be some uncertainty about the circumstances of the film's production. Professor Bruce Kawin, who wrote the notes accompanying the DVD, says that The Most Dangerous Game was made to induce RKO into shooting King Kong, while Carlos Clarens in An Illustrated History of Horror and Science fiction Films states that the two films were made simultaneously. Whatever the truth might be, there are such striking similarities between them that The Most Dangerous Game almost resembles an extended trailer for King Kong, especially in its use of a jungle setting like that of Skull Island for much of the action. But if The Most Dangerous Game anticipates King Kong it also seems to be making a nod in the direction of a horror hit from the previous year, Tod Browning's Dracula. In the Schoedsack production, Zaroff, who is always called "General" in the story becomes a count, and the main hall of his residence has interesting similarities to that of Dracula's castle, although it is opulent rather than derelict. As the sadistic Zaroff, the gifted British actor Leslie Banks makes a stylish villain although his enunciation of Russian sounds as convincing as W.C. Fields doing Vogul. In the role of Rainsford, however, Joel McCrae, who played a similar part in King Vidor's Bird of Paradise--also produced at RKO for David Selznick in the same year--is a classically handsome leading man and gives a far better performance saving the hapless Fay than the rather inert Bruce Cabot gives executing the same office for her in King Kong.