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Man is the prey
on November 23, 2006
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.