The Most Dangerous Game (1932) is the first screen adaptation of the classic story of the decadent hunter who stalks human prey. Directed by Ernest Schoedsack with actor-turned-director Irving Pichel (his first directing credit) and produced by Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, previously known for exotic adventure documentaries like Grass (1925) and Chang (1927), it is still the best. They bring gothic style to the strain of primitive exoticism they helped make popular in the late silent / early sound era and frame the dramatic survival thriller with lurid and perverse details extreme even for the pre-code era.
Joel McCrea stars as Bob Rainsford, a celebrated big game hunter on a voyage through the south seas who is shipwrecked on an isolated jungle island by the reclusive Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), the very model of the decadent aristocrat turned mad megalomaniac. Living in a castle built in the middle of the wilds (a lovely but clearly painted money-saving matte), he entertains himself by luring passing ships to their doom on the rocky straights and then playing the smirking host to the survivors.
Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, stars of King Kong (which was being shot concurrently), play Eve and Martin Trowbridge, siblings and fellow “guests” of Zaroff. He is all generosity as he drops hints to their fate and Bob is a little slow on the uptake, what with Zaroff’s leading comments about his boredom with hunting mere animals and his quest for a true hunting challenge, and Eve’s desperate warnings of “danger.” Her instincts are right on. It’s not just bloodlust that drives Zaroff; he’s saving Eve for the post hunt festivities. “Kill!… Then love,” he explains to Bob (letting the imagination of the audience fill in the rest), and then invites him to be his partner in the hunt. Bob’s disgust ends the discussion and the American is sent out as his next challenge.
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The Most Dangerous Game / Gow (Flicker Alley) – The Most Dangerous Game (1932) is the first screen adaptation of the classic story of the big game hunter who stalks human prey, and it’s still the best. Joel McCrea plays the celebrated big game hunter who is shipwrecked on an isolated jungle island by the mad Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks, perfectly unnerving), an aristocrat who, bored with stalking animals, has switched to hunting humans in his island jungle. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, stars of King Kong (which was being shot concurrently), play fellow “guests” and future victims of Zaroff, who teases them with vague hints of their fate with a manner that suggests aristocratic excess and sadistic megalomania. And it’s not just bloodlust that drives Zaroff; he’s saving his female captive for the post hunt festivities. “Kill!… Then love,” he explains to fellow hunter McCrea in his invitation to join him as a partner. When he refuses, he sends McCrea out as his next challenge.
The film was shot on the sets of King Kong during down time on the production, with members of the cast and crew giving what was in many ways a B-movie the A treatment. After a static opening, the film quickly delivers a gruesome wreck (the first of the grotesque and lurid details that, even in suggestion, give the film a pre-code perversity beyond the premise) and an ominous cocktail party in the vast castle drawing room, and then simply adds to the promise of illicit thrills. Ernest B. Schoedsack, who shares directing credit with Irving Pichel, delivers terrific set pieces and exotic atmosphere in a tight 63 minutes. Schoedsack and his producing partner Merian C. Cooper don’t have the snap that Warner Bros. directors brought to their street smart early sound productions, or the carefully sculpted mood of the best of the Universal horror movies, but they deliver great spectacle and wonderfully lurid flourishes, and once the film moves into the action portion, it doesn’t slow down.
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