Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
1932 • 63 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • RKO 

Cast: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong
Writers: James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay), Richard Connell
Producers:  Merian C. Cooper, David O. Selznick
Cinematography: Henry W. Gerrard

This world's divided into two kinds of people: the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I'm the hunter. Nothing can change that.

The Most Dangerous Game is the first filmed adaptation of the 1924 novel of the same name. While a short feature by today's standards, this film is an essential Pre-Code Hollywood film made by the future director of King Kong, Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack. It also stars two of the main actors from the classic monkey feature, Robert Armstrong and the iconic Fay Wray.

The story follows Joel McCrea's Bob Rainsford who is shipwrecked and swims to a nearby island, owned by the mysterios Russian Count Zaroff (Banks.)  Zaroff and Rainsford share a common interest in big game hunting.  Zaroff reveals he is obsessed with hunting the most dangerous game, but won't divulge what exactly that is.  Also staying on the island is Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother Martin, but when Martin turns up dead, Rainsford and Eve discover that Zaroff's most dangerous game is: Man.  Disappointed that Rainsford does not share his same passion, he decides that both he and Eve are now his next prey. And thus the hunt begins.

With only 60 minutes of running time, the film packs a lot into its short time frame.  The first half of the film is pure character development. Setting up both Rainsford and Zaroff as skilled hunters. Rainsford says at one point "This world's divided into two kinds of people: the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I'm the hunter. Nothing can change that." This of course is turned on its head when he becomes exactly that.  The second half of the film is pure thrills and excitement.  Not a shot is wasted in creating suspense as Rainsford and Eve evade the psychotic Zaroff's manhunt with plenty of close calls and near captures.  Speaking of Zaroff, Leslie Banks imbues him with such psychotic energy, almost to the point of pure ham... but that isn't exactly unwelcome in a film like this.  Pichel & Schoedsack also give us plenty of close-ups, especially of the eyes, to take us into Zaroff's insanity.

The Most Dangerous Game is a short, compact chase-thriller that is an essential appetizer to the directing duo of Pichel & Scheodsack's immortal 1933 fantasy adventure, King Kong

The film is in the public domain, and you can watch it below:

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