Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Most Dangerous Game (1932): Second Cousin to King Kong...Once Removed

When I was in the 8th grade, our class read the short story The Most Dangerous Game (also known as The Hounds of Zaroff) by Richard Connell, and I thought it a thrilling read, as stories read in school were not always that glamorous at that age. I discovered years later that several film versions had been made of the classic 1924 story and was particularly interested in the first and most famous one made in 1932. It wasn't until recently that I had the opportunity to finally see this oft filmed tale in its original screen incarnation and found it was worth the wait.

Although the RKO golden boy of the early 1930's, Joel McCrea, was top billed, the films villain, British stage actor, Leslie Banks, was the true shining force. As the sinister Zaroff, Banks is in melodramatic overdrive, overplaying his role like so many bad guys in the early sound era did. But this zeal only added to the eerie atmosphere of an eerily atmospheric picture.

McCrea plays big game hunter Bob Rainsford, who, as the lone survivor of a shipwreck, swims to the safely of a nearby island. On the island he finds the creepy mansion of creepy Count Zaroff (Banks), complete with creepy servants. Amongst all this creepiness, he finds the lovely Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), also guests in the Zaroff household due to a shipwreck near the island. It doesn't take long before our hero finds out that Zaroff, a self proclaimed fellow hunter, is a madman, who, bored with hunting mere animals, steers ships toward the rocky cove near his island in order to find a new and more dangerous prey...humans.

The Most Dangerous Game packs a wallop in its 63 minute time frame. Made for approximately $200,000, it was a success at the box office. If it looks and feels familiar, that may be because it gives the distinct impression of being King Kong~esque. That, in fact, is not by happenstance, as the two were being made simultaneously at RKO studio, by the same filmmaking team of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. Kong stars Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong even gave a two for one by playing in both. 26 year-old McCrea gives a performance of smooth self assurance in this, one of his early beefcake roles. Master musician Max Steiner adds the perfect musical complement to all the mayhem. But Leslie Banks steals each scene in which he appears. Stroking the scar on his head, and staring off in the distance, one can only imagine the twisted atrocities running through his deranged mind as Zaroff. And what does the striking Miss Wray do? Why, cast look after look of sheer terror and scream, of course.

The Most Dangerous Game is part adventure film, part horror (Portions of the "trophy room" scene were cut when preview audiences started leaving the theater in horror/disgust). The principles make an engaging group, and the overall flick is like And Then There Were None without the mystery. If King Kong is the more ambitious and better known of these pieces of Siamese celluloid, Dangerous Game at least needs to be acknowledged in its own right as a classic example of early adventure, Hollywood style.

Want to know more?Here are some recommendations regarding the article above:

The Most Dangerous Game(1932) DVD

The RKO Features: A Complete Filmography of the Feature Films Released or Produced by RKO Radio by James L. Neibaur

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  1. Rupert,
    Now I need to view this flick and see it thru your well trained eyes.
    Thank you for a wonderful read.

  2. Rubert, another excellent commentary on a terrific film.

    I have seen it several times - and watched quite a few of the remakes, none of which ever come close to the original!

    Are you attending/hosting an Oscar party tonight?

  3. I have to see this movie now! I like it when the directors leave a scene out. I think our imaginations can create scenes far better than the camera can sometimes...

  4. The Most Dangerous Game is definitely one of the most important films that no-one has seen, especially for film music.

  5. Even after the other movie adaptations and the numerous TV show take off (even Gilligan's Island had a Most Dangerous Game episode), I still think this is the best adaptation of them all. Well made and exciting. It really should be counted among the classics.

  6. Nicely done, sir. A wonderful examination of a film that is derserving of attention.

  7. I have this one set to DVR today. I've never seen it, and am really interested now.



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