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Most Dangerous Game, The
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by Jay Seaver

"The one that everyone else rips off."
5 stars

The adaptation of Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" to the screen in 1932 is so eminently logical in method that it may not even be possible today. Modern Hollywood would see the film's strengths as problems and try to fix them rather than let them be.

Start from the fact that the source material is, in fact, a short story - a sadly marginalized form these days, and one that is in many ways more suited to filming than the novel. Then note the film's running length - a 63-minute movie would be almost inconceivable today, but the story does not demand more, and could probably be told with less. It is a simple, economical premise that is executed without excess adornment that would distract from the story's basic core.

That story is likely familiar to the audience, either in its original form ("The Most Dangerous Game" is one of the most anthologized stories ever written), through the various adaptations in other media which acknowledge their source, and the even greater number which clearly draw inspiration from it: Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), one of the world's top big-game hunters, is shipwrecked on an island owned by exiled Russian Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), a great hunter himself. In fact, Zaroff has become so bored with hunting wild animals that pose him no challenge, he has taken up a new hobby: Hunting men. None have yet been able to escape.

Somewhere out there, right now, someone is writing a new adaptation of the story or a variant of it, and I can almost guarantee that it's structurally much different. Rather than showing just the one hunt, it's probably got two or three, spaced relatively evenly throughout the film's running time so that the action isn't all backloaded into the final act. There's probably some obvious comment on the irony of a master hunter like Rainsford now being the hunted, along with some sort of smug implication that he deserves it (or he's been made something more palatable, like a homeless veteran). This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in all cases; there is room to flesh the story out, add a little subtext to a story that is very straightforward. The main addition to this version is a brother and sister stranded by a previous shipwreck, Martin and Eve Trowbridge, who add a little comic relief and "love interest", respectively.

Martin and Eve are played by Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, who played Carl Denham and Ann Darrow in King Kong. The two films also share a director (Ernest B. Schoedsack), screenwriter (James Creelman), and producers (Merian Cooper and David O. Selznick), along with both being scored by Max Steiner. Indeed, they were filmed simultaneously on the same jungle sets; Kong fans should quickly recognize a certain downed tree that crosses a canyon, along with a few other bits of scenery. Kong likely took longer to finish due to its extensive special effects, but their shared pedigree is indicative of how good The Most Dangerous Game is when if finally gets going. It's a fairly straightforward bit of pulp fiction, but doesn't miss many beats in the execution.

Part of that is due to it's non-Kong cast. Joel McCrea would later go on to become a popular star of Westerns, and here makes a good action hero, adept at the running, jumping, and looking tough that the part requires. Leslie Banks is even better as Count Zaroff, helping to define a certain type of alpha villain: He's got the goatee, the scar, and most importantly, the air of superiority. It takes him very little time to establish Zaroff as aristocratic and charming but also completely insane; he'll hunt a man down with a pack of dogs simply for being annoying but believes he is engaging in fair play. He's one of the great movie villains, refining the mustache-twirling menace of the silents to a colder, more dangerous threat.

"The Most Dangerous Game" would be required viewing for the film lover even if it weren't a lot of fun; the connections to "King Kong" make it so. But it is fun, a straight-ahead adaptation of a classic story with a great villain.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16147&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/15/07 14:46:16
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  09-Sep-1932 (PG)
  DVD: 03-Apr-2001

  N/A (12)

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