Film Review: The Most Dangerous Game (dir by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack


On a jungle island Count Zaroff awaits.

Zaroff is a Russian nobleman and a hunting enthusiast.  However, he’s grown bored with hunting the usual big game trophies.  Those don’t provide enough of a challenge for him.  Instead, he prefers to hunt humans because humans are the most dangerous game.  Humans can think.  Humans are clever.  Humans are deadly.  When big game hunter Bob Rainsford washes up on the island after a shipwreck, he is discovered by Zaroff’s men.  Rainsford discovers that Zaroff is a fan of his work.  Rainsford also learns that Zaroff is planning to hunt him next.

It’s a tale that we’ve all heard, in one form or another.  Ever since Richard Connell’s original short story was published in 1924, The Most Dangerous Game has inspired a countless number of adaptations.  Some of those have been direct adaptations while others have merely been inspired by Connell’s plot but, in the end, they all have the same thing in common.  No animal is more dangerous than man.

As far as my research has revealed, the very first cinematic adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game came out in 1932.  It was produced by Ernest Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, the same team that would later be responsible for the original King Kong.  Joel McCrea played Rainsford while Zaroff is played by Leslie Banks.  In order to provide some romance and perhaps to pad out the film to over an hour, a few extra shipwreck survivors are added.  There’s two sailors who don’t last long.  There’s also Eve Trowbridge and her brother, Martin.  Eve and Martin are played by Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, both of whom would star in King Kong.  Zaroff’s imposing servant, Ivan, is played by Noble Johnson who also appeared in King Kong.  Are you picking up on a theme here?’

Other than the addition of the extra characters, this film version is pretty faithful to its source material.  Again, we have Zaroff “rescuing” Rainsford and then having a long philosophical discussion with him before announcing that it is Rainsford who will be hunted.  Unsurprisingly, the film’s Rainsford is a bit more heroic than the one who appears in the short story.  The literary Rainsford looks forward to defeating Zaroff at his own game while the film’s Rainsford is more concerned with getting off the island and protecting Eve.

All in all, it’s an entertaining film.  Of course, by today’s standards, it’s a bit creaky.  I mean, the film is 88 year old.  Still, Joel McCrea remains a convincing and compelling hero while Leslie Banks is enjoyably hammy in the role of Zaroff.  Zaroff is a role that calls for an actor who is willing to give into his most theatrical impulses and Banks doesn’t let the film down.  The jungle scenery is properly shadowy and even the miniatures used during the shipwreck sequence have a charm all their own.

Unfortunately, The Most Dangerous Game is one of those films that has slipped into the public domain.  As a result, there’s a lot of less-than perfect versions floating around.  (The version that I recently watched on YouTube was so grainy that it was nearly unwatchable.)  Fortunately, this film is a part of the Criterion Collection.  That’s the one to add to your collection.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Fay Wray!


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Today is the birthday of 1930s Scream Queen Fay Wray (1907-2004), and since it’s so close to Halloween season (can’t wait!!), here are 4 Shots From The Horror Films of the fabulous Fay Wray!!

The Most Dangerous Game (1932; D: Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Shoedsack)

The Vampire Bat (1933; D: Frank R. Strayer)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933; D: Michael Curtiz)

King Kong (1933; D: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Shoedsack)

Halloween Havoc! Extra: THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic 1933) Complete Horror Movie!


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1933’s THE VAMPIRE BAT isn’t a Universal Horror movie, but it sure comes damn close! This independent feature from Majestic Pictures contains a number of Universal Horror stars, including Lionel Atwill , Melvyn Douglas (THE OLD DARK HOUSE ), Lionel Belmore (FRANKENSTEIN ), and a positively Renfield-like performance from the great Dwight Frye – not to mention KING KONG’s main squeeze Fay Wray as our heroine! Majestic also rented some of the standing sets from FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE to film on, giving the film a real Universal feel.

The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe (who wrote Lon Chaney’s 1923 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and the later horror entry HOUSE OF DRACULA) concerns the village of Kleinschloss up in arms over a series of gruesome murders that point to the presence of a vampire in their midst, with Frye’s simple-minded Herman the chief suspect. Turns out the killings…

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Halloween Havoc!: BLACK MOON (Columbia 1934)


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I thought I’d seen, or at least heard of, all the horror films made during the 1930’s. I was wrong. BLACK MOON was new to me when I viewed it recently as part of TCM’S Summer Under the Stars salute to KING KONG’s  main squeeze, Fay Wray. It’s a voodoo tale also starring square-jawed Jack Holt and Pre-Code favorite Dorothy Burgess . The director is Roy William Neill, who would later work with genre giants Karloff (THE BLACK ROOM), Lugosi and Chaney (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN), and helm eleven of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.

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The film open with the pounding of jungle drums, and we see Nita Lane (Burgess) is the one pounding them in her luxurious home. Nita grew up on the Caribbean isle of San Christopher, where her parents were murdered during a native uprising. Hubby Stephen (Holt) is against Nita returning to the…

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Netflix Noir #3: Crime of Passion (dir by Gerd Oswald)


CrimepassionPosterThe third Netflix Noir that I watched was 1957’s Crime of Passion.

In Crime of Passion, Barbara Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a San Francisco-based advice columnist.  She is approached by two homicide detectives who request her help tracking down a fugitive who they think might read her column.  Charlie (Royal Dano) is aggressive and outspoken.  When he first meets Kathy, he tells her, “You’re work should be raising a family and having dinner ready when your husband comes home from work.”  His far more passive partner is Detective Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden).

Kathy writes a column that convinces the fugitive to turn herself in.  (The power of Kathy’s column is shown in an amusing montage where woman after woman is seen reading the column aloud.  Significantly, no men are seen to ever read anything that Kathy has written.)  The resulting fame leads to Kathy getting a job offer in New York.

However, before Kathy can leave, she gets a phone call from Bill.  He asks her out on a date and, one scene later, they’re getting married in the shabby office of a justice of the peace.  Kathy sacrifices her career to be a suburban housewife.

From the minute that Kathy first looks at the small and anonymous house and the boring neighborhood that she’ll be sharing with Bill, it’s obvious that things are not going to work out well.  Even though Kathy even tells Bill, “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours darning them,” the life of domestic servitude is not for her.

Every day, she stays home while Bill goes to work.  At night, she reluctantly plays hostess to the constant gatherings of Bill’s colleagues and their wives.  The women stay in one room while the man gather in another.  Kathy is quickly bored with the inane chattering of the other wives but whenever she tries to go into the other room, she finds herself treated like an unwanted intruder.

And worst of all is the fact that Bill has absolutely no ambition of his own.  He’s got his house.  He’s got his wife.  He’s got his friends.  And he doesn’t feel that he needs anything else.

Kathy takes it into her own hands to advance Bill’s career, first by having an affair with Bill’s boss (Raymond Burr) and finally by trying to find a spectacular crime that Bill can solve.  And, as the suburbs continue to drive her mad, Kathy is not above creating a few crimes on her own…

In many ways, Crime of Passion reminds of another 50s film, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life.  Both films use the conventions of melodrama to present a surprisingly subversive look at the horrors of suburban conformity.  Unfortunately, Crime of Passion never quite reaches the heights of Bigger Than Life, largely because Sterling Hayden gives such a dull performance as Bill that you never believe that Kathy would have married him in the first place.  (The film would have been far more impressive if Bill had started out as an apparently dynamic character whose dullness was then revealed after Kathy married him.)  However, Barbara Stanwyck is well-cast as Kathy and Raymond Burr plays up his character’s ambiguous morality.  If nothing else, Crime of Passion is one of those film to show anyone who is convinced that nothing subversive was produced in the 1950s.