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.