The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Genre: Adventure and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 3 min.

Release Date: September 16th, 1932 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack Actors: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Leslie Banks, Noble Johnson

 


 

W

hile navigating through a channel, a yacht’s captain notices that the light buoys designating the area between the island and the mainland aren’t in the positions specified on the sea charts. There’s something off about these waters (which are known to be full of coral reefs and sharks), and it spooks nearly everyone on board. Bill (Hale Hamilton), the owner of the ship, remains the most calm, insisting that they proceed on course. During the journey, the men in the lounge discuss the hunting they’ve done – and the hunting they’ll do – once they reach their destination. One passenger goes so far as to query whether or not there would be as much sport in the game if the humans had to exchange roles with the tigers that they stalked in their last Sumatran voyage – a moral conundrum that questions the purpose of hunting in the civilized world.

Just as nerves calm down, the yacht runs aground, taking on water fast and throwing sailors overboard. While many men succumb to the ocean’s natural predators, renowned big game hunter Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) manages to swim to shore, where he soon discovers a massive Portuguese fortress. The owner is Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), seemingly accompanied only by his mute servant Ivan the Cosack (Noble Johnson). But Robert eventually learns that there are other people temporarily living in the cavernous mansion – unfortunate souls whose seagoing vessels have similarly wrecked in the unforgiving channel. Two such characters are siblings Eve (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong), who are forced to wait while the Count’s sole ship is being repaired.

“I feel as if I was living on borrowed time.” Just as in the waters, there’s something amiss in the castle, hinted at by ominous paintings adorning the walls, a lengthy scar running across Zaroff’s face, Eve’s subtle actions to warn Robert, and the cryptic host’s claims that, “Here on my island, I hunt the most dangerous game.” The foreshadowing, particularly through dialogue, is continuous – and obvious for anyone aware of the film’s primary revelations. The film starts as a mystery (what lies beyond the big iron door?), before shifting into a horror film as decapitated heads are discovered, and then finally into a thriller as Robert struggles to survive against a raving maniac (in a match of “outdoor chess,” as Zaroff suggests).

The technical merits of “The Most Dangerous Game” aren’t spectacular or precise, but the premise is the stuff of seminal adventure tales. Its influence on subsequent pictures, transported into different time periods and environments, and with varying degrees of faithfulness to – or borrowed elements from – the source material of Richard Connell’s stories, is immeasurable (from specific treatments such as “A Game of Death,” “The Woman Hunt,” and “Surviving the Game,” to looser takes such as “Predator,” “The Running Man,” “Enemy of the State,” and even “The Hunger Games”). The limitations of the early ’30s weighs on the ferocity and scares seen in this adaptation, but the pacing is magnificently fast, the acting is sufficient, and the finale is action-packed. Plus, the inevitable showdown presents a tremendously fitting, practically poetic resolution.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10