Film (1932; vt Hounds of Zaroff). RKO Radio Pictures. Directed by Merian C Cooper, Ernest B Schoedsack. Written by James Ashmore Creelman, based on "The Most Dangerous Game" (19 January 1924 Collier's Weekly) by Richard Connell. Cast includes Robert Armstrong, Leslie Banks, Noble Johnson, Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. 61 minutes. Black and white.
A luxury yacht is lured onto rocks and sinks; the only survivor, big game hunter Bob Rainsford (McCrea), swims to a nearby verdant Island, which is owned by Count Zaroff (Banks), who describes himself as a Cossack. Rainsford is treated to a luxurious meal with two survivors of an earlier wreck, the drunken Martin (Armstrong) and his sister Eve (Wray), but an ominous note is struck as Zaroff debates with Rainsford on the allure of hunting dangerous game. Rainsford and Eve's discovery of a chamber with severed human heads mounted on the wall, and the body of her brother, makes it clear that Zaroff intends them to be his next prey, for the most dangerous game is man. If they survive on the island between midnight and dawn, he tells them, they will be set free. Zaroff hunts them down with the aid of a pack of hounds. But they win through, thanks mostly to Rainsford's prowess; though she screams quite frequently, Eve is full of spunk. Zaroff reneges on his promise, but Rainsford mortally wounds him.
The inclusion of The Most Dangerous Game in this encyclopedia is due less to its premonitions of tales like Sarban's The Sound of his Horn (1952) than to the fact that it was filmed simultaneously and on the same lot as King Kong (1933), with the same screenwriter and directors, along with Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, as well as sharing several sets with the larger film. Special effects were in this case by Ray Harryhausen, though it is understood that most of these were excised when the original film was cut by about fifteen minutes before release, some of the severed heads being too graphic for audiences (this footage no longer exists). The remaining film itself, shot fluidly and seemingly in a state of inspired relaxation on the part of all participants, never wastes a moment. Leslie Banks, whose face was half paralysed in World War One, commands his Gothic role. The competent and companionable Fay Wray looks as though she rather wished her part did not require her to scream. The Most Dangerous Game was banned after the imposition of the Hays Code, perhaps because Wray looked too comfortable in the moderately revealing evening gown she wore through thick and thin. [JC]
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