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The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack) 1932


        The 1932 adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game is most historically significant due to its affiliation with 1933’s special-effects-driven, monster movie classic King Kong. Made at the same time as that film, The Most Dangerous Game contained much of Kong’s production crew, including one of its co-directors, its stars (Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray), and even used many of the same sets. Despite these obvious cost-cutting measures, Game never feels like a second-rate production. It is a short film, at a little over an hour long, but it never looks cheap. The tale told in the film simply doesn’t require the elaborate effects used in Kong, though a shipwreck that occurs in the first reel is definitely technically impressive. The film itself is a rather faithful adaptation, and much of the story’s original dialogue is reused here. Thankfully, the running time reflects the minimal amount of padding that the producers felt necessary to tack on to the source material.

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           I haven’t read the short story since the 9th grade, but I am fairly certain that Fay Wray’s character is the biggest addition in the original’s transfer to screen. She seems somewhat superfluous in any case, though she allows Bob (Joel McCrea), a famed hunter who serves as the hero, to explain his thoughts to the audience. The hero be damned, though! The star of this picture is Leslie Banks (the lead in Hitchcock’s original The Man Who Knew Too Much). His maniacal yet refined portrayal of the evil Count Zaroff absolutely steals the show. Essentially secluded in his island fortress, his creepy air of superiority over his fellow humans is served up with a pompous relish that is priceless. He doesn’t really sell the drama so much as make it irrelevant. We don’t care what happens to Bob so much as we care about seeing how over the top Zaroff will get in his relentless pursuit of him. The film’s plot allows him to really go wild, and he’s the provider of a good deal of insubstantial fun. His Cossack guards are effectively repulsive and shifty-eyed. His speechifying is wonderfully overblown. The inevitable showdown between him and the hero is well staged and exciting. The Most Dangerous Game is basically a mindless action movie, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The film is somewhat austere, especially in its first half, but it is directed well enough that it manages to thrill when it wants to thrill.

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Jeremy Heilman