Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

You can sure cram in a lot of story in an hour. This pre-code gem stars a young and handsome Joel McCrea as world famous hunter Bob Rainsford, who ends up shipwrecked on a foreboding island. He meets the island's owner, the polite and cultured Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who also happens to be a well regarded hunter. He also has guests who have been shipwrecked a week earlier: siblings Martin (Robert Armstrong) and Eve (Fay Wray) Trowbridge. But something sinister is afoot: turns out that Count Zaroff has grown tired of killing wild animals. Now he enjoys hunting The Most Dangerous Game of All: MAN!!!!

Filmed on the same jungle sets as King King (1933), with the same actors (Wray and Armstrong), producers ( Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, the former additionally co-directing), and composer (Max Steiner), The Most Dangerous Game is based on a short story, but is smart enough not to kill it with padding. The telling is straightforward, and gets to the gist relatively quickly, thanks to some well-placed severed heads. And when we reach the jungle, and McCrea and Wray (a wonderful name pairing), the pacing doesn't lag. There isn't even time given for a love scene, but that shouldn't be suprising; when there are killer dogs and kosaks on your tail, sweet nothings would be the farthest thing from anyone's mind.

McCrea and Wray are in fine form in their lightly ripped clothing, as is Armstrong in his brief role as an realistically annoying drunk, but Banks steals the show. He recites his lines with a touch of camp, but he remains a formidable villain who is equally exited with the prospect of killing McCrea and having Wray. It's to the movie's credit that, though it tells a gripping yarn, the stakes are never lowered. Banks's Zaroff is a figure of imminence experience and discipline when it comes to hunting, making the chase sequences chock full of suspense, particularly when the couple are pursued by Zaroff and his hounds through a foggy swamp.

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