Directed by: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Cast: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks
It’s been a few decades since I read The Most Dangerous Game, but I do recall enjoying it quite a bit. On film, in 1932, it’s both enjoyable and flawed. But the flaws, for the most part, boil down to time and the limitations that came with it 85 years ago. The enjoyable elements of the film aren’t likely to diminish, and nearly a century of existence has done a fair job of proving that. So, let’s get into the film a bit more.
We open up as some somewhat arrogant hunters find themselves in a fatal pickle when their boat crashes into some random reef in the shallows of the ocean. Only one of the group survives: a man who actually knows a thing or two about hunting, Bob Rainsford. After getting to shore he finds himself exploring a small island and quickly spots an out of place castle. Within the walls wait a small but interesting group that includes the sinister Count Zaroff and the damsel in distress, Eve Trowbridge. Zaroff, as it turns out likes to hunt man, and Eve just wants to make it out of the castle in one piece. But can one man overcome stupefying odds?
For a film with a premise that begs for a wealth of action, filmmakers Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack deliver a little light. The action really doesn’t get in motion until the final 15 minutes of the flick’s 63-minute runtime. Now, given the brief length of the film as a whole, the pacing isn’t a deal-breaker, but it would’ve benefited from a minor trim of the intro and an additional 10-minutes of action to cap the film off.
The biggest surprise of the film may actually be the special effects. There are a few sequences that are particularly “big” for 1932, and it’s impossible to not admire that. It’s typically impressive work from a talented SFX crew (who also give us a pretty cool mounted head). On the flipside, the visuals often feel a bit jarring as a result of some very ugly cuts. That’s not the kind of work to be overly proud of, even if the movie holds something of a legendary status.
I can’t call The Most Dangerous Game an excellent film (I’m not going to speak on the faithfulness of the adaptation, as it’s simply been too long since I read the story), but I can say that it has a lot of fine moments, and the finale makes for good fun. Gorgeous trailblazer, Fay Wray is as great as she ever was, and Leslie Banks nails Zaroff. Again, there are some hiccups in the flick, but I don’t regret watching it for a single second, and I wouldn’t be shocked if I end up making a return trip somewhere down the line.