Directed By: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks
Trivia: The jungle sets used in the making of this film were also being used simultaneously for the shooting of KING KONG
Released in 1932, The Most Dangerous Game had quite a bit in common with another RKO Studios film, King Kong, which was released a year later in 1933. Aside from the fact that both were produced and directed by the same men (Meriac C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) and shared co-stars (Fay Wray and Robert C. Armstrong), The Most Dangerous Game was also shot simultaneously with King Kong, on many of the same jungle sets. But this is where all similarities end, for where King Kong is, in essence, a monster movie starring a giant ape, The Most Dangerous Game deals with a creature of a much more sinister nature.
When the ship he's traveling in strikes a reef, big-game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrae), the only survivor of the disaster, must swim to the shore of a nearby, remote island. Making his way through the jungle terrain, he is surprised to find a large mansion, which belongs to a Russian Count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks), situated in the middle of nowhere. Like Rainsford, Zaroff is a hunter, one who's grown tired of pursuing big game, and has therefore set his sights on an entirely different prey: other human beings. Hoping to convince Rainsford to join him in the hunt, the Count is offended when his new guest refuses, and in a fit of anger decides to make Rainsford the object of his next expedition. Allowing him to take along a companion, a young woman named Eve (Fay Wray) who came to the island by way of an earlier shipwreck, Zaroff also hands Rainsford a hunting knife and gives him several hours head start, promising freedom if he and Eve can elude his pursuit until sun-up the next day.
Like King Kong, The Most Dangerous Game contains a handful of spectacular scenes, including the opening shipwreck (done with miniatures, but nonetheless very convincing) and a shark attack, which quickly polishes off the only other survivor of the wreck, leaving Rainsford to deal with the island by himself. Yet the film's most famous, and most notorious, scene involves Zaroff's Trophy Room, where he displays the souvenirs of his past excursions. Kept under lock and key, Eve convinces Rainsford to break into the Trophy Room when her brother, Martin (Robert Armstrong), goes missing. What they find shocks them beyond belief, and even proved too intense for many audience members in 1932. Along with a mummified head hanging on the wall, the two discover a large jar, filled with clear liquid, that contains yet another human head. The Trophy Room scene was originally much longer, and featured other cryptic finds such as a near-skeletal sailor impaled with an arrow, but when test audiences started walking out in shock, the filmmakers decided to drastically trim the sequence, reducing what had been a 75 minute film to a mere 63.
The Most Dangerous Game holds up extremely well, and, much like King Kong, even offers contemporary viewers a little something to think about. Where Kong explored the moral dilemma of invading the natural world and claiming a part of it as your own, The Most Dangerous Game asks us to look at the hunt from the other side of the gun. In the opening scene, just before the boat crashes and sinks, Rainsford is discussing the sport of hunting with a traveling companion (Landers Stevens), who asks how the great hunter would feel if the roles were reversed, and he were the hunted. Rainsford responds by saying, “This world's divided into two kinds of people; the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I'm the hunter. Nothing can change that”.
It's at this precise moment the ship strikes a reef, an event that, we must assume, also marked the beginning of the end of Rainsford's career as a big-game hunter.