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Daily film recommendation: 'The Most Dangerous Game' (1932)

Leslie Banks as the obsessive hunter Count Zaroff
Leslie Banks as the obsessive hunter Count Zaroff

Airing on TCM September 1 at 4 PM EST; also streaming in full on YouTube.

“The world’s divided into two kinds of people: the hunter and the hunted. Luckily I’m the hunter. Nothing can change that.” So big game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) says at the beginning of “The Most Dangerous Game”. But when he is shipwrecked Bob finds himself on a small island in the company of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), another hunter who lives on the island with his servant Ivan (Noble Johnson, who was actually an African-American actor who appeared here in whiteface). Zaroff is hosting a pair of siblings who were also recently shipwrecked: Eve and Martin Trowbridge (Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong). Eve suspects Zaroff of some foul play, which becomes evident to Bob when Zaroff reveals that on this island, he has found the most dangerous game: hunting men. When Bob doesn’t share his enthusiasm for taking the sport to such an extreme, Zaroff makes Bob and Eve the hunted, promising that if they can survive on the island until sunrise, they will be allowed to leave the island.

This film was the first of many adaptations of Richard Connell’s short story, and it is the best. Despite taking some liberties with the story and adding some new characters, this film is the only adaptation to include both Zaroff and Bob. It was filmed at RKO at the same time as “King Kong”, and was also produced in part by Merian C. Cooper, and so both films utilized many of the same sets and effects. Even some of the main cast—Armstrong and Wray—starred in both movies.

Because “The Most Dangerous Game” was produced before the Hays Code was put into effect, it was able to get away with some more gruesome content that prevented it from being shown again until several decades after its initial release. Some scenes still had to be cut, however. An extended sequence in Zaroff’s trophy room featuring heads in jars and stuffed human figures reportedly drove preview audiences out of the theater.

“The Most Dangerous Game” is a movie that’s almost on par with “King Kong”. It’s a thrilling and even though-provoking adventure, and everything from Banks’ obsessive villain to Wray’s shrieking leading lady, the effects and McCrea’s heroic Bob, make it an exceptional representative of its genre.

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