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The Most Dangerous Game 1932 ****

Clocking it at a spry 62 minutes on Amazon Prime, The Most Dangerous Game is a rather splendid blast from the past, a vigorous thriller that belies its age and offers a solid mix of humour, thrills and even politics. Irving Pichel and Ernest B Schoedsack’s film is often mentioned in the light of King Kong and early horror, but it stands on its own as an example of good storytelling; the opening shot, or a beast holding a relining woman in its arms, is ingeniously revealed to be a ornate door-knocker, a delicious visual joke that sets the right tone.

Things start slow with a lengthy introduction to Bob (Joel McCrea) and adventurer who finds himself on-board a luxury yacht which seems to be unexpectedly off-course somewhere in the waters of South America. After a long series of getting-to-know-you expeditionary chats, a few short seconds see the boat smashed onto rocks and Bob gets washed up at the castle of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks).

As often in 1930’s film, we get straight into dinner-party and cocktails mode, but Bob notices something awry with the Count’s other guest, Eve (Fay Wray), who says the other members of her party have gone missing. Before Bob can sort things out, the Count announces that he’s planning a deadly game of hide and seek, with Bob and Eve as the prey. Fortunately, Bob is made of sterner stuff, and is a good match for the Count, his henchmen, his dogs and his manservant

Zaroff’s game of ‘outdoor chess’ is a novel one, and feeds into everything from Hostel to The Hunger Games. His philosophy is explored in detail, and his lack of humanity is evident from the outset. This is pre-Code Hollywood, and it’s quite shocking to see how tough Bob is, dispatching Zaroff’s dogs with casual ease. And it’s fun to see the leading players of King Kong (Wray, Robert Armstrong) and some very familiar sets used to evoke Zaroff’s island; while it doesn’t have the same majesty, The Most Dangerous Game is clearly cut from the same cloth.

The Most Dangerous Game is better known by reputation rather than exposure; this variable print on Prime strobes badly at times, and scenes by candlelight took like they were shot in a techno-nightclub. But it’s probably as good as the film can look outside of blu-ray; film historians and thrill-seekers would do well to get a shot of this dangerous, exciting game.

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  1. The most shocking aspect of it being a pre-Code movie, at least for me, was the trophy room with human heads mounted on the wall and one floating in a tank. Makes you wonder just how far Hollywood might have gone without the Code.

  2. This was one of my favorite short stories growing up (I have NO idea what the short story title is, who it is by or what collection it was in). I’ve also watched the 1990’s movie by a very similar name. THAT one however, was a rifftrax version and from what I could tell, the movie deserved everything they gave it.

    If this is on american prime, I’m definitely going to be watching. Thanks!

  3. It’s pretty brutal; having the hero snapping the necks of dogs really shook me up; pre-Code films are facinating…

  4. The Hounds of Zaroff by Richard Connell, first published 1924. This movie version really nails the island atavism!

  5. I don’t know how I have never seen this one before. Especially with a strong cast I’m going to have to check it out!

  6. Some old movies look awful now, but this on really works, give it a try!

  7. Well, it’s all an illusion, right? Agreed, even fictional cruelty to animals is not cool, but it’s certainly a talking point in Pre-Code movies like this!

  8. I’ve always found this one memorable for the times and of course it’s been rehashes on purpose or indirectly ever since. I do have a fondness for the Richard Widmark remake/version, made in 1956, Run For the Sun.

  9. Absolutely, great version of a classic story! While I’ve got you, was wondering if you’d seen The Osterman Weekend, reviewed a couple of weeks back. That was the one that made me think, I wonder what she’d think of that…interesting CIA conspiracy thriller.

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