The Most Dangerous Game

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #46: Irving Pichel, and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game.

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As soon as this film kicked in, I re­al­ized that it was an adap­ta­tion of Richard Connell’s short sto­ry that I’d read years ago, loved and lost. So, I was ex­cit­ed to see how it would play out. The adap­ta­tion is fair­ly faith­ful, with the seem­ing­ly al­ways nec­es­sary ad­di­tion of a love in­ter­est [Hurrah Fay Wray!] to make it a bit more mass-ap­peal­ing. The on­ly down­sid­es to this ad­di­tive are the su­per-an­noy­ing broth­er and the overuse of poor­ly done soft fo­cus any­time the cam­era got near Ms. Wray. Clocking in at 62 min­utes, the film is al­so a bit on the short side. After two British by British adap­ta­tions Lean on Dickens in Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, the brash­ness and lack of sub­tle­ty in this American pro­duc­tion is quite a change. In the first 8 min­utes there are at least half a dozen in­ti­ma­tions of doom and some im­me­di­ate cos­mic irony; a ship­wreck, ex­plo­sion and a cou­ple of shark at­tacks. It is al­most hi­lar­i­ous in its bla­tan­cy.

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But, this is a hor­ror movie, from Hollywood’s Golden Age so we’re sup­posed to be scared. The pro­tag­o­nist is a fa­mous big game hunter and au­thor so we know he’s ca­pa­ble of sur­viv­ing a ship­wreck on a small is­land in the South Pacific. Dude ends up at the fortress of a lu­natic Kossack and his crazy co­horts, dis­cov­ers a herd of Great Danes that look like they were re­cy­cled [in cos­tume] 27 years lat­er in The Killer Shrews and a drunk New Yorker that you want to be mur­dered about 2 min­utes af­ter his in­tro­duc­tion. It is ap­par­ent right from the get­go that all the non-ship­wrecked folks are blood­thirsty de­gen­er­ates, but Our Hero is so wood­en and bad act­ing that he doesn’t buy any­thing un­til he sees the shriv­eled heads in the tro­phy room. This dis­cov­ery, and the wel­come mur­der of Annoying Drunk American Guy, get dude boot­ed out with a hunt­ing knife and Fay Wray to take care of in the harsh jun­gle. Fay Wray’s pres­ence is a bonus, be­cause her dress gets skimpier and more falling-offier in every scene.

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Dude wins and Kossack guy dies, of course. Fay Wray and hunter dude boat off in­to the sun­set. What is star­tling and ahead of its time for the film, is due main­ly to the sto­ry. It is a fair­ly ef­fec­tive ar­gu­ment again­st big game hunt­ing and an­i­mal cru­el­ty. By plac­ing a hu­man in that same sit­u­a­tion, Our Hero re­al­izes that be­ing hunt­ed is not the same as be­ing the hunter. This ends up mak­ing his fi­nal fight with Count Kossack more in­ter­est­ing than usu­al be­cause he has a light in his eye like a wild an­i­mal might have. So while his act­ing was pret­ty ter­ri­ble through­out, he mit­i­gates that to some ex­tent at the end. If you can’t tell, I wasn’t too im­pressed with the film. The print Criterion got its hands on wasn’t that good, and the flaws in the film­mak­ing are con­sis­tent enough that it is ob­vi­ous that ei­ther Pichel or Schoedsack didn’t re­al­ly have a han­dle on movie-mak­ing. It would have been a great film with­out those hic­coughs [and 20 min­utes more plot to cud on].

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