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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