Sunday, March 10, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Most Dangerous Game (1932) at UCLA

Last night at UCLA MEET JOHN DOE (1941) was followed by THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). Both films were shown as part of UCLA's current series Fay Wray + Robert Riskin.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a horror/adventure film which stars Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. It's an RKO movie which was screened in 16mm.

The movie was written by James Ashmore Creelman based on the classic short story by Richard Connell. It's been remade multiple times, including as A GAME OF DEATH (1945) and RUN FOR THE SUN (1956).

I read the story in high school, and it made quite an impression. At some point during my high school years I set an alarm and got up to watch the movie in the middle of the night! (The fact it stars longtime favorite Joel McCrea didn't hurt.) In turn some of my kids read the story and watched the movie during their homeschool years.

It had been quite a while since my last viewing and I'd honestly forgotten just how creepy the movie is. I enjoyed it and was glad to have the chance to finally see it on a big screen, but by the end I was also feeling like maybe I've seen it enough times now, as it features some pretty disturbing moments.

McCrea plays Bob, a sportsman and hunter who is the lone survivor of a shipwreck off the shore of a small island. Bob finds a very spooky house on the island owned by Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Zaroff is also hosting Eve (Wray) and Martin (Robert Armstrong), a brother and sister who had very recently been shipwrecked just like Bob.

Eve quietly tips Bob off that concerning things have been happening since their arrival, including the disappearance of a couple of crew members who had also survived the shipwreck. Soon after, Martin also disappears, and Bob and Eve later find his body in the Count's "trophy room." I don't do horror well and didn't look at the screen in the trophy room scenes, as I've read that the original unedited very "pre-Code" version is worse than what was shown on commercial TV, and I wasn't sure exactly what I might see!

Bob and Eve soon learn the awful truth: The Count likes to hunt for his "guests" and kill them. He gives Bob and Eve a head start and tells them Bob must stay alive till dawn if he wants to "win" and stay alive. The winner also gets to claim Eve as the "prize." The movie is very pre-Code in its depictions of the Count's the horror scenes, it was honestly a little too pre-Code for me.

Fortunately the movie is a very fast-paced 63 minutes long or the suspense would be unbearable! The creepy unpleasantness is offset by the pleasure of watching the young McCrea and Wray, who are absolutely gorgeous as they run all over the island; McCrea's athleticism makes him very believable as he takes on all comers, and Wray's Eve gamely keeps up with Bob and helps where she can -- in between screaming, of course, at which Wray excelled. I very much enjoyed watching both actors.

Eve was not a character in the original story, but I think adding her character makes the film work much better than it would have if it were just Bob versus the Count. Her presence raises the stakes and also provides the opportunity to verbally explain plans and reactions; otherwise it would have turned into the equivalent of a silent movie at that point in the story. The 1945 and 1956 remakes similarly feature a man and woman on the run.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME was directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It was filmed by Henry W. Gerrard.

The jungle sequences were built on sets also used for KING KONG (1933). Some sources state that the Great Danes used in the chase sequences were borrowed from Harold Lloyd!

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. It was also released on VHS.

It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Like you, I read the story as a teen, and about the same time is when I first saw this movie, though I can't remember which I experienced first. Loved this movie from the moment I saw it on late-night TV with my twin brother, and have seen it many times since. A favorite of ours so much we can repeat some of the lines -- and occasionally do. Sometimes hiking in the woods we crack each other up with lines about Malay deadfalls and "this island's no bigger than a dear park." It's also fun to pick out the sets that were used as well in KING KONG. Wonderfully atmospheric, and I suppose what I enjoy most is the early 1930s sense of wonder and adventure in a world that was still quite uncharted. Like you as well, I'm not a big fan of horror, so that makes less an impression on me than the explorer/adventure aspect of it.

6:06 AM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

So glad you were able to see THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME on the big screen without the Tarn-X commercials! And how nice you were able to chat with Victoria Riskin about your favorite Fay Way films, including THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI. I remember we saw it together at the Billy Wilder and both marveled at Wray's delightful comic portrayal of the vacuous Angela! Thanks for the great report of your Wray/Riskin evening. Best, Jane

5:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jacqueline, loved reading your MOST DANGEROUS GAME memories! I wonder how many people first read that story as a teen!

Jane, it was great to see MOST DANGEROUS GAME on a big screen, wide awake and commercial free! :) Wasn't Fay great in AFFAIRS OF CELLINI? A fond memory discovering how funny she could be along with you. Really enjoyed the chance to talk to Victoria, and her book is marvelous!

Best wishes,

8:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older