Film Reviews

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) – Blu-ray Review

The Ancient Greeks were some very smart cookies, when you think about it. Just look at all the different things which they either invented, or made a significant contribution towards, which we perhaps take for granted today. Mathematics. Law. Cartography. Philosophy. Democracy. Chemistry. Theatrical drama.

In the case of the latter, this proved the genesis for what has latterly come to be known as the Seven Basis Plots (although the precise number has come to be hotly debated over time). Perhaps one which should be added to all these is that of the ‘hunted human’, something which has become popularised thanks to a short story penned by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game, turning the idea of people being hunted for sport into something of a dramatic mainstay, one which has been revisited countless times.

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First published in 1924, Connell’s work tells of a big-game hunter – Sanger Rainsford – who becomes a castaway on a remote island, which is the domain of a Russian aristocrat. This man – General Zaroff – is a hunter himself, but he has become jaded with the sport, feeling it lacks challenge and excitement. In order to try and up the stakes, he now hunts humans instead, giving them the opportunity for freedom if they can evade him for three days. So far, nobody has bested him, and Rainsford ends up as his latest quarry.

Connell’s short piece has been adapted for radio, television and the cinema, sometimes by following the source closely, whereas in others the basic idea has been stolen wholesale, with enough differences to avoid any potential wranglings legally, although the DNA of Connell’s work is plain to see. It has become a ubiquitous idea, straddling genres and media, and even now – almost a century on from its publication – people are still making versions of it, including 2020’s series Most Dangerous Game, which starred Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz.

Credit: Masheter Movie Archive / Alamy Stock Photo.

Even as recently as a couple of months ago, a film adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game was released, the very latest one in a long line of big screen takes on the tale. However, it was the original – made by RKO Radio Pictures, and brought out in 1932 – which would start the ball rolling on bringing it to wider audiences as a suspense-packed thrill ride. Exactly 90 years on, this progenitor is now getting a release as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters Of Cinema range of Blu-rays, which are specially curated and restored from the best film elements.

In this first version, Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) survives a shipwreck and ends up on the island of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Welcomed into Zaroff’s hospitality, Rainsford meets the survivors of other maritime calamities, who include Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother. Becoming suspicious of his host, Rainsford discovers the truth about Zaroff’s true motivation, and he has to try and save both himself and Eve from Zaroff’s next hunt, as they become his unwilling prey in the most dangerous game of all.

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As well as it being the earliest adaptation of the short story, 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game is also noteworthy for it sharing the jungle sets built for RKO’s King Kong, as well as some of the crew and the cast, including Wray. This ‘double duty’ practice was not unique to The Most Dangerous Game and RKO, as the previous year’s Dracula from Universal saw a Spanish-language script being shot on the same sets used for Tod Browning’s classic starring Bela Lugosi. By being in such esteemed company, it certainly helps make The Most Dangerous Game interesting from an historical perspective.

The movie itself is a lean 63 minutes, which means it moves at a fair old clip, giving enough time to establish the premise and characters, while still leaving sufficient room for a taut, tense chase though the jungle. Some modern features could learn something from the economy of storytelling here, with everything stripped down to basics, while still managing to deliver a satisfying adventure without feeling rushed or thin. There are moments of pure ham, chiefly coming from Banks as Zaroff, whose accent is more Glasgow than Moscow, but it just adds to the overall enjoyment of the end product.

Credit: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo.

As with the rest of Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema range, plenty of loving care and attention has been given to the movie, as well as the bonus material. As per Eureka’s recent Maniacal Mayhem set, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones are on audio commentary duty, and with the main feature itself being so relatively concise, the engaging and insightful chat between the duo makes you wish it could go on for longer, as it would be easy to listen to them for at least twice as long and not get bored by what they had to say.

Luckily, Newman also contributes an interview in which he talks about the sub-genre which has been inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, examples of which have straddled action, horror, suspense, dystopian thriller, even comedy. Stephen Thrower, a musician and author who has written about cinema history, is also interviewed here, talking in some depth about the film itself. Both of these interviews could, like the commentary track, have had a much longer duration, as they jointly provide a great deal of insight, and help highlight The Most Dangerous Game’s significance.

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This Blu-ray also includes extracts taken from an archival audio interview with the film’s producer, Merian C. Cooper, and three different radio adaptations of the original short story, all of which clock in at around half-an-hour, and do offer a fascinating contrast with the film’s interpretation of the source material. While not available for review, there is a collector’s booklet included with the disc, with a new essay on the movie, which will no doubt add even greater value to this already outstanding release.

With there having been so many bastardised versions of The Most Dangerous Game over the decades, featuring unlikely luminaries such as John Leguizamo and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema offering gives us what may well be the most definitive cinematic interpretation, so you do need to set this Blu-ray in your sights and hunt down a copy to add to your collection.

The Most Dangerous Game is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.


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