“My dear Rainsford, I congratulate you."
Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is a big game hunter and author. He is traveling with some companions on a yacht off the coast of South America. The captain is concerned about the channel lights through which the yacht is to pass. He believes they don’t match the charts. He discusses his concerns with the owner of the yacht. The owner insists they go ahead anyway. The yacht hits a reef and sinks. The only survivor is Rainsford. He manages to swim ashore to a small island.
Rainsford explores the island and finds what appear to be the ruins of a fortress. The owner is a man called Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Zaroff is also a hunter and is aware of Rainsford’s expertise as a big game hunter having read all his books. He welcomes Rainsford to his home. Zaroff introduces him to his other guests, Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother Martin (Robert Armstrong). They are also there due to a ship that sank. It appears that at one point there were two other sailors that had survived with them but the Trowbridge’s haven’t seen them for a couple days. Eve is very suspicious of Zaroff. Zaroff is eager to discuss hunting with Rainsford. He claims that he has found a new and dangerous game to hunt but he will not say what. He says that some time he will show him his trophy room.
That night Eve’s brother Martin disappears. She gores to Rainsford’s room to ask him to help her find out where he is. They explore the fortress and come across Zaroff’s trophy room. It is full of the heads of humans. Zaroff and two of his minions appear carrying the body of Martin Trowbridge. Eve is furious. She accuses Zaroff of killing her brother and attacks him. Zaroff has her taken away and has Rainsford chained up. He offers Rainsford the opportunity to join him as a hunter of humans. Rainsford refuses saying he is a hunter not an assassin. Zaroff is angry at Rainsford for refusing. He then tells Rainsford that if he will not join him in the hunt, then he will be the hunted.
“The Most Dangerous Game” was released in 1932 and was directed by Irving Pinchel and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film is based on a 1924 story written by Richard Connell and was produced by RKO. The sets used were the same ones used for “King Kong” (1933). It was filmed the same time as “King Kong” was being filmed. Fay Wray was also in both movies and they were both produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It was kinda like watching “King Kong” 2.0.
It is a pre-code film. Fay Wray’s outfit was more daring than it would have been after the code was firmly in place. The movie is 62 minutes long. There was a preview version that was 78 minutes long. The trophy room scenes were much longer in the preview version. There were more heads in jars. There was also an emaciated sailor, stuffed and mounted next to a tree where he was impaled by Zaroff's arrow, and another full-body figure stuffed. There were also the bodies of two of the hunting dogs mounted in a death grip. The preview audiences cringed at the head in the bottle and the mounted head scene, but when they saw the mounted figures and heard Zaroff's dialog describing in detail how each man had died, they began heading for the exit. Needless to say, these shots disappeared.
Even after the self imposed code changes within a few years the film was considered indecent and too revealing. It was barred from re-release and was not shown publicly for several decades.
The plot has been redone so many times in so many different ways in both movie and TV form. It’s one of the oldest plots around. This version is the first and to me the best. It made the ‘survival movie’ a sub-genre. It was full of action, excitement and had a sexual undercurrent that was almost visual. You understood that Zaroff was a violent man in everything he did. There were a lot of subtleties in the film that you instinctively knew without having to be show. All around a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable movie.