Leslie Banks, Joel McCrea, and Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game (1932)


(director: Irving Pichel/Ernest B. Schoedsack; screenwriters: story by Richard Connell/James Ashmore Creelman; cinematographer: Henry W. Gerrard; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Max Steiner; cast: Joel McCrea (Bob Rainsford), Fay Wray (Eve Trowbridge), Leslie Banks (Count Zaroff), Robert Armstrong (Martin Trowbridge), Steve Clemente (Tartar Servant), Noble Johnson (Ivan), William B. Davidson (Captain); Runtime: 63; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Merian C. Cooper; RKO Pictures; 1932)
“Effective as a chilling horror story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack co-direct this most frightening version of Richard Connell’s much adapted short story, from a screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman. It was filmed on the same set as King Kong and made by many of the same personalities from that pic. Celebrated big game hunter and author Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is on a luxury cabin cruiser with some of his good friends. The passengers’ jocular mood changes when the captain informs them that the buoys marking the coral reefs have been shifted out of position. The captain decides to go ahead anyway despite the dangers, but this results in a shipwreck with only Rainsford surviving in the shark-infested waters.

Rainsford ends up rescued by a loony Russian exile from the Revolution, Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who is a world-weary big game hunter living in a Portuguese fortress on a remote tropical island. The Count has grown bored hunting animals and now hunts the “most dangerous game”– human beings. He lures ships across the coral reefs knowing they won’t be able to safely navigate the waters. Present on the island are brother and sister Martin and Eve Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray), who are guests of the Count after their ship was wrecked on the reefs. The two sailors who arrived with them are missing after entering the Count’s ‘trophy room,’ which is shockingly mounted with human heads the lunatic collects.

After the Count elegantly wines and dines his guests, he allows them a head start to escape in the jungle and then pursues them with his savage Cossack servants, dogs and high-powered rifle. The tipsy Martin soon disappears, leaving only Eve and Rainsford. The Count is delighted to have such a worthy opponent as the American sportsman–someone he considers as his kindred spirit. Rainsford, as the human prey, uses his animal instincts to outfox the hunter, as the finale is a hair-raising life and death jungle hunt.

The dated film was effective as a chilling horror story. But what made it special was Leslie Bank’s noteworthy performance of going from a cultured connoisseur to a madman sadist with a twisted sense of logic. Leslie purrs through it all with big-cat-like ferocity.