I think out of all my recent trips to the ‘Golden Age’ of horror cinema, those that were made during the “Pre-code” era, have been my favourites. All of these have had a certain level of sadism and indeed have shown a great deal of imagination in their plots. Indeed after watching Dr Cyclops (1940) and The Undying Monster (1942), I have gained a greater appreciation for The Black Cat (1934), which I originally called a flawed masterpiece. Now it’s not that these movies we’re bad (well The Undying Monster isn’t anyway) it’s simply that The Black Cat is an ingenious and wholly original tale, where as these feel like they we’re made for a set audience. The Undying Monster is a truly great movie but it’s a jolly family friendly movie that relies on gothic cliché’s. That’s what I’m trying to get at. The great thing about the Pre-Code movies is that they we’re made when horror cinema was still finding its feet, before there were restrictions and set sub-genres. Each one feels like a breath of fresh air, an experiment in creating shocks for the audience. The Most Dangerous Game is no exception.
Based on a short story, The Most Dangerous Game, follows Big Game Hunter, Bob Rainsford the sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of an Island in the South Pacific. Managing to swim to the aforementioned Island he discovers the home of Count Zaroff, a fellow hunter, and a brother and sister who survived a previous shipwreck. Zaroff explains that having become bored with hunting he retired to the Island to hunt what he describes as “the most dangerous game”. Little does Rainsford realise that he and his fellows might very well be the next thing Zaroff intends to hunt...
Shot mostly at night on sets used for King Kong (1933), The Most Dangerous game has the unique feel that only movies shot at night can provide. At times it feels like a nightmare, as Rainsford is almost punished for his sin of hunting animals and made to feel how they feel. Indeed one of the most haunting scenes in the entire movie is when Rainsford, hiding in a tree because Zaroff has released the hounds, looks down at the dogs snapping up at him and remarks “Those animals I hunted...now I know how they feel”. It’s a chilling moment and the jungle itself, although created for Kong, suits the style perfectly. The almost fantasy design in places, helps the film achieve a unique dream like quality. Knowing the plot of the film, I found the scene at the start of the movie when they question him how he would feel if he was hunted rather sadistically amusing. Indeed the whole thing is full of moments of dramatic Irony and foreshadowing that help the surreal dream feel even further. For example at the very start, on the ship, one of Rainsford's friends questions him on how he would feel if he were hunted, which appeared almost blackly comical.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of The Most Dangerous Game is Leslie Banks haunting performance as Count Zaroff. The scenes in the jungle where he is chasing after Rainsford and the young heroine Eve (sorry Fay Wray fans but she failed to impress me here), show a disturbing level of what appears to be ecstasy on his face. Especially after he believes to have killed Rainsford and he rubs his scar. The whole scar rubbing thing could have quite easily have become comedic but Banks doesn’t let this happen, he uses the scar as an instrument of causing fear in the audience. Banks seems to understand every aspect of his character and admittedly all the other actors’ efforts pale in comparison. His delivery of a simple word such as “Rainsford” manages to somehow appear frightening on every single delivery, sending a chill down this viewer’s spine. His monstrous manservant, Ivan, played by Noble Johnson is equally terrifying managing to simply smile and amuse but also disturb the viewer. I mentioned above that Fay Wray failed to impress me here; it’s not that she delivered a particularly bad performance but I struggle to say it was an extremely good one as well. Like her co-star Joe McCrea (Rainsford) she seemed to be rather bland and uninteresting.
I have to thank Neil for recommending this one to me, it’s defiantly one that anyone who is interested in checking out early 30’s and pre-code horror movies should watch. It was spoofed rather wonderfully in a Simpsons Tree house of Horror episode in which Mr Burns lets his employee’s loose on his estate so he can hunt them. It was also been adapted several other times, once as Game of Death in 1945 (in which Zaroff becomes Kreiger a Nazi) which like this film also features Noble Johnson. There’s also Run for the Sun (1956) the only other official adaption as well as Bloodlust (1961) and Hard Target (1993) which take their inspiration from the film and story. However, by all accounts, this is the best of the lot and one of the great classics from the ‘Golden Age’ of Horror Cinema.
Welcome one and all- Please leave sanity at the door
A Teenage boy with a passion for all things nerdy! Expect a lot of Doctor Who, Cult/Horror Movies, Literature and Novels, History, Comic Books and random thoughts. Posts published weekly on a Friday evening. DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the items reviewed on this site and i also do not own of the pictures (unless stated so). If you own one of the photos and wish for it to be removed contact me at this adress: Super.firstname.lastname@example.org. However all of the written work is my own and is protected under copyright law.