Cast & Crew
Ernest B. Schoedsack
While sailing through treacherous shark-infested channels, the yacht carrying Bob Rainsford, a noted big game hunter, strikes a coral reef and sinks. Bob swims to the shore of a tiny island, the only survivor of the wreck, and locates a mysterious fortress, which is owned by the Russian Count Zaroff. A gracious if intense host, Zaroff introduces Bob to Eve Trowbridge and her brother Martin, who are also recent shipwreck survivors. Zaroff, finding Bob a kindred spirit, reveals his obsessive passion for hunting and refers obtusely to his favorite island pastime, the pursuit of "the most dangerous game." As the evening progresses, Martin becomes more intoxicated, while his sister tries to warn Bob to be wary of Zaroff. Later that night, Zaroff invites Martin to his "trophy room," which boasts several mounted human heads, and informs him that his head will soon be joining the others on the wall. When Martin fails to return to his room, Eve solicits Bob's help, and they soon end up in the trophy room where they are caught by Zaroff. Once Martin's corpse is revealed, Zaroff tells Bob that he is to be the next unwilling player in the game. According to Zaroff's rules, the prize if Zaroff kills Bob will be Eve, but if Bob escapes death before 4 a.m., he will receive freedom and Eve. With Eve in tow, Bob runs into the swampy, fog-enshrouded forest, where he successfully eludes Zaroff's arrows. While Bob battles one of the count's killer hunting dogs, Zaroff shoots at him, and dog and man fall over a cliff into the ocean. Confident that he has won Eve, Zaroff returns to his fortress, only to discover later that Bob is still alive. After a fierce fight, Bob kills Zaroff and his men, and escapes the island with Eve.
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
James Ashmore Creelman
Archie F. Marshek
Ernest B. Schoedsack
David O. Selznick
The Most Dangerous Game
Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game
After one has stalked and hunted lions, tigers and bears, what can top that for danger and excitement? The answer lies in Richard Connell's tale, "The Hounds of Zaroff." Written in 1924, it is one of the most famous American short stories of all time and has been the inspiration for numerous films and movie remakes. The best known version, however, is the first, released in 1932 under the story's alternate title, The Most Dangerous Game. Produced by Merian C. Cooper and co-directed by his business partner Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, it was made at RKO simultaneously alongside Cooper's dream project, King Kong (1933), utilizing many of the same cast and crew and even some of the same sets.
The film opens as a yacht carrying big game hunter Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) and other passengers enters shark-infested waters in a remote part of the Caribbean. Without warning, the yacht hits a coral reef and sinks with only Rainsford surviving the sharks and the treacherous waters to make it to shore on a nearby island. He goes to get help at a castle near the shore and encounters Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) and his two houseguests Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong) and his sister Eve (Fay Wray). Zaroff, a Russian aristocrat who fled his country during the Soviet revolution, has used his fortune to create a private island fortress and hunting preserve far removed from civilization. When Zaroff learns that his newly arrived "guest" is the famous game hunter whose books he has read, he can barely contain his excitement and, in due time, Rainsford learns why. The shipwreck was no accident. Zaroff has been luring boats into his seemingly safe harbour only to sink them on the reef and capture the survivors. They are then forced to play a deadly game where they are given a head start and then hunted down and killed by Zaroff whose skill with the bow and arrow is matchless. The same fate awaits Martin, Eve and Robert and the odds for survival look slim.
In many ways, The Most Dangerous Game was a test run for Cooper and Schoedsack's King Kong and shared some of the same actors (Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Noble Johnson, Steve Clemente) as well as editor Archie E. Marshek, composer Max Steiner and screenwriter James Ashmore Creelman who altered Connell's story by adding the character of Eve who was not in the original. The film also contained insider references to some of the adventures Cooper and Schoedsack had experienced in their own lives such as the opening shipwreck (a reference to the sabotage that sent their boat Wisdom II aground) and the deadly animal traps Robert constructs (modeled on devices Schoedsack had used while hunting in Siam).
According to biographer Mark Cotta Vaz in Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, "Dangerous Game, which began production on May 16, 1932, would overlap with Production No. 601: Kong, which began filming under the working title of The Beast. Cooper was shrewdly getting a double bang for his buck by using the Zaroff jungle set for the Skull Island scenes he was simultaneously shooting for the Kong test reel. The Dangerous Game set, built on Stage 12 at the RKO-Pathe lot in Culver City, included a swamp, a trail and a cave, the Malay deadfall trap, and a ravine bridged by a fallen tree, all of which could be rearranged to expand the illusion of a wild, rambling landscape...Orvillee Goldner and George Turner write that with The Most Dangerous Game, Cooper and Schoedsack reached an apotheosis in setting a "thrilling pace" that recalled Chang  and was to become forever emblematic of the Cooper-Schoedsack style...Editor Archie Marshek recalled that during the filming, Schoedsack literally timed the actors to the second; a thirty-second scene in rehearsal might be speeded up to twenty for the final take. It would become the model for the cutting of King Kong."
The Most Dangerous Game was eagerly awaited by filmgoers who had seen the duo's previous collaboration, The Four Feathers (1929) with Richard Arlen and Fay Wray, one of the last silent films deemed a commercial success prior to the coming of sound. Cooper and Schoedsack had established a reputation for delivering fast, action packed entertainments and Dangerous Game, their first sound feature, was fluid and cinematic compared to most of the early stagebound and excessively verbose "talkies." It was also made before the Code was enforced so the film doesn't flinch from depicting Zaroff as a sexual deviant whose bloodlust is aroused by the hunt. Nor does it ignore the more sadistic aspects of the story including one grotesque scene showcasing Zaroff's trophy room complete with human heads mounted on the wall and floating in water filled tanks. According to IMDB, "The trophy room scenes were originally much longer: there were more heads in jars. But 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, with the bodies of two of the hunting dogs mounted in a death grip."
Leslie Banks, in his first major role, makes a particularly creepy Zaroff, constantly stroking the scar that runs across his forehead and symbolizes his split personality of sophisticated host and maniacal killer. In real life, Banks had been wounded in the First World War resulting in a partially paralyzed face on his right side and it makes him an even more disturbing presence when photographed at certain angles by cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard. As the hero, Joel McCrea registers the right mixture of naiveté, shocked disbelief and grim determination, eventually going against his own abhorrence of unnecessary violence and even resorting to dirty tricks to stay alive. Thanks to his previous feature, the exotic Bird of Paradise (1932), McCrea was now established as one of the more popular leading men of the early sound era and The Most Dangerous Game was another major success for him. Fay Wray, on the other hand, has a much less clearly defined role here but when it comes to the action sequences - running, falling, jumping and, of course, screaming - she has no equal and she always manages to look sexy even after staggering through jungle undergrowth and swamps.
For film reviewers who were not put off by the film's horrific storyline, The Most Dangerous Game garnered mostly enthusiastic notices. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote "Through the imaginative fashion in which it has been produced, together with its effective staging and a note-worthy performance by Leslie Banks, the fantastic theme of The Most Dangerous Game...makes a highly satisfactory melodrama. It has the much-desired virtue of originality, which, in no small measure, compensates for some of its gruesome ideas and its weird plot...Mr. Banks makes this strange Count really interesting. In fact his portrayal is so good that both Joel McCrea and Fay Wray...are quite over-shadowed." A more astute reading of the film appears in The Encyclopedia of Horror Films: "This is one of the most authentically sadean films ever made...It takes only a very short stretch of the imagination to see the fiendishly megalomaniac Zaroff as a prototype fuehrer who even lists the members of inferior races who have fallen to his strength, but it seems more likely that, as with White Zombie (1932), the film's reference point is American isolationist fears during the Depression, with Zaroff, like Lugosi's Murder Legendre, symbolizing decadent Europe."
Originally leopards were going to be used in the film by Banks to track down McCrea and Wray but when that concept didn't work out they used Great Danes borrowed from comedian Harold Lloyd.
Other film versions of The Most Dangerous Game include A Game of Death (1945), directed by Robert Wise, Richard Widmark vs. Trevor Howard in Run for the Sun (1956), the low-budget Bloodlust! (1961), The Woman Hunt (1973), which was shot in the Philippines, the Australian body count thriller Turkey Shoot (1982) and Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T and Rutger Hauer, among others.
Producer: Merian C. Cooper, David O. Selznick
Director: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenplay: Richard Connell, James Ashmore Creelman
Cinematography: Henry Gerrard
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Joel McCrea (Robert Rainsford), Fay Wray (Eve Trowbridge), Leslie Banks (Count Zaroff), Robert Armstrong (Martin Trowbridge), Noble Johnson (Ivan), Steve Clemente (Tartar).
by Jeff Stafford
Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper by Mark Cotta Vaz
Cult Movies by Karl French & Philip French
The Most Dangerous Game
The Most Dangerous Game/Gow the Headhunter - The Most Dangerous Game (1932) & Gow the Headhunter - First Time on Blu-Ray
Joel McCrea stars as Bob Rainsford, a celebrated big game hunter on a voyage through the south seas who is shipwrecked on an isolated jungle island by the reclusive Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), the very model of the decadent aristocrat turned mad megalomaniac. Living in a castle built in the middle of the wilds (a lovely but clearly painted money-saving matte), he entertains himself by luring passing ships to their doom on the rocky straights and then playing the smirking host to the survivors.
Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, stars of King Kong (which was being shot concurrently), play Eve and Martin Trowbridge, siblings and fellow "guests" of Zaroff. He is all generosity as he drops hints to their fate and Bob is a little slow on the uptake, what with Zaroff's leading comments about his boredom with hunting mere animals and his quest for a true hunting challenge, and Eve's desperate warnings of "danger." Her instincts are right on. It's not just bloodlust that drives Zaroff; he's saving Eve for the post hunt festivities. "Kill!... Then love," he explains to Bob (letting the imagination of the audience fill in the rest), and then invites him to be his partner in the hunt. Bob's disgust ends the discussion and the American is sent out as his next challenge.
The origins of The Most Dangerous Game are intertwined Kong Kong. Directors/producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack had built magnificent jungle sets for their film, which lay idle in down time during script rewrites and special effects shooting, so they decided to make another picture with the resources at hand. Not just the sets and props, mind you, but members of the cast and crew, including editor Archie Marshek, optical effects artists Vernon Walker and Linwood Dunn, sound effects man Murray Spivak, and composer Max Steiner. After grabbing up Richard Connell's short story, they cast Joel McCrea (fresh off co-producer David O. Selznick's production of Bird of Paradise) as their strapping, athletic leading man. McCrea is at once a can-do action hero, a boy scout of a handsome leading man, and a red-blooded American with a healthy sex drive but without a hint of the lascivious, sex-hungry dimension of so many other pre-code leading men. Apparently McCrea's timing was off, as the screen sensibility of the time called for street smart urban heroes or high class sophisticates. On the strength of these two films, McCrea could have been the great all-American action hero of the early sound era.
The Most Dangerous Game has moments of stiff, static exposition, notably in the opening scenes of the ship's cabin (which tees up the central conflict with the loaded question "Would you trade places with the tiger?"), but almost immediately upends everything with the spectacle of the shipwreck (clearly a miniature, but an impressively executed one) and the gruesome details of death, including a shark (courtesy of Bird of Paradise) that leaves only a dark stain in the water to mark the passing of its victims. The grotesque and lurid details, even in suggestion, give the film a pre-code perversity beyond the premise, and the ominous atmosphere of the cocktail party in the vast castle drawing room give the film the mood of a gothic horror in a castle prison, where the pose of manners and civilized society masks the savage desires of the host.
There the first half of the film is beholden to gothic horror, second half is survival thriller in the primitive world of the jungle. Bob is no passive victim and despite the promises of being set free if he can elude capture, he fights back, which brings out the hypocrite in Zaroff, a man not used to playing fair. He is a superb villain, justifying his actions by calling out God (for making him a hunter) and playing with his victims like a cat with a mouse, and for all his claims of desiring a challenge, the last thing he wants is a fair fight. Leslie Banks, a stage actor in his film debut, plays the part with aristocratic excess and sadistic megalomania, a man unaware of his contradictions, or at least unwilling to acknowledge them.
The Most Dangerous Game is filled with terrific set pieces and exotic atmosphere, all created on densely detailed and completely artificial sets. Fans of King Kong won't fail to notice the most memorable locations as the hunt takes them through some magnificent locations: cliffs, rivers, a swamp, a waterfall, and winding trails through a jungle so dense it's claustrophobic. Superb lighting and cinematography adds to the oppressive atmosphere, and McCrea's physicality gives the action a dramatic dynamism. Schoedsack and Pichel don't offer the snap that Warner Bros. directors brought to their street smart early sound productions, or the carefully sculpted mood of the best of the Universal horror movies, but they deliver great spectacle and wonderfully lurid flourishes, and once the film moves into the action portion, it doesn't slow down. It's all packed into a tight 63 minutes, making it a B-movie with A production values, the most lavish and best looking B-movie ever made.
Flicker Alley's disc isn't so much a double-feature as a lavishly supplemented Blu-ray debut, and the primary supplement is the early south seas documentary / travelogue / exploitation spectacle Gow The Headhunter (1931), a film released in a number of incarnations. The film's connection to The Most Dangerous Game is more than south seas exoticism; filmmaking partners Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack were cameramen on the two-year expedition mounted by Edward A. Salisbury in 1920, when the original footage was shot.
There's little art or ethnographic value to this feature version, which was initially constructed from a series of short silent presentations in 1928. The version on this disc is the 1956 re-release, with the name Cannibal Island on the credits but essentially the same footage and narration prepared for the 1933 sound version Gow, The Killer. Inserted shots of native nudity and suggestions of cannibalism around the edges are there to draw in audiences, while expedition member William Peck provides almost unbearably chauvinistic and exploitative commentary: the great white hunter passing judgment on the primitive tribes of his travels with paternal arrogance. I can't top the description provided in the accompanying booklet by historian Eric Schaefer: "One can almost picture him [Peck] sitting in front of the screen, fedora tipped back on his head, a bourbon in one hand and a microphone in the other..." Put that image in your head while listening to the narration and it will all come into perspective. Today, it's more of a curiosity than a classic, a pure exploitation version of a dubious documentary record and a poor cousin to Nanook, Moana, Grass, and their less respectable children.
Also features commentary on both films. Historian Dr. Richard Jewell (aka Rick Jewell, USC film professor and author of "RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan in Born") provides detailed historical background to The Most Dangerous Game, following the Rudy Behlmer model of focusing on backstory and historical notes over aesthetic observations and critical reading. He's not an exciting speaker and it comes off less a film talk than a stiffly-narrated essay, but it's packed with information and detail. On the other hand, exploitation film historian Eric Schaefer hasn't much to add to Gow, mostly reiterating and, where appropriate, amending and correcting the 1933 narration.
There's also an audio interview with Merian C. Cooper, conducted by Kevin Brownlow in the early 1970s, set to a slideshow of stills and art, and an accompanying booklet with notes on the two films.
For more information about The Most Dangerous Game/Gow the Headhunter, visit Flicker Alley. To order The Most Dangerous Game/Gow the Headhunter, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
The Most Dangerous Game/Gow the Headhunter - The Most Dangerous Game (1932) & Gow the Headhunter - First Time on Blu-Ray
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
She was born Vina Fay Wray, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was still a toddler so her father could find employment. When her parents divorced, her mother sent her to Hollywood when Fay's eldest sister died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The reasoning was that Southern California offered a healthier climate for the young, frail Wray.
She attended Hollywood High School, where she took some classes in drama. After she graduated, she applied to the Hal Roach studio and was given a six-month contract where she appeared in two-reel Westerns (25 minutes in length), and played opposite Stan Laurel in his pre-Oliver Hardy days.
She landed her first big role, as Mitzi Schrammell, in Erich von Stroheim's beautifully mounted silent The Wedding March (1928). It made Wray a star. She then starred in some excellent films: The Four Feathers (1929), the early Gary Cooper Western The Texan (1930), and one of Ronald Coleman's first starring roles The Unholy Garden (1931), all of which were big hits of the day.
For whatever reason, Wray soon found herself in a string of thrillers that made her one of the great screamers in Hollywood history. The titles say it all: Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat (both 1933) and, of course her most famous role, that of Ann Darrow, who tempts cinema's most famous ape in the unforgettable King Kong (also 1933).
Wray did prove herself quite capable in genre outside of the horror game, the best of which were Shanghai Madness with Spencer Tracy; The Bowery (both 1933), a tough pre-Hays Code drama opposite George Raft; and the brutal Viva Villa (1934), with Wallace Beery about the famed Mexican bandit. Yet curiously, the quality of her scripts began to tank, and she eventually found herself acting in such mediocre fare as Come Out of the Pantry (1935), and They Met in a Taxi (1936).
With her roles becoming increasingly routine, the last of which was the forgettable comedy Not a Ladies Man (1942), she decided to trade acting for domesticity and married Robert Riskin, who won two Best Screenplay Oscars® for the Frank Capra comedies It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). When Riskin died in 1955, Wray found herself working to keep busy and support her three children. She landed supporting parts for films like The Cobweb (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She also found work in television on such popular programs as Perry Mason and Wagon Train before she retired from acting all together in the mid-'60s.
To her credit, Wray did remain reasonably active after her retirement. She published her autobiography, On The Other Hand in 1989 and was attending many film festivals that honored her contribution to film, most notably in January 2003, when, at 95 years of age, she accepted in person her "Legend in Film" Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Wray is survived by a son, Robert Riskin Jr.; two daughters, Susan and Victoria; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
Jungle sets were also used for simultaneous filming of jungle scenes in King Kong (1933).
Some of the screams of the sailors as the ship sinks are the same as the screams of the sailors in King Kong when Kong shakes them off the log.
The original story by Richard Connell is one of the most anthologized short stories of all time.
This film was described in news items as the first in a series of adventure and mystery films to be made by producer-directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper at RKO. Contemporary sources conflict concerning the producer credit. Some sources list Schoedsack and Cooper as co-producers, while others list Schoedsack and Irving Pichel. On the film, however, Cooper is listed as associate producer, and Pichel is only credited with co-direction. According to studio production files, some sets used in The Most Dangerous Game were shared with the King Kong production. Schoedsack, who co-directed King Kong with Merian Cooper, directed Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong in this production during the day, and then at night, he and Cooper directed them in King Kong. The budget for The Most Dangerous Game was $218,869, according to studio records.
Motion Picture Herald lists the film's preview running time as 78 minutes, suggesting that the picture was cut substantially before its general release. According to modern sources, the production ran from 16 May to June 17, 1932. Film Daily news items, however, suggest that the production began in mid-June 1932. A July 1932 Film Daily news item adds Cornelius Keefe, Creighton Chaney, Walter McGrail, Arnold Gray, Alfred Codman, Ray Milland and James Flavin to the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources give the following additional credits: Makeup Wally Westmore; Photography Effects Lloyd Knechtel and Vernon L. Walker; Optical Effects Linwood G. Dunn; Cam oper Robert de Grasse; Art tech Mario Larrinaga and Byron L. Crabbe; Special Effects Harry Redmond, Jr.; Miniatures Don Jahraus and Orville Goldner; Spec props Marcel Delgado and John Cerisoli; Costumes Walter Plunkett; Piano solos Norma Boleslawski; Sd eff Murray Spivack; Set Decoration Thomas Little. Cast members from modern sources include Landers Stevens as "Doc" and James Flavin as "First mate." Many of the these contributors also participated in the making of King Kong. Richard Edward Connell's short story, which won the O. Henry prize, has been filmed several times, including a 1946 RKO version, Game of Death, directed by Robert Wise, starring John Loder and Audrey Long and featuring Noble Johnson, and a 1956 United Artists film, Run for the Sun, directed by Roy Boulting and starring Richard Widmark and Jane Greer.