October 27, 2015

The Most Dangerous Game

Richard Edward Connell, Jr. (October 17, 1893 – November 22, 1949) was an American author and journalist best remembered for his 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game." Connell was one of the most popular American short story writers of his time. His stories were often published in The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's magazines. He had equal success as a journalist and screenwriter. Connell was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story for the 1941 movie Meet John Doe.

"The Most Dangerous Game," also known as "The Hounds of Zaroff," was first published in Collier's magazine on January 19, 1924. Click here to read "The Most Dangerous Game."

My oldest brother introduced me to this story when I was a youngster. I was watching a Lost in Space rerun, specifically "Hunter's Moon," the fourth episode of the third season. My brother cruised into the room and handed me a collection of short stories by Richard Connell. He said, "Read 'The Most Dangerous Game' first. That episode is based on it."

I also remember an episode of Hart to Hart that used the story as its basis. "Hunted Harts" was the eleventh episode of the show's fourth season.

Connell's gem of a story, winner of the O. Henry Memorial Prize for Best Short Story, has been adapted numerous times, most notably for the 1932 RKO Pictures film The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks, and for two episodes of the CBS Radio series Suspense. On September 23, 1943, it aired on Suspense, and starred Orson Welles as Zaroff and Keenan Wynn as Rainsford. On February 1, 1945, it was presented with J. Carrol Naish as Zaroff and Joseph Cotten as Rainsford.

"The Most Dangerous Game" on Suspense: September 23, 1943 - Orson Welles, Keenan Wynn

"The Most Dangerous Game" on Suspense: February 1, 1945 - J. Carrol Naish, Joseph Cotten

Other film adaptations include a 1945 RKO version, A Game of Death, directed by Robert Wise, starring John Loder, Edgar Barrier, Audrey Long and featuring Noble Johnson, and a 1956 United Artists film, Run for the Sun, directed by Roy Boulting and starring Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard and Jane Greer.

My oldest brother died on a long ago Halloween. In his memory, I just reread "The Most Dangerous Game" and rewatched the 1932 RKO Pictures film of the same name. We watched the film together every Halloween.

I consider The Most Dangerous Game one of the best and most literate movies from the great days of horror. It stars Leslie Banks as a big-game hunter with a taste for the world's most exotic prey—his houseguests, played by Fay Wray and Joel McCrea. Before making history with 1933's King Kong, filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack wowed audiences with their chilling adaptation of Richard Connell's short story.

Bruce Kawin on The Most Dangerous Game: "It is a superbly paced, sexually charged, tightly constructed, no-holds-barred adventure film with moments of dark, Germanic horror that stick in the mind, a movie that moves."

According to studio production files, some sets used in The Most Dangerous Game were shared with King Kong. Ernest B. Schoedsack, who co-directed King Kong with Merian C. 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 Most Dangerous Game Info
  • Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
  • Writing Credits:  James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay) and Richard Connell (short story)
  • Produced by Merian C. Cooper (associate producer), Ernest B. Schoedsack (associate producer) and David O. Selznick (executive producer)
  • Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
  • Run Time: 63 minutes. The preview ran 78 minutes.
  • Release dates: U.S. September 16, 1932 and September 20, 1932 in New York City
  • Music by Max Steiner
  • Cinematography by Henry W. Gerrard (as Henry Gerrard) (photographed by)
  • Film Editing by Archie Marshek (as Archie E. Marshek)
  • Art Direction by Carroll Clark
  • Set Decoration by Thomas Little (uncredited)
  • Costume Design by Walter Plunkett (uncredited)
  • Makeup Department: Wally Westmore - makeup artist (uncredited)
  • Art Department: John Cerisoli - special props (uncredited), Byron L. Crabbe - art department technician (uncredited), Marcel Delgado - special props (uncredited), Mario Larrinaga - art department technician (uncredited), Steve Rez - paint boss (uncredited)
  • Sound Department:  Clem Portman - recordist, Murray Spivack - sound effects (uncredited)
  • Special Effects by Lloyd Knechtel - photographic effects (uncredited), Harry Redmond Jr. - special effects (uncredited), Vernon L. Walker - photographic effects (uncredited)
  • Visual Effects by Linwood G. Dunn - optical effects (uncredited), Orville Goldner - miniatures (uncredited). Donald Jahraus - miniatures (uncredited), Bud Thackery - process photography (uncredited)
  • Stunts:  Buster Crabbe - stunt double: Joel McCrea (uncredited)
  • Camera and Electrical Department: Willard Barth - assistant camera (uncredited), Robert De Grasse - camera operator (uncredited), Russell Metty - camera operator (uncredited), Gaston Longet - still photographer (uncredited)
  • Music Department:  Norma Drury Boleslavsky - musician: piano (uncredited), Emil Gerstenberger - orchestrator (uncredited), Bernhard Kaun - orchestrator (uncredited)

(in credits order)
  • Joel McCrea as Sanger "Bob" Rainsford (Sanger = blood from the Latin sanguis)
  • Fay Wray as Eve Trowbridge
  • Robert Armstrong as Martin Trowbridge
  • Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff
  • Noble Johnson as Ivan
  • Steve Clemente as Tartar (as Steve Clemento)
  • William B. Davidson as Captain (as William Davidson)
  • Oscar "Dutch" Hendrian as Tarter Servant (as Dutch Hendrian)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
  • Buster Crabbe as Sailor who falls off boat (uncredited)
  • James Flavin as First Mate on Yacht (uncredited)
  • Arnold Gray as Passenger on Yacht (uncredited)
  • Hale Hamilton as Bill - Owner of Yacht (uncredited)
  • Landers Stevens as "Doc" - Passenger on Yacht (uncredited)
  • Phil Tead as Passenger on Yacht (uncredited)

Did You Know?

Merian C. Cooper was a pilot in World War I. Ernest B. Schoedsack was a news cameraman. They were known for their reckless bravery.

Cooper and Schoedsack were explorers, both geographically and cinematically. With Marguerite Elton Harrison, they joined the migrating branch of the Bakhtiari tribe of Lurs to film one of the greatest silent documentaries, Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925), the record of their hazardous six-week trek across the mountains of Iran.

For the 1927 film Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, Cooper and Schoedsack shot much of the footage in the jungles of Thailand. Chang was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929, the only year when that award was presented.

Leslie Banks served with the Essex Regiment during World War I. He received injuries that left his face partially scarred and paralyzed. In his acting career he would use this injury to good effect by showing the unblemished side of his face (the right) when playing comedy or romance and the scarred, paralyzed side of his face (the left) when playing drama or tragedy.

The trophy room scenes were much longer in the preview version of 78 minutes: 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. Preview audiences cringed and shuddered at the head in the bottle and the mounted heads, 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—so these shots disappeared.

Noble Johnson plays "Ivan." He was a multi-talented African American who was a childhood friend of Lon Chaney. This is the earliest known instance of a black actor working in "whiteface" to play a Caucasian character.

Zaroff's dogs were Great Danes borrowed from Harold Lloyd. While big, Great Danes are not especially threatening, so with their coats subsequently darkened and they were filmed at an especially low angle to appear more menacing.

One of Rainsford's shipmates quotes the first lines from The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The drunken Armstrong is a loaded script element: he's supposed to be annoying. At the time this film was released, Prohibition was still in effect, but the law was widely ignored. Producer Merian C. Cooper was strongly critical of alcohol use and of the glamorization of drunkenness in movies. There is a similar scene in both Mighty Joe Young (1949) (where inebriated nightclub patrons precipitate the creature's escape and rampage) and The Son of Kong (1933) (where drunkenness proves disastrous for the heroine's father). Zaroff's reveling in his hunting exploits was also deliberate beyond the needs of the story, downplaying its glamorization in other movies of the period.

The second of three film collaborations involving Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper, and Fay Wray. The three films are: The Four Feathers (1929), The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933).

Watch 1932's The Most Dangerous Game

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