Monday, September 19, 2011

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

I know, I know...  Some of you folks are saying The Most Dangerous Game is a really good film.  And I totally agree .  Let me just say I'm not a big fan of the colorization process or the attempt to colorize classic films and shorts.  I've always lived by the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", especially when it comes to the classics.  That's where the guilt comes in ...  Watching The Most Dangerous Game colorized.

The problem is that the color really isn't that good, although some scenes are better than others.  It seems as though the color becomes more of an issue, understandably, when there's more movement and action on screen.  The edges of the moving objects seem to blur and blend with other surrounding objects and colors in the scene, which results in a very fuzzy image.  But. a few of the scenes do look pretty good in color and those kind of help get you through the film.

Based on the 1924 short story of the same name written by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a great adventure/drama/horror film.  It was the first screen adaptation of the short story, although there were other variations of the story produced afterwards, even being spoofed in a Gilligan's Island episode "The Hunter" with Rory Calhoun guest starring as the title character who hunts Gilligan.  There are a lot of big names associated with this film.  It was released by RKO, produced by Merian C. Cooper and David O. Selznick, directed by Irving Pichel and Robert Schoedsack, and it boasts a pretty good lineup of stars including Fay Wray, Joel McCrea, Robert Armstrong, Noble Johnson, and Leslie Banks.  The musical score by Max Steiner is incredible with, according to IMDB.com, an uncredited Wally Westmore doing a great job as always with the makeup.  There's also an uncredited appearance by Larry "Buster" Crabbe as a sailor who falls into the water when the ship explodes, don't blink or you'll miss him!

A yacht carrying a group of men returning from a hunting trip are shipwrecked after hitting a reef in shark infested waters off the coast of a remote island.  A sole survivor Bob Rainsford (McCrea), manages to swim to the island's shore.  While searching the island he discovers an old secluded fortress inhabited by an eccentric Russian, Count Zaroff (Banks), and his Cossack servants.  Speaking to his host Rainsford finds that there are other survivors, brother and sister Martin and Eve Trowbridge (Armstrong and Wray), from a previous shipwreck already staying as guests of the Count.  After dinner the other guests explain to the newly arrived Rainsford that they are stranded on the island "temporarily" while the Count's launch is being repaired.

While entertaining his guests the Count recognizes Rainsford as a famous hunter and author, and Zaroff explains how he is a hunter himself, and how he received the scar on his forehead as a result of an attack by a Cape Buffalo in Africa.  Zaroff also explains how he was becoming bored with hunting, and after trying different weapons, found that what he needed was to find "a new animal" to hunt.  Pulling Rainsford aside Eve expresses her concern about their safety and being held prisoner.  She explains how sailors who were shipwrecked with them had each disappeared after the count had showed them his "trophy room".
 After the Count sends Eve and Rainsford off to retire for the evening, and quite obviously annoyed by Martin's excessive drinking, Zaroff offers to show Martin his trophy room.  Later in the evening, Eve goes to Rainsford's room to ask him for help when she becomes concerned about her brother being missing, and that he was last seen with their host earlier.  They come to the conclusion that the most obvious place to begin looking is in the trophy room.  While investigating the secret room they discover the gruesome secret to Zaroff's "most dangerous game".  When Zaroff  returns unexpectedly with his servants carrying a covered body on a stretcher. he finds the two hiding and has Eve taken away to her room (at this point Wray cuts loose with some of her signature screaming) and has Rainsford shackled to the wall.

The Count admits to Rainsford that he had shifted the marker buoys in the channel off the coast in order to sink passing ships and divert survivors to his island.  Zaroff, actually trying to reason with Rainsford, tries to talk him into joining him on the hunt.  When Rainsford balks at the idea he soon realizes that he is to be the Count's next victim.  After escaping from her room Eve finds Zaroff and Rainsford outside the fortress as the Count explains the rules of "the game" and releases the pair into the wild.  If Rainsford, taking Eve with him, can survive and elude Zaroff until sunrise he wins the girl and their freedom.

So the hunter becomes the hunted and the stage is set for the deadly game of cat and mouse through the island jungle.  The mad Count exchanges his Tartar war bow for a rifle, and then finally releases his hunting dogs on the pair as he chases them through the jungle and swamp, and the pair struggle to stay ahead of him as sunrise slowly approaches.

Armstrong plays his part well but does become more annoying than comical after a while.  McCrea is good through most of the film.  And Fay Wray, pretty in pink, does a nice job considering her part was created for the film and doesn't exist in the short story.  But Banks steals the show playing the part of Zaroff to the hilt as the character seems to drift back and forth over the fine line between sanity and insanity, spending more time in the latter than the former, and rubbing his scarred forehead evoking the demented hunter from within. 
Steiner's score drives the chase through the jungle as there is less dialogue during the chase in the second half of the film.  Special effects master Ray Harryhausen has explained how important music is to "enhance the visual image" of a film and it definitely works extremely well here.  Steiner also composed the music for King Kong (1933) and She (1935), two more great Merian C. Cooper productions. 

The film was fairly inexpensive to make, costing only about $200,000, so The Most Dangerous Game was more profitable for RKO than the more expensive production of King Kong was.  You'll notice some other  similarities between The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong other than the cast.  Much of The Most Dangerous Game was shot during the filming of King Kong, so many of the jungle sets were shared  by the two films.

So even though I think the original black and white version of the film is better, my guilty pleasure is watching the colorized version of The Most Dangerous Game ...  every now and then ...

20 comments:

  1. I have to say the colour makes Zaroff's digs look a little more cozy, but shame on you!! Tsk, tsk. As long as you keep your viewings to "every now and then" we'll say no more about it.

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  2. Colorization!?! He speaks blasphemy! I've only seen "The Most Dangerous Game" in good ol' b&w, and even tho one or two of the stills here look pretty good, the color still seems off to me.

    Your post reminds me, though, that it was Ted Turner who championed colorization years ago, wasn't it? So glad he never made it an imperative at TCM...

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  3. Oh, I must be on the outside of this conversation, because I have never seen this. It has been in my Netflix queue for over a year! But, I must say, I don't like it one bit when B&W films are turned into colorized ones...it bothers me because now the film seems to lack authenticity. Liked reading your review, though.

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  4. I admit I've never seen this version, but since is the 2nd colorized movie with Fay Wray in this blogathon (Page's "King Kong" at "My Love of Old Hollywood")), I must conclude that Fay herself colorized well and is the chief reason for all of this guilt and pleasure!

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  5. I love this movie, but I've never seen the colorized version. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

    Interesting about this and the "King Kong" colorized blogathon entries. They seem to make the films more fantasy-like and less creepy.

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  6. CW - Thanks let's never speak of this again :)

    Eve - Turner did have a hand in starting this colorization thing. I give everybody kudos for trying, I'm sure it's a very lengthy process, but they should leave well enough alone until they have it down.

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  7. Kim - It's definitely a great film, but do yourself a favor and pass on the colorized version. You'll enjoy it more.

    FlickChick - I do have to admit, Fay does come across very nicely, even in mediocre color ...

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  8. Jacqueline - It does give it a more fantasy-like and less creepy feeling. Maybe that's the problem I have with this film in particular, the creepiness factor does seem to drop.

    But in some scenes, especially wide shots and exterior scenes, the color does give the viewer a lot more depth than you get with just a black & white image.

    I'll still enjoy a good classic B&W horror film over anything in color anyday ...

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  9. Dave, I enjoyed your post, and it was interesting to see the colorized version, though I'll still take the black-and-white version anytime! For me, the starkness of black-and-white adds extra ominous overtones to the tension and terror of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.

    If you want to see more of that, check out Page's blog MY LOVE OF OLD HOLLYWOOD, where she's lampooning a colorized version of the original KING KONG, if you haven't seen her post already:

    http://myloveofoldhollywood.blogspot.com/2011/09/cmba-guilty-pleasures-blogathon-entry.html

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  10. It sends shivers down my celluloid spine to watch a colorized version of any film. All the dread, the horror and menace of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME would be lost. The bleak eeriness of the fortress, the fog bound hunt toward the end are so much more potent in black and white. That said, this is a great essay Dave, and watching this in color is definitely a guilty pleasure I would not admit too (LOL). Great job!

    John

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  11. Dave,
    Fay Wray ending up stranded on an island being hunted while accompanied by Rory Calhoun but not being kidnapped by a giant ape? Count me in! I haven't heard of this one but I do love that it was colorized and decently done (see King Kong and it's horrific colorization to understand my joy here)

    It sounds like a really good film and the genre I seek out and get giddy over once I find it and it plays well.
    I loved your well thought out review here Dave.
    Put me down for someone now wanting to see this one.
    Page

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  12. As pointed out by others, it's interesting that you and Page both chose colorized versions of Merian C. Cooper movies! I think THE MOST DANGEROUS GAMEi is a little creaky in spots, but may still be the best version of the oft-filmed story (and much better than the first version I saw, 1961's BLOODLUST). Love you pointed out that it was spoofed on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND...now, that's research!

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  13. I was first introduced to Leslie Banks in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935), in which he plays a rather bland character. His minimalist and understated portrayal of a psychotic hunter was a revelation. Although he isn’t given a great deal of screen time, it is a treat to watch Nobel Johnson as one of Zaroff’s henchmen. Several others have referred to Page’s contribution, the colorized version of King Kong, but I would like to add an observation. We noticed the appeal Fay Wray’s pink dress had for Kong, but she appears to be wearing the same pink dress in this film, which shows the limited palette of colorized films.

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  14. Dorian, John - Yeah, it definitely loses some of it's appeal being colorized. Give me good old B&W anyday ...

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  15. Page - This film's definitely a must see, hope you enjoy it ...

    Rick - Yeah, the story's been done a bunch of times. You could probably call some of the "Predator" films another take on the original story of people being hunted, albeit by an alien ...

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  16. I didn't know this film was colorized, but I love THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and Leslie Banks gives a superb, over-the-top performance. It's odd that the Blogathon has posts on two colorized Merian Cooper films; but I do know that there's also a *third* Cooper colorized film. His production of SHE of 1935 was colorized under the supervision of Ray Harryhausen (who gave as his excuse that if Cooper could have afforded it, he would have shot the film in color to begin with). You can find the SHE colorized version on a Kino DVD; the original B&W version is included. My objection to all the colorizations of these films is that they come out looking like pastel-pretty greeting cards, and that's not good; plus, the shadowy depths of the original B&W lighting is lost.

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  17. Thanks for the shout out to the Max Steiner score for this, especially that amazing music in the chase finale.

    A wonderful movie, and it does make one wish that Joel McCrea had essayed the Jack Driscoll role in "King Kong" as originally planned. What a double feature that would have made.

    I'm not a fan of colorization but as long as the black and white version is offered as an alternative, then OK.

    Great review, Dave.

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  18. WG - The limits of the colorization process is what gets me, it wouldn't be so bad if the colors better. They should leave the classics alone.

    GOM - I actually just got a copy of the Kino version of "She" but I'm not sure if it has the colorized version included. I'll probably watch it soon since I'm in a Merian Cooper mood. I think I have "The Last Days of Pompeii" too ...

    Kevin - Thanks, Steiner was involved with over 300 films as composer, conductor, musical director, etc. A very talented, busy guy ...

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  19. Dave...I'm starting to think that you and Page (My Love of Old Hollywood) are in cahoots to commit diabolical deeds to classic movie lovers everywhere. Think about it--she writes a guilty pleasures entry on the colorized King Kong, and you contribute one on the colorized The Most Dangerous Game. Coincidence? I think not.

    I cannot condone colorization in any form, but I can't deny your review was pretty solid. I took the liberty of pointing at your post via the Classic Chops at the LAMB this morning...I just hope somebody doesn't start yelling for a rope. :-)

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  20. Ivan - In keeping with the theme of the blogathon, it's certainly a guilty pleasure watching TMDG colorized. Page made known that she was reviewing the colorized version of "King Kong" and I tried to sneak mine in under the radar.

    I definitely object to colorizing any of the classics, or any film for that matter. But like I said some of the scenes do stand out in color.

    Is that the sound of a gallows being built? ...

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