Monday, October 25, 2010

The Most Dangerous Game (1933)

"Those lights don't seem to be in just the right place. They're both a bit out of position according to this."

The Most Dangerous Game made in 1933 is a Pre-Code Hollywood film. This was a time when after the invention of sound directors and writers and actors did not follow the codes that had been made for films nor were they really enforced.  

            Joel McCrea plays Bob, a big game hunter. He is on a boat with other men to a small island to do some hunting. The captain notices that the light buoys leading safely into the channel are slightly off course. The captain and some of the crew have been jittery about going to the island and now they see the light buoys are off course they’re more nervous to move ahead. Their nervousness about the island comes not long after their talk, the ship hits rocks and the ship goes down. Bob is the only survivor, he swims safely to shore.

Bob wakes up on the beach to the sound of screams and roars in the distance. He gets up to look around the island to find help. Bob finds an old fort with lights on. He walks up to the door, knocks, and the door opens with no one standing in front of it. He calls for anyone, he hears the door closed and a very tall man stands behind him. The man does not answer Bob when he tells him that his ship sank and needs a place to stay. The master of the house, a man named Zaroff comes down. Zaroff tells Bob that ships go down off the shores all the time there are currently four other people staying in the house from another wreck.

            Bob is taken up to his room where he changes into some old hunting clothes of Zaroff’s. He goes downstairs to sit for coffee with Zaroff along with two of the three other guests Eve Trowbridge and her brother Martin. Zaroff reveals to Bob that he also likes to hunt big game and that he has been doing so since he was young. After he was attacked by a buffalo leaving a scar on his forehead he became bored with hunting until he discovered “the most dangerous game” on his island. Zaroff won’t reveal what the game is. Martin said he had asked Zaroff and he would not say nor would Zaroff take him down to his trophy room.
            As Zaroff plays the piano, Eve takes Bob over to the window to take to him. She tells him that Zaroff had taken the two sailors to his trophy room and the next day they were gone, they have been gone for three days now. She has Bob look out the window, there are dogs guarding the house, there is no escape.
            Their host sends them off to bed but asks Martin to stay with to have a look at his trophy room. That night Martin vanishes. Eve is worried for her brother; she and Bob go looking for him. The pair go into Zaroff’s trophy. By the light of a candle they see a human head mounted on the wall: “the most dangerous game” is man. Zaroff and his men come back from their hunt carrying a body under a sheet. Bob and Eve come out of hiding from behind a fireplace to find that the body underneath the sheet is Martin. Zaroff has Bob bound and held against the wall and Eve has been taken away. Zaroff expected Bob to understand as a fellow hunter.
Bob calls him a madman which upsets Zaroff. He has Bob be his prey. Eve has come outside and she refuses to be left alone with Zaroff, she would rather risk her life in the jungle than to stay with him alone. He promises the pair that if they survive to sunrise they are free to leave the island but if Bob is killed than he gets to have Eve as a prize.
            Bob and Eve run into the jungle. They stop at a large fallen tree where Bob makes a trap to kill Zaroff that when tripped the tree will fall. As Zaroff and his men come near Eve and Bob run to a nearby cave to hide. Zaroff sees the wire and shoots it with his bow and arrow and the tree falls. He knows the pair is hiding in the cave so he shoots an arrow to try to get them. It misses but Eve makes a noise. He tells Bob if he wants to be hunted like a leopard then he will be.
They run out of the cave anywhere so as not to be the anywhere near where the madman is chasing them. Eve is running ahead and she jumps over a small ravine. Bob gets the idea to try to make another trap, he makes a trap where Zaroff will think it’s ground but when he steps on it he will fall. This gives Bob and Eve some time to run farther away from Zaroff, his men, and his dogs. Zaroff of course sees right through this and jumps over the gap.
            The chase is now happening in a marsh where it is hard to move. Eve and Bob keep a good distance ahead Zaroff which gives Bob enough time to make a spike and leave it in the ground for one of the men to fall on. Zaroff’s right hand man Ivan is the unfortunate one to fall on the spike.
Bob and Eve come to an end near a waterfall. They hide behind some rocks before Zaroff catches up. When Zaroff does come, Bob comes out from behind the rocks and dogs attack him. He’s able to push one over the edge into the waterfall but another one comes and attacks him. He’s unable to get the dog off when Zaroff shoots at him and both man and dog fall over the cliff.
            Zaroff takes Eve back to his home as his prize. As he plays the piano Bob walks in the door. He tells Zaroff that he didn’t shoot him he shot the dog he only went over the edge too to make it look like he was shot. Zaroff tells Bob and Eve that they can leave but what he said was not true he will not let the pair go because he is upset he did not hunt them and kill them. Bob and Zaroff get into a huge fight knocking things over including Zaroff’s bow and arrow he used to hunt down Bob. Zaroff shoots the arrows at Bob but misses. Bob grabs an arrow and when Zaroff comes near he stabs the madman in the back.
            Bob grabs Eve and they run down to a room where a motorboat is waiting. They get in the boat and drive away. Eve looks back to see Zaroff in his last few moments aiming his an arrow with them with his bow but dying from his injury he drops the bow and arrow and falls to the ground where some of his dog are waiting.
            This film is part of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood. If you know what to look for you can definitely tell it is a Pre-Code film: many Pre-Code films were no more than an hour long, this film was 63 minutes; Fay Wray’s clothing was manly ripped for much of the movie when she and Joel McCrea were running through the jungle; Zaroff murdered people for sport. With the length it made the story get right to the point there was no dragged out dialogue or dragged out scenes. If this film was any longer it would have gotten boring just seeing Eve and Bob running away from Zaroff through the jungle, the movie was tense and fast paced.
            This movie seemed like a try out for King Kong the following year: Ernest B. Schoedsack was one of the directors as well as a producer along with Merrian C. Cooper, the screenplay was written by the same people, and Max Steiner created the score. Fay Wray a year later would basically play almost the same kind of damsel in distress in King Kong being carried through the jungle and her clothes getting ripped. Robert Armstrong, who plays Martin in the movie, would go on to also star in King Kong as Carl Denham.
             I really enjoyed this movie. The story was good and the length was perfect for my attention span at the time I watched it.


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  2. I've never seen this! It's interesting that so many King Kong people were involved, didn't know that. Pretty cool. You can see that with Directors sometimes. A hit movie they've made is often similar to one they created years earlier when they were still learning.