One of the things you’ll overhear most when leaving a theater is, “the book was better…” It’s almost inevitable to like books more than the movies adapted from them, partially because we invest hours and hours into books while only sit down two hours for a film, but also because books depict the interiors of lives while films are so often only surface. The Most Dangerous Game is one of the few occasions where I can say, without reservation, that the movie was better.
To be perfectly honest, I hate the short story of The Most Dangerous Game. It was a story repeatedly forced on me in middle school and junior high by teachers who gushed and rambled about how good it was. How very trite the story is, “People are the most dangerous game…” and so on. Does this glibness merit its inclusion in hundreds of short story anthologies?
My disdain for the source material kept me away from the film for a long time. What I didn’t know was that I was missing out on a delightful movie. I’ve written up a list of my top 20 favorite films, and this is on there.The Most Dangerous Game was produced when RKO Studios was in its prime. In the 30s and early 40s, RKO was known for its prestige pictures and for its high production values.* One staple of RKO were the highly elaborate sets that appeared in films (take, for example, the mansions in Rebecca and Citizen Kane).
Such attention to detail and craftsmanship is usually only found in A pictures, but The Most Dangerous Game is essentially a B movie with the makings of an A movie. Its cast includes two of the greatest stars of old B-movies, Joel McCrea (Sullivan’s Travels, Foreign Correspondent) and Fay Wray (King Kong).
The Most Dangerous Game is a very fun and very lovable movie. I’m sure it’ll strike the contemporary viewer as corny, but just go with it. Don’t nitpick it for having special effects errors; there are plenty, but you’ll only ruin the movie if you insist on being a cynic. Part of what’s great about this film is that it doesn’t insist on hewing to reality. I think on some level they realize the source material itself is entirely cornball, so they heap on images and ambience, regardless of realism. Count Zaroff’s mansion is the peak of Gothic architecture, especially the statue on the front door.
Leslie Banks is over-the-top as Zaroff, a ghoulish millionaire that would make even Vincent Price envious. Also, there’s a broadly stereotypical character called “Ivan the Cossack” who heightens the absurdity.Another plus about The Most Dangerous Game is that it’s only about 62 minutes long, so it doesn’t stretch the premise too thin. Its brevity also makes it one to rewatch–I’ve seen it twice so far, and do plan on watching it again.Here’s another added bonus: you can watch the film for free. Youtube has made the entire film available without membership or payment. You just have to sit through 3 or 4 30 second commercial breaks. To watch it on youtube, click here.
There’s a colorized version of this film available too, which is helpful if you have kids who haven’t yet learned to love black and white film. To get this, it’s available in The Criterion Edition release of The Most Dangerous Game. If you like The Most Dangerous Game, consider watching the movie called simply She. It’s made just a short time afterwards by the same director. It’s nowhere near as good, but it has similar high production values and there’s a handful of really cool scenes (punctuated by stretches of lousy acting). To read more about RKO, see my essay about Cat People and Curse of the Cat People. **This isn’t the only time a studio filmed two movies at the same time with some of the same actors. At the very same time that Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak were filming Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo they were also filming Bell, Book and Candle together.
What’s your opinion of The Most Dangerous Game?