Author Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” is my favorite short story of all time. Accidentally spawning a brilliant concept for the perfect action film, author Connnell’s short story about two men matching wits in the jungle is fantastic and action packed. I still remember reading it so many years ago and being blown away by the vivid prose and deep characterization that was set within only fifteen to twenty pages. As with most Hollywood productions in the early 1900’s much of this cinematic adaptation is altered from the story source and sadly not always for the better. One of the most irritating changes to the story is allowing the character Rainesford a damsel in distress. With all due respect to the great Faye Wray (who is absolutely stunning in this picture), as the character Eve offers nothing as a supporting character except emotional bait for Rainesford to cling to while fighting for survival.
The original short story was more about the primitive nature of the male animal and what they’d do to challenge one another and battle each other in the wilderness. Wray does nothing but scream and whimper for the direction of the film, adding an element that’s wholly unnecessary. Thankfully that doesn’t hinder an otherwise strong and menacing action thriller that involves a mad hunter who revels in trapping and hunting man. Joel McCrea is fantastic as Rainesford, an author who specializes in writing about the art of the hunt and gains the respect of the mad Zaroff instantly. Rainesford is the only survivor of a massive yacht crash off the coast of a deserted island, and by some miracle manages to escape an onslaught of sharks and makes it to a fortress within the belly of a seemingly barren land. When he enters the abode of Zaroff, he discovers that he’s also hosting two other folks that have survived a ship wreck.
The seemingly charming Zaroff has a knack for hunting animals, and soon young Eve begins to notice that the other survivors that entered the mansion with them were soon led in to Zaroff’s trophy room never to be seen again. What Rainesford discovers much to his horror, is that Zaroff loves to hunt man, and now he and Eve must survive until dawn or else risk becoming another trophy for Zaroff. The film carries a certain menace and dread to it with much of the set pieces painted to reflect Zaroff’s own madness, even with the house blanketed in fur and animal heads and obviously no way for anyone to escape with their skin in tact. When Rainesford and Eve decide to fight for their lives, the chase and the hunt is compelling with Rainesford applying his hunting tactics against Zaroff and Zaroff constantly always catching up with him.
Leslie Banks seems to enjoy the role of Zaroff, a horrifying maniacal aristocrat who is bold enough to hunt down man but cowardly enough to hobble them when they gain the upper hand. McCrea really embraces the role of Rainesford making him a hero with brains and brawn to match, and a real brilliance that keeps him a valuable for of Zaroff’s. The real caveat though if the finale is altered for a much more dramatic closer rather than the slick ambiguous climax of the short story. I would have preferred the original climax by far. Nevertheless “The Most Dangerous Game” is a gritty and exciting adaptation with loads of charm to it. While it’s not the most faithful adaptation of the Connell short story, it’s an exciting and action packed interpretation with great performances by Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks, and Faye Wray. I look forward to a more loyal adaptation someday.