After a successful hunting expedition a ship carrying famed game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) hits a reef, sinks and leaves Rainsford as the sole survivor. He makes his way to a remote island and is relieved to discover a castle owned by Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks).
At first all seems well, but Bob meets Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), who are also happen to be shipwreck survivors. Eve informs Bob that Zaroff is keeping them there and the other fellow survivors she arrived with have vanished.
When Martin goes missing Bob and Eve investigate and discover Zaroff uses his guests as prey in what he calls ‘the most dangerous game’. He releases them onto the island, hunts them down, kills them and they become permanent residents in his trophy room.
Now it’s Bob and Eve’s turn to try and survive this deadly game. If they can survive the jungle and Zaroff’s hunting skills by morning they will be set free. But Zaroff is confident that won’t be the case – he hasn’t lost a hunt yet.
Banks is a wonderful villain in this. He’s articulate, cultured and of course quite mad. Just by his physical appearance there’s nothing else he could be in a movie other than the bad guy! His speeches and schmoozing his guests during the evening are the real highpoint to the pre-hunt.
McCrea is the prototypical good guy. He’s appealing and likable. Other than learning to have a bit more compassion for hunted prey once he becomes one, he’s a pretty standard hero. Wray doesn’t get to do much and literally tags along on the hunt. She barely does any screaming, something I have always strongly associated her with because of King Kong.
There’s not really many shadings to the characters. They have their general roles, but they function well enough in the story. It’s the hunt when the thrills kick in and Bob has to use his wits to try and outsmart Zarloff in the wild jungle and its all accompanied by a distinctive Max Steiner score.
There are no doubt some dated elements to the film that make me unintentionally laugh. Quick zooms on the evil face of Zarloff doing ‘mad’ faces, the exaggerated drunken performance of Armstrong and the funniest – the death of the captain of the ship being eaten by a shark and him yelling “he got me!” before he gets pulled underwater is a ludicrously fun moment.
Audiences in 1932 probably took those kind of scenes much more seriously than how they look today. This was an exciting, tense exhilarating action picture back then. It was probably like a Raiders of the Lost Ark back in the day. There’s obvious back-projection and miniatures used, but those are much easier to accept and aren’t detrimental to enjoying the movie if you get into the spirit of it and remember the time it was made.
It moves along quite well in its sixty minutes. The idea has been reused many times ever since this first adaptation of the story, and this first one remains an effective horror/adventure film.
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The way I look at it, “Oh, he got me!” wasn’t the cliche in 1932 as it is today. It was still the early sound era, and I imagine that phrase wasn’t heard in too many movies up to that point.