The Movie Waffler Pre-Code Retrospective - The Most Dangerous Game (1932) | The Movie Waffler

Pre-Code Retrospective - The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Directed by: Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong

Shipwrecked on a remote island, McCrea and Wray find themselves the prey in an elaborate hunt run by the island's resident psycho, Russian Count Banks.

Were it not overshadowed by it's producer/director team of Merian C Cooper and Schoedsack's "King Kong" the following year, this movie would probably get a lot more recognition. It's influence has been palpable and elements of it's story can be seen in everything from "Predator" to "The Hunger Games". Made at the height of the great depression, audiences may have found the tale of a rich megalomaniac using others for his entertainment quite poignant. 
As the twisted count, Banks is superb, even if his accent is more Scottish than Russian. Why he didn't make more genre appearances is baffling, given this was the era of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula". During WWI he suffered an injury which paralysed the left half of his face, a wound he exploits to add a sinister edge to the character. McCrea gives an early indication of the all-American star he would go on to become while Wray lays down the foundations of becoming cinema's first great scream queen. Kong's leading man Robert Armstrong has an amusing role as a drunk.
Has there ever been more impressive set design than the great horror movies of the thirties? The attention to detail here is outstanding, a practice that's sadly been lost in these greenscreen times. Even the door knocker on Banks island fortress is creepy as hell, a miniature representation of a giant beast holding a woman in his monstrous hands. Did they have Kong in mind when designing this? Yes, the two movies were actually shot back to back. Were I a rich collector of movie memorabilia, this item would most definitely be mounted on my front door. Banks' island resembles the more famous Skull Island from Kong, all creeping vines and rubber bats flying in the background. This is no coincidence, the same jungle sets were utilised for both pictures.
To get the most from such production design takes a skilled cameraman, and Henry W Gerrard does some thrilling work here. He began in silents so knew the importance of a strong image. Action sequences of the era are often quite clunky but Gerrard's roving camera adds to the excitement. There are some fantastic tracking shots through the jungle, the foliage brushing against the lens and really putting you in the scene. Sadly he passed away three years later on the cusp of greatness having just lensed "Of Human Bondage".
Running at a brisk 63 minutes, today's film-makers could learn a lot from this movie's pacing. There's not an ounce of fat on this script. If Peter Jackson remade it we'd probably get an inexplicable three hour version.