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Survival of the Fittest,
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This review is from: The Most Dangerous Game (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)Richard Connell's famous short story that dates back to 1924 about a deranged Russian nobleman who shipwrecks vessels passing by his remote island and hunts down the survivors is still anthologized today. Like many works of naturalistic fiction, Connell's tale is a disquisition on the thin line separating civilization and the state of nature. When the sportsman Sanger Rainsford--the latest victim to arrive at Zaroff's front door--realizes what the madman is up to, he reacts in horror, rejecting the General's invitation to join the latter in his favorite pastime, and the hunter soons finds himself the hunted. At the conclusion, however, Rainsford not only defeats Zaroff but takes his place in the latter's bed. In effect, the two men have exchanged not just places but roles--the struggle for survival has transformed Rainsford himself into another Zaroff. The 1932 screen adaptation, directed by Ernest Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, eliminates the bitterly ironic reversal of the original story and turns the grim fable into a straightforward survivalist sermon. In addition, the movie dubiously improves on Connell's mano a mano conflict between Rainsford and Zaroff by introducing a love interest, another shipwrecked refugee played by the all-purpose virginal heroine Fay Wray, who becomes the principal stake in the contest between the two men. There seems to be some uncertainty about the circumstances of the film's production. Professor Bruce Kawin, who wrote the notes accompanying the DVD, says that The Most Dangerous Game was made to induce RKO into shooting King Kong, while Carlos Clarens in An Illustrated History of Horror and Science fiction Films states that the two films were made simultaneously. Whatever the truth might be, there are such striking similarities between them that The Most Dangerous Game almost resembles an extended trailer for King Kong, especially in its use of a jungle setting like that of Skull Island for much of the action. But if The Most Dangerous Game anticipates King Kong it also seems to be making a nod in the direction of a horror hit from the previous year, Tod Browning's Dracula. In the Schoedsack production, Zaroff, who is always called "General" in the story becomes a count, and the main hall of his residence has interesting similarities to that of Dracula's castle, although it is opulent rather than derelict. As the sadistic Zaroff, the gifted British actor Leslie Banks makes a stylish villain although his enunciation of Russian sounds as convincing as W.C. Fields doing Vogul. In the role of Rainsford, however, Joel McCrae, who played a similar part in King Vidor's Bird of Paradise--also produced at RKO for David Selznick in the same year--is a classically handsome leading man and gives a far better performance saving the hapless Fay than the rather inert Bruce Cabot gives executing the same office for her in King Kong.
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Initial post: Sep 29, 2011 5:44:01 AM PDT
Doctor Mabuse says:
Magnificent as this film is, I can't help imagining how it might play today had Bela Lugosi been cast as
Count Zaroff instead of Leslie Banks.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 7, 2011 2:00:16 PM PDT
John "Silence is Golden" says:
Bela Lugosi was still learning to speak English in 1932 and would have underplayed the Count Zaroff role which [in my opinion} would have made Joel Mcrea's restrained performance of the "Rainsford" characther far less effective. Leslie Banks rolling stacotto accented voice /dialouge , gleefully wicked yet nuanced performance is definitive and terrific. Bela would not have been as good !!
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