Shipwrecked on a remote island, big game hunter Robert Rainsford encounters Count Zaroff, an aristocrat who has become bored with pursuing animals and now only tracks the most dangerous game, human beings.
Based on a much-anthologised short story by Richard Connell, this is one of the classic ‘high concept’ action movies. Ernest B. Schoedsack (co-directing with Irving Pichel) made this simultaneously with King Kong, using the jungle sets and keeping heroine Fay Wray and comic relief Robert Armstrong busy while the Kong unit were doing special effects miniature shots.
British actor Leslie Banks is marvellous as the mad Russian Count Zaroff, welcoming shipwrecked guests to a gothic pile in the middle of the tropical undergrowth, where he keeps the mounted heads of previous victims in a private trophy chamber. Fingering the tusk-scar on his forehead and holding a cigarette with a distinctively weird spiderfingered hold, Zaroff expounds bizarre, philosophical dialogue about the joys of hunting men and (it’s strongly implied) raping women.
After the first-reel set-up, the film consists of one lengthy, nightmarish action-chase sequence, with a wild-eyed Banks striding through the undergrowth brandishing his favoured hunting tool (a Tartar war-bow) and letting his famously voracious hounds off the leash, while and the macho McCrea and the fetchingly distressed Wray improvise death-traps as they try to survive til dawn.
It was remade officially by Robert Wise as A Game of Death in 1945, with a then-topical Nazi villain and plenty of footage from the original, and has been done over and over again ever since (Run for the Sun, The Man With the Golden Gun, Hard Target, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, Surviving the Game); almost every action/adventure TV series from Fantasy Island to Hart to Hart does a ‘most dangerous game’ episode.
Great central performance and lots of action chase thrills but certainly dated.