The Most Dangerous Game: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (14th November 2022).
The Film

Returning from a safari overseas on the yacht of his sponsor (The Drums of Jeopardy's Hale Hamilton), big game hunter Bob Rainesford (Sullivan's Travels' Joel McCrea) winds up the survivor when the yacht strikes a coral reef between the mainland and the mysterious Branca Island. Barely escaping the sharks that devour his companions, Bob washes upon the island's shore and discovers its crumbling Portuguese fortress is the home of Cossack Count Zaroff (Jamaica Inn's Leslie Banks) who fled Russia during the revolution and wandered the world indulging his passion for hunting until he grew bored of the prey. The choppy waters of the island regularly provide him with guests besides Bob including siblings Eve (Mystery of the Wax Museum's Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Mighty Joe Young's Robert Armstrong) as well as two sailors who are elsewhere on the island collecting samples. Over dinner, Zaroff reveals that he has discovered a new sensation that has renewed his appetite for the hunt, a "most dangerous game" which he refuses to divulge to anyone but his fellow hunters. Later that night, Eve is unable to find her brother and confides in Bob that she has not seen the two sailors that were shipwrecked with them since Zaroff took them to see his locked trophy room. The pair find the door unlocked and discover the grisly nature of Zaroff's hunts, and that they are to be his next prey one way or the other.

Based on the much, much-adapted (acknowledged or not) short story by Richard Connell the basic premise of which was amenable to horror with the likes of Bloodlust!, sexploitation with The Woman Hunt, The Suckers, and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity along with Jess Franco's sexed up cannibal films The Perverse Countess and its remake Tender Flesh, along with straight action films like Avenging Force, the Liam Hemsworth-starring web series, and most recently adaptation that pits Casper Van Dien's aristocrat against the unlikeliest of protagonists in The Real World "star" Chris 'C.T.' Tamburello the very first cinematic The Most Dangerous Game is a rip-roaring hour of action that may have lost some rumored legendary grisly footage but retains some pre-code screams, trophy severed heads, a hint of sexual sadism, and a lot of implied brutality. Even those unfamiliar with the story source and its other adaptations must have guessed what the "most dangerous game" actually is from the start; however, Banks' host is a disarming blend of the urbane and the sinister, lending a touch of black humor to what could have been a standard programmer (and would have in just a few years when RKO was firmly entrenched as one of the "poverty row" studios) and making the rather static exposition scenes seem less stagy. McCrea and Wray are easily overshadowed by Banks but more compelling in scenes without him, which makes the cat-and-mouse (or the "hunter and the hunted") aspect of the third act more balanced, give the viewer a bit more in the stakes department during a less impressive final bit of fisticuffs. Produced nearly back-to-back with RKO's other hit King Kong (also featuring Wray and Armstrong), the film boasts some wonderful production design along with some nice old school forced perspective miniatures and glass matte shots that give Branca Island a more dangerous aspect. Although hard to see after its fifties television syndication run until the video age, the original The Most Dangerous Game got it right the first time and all other versions pale in comparison.
image

Video

Reissued by RKO in 1939 and in TV syndication in the fifties, The Most Dangerous Game was hard to see outside of the bootleg circuit until The Roan Group's 1995 laserdisc which was subsequently followed up by a Criterion Collection DVD in 1999, both of which were transferred from composites of fine-grain 35mm materials. Legend Films marked the film's seventy-fifth anniversary with a DVD that offered monochrome and colorized versions (the latter supervised by Ray Harryhausen, at least).

The film made its Blu-ray bow stateside in 2012 from Flicker Alley. The 2019 German Wicked-Vision Blu-ray appears to have been struck from the same 2K restoration as the current Eureka 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 widescreen Blu-ray under review. Both transfers improved vastly on the Flicker Alley disc, offering up more detail in the faces that were often washed out in the highlights in medium and long shots, blacks are deeper, and much of the damage to the materials seems to have been cleaned with only some bits around the reel changes impossible to get rid of without obliterating fine detail. There is a passage during the hunt late in the film that looks darker and harsher in contrast than the surrounding footage but it is to be expected with one of the few RKO properties that did not wind up with Warner Bros.
image

Audio

Audio options include restored and unrestored LPCM 2.0 mono options with the former featuring only a faint underlying hiss that is inherent in the original RCA "noiseless" recordings. Gunfire booms and screams pierce while dialogue is always intelligible. Optional English HoH subtitles are also included.

Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman who discuss the ubiquity of the source story in various anthologies including a collection by Alfred Hitchcock titled "12 Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV" and the various cinematic adaptations, as well as the ways in which the current film and other adaptations improve on weak points of the Connell story. They also reveal that novelist Edgar Wallace was supposed to adapt the film after working on King Kong but he died, and they also note that some material from Wallace's unused draft of the Kong film appears to have been reworked here by eventual Kong screenwriter James Ashmore Creelman, as well as the similar story beats of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" adaptation Island of Lost Souls. They also discuss the split directorial duties of actor Irving Pichel (Dracula's Daughter) and cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack (Dr. Cyclops) under the supervision of producer Merian C. Cooper.

Newman appears again in "Kim Newman on The Most Dangerous Game" (18:58) covering enough of the same ground that one wonders if the interview was recorded first and the commentary an afterthought. He does, however, make some interesting observations, expanding on the commentary discussion about our changing attitudes about game hunter characters from rugged outdoorsmen to rich bastards, and even suggests that Connell might not have entirely viewed his own protagonist in a positive manner.
image

In "Stephen Thrower on The Most Dangerous Game" (19:49), the author/film historina also discusses the differences in the source story, noting that the usual practice of adding a woman to convey the film's fear rather than the manly men has an effect on the film's dynamic, and also describes the film's Zaroff as one of the first combinations of Sadean and fascist mentalities that prefigure the villains of Salo.

"Marion C. Cooper: Reminiscences" (8:00) are a pair of extracts from a 1971 audio interview conducted by Kevin Brownlow, and the dsic also includes a trio of radio adaptations of the Connell story from "Suspense" 23/09/43 (29:54), "Suspense" 01/02/45 (29:12), and "Escape" 01/10/47 (30:18), as well as a German theatrical trailer (0:58), the title of which is based on the British release title "The Hounds of Zaroff".

Packaging

The first pressing includes a limited edition O-card slipcase and a collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, illustrated with archival imagery (not provided for review).

Overall

Although hard to see after its fifties television syndication run until the video age, the original The Most Dangerous Game got it right the first time and all other versions pale in comparison.

 


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it and amazon.es . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.