“I was thinking of the inconsistency of civilization. The beast of the jungle, killing just for his existence, is called savage. The man, killing just for sport, is called civilized. It’s a bit inconsistent, isn’t it?”
There are plenty of iconic classics out there where I know the major beats of the story long before I ever see the movie. But usually those iconic stories also come with iconic performances, or iconic directors, or iconic scenes. Things that have been recreated and parodied countless times over the years. There’s something there that has endured with the story. I have known the basic conceit behind the phrase, “the most dangerous game”, for longer than I can remember. But I just watched The Most Dangerous Game, and it turns out, it’s most basic elements are all I knew going in. How and why is the concept so familiar to me 80 years after the fact, when so little else seems to be culturally significant?
Bob (Joel McCrae) is skippering a yacht full of rich, privileged assholes around the coast of South America when a philosophical debate about the merits of man hunting animals ensues. Is there anything honorable about hunting purely for sport? Before an answer can be found, the ship hits a reef and sinks. While everyone else is taken by sharks, Bob manages to make it to the shore of a lush, jungle island.
Bob soon finds a compound like fortress where he is welcomed by the eccentric Count Zarloff (Leslie Banks). It turns out, Bob’s boat being shipwrecked there is no anomaly, as Zarloff plays host to four survivors of previous wrecks. There are two Russian sailors, and siblings Eve (Fay Wray) and Martin (Robert Armstrong). When the sailors disappear, Eve gets suspicious of their host. When Martin disappears, her suspicions lead to Bob and Eve finding Zarloff’s trophy room and his real intentions. Maybe their respective shipwrecks weren’t so accidental after all.
At just over an hour long, The Most Dangerous Game makes it necessary for every single other feature length film ever made, to answer for their extended lengths. Sure, it broadcasts a lot of its twists and turns from a mile away. And its major theme is clunkily forced into the movie in a few sentences of awkward dialogue early on. But I can live with all of that when what is basically a cheap, pulpy thriller, gets to the cheap, pulpy thrills and delivers them as efficiently as this movie does.
The Most Dangerous Game was a rare thrill. One where I technically knew exactly what or expect, but was surprised anyway. And not surprised by anything in particular, like performances, or direction, or general film making technique. But by the combination of all of those things. And surprised by the great reminder about the fact that plot isn’t everything. It’s how the plot is executed that matters.