A ship carrying Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea), celebrated big game hunter, runs into a reef and all aboard perish, except Rainsford. He washes ashore an island and discovers a castle. It is here where he meets Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) and his assistant, Ivan (Noble Johnson). Count Zaroff immediately recognizes the world-renowned hunter and welcomes his new guest. Rainsford discovers he is not the only guest and is introduced to siblings Eve and Martin Trowbridge (Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong).
Over the course of the evening, in extolling the accomplishments of Rainsford, Count Zaroff describes his own passion for hunting to his guests. He too has travelled the world seeking the thrill of the hunt. His quest has led him to the island, where he has found the perfect, most dangerous game of all. However, he will not reveal the game in question.
Martin seems very comfortable with the hospitality that his host has bestowed upon him and the other guests. In stark contrast, Eve appears ill at ease with their present situation. Among the reasons for her skepticism are two other people who were shipwrecked with them are unaccounted for (last being seen accompanying the Count to his Trophy Room). She is also convinced the Count is intentionally keeping them on the island. She shares her reservations about Zaroff with an unconvinced Rainsford.
Soon after, the guests retire for the evening with the exception of a drunken Martin Trowbridge who insists on enjoying the evening a bit more. While Rainsford and Eve are upstairs, Zaroff and Martin enter the Count’s Trophy Room.
Several hours later, Eve wakes up and discovers that her brother never returned to his room. She goes to Rainsford’s room to tell him. Her suspicions lead her and Rainsford to inspect the Trophy Room, as she believes this room holds the key to solving the mystery of the disappearances. They soon discover the horrible secret the Trophy Room holds. After a confrontation with Zaroff in which Rainsford and Eve refuse to yield to his dastardly demands, they become players in Zaroff’s game of “outdoor chess.”
CLICK HERE and watch 2009 MOVIES FOR FREE!
I decided to review the source material after observing an early scene in the film when Rainsford is talking to his fellow shipmates. The dialogue in this scene appeared to introduce an interesting debate about the idea of the hunter versus the hunted.
However, what evolved during the course of the film abandoned this idea and turned into a standard horror film a la other monster movies of the time. I decided to find a basis for this theory.
After reading and doing research on the source material, I found that my suspicions were well founded. What in text form was a fable / allegory that flips the idea of the hunting on its head became a standard horror enterprise on the screen. The addition of Eve and Martin to the film version also diluted the strength of the original material. Personally, I feel that an auteur such as Alfred Hitchcock could create the necessary terror and suspense while sticking a little closer to the Connell’s work.To modern audiences the presence of original “scream queen” Fay Wray is a big clue as to the direction that the film is taking. Her performance seemed a little stilted and stagey. I suspect that my reaction is a result of having grown up in an era where “method” is king, so I will reserve too harsh a judgment on her acting. Leslie Banks’ Count Zaroff portrayal of the antagonist was at times a bit too campy for my tastes. Of the three principal characters, I was most satisfied with Joel McCrea’s performance.
Regarding the supporting players’, one personal disappointment was the lack of dialogue for Noble Johnson’s Ivan. Mr. Johnson was a superstar in the “race pictures” of the silent and early sound period. His superstardom allowed him to cross over into mainstream films, the biggest being in 1933’s King Kong as the “Native Chief.”
One production note of interest: the jungle set used in this film also features in King Kong, released one year later. So in fact, more than Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Noble Johnson were recycled from this film to King Kong.
A redeeming quality for the film is its running time. At just over one hour long, the investment required in watching the film and making up your own mind about its merits is minimal. In addition, the film is out in the public domain meaning that copies of the film are readily available and inexpensive.
Since the 1932 production, many films have adapted Connell’s story. With the exception of 1994’s Surviving the Game, featuring Rutger Hauer and Ice-T, I have not seen any of these. However in comparing the two films I have seen, I feel comfortable saying that the 1932 version is superior in adapting the original story, although I feel that the producers missed a great opportunity to elaborate on the irony of the original work.