The Most Dangerous Game (1932) is the first screen adaptation of the classic story of the decadent hunter who stalks human prey. Directed by Ernest Schoedsack with actor-turned-director Irving Pichel (his first directing credit) and produced by Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, previously known for exotic adventure documentaries like Grass (1925) and Chang (1927), it is still the best. They bring gothic style to the strain of primitive exoticism they helped make popular in the late silent / early sound era and frame the dramatic survival thriller with lurid and perverse details extreme even for the pre-code era.
Joel McCrea stars as Bob Rainsford, a celebrated big game hunter on a voyage through the south seas who is shipwrecked on an isolated jungle island by the reclusive Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), the very model of the decadent aristocrat turned mad megalomaniac. Living in a castle built in the middle of the wilds (a lovely but clearly painted money-saving matte), he entertains himself by luring passing ships to their doom on the rocky straights and then playing the smirking host to the survivors.
Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, stars of King Kong (which was being shot concurrently), play Eve and Martin Trowbridge, siblings and fellow “guests” of Zaroff. He is all generosity as he drops hints to their fate and Bob is a little slow on the uptake, what with Zaroff’s leading comments about his boredom with hunting mere animals and his quest for a true hunting challenge, and Eve’s desperate warnings of “danger.” Her instincts are right on. It’s not just bloodlust that drives Zaroff; he’s saving Eve for the post hunt festivities. “Kill!… Then love,” he explains to Bob (letting the imagination of the audience fill in the rest), and then invites him to be his partner in the hunt. Bob’s disgust ends the discussion and the American is sent out as his next challenge.