Merian C. Cooper, the King Kong producer, needed another picture while Kong was enduring rewrites, and animation was being finalized by Willis O'Brien. They bought the rights to Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game (one of the earliest 'hunting humans' concepts on literary record) and shot it on Kong's sets, used Kong's leading lady, Fay Wray, and even completed filming before Kong.
The film, a true treasure, has been remade several times, and it's inspired a torrent of other films right up to the recent Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, its icky, bland cousin.
Despite its now much-abused concept, it still stands as a masterpiece to me, a tale of grand adventure, jaw-dropping discoveries, and exotic, forbidden bastions. It resembles Ernest B. Schoedsack's Kong (he directed a couple of scenes here, altho the director credited with most of the work was Irving Pichel), but it feels more like Erle C. Kenton's Island of Lost Souls, made the same year (1932). Its style is formal, its sets are lush and evocative, and it layers in a good deal of lurid grotesquerie. Note the severed heads hanging in the trophy room and out in the corridors of the maniacal Zaroff's hideaway.
Plot is straightforward. Sole survivor of a wrecked ship (Joel McCrea) finds himself on an unchartered island that has become a human game reserve for Zaroff (Leslie Banks), a crazed hunter who's gotten bored chasing things on four legs. McCrea, a hunter himself, becomes Zaroff's target after the men differ on principles -- to put it mildly. Wray, the survivor of a previous beaching on the island, rides shotgun with McCrea as he creates elaborate traps for Zaroff and ducks his sharp arrows.
Flicker Alley's Blu-Ray of The Most Dangerous Game is a must for any cinephile's collection, and a double-must for those who choose to combine vicarious island intrigue with suspense cinema. The transfer is probably the best we'll ever get, and though it's slightly below Criterion standards, the difference is marginal, so Flicker Alley should raise a glass of Fosters and make a toast to a job well done. Watching this on a big TV blew me back against the cushions of my sofa. Sound is very crisp, there's little evidence of electronic image tinkering, and the accompanying liner notes are awash with terrific tidbits such as: the film cost $150K.
These past few years have been a a golden era for restorations with classics such as Kong, The Island of Lost Souls, and The Most Dangerous Game arriving on Blu-Ray. My cup of gratitude runneth over.
Not inconsequential is the second feature included on a separate BR disk in this package. It is the 1928 Gow, The Head Hunter, an early example of 'mondo' cinema that arrived in picture palaces a few years after Nanook of the North and Congorilla. Made by man-of-adventure Edward A. Salisbury, it's a fairly modest look at "primitive cultures", but that didn't stop it from being cleverly exploited for decades to come.
My love of islands and everything they evoke has been well served again this month by this superb BluRay release.
The only other thing that's come within a whistle of the above for its ability to provide sheer pleasure is Mike Dash's extraordinary Batavia's Graveyard, a tome so amazing, so unexpected, and so disturbing, I'm determined to utter nothing of its fearful contents.