Tag Archives: The Most Dangerous Game

Pre-Code Hollywood – Wrap-Up

033-scarface-theredlistOur Pre-Code Hollywood marathon has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve taken part in to date! I’ve discovered numerous incredible films that I never would have seen otherwise, and learned a great deal about the history of Hollywood. The years leading up to the establishment of the Hays Code were some of the greatest years of early Hollywood, as writers, directors, and actors knew they could get away with not being censored. The creative spirit seen in the five years leading up to the enforcement of the Code has rarely been duplicated in North America, save for New Hollywood era of the late 1960’s through to the late 1970’s.

Below are some of my favorite films, performances, and more that I feel deserve some recognition from the general public. If you only have the time and patience to seek out one or two of these films, make it one of these:

Best FilmI Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (runner-up: Scarface)

Best Actor – Paul Muni, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (runner-up: James Cagney, The Public Enemy)

Best Actress – Barbara Stanwyck, Baby Face (runners-up: Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage and Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman)

Best Director – Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, Scarface (runner-up: Mervyn LeRoy, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Gold Diggers of 1933)

Best Supporting Performance – Aline MacMahon, Gold Diggers of 1933 (runner-up: Claudette Colbert, The Sign of the Cross)

Best Moment – “Pettin’ in the Park”, Gold Diggers of 1933 (runner-up: “The hunt”, The Most Dangerous Game)

And there you have it! A big thanks to all those who stood by patiently over the three months that it took to complete the marathon. If you have any suggestions for future marathons, comments or criticism, feel free to comment below or email us at sgtpeppersfilmclub@gmail.com!

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Pre-Code Hollywood #8 – The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Most_Dangerous_Game_posterThe Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Directed by: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by: James Ashmore Creelman (based on The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell)
Starring: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong

The production of The Most Dangerous Game is almost as interesting as the film itself, based on Richard Connell’s famous 1924 short story of the same name. The film was shot at night on RKO Studio sets built for the following year’s King Kong. The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong would share various cast and crew, most notably stars Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, composer Max Steiner, and director Ernest B. Schoedsack. Merian C. Cooper, producer of The Most Dangerous Game, would also go on to co-direct King Kong. Anybody who has seen the incredible Kong film might be familiar with many of the sets featured in the last half of The Most Dangerous Game, giving the whole project an odd, but comfortable, sense of familiarity. While this film was not nearly as financially successful as King Kong, it is regarded by many as the strongest adaptation of Connell’s story, and one of the very best pre-code examples of a tight, effective thriller.

The Most Dangerous Game sees famous hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) become shipwrecked on an island owned by a Russian Count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks). There he is joined by siblings Eve (Fay Wray) and Martin (Robert Armstrong) Trowbridge, who were also shipwrecked on the island in a completely unrelated accident. Things start off innocently enough, but soon it is clear to Rainsford that something about Zaroff is amiss. The Count’s leading hobby is that of hunting, but not in the same way that Bob is accustomed to. Zaroff speaks of the hunt satisfying the primal, savage urges of man, and it’s clear that he has continuously tried to raise the stakes of his big game expeditions. In other words, hunting makes Zaroff horny…really, really disturbingly horny. No longer satisfied with buffalo or tigers, Zaroff has decided on a new prey…man.
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At just slightly over an hour long, The Most Dangerous Game runs at one hell of a fast clip. Its short run time doesn’t afford it the detailed world-building that longer films feature, but it isn’t really a movie that needs it to be memorable. We are immediately thrown into the film by briefly meeting Bob Rainsford, establishing that he is a famed hunter and our protagonist. From there, The Most Dangerous Game hardly ever lets up – we experience the yacht’s crash, which leaves Bob alone and in a desperate situation, and then quickly move on to Zaroff’s chateau. Once there, the sinister atmosphere begins to build, thanks in part to some excellent set designs, and an efficient screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman. The dialogue is quick, unsubtle, and concise, which makes the film feel pulpy, but the result is something thrilling, fun, and efficient. Zaroff’s introduction can be likened to the introduction of some of the famous Universal horror movie monsters from the same time period – the character is immediately established as being intimidating, mysterious, and deeply compelling in his worldview. Once he begins conversing with Bob about hunting, he can’t help but say a little too much – he’s far more interested in the thrill of the hunt than anybody else in the chateau, even the world renowned hunter. His festishizing of hunting makes Zaroff even more disturbing to viewers, especially when he begins to give Fay Wray’s Eve some mean side eye. The concise nature of the screenplay is one of the best things about The Most Dangerous Game – it’s clear from just ten minutes into the film that the gang are in for one hell of a night.

The performances in The Most Dangerous Game are all around solid, with the standout being Leslie Banks’ Zaroff. While he doesn’t exactly pass for a Russian Count, his presence is nonetheless sinister. He puts on a gentlemanly facade on the outside, but it’s clear by the film’s ending that he’s anything but. Zaroff sets strict rules for his (literal) manhunts, and yet takes every measure to ensure that the odds are always in his favour – not exactly sportsmanlike in my opinion. Banks’ over-the-top performance makes Zaroff an unlikable, but compelling and very fun villain. The film’s direction is another highlight, especially in its action set-pieces late in the film. Bob and Eve are forced to play to Zaroff’s disturbing fantasies, running through detailed jungle sets in almost complete darkness. These scenes are thrilling and incredibly well-paced, never allowing Bob and Eve to rest for more than a moment before they catch a glimpse of their hunter. The two climactic action scenes feel modern in their blocking and choreography, and are helped by some foggy, shadow-heavy cinematography by Henry W. Gerrard. These scenes also feature much of the film’s pre-code elements, with Bob being forced to kill several of Zaroff’s hunting dogs, and later killing more than one of his assailants. The most egregious example of The Most Dangerous Game’s pre-code content lays in Zaroff’s sexualization of the thrill of the hunt – while he never outright says that hunting gets his rocks off, it’s made pretty obvious that something about it is satisfying him on a deeper level.
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The Most Dangerous Game is one hell of a thrill ride – it’s fast-paced thanks to a tight screenplay, features a great hammy villainous performance from Leslie Banks, and has some tremendous early action set-pieces. It’s not exactly a piece of highbrow drama, but it’s earned its place in cinematic history by being a balls to the wall adaptation of a memorable story. If you’re interested in seeing this terrific film, you’re in luck. The Most Dangerous Game has fallen into public domain, meaning that there are no longer any legitimate rights holders. It can be viewed legally and for free here on YouTubeThe Most Dangerous Game is highly recommended

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Pre-Code Hollywood – An Introduction

GirlMissing00011On July 1st, 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code (commonly referred to as the Hays Code) was officially implemented after four years of development. The Code set a list of precedents that all mainstream Hollywood sound films had to adhere to, focusing largely on censoring profanity, sexuality, organized crime and violence, and religious criticism. The Hays Code was made up of two sections – “Don’ts”, which outlined things that were strictly prohibited by the code, and “Be Carefuls”, which were subject to scrutiny by the Production Code Administration (PCA). The two lists featured the following rules and restrictions:

Don’ts:

  • Pointed Profanity
  • Suggestive Nudity
  • Illegal Drug Trafficking
  • Sex Perversion
  • White Slavery
  • Interracial Relationships
  • Sex Hygiene
  • Scenes of Childbirth
  • Children’s Sex Organs
  • Ridicule of the Clergy
  • Offense to Any Nation, Race, or Creed

Be Careful’s:

  • Use of the Flag
  • International Relations
  • Arson
  • Firearms
  • Theft
  • Brutality/Gruesomeness
  • Murder
  • Smuggling
  • Torture
  • Executions
  • Sympathy for Criminals
  • Attitudes Towards Public Figures/Institutions
  • Sedition
  • Cruelty to Children/Animals
  • Branding of People/Animals
  • Sale of Women
  • Rape
  • Wedding Night Scenes
  • Men and Women Sharing a Bed
  • Deliberate Seduction of Women
  • Institution of Marriage
  • Surgery
  • Drug Use
  • Law Enforcement
  • Excessive/Lustful Kissing

As you can see, the Motion Picture Production Code set the groundwork for a great deal of censorship in American cinema. By limiting the content that writers and filmmakers were able to show on screen (or even allude to), the PCA was in turn stifling artistic freedom and creativity in general. Limiting the content allowed in Hollywood films would lead to Hollywood writers, directors, and actors coming up with more subtle, creative ways of getting past the Hays Code. In turn, it sparked a great deal of outrage in Hollywood upon its announcement in 1929, setting in motion a five-year period now known as Pre-Code Hollywood. This Pre-Code era saw the development of many boundary pushing films, featuring strong female protagonists, violent content focusing on gangsters and criminals, and sexual innuendo. The Hays Code was abandoned in the 1960’s when it became clear that studios were no longer willing to enforce the strict rules, and when American culture was in the midst of an undeniable revolution. The collapse of the Motion Picture Production Code would eventually lead to the creation of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), whose film rating system is still in use today.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Film Club will be taking a look at fifteen of the most famous Pre-Code Hollywood films, examining their boundary pushing nature and shedding light on an era of filmmaking that has been sadly forgotten to history. The Pre-Code Hollywood films that will be covered include:

  1. In Old Arizona (1929) (dir. Irving Cummings, Raoul Walsh)
  2. The Divorcee (1930) (dir. Robert Z. Leonard)
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) (dir. Rouben Mamoulian)
  4. Night Nurse (1931) (dir. William A. Wellman)
  5. The Public Enemy (1931) (dir. William A. Wellman)
  6. Blonde Venus (1932) (dir. Josef von Sternberg)
  7. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) (dir. Mervyn LeRoy)
  8. The Most Dangerous Game (1932) (dir. Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
  9. Red-Headed Woman (1932) (dir. Jack Conway)
  10. Scarface (1932) (dir. Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson)
  11. The Sign of the Cross (1932) (dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
  12. Baby Face (1933) (dir. Alfred E. Green)
  13. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) (dir. Frank Capra)
  14. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley)
  15. Of Human Bondage (1934) (dir. John Cromwell)

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