Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Most Dangerous Game

Hot and Bothered: The Films of 1932 Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin. It is hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Cinemaven's Essays From the Couch. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the links at either site.

The Most Dangerous Game
TCM viewing

I watched The Most Dangerous Game, but honestly, I wasn't that impressed. It doesn't get interesting until the third act, and I can't say I cared that much about Joel McCrea's character. Plus, given recent events, a movie about killing people for sport seems a little unpalatable right now. So let's talk about another aspect of the movie instead - its ties to King Kong.

Both films were products of RKO Radio Pictures during the pre-Code era. Before he grew into a legendary figure in the industry, David O. Selznick was production head at RKO from 1931-33, having attained the rank at the tender age of 29. Among the stars who were part of the studio during the pre-war years include Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the studio's best remembered films during this period include Little Women, Top Hat, Bringing Up Baby, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and of course, Citizen Kane.




Game and Kong are linked through six key people: producer-directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; actors Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong; screenwriter James Creelman; and composer Max Steiner.

Cooper was Selznick's executive assistant at the time he put the adaptation of Richard Connelly's short story, The Hounds of Zaroff, into development. The story has been reinterpreted and re-adapted many times in many forms over the years, but Game, to date, has been the only direct adaptation.

Cooper was a bomber pilot in World War 1 before seeking his fortune in Hollywood. The idea for what would become Kong began from reading about African expeditions as a child and doing research on baboons for a film as an adult. When he joined RKO, Kong was put on hold due to the perceived expense in making it while he worked on Game. A jungle set was built for Game.



Meanwhile, another RKO project, the fantasy adventure Creation, was stuck in development hell, struggling to bring Willis O'Brien's stop-motion dinosaurs to life. Cooper decided to re-tool the Kong story and wed it to O'Brien's dinosaurs and the jungle set, ditching the Creation script in the process.

Wray and Armstrong were already signed on to do Game at this time. The Canadian Wray started in film at 16, bouncing around various studios before coming to RKO. She was the second choice for the lead in Kong after Jean Harlow (!) was unavailable. Armstrong, a US soldier in WW1, acted in British theater before coming to Hollywood. When Cooper got the idea to combine his Kong idea with the troubled Creation, he pitched it to RKO execs as part of a package which included Wray, Armstrong and co-star Bruce Cabot. He was approved, and production on Creation ceased.

Schoedsack and Creelman were recruited for both films. A Yale graduate, Creelman joined RKO in 1929 after five years in the industry. He has sole credit for adapting Game, and he wrote Kong with Cooper and others after an early draft by noted British novelist Edgar Wallace (though there is some question as to how much he contributed to the script). Schoedsack was a former Mack Sennett cameraman who served in the US Army's Signal Corps in WW1. He met Cooper in Vienna in 1918. They had collaborated on films since 1925. Schoedsack worked on Game during the day, co-directing with Irving Pichel, and on Kong at night, co-directing with Cooper, using the same jungle set for both films.



Steiner is considered one of the all-time great film composers. A native of Austria-Hungary, he worked on Broadway for fifteen years before joining RKO in 1929. His Kong score was the first original score for a feature-length talkie film, and it put him on the map.

Being a pre-Code film, Game got away with some risque things, but not others. McCrea and Wray, during their third act bungle through the jungle, get their clothes torn, revealing a fair amount of sweaty skin, especially Wray. Post-Code, though, all that skin was considered scandalous, and Game was barred from re-release for a long time. By contrast, a scene in bad guy Leslie Banks' trophy room with heads in jars and a dead sailor stuffed and mounted was deemed too much for the original theatrical run. That got cut.

Game and Kong, released one year apart, thrilled audiences of the day in different ways, and has continued to inspire the imaginations of storytellers for generations. I admit, Banks made for a decent villain, but I dunno, maybe I looked at Game too much through modern eyes. Perhaps I'll watch it again sometime in the future.

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Other films from 1932:
Freaks
Grand Hotel
Horse Feathers
The Old Dark House
Trouble in Paradise
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

6 comments:

  1. I didn't know about "Creation", the missing link between these two films. How interesting! Like Kong, I first saw Game in my childhood and watched it with the awed eyes of a young movie fan. Although, even then I didn't think bumping off Robert Armstrong was such a tragedy! I don't think I've ever seen him more obnoxious.

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    1. The 'Creation' bit interested me too. This was a tough post to write and I couldn't think of an angle with which to approach it until I thought of the KONG connection, and I liked learning about it. If I ever write about KONG, I imagine I'll have to think of something else to write about.

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  2. Thanks for your post and thoughts on a good solid film for our blogathon.

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  3. Thanks for having me. Glad you like.

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  4. Can I just fast-forward to the part where Joel McCrea's shirt is torn? =)
    I'm with you, the subject matter is a bit heavy given the current state of affairs (kind of like watching anything with the World Trade Center after 9/11). I enjoyed the interesting info on how GAME is linked to KING KONG. I always wondered how the dinosaurs figured into KONG. Now I can give my son an informed answer the next time he asks me. Although my invented story appeased him during our last viewing, his BS-meter is sharpening as he ages.

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  5. Now you have to tell me what your invented story was...

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