Directed By: Irving Pichel/Ernest B Schoedsack
This isn’t quite the oldest movie I’ve viewed for this series (That honour belongs to Dracula) but it’s close. I do know that it is the worst looking movie I’ve stumbled across though, more on that later, so does a movie from 1932 still have the capacity to shock? Read on and I shall tell thee.
Based on the short story of the same name by Richard Connell – though it did have the much better title The Hounds Of Zaroff at one point – the movie concerns the lone survivor of a shipwreck off a caribbean island owned by General Zaroff. The survivor is a notorious big game hunter, Rainsford, who in some pointed dialogue early on in the movie tells a passenger that he will also be a Hunter and not a Huntee. I believe this is dramatic irony.
In the General’s palatial home Rainsford meets two other survivors, a brother and sister, and soon enough we learn something is wrong. The sister – Eve – played by King Kong actress Fay Wray (Which this movie was shot concurrently with, and also shares some of the same sets) informs Rainsford that a week ago there were four of them, then one day Zoroff took one to the trophy room and he wasn’t seen again. The week after the same thing happened to the other. Whatever you’re guessing is in the trophy room is probably correct. Sure enough, after the brother is taken to the room, Rainsford and Eve sneak in, just in time to find her brother under a sheet.
After turning down his offer of joining him in hunting others, Rainsford and Eve are sent on the run and told that if they survive the night they’re free to go (In the short story they’re given 3 days). Whatever you’re guessing about them living the night is probably true as well.
There is something potent in the idea of man hunting man that still works to this day. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t been remade more than it has (It has existed in a few forms, most notably the Ice-T classic Surviving The Game). Still, there’s something delightfully old Hollywood about it all. Foggy swamps, matte paintings, perilous cliffs, it’s all here and in a brisk 62 minutes.
I think that’s also part of the problem. Running so short there’s almost no time at all to breathe. When the boat sinks at the start it takes a manner of seconds. Likewise when a shark attack takes place there’s literally one line of dialogue; ‘Agh! He got me!’ as a man sinks under the water like he’s Jack out of Titanic. But this was the case with a lot of these old movies, often because they would be presented as part of a double bill. You could watch this movie 3 times in the time it’ll take you to watch Bad Boys 2, but then that means watching Bad Boys 2.
Could I recommend this? Probably. I think it’ll depend on your tolerance for old movies and their particular ways. There’s the propensity to overact, and there’s no real style to speak of yet in the early days of cinema, so it’s often simplistic to look at in terms of technique and camera movement. As a curiosity it’s still worth seeing, so I say go for it.
In a final word, be warned though, the copy that I watched through Amazon has to rate with one of the worst transfers I’ve ever seen. There’s an audible hiss throughout that’s far louder than it needs to be, and the whites are so bright that at certain point people seem to blend in with the background. So as long as you have a tolerance for blinding white screens and hissing noises then you’re all set.