The Most Dangerous Game
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|"The Most Dangerous Game"|
|Publication date||January 19, 1924|
The Most Dangerous Game, also published as The Hounds of Zaroff, is a short story by Richard Connell first published in Collier's magazine on January 19, 1924. The Most Dangerous Game features a big-game hunter from New York who falls off a yacht and swims to an isolated island in the Caribbean where he is hunted by a Cossack aristocrat. The story is an adaptation of the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.
The story has been adapted numerous times, most notably for the 1932 RKO Pictures film The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks, and for a 1943 episode of the CBS Radio series Suspense starring Orson Welles.
Sanger Rainsford and his friend, Whitney, travel to Rio de Janeiro to hunt the region’s big cat: the jaguar. After a discussion about how they are “the hunters” instead of “the hunted” Whitney goes to bed and Rainsford remains on deck. While Whitney returns to his quarters Rainsford hears gunshots, climbs onto the yachts' rail to get a better view of Ship-Trap Island, and falls overboard. After he realizes he cannot swim back to the boat, he swims to the nearby Ship-Trap Island, which is notorious for shipwrecks. He finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant, Ivan. The General, another big-game hunter, knew of Rainsford from his book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet. After inviting him to dinner, General Zaroff tells Rainsford he is bored of hunting because it no longer challenges him; therefore he decided to live on an island where he could capture shipwrecked sailors. He sends them into the jungle supplied with food, a knife, and hunting clothes to be his quarry. After a three-hour head start, he hunts and kills them. If the captives elude him, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days, General Zaroff lets them go. No one has eluded him that long. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his hunt, but Rainsford is appalled by Zaroff’s motives and refuses. Zaroff then tells Rainsford that he can choose whether he will be the next to be hunted or whipped to death by Ivan; Rainsford chooses to be hunted.
Rainsford, upon the commencement of his three-hour head start, begins to lay an intricate trail in the forest and then climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to play with him like a cat would a mouse. After the failed attempt of eluding the General, Rainsford builds a Malay-man-catcher; a weighted log attached to a trigger. This contraption injures Zaroff's shoulder, causing him to return home for the night. The next day Rainsford creates a Burmese-tiger-pit which kills one of Zaroff's hounds. He sets a native Ugandan knife trap, which impales and kills Ivan, but costs him his knife. To escape the General and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff into the sea; Zaroff returns home.
Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights revealing Rainsford who, after swimming around the island, has hidden by the bed curtains. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the "game". Rainsford decides to fight him calling himself a beast-at-bay. The General accepts the challenge and says the loser will be fed to the dogs and the winner will sleep in his bed. Though the ensuing fight is not described, the story ends with Rainsford observing that "he had never slept in a better bed," implying that he defeated and killed Zaroff.
This story has been adapted numerous times. The most significant of these adaptations — and the only film to use the original characters — was RKO Pictures' film released in 1932, The Most Dangerous Game. Joel McCrea stars as Rainsford; Leslie Banks portrays Zaroff. The adaptation by James Ashmore Creelman adds two other principal characters, brother-and-sister pair Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong), who are castaways from a shipwreck. The Most Dangerous Game was co-directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel; also with a score by Max Steiner, the film was a favorite project of producer Merian C. Cooper. The production shared several sets with King Kong (1933), a simultaneous RKO project that also involved Schoedsack, Cooper, Wray, Armstrong, Creelman, and Steiner. The Most Dangerous Game was a modest success.:51
RKO produced a remake titled A Game of Death (1945), directed by Robert Wise, from a screenplay Norman Houston wrote. This film stars John Loder and Audrey Long, with Edgar Barrier as the mad hunter.:206 In order to keep with events of that time, A Game of Death changed Zaroff into "Erich Kreiger", a Nazi, and was set in the aftermath of the Second World War.
John Woo's first Hollywood directorial effort, the Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller Hard Target (1993), was loosely based on the same story. The locale was shifted to 1990s New Orleans, with homeless Vietnam war veterans voluntarily serving (in return for potential payment from a shady businessman) as human prey.
In Surviving the Game (1994), a homeless man is hired as a survival guide for a group of wealthy businessmen on a hunting trip in the mountains. He is unaware that they are killers who hunt humans for sport, and that he is their new prey. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, the film stars Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, and Charles S. Dutton.
In The Eliminator from 2004, Seven Captured people are hunted at night for sport on an island as a betting game for the wealthy.
In the 1940s The Most Dangerous Game was presented three times as a radio play. On September 23, 1943, it aired on the CBS series, Suspense, and starred Orson Welles as Zaroff and Keenan Wynn as Rainsford. On February 1, 1945, it was presented with J. Carrol Naish as Zaroff and Joseph Cotten as Rainsford. Both Suspense productions presented an adaptation by Jack Finke in which Rainsford narrates the story in retrospect as he waits in Zaroff's bedroom for the final confrontation.
The story has also been the basis for plots in several television series: Supernatural’s episode "The Benders", Xena Warrior Princess’ episode "Dangerous Prey", Criminal Minds’ episode "Open Season", and Archer’s episode "El Contador".
In Get Smart’s episode, "Island of the Darned", Agents 86 and 99 are trapped on an island with a mad KAOS killer, Hans Hunter.
In Gilligan's Island’s episode "The Hunter", big-game hunter Jonathan Kincaid (Rory Calhoun) turned his sights on Gilligan when he realized there were no wild animals on the island.
The Simpsons’ Halloween special "Treehouse of Horror XVI" contained a segment "Survival of the Fattest" which parodied the story closely. In this segment Mr. Burns invited much of the cast to his hunting lodge on a private island only to reveal that he intended to hunt them all for sport.
In an episode of the American sitcom American Dad, the Smith family and a young woman become stranded on an island after Francine jumps off a cruise. Stan goes up to the mansion on this island to ask for help, but the inhabitants say that they are going to hunt the family. The Smiths and the young woman become trapped in a cave, where the young woman dies and they eat her to survive. The hunters then break into the cave and shoot the family. Stan sits up, realizing it's paint. At a party later, the hunters reveal that nobody really dies on The Most Dangerous Game island.
The Incredible Hulk episode, "The Snare," has David Banner trapped on a private island owned by an insane hunter who not only craves the challenge of hunting humans, but considers the discovery of Banner's powerful Hulk form as a sign of a particularly appealing quarry.
The John Leguizamo comedy, The Pest, was loosely based on this story.
In the video game, Hitman: Contracts, "Beldingford Manor"’s mission takes inspiration from this story.
Robert Hansen, a serial killer who was active in the early 1980s, would kidnap women and release them in Alaska’s Knik River Valley. He would then hunt them, armed with a knife and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
Hayes Noel, Bob Gurnsey, and Charles Gaines discussed in 1976 Gaines' recent trip to Africa and his experiences hunting African buffalo. Inspired in part by The Most Dangerous Game, they created paintball in 1981—a game where they would stalk and hunt each other— to recreate the same adrenaline rush from hunting animals.
There is a reference to The Most Dangerous Game in letters the Zodiac Killer wrote to San Francisco Bay Area newspapers in his three-part cipher: "Man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill." The Most Dangerous Game film is also mentioned a number of times in the context of the Zodiac Killer in the 2007 film, Zodiac.
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- Jewell, Richard B., The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. ISBN 0-517-54656-6
- "Suspense". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
- "Escape". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
- Lohr, David. "Hunting Humans". truTV Crime Library. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- "ExploreNorth – Robert Hansen, A Serial Killer in Alaska". Explorenorth.com. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- Davidson, Steve, et al. The Complete Guide to Paintball, 4–12. Hatherleigh Press, New York. 1999