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 on January 19, 1924. The story features a big-game hunter from New York City who falls off a yacht and swims to what seems to be an abandoned and isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. The story is inspired by the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were particularly fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.
The story has been adapted numerous times, most notably as 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, are traveling to the Amazon rainforest 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 hears gunshots. He climbs onto the yacht's rail and accidentally falls overboard, swimming to Ship-Trap Island, which is notorious for shipwrecks. On the island, he finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant, Ivan.
Zaroff, another big-game hunter, knows of Rainsford from his published account of 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; he has moved to Ship-Trap in order to capture shipwrecked sailors. Any captives who can elude Zaroff, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days are set free. Zaroff reveals that no one has lasted that long, although a couple of sailors had come close. Zaroff also says that he offers sailors a "choice"; should they decline to be hunted they will be handed over to Ivan, who had once been official knouter for The Great White Czar. Rainsford denounces this as barbarism. Zaroff reacts in a cosmopolitan manner that "life is for the strong". Realizing he has no way out, Rainsford reluctantly agrees to be hunted.
During his three-hour head start, Rainsford lays 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, standing underneath the tree Rainsford is hiding in, smoking a cigarette, and then abruptly departing. After the failed attempt at eluding Zaroff, 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 sacrifices his knife to make a Ugandan knife trap; Ivan is killed when he stumbles into this trap and the knife plunges into his heart. To escape Zaroff and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff into the sea; Zaroff, disappointed at Rainsford's suicide, returns home.
Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights only to find Rainsford waiting for him; he had swum around the island in order to sneak into the chateau without the dogs finding him. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the "game", but Rainsford decides to fight him, saying he is still a beast-at-bay and that the original hunt is not over. Accepting the challenge, Zaroff says that the loser will be fed to the dogs, while 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.
"The Most Dangerous Game" is a popular read within middle and high school curricula due to the strength of the themes within the story. The first and foremost question that the story bears is that of justifiable murder. Rainsford justifies his hunting of animals because he believes that man is superior to animals because animals do not feel. To contradict, General Zaroff believes that men are superior because they are able to reason. Zaroff uses his reasoning to explain why men are the most interesting game to hunt; men can reason, and thus provide a challenge that no animal can contend with. The story simultaneously highlights through the experience of Rainsford, as he is hunted, the fears that animals must experience while being hunted.
Zaroff himself is a contradiction because his exquisite manners are juxtaposed with his heartless brutality in killing men. The idea of a man who is proper in all aspects, but still contains a desire to kill, is a suggestion by Connell that men possess murderous instincts that can only be subdued by the presence of society and law. Zaroff is only able to partake in his "hobby" because he does not live within a civilization.
The ending of the story bears questions about the true nature of Rainsford, who is implied to have killed Zaroff in order to secure his own safety. By killing Zaroff, he thus took part in the "game" that Zaroff wanted him to play.
Adaptations and in popular culture
This story has been adapted to film 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.
In 1961, the film Bloodlust! was released, directed by Ralph Brooke and starring Wilton Graff as the Zaroff-type character, and Robert Reed as the leader of a band of youths who become stranded on the island.
The Australian film Turkey Shoot has similar elements.
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 (2004), seven captured people are hunted at night for sport on an island as a betting game for the wealthy.
The Pest (1997) is a comedic parody of the story, with German huntsman Gustav Shank accidentally bringing Puerto Rican teenage hustler Pestario "Pest" Vargas to his island instead of the skilled man he had intended to hunt, only to decide to hunt the Pest anyway due to his sheer obnoxiousness. Shank's ambition is to have a head of a warrior of every ethnicity in his Trophy Room. He also rigs the "game" by having his preys unknowingly drink a slow-acting poison before the hunt, making sure that they die even if they escape him.
"The Most Dangerous Game" was presented four 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
- On October 1, 1947, another adaption was used for the CBS radio program, Escape.
- On September 24, 1949, it was the penultimate entry in the series Tales of Fatima. Voice actors were Basil Rathbone and Rex Harrison.
In The Wild Wild West episode, 1/3 "The Night of Sudden Death", Jim West and a circus girl are trapped inside a Africa Reserve wild animal Park in Colorado and are hunted by a insane big Game Hunter Warren (Robert Loggia).
This trope was used in the season 3 (1968), episode 22 of I Spy, "The Name of the Game".
In the series finale of Bonanza, entitled "The Hunter", a deranged killer, Corporal Bill Tanner (Tom Skerritt), who was formerly a tracker for the United States Army, hunts Little Joe (Michael Landon).
In the 1977 pilot episode of Fantasy Island, a big-game hunter comes to the island to be hunted by a man, an interesting twist on the usual version in which the hunted participates against his will.
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. Another episode makes a reference to "The Most Dangerous Game" when Rainier Wolfcastle says that he bought a YMCA to demolish it and install a hunting ground dedicated to "hunt the most dangerous animal of all... Man".
In an episode of the animated 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 Bruce 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.
In Season 2, Episode 21 of Criminal Minds, "Open Season", two brothers capture people stranded in a remote region of the wilderness outside Challis, Idaho, release them into the hills, and hunt them with compound bows for sport, referring the men as "bucks" and the women as "does".
In Season 13, Episode 15 of Law and Order: SVU, "Hunting Ground", a serial rapist and killer lures female escorts after their date to a remote area where he sets them free while he hunts them down to recapture them again.
In the Disney animated series The Mighty Ducks, the heroes are trapped on an island and hunted.
In a "Dial M for Monkey" segment of the animated series Dexter's Laboratory, the hero Monkey is trapped by an alien big game hunter named "Huntor", who also makes a cameo in the Cartoon Network cartoon series Samurai Jack.
In Season 1, Episode 15 of Supernatural, "The Benders", a family has been behind disappearances in a city. The family snatches victims to hunt and kill. Sam and a police officer are taken, but Dean finds them and helps them subdue the family before it can cause them any harm.
In Season 2 Episode 6 of The Blacklist, Elizabeth Keen and her FBI task force encounters a family in Idaho who trained the mother's youngest son to hunt and kill humans kidnapped by the eldest son.
In the Season 3, Episode 5 episode of Archer, "El Contador", Lana and Archer are hunted by a drug lord.
In an episode of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, there is a scene in which Ramsay Bolton hunts a woman (one of his former lovers). She is cornered by the hunting party and eaten alive by Ramsay's dogs. It is implied that this was not the only time Ramsay indulged in human hunting "for sport."
In Season 3, Episodes 21 and 22 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano and Chewbacca are hunted on an island.
An episode of the animated series Johnny Bravo entitled "Hunted!" is an obvious parody of the story. The titular Johnny is forced to go through the same ordeal, but his stupidity and foolishness greatly frustrates the hunter, who eventually allows him to leave.
The story has also served as an inspiration for books and films like Seventh Victim, Battle Royale, Predator, The Running Man and The Hunger Games. In the film Westworld, humans are allowed to hunt and kill androids until one, played by Yul Brynner, starts hunting them.
In the anime series Psycho-Pass, episodes 10 and 11 feature a wealthy cyborg tycoon who dons gentleman's hunting gear and hunts people in an underground maze with his robotic hounds.
In the video game Hitman: Contracts, the mission "Beldingford Manor" takes inspiration from this story.
In the video game Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, the character Razoff takes inspiration from General Zaroff, even sharing similar names.
In the comic-book story "The Second Most Dangerous Game" (serialized in Martian Comics #8-10), Martians possess humans to continue their tradition of hunting other humans, after the practice has been outlawed. Richard Connell is a character.
In Clive Cussler's book "DRAGON" Dirk Pitt is chased by "Kamatori" on Soseki Island.
In the online game Poptropica, the 5-part "Survival Island" features you in a situation much like the one in the original story.
In Don Pendleton's The Executioner series, book #441, called Murder Island has a similar plot to the book. The Protagnist, Mack "The Executioner" Bolan (a Vigilante/government agent) encounters a rich businessman hunter on an island while on a mission and ends up in similar position as the Rainsford character, while the rich hunter takes a similar role a Zaroff.
In a song called “Fly Over the Wall” by Joey Pecoraro, the opening interaction between Rainsford and General Zaroff is used as a prelude to the actual song.
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.
In 1976, Hayes Noel, Bob Gurnsey, and Charles Gaines discussed Gaines's 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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