It’s an underwhelming cover this one, but though the film is short, it’s not without its pleasures. It’s from the directors and some of the stars of King Kong (1933), and even uses some of its jungle sets, to create a sort of proto-Hunger Games story in which the game of the title has a double meaning of both a sport and a hunted animal. Our heroes are the clean-cut Bob (Joel McCrea) and Eve (Fay Wray), the former a famous big game hunter on a luxury cruise who in the opening scenes gets into a (very clearly foreshadowing) conversation about what it must be like to be the animal being hunted, leading him to make a statement about how he’d never have to worry about being in this position. Hmm. However, the most interesting character is the creepy Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who owns a tropical island and lures people to it by causing ships to run aground on his shoals. Eve has already done so and is living in Zaroff’s mansion when Bob arrives, the only survivor from his ship. As you can tell from the hour-long running time, there’s not a lot of slack in the storytelling, but there’s still plenty of stylishness to the black-and-white lensing, and though the setting doesn’t have the verisimilitude of Lord of the Flies (1963), also in the Criterion Collection and reviewed a few weeks back, it’s still got plenty of good setpieces. But it’s Banks who steals the show, which is probably why it was retitled the Hounds of Zaroff on its initial UK release.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Directors Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack | Writer James Ashmore Creelman (based on the short story by Richard Connell) | Cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard | Starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks | Length 63 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 2 August 2015