The original iconic soundtrack by Max Steiner, performed by the Amsterdam Brass Quintet with the James Whale Orchestra.
Based on the iconic novel by Richard Connell , The Most Dangerous Game caused only a small storm when it was released in 1932, overshadowed by it’s slightly younger, but much larger brother, King Kong. Yet over the next 90 years the effect of that small storm grew slowly, and it’s now safe to say that TMDG was one of the most influential movies of the early sound era. It single handedly invented the survival movie genre to which we owe the insatiable appetite for such movies as The Hunger Games or The Running Man, or dystopian series like Squid Game and Alice in Borderland. It was also a pivotal moment in the history of the movie soundtracl. All of it can be traced back to Count Zaroff’s Island.
The popular story goes that TMDG was filmed at night on the sets of King Kong to keep the Kong cast and crew occupied whilst the groundbreaking animation sequences were being filmed.
In actual fact The Most Dangerous Game went into production before King Kong, and many of the sets which were originally designed and built for TMDG were recycled for parts of Kong. The prolific producer/director team of Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack, who had already seen the box office potential of ‘ape meets woman’ movies with the rather bizarre ‘Ingagi’ in 1930, had been interested in making Kong for some time but hadn’t been confident of being able to film the necessary animation scenes. By the time they had finally assembled a capable team centered around animation pioneers Willis O’Brien and Buzz Gibson, TMDG was already in production and it made sense to use the jungle sets and the same cast.
The premise of TMDG is very simple – and no doubt the simplicity of the idea makes it so effective. A professional big game hunter (a rather outdated occupation to a 21st century audience) is purposely shipwrecked on a tropical island The island’s splendidly eccentric Russian owner (no Russian would ever recognize Leslie Banks’s accent, but he his performance is so enthrallingly weird it simply doesn’t matter) is also a big game hunter, but one who has long since become bored with hunting beasts as defenceless as tigers or elephants. Instead he has developed a new interest which he calls ‘the most dangerous game’, otherwise known as humans. He gives his unfortunate visitors food, wine, a short piano recital, and a not ungenerous head start of several hours, and then stalks them around his island with a variety of weapons and lethal intent. If they can survive until dawn they are rewarded with freedom. Otherwise they end up stuffed and hung on the walls of his trophy room. Unsurprisingly no-one has ever escaped and the trophy room is fit to bursting.
Of course with the two Hollywood legends Joel McCrea and Fay Wray he finally meets his match, but there’s no reason to spoil a great adventure here…
TMDG was not just revolutionary for its pure subject matter. It was also a critical moment in the history of the film soundtrack. The producers had commissioned music from a composer called… but when it arrived they thought it sounded too much like a string of Broadway musical hits which didn’t seem to do anything for the atmosphere of fear and tension. RKO studios turned to their head of music – the young Max Steiner – and demanded that he put together enough music to be able to release the movie within a few weeks.
As many people will already know, Steiner was the composer who created what we now consider to be a movie soundtrack – music that thematically underscores the action and atmosphere throughout the movie. Up until Steiner, music had been created mainly independently of the images on the screen and was restricted mainly to credits or scene changes. In TMDG Steiner was confronted with extended sections of footage which contained only action and very little dialogue and it was obvious to him that music could dramatically increase the tension. His use of repeated themes for the main characters and an extended symphonic section that underscored the entire second half of the movie was simply electrifying and contributed to his being permitted by RKO to have complete musical freedom to create an entire symphonic soundtrack for his next movie – Symphony of Six Million – which became a box office smash. By the time the iconic music for King Kong came out a year later, Steiner had entirely changed the way movie soundtracks were written forever.
This production features the original music recreated for the Amsterdam Brass Quintet by the James Whale Orchestra