Once again we dip into the rich radio archives of Suspense (1942-1962), this week with “The Most Dangerous Game,” which aired on September 23, 1943. Based on the Richard Connell short story which first appeared in Colliers for June 1, 1924, this well-acted, tension-filled dramatization tells of a pre-revolutionary (Bolshevik) Russian aristocrat by the name of General Zaroff, a former world-traveling big game hunter who is now bored, big game hunting no longer a challenge to him. Retired to an island off the coast of Brazil he lives in his castle virtually alone, his only company the mounted heads of the beasts he has hunted over the years, a deaf-mute servant, and many large, ravenous, hunting hounds. …Not to mention what is chained in his dungeon, kept alive for sport.
Enter one Sanger Rainsford, world-renowned big game hunter in his own right, whose books recounting his own conquests are held in high regard by Zaroff. Rainsford is down from America to hunt Jaguar in the jungles of South America when he is shipwrecked and finds himself cast ashore on Zaroff’s island. Zaroff now hunts the only game that presents him a true challenge–Man (I give naught away here, for this is an iconic story passing the 85-year mark since its publication). Zaroff, egotistical and insanely clever as he is, sets Rainsford a challenge he can’t refuse, and which Zarkoff has always–to this point–been the victor. Rainsford must use his cunning, reason, and skills to elude Zaroff for three days on his island to win his freedom–or meet his death. The odds are greatly stacked against him, for Zarkoff knows every inch of his island, and has traps set at every turn. It’s a thrilling thirty minutes of high drama with none other than Orson Welles playing Zaroff and well known actor Keenan Wynn in the role of Rainsford. The story has been filmed many times since it was first made into a motion picture in 1932, many known by various titles and not necessarily sticking closely to the original story–or nearly as well done.
The original black and white 1932 film incorporated a female love interest the story did not have, but it worked. The legendary Fay Wray (1907-2004) was added as (in future films, highly respected actor) Joel McCrea’s love interest (McCrea and Wray pictured at left), and actor Robert Armstrong was also given a part. Recall that Wray and Armstrong are most famous for their roles in 1933’s classic King Kong, Armstrong in the lead role as the would-be movie-mogul of the voyage in search of the mythical Kong of native legend.
While hardcore film buffs will know the following bit of Hollywood trivia, most people will be surprised to learn (as was I) that The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong were filmed simultaneously, both using the set of King Kong‘s Skull Island. The Most Dangerous Game was filmed primarily at night while many scenes for King Kong were filmed during the day. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong were literally working around the clock acting in two pictures at once, and on the same set! Some proclaim that this was probably Wray’s finest role (not to denigrate it, but if so, this says a lot about her overall career, alas). Nevertheless, this now classic picture is regarded by many critics as one of the best of its kind from Hollywood’s early “golden” years. One critic has also noted that Fay Wray’s presence in the film was enhanced by the fact that her dress got skimpier and skimpier as the picture went on.
Alas, no Fay Wray in this life or death radio play, merely stellar performances from both Welles and Wynn, as we find two Big Game hunters locked in a battle of wits, in a story guaranteed to keep you in…Suspense!
Play Time: 31:08