Bob Rainsford learns that the world is indeed divided into two kinds of people and on a mysterious island the predator becomes prey. The title is a double entendre representing the exploits of two Big Game hunters whose machismo is reinforced by hunting dangerous animals and the competition (or game) that will soon exists between these men. Bob Rainsford is a world-renowned hunter whose ship is purposely lead astray upon a coral reef: as the only survivor he swims ashore towards an island and stumbles upon an archaic castle, looming above the jungle like some barbaric idol. It’s here that he meets Count Zaroff, a man who not only knows Rainsford but also considers himself to be the best hunter in the world, and soon a contest for survival ensues.
Director Irving Pichel utilizes all the horror tropes of early cinema: the haunting castle, the evil henchmen, the dank torturous dungeon replete with severed heads, the evil and cunning genius, the beautiful scream-queen whose survival depends upon our protagonist, but instead of leading the narrative into the supernatural…he leads it into the realm of the hyper-natural. Though the setup is easily contrived, Count Zaroff and his henchmen of Russian caricatures, there is an interesting subtext to the film. As technology moves into the modern age and we homo sapiens dominate the world, the only natural predator of our species has become ourselves. Zaroff's mens rea is explained with moral ambiguity, suffering a head injury that may have cause his homicidal impulses. Or did this only allow his true self to emerge?
Count Zaroff decides to hunt Rainsford and the sultry Eve Trowbridge, and she is the voluptuous prize whose fate is to be raped by this despicable coward. If the two can survive until sunrise, Zaroff promises to give them the boat to the mainland but he reminds them that he has never lost this “chess game”. But Rainsford is resourceful and this mano-a-mano confrontation wastes no time creating tension: our protagonists set pits and deadfalls to kill Zaroff but to no avail. He hunts them with a bow but sensing defeat, retreats to his domain and gets a high-powered rife with a scope while his henchmen bring the dogs. The victims escape into the foggy swamps rendering the rifle useless but the dogs hunt them through moor and vine choked trees, until they are trapped upon a treacherous precipice. With one shot, Rainsford seems to fall to his doom as the sun rises, and Eve’s light is dimmed by the coming of Zaroff’s violent ecstasy. Finally, poetic justice is served as the boat races from the harbor and Zaroff becomes the food of the dogs.
Final Grade: (B)