Forgotten Horror: A Game of Death (1945)

Hollywood has been making remakes as long as they’ve been making movies. It’s nothing new. Sometimes the remake surpasses the original but most of the time it always has a little less than what the first movie had. In 1924, author Richard Connell published his short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” in Collier’s Weekly. It featured Sanger Rainsford, a big-game hunter who falls off a boat only to wash ashore an island inhabited by a mad Cossack named General Zaroff who has grown tired of hunting animals and moved on to shipwrecked sailors. The overall premise of big-game hunting was very popular in the 1920s, so the story was topical and very successful. In 1932, RKO Pictures filmed the first adaptation entitled The Most Dangerous Game. It’s considered a classic, due in large part to the cast that includes Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. Why RKO would decide to do a remake just 13 years later remains an odd decision. Nevertheless, A Game of Death was released in 1945.

At first glance, the movie has a now very recognizable director in Robert Wise. It was only his fifth film, following other horror classics The Body Snatcher and The Curse of the Cat People. However, much bigger and better things were in his future, including The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951 and big-time musicals like West Side Story and The Sound of Music. The movie has atmosphere and moves along at a nice pace for its 72 minute run time. However, the cast just can’t live up to the original. John Loder (How Green Was My Valley) stars as Don Rainsford, who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. With all crew lost, it becomes immediately apparent that the buoys were moved to lure the ship too close to the shore. He survives only to find a castle on the nearby island inhabited by Erich Krieger, played by Edgar Barrier (1943’s Phantom of the Opera). Audrey Long stars as Ellen Trowbridge and Russell Wade is her brother Robert. As it becomes apparent Krieger is mad, the hunt is on. A good story well handled by Wise but the cast just can’t pull off performances to even match the original cast. Other than Loder, most of the cast didn’t have careers worth mentioning.

The plot remains true to the original story, as Erich Krieger is hunting man to fill his lust for the perfect kill. We do get some stock footage from the original, which just adds the question of why do the remake in the first place. We must remember that this was before the days of television. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the movie theater. So even though it was only 13 years since the original had been made, moviegoers didn’t have the resources to watch their favorites at any hour of the day. It was a good story and a new audience was still hungry for the adventure it had to offer. So, the bottom line is that there was money to be made. In that context, it makes sense to do the remake. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a less than adequate cast, the movie is going to suffer and immediately be compared to the original. You have to offer something the first film didn’t. Despite the direction of Robert Wise, it offers nothing new and doesn’t come close to surpassing the original. Therefore, it’s no surprise this movie is another “lost” horror classic. Having never been released to home video and getting virtually no television play, it has found a new audience through Netflix streaming. If you’ve never seen the original, skip this version and seek out the 1932 classic. However, if you’re looking for something new, take the 75 minutes to sit back and watch a decent movie. It’s fun to compare the two different versions.

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One thought on “Forgotten Horror: A Game of Death (1945)

  1. I imagine another reason they just remade the film was because the 1932 version did not pass the censors. Being made before the Code was enforced in Hollywood, it was way too violent in addition to making it explicit that the villain played by Leslie Banks was planning on having his way with Fay Wray once he rubbed out Joel McCrea. When RKO went to re-release the picture, the Code made it impossible for them to do so without maiming the film entirely.

    Still, this remake looks interesting. I would love to get my hands on a copy.

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