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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Game of Death (Blu-ray)
A Game of Death (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // March 21, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted April 13, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Virtually a scene-for-scene remake of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Robert Wise's A Game of Death (1945) even incorporates stock footage from the earlier film. It was Wise's fourth movie after transitioning from crack editor to respected director, and made immediately after his classic The Body Snatcher (also 1945) for producer Val Lewton. A Game of Death shares many of the same qualities as the celebrated Lewton titles: modesty-budgeted but densely atmospheric and exceptionally well directed.

Wise was a director long regarded as a superb craftsman but only recently has he also been reappraised as a true artist of film. Nonetheless, A Game of Death is rarely considered into this equation, and even Wise's fans generally aren't even aware of its existence. Wise himself probably wasn't thrilled with the prospect of remaking an earlier success, largely confined to the boundaries of what had been done before, and to work around existing stock footage. But on its own terms A Game of Death is nonetheless tense and exciting, Wise does a fine job, and the story itself lends itself well to remakes and reinterpretation.

Warner Bros. owns most of RKO's library but there are exceptions, as here, a Kino release licensed from Paramount.

As in the 1932 film, a luxury yacht sailing off the coast of South America crashes into a reef, explodes, and sinks after being lured there by deliberately realigned channel lights. The only survivor to make it to the shore of a nearby island is Don Rainsford (John Loder), a big-game hunter and famous author about the "sport."

On the island Rainsford is surprised to find German Erich Kreiger (Edgar Barrier), a fellow hunter equally surprised by the sudden arrival of his favorite writer. Living in a palatial mansion manned by four servants (including Gene Roth), Kreiger introduces Rainsford to two other recent shipwreck survivors, Ellen Trowbridge (Audrey Long) and her apparently alcoholic, playboy brother, Robert (Russell Wade).

Despite a severe head injury caused while stalking a Cape buffalo, Kreiger explains that he became bored with hunting, even after handicapping himself by losing his high-powered rifle and replacing it with a simple bow and arrow. Even then he became too expert but, he tells Rainsford excitedly, he's stocked his island with the "most dangerous game" of them all. As Rainsford, Ellen, and Robert all quickly suspect, that game is human beings, and that they're being lined up as his next prey.

It's been many years since I've seen the original Most Dangerous Game, which starred Joel McCrea as Rainsford, Fay Wray as Ellen (called Eve in that film), Robert Armstrong as Robert, and Leslie Banks as the insane hunter, but the only obvious difference was changing the villain from a Russian count named Zaroff into a erudite German, presumably owing to the war, which ended some months before this was released. Toward the end, servants in the stock footage bits are wearing heavy Russian coats and hats and obviously aren't a match with the Germans in the remake. Also toward the end, Edgar Barrier is seen wearing Russian garments in order to match a few stock shots of Leslie Banks. Amusingly, African-American actor Noble Johnson appears prominently in new footage as Barrier's mute servant and in stock shots as Ivan, Banks's dog handler in the original.

The cast of A Game of Death lacks the star power and charisma of McCrea, Wray, Banks, and Armstrong, but the far less known cast is quite good. British actor John Loder was pushing 50, where original star McCrea was nearly half his age in The Most Dangerous Game and believably fitter. But Loder was a good if mildly bland actor and projects the cunning and intelligence to outwit Kreiger.

Edgar Barrier is likewise adequate, handicapped by needing to resemble Leslie Banks in the original in order match a few long shots. A leftover from Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre, Barrier is no great horror star but nicely underplays scenes where Banks was a little too over-the-top in the original.

It's hard to completely gauge Wise's direction, not because of the stock footage (probably less than five minutes overall) but rather because Wise may have been compelled to duplicate certain camera moves and cutting established in the first film. Regardless, even having already seen The Most Dangerous Game multiple times through the years, not to mention the myriad variations of the story done for episodic television in the decades since, I still found A Game of Death very suspenseful and exciting. Further while the original was "Pre-Code" and thus less hampered by strict self-censorship, A Game of Death pushes the limits a few times, with its unusually grim shark attacks as the Rainsford's ship goes down, and later when human heads are found in Kreiger's secret "trophy room."

Video & Audio

RKO library titles are notoriously problematic, with little in the way of archived original nitrate camera negatives, but A Game of Death is well above average in this "newly mastered in HD" release. Once the film gets underway the image is generally pretty solid, exhibiting a decent level of detail and contrast. The black-and-white, 1.37:1 film has reasonably good DTS-HD Master Audio mono audio, with optional English subtitles, and is region "A" encoded.

Extra Features The one supplement is an audio commentary by Richard Harlan Smith. I haven't been able to listen to in its entirety, but what I sampled was crammed with useful and interesting information.

Parting Thoughts

Despite it being a quickie remake of a superior suspense thriller, A Game of Death is extremely well done given its limitations, and Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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