The Most Dangerous Game  

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"OFF THERE to the right--somewhere--is a large island," said Whitney." It's rather a mystery--"

"What island is it?" Rainsford asked.

"The old charts call it `Ship-Trap Island,"' Whitney replied." A suggestive name, isn't it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don't know why. Some superstition--"

"Can't see it," remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The Most Dangerous Game", also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff", is a short story by Richard Connell. It was published in Collier's Weekly on January 19, 1924.

Widely anthologized, and the author's best-known work, "The Most Dangerous Game" features as its main character a big-game hunter from New York, who falls off a yacht and swims to an isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Cossack aristocrat. The story is an inversion of the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.



Sanger Rainsford and his companion Whitney are traveling to the Rio to hunt the fabled big cat of that region, the jaguar. After a discussion about how they are the hunters instead of the hunted, Rainsford hears gun shots, drops his pipe, and falls off of their boat and into the Caribbean Sea while trying to retrieve it. After he realizes he cannot swim back to the boat, he swims to the nearby Ship-Trap Island, which was notorious for shipwrecks. He finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant Ivan. The General, another big-game hunter, has heard of Rainsford from the book Rainsford wrote about hunting snow leopards in Tibet. After inviting him to dinner, General Zaroff tells Rainsford of how he became bored with hunting because it no longer challenged him. Thus, Zaroff says, he decided to live on an island where he could capture shipwrecked sailors to send them into the jungle supplied with food, a knife, and hunting clothes to be his quarry. After a three-hour head start, he would follow them to hunt and kill them. If the captives eluded him, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days, General Zaroff would let the man go, but no one had eluded him that long thus far. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his hunt but Rainsford, appalled, refuses. Zaroff then tells Rainsford that he can choose whether he will be the next person to be hunted, or be whipped to death by Ivan. Rainsford chooses the former.

Rainsford lays an intricate trail in the forest and climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to play with him like a cat would a mouse. After the failed attempt at eluding the General, Rainsford builds a "Malay man catcher", a weighted log attached to a trip wire, which injures Zaroff's shoulder, causing him to return home for the night. Next he sets a Burmese tiger pit, which kills one of Zaroff's hounds. Finally, he sets a native Ugandan knife trap, which impales and kills Ivan. To escape the General and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff. Zaroff assumes Rainsford has died in the fall and returns home. Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights, revealing Rainsford, who had hidden by the bed curtains after having swum around the island. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the "game" but Rainsford decides to fight him, calling himself "a beast at bay." The General accepts the challenge, saying that the loser will be fed to the dogs and the winner will sleep in his bed. Though the ensuing fight is not described, the story ends with Rainsford observing that "he had never slept in a better bed," implying that he defeated Zaroff.



The story has been adapted for film numerous times. The most significant of these adaptations (and the only one to use the original characters) was RKO's The Most Dangerous Game, released in 1932, having been shot (mostly at night) on sets used during the day for the "Skull Island" sequences of King Kong. The movie starred Joel McCrea as Rainsford (renamed "Robert" instead of "Sanger") and Leslie Banks as Zaroff, and added two other principal characters: brother and sister pair Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong). (Wray and Armstrong were also filming King Kong on the same sets during the day.)

Zaroff, the owner of the island, shares with Rainsford that he got bored of hunting and discovered the "most dangerous game," which Rainsford assumes is hunting tigers. Eve is suspicious of Zaroff and tells the doubtful Rainsford. A short time after Martin goes missing with Zaroff and his henchmen and during this time Eve and Rainsford go into Zaroff's trophy room to discover a human head. Then Zaroff comes back with the dead Martin and challenges Rainsford and Eve to the game in order to keep their lives. After a series of events including eluding Zaroff and faking Rainsford's own death, Eve and Rainsford escape as Zaroff falls to his death.

The story was adapted three times as a radio play for the series Suspense, on September 23, 1943 with Orson Welles as Zaroff and Keenan Wynn as Rainsford, on February 1, 1945 with frequent Welles collaborator Joseph Cotten portraying Rainsford, and on October 1, 1947 for the CBS radio program Escape. In the first two of these productions, Rainsford narrates the story in retrospect as he waits in Zaroff's bedroom for the final confrontation.

A second movie adaptation, a remake of the 1932 movie and also produced by RKO, was A Game of Death, released in 1945. Directed by Robert Wise at the very beginning of his long and distinguished directing career, the movie was regarded poorly. Footage from the original was recycled, and one actor from the original, Noble Johnson, was cast in the remake. In keeping with events of the time, A Game of Death changed Zaroff into "Erich Kreiger", a Nazi, and was set in the aftermath of the Second World War. In 1956 a second official remake was made, Run for the Sun, starring Richard Widmark and Jane Greer.

List of film adaptations


The story has also been the basis for plots for several television series.

Real-life parallels

Robert Hansen, a serial killer who was active in the early 1980s, would kidnap women and then release them in the Knik River Valley in Alaska. He would then hunt them, armed with a knife and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle.Template:Citation needed

In 1976, Hayes Noel, a stock trader, Bob Gurnsey, and author Charles Gaines were discussing Gaines' recent trip to Africa and his experiences hunting buffalo. Inspired in part by The Most Dangerous Game, they created paintball, a game where they would stalk and hunt each other; recreating the same adrenaline rush that came with animal hunting.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Most Dangerous Game" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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