A remake of Richard Connell's famous short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," about a madman who hunts human prey on his personal island habitat. Cinematography by J. Roy Hunt (I Walked with a Zombie, Mighty Joe Young).
Some movies just demand to be remade over and over again. It's not that each version really has all that much to offer, it's just a damn good story. To date, Richard Connell's classic short story "The Most Dangerous Game" has been adapted into seven different films with several more loosely adapted versions as well. Robert Wise's adaptation A Game of Death from 1945 doesn't really do anything new at all, however, the action is swift and the tight tense script will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Famed hunter Don Rainsford (John Loder) is making his way home via steamship after a long and successful hunt. A group of reporters tagged along for this particular outing and through them, Rainsford will have secured his legacy as the world's greatest hunter. The peaceful voyage home quickly turns to chaos and death when the ship follows misplaced channel markers into a coral reef. Barely making it to a nearby island, Rainsford is shocked to discover he's not alone. The eccentric Erich Kreiger (Edgar Barrier) has made the island his home - and his personal game preserve. Only Kreiger hunts a more deadly form of game than lions, tigers, or bears, and very soon Rainsford will soon know what it feels like to be the hunted.
If you've seen 1932's classic The Most Dangerous Game, are even 007: The Man With The Golden Gun, you're well ahead of the plot. It's a familiar story and in all honest, Robert Wise doesn't really do much new with the material. It's a stripped down thriller about man resorting to his base instincts while under extreme pressure. It's a battle for humanity. Considering the source material, without changing the location or adding a more fanciful setting, there's really not a whole lot that can be done differently with this story. To that end, Wise delivers a lean, mean, and faithful adaptation with A Game of Death.
While Audrey Long does a fine job as the damsel in distress Ellen and Russell Wade plays her drunkard brother Robert well enough, leads John Loder and Edgar Barrier together are the main draws of the film. Loder makes for a convincing stately man of the world who appreciates the finer things in life as well as the thrill of the hunt and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. On the opposite side of the coin, Barrier plays his Kreiger as a man slowly becoming unhinged. He's dabbled in the dark pleasures for far too long and his rational center is giving way to insanity and ego. When the two square off in the game park, it's an intense game of cat and mouse and the two actors are terrific playing off one another.
When there are so many versions of this story, it's difficult to find a specific favorite interpretation. I love the original The Most Dangerous Game, The Woman Hunt, and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity are both pretty enjoyable campy versions. Bloodlust! made for one of the best MST3k episodes, so that at least has to count for something. Since it's nearly impossible to claim a favorite, I'll simply say that A Game of Death is a damn good version of a familiar story. It's lean, mean, with a lot of thrills in between.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Game of Death arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Described as newly mastered in HD, A Game of Death makes a pleasing debut on Blu-ray with this 1.33:1 1080p transfer. The black and white imagery looks fine for the most part. There are some sequences where damage and age have done their work, but otherwise, this is a solid presentation. Detail levels are strong providing great looks at fine facial features, clothing, and the jungle set. Black levels can shift from being deep solid inky black to light gray. There are a couple of sequences with very hot whites leading me to suspect this is some sort of archival print source and not struck from negative elements. Thankfully, most of the time this is a terrific looking image and those deep black shadows give a nice eery sense of space and dimension. Speckling and scratches are apparent throughout, but they're nothing too severe. All around for a film of this vintage, this is pretty good and fans should be pleased.
A Game of Death arrives with a workable if not altogether impressive English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, but there is very little else. Scoring is resonate, but it's just kind of there. It never overpowers the mix and provides just enough tension for the big action sequences. Background sound effects are surface level stuff and only work to provide a sense of location rather than any genuine sense of space and dimension. This is mostly due to the original mono limitations. When the action is rolling, the mix is impressive. When most of the screentime is dedicated to Kreiger's castle, it can sound a bit flat and lifeless. Levels are nice and even and don't require any monitoring. Overall it's a fine mix, it gets the job done, but it's not going to blow your hair back.
Like many Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases, bonus features are a bit on the slim side with plenty of trailers. The Richard Harland Smith commentary is a pretty great listen, so if you want to learn more about this production, absolutely give that a spin.
Audio Commentary: Featuring Film Historian Richard Harland Smith
The Creeping Unknown: (HD 2:13)
No Highway in the Sky: (HD 2:09)
The Earth Dies Screaming: (HD 2:14)
99 River Street: (HD 2:13)
A Game of Death may be a well-known story, but this iteration is a well-made film that deserves its own viewing experience. Robert Wise manages to tell a lean and mean little suspense thriller with a terrific central cast. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray in fine form with a great video presentation, a solid audio mix, and an informative audio commentary to round out the bonus feature content. Fans of the film - or the story for that matter - will want to snap this one up. Recommended.