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With: John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier, Russell Wade, Russell Hicks, Jason Robards Sr., Gene Roth, Noble Johnson, Robert Clarke
Written by: Norman Houston, based on a story by Richard Connell
Directed by: Robert Wise
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 72
Date: 11/23/1945

A Game of Death (1945)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jungle Schnook

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

RKO's A Game of Death is a fairly typical "B" movie that promises more than it delivers. It seems like it's going to be an exciting jungle battle to the death, but in reality, it's 60 minutes of people talking in rooms and maybe 10 minutes of exciting jungle battle. It's all the more baffling when you consider that this film is a remake, of Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper's The Most Dangerous Game (1932), both based on the celebrated short story of the same name by Richard Connell.

The earlier film, made just before the great King Kong (1933), was rich and exciting, cleverly paced and terrifying, as the evil nature of the game is revealed. In A Game of Death, the characters get wise early on that something is up and they spend a huge chunk out of the second act trying to prevent it, which is not terribly gripping.

Perhaps more baffling is that the director is Robert Wise. Wise was an employee of RKO, and trained under two of the most gifted and brilliant filmmakers of all time. He had been an editor on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, and edited and shot extra footage for Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Then he was transferred to Val Lewton's horror unit where he took over the behind-schedule The Curse of the Cat People and made it into the masterpiece it is today.

He also directed the excellent drama Mademoiselle Fifi (1944), and the amazing The Body Snatcher (also in 1945), with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. One would think that Wise might have learned a thing or two from all these smart, atmospheric films, but A Game of Death — aside from some startling tracking shots in the jungle — is simply missing any of that.

Even the cast is lacking. John Loder takes over for Joel McCrea as the "good" hunter Rainsford (who here seems like a bit of a jerk, not caring about the feelings of the animals he hunts). Audrey Long is very cute, but can't compete with Fay Wray as damsel in distress Ellen Trowbridge (called "Eve" in the earlier film).

And though Edgar Barrier has a nice scar and two-toned hair as villain Erich Kreiger, he's no match for Leslie Banks's "Count Zaroff." Weirdly, cinematographer J. Roy Hunt, who provided the eerie, dreamlike look of Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie, can't seem to do the same here, although the jungle footage is convincing enough. It's too bad; rather than being "dangerous," this one just dies a quick "death."

But Kino Lorber has given it a decent Blu-ray release, complete with optional subtitles, trailers for other films in their library and a cheerful commentary track by historian Richard Harland Smith, who tries his very best to defend the film. Also of note, Robert Clarke, who went on to star in many other "B" movies and TV shows, and to direct the "B" movie The Hideous Sun Demon, appears in a small role, as does Jason Robards Sr., father of two-time Oscar winner Jason Robards Jr.

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