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Literature: The Most Dangerous Game

This page is about the short story. If a link for "humans hunting humans" brought you here, please change it to Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.

"The Most Dangerous Game" (also known as "The Hounds of Zaroff") is the 1924 short story by Richard Connell.

Rainsford, a hunter of big game from New York, finds himself shipwrecked on an island. He finds a big mansion with a bored old general there, who describes his one true passion: hunting. The general tells Rainsford that he only hunts the most dangerous game of all... humans. The full story can be found here.The title has a double meaning, referring both to a "game" or contest between the general and his quarry, as well as "game" in the sense of an animal that is hunted.

The story has been directly adapted for film at least eight times, though only twice under its original title: in 1932, with Joel McCrea as Rainsford and Leslie Banks as Zaroff, and in 2008, with Brian Spangler-Campbell and Mark Motyl, respectively. However, it has been imitated by a vastly greater number of works, and is the source and Trope Namer of the Hunting the Most Dangerous Game plot.

This story provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Rainsford. In the film, Eve.
  • Affably Evil: More so in the movie than in the book, Zaroff is quite ruthless, but he can be very charming and polite when he's not hunting human beings. In both cases he quickly slides to Faux Affably Evil.
  • Affirmative Action Girl: Eve, in the film.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: In the original film, Zaroff is changed from a general to a count.
  • Badass: The main character. Not only manages to survive three days in the woods, but also kills two of Zaroff's best hounds and his bodyguard, followed by Zaroff himself. Zaroff himself also counts.
  • Big "NO!": By Rainsford at the climax of the movie.
  • Blood Knight: Zaroff.
  • Canon Foreigner: Eve and Martin in the movie.
  • The Chick: Eve (in the movie).
  • Character Tics: In the movie Count Zaroff has a tendency to rub his head scar whenever he's excited or thrilled.
  • Cossacks: Ivan and Zaroff, see Husky Russkie below.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Zaroff is ten steps ahead of Rainsford. Only being outwitted at the very end.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Zaroff keeps the heads of his victims as hunting trophies.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Ship-Trap Island.
  • Disney Villain Death: In the original film, Zaroff succumbs to his wounds by falling out the window, where his hunting dogs are waiting.
  • Double Entendre: The title. See the entry on the Double Entendre page for an explanation.
  • The Dragon: A minor example in Ivan.
  • Duel to the Death: Rainsford and Zaroff square off at the end of the story; the winner gets to sleep in Zaroff's opulent bed, while the loser's body will be fed to the hounds. It's pretty clear that Rainsford wins.
    He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: General Zaroff.
  • Face-Heel Turn: One interpretation of the ending.
  • Fake Russian: In the movie, Count Zaroff and his henchmen.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Zaroff casually converses with Rainsford about hunting and killing others.
  • Fanservice: Provided by Fay Wray.
  • The Film of the Book
  • For the Evulz: Killing people is Just for Fun with General Zaroff.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the original film, it is implied that Count Zaroff plans to make Eva a Sex Slave after killing Rainsford.
  • A Glass of Chianti
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: In the original film, Zaroff has a large scar on the side of his skull, attributed to an encounter with a Cape buffalo. In Real Life, Leslie Banks was permanently disfigured fighting in World War One.
  • Great White Hunter: Rainsford.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The film, compared with the original story. Sexual deviance is a major theme of the pre-Code movie.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Trope Namer.
  • The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
  • Husky Russkie: Ivan; also, Zaroff.
    "Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow... A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
    "Is he Russian?"
    "He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. "So am I."
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Ship-Trap Island.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: "I'm a hunter, not an assassin!" (In the original film.)
  • In Harm's Way
  • It Amused Me: General Zaroff doesn't hunt people that he hates; he does it for fun.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: General Zaroff.
  • Modern Minstrelsy: Inverted in the first film. The actor playing Ivan the Cossack (Noble Johnson) was actually an African-American, who went on to have a respected career. This was one of the first ever instances of a black actor donning "whiteface" for a role.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: the reason Zaroff got bored with regular game, and why he finds Ivan so useful.
  • Noble Demon: Zaroff may hunt people alive, but he (at least apparently) adheres strictly to the rules of his game.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: The whole purpose of both the story as well as the trope in general. The villain is a big-game hunter who got bored with dumb animals and started hunting humans who could present more of a challenge. Then he finds another almost equally-bored big-game hunter who would be even more of a challenge than random sailors who don't know how to really fight back.
  • One Name Only: Whitney and Zaroff have no first names, Ivan has no last name.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The climactic battle between Rainsford and Zaroff. Considering the general badassery of both characters, it can be assumed that it was quite a fight.
  • Prop Recycling: The first movie reused the jungle sets (as well as the stock screams) from King Kong (they were being filmed at the same time, Kong in the daytime and Game at night).
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Zaroff. He's a Cossack, so Truth in Television.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: The film version adds Fay Wray for exactly this reason.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Zaroff, essentially with his whole "I always get what I want" mentality.
  • Rule of Three: Rainsford makes three traps for Zaroff. The first time Rainsford makes a Malaccan man-catcher, which almost kills Zaroff, but the man dodges just in time. The second trap is a tiger pit with sharpened stakes, which succeeds in killing Zaroff's best hunting dog. The third trap is a Ugandan knife trap, which takes out Ivan.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Movie-exclusive character Martin serves this purpose. He's a drunk, lazy comic relief whose only purpose is to display how Zaroff's game works and trigger the plot.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: As soon as the game begins Rainsford sets out on making the most confounding false trail he can, then covering up his real path. Zaroff finds him anyway.
  • Social Darwinist: General Zaroff.
    "I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life... Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships—lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."
  • The Speechless: Ivan.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: Zaroff uses a bow when the hound begins and in the climax.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: If the hunt has gone for three days with the huntee still outsmarting Zaroff, the general will release his hunting dogs.
  • Tastes Like Friendship
  • Teach Him Anger: Rainsford is far from helpless; but when he gets pushed to the limit, he gets mad.
  • Tempting Fate: Rainsford, to his friends immediately before the ship crashes in the 1932 film:
    "There are two kinds of people in the world: the hunter and the hunted. And I'm not about to become the hunted anytime soon."
  • This Cannot Be!: In the movie, Zaroff's final words are "Impossible!" before collapsing.
  • Tsarist Russia: "Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar..."
  • The Unsmile: In the film, Ivan gives one when Zaroff orders him to greet the new guest.
  • War Is Glorious: According to General Zaroff.
  • World War One: Mentioned in both Rainsford and Zaroff's back story.
  • Wicked Cultured: General Zaroff. Emphasized in the film.
  • You're Insane!

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alternative title(s): Most Dangerous Game; The Most Dangerous Game
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