The Most Deadly Game
Jonathan Croft, Vanessa Smith and Mr. Arcane
Created by Mort Fine & David Friedkin (and Eric Ambler?)
Here's another obscurity for you -- THE MOST DEADLY GAME, a short-lived ABC series from 1970. Call it CHECKMATE backwards (in more ways than one). Enjoy!
In THE MOST DEADLY GAME, wealthy MR. ARCANE (Ralph Bellamy) teams with former military intelligence officer Jonathan Croft (George Maharis) and beautiful criminologist Vanessa Smith (Yvette Mimieux) to solve unusual murders.
Period. That was it. The premise sounds suspiciously like that of CHECKMATE except that this high-end trio of detectives is solving, rather than preventing, murders (and Ric Meyers, in his book, TV Detectives, credits Ambler with the concept, though Mort Fine and David Friedkin are credited elsewhere as the creators). This was a particularly disappointing series given the behind the scenes talent involved. Line producers were Joan Harrison (producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Ambler's wife) and the team of Mort Fine and David Friedkin (writers and producers of I Spy and veterans of Suspense, Broadway is my Beat, Crime Classics and other top-drawer radio drama series). The Executive Producer was Aaron Spelling, who'd done better with the whodunit format on Burke's Law.
This was a show without a personality. A large part of the problem may stem from the fact that there was never a pilot film or TV movie as such to define the concept or the characters. Fine and Friedkin put together a presentation reel (length unknown to me and, to my knowledge, never aired) starring Inger Stevens, Bellamy and Maharis. Stevens died before the series commenced filming and was replaced by Mimieux. One can speculate about how different the show might have been in tone or execution if Stevens, as beautiful as Mimieux but more mature and elegant, had been the female lead (I can't envision Stevens assuming the Emma Peel-influenced pose Mimieux did in at least one of the show's publicity stills).
The show usually opened with a murder or a body being discovered in an unusual situation (archeologists enter an ancient tomb and find a modern-day body inside; a man is killed with a slingshot), much in the manner of Aaron Spelling's earlier Burke's Law, but without that show's wit or humor (or its guest stars in cameo roles). Nor did it take the approach Checkmate often did of having the story be a character study of the detectives' client.
Typical Game plots: a psychotic serial killer sends messages to Arcane begging to be stopped; Vanessa goes undercover to find out who's been killing fashion models; Jonathan is suspected in the murder of his former military commander; the detectives infiltrate a group therapy session to find a killer. Sound familiar? The series' best episode was its last, "I, Said the Sparrow", in which a mystery writer (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is shot while watching himself be interviewed on the then popular Dick Cavett Show.
It is also the only show in which Mr. Arcane's first name (Ethan) is spoken. ABC dumped it in a Saturday night slot and it played out its twelve episodes in relative obscurity. Decent musical theme.
- "Zig Zag" (presentation film; apparently unaired)
- "Little David" (October 10, 1970)
- "Witches' Sabbath" (October 17, 1970)
- "Gabrielle" (October 24, 1970)
- "Breakdown" (October 31, 1970)
- "Who Killed Kindness?" (November 7, 1970)
- "Photo Finish" (November 14, 1970)
- "War Games" (November 28, 1970)
- "Nightbirds" (December 12, 1970)
- "Model for Murder" (December 19, 1970)
- "The Classic Burial Position" (January 2, 1971)
- "The Lady from Praha" (January 9, 1971)
- "I, Said the Sparrow" (January 16, 1971)
Contributed by Ted Fitzgerald.