Two men are playing a card game - the exceptionally wealthy Walter "Daddy" Burns and Tommy Vaughan. Tommy loses and Burns outlines a new game in which two guns will be placed on a revolving table - one with live bullets, the other with blanks. The wheel will be spun and Vaughan is to pick up the nearest gun and have first shot at Burns. He has to hope he gets the gun with live bullets even though that will mean killing Burns. The wheel is spun, he picks up the nearest gun and shoots at Burns but it becomes evident he has picked the one with blanks; Burns is unharmed and - despite Vaughan's pleas for mercy - shoots him dead.
Action then switches to Eddie Vallance, a young American gambler in a casino. He loses and is then invited to meet a very attractive woman. In her room his drink is drugged and he loses consciousness. When he awakes he finds himself in a large house - the same one owned by "Daddy" Burns. The woman he met was Ilse - Burns's girlfriend. Eddie then learns that he is not allowed to leave the house - if he tries he will be shot.
Eddie plays various games against Burns who insists he is the best poker player in the world. a claim that Eddie disputes. Eddie certainly needs to prove Burns wrong because a very special final game is planned. At the end of a poker match Eddie will go through the same lethal "game" as Tommy Vaughan and either he or Burns will be dead. Burns doesn't seem keen on losing so Eddie knows he is playing for his life against all the odds...
Although this episode rarely gets mentioned in dispatches it has a solid reputation and arguably under-rated. Without question it has a very unusual setting and theme but it works well and is probably the most stylish outing.
The teaser is both remarkable and very powerful. Burns's scheme with the guns is deeply disturbing but he isn't ruffled at all. Tommy Vaughan on the other hand is understandably very frightened (a strong performance by Larry Cross). The difference in reactions should maybe have alerted the viewer that Burns had an ulterior reason for his confidence. The arrival of Eddie Vallance shows we are going to be watching a very slick operator. Eddie is effortlessly cool and stylish. He has tremendous wit and resilience. He is placed in an extraordinary situation - drugged and transported to a mysterious house from which there is no escape. He is confused but he never loses his cool and keeps on top of his game.
The house and its estate, from which there is no escape, bears some resemblance to the village in The Prisoner. Not only that but like Number Six he is rendered unconscious so that he can be taken there. Maybe the similarity is a little too strong but it is still well done. The gentility of the staff is quite amusing - particularly the remark that they can only wound Eddie if he tries to escape - "We're not allowed to kill you Sir." Eddie does try to get out but despite his own ingenuity - just like Number Six - he finds the odds are too great. The staff such as Winters are too canny - and addicted to gambling - to be defeated.
|Eddie Vallance and the deceptive Ilse (Edd Byrnes & Ingrid Pitt)|
Daddy Burns is a great villain. Although genial on the surface it doesn't take long for a rather nasty substance to emerge. Winning is everything for this man but he has to find new and illicit means of excitement. His arrogance is just a cloak for a combination of corruption and insecurity. Although he likes to give the impression of a man of exceptional talent and boldness he can only succeed by stacking everything in his favour. Tommy Vaughan could not expose him and paid with his life and a similar fate seems to await Vallance.
The battle of wits between Burns and Vallance is marvellous. The dialogue just crackles with panache, particularly from Eddie but Burns is great value as well. Eddie in particularly excels when it matters most at the end in the final "death game". Edd Byrnes gives a super display as Vallance in an inspired piece of casting - just right for such a stylish part and maybe there could have been mileage is spinning-off such a memorable character into a private detective / agent series of his own. However Irish actor James Berwick is also outstanding as Burns. His American accent is exceptionally well done and will convince many a viewer that they are seeing the real thing. The two actors bring out the best in each other and all their scenes are engaging and entertaining without ever lacking dramatic edge.
Ingrid Pitt is best known for her horror roles and has a rather different task here, albeit still playing a character on the wrong side of the tracks. Ilse has a smouldering sexuality and her attraction to Eddie is evident but she probably has an even greater attraction to money and success. Burns will satisfy her as long as he is on top but she is clearly prepared to change sides if it suits her. Ingrid is fine in this enigmatic role.
Overall this intriguing episode seems to be on the boundary between Thriller proper and a somewhat different but also engaging investigatory show. There are some limitations which prevent this being one of the higher-rank of Thriller. There is maybe a lack of pace, with the story perhaps needing an extra dimension. The gambling references can be a touch complex at times, although they are still manageable. Winters is quite an engaging figure but the other staff members could have had more impact. The close of the episode seems rather abrupt and could have either been developed a little further or better edited. However these are small reservations and this is a satisfying episode - even down to its splendidly slick title.