Original air date Nov 28, 1970
Directed by Lee Madden
Written by Jack Miller
George Maharis as Jonathan
Yvette Mimieux as Vanessa
Ralph Bellamy as Mr. Arcane
Barbara Luna as Anna
Pat Harrington as Lt. Riverton
Peter Brown as Scott Norton
Billy Dee Williams as Carl
Dan Travanty as King
Frank Farmer as Jay
According to the voice-over in the opening credits of this short-lived series(Oct 1970 to Jan 1971), murder is The Most Deadly Game. Jonathan Croft and Vanessa Smith are detectives and Arcane is a criminalist. In this episode, Croft's commanding officer in Viet Nam is murdered. As Croft had visited him the afternoon he was killed, he's a lukewarm suspect which provides an excuse for the deadly game squad to jump into the mystery. We haven't been able to find anything better than the poor copy we took grabs from here. Due to really annoying color distortions, we're presenting these in black and white.
The murdered man's wife had called Croft to come over supposedly because her husband had been receiving threatening phone calls. However, he'd been drinking and his behavior caused his wife to leave with Croft. However, she has no alibi for the time of the murder as she was out driving around after Croft left to join his cohorts. However, the wife, Anna, is quite beautiful and Croft knew her in Viet Nam prior to her marriage so the police smell a motive.
However, shortly after Croft is questioned, four of his Viet Nam buddies come in with identical confessions. Peter plays Scott, one of the four buddies. They all have reason to hate the Colonel who they hold responsible for the deaths of five of their buddies in Viet Nam. He withheld intelligence information that had they known, would have caused them not to volunteer for what turned out to be a fool's deadly errand, a North Vietnamese trap.
Scott is a stuntman. While in western garb on the set of a movie, he's questioned by Vanessa and appears to be too honest and charming to be a good suspect.
Scott tells Vanessa that all five of them were in love with Anna, including Croft. They were all surprised when she married the Colonel. Scott professed doubt that any of them had ever made love to Anna, at least he hadn't.
Arcane is sure one of the four confessors was really the killer. Or perhaps they all did it together. They find out that the Colonel withheld the intelligence report because he wanted to kill Anna's lover. That would appear to make him a murderer in the guise of a wartime soldier.
And when Croft and Arcane figure out the suicide note was a phony, Croft is jumped by Scott and Carl, but he gets away.
In the end, they figure out that King, who has become quite wealthy, killed the Colonel during a war game played on a table with Napoleonic figures, including armament. A toy cannon was rigged to fire a real .38 caliber bullet. King became Anna's lover after her other lover was killed in the Colonel's plot. King dies by the same device with which he killed the Colonel. It was Anna who gave them the little cannon to be rigged as the murder weapon.
However, whatever sympathy might have been building for the four men with a legitimate revenge motive, dissipates when the weakest of them is murdered in a staged suicide.
NiteOwl Review: The Most Deadly Game was an Aaron Spelling production with a veneer of sophistication which may have seemed more clever in the early 1970s, although in the case of this short-lived series, apparently not clever enough. The verbal sparing among the regular characters, including the flirting between Jonathan and Vanessa, seemed rather forced from a modern view point at least.
Cast Notes: George Maharis seemed to be headed for stardom as a major heart throb in his role as the rebellious, streetwise Buz Murdock in Route 66 (1960-1964), an innovative road series about two dissimilar friends adventuring and philosophizing from job to job in a corvette. It featured directors like Robert Altman and writers like Harlan Ellison. However, in the fourth (and last) season Maharis was replaced by Glenn Corbett after he contracted hepatitis, the most serious scourge of the gay community prior to the appearance of AIDS. The Most Deadly Game was his only other series. Daniel J. Travanti, credited here as Dan Travanty had his greatest success as the stalwart Capt. Frank Furillo in Hill Street Blues (1981-1987). Pat Harrington found sitcom success as the popular Schneider the building super in the long-running One Day at a Time (1975-1984).
Peter's character was the most charming of the four buddies. Not a touch of the sleaze that usually signaled he was going to be the villain in the end. But in this episode, pretty much everyone was a villain other than the three stars. Even the police detective was a jerk and the victim a man not unworthy of death. Although the idea that all the men would confess to cover for the killer was plausible, there really wasn't sufficient motivation for Billy Dee's and Peter's characters to go bad enough to kill one buddy and try to kill another. If you can find a better copy that we have, it's worth acquiring for Peter's part which is relatively significant.
Official Peter Brown Fan Site