Episode 22: The Case of the Poisoned Pawn
"I wonder if you'd care to wager on the chess match of the century?"
The challenge is on. Gene Bradley may well have met his match, and only one man can emerge victorious. The challenge; a most deadly game. A game of skill, and cunning, where the stakes are high and the risks are great, and where the wrong move can cost you more than just your life.
Yes, it's 25 minutes of watching Gene Barry trying to learn how to play chess. You might want to start getting your personal affairs in order.
It's Gene and Barry and the Parminter-outside-the-office shot. Enjoy, won't we?
Dennis Price (Brandon), Cyril Luckham (Lord Franklin), Stuart Wilson (Brian Hamilton), Dawn Addams (Lady Anne Benson), Martin Benson (Nicky Asteri), Jenny Hanley (Julia Franklin), Paul Williamson (Superintendent), Max Latimer (Max), Christine Donna (Secretary), David Blagden (Grant), Michael Martin (Bank Official).
We're back in (mostly) stock footage London this week, with the only new material being of Dennis Price catching a taxi from Harrods and Barry Morse in a police car somewhere or other, as well as several guest stars wandering around. Yes, it's all happening this week...
Hoorah! This episode finally features another mission briefing after so long of us not having had any mission briefings of which to speak of with our friends. Faintly sad music plays as we close in on Parminter's office, and inside is Mr Gene Bradley with a blank expression of his face. Gene, honey, we're rolling...
And his wrinkled old face suddenly snaps into action. "What's the matter with you?" he asks. "You can't just...break a fella?"
"Well, if anybody can do it, you can." replies Parminter, and yes, that is very true. I think that, twenty-plus episodes in, we can be certain that Gene has well and truly broken all of us several times over. "After all, you're the best poker player I've ever come across."
"Oh, come on, Parminter." protests Gene, trying not to blush girlishly. "You've never even played me poker."
"No, quite - that's just the point."
Er...what? I don't get that...either Parminter means that Gene isn't that good at poker (no poker face in his reply, do you see? Hmm?) or he means that Gene's so brilliant at everything else ever that it's safe to assume he's the greatest poker player since Nero. Depressingly, that's probably what they were getting at...
"Anything over about £20,000 will do." suggests Parminter.
"As a favour?" asks Gene.
Parminter's face suddenly takes on a stern look. "I want you to break him, Gene. Just...simply break him."
Who is to be broken, you may well be asking? Why, this smarmy looking fellow, of course:
And that's our briefing. Who he is, what he has done, and all that other crap is (for the moment) apparently none of our business...
As we can see from his visit to Lord Franklin's groovy pad, Gene is apparently a great poker player. "I grew up in a tough school." he explains. Wait - he grew up in a school? Well, that might go some way towards explaining...well, not a lot, actually.
Gene hasn't played chess since he was 15. "I was taught by a priest who said I was a natural." he assures us. So there. Nyah. The name of this priest is 'Father Bartoni' - this is not the old priest friend from Full Fathom Five. Continuity? What's that?
But doesn't this mean that - yes! - we have his weakness! He's practically perfect in every way - except chess!
Until the end of the episode, of course, when, after a week of on/off study with his butler, he is able to easily defeat his opponent. Not only that, but the writer actually has Brandon say "You could have been a grand-master, had you persisted." Fortunately, Dennis Price delivers the line in a faintly sarcastic way, but the meaning is clear and depressingly serious.
Gene is also revealed to be something of an expert on antiques (of course), and he hears Parminter's voice inside his head during this episode. I do not wish to go into the significance of that.
Parminter shows up at the start to set out Gene's task for the episode, then reappears around halfway through to offer moral support ("You simply can't win, it's impossible!") before clearing off again.
I bet she's having a well-deserved holiday with Gavin, Vince, Wayne and Brett, and that they're getting up to all kinds of mischief.
No Gavin, but again we have Brandon, making his third, final and most memorable appearance as Gene's weary manservant..
"I was captain of chess at school, sir." he replies, when told of the challenge Gene faces. "Rather strong on the queen's side...I favoured that gambit." Yes, I'll bet you did, you old rascal.
Convinced that Gene's going to completely cock the whole thing up, Brandon takes it upon himself to teach his master the basics of the noble art of chess, journeying to Harrods to fetch a set and some instructions books (the old boy's even had them individually wrapped up, bless). He soon wishes he hadn't, as Gene insists on practicing all day long, and our man Brandon is soon offering his resignation.
Which is rejected.
Gene makes a toast at the end of the episode - "To our victory, and to my mentor...Father Bartoni."
Gene...you bastard. He then adds "And you." but already the damage is done. The look on Brandon's face as he downs yet another glass of bubbly tells us that his resignation is again imminent, and we end the episode with him looking seriously cheesed off. As well he should.
That's the look of a man plotting painful revenge, no?
No fashion disasters or disco-boogying this week, but Gene does demonstrate a funky new fighting move, where he blocks a doorway, ducks, and allows a baddy to leap over him and land awkwardly on his back. Hooray, why not?
No real old friends to speak of. Father Bartoni is mentioned, as I said above, but it's not made clear whether Gene knew any of the other guest characters before the events of this episode.
It turns out that Parminter is after Brian Hamilton (AKA Mr Smarmypants) because he suspects him of carrying out a number of jewellery robberies against various rich personages. No proof, you understand, he just suspects it.
The stake for chess match itself is £25,000, Gene's thinking being that if he wins (unlikely, given that Brian is an Oxford Blue) then Brian will have to reveal his source of income when he pays up. Of course, Gene wins, because he's a genius and a week is all he needs to become King of Chess, and Brian is arrested not long after leaving the bank with stolen jewellery that he was intending to sell in order to give Gene his winnings
There are also some thugs working for Brian Hamilton, and they forcefully attempt to convince Gene not to play the chess match - that is, until he turns into a stuntman and beats the crap of them.
Elsewhere, someone sends Gene a message - 'Beware the Poisoned Pawn' - but the only explanation we get for it comes from Lady Anne and doesn't clear up anything at all; "Some sort of a joke!"
BRANDON: "May I enquire whether the goddess of fortune smiled on us last night, sir?"
GENE: "What is it, Brandon?"
Oh, crikey - he's finally lost it. It took us twenty-one episodes, but the moment is finally here - Gene's completely forgotten his lines. Fortunately, quick-witted and half-sober Dennis Price is on hand to rescue the scene...
GENE: "What did Father Bartoni say? Space...time...strength!"
Ah, so that's where Gene's haphazard sentence constructions come from. Seems like this Father Bartoni chap taught Gene all he knew...
LADY ANNE BENSON: "What a good man you are, Mr Bradley."
GENE: "No I'm not."
Exactly. That's what I've been saying all along...
Hamilton challenges Gene to the chess match. They witter on about the stakes and what not. The final line before the credits is Gene's: "I shall look forward to it, Mr Hamilton."
Two possible candidates for this section, both from Gene: there's "Please do not confuse me!" but I prefer "I've played a fool before."...
A chess game. A freakin' chess game. That's what we've been reduced to, folks - the basis of all gripping drama, obviously. For Christ's sake, there's a five minute scene near the end which is just non-stop chess, while characters we couldn't give a toss about make comments from the sidelines. What utter claptrap.
Oh, and while I have played in the past I'm not expert at chess, but I'm pretty sure that certain moves performed by Gene and Brian aren't actually allowed - such as moving two of your own pieces at once...
Those mice have been at it again:
Elsewhere, there's plenty of technical dodgyness. The thug who calls up Gene and lures him to somewhere or other to be beaten up has been badly dubbed, but only at the point where he tells Gene where he wants him to go. Later on, at the thugs' place, there's both a very wobbly wall and a very noticeable stunt double for Gene to watch out for.
A rather hilarious moment comes near the end of the episode, as Parminter sits in a generic police car with generic policemen. Outside, some people walk past - until a hand grabs one of them, hard, and drags him offscreen.
I'd like to think this is a member of the production team dragging an innocent civilian out of shot. I really would.
Two candidates here this week. Firstly - does Gene or does Gene not forget his line? Decide for yourself here:
Also, I have to include Mr Secretive Bus' favourite moment from the series. Again, it's Price-related, and it's part of a little montage here:
Not even that music can make it seem anywhere near remotely exciting...
I get the feeling that Gene sort of resents having Dennis Price around. It's nothing I can put my finger on, just the occasional look that says "I know you're acting me off the screen and I hate you for it." Bless.
Other than that, there's little else to say here, so it's time to tackle something that I probably should have done much earlier on - those wild and wacky opening titles. What I'd like to do is go through them shot by shot, but...what's the point? There's nothing I can say...the opening titles are just beyond comment. Sit back, and enjoy.
But - hold hard! The DVD set features various alternate takes of certain title sequence shots, and - better yet - different sequences that never made it to the final cut. Oh, you lucky lucky people. Let's have a look at those...
First up, we have alternate takes of four shots that made it into the final sequence. Important differences to note are Gene stretching his arms out after running out of the door (top left), Gene attempting to climb up the rope and failing (top right), Gene ducking almost completely out of shot like a cornered animal (bottom left), and...well, I don't know what's going on bottom right, but he doesn't look too happy about it.
Here we have a new sequence, where Gene and his duffelcoat are out in the field doing some spying. Slowly they rise from behind the barrels, then peer through the binoculars, gazing intently at something or other. There's two takes of this one - the second is pretty much the same as the first, except that he wanders off at the end with a blank expression on his face. Well done, Gene. Great job.
I don't know what the hell is going on here. Firstly, Gene seems to be shoving aside invisible people with his elbows, and then, with an expression of utter madness on his face, he picks up a piece of wood and begins hitting the camera with it.
Look at that last picture - that's nothing less than the face of a psychopath. Fortunately, Gene ends his little episode with a smile, assuring us that he won't be coming to brutally murder us while we sleep.
Not today, anyhoo.
I have to admit whoever came with the idea for this episode had balls of steel. "Let's just film Gene sitting around learning how to play chess, and then at the end, he can...play more chess!" Ooh, yes! THRILL as Gene studies! GASP as characters we've never seen before chat to each other about something we don't care about! CHEER as Gene's one week of study with his elderly butler enables him to beat one of the most talented players in the country!
I'm in a bit of dilemma as to how to score this...as television, it's crap, and even crapper than your average Adventurer episode...but...I admire it. It's got nerve, it's got...er...Dennis Price...
It's worth a look. But just the one, mind.
|"I'm hoping, Gene, that if I stare at you for long enough I'll be able to make your head explode..."|
|Dennis Price - Master of Pondering.|
|"You want me to stick this up my where, Brandon?"|
|"I'm very disappointed in you, you naughty jewel thief, you."|
|About the most impressive shot on the entire series. And that's not saying much.|