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Thriller: Where the Action Is (1975)
'Where The Action Is' ended Thriller's fourth series on a high note. It is a very involving and compelling story which snatches the viewer's attention from the very outset and carries on providing a series of clever twists and tricks until the final frame.
Eddie Vallance (played by Edd Byrnes) has been forcibly summoned to the house of Daddy Burns, a notorious gambler with a penchant for coercing promising yet reluctant opponents into a series of challenges that are heavily stacked against them. Burns meets his match in Vallance who also has to cope with the attentions (and fight his own desire) for the highly sensual girlfriend of his host - Ilse (superbly portrayed by the beautiful Ingrid Pitt).
The episode is quite action-packed and relatively claustrophobic given the confined nature of the surroundings. Burns' servants are a motley crew of addicted shysters and add a rather desperate and uneasy aspect to the narrative.
With excellent performances throughout, Where The Action Is can only be categorised as an unforgettable episode and a further example of the series quality and its ability to entertain.
Thriller: Death in Deep Water (1975)
And then there were none
'Death In Deep Water', first transmitted on 22 May 1976, marked the last episode of the best anthology series of all time - Thriller. Following a mixed final season which had highs ('Dial A Deadly Number') and lows ('Sleepwalker'), 'Death In Deep Water' is a most satisfying conclusion.
Bradford Dillman returns for his second outing as Gary Stevens, an eagerly sought-after (in a bad way - wanted dead) former hit-man who has taken refuge in a remote island cottage. His only companion is Ian Bannen, who plays the colourful fisherman Doonan. One day a young woman calls to the cottage seeking shelter from the storm. She is known as Blondie and after some initial hesitation it becomes obvious that Dillman is attracted to her. Gradually the relationship blossoms and more is revealed about her - primarily of interest is her marital status to a wealthy man more than twice her age.
Out of the blue Blondie tells Gary that her husband wishes to uproot them to Nice for sunnier climes and their liaison will soon conclude. Unless, of course, an accident were to befall him, whereupon the riches would go to her. A plan is concocted and Gary returns to his old profession with an well-taken hit. Soon afterwards things take a nasty turn for the worse when it appears that Blondie has fallen foul of the cruel sea, and indeed, died in deep water.
The pace is slow but satisfying and as the narrative unfolds we are continually reminded of Gary's wanted status with a lone assassin on his trail checking out various possible locations.
The ending is superb and comes is a neat twist - sometime which had lacked in later episodes. A worthy finale.
Thriller: A Midsummer Nightmare (1975)
As You Like It
'A Midsummer Nightmare' is Thriller's penultimate episode and like many of the later stories, is rather weak in comparison to the earlier material. However I would disagree that it is the worst - that accolade would go to 'Murder Motel' - and for a good deal of the 65 minutes, 'A Midsummer Nightmare' is reasonably entertaining, albeit somewhat flat in parts.
Joanne Pettet returns for her second outing (she had played Sylvia in 'A Killer In Every Corner') as Jody Baxter, the estranged wife of a private detective. As she shares the same initial as her husband, Jody decides to assume the part of "J.Baxter' when a client comes calling for assistance in solving the murder of his niece some five years previously.
The client is a sombre bachelor named Tully who remains convinced that the killer was a local man - Peter Ingram. The local police and Tully's housekeeper concur with this opinion but explain to Jody that there are unable to locate any evidence to make the charges stick. During the course of her investigation Jody discovers that while Ingram may be an unhinged individual, he may not be capable of murder. A vital clue from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' paves the way to revealing the real killer but Jody puts herself in grave danger as the story lurches to a conclusion.
The climax is quite understated and somewhat surprising. The performances are reasonable but nothing special. Even Brian Blessed gives off a dour air. Nevertheless this is worth seeing even if it is a remnant of the series' former glory.
Thriller: Kill Two Birds (1975)
While 'Kill Two Birds' is widely regarded as the most richly-budgeted Thriller episode, it ranks somewhat below the impressive standards set in series three and while reasonably gripping, suffers from some flat performances from the female leads.
David Daker plays the part of Charlie Draper, a released convict who calls to a friend, Busby only to discover him dead. A trio of unsavory crooks await, led by the refined but sadistic Gadder (Dudley Sutton excels), who are intent on determining the location of monies stolen by Daker some ten years ago. After a struggle Daker escapes and makes his way to the house of an alcoholic struck-off doctor named Kemp with whom he is acquainted. After a quick consultation Daker leaves only for the unfortunate Kemp to be visited by Gadder and his sidekicks, Tosher and Freddie.
Running parallel with is the storyline featuring two most attractive American ladies - Tracy (Gabrielle Drake, sister of the late, lamented Nick) and Sally (Susan Hampshire) whose car breaks down after they dine in a ramshackle snack bar run by Bob Hoskins whom we discover is Charlie's brother, Sammy. Enter Granville Saxton as Farrow, a down and out hippy, and the two plot lines begin to converge.
Gadder and his henchmen are waiting for Charlie to show up and decide that Sammy's premises is where he will come to. Sally and Tracy unwittingly get dragged when they return to the snack bar seeking assistance for their breakdown. Gadder has taken Sammy's wife Carrie hostage at gunpoint and the scene is set for a dramatic and unpleasant ordeal.
The pace is exciting but the female leads are somewhat disappointing and do not add much value to the story. The conclusion is neatly wrapped up with some emotion and a little irony.
Overall - one of the final series' better episodes and well worth a look.
Thriller: Dial a Deadly Number (1976)
If it's a wrong number - hang up!
'Dial A Deadly Number' saw Gary Collins make his third and final appearance in Thriller, having shone in 'Only A Scream Away' and 'The Double Kill'. This is a real slow-burner of an episode with a suitably languid pace that rolls along pulling various parts of the jigsaw together before a very satisfying and somewhat disturbing climax.
The plot relies on a clever contrivance involving a a misdialled telephone number - from which Dave Adams (Collins) takes advantage. He has been mistaken for a psychiatrist and decides to seize the opportunity of making some easy money from his clearly upset patient Helen Curry (played with the right degree of nervousness and fragility by Gemma Jones). She has been having nightmares within which she stabs a young man and is becoming alarmed at their ferocity and frequency. A number of facts emerge: Helen's sister Ann had a boyfriend called Paul Kirby, he has disappeared and his sister Sally has hired a private detective named O'Hara to search for him. This exercise proves to be fatal as O'Hara meets his death in the Curry house. By stabbing.
Adams' friend Tim is appalled by the deception and decides to reveal the fraud to Helen when she dials his number. In the interim Adams becomes romantically involved with Ann and learns a little more about the sisters' past and the strong influence of their mother - which has a significant bearing on the final outcome.....
It's hard to be engaging when the things you love keep changing
'Nightmare For A Nightgale' is a reasonably entertaining installment from Thriller's final series. By this point it was proving difficult to sustain the original and gripping tales that had prevailed for most of the opening five series. However this remains an engaging story which is certainly worth a look.
Susan Flannery plays Anna Cartell, a renowned opera singer, who is shocked when her supposedly dead husband, Tony, pays her visit one evening. He quickly establishes his motives - money - but an argument ensues and she accidentally kills him.
Problem solved? In a script not unlike 'Once The Killing Starts', Anna starts to receive flowers in the style that Tony used to send and a trip back to the scene of the crime reveals a missing body. She confides in her manager Sam with whom there is more than meets the eye...
The conclusion is reasonably cut and dried but is somewhat woolly in its execution. Certainly not the worst episode but not that memorable either.
Thriller: The Next Victim (1976)
Long hot summer
'The Next Victim' was the second episode of Thriller's final series and thankfully is an improvement on the lackluster opener 'Sleepwalker'.
Set during an intense heatwave (summer of 1976 - although transmitted in April) the action centres upon an apartment book where Sandy and Derek Marshall reside. Sandy (played by the striking Carroll Baker) is temporarily confined to a wheelchair following an horrific car accident while Derek is a high profile businessman who specialises in the insurance industry.
Against this backdrop is a serial strangler whom we see ending the lives of a number of unfortunate ladies. To complete the sense of unease, the janitor in the Marshall's building is the disturbing Bartlett who comes complete with a mother and baby fixation.
Derek is called away one bank holiday to a meeting with a Lebonese client while Sandy is left alone in the apartment. She invites a neighbour, Betty, down for a drink but when the latter fails to show, Sandy becomes anxious and fears the worst. Help seems to be at hand when kindly tenant, Tom Packer steps in....
Similar in plot to 'I'm The Girl He Wants To Kill', 'The Next Victim' is sadly not in the same league. There are some decent scenes and TP McKenna's Frampton is enjoyable to watch. The final quarter is very tense as Sandy realises the danger she is in. However the closing scene is somewhat perplexing and feels somewhat unfinished.
Thriller: Sleepwalker (1976)
Good atmosphere but a contender for the drop
'Sleepwalker' opened Thriller's final series in April 1976. Like the series five closer, 'Murder Motel', 'Sleepwalker' is a comparatively weak installment which occupies a lowly position in the episodes' overall ranking.
Darleen Carr stars a Katey Summers, daughter of an American author Dan who has taken a house in England for a few months. Like the title suggests she is a sleepwalker who frequently leaves her bed and wanders. In addition she begins to experience nightmares, one which is set in an old-fashioned room where a wizened man kisses a bible and proclaims his fortune and the fact that it is unlikely to be discovered. A subsequent dream sees this old man being murdered by a youth in Victorian costume. Katey bares her soul to a young man named Barnstaple with whom she has struck up a romance. Her father is a kindly man but is preoccupied with his writing while the two servants Esme and Parsons are publicly sympathetic but privately disdainful (particularly the unimaginative Esme) of their employers.
The plot thickens when the Victorian costume-clad man turns up on Katey's door and convinces her that he has had the same dream. A cursory examination of her wardrobe leads to a Narnia-like discovery and an unconvincing climax.
Nevertheless the dream sequences are well handled and an air of mystery pervades throughout. Plus it's got John Challis as a friend of Dan's so all is not lost.
Thriller: Murder Motel (1975)
'Murder Motel' brings Thriller's fifth series to a rather damp end and is one of weakest episodes in the entire run. There are some decent comic touches and reasonably competent acting performances but the whole premise is entirely implausible and somewhat confusing.
It begins with a homage (albeit a gender swap) to Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' with a businessman checking into the motel and being stabbed as he showers. It appears that the motel is used as a place for contract killings and beneath the affable veneer of the owner Sam (played by Derek Francis, of 'K is For Killing' and 'Who Killed Lamb?' fame) lies a steely heart that is only warmed by the prospect of money.
Michael Spencer and his sister Helen arrive at the hotel with the aim of meeting a work colleague (Charles Burns - played by Edward Judd who also shone in 'Sign It Death') of Michael's that they suspect is involved in an internal embezzlement of company funds. Both parties fall foul to the motel's murderous staff and it later transpires that Burns is up to his neck in fraud and conspiracy. Michael's fiancé Kathy - an attractive American girl checks in at the motel in an attempt to solve the mystery but from then on it just unravels into forced dramatics and a weak conclusion.
In mitigation the story will keep you entertained and there is a wonderful appearance from Alan McClelland as a sleazy private investigator whose services are engaged by Kathy. His meeting with Sam is particularly inopportune. Gillian McCutcheon also lights up the screen as Burns' secretary who is revealed to be as corrupt as her boss.
Thriller: The Next Voice You See (1975)
The theme of blindness which Thriller handled so effectively in 'The Eyes Have It' from its first series is revisited in 'The Next Voice You See' which is the penultimate episode in series five.
The story begins in 1964 with a bank robbery in which Stan Kay's wife, Susie is tragically killed while he is blinded from a double-barreled shotgun blast. We then fast forward to 1974 where Stan (played by Brad Dillman), a successful jazz pianist, is due to play an engagement party for a wealthy society girl. Whilst performing he is shocked to hear a snatch of a familiar voice in the crowd - which he recognises as the dulcet tones of the armed robber ten years beforehand.
He conveys his worries to his agent Julie (played by the beautiful Catherine Schell) who is initially sceptical. As the evening unfolds the voice is heard again and again while Stan vainly tries to ascertain the speaker. It soon becomes evident that the murderer is aware of Stan's presence and an exciting game of seek and destroy follows. During this time his identity is kept a secret and we are just treated to glimpses of his shoes.
Amongst the supporting cast are Ray Smith as the gruff security guard Tamplin, Nigel Havers as a drunken guest and Geoffrey Chater as the affable host Sir Peter. The closing sequence in the wine cellar is extremely exciting as we see the killer close in on Stan.
Whilst not as strong as 'The Eyes Have It', 'The Next Voice You See' is a very competent episode and has plenty to recommend it. Go see.