Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Knight's Gambit; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Eleanor Parker; Roger Smith; Mountain Greenery; William Faulkner

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #20.

Knight's Gambit

Original Air Date - March 26, 1964

Setting/Time - The Spanish Riviera in the present. [I realize there may not be an actual place known as the "Spanish Riviera," but this episode takes place on the Spanish Mediteranean coast and bears certain specific similarities to KST's two other "Riviera" episodes (see below)].  [Update - April 28, 2013 - Knight's Gambit takes place on a Spanish island just off the Mediterranean coast.]

Plot/Review/Discussion -

This is the second of three KST episodes that take place on the Riviera. The characters are wealthy and do not seem to work for a living. They have plenty of spare time for the drama that unfolds. Except for this episode's location in Spain instead of Italy, the action could have taken place in the same town as "The End of the World, Baby." The atmosphere (but not the plot) was the same.

The phrase "Knight's Gambit" refers to a chess move. The reference is appropriate for this episode. The plot is not nearly as complicated as the chess reference would imply.

"Knight's Gambit" is also the name of an old collection of William Faulkner mystery stories. As Faulkner's Amazon.com reviewer noted:
The mystery at the heart of each story is not found in actions, though some of the plots are puzzling, as much as in the characters' hearts and souls.

This description is appropriate to this episode. The best KST episodes, in general, focus more on the conflicts within the main character than the external action. The Amazon reviewer continues:
The tales in this collection range from the haunting "Tomorrow," which reminds us that no one ever knows where "love or lightning either will strike," to the title selection, in which Stevens (the Knight) captures his Queen after a twenty years' quest spent translating the Old Testament.

There was no twenty year quest or translation of the Old Testament in KST's episode, but this description gives some hints as to what is in store for the KST viewer.

In KST's "Knight's Gambit," a wealthy playboy arrives on the Riviera flying his own private airplane. He begins romancing the secretary of an American diplomat [Blaine], but he turns out to have ulterior motives. I am going to be vague about the story partially to avoid spoiling the plot (in particular, the playboy's ulterior motives) and partially because I have not seen this episode in well over a year.

The secretary suffers from her own internal conflicts. She resists the playboy's advances because she feels guilt about some crime of hers in the past (and about which she is reluctant to speak). As I recall, she has resolved herself to spinsterism working in her boss' mansion in order to escape her own past. [Update - April 28, 2013. The main conflict is the struggle of the playboy to make the secretary come to terms with her past so that he can pursue his own agenda.  There are other conflicts that this conflict sets in motion.]  The secretary's part of the story is the most interesting aspect of the plot and I look forward to seeing this episode again for this reason.

The writers do a good job of tying in the diplomat, the playboy's ulterior motive and the secretary's past as the mystery unravels.

At one point, the playboy plays (and sings) a small portion of "Mountain Greenery" on the diplomat's piano. This performance was not presented as a separate musical number such as you would see on Broadway. It flowed nicely with the dialogue in that scene and appeared as a natural part of the plot progression. "Mountain Greenery" is an old song dating back to the 1920's and, together with the Riviera atmosphere and the performances by the actors, it lends class to this episode. (Only by looking up some of the lyrics was I able to discover what the character was singing and playing.)


Eleanor Parker played the secretary. She is most well-known as the "Baroness" in The Sound of Music. She played opposite Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm. She received 3 Oscar nominations in her 50 year career.

The playboy was played by Roger Smith, star of 77 Sunset Strip and Mr. Roberts, although he is best known for being married to Ann Margret.

Cars - I cannot remember the vehicles in particular, but I seem to recall the playboy driving a red sports car (of course) and the secretary driving a large blue American car (from the late 1950's). This is another reason I want to see this episode again so I can test the accuracy of my memory. [Update - April 28, 2013 - the playboy drives a dark sports car.  The Secretary drives a light blue 1964 Ford Thunderbird (probably the same one from episode 1.17. One can also briefly glimpse a late 1950's - early 1960'a Citroen DS at several points in the story.  The use of the Citroen at several points is relevant to the story. The diplomat - and others - ride in a 1964 Chrysler Imperial. At the very end, one of the characters rides off in a 1961 Cadillac]

[Update - April 28, 2013 - The episode ends in a car chase that detracts from the main conflict, although it is visually appealing.]


  1. Thanks for pointing out this episode for me, I'll have to try and look it up.

    From memory with Eleanor doing well with the role?

  2. If I understand your question, Ms. Parker played the role very well. She portrayed class and dignity. After reading her history, she strikes me as someone deserving of a greater legacy than she now has.

  3. This doubled as a pilot for a projected series that NBC passed on for the 1964-'65 season. Roger Smith would have continued to portray Anrhony Griswold Knight, travelling around the world, and finding himself involved in murder, intrigue, or both.