This made-for-television theatrical production, recorded in London, is an adaptation of the 1960 play by James Yaffe, based on the 1956 novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The story begins in the Swiss Alps at the stately home of the elderly Emile Carpeau, where he, Bernard Laroque and Joseph Pillet are impatiently awaiting the arrival of a fourth friend, Gustave Kummer. They are surprised by a stranded American tourist, Howard Trapp, who turns up at the door seeking shelter from the blizzard, and they eagerly invite him to join their dinner party. Howard is surprised when the gentlemen immediately deduce that he is a traveling salesman from New York, and they explain that they are all retired lawyers with a talent for observation. When Howard leaves the room with the maid, Nicole, to freshen up, the men agree that their guest is "a distinct possibility." Gustave finally joins them and quickly guesses that an American stranger has joined them, and when Howard reappears, they explain that they formerly worked in the field of criminal law, with Emile serving as judge, Bernard as the public defender and Gustave as the chief prosecutor. Howard comments that he too makes use of the flaws of human nature, including greed and fear, in his sales techniques, and the men declare that it will prove to be a "stimulating evening."

At dinner, the gentlemen tell Howard about their favorite parlor game, in which they reenact the famous trials of history and play their respective judicial roles, stating that it has served as a "fountain of youth" in their stultifying retirement years. They note that it is even more exciting when played with "live material," explaining that they recently "tried" the local mayor and sentenced him to death, despite Switzerland's outlawing of capital punishment, and Howard gamely agrees to serve as the "defendant," assuring them that he has no dark secrets. Bernard, however, urges him to confess to a "charming" sort of crime, warning him that they will be forced to select a charge for him if he maintains his general innocence. Howard is then startled to learn that Pierre, Emile's mute butler, actually served ten years in a real prison for assaulting his sister's attacker, and that Emile befriended and hired him after sentencing him. Howard takes "the stand" and Gustave begins to question him about his personal life and career, and when Howard mentions that he landed his current cushy job after the sudden death of his boss, Mr. Foster, the men declare that he is officially charged with first-degree murder.

Howard declares his innocence and begins to grow uneasy about the "game," particularly when Joseph reveals that his own role is that of the hangman. As the other retire to don their official robes, Howard questions Pierre about the past defendants and seems relieved when Pierre indicates that he did indeed see the mayor "depart" the premises after the game. He then flirts with Nicole, revealing that he and his wife are in the process of divorcing. Gustave converses with Howard privately and urges him to plead guilty to second-degree murder and save himself from the noose, though Howard dismisses his suggestion, still confident that the game is a mere lark. When the trial resumes, Bernard moves for a mistrial, declaring that Gustave "tampered" with the defendant by speaking to him alone, but Howard, not wanting the game to end, states that he was not unfairly influenced. He jokingly admits to murdering Foster after all, but Emile sternly warns him to take the matter seriously, and Howard explains that he could not truly have killed his boss, as the man died of a heart attack. Gustave, however, forces him to admit that he was having an affair with Foster's wife and that Foster found out about it, thus creating a very plausible motive for murder.

Howard heatedly reveals that Foster found out about the affair from Joe Wilson, Howard's own business rival, on the very day of his death. Gustave argues that Howard, hoping to trigger a fatal heart attack, intentionally arranged for the sickly Foster to learn the unpleasant secret, and though he claims that the affair meant nothing to him, Howard admits that he fought a deep-seated "impulse" to kill the man. Now realizing the gravity of the situation, Howard tries to hitch a ride into town with Nicole, but she reveals that she is the sister whom Pierre avenged and that they are now both implicit in the game as well out of a sense of loyalty to the four men. Bernard delivers his summation, explaining that Howard is innocent "in his mind" and should be forgiven for his semi-unintentional deed, though Gustave argues that Howard clearly did not reject his murderous impulse, as Foster did in fact die, and that he should be held accountable for his "complacent" actions. Alarmed, Howard declares that he is "quitting" the game and tries to make a run for it, but the men remind him that he pledged to participate all the way through to the end, and he finds that he is locked within the house. Emile declares that he is guilty and sentences him to death by hanging, but Howard sprints from the room and flees upstairs, where he seemingly escapes through a high window.

Several days later, Mrs. Trapp arrives at the house and greets the four men, thanking them for their "hospitality" towards her husband. They offer her their condolences for Howard's death, revealing that he suffered a broken neck as a result of falling from an icy precipice – or perhaps from something else. They invite her to stay for dinner, offering to cheer her up with a lighthearted game, and she gladly accepts.


  • DATE: NaN:NaN PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:57:21
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:14288
  • GENRE: Drama, mystery/suspense
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Drama, mystery/suspense
  • SERIES RUN: HBO - TV, 1982


    • Mort Abrahams … Executive Producer
    • Joe Manchester … Producer
    • Alton Wilkes … Producer
    • Emil Coleman … Producer
    • Edie Landau … Producer
    • Ely Landau … Producer
    • Hillard Elkins … Producer
    • Neil Zeiger … Producer
    • Danny Steinmann … Associate Producer
    • George Schaefer … Director
    • Friedrich Dürrenmatt … Writer
    • James Yaffe … Adapted by
    • George Segal … Cast, Howard Trapp
    • Trevor Howard … Cast, Gustave Kummer
    • Robert Morley … Cast, Emile Carpeau
    • Emlyn Williams … Cast, Bernard Laroque
    • Alan Webb … Cast, Joseph Pillet
    • Lesley Dunlop … Cast, Nicole
    • Brian Croucher … Cast, Pierre
    • Connie Booth … Cast, Helen Trapp