Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

“The Deep End.” An episode of Kraft Suspense Theater, NBC, 2 January 1964 (Season 1, Episode 11). Aldo Ray, Clu Gulager, Tina Louise, Ellen McRae, Whit Bissell, Paul Langton. Teleplay by Jonathan Hughes based on the novel The Drowner by John D. MacDonald. Directed by Francis D. Lyon.

   Despite some of the more obvious sexual aspects of the novel being toned down considerably, this is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Gold Medal original paperback by John D. MacDonald published as The Drowner, and about the closest thing MacDonald ever wrote to a straight private eye novel.

   Lucille Benton (Ellen McRae) a soon to be divorced daughter of regional old money, has died while swimming on private property owned by her lover wealthy self made developer Sam Kimber (Aldo Ray), except, we, the viewer, saw her murdered by someone in scuba gear in the opening credits, so we are one step ahead of everyone but the killer when insurance adjustor Dan Walsh (Clu Gulager) shows up asking Sheriff Kyle (Paul Langton) about things like suicide. Things get even touchier when he talks to Sam Kimber at his office once he gets past Kimber’s protective Amazonian secretary Angie Powell (Tina Louise).

   It seems Lucille Benton was divorcing weak willed Nico Benton (Dan Barton) for rough tough sweet Sam a real man, and it also plays out Lucille was holding some $200,000 dollars of money for Sam he had salted away as emergency funds without telling the IRS. Now Lucille is dead, the money is missing, the IRS is hard on Sam’s heels, accountant Gus Hickman (Whit Bissell) has been nosing around and may have talked enough to get Lucille killed, and who knows where this Walsh character will pop up. Sheriff Kyle may know which side his bread is buttered on when it comes to Sam Kimber, but he isn’t so loyal he will keep quiet about just anything.

   Then Lucille Benton’s sister Barbara Shepherd (a dual role for Ellen McRae) shows up unnerving Sam with her resemblance and we discover Dan Walsh is no insurance man but a private detective she hired because she thinks Lucille was murdered. When Gus Hickman is killed suspiciously near one of Kimber’s construction sites, Walsh puts two and two together, but the only way he can prove his suspicions is make himself bait for murder at the same place and in the same way as Lucille Benton.

   Television had to tone down the novel considerably, Lucille goes swimming in a one piece and not skinny dipping for one thing, MacDonald’s sexual themes are kept to a minimum, and there is some psychosexual business that gets considerably trimmed, but all in all it is a good adaptation of a MacDonald novel that touches on many of his themes including the self made man versus corrupt inherited wealth and influence, the darker side of American business and its practices, adultery, sexual healing, and sexual frustration as a motive for twisted emotions and even murder.

   As always in MacDonald, sex as anything but a healthy outlet for adults is dangerous and destructive and nothing more so than repressing it or expressing disgust at it. Prudery and murder are never far from each other in MacDonald’s universe.

   There is really too much story for the hour-long format to let a lot of suspense develop, but the performances are good and the story moves along well. It might help if the teleplay didn’t keep revealing things too soon, but at the same time I doubt many people couldn’t guess how this was going to go.

   Although Dan Walsh is not the only private detective to appear in a MacDonald novel, he is the only one to be anything like the protagonist in one. You have to wonder if MacDonald just wanted to try a private eye set up on for size or what his motivation was since this could easily have been told in a more typical MacDonald manner with a more typical MacDonald hero. He had used investigators, police and Federal, before, but I think Walsh is his only private detective hero.

   Nothing great, but worth seeing for MacDonald fans. There is even an early James Bond joke when Sam Kimber says of Dan Walsh’s theory that it is as fantastic as “That Bond fellow, the one who is always fighting criminal masterminds, what’s his name?” It may even be one of the earliest James Bond references in mainstream television, or close to it.

   A good hour long entry in a usually reliable anthology series, and an interesting one for John D. MacDonald fans.