Plot: Max Castle (John Davidson) used to be one of the smoothest confidence men around, but he has changed his ways of late. He now puts his skills to use in more legitimate ways, helping his brother Stephen (Robert Sampson) and his clients avoid being scammed. After all, who better to sniff out schemes and cons than someone who was a master of the criminal arts? The latest assignment for Max involves Constance (Louise Latham), who is being framed for extortion at a well known charity, so she needs assistance to uncover the real crook. The charity is high profile and well funded, so Max knows he has an uphill climb to get to the truth, so he enlists the help of some of his colorful former associates. But can even Max and his friends crack this case or has he met his match in the realm of cons?
Entertainment Value: Shell Game was the pilot for a television series, but of course, the show would never come to fruition. But this feature length episode is still interesting and has some appeal, especially if you like eclectic casts, as this movie packs quite an offbeat ensemble of talent. The narrative is nothing special, but it has to set a pattern for future episodes to follow, so that softens the lesser elements. I think the story does what it was supposed to do, which is establish Max Castle and his band of anti-heroes, so while the actual caper isn’t memorable, it is fine. If nothing else, it allows us to witness Tom Atkins as an over the top southern gentleman and to me, that is reason enough to make Shell Game worth a look. The pace is brisk, as you’d expect from a television production and with barely 70 minutes of run time, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I can’t claim this is some kind of great movie, but Shell Game is an interesting curio and I’d recommend it based on the cast alone.
As this was intended to help launch a Shell Game television series, the movie winds up as a vehicle for John Davidson. I have to admit, I checked out the movie based on Davidson as the central character, as I was interested to see how he’d fare. I think he does well, though his performance is geared toward the television market, so it feels a little more relaxed overall. Which works out well, since he is playing a cool, confident type and that falls within his wheelhouse. But my favorite part of Shell Game was Tom Atkins, who has a small role, but is given some decent screen time. I don’t know if Atkins was planned to be a regular on the series, but if not, he should have been. He is hilarious here and his presence adds so much appeal, especially seeing him ham it up as the cowboy hat clad southern gentleman. Even if you’re just interested in the movie for Atkins’ work, trust me, it is worth it. The cast also includes Joan Van Ark, Robert Sampson, Louise Latham, and Jack Kehoe.