Ian Charleson and Cherie Lunghi in Master of the Game (Photo: CBS)

Film Frenzy’s Matt Brunson (right) in a screen capture from 1984’s Master of the Game

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary on DVD — and its 35th year in existence — is the 1984 miniseries Master of the Game, an adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s bestselling novel about four generations in the wealthy Blackwell family. Dyan Cannon is the top-billed star in this seven-hour epic, and she dominates the bulk of the show. Yet the earliest portion, set before her character is even born, proves to be the most interesting, tracking the journey of her Scottish father (Ian Charleson) as he encounters promise, then betrayal, then success while searching for diamonds in 1880s South Africa.

Stars Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape) and Ian Charleson (Chariots of Fire) on the set

The scenes set in South Africa were actually filmed in Kenya in the fall of 1983, while I was a senior attending the International School of Kenya. Needing lots of extras to serve as laborers, churchgoers and other assorted townspeople (after all, this was well before CGI), the miniseries’ producers put out a casting call that extended to the school campus. Several of my friends and I signed up, ultimately working six days and one night. We were each paid $200 for our participation, but this was the sort of endeavor any sane teenager would have done for free.

Brunson (right) with Master of the Game director Kevin Connor (center), whose many other credits include The Land That Time Forgot, Motel Hell, and several episodes of TV’s Hart to Hart and Space: 1999

It was a blast from start to finish, and the novelty of it all was so thrilling that we didn’t mind sitting around in the blazing African sun as shots were prepared, actors were cued, and crew members got into place. Adding to the dizzying nature of the experience was the fact that one other student (who, incidentally, went on to become an Emmy Award-winning cameraman) and I were simultaneously appearing in our high school’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, meaning we had to dash from the movie set at the end of most days to arrive at the school before the curtain was raised.

Typical of the engrossing, lavishly produced miniseries that were all the rage during the 1980s, Master of the Game is worth catching on DVD.

The crew hard at work

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