Danger Man to Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan

DATELINE: In His Mind 

Notorious Village at Portmerion, Wales

 

Portmerion is in Wales and was built in the 1960s to be an anomaly Italian resort by the sea. When actor Patrick McGoohan went there for an episode of his Danger Man series, he was struck by the rococo isolation—and it inspired him to create a seminal 1960s TV series, the cult-favorite The Prisoner.

McGoohan played the notorious #6 who is kidnapped as a secret agent and imprisoned by #2. It turned out to be 17 episodes, though he wanted only 7. And, the show, a marvel of modernity, became his Citizen Kane: a creation from top to bottom.

You may recall McGoohan chased on the beach by a giant white beach ball that returns him to the Village of imprisonment. Every episode he was bedeviled by a new #2. Number One was a mystery. He was #6. In My Mind is his story.

Under pseudonyms, he directed many episodes and wrote them. He was officially listed as executive producer, a man who was not a number. Imagine agent John Drake’s horror today when he would be even less than a number.

McGoohan created the props, the costumes, the settings, to be exactly what he wanted. It was a marvel that not even Orson Welles could critique.

McGoohan always played some kind of secret agent in so many films before he moved to Hollywood and did smaller character roles for the final 20 years of his career.

Director Steve Rodley was a superfan—and dug up a rare 1977 interview aobut The Prisoner, and he begged the reclusive McGoohan to talk with him in the 1990s in Los Angeles. To his surprise, the actor acceded. He also took over the interview, actually directing it. He was irascible and always quick to anger.

They once asked Lew Grade how he managed to get along with McGoohan—and he said he had no problems because he gave him whatever he wanted.

McGoohan’s daughter Catherine agreed to speak on behalf of her father, with reluctance, but knows his great series deserves an honor on its 50thanniversary in 2018.

The interspersing of McGoohan footage, on and off screen, at Portmerion and by amateur photogs, is amazing to behold. The actor manages to annotate his own great film role and project—and it was all in his mind from the start. After giving an interview about the Prisoner, McGoohan offered a blank check to buy back the video footage. it was refused.

Fans of the show cannot miss this documentary, and it may well bring more people to watch the original 1960s masterpiece.

The Hard Way Made Easy

DATELINE: Little Known Classic

McGoohan & Van Cleef Old Stars Die Hard!

It comes across as a movie made for British TV, but The Hard Way is easily a thoughtful and careful drama.

The stars are the mainspring of this film:  you have a chance to see Lee Van Cleef play an American mobster with Irish ties, and his assassin Patrick McGoohan. What a treat to find these aging legends together in a taut character drama.

Since the film is set in and made in 1979, the two stars are about 15 years past their prime.

As a consequence, both stars look like extremely tired versions of their middle-aged selves. They are not quite old, but soon will be there. The film has long been unavailable in the United States, but now can be streamed from Prime.

As we all know, Patrick McGoohan made a career out of playing some kind of British secret agent with a license to kill, whether he was The Prisoner or Danger Man.  And, here he is not too far afield as Connor, a secret mob hitman.

Van Cleef was more at home on the range but seems not too far removed when he visits McGoohan’s bleak, spartan cottage in the rural wilds of Ireland. In seclusion, far from family, McGoohan’s noir hero stays alone, apart from close contacts for miles, but the depressing little house has electricity in some miraculous fashion.

Van Cleef will force his enforcer to kill again by some dint of personal loyalty. It is not a case of enthusiastic friendship, and their scenes together are fascinating in the politesse of criminal etiquette.

John Boorman produced this film, which was done in Ireland entirely as a modern film noir with redeeming moments of stunning silence. The sense of bleak coldness is palpable.

The film is a treat for aficionados, more akin to a LeCarre story.