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.

Unequal Odds Against You?

DATELINE: TV MASHUP

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The Equalizer (Edward Woodward’s famous silhouette)

With the interest in Person of Interest, we were drawn back to the earliest ex-CIA agent gone rogue incarnation. The original series about The Company featured Edward Woodward and Robert Lansing back in 1985.

For four seasons, with primitive technology (but computer savvy nonetheless), The Equalizer helped ordinary people in trouble, same formula as Person of Interest.

Taking in the first season of Woodward’s character, he broke so many rules of the era. He was a silver-haired, middle-aged dissident, going even a few steps beyond Patrick McGoohan’s Prisoner.

Robert Lansing equaled the Equalizer as put-upon Control, right out of a John LeCarre vision of secret agency. Yes, Person of Interest also has a seldom seen, evil Control.

Of course, the repertory of supporting actors in recurring roles was always a delight: Austin Pendleton, Mark Margulies, and Saul Rubinik, were constants back in the 1980s. Come to think of it: they have all appeared in Person of Interest, twenty-five years later.

Both shows were also filmed on location in New York City, providing a colorful backdrop that remains a throwback to the Golden Age of TV, all done in New York studios. Both anti-heroes had a penchant for a quick trigger finger when needed and used New York cops as errand boys.

Only the first season of Equalizer is available on DVD, but the Michael Sloan vision is being resurrected with Denzel Washington as a new movie version of Woodward’s Robert McCall. The update will likely have him texted, not phoned. Of course, the new movie would not have been possible without Jim Caviezel’s new incarnation of the vigilante with a moral compass.

Good ideas never grow old, and The Equalizer grew in its quality, much as has Person of Interest in its three seasons. Of course, we do prefer originals.