Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Danger Man/Secret Agent

It's 1968 and I'm 9 years old and one of my favorite shows is the enigmatic THE PRISONER starring Patrick McGoohan. On Saturday afternoons, though, there's another Patrick McGoohan. This one's a cerebral secret agent named John Drake. In fact, he's THE secret agent, as in the bouncy hit song by Johnny Rivers that served as the theme for SECRET AGENT. It would be many years before I had a clue that song was appended in the US to a show actually called DANGER MAN.

Patrick McGoohan was a very mannered actor, thoughtful and intelligent. He is perhaps unique in the annals of show business in that he famously refused to do any love scenes--ever--so there are no real Bond-style femmes fatale in SECRET AGENT.

Born in New York but raised in England, the earliest incarnation of DANGER MAN in the UK was a half hour show featuring John Drake as an American agent, complete with American accent. The show returned in a better-suited one hour format with Drake somehow now a British agent, accent and all.

Although there were some nods to 007-style gadgets, the spy stories in the series tended toward the more serious side with espionage games, counter-spies and questioned loyalties galore.

If you're a fan of British actors, ths series abounded with excellent performances from quite a few well-known names, often cast against type. Patrick Troughton, Bernard Bresslaw, Judy Geeson, Barbara Steele, Ferdy Mayne and Donald Pleasance all show up, just to name a few. Even James Bond's boss, Bernard Lee is in one. I didn't know any of these folks in 1968 but I most certainly do now.

DANGER MAN had a brief run in the beginning of the sixties, its classic, black and white run into the middle sixties and then a couple of bigger budget, full color John Drake TV movies. After that--in spite of McGoohan's insistence to the contrary, I believe Drake resigned from Her Majesty's Secret Service...and became THE PRISONER.

Yes, Drake was the Prisoner. It's not just the surface details (including actors who appeared on both series) but the way McGoohan plays the role. He walks like Drake, talks like Drake and maintains the ethics and individual qualities he had previously instilled in Drake. According to some reports, his denial was simply because the two series were made by different companies and he was afraid that the DANGER MAN folks might surface trying to get a piece of THE PRISONER.

As an actor, Patrick McGoohan radiated a charismatic intensity unlike any other actor. He was at his best in  dark, brooding roles, be they hero or villain. He acted with aplomb in everything from spaghetti westerns to multiple COLUMBO episodes and his unjustly forgotten TV series, RAFFERTY, often considered a blueprint for HOUSE by those of us who know it. One of my favorite appearances of his was in SILVER STREAK as an extremely ruthless villain out to kill Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh on a train.

In America, DANGER MAN was that rare British series to cross the pond in the sixties and it was imported mainly to cash in on the Bond craze. I don't know whose idea it was to hook it up with the new theme song but it definitely made it memorable. The show reran for years in US syndication, long after most black and white series were laid to rest.

I had never seen a Bond film in '68, despite there being five of them out already. In fact, I doubt I had seen any spy films at all. But we played secret agents all the time. To me, secret agents wore trenchcoats and disguises and used cameras more than guns. To me, a real world secret agent wasn't at all like James Bond...but he was very much like John Drake. In 2010, for my birthday, I received the box set of all the DANGER MAN/SECRET AGENT episodes and sudddenly it was like 1968 all over again.

1 comment:

  1. I think that where you see "Drake" in the character of "No6", what you are actually seeing is McGoohan. I don't think you need any 'conspiracy theory' about why you feel like you see the same personality. You just see what is there.

    In McGoohan's head the two shows were entirely separate but he admitted himself at the time that he would have been crazy to abandon the audience he had gained whilst portraying a secret agent in Danger Man. If you also watch Ice Station Zebra, it is very easy to carry forward a notion that his secret agent, David Jones, is also a dissoluted and cynical Drake/Six.

    McGoohan seemed to have a wry amusement about his being identified as "the" secret agent, a motif he exploited in his portrayal of the suave Nelson Brenner in Columbo's 'Identity Crisis', which he also directed.