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Living up to the Reputation
It was delightful, after a gap of several years, to be able to review something new to me, even though it is a television play made over half a century ago. That it has survived to watch all these years later is even moor delightful.
A previous reviewer has offered a reasonable summation of the bare bones of the plot so I will not repeat what can already be read elsewhere.
Prior to watching this, I already knew the bare bones too, but had no idea of the structure. Coming at it as primarily a McGoohan fan, my perception was in some ways geared to how he would appear. He was to win a TV Actor of the Year Award in the UK in 1959 and this play was one of those quoted as justifying his coming top of the heap that year. Thus it was that, as I enjoyed Donald Pleasence and the other actors building the tension, I began to fear for McGoohan's performance. How was it going to come across all these years later? Most of all, I wondered how he could possibly meet the expectation being generated in the audience for a man so vile that even his own mother hoped he crashed and burned on re-entry?!
There was a huge plot-hole in all this build-up of course, since there were too many people who knew the real Jackie Smurch to have ever allowed his being presented to the public as an All American Hero. On the other hand, as the raucous muted trumpet sound emphasised, as each terrible anecdote was told about him, this play was very much intended as satirical Farce, so too much seeking of realism would be futile.
With that in mind, how COULD McGoohan possibly meet the expectations? He did it by simply letting go. Utilising the natural skill of an experienced theatre actor, he just 'went for it'. He didn't play the part as if Jackie was a monster; he just played him as the man Jackie was meant to be - an old-fashioned slob who compromised for nothing and nobody. He had flown to the moon to get Dames and Money, and Money and Dames would be all he would be interested in. McGoohan played him as exactly that simple. The wonder of McGoohan was that he could make us believe this character could be true. This is always what McGoohan does though - however bizarre or unlikely the character is, McGoohan always believes in himself - and so we believe in him. I can see why he won an Award for this (as well as other TV work back then) because it was just a brilliant piece of Going with the Flow.
There cannot be many other actors who could have done what McGoohan did with this role. Jackie wasn't remarkably horrid or repulsive or any other exaggeration. Jackie just refused to compromise what he was.
This isn't a quote but it just as easily could have been: "I done what I done, so how'd you like dat?!"
They didn't like it, and so the Secretary of State pushed him out of the skyscraper, to save the President's blushes. Another hero bit the dust.
McGoohan just went up another notch on my ladder of LIKE's .... Where's me thumbs-up icon hiding?
The Vise: Blood in the Sky (1958)
Doing it by the Numbers
Up until the moment I saw this episode of the long-running 'Mark Saber' series, I did not even know it still existed. I had toddled along to the British Film Institute to watch three shows scripted by Brian Clemens. One of the three was advertised as being an episode of a different series called 'Rendezvous' - the episode being 'The Executioner' which I had seen a few years before but was happy to go to see again. My review of that show can be found elsewhere in my IMDb portfolio of McGoohan work. When I arrived at the venue, the blurb stated that the third show on the bill would be "Blood in the Sky".... But I had never heard that this film even still existed and thought there must be some kind of mistake. But there wasn't, so here is a subjective memory of something I watched in a whirl of excited bewilderment.
The show opens with the man trapped in a giant vise - harking back to the original title of this series back in 1954/55: The Vise. By 1957 it had transmogrified into a vehicle for the popular one-armed detective Mark Saber. He is a private investigator, based in London. There is an airport scene - holidaymakers heading for sunnier climes - a plane is in the air - an explosion - a whirling newspaper headlined with disaster. Such is the prologue and next we are taken to the office of the private detective. He is struggling to make ends meet it seems - he's chatting to his faithful assistant about the lack of business but, just then, one persons disaster becomes another's salvation. An executive from the air company called Tom Vance arrives, he needs Saber to discover the cause of the disaster. If it is caused by a failure of the aircraft his company could be doomed. Patrick McGoohan is Tom Vance. He's an efficient, precise and clear talker. He explains the dilemma with clarity to Donald Gray's Mark Saber. His company is convinced the disaster is caused by sabotage, but they have no proof and without proof they could be ruined by the claims against their technical standards. Vance gives Saber the list of passengers. The interview ends and Vance leaves, reminding Saber of the importance and secrecy of this assignment. We won't see Vance again, but within three years or so, the man playing him will become one of the most recognised and popular TV actors in the country.
The remainder of the episode is as much by the numbers as McGoohan's performance. Saber gets to interview all the relatives and business associates of the dead people on the plane. He finds more than one red herring but no rotten fish. It's looking like failure. If Saber cannot find the solution then Vance's airline will go bust and nobody will be getting paid. Just as all seems hopeless..... Saber has a brainwave! It's all to do with big cats you see; lions live in Africa, tigers only in India. The plane was flying to Africa but the business associate of one of the victims remarked that he hadn't minded missing out on the trip because he had shot tigers before. On such small slips does the vise of fate squeeze, and as Saber declares, because of one man's greed there was........... blood in the sky.......
Blood in the Sky was merely an apostrophe in the career of Patrick McGoohan, but has been quite a punctuation mark in my small mission to watch him. After all, I have now seen what I had believed no longer existed. It doesn't get any better than that really. Be seeing you next time.
Politics, Sex and Religion
This TV play is a remarkable historical document. The theatre play was only written in 1959 and in 1961 the actual playwright, John Arden, personally revamped his text into a screenplay. In so doing, the Times critic of the day remarked that he had significantly improved the accessibility of the piece. Given the way this TV play seems to have entirely dropped off the radar I thought I would make a quick run-through of the play, as best I can remember it from a very recent trip to the British Film Institute.
The play opens with a bearded Patrick McGoohan's Serjeant Musgrave overseeing the arrival of a large wooden box into a dour and freezing Northern British coal town. He is accompanied by three Privates. We are made aware that something is very wrong....... The army men begin to settle into the town. They appear to be a recruiting party, seeking men for the glorious army. The town is not a well place. The coal-miners have been in dispute with the colliery owners and the result has been a 'lock-out'. The Establishment is determined to break the will of the social agitators in the town. The towns-people are united however. The arrival of the recruiting serjeant leads the authorities to spot an opportunity to break their ranks. The mayor approaches the serjeant and offers him 2 gold sovereigns to add to the queens shilling, for every man he manages to recruit. Serjeant Musgrave keeps his own counsel but we begin to guess the corruption of the establishment is adding fuel to some unknown fire of anger within him.
The recruiting party find rooming at the local pub. Two women run the place, the older women empathetic to the bitterness she already sees within these soldiers, especially the tall bearded strongest one; whilst the younger daughter sees the masculinity she craves and has lost, her soldier lover has gone, their baby dead at birth - she alone after his death. The mother tells Black Jack of her daughters loss....... Black Jack tells her of a soldier he once knew, called Billy. Her daughters boy was called Billy.......
The real purpose of the soldier quartet is pretty much fully explicated in a scene in a snow-blown, desolate graveyard. One of them, played by John Thaw, is only there because Black Jack Musgrave has a hold over him, because of his shooting in the streets of an faraway city of the British Empire; streets that saw the death of Billy, streets that saw the slaughter of many in military reprisal for Billy's death. These traumatised soldiers are locked together in some strange embrace of vengeance. Whilst in the midst of their deliberations, the towns-people interrupt, warning the soldiers that if they attempt to break their *strike* they will find they will not succeed. Black Jack assures them that their industrial unrest is none of his concern. he invites them all for a drink at the town pub, where he and his colleagues are now rooming.
We switch to the pub. It is later and the pub is full of drinking men, hosted by an ebullient Black Jack. The young girl is making her away around the soldiers, seeking something, something she remembers as love. She rebuffs the junior soldiers playfully, assuring them that first she must have the big guy...... She is warned, but she does not listen...... Black Jack angrily rebuffs her advance, warning her to keep her carnality away from his men, who must not be side-tracked from their mission! Needless to say, Jack's will is not to be obeyed.
Later that night, whilst Jack is having nightmares of death in an upper room, comforted by the mother, down in the stables below the men are to be found in jealous male combat over the woman and the most harmless, Sparky, is killed by an accident of the struggle. As Jack's black dream explodes into the reality of more death the body is hidden, another death to be atoned for.... and it is this town that is going to pay the price for all the death these soldiers have seen.
The mayor thinks that Jack is going to save his town and the recruiting fayre assembles in the town square. After a variety of speechifying by the great and good, Jack comes to explain himself and soon he comes to the tools of his trade..... the rifle, the bayonet and then he unveils the Gatling gun, "Bang Bang Bang Bang" he recites the story of the soldier and then unveils his greatest secret. From the same box as the machine gun Black Jack draws up the skeleton of the dead Billy, draped by a Union Jack. He has a plan of "perfect number and logic". There were five men killed for Billy by the military reprisal. This town sent Billy to the army, so there will be five of each of these people for those five killed for their Empire! 25 for 5. Perfect numbers. Perfect Logic.
As the full enormity and terror of Jack's black plans emerge, the town panics, but then the dragoons searching for the four deserters arrive! The town is saved! A second of Jack's gang is shot down and finally there is just Jack and the older soldier, the one riven with guilt and the one mad with ideas of divine plans for just retribution. The world continues oblivious. The world-weary but sympathetic mother brings them both a drink and comforts Jack, reminding him that whilst the towns-folk are hungry and poor they have no interest in the troubles of others. The error of Jack's anticipated modus-operandi with the Gatling gun is pointed out to him by his now rueful companion: "You cannot fight the pox by whoring".
Patrick McGoohan dominates the play as the crazed Serjeant and the 1961 critic who said this was his best TV performance to that date was surely not wrong.
Breaking Down Walls
If anything demonstrates the over-weening arrogance of fans of The Prisoner mucking about with the episode order of McGoohan's meisterwerk, it is surely putting this brilliant piece of allegorical theatre into any position other than it's carefully selected placing, just before the two-part denouement of this uniquely inventive series. The piece begins with a sequence of vignettes illustrating that many of the apparent central tenets of the show to that point are merely means to a dramatic end. Hence we have a number of mild parodies of secret agent clichés.
Interestingly however some of these are quite inventive, demonstrating the respect McGoohan retained for the milieu in which he had risen to international prominence in 1967. A number of shows are probably referenced: certainly The Avengers, which was by this time preeminent in the secret agent genre, but a show in which imaginatively silly self-mockery was a large part of its appeal... or should that be a Peel............ The sex appeal, or should that be a Peel that had so far often been absent in The Prisoner comes to the fore, with the delicious legs of Justine Lord mesmerising the viewers as the girl who is death sets about her mission. Mission Impossible is another show mildly mocked as the Holmesian British agent receives his recorded instructions, but rather than self-destruct, the recorded message talks back to our hero. And so the show must go on.......... and on and on it goes through a funfair... a veritable Amusement Park...........
The skillful use of Narrative, often the strongest suit of the noir days of Danger Man in the earlier 1960's, resets the mood as our hero enters the deadly warehouse. Against a background of cleverly circumvented puzzles the deathly girl explains the paradoxes we face.......
You are a born survivor. I am a born killer.
Is your heart pounding? Your hand shaking? That's Love my darling.
Don't let silly pride stand in your way.
One or two Jams (sic) Bond references had been apparent as the hero emerged from the steam bath, dressed in his deerstalker outfit, much as Bond strips off frogmen suits and is dressed in an evening suit underneath. The escape with the bulldozer also preempts many movie tricks as the hero uses the spade to create himself a veritable tank, but perhaps the most telling allegory was the automatic Bren Gun scene. This directly mirrored a closing scene in the final Japanese adventures of John Drake, when a ludicrous machine gun pops out of the uber-villains desk, in Shinda Shima. Clearly gutted by the direction Sidney Cole was taking his beloved show, McGoohan famously walked away from it. Fan legend has it that this whole episode "The Girl Who Was Death", was derived by Everyman co-producer David Tomblin from an unshot episode of the Danger Man series that never was. The bren gun scene is perhaps Mcgoohan's pointed riposte that if the likes of George Markstein (the new script editor on the final two episodes of Danger Man to be filmed) had thought he could turn McGoohan's beloved John Drake into the utterly crass secret agent so favoured after 1965.... well he had had another think coming and it was Goodnight George........
And so into the final scenes, which were vital to McGoohan's story-telling, containing as they did the introduction to the Chamber stylisations that would ultimately host Fall-Out, and indeed the Chaplinesque battle with the Napoleonic forces almost prefigures the more violent Pantomime still to come in the conclusion, not to mention the notion of a Rocket.... So why was this episode so important? Why was this episode so carefully constructed and placed where it was? Any serious viewer will see the significance immediately. This was the theatrical announcement of the classic theatrical actor.......... This was McGoohan's dismantling of the Fourth Wall.
And that is how I saved London from a mad scientist Goodnight Children
and then Number Six looks at us, through the figure of Number Two and adds....
And so, we now know that what we have seen has been a story..... a show..... it was never meant to be real..... There is no Village -pretend or otherwise...........
It was all........... Once Upon A Time.............
Brass Target (1978)
One Day I May Watch This Movie
One day I might. So far I have watched the half-hour Macauley Mini-Movie. That has already earned Brass Target 9 out of 10, so the whole movie could well be a classic of epic proportions.
Patrick McGoohan makes his entry to the movie a short way in, after a classy prologue explains the plot of the movie itself. Colonel Macauley is found, lording it up in a German castle, captured by the Allies. He is dressed in an alpine woolly jumper, with a gay Austrian titfer, complete with feathery knick-knack in the hat-band. He has been sought out by embittered OSS veteran John Cassavetes. Cassavetes is obviously fond of the old warrior. He knows Macauley is a ne'er-do-well shyster these days, but in an odd kind of way he still trusts him. Cassavetes seeks his help in the investigation of a huge Reichs-Gold theft but leaves disappointed, eventually, after watching Macauley enjoying a sampling of the best German wines his new Bultler can find for him, in the cellar of the castle. Sophia Loren arrives and the gallant Macauley beckons her within his gatehouse sweeping a low bow to the Italian beauty as he removes his hat, flashing but briefly his chestnut hair.
Shortly thereafter the scene changes and Macauley is in a jeep. he is in his smartest brown American uniform and after his mildly dissolute appearance of yesterday, we glimpse the soldier that so impressed the earnest Cassavetes. Macauley is, as we say in England, a little bit crooked but he next meets a truly evil man. Bobby Vaughn plays an utterly amoral corrupter of men. He even shocks the swindling Logistics Colonel. Sadly for Macauley he is a victim of his own weaknesses and has no choice other than to be sucked further into a dark plot that has already murdered 50 of his fellow Americans and now seeks the assassination of the greatest General in the Army: Patton.
Macauley has to meet with creepy assassin Max Von Sydow, at his most chilling Scandinavian best. He hands over $500,000 for the 'Hit'. We are becoming conscious that whilst Macauley is sleep-walking into this mire of murderous intent, his conscience may send him to Cassavetes at some point, to undo this madness he has embroiled himself in. First however Macauley must relax after the tension of his meeting with the cold gunman. He is met, not by his expected paramour, but by a mysterious and beautiful Fraulein. She persuades him he can trust her by stripping to her brassiere. At this point McGoohan, as Macauley comments, as he eyes her up and down, that he has had a "hard, hard day" or perhaps he said he'd had a "hard, hard time". I'm not sure which, because by then I was giggling at McGoohan's mischievous performance. I must make notes next time. The young lady leads him to the bathroom, which is rapidly filling with steam and Macauley asks her if there will be Bubbles? Assured there will, he happily heads inside, singing a little bubbles song to himself.
The Fraulein sits down revealing a tidy leg clad in suspenders and stockings. This was promised for Macauley. Unfortunately Bobby Vaughn, guessing that Macauley will inevitably betray the evil plot to Cassavetes, has sent an assassin, who garrotes Macauley whist the poor man was waiting for Bubbles to arrive. We know Macauley is dead because John Cassavetes checks his corpse in the next scene, in the Mortuary.
Patrick McGoohan has now left the building.........
Please Sir! I Want More!
What a joy this was. Angela Lansbury is of course divine, but this episode includes another New American, Patrick McGoohan, not to mention yet a third, Juliet Mills! This 'British' Trio combine to make a most brilliant American show. The old and new worlds sometimes combine to the most marvellous effect.
Some years ago, I almost saw this episode. I walked into the kitchen one day where some American popular show was almost finishing. Paying no attention to the babbling television, a voice suddenly broke into my mind. I knew that voice. It was unmistakable! I had conspired to see the final scene of "Witness for the Defense". I had no sooner convinced my house guests that the guy with the beard was in fact none other than Patrick McGoohan, late of these shores.... than it was over. I had missed the whole thing!! Knowing the frequency with which these shows are repeated I didn't worry too much. It would soon be on again.
Ten or so years later, a friend tipped me off it would finally be on BBC2, on a certain day. The video was primed. I hoped it would be worth the wait.
It is a triumph! McGoohan first appears as a tailors dummy... and it just gets better and better. His entire performance is as overblown as any hugely expensive American Defense Attorney should be! Angela Lansbury has a great time responding to his hugeness. How refreshing she must have found him, I thought. The hidden gem was Juliet Mills. She plays a pretty, but clever Prosecutor. She knows she is up against a tough cookie in Oliver Quayle and she takes her early punishment in good humour. Jessica Fletcher of course is soon on the case as, in a curious case of role reversal, she supplies the Prosecutor with key information in order to demonstrate the innocence of the accused! McGoohan as Quayle enjoys a series of glorious cameos in the court-room. My particular favourite was when he undermined Jessica herself as a credible witness. Quayle enumerated all the many close relatives of Ms. Fletcher who had stood trial for murders and other heinous crimes, whilst Ms. Fetcher herself had once been committed to a Lunatic Asylum! The long history of a programme like 'Murder She Wrote' left Jessica with no choice other than to submit and acquiesce to Quayle's character assassination! The perils of a successful TV Show!! Most famously, later, McGoohan tells Ms. Lansbury that her Jessica is nothing but a "meddlesome busybody"..... something many of us may have thought for some time! However by this time this blousey but honest lawyer is already becoming worried that something about his case, provided to him by the defendants mother, is not quite as it should be.
All this glory is brought to a delightfully tidy ending. The real villain of the piece is a Pantomime Dame of a domineering mother, whose guilt was pretty evident to this viewer from the moment she walked on the set! It is best to get the plot of these shows out of the way at as early a stage as possible, for then you can kick back and enjoy three superb actors making the best television.
McGoohan may not quite be a hero as Oliver Quayle, but he isn't the bad guy and this refreshing change makes the programme a particular favourite of mine, starting from now. I must watch it again soon.....
The Prisoner Video Companion (1990)
If you don't know....Make it up!
The famous opening dialogue for 'The Prisoner' demands information. This video purports to give it, but it is riddled with conjectural nonsense. Some of the 'facts' it claims to reveal are, so far as I can determine, fabrications. I first bought it in the early 1990's and I wasn't especially impressed. Much of it seemed trite. I never watched it again, although it still sits on a shelf.
More recently I have realised that in 1991 Patrick McGoohan himself made clear in an interview that most of the so-called 'facts' the video quoted were not in fact true. He particularly picked out the so-called 'McGoohan-7' episodes, which are claimed on this film. He denied point-blank naming them, and explicitly denied that the episodes quoted on this film would be his choice.
Why it is that the world-wide fan clubs purporting to be fans of this programme have never ensured his views were publicised more is beyond me. But they didn't and the misinformation this film has publicised seems now to have become an accepted 'truth'. The magazine in which this refutation was published, was called 'The Box'.
Another myth that is promulgated is that 'Living in Harmony' was suppressed by CBS for 'anti-Vietnam' ideas. This is utter twaddle. The episode was dropped for scheduling reasons on the first run, but the choice of this episode to drop, was entirely arbitrary and of no consequence. The episode was broadcast in re-runs of the series as early as 1970 in the USA, to my certain knowledge, possibly earlier, depending upon local networks.
Watch it and enjoy the intrigue, but believe very little.
Lost in the fog of war
Having adopted the name of Patrick McGoohan's character as my web ID, I'd almost avoided obtaining a copy of this movie, on the grounds that if it was truly awful and McGoohan's part poor, then I would feel a bit of a fool (Quiet at the back!). Thankfully I can be proud to perpetuate the name: Moor Larkin! Some while ago I bought a copy of 'Zarak Khan', by AJ Bevan. It is possibly one of the strangest books I've ever read. Zarak is a man, born in the most savage of societies. The savagery isn't primitivism, but stems from the strange morality that is deemed to have developed on the 'North West Frontier' of the Indian sub-continent. The book was fore-worded by General Slim, so was no morbid piece of sensationalism. Zarak betrays and is betrayed by not almost, but every, single other character, in the story. Written in 1949, it evidently had some popularity. Read in 2007, I can only attribute that popularity to the recognition of the nihilistic randomness that had so recently afflicted the people of Britain during WWII. The book appears to make no sense from the viewpoint of late 20th Century Western social conscience. Set as it is, essentially in Afghanistan, there is a resonance again however in the 21st Century, as the randomness of reborn violence once again seems inescapable.
So much for the background. What of the film? The production team that would so soon be responsible for the James Bond Franchise set about the job of making Zarak a 'Cinemascope Spectacular'. Indian subjects of the Raj are the bulk of the Redcoats forming rife-volleying ranks, reminiscent of the African-based 'Zulu', but in Zarak they form triple, rather than double ranks: one lying, one kneeling, one standing. Tribal horsemen crash to the ground in a hail of Lee-Enfield bullets. Michael Wilding is a political officer, trying to persuade the locals of the benefits of British rule. Most of them seem convinced. Moor Larkin, played by Patrick McGoohan has fewer illusions. "Burn their villages and fine their men" he advises Wilding's Major Ingram. Death and money are all the locals respond to, so far as Moor Larkin is concerned.
Zarak, played by Victor Mature, seems to be proof that Larkin knows what he is talking about. Zarak doesn't dislike anyone. He doesn't care about anyone. That is the point! He has no feelings either way. Zarak is Zarak. That is enough. If Zarak needs to love, he loves. If Zarak needs to eat, he eats. If Zarak needs money, he takes it from whoever has it. If Zarak needs to kill, he kills. Zarak doesn't do any of this for a reason. He seeks no power. A natural tribal leader, with more ferocity than any of his peers, he has no wish to lead. He uses followers to achieve his goals and then moves on.
The film follows the battles, both military and those of the will, between Zarak and the British authorities. McGoohans' Larkin leads the forces as he attempts to preserve the life of the wishful-thinking Political officer, and achieve the capture of the outlaw, Zarak.
Zarak is given a lover in the film. The introduction of Anita Ekberg was possibly the box-office life of the movie, but it's artistic death. Eunice Gayson pops in as the love interest for Major Ingram, the political officer. Her role is quite useful and makes a lot more sense than Ms. Ekberg; not that that was Ms. Ekberg's fault: if the producers dress her in wispy silk and make her gyrate at key moments of the movie, she can hardly be taken very seriously by anyone, I suppose. In a similar way this difficult story becomes enmeshed in military spectacle. If you just watch the film, you'll enjoy parts of it, but be confused by the whole. If you read the book and then watch the film, you can read between the frames and notice that Victor Mature actually does quite a good job, as does Patrick Mcgoohan. I suspect that they might both have been greatly disappointed when they saw the finished movie. Victor Mature probably laughed and chalked it up as another example of the mad movie-world he was so familiar with. Patrick McGoohan possibly took things a lot more seriously and was so ticked off with the directors/producers that he refused to get involved with them again, when they came up with some secret agent nonsense in 1960. No, he famously said. Doctor No, they said.
At the end of the movie, Zarak has given his life for Ingram. Moor Larkin explains that "Zarak hated the world. He gave his life, merely to show his contempt for that world and everyone in it". Ingram mumbles something about "Greater love hath no man, than he gives his life for an enemy". Moor Larkin probably got closest to the truth.
Columbo: Ashes to Ashes (1998)
All is Dust
As a Patrick McGoohan fan, I'd been trying to catch this one for a while, having missed it in the late 1990's when Columbo was still prime-time. This episode was broadcast on a Sunday morning in England, at 11am. How the mighty are fallen, the great humbled, and the classics a mere space-filler. Time waits for no man and all that.
The episode is a rip-snorter, full of delightful performances and character combinations. It was essentially the final filmed performance by the great actor, Patrick McGoohan (barring some unexpected late-life cameo) and as such, it is as perfect an adieu to the medium as there could be. McGoohan often likes to add personal notes to his Columbo movies, and so in this plot his character's would-be nemesis (Golden Girl, Rue McLanahan) refers to his Eric Prince character as having been a "never-was actor from England, who never-was over here either!" Adding a further layer of subsumed reference is the presence of Catherine McGoohan, as Rita, Eric Prince's efficiently innocent mortuary assistant. She is given the task of beginning the end of her boss when she advises Eric Prince that, "Someone's waiting for you in the display-room." A corpse might be expected in such a setting, but whilst any corpse would barely ruffle the arch mortician that was Eric, the thick cigar-smoke wafting above the open coffin signals to us that Eric's time-clock is now ticking. Columbo has arrived! By the time Peter Falk shuffles in, we are already twenty minutes into the show. When we see him we realise why he is only putting in half a shift. Man! Columbo is old! He's grey, wizened and almost gap-toothed. His speed is gone. But what he lacks in speed has been replaced by wisdom. Heck, he's done so many of these cases he figures out what has gone on, in the twinkling of an old dog's eye.
McGoohan's Prince, is flabbergasted. He's on a hook and no matter how cleverly he shifts his weight, he knows he's being reeled in. he doesn't know how the other guy knows, but he knows he knows; and the other guy knows he knows he knows. Time to party! Two old men (McGoohan was 70, Falk 71) decide to fun with us young 'uns by playing up the fact we're all gonna die! Ashes to Ashes! We are taken to a Funeral Directors' "Man of the Year" ceremony! Death is all around: we have an uneasy fear of it. These guys laugh at it! They even make up witty songs about it. Death is a part of their life. The very last line has one saying to the other: "It's your funeral!" What a way to go.
By pure chance this viewer watched an old 1955 film for the first time, on a DVD at 11pm the night before this show. In the 1955 film Patrick McGoohan was playing scenes with Errol Flynn! Forty-three years later he played his final scenes with Peter Falk. Half a century after Errol Flynn became ashes, this viewer feels privileged to have been able to watch, in the space of twelve hours, what took these men a lifetime to achieve.
We'll seeing you, in all the old familiar places.
The Dark Avenger (1955)
British Colour in 1955
Walter Mirisch produced this movie in England. It was a star vehicle for Errol Flynn, who was 46 by then. Along for the ride was Peter Finch, only a couple of years younger. Their female co-star (Joanne Dru) was barely in the movie and her female role was completely eclipsed by a girl-in-a-bar cameo from Yvonne Furneaux. You got the feeling that if Errol had been the one to choose, Yvonne would have been his girl. Anyhow, girls in this movie are entirely incidental. So was Errol's man-at-arms, who had barely two lines to rub together, but he expressed himself manfully with stern expressions nonetheless. He passed, and received, items from the lead actor with all the aplomb due from any nervous young actor, whose first big movie role put him cheek by jowl with the legend that was Errol Flynn. Patrick McGoohan was the black and white chequered knight, with the yellow plume, and shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair. Patrick McGoohan was no spring chicken himself, at 26 or 27, but he had been a late starter, not acting professionally until he was 22. Within five years he had graduated from a small theatre in Sheffield, England, to the technicolor company of the biggest movie-star in the world. He must have been proud.
Movie-goers got full value for their box-office shilling in this film. Errol is in almost every scene. The film opens with the ending of a war between England and France. A truce has been reached and peace is meant to reign. I won't go into the politics, but in this movie, the French Nobles are unhappy that the son of Edward III is a fair-minded fellow who tells the French peasantry that they no longer have to pay unreasonable taxes and perform other onerous duties for their aristocracy. The Nobles decide to rebel, and break the truce. Leading this treachery is Peter Finch's 'Count d' Evil'..... Viewers are left in no doubt as to which side to be on! Any doubts are settled when d'Evil sends men under-cover to try and assassinate the English prince. The plot is foiled, with the help of sturdy man-at-arms, McGoohan, who clashes steel with the bad guys as he defends his principal man. As the plot is averted, Flynn rides out with an expeditionary force, seeking revenge and to bring the evil one to justice.
The conflict goes badly for Flynn at first. He appears to only have about twenty knights so how he thought he could win, is a bit of a puzzle. Presumably the Mirisch knight-budget was a little thin. Soundly thrashed by an equally colourful, but more numerous French force, Errol Flynn is forced to go under cover. McGoohan's faithful manservant is assumed dead. Errol finds a touch of romance in a French country pub with Yvonne, but more importantly lays his hands on a spare set of armour, hanging above the fireplace. Blackened from long exposure to the sooty smoke, we discover how Edward's son became The Black Prince! In purloining the armour Flynn unfortunately awakes Christopher Lee, who appears to have a slight Norfolk accent. I have read Mr. Lee suffered a broken finger in the ensuing swordfight. He should feel fortunate not to have died, because his character does.
The Black Prince ingratiates himself into the evil one's French force by the simple expedient of remaining unrecognised by: 1) shaving off his moustache; 2) keeping his helmet down as much as possible and calling himself Edouard, rather than Edward. Once in the enemy castle the prince has a number of nocturnal adventures which finally result in his rescuing the damsel Dru, who has been taken hostage. He has finally been rumbled however. The evil one's superior, the French Constable, knows Edward personally and the francophile name-tweak fools him not for an instant. In a desperate chase The Black prince gets the damsel back to his castle and a mighty siege ensues.
The English seem hopelessly outnumbered (again) but finally come up trumps by setting a fire-trap for the invading French army, who blunder to a burning barrage of straw bales. Victory is achieved and the girl gets a big Flynn kiss.
Best of all though, one of the cheering knights is none other than Patrick McGoohan, in his black and white chequerboard outfit. He didn't die after all!
Goodbye and Good Knight
This was the fourth episode of this popular show and it introduced one of the favourite characters of the series: Brian. Brian was brought in as an Everyman. Sir Lancelot was plucking him from the obscurity of being a 'scullery boy' and enrolling him in the echelons of the Knighthood, where normally good breeding was assumed: Any knight must be 'Of Pure Blood'. Brian's main advantage seemed to be that of being blond and about twenty years younger than the rest of the cast. However, he had gained the support of Sir Lancelot. The title character in fact put in barely a minute or two's presence, at the start and end of this episode. He did however gain the conspiratorial support of Merlin, who falsified Brian's possible heritage by the simple expedient of writing his family history in Invisible Ink.
A leader of the knights, who seemed reminiscent of an RAF officer from 'The Dambusters', quivered his moustaches in worry about this unorthodox student but was placated by the awareness that the King supported Lancelot and whatever Number One wants, Number One gets.
Lancelot has evidently just had a ruckus with an errant knight, Sir Glavin (pronounced Glay-vin) over using his horse. Lancelot appears to be in the wrong over this, as it was Glavins' horse so far as I could discern, but Lancelot has the ear of the King and dumps the poor old surly knight in the do-do. Sir Glavin, oddly, appears to be the perfect example of the success of the proletariat, breaking into Knighthood. He is a so-called 'Penniless Knight'. Shockingly we discover he has no 'Estates'. Glavin's working-class origins have made him gruff and ambitious but he has failed to cultivate the fawning attitude to authority and 'honour' so exemplified by the blond Brian. Glavin is also not blond and has a very ugly beard and threatening Mexican-looking moustache, which are both as black as his heart.
Brian is set up by his fellow-student who has been bribed by Glavin, to make Brian look incapable. Glavin, it seems, does not want another working-class hero, like himself, to undermine his position. Things get more personal when Glavin's romantic approaches to Mary (a Castle groupie) fail. Mary has no time for Glavin because he is penniless and has no Estate and doesn't believe him when he says he now has an Estate. Glavin's disappointment in love is compounded by Mary's evident desire for the blond one. Although Brian has no money either, one can only assume Mary has noticed he has friends in high places and so it is only a matter of time.
Betrayed in love as well as by the aristocratic Lancelot, Glavin determines revenge on them all. Glavin has stolen the Queen's ring (that's how he could promise Mary a good life) but not content with this, now sets things up to make it look like Brian did it. Guinevere however knows that blond boys are never wicked and has Brian, The Prisoner, released. Glavin, realising the game is likely to be up, determines to run away..... with the jewel. He doesn't get out the stable. Set upon by his betrayed confederate he is then bashed with a broom by Brian until hauled off by the castle security. Lancelot and the RAF bloke saunter off, mumbling about 'Breeding'. Nothing's changed.
Patrick McGoohan plays Glavin. He's dark and surly beneath his chain mail hood and behind his glued-on mexicali whiskers. You can tell it's his voice though. It might be speculated that he got this part after donning hose and chain mail in an Errol Flyn epic 'The Dark Avenger'. More than that I cannot say.
A Time to Kill (1996)
Time to Fill
When you have two and a half hours to fill you might as well fill it with lots of stars and that's exactly what they did. The problem was that at the heart of it they put Matthew McConaughey. Set against Samuel, Donald, Kevin and even Sandra and Oliver..... the boy just don't cut it. There's a big empty hole where the film slips through. The plot of course has enough holes to make a colander, so between these two problems, it can never stay in one piece.
Fortunately you can enjoy the morsels of your choice without feeling too guilty about missing the rest of the mashed-up meal. I've 'watched' this movie several times now and Patrick McGoohan's Judge, Omar Noose, is getting better with the watching. He's excellent in the earliest court scenes, revitalising an already flagging tale. His keynote scene is, of course in the outside world, on the balcony of his home, painting. That's when his judge's chirpy legal cynicism (as in realism), comes most clearly to the foreground. However, watching it again the other night I'm beginning to enjoy his later scenes in court as well, where he doesn't get to do that much apart from twitch and bang his gavel and growl threateningly at his noisy courtroom........ and sense the wind of change that blows his legal ship towards a more politically correct shore.
He didn't get so many plaudits for this one as he did for 'Braveheart', but I'm starting to like both performances, as much as each other.
In the Kingdom of the mad, the Insane Man is King
I had read a little about this movie, which made it sound poor. Then I watched some clips on Daalder's website and there was some stuff that made it look quite interesting. I didn't think I would get to see it, short of a holiday in the USA or Canada, because the only Release was in that Region's video. Fortunately, an enlightened friend pointed out to me that my new video-machine played Region 1 video-tapes!! So, onto Amazon.com I went and here's my review, after just one watching.
Daalder's skill gave it a great opening. The Hysteria graphic must be one of the cleverest I've seen in a while. Daalder is credited with writing the screenplay too. He must have done some kind of Homage to McGoohan's prisoner opus because it's replete with Prisoner, Village and Escape motifs and phrases. The action is pretty straightforward. Disillusioned psychiatrist is ordered to discharge a dangerous female patient he's vaguely in love with. Her care in the community is to rely on her being fed copious pharmaceuticals. Unable to damn her to this existence he takes her to the strange Gothic asylum run by McGoohan's Doctor Langston. We already know that something very odd is going on there and it has led to the 'murder' of at least one man.
It turns out that Langston is dabbling in a little cybernetic surgery on the side and has implanted some gadget into the brain-stem of all his patients that allows all of them to experience one another. His asylum has no locks because nobody wants to escape. They're all enjoying each other too much. His technique has the further advantage that anyone employing violence feels their victim's pain, so there is no fighting or aggression. There is evidently a fair amount of sex however - naturally.
A darkness hovers though, because one mind is dominating all the others and using their bodies for her own satisfaction. Amanda Plummer plays the crippled dominatrix, Myrna, who needs others to sate her needs, much of which appears to hinge upon ballet, dancing having been her passion. It becomes evident that she probably isn't physically crippled but will not dance for herself.
The young psychiatrist is eventually seduced by everyone. His love for the original girl is waylaid by the dominatrix who leaves his former love an empty vessel. His admiration for Langston (who was evidently a doctor out of tune with modern pharmaceutical psychiatry) reduces his resistance to becoming the new King. However, it is clear that his crippled nemesis, Myrna, continues to be the power behind the throne.
That's the plot anyhow. Sadly, Mr. Daalder seemed to lose it in the last ten minutes or so and veers from the young psychiatrist fighting the Langston's system to becoming a willing participant, rather too swiftly. The 'mad' people are also sent out into the 'community' and a suggestion made that they begin to turn the rest of Society into group automatons. This last strikes a dull note because the whole interest of the film relied on a small, tight community being so inter-reliant as to work in perfect harmony together - with all the contradictions between Society and the Individual, which that engenders.
The confused conclusion aside, the movie isn't too bad. Patrick McGoohan has a great time, moving from theatrical flourishes to intriguing face-to-camera soliloquy. The subject matter makes you stop and think at times too. There's a possibly very good movie in there, if someone could concentrate and be willing to put in a little more hard thinking about the concepts and heir consequences; but that'll have to wait for the Remake....... and sadly that probably will not have Patrick McGoohan in it; so I'll just have to make do with this one.
A small PS added..... After watching the movie again, I realised that the young psychiatrist does not "veer....... from.... fighting the Langston system to becoming a willing participant, rather too swiftly".... What had actually happened was that Langston had transferred his consciousness into the younger body. Still a little confused at the ending; but in a good way.
Jamaica Inn (1983)
The Profits That Doom You
A ship in a storm. A murder in a lighthouse. A moving light. A Wreck. A Slaughter. This TV series was filmed on location in the South West of England and the weather matched the mood of the piece. The mud and slime of men's souls can only be washed clean by the falling rain of their women-folk's tears. Except they cannot.
The destruction of Mary's (Jane Seymour) family is carried out in a half-light by unseen, unfathomable forces: murderous Ship-Wreckers! She leaves Helston, and her sadness, to head for 'Jamaica Inn'!! She shouts the name gleefully, looking back from the stagecoach window that is taking her from her childhood home, to her new life, with a long-lost aunt; perhaps thinking of sun-kissed beaches, palm trees and the sensuous odour of orchids. Upon arrival at Bodmin a Vampire gloom seems to settle over her coachman. "Jamaica Inn?" - she might as well have said "Castle Dracula". Unceremoniously unloaded outside what appears to be a barren, derelict barn, she is frightened by barking rottweilers and then Vlad the Impaler grasps her from behind and drags her into the rotting hovel that is Jamaica Inn.
Vlad turns out not to be Count Dracula but Joss Merlyn, an altogether more unsavoury character. His wife, clearly undead, is played by Billie Whitelaw, whilst Joss, is, we realise to our dismay: Patrick McGoohan. These two were last seen as a married couple back in 1958 in a TV Play called "This Day in Fear". McGoohan was somewhat more debonair in that one.
Poor Mary is to spend a lot of the next days and months in fear. There are no beaches or palm trees at Jamaica Inn. The place seems to be the rat-hole of the western world. It rains incessantly, the building is falling down around them and there is a lot of mud. In fact, in one scene Jane Seymour seems to be collecting bricks made of mud, piling them up on a cart, whilst Trevor Eve tries to 'chat her up'. I guessed the mud-bricks were meant to be peat for the fire. Trevor was the romantic interest in the TV-movie-series. He played Jem, Joss' younger and prettier brother. Jem was a jolly horse-thief but what was big bro' Joss up to? Confusingly Mary seemed to know, as her early conversations with the battered wife, Patience (truly named!) demonstrate.
Time seems to have been the main enemy of this production. Mary seemed to know things that she shouldn't have known when she knew them and I never fully comprehended whether days were passing, or weeks or months - maybe even years? I had a definite sense that the producers were conscious of remaking a well-known story and assumed that because everybody would know the story, they could just patch lots of scenes together and the viewers would figure it all out for themselves, whilst the producers concentrated on the love story between Jem and Mary. This attitude seemed to become more prevalent as the show progressed.
Jane Seymour was excellent as the young terrorised girl. Contemporary reviewers seem to have thought she was 'too pretty' for the part. This seems very unfair to me. She is, of course, drop-dead gorgeous, but I found her portrayal perfectly believable. Trevor Eve, on the other hand, seemed as unconvinced as us that he was a heart-throb. Billie Whitelaws' role must have mostly ended on the cutting-room floor. Her dead body was the scariest moment in the film however. Alongside Jane, Patrick McGoohan was the other great performance. His slobbering, greasy-haired bully was as wrecked by the corruption of his life as he was by his excessive brandy consumption. Just as the ships were coaxed onto the rocks to die, so Jos was coaxed by a maniacal Vicar/Druid played by John McEnery to commit murder. When finally Joss's conscience could no longer stand the strain and his yearning confession spilled out to his niece, she, innocently communicated this to the wicked prelate. Joss received a knife in the guts and his drooling spittle ran red.
There were some confusing peripheral characters who touched the story but little: a vengeful squire, his wife, some pedlar's and general vagabonds. The most odd was the Wreckers supremo. He was a vicar, as mentioned, and flitted in and out of the story, usually vaguely 'seducing' the innocent young girl. In a strange unexplained twist old Dracula seemed referenced again as it became evident that the Druid saw Mary as his ancestral wife....... This supernatural weirdness all spilled into a confusing ending and together with a needlessly romantic conclusion struck an unfortunate sour note at the death of the film.
However I would hate to strike my own sour note. The production is lavish, the locations authentic. There was a splendid evocation of a 'Regency' village fair, which reminded me of another McGoohan vehicle from 1958, the movie: "The Gypsy & The Gentleman". The second big Wreck takes place in the final part of the series and is monumentally done. I believe a near full-size rig was used and it is very impressive. Patrick McGoohan gives an insight into a tormented soul, bent on destruction, whilst Jane Seymour was consistently entrancing. I wonder if the filming anticipated a longer series than three episodes because, as previously stated, some of the chronological sense was confused. The theme music is beautiful.
Although available in the USA this has not been released on video or DVD in Europe. PAL copies are selling on e-bay for as much as £30. That speaks for its quality.
World Theatre: Brand (1959)
As we approach 2009, you'll need as much WILL as Pastor Brand himself to sit still through this. It's black and white, it's stagey, it's staged and it's quite long..... plus there aren't even any advert breaks..... so don't drink too much before you sit down.
It's all the things we cannot stand in the 21st Century. Back in 1959 this was broadcast on the BBC, in 'Primetime'(9pm) on a Sunday evening. That's how much the tastes of the Western world have changed. Oh, and remember that the BBC did not have adverts and there were no video-tapes with pause buttons...... if you had to leave the room, you missed a bit and that was that.
So, when you watch this, sit down on your chair. Don't squirm and fiddle, keep still and focus on the screen. By the end you'll have some idea of what life and philosophy in 1959 was like. If you haven't got the will, don't bother watching - you'll hate it.
The Best of Friends (1991)
Brilliant. Makes me want to go to the theatre
This superb production evokes a strange friendship. It is a friendship of letters. A museum curator, a secluded nun and an irreverent satirist would not expect to be likely pals in a social setting, but give them the separation of letters and they evidently remained friends for nigh on fifty years between them. A lesson for those on todays internet who do not seems to be able to remain friends for more than a day at at time.
The tele-play cleverly places the actors around one another as they recite their written words, yet there is rarely any confusion in the viewers mind as to exactly what is going on. A long sequence of a fully-naked woman in an extended imagined image of George Bernard Shaw's "The Adventures of Black Girl in Her Search for God" seems incongruous but perhaps it serves to point up the shock of the nun, albeit her indignation is at Shaws blasphemy rather than any innocent nudism. This falling-out of two of the friends is counter-pointed by the most moving sequence of the play, when Shaw delivers to Dame Laurentia, two pieces of quartz he had picked off the ground in Jerusalem that had no doubt been part of the rock that Jesus himself must have walked upon.
It has to be said that McGoohan capers the most entertainingly as the whimsically wise GBS, but Gielgud is deliberately spare as Cockerell, the bedrock of the trio, whilst Ms. Hiller depicts a satisfaction as holy as it is wholly beyond modern comprehension. This is as fine a piece of simple Playing as you will find anywhere.
Mary Popping Comes To Springfield
Back in 1969 a little-regarded teen movie was released called "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes". It featured a youngster destined to be a great movie star: Kurt Russell. In 1969 a great actor called Patrick McGoohan had just finished making a seminal and enormously well-regarded TV series called The Prisoner. Twenty years later a strange family were an enormous success on TV. They were cartoons. They were The Simpsons.This unlikely triumvirate of entertainment history collided.
Homer buys a computer and goes on the Internet. Having exposed all his neighbours as crooks and vagabonds he is is stolen away to a Village which Time seems to have forgotten. It is inhabited by cockneys and Mary Poppins. It's very much the UK as visualised in some strange American dream - much like the Simpsons maybe are the USA, visualised in some strange Hollywood dream.
Patrick McGoohan intones deeply, if not meaningfully, as he guest-voices, "33 years a Prisoner".... Aha! 33! 3+3=6! Another clue! Another enigma! Rover bounces in from his Nemo-deep and Homer shows an unexpected turn of intellect by brandishing a suitable piece of defensive cutlery. *Pop* goes Rover as he is forked to death.
Escaping on a raft of toilet rolls and scabs, Homer thinks he is back in Springfield but little does he know.... We're all in the Village now. Madge remarks it's quite nice - once you get used to it.
High Tide at Noon (1957)
This Island, Earth.
In my journey around McGoohan one of the first unseen movies of his that I got hold of was Three Sovereigns for Sarah. That was also made by Philip Leacock. High Tide at Noon was a much earlier film but it was remarkable that the two movies shared an apparent characteristic. That is, they both spend their first two thirds building carefully-drawn characters and then rush those people through the final third with episodic story-lines that cover years of time.
Betta St John, as Joanna, is evidently returning to an island after many years. Her old house is decrepit but a still-bonging clock gives her a shock and starts her reminiscence:
She is 17 and returning to her beloved island home after schooling 'on the mainland'. We meet the main narrative protagonists. The Brecks are a ne'er-do-well family. Joanna is scion of the historic owners of the island, the Mackenzies. She is also torn between three lovers. There is the bad boy, Simon Breck, played by McGoohan. There is Nils Sorenson, the good boy, played by Michael Craig. Joanna sees Nils as a brother but Simon excites her emerging female sexuality. Simon does have a passion for her but oversteps the mark in his physical demands, destroying any chance he may have had of gaining her love, whilst simultaneously alienating Nils as well.
Into their lives comes Alec Douglas, played by William Sylvester. He quotes some poetry to Joanna and she's in love. Sadly, Alec turns out to be a gambler and over the next three years is fleeced by Simon at the card table. He ends up owing $600, which, in 1957 Nova Scotia was big bucks.
Nils and the rest of the islanders keep busy by fleecing the seas around the island and soon Alec isn't the only one who is facing insolvency. The lobsters have run out. The islanders may have to follow.
Old Man Mackenzie (Alexander Knox) is something of a tough old egg, softened by his wife, Flora Robson. He has had a falling-out with his eldest son, played by Patrick Allen, who married in secret after getting his girl in the 'family way' (1957 - remember!).
Joanna's husband finally realises he is wasting his life and her love, so turns over a new leaf. Sadly, almost simultaneously he turns over his boat and drowns. Another Mackenzie brother, played by Peter Arne, appears to have caused this by getting everyone drunk and after the funeral he leaves both island and regrets. This son is the first of the patriarchal family to leave. Soon the others are to go too.
Simon isn't too bothered about the lobsters. After waiting a decent period he heads for the widow-woman. Making plain that he knows what she needs and that he's the man to give it to her, he is annoyed when Joanna refuses to take his bait. Joanna runs away from his advances and realising the insult to her, Nils furiously heads to the Breck cabin to avenge her honour. It is at this point that the first 'hollow note' is struck by the movie. Simon flees the island in terror, never to be seen again.
After this the film fragments rapidly. Clearly epic story lines like these family sagas can quickly become monumental. This one becomes a fallen monument. Nils is rejected by Joanna one more time and leaves the island without even saying goodbye, although he does leave a note. Soon the lobster-free zone is empty, even old-man Mackenzie is forced out. Like the inhabitants of Easter Island these people have consumed their resources and exhausted their potential. A Global Warning for us all...... should anyone be listening.
This movie was entered into the 1957 Cannes Festival. Patrick McGoohan took a trip there and met Jean Cocteau, which must have been nice for him. And Patrick...... ;-)
Oh, and at the end, like emerging humans after a Nuclear War, Joanna, back in the present day, spots Nils on the beach.
"The Lobsters are Back" smiles Nils as he hugs his life-long love.
Troubled Terrorist Tormented.
Other 1950's TV work by Patrick McGoohan that I have managed to watch has been consistently good. This BBC Play from 1958 also has an exceptional script, which has been fashioned from a cleverly imagined story-line.
McGoohan, as James Coogan, is an Irishman with a past. Billie Whitelaw, as Betty, is his underestimated wife, who knows nothing of her husband before seven years ago, when she first met him. The man who comes knocking at their front door one day is from his past. Betty, as a dutiful 1950's wife does not pry. The mysterious man explains to McCoogan that he is in fact a special policeman, come to both warn, and offer protection to the ex-IRA man.
McCoogan had been involved in the treachery and death of a famed Freedom Fighter, Seamus O'Connor, seven years before. He had since escaped the life of violence and deceit and settled in London.... lost in the crowds. He is at first dismissive of the offers of protection, claiming it was all so long ago, and he does not want his new wife and friends to know of his past.
Strange things start to happen that inevitably suck his wife into the past. The milkman advises her that her husband has reduced the daily milk delivery as they will not need so much milk after that day. The newsagent tells her that her husband has cancelled his Architects periodical. Alarmed at his behaviour she telephones him. Coogan realises that the policemen were right, someone is after him and they evidently are making him spend this day in fear. He placates his wife and is startled by the coincidence that the policeman phones him again. This time he accepts the help offered.
The playwrights, Hulke and Paice, construct a bobbing and weaving tale as the play progresses. A priest becomes involved as a family friend. Betty is not as dumb as James believes her to be and as the climactic moments approach she pleads with her husband to explain the present by explaining the past. In a cleverly twisting conclusion, the policemen expose themselves as an IRA hit squad. McCoogan has been fooled. He is to be executed as a traitor to the great orator and leader that was Seamus O'Connor.
McCoogan's refusal to plead for mercy baffles the priest, who is more concerned that the Irishman is truly penitent for his violent past than the rights and wrongs of the Politics. As he becomes certain that Coogan is sincere, he can hold his tongue no longer. He knew Coogan before, he knew him when he was Seamus O'Connor! The IRA soldiers are divided.Their cynical Captain is still determined to make the execution, regardless. He thinks the important thing is what the world thinks is true...... not what is really true. Overpowered by his comrades, the assassins withdraw.
The play ends abruptly, leaving us, the audience, as thoughtful as the priest who is staring at Coogan being embraced by his wife..... and his past.
McGoohan meets a Drake who was John
I just love these 1950's series. In truth, the episode of Rendezvous that Patrick McGoohan appeared in, 'The Executioner', was made in 1960 but it has the flavour of the Fifties, if not the Forties.
McGoohan plays Gilbert Stoner, known as Gil to his friends. He is an Irish-born lawyer who, years before, had been a starry-eyed idealist. Back in 1944 he had parachuted into occupied France to show the Resistance fighters how to use their new guns that he accompanied. His past came back to haunt him when the magistrate Martell called him to Paris to help with an investigation. By the time Gil arrived his old friend was dead, murdered, with a clover-leaf as evidence.
This curious symbol resonates with Shamrockian Irishness but Gil knew it's real significance. Determined to resolve the murder of his old comrade he 'takes to the Hills', accompanied by the local police chief. Leaving the police to await his return at the bottom of the mountain, McGoohan's Gil heads up to pursue his fate.
He is spotted by two men, and despite his pugnacity is soon subdued by a clattering rifle-butt wielded by none other than Michael Ripper! These two men take Gil to a mountain-hut retreat. Inside is another successful British theatrical name from the Fifties: Michael Gough. Gough is an old friend of McGoohan and warmly welcomes him to his mountain-top lair, castigating his men for beating up on his old friend. Gough's unpronounceable character, Scionneau, is however not the brave wartime leader that he has made himself out to be. he has a dark secret that he probably tries not to admit, even to himself. He has been sending his men to assassinate old wartime Collaborators, and succumbed to the temptation of naming Martell as one. McGoohan's Gil Stoner challenges the man's authority to kill. He also knows Scionneau's dark secret and that Martell had discovered it too.
The play becomes a verbal battle between the two men, with the four watching and listening ex-Resistance assassins as both witnesses and jury. Neither can quite prove the case until Gil makes an audacious bluff. This panics the jittery Gough, who snatches for a pistol to shoot his adversary. The increasingly suspicious witnesses have however been waiting for a crack in either man's story and Gough is foiled. McGoohan agrees to the Fighters request that he precede them down the mountain, so that they can follow and surrender with honour to the waiting police. Scionneau never arrives, he has slipped over a precipice on the way down the track. As McGoohan's lawyer character is informed by the Fighters - it was an accident, they will all bear witness for one another......
The play finishes as it began, with McGoohan's Gil explaining to the laid-back American narrator of the programme that his role was bitter-sweet; in obtaining justice for one old friend, he had prompted the Execution of a second old friend.
Oh, if you were wondering what my title was about.... The narrating 'star' of the series Rendezvous was actor, Charles Drake, playing the character, John Burden.
McGoohan, Drake, John.... What a perfect combination ;)
Life for Ruth (1962)
Sins of the Fathers Visited Upon The Children
I have been desperate to see this film since I first read about it three or four years ago. Through the kindness of a stranger, I finally have done so. Why it has not been made available via VHS or DVD is even more of a mystery to me than it was before.
County Durham, in the bleak north-east of England is the setting for Patrick McGoohan's second Sixties 'kitchen-sink' drama. His first was in the potentially even bleaker location of Sweden! His role in 'Life For Ruth' is, however, much more straightforward than his conscience-raddled postal clerk in 'Two Living, One Dead'.
A blissful family day introduces us to a sweet little girl-child. In a tragic sequence of events she is badly injured in a boating accident on some rocks. She needs a blood transfusion. She doesn't get one. She dies.
Using this excruciatingly sad canvas the story that unfolds is an exploration of how an individual trying to stand by his 'beliefs' is vilified and punished by his dissenting society. The events that the viewer has watched have been so extreme that we, the audience, have been plunged into that dissenting society and want the hapless religious zealot, played by Michael Craig with literally gritted-teeth, punished. The thwarted doctor, James Brown, played by Patrick McGoohan, declares !WAR! but finds that, as another James Brown has mentioned, "War! What is it good for?" By the end of the film McGoohan has communicated how his character's hot anger against the idiotic Craig and his guilt over Ruth's death has mellowed into sad regret for the girl and forgiveness for the tragic humanity that is her father.
The film takes the audience through all the complex issues: Religion versus Secularism. Science versus Superstition. State versus Individual Right. Minority Belief persecuted by Majority Consensus. They are all wheeled out; it could be tedious but it is actually quite thought-provoking. You start the movie detesting Craig's wretched soul but by the end, whilst you don't support him, you have realised that this is a tough conundrum to solve.
Because we had a side at the beginning we are as bewildered as the jury is, at the conclusion of the court-case. As British law requires no shadow of a doubt, then he must be acquitted.
At the same moment Society forgives him, the man's own conscience awakes and he desperately admits both his guilt and his awful sin of pride that led to the entire disaster. He had seen himself as Abraham and had awaited the Angel that would come to stay the hand of death as a reward for his Faith. It was redolent of that old joke where the Holy Man runs to the church in the flooded village telling his flock to remain steadfast, for the Lord will save them. As his flock are taken away in boats he refuses help, saying the Lord will save him. As the final helicopter leaves with the final villager he spurns their help crying, the Lord will save me! As the water folds over his head and he drowns, his soul cries out to the Lord, "I believed in you! Why did you not save me?" And God's voice replies, "What do you mean? I sent you a boat. I sent you a helicopter. What more did you expect?"
McGoohan's Doctor Brown saves this holy man from throwing himself under a bus but he can do little for the same man who is left on the cliff-top howling to the moon for the daughter that was lost on the rocks below him.
May God forgive us all.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
A tidy office is a sign of a deranged mind
Back in 1979 people still seemed to believe that convicts were misunderstood individuals who were capable of great things, just given half a chance. Patrick McGoohan's Warden seemed more in tune with the early 21st Century maxim: Criminals should be locked up and preferably kept that way.
We never get to find out why Frank Morris is in prison. The only convicts that are really explained are the Alabama Negro, English, who was imprisoned for defending himself against a white supremacist, and a car thief who made the mistake of stealing a policeman's car. It would appear Alcatraz was filled with innocent and wronged men.... Maybe they should have turned it into a crèche.
The Warden (McGoohan) doesn't make moral judgements. His job is to lock people up and by hook or by crook, he's the best at it. His prison runs like clockwork, so well-run that he is able to spend his time shopping for tailored suits, manicuring his finger-nails and perfecting a scale model of his favourite island: Alcatraz.
Down in the dungeons all is not so well however. The concrete is rotting. The corrosion is probably not helped by the use of high-pressure hoses within the cells, to flush away the prisoner's own filth. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed the Warden's flakiness problems. Clint Eastwood was The Man, as always. Having chipped away enough concrete to crawl through, as well as constructing some sculptures that would have graced the set of 'Scanners', he makes his escape from Alcatraz. Bye Clint.
The Warden is left to rue the day. He finds a chrysanthemum that Clint has left on the beach at Angel Island. Breathing deep of it's fragrance McGoohan shows that there are no hard feelings on his part. "They're dead" he grates. Don't bother looking. You won't find them. He doesn't want them found, he has nothing personal against any of these guys... well apart from that chap who painted the rude picture of him: What was the fellow's name? Fingers?
The warden isn't sadistic. He has men who do that sort of thing for him. The Warden is paid to lock people up. He's good at it. He's proud of it. It behoves him to do his job well. People should be grateful for men like these.
Silver Streak (1976)
Throw Gene Wilder Off The Train!
I began to feel dizzy when I watched this film. There was Gene, on the train, off the train, on the train, off the train, on the train.....see what I mean? Then there is Gene as romantic lead.... see what I mean? Then there was my favourite martian as a wicked evil guy? Disorientation tends to lead to nausea but not in this case. I just struggled to figure out what this movie was trying to be. One minute there were great gags and then scary villains and then erotic romance. Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.
The sight of Patrick Mcgoohan brought it all into focus. Of course! It was all Martin Ransohoff's idea wasn't it! He's the guy who made "The Moonshine War" - that film, which also had this unusual mixture of sex and violence all mingled up in a whimsical meringue and never quite made sense. Fortunately this film got focused enough to get several Oscar nominations, be quite popular, and, due to it's coincident title became the British Royal Premiere movie; in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee (1977).
McGoohan's Devereau, like his Frank Long, never quite got finished. Devereau was at his best in the scenes where he traded wicked banter, in regard to his fiendish schemes; unfortunately he was traduced into a mad action hero, shooting down helicopters from a moving train, until he lost his head. Still he was good while he lasted. As was this film. Oh, and I almost forgot: Nice to see 'Jaws' (Richard Kiel) in a movie with 'the James Bond that never was', prior to linking up for his days of stardom with Roger Moore.
The Phantom (1996)
Hi Ho Silver - and Away!!! (with the fairies)
Faced with the problem of finding an actor who looks better in a tight-fitting cat-suit than Catherine Zeta-Jones, the producers managed it. Billy Zane is barely contained by his lilac lingerie. His ability to overcome the embarrassment of having to wear a purple jump-suit and put in a believable super-hero performance must be some sort of tribute to his acting credentials.
Well, when I said believable........the problem with the Phantom is that he appears to be a cross between the Lone Ranger and Batman. He lives in the tropical jungles of Asia, rides a white stallion and is accompanied by a sub-Artic wolf.......oh, and he wears and shoots cowboy six-guns. Huh? Apart from all that he's just an average guy who has a job to do.
I have read that there was quite a fan base for this 1930''s American comic character and that they complained about the casting of Patrick McGoohan as the Phantom's dad - because he was too old! Well, in my opinion there are cults.......and then there are really silly cults.
The delectable Catherine puts in a fine 'evil hussy' performance early in the film (before they make her a goody-goody, for some vague feminisation reason). Her performance is worthy of McGoohan himself in full wicked mode, but McGoohan, the actor, would surely have delighted in the roaring-bonkers evil of Treat Williams as the dastardly Drax. How the producers of the Bond movies have never spotted him in this movie and made him their ultimate cartoon villain is beyond my ken! Anyhow, its a good film, the cinematic quality never flags. They appear to have had a script actually finished before they started shooting. If you just go with a purple-lycra-clad-super-hero-cowboy who lives in the jungle.........the rest is great! My only complaint is that there are not enough scenes with Patrick McGoohan in....but if you've read my other reviews, you'll probably have seen that one coming!
PS. There is no truth in the rumour that McGoohan only agreed to do the film because he wanted to add yet another drop-dead beauty to his long list of co-stars. I'm referring to Ms. Jones of course.
The Moonshine War (1970)
Shouting at the Moon
This is an elusive movie to see. As a McGoohan fan it had a particular fascination for me. After all the moonshine that has been written about him I was curious to see what 'The Prisoner' actually did do next :-) A maddeningly ill-executed movie seems to be the answer. That's not to say it's a bad movie. Elmore Leonard had stopped writing cowboy books around the late Sixties and as he progressed toward the modern noir he has become feted for, he wrote this story. The movie clearly was meant to tell a tale that began with whimsical criminality but segued into dark, wicked evil - a modern moral fable that reminds us that vice is Vice, however entertainingly dressed-up it might be.
Unfortunately the film-makers failed to 'make the segue' and so the whimsy just becomes increasingly and uncomfortably sinister; without it's moral 'message' becoming clear. Nowadays, with our experience of the Leonard formula, the viewer can figure out what is going on. In 1970 I suspect the audience was just baffled by what must have seemed a wholly inappropriate approach to evil. A contemporary and more popular movie, 'Kelly's Heroes', was similar in mood and execution I felt. The advantage Kelly had was that it had a briefly dark opening scene and then the rest of the tale was whimsy.
The performances in the movie by Widmark and McGoohan are impressive. Widmark goes right back to his roots in movies. He has a confederate (Lee Hazelwood) to carry out Widmark's 'Tommy Udo moves', which left the great man free to exhibit a lazy, lecherous side to his gangster-dentist caricature. An innocent couple in a diner are stripped naked because Hazelwood "likes the look o' their duds" Hazelwood later commits the psychotic murders that should have switched the mood of the movie around, but didn't.
Meanwhile McGoohan explores the role of a greedily foolish, slightly cowardly, villain. His revenue-agent is humiliated by the Moonshine Hillbillies, in a scene where he is 'de-bagged' and hung out of his hotel window. Angrily he brings in the dentist enforcer but the hapless 'Revenoor' is soon overwhelmed by the sadism of real criminals. Swept along by a tsunami of terrorism, McGoohan's character is increasingly out of his depth and belatedly seeks the shore of virtue by switching sides to help Alan Alda repel the Widmark tide. However, before that he has succumbed to the greedy temptation of leading his fake Revenue Enforcement team on a search for booze, and half-heartedly participated in the threatened lynching of Alda's only friend, his black retainer. (This scene bears an eerie resonance of one from another McGoohan movie: 'Dr. Syn')
Alda is curiously blank throughout the movie. A host of interesting people swim around him but he seems oblivious to all of it. The climactic scenes rely on him having become ostracised as a result of his refusal to hand over his cache of booze. This obstinacy brings Widmarks' reign of terror upon the neighbourhood. Those neighbours not only refuse to help Alda in his final stand-off but actually assemble on the nearby hill to watch his expected demise at the hands of the gangsters. Alda's only friend is the black man, and the repentant 'Revenoor'. There was probably a lesson in all of this, but Alda's inability to engender our remotest interest in him, just makes the viewer a tad confused.
McGoohan ends the movie, sitting on a barrel, looking deeply disappointed. I wonder if he'd just viewed the last 'rushes'? Flawed as it is, this film deserves viewing because it has some great stuff going on and all concerned at least can boast that they spotted the potential of Elmore Leonard earlier than most.
McGoohan and Widmark together has got to be worth an hour and a half of anyone's time :-)