Danger Man – Patrick McGoohan’s Other Spy Classic!

Secret Agent aka Danger Man Box Art"There's a man who lives a life of danger," sang Johnny Rivers in his hit song, Secret Agent Man, which opened the American run of Danger Man. The series, about taciturn young espionage agent John Drake, ran for eighty-six episodes over four seasons – paving the way for future hit espionage series like cult hits The Avengers and The Prisoner

 

Patrick McGoohan remains best known for his own creation, The Prisoner, although his by previous series, Danger Man, ran for five times as many episodes. The series was unique insofar as it had a permanent cast of one – McGoohan – and introduced a spy who could be ruthless when necessary, but remained a good person. The first season of the show was composed of thirty-nine thirty-minute episodes, while seasons two through four added forty-seven hour-long eps – the last two in color [the series was cancelled two eps into season four because McGoohan had developed The Prisoner – and persuaded Sir Lew Grade to do it].

Every government has its secret service branch. America, the CIA; France, Deuxieme Bureau; England, MI5, NATO also has it's own, A messy job, that's when they call me, or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake."

That introduction opened the series during its first season, giving us a quick capsule explanation of the series' premise. The speaker was a lean, athletic looking fellow who smiled rarely, carried a gun that he only used when there was no other choice, and was accomplished as a fighter but preferred to use his wits. His eyes had to be a piercing blue – his stare could unnerve without a word being spoken.

From the series premiere, View From The Villa, – shot in Portmeirion – later prison to Number 6] to its finale, Shinda Shima, Danger Man distinguished itself with its intelligence and wit. Series creator Ralph Smart ensured the level of excellence by hiring writers like Brian Clemens [Ghost Squad, The Avengers, The Champions and Thriller] and Philip Broadly [Department S, Jason King, The Champions]. Smart, himself, contributed to shows like The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk [Deceased], but Danger Man remains his one classic creation.

Of course, writing, alone, can't make a show sing. Smart hired a number of veteran and new directorial talent and a surprising number of soon to be well-known actors for his series. Peter Yates [who went from Danger Man directly to Bullitt], McGoohan [who used his Danger Man experience to springboard his writing and directing on The Prisoner] and Don Chaffey [The Prisoner, The Avengers, Charlie's Angels, Spenser: For Hire] were among the show's directors.

Secret Agent aka Danger Man Box Art

Danger Man's guest cast included, among others: Edward Hardwicke [the definitive Dr. Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series], Laurence Naismith [Village of the Damned, Jason and the Argonauts], Lois Maxwell [the movies' first Moneypenny], Patrick Troughton [Doctor Who's second Doctor], and Honor Blackman [The Avengers' Cathy Gale, Goldfinger].

Whether working for NATO, or [from the second season on] England's M9, Drake's adventures took him around the world – and from one odd situation to another. In season one's Colonel Rodriguez, for example, he's arrested for the attempted murder of a nightclub singer while trying to prove an American journalist is not a spy. Season Two's A Room in the Basement, finds Drake going off on his own to save a friend who's been kidnapped by an enemy country – and enlists personal friends to resolve the situation.

Possibly my favorite episode comes in Season Three. In I'm Afraid You Have The Wrong Number, Drake is sent to Switzerland to clean up after the chief of M9's Switzerland operation is apparently killed in a car accident. Unfortunately, Steadfast is still alive – the accident having been set up by enemy agents, who substituted the body of a similarly built nobody for his – and being interrogated. A local police lieutenant suspects Drake is more than he's saying, and Drake has to conduct his investigation while appearing to be an insurance agent.

Danger Man - Fight

Another third season ep, The Paper Chase, is also pretty spectacular. When a British diplomat loses his keys while on a date, they fall into the wrong hands – and the result is pilfered secrets. Drake has to go on what amounts to a scavenger hunt with dire results if he fails. In a cool twist, while using his wits to follow the stolen secrets, he manages to form a bond with a former enemy – a bond that is instrumental in his successful resolution of the situation.

The first season of Danger Man was fast-paced and allowed for little character development. McGoohan had only a half-hour each week to impress Drake's personality and traits on his audience – all the while trying to solve one nasty predicament after another. From season two on – between the change of employers and the increased episode times – we began see more and more of what made Drake such an effective agent. The series frequently played on the contrast between Drake's essential decency and the nastiness required to survive in the shadowy world of espionage.

Danger Man also introduced an intriguing array of gizmos over its run – though never to the point where it became a gadget show. Considering the era, a tape recorder in a packet of cigarettes [as just one example] was amazingly sophisticated technology. Usually, though, what gadgets there were, were used by others. Drake generally preferred to rely on his intelligence and improvisational skills – and that is what made Danger Man unique for its time – and enables it to remain fresh and entertaining forty-seven years after its debut.

Features include: the American opening with Johnny Rivers' Secret Agent Man; Patrick McGoohan bio and filmography; photo galleries.

Danger Man: The Complete Collection – Grade: A

Features – Grade: D

Final Grade: B

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