Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan (1928-2008)

As a kid, I remember being thrilled by the adventures of McGoohan's two-fisted vicar, Dr. Syn, in the surprisingly-dark-for-Disney The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. Later, like a lot of people, I was simultaneously fascinated with and baffled by The Prisoner. I've seen comparatively little of his work since then, although he brought exactly the right tone of understated menace to his role as Dr. Paul Ruth in David Cronenberg's Scanners.

I have vaguer memories of The Prisoner's immediate predecessor, Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US), but what had always stuck with me, oddly enough, was that show's art direction. The adventures of globe-trotting spy John Drake were shot on the cheap on the studio back lot, but rarely looked it because the show's producers managed to boil the essence of its far-flung locations down to a handful of shorthand visual cues: get a few pieces of rattan furniture, a potted palm or two, and a slowly-rotating ceiling fan, then throw some venetian blind shadows on the wall behind them and voilĂ  -- you were instantly in some Graham Greene-ish post-colonial backwater.

Because, let's face it, McGoohan's intensity as Drake was all the realism you needed anyway.

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