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Secret Agent



Patrick McGoohan’s first TV series, Secret Agent is best remembered today for Johnny Rivers’ catchy theme song, “Secret Agent Man,” which wailed, “They’ve given you a number and taken away your name.” That, ironically, was part of the premise of McGoohan’s better known cult show, The Prisoner, the story of a former spy held captive in a Disneyland of terror. Secret Agent (known as Danger Man in England) is unjustly ignored and is, in many ways, the superior series. Launched in 1961 as a half-hour drama, it was revived in 1964 as an hour program when the James Bond craze was in full swing. Never a roaring success, it ran for a respectable 45 episodes over two years. Secret Agent is unpretentious and smooth, a film noir-style spy show and the best of the spy crop that rose in the plentiful Bond-era 1960s. The series’ scripts are complex and witty – more John Le Carre spy-procedural than Ian Fleming super-spy serial– with agent John Drake (McGoohan) as something of an anti-hero, often questioning his superior’s values and the stated “necessity” for what he is doing. Drake is not a 007 clone, never kissing a girl and rarely using a gun. More often than not, he would talk rather than fight his way out of a sticky situation. McGoohan, who had turned down the Bond role in 1961 because of its sex and violence, is an impressive protagonist, thoughtful but also with a good left hook. This first collection of episodes features the top-notch “Fish on the Hook,” in which Drake must identify and rescue the mastermind behind Britain’s Middle Eastern spy network; “Yesterday’s Enemies,” a clever meditation on the double-dealing and changing alliances inherent in the spy game (“Yesterday’s enemies, today’s friends,” muses one character); “No Marks for Servility,” in which Drake masquerades as a servant for a ruthless financier; “Fair Exchange,” a spy mission involving assassination, a double-cross, and an old friend; “The Battle of the Cameras,” with a tuxedoed Drake in a casino as a Bond-type adventurer; and “A Room in the Basement,” a Mission: Impossible-style rescue operation. The series has a distinctive, noirish look, beautifully captured in this great DVD transfer from A & E. The series also has a wonderfully unique harpsichord score by Edwin Astley, as well as some familiar faces from the Bond films (Vladyek Shebal, Zena Marshall, both from From Russia With Love) and The Prisoner (Anton Rodgers, Jane Merrow, both from “The Schizoid Man”). But don’t expect to hear that Johnny Rivers title tune (except in the paltry DVD extras section): these episodes feature the original Danger Man titles. One person will probably be pleased about that: John Drake himself. McGoohan reportedly hated the song “Secret Agent Man.” – Tom Soter