Sunday, 8 June 2014

Danger Man: The Mirror's New

A totally - I suppose unexpected would be the word to describe it - beginning to this Danger Man episode. A scene of archetypal luxury, with a man apparently listening to music from a record player. This scene then opens out to show another man reclining on a bed behind the chair. Once again, all the trappings of luxury - the drapes & the fur on the bed. The music provides the ideal climactic background to the man on the bed shooting the man (to whom he owes money) on the chair, after playing cat & mouse with him for some little time. He leaves the apartment & goes to a car, dropping a scarf on the steps, which he slips on as he returns, managing to get back in the apartment but knocking himself out.
How to read this opening in symbolic terms? It could *almost* have a hint of homosexuality about it. Whatever, the man on the bed is plainly louche, a roue, a playboy. He's got it written all over him. It's written all over his flat. His flat is a studio flat, is clearly tiny, yet there is apparently room for a bar & certainly for extravagant drapes. This man is clearly set up as a villain right from the start. I wonder how this would have read in the 1960s - in the way I'm reading it, I hope. I'm less sure on how the two men in (matching) turtle neck jumpers & dark glasses would have read then - looking at appearances of similar-looking men in other 1960s shows, I'm guessing they would have read as villains in the television language of the time. They're definitely not on our side - far too sinister, & the solid reliability look is reserved for Bierce's boss. So in fact this show does an excellent job of making a complex beginning, where it isn't at all clear which side the characters are one: exactly the right impression for this episode, in fact.
I am struck by the theatrical nature of this episode. It *feels* to me, as did a lot of particularly early 1960s television, like a stage play. Imagine this show done on the stage, it's perfectly possible. A bed for the studio apartment, a desk for the embassy: this one actually consists of a series of scenes. With this theatrical feeling come marvellous visuals. The sense of reassurance that I described developing as the series progresses, is present here to a wonderful extent. Visually this show literally doesn't put a foot wrong - the oddness of the opening scene up to the titles serves to attract the viewer's attention. It is a pleasure to watch, I can't describe how visually excellent this one is. When Bierce reappears & it is apparent that he is missing a day, the secretary shows him the correct date on a desk calendar, & when he rationalises it as her putting the date too far forward, Drake visually reinforces this with his newspaper. Far far more effective than arguing with him would have been. For a Danger Man set abroad, the scene is also very effectively set with establishing shots of Paris, creating the right atmosphere.
There are a few questions raised for me by this episode. One is of what is known in Britain as data protection. You can't just casually take sensitive papers home anymore - (no, now you're supposed to leave them on a train in an unencrypted memory stick!) - I would like to say that this couldn't happen anymore, but I suppose what I mean is that the focus on Bierce would be different nowadays. On an organisational level, it is astonishing how unsuspicious Bierce's boss is about him. Seriously - a diplomat vanishes with sensitive papers, with a whole day missing from his memory when he returns, & his boss continues to think he is not a security risk? Since I continue to have Drake's likely reasons for resignation at the back of my mind, I would guess that he would probably be intensely annoyed, being surrounded by such incompetence. It is clear that the diplomatic service is being run on a basis of personal ties rather than professionally, on the basis of objective criteria. On that basis Bierce would be flying back to London post haste. To someone intelligent & competent, this rank incompetence would be the ultimate irritant - having to clear up after people who leave themselves open to security leaks.
Drake's character comes across as more sympathetic than usual in this episode. He does a very good job with Mrs Bierce: the priority is clearly finding out what has happened to her husband, but he speaks to her with sympathy & succeeds in getting her to open up about her husband's apparent failing. Similarly, this episode is a showcase for Drake talking to all sorts of different people, making it apparent how adaptable he could actually be, while showcasing McGoohan's acting ability.
Wanda Ventham, in her introduction to this episode in my boxed set, comments to the effect that Danger Man was just a standard show, although nothing with McGoohan in it could really be ordinary. I was going to disagree with her, but having seen the show three times on the trot, I'm inclined to agree. Despite the apparent complexity of this one's plot, the complexity is actually only the complexity that Bierce has created in his own life by leading a double, triple, quadruple, life. Au fond this Danger Man is a relatively simple morality story - it is very obvious from early on that Bierce isn't letting his left hand know what his right hand is doing, & that no good can come of it. I also don't really like that the two men in dark glasses turn out to be agents for the other side, masquerading as money lenders. It is too simple that they are the ones who kill Bierce at the end, while also not providing a satisfying end - we don't see what happens to them, if anything. Drake is made an ambivalent character there - clearly sorting out the spot of bother with Bierce is his *only* concern in this case. And he promises not to disabuse Mrs Bierce of her false impression of her husband. The problem as defined is all neatly sorted out & everyone can go back to pretending.
My favourite bit: McGoohan's act as an Irish salesman of German encyclopedias.
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