Videophiled TV Sets: The Complete ‘Secret Agent’

SecretAgentCompleteSecret Agent (aka Danger Man): The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD) – Before Patrick McGoohan was The Prisoner, he was John Drake, the maverick agent of Britain’s top secret M9 security force, in the series Danger Man. The show began in 1960, before the first Bond feature was released, in a 30-minute format, with the cool, clever undercover operative Drake sneaking into Eastern bloc regimes and Latin American dictatorships to flush out traitors and assassins, recover stolen secrets, and dabble in a little espionage himself.

That incarnation lasted a single season and was cancelled after the American networks failed to renew it, but a few years later it was reworked as an hour-long show in the wake of the renewed interest in spy shows and Cold War conflicts and it was picked in the U.S. under the title Secret Agent and a new theme, “Secret Agent Man,” sung by Johnny Rivers. (This set features the original British version of the series, with the Danger Man title and a harpsichord theme song.) Where he was once the loyal agent who follows faithfully orders, even when he seems to be on the side of status quo in some very repressive countries, the realpolitik shenanigans are played out with less assuredness and a creeping sense of futility, as if anticipating the disillusionment of McGoohan’s later series The Prisoner, in the second edition. Episodes played with the ambivalence of cold war politics (“Whatever Happened To George Foster,” “That’s Two of Us Sorry”), and two of them even anticipate The Prisoner: in “Colony Three,” a spy school in a manufactured village that could be the inspiration for The Prisoner’s village, and “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” features a mind game worthy of the new Number 2. Both of the latter episodes were directed by Don Chaffey, who helmed his share of The Prisoner.

Still, it was, like the U.S. series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a cleverly-constructed show built of elaborate espionage shell games and diplomatic chicanery, with McGoohan as the ingenious con man behind the bluffs and feints. The series ends with the only two episodes made in color: “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima,” both set in Japan and later combined and turned into the TV movie Koroshi. This set features the original episodic versions.

The series has been on DVD before but the original release is long out of print and had been going for high prices. This set features the original British broadcast versions of all 86 episodes with the same transfers as the A&E release but compacts it in a smaller box set of three cases, organized by season (as broadcast in the U.S.), and is quite reasonably priced. It features commentary on three episodes and bonus interview with Catherin McGoohan. All that’s missing is the alternate American version of the credits with the rocking theme song.

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Patrick McGoohan is John Drake

TV on DVD 09/28/10 – Ellery Queen and Danger Man

Ellery Queen Mysteries (E1) – Ellery Queen is both the pseudonymous author of and the main character in the scores of novels and short stories that made him the most well-known detective in American fiction. Both sides of the identity come together in this 1975-76 TV series, set in the late forties and starring Jim Hutton (father of Tim) plays the bestselling mystery author who steps out from his typewriter to help out his police detective father (David Wayne) in particularly intriguing cases. Their rapport is perfect, the flinty old professional with a grudging admiration for his son’s talents and the modest, good-natured and often distracted writer with a knack for observation and gift for puzzling out complicated mysteries. He’s the classic absent-minded genius, spotting the smallest detail out of place but always misplacing his glasses. John Hillerman has a recurring role as radio detective Simon Brimmer always attempting to match wits with Ellery (and always getting it wrong) and Ken Swofford is a hard-boiled reporter who also tries (and fails) to beat Ellery at his game in numerous episodes.

No, it's not Gilligan, it's Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen

Richard Levinson and William Link, the creators of Columbo and the kings of seventies mystery TV, developed the show, wrote the pilot and produced the series, an old-fashioned mystery show with a wonderful stylistic trick: just before he solves crime, and right before the show fades out for the final commercial break, Ellery turns to the audience and gives them a hint to solve the crime before he does. Along with its period setting, the episodes feature a grand cast of old Hollywood stars and familiar character actors, including such all-star victims as George Burns, Eve Arden, Rudy Vallee and Walter Pidgeon and grand suspects as Ray Milland, Don Ameche, Ida Lupino, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Vera Miles and Mel Ferrer. And movie buffs will want to note that cult director Jack Arnold directed three episodes. It only lasted a single season but it’s a great season.

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