The Cold War may be dead, but it left behind some brilliant literature, film and television to attend its wake. Episodes of “Danger Man” and “Secret Agent,” two series from TV’s Cold War Best List, now are available on video. (Although the two series differed slightly and were separated by four years, episodes from both have been packaged for video under the “Secret Agent” name.)
The shows starred Patrick McGoohan, best remembered as the star of the classic, subsequent series “The Prisoner” in which he played No. 6, an ex-security agent held against his will in a mysterious village, denied both his freedom and his name. “Danger Man” and “Secret Agent” now can be seen as prequels to “The Prisoner,” in which we learn No. 6’s name--John Drake--and his history.
“Danger Man,” which debuted in 1961, marked Drake’s first outing. At that time he worked for NATO as something of a trouble-shooter. In an episode entitled “Bury The Dead” (which features a young Robert Shaw), Drake is sent to Sicily to investigate the untimely death of a fellow NATO agent. Naturally, he finds mysterious circumstances and trouble quickly follows. McGoohan’s performance and the crisp writing make the whole thing spark. Unfortunately, only about 24 episodes of this British import were shown in the United States; “Bury the Dead” is something of a rarity.
There were about twice as many episodes of “Secret Agent"--not to mention the Johnny Rivers theme song, “Secret Agent Man.” This time around, Drake was working for a British intelligence agency called M19. This series, which debuted in 1965, was so well written that it is hard to fathom why it didn’t last longer than it did. Perhaps the problem was production costs: Typical locales include East Germany, Prague, Singapore, the Bahamas, Cairo, Beirut and Bucharest.
With the exception of the first episode, the series owes little to James Bond. Drake has much more in common with John Le Carre’s Alec Leamas from “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.” In episode No. 5, “Yesterday’s Enemies” (one of the best), one gets a sense of Drake’s disgust with the spy business when he comforts a spy’s widow by lying to her about the man’s allegiance. He follows this breach of conduct by reprimanding his own boss for playing the Cold War game with such calculated inhumanity.
Or try episode No. 2, “Fair Exchange.” An ex-M19 agent sneaks into East Germany to assassinate a secret police interrogator who tortured her years before. M19 sends John Drake in not to help her, but to stop her--any way he can. If your local video rental house doesn’t have all these episodes, demand them. “Danger Man” and “Secret Agent” portray the spy’s life with a hard-edged realism that deserves attention.
“Secret Agent, Bury the Dead” (originally titled “Danger Man,” 1961). Executive producer Ralph Smart. 30 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 1, Battle of the Cameras” (1965). Executive producer Ralph Smart. 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 2, Fair Exchange” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 3, A Room in the Basement” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 4, Fish on a Hook” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 5, Yesterday’s Enemies” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 6, The Professionals” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.
“Secret Agent No. 8, A Very Dangerous Game” (1965). 53 minutes. No rating.