Skip to main content

I’ll break this conspiracy!

The Prisoner
10. Hammer Into Anvil


We want information.

When Number Two pushes Number 73 into committing suicide, Number Six vows that he will pay for what he has done. Six is summoned to an audience with Two where the latter tells Six he is the anvil to Two’s hammer. But Six observes a phone call in which Two is under pressures from his superiors and sees a way to use this against him. Six embarks on a plan of underming Two through suggesting there is a plot against him, with Six as a spy reporting on Two’s performance. He pretends to receive a message from a record in the Village music shop, asks the town band to play an extract from the same piece of music, leaves a “message” on a blank piece of paper on the stone ship, places a suspicious advert in the Tally Ho, calls the Village Psychiatric Director about “the report” he’s compiling on Two, induces Two to believe there is a bomb in a cuckoo clock left at Two’s door, attaches a code to a carrier pigeon and signals a nonsense Morse Code message. Two becomes more and more on edge and paranoid, rejecting or dismissing his staff. Even Number Fourteen, his right hand man who engages in several fights with Six (including a game of kosho), falls out from favour. Six visits Two, now alone, and tells him that if he was correct in his belief that Six was working for his superiors his duty would have been not to interfere. Two did the opposite. Six tells him he must tender his resignation, and Two complies.


So how do you like it?

Hammer Into Anvil is that rare instance where Six bests his opponents. We’ve seen him beat an on-edge Two before, in A. B. and C., which preceded Hammerin production order. Because the nature of the show requires Six to remain trapped, these limited victories, where he tricks rather than is tricked himself, are particularly satisfying. Especially as they are used judiciously. If Six made a habit of coming out on top, it would rather defeat the point. Hammer is an episode with a surfeit of musical and literary references, but it is one with a fairly direct and linear construction. We know from the start what Six has in mind, and there is little in the way of digression or allusion as to the existential truth of things. That limitation does not make the episode a disappointment, however. This is one of the very best of the series, a witty depiction of guile and trickery used to unravel an unstable mind.


More than any episode thus far, this is all about Number Two, his responses as he is pricked and pushed by the manipulative Six. Hammer was the twelfth episode made, and those with a penchant for rearrangement have not tended to juggle it very much (12th or 14th are the popular choices). In all rearrangements it falls before Many Happy Returns, and in some there as many six episodes between them. This is not insignificant, as they share Patrick Cargill’s dismissive smugness. There, as Thorpe, he appears reluctant to lend any credibility to Six’s tale of the Village. He is more interested in his port. Are Thorpe and Number Two one and the same man?


Some have argued they are, in support of the way Six latches onto this case above all the others in which he might have become enmeshed. He has no attachment to 73, as far as we can tell, but takes it very personally when Two reduces her to suicide. If he already has good reason to want to take Two down, it suddenly makes a lot more sense. Then there’s the small fact that Cargill returned to the show to play Thorpe the following episode; while McGoohan’s motivations remain a frequent mystery and its conceivable he just liked working with Cargill so much he cast him in the next available supporting role, it’s not an implausible piece of reasoning.


That said, there’s little doubt that Six’s sudden chivalry seems to come from another ITC show. There’s a whiff of “What should he do this week?” expediency to the way he hears a scream from the hospital and comes dashing in to investigate. Despite Two’s bluster, this is the first time in the series we so no plan from the Village (on any level) to undermine or extract desirable information from Six. And it does feel like Six has become part of the garden furniture of the Village at this point; he is more at home there than the new Number Two (“Increase vigilance call from new Number Two” announces the headline of the latest Tally Ho).

Two: You shouldn’t have interfered, Number Six. You’ll pay for this.
Six: No. You will.


Of course, the explanation could be altogether more mundane. Perhaps Six has witnessed a number such acts of overreaching sadism from Two in his brief tenure thus far, and he has had enough. Only Colin Gordon’s Two has shown a less than unruffled demeanour at this point, and his behaviour has been less about relishing others’ misfortune than straining to get results. There’s something almost predatory about what we see of Cargill’s Two in this first scene. First of all he takes glee in manipulating 73 (Hilary Heath), attacking her with words (“Let me show you just how loyal your dear husband is to you”) before announcing, “I’ve wasted enough time”. The cut to her scream implies an assault of some kind, and we really wouldn’t put such a thing past this Two.

Six: You must be anvil or hammer.
Two: I see you know your Goethe.
Six: And you see me as the anvil.
Two: I am going to hammer you.


Six is already nursing his latest project by the time he is summoned to an audience with Two (a bout of fisticuffs is needed to help him along his way). Six accuses him of being a professional sadist, and Two trots out a familiar refrain about besting his quarry (“Each man has his breaking point, you know. And you are no exception”). But it’s the extent of his haughtiness that marks him out. Threatening violence (a sword point is brandished in the vicinity Six’s third eye), Two indicates his superiority by alluding to Goethe’s Gesellige Lieder, Ein Anderes. But no sooner has he presented his case than he makes the fatal mistake or revealing his weakness in front of Six. As Six will later summarise, “You’re afraid of your masters. A weak link in the chain of command waiting to be broken”.


We’ve seen enough of Two’s impulsive character in the first scene, but the ease with which Six is able to needle him makes it clear this mission will be a walk in the park (“You were saying. Something about a hammer?” he asks casually, in response to Two’s “Yes sir, everything is under control… No, no sir. I can manage”) Then there’s the lovely, casual quiet way in which Six says, “Thank you very much” as Two instructs him to get out. His “I’ll break you, Number Six!” is so OTT it’s worthy of the Hooded Claw.



Two’s gradual mental disintegration leads to some highly amusing scenes. His growing paranoia concerning those around him pays off with apoplectic outbursts at uncomprehending Villagers, unjustly accused of collaboration with Six. 


With another actor than Cargill, we might find Two’s credulity something of a stretch, but he ensures that we can accept it’s not going to take an awful lot to send him over the edge (just as he did to poor 73). His request to have a blank piece of paper examined for a hidden message meets with bafflement from the Michael Segal’s techie chappie (“What are you staring at?” thunders Two).


Lab Technician: I’m sorry sir, but there’s nothing.
Two: Why should he hide blank sheets of paper in the stone boat… Or are you hiding something?
Lab Technician: What do you mean sir?
Two: I mean was there a message her and you’re not telling me?
Lab Technician: Why should I do that sir?
Two: Perhaps you’re in with him.
Lab Technician: In with who, sir?
Two: Six, Number Six!

Best of the bunch is his exchange with a mystified Psychiatric Director (Norman Scace). Six has telephoned him and, with the majority of his efforts in this episode, his gambit rests on Two inferring that his behaviour is a form of interaction with another or others. So 249 is compiling a report on Number Two. Which, of course, he isn’t.


Two: You aren’t preparing a report on my… mental health?
249: No.
Two: Then WHY DID HE RING YOU? Would you say that Number Six was mad?
249: Not according to our records.
Two: Then he had a reason for telephoning you, didn’t he? What was it?
249: Why don’t you ask him?
Two: Would you like to SIT IN THIS CHAIR?
249: I was merely suggesting…
Two: DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!


Scace’s delivery of “Why don’t you ask him?” is the closest the show gets to broadness of  sitcom, and Roger Woddis’ writing has a deliciously farcical quality in such moments (Woddis’ contributions to TV are limited but anyone of a certain age will recognise his name from weekly Radio Times columns).



SixI’d like to hear them all.
Shop AssistantIf you insist sir. but they’re all the same.
SixI doubt it.

Six’s ruses are all variations on a theme, but they are plausibly devised and sufficiently devious that they don’t become tired or repetitive.  The first is perhaps the best, in which Six visits the local store and asks to listen to a recording of L’Arlessienne (about a woman who drives a man mad); all the copies in the shop. 


Music becomes a character in the episode as a whole, even more than is usual for the series. The recording accompanies scenes, punctuating the downfall of Two and used to notably amusing effect during a fight with 14 at Six’s house; the formal and restrained suite plays out as Six and 14 smash each other around.


The music store includes the expected platitudes (Music makes the quiet mind, Music begins where words leave off) and Six’s actions rely consistently on dutiful citizens and informants doing their duty and reporting on his aberrant behaviour. Pretending that he can hear a secret message in the recording and circling a word in the Tally Ho is more than enough to arouse Two’s suspicions. 


All he needs to do is stoke the fire (a message to a non-existent superior; Ref your query via Birget record. No.2’s instability confirmed. Detailed report follows); his every action relies on the effectiveness of the constant surveillance that has been used to blight his time in the Village. And, if it’s highly unlikely he could twist another Two around his little finger (14 is having none of it, for example), this is an environment of quickly successive leadership where at very least a toppling through incompetence is not unheard of and where at best one will be ushered on if quick results are not garnered.



Warmest greetings on your birthday. May the sun shine on you today. And everyday.

Anyone Six interacts with may be in on it, so his unconscious recruits include a shopkeeper, a psychiatrist, a lab technician and even regulars (Peter Swanick’s Supervisor and Angelo Muscat’s Butler). 


He refuses to believe the Bandmaster (Victor Maddern) when he pleads that all Six did was ask him to play a tune then walk away (“You’re lying, aren’t you? There’s something going on. You’re all lying! It’s a plot!”) and, as the situation progresses, it’s more and more like shooting fish in a barrel. 


Two becomes convinced that a cuckoo clock has a bomb in it (the technician dismantling the clock can barely conceal his derision for Two), that a an actual bird has a vital message attached, that Six’s Morse Code message conceals a further message (it can’t just be pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake) and that a message from the dead 113, published in Tally Ho, indicates a conspiracy by all and sundry in the Town Hall to get him. 


Suitably, we also meet more members of the Village than usual, and there is a brace of numbers about the place, those both dead (113, 73) and living (256). Six can even twist the knife by simply turning up at Two’s house and claiming he was summoned (“Someone in this village is impersonating you”).


14: Let me deal with him. He’s out to poison the whole village. He’s undermining your authority.

Throughout all this, the one constant at Two’s side is 14 (Basil Hoskins, who appeared in both The Avengers and The New Avengers, and in The Return of Sherlock Holmes). Robert Fairclough (in The Prisoner official companion to the classic television series) suggests 14 is Sancho Panza to Two’s Don Quixote, but I have to admit this passed me by if it is the intention. He is staunchly loyal, however and even waxes slightly poetic (“There is more harm in the village than is dreamt of”). 


His belligerence towards Six results in the a kosho match, the ker-azee trampolining martial arts sport where opponents wear crash helmets and fight across trampolines separated by a tank of water. When it comes to it, all it takes is a few quiet words to an unresponsive 14 to arouse Two’s suspicion (“And I thought you were the one man I could trust!”) before unleashing a tirade of accusations (“Traitor, traitor, traitor!”)


Two (to the Butler): You too! You’re in this plot aren’t you? Oh, yes! Get out! Get out of this house!

So when Six confronts Two at the climax, the latter has spurned all those he holds closest. Perhaps this is all a little too neat and tidy, a construction at the edict of plotting rather than character development, but it satisfies. The way in which Six summons Two’s own words to secure the noose (“Where is the strong man the hammer? You have to be hammer or anvil, remember?”) Six’s words go to emphasise that it is not just conformity that is pressing, but once it is secured it is necessary to provide standards of service. There is no use for Two in the society where he cannot perform (“You could be working for the enemy, or you could be a blunderer who’s lost his head. Either way, you’ve failed. And they don’t like failure here”).


Two: I have to report a breakdown in control. Number Two needs to be replaced. Yes this is Number Two reporting.

Six understands the flaws of this oppressive system acutely. Even near the top of the totem there is a pecking order; Two’s first duty as a loyal citizen is not to interfere, and the one last scramble for some kind of respect he can muster is to report himself to his masters. One might suggest that Six has carried the system of manipulation he learnt in Checkmate (the masters and servants) directly into Hammer Into Anvil. But the arrangement has been flipped; there his mastery was over minions, here it is aimed at the master. The final shot of Two, cowering in the recesses of his chair, says it all. It would be difficult to argue he doesn’t get everything he deserves, but the mercilessness with which Six executes his plan still packs a punch.


Pat Jackson directs with the sureness he brought to A. B. and C. (his final outing would be the all together less immaculate Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, although he can hardly be blamed for that mess). He effectively establishes the subjectivity of Two’s now less than omniscient gaze and ekes the humour from Cargill’s dissolving mental state (Cargill, and accomplished comedy actor, relished the chance to play devious, as did Gordon before him).


Hammer Into Anvil is not an episode that reveals hidden depths when revisited, but it is one where the beauty of the construction continues to impress. One might suggest that the only person who could successfully defeat a Number Two is someone who ranks above them, which leads us nicely into the McGoohan’s overarching theme. But really, I do think this one is all about the plot beats so it’s just as well they sing.


*****

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.