Skip to main content

I agreed to wear the badge but not the gun.

The Prisoner
14. Living in Harmony


We want information.

A sheriff (known as the Stranger; Number Six) resigns, is attacked, and dragged to the Wild West town of Harmony. There, he meets the town mayor, the Judge. After refusing to assume the mantel of town lawman, the Stranger is taken into protective custody as refuge from an angry mob of townsfolk. In the jail, he is guarded by a silent psychopath gunslinger, The Kid. The Judge accedes to the replacement of the Stranger with another prisoner, who is lynched to appease the crowd. He was the brother of Kathy, the saloon madam, and she aids the Stranger in an escape attempt. The Stranger is recaptured, but Kathy is imprisoned this time and receives the unwanted attentions of The Kid. The Stranger agrees to wear the sheriff’s badge but refuses a gun. Before he can escape Harmony with Kathy, The Kid kills her. The Stranger turns in his badge and shoots The Kid dead during a showdown. Returning to the saloon he is involved in a shootout, which ends when the Judge kills him. Six awakes wearing headphones and discovers familiar characters posed around the saloon location, but in the form of cardboard cut-outs . This was an experiment by Two (the Judge) and Eight (The Kid), aided by 22 (Kathy) to extract information, but it has been an abject failure. 22, upset by her complicity, returns to the saloon where Eight, who has become obsessed with her, strangles her.  Two arrives to see Eight topple over a balcony and die.


So how do you like it?

The series’ pre-penultimate episode filmed is a western “filler”, partly shot on location in Wales. Thus, it follows in the not-so-illustrious tradition of Yankophile productions such as… Carry on Cowboy and Doctor Who’s The Gunfighters. Later there would be The GoodiesBunfight at the O.K. Tearooms, which transposed business to Cornwall. And Edgar Wright’s best forgotten A Fistful of Fingers. It’s one thing to take the piss, but embracing the iconography of a genre with different cultural and geographic markers can be a tricky business. The final product is prone to looking a bit silly, or just plain rubbish, even when mockery is your goal. Living in Harmony just about manages a pass on that score, but the episode is never more than indulgence; an unnecessary résumé of the series’ premise lacking sufficiently original ingredients to justify its existence.


That’s probably because it didn’t need to justify itself. Co-writer Ian Rakoff, whose script was reworked by director, and series producer, David Tomblin, says McGoohan just plain liked the idea of making a western. And so it came to be. Of the three filler episodes, it can at least be said they incrementally improve in quality (the next one is top notch, fully exploring the series’ triptastic possibilities). Tomblin, who may never be surpassed as “the finest first assistant director in the business” only rarely dabbled with the full credit. His UFOwork is some of the most interesting of that show (The Cat with Ten Lives, featuring Harmony’s Alex Kanner, is particularly arresting). On The Prisoner he co-penned the opener and wrote/directed this and The Girl Who Was Death.


As director, Tomblin takes on board both the classics of the genre and the then current Spaghetti Western subgenre. The script too, as normative as it is, broaches the brutality of the Italian subgenre and the more archetypal noble lawman of the 1940s and 1950s. The town was shot on the MGM backlot, which provides for a reasonable variation of the Wild West town, but nothing here can really mask the feeling that this is budget fare. Leone et al had production values money couldn’t buy through decamping to Spain. Harmony may have been the most expensive episode of The Prisoner, and Tomblin chooses his shots with expectedly loving care, but the trappings never lend themselves to more than a sense of the cast playing at fancy dress. The dubious accents (McGoohan included, speaking through the side of his mouth in an unconvincing drawl) don’t help. There’s even a crazy Mexican with terrible teeth (Larry Taylor, who also appeared as a gypsy in Many Happy Returns).


The big problem with Living in Harmony is that, aside from the extremes of The Kid (Kanner) subplot, the writing is so damn predictable and unchallenging. It takes Number Six’s predicament (living in the Village or living in Harmony; either way, he cannot escape) and overlays a familiar High Noonvibe. Six is subject to similar coercion to that of the Village, following a similar resignation. So The Judge who runs the town is Number Two, pressing him and manipulating him, and Six faces the dilemma of bringing order to a corrupt town. There are overt heavies (The Kid) and damsels in distress/femme fatales (Kathy, the saloon madam who hides her tender heart beneath a confident exterior; Valerie French, who also appeared in Connery western Shalako). The problem is, one can’t, or at least shouldn’t, expect their audience to be happy with nothing more than a straight-up transposition. There’s barely a moment in Harmony where something smart or different has been done with the genre overcoat. Not until the last 10 minutes in fact, when the conceit is dropped and Six returns to the Village (the virtual reality device is given little support, and the connective flesh is highly flawed, but I still find it difficult to believe that McGoohan initially had no plans to overtly link the episode to the Village).


There’s nothing wrong with a pastiche per se, but it’s usually easy to identify the ones content to rest on the paraphernalia they appropriate. Nine months after Harmonyaired in the UK, Star Trek’s patchy third season delivered Spectre of the Gun. It was one of the better episodes of that run, replaying the events of the O.K. Corral with members of the Enterprise crew and achieving an at-times Twilight Zone-esque strangeness. Harmony eschews anything of that order, which seems like a missed opportunity. Wasn’t the leaking in of reality one of the best elements of A. B. and C.? Perhaps the decision was consciously made notto go that route as the parallels would be too obvious but without it the episode is disappointingly simplistic and linear. The best compliment I can pay the series in general is that this seems beneath The Prisoner, in a similar fashion to Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (which stole Harmony’s title) slumming it with a moribund continent-hopping spy yarn.


If the structure is formulaic (escape, capture, confrontation, liberally interspersed with fisticuffs), and certain of the characters are tried and tested standards, Tomblin scores with the way he depicts The Kid. Clad in dungarees over a union suit, and a top hat that evokes the retro-modern vibe of the series but this time with an impertinent leer, Kanner’s performance is perhaps the series’ most unremittingly unwholesome. Various regions in the UK may have made cuts to the episode on the grounds of violence (or broadcast it later in the evening), but the Kid’s obsession with Kathy is more disturbing than any of the violence on display (a scene where he shoots a guy who talked fancy to Kathy, is also very effective). His silent, antic disposition nurses brutality, lust, and rape. Tomblin favours shooting The Kid at low angles, making him the more imposing and off balance. Kanner’s performance is one of stares, blinks, and twitching eyes; it doesn’t need to be subtle because its entire purpose is to intimidate, which it does. At one point he moves into the camera, and goes out of focus.


That said, Harmonyalso features the most extreme violence the series has seen; a lynching utilising point-of-view camerawork, The Kid forcing himself on Kathy then strangling her when she repels him (biting his lip, giving him a vampiric quality). Kanner is the best aspect of the episode, and it’s easy to see why McGoohan brought him back for the finale and why Tomblin re-employed him for UFO.


Is The Kid (Number Eight) the same character as Number 48 in Fall Out? The argument against is the little fact that he dies at the end of Harmony. But, as has been pointed out, so does Leo McKern’s Number Two, and he is revived by Village technology. The link wants to be made, and McGoohan is clearly doing nothing to discourage it; The Kid of Living in Harmony becomes the representative of wayward youth in Fall Out. His musical speech pattern there is in step the broken sing-song final lines here (“Not going to hit me no more, Judge, No more”). And to crown the comparison, so to speak, the last appearance of 48 finds him sporting that same top hat. A mention too for Kanner’s excellent death scene; we aren’t sure who was the quickest draw, and The Kid holsters his gun as if his job is done. Only then does he drop to the ground.


Kathy, as Six’s female co-conspirator, bears comparison with any number of prior female supporting roles. While, as per usual, Six shows no inclination of romantic interest, hers in him is perhaps the most overt of any female in the series who has not been medicated (it appears that those collaborating in the process have not consumed hallucinogenic drugs like Six). Indeed, she says, “I wish it had been real” after succumbing to Eight’s violent mits. That, combined with The Kid’s predatory disposition, also makes this the most sexualised episode in the series (it’s interesting that an episode alluding to the States should embrace sex and violence on a relative scale). French is very good, both as Kathy and 22; as with Kanner, she rises above the material (Mary Morris aside, French’s might be the strongest performance from an actress in the series).


The Judge: What were your reasons?
The Stranger: My reasons.

David Bauer, a veteran of ITC productions including The Saint and The Baron who also guested twice on The Avengers, was an American actor who found more regular employment on settling in the UK. As such he’s an easy fit for a cast struggling with their transatlantic vowels, and he’s a confident imposing presence. Unfortunately, there’s little else to really make the Judge stand out. He questions the sheriff on why he turned in his badge, tells him he will fall into line, and predictably finishes in a state of defeat. He has eyes everywhere, of course, so he can dispense with a potential collaborator with barely a flick of the wrist. As with a number of other Twos, the threat of consequences is more motivating than the goal of success itself  (“It’s okay for you. I have to answer for this failure” he tells Eight).


The Stranger: I agreed to wear the badge but not the gun.
The Judge: It’s a start. You’ll find it’s a tough town without a gun.

As for Six, it’s another episode where he isn’t all that interesting. The new wardrobe and untended accent failure to muster anything distinctive beneath. That’s because, as with everything else in the plot, this is only reheating his motivation. His rebellion against being forced back into the role of sheriff meets with peer pressure to take up arms to protect them (“Get some guns on, sheriff”). The townsfolk are sheep doing the beckoning of Two (even when they despise him). At one point the Stranger sounds like he’s prefiguring Pacino in The Godfather Part III (“Last time I got out, they dragged me back”).


A fair bit has been written about why this episode wasn’t aired on first run in the States, but the interpretation that it was down to a “pacifist” stance in the era of Vietnam is the most obtuse (another has the objection being its depiction of drug use). It’s true that Six refuses to pick up a gun… until he doesn’t. He also shows no disinclination to give Harmonites a ruddy good thumping whenever it proves necessary. Perhaps the distinction the writers want to make is that Six doesn’t consider it right to mete out final justice from a position of power (he surrenders the badge when he takes up arms). Or maybe it’s due to recognition that this is a personal, not professional, retribution. Notably, though, Six only kills someone in his own mind. Eight self-immolates by tumbling over a banister. My favourite Stranger moment has him correct the Judge’s grammar.


The Judge: You’ve already taken a job? With who?
The Stranger: With whom.

One of the slightly divergent elements of Harmony might be viewed as providing a clue to the bigger picture. If Six fully embraces the role of Sheriff, rather than reluctantly, he will become the Number One in the town and eclipse the power of the Judge. Is that what the Village is designed for, encouraging him to recognise and accept who he really is? His own malign nature?


The conclusion is one of Harmony’s most problematic elements. The reveal takes shape with flair as Six, shot in grotesque close-up, comes to on the floor of the saloon wearing headphones and a microphone. There and outside he discovers a succession of life-size cardboard cutouts, from The Kid to a horse. It’s a level of oddness the episode has hitherto desperately needed. Alas, it is quickly diminished when Six climbs a hill and… there’s the good old Village just over the top. Coo, really? As usual Six’s strong mind is remarked on by those who conducted the experiment, led by Number Eight (“Interesting that he could separate fact from fantasy so quickly”).  Two’s admonishment (“I told you it couldn’t work”) isn’t such a surprise since mind alteration and brainwashing has hitherto met with zero success (A. B. and C., The Schizoid Man, Dance of the Dead, A Change of Mind).


Six: It seems I’m not the only one who… got involved.

Then, almost as an afterthought, we learn the role-play has deeply disturbed Eight, who has become obsessed with 22/Kathy in real life. We’re given no clue as to why this should be (after all, Kathy falling for Six is a result of sympathising with his plight; it doesn’t require a change of personality). Since Eight has clearly commandeered this procedure many times before, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense other than as dramatic device to show real world consequences (the moral can’t be that drugs will mess you up though; perhaps it’s don’t mess with Number Six). And Eight’s interaction with Two displays no strain, making it all the more out-of-the-blue. 


The ending, with Eight strangling 22, just seems cruel and unnecessary. It requires prefiguring to justify the excess (we only meet these characters in the last fifth of the episode). Not only is it unpleasant, the set up is also rather lazy as it requires Six to be out on an evening stroll and come running in at just-too-late a moment. As for Six’s parting line (“It seems I’m not the only one who… got involved”) it’s so morally vague as to be abstruse.


When I first saw The Prisoner on a Channel 4 run in the early ‘90s, I managed to miss Living in Harmony. Perhaps because of the images I had seen, I expected something more on the surreal and phantasmagoric side. Maybe that anticipation informed an unfair critical eye when I finally saw it. But I don’t think so. The odd character aside (The Kid) this is a very ordinary affair. It’s well made but, if the idea is to take pleasure from seeing Six deposited in a different yet familiar setting, it succeeds only on those terms. To truly make its mark a vital ingredient Living in Harmony lacks was required; inspiration.


***





The Bishop Is Coming?

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.