Skip to main content

It means what it is.

The Prisoner
Ranked: 17 of 1

17: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

The Prisoner pulls the old body-swap plotline but fails to dust it off and spruce it up. Patrick McGoohan was away filming Ice Station Zebra, so instead Nigel Stock is recruited as a portly, bumbling and less than commanding Six. Stock’s lack of presence and dynamism isn’t the only problem here. The action fails to engage, with another return to London (following Many Happy Returns, it gives the impression that it isn’t all that hard for Six to leave the Village after all) and a weary back-projected jaunt to Switzerland. If you have no recollection of Clifford Evans’ Two, that’s in keeping with the lack of impression this makes generally. Positives? The code-breaking scene is good. And, er, that’s about it. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is like no other Prisoner episode in that it’s really rather boring.

Memorable Lines

Two: Imagine the power we could have if the spy we returned had the mind of our choosing. We could break the security of any nation.


16: Many Happy Returns

Is it a coincidence that the two episodes at the bottom of my list both take place outside the Village? Possibly not, but, since one of my top two does also, it’s clearly how you do it, not what you do. Six is let out for his birthday, a terribly sick joke, and, while it’s interesting to see him haring about London, the plot itself does very little of consequence. He meets a woman in his old house, which is numbered One. She offers to bake him a birthday cake, and then, when she reveals herself as Two at the conclusion, gives him said cake. The swine! He tells his old bosses about the Village, who send him off to locate it, and he only goes and gets deposited slap-bang back in the middle of the place. Also problematic is that the “Six escapes” plot, and sting in the tale, isn’t that far from the earlier The Chimes of Big Ben. That one, at least, has a fair portion of an intriguing episode before Six sails away, however.

Memorable Lines

Colonel: He’s an old friend. Who never gives up.


15: Living in Harmony

Six wakes up in the Old West, or Wales as it used to be known. This sounds like it should be far out, man, with wild ideas supporting its wild setting, but its actually a highly traditional tale, for the most part failing to pay off its better ideas (the scene where an awakened Six finds cardboard cut-outs of his featured dream cast is one such). Six as the sheriff reluctantly restoring order to the town is a bit too on-the-nose, really, but in its favour there’s a great supporting turn from Alexis Kanner as the psycho Kid, and Valerie French is also very good, one of McGoohan’s most memorable leading ladies.

Memorable Lines

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


14: The Schizoid Man

Before the old body swap plotline came the old doppelganger one. McGoohan has fun inhabiting the dual roles of 12 and 6, but there’s never any mystery here (since we know what is going on from the start). Also, and I know this is The Prisoner we’re talking about, the scheme itself is incredibly daft. It’s hardly surprising Six gets wise to what is going on quite quickly. Anton Rodgers is only a so-so Two too (fortunately, the more middling Twos tend to show up in weaker episodes).

Memorable Lines

Two: You have a unique physical advantage.
Six: Physical advantage of GROWING A MOUSTACHE OVERNIGHT?


13: Checkmate

The one with the human chess match. Not nearly as offbeat as that suggests, Checkmate finds Six mounting a fairly standard escape attempt with some fellow inmates. The final twist is effective, and the guardian/prisoner test is astutely played. There are also strong performances. Peter Wyngarde has enormous presence as Two and some estimable balsa wood-chopping action, so it’s a shame he doesn’t really get to butt heads or lock wills with Six. Rosalie Crutchley is convincingly overwrought as the brainwashed obsessive White Queen. In the end, though, this one doesn’t quite come together.

Memorable Lines

Two: They’ll be back tomorrow, on the chessboard, as pawns.


12: The Chimes of Big Ben

Leo McKern’s first appearance as Two, appealingly full of bonhomie, buoys The Chimes of Big Ben considerably. To be relished is Six getting involved in Village life, entering the Arts and Crafts Competition – the other entries are devoted to the glorification of Two –  and taking swipes at art criticism. The escape sequence is less engaging, however, although The Ipcress File-esque reveal is a good one – the clue is in the title – and Six is allowed a small victory in defeat.

Memorable Lines

Two: He can make the act of putting on a dressing gown appear as a gesture of defiance.


11: A Change of Mind

Six is labelled unmutual and undergoes a lobotomy. Except that he doesn’t really. It’s another mind-altering plot! The are many things to like about A Change of Mind; Thomas Heathcote’s believably genuine case of conversion, Six’s disruption of the Social Group, his Village-wide rejection, the switcheroo he pulls on 86 (and all the tea drinking generally). He even gets savaged with a brolly! On the minus side, Six again realises it’s all a ruse too quickly (shades of The Schizoid Man), and, while endings are often one of The Prisoner’s strong points, this turns on a fairly unconvincing speech as Six successfully deposes Two through an accusation of his unmutuality.

Memorable Lines

Forty-Two: You’re trying to undermine my rehabilitation. Disrupt my social progress!
Six: Strange talk for a poet!


10: It’s Your Funeral

Two Twos and an assassination plotline. It’s Your Funeral experienced a troubled production history, but the result is a mostly engrossing episode with fine performances from Derren Nesbitt (magnificent prop acting!) and Andre Van Gygseghem (resigned to his lot) as the incoming and outgoing Twos respectively. True, the watchmaker element is on the twee side, the Activity Prognosis scene is baffling filler, and the motive for topping the former Two is murky to say the least. Fortunately, this all leads to a highly satisfying climax in which Nesbitt gives a marvellously twitchy acceptance speech.

Memorable Lines

Announcement: There’ll be speeches, thrills and excitement.


9: The General

One in which Six comes out (relatively) on top, thanks to a handy Star Trek-esque “baffle the computer with humanity” routine. Six doesn’t launch an escape bid or get experimented upon either! I quite like the conclusion, obvious as it is, and the conceit of Speed Learn is displayed with the visual aplomb. Colin Gordon (as Two) and (especially) John Castle (as 12) lend strong support. The “message of the week” (rote learning leads to a society of “knowledgeable cabbages”) might be considered a little overstated, but it effectively underscores McGoohan’s abiding suspicion of systems of rule.

Memorable Lines

Six: The only subject I’m interested in is, um, getting away from this place.


8: Arrival

A highly effective scene-setter. We are introduced to the Village, its idiosyncrasies (strange brainwashing rooms, face-hugging Rovers, inhabitants who pause motionless on Two’s command), and themes (the desire to find out why Six resigned, his perpetual struggle with authority, the need to trust the potentially untrustworthy and the consequent thwarting of his plans for escape through betrayal, the chess game motif). Stylishly directed by Don Chaffey and anchored by a driven McGoohan, this is first class.

Memorable Lines

Two: A lot of people are curious about what lies behind your resignation. They want to know why you suddenly left.


7: Once Upon a Time

Leo McKern returns in the most literal battle of wills between a Two and Six. Intense, theatrical and claustrophobic, Once Upon a Time is an exhausting experience and it’s no wonder it caused McKern a nervous collapse. McKern and McGoohan give tour-de-force performances, as Two initiates Degree Absolute. He takes Six on an eccentric journey through the Seven Ages of Man, combined with a liberal dollop of nursery rhyme weirdness. Does Six actually admit why he resigned here? Perhaps not, but his explanation remains a plausible one.

Memorable Lines

Two: He thinks you’re the boss, now.
Six: I am.
Two: I’m Number Two. I’m the boss.
Six: Number One is the boss.


6: Hammer Into Anvil

Perhaps the most purely satisfying episode in terms of Six showing his mettle. One might argue Six “winning” isn’t really the point of the show, but it still makes for a pleasant change. He devises a rock-solid scheme to undermine and topple Two after the latter causes the death of poor 73. Employing misdirection and supreme cunning, Six encourages Two (a magnificent Patrick Cargill, essaying the journey from over-confidence to abject disintegration with precision timing) to believe everyone has turned against him. Beautifully plotted, and with some wonderful visual touches (the fight between Basil Hoskins’ 14 and Six to the strains of L’Arlessienne). There’s even a kosho match thrown in!

Memorable Lines

Two: (to the innocent bandmaster) You’re lying, aren’t you? There’s something going on. You’re all lying! It’s a plot!


5: Dance of the Dead

Mary Morris essays a top drawer Two in one of the series’ most unsettling episodes. Six is invited to the Village Carnival costume ball, put on trial, sentenced to death, and pursued by an angry mob apparently ready to tear him limb from limb. There’s also more quality lobotomisation on display (Six’s friend Dutton, grotesquely outfitted in a jester costume). Two is intent on winning Six over, and in response, Six issues his most defiant retort (“You’ll never win!”) With the mocking laugh of Two and a symbolic telex machine that refuses to die, Dance of the Dead presents one of the series’ bleakest conclusions.

Memorable Lines

Two: If you insist on living a dream, you may be taken for mad.


4: Free For All

McGoohan lets loose the ponderances bouncing around his noggin. Out pour his conflicted feelings on democracy, and its illusory nature, into this satire of the idea of making a difference. Six is persuaded to stand in the Village elections, but his path is undercut at every stage. Eventually he wins, through espousing ineffectual sound bites and decrying his opposition, only to discover he wields no real power at all. McGoohan both writes and directs (Don Chaffey departed after disagreements) and handles the electioneering with flair and visual wit.

Memorable Lines

Six: I am in command! Obey me and be free!


3: A. B. & C.

In which Six attends a dreamy party. The first (broadcast) mind-altering-to-get-Six-to-talk episode, and the best. This is how to have Six gradually realise he’s being drugged/manipulated. The dream scenarios are skillfully etched out, the third particularly so, with great aural accompaniment from Albert Elms. Anthony Skene’s script is superbly conceived and splendidly directed by Pat Jackson (Six opens doors from a courtyard in daylight and passes into another courtyard at night). The twist is supremely satisfying also, as Two – in one of Colin Gordon’s two stints as Two – is unmasked within the dream as Six’s co-conspirator. The tripping with reality peaks at the point where Six, within a dream, is observed walking to the doors of the dream control room; the real Two expects him, for a moment, to enter the real control room.

Memorable Lines

Six: We mustn’t disappoint them, the people who are watching.


2: The Girl Who Was Death

My top two episodes are two of The Prisoner’s most atypical instalments, but it’s probably a mistake to see the series as duty bound to conform to a set routine (unless you’re George Markstein). Even this one, the most bat-shit crazy in terms of ignoring not just the rules but the entire premise of the series, manages to insert a very loose justification for playing fast and loose (Six is reading a bedtime story to Village moppets, and Two hopes he might learn some juicy truths through eavesdropping).  Six embarks on a madcap mission to prevent a nutty professor from destroying London with a rocket disguised as a lighthouse, dodging numerous attempts by the titular girl (Sonia, the professor’s daughter; they are revealed as Two and 17 at the end) to deaden him. These include a calamitous cricket match, a poisonous pint and a too toasty Turkish bath. Verbal and visual gags abound, the most extreme of which include a record that talks back and Sonia revolving the road (and Six) with her finger. Enormous fun, and very funny.

Memorable Lines

Six: Thank you very much.
Record: What was that?
Six: Nothing.


1: Fall Out

The final episode, and the series’ psychedelic breakdown. Six massacres guards to the strains of All You Need Is Love, and discovers it was himself all along. Kenneth Griffith, Alexis Kanner and Leo McKern return to find McGoohan wrestling with and summarising his themes of rebellion and ego. Six is rewarded for his continued resistance, offered the chance to lead the Village, but discovers he is a prisoner unto himself. The episode is a sprawling mess, a result of McGoohan feverishly throwing everything into the mix and seeing what sticks, but it is also quite brilliant. As director, the star carries the proceedings along with a giddy energy; this is enormously cynical, downbeat material (Six ends up right back where he started, at door Number One, which opens of its own accord, just as in the Village) but it is rendered with verve and momentum. Indeed, the flight to London is charged with an irresistible euphoria (accompanied by the incredibly catchy Number 6 Throned). Script editor George Markstein dismissed Fall Out as an absurd pantomime, and it is, but in the best possible sense.

Memorable Lines

Supervisor: We thought you would feel happier as yourself.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.