“Every government has its secret service branch. In America it’s CIA, England MI5. A messy job? Well, that’s when they call on me, or someone like me. Oh yes. My name is Drake, John Drake.”
If you sense a little James Bond flair in that introduction, you’re not mistaken. In the 1960’s the British spy drama was almost as big as the Western was on both British and American television. Shows like The Avengers, The Saint, Man From UNCLE, and yes, Danger Man, dominated the era. It was the height of the Cold War, and types like James Bond made us feel a little at ease. Nuclear secrets were the catchword of the times, and the “free world” needed strong spies and counter-spies to keep us all safe. Where the lone cowboy couldn’t protect us, men like James Bond and John Drake filled in quite nicely.
The show was created by Ralph Smart and originally aired in a half-hour format on British television alone. There were 39 of these produced. The half-hour was quite limited, and there wasn’t much time to set up the situation or develop the characters. Drake was given a mission, and he was in and out quite quickly. He was portrayed as an American working mostly for NATO out of England. Patrick McGoohan was an Irish actor but was born in America. He carried the show as its sole lead for pretty much the entire run of the series in both formats. He was quite stoic and appeared to be all business. The ladies would flock to him, but unlike James Bond, he wasn’t very concerned about spending time with the girls. The show enjoyed quite a bit of success, and it was natural that it would show up in America.
Of course, there were changes made to the show when America was included in its audience. The show went to a full hour, where it stayed for the remaining 47 episodes. Drake was now decidedly British and no longer an American. He had a command structure that he often answered to. The show would expand its locations to include pretty much anywhere in the globe, while before it was usually limited to Europe. The introduction changed from the narrative to a ghostly close-up of star Patrick McGoohan and some odd harpsichord music. But in America, that just wasn’t going to cut it. A new opening credits segment was produced for American audiences. While the show continued to be called Danger Man in Britain, it was called Secret Agent in America. Johnny Rivers, who was flying high on a few recent hit records, performed a new title song that became quite a hit on the pop charts called Secret Agent Man.
John Drake was portrayed as a peaceful man, particularly at first. In the early episodes he didn’t really want to carry a gun. That all eventually changed, and Drake would find himself holding many a spy or criminal at gunpoint. He might not have been a Dirty Harry, but he accounted for more than a few kills. He did always appear to regret the action somewhat. Drake was the kind of guy who opted to think his way out of a jam before resorting to force or violence. Of course, he often found himself having to fight his way out of a situation. The cases often involved spy rings. There were also cases involving foreign government rebellions, hostages, war criminals, and international drug rings.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast full frame aspect ratio. I won’t lie to you. Some of this footage is slightly rough. You’ll see plenty of dirt and other print artifacts throughout the collection. But there has been an obvious attempt to clean up the image. While some debris still remains, the image itself is pretty solid. Of course, the age of the material has to be considered. Black levels are fine. Contrast is sometimes light. In is still are very watchable indeed. The prints beat any syndicated stuff you’ve seen over the years. Don’t let any flaws brought on by age keep you from enjoying this stuff.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 concerns itself with only one thing: dialog. Music cues can sound harsh and even distorted. There isn’t any surface noise or hiss, so some clean-up is apparent here, as well.
Original American “Secret Agent” Open Credits
Patrick McGoohan Biography (text)
A&E has done the show a great justice by creating this rather complete collection of episodes all in one place. This is a massive set with 86 episodes on 18 discs. There’s some wonderful nostalgia here. Many fans who had seen McGoohan on Columbo and as the star of his more popular series, The Prisoner, have likely not had the opportunity to see most of this material. This is one of those things you put on your Christmas list. Anyone who opts to go through life missing this wonderful opportunity? “There’s a man who lives a life of danger.”