Friday, January 16, 2009

Patrick Joseph McGoohan: 1928 - 2009

I am not a number, I am a free man

Patrick McGoohan, the Emmy-winning actor who created and starred in the cult classic television show The Prisoner, died. He was 80.

Before I get into this, just realize this - he was one of the best.

He was best known for his acting/producing role in The Prisoner - a cult 60's British series. The Prisoner follows a former British agent who, after abruptly resigning from his position, is held captive in a small seaside village by an unidentified power that wishes to establish the reason for his resignation. He can stick it to his captors.

Without the Prisoner, we'd never have had cryptic, mindbending TV series like Twin Peaks or Lost. It's the Citizen Kane of British TV – a program that changed the landscape, and quite possibly destroyed its creator. Like Orson Welles with Kane, McGoohan was given the whole train set to play with on the Prisoner, and boy did he play with it. The title sequence was the only solid ground – we knew McGoohan had resigned, then been drugged and brought to "The Village". The rest was questions rather than answers – Where is "Number 6"? What's his real name? Why DID he resign? What was he resigning from? Who Is Number One? What ARE those white blobs bouncing along the beach?

But more than that, The Prisoner did audacious things with the very format of television. Like shooting one entire episode as a western – complete with atrocious "American" accents. Or substituting McGoohan with a different actor for an entire episode (the pretext was something to do with mind transferrence – in fact McGoohan was away shooting Ice Station Zebra). Or simply having a ball with spy movie conventions.

In an ironic twist, he was masterful in the role of the prison wardon in the vastly underrrated Clint Eastwood classic Escape from Alcatraz.

Be seeing you.