STUDIO: A&E Home Video
MSRP: $149.95
RATED: Unrated (TV program)
RUNNING TIME: 3420 Minutes
Patrick McGoohan biography
Photo galleries
American "Secret Agent Man" opening

The Pitch

007 on a budget

The Humans

Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart), Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice), Bernard Lee (Dr. No), Burt Kwouk (Goldfinger), Earl Cameron (Thunderball), Richard Wattis (Casino Royale ’67), Guido Adorni (Never Say Never Again)

The Nutshell

but icy super spy John Drake (McGoohan) defends freedom across the
globe against the backdrop of the Cold War. His missions tend toward
the realistic: apprehending double agents, extricating defectors,
foiling assassination attempts, etc. The same goes for the world they
are set in, although the action never actually leaves England except
via stock footage.

"Look, my whore better have my money. Not half, not some, but all my cash. ‘Cause if she don’t…"

This set contains both the 39 episode 1960-61 Danger Man series and the 47 episodes of the 1964-66 continuation (known as Secret Agent in the U.S.). In the former Drake works out of the U.S. as an agent for hire for NATO, in the latter he is a member of the British Secret Service. Both series are black and white, save for the final two episodes.

The Lowdown

you’re an ordinary red-blooded guy like myself you probably suffer from
much the same crippling affliction: Bond deficiency. After the 37th
viewing of Goldfinger one starts to crave a new adventure, and they don’t exactly crank out the latest installments in record time these days.

try as I may, I can’t turn the clock forward to Mr. Craig’s next
escapade, the only option is to look to the past for new thrills. In
the spy crazy 60s numerous attempts were made to create the next best
thing to Bond, notably on television. I was aware of series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission Impossible that sprung up in the wake of Bond’s theatrical windfall, but had never before heard of Danger Man, the UK series that predates Dr. No by two years.

"Damn straight I saw through that slanty-eyed BS. Coward snuck into the volcano while I was changing the litter."

The loss was all mine. The original Danger Man
series is about as good a Bond substitute as one can expect on a TV
budget. This is largely due to McGoohan’s fantastic larger than life
performance that has 007 written all over it. His John Drake has all
the swagger, charm, quick wit, physicality and ruthlessness Sir Ian
Fleming could hope for and perhaps more. Whereas Bond has always been
one cocky son of a gun, Drake acts relentlessly superior to everyone he
encounters, whether they be boss, babe, brute, or otherwise. He’s
really quite the magnificent prick at times, such as when an
impoverished field agent pleads for help getting more food for his
family and Drake, shrugging this sob story off with nearly contemptuous
disinterest, merely continues to press him for intelligence. He’s not
an eternally unflappable Roger Moore type though, and does
become a little on edge when truly against the wall. His only real
shortcoming is a tendency to run hunched over like an old woman, or
Moore circa A View to a Kill.

This magnetic portrayal unsurprisingly landed McGoohan on the short list to play Bond in Dr. No.
However he reportedly turned down the role on the grounds that it
didn’t meet his high moral standards. Apparently McGoohan didn’t
approve of Bond’s readiness to kill and sleep around, and he made sure
that John Drake did very little of either.

McGoohan’s refusal notwithstanding, Danger Man
does share a healthy amount of personnel with the Bond franchise.
Numerous supporting players also turned up in 007 films, notably
Bernard Lee as M in multiple films and Donald Pleasance as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. Editing duties were performed by none other than John Glen, who would later become the go to Bond director of the 80s.

"Don’t let the door hit you on the… never mind."

The series also features some distinguished directors from outside the world of Bond, including A Fish Called Wanda‘s Charles Crichton, Bullitt‘s Peter Yates, and Jason and the Argonauts‘ Don Chaffey.

Each half hour episode plays out more or less like an exciting act of a Bond film, beginning with a brief cliffhanger. The tight writing keeps the tension high as the stories zip along from one key moment to another. It’s amazing how much plot they could cram in.

Visually the series betrays its very modest budget, featuring some obvious sets and virtually no authentic locations, although the surprising amount of outside shooting and quality stock footage give a decent sense of scale. Some beautiful British locations effectively stand in for Europe, but are much less convincing when asked to represent, say, Japan. That goes double for the extras.

"Are you as hard as I am right now?"

Naturally the action cannot come anywhere close to the Bond films, and is generally limited to fistfights and foot chases. At least the fights are fairly intense and varied, as McGoohan reportedly insisted that each one be unique. Perhaps the biggest "stunt" is a game of chicken between a Jeep and a small plane, but there are so many cuts that for all I know they could have been in different time zones.

The more flamboyant aspects of the Bond franchise are largely absent. Drake rarely uses any sort of gadgets, and his nemeses and their schemes and lairs are more real world than outlandish. Only in the final episode "Shinda Shima" do things start to get a little zany, as Drake goes up against Caucasian (!) karate assassins based in an underground bunker on a remote Japanese island. They are led by a bombastic Santa Claus look-alike whose desk conceals a .50 caliber machine gun. Not a believer in pink slips evidently.

In the excellent "Time to Kill" Drake is assigned to eliminate an elite assassin who has been knocking off prominent defectors. Finding the murderous nature of the mission distasteful, Drake facetiously demands an exorbitant sum for his services and to his surprise receives it. He heads to the woods of Austria, where the hit man emerges from the protection of the Iron Curtain once a year for a hunting trip. There’s a very Bond-like scene where Drake puts together a sniper rifle from parts that are concealed throughout the body of his car. Inconveniently a "helpful" female tourist and a suspicious traffic cop interrupt him. He escapes the cop but not before being handcuffed to the woman, who is forced to become his reluctant partner. She doesn’t approve much of his objective either, and her interference at a most inopportune moment causes them to become the hunted. This leads to a tense finale in which, unarmed, they must elude three hunters zeroing in on them.

"Look McQueen, no motorcycle!"

"Hired Assassin" also stands out due to the drastic transformation McGoohan undergoes to infiltrate a violent South American revolutionary group. It’s a lot of fun to see him play the usually dapper and refined Drake as a haggard, unkempt sleaze ball. This mission is particularly tricky, as he has to give the group advice on how best to assassinate the visiting president while simultaneously trying to ensure they don’t succeed. He doesn’t get through it without losing some blood, which is rare for the normally bulletproof Drake.

The politics of this episode illustrate a mindset that may seem a little foreign in the post-Glasnost era. Idealists opposing an oppressive regime are made out to be villains. It’s true they are bent on murder, but Drake’s efforts to preserve a tyrant’s rule are only somewhat less troubling.

As fate would have it Danger Man
‘s ratings were not quite as high as hoped, and it came to a halt in 1961. Fortunately the massive popularity of Bond inspired the launch of the second and highly successful series in 1964, known as Secret Agent in the U.S. thanks to the catchy "Secret Agent Man" theme sung by Johnny Rivers. Regrettably though some subtle but significant tinkering with the formula resulted in a much less entertaining program.

"Have a seat old chap."

The switch to a one hour format sadly serves only to dilute the action. Instead of packing in more story or fights, the writers add lots of filler conversations of generally little interest.

Drake himself is also watered down, perhaps in a misguided effort to make the character more likable. His very distinct and smug Bond-like personality gives way to a more ordinary and agreeable sort with much less memorable dialogue. It’s disheartening to see him quietly taking mission orders instead of flippantly tossing insults at his boss.

Finally, although the original series’ score was not especially remarkable, it generated an appropriately serious 60s spy vibe. In the sequel it’s replaced with an oddly jaunty pop score that would be more at home on the Adam West Batman show.

"I try attack on plane Inspector, but you in Mile High Club whole flight."

These episodes tend to drag, but there are a few gems such as "Fair Exchange," in which former fellow agent Lisa makes an unauthorized visit to East Germany to kill an ex-intelligence officer who once tortured her. That man has since become an important government official, and Drake is ordered to stop Lisa before she causes a major international incident. He enlists the help of the local police chief, who unfortunately proves more interested in framing Lisa for the crime and reaping the political windfall. Unable to smuggle Lisa back across the border, Drake instead tricks an East German officer into crossing over to force an exchange.

Though there may be only one James Bond, Danger Man is certainly worthy of 00 status. I’d really only recommend getting the first series, but since that costs just as much separately this complete collection is the way to go. It provides many hours to contemplate the Bond that might have been. McGoohan differs from Sean Connery in several ways, but one thing’s for sure: by Diamonds are Forever he’d have been wearing the same rug.

The state of Texas experiments with "rumble packs."

The Package

For such an excellent series, this release might best be described an unceremonious. The cheap, drab box art features a monochrome, smirking McGoohan. Handsome though he is, this probably isn’t enough to inspire any blind buys.

The meager extras amount to a brief text biography for McGoohan, screen capture galleries for each episode, and the full American "Secret Agent Man" opening. The latter is so groovy not even the Hoff was able to improve on it. Lamentably there are no commentaries or interviews with the many talented people involved with the series.

8 out of 10 (first series)
7 out of 10 (overall)