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A&E Home Video presents
Secret Agent aka Danger Man—Vol. 1 (1964-65)

Martine: Then you live dangerously?
John Drake: Let us say, insecurely.

- Dawn Addams, Patrick McGoohan

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 28, 2002

Stars: Patrick MacGoohan
Other Stars: Peter Madden, Richard Wattis, Lionel Murton, Niall McGinnis, Dawn Addams, Frederick Bartman, Jane Merrow, Lelia Goldoni, Andre van Gysgehem, Peter Bowles, Peter Copeley, Anton Rodgers, Mervyn Johns, Howard Marion Crawford, Suzan Farmer
Director: Don Chaffey, Charles Crichton, Robert Day

Manufacturer: Crush Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence)
Run Time: 05h:08m:02s
Release Date: September 25, 2001
UPC: 733961703177
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B+B- C-

DVD Review

Patrick McGoohan took a couple of stabs at portraying secret agent John Drake, first in a half-hour series called Danger Man that ran for 39 episodes in 1960-61. The series was then resurrected under the same title for two seasons beginning in 1964 in hour-long episodes. It is the first of these latter two seasons that comes to DVD courtesy of A&E. Six episodes are included here in their original broadcast order in the US, where it was shown under the name Secret Agent. However, they are presented with the original British titles (without the classic Johnny Rivers Secret Agent Man theme song that introduced the series in the US), featuring a bullseye target design and a nifty harpsichord theme. John Drake is an agent for M9, the TV equivalent of MI5, which has its headquarters disguised as World Travel in the shadow of St. Paul's. Arguably, Drake appeared again as Number 6 in The Prisoner, based on the numerous hints and parallels, though McGoohan has always denied this (but for legal reasons can probably hardly do otherwise).

The Battle of the Cameras
UK original airdate: 1 December 1964
US original airdate: 3 April 1965

"Swinging on the Riviera one day..." The first US episode finds Drake on the Riviera chasing down stolen secrets. A.J.A. Kent (Niall McGinnis), who had acid thrown in his face and thus covers half of it with a leather patch, is baited with a secret fuel formula. Drake romances Martine, one of Kent's agents (Dawn Addams). Although a bit slow to get started, this episode has as its strong point a cat-and-mouse dance as Kent tries to determine if he's being set up or if Drake is offering the real deal. It suffers from a weak climax, however, and is really fairly pedestrian stuff to start the series off. Two bullseyes out of five for one of the weaker entries on the disc.

A Room in the Basement
UK original airdate: 2 February 1965
US original airdate: 10 April 1965

"With every move he makes, another chance he takes..." When a British agent is kidnaped in Switzerland by the Romanians, his wife, Susan (Jane Merrow, one of many actors in the series later featured in The Prisoner) contacts Drake, who defies orders to engineer a desperate rescue. This entry is much better, with good suspense and a tangled plot that is sure to please espionage fans. Three and a half bullseyes.

Fair Exchange
UK original airdate: 10 November 1964
US original airdate: 17 April 1965

"Beware of pretty faces that you find, a pretty face can hide an evil mind...." Former agent Elizabeth Lansing (Lelia Goldani), having escaped from the tortures of enemy agent Pohlmann, is determined to return to East Germany to kill him. Drake is sent after her, posing as her husband, to try to stop her from creating an international incident. A wildly tangled episode, full of double-crosses and betrayed trusts, there are a number of interesting, if subtle, political statements being made here as well. Oddly enough for the height of the Cold War, an East German security officer, Otto Berg (Andre van Gysgehem) is portrayed, at least for a time, in a sympathetic light. The notion of odd bedfellows and distasteful work surfaces here but not for the last time. Four bullseyes this time out.

Fish on the Hook
UK original airdate: 17 Nov 1964
US original airdate: 24 April 1965

"Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow...." In the first episode shot in the second series, we find Drake in Egypt, where he has been sent to smuggle an agent known only as "Fish" out of the country. The only problem is that no one at M9 knows exactly who Fish is, and all of Drake's contacts are turning up dead as the Egyptian police tighten the noose around the elusive Fish. Drake poses as the son of an ailing businessman, and suffers from a badly blown cover in this episode, increasing his danger. Dawn Addams shows up again as the manager of the office where he's pretending to be the owner's son. The suspense rate is quite high in this above-average episode. There's a bit too much of knocking out the bad guy with a single punch to be very credible, but overall it's pretty entertaining. Four bullseyes.

No Marks for Servility
UK original airdate: 8 December 1964
US original airdate: 1 May 1965

"Be careful what you say, or you'll give yourself away...." A Bulgarian extortionist (Howard Marion Crawford) hires a Roman villa owned by an Englishman, complete with staff. What Gregori doesn't know is that the butler is one John Drake. When Armstrong, a British dignitary (Mervyn Johns) refuses to grant Bulgaria a loan, his daughter is kidnaped and it's up to Drake to prove that Gregori is the culprit without giving himself away. This leads to an intense battle of wills as Gregori attempts to humiliate Drake. In a nod to The Avengers, Drake appears several times in bowler with bumbershoot. Easily the best episode on the set, there is plenty of suspense and action here, complete with some nifty spy gizmos. Five happy bullseyes.

Yesterday's Enemies
UK original airdate: 13 October 1964
US original airdate: 15 May 1965

"To everyone he meets he stays a stranger...." Drake is sent to Beirut, where he needs to find out who is slipping secrets to the enemy, but is hampered by an understaffed M9 Beirut office and openly hostile (though ostensibly neutral) Lebanese police. Finding he can trust no one, while posing as a journalist he unearths the schemes of a former M9 agent. In the negotiations that follow, we see the germ of the disgust with the political machinations that is evidenced in the opening sequence of The Prisoner. It makes for a highly charged and notably complex setting, far more involved than one finds in the Bond pictures. Four and a half bullseyes.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The video is presented in its original full frame aspect. Shot on film, the picture is detailed and clear, with generally attractive black & white photography. A few sequences are overly dark, but by and large it's quite good, with deep blacks and a wide range of greys. A few speckles are noted (notably worse in the stock footage), but this looks miles ahead of the episodes of The Avengers from the same period that exist only in kinescopes.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is an adequate 2.0 mono. There is some hiss and crackle that generally isn't too bad. On Yesterday's Enemies, there is a bit of static in the dialogue, but overall the audio is clear and easily followed. The harpsichord theme comes through delightfully well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. US opening segment
Extras Review: Those longing for the Johnny Rivers theme music don't need to worry; the crudely animated US opening is presented here as an extra (it also provides the lead-in to the main menu). A two-screen bio of McGoohan, plus a fairly extensive filmography are included. All of these extras appear on both discs. Wrapping up the package are photos, 3 per episode. These are presented slightly windowboxed, but they do occupy most of the screen, which is a major improvement for the A&E television releases. Chaptering is a marginally adequate 6 stops per episode.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Six mildly action-packed episodes from 1964, given a very nice transfer. A little lacking, as usual, in extras, but worthwhile for fans of spy tales.


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