Patrick McGoohan RIP

Patrick McGoohan was one of my family’s favorite actors when I was growing up, and time hasn’t dimmed my affection for his work. (We once planned to stay in Portmerion, where The Prisoner was filmed, and couldn’t because there was a devastating fire at the hotel several nights before we were supposed to stay there.)

Whether he was the star, as in Secret Agent Man, The Prisoner or The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, or a supporting player, as in his two great guest appearances in Columbo or his appearance in the film Braveheart, he always seemed to punch a hole through the action through the sheer intensity of his presence. He was like a form of human dark matter: intellect and will and discipline burned down to some alchemical base. When he showed up in the film Silver Streak as the villain, he so obviously outclassed Richard Pryor, Jill Clayburgh and Gene Wilder (as actors and characters) that I found myself rooting for him instead.

Here’s a couple of clips of McGoohan worth watching.

Awesome little clip from a 1957 film that also features Sean Connery. (This is what YouTube was meant for!) Watch McGoohan’s body language and measured silences as he plays out a basically stock trope (top-dog enforcing his role) if you want a good sense of how he conveyed intellect–he tells you from the very first moment you see him that this character isn’t acting out of adrenaline, but calculation.

This 1977 interview with McGoohan about The Prisoner is really compelling–you can see how much his screen presence is an extension of his personality and thinking.

Here’s a trailer for The Prisoner. I’m not sure if this actually a network trailer for the show from its original U.S. airing, but the announcer definitely seems to be from another universe altogether than the show itself.

Lots of good clips out there from Secret Agent Man. Easy to see why it drew audiences: McGoohan played John Drake as the anti-Bond in all sort of compelling ways.

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1 Response to Patrick McGoohan RIP

  1. Carl says:

    Thanks for this. I also had the family connection with McGoohan – without us ever discussing why in any detail that I remember, The Prisoner defined a space of critical engagement and possibility in popular culture that’s stuck with me ever since. I wonder how it dates me – although I have my criticisms now and the Cold War context is obviously passe’, the material still seems very fresh to me in what must be anachronistic ways.

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