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Patrick McGoohan is #6, resigns from some spy organization and is immediately kidnapped, waking up in a prison/town. They want to know why he resigned, and he wants only to escape. Opening credit sequence is three minutes long, and each ep starts with him waking up, dazed, looking out the window towards the title of this week’s episode, giving the impression not of continuity between episodes but that each episode is an alternate reality, or that Pat is caught in a time-loop.

Ep 1 – #2 (Guy Doleman of The Ipcress File) invites him over, has a dwarf attendant (Angelo Muscat, a rare series regular). A girl (suicidal Virginia Maskell of Our Virgin Island) pretends to conspire with him after their mutual friend dies. Escape Method: stolen helicopter, which is remote-controlled back to the island. And there’s already a new #2 (George Baker, an agent in Hopscotch) at end of episode.

Ep 2 – The new #8 (Nadia Gray of Maniac) tells him she’s figured out they’re in Lithuania, and she has friends on the outside. Escape Method: they sail off in a hand-carved boat created as abstract-art project with purchased tapestry as sail, packed by fake #8’s friend into shipping cartons and sent to fake London, revealed by time zone discrepancy. Today’s #2 is Leo McKern of Help! and Finlay Currie plays a chess-playing general.

Ep 3 – Scientist #14 (Sheila Allen of The Alphabet Murders) hooks him up to a mind-reading machine (showing that his mind tends to linger on the show open), gives him experimental drug causing him to dream meetings with three different spies to see his reactions: fabulous party host Katherine Kath (appropriately of The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk), mustachioed defector Peter Bowles (The Legend of Hell House) and former compatriot Annette Carell. Pat takes control of his own dreams to fuck with the new #2 (Colin Gordon of The Pink Panther) in grand fashion. Pat does tell them one definite thing, “I wasn’t selling out. That wasn’t the reason I resigned.” That piece of information won’t keep #2 from getting replaced in the next episode.

Ep 4 – Fake election is held and Pat is voted the new #2 in order to boost his confidence before breaking his spirit and beating the hell out of him. A Canterbury Tale star Eric Portman is the old/fake #2, and Rachel Herbert is Pat’s non-English-speaking personal driver who turns out to be the real #2.

Ep 5 – #6 is made to think that he’s #12, and his doppelganger is now “the real” #6. It’s never explained where they found an identical twin of Pat, but the effects are very well done. Odd to hear mister “I am not a number” emphatically declaring himself to be #6. Jane Merrow (Hands of the Ripper) is his psychic friend, and #2 is Anton Rodgers (a cop in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Ep 6 – The young new #12 (John Castle of Blow-Up) is possibly an actual counter-conspirator inside the organization? Maybe not, I wasn’t paying close attention. The organization controls a professor (Peter Howell of Scum) through his artist wife (Betty McDowall of Time Lock and Dead Lucky), getting him to design a supercomputer (“the general”) to brainwash the already-brainwashed citizens in the guise of speed-learning. #6 blows up the computer, conspirator and professor before an amazed #2 (Colin Gordon again, from ep 3) by asking the machine “why?”

Ep 7 – The town is deserted. Pat builds a sailboat and compass, keeps a log, sails to England. He meets Mrs. Butterworth (Georgina Cookson of The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die), the woman living in his old apartment, borrows his old car from her, and goes to headquarters, tells The Colonel (Donald Sinden of Mogambo) and his man Thorpe (Patrick Cargill of A Countess From Hong Kong) about the village. They figure where on the map he could have sailed from and Pat searches in a jet until he finds it – and the pilot ejects him back into the village, where everyone reappears (including Mrs. Butterworth).

Unhappy birthday:

Ep 8 – Pat finds a radio on a washed-up dead man, tries to drive his observer (Norma West of And The Ship Sails On) crazy. New #2 (Mary Morris of Thief of Bagdad) focuses on convincing him that the outside world is dead to him, and he to them, as she has the dead man sent back into the ocean with Pat’s ID in his wallet. Crazy scene where after a trial on carnival day, the costumed villagers chase Pat through town hall.

Ep 9 – Nice double-cross variation. Pat teaches fellow prisoners how to detect who’s a secret sentinel, recruits an inventor to create a distress signal to summon nearby ships, but because of his confidence and authority, the prisoners decide Pat is a sentinel and turn on him. New #2 is Peter Wyngarde (The Innocents, Flash Gordon) even though Mary Morris claimed she was playing the long game and seemed triumphant at the end of the last ep.

Ep 10 – Pretty straightforward. Pat runs around doing fake spy stuff, having hushed conversations with bewildered villagers, sending coded messages to nobody in particular, to drive #2 (Patrick Cargill from episode 7) mad. As a bonus, Pat has a trampoline duel with #2’s main man #14.

Ep 11 – Trampoline fights are the new padding scenes. This is feeling like the flabby center of the series, with Pat’s goal changing from escaping the village to fucking with various #2s. Outgoing #2 (Andre Van Gyseghem of Demy’s Pied Piper) is going to be assassinated by Incoming #2 (Derren Nesbitt of the 1972 Burke & Hare), or was it vice-versa? – and Pat cares about this supposedly because he fears retaliation against the villagers since a brainwashed watchmaker (Martin Miller of Peeping Tom) rigged the bomb. Pat teams with the watchmaker’s daughter (Annette Andre of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), turns the bomb against the bomber, ending in stalemate.

Ep 12 – Pat has lost his sunny disposition, is being short-tempered with everyone, so he is declared persona non grata by the town and given the silent treatment. The new #2 (John Sharp of The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu) is into mind control, has a Clockwork Orange-like “aversion therapy” room, but orders instead a mood-improving lobotomy for our hero. Of course they can’t burn his brain with all those valuable memories inside, so they fake it with drugs, leaving Pat meek and defenseless against the striped bullies – for about 20 seconds before he pulls himself together and turns the drugs against his handler #86, then at his “confession” in the town square, Pat gets the townsfolk to rebel, and another #2 goes down.

Ep 13 – Excitingly weird one, in which Pat kinda escapes but decides to use his semi-freedom to rescue/endanger a scientist. Chubby-faced Colonel (Nigel Stock, Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes) comes to village, sent by “the highest authority,” and they electrically swap his psyche with Pat’s, then send Pat’s consciousness in Colonel’s body back to Pat’s house, where he dances with his fiancee (daughter of his spy boss – did we know Pat had a fiancee?), confuses his superiors (technically his ex-superiors, since he’s still angrily quitting his job in the opening credits), then leads the Village baddies straight to the mind-control scientist who invented the brain-swap device, though if the device worked so well I wonder why they need him. I also wonder why they keep fucking with Pat’s brain, since in the early episodes they were claiming they didn’t want to injure it. Anyway, back in the lab, scientist pulls the ol’ switcheroo, escapes via helicopter in the Colonel’s body (the Village has brain-swap technology, but not a simple radio to recall a helicopter that has barely lifted off), Colonel dies in the scientist’s body, and Pat’s his smarmy self again.

Ep 14 – Pat wakes up in a Western movie, thinks nothing of it. So it’s his stubbornness and moral character transplanted into a drifter who becomes town marshall. Nice Western sets but I think this was underlit because it’s not sunny enough in England. Pat is in prison when the brother of some girl (Valerie French of Jubal) is hanged, then he fails to save her from a loony, obsessed redshirt (Alexis Kanner, who later directed a film starring Patrick McGoohan). Final shootout, then Pat wakes up and realizes it was all a multiplayer dream-RPG. In two weird postscripts, the sets are are real and filled with cardboard cutouts of the other players, and redshirt remains obsessed with the girl leading to both of their deaths in the “real world”. New #2 David Bauer had a small part in a Sean Connery Bond film.

Alexis Kanner #1:

Ep 15 – So right after the episode that gives Pat a backstory and a fiancee, we get two in a row that turn him into an interchangeable spy. This is a really weird one, but fun, as Pat’s in London on the trail of a mad bomber, a resourceful woman who calls herself Death (soap star Justine Lord) and leads Pat into trap after trap, each of which he escapes, up to the lighthouse from where her Napoleon-wannabe dad is planning some kind of attack. The whole thing turns out to have been a story he’s freewheeling for some Village kids. Not entirely sure what #2’s theory was: that Pat would tell the kids his own life story, ending with his reason for retirement?

Ep 16 – An intense #2 (Leo McKern from the second episode) returns to the village, reviews clips from previous episodes to see what he has missed, then resorts to his ultimate solution to get Pat to confess: regress him to childhood via a magic lamp then lock them both in a room with the butler (Angelo Muscat, who may have appeared in every episode) for a week of intensive role playing/interrogation. Leo’s theory is that only one of them can survive this. There’s some 1984 number-play, Pat refusing to say the number six for a while, and Leo slips the retirement question into every scenario, but finally Pat makes him crazy, turns the tables, and Leo falls dead. It’s one of the more boring, shouty and unsatisfying episodes, with Pat being bonkers for most of it, but it’s all setup for an even weirder finale, as Pat is given his desire to see #1 at the end.

Ep 17 – Of course we don’t see #1 – this show makes nothing easy. Instead, Leo #2 is shaved and resurrected and put on trial as a nonconformist, along with Pat and a young mod who never stops singing “dem bones.” Nothing ends a thrilling spy series like a good, slow courtroom drama, amirite? It’s hard to explain what happens, and apparently fans have been trying for years, but Pat seems to escape and/or become #1, and “All You Need Is Love” is played over a machine gun battle and the village is given a specific location in the opening credits and the guy singing “dem bones” is the same actor who died three episodes ago. David Lynch could hardly have done better.

Angelo Muscat made it through the final episode!

Alexis Kanner #2:

Episode directors include McGoohan himself, Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C.), Pat Jackson (Don’t Talk to Strange Men), Peter Graham Scott (Into the Labyrinth, Night Creatures), Robert Asher (Maid for Murder) and David Tomblin (Return of the Ewok). Wonder if the remake is worth checking out? After all, prisoner torture, personal freedom and intrusive searches for information are still making headlines.

Some boring rich vacationers casually befriend a spy who is immediately killed, shot whilst dancing. Their daughter is kidnapped to shut them up. The couple (Leslie Banks, star of The Fire Raisers the same year, and Edna Best of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) sulks back to Britain sans daughter, deciding that if they can’t tell the police, at least they can solve the case themselves. Actually, espionage and adventure isn’t for ladies, so Banks goes off on his own.

Banks and Wakefield go to the dentist:

A sinister dentist is dispatched with his own gas, and I didn’t exactly get the involvement of a basement-dwelling cult (“The Tabernacle of the Sun”), but wooden chairs prove to be good defence against revolvers, and the place gets trashed. Some delightful villains emerge, much more colorful than the heroes (despite an aborted attempt to involve a monocled uncle, Hugh Wakefield of Blithe Spirit, as comic relief). Prominently-chinned Frank Vosper (who’d soon die falling off an ocean liner) and frown-mouthed nurse Cicely Oates would’ve been fine, but Peter Lorre…

DCairns:

Frank Vosper is a good sleazoid bad guy (the only obvious thing Hitch took from Waltzes), but obviously Peter Lorre is the important character here. Although the plot throws out a whole gallery of malefactors, including an old lady with a revolver, a threatening dentist, and an evil hypnotist, Lorre dominates effortlessly, just by constantly making strange. Still sporting the carnival-float head of solid fat he modeled in Lang’s M, and decorated with a skunk-like white stripe and a dueling scar to match Banks’, Lorre as “Abbott” drools cigarette-smoke and apologises to the hero after striking him. He’s good-naturedly contemptuous of his own hired hitman, devoted to his nurse, and prefers to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but his goal is to plunge the world into war.

Trying to rescue his daughter, Banks gets kidnapped too, caught in the villains’ hideout during a massive police shootout after an Edna Best-thwarted assassination attempt at the Royal Albert Hall. Best then shows up at the shootout and saves her own daughter from Vosper, some 70 minutes after the movie pointedly established her as a celebrated sharpshooter.

Pilbeam and Oates:

No insufferable child actor, daughter Nova Pilbeam is a daughter worth saving, out-acting both of her parents at times. She would return as star of Hitch’s Young and Innocent. This was the first of Hitch’s six Gaumont movies, and Lady Vanishes (more vacationers caught up with spy rings and kidnappings) was the last. Must now watch the ones in between.

A fair pick to win all the oscars: a based-on-true-story thriller about a daring Hollywood-assisted hostage rescue with a happy ending. Affleck casts himself as a world-weary CIA hostage expert working for Malcolm’s Dad, who teams up with movie producers Alan Arkin and John Goodman to rescue U.S. embassy workers in newly Ayatollah Khomeini-run Iran hiding out at the Victor Garber-led Canadian embassy.

Comic book legend Jack Kirby did storyboards for the fake movie that the CIA pretended to be shooting while collecting hostages. Shot full of 1970’s grain by Rodrigo Prieto (25th Hour, Frida, Broken Embraces) and edited by William Goldenberg, who was double-nominated for Zero Dark Thirty (and won for this).

A really lighthearted spy romp, in which forced-into-retirement secret agent Walter Matthau spends some time with his girl Glenda Jackson (of a string of Ken Russell movies) and decides to write a tell-all book about the agency while his former bosses, led by humorless Ned Beatty (con man Hoover in Wise Blood), try to locate and possibly kill him. In typical PG-rated 1980’s style, Ned fails and is repeatedly humiliated, and Matthau (who proves himself awful at accents, languages and disguises) escapes detection despite having a bestselling book with his picture on the cover.

How spies work:

Stately Glenda:

KGB Chief Herbert Lom (known for the Pink Panther series) joins in the chase towards the end, along with sympathetic CIA guy Sam Waterston (simultaneously of Heaven’s Gate). Matthau rents his ex-boss’s house in Adairsville GA (wooo!) and arranges to have it destroyed. There are some plots that rely on perfect timing and coincidence, as in all spy movies, but it’s a well-meaning little movie, so I was rooting for it.

Matthau’s son, Lom, Beatty and Waterson:

Back with his rival/writer Lem Dobbs of The Limey and Kafka, but I don’t see much point in celebrating the reunion since this was a straightforward double-crossed super-spy story. If not for the Soderbergh name and the A-list cast that always follows the Soderbergh name, this would be filler content on HBO starring Edward Furlong or the like. I’m starting to think that I’ve been suckered into believing that Soderbergh is some important auteur, when really he just makes slick entertainments rather well. But I guess he goes back and forth – some turns out better than others – and this one is firmly on the slick-entertainments side of things.

The reviews focused entirely on whether action hero Gina Carano can act in the non-action scenes, and the answer is “well enough”. More surprising is that the stars (particularly Fassbender and Tater) can keep up with Gina in the fighting scenes, also well enough.

Gina is a spy/mercenary/thing working for Ewan McGregor’s private organization, rescues a Chinese fellow from kidnappers along with her buddy “Tater” Channing, then accepts a quick follow-up assignment with British agent Michael Fassbender at the house of Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie‘s photo-booth boyfriend), where she finds the dead Chinese guy, realizes she’s being framed, gets jumped by Fassbender and shoots him dead after a struggle.

But wait, the movie starts in the middle, where she’s met by Tater in a diner while being tracked by Ewan’s people, kicks Tater’s ass but does not kill him, then kidnaps a dude named Scott (the kid who was shot by Stephen Root in Red State) to escape. Now she’s off to clear her name, tracking down Ewan (traitor with a bad haircut who gets left to drown Ted Danson-style), Tater (killed by Ewan), Michael Douglas (gov’t good guy who helps slightly). We know the big baddie at the end will be Antonio Banderas, since we saw him with a Castro beard early in the film then he never came back, and he wouldn’t just have the one cameo. Help also comes from her dad Bill Paxton (his first movie since 2007, and the first I’ve heard of since ’04).

According to the IMDB, shot and edited by Soderbergh under pseudonyms, well enough.

On the way out, I commented that this should really have been a miniseries, since Gary Oldman is conducting an investigation into Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik of both Dragon Tattoo and its remake) but we know nothing about the four men, so aren’t invested in the outcome (except through the cathartic rifle-shot of tortured ex-operative Mark Strong). And Chris told me it WAS a miniseries, starring Alec Guinness. Not only that, I now see that Tinker Tailor follows The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and is followed by Smiley’s People (another miniseries), all tied into a seven-part series of novels. So this two-hour movie is hardly the whole story.

Colin Firth is hiding behind Poor Man’s head:

But as a film, it works. Alfredson (Film-grain-happy director of Let The Right One In, with the same cinematographer) has the best cast you could hope for, including Gary Oldman as the lead, John Hurt as the (late) boss of it all, and someone named Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s latest Sherlock Holmes) as Oldman’s main man. Such a very British cast and film (plus a notable scene in Hungary), I’m surprised they hired a Swede to direct.

It’s complicated how Oldman identifies the mole in MI6’s spy ring – something to do with a Russian who’s fed information by everybody, but only true information by one of them (Firth, of course, since he’s the most respectable-looking of the crew). Side plots include Tom Hardy (who was he in Inception?) hiding out at Oldman’s place with his flashback story of a woman he failed to save, Cumberbatch’s file-snatching escapade (spying on the spies), Firth stealing Oldman’s wife, and the sad, trailer-by-the-river life of Mark Strong.

Another installment of the consistently high-quality series, the best thing Tom Cruise has ever gotten himself involved with. He escapes from prison, climbs the highest building in the world with malfunctioning suction gloves (a much better use of Dubai than in Sex & The City 2), gets into so many car accidents, sneaks into the Kremlin (all you need is a fake mustache) and stops a nuclear missile from destroying San Francisco.

Jeremy Renner is a spy-turned-accountant-turned-spy with a dark past (he failed to protect Ethan’s wife from getting killed by foreign agents), Simon Pegg is the comic-relief tech spy with an awesome rear-projection screen used to fool a Kremlin guard into thinking a spy-infested hallway is empty, and Paula Patton is the sex-appeal spy who gets to kick the enemy spy (Lea Seydoux, Mysteries of Lisbon) who murdered her boyfriend (Josh Holloway) out of a 300-story window.

Ving Rhames gets a cameo at the end, and Tom Cruise’s wife is still alive if anyone gives a shit about that. Brad Bird knows how to plan an action scene and shoot it coherently, and that’s really all we wanted.

Saoirse Ronan is raised by her rogue-spy dad (Eric “Hulk” Bana) in the woods with emphasis on survivalism and attack skills – specifically the skills to attack Cate Blanchett, who killed Ronan’s mom. Was she Ronan’s mom, or was Ronan genetically engineered to be a supersoldier in a lab somewhere? Not important. What’s important is Joe Wright has remade himself as a slick-ass music video director and filled the movie with pumping Chemical Brothers music to distract our minds from the implausibility of the story. Even the implausibility of each individual scene – for example, the one where Hanna is in a manhole, army trucks are driving over her without slowing down then suddenly she’s hanging from one Cape Fear-style, when it seems like the move required to get her into that position in a split second would’ve ripped her arms off. Oh, and she’s never seen electricity before, but sits right down at a computer and within 15 seconds she’s reading up on her mom’s death from google news. In many respects, Attack the Block was the more realistic movie.

Rushmore‘s Olivia Williams plays the hippie mom of Jessica Barden, who steals the show for a while as Hanna’s first friend. But apparently Hanna’s superspy dad never emphasized secrecy, because Hanna tells the kids where she’s supposed to meet her dad, ultimately getting him killed. The movie is just as violent as PG-13 will allow, so he’s killed offscreen, and we never see what happens to the Olivia Williams Family after their interrogation by rogue spies.

Katy didn’t watch the whole thing but rightly points out that the more interesting movie would’ve been about what happens after Hanna has killed Cate Blanchett. A girl with no friends or family, few social graces, no sense of empathy and mad fighting skills who is probably still being hunted by the government – what now?