Wednesday, 5 October 2011

McGoohan in his own words: They're making bigger and better bombs, faster planes,.. I hate to say it, there's never been a weapon created yet on the face of the Earth that hasn't been used.

Reviews of The Prisoner often refer to the paranoid nature of the Village and its inhabitants, and the paranoiac behaviour of Number Six. His constant search to discover what side people were on and his refusal to trust anyone can seem positively weird nowadays. However, in the Cold War era such a notion was self-explanatory. Everyone knew which side of the Iron Curtain they were on. The fear of the NATO states about the USSR, China and Communism generally tends nowadays to be dismissed as having been merely some kind of ‘Red Scare’ stirred up by democratic politicians. The dreadfulness of the Vietnam War was challenging opinion about who exactly were the ‘good guys’ and who were the ‘bad guys’ in the world and indeed whether the price of this form of ‘fighting for democracy’ was worth paying. The apparent clarity of the Second World War and the naïve innocence of the 1950’s began to be overwhelmed by the increasing scepticism of many citizens about whom in the world they could trust. Hence the question Number Six was asking, “Whose side are you on?” takes on a whole new possibility of meaning. In 1962 though, there were those who retained complete faith in the side they were on. One of those men was Jack L. Warner.
In 1962 he commissioned a new movie that is so much a throwback to the simplicities of the 1950’s that some sources today will tell you it was produced in that decade. The inclusion of the Dragnet TV star Jack Webb as narrator possibly contributes to this erroneous notion. The film was made in black and white but the documentary-style ending sequences were in colour.
The movie ran for just under an hour. It was designed to be exhibited to American Service Personnel at US military bases all around the world – the intention being to entertain, inform, motivate and congratulate them about their military service and fulfilment of their citizenship duties. It was entitled Freedom and You.

A shortened version, of 29 minutes, was later released to schools and shown on TV, and this short-form of the movie carried a different title. With much less context because of the trimmed-out 20 minutes, the film was cut to resemble an episode of a popular half-hour TV Thriller. It was also given a snappier title: RED NIGHTMARE. You can watch it here:   

Such context as this illustrates how the world of Number Six allegorised the political world of the 1960’s. As I discussed in my previous blog to this one, The Prisoner was commissioned on April 16th 1966, but it seems the exact scripting of the show remained quite fluid even four months later, when Everyman began location filming in Portmeirion (on September 5th 1966). The script of Arrival necessarily had to have been more firmly designed however, as it was being utilised to act as the functional introduction to the rules and default settings that would apply to the Village. David Tomblin and George Markstein were the credited writers, but Tomblin was quick to memorialise that Patrick McGoohan was significantly involved in the writing too. The first half of that episode seems to have used the events in Freedom and You/Red Nightmare as a structural template.

If you watch Red Nightmare you will find that the film begins with an opening long shot of  “Mid Town, USA”. It quite resembles a village, with a tall spire at its focus. Is it in Kansas? It is not!
Jack Webb narrates that we are apparently in a facsimile American town, which lies behind the Iron Curtain! It is a training camp for spies and saboteurs! In Danger Man, an episode featured a facsimile British town behind the Iron Curtain called Hamden, the title of the episode is Colony Three. It was made just a couple of years after the release of Freedom and You. Rumours of spy training towns were often featuring in the press of those years. Whereas Red Nightmare is quite clear that Mid Town (as it is ambiguously named) is a purely communist plot, Colony Three reveals a degree of uncertainty about whether only one side knows about Hamden.

Red Nightmare gets its title from the dream sequence that begins about ten minutes into the film. The protagonist, who is an American Everyman called Jerry, dreams that his own actual town is now in a Communist America! A true red nightmare! There are some very close echoes of Red Nightmare evident in the first half of Arrival. The harmonies begin with one of the first things that Jerry does in his dream: this is to try to phone his wife on a public telephone. He is not permitted to make the call – the Operator is not especially helpful.

Your Permit Number please.
Permit Number? I’m afraid I don’t have a permit. I just want to call my house and talk to my wife.
No personal calls allowed without a permit from the Commissar. Now get off the line please.

Compare and contrast Jerry’s conversation with one of the first things Number Six does, once he finds himself in his unfamiliar village:
Number please.
What exchange is this?
Number please.
I want to make a call ...
Local calls only! What is your number, sir?
Haven’t got a number.
No number, no call.
In Red Nightmare it makes perfect sense for a public phone to be found at the drugstore, but why does the Village include the existence of a public phone in Arrival? Why would there even be a public phone in such a closed community? Nonetheless, as a dramatic building block in the plot of Arrival, this idea is just as effective as it is in Red Nightmare, and this is just the first structural similarity. Jerry is already inside a shop when he tries to makes his call, whereas Number Six makes his call out of doors and then finds his way inside a shop. Both baffled men eventually leave these shops in order to explore their strange new hometown. Jerry doesn't need a map.
In Red Nightmare, Jerry sees a small jeep appearing carrying a military man, who makes a speech to an assembling populace. In Arrival, something similar could be said to be happening as Number Six finds his way into a central plaza, where Number Two is barking platitudes through a hand-held megaphone, as mini-mokes tootle about aimlesly.
Both Jerry and Number Six mingle with the townspeople/villagers, expresing bafflement with the behaviour of the citizens they are surrounded by. Both protagonists seem equally unnerved and unsure what to say, or what to do, or indeed, whom they can trust.
As the action continues, a resort to violence eventually occurs. In Red Nightmare, a museum claiming that a Russian invented the telephone (rather than an American) enrages Jerry. In The Prisoner, Number Six only becomes enraged when he is asked about his Politics.
In both cases minor destruction ensues.

For Jerry, things rapidly go from bad to worse. His wife and children are cold to him because they are more interested in the welfare of the Party than the welfare of their husband/parent. Jerry’s workmates despair of his inability to meet his quotas. The townsfolk turn against him because he complains about the way things are being run, and after his vandalism in the museum Jerry is arrested, tried by a court where his only defence can be to confess, and very soon his nightmare ends with his execution.
The overall tenets of Red Nightmare are in some ways what Number Six is faced with as the episodes of The Prisoner unfold. The Prisoner is of course a fable based around the audience of 1966 and it’s preconceptions of Totalitarian Communism. For Number Six matters will proceed much more slowly and less terminally than they do for Jerry but at around the halfway point of Arrival, just like Jerry, Number Six is violently detained (after his initial escape attempt). In the case of Red Nightmare the protagonist finds his world has returned to normal as he wakes up in his own bed. Number Six wakes up in a hospital bed, only to find his nightmare continuing with a new Number Two. As both wake up, they look eerily similar.
In the closing sequences of Freedom and You, Jack Webb recites a stirring speech aimed at the watching servicemen (and women) of 1962/63 that his film was commissioned for:
No single word in all mankind has come to mean so much.
To prevent Communism from consuming the entire free world there stands but one man.
That man Is You.
The Individual.

George Markstein, was a London correspondent for the USAF staff newspaper published at the 3rd American air force base in the UK, at Ruislip, London. This would be exactly the sort of establishment that Freedom and You would have been screened at. However, Markstein, in his reminiscences in the 1980’s only seemed to recall The Prisoner as a sequel to Danger Man. The fact that he simultaneously seemed unaware of Colony Three makes his passion for Drake seem surprisingly uninformed. There is a little more about Markstein and the process of script creation for The Prisoner here:

As a professional film-man there seems no reason why David Tomblin might not have come across this Warner Bros film at some time too, between 1962 and 1966. He certainly had direct exposure to the Danger Man episode Colony Three, which was based on the same Cold War legends of Spy Training Towns that are mentioned in Red Nightmare.
Patrick McGoohan spoke more than once about how his show had been an allegory. In many ways he was allegorising the Cold War itself - the world of hiding and finding secret information. The original film that Red Nightmare is extracted from - Freedom and You - concludes with an almost orgiastic display of American military hardware: shells are fired, bullets are shot and bombs are dropped. They all explode in glorious colour with no suggestion of the reasons for all this fall out. Patrick McGoohan was certainly utilising the same Cold War political attitudes that exist in Red Nightmare, but he used his village setting to re-address those political issues and posit whether there was really any difference between the two sides and allegorically reflect upon to what degree these political forces were simply mirroring personal choices that every individual person has to make every single day of their life. Whilst many films of the era may bear philosophical comparison with The Prisoner the structural similarities between Red Nightmare and Arrival suggest a somewhat more direct relationship between the two. Perhaps there is even a faint suggestion of Free for All in this brief frame from Red Nightmare.
Watching the Warner Bros film for the first time, a correspondent of mine also pointed out to me that when Jerry is talking to his wife and small children at home, a military recruiting officer (enlisting the older daughter) suddenly enters the house, without knocking or breaking down the door. There is no indication that the door needs to be unlocked – it just opens and people walk in. Just as Number Six seems to have no control over his own front door, neither does Jerry, in his red nightmare!
In 1977, when Patrick McGoohan was first interviewed specifically about The Prisoner, he remarked at one point:
“I had a whole format prepared of this ‘Prisoner’ thing which initially came to me on one of the locations on ‘Secret Agent’ when we went to this place called Portmeirion, where a great deal of it was shot, and I thought it was an extraordinary place, architecturally and atmosphere wise, and should be used for something, and that was two years before the concept came to me.”

McGoohan was filming in Portmeirion in 1960 with David Tomblin, and that was two years before Freedom and You/Red Nightmare was produced.

In 1966 Patrick McGoohan went to Lew Grade with an idea that Lew thought so crazy it just might work, and afterwards David Tomblin recalled his friend and partner telling him that Lew had guaranteed the money they needed to make the show that he reminded Tomblin was, 'what we’ve talked about all these years’.
One other remarkable coincident similarity to The Prisoner that you will not see in Red Nightmare because it forms part of the extraneous material that was cut from the original hour-long Freedom and You, is the scene where there is a racing car at an airfield … and we see it approaching – from the far distance … 
If you would like to know moor about Colony Three, and its pertinence to the format of The Prisoner, some previous information is here:

For moor on Red Nightmare, Conelrad is unbeatable:

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