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Danger Man DVD Box Set

title stars


Without question among the coolest ancient British television series to rise from the mists of antiquity on DVD, Danger Man successfully evinces the stealth, treachery and engaging sneakiness of the cold war by virtue of having been filmed during the height of it. The “big blue box of spies,” as the set has come to be known in these latitudes, is a well-oiled time machine set to 1961.

Danger Man was originally broadcast as Secret Agent in the United States, and as John Drake in other parts of the world.

The terse, shadowy episodes of Danger Man – all but the final two of which are filmed in stark black and white – follow the adventures of John Drake, a secret agent working for the good guys. The nature of his employers shifts somewhat over time – his wages are paid by NATO in the first season, and thereafter by M9, a fictional shade of MI6, the British intelligence agency.

John Drake is an agreeably intricate character – and a somewhat more believable one than his more enduring cousin, James Bond. It’s worth noting that the first of the Bond films, Dr. No, appeared at about the time Danger Man’s credits rolled for the final time. The Bond novels were popular in its day – there are occasional references to them in the dialog of a few of the Danger Man episodes. “Golden guns appear only in fiction, Mr. Drake.”

The Danger Man episodes are masterworks of tightly-written drama. Their stories fairly seethe with themes of deceit, betrayal and ulterior motives… while successfully evading all the tiresome clichés and shopworn disappointments of later espionage fiction. John Drake rarely carries a gun – the series includes but a single instance of him killing an opponent with a firearm – doesn’t wear exploding cufflinks, boffs none of the female characters and only deploys minor gadgets, which are more or less in keeping with the technology of the day. Rather than an E-Type Jaguar or an Aston Martin, he’s usually found behind the wheel of an early Austin/Morris Mini Cooper for those episodes which take place in Britain… faintly evoking Mr. Bean.

The first season of Danger Man consists of half-hour episodes – watching how its writers squeezed cogent, gripping spy stories into the available space is an entertaining diversion all by itself.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Danger Man is that its stories remain relatively small – John Drake purloins the odd bit of microfilm, frees an occasional captured agent from an eastern-European prison, thwarts a few plots in emerging African nations… his job description clearly doesn’t include saving the known universe or blowing stuff up. His adventures don’t strain credibility, or provoke unintentional laughter.

John Drake himself is a complex, oftentimes troubled personality. He’s periodically at odds with his superiors, disillusioned by his assignments and unsettled by a world in which largely innocent people at times suffer in the machinations of his secret existence. His icy exterior cracks on occasion… but he doesn’t spend half an episode getting in touch with his feminine side or prosing on about his adolescence.

The video quality of the Danger Man box set is genuinely remarkable, especially considering that it was shot more than half a century ago. It’s been mastered from a well-preserved negative, with only the occasional scratched frame or speck of dust. Except for the characters smoking incessantly – you’ll begin wondering how the actors, and their respective lungs, survived filming the series – and far more vintage cars than could ever be assembled today, it could almost be a contemporary recreation.

It should be noted that while the shows on the box set’s discs are the original British editions, the box set itself is the work of the American network A&E. Perhaps not surprisingly, the sound bite that plays behind its menus is several jarring seconds of the pop song Secret Agent Man, which served as the title music when the show aired in the colonies. Never let your remote – and more importantly, the Mute button thereon – stray from your immediate vicinity.

The universe is rich with ways to blow fifty dollars that will prove to be vastly less entertaining than the Danger Man DVD box set – this is episodic television for the ages, in reasonable packaging. Unlike most television of its epoch, it remains almost timeless – engaged in his secret world, John Drake rarely seems to come into contact with anything in the real world that would seem dated in retrospect. The old cars are eye-candy.

As an aside, that’s fifty dollars in the States… the Danger Man box set hails for close to twice that in Canada. This one calls for cross-border shopping just on principle.

The box set includes the complete canon of the three-season Danger Man series in black and white, and all of season four… which consisted of two episodes, shot in color. Legend has it that at the conclusion of the second one, Patrick McGoohan, the actor who portrayed John Drake, abruptly left the show to create his own spy series, The Prisoner.