Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye, Number Six...

In my editorial for the upcoming SHOCK CINEMA #36 (which, FYI, is going onto the printing presses on Monday, 1/19, and will hopefully start shipping out to subscribers and stores on 1/28), I discuss all of the notable people who've passed away in the last few months. Unfortunately, that list just continues to grow in this new year. In 2009, we've already lost RAT PFINK A BOO BOO director Ray Dennis Steckler and the versatile Edmund Purdom (who was interviewed for SHOCK CINEMA by Harvey J. Chartrand back in #24) -- in addition to one of my all-time favorite actors, Patrick McGoohan, who died on January 13 at the age of 80.

From early screen roles in the gritty trucker-drama HELL DRIVERS and the Othello-inspired jazz-tale ALL NIGHT LONG, to later gigs such as David Cronenberg's SCANNERS and Alexis Kanner's under-appreciated hostage-drama KINGS AND DESPERATE MEN, McGoohan continually proved that he was one of the coolest men alive. He won two Emmys for his scene-stealing guest gigs on COLUMBO, starred in the pre-007 secret agent series DANGER MAN, and was the guiding force behind one of the greatest programs ever made, THE PRISONER. Although McGoohan's career was certainly successful, he never became the superstar that Hollywood had envisioned -- as they promoted him in this rather silly, March 1961 newspaper advertisement, teasing the upcoming premiere of DANGER MAN.

My first encounter with McGoohan's work was when 1962's THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH played on THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY. I was only a little tyke, but my parents bought me the 45 lp of its creepy title theme and I played that record until it almost wore out (almost as much I played The Beatles' single for TWIST AND SHOUT, which was given to me by a much-cooler older cousin -- since my tone-deaf parents were more into Lawrence Welk, Boots Randolph and Ray Conniff). Of course, I didn't know who the heck McGoohan was, but the movie itself was unforgettable -- exciting, scary, dramatic, and nothing like the crapola that Disney foists onto the public nowadays.

Many years later, while attending Syracuse University, I discovered McGoohan's revolutionary 1967 TV-series THE PRISONER, (if you've never seen it, shame on you). Alas, in this pre-VCR era, it was almost impossible to see the show, since it hadn't been broadcast on US stations in several years. Luckily, I just happened to be the Film Coordinator for one of the largest campus film programs in the country, so the answer seemed quite logical -- I'd rent 16mm prints of the series, straight from the show's original distributor ITC, and run an all-night PRISONER Festival during the Fall 1981 semester. It only ran 17 episodes -- which, minus all of those pesky commercials, boiled down to 'only' 14 hours. It ran from early-Saturday-evening to late-Sunday-morning, and a surprisingly-large crowd of fanatics stuck it out from beginning to grueling end.

A few years later, I had a chance to see McGoohan on-stage during his 1985 Broadway stint in Hugh Whitemore's PACK OF LIES. While autographing the Xeroxed program booklet for our PRISONER Festival, he remarked: "You watched all of them... In one night? That's insane." No, it was simply our small tribute to his mind-blowing series.

Oh, and if anyone can dig up a copy of McGoohan's big-screen directorial debut, the 1974 Richie Havens rock-musical CATCH MY SOUL, please, please drop me a line. I've wanted to review it in SHOCK CINEMA for nearly 20 years, but the film is completely M.I.A. -- and I'm still kicking myself for not renting it back in my University Union days, when New Line Cinema had a non-theatrical 16mm print for college screenings (under the title SANTA FE SATAN).