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JOHN DRAKE IN GREENELAND: NOIR THEMES IN SECRET AGENT Sander Lee The television series Secret Agent, though regarded as mere entertainment by most viewers, contains philosophical themes that raise it above most television shows of its time and connect it with themes found in such noir espionage films as The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) and Ministry ofFear (Fritz Lang, 1944), both of which were based on the work of the British writer Graham Greene.1 Known in Britain as Danger Man, Secret Agent debuted in September 1960 as a half-hour espionage thriller starring Patrick McGoohan in the role of John Drake, an American agent for NATO who traveled the globe. Each episode began with Drake leaving an unidentified federal building in Washington, lighting a cigarette, and heading toward his car, as the voiceover said: Every government has its secret service branch. America its CIA, France Deuxieme Bureau, England MI5. A messy job? Well, that's when they usually call on me. Or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.2 The success ofthis initial series led to a second, hour-long one that ran in the United Kingdom from October 1964 through November 1965. This second series was shown on CBS in the United States under the name Secret Agent in 1965 and 1966, attracting a popular following. In the second series, not only was the show lengthened from a half hour to an hour, but Drake was transformed into an Englishman working for a mythical British intelligence service called M9. 69 70 Sander Lee Perhaps as a result of their common Catholic backgrounds, Graham Greene and Patrick McGoohan share an interest in exploring the moral dimensions ofsituations in which good men are confronted with the realization that the world has become a place void of meaning, haphazard, and morally indifferent. In discussing this negative view of the world, Greene says the following in the second volume of his autobiography Ways ofEscape: Some critics have referred to a strange violent "seedy" region of the mind . . . which they call Greeneland, and I have sometimes wondered whether they go round the world blinkered. "This is Indochina," I want to exclaim, "this is Mexico, this is Sierra Leone carefully and accurately described. I have been a newspaper correspondent as well as a novelist. I assure you that the dead child lay in the ditch in just that attitude. In the canal of Phat Diem the bodies stuck out of the water..." But I know that argument is useless. They won't believe the world they haven't noticed is like that.3 Like Greene's protagonists, John Drake travels the world only to find that he is continually confronted with moral depravity, not only on the part of Britain's enemies (e.g., the Soviets, corrupt foreign governments, international criminals, etcetera.) but also in the actions of his supposedly more virtuous employer, the British government. Repeatedly Drake must confront his own role in perpetuating moral injustice. In some cases he reluctantly goes along with his employer s morally ambiguous dictates (e.g., at the end of the episode "Colony Three"), while on other occasions he directly disobeys the orders ofhis superiors in order to place the dictates ofhis own conscience above the demands of professional obedience and patriotism (e.g., in the episode "Whatever Happened to George Foster?"). Why Drake Is Not Bond Although the literary James Bond appeared in 1953, Secret Agent predated the first James Bond film, Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962) by two years, and because of his popularity in Secret Agent, Patrick McGoohan was originally offered the role. McGoohan's decision to reject the film initially seems puzzling : while of course he had no way of knowing how successful the Bond franchise would become, it is hard to see why a television actor would refuse the chance to star in a major motion picture, especially given that the part John Drake in Greeneland 71 appears to be so similar to his TV series role. Playing James Bond in the film might well have brought McGoohan considerably more money and fame for considerably less work. To understand his decision it is helpful to compare the roles of Bond and Drake to see why McGoohan rejected the former while accepting the latter. James Bond has become an icon, a character whose qualities are emblematic of the societal changes taking place in the 1960s. This was a time when Western culture was becoming much more open...


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