Danger Man – The Traitor

Drake is tracking a traitor, Blatta (George A. Cooper), across Northern India. He knows that Blatta is passing secrets to the enemy, but he doesn’t know how. Then on their arrival in Karaz, Blatta makes contact with an Englishwoman called Louise Goddard (Barbara Shelley) …

Based on the episode title, I was expecting George A. Cooper to feature strongly. But in fact he never gets to utter a word and the traitor of the title turns out to be someone else completely.

Before this reveal, there’s some preamble to attend to. Drake’s contact in Karaz is Banarji (Warren Mitchell). He’s one of two actors browned up for the episode although Mitchell’s performance is a little subtler than it might first appear. Banarji, a marketplace hawker, begins by giving it the full Peter Sellers “goodness gracious me”, but once he’s happy that he and Drake can’t be overheard, this act is dropped and he becomes much more businesslike.

The Traitor is another largely studio-bound story, although the marketplace set is very effective thanks to a number of extras milling about and several convincing backdrops. Add in a few brief establishing shots via stock footage and overall the illusion that we’re in India is well done.

Jack Watling offers a decent cameo as Rollo Waters, an amiably alcoholic garage owner. Rollo’s connection to the plot is fairly tenuous – it’s at his garage that (by a remarkable coincidence) Drake first spots Louise Goddard.

Drake learns that Louise lives in the mountains with her husband. On arrival there he’s instantly befriended by Noel Goddard (Ronald Howard) who offers Drake the run of the house, telling him that due to their remote location they very rarely see anyone.

Goddard’s hysteria at the thought that Drake might not stay is the first chink in his character, as otherwise he radiates an aura of urbanity. Howard essays an excellent performance as does Barbara Shelley – the relationship between the Goddards and the way they deal with Drake the interloper is nicely teased out.

Although I’ve had some harsh words previously about Danger Man’s plotting, there’s little to complain about here. For example, the puzzle as to why Goddard stays isolated in the mountains and never ventures down to the city is eventually answered and proves to be the crux of the episode.

The confrontation between Drake and Goddard after both their identities are revealed – Drake the NATO agent, Goddard the spy – crackles with energy. Goddard’s reasons for spying are ideological, not money-based, so Drake finds it impossible to break his resolve. Louise Goddard stays more in the shadows, but it’s plain she was a devoted helper (but resumably because she wanted to help her husband rather than out of any strongly held convictions).

It’s interesting that Louise, despite her complicity, doesn’t seem to pique Drake’s interest – it’s only Goddard that he’s interested in. This is about the only plot niggle I can see, apart from wondering why Goddard’s servant Panah (Derek Sydney – the other actor browned up) later attempts to kill him. Maybe Panah was in the pay of the foreign power.

Goddard’s failing health is revealed to be the reason why he remains in the mountains – if he travels down into the heat of the city then his life expectancy will be short. Drake realises this, but is still determined to bring him to justice. This concludes the episode in a suitably downbeat way and, apart from the last melodramatic musical sting, it’s a very effective closer.

I’ve had a quick look at the two reviews on IMDb and was slightly surprised to see that both were quite negative. For me, The Traitor is a top-notch effort – thanks to McGoohan, Howard and Shelley. It’s possible to argue that there’s little tension in the episode as you never believe for a minute that Goddard will be able to fulfill his orders to eliminate Drake. But then Goddard isn’t that sort of traitor – he’s a detached, intellectual sort of spy, so it entirely fits his character for him to quietly accept his fate.

Espionage – The Light of a Friendly Star

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Leo (Carl Schell) attempts to break into the British Embassy. He claims to be a refugee and pleads for political asylum. The ambassador, Arnold Morely (Ronald Howard), listens sympathetically to his tale and agrees he can stay for a while.

But Leo is a spy for “the other side” and after aquiring some secrets he makes his escape. He doesn’t go empty handed though, as he takes a hostage, the ambassador’s ten-year old daughter Kit (Loretta Parry), with him …..

The Light of a Friendly Star has a slightly odd tone. From the first time Kit sets eyes on Leo, she’s very taken with him – telling her father that his (made up) story of persecution is tragic and also that his dark, dark eyes (“darker than Heathcliff, darker than Captain Ahab”) are very compelling. This initial speech demonstrates that Kit is a most precocious child, but her infatuation would have worked better if she had been older, say in her late teens.

Is Stockholm Syndrome at play here? Kit could have escaped from him on several occasions, but didn’t. Instead she uses manipulation (sabotaging his car, mentioning that if she was picked up by the police she’d have to tell them all she knew) to make him realise she’ll be less of a danger if he takes her along.

Her father doesn’t seem terribly surprised to learn that Kit may have been kidnapped and confides to one of his aides, Wilson (Donald Pickering), that Leo may have been forced to take her. He doesn’t elaborate, but we’ve already had numerous examples of how strong-willed the girl is.

Kit later sadly confides to Leo that she’s over educated, the inference being that emotionally she’s a woman trapped in a girl’s body. But she still has childish traits, telling Leo that she knows he won’t hurt her because of his eyes. “I think anyway one’s eyes are really what one is”.

Poor Leo never really stands a chance, as the hapless spy finds Kit running rings around him. And when we later learn that the secrets he obtained were out of date and therefore worthless, it makes his efforts seem all the more futile.  Incidentally, the British Embassy seems to be the sort of place where guests can wander about at night, unchallenged, and go where they wish. Have they never heard of security?

It could be that the story was attempting a Hayley Mills/Tiger Bay vibe, but there’s only one Hayley Mills and Loretta Parry’s performance does begin to grate after a while. This could be intentional though – she’s not supposed to be a victim in Leo’s power, if anything Kit’s the one in control ….

If there’s a point to the story, then it seems to come when the mismatched pair are forced to shelter from the rain in a barn. Kit asks him why he spies and he tells her that it’s an honest profession which appeals to him. He begins to open up a little and mentions that he has no family, they were killed by a bomb years ago. The incidental music swells in sympathy and Kit places her hand on his arm. It’s a nice touch that as soon as he shrugs her off the music stops.

Leo seems to be a totally isolated figure, although Kit senses this is nothing more than a fraud. She tells him that he could love someone if he wanted – even her. Again, this is a strange conversation for a ten-year old girl to be having with a grown man.

Carl Schell gives a self-contained performance as Leo, the man with friendly eyes. The supporting cast is characteristically strong, with Ronald Howard (a former Sherlock Holmes) providing a reassuring presence. The likes of Donald Pickering and George Pravda are always worth watching even if, as here, they only have small roles.

Largely a two-hander, The Light of a Friendly Star does have a few interesting points to make about espionage. Leo sees himself as a professional spy – with no national alligence – which is confirmed when it’s revealed he used to spy for the British, leaving Wilson to dismiss him as someone who’ll work for the highest bidder. Is this a purer, more honourable form of spying than if it’s done in the national interest? Leo seems to think so, but as a professional dissembler can we ever trust anything he says?

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