Archive for The Prisoner

What’s the Time, Mister Wolf?

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2021 by dcairns

Squid Game not only lives up to the hype, it’s better than it has any right to be. While the high-concept gladiatorial set-up mixes together BATTLE ROYALE, EYES WIDE SHUT, The Prisoner, maybe Lost, the execution is just original enough, and the execution astonishingly consistent and flawless. Amazing design, great performances, the twists all play fair and deepen the meaning of the show rather than undercutting it.

There was a point where Fiona observed that the grim situation of the central characters, competing for their lives, echoed that of Nazi murder camp inmates. I said that it mainly reminded me of school. The fact that there were authority figures, enforcers of rules, but they made no effort to protect their subjects from each other, seemed particularly telling. That tied in with the use of schoolyard games tricked up to provide a body count.

The first game, Red Light / Green Light, was played at my primary school, but my memory tells me that we called it What’s the Time, Mister Wolf? For no reason any of us understood.

Of course, now we’re getting stories about Scottish school kids who’ve watched the show and are playing the games for real. Of course. Of course.

It was striking to me that none of the big kids at my school, those who were NOT bullies, ever protected the weak kids from being bullied. Too much trouble. Not their business. And the playground was a place of anarchy, completely unmonitored. It’s very much what we see in Hwang Dong-hyuk’s series. All he adds is a body count (warning: the show is very, very violent and it’s ridiculous that it should be rated 15. If you’re going to have ratings they should mean something).

If you wanted to make schoolyards free from violence, psychological as well as physical, you would have to pay adults to supervise. Unsupervised play is when kids pick up bad habits from one another, mainly. The presence of responsible adults forces them to act civilised, mostly.

The other thing that Squid Game is about, obviously, is late-stage capitalism and class, like PARASITE. The idea that people on the bottom rungs of any modern society would willingly face death to escape their situation seems quite plausible, and if we’re not there yet, we probably soon will be.

Squid Game is on Netflix. Fiona rates it the best TV show she’s seen since Breaking Bad, I don’t have a handy rating but I can find literally nothing wrong with it.

“Don’t tell him, Pike!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2016 by dcairns


36 HOURS (1964) has a really neat thriller premise, derived from Roald Dahl: James Garner has the details of the D-Day landings in his head, and German psychologist Rod Taylor wants to make him spill. He kidnaps Garner and tries to convince him that traumatic amnesia has caused him to lose all recall of the last six years — it’s really 1950 and the war is over, and to help him recover his memory, he ought to tell the good doctor everything he can remember…

Since Garner’s character is called Jefferson Pike, this whole film is basically “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

The Dad’s Army similarity is reinforced by a bit of ill-advised comedy relief at the end involving the German Home Guard and featuring, among others, an aged, aged Sig Rumann.

The other televisual connection is with The Prisoner. Here’s Jim Garner waking up in a  new environment ~



And here’s Patrick McGoohan doing the same. ~



To clinch the resemblance, recall that McGoohan was put through a similar scheme, being tricked into thinking he’d escaped from The Village, in the episode entitled The Chimes of Big Ben.

36 HOURS would be pretty good too, a Phildickian conspiracy thriller, except it turns into a run-of-the-mill escape drama at the end — too bad, they got ninety minutes out of their Unique Selling Point High-Concept, then abandoned it. Garner and Taylor make great sparring partners, and the movie even manages to make its villain sympathetic by giving him a nasty, stupid S.S. officer opponent. Werner Peters plays this part nicely, his purring delivery at times recalling the considerably suaver Anton Walbrook. And he has a cute way of ending a conversation with a mumbled, “H’l’ittler.”

Eva Marie Saint, obviously, is good too, though it seems sadly typical of MGM to cast, as a concentration camp survivor, the least Jewish actor they could find.


I liked the detail of this newspaper — the Germans have to invent an alternate future, based on the information available in 1944, to convince Garner that it’s 1950. Roosevelt’s vice-president, Henry Wallace, was generally expected to succeed him, and Harry Truman was a nonentity in 1944. Werner Peter’s sickly reactions to Taylor’s recounting of the war’s end is wickedly funny.

I wonder how the original story ends? Dahl was rather good at endings.

One thing about George Seaton’s script and direction — he makes a lot of play of windows, and this pays off nicely at the end, when of course romance must blossom…


Actorly Through Air Power

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2012 by dcairns

CONQUEST OF THE AIR is one of Alexander Korda’s experiments, an hour-long dramatized documentary history of manned flight. Typically of Korda, it’s “directed” by whoever happened to be around, especially if they were Hungarian (brother Zoltan is one of the troupe of what I’ll call “nauteurs”), leaving it to editor and narrator Charles Frend to tie the whole shambles together. Frend was later a dependable maker of staunch war dramas, staunch police dramas, staunch Antarctic expeditionary dramas…

What caught my eye was the fact that the film is based on a book by John Monk Saunders, aviator and screenwriter (WINGS, THE LAST FLIGHT), and I’m a bit of a Saunders completist. He’s one of the few Hollywood specialists — his best scripts always hinge on aviation, just as Maurine Dallas Watkins’ always trot out women in prison. As long as the key element is in place, the entertainment is assured.

An experiment such as this could only be put over to a British public skeptical of home-grown product by the deployment of star power, so it’s odd that the jaunt through history throws up so few familiar faces. My favourite grouchy Dundonian of the period, Hay Petrie, pops up as Tiberius Cavallo, and I glimpsed an uncredited and dubbed Francis L Sullivan as Nero, witnessing a spectacular failed levitation. Asides from those, it’s left to Laurence Olivier to impersonate Vincent Lunardi in amusingly showy fashion.

Olivier is a beast of quicksilver, sometimes sluggish, sometimes fleet and sparkling. David Mamet cites his performance as a French Canadian trapper with what sounds like a Pakistani accent in 49TH PARALLEL as the one bad performance in an Archers’ film (he needs to pay closer attention to Bob Arden in AMOLAD). Here, he manages to sound convincingly like an Englishman pretending to be French, which I assume was his intention. Quashing a heckler, he declares his intention to “soar over the heads of groundlings like you,” and flashes a cheeky smile. He’s a star, even if Lunardi’s ballooning lacks some of the dash and derring-do of early flight by virtue of its being conducted safely indoors.

The early part of the film is one long succession of deluded hopefuls crashing earthwards from high places (so few of them seem to have considered launching from a runway, rather than a tower/bridge/wall). Frend seems unaware of how comical this all is — the only unfunny entry is the Scottish one, which fails both as aeronautics and comedy, because the guy lived (although he gets points for landing in a dunghill). This sequence seems like a clear influence on Terry Gilliam’s early toon THE MIRACLE OF FLIGHT ~

And a later mention of Baron Von Richthofen’s Flying Circus suggests Korda’s influence on British comedy may be greater than previously assumed.

And then there’s this image of Italian peasants fleeing a stray bag of hydrogen, which seems to anticipate Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. “Aaargh! It’s the Devil!”

By curious coincidence, Marvelous Mary just dropped in for a cup of herbal infusion and told me about the nineteenth century zookeeper, George Wombwell, whose animals seemed to have spent a lot of their time loose and rampaging. “It’s the devil!” was the cry uttered by a poor housewife, fleeing her home, which had become occupied by a stray kangaroo…