My enjoyment of this latest episode of Danger Man – the penultimate episode of the second series – was marred to some extent by the poor quality of the print used for the DVD, which was overly dark and dingy. This was a shame, because this was an intriguing story, with some intelligent use of misdirection and an ending with a twist that took the whole show in an unexpected direction.
Structurally, the story was not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. Two men are having a drink in an opulent French apartment. One wants his money: he was a slight East European accent and a nervous, impatient manner. The other man, florid, wearing a smoking jacket, sprawled on a big bed raised on a dais behind a open arch, the kind of bed on which you can only sprawl, with a confident manner is, unexpectedly, English. One glance is enough to tell you that this is a seducer’s flat.
The Englishman is not here to seduce the other man, far from it. There is mention of papers, Ravel’s Bolero is playing in the background, it’s tempo and loudness increasing. The other man wants it switched off. The Englishman taunts him, asking if the music is too ‘decadent’. He’s going to shoot the other man and drop the body in the Seine. He provokes the East European into running for the door and kills him. Going outside to his car, he places something in the boot. He’s being watched by two young men in identical coats, wool polo neck sweaters and eye-concealing dark glasses. Returning to the flat, the Englishman slips on the stairs, cracks his head and falls unconscious until morning. His plans will have to be changed.
It’s an intriguing set-up: who are these people, why did one man kill the other? Enter John Drake, several minutes into the programme, arriving at the British Embassy in Paris. A diplomat, Edmund Bierce, a fine patriot, a decorated War hero, has gone missing with an important report. He should have been in Bonn, on a regular meeting with his German counterpart there. No-one, least of all his wife, knows where he is. Drake has to find him.
He presses Virginia Bierce (Mary Yeomans) so hard on their personal life that she cracks and slaps him across the face, but she does admit her husband has a weakness, for playing cards: poker, gambling. Strangely enough, the man to whom she sends Drake for collaboration, denies Bierce gambles at all.
This doesn’t seem to matter as suddenly Bierce turns up at the Embassy, large as life and twice as natural. As we expect, he’s the killer from the open. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to think anything’s wrong. He’s due in Bonn to take the Report. But that was yesterday. Edmund Bierce has taken a blow to the head and has lost twenty-four hours to amnesia.
Or has he?
Drake hangs around even though, as far as Bierce is concerned, he’s returned to London. He follows Bierce to Bonn, sees him slick down his hair, change his clothing and arrive at an apartment where he stays the night. In the morning, Drake poses as an encyclopaedia salesman to get into the flat, where lives Penny (Wanda Ventham playing a bubbly blonde kept woman, simultaneously naive and mercenary). Penny is Bierce’s mistress in Bonn. Or rather she’s ‘Nigel White’s mistress.
Back in Paris, Drake trails Bierce further and discovers his seducer’s apartment. The two men in dark glasses are watching but they don’t interfere. One who does is Nicole. This was Nicole Padgett’s first television appearance of substance and she’s a delight, a bubbly chic beauty with shoulder-length black hair, brainless yet perceptive about Drake. She notices a plastic, full-length mirror. She points out that it’s new. Drake has to carry her out.
Nicole’s an oddity. She doesn’t relate to the story, she comes and goes mercurially, and when Bierce admits his weakness for ‘the ladies’, he doesn’t even mention her, nor does Drake. She’s there for her own sake, like Andy Newman’s piano solo in ‘Something in the Air’, a taste of Paris, a lovely ditzy stereotype. But she’s provided a clue.
Or rather a second clue. Drake’s already found out a name and an address: Dupoirier. Dupoirier is a money lender. He’s not at his office but the two men in dark glasses are and Drake is beaten and tortured (in untranslated French) for his connection to Bierce.
You see, whilst Dupoirier was indeed an agent for the ‘Opposition’, Bierce’s connection with him was purely mercenary. Running mistresses in two different capitols is an expensive business. Penny may be lovely (Wanda Ventham certainly was) but she’s high maintenance. It’s not about spying or anything like that. It’s about a man who found life exciting during the War, when he needed all his wits about him, who found ordinary life, the diplomatic life, constricting and cool and who, in Paris, learned how to live again, his senses once again supercharged. He’s going to kill Drake the same way he did Dupoirier. Drake’s cut three notches in the new mirror and found Dupoirier’s body behind it. Exactly the same, the Bolero playing at its loudest for cover. He can’t get away with it. But he can get a few more days of Life, and feed his addiction to it a little longer.
But Drake recognises that Bierce can’t kill a sitting duck, he needs the adrenaline. As the Bolero flares, Drake drags the plug out of its socket with his foot. Bierce is thrown, by the sudden cessation of the music, by Drake treating his to a judo throw. Bierce breaks, runs for it, up the steps outside. The two men in dark glasses are waiting. They shoot him. With his last breath, Bierce asks Drake not to tell his wife about the ladies…
What impressed me most about this episode was, as I said above, the misdirection. We start with a murder, we are left wondering what it’s all about. For over two-thirds of the episode, we’re induced to ask ourselves what does this add up to, with the nature of the series and Bierce’s status pointing to an espionage aspect, before the shor reveals its hand and the motive turns out to be completely anti-political. It’s all about human weakness, the triviality of all our days. About the composed, restricted life of a true, repressed Englishman suddenly exploding when shown something more colourful, like sex with younger, decidedly beautiful women. In short, what would have been called, in 1965, a sordid little affair.
It’s a neat reversal.
It was a shame about the print, especially as I would definitely have wished to see both Mesdamoiselles Ventham and Padgett is a clearer light, but the show rose about such minor details.
And then there was one.