My only previous experience with Patrick McGoohan was through a well-worn VHS copy taped-off-TV-in-two-parts of the fantastic Pryor/Wilder vehicle Silver Streak. My best friend Mark Sampson and I watched it at least once a week, without fail, from age 9-12. We could recite the movie by heart, and often did, even the blurred out curses, making it suitable for TV broadcast and safe for our young ears. We always got a kick out of McGoohan's Roger Devereau (I didn't even have to look that up), and looking back I realize what a restrained and wonderfully sinister performance he gave in the film. McGoohan's character was not a blustery supervillian, full of sound and fury, but instead displayed a restrained and calculated criminality.
It is with that as my sole reference of McGoohan that I went into his much earlier and different work in The Quare Fellow. Based on a play by Irish playwright Brendan Behan, the film is a superb exercise in realist acting and cinematic humanism. Unlike many theatre to screen adaptations, The Quare Fellow does not suffer from stagey direction, and has just enough in the way of sets and locations to keep it real, but not too much so as to distract from the central premise. McGoohan plays Thomas Crimmin, a newly appointed guard or "screw" at an Irish prison. We see him go through a major change in the film, from thinking justice is black and white to realizing that there exists a far greater grey zone than he ever believed. Throughout, we see McGoohan struggling to reconcile his theoretical ideas of justice with the very real lives he sees wasting away in front of him.
The film runs an economical 85 minutes and is very much worth watching for both the involving story and the excellent performances from not only McGoohan but also Walter Macken, Sylvia Sims, and a group of Irish actors who do a wonderful job portraying the inmates with a fatalistic black humour necessary to create a sense of realistic incarceration. The recently released Kino DVD is an excellent transfer, though the sound mix is a little raw. For a film that is relatively obscure and more than 45 years old, that is a flaw that is easy to overlook. There are scant, though nice, extras, including a short doc called "Behan's Dublin".
I've become slightly obsessed with McGoohan recently (who sadly passed away less than a month ago), and have begun watching The Prisoner. I've only watched one episode and am already hooked. Looking forward to getting further into this fantastic show.