Ricardo Montalban was one of those actors who could remain believable while also going way, way, way over the top. He had a great sense of melodrama and used it judiciously.
I first saw him as Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island. I loved that show as a kid, and only today realized some of the parallels between it and The Prisoner (more on that in a moment). But then, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan appeared in 1982. A film that I watched repeatedly, over and over and over throughout the 1980’s (sorry, Mom & Dad).
Even today, I can’t think of another movie that I’ve seen more frequently. And the reason why? Khan. Well, Khan and the insects he drops into people’s ears.
For several years in the mid-80’s, an Anchorage TV station showed re-runs of Star Trek (the original series, of course) in the late afternoon. And once I learned that Khan had been in one of those original episodes, I made sure to tune in every day, hoping to see it.
Finally, there it was: Space Seed. In all its 1960’s genetically-modified-superhuman glory. Yeah, it’s uneven and preachy, like most Star Trek episodes, but Ricardo Montalban is clearly having a great time being evil and wanting to save humanity at the same time. I will miss him.
Now, The Prisoner takes place in a mysterious and isolated prison known only The Village. No one quite knows where it is, and everyone is under constant surveillance. Well, I should say that McGoohan’s character, Number Six, is under constant surveillance, as this whole charade seems to have been constructed entirely for the purpose of extracting information from him. He jumps through hoops and tries to escape and tries to figure out who’s pulling the strings.
Just like Fantasy Island, right?
I’m stretching this a bit, but look at the similarities: our weekly guests arrive by sea-plane, on a magical island that no one can find on a map and that no one can escape until they’ve jumped through some hoops and learned a valuable life lesson. And it’s all controlled by the mysterious Mr. Roarke, who seems to know everything about everybody, and who steps out from behind the nearest palm tree with alarming frequency (what was he doing back there, anyway?).
Yeah, the dialogue on The Prisoner is much, much better (I heard someone on NPR this morning refer to it as James Bond filtered through Harold Pinter) but in both cases, it’s great theatre. You know, parables, and metaphors about survival and all that.
And great melodrama.
I’ll go one step further and merely suggest that Khan was also trapped on an island, fighting for survival and the hope of figuring out a few things (like how to kill Captain Kirk).