ONCE UPON A TIME
"I AM NOT
SCREENPLAY & DIRECTED by Patrick McGoohan
RANKED 1st Well, without episode 1 this one wouldnt exist either; still, this near stage adaptation is top because of the acting qualities, the interplay between the Leo McKern Number Two and McGoohan, the setting and timing. Multiple viewing heavily recommended.
Don't read any further unless you know THE PRSIONER already and you want to delve more indepth into theoretical discussions and facts around the history of the production. - Be seeing you!
"Once Upon A Time" was produced as the sixth episode in December 1966. It ended up in the double finale as the penultimate of the series in combination with "Fall Out". This isn't the place for deliberations of how it came about. It was a matter of circumstances of the production process of the series. And we may assume that the first instalment was to terminate with this cliff hanger
Supervisor: What do you desire?
Number Six: Number One.
Supervisor: I'll take you.
But as is well known eveything turned out completely different.
Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern are virtually alone in this episode with the script relying on William Shakespeare and his play "Seven Ages of Man". "All the world's a stage" is a monologue from "As you like it". The world seen as a theatre stage and life as a theatre play. "The seven stages of a man's life, sometimes referred to as the seven ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, Pantalone [a charcter of the Commedia dell'arte], and old age, facing imminent death. It is one of Shakespeare's most frequently quoted passages. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_the_world%27s_a_stage; Wikipedia as of Nov. 2018)
|ONCE UPON A TIME||
|ES WAR EINMAL||GERMAN TRANSLATION|
|PAS DE DEUX||
"GERMAN" EPISODE TITLE
It has often been maintained that "Once Upon A Time" was semi-biographic but this isn't the case. Yet some elements, few only, of Patrick McGoohan's own biography are in it; the school graduation scene, the conversation with the bank manager, McGoohan worked with a bank for some time. And boxing, McGoohan was once the leader of the school boxing team. It isn't known whether he would also fence. He was never a secret agent with the British Army, except you'd count his acting role as John Drake, nor did he serve in World War II, for sure.
The only acting set, apart from a few initial scenes, is a room located somewhere beneath the Village; actually one of the studio's sound stages with thick black curtains hanging from the surrounding walls, but here an imaginary theatrical stage and, figurativley, the "stage of life". An air of theatrics is around this episode, a spotlight from somewhere overhead accompanying the character Number Six. It can be assumed that, on the level of action, it serves to sustain the hypnotic effect on Number Six. Space and time are congruent but the unity of narrative and narrated time (which is one week) is kept but compressed in order to fit it into the 50 minutes of episode time. But still, it is also quite cinematic using quick and sharp editing, nowhere do we get the impression of looking into a walled-in theatre stage box.
Ironically enough, the German episode title is actually French, "Pas de deux", and aptly taken from the dance theatre.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Wikipedia, vom 29.10.2018
Every Number Two's main objective is to retrieve "information, information..." from Number Six. However, it is never really made clear in the series what exactly the nature of this "information" would be: true, the answer to the question of his resignation from the job in the first place. A man of his position of the highest secrecy would have been a valuable target on the market, as Number Two had remarked after his arrival. But the overall interest of the Village would also be to make Number Six cooperate, even to win him over on their side.
Now, here the new Number Two is someone we know already, Leo McKern, previously assigned to work in the episode "The Chimes Of Big Ben". Given all those failed attempts by his predecessors, he was officially brought back on the job. But Number One might not be as confident about Number Two as one may think because when he enters his control room he finds one Rover balloon in his globe chair of which he isn't particularly amused. He then insists passionately in handling the case of Number Six his way, "or you find sombody else." Then either Number Six would be won or everthing would be lost anyway. Eventually he is granted "one teeny weeny week."
On the day before the beginning of the procedure: Number Two observing Number Six in his living room. He calls him: "Why do you care?" * - "You'll never know." Another good reason for Number Two to initiate "Degree Absolute."
Degree Absolute means both Number Two and Number Six would be locked-down in confinement in what is known as the Embryo room with only the Butler present to prepare the meals or to provide utensils. It's the start of a psychological tour-de-force that could ultimately lead to the death of either of them. Number Six' personality is wound back, regressed into childhood. On this "stage of life" he would act out and live through some of his roles in life: as a child, a pupil, an adolescent and eventually he again as himself. Number Two would be the educator, teacher and schoolmaster, boss, psychologist or doctor.
In the middle of the night: while Number Six is being hypnotically prepared under the "pulsator" lamp Number Two is singsanging nursery rhymes thus trying to bring himself and perhaps Number Six, too, into the right mood. The other morning, Number Six at his hand, he leads the now roughly three-year-old into the Embryo room. He cites Shakespeare leaving no doubt as for the way he intends to dissect Number Six' personality in order to find out what makes him tick.
Number Two: "Come ahead, son! Let's see what you're made of."
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."
The confrontation of Degree Absolute isn't without danger for Number Two being the psychological authority, because sometimes it happens that doctor and patient swap positions. And he is well aware of it as he is writing his plan on a blackboard:
A: Find missing link.
B: Put it together.
C: (if fail) BANG!
Over and over again in his efforts, Number Two would encounter resistance and reluctance with his fosterling even in his early childhood. And the task is getting ever more risky and tougher the more stages of life and excercises they'd go through. They would have a go at each other, quarreling with each other. The more "grown-up" Number Six gets in the course of this regression process and the subsequent rehabilitation, the closer he comes to his former old self, the more elements of inadequacy, rebelliousness and defiance would show up making him potenially the very first or else the last individual [PDF] and the lone wolf of society of which Number Two warns him.
There is an ever increasing ambition on the side of Number Two as he is getting more and more absorbed by his task to eventually reach that monad inside the personality of Number Six. Their contention culminating verbally and physically to the point of actor Leo McKern suffering from a nervous breakdown so filming had to be paused for while. Life imitates art.
JACK AND JILL
THE GRAND DUKE OF YORK
POP GOES THE WEASEL
BOYS AND GIRLS (only melody)
TWINKLE, TWINKLE LITTLE STAR (only melody)
The "Once Upon A Time" nursery rhymes.
The English episode title "Once Upon A Time" (German: "Es war einmal...") is very appropriate. But everything isn't child's play as it would turn out. And in the end there's a "BANG!"
Much childlike symbolism pervades this episode "Once Upon A Time", which is quite suitable as far as the action is concerned - regression into childhood. And as for the Embryo room itself and its interior being endowed with a playpen, a rocking horse, tricycle, see-saw, blackboard and a variety of toys. And there's Humpty Dumpty. As if he was doing the invocation of a poltergeist Number Two, standing next to his bed, quotes nursery rhymes to a hypnotised Number Six:
REMAINS IN THE LIGHT: NUMBER SIX
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again!
Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
The Grand of Duke of York he had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...
On the episode soundtrack "School Days" is playing which, like a nursery rhyme, accompanies this part of the events. It is Albert Elms' interpretation of a very popular English song known widely as the "Eton Boating Song". And this song, together with Ron Grainer's title theme and the "Radetzky March" by Johann Strauss, does really function as a leitmotif here.
Number Two: Seesaw Margery Daw
Jackie shall have a new master.
Number Six and Number Two on the see-saw. All of a sudden the innocuous nursery rhyme turns into a battle of words, a battle of wits actually, and a truly risky "pas de deux" (of the "German" title):
Number Two: Margery Daw
Number Six: Jackie
Number Two: ...shall have...
Number Six: a new master.
Number Two: a new master...
Number Six: Master...
Number Two: Jackie
Number Six: Master
Number Two: Jackie
Number Six: Master
Number Two: Mother
Number Six: Master
Number Two: Father...
Number Six jumps off the see-saw, Number Two falls to the ground.
Number Six: Brother
Number Two: Friends
Number Six: Brother - brother
Number Two: Friends
Number Six: Friends... push...
Number Two: Friends
Number Six: Friends - push - push...
Nummer Zwei: School
Nummer Sechs: School.
He gently pushes the Butler from the hanging swing.
They move away a few steps from this place of action and to the next phase of Degree Absolute. And still, one question remains, the question because of which Number Two has embarked on this psycho trip in the first place; the question of all questions, spoken out again and again but still unanswered:
"Why did you resign?"
Number Six, now visibly a schoolboy [a continuity error this, as gradiation from school has already happened.] on a rocking horse:
Number Six: Pop goes the weasel...
Number Two: POP.
Number Six: Pop...
Number Two: POP... Protect other people...
Number Six: (singing) Pop goes the weasel,
Half a pound of tu’penny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.
Many, perhaps even the majority of illustrations show Humpty Dumpty as a heavy-handed, obese creature, egg-like and supposedly as fragile as an egg (for example here; Wikipedia). Arguably, a symbolisation of Number Two's desperate hope Number Six might conform to this character - or role in terms of Shakespeare's monologue. An illusion and at the same time his fear that he might not break at all.
DAVID STIMPSON: IT'S CHILD PLAY!
"Why did you resign?"
"Why did you resign?"
"For peace of mind." Number Six' answer to the question comes unexpectedly. "Too many people know too much." However, not quite the answer Number Two was hoping for, let alone Number One.
"Anorakzone" is the nice name of a website known for its apt characterisations. Summing up "Once Upon A Time" it says: "An episode that asks 'what is a man?' and questions what lies within, only to repulse viewers with a truly disturbing ending. What must television audiences of 1968 have made of two men in a room yelling Beckettian dialogue at one another for the best part of an hour? Exceptional television." (http://www.anorakzone.com/prisoner/onceupon.html)
Speaking of the German version, one would have liked to hear from Patrick McGoohan voice actor Horst Naumann about his working on this particular episode and his brilliant achievement thereby, in this nerve-wrecking action one is inclined to think that he, not McGoohan, had been McKern's counterpart (his dubbing partner was Walter Reichelt). But Naumann may be forgiven for not mentioning this facet of his work when he was interviewed, almost 50 years later.
"POP" GOES THE WEASEL
There is no real German correspondent for the English "Pop goes the weasel" rhyme. Instead dubbing director Brinkmann chooses to ad-lib something verbal containing the similar "HOPP" sound in combination with a non-sensical text which, to be true, borrows a bit from the famous German nursery lap rhyme "Hoppe, hoppe reiter, wenn er fällt, dann schreit er..." In translation: "Hop, hop, rider, If he falls, he will cry." Thus matching almost perfectly the POP of the original. Ingenious.
There is no evidence whether the German rhyme versions are Brinkmann's own translations. One could maintain, however, they could well be because Brinkmann himself was a writer of poems which were never published. He could have liked to translate them. And it would have been quite a time-consuming task, in 1969, to conduct researches in libraries or bookshops only for a few lines of poetry. So, he'd have been better off with his own creation.
One of a number of remarkable instances of what has become known as "Brinkmann's injections" into the original dialogues of THE PRSONER is found as he translates "autoritär" for "big" and "diktatorisch" for "tall" during the conversation between Number Two and Number Six in and in front of the barred cage within the Embryo room, and for no obvious reason. Another instance occurs when Number Six is likely to have guessed what's behind that cage, that it is actually mobile: "We are likely to move?"
Brinkmann's interpretation moves away from the spatial to that of the psychic dimension and to the meta-level: "Werden wir uns dann verändern?" - "Are we going to change?" Another injection for sure.
An episode, a unique acting event in the guise of a television series. One that requires and rewards multiple watching.
Text: Arno Baumgärtel
* In the German version Number Two does not ask: "Why do you care?" but "Was geht in ihnen vor?" - "What's on your mind?"
Thanks to David Stimpson, author of the book "The PRISONER Dusted Down", for his support of the biographical elements in this episode and for his contributing
article "It's Child's Play" published on his blog (July 2016).