DANCE OF THE DEAD
"I AM NOT
Anthony Skene, George Markstein
RANKED 4th Surrealism outweighs the plot weakness - its timeless. Multiple viewing 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!
If there is something like the PRISONER touch, a trait, an air pervading all episodes, then that thing called prisoneresque is founded in this very episode, "Dance Of The Dead".
On the surface it's two stories into one. And there may be those among the audience who'll find the meandering storyline hard to follow. On the one hand there is Number Six trying to get in touch with the outside world via the corpse washed ashore (which, in turn, must have been a scheme developped by the Village), thereby transmitting the paradox message "It's me, I'm still alive." as well as keeping his personal integrity intact (a radio receiver announcing mysterious news causes irritation but could establish a connection to the outside); on the other hand there is Number Two and her efforts to obliterate this particular distinction between the Village and the rest of the world, between an inside and an outside world, presenting to Number Six her world as the one and only valid (the dialogue scene on the beach, carnival, costume ball and the tribunal).
Watching the action only will leave you dissatisfied with this episode. As often, relating the contents by far does not convey the proper spirit of the episode, ever so if dream theory is involved, the psychology of the unconscious as well as literary and cinematic surrealism that's left it's hallmark quite clearly. Just to name Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Jean Cocteau's ORPHEE (both as films, too) and "The Trial", Franz Kafka's novel. But it appears it wasn't Kafka's novel that inspired script writer Anthony Skene, rather it was the movie THE TRIAL made by Orson Welles, featuring Anthony Perkins in the title role. To indicate this, there are some "Dance" scenes that were shot almost identically to those of the Welles movie (German language article).
With this episode we enter the realm of fantasy. Indeed one might belive, that No. 6 has wandered into Alice's Wonderland.
ZONE ON THE BEACH...
PETER PAN ALIAS NUMBER TWO
EXPLAINING HIS WORLD TO MR. TUXEDO ALIAS NUMBER SIX
of the original batch of four scripts, author Anthony Skene believed this
would be the second episode. Influenced by a number of factors he was
inspired to conjure up an episode that has as many detractors as admirers.
It is easy to see why the former hold their view DANCE is dream-like,
almost intangible in its hunt for a recognisable plot, surreal, confusing,
just plain weird. On the face of it we have primarily a montage of ideas,
undisciplined and, at times, non-sensical, crowned with an improvised
ending. The plot is even more perplexing by deviating crucially from the
script when No. 6 is writing his letter to the outside world before casting
the corpse adrift. The episode deals in shadows, it hints rather than
states, it haunts rather than strides openly.
With stress being laid upon No. 6 holding up his suit for the maid to see ("It means that I'm still myself.") and the scene on the beach at twilight when No. 2 strips away the last reminders of reality, No. 6 descends into the carnival, perhaps a descent into the underworld of his own unconscious.
Skene suggested Jean Cocteau and the 1944 film THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER may have been an influence. ... Like Cocteau Skene is fascinated with the myth of the labyrinth.
This episode, perhaps more profound and dealing in magic and the underworld of the mind more than any other, repays repeat viewing. The world of the unconscious is realized and No. 6's inner journey resonates with us and echoes on and on.*
But the most remarkable thing about this episode is that nearly there wouldn't have been any at all.
CARNIVAL: ELISABETH I, JULIUS CAESAR AND NAPOLEON
"Dance Of The Dead", it seems, belongs to the "unloved child" category, scheduled second as some dialogues indicate, the footage was shot in the fall of 1966 together with "Arrival", "Free For All" and "Checkmate", but it was then shelved. It is said McGoohan was responsible for it because he didn't like it or something about it, it is not known what it is. Film editor John S. Smith told the audience at the 2006 PRISONER convention that footage of shot sequences had disappeared and that, by chance, he rediscovered it and re-edited it with McGoohan's consent. Thus, Dave Barrie calls Smith the real saviour of this episode. So, the surrealism about THE PRISONER in general appears not to have been a strategic plan from the start but rather the result of a couple of coincidences, something that tends to evade the rational mind - which is quite according to the surrealists.
The end of the episode is just "unclear" and strange. Number Six has escaped the masked and cheering crowd of the carnival session before. He ran through labyrinthine basement corridors into a room with semi-transparent mirrors. He
is then tracked down by Number Two who wants not a brainwashed imbecile but him to join her with all his will. Beside Leo McKern Mary Morris is best cast as Number Two. This is not to diminish her part considering that Trevor Howard was first to play the role. Only for one short moment there is some hope that behind a folding screen the mysterious Number One could be found. But it's merely a ticking teleprinter. Like intestines Number Six tears some cables out of the body. When Number Two arrives the damaged device resumes its work as if nothing happened.
The last words of the familiar episode version:
Six: "You'll never win."
Number Two: "Then how very uncomfortable for you, old chap."
Number Two breaks into laughter when she sees Number Six' puzzled facial expression.
The end of this episode looked quite different in the original script; that's the omitted scene:
Number Six: "But rewarding, old chap. (Pause) Being dead does have its advantages."
As he say this he picks up a heavy ashtray and smasches the telex machine.
Number Six: "Shall we dance?"
The girl and Number Six exit, leaving Number Two surrounded by paper rolls and broken springs.
Interior. Ball Room. Night.
A hectic formation dance in full swing. Elizabth I, Julius Cesar and Napoleon are dancing in a ring, hands joined to the quick music. They break to include Number Six and the girl. The all dance as if the Devil is playing.
Exterior. The Village. Night. Location.
Continue the music faster and faster, The Village is brightly illuminated. No none about. Pull back so the sea comes between us and it, until the Village is now only a glow in the darkness of night.
This final scene makes the point of the story title more overt, it was never filmed. Perhaps McGoohan - most likely he would have - refused to take part in this kind of ballroom dancing as he, shortly before that, always kept a strict distance to his female companion or observer, thus delivering a very awkward image. A similar scene occurs in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER which Skene had already used as a source of inspiration for his screenplay.
The Village as a self-contained unit - literally a universe for itself - this thought is expressed by Number Two in "The Chimes Of Big Ben". And in fact, the producers had already imagined something which wasn't used in the televised version. It would have been the final, ultimate image of each episode. But it can still be viewed - animated Pennyfarthing
TEXT: Arno Baumgärtel
* Text by Dave Barrie; the cut scenes to be found in Robert Fairclough's book "The Original Scripts Vol 1"; with thanks to Michael Brüne.