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As More Of My Childhood Passes… January 14, 2009

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies, Television.
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Today came news that both Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban have died.

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Montalban was a staple on television throughout the 1960s and 1970s, turning up on all sorts of shows whenever a guest role called for “handsome man with foreign accent,” which would explain why one of his most famous roles would be playing a Sikh as opposed to the Latin romantic he was most often cast as. Along with John Travolta & Steve Martin, Montalban was the other 1970s icon to wear a white suit beautifully every week on Fantasy Island, where his quasi-magical powers would solve the life/love problems of that week’s guest stars while playing straight-man to Herve Villichaize’s comic midget relief.

While Montalban made a charming leading man, I always thought he was at his best playing a compellingly charming villain – even in the original pilot of Fantasy Island, his Mr. Roarke was a perverse bastard of sorts, promising to fulfill people’s fantasies and then showing them the dark and twisted side of their wishes after taking their money, with an O. Henry irony vibe. They came back and did a second pilot where Roarke had more positive goals in mind for his clients, and that’s what sold the idea as a series. He had a nice turn as a comic villain in The Naked Gun, and I remember him fondly as an interesting Wild Wild West villain who wanted to travel back in time to assassinate Ulysses Grant, but his finest moments came as Kirk’s nemesis Khan, especially in the movie that bore his name. Montalban was wonderful in that film, playing the insane obsessive Ahab-esque villain, so choked with lust for revenge that he literally throws away his chance to take over half the universe just to off William Shatner (which as we all know, NOTHING can do, not even Barbary Coast).

Montalban will be missed… all we have left of his archetype is the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. Montalban was the REAL DEAL though!

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And then there’s Patrick McGoohan, who was the creator and major force behind one of the best television shows EVER, and one that AMC put online for FREE and you should go there RIGHT NOW and watch all 17 episodes of it in order to see what a great actor and creative mind McGoohan was. He’d also turn up in movies, whether it was Braveheart or Ice Station Zebra or Silver Streak, very often as an eloquent villain – something he’d also do on (count ’em) FOUR different episodes of Columbo – and always with the air of class and grace. McGoohan’s mere presence elevated the material he was in – witness Scanners, for example, but even in all the different roles he played, it always came back to his brilliant creation of Number 6, The Prisoner, and all of the weird 1960s spy themes it mixed with rather interesting ideas on the nature of freedom itself.

I’m not kidding, go to this link and watch EVERY episode of that show! Bookmark it, pace yourself with it… give yourself enough time to think & digest each episode… it’s television as thoughtful and sophisticated as The Sopranos or Deadwood but it was done forty friggin’ years ago!

They will both live on in reruns, I guess. 😦

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