Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Big Blackmail


"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  David Moessinger
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: A foreign diplomate, Baron Hinterstoisser, plans to use a fake kinetoscope film of Grant making a secret alliance with a another nation to embarrass the United States for political gain. West and Gordon must break into the embassy and substitute their own film before it is shown to the public.

Trey: While we both prefer episodes with at least a tinge of weirdness, this one is about all you could want from a "straight" spy-fi episode: Good set up, groovy music, and great action. It was the 6th episode produced for the season, but CBS wanted it to air first and I can see why. It's really all around well written. It reminds me a bit of the Season 3 opener, "Bubbling Death" in its virtues.

Jim: Yeah, the episode has a real Mission Impossible vibe. From the start with West stealing the film strip, to the wax seal on the box, and then the ominous warning of seven dead agents, you can tell you are in for a fun reverse heist type of plot. I'm a fan of Mission Impossible, so I found myself enjoying this installment more than I was expecting, from reading the synopsis.

Coincidentally, Ron Rich, who plays Dick January in this episode, would later share the screen with Robert Conrad again in a two part Mission Impossible episode called "The Contender."


Trey: He isn't the only guest star here. The big one, of course, is Harvey Korman, best known from his time on The Carol Burnett Show.

Jim: Weirdly and against my expectations, he plays everything so straight here. It's perplexing because many actors found a way to put a little camp into their characters in earlier seasons. Maybe that was a directorial decision?

Trey: There's good interaction between West and Gordon in this episode. 

Jim: I found West disregarding Gordon's warning on the red lever pretty funny. but the highlight of this episode is the fake film with Gordon clowning around!

Trey: Artemus Gordon: Inventor of Silent Film Comedy.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death-Maker


"The Night of the Death-Maker" 
Written by  Robert E. Kent
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: After foiling an elaborate attempt to assassinate President Grant, West and Gordon discover the mastermind is a former Army officer who was stripped of his command, and is building a private army for another attack on the President.

Jim: And so we come to the end of Season 3. Will it end with a bang or a whimper I wonder?

Trey: Survey says...whimper. Nothing is bad, really, but we have seen it all before--and better done before. 

Jim: Agreed. I will tell you the first thing that struck me about this episode, though--

Trey: I bet it's the first thing that struck me!

Jim: This late 19th century town has better paved streets than some of the areas places around my town today!

Trey: And with as many oil stains!

Jim: The foiled assassination attempts makes for an exciting opening, I'd say. The episode takes a bit of a conventional Western path from there, but things get more intriguing when the missing monks and the Cullen Dane's forces are introduced. 

Trey: I kind of like Cullen Dane's girlfriend, the actress, is a true believer and not a dupe. She doesn't fall for West and get "rescued!"


Dane definitely has delusions of grandeur. He doesn't seem to have a large enough force to take California, much less the U.S. as a whole. In fact that goal seems so tacked on, they should have just left it at the revenge assassination.

Jim: I feel like this story could have been improved with monks guarding an ancient relic or alchemical formula. Especially if that monastic secret had been coupled with some fantastic element like invisibility or invulnerability!

Trey: Eh, I can't go with you on that one.

Jim: C'mon! I've decided that Wild Wild West works best in one of two modes: When it's delving into more scifi or weird stories like "Burning Diamonds" or "Simian Terror," or when it's using the team of Jim and Artemis in a more conventional television storyline like "Iron Fist." 

Trey: Well, that I would agree with, at least in broad strokes. 

Jim: Success!

Trey: And with that, we exit Season 3.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Simian Terror


"The Night of the Simian Terror" 
Written by  Earl Barret and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: The estate of a senator and his family is being stalked by a perhaps inhuman killer. What family secret do they harbor related to this horrifying events? West and Gordon must unravel the mystery before more people die.

Trey: In which Robert Conrad utters that immortal line: "Get your hands off me you dirty ape!"

Jim: That didn't happen. 

Trey: No, not really.

Jim: It should be no surprise that this episode is a favorite of mine. This is a perfect example of the type of gothic horror story I would have liked to have seen more often. 

Trey: Yes, this is definitely one of the more Gothic episodes. We get the same estate gates we see in all the Gothic episodes from the first season on.

Jim: They're part of a really atmospheric opening, with Jim and Artie standing at those gate at night, the wind blowing wildly, as they call on the forbidding mansion. 

Artie's use of the small drill and miniature spyglass feels like an appropriately retro bit of spyware. 

Trey: The drill is a bit weird, because there's no reason he needs to see who's in the room since he already knows! It's only purpose is to let the audience see the speakers to better sort them out and make the scene more interesting.


Jim: It was nice to see Richard Kiel return to the show! After this, he would later get a recurring role as Moose Maron owner on the short-lived William Shatner western Barbary Coast. I have to think his appearances on WWW helped get him that role. 

Trey: It is good to have Kiel back. This is his last appearance on the series, though.

Jim: A historical question here: I know that Thomas Savage found gorilla bones in 1847, but how well known would they actually have been at the time of this episode?

Trey: his episode probably takes place in 1874 or so. Gorrillas would probably have still be exotic, but stuffed ones (and fake ones) had toured around by over a decade at this point.

I feel like Dimas and gorilla are perhaps not handled as well as they might be. The episode seems to be trying to misdirect to the idea that a gorilla is doing the murders (and the title helps with that) in sort of a reverse "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" fakeout. But the family seems to know what the deal is the whole time (and they're right) and their behavior doesn't make sense if it's a gorilla, so you're never entirely convinced. Then, we find out the murderer's Dimas AND there's a real gorilla. It allows for the escape scene and the pathos at the end, but I feel like restructuring to either utilize the gorilla more or eliminate it entirely would have been best.

Jim: I never thought I'd see the day when you were saying you wanted fewer apes in a tv show! Don't you have a statute of the Lawgiver from Planet of the Apes in your house?

Trey: Look, my religion is a private affair, ok?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Amnesiac

 


The Night of the Amnesiac

Written by: Robert Bloomfield, Leigh Chapman

Directed by: Lawrence Dobkin



Synopsis: West is wounded while guarding a shipment of smallpox vaccine and both he and the vaccine disappear, having been hijacked by outlaws who leave Jim for dead. The Secret Service receives an ultimatum: pardon and free Furman Crotty (Edward Asner), a nihilistic crime lord currently serving time in Leavenworth, or the vaccine will not be returned. Since waiting six days for a new supply means that many more people will die of the disease, the thieves' demands are met. Gordon sets out to follow Crotty, find West and stop an epidemic in the making. And finding Jim won't be easy, since the outlaws' attack left him with amnesia and he's wandering around trying to remember who he is...


Trey: This episode has a fair amount of action and moves along reasonably well. The opening business with the guy drinking out of the gun barrel is cinematic feeling, like some quirkiness you might see in a Spaghetti Western.


Jim: That was a neat scene. There are a number of flourishes in this episode that were enjoyable, but overall, I think the sum was less than its parts.


Trey: How so?


Jim: The key to a successful amnesiac themed episode is watching the hero discover their skills and abilities throughout the episode. Usually they are accompanied by a helpful stranger as they face off against a group of opponents. It's such a common way to run with this idea that it could be describing anything ranging from The Bourne Identity to the Six Million Dollar Man episode Stranger in Broken Fork.


This episode starts off in this direction, with West being taken in by Cloris Colton, played by the lovely Sharon Farrell. Farrell may be best known from later seasons of Hawaii Five-O in the role of Detective Lori Wilson.



However, that's about all the play we get out of the usual amnesiac formula. True, with the fight scenes, we get to see West use some of his skills (the bar fight was excellent) but that's about it. I think the problem is, this episode demonstrates that West's skills, as remembered by the writers of this episode, are a bit limited - or the writers just didn't want to go in that direction.


Trey: I can see what you’re saying. To me, the episode just feels very conventional (for lack of a better word) . Like the amnesia plot is so played, this could have been in virtually any action show of the era.

 

There's also some evidence, I think, of script changes. The subplot with the usurper brother seems under-fed and so pointless. Asner's character reveals himself to be a full blown super-villain with his discussion about unleashing a plague, but the "nothing but me and machines" comes out of nowhere. Perhaps he was supposed to be some mad tinkerer or something, but little in the episode as presented supports that.

 

Jim: You're right - that "machines and me" line comes out of nowhere. This episode had three writers, Robert Bloomfield is credited with the story, while Leigh Chapman and Michael Garrison wrote the script. Your suggestion that the script was tweaked during production makes me wonder what the original story looked like.

 

Trey: Ed Asner makes a good villain, though! I think this is the first villainous live action role I've seen him in, though he's done villainous voices on a number of DC animated things.

 

Jim: I agree with you on Asner in this episode. I wondered how he might be in the role of a villain. On one hand, his demeanor and physical presence make him seem like a natural, but unlike many guys with the same qualities, he seemed to avoid getting type casted in that role.


Trey: It sounds like we’ve covered this episode pretty well. Any final thoughts?


Jim: The banner saying Bible Class closed due to Epidemic spoke to me on several levels!


Trey: It was all too real!


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Undead


"The Night of the Undead" 
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Calvin Clements Jr.
Synopsis: Searching for a missing scientist, West stumbles upon a voodoo ceremony--and possibly the walking dead.

Trey: I would be tempted to think this episode was inspired by Live And Let Die--if it didn't predate the film by by four years! Thinking about it more, I think White Zombie (1932) is it's likely antecedent.

Jim: Yeah, this episode busts out of the gate hard with the voodoo motif - and I like it! From the Stork hooded voodoo priestess to the seemingly zombie henchman, this episode really starts off in a way that suggests we are going to have another dip in the world of supernatural--an area not explored since the Sammy Davis Jr. episode, "The Night of the Returning Dead."

Trey: Though the answer is mad science, not magic, we are definitely back in the realm of the weird. An area this season as mostly avoided!

Jim: Well, this episode was written by a guy who gave us a first season episode with a strong premise, "The Night of the Steel Assassin." Though it felt that one didn't live up to its promise.

Trey: I feel like he delivers in this one.

Jim: Oh yeah. Artie's search for the source of the skull medallion gives Ross Martin a good bit of screentime. I suspect that on any other show, the amount of lines Martin is often given over Conrad would be a point of contention. However, I'm willing to bet that as long as he got some prime action scenes, Conrad was okay with Martin getting a lot dialogue.

Trey: Conrad was like: "Give me a shirtless scene and some fights. That's what the audience is here for!"

Jim: Ha! A quick question about West's fight scenes: Are they better than those of Captain Kirk's? I want to say yes. I feel like Conrad puts more physical intensity into his fight scenes, but that's just my unscientific opinion.

Trey: Absolutely, yeah. Conrad was into both stunt work and fighting. I don't think Shatner particularly cared about those things.

Jim: The underground vineyard is one of the better setpieces we've seen this season. It has multiple levels even!

Trey: Yeah, I thought that was really good, too, though I was suspicious it might be a redress/rearrangement of the set from "The Night of the Bubbling Death." But very Bond-like, I think, and also pulpy.


Jim: Dr. Articulus' plan to marry the daughter of his long lost love has got to be the creepiest master plan we've ever had on this show! Combined with the web covered mansion, this weird romantic angle gives the episode a very gothic feel. 

Trey: Agreed. It's like "The Night of the Man-Eating House" in that respect...Which also featured Hurd Hatfield!

Jim: You're right! So the voodoo setup we got in the beginning may have been a ruse, but it all works.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death Masks


"The Night of the Death Masks" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West and Gordon are caught up in deadly mind games, part of an elaborate revenge plot by an escaped criminal they put away.

Jim: Conrad spends a lot of time walking around with his mouth open in this episode. Is that going to be some new affectation that I can't stop noticing now? Or has he always done that, and I'm just now noticing it?

Trey: That's where you're going to start? But anyway, I think it's new.


Jim: Well, how's this? The opening scene with West fighting the three soldiers was sort of funny. West is over at the piano plinking away a few notes as he calls out the soldier's behavior. He doesn't bother trying to diffuse the situation. He knows how it's going to go down. He's all out of fucks, as the kids say.

Trey: I agree, though ironically, I feel like this is (for much of the episode) a bit darker than the usual WWW fare.

Jim: Yeah. It definitely goes in that direction. I get the feeling that West wandering the empty town is supposed to be a big gimmick in the episode. However, a lot of the creepy tension of Paradox is undercut by our knowledge that West was shanghaied and taken there by Stark's cronies. 

I feel like if you are going to go with a gaslighting plot like this one, then there's some value to holding out information from the viewer. The mystery should be drawn out more. When Artemis gets the news that Stark has broken out of prison that should be our first reveal as to what's going on.

As it is, there isn't a lot of narrative tension in the empty town. Even when Betsy Cole is supposedly killed and vanishes, and it's pretty obviously part of the game. Cole, by the way, is played by Patty McCormack who alarmed audiences ten years earlier as the murderous little girl in The Bad Seed.

Trey: Your point is well  taken, but I wasn't bothered as much as you by what was going on being obvious to the viewer and not to West. Indeed, I think this episode plays that sort of  The Prisoner-esque plot better than the season 1 Loveless episode that dips its toe into the same thing. 

Jim: The back story of Emmet Stark and the robbery at the mint, even though it's apocryphal, makes me wish we saw more old adversaries return to the series. In some ways, it's a hallmark of the series that's not capitalized on enough.


Trey: Seems like we've gotten a couple of those, but yeah, it's not common. Stark is one of the weaknesses in the episode to me, though. Ultimately, Emmett Stark is just a name. Beyond this plot he's  a cypher. I think a better actor with more lines could have made him seem a worthy foe. Also, I think it's too bad we don't see all the conspirators brought to justice. I know they were minor, but still!

Jim: Totally agree on the vacuum created by Stark's absence for most of the episode. The problem is, how do you work him into more of the episode, but keep the mystery going? What we really could have used was a scene with Stark addressing his cronies, which could have served the dual purpose of explaining why they were helping him.

Trey: Though expected, the one part that works really well is the unknowing gunfight between West and Gordon. 

Jim: It definitely seems the intended set piece of this episode, but it feels like we got to it in a bit of a roundabout fashion. Once it's in full swing though, it makes for a rousing action scene. My only complaint is the resolution depended on Gordon flat out missing West when shooting at him. 

Trey: Does he practice his marksmanship more after that, I wonder?

Friday, July 30, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Underground Terror


"The Night of the Underground Terror" 
Written by  Max Hodge
Directed by James B. Clark
Synopsis: On the trail of Colonel Mosely, a Confederate war criminal, West encounters Major Hazard, the leader of a gang of crippled veterans who are seeking revenge on Mosely for the tortured he inflicted on them while they were detained in a prisoner of war camp.

Jim: This was by far, my favorite episode of the season so yet.

Trey: Yeah, It's one of the most memorable episodes to me, even though it doesn't have the "weirdness" I often like to see in WWW.

Jim: The masquerade ball makes for a great opening setting. Seeing West in a domino mask makes me wish the show had worked in a crossover with Zorro at one point. Maybe an older, retired Zorro would be fit in the WWW continuity.

Trey: It would have to a really old Zorro, but the crossover has appeal.

Jim: The flaming skull that turns into a gas bomb is a great gimmick. It makes a perfect prop for Artie's Hamlet costume, too.

Trey: There are a lot of details here that are so well done. And then we've got Nehemiah Pershoff.


Jim: He gets his third appearance on the show, this time as Major Hazard. Pershoff is another one of those exceptional actors who uses vocal dynamics and facial expressions to convey a wide range of emotions. 

Trey: He makes a good, laconic villain. One of a couple of villains in this story.

Jim: You gotta mention the Wagner story. Having watched this episode, the inspiration seems obvious. In addition to the cadre of maimed veterans, there is also a similarity between Mosley and Masale. Combine that with the quest for hidden treasure, and I think it's an open and shut case.

Trey: I thought so too! It's a Sword & Sorcery short-story by Karl Edward Wagner called "Lynortis Reprise." It's definitely worth checking out, as is all of Wagner's stuff.

Jim: Anyway, West's piercing of Hazard's ruse is handled well. This is a rare glimpse of a smarter agent West than what we normally see in the show. 

Trey: Despite his shrewd skills of observation, he's in dire straits until Gordon shows up.

Jim: Yeah, his diviner is a humorous addition to this episode. That the gold was actually hidden in a water container is a nice bit of symmetry! And then we learn that West actually fights better when he's shirtless. Damn, he makes quick work of Hazard's gang. 

Trey: Given how tight his clothes are, I feel like that's actually plausible! So, there's only one thing that bothers me about this episode. The daughter is apparently unaware of the true plan (and identities) of Hazard and his cronies. Was she too young during the war to know her dad was on the Confederate and not the Union side? Does her father and the gang stay in character constantly around her, including wearing the uncomfortable stuff to make them appear disabled? That's dedication to a bit!

Jim: That's some Jared Leto level of commitment to a role!

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