Friday, December 3, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of Miguelito's Revenge

"The Night of Miguelito's Revenge" 
Written by  Jerry Thomas
Directed by James B. Clark
Synopsis: West and Pike race to solve a mystery based on a nursery rhyme before Dr. Loveless completes a series of kidnapping and completes his revenge.

Jim: Nice to see Dr. Loveless return to the show!

Trey: I had thought we had seen the last of him. Good to have him back, though it's a shame Artemus couldn't be in this one.

Jim: This episode leans heavy into the sixties color a lot more than other episodes recently. The underground lair with all the clowns and carnival décor, the color coded cages Loveless uses to hold his kidnap victims--even West's red satin lined coffin! It reminds me of Batman.

Trey: This episode also gives Jeremy Pike the introduction that the first episode aired with him in it didn't deliver.

Jim: It feels, as did the last one, like it was written with Ross Martin in mind, which makes sense. Aidman seems less sure of himself in the role than in the previous episode.

The poem that is so important to this episode was first recorded in A. E. Bray's Traditions of Devonshire in 1838. There is a lot of variation among older versions. In some, Friday's child is the one with the woe.

Trey: Who's to say what version Loveless heard?

Jim: Overall, this feels less like a Dr. Loveless episode and more like an Agatha Christie mystery or something. The steam powered android is a novel gimmick, but I feel like it should have had more screentime. But this isn't the first lackluster Loveless episode we've seen in the series. At some point in the series, the show turned the amazing scientist Loveless into just an ordinary villain.

And Agatha Christie angle is a bit flat too. The key to this sort of plot is that either the various participants in the story need to reveal sordid secrets or be conspirators in a scandalous crime. Loveless' targets are pretty random. 

Trey: I think this is far from the worst Loveless episode we've seen, though I would agree it isn't the best. The steam-powered robot here is probably one of the best fantastic elements in the show, regarding its execution. As far as Loveless' revenges being really petty, well, that's very much in keeping with how he has been portrayed in previous episodes, so I didn't mind that. 

Jim: So you're saying he's sort of a small man?

Trey: ...

Friday, November 19, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Camera

"The Night of the Camera" 
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: To take down an opium-smuggling ring, Jim West and Jeremy Pike join forces with Bosley Cranston, a seemingly timid secret service agent who possesses an extraordinary skill.

Trey: Our astute readers will notice not mention of Artemus Gordon in this episode. That's because he isn't in it! Ross Martin had a heart attack shortly after filming "Fire and Brimstone," and had to be replaced for several episodes.

Jim: Charles Aidman is here, in this case, as Jeremy Pike. Aidman does an admirable job, but he's a bit too much of an Artemus clone for my tastes. I'm going to say that's less a failing on Aidman's part, and is more likely the result of Martin's sudden absence from the show. The writers obviously didn't have time to create a new character, so he's just playing the role as it was written for Martin. I will say Aidman rises to the challenge of portraying the various disguises the script calls for quite well. My biggest criticism is that Aidman's delivery of some lines is a bit flatter than how Martin would deliver them. Martin just knows how to hit certain words harder for a more dynamic reading. 

Trey: I agree that Pike is very much an "Artie clone" in terms of personality. I might quibble that Pike seems a little more action-oriented, but Gordon's proclivity for action is pretty high by Season 4, so any real difference just may be down to slightly different approaches to scenes by the actors. 

Funnily enough, the next episode aired actually gives more an an intro for Pike, because it was actually the first in production order with him in it. Why they chose to show them in a different order, I don't know.

I wonder if the purpose of adding Bosley was to distract from Pike being a "new guy?" Also maybe to distract from a very bland, pedestrian villain.

Jim: The wonderful Pat Paulson is Bosley Cranston, that timid secret service agent with the photographic memory.  He was a regular guest on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Love American Style, he's perhaps most famous for his many satirical runs for President of the United States over several decades.

Trey: Well, they should have found a way to work a Presidential race reference into this episode! I mean, this was November 1968 (post-election).

Jim: A missed opportunity! Am I mistaken, or is this our third episode in a row that starts in San Francisco?

Trey: I think you're right. That should make you happy!

Jim: It doesn't do much here. All in all, this is a pretty standard episode made somewhat better with the addition of Paulson's character and a bit of humor here and there.

Trey: The "we have to work with a bumbling guy, but hey, he turns out more competent than we expect" is such a stock plot element for classic tv and film. Admittedly, I can't immediately recall an example off the top of my head, but I know I have seen it!

Jim: I can think of episodes of McHale's Navy, Car 54, and The Andy Griffith Show with variations on that theme.

Trey: I knew I could count on you!

Jim: I'm there for your classic tv trivia needs.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of Fire and Brimstone

"The Night of Fire and Brimstone" 
Written by  Bernard McEveety
Directed by Joel Kane and Milton "Butterball" Smith
Synopsis (from IMDB): West and Gordon hurry to the mining ghost town of Brimstone to meet Professor Colecrest, who claims to have made a very important discovery. Instead of the Professor, they find a group of thieves also after Colecrest's secret. In the mines beneath the town, West fights a running battle against the thieves and makes a surprising discovery of his own.

Trey: Well, this episode is definitely "weird!" Sure, the basic plot is fairly standard WWW stuff: A gang of criminals in a conveniently depopulated town after some treasure. (We saw it before in "The Night of the Colonel's Ghost"--where ironically Gordon impersonates Grant. He impersonates Lee, here!) Then the episode adds the weird wrinkle of the Confederate holdout who doesn't know the war is over.

Jim: The outstanding performance award for this episode goes to Dabbs Greer as that Confederate Holdout Captain Lyman Butler. He previously appeared in "Simian Terror," but this role really gives him more time to shine. 

Also making a return appearance from "Simian Terror" is the steampunk audio device Gordon uses to distract the guards. 

Trey: Was it in "Simian Terror," as well? It appeared most recently in "Doomsday Formula."

Jim: I had forgotten it was there! This episode makes good use of the caves (as mining tunnels) that have appeared several times on the show--and perhaps other CBS shows as well?

Trey: I feel like they surely have, but I don't know where.

Jim: I also liked the ruse West and Gordon use to escape the barn. It's the sort of clever, low tech solution that we should see more of on the show.

Trey: Yeah, in general, I liked really good West and Gordon team moments in episodes.  

On the criticism side, I feel like there are missed opportunities here than usual. The "coal mine fire" angle could have made for an eerie set (a la Silent Hill), but I guess that was beyond the budget of the show and wouldn't have allowed so much action in the cave. The Confederate holdout could have figured more into the plot than he did.

Jim: As soon as I saw him, I thought that's where the focus of the episode should have been. Outside of that, the turmoil in the town is all bit vague. I would have loved to have read the TV Guide description of this episode. 

Trey: Having written the synopsis above, I can tell you it's not easy to describe accurately and succinctly!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Egyptian Queen

"The Night of the Egyptian Queen" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder and Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis (from IMDB): A priceless ruby is stolen from an Egyptian exhibit at the San Francisco Museum, threatening an international incident, and West and Gordon are charged with recovering it. They find it on the toe of beautiful young dancer. The dancer goes on the run, and pair find they are competing with several unsavory characters to see who can get the gem first.

Trey: We're back in San Francisco, which always means the seedy waterfront. WWW has two main modes: depopulated Western town, or eccentric, Barbary Coast nightspot.

Jim: When the episode first started up, I got a real Batman tv show vibe from the music. As the episode continued up to the title sequence, that vibe was reinforced by the museum robbers costumes. This set the tone for what I expect to be a bit of a campy(ier) episode.

Trey: I assume you were not disappointed on that score? This episode is also pretty action packed with a lot for West and Gordon each to do.

Jim: Well, this is a bit of a roundabout episode with several scenes of people awaiting torture until West shows up to free them just in time as the search for the ruby plays out. The final scene revealing ancient treasure was cool enough, but outside of that, this wasn't a particularly 'wild' story, in the sense of being "weird."

Trey: Well, that's true, though I feel like that running around is fun. You sound a bit more negative on this one than me. 

Jim: Could be! I did enjoy the scenes with Ross Martin and William Marshall quite a bit.

Trey: Speaking of William "Blacula" Marshall, this episode has a number of guest stars: Tom Troupe, and most surprisingly, a young Sorrell "Boss Hogg" Brooke as Heisel, in addition to Marshall. Of course, I can't forget the lovely Penny Gaston as Rosie.

Jim: Having both Marshall and Troupe on this episode was quite a treat. It makes up for some lackluster villain actors we had on some other episodes.

I have a couple of thoughts on Penny Gaston as Rosie...

Trey: I'm sure you do!

Jim: Quiet, you! Anyway, I felt like she was an odd choice for a harem dancing girl costume, but I'll just chalk that up to a bit of dance hall pageantry. The other was how the show didn't make her hide her navel. 

That probably seems like a trifling detail to notice, but after years of hearing how the "censors" wouldn't allow Barbara Eden to show her navel on I Dream of Jeannie, seeing Gaston get away with it makes me wonder. What I'm left with is that either the showing of the navel simply went unnoticed by the CBS censors or NBC was just more uptight.

Trey: Well, if Cracked is to be believed, the oft-repeated story is sort of "fake news." Read about it here.

Jim: Well, that explains some of it! But maybe not all.

Trey: I think this enough for this episode, so you'll have to continue that navel gazing on your own time!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Fugitives

"The Night of the Fugitives" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder and Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis (from IMDB): To break a powerful crime syndicate, West and Gordon must capture its wily bookkeeper before Diamond Dave and his goons get him first.

Jim: Oh man! This episode is infamous for the scene where Conrad tries to swing on the chandelier and nearly breaks his neck! I had just learned about this incident recently, but didn't expect to see it so soon.

Trey: Yep. This show was actually the last show shot in the third season, but was aired until the middle of Season 4. The first part of the episode was filmed by Hellstrom, but there was a 12 week shutdown in production after Conrad's accident and Moder was brought in. After the accident, the insurance company restricted Conrad from risky stunts. 

Jim: He went out with a bang. That saloon fight is a doozy! It may be the most action packed fight scene we've ever seen so far.

Trey: Yeah, this is a pedestrian episode in many ways, but it does have good action from the saloon fight to the zipline out of the church bell tower. I've said this before, but it feels like the episodes without a science fiction/fantasy element tend to be the ones with the most action.

Jim: I would agree there is very little to make it "wild." Probably the wildest thing about this episode was the last act arrival of the real Hallelujah Harry. (A plot twist that left me a bit baffled.). As the kids say: I have so many questions about that plot twist--namely, at what point did Artemis steal the original Harry's wagon? Was Harry someone Artemis captured earlier, as part of the mission, but then escaped? 

Trey: The appearance of the real Hallelujah Harry is odd for a number of reasons. Not only why did Artie steal it, but why did Harry have any reason to believe Desmond would help him get it back? I mean, Desmond liked the Artie Harry because he was a criminal. Why would the fact he stole the wagon from (maybe) another conman make him turn on him?

Jim: I enjoyed seeing Simon Oakland in the role of Diamond Dave Desmond. Also, nice performance by J. S. Johnson as Norbert Plank. I love the way Norbert vacillates between arrogant bookkeeper and sniveling coward. 

Trey: Simon Oakland seems sort of like he might be trying out for the role of Al Capone--or maybe just Edward G. Robinson! Susan Hart's character Rhoda joins the Pantheon of women not swayed by West's charms. I like how her motivations are pragmatic and she is never discovered and put in peril by the villain.

Jim: After a certain point, she's too smart to be involved in the episode period!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: "The Night of the Kraken"

"The Night of the Kraken" 
Written by  Stephen Kandel
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: In San Francisco, West's and Gordon's friend, Lt. Bartlett, is killed, apparently the victim of a tentacled sea creature. The navy keeps the fishermen away, but it soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy, not a monster, lies behind Bartlett's murder.

Trey: This episode is very enjoyable, but it's really kind of a retread of "The Night of the Watery Death" (which I think is superior) with the addition of the kraken....You know, this is kind of a Scooby-Doo plot!

Jim:  I can see why you might be reminded of "Watery Death," as there are a lot of similarities. Where this episode surpasses that one for me is with the addition of the character Jose Aguila, Ted Knight's performance and the mystery of the Kraken, which is presented more realistically than the serpentine torpedoes of Watery Death. However, once West enters the undersea fortress, this episode pretty much retreads all of "Watery Death."

Trey:  The kraken is pretty well realized, though, even it the fight scenes with it are not. Having Ted Knight here makes this episode feel a bit campy to me. Or probably better to say: a bit campier than usual. On the subject of guest stars, Darj Dusay (Dolores here) is another ST alum. She was in "Spock's Brain."

Jim: One of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes! I feel like they give away Dolores' involvement in the mystery a little quickly with her actions after the explosive assassination of Admiral Hammond.

Trey: How did she and Ted Knight's character get together? And who is he, particularly, anyway? It seems like a bit of backstory to tell us how we got to this status quo would have been useful.

Jim: I feel like you've just got something against Ted Knight.

Trey: I'll have to think about that. Anyway, I feel like the retrotech in this episode is a bit lazier than usual. Particularly that "scuba" tank. The design isn't awful, but since "standard diving dress" was in production from the 1840s, maybe just a little bit more futuristic version of that instead of working backwards from modern scuba gear would have been the way to go. 

Jim: I agree. Also, there's the thing they keep calling an "underwater missile." What they show us is not a missile at all, but a mine--and naval mines had been around a long time at this point. I guess Bartlett's innovation is the use of the magnetic guidance system, as the first magnetic mines weren't developed by Britain in WWI?

Trey: We can't end this discussion without talking about West's scuba diving attire. 

Jim: Oh yeah. Very specialized!

Trey: It's his regular tight pants...

Jim: And his boots!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gruesome Games

"The Night of the Gruesome Games" 

Written by  Jackson Gillis

Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Synopsis: Racing the clock to recover a stolen vial of deadly germs, West and Gordon stumble upon a party hosted by an eccentric millionaire Rufus Krause who delights in playing dangerous--and potentially lethal--parlor games.

Jim: This episode starts off quite well, with the highlights for me being the missiles Dr. Raker set up to ambush West, and how Artermis riled up the yokels with his rabble rousing talk. However once Dr. Raker takes a dive into the river, I found myself perplexed by the path the story took from there!

Trey: This feels like a Season 1 story done in the S4 style--or maybe a mashup of two S1 stories! I don't feel like the ticking time bomb bacterial container isn't as well-integrated into the story of the party and the vicious games as it might be.

Jim: Yes, the bacterial threat does seem unnecessary given how the rest of the episode plays out. There are a number of other ways West and Gordon could have found themselves invited to Krause's manor. I will say, in defense of this specific plot element, that it provides time pressure for our heroes to work against. It's possible that was added in a second draft of the script or changed at some point, which is why it feels awkward.

Trey: They try to tie things in by making the hidden villains the source of the deadly games, but it's not explained why the old man doesn't care that some people have died. It seems quite a coincidence that these folks were invited to the party of an old man who played dangerous games and was indifferent to murder.

Jim: Well, at one point Krause says he often gives into his baser desires, so maybe murder isn’t that high up on his list of offenses. Long time television staple William Schallet makes a good Rufus Krause, even if he does constantly remind me of Dick Van Dyke's Mr. Dawes Senior from Mary Poppins.

Trey: Sherry Jackson (Lola Cortez) is always welcome, but there doesn't seem much point to her being here. She fades in and out as the "girl of week" being with our heroes in some endeavors but often just being one of the crowd of victims--or suspects.

Jim: You are so right about Jackson's minimal role in this episode. Her intermittent use gives me more reason to wonder about rewrites on this episode. Part of it plays like And Then They Were None. If that was the original direction, I could see how her character might have had more purpose. 

The music in this episode seems to fit better than in some of the previous episodes we've watched this season. Even when it sort of deviates from the standard fare, as with the cue at the first break, it still sounds more appropriate for the show than the modern sounding scores we heard so far.

Trey: Did you note the stereotypical Asian Henchman's name  was No Fun? Very Bondian pun, that.

Jim: Yes, No Fun's name also gave me a chuckle. It's definitely a Bondian style pun, but I also wonder if it's a possible tip of the hat to another CBS villain, Hawaii Five-0's Wo Fat.

Trey: That’s the fifth time you’ve brought up Hawaii 5-0 when discussing this series. How much is CBS paying you to promote it? 

Jim: Not enough!


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