Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Poisonous Posey


"The Night of the Poisonous Posey" 
Written by Leigh Chapman
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis (from IMDB): While on vacation, West and Gordon wander into the town of Justice, Nevada. After an unexpectedly exciting greeting by the citizens, they start to notice an unusual number of infamous international criminals around town. 

Trey: Well, Jim, here's West and Gordon riding into a small Western town, as you wanted! I have to say, this setup doesn't make much sense. We are told the two are on vacation. Wandering around Nevada on horseback is there vacation? It seems like a less exciting version of their work! 

Of course, it turns out not to be less exciting, and to actually be their work.

Jim: While I did enjoy this episode, I believe my desire to see more small Western town stories is really just me wanting to see more recurring characters in the same town. The downside to such a change in the show is it would make presenting a new mad scientist or would be dictator much harder to explain. Probably adding Bond-like side characters like Miss Moneypenny or Q to the show would have a good way to get what I'm after.

Trey: They had a butler, Tennyson, in early episodes but he just didn't stick around.

Anyway, this episode is campy in all the right ways: the comedic, clueless townsfolk--and the over-the-top criminal types. It's also sort of spy-fi in that campy way. Removed from its Western setting, it could be a Matt Helm outing--or maybe even Bond of the Roger Moore era. 

But that brings me to a criticism: The "villain convention" is such an stock plot idea.

Jim: The villain convention is a standard plot idea, but it's one of my favorites. It gives a writer a way to introduce a varied array of villains with different traits and quirks without having to explain why they are there.

Trey: True, and from that motley crew, let's call out Brutus played by Percy Rodrigues, a TV staple of the 60s and 70s. He's Commodore Stone in the Star Trek episode "Court Martial," among other roles.


Jim: Percy Rodrigues is the actor among the villain's here. The other villains aren't bad, it's just Rodrigues brings a slow burn to his character that plays better than the cackling hayseeds the other villains all seem to be (with the exception of the pyro guy, who is fun in a campy way).

Trey: Artie gets to shine in this episode. His "divide and conquer" offensive against the criminals is nice to see.

Jim:  It seems like the writers are cluing in how to use him better this season. 

Trey: West, for his part, gets some nice fights and unnerves and undermines the villainous leader with sexism.

Jim: Bond will be Bond...er--West.

Trey: I feel like this episode is structured really well. I mean, this is probably how a "standard WWW" episode ought to work. A little humor, some action, colorful villains, and West and Gordon showing both smarts and toughness. It isn't necessarily one of my favorites, though, and I think that's because it lacks the novel high concept that I want to see from WWW

Jim: I 100% agree on the structure of this episode! It didn't have some of the backtracking or redundant scenes that we can sometimes get in the show.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Hollywood Cowboy Mysteries

We recently received a nice email from Darryle Purcell in response to our weekly Wild Wild West episode reviews. Darryle is a man of many talents ranging from newspaper editor to Filmation animator. He currently writes and illustrates the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives and the Man of the Mist series for PageTurner publications. 

Fans of Cowboy action and adventure may want to check out Darryle's books, all available on Amazon:









Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Flying Pie Plate


"The Night of the Flying Pie Plate" 
Written by Dan Ullman
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: While protecting a shipment of gold awaiting transport in an Arizona town, West sees a flaming light in the sky and hears a loud crash. When they investigate, West and the townspeople discover a strange saucer shape structure, and three green-skinned women who claim to be from the planet Venus. They need a certain substance--gold--to repair their craft and are willing to trade precious gems for it.

Trey: I remember when I first saw this episode. I don't know how much of the series I had seen at that point, but I didn't like this one for a couple of reasons. One, I found the "flying pie plate" idea ahistorical and a bit of nudge-wink camp of the sort common to Brisco County, Jr., that ran against my conception of WWW. Why not a phantom airship or some Jules Vernes inspired tech? Second, I found it too fanciful. I could concede some Steampunk tech and Victorian Bond gear, but fake aliens was just too much!

Now that I have seen more WWW, I am perhaps better able to put it into context, and it doesn't seem as out of place as it did then. I still think a more Victorian space conveyance would have been more fun, but it sits well enough with WWW overall.

Jim: The space ship gave me pause, too. It feels anachronistic. I don't know if it makes the best "oddity" to scam a small western town with, either. A witch or ghost probably would've been more fitting. This feels like an editorial mandate of some sort. I will say the Venusians costumes make good use of the color television.

Trey: You desperately want a supernatural-themed, Wild Wild West, we've established. Last episode was just a tease!

Jim: Blame it on too much Kolchak.

Trey: In it's defense--because I like the episode now--I think Season 2 feels more polished by this point that S1. I think it started feeling that way around "Big Blast," where the stories were more complicated and the sets better realized, but "The Night of the Big Blast" had some conceptual deficits the two stories after it didn't have. Also, getting them out of San Francisco and into more Western towns, as seems to be happening, makes it feel more genre Western.

Jim: A small western town feels like a nice change to me. While the episodes in San Francisco or New Orleans might fit the spirit of the show better, as you have argued, Old Man Shelley wants to see more frontier towns and western tropes!

Trey: Yes, which is an about face for Old Man Shelley from previous episodes.

Jim: Votes are still being counted.

Trey: I see! Well, we should mention the guest stars here.

Jim: William Windom, as Ben Victor, looked super familiar to me, then I recognized him as Dr. Seth Has left from Murder, She Wrote. Looking him up I saw he has had an incredible career starting in 1949 and going until 2006!

Trey: I can honestly say I remember very little from Murder, She Wrote. But hey, we also have Leslie Parrish who was Daisy Mae in the 1959 film version of Lil Abner, but also Lt. Carolyn Palamas from the Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and molls for Mr. Freeze and the Penguin in Batman.


Jim: If I have a complaint about this episode, it's that the mystery is busted a bit too quickly. I think the show could've teased up the possibility of real Venusians  before acknowledging (via Jim and Artie) that the whole setup was a scam. The way they played it really undercut the entire first act.

Trey: I disagree. I feel like having West and Gordon immediately assume weird ladies from space asking for gold when they just happen to have brought a lot of gold dust into town is too much of a coincidence is a good thing. I think it both supports their canniness and the anti-paranormal stance of the series. 

Jim: There's got to be a 50's b-movie named Weird Ladies from Space

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: Night of the Returning Dead


"The Night of the Returning Dead" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Richard Donner
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): West and Gordon confront what appears to be a ghostly rider in a Confederate uniform, impervious to bullets. Their suspicions turn to a stable hand, Jeremiah, whose eerie flute music seems to call the rider.

Jim: I like the start on the big cave. Has that setting been used before? It looks familiar. 

Trey: Yeah, it's Bronson Canyon. It's been in a lot of things.

This is another good Halloween entry, and it did air in October of 1966. It sees script writer John Kneubuhl (creator of Loveless) reunited with director Richard (Superman The Movie) Donner.

This is one of the most serious episodes we've watched so far. It's also one of the least spy-fi with nothing more at stake than the perpetrators of a past crime to justice. It's also unusual because the "weird" thing occurring is at the instigation of West and Gordon not the villains.

Jim: The setup of this episode is indeed the sort of CW Supernatural type of plot I think should have been used more on the show. Jim and Artemis facing strange happenings in a western town with a possible monster or occult evil as the source. 

Trey: Well, except with Jim and Artie being government agents, it's really more X-Files. And given that there isn't actually a supernatural or occult evil in the episode, it's really more Scooby-Doo--or reverse Scooby-Doo since the ghost rider is a ploy by West and Gordon to catch the crooks.

Jim: They could have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that pesky Jeremiah!


Trey: Sammy Davis, Jr. is given a much larger role than most guest stars, certainly most non-villain guest stars. I wonder if Kneubuhl was trying to create another recurring character?

Jim: They give Davis some nice dialogue to work with, which he takes ample advantage of to give a very compelling Jeremiah!

Fellow Rat Packer Peter Lawford also brings a low key, but powerful performance as Carl Jackson. Nice but of stunt casting by CBS.

Trey: Too bad they couldn't get Sinatra as the ring-leader of the villains.

Jim: This is my favorite episode of this season so far, mostly because of the acting, initial mystery, court scene and Jeremiah's psionic abilities. It also makes excellent use of the shows four act format with appropriate cliffhangers at act two and three.

Trey: I think I lean more toward "The Night of the Eccentrics" for pure entertainment value, but I agree this is a well put together episode.

One thing bugs me: Kneubuhl said he was trying to make some civil rights comment here. I can't really figure it out, possibly because the script is being circumspect as required for 60s TV, but possibly because it's just muddled. The murdered party being avenged was (by implication) a Confederate slaveholder. He had "servants" who died with him who may have Jeremiah's friends or families, but they barely get mentioned. 

Davis does sing bits of "No More Auction Block for Me,"

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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


"The Night of the Big Blast" 
Written by  Ken Kolb
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Synopsis: Mad scientist Dr. Faustina and her mute assistant, Miklos, create explosive human robots from corpses in a plot of revenge against the U.S. government. Artemus investigates on his own after the first walking time bomb appears to be Jim West!

Trey: This episode wound up being perfect for the week of Halloween viewing. We've got the cold open that is an obvious homage to Universal's Frankenstein and there are any number of costumes and masks thanks to the Mardi Gras setting.

Jim: Yeah, that intro really hits the right mad scientist vibe! The colored bulbs and spinning wheels are another good use of colored television technology. 

I will admit to being a little disappointed to see that the "creature" in this instance is just another Jim West doppelgänger. I would have liked to see the show go all in on a Frankenstein's Monster vs Jim and Artemus episode. 

Trey: Now that you mention that, I'm amazed the Gold Key Comic never had an issue like that!

Jim: This episode does give Martin more lines than normal, but  a lot of them aren't really pertinent to the episode. I think of the scenes between him and Lily.


Trey: Well, I think Lily-Artemus interactions are to give him a love interest for once, but it is true she isn't much tied into the main plot. She might have been better used if she were sort of his co-investigator. Her acting skills could have come in hand.

Ken Kolb said that when he had a plot heavy episode, he liked to give Artemus the main lines because Martin was a better actor than Conrad. This time around, he gave him pretty much the whole show.

Jim: I felt like the appearance of West came a bit late in the episode, and it was done as if it was going to be a shocking reveal. I wonder if 60's era television viewers were actually shocked by it?

Trey: Perhaps more shocked the star was absent from so much of the episode.

Still, I think this is a decent episode. It has the same sort of pulpiness we've come to expect from Kolb after "The Night of the Burning Diamond" and "The Night of the Sudden Plague."

Jim: Overall, outside of the comedic scenes with Lily and her mother, I found the actual plot a bit vague and boring. Well, I did like the setpiece fight scene with Artemus vs the Three Musketeers! It was a nice change of pace. 

Trey: Martin actually did some of his own fencing there, though all the longshots are of course, stuntmen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Raven


"The Night of the Raven"
 
Written by Edward Di Lorenzo
Directed by Irving Moore
SynopsisAgents West and Gordon are engaged to rescue an Indian Chief's abducted daughter before the Indians retaliate. The agents learn that the kidnapping is part of another diabolical scheme at conquest by Dr. Loveless, which also involves a shrinking formula.

Trey: Because of the title of this episode, I always have a hard time remembering which one it is until it starts.

Jim:  "The Night of the Tiny Town" would have been  a better title of the episode.

Trey: And silly enough to reflect its substance! Because this is in many ways a very silly episode. As silly as "The Golden Cobra," but more enjoyable. It possesses a similar Batman tv show "high camp" quality from Loveless showing up dressed in a cowboy outfit, to the faux tranquil Indian village set-up within the house, and of course, the whole shrinking thing.

Jim: It is a bit silly in places, but I did like the playful bit where Jim and Artie give Loveless advice on how to wear his cowboy hat. 

Trey: Our heroes really do have a bit of fun at Loveless's expense this episode. That part was good, but my favorite is the dinner where Loveless reveals his plan and  the shrunken West just flatly says "It won't work."

Jim: That whole scene is hilarious! "Night of the Bad Motivational Speaker."

Trey: Yeah, people sometimes complain about Conrad's flat delivery, but this scene it just really comes off as he is just weary of Loveless and his antics.

Speaking of "shrunken," we had a super-speed formula before, but that episode tried to convince you of it's plausibility. This one just assumes you will go with it. In fact, it contradicts its own previous, thin veneer of rationalization. Antionette is said to have sewn their tiny clothes, but when they are enlarged, their clothes enlarge with them!

Jim: Yeah, I wonder why they even brought attention to it?

Trey: The shrunken people sets and special effects are quite good for television of the era, though. Land of the Giants was still was 2 years away, so this episode may have been pioneering for TV.


Jim: I did like the addition of the Indian Princess Wanakee, too. It was refreshing to see her pushback with James.

Trey: She is certainly atypical of female guest stars, though not unprecedented.

It feels like they have to pad the length of this one a bit to keep costs down, maybe due to all the special effects. We've got two scenes of Loveless cackling evilly and pointing out "this serum is the key to saving West. He only needs one drop, but I won't give it to him!" Which is probably two scenes more than we need to establish the existence of an antidote.

Also, This is perhaps the least detailed of Loveless' plans (and that's saying something). How is one Indian tribe on the rampage going to bring about the end of civilization exactly? Does he plan to use his shrinking formula to aid this? If so, what's his plan to distribute it?

Jim: I think at this point in the show, the writers felt comfortable with handwaving the greater threat because they felt the tone and focus of the show had changed.

Trey: That's probably true. I can hear them in the voice of Robert Conrad saying: "Look, Loveless has another crazy plan. Don't worry about the details because it won't work."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Golden Cobra


"The Night of the Golden Cobra"
 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: The Indian Territory Commissioner recruits James West to investigate the strange occurrences at the reservation. West soon finds himself the unwilling guest an émigré maharajah who wants his sons to be tutored in the fine art of killing.

Trey: I feel like a line from Boris Karloff as Mr. Singh sums up my feelings about this episode: "I grow annoyed with this ridiculous ape."

Jim: That dancing ape is pretty ridiculous. 

Trey: I think this is the weakest episodes we've seen so far. It's amusing in places, makes good use of color, and has decent action scenes, but I struggle to see what the point of it was other than the high concept of "Real Indians in the Indian Territory!" [cue laugh track]. And then there are bizarre things like the dancing gorilla. And of course there's all the Orientalism.

Jim: Oh yeah, this episode is easily the worst we've seen on a number of levels. The use of color and action scenes, like you mentioned were nice, but when I remember that there were critics who found "Night of the Eccentrics" off-putting, I gotta wonder what they thought when the dancing gorilla appeared?

Trey: It seems very campy.

Jim: Do you think Batman's success was having an effect?


Trey: Well, Batman started in January 1966, and the two episodes we just watched aired in September of that year. I don't know their shooting schedule, but given that Batman was a success out of the gate (it's two nights each occupied slots in the Top 10 shows of the 65-66 season--and it wasn't even on that whole season) it certainly would have been the sort of thing people wanted to emulate.

Jim: Audrey Dalton as the Sultan’s daughter Veda is a real mismatch here. I would have much rather seen someone like Caroline Munro in this role.

Trey: Yeah, I guess we should be glad they didn't put her in brownface. Caroline Munro was a mere 17 at this point, but surely they at had some other darker-hued actress--maybe even, somehow, an actress of South Asian descent?

Jim: That's asking a lot in 1966 Hollywood, apparently. But hey, Boris Karloff is good here!

Trey: True.

Jim: The cane he uses is most likely to accommodate Karloff’s back problems. He apparently hurt his back wearing the harness in the Frankenstein movies and required multiple surgeries to alleviate pain over the years.

Trey: Kesler's book says everyone found him a joy to work with on set. 

This episode was written by Henry Sharp who wrote the excellent "The Night of the Puppeteer" and the pretty good Bond riff (that you haven't watched recently, probably) "The Night of the Glowing Corpse," but he didn't do so well here.

Jim: I don't know if it's just the episodes we are watching, but man does this show lean hard on the "female helps West out" thing!

Trey: Well, that's pretty much all of them, I think. If we only watched the episodes where that didn't happen, we might be through with our rewatch by now!

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