Friday, May 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Firebrand


"The Night of the Firebrand" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: With an outlaw and his partners planning to incite Revolution in Canada, West and Gordon must stop their plans and receive a stolen supply of guns and get those weapons to a beleaguered frontier fort.

Jim: We are getting more traditional western set pieces this episode with Fort Reilly, the classic saloon and the wagon chase. That's a nice change from some earlier episodes that all seem to take place in the exact same manor house set.

Trey: This is probably the most "Western" episode we've watched. Only the hint of international intrigue sets it apart from a typical Western of the era. So far, Season 3 has been very action oriented. This episode has two chases, something we haven't really seen before. I'm almost tempted to say it seems to have higher budget, but I suspect the budget is just being spent on different things. 

Jim: Like fanciful sets and fight choreography.

Trey: Right!

Jim: Pernell Roberts makes a good villain for this episode as he comes across as both cunning and physically intimidating.

Trey: Yeah, he's a surprisingly good heavy. 

Jim: Even before the more humorous bit of dialogue between West and Gordon on the wagon, I had a sense this episode was trying to give us a more "buddy cop" feel. I actually think that's a big missing element in a number of episodes. Then again, Robert Conrad might not have pulled off such patter as well as Robert Culp.

Trey: True. We should say everything wasn't great here, though.


Jim: I raised an eyebrow at Vixen's earnest desire to help the disadvantaged getting cut off in mid-sentence. That strikes me as some CBS Old Guy pandering.

Trey: There is definitely sexism--and probably a bit of dismissal of youth movements--in that ending.

Jim: Also, pressure points? That's a rather convenient way to dispatch Vixen O'Shaughnessy. However, this tactic was all the rage in this era of pop culture, so I guess it makes sense.

Trey: West is Vulcan nerve pinching so much in this episode, but we've never seen him do that before!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

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



"The Night of the Bubbling Death" 
Written by David Moessinger
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: When the U.S. Constitution is stolen by a revolutionary, James West and Artemus Gordon are sent to a lawless region on the border with Mexico to recover it.

Trey: This is a good episode to start a season with. So spy-fi with sneaking around, gadgets and disguises. The plot is admittedly thin for an hour, but these incidents fill the time I think.

Jim: Normally, I'm not much of a fan of the "Underground Fortress," as used on this show, but the extra details put into this one make it a winner. I notice it seems to be one of the more favored episodes among fans as well, no doubt because of how West and Gordon navigate the labyrinth ending with the zipline scene over the titular Bubbling death pool. Also, The efforts to break into the hidden chamber give me a nice Mission Impossible vibe.

Trey: It isn't as weird as my favorite WWW episodes, but I think the good far outweighs the bad. It may be one of Artie's best spotlights.

Jim: It's also great Great to see Harold Gould as Freemantle here. Gould is a favorite character actor of mine from this time period, with the Hawaii Five-O "V for Vashon trilogy" being a highlight of his CBS career.

Is it me, or does this episode employ a more modern sounding soundtrack? Especially as West and Gordon are sneaking through the maze.

Trey: Oh, it's definitely got a groovier soundtrack. Sort of jazzy.


Jim: The double cross at the end was a nice surprise just when you think the episode is all wrapped up. We usually get those much sooner on the show.

Trey: I feel like the twist ending is telegraphed by Carlotta's willingness to abandon Freemantle sp quickly. It isn't West's charms! She's got a plan B.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bogus Bandits


"The Night of the Bogus Bandit" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: A string of bank robberies leads West and Gordon to Dr. Loveless who's running a training program for bandits with a goal beyond simple larceny.

Trey: And Season 2 goes out with a whimper not a bang.

Jim: Yeah, I'm not happy with the way the writers wrote Loveless this episode. He's less the Wizard Who Shook The Earth, and more just a dollar store megalomaniac. Michael Dunn, as always, is a joy to behold on the screen, but I feel like the writers sort of forgot how Dr. Loveless has been presented in past episodes. This specific role would have suited another character/actor better. I could see Frank "The Riddler" Gorshin killing it in this particular role.

Ross Martin is given a lot of solo screen time this episode, which makes up for the lackluster characterization of Dr. Loveless a little.


Trey: Agreed. I did think the "burnt $100 banknotes" was a nice bit of investigation. It beats West and Gordon being mostly reactive which happens a lot.

Jim: Yes, where this episode excels is in the way it manages to showcase the talents of both Conrad and Martin, more so than an average episode. Martin is allowed to go undercover and  sleuth it up, while Conrad is given a nice range of action scenes.

Another thing I liked: Loveless' solution to the problem of reckless gun owners looks pretty effective to me.

Trey: The "trick gun" gets a lot of play this episode. It really kind of lampshades some of the silliness of that sort of thing.

Jim: Speaking of silliness: Is it odd that Loveless is playing the role of stereotypical movie director in the 1870s?

Trey: ...And cut! That's a wrap on Season 2! Say goodnight, Jim.

Jim: Goodnight, Jim.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night Of the Wolf

"The Night of the Wolf"

Written by Earl Barrett and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis: Escorting an old and ailing Eastern European Prince to his coronation, West and Gordon encounter wolves controlled by the sinister Talamantes, who is determined to take the kingdom for himself.

Trey: I'm interested in your take on this one, because it might be more in the direction of things you would like WWW to do. I feel like it has an interesting premise but the execution is lacking in some ways, leaving it only average.

Jim: You are right, this is more in the area I think the show should pull from, though I must agree with you, the way it's done is a bit lacking. 

I think the chief problems are 1) lack of a truly evocative threat out the gate. We spend a lot of time dwelling on intrigue and lackluster visuals. The wolf attack is interesting, but the show spends some time priming us for something more exciting. 2) The pacing seems a bit wobbly. 

Trey: Joseph Campanella is great as always as the mad scientist villain with a creepy angle. Some of his early appearances here are are pretty clumsy cuts, though. They clearly were trying to build atmosphere, though.

Jim: Lorri Scott does an excellent job looking mesmerized. Almost too good.

Trey: Yeah, Lorri Scott seems sort of wooden before she ever gets hypnotized!

Jim: Conrad gets a rare change of outfit in this episode that really seems to fit him. It also gives the episode a little bit more of authenticity that his usual blue cowboy attire seems to diminish. 

Trey: The wolf "special" effects really fail the show. This was perhaps a plot too ambitious for this budget. That perhaps all sounds more negative that I really feel about it, but ultimately it's a B-side.

Jim: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. This is definitely B-side material, but it did a have a few things I liked: The wolves as weapons is a neat gimmick. The runaway mining car makes for a good escape mechanism. I was cool to see Artemis riding a horse at full gallop for once. 

Trey: Well, the next one promises to be better with the return of our favorite villain: Dr. Loveless!

Jim: Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cadre



"The Night of the Cadre" 
Written by Digby Wolfe
Directed by Leon Benson
Synopsis: West impersonates a killer in order to infiltrate a conspiracy to kill the President with mind controlled assassins.

Jim: I believe I remarked in an earlier discussion how I thought the show should feature more Civil War holdouts as villains. This isn't quite that, but at least it's about a grudge going back to the war.

Trey: Of course, all these guys seem to be Union officers, but yes. I think one of the best details about Trask's character is that he was only a sergeant, but has promoted himself to general. It tells you a lot about the man.

Jim: I found the choice of uniforms a bit puzzling.

Trey: I don't know if they're modelled on a specific army, but clearly they are European in style. I think they're just meant to emphasize what a martinet Trask is.

Jim: Overall, this is a solid plot with an interesting gimmick in the subsonic whistles and mind-controlling crystals. Trask's history of cruelty provides a bit of rare background into a WWW villain. Artie gets to wear a couple of disguises, including one with a fake nose.



Trey: Agreed. Interestingly, this is the second time the fake element franconium has shown up in a WWW episode. The first time was in the 1st season episode "The Night of the Glowing Corpse." It also shows up in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals."

Jim: So, can we spare a moment to discuss the poor decision to once again cast Richard Jaeckel as a second in command to a lackluster villain? We last saw him in "The Night of the Grand Emir," where he played second fiddle to Don Francks. This time he's stuck with glowering most of the time while Don Gordon chews up the scenery. Gordon, who was in Bullitt, has his fans, I'm sure, but Jaeckel is one of my favorite recurring television villains from this period. I hope he finally gets his due before the last episode of the show.

Trey: You sort of wonder why his character is even following this idiot. I mean, the only thing Trask has going for him is a mad scientist willing to but crystals in people's heads. And his plan collapses under its improbability in short order!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Deadly Blossom


"The Night of the Deadly Blossom" 
Written by Daniel Mainwaring
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis: Jim and Artemus must foil a deadly plot to kill a Hawaiian King on the high seas.

Trey: This episode feels like a mashup of Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. The latter may be accidental, though, as it aired about a month before that film was released in the U.S.

Jim:  I think you're right to credit the Bond films as inspiration on this episode. Especially given that the uniforms Barkley's henchmen wear are similar to the uniforms Dr. No's scientists wear. I'll offer up another suggestion for the inspiration for this episode: Conrad loved working on his prior show, Hawaiian Eye and suggested the storyline as an attempt to travel there again!

Trey: I assume you mean "travel there again" metaphorically. I'm pretty sure both shows were filmed in California.

Jim: If you're going to let facts get in the way of a good theory... But anyway. when Jim tries to leave Barkley's compound, his hand gets cut in the ambush and there's a gush of bright, red blood. It's one of the rare instances of actual blood being shown on the show. Later, a henchman is killed by the swinging pendulum. You can start to see how the show might have gotten tagged as "too violent" for 1960's television. 

Trey: You're right. This episode is definitely a bit more violent than most. There's a good mix of Artie and Jim action in this episode, too.



Jim: I found Artie's adventure on the docks more interesting than Jim's struggles in Barkley's residence. He had some amazing bluff when tagging along with the rest of the dock workers. They are all showing some mark on their wrist to gain entrance, but somehow Artemus manages to get in anyway. Later when he gets the idea to hide in one of the crates. I did enjoy how Jim freed himself from the pendulum trap, though.

Trey: Yeah, Jim's plot seemed a lot of marking time to the finale. Artemus seemed to be doing something.

Jim: The reference to the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands was a new one to me. Apparently, that was the name James Cook gave the islands in 1778.

Trey: No one can say The Wild Wild West isn't educational!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Colonel's Ghost


"The Night of the Surreal McCoy" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis (from IMDB): President Grant wants to go to Gibsonville to dedicate the statue of an officer under his command during the Civil War. James West travels ahead to ensure it's safe for the President. West finds Gibsonville is now a ghost town and is experiencing an "epidemic" of broken necks. The few residents left are seeking buried gold--and the number of bodies is rising.

Trey: This episode is competent, and a decent TV murder mystery (though I suspected the location of the gold from the minute I knew the townsfolk were looking for treasure), but it is middling WWW, due to the lack of a lot of the ingredients that make the show unique.

Jim: I'll agree this episode deviates from the established formula, but I really liked it. The "Whole Town Looking for  Treasure" is just the sort of classic TV trope I like to see on this show. All we need now is a "James West on Jury Duty," episode, and I'll be satisfied.

Trey: Funny you should mention that, because next week...

Jim: Really?

Trey: No. But hey, Jennifer Caine is played by Kathie Browne. She was also in the Star Trek episode "Wink of an Eye" and was the wife of Kolchak, himself, Darren McGavin.


Jim: Is it me, or is Browne even more wooden than Conrad? Every line is delivered like she's balancing a spoon on her nose. There's another Star Trek alumni in the form of Lee Begere, "Colonel Gibson." He played Abraham Lincoln.

Trey: Oh, in "The Savage Curtain!" As far as Browne's performance, I will say in her defense, she isn't given much to do.

Jim: Well, true. I feel like this whole episode is reminiscent of Faulkner's "Centaur in Brass."

Trey: That story is sometimes viewed as a critique of capitalism. I certainly think you could read that into this story, as well, though I think maybe it's more about the American war machine--particularly coming as it did in the Vietnam era. Here's a fortune in gold in the form of a fake war hero made by sucking the prosperity from a town. The remaining townsfolk are searching to get this back, and never realize it's right there in front of them.

Jim: I could buy that. This is one of the rare episodes where the final freeze panel isn't from a scene inside the train car. I think that's testament to the amount of time it took for this plot to play out.

Trey: True. It ends on an unusual for the show downbeat but ending right after the climax. 

Jim: I guess they didn't know how to wring any levity from this ending!

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