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!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Surreal McCoy

"The Night of the Surreal McCoy" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Alan Crosland, Jr.
Synopsis: When the famous Herzberg jewels are stolen from a locked room in a museum, West and Gordon become suspicious of a wealthy art collector who had a painting on loan to the museum in the same room. They soon discover the collector is in league with their old nemesis Dr. Loveless who has devised away to enter alternate dimensions in paintings.

Trey: Dr. Loveless returns and with him his creator and usual writer John Kneubeuhl. I feel like their last outing ("Green Death") was lackluster, but this is a good one. Crosland who directed "Gypsy Peril" and "Night of the Skull" most recently, again demonstrates a good sense of pacing and use of action.

This episode's more fantastical conceit made me not remember it fondly, but I think my feelings in this regard have shifted--and it's a bit more rationalized weirdness than I recalled.

Jim: It's interesting that the premise of this episode didn't appeal to you at one time. For me, it's quite the opposite, with this episode looming large in my memory. In fact, I believe this episode is largely responsible for my skewed idea of what makes the show work. Over the years, I've always thought of the show as being all about the "fantastic," but as our weekly reviews have shown, the truly weird episodes are the outliers.

Which is to say, it's a bit like expecting all Star Trek episodes to be like "The Trouble With Tribbles," or something.

I  like the "science" displayed here, as it reminds me of the sort of pseudoscience that would appear so often in the pulps and classic television shows. 

Trey: Yeah, as I've mentioned before, when WWW does the fantastic, I want it to be implausible science, not the "supernatural."

Jim: This episode provides further evidence for my theory--

Trey: Your crackpot theory!

Jim: My theory that Loveless is more than he seems, and possibly immortal: first with a remark that he is beyond the grasp of death, (which seems true), and then a little later when he suggests he's spent half a decade learning the show necessary to devises and carryout his plan.

Trey: If that were true, you would think he would have learned to choose criminal co-conspirators better. It seems like he's always getting betrayed, but this time, at least, it's not by a young woman, lured away by West's good looks. 

Jim: Well, true. It seems like that's a pretty essential element of a Loveless episode. Another essential element is the classic Artemus switch with Lightning McCoy, which  gives us our episode title.

Trey: It's funny that West is the only one who sees through his disguise. I get the feeling at times the show is ambivalent about how much a master of disguise Gordon really is. I mean, he often fools folks just playing a made up character, but it seems like he is frequently revealed when disguised as a specific person. Loveless doesn't even suspect him here.

Jim: A wide-brimmed hat and a fake mustache go a long way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

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

"The Night of the Deadly Bubble"
Written by Calvin Clements
Directed by Michael Edwards
Synopsis (from Wikipedia)West and Gordon, investigating a series of mysterious tidal waves off the coast of San Francisco, encounter a fanatical marine environmentalist bent on eco-terrorism..

Trey: This episode was written by Michael Edwards who also wrote "The Night of the Watery Death." He clearly had a niche in ocean-themed episodes.

Jim: Please tell me he went on to create Man from Atlantis.

Trey: I cannot tell you that. I can tell you--though I hate to be negative out of the gate--this episode just didn't do much for me. It's by the numbers, a decent Bond riff, but it lacks something. Some of it may be the structure. The heroes are (like last episode) perhaps in the clutches of the villain a bit too soon. There's also less humor in this episode, though.

Jim: I think the big problem with this episode, and a few like it, is that harkens back to some pulp stories where victims are dispatched by a mysterious or unusual means which lead back to a mad scientist. The dispatching is an essential part of what makes those stories interesting, but here it's missing.

Trey: Yes, there is, oft times, an "economy of the fantastic." If the villain has a plot involving some element of the fantastic, then the deaths may be elaborate or difficult, but they will not be fantastical, unless their means is the same as the villain's plot.

Jim: That makes sense, but I wonder why?

Trey: Budget likely has something to do with it. That and the desire of the suits at CBS to keep the fantastic elements to a minimum, maybe.

Let's move to things we did like! I thought the cold open was fairly atmospheric for a WWW episode.

Jim: I agree. The lighthouse lamp casting its ruby red glow on everything in the scene was a evocative. I don't recall seeing this special effect in old television shows before.

Trey: Alfred Ryder is suitably unhinged as Philo and his plan is appropriately grandiose. 

Jim: Definitely. Is Philo our first ecoterrorist on the show? I want to say yes.

Trey: I think so, too. Judy Lang is good as Dr. Pringle, both indignant yet distracted by West's charms in the way these things go.

Jim: Me early in the episode: "I bet Dr. Abigail Pringle will eventually reveal there is a beautiful woman hidden in that librarian façade. Don't let me down 60s TV Tropes!"

Trey: Do you think anyone was ever actually surprised when that happened?

Jim: Not since the days of radio, I bet.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Brain

"The Night of the Brain"
Written by Calvin Clements
Directed by Lawrence Peerce
Synopsis: Jim and Artie are taunted by newspapers predicting friends' death, all part of an elaborate scheme to replace world leaders with duplicates.

Trey: Another eccentric mastermind with a plan of conquest confronts our heroes! This villain's eye concept is that he is always one step ahead. It's a clever gimmick.

The design of this episode is very Bond or very low budget bond with the primary colored nehru jackets and the underground base.

Jim: I can definitely see the James Bond influence here. However, with the chess board floor and cave tunnels, what the episode really reminds me of is the Basil Rathbone Sherlock  Holmes movie The House of Fear.

Speaking of chessboards, I liked the James West chess piece at the beginning of the episode, though it seemed a little worse for wear!

Trey: Yeah, for all the Brain's meticulousness (shooting a henchman for losing a button), his James West doll looked like he let some toddler's play with it.

Jim: The stream powered wheelchair strikes me as the sort element that gets this show associated with steampunk so often. (Though, after watching so many episodes, I don't think that association is as strong as people think.)

Trey: I agree. There are occasional steampunk details, but that's not really its thing.  This episode has a lot going for it, but for some reason it's a bit less than the sum of its parts for me. Maybe it's that so much of the episode is just Braine monologuing to West in a cave set. 

Jim: That underground base is basically a damp cave. It seems out of place, aesthetically, when compared to the gold plated cane and hand made West doll. On the list of things it had going for it, I liked the fake out with Artemus and the double masks.

Trey: That's what tvtropes calls being "out-gambitted!"

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Vicious Valentine

"The Night of the Vicious Valentine"
Written by Leigh Chapman
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: Some of the nation's wealthiest men are being murdered in a methodical fashion. West and Gordon realize that all the men have been recently married, which leads them to society dame and matchmaker, Emma Valentine, who has a plot to take over the country.

Trey: I like this episode a lot. It's got most of the ingredients I've previously outlined:  high conception locations, colorful masterminds (and colorful henchmen) with dodgy plans, Artie in disguise, technology advanced for the sixties, barely lampshaded for the 1870s, and attractive ladies. 

For some reason, the episodes with this sort of format vary in quality, but they always tend to be ones that allow Gordon pretty equally partnership with West, and this is no exception.

Jim: I'm a sucker for villains that utilize some theme in their crimes, so the premise of the Alphabet Murders really appeals to me.

The initial exchange between West and Valentine is interesting because you can almost see Robert Conrad "remember" he's supposed to be emoting as Moorehead steals the scene.  Kidding aside, I'm amazed with how well she uses her body and facial movements during the scene. It makes me wish she had reappeared in an episode alongside Michael Dunn. 

Trey: Morehead did get a Emmy nomination for this episode. Yes, it's a shame we didn't get that Loveless/Valentine team-up. The ending of this episode suggests they at least considered bringing her back.

Jim: I was also impressed with the colorful outfits the costume designer put on Moorehead (and her charges) in during the whole episode. It's interesting though, because such lavish dresses don't really seem to jive with Valentine's philosophies. She strikes me as favoring equestrian wear while waving a riding crop. 

Trey: Ha! Well, it's funny, watching from 2021, her goals seem more sympathetic than they likely did in the '60s, even if we must still deplore her methods and (like Loveless) her desire for a dictatorship, however benevolent or enlightened. It is likely no coincidence this episode was written by woman.

Besides Moorehead, we should note the presence of Sherry Jackson, who we may recognize from the Star Trek episode "Shore Leave."

Jim: I thought I recognized her! 

Trey: One element interesting element, and one that shows the evolution of my thinking about WWW, is the irrelevant inclusion of Valentine's dating computer! True, it's there to show her genius, but it doesn't really have much of a role to play besides that one scene. 

Jim: Yeah, that dating computer is an odd element. I feel like it either should have been a more integral part of the plot or ditched altogether. 

Trey: And prior to this rewatch I would have agreed with you! I'm not sure, now. It's inclusion makes the world of Wild Wild West not our world, but in a rather unobtrusive way. I like that sort of thing; more now than when I first saw this episode.  

So, anyway, what's your pitch for a Valentine-Loveless team-up?

Jim: "The Night of the Loveless Valentine" West and Gordon are invited to a very special wedding!

Trey: Anyone at CBS reading this?


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