Thursday, January 20, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Janus

"The Night of the Janus"
Written by  Leonard Katzman and Paul Playdon
Directed by Irving J Moore
Synopsis: The murder of a secret service agent points to a traitor in the organization. Jim West and Jeremy Pike must uncover the traitor's identity at the service academy. A sheet of music left by the dead agent is their only clue.

Trey: Jeremy Pike is back for one last go! And there's traitor in the service is an idea you and I had talked about, so it's interesting to see they did that. 

Jim: The real star of this episode was the secret service training school. I almost wish this idea had been introduced earlier in the series as sort of a western version of MI6. Combined with the plan to rob the mint, this made for one of the more enjoyable episodes this season.

Trey: It's solid, but I'm not quite as sold on the setting. The training academy seems a bit advanced to me, based on what we've seen of the secret service in previous episodes. I guess it makes sense if you think about they also have to have a place to make and distribute those gadgets--which we get to see here, too! Setting it all in Denver is a bit of a surprise, but I guess if most of the threats are in the West, you need to be there, and maybe San Francisco is too far West.

Jim: Oh, you're fretting too much over realism in a show about a guy in a bright blue cowboy outfit! Didn't you like the musical mystery? The song lyrics and music box clue is one of those mystery gimmicks I always enjoy. 

Trey: It was a nice too, for sure.

Jim: It was fun to see Jack Carter as Alan Thorpe. Carter doesn't bring much to the role other than his own personality, but he rings the appropriate nostalgia bells. 

Trey: I had him pegged as the traitor fairly early on (I recognized his voice when West was trapped in the training room), but I think the episode does a pretty good with not being too obvious and keeping you guessing about the resolution. I like that we get to see West use some smarts and skills here!

Jim: I definitely agree! The booby trapped room was the perfect way to show us how West stacks up in the field of secret service work. 

Trey: As tough as they obstacle course is, I wonder how many agents die in training?

Jim: They are wearing matching red shirts. That can be bad in 60s TV!

Friday, January 14, 2022

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

"The Night of the Sabatini Death"
Written by  Shirl Hendryx
Directed by Charles R. Rondeau
Synopsis: A dying crime boss makes a last request of West: make sure a young, blind woman receives the gift he is bequeathing her. The request isn't as simple as it seems, and West and secret service chemist, Ned Brown, are soon caught up in a mystery regarding a stolen fortune hidden in a Missouri ghost town.

Trey: This is a pretty good episode, better I think than it might look on paper. It's another ghost town with hidden treasure like we've seen in at least two (maybe three!) other episodes before, with a touch of Agatha Christie mystery atmosphere to it, perhaps--and there isn't anything "weird" about it! The script is pretty good though, and the guest appearances by Alan Hale, jr. and Jim Backus do more than you would think to help it along.

Jim: There does seem to be something about this script that gives it a bit more sparkle than the previous "hidden treasure in a ghost town" scripts. It almost feels like it was written for another series, but adapted to Wild Wild West. I didn't recognize the episode's writer Shirl Hendryx from any previous television series. Upon looking Hendryx up, I was a bit surprised to see that while he had worked on many other television series, most of his work was limited to a single episode! The longest stint was seven episodes on the series Combat.

Trey: Hale's Ned Brown is the first of the Gordon replacements that seems pretty differentiated from Gordon. It's a shame he was only in one episode, but at least that is sort of written into the story.

Jim: I totally agree about the inclusion of Ned Brown. Alan Hale plays him pretty much like he plays a lot of his characters, but it works well. He's not a precision actor like William Schallert, but Hale has a lot of natural charm, and he makes a striking physical contrast to Conrad.

What did you think of the Gilligan's Island in-joke at the end of the episode? I liked it. It has some additional irony in that Gilligan's Island was canceled to make room for Gunsmoke.

Trey: It's 60s TV appropriate. It didn't bother me, at all. It got me thinking in a Wold-Newton frame of mind: Maybe Jonas Grumby is one of Ned Brown's descendants?

Jim: Next you'll be telling me that Gilligan's Island is the same as the island in Lost!

Trey: Now that you mention it...

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Winged Terror (part 2)

"The Night of the Winged Terror (Part 2)"
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: West and Harper race to stop Raven's plot to kill a Mexican official--but West has actually been brainwashed to carry out the deed! Harper must foil this plan and use his talent for disguise to infiltrate Raven's headquarters and save his partner.

Trey: This second part makes for an entertaining hour of television, but I feel like it's a little bit less accomplished than part 1. Mainly, this is in the fact that there's that "escape, capture, repeat" loop that tends to bother you more than me, but I'm not completely immune to getting tired of it. What makes it a bit egregious is it relies on our heroes acting dumb. West is so certain he hasn't been brainwashed with little reason. Ok, you could say that is part of the brainwashing, and Harper isn't fooled--but you've still got West beating around the push with putting his hands on Tycho (it wouldn't have matter, invisible screen and all, but West doesn't know that), and then Harper and West snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by setting off an explosion when the cabal has barely left the room!

Jim: Yes, this episode spins its wheels a bit. It's like the writer didn't know how to utilize the expanded format, so the fell back on their old standbys. Part of that might be the need to accommodate all the unnecessary second bananas that work under Tycho. Additionally, Tycho's plan never gets expanded in any meaningful way. In a James Bond movie, the villain's machinations are usually steps that build up to a master plan.  Here, they are all the same, and done to demonstrate Raven's power--for some reason. The final capture/escape combo with Tycho's glass shield was just stupid.

Overall, this was a disappointing follow up to the first installment, with Schallert's spots providing the most enjoyment to me.

Trey: There was dumb to go around to other characters, too. Tycho is pretty gullible for a guy supposedly as smart as he is. Then there's Laurette being so certain West is on her side after he had just been brainwashed by them.

Jim: Did you notice when Laurette is giving James the hard sell on Tycho, you can see the classic rock formation from the Star Trek episode "Arena" prominently in the background?

Trey: Yep, that's Vasquez Rocks.

Jim: I'm glad they selected Michele Carey to be the femme fatale in these episodes. She has a distinctive lilt to her voice that makes her delivery a pleasure to listen to. It was probably that voice that won her the role of Effie in another Robert Conrad series, A Man Called Sloane.

Trey: It feels a bit like Tycho was being positioned to be a replacement Loveless. His plots more resemble some other villains of the week, but he has the eccentric character and unusual physicality of a Loveless. 

Jim: Unfortunately, Christopher Cary doesn't have any of the personal charm or elegant elocution that Michael Dunn possesses. Tycho is more like one of those forgettable one off Batman villains that might show up between Joker and Catwoman episodes.

Trey: Ouch! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

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

"The Night of the Winged Terror (Part 1)"
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: When prominent citizens engage in acts of senseless destruction, West and Frank Harper are put on the case. They discover that all of these men have in common a recent eye examination and a gift of spectacles from a Dr. Ocularis, and the mysterious intrusion of a raven.

Trey: I feel like this episode should have been called "The Night of the Raven," but alas, that name had already been used for an episode that barely features an raven!

Jim: You're right! I really like William Shallert as agent Frank Harper. He provides an interesting physical contrast to James West. That's something that was lacking with Pike.

Trey: Harper is also given a bit of characterization to differentiate him from Gordon--a consideration Pike never really got. Like Pike, though, Harper doesn't seem to be made to have a complimentary skill set to West in quite the same way that Gordon does, though he does demonstrate disguise skills.

Jim: The opening gives me a Manchurian Candidate vibe. The raven on the hand car makes quite the evocative method to deliver the triggering device.

Trey: Yeah, this episode has a great, pulpy high concept.

Jim: As the first Dr. Horatio Occularis, Bernard Fox makes an excellent bait and switch villain. He's got just the right amount of theatrical projection to walk the line between campy and compelling--a bit like Victor Buorno or Michael Dunn. It's a shame he was dispatched so quickly in the episode.

Trey: We've got some other TV stalwarts though. This is the second WWW appearance for Michele Carey, for instance. We last saw she way back in "Night of the Feathered Fury."

Jim: Christopher Cary as Tycho is one of the most striking villains we've seen in a while. His appearance is an appropriate blend of 50's alien scientist and eccentric inventor.

Trey:  I think this was a really good episode, though I'm holding complete judgment off until the second part. It harkens back to S2 in content and structure.

Jim: I agree with you, this is one of the better episodes we've seen this season. I feel like it uses the expanded story time to build the mystery and stakes. I'll be interested to see if the second part is as good, too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Pelican

"The Night of the Pelican" 
Written by  Richard H. Landau
Directed by Alex Nicol
Synopsis: The enigmatic, dying words of an informant has Pike searching Chinatown, and West undercover as military prisoner on Alcatraz, to stop a plot involving a stolen explosive.

Trey: This is a more Bondian episode than we've gotten in a while. Alcatraz makes a good setting for this sort of thing, even if the scenes don't really look much like Alcatraz at times. Of course, I don't know what Alcatraz looked like in the late 19th century, I guess!

Jim: Overall, I enjoyed this episode. It uses the "agent in a prison" trope fairly well, as we see the battle of wills between West and Corporal Simon, played with gusto by Vincent Beck.  And yeah, you get that Bondian feel, like in the way West explains Chang's plot, that brought a smile to my face. 

Trey: I feel like Pike really comes into his own in this episode. Well, maybe not quite "his own" in that it's still very much an Artemus template he's following, but he gets to do a lot of stuff rather than just being a sidekick.

Jim: Yes, I found Aidman's Pike rolling along with this episode a lot more palatable. He's not Gordon, but he feels like he's found his stride. 

Trey: I don't really understand the villains' plot here fully. It seems to be "pretended to be after a large, more terrorist goal," but really all they want to do is commit a robbery.  It's Die Hard, I guess! But it seems a lot of trouble to go to with a lot of risk just to commit a robbery. 

Jim: I agree. The entire scheme feels tacked on, as it's only revealed in the final minutes of the show. I'm not even sure why the writers thought that was necessary. West's plan of blockading the port makes more sense. Maybe someone on the staff brought up the issue of Chang's cohorts being driven out by a siege, and the writers felt like they needed to adjust the script to account for that? As a robbery plan, it's a bit complicated to say the least.

Trey: Speaking of Chang, we get the unfortunate but not unexpected yellowface here--but we also get an Asian actor doing a bit of whiteface in an amusing turn! Khigh Dhiegh here is of course probably best known for his role in The Manchurian Candidate.

Jim: It's always great to see Khigh Deigh in any capacity. His performances are understated, but commanding. You know who it's also great to see?

Trey: Francine York as Dr. Gibson?

Jim: Got it in one!

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.


Related Posts with Thumbnails