Friday, July 30, 2021

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

"The Night of the Underground Terror" 
Written by  Max Hodge
Directed by James B. Clark
Synopsis: On the trail of Colonel Mosely, a Confederate war criminal, West encounters Major Hazard, the leader of a gang of crippled veterans who are seeking revenge on Mosely for the tortured he inflicted on them while they were detained in a prisoner of war camp.

Jim: This was by far, my favorite episode of the season so yet.

Trey: Yeah, It's one of the most memorable episodes to me, even though it doesn't have the "weirdness" I often like to see in WWW.

Jim: The masquerade ball makes for a great opening setting. Seeing West in a domino mask makes me wish the show had worked in a crossover with Zorro at one point. Maybe an older, retired Zorro would be fit in the WWW continuity.

Trey: It would have to a really old Zorro, but the crossover has appeal.

Jim: The flaming skull that turns into a gas bomb is a great gimmick. It makes a perfect prop for Artie's Hamlet costume, too.

Trey: There are a lot of details here that are so well done. And then we've got Nehemiah Pershoff.

Jim: He gets his third appearance on the show, this time as Major Hazard. Pershoff is another one of those exceptional actors who uses vocal dynamics and facial expressions to convey a wide range of emotions. 

Trey: He makes a good, laconic villain. One of a couple of villains in this story.

Jim: You gotta mention the Wagner story. Having watched this episode, the inspiration seems obvious. In addition to the cadre of maimed veterans, there is also a similarity between Mosley and Masale. Combine that with the quest for hidden treasure, and I think it's an open and shut case.

Trey: I thought so too! It's a Sword & Sorcery short-story by Karl Edward Wagner called "Lynortis Reprise." It's definitely worth checking out, as is all of Wagner's stuff.

Jim: Anyway, West's piercing of Hazard's ruse is handled well. This is a rare glimpse of a smarter agent West than what we normally see in the show. 

Trey: Despite his shrewd skills of observation, he's in dire straits until Gordon shows up.

Jim: Yeah, his diviner is a humorous addition to this episode. That the gold was actually hidden in a water container is a nice bit of symmetry! And then we learn that West actually fights better when he's shirtless. Damn, he makes quick work of Hazard's gang. 

Trey: Given how tight his clothes are, I feel like that's actually plausible! So, there's only one thing that bothers me about this episode. The daughter is apparently unaware of the true plan (and identities) of Hazard and his cronies. Was she too young during the war to know her dad was on the Confederate and not the Union side? Does her father and the gang stay in character constantly around her, including wearing the uncomfortable stuff to make them appear disabled? That's dedication to a bit!

Jim: That's some Jared Leto level of commitment to a role!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Headless Woman

"The Night of the Running Death" 
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis: West and Gordon investigate a plot to decimate America's cotton crops using boll weevils.

Trey: Two in a row written by Lasko! I have to say: he's not my favorite.

Jim: He's trying! With the threat of a boll weevil infestation, I believe this is our second biological warfare episode in the series, the first being "TNOT Deadly Spring".

Trey: There's a couple more, I would say: the threatened disease carrying rats of "Man-Eating House," and the first season Theo Marcuse appearance in "Sudden Plague."

Jim: Oh yeah! Marcuse gets very little screentime as Abdul Hassan here. Especially compared to The Six Million Dollar Man's Richard Anderson as Harbor Commissioner James Jeffers.

Trey: Hassan is more intriguing.

Jim: Yeah. His hacienda makes quite the spectacular villain's lair. The set decorators added some eye-catching details. Among the attributes that make this show stand out amongst other western fare, I feel like lavish sets are one of them. It goes hand and hand with a notably eccentric villain.

Trey: Definitely. Kesler doesn't think this episode is particularly good, and I'm inclined to agree. The basic villain plot is good, and the mystery regarding the true villain are good stuff to work with, but there's too much skulking around on docks and the fights aren't as exciting as what we're used to. Hassan with his elaborate lair and moll is clearly meant to seem the primary villain, but his meeting with West is all too brief and perhaps too early in the episode. I think a restructuring with parallel investigations by West and Gordon for more  of the run time would have worked better.

Jim: Plotwise, this episode does feel like it's all over the place with the various villains. But seeing Artemis wander around the docks of San Francisco, I again think this show should have been based in this town. The setting seems to lend itself to some of the general air of intrigue and skullduggery that benefits the show. Not only that, but such a location would have provided a means to build up a supporting cast that could have helped in many ways.

Trey: That is an opinion you've expressed before. Season 1 won you over to San Francisco, then you liked getting away from it, now you want it back again.

Jim: See, perfectly consistently...Anyway, back to skulking: West skulking around in his pancho really shows us why Artie is the Disguise Guy on the show!

Trey: True! Oh, In our guest star run down we forget to mention Dawn Wells.

Jim: Wells won't be the last Gilligan's Island alumni to make an appearance on this show. It's a shame Russell Johnson didn't give us a turn as a scientist at some point, though.

Trey: Does this episode have the weirdest ending of any we've watched?

Jim: Yep. The bug sex watching bit at the end is a rather odd coda. I have no idea how the writers got that by the censors.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

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

"The Night of the Running Death" 
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis: Gordon and West join up with a wagon train of itinerant entertainers while on the trail of an elusive assassin. Can they undercover his identity before he kills his target?

Jim: Before I get into the overall episode, I gotta talk about the final scene(s)...

Trey: Starting at the ending! That may be a first for this.

Jim: I'm a switching it up a little! Anyway, here were two places were I thought the episode was going to end and go into a freeze frame, but it didn't: When West bid farewell to the princess, and the again when Artie was wincing over the taste of cherry jubilee with molasses. But then, we get the poker scene, I began to wonder if I had missed some important plot detail.

Trey: Yeah, the "Three Act" denouement was weird.

Jim: Also, I think we are looking at a major rewrite for some reason. The way so many characters are introduced when West shows up to save the caravan from Indians makes me think this episode was going to lean on the wagon train setting more than it actually did. When the story moves to Denver, I feel like it loses its momentum a bit. Then the fight in the bar is completely unnecessary. It may have been tacked on, just like the three endings.

Trey: I can definitely buy your rewrite hypothesis, perhaps as a mashup of two ideas, neither of which added up to a full episode on their own? I am suspicious that everyone on the wagon train besides the ones that died and our two agents were Enzo's accomplices at some point in the script, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we are left with a lot of plot holes: How did Topaz escape being buried alive (or not getting buried)? What happens to Coco? Why does Enzo kill the people he kills? Do they even tell the authorities that two people were murdered on the trail and one disappeared?

Jim: On the positive side, It was nice to see Maggie Threat again in the show.  I also enjoyed seeing Ken Swofford in the bar fight scene. Swofford was a staple of 60s and 70s television, showing up in almost everything. He finally made it big with a recurring rule on Fame

Trey: I do think it's an effective episode in many ways. Enzo seems a real threat for West and Gordon in a way that super-villains with armies of thugs often don't on the show.

Jim: The reveal of Enzo's identity made for a good twist, though I find West's explanation of how he spotted the ruse to be a little unconvincing. 

Trey: He's a man with who pays attention to details. Matronly women's hands just happens to be one of them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Iron Fist

"The Night of the Iron Fist" 
Written by Ken Pettus
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis: West and Gordon are assigned to bring the Bosnian Count Draja to Washington for extradition, but the Count has a hidden gold stash and a hefty price on his head, so the trip is complicated by treasure-seeking criminals and reward-seeking vigilantes.

Trey: While this episode isn't one of the greats, I don't agree with Kesler's assessment in her book that it is flat or boring. It's a perfectly serviceable episode with nice action and enough wrinkles to keep the fairly simple plot engaging for the runtime. It's (like many this season) a good mixture of spy-fi and Western that leans heavier to the Western.

Jim: I also enjoyed it more than Kesler seemed to. I liked this WWW take on the classic lawman and prisoner plot, but what I enjoyed the most was the format of the show. It was like watching two separate shows as West and Gordon are involved in their own predicaments!

Trey: And both survive by their wits in this one. That's a trait we often see in Gordon, but it's good to see it in West.

Jim: I definitely enjoyed seeing West use a few clever tricks to get out of tight spots. And it was good to see his horse again. 

Trey: A Western hero has got to have a well-trained horse to rely on.

Jim: Other highlights of the episode for me: The way West switched out Draja, and Gordon took his place; the way Gordon dispatched his captors out the train car door--and how West used a stack of cookware to distract his attackers. 

Trey: All good bits! I do feel like there are a few story aspects that could have done with a bit more explanation. The basic plot, lawman and prisoner forced to work together, typically goes one of two ways in classic TV. One way is the prisoner is proven to be innocent or at least sympathetic in some way, and it ends with the lawman being willing to help the prisoner out in some fashion. The other is for the villain's inadequate justifications for their misdeeds to contrast with and emphasize the hero's goodness. The problems they face essentially just mean that the villain makes events more complicated for the hero. This story is more like the second version, but Count Draja isn't really developed in any way to accentuate the difference between him and West. We don't really know what he did, and what little explanation we are given of his actions is vague.

Jim: I totally agree with you on the lack of character/story development with Count Draja. That's where such episodes shine, as the villain is revealed to be more heroic than initially thought, or at least more sympathetic, as you say. Draja just seems like he's along for the ride most of the time. It's a very disappointing use of Mark "Sarek" Lenard. 

Trey: Likewise, Countess Zorana's motivations are murky. When she didn't denounce Gordon as a Draja imposter, I assumed at first that she might be a scammer as well, but that doesn't appear to be the case. We are left to infer that she thought that turning Artie in wouldn't help her, and she might have need of him, but there are a lot of assumptions on her part there that I think required a few lines of dialogue to explain why she went that route.

Jim: I just found Zoranna to be a bit of a bore. I'm not sure the writers really knew who she was throughout the entire episode.

Trey: Lisa Pera gives a decent performance, but it's true she doesn't have a lot to work with. Interestingly, this is her second WWW appearance: she was the medium Amelia Maitland in "The Night of the Tottering Tontine."

Jim: Huh. I didn't recognize her as a blonde!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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

"The Night of the Legion of Death" 
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barrett
Directed by Alex Nicol
Synopsis: West and Gordon work to free a territory from the grip of a legion under the command of a dictatorial governor with presidential ambitions.

Trey: This episode could be called "The Night of the Very Shallow Citizenry." They'll accept a fascist police state from a guy who's "politician handsome," but they stand up and walk out on an average guy with a bit of a unsightly scar.

Jim: Yeah well, it's television, thankfully. If they had kept following him the episode might hit a little too close to home given the past four years.

Trey: But here we are giving away the ending right out of the gate!

Jim: There were a lot of nice scenes I noted here: West falling through several floors of the building was a great stunt. The lack of background music as he explored the house helped to build suspense. And that court room scene was a nice change of pace.

Trey: And a humorous one! In fact, this episode presents a more humorous West and Gordon than we typically see. 

In addition to the guest star Anthony Zerbe (from Omega Man and so many other films and TV shows), there are not one but two lovely ladies to flirt with West! Karen Jensen as Catherine Kitteridge and Toian Matchinga (in her 2nd of 3 WWW appearances) as Henrietta Fauer.

I feel like there was one thing this episode was missing though.

Jim: What was that?

Trey: A fight between West and Captain Dansby (long-time character actor Donnelly Rhodes) was called for, and we never got it!

Jim: Man! you are right about the missing fight scene. Where was that? You could have had a few seconds devoted to that, and less of Zerbe's yammering. Overall, this was an episode with some nice bits here and there, but the resolution to the chief problem seemed a bit pat - or maybe I was expecting something a bit more bombastic.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cut-Throats

"The Night of the Cut-Throats" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis (from IMDB): A newly released ex-con returns to get revenge on the town of New Athens than sent him away, and brings a band of outlaws with him. West and Gordon are the only thing keeping them from burning the town to the ground.

Trey: Kesler in The Wild Wild West: The Series calls this a "mediocre episode" with a villain that's "small potatoes for our versatile agents." What say you, Jim?

Jim: Well...I feel the cold open with the stagecoach battle is classic Western action. It’s a perfect intro for what is admittedly one of the series most conventional western plots. At least of those we've watched. It’s interesting - as much as I am a fan of the more fantastic episodes, I’m finding I enjoy this season’s more standard Western settings and plots more than most of the stories from Season Two.

Trey: You're like Goldilocks and The Wild Wild West is the porridge.

Jim: As far as the villain Trayne played by Bradford Dillman...

Trey: Forever Lewis Dixon in Escape from the Planet of the Apes to me.

Jim: Yeah, well, Dillman is really a great classic television villain. He gives Mike Trayne an air of sophistication that is often lacking in the show’s villains; possibly on par with Michael Dunn’s Loveless.

Trey: High praise, indeed! Don't forgot Victor Buono.

Jim: Of course, him too.

Trey: I liked the fact that this episode is actually a mystery, though that isn't apparent at the outset.

Jim: I feel like this episode is one of the show's rare actual mystery episodes. It’s a change of pace I greatly appreciate.

Trey: We should also mention that Jackie Coogan is in this episode.

Jim: I like how the initial scene with Coogan (the sheriff) is shot with the cake in the foreground! Another good sequence is the battle to save the town, but some of the excitement is undercut by the fact that Trayne’s searching for the money, and the backstabbing of his various partners. 

Trey: I feel like that actually works to the scenes benefit. Had we seen the siege play out all on its own, I think the repetitive nature of if would have been much more apparent.

Jim: You may be right. The fight between Trayne and West was also impressive. Trayne gets punched through a second floor railing and falls on a table in the saloon below. My hat is off to the stunt man who pulled off that stunt. I don’t see how that fall could have been buffered in any meaningful way. That had to hurt!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Falcon

"The Night of the Falcon" 
Written by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis (from IMDB): A powerful artillery shell destroys an entire town, and Denver is next if the government doesn't pay a ransom to the mysterious Falcon. West and Gordon race to neutralize the threat, but find the Falcon intends to auction off his weapon to highest bidding criminal organization.

Trey: This is the most James Bond episode we've had in some time: from the cultural stereotype representatives of international crime, to the Falcon's costumed guards. 

Jim:  Definitely. I had to smile at the different representatives of foreign organizations watching the destruction of Tonka Flats. It was a nice bit of camp. And speaking of Tonka Flats, it's destruction makes for one of the show's best cold openings I've ever seen. 

Is this the first time we've ever seen what the adjoining train car looks like? I don't recall ever seeing the chemistry lab Artemus uses in this episode. It's a great addition to the show that probably should've come up sooner.

Trey: I had those same thoughts. No, I don't think we've seen it before, unless it was in season one.

Jim: Ross Martin gets a lot of time to shine in this episode, from his moments in the train car lab, to the stage coach and finally at the Falcon's bidding table.

Trey: liked all the stuff Artemus got to do, but I feel like we missed some of West's acerbic one-liners in conversation with the villain. 

Jim: But did get see him zipline across a room. And we got a guest appearance by Robert Duvall. What can one really say about Robert Duvall in a green falcon helmet? Maybe this awkward choice in clothing is why Michael Corleone didn't pick him as a wartime consigliere.

Trey: That was presumably the Falcon's costume choice, not Duvall's. Unless you think he brought his own clothes to the shoot?

Jim: I'm not saying he didn't

Trey: It would have been nice to know more about the Falcon. He winds up being pretty much a cipher. He doesn't really even have much personality. 

Jim: True. I enjoyed this episode, but I think the beginning set us up for a more exciting episode than what we got. It ended up being a bit by the numbers once it really got going.

Trey:  I think you're right. While I wouldn't call it a bad episode by any stretch, it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Jim: That Falcon shaped cannon is impressive, though! If Sideshow made a replica, you'd buy it.

Trey: Only in an auction with stereotypically-dressed, foreign stereotypes.


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