Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Amnesiac


The Night of the Amnesiac

Written by: Robert Bloomfield, Leigh Chapman

Directed by: Lawrence Dobkin

Synopsis: West is wounded while guarding a shipment of smallpox vaccine and both he and the vaccine disappear, having been hijacked by outlaws who leave Jim for dead. The Secret Service receives an ultimatum: pardon and free Furman Crotty (Edward Asner), a nihilistic crime lord currently serving time in Leavenworth, or the vaccine will not be returned. Since waiting six days for a new supply means that many more people will die of the disease, the thieves' demands are met. Gordon sets out to follow Crotty, find West and stop an epidemic in the making. And finding Jim won't be easy, since the outlaws' attack left him with amnesia and he's wandering around trying to remember who he is...

Trey: This episode has a fair amount of action and moves along reasonably well. The opening business with the guy drinking out of the gun barrel is cinematic feeling, like some quirkiness you might see in a Spaghetti Western.

Jim: That was a neat scene. There are a number of flourishes in this episode that were enjoyable, but overall, I think the sum was less than its parts.

Trey: How so?

Jim: The key to a successful amnesiac themed episode is watching the hero discover their skills and abilities throughout the episode. Usually they are accompanied by a helpful stranger as they face off against a group of opponents. It's such a common way to run with this idea that it could be describing anything ranging from The Bourne Identity to the Six Million Dollar Man episode Stranger in Broken Fork.

This episode starts off in this direction, with West being taken in by Cloris Colton, played by the lovely Sharon Farrell. Farrell may be best known from later seasons of Hawaii Five-O in the role of Detective Lori Wilson.

However, that's about all the play we get out of the usual amnesiac formula. True, with the fight scenes, we get to see West use some of his skills (the bar fight was excellent) but that's about it. I think the problem is, this episode demonstrates that West's skills, as remembered by the writers of this episode, are a bit limited - or the writers just didn't want to go in that direction.

Trey: I can see what you’re saying. To me, the episode just feels very conventional (for lack of a better word) . Like the amnesia plot is so played, this could have been in virtually any action show of the era.


There's also some evidence, I think, of script changes. The subplot with the usurper brother seems under-fed and so pointless. Asner's character reveals himself to be a full blown super-villain with his discussion about unleashing a plague, but the "nothing but me and machines" comes out of nowhere. Perhaps he was supposed to be some mad tinkerer or something, but little in the episode as presented supports that.


Jim: You're right - that "machines and me" line comes out of nowhere. This episode had three writers, Robert Bloomfield is credited with the story, while Leigh Chapman and Michael Garrison wrote the script. Your suggestion that the script was tweaked during production makes me wonder what the original story looked like.


Trey: Ed Asner makes a good villain, though! I think this is the first villainous live action role I've seen him in, though he's done villainous voices on a number of DC animated things.


Jim: I agree with you on Asner in this episode. I wondered how he might be in the role of a villain. On one hand, his demeanor and physical presence make him seem like a natural, but unlike many guys with the same qualities, he seemed to avoid getting type casted in that role.

Trey: It sounds like we’ve covered this episode pretty well. Any final thoughts?

Jim: The banner saying Bible Class closed due to Epidemic spoke to me on several levels!

Trey: It was all too real!

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