Thursday, December 31, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Man-Eating House

"The Night of the Man-Eating House" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Alan Crossland Jr.
Synopsis: While stopped for the night during the escort of an infamous traitor back to prison, Artie has a strange dream where he, Jim, and a sheriff chase their prisoner to an old abandoned mansion which is haunted by the spirit of a dead woman.

Jim: As a kid, the combination of a creepy story with a supernatural angle made this one of my favorite episodes. As an adult, I still  like it, though for the historical references and slow build up.

Trey: My initial exposure was not so positive! First though, a little setup for our audience:  This is the "Paranormal Episode" (as TV Tropes calls it) common to to classic era tv. You may quibble that with a handful of episodes, WWW has flirted with the paranormal, and I would agree, but this follows the typical form of those sorts of episodes: no other explanation is offered for events is available except the alternate cliche of "Was it All a Dream?"

The dream angle was added by Kneubuhl to appease the network who wanted the episode softened a bit so as not to scare the kids.

When I first saw this episode, I had the sort of antipathy I typically have toward those sorts of episodes. Watching again now, decades later, I'm not quite so down on it. It still isn't one of my favorites, but I find it enjoyable despite the flaws I see in the premise.

Jim: The episode does a good job creating a series of creepy scenes to build tension--in a network approved way. The crying house is a notably good gimmick. And the build up of strange events in the house is well done. I'm getting a real Haunting of Hill House vibe initially.

I also liked the "Telescoping Time" explanation for some of the strange phenomena they are experiencing. It actually feels like the type of 19th Century "scientific' reason someone might give for such strange occurrences.

Trey: I liked that, too. A sort of  "Carnacki: The Ghost-Finder" parapsychology feel to it, appropriate to the era."

Jim: While this episode gives Conrad a lot of good lines to work with, I noticed that the writer's gave the important diary exposition to Ross Martin, which he performs well.

Trey: Yes, and Artie is the real Mulder here to West's more skeptical Scully. Another thing in the dialogue here: West is really antagonist toward Liston Day. This is a guy that's chill with would-be mass murders all the time, but side with the Mexicans over the Texans and he wants you dead! I kept thinking there must be something personal to it, but nothing is ever revealed.

Jim: Could be he's angry because he knew there wasn't likely to be any beauty to fall for him in a prison transport.

Speaking of Day, Hurd Hatfield was good in that role.

Trey: Yeah. He's role here is interesting because he played Dorian Gray in the 1945 film adaptation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse

"The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse"
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: After the assassination of a Latin American political figure and the apparent death of the assassin, West and Gordon discover the mortician, Fabian Lavendor, runs a side business: faking the deaths of wanted criminals.

Trey: This episode marks the end of an era for WWW, though it's obscured a bit by the episodes not being aired in production order. The creator and sometime producer, Michael Garrison, died while it was still being shot. Bruce Lansbury would take over as producer from here on.

Lansbury is blamed by some fans and writers for the show taking a less fantastic turn in later episodes. This was at the insistence of the network, however, and not necessarily Lansbury's choice. In fact, he produced several pretty fantastical episodes this season, though they did get fewer as things went on.

All that aside, I think this is a great episode. A standard sort of plot for an action adventure show, true, but it does have a bit of twist at the end. And then there's Carrol O'Connor's Lavendor who steals the show.

Jim: I'm afraid I have to disagree. While I enjoyed O'Connor as Lavendor, I found this episode a bit of a dull in stretches.

Trey: Well, I agree the climax is a bit deflated, maybe, or perhaps it could have been paced better. West cat-and-mouses in the funeral home, frees Gordon, but then they're capture and  only bring about the villain's demise indirectly. It seems like maybe they could have cut some of the funeral parlor shenanigans.

Jim: That was definitely my feeling. but that might just be me, watching it in 2020. Maybe when viewed in the 1960's, the funeral parlor scenes and with the plastic surgery had more novelty too them.

Another thing that made the episode less interesting to me was the lack of cool, anachronistic spy gadgets. I don't expect to see those every episode, but it does seem like they only appear when it's convenient. 

Trey: You've been jaded by too many action adventure shows, I'm sure! I agree about the gadgets, though I didn't miss them.

Jim: I will say that when the episode first started, the soundtrack was very jaunty, reminding me of Gilligan's Island at times! I think that sort of sets the tone. There are definite moments when characters are playing up their roles for humorous effect.

Trey: No doubt. O'Connor's Lavendor has a sort of humor about him, if sometimes ghoulish. Speaking of Lavendor brings me to my other criticism, though: We are given scenes foreshadowing Lavendor having an almost superhuman grip--yet neither of our heroes every have to face it. It's a non-fired Chekhov's gun!

Jim: Or Chekhov's glove, in this case.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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

"The Night of the Green Terror" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: On their way to famine-stricken Native American village, West and Gordon are puzzled by the complete lack of animal life in the forest, but even more surprised when they encounter a knight in armor! Doctor Loveless returns.

Trey: Loveless is back and his creator, John Kneubuhl, is back writing him.

Jim: Nice to see the charismatic Dr. Loveless and lovely Antionette as a duo again!

Trey: Alas, I believe this to be the last of Antionette's appearances with Loveless.

Jim: Well, that's a shame! Anyway, I like how this episode starts with a hint of menace by telling us all the animals are apparently missing. You can't go wrong with that set up. How Kneubuhl thought of transitioning to that to a knight in armor is a bit of a mystery to me.

Trey: Kneubuhl, and WWW in general--see "Night of the Raven"--is getting increasingly nonsensical with their Loveless scripts. This one is practically on a Gold Key comics level! Why the Renfaire stuff? No reason is ever given! I guess Loveless just likes a bit of theatrical flair to his plots?

Jim: Its entertaining nonsense, though. I like how West and Gordon just ignore Loveless initially. They're soooo over Loveless' plans and tirades. They don't even question why he's cosplaying Robin Hood.  

But you are right: the whole "Lord of the Forest" bit is such a stretch here. If Loveless' goal was to use superstition to influence the Native American tribes, wouldn't it have been better to use a being from Native American mythology? What did the Kneubuhl feel this contributed to the episode exactly? If I had to guess, I'm going to say that the medieval costumes were included to add colorful, visual appeal to the show.

Trey: I suspect you are right. It's for the visual.

Speaking of the Native Americans, Kneubuhl was biracial, half Samoan. In addition to being a screenwriter, he was Polynesian historian. It's an assumption on my part, but I would think the plight of native peoples would be on his mind. While there are certainly some positive aspects in the portrayal here, there are also a lot of the same old stereotypes. It would be interesting to have known Kneubuhl's thinking on these issues.

Jim: I agree. Speaking of social concerns, this episode's "super insecticide" weapon strikes me as being influenced by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a book which was very popular in the early 60's and was significant in helping pave the way for important regulations regarding insecticides.

Trey: I think that's a strong possibility. The connection is muted though by the green powder having inconsistent properties. Loveless presents it as a poison, and that's how it has acted prior to the episode, but when he starts filling balloons with it, it becomes a firebomb.

Jim: It's just the genius of Loveless at work.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

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

"The Night of the Watery Death"
Written by Michael Edwards
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): Jim and Artie investigate a dragon-like creature that is blowing up ships.

Trey: This episode is really quintessential Wild Wild West to me. it's not one of my favorites, maybe, but it's solid and has everything I expect: Weird locations, West knocked out a lot, masterminds with dodgy plans, Artie in disguise and making inventions, technology advanced for the sixties, barely lampshaded for the 1870s, and an attractive guest star. This is the formula, I think.

It's funny that we're this far into Season 2 before getting one like this.  

Jim: I know I said I was hankering for more adventures set in the wild west environs, but man was I glad to see this episode was set in San Francisco! Everything about this episode starts on the right note: the foggy street, the Mermaid Tavern and the beautiful female guest star all set the mood perfectly!

Trey: Dominique is played by Jocelyn Lane, who was fresh off an appearance in the September issue of Playboy this same year. 

Jim: The really give Ms. Lane the most amazing outfits in this episode. 

Trey: Indeed! The costuming and set design overall in this one are good.

Jim: One of the things this episode has that a lot of other lack is a real reason for the villain to keep West alive (the compact.) So many times, the villains just seem to want him to join their evil plan.

Trey: True. This plan (like many a WWW villain plan) seems ill-conceived, but some of the most nonsensical bits (like the games they play with West at the beginning), and why Dominique is on the ship before it sinks, do have a rationale of sorts.

Jim: I like Artie's quick change disguise,  but then he undermines it by tipping off Dominique. That seems weird. I almost wonder if Edwards was asked to include the scene on a rewrite, as it has no purpose other than to give Martin a chance to ham it up a bit.

Trey: I wonder if they just felt like villains were fooled too often by Artie's disguises?

Jim: Are you suggesting they are anything less than flawless?

Trey: I wouldn't dream of it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bottomless Pit

"The Night of the Bottomless Pit" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Ropert Sparr
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): Jim and Artie infiltrate Devil's Island to rescue a fellow agent from a vicious commandant.

Trey: This is my least favorite episode this season. It is not objectively as bad as "Golden Cobra" and perhaps better put together than "Night of the Raven" or "Night of the Big Blast," but it's missing something. An escape from Devil's Island (or a stand-in) is a standard action adventure plot of the Golden Age of Action/Adventure Broadcast TV (which I'm positing as roughly 1960-1980). The villain and his goon are Bondian in their traits, true, but nothing here says "wild" (and certainly not "wild wild") or "west." It's a disappointing offering from Ken Kolb who at least seem to embrace the fantastic conceit of the show in episodes like "Burning Diamond" and "Sudden Plague."

Jim: Yeah, and when considering this type of plot was every 6th episode of Mission Impossible, it felt especially weak. I wonder if this trend was influenced by the popularity of The Great Escape? On the villains, I'm now thinking if you were bald, you had a good chance at getting cast as an evil doer on this show!

Trey: Well, we should give it it's due before moving on: It does hit all the classic Devil's Island/brutal prison camp marks. It has some nice action, and Artemus gets to do some stuff--though really, that's all been true of the past few episodes.

Jim:  I did like how West made the switch with the prisoner in the cold open.  And I agree on the scenes with Artemus! The scene where he passes his "audition" to be a corrupt prison guard is a classic. The writers have really gravitated to him for line delivery, comedic support and the occasional action scene.

Trey: That good aside, there's more bad to consider, like: They don't make an effort to make the staff and prisoners of the island seem French, do they? I mean, they give them French names, but no one even attempts a French accent.

Jim: They sure don't. Even with Ross Martin, who has shown a skill for accents in the past! Just a few "Ze prisoners..." or "Merci!" here and there would have been all we needed. 

One also has to wonder how much business was Miss Grimes Boutique getting on Devil's Island?

Trey: She's waiting for the gentrification that has yet to appear!

Did you recognize the famous tropical lagoon here? It's the one from Gilligan's Island!

Jim: Yep. I believe it made an appearance in season one as well in "The Night of the Murderous Spring" too.

I thought the "Hubert Crabtree" joke at end was one of the better gag endings the show has had.

Trey: Yeah, Camille has a type, and it's guys that look like 60s TV villains. Theo Marcuse played three of them in WWW alone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Poisonous Posey

"The Night of the Poisonous Posey" 
Written by Leigh Chapman
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis (from IMDB): While on vacation, West and Gordon wander into the town of Justice, Nevada. After an unexpectedly exciting greeting by the citizens, they start to notice an unusual number of infamous international criminals around town. 

Trey: Well, Jim, here's West and Gordon riding into a small Western town, as you wanted! I have to say, this setup doesn't make much sense. We are told the two are on vacation. Wandering around Nevada on horseback is there vacation? It seems like a less exciting version of their work! 

Of course, it turns out not to be less exciting, and to actually be their work.

Jim: While I did enjoy this episode, I believe my desire to see more small Western town stories is really just me wanting to see more recurring characters in the same town. The downside to such a change in the show is it would make presenting a new mad scientist or would be dictator much harder to explain. Probably adding Bond-like side characters like Miss Moneypenny or Q to the show would have a good way to get what I'm after.

Trey: They had a butler, Tennyson, in early episodes but he just didn't stick around.

Anyway, this episode is campy in all the right ways: the comedic, clueless townsfolk--and the over-the-top criminal types. It's also sort of spy-fi in that campy way. Removed from its Western setting, it could be a Matt Helm outing--or maybe even Bond of the Roger Moore era. 

But that brings me to a criticism: The "villain convention" is such an stock plot idea.

Jim: The villain convention is a standard plot idea, but it's one of my favorites. It gives a writer a way to introduce a varied array of villains with different traits and quirks without having to explain why they are there.

Trey: True, and from that motley crew, let's call out Brutus played by Percy Rodrigues, a TV staple of the 60s and 70s. He's Commodore Stone in the Star Trek episode "Court Martial," among other roles.

Jim: Percy Rodrigues is the actor among the villain's here. The other villains aren't bad, it's just Rodrigues brings a slow burn to his character that plays better than the cackling hayseeds the other villains all seem to be (with the exception of the pyro guy, who is fun in a campy way).

Trey: Artie gets to shine in this episode. His "divide and conquer" offensive against the criminals is nice to see.

Jim:  It seems like the writers are cluing in how to use him better this season. 

Trey: West, for his part, gets some nice fights and unnerves and undermines the villainous leader with sexism.

Jim: Bond will be

Trey: I feel like this episode is structured really well. I mean, this is probably how a "standard WWW" episode ought to work. A little humor, some action, colorful villains, and West and Gordon showing both smarts and toughness. It isn't necessarily one of my favorites, though, and I think that's because it lacks the novel high concept that I want to see from WWW

Jim: I 100% agree on the structure of this episode! It didn't have some of the backtracking or redundant scenes that we can sometimes get in the show.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Hollywood Cowboy Mysteries

We recently received a nice email from Darryle Purcell in response to our weekly Wild Wild West episode reviews. Darryle is a man of many talents ranging from newspaper editor to Filmation animator. He currently writes and illustrates the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives and the Man of the Mist series for PageTurner publications. 

Fans of Cowboy action and adventure may want to check out Darryle's books, all available on Amazon:

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Flying Pie Plate

"The Night of the Flying Pie Plate" 
Written by Dan Ullman
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: While protecting a shipment of gold awaiting transport in an Arizona town, West sees a flaming light in the sky and hears a loud crash. When they investigate, West and the townspeople discover a strange saucer shape structure, and three green-skinned women who claim to be from the planet Venus. They need a certain substance--gold--to repair their craft and are willing to trade precious gems for it.

Trey: I remember when I first saw this episode. I don't know how much of the series I had seen at that point, but I didn't like this one for a couple of reasons. One, I found the "flying pie plate" idea ahistorical and a bit of nudge-wink camp of the sort common to Brisco County, Jr., that ran against my conception of WWW. Why not a phantom airship or some Jules Vernes inspired tech? Second, I found it too fanciful. I could concede some Steampunk tech and Victorian Bond gear, but fake aliens was just too much!

Now that I have seen more WWW, I am perhaps better able to put it into context, and it doesn't seem as out of place as it did then. I still think a more Victorian space conveyance would have been more fun, but it sits well enough with WWW overall.

Jim: The space ship gave me pause, too. It feels anachronistic. I don't know if it makes the best "oddity" to scam a small western town with, either. A witch or ghost probably would've been more fitting. This feels like an editorial mandate of some sort. I will say the Venusians costumes make good use of the color television.

Trey: You desperately want a supernatural-themed, Wild Wild West, we've established. Last episode was just a tease!

Jim: Blame it on too much Kolchak.

Trey: In it's defense--because I like the episode now--I think Season 2 feels more polished by this point that S1. I think it started feeling that way around "Big Blast," where the stories were more complicated and the sets better realized, but "The Night of the Big Blast" had some conceptual deficits the two stories after it didn't have. Also, getting them out of San Francisco and into more Western towns, as seems to be happening, makes it feel more genre Western.

Jim: A small western town feels like a nice change to me. While the episodes in San Francisco or New Orleans might fit the spirit of the show better, as you have argued, Old Man Shelley wants to see more frontier towns and western tropes!

Trey: Yes, which is an about face for Old Man Shelley from previous episodes.

Jim: Votes are still being counted.

Trey: I see! Well, we should mention the guest stars here.

Jim: William Windom, as Ben Victor, looked super familiar to me, then I recognized him as Dr. Seth Has left from Murder, She Wrote. Looking him up I saw he has had an incredible career starting in 1949 and going until 2006!

Trey: I can honestly say I remember very little from Murder, She Wrote. But hey, we also have Leslie Parrish who was Daisy Mae in the 1959 film version of Lil Abner, but also Lt. Carolyn Palamas from the Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and molls for Mr. Freeze and the Penguin in Batman.

Jim: If I have a complaint about this episode, it's that the mystery is busted a bit too quickly. I think the show could've teased up the possibility of real Venusians  before acknowledging (via Jim and Artie) that the whole setup was a scam. The way they played it really undercut the entire first act.

Trey: I disagree. I feel like having West and Gordon immediately assume weird ladies from space asking for gold when they just happen to have brought a lot of gold dust into town is too much of a coincidence is a good thing. I think it both supports their canniness and the anti-paranormal stance of the series. 

Jim: There's got to be a 50's b-movie named Weird Ladies from Space

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: Night of the Returning Dead

"The Night of the Returning Dead" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Richard Donner
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): West and Gordon confront what appears to be a ghostly rider in a Confederate uniform, impervious to bullets. Their suspicions turn to a stable hand, Jeremiah, whose eerie flute music seems to call the rider.

Jim: I like the start on the big cave. Has that setting been used before? It looks familiar. 

Trey: Yeah, it's Bronson Canyon. It's been in a lot of things.

This is another good Halloween entry, and it did air in October of 1966. It sees script writer John Kneubuhl (creator of Loveless) reunited with director Richard (Superman The Movie) Donner.

This is one of the most serious episodes we've watched so far. It's also one of the least spy-fi with nothing more at stake than the perpetrators of a past crime to justice. It's also unusual because the "weird" thing occurring is at the instigation of West and Gordon not the villains.

Jim: The setup of this episode is indeed the sort of CW Supernatural type of plot I think should have been used more on the show. Jim and Artemis facing strange happenings in a western town with a possible monster or occult evil as the source. 

Trey: Well, except with Jim and Artie being government agents, it's really more X-Files. And given that there isn't actually a supernatural or occult evil in the episode, it's really more Scooby-Doo--or reverse Scooby-Doo since the ghost rider is a ploy by West and Gordon to catch the crooks.

Jim: They could have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that pesky Jeremiah!

Trey: Sammy Davis, Jr. is given a much larger role than most guest stars, certainly most non-villain guest stars. I wonder if Kneubuhl was trying to create another recurring character?

Jim: They give Davis some nice dialogue to work with, which he takes ample advantage of to give a very compelling Jeremiah!

Fellow Rat Packer Peter Lawford also brings a low key, but powerful performance as Carl Jackson. Nice but of stunt casting by CBS.

Trey: Too bad they couldn't get Sinatra as the ring-leader of the villains.

Jim: This is my favorite episode of this season so far, mostly because of the acting, initial mystery, court scene and Jeremiah's psionic abilities. It also makes excellent use of the shows four act format with appropriate cliffhangers at act two and three.

Trey: I think I lean more toward "The Night of the Eccentrics" for pure entertainment value, but I agree this is a well put together episode.

One thing bugs me: Kneubuhl said he was trying to make some civil rights comment here. I can't really figure it out, possibly because the script is being circumspect as required for 60s TV, but possibly because it's just muddled. The murdered party being avenged was (by implication) a Confederate slaveholder. He had "servants" who died with him who may have Jeremiah's friends or families, but they barely get mentioned. 

Davis does sing bits of "No More Auction Block for Me,"

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Big Blast

"The Night of the Big Blast" 
Written by  Ken Kolb
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Synopsis: Mad scientist Dr. Faustina and her mute assistant, Miklos, create explosive human robots from corpses in a plot of revenge against the U.S. government. Artemus investigates on his own after the first walking time bomb appears to be Jim West!

Trey: This episode wound up being perfect for the week of Halloween viewing. We've got the cold open that is an obvious homage to Universal's Frankenstein and there are any number of costumes and masks thanks to the Mardi Gras setting.

Jim: Yeah, that intro really hits the right mad scientist vibe! The colored bulbs and spinning wheels are another good use of colored television technology. 

I will admit to being a little disappointed to see that the "creature" in this instance is just another Jim West doppelgänger. I would have liked to see the show go all in on a Frankenstein's Monster vs Jim and Artemus episode. 

Trey: Now that you mention that, I'm amazed the Gold Key Comic never had an issue like that!

Jim: This episode does give Martin more lines than normal, but  a lot of them aren't really pertinent to the episode. I think of the scenes between him and Lily.

Trey: Well, I think Lily-Artemus interactions are to give him a love interest for once, but it is true she isn't much tied into the main plot. She might have been better used if she were sort of his co-investigator. Her acting skills could have come in hand.

Ken Kolb said that when he had a plot heavy episode, he liked to give Artemus the main lines because Martin was a better actor than Conrad. This time around, he gave him pretty much the whole show.

Jim: I felt like the appearance of West came a bit late in the episode, and it was done as if it was going to be a shocking reveal. I wonder if 60's era television viewers were actually shocked by it?

Trey: Perhaps more shocked the star was absent from so much of the episode.

Still, I think this is a decent episode. It has the same sort of pulpiness we've come to expect from Kolb after "The Night of the Burning Diamond" and "The Night of the Sudden Plague."

Jim: Overall, outside of the comedic scenes with Lily and her mother, I found the actual plot a bit vague and boring. Well, I did like the setpiece fight scene with Artemus vs the Three Musketeers! It was a nice change of pace. 

Trey: Martin actually did some of his own fencing there, though all the longshots are of course, stuntmen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Raven

"The Night of the Raven"
Written by Edward Di Lorenzo
Directed by Irving Moore
SynopsisAgents West and Gordon are engaged to rescue an Indian Chief's abducted daughter before the Indians retaliate. The agents learn that the kidnapping is part of another diabolical scheme at conquest by Dr. Loveless, which also involves a shrinking formula.

Trey: Because of the title of this episode, I always have a hard time remembering which one it is until it starts.

Jim:  "The Night of the Tiny Town" would have been  a better title of the episode.

Trey: And silly enough to reflect its substance! Because this is in many ways a very silly episode. As silly as "The Golden Cobra," but more enjoyable. It possesses a similar Batman tv show "high camp" quality from Loveless showing up dressed in a cowboy outfit, to the faux tranquil Indian village set-up within the house, and of course, the whole shrinking thing.

Jim: It is a bit silly in places, but I did like the playful bit where Jim and Artie give Loveless advice on how to wear his cowboy hat. 

Trey: Our heroes really do have a bit of fun at Loveless's expense this episode. That part was good, but my favorite is the dinner where Loveless reveals his plan and  the shrunken West just flatly says "It won't work."

Jim: That whole scene is hilarious! "Night of the Bad Motivational Speaker."

Trey: Yeah, people sometimes complain about Conrad's flat delivery, but this scene it just really comes off as he is just weary of Loveless and his antics.

Speaking of "shrunken," we had a super-speed formula before, but that episode tried to convince you of it's plausibility. This one just assumes you will go with it. In fact, it contradicts its own previous, thin veneer of rationalization. Antionette is said to have sewn their tiny clothes, but when they are enlarged, their clothes enlarge with them!

Jim: Yeah, I wonder why they even brought attention to it?

Trey: The shrunken people sets and special effects are quite good for television of the era, though. Land of the Giants was still was 2 years away, so this episode may have been pioneering for TV.

Jim: I did like the addition of the Indian Princess Wanakee, too. It was refreshing to see her pushback with James.

Trey: She is certainly atypical of female guest stars, though not unprecedented.

It feels like they have to pad the length of this one a bit to keep costs down, maybe due to all the special effects. We've got two scenes of Loveless cackling evilly and pointing out "this serum is the key to saving West. He only needs one drop, but I won't give it to him!" Which is probably two scenes more than we need to establish the existence of an antidote.

Also, This is perhaps the least detailed of Loveless' plans (and that's saying something). How is one Indian tribe on the rampage going to bring about the end of civilization exactly? Does he plan to use his shrinking formula to aid this? If so, what's his plan to distribute it?

Jim: I think at this point in the show, the writers felt comfortable with handwaving the greater threat because they felt the tone and focus of the show had changed.

Trey: That's probably true. I can hear them in the voice of Robert Conrad saying: "Look, Loveless has another crazy plan. Don't worry about the details because it won't work."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Golden Cobra

"The Night of the Golden Cobra"
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: The Indian Territory Commissioner recruits James West to investigate the strange occurrences at the reservation. West soon finds himself the unwilling guest an émigré maharajah who wants his sons to be tutored in the fine art of killing.

Trey: I feel like a line from Boris Karloff as Mr. Singh sums up my feelings about this episode: "I grow annoyed with this ridiculous ape."

Jim: That dancing ape is pretty ridiculous. 

Trey: I think this is the weakest episodes we've seen so far. It's amusing in places, makes good use of color, and has decent action scenes, but I struggle to see what the point of it was other than the high concept of "Real Indians in the Indian Territory!" [cue laugh track]. And then there are bizarre things like the dancing gorilla. And of course there's all the Orientalism.

Jim: Oh yeah, this episode is easily the worst we've seen on a number of levels. The use of color and action scenes, like you mentioned were nice, but when I remember that there were critics who found "Night of the Eccentrics" off-putting, I gotta wonder what they thought when the dancing gorilla appeared?

Trey: It seems very campy.

Jim: Do you think Batman's success was having an effect?

Trey: Well, Batman started in January 1966, and the two episodes we just watched aired in September of that year. I don't know their shooting schedule, but given that Batman was a success out of the gate (it's two nights each occupied slots in the Top 10 shows of the 65-66 season--and it wasn't even on that whole season) it certainly would have been the sort of thing people wanted to emulate.

Jim: Audrey Dalton as the Sultan’s daughter Veda is a real mismatch here. I would have much rather seen someone like Caroline Munro in this role.

Trey: Yeah, I guess we should be glad they didn't put her in brownface. Caroline Munro was a mere 17 at this point, but surely they at had some other darker-hued actress--maybe even, somehow, an actress of South Asian descent?

Jim: That's asking a lot in 1966 Hollywood, apparently. But hey, Boris Karloff is good here!

Trey: True.

Jim: The cane he uses is most likely to accommodate Karloff’s back problems. He apparently hurt his back wearing the harness in the Frankenstein movies and required multiple surgeries to alleviate pain over the years.

Trey: Kesler's book says everyone found him a joy to work with on set. 

This episode was written by Henry Sharp who wrote the excellent "The Night of the Puppeteer" and the pretty good Bond riff (that you haven't watched recently, probably) "The Night of the Glowing Corpse," but he didn't do so well here.

Jim: I don't know if it's just the episodes we are watching, but man does this show lean hard on the "female helps West out" thing!

Trey: Well, that's pretty much all of them, I think. If we only watched the episodes where that didn't happen, we might be through with our rewatch by now!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Eccentrics

"The Night of the Eccentrics" 
Written by  Charles Bennett
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: Jim and Artie find themselves pitted against the Eccentrics, a league of assassins commanded by the theatric Count Manzeppi with a plot to kill the Mexican President.

Trey: Here we are at season 2 and the Wild Wild West is now in vibrant, 60s TV color. This episode was the sixth produced, but CBS chose to air it first, probably because it made such strong use of that color. What better showcase for it than villains out of a circus sideshow?

Jim: It's a good choice. There is an almost Batman-like use of color in this episode with the carnival scenes and costumes. I will say, I wasn't wild about Jim West's gray suit in the first few scenes, but everything else would have made a big splash on 60's color televisions. One slight slip up is Artemis's make up when he's dressed as a guard. It doesn't look quite right which makes me think the make up department was still getting the hang of color television. 

Trey: This episode introduces Count Manzeppi who was intended to be a recurring villain like Loveless. He does return, but only once. The critical reviews on this episode were not great. By and large, they seem to have not liked a shift to a more fantastic material.

Jim: Victor Buono definitely had the chops for the role.  I like his appearance here much better than in Season one's Night of the Inferno. I'll go so far as to say, if you can only watch one WWW episode with Victor Buono that has a face mask reveal scene in it, make it this one!

Jim: I find the critical reviews interesting because it didn't really feel that more fantastic than a number of other episodes so far. With the classic introduction to all the main villains in the first few minutes, it actually felt like a Kenneth Robeson Doc Savage pulp story. I think Count Manzeppi would have made a fun recurring villain.

Trey: Well, you have to remember, we only rewatched a selection from season one. Also, this episode doesn't have Victorian science fiction, but maybe magic.

As much as I like this episode and Manzeppi, I have to say he does irritate me a bit in the context of the show because it's never is clear whether he uses magic (which would be a departure from S1, but ok) or stage magic plus some Loveless-esque Victorian technology. He seems to dabble in both. It's like the writers don't want to commit. As I recall this is not an uncommon problem with some classic TV shows faced with stage magician villains, though I can't immediately think of another specific example.

Jim: I found this a little perplexing, too. On one hand, you could say it's all gadgets and stage magic, but his finger controlled security screen seems to stretch the concept. One fun "blink and you'll miss it" scene is when Manzeppi is having trouble with the security screen and he crinkles his nose - not unlike Samantha Stevens on Bewitched. I don't know if that was a Buono ad lib, but it's a cute touch. (And does add fuel to the whole, is this really magic, question.)

Trey: Some historical notes here: Juarez is President of Mexico (he died in office in 1872) and West tells us it has been 4 years since Maximillian's death (June 1867), so this episode must take place in 1871-72. The phonograph is (again) an anachronism, though the music played as the amusement park "The Flying Trapeze," was first published in 1867.

Speaking of music, the score is more energetic here, I think. They did record new music for this season.

Trey: This time the young woman betrays the villain for money, not attraction to West!

Jim: That was a nice change of pace.

Trey: Richard Pryor is here in an early tv appearance, though it's Ross Martin that voices the dummy, Julio.

Jim: It was fun seeing Pryor in this role, though I must confess, I'm not sure what his exact purpose in Manzeppi's gang was.

Trey: I was waiting for him to kill someone with ventriloquism.

Jim: I liked the way they showed Manzeppi had escaped. It was a playful final touch to a playful episode.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Sudden Plague

"The Night of the Sudden Plague" 
Written by  Ken Kolb
Directed by Irving J Moore
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): Upon arriving in Willow Springs, Jim and Artie find that a band of thieves have struck and are somehow managing to paralyze everyone in the entire town.

Trey: Here we are at the end of Season 1 with probably the most "Western" episode we've watched so far: An outlaw gang, several one horse towns, and an abandoned fort in the desert.

Jim: That stone fort is quite the set! Is it a real place? Was it ever used anywhere else? Seems like it would be ideal for a Star Trek episode.

Trey: You are apparently not the only one to think so! The fort was attacked by the Gorn in the episode "Arena." It's located near Vasquez Rocks . It was built for the 1956 film Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers. It also showed up in episodes of Bonanza and Mission: Impossible.

Given your stated preference for episodes with fewer Western genre elements, what did you think of them here?

Jim: Oddly enough, I was all in at the beginning of the episode, but as it moved into the Fort, I sort of got cold on it. 

Also, I feel like I counted three instances where West could have solved issues faster by using a gun. I'm not sure, but I think he only uses his gun once in the entire episode when he fires a warning shot. There were times when it just felt like the writer forgot West has a gun.

Trey: I think it's less that and more the propensity of 60s TV Westerns to prefer fistfights over gun battles.

Jim: I think you're right. 

Trey: The episode is also less "spy-fi" than a number of others. It's really more a Weird Western. It could have been an episode of Brisco County Jr. 

It was written by Ken Kolb who wrote "The Night of the Burning Diamond" and is a similar "pulp" sort of plot with a mad scientist with a science fictional invention that winds up being used for mundane criminality. It could have been a Doc Savage story, now that I think about it.

Jim: Yeah, this definitely has a pulp feel to it with a criminal gang working with a mad scientist. The lovely Asian assistant and germ culture feels  like it is from that sort a story.

Trey: As an episode, it's well-paced in general and has a number of good action sequences, which likely show the hand of both Kolb and director Irving Moore. It has the humor Kolb evidenced before. It is probably inferior to "Burning Diamond" in terms of structure though.

The mad doctor feels underdeveloped. I understand why they wanted to not have him show up much because they wanted to save the reveal that Kirby is the villain, but it winds up making him less entertaining than most of the villains this season.

Jim: The double reveal of Kirby as 1) the real mastermind and 2) a bald Dr. Evil type villain reminds me of "The Night of the Inferno."

Also, Kolb must  really liked the imagery/idea of unmoving people because he used it in "The Night of the Burning Diamond" too!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Murderous Spring

"The Night of the Murderous Spring" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Richard Donner
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): West and Gordon meet Dr. Loveless for the fourth time. The doctor has now invented a hallucinatory drug which, when used on Jim, makes him believe that he has shot and killed Artie.

Jim: This episode starts up with one of the more comical openings as the plus-sized Miss Kitten Twitty is laughed at by the locals as she gets off the carriage. Then the hotel clerk laughs at her as she signs into the hotel with X signatures. Then we see Jim West, acting gallantly to help her with her really heavy bag, has unwittingly carried Professor Loveless into the hotel room.

Trey: It's notably comical given the nastiness of Loveless' plot this episode. It's such a change in character you might think it was a different writer, but no, it's Loveless' creator and most frequent chronicler, John Kneubuhl. He does address Loveless' changed goals and greater bloodthirstiness in the episode.

Jim: He usually had a noble reason for his brutality, but in this one, he vows to kill every man, woman and child in America.

Nice use of the song between Loveless and Antoinette as we hear the screams of violence as the staff kills each other!

This is another episode were a number of empty sets and short haunting music cues, has a bit of a Twilight Zone feel to it. Also, like the Puppets episode we get a bit more “acting” from Conrad in various scenes. Was this in fact the same director?

Trey: It was not. Actually, It was Richard Donner of Superman: The Movie and Lethal Weapon fame! I can see what you're saying, though for me the weirdness being the result of a drug made me think more of The Prisoner

Jim: Richard Kiel appears to have been replaced by the "deaf mute" orderly. I suspect this was done to reduce costs as Kiel could ask for more due to his speaking role in a previous episode. It’s unfortunate, because with a bit of script tweaking, all of Kitten’s lines and actions could have been performed by Voltaire.

Trey: Interestingly the deaf mute guard is played by Leonard Falk--Robert Conrad's father! 

Giving Kitten's lines and actions to Voltaire would have deprived us of the standard Loveless episode trope of his assistant being convinced to betray him by West. Can't have Loveless without that!

Jim: Well, that's true!

Here's an interesting tidbit: According to [Phoebe] Dorin, Michael Dunn [Loveless] saved her from drowning during filming of this episode, plunging underwater to tear her free, when her costume became entangled in machinery used to sink a boat on the set.

Trey: The lake that happened in at the end of this episode is actually the same man-made body of water that served as the lagoon in Gilligan's Island. It was later filled in and covered over with a studio parking lot.

Overall, I'm a bit disappointed with this last Loveless outing in the first season. It's not bad, but a bit of a let down after the strong last two episodes we've watched. I do think it has more 60s Zeitgeist to it than recent ones.  A drug that would drive a man crazy in his shaving water or drugs attached to migrating duck, seem realistic examples of the sort of crazy stuff the CIA was pulling to try to get rid of Castro!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Burning Diamonds

"The Night of the Burning Diamond" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): West and Gordon investigate the mysterious disappearance of Serbia's Kara Diamond, which leads them into the lair of Morgan Midas. He has mastered a formula that can make him move so quickly that he becomes invisible to the naked eye.

Jim: This episode starts with a quick, economical setup with James explaining the theft of jewels all across the country. Before the title sequence we get a perfect hook with the diamond stolen from under West's nose. The fluttering newspaper with it’s “Mysterious Jewel Thieves Baffle Police” headline is a playful touch.

Trey: There are a lot of nice directorial flourishes like that, including several humorous cuts between scenes.

This is the first of several episodes written by Ken Kolb. Based on this one, I think he had a good feel for the material.

Jim: I agree. We're only a few minutes in and we get the gas filled cane Jim uses to escape the Serbian embassy: a good, era appropriate spy gadget.

Trey: The Serbian Embassy here is a bit of an anachronism, I imagine. Serbia gained de facto independence in 1867 from the Ottoman Empire, but its independence was only official recognized in 1878, which is probably a bit late for this episode. Which is, you know, oh so historical otherwise.

Jim: Oh, of course! The villain here is the evil scientist Morgan Midas is played by Robert Drivas, a lesser known staple of 60’s and 70’s television. One of his more famous roles is as Chris Vashon in Hawaii 5-0.

Trey: In Kesler's book The Wild Wild West: The Series, she reports that Drivas had a hard time remembering his lines. He had them written in various places all over the set.

Jim: As a kid, I found this episode exciting as Midas’s super speed was an early example of a character with “super powers” on a television show. Midas was a sort of evil Old West Flash.

Trey: Kolb gave his inspiration as the H.G. Wells short story "The New Accelerator." That's the first real connection of the show to Victorian science fiction I can think of. 

The producer on this episode was Gene Coon, who would go on to write the story for the third season Star Trek episode "Wink of an Eye" with a similar super-speed angle. This episode is a bit more rigorous in thinking through it's premise than "Wink of an Eye," though.

Jim: Is it my imagination or is the odd clicking sound that Midas says is people talking not the same foley sound used for Star Trek communicators?

Trey: Yeah, it's the same.

Jim: The fight choreography is a little more campy in this episode, especially when we get to the West’s attempt to escape Lady Margaret’s house, but I like it. It fits the tone of the episode. 

Trey: There's a bit of a Batman tv series feel to them. I think we're going to see more of these sorts of "fun fights" in Season 2.

Jim: Midas's death by super-speed side effect is set up well early in the episode. It makes for a good, quick resolution.

Trey: Death by the use of his own invention is a classic mad scientist end.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Druid's Blood

"The Night of the Druid's Blood" 
Written by Henry Sharp, from a story by Kevin De Courcey
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: Jim and Artie investigate the connection between a beautiful young woman; an evil magician, and the deaths of several distinguished scientists.

Trey: This episode has me conflicted. It is pretty enjoyable, but it's also bad in several ways. First, the episode has nothing to do with druid or blood so the title makes no sense. Second, the episode makes gestures toward some common action/adventure TV tropes that would have made solid episodes in their own right, then under utilizes those: There's a bit of "it looks like magic but it's  really trickery" going on, but it's only half-hearted, and no explanation is given for why the villains would use it at all.

Maybe the first time Jim comes upon the pagan/Satanic ritual, you could argue it was part of a plan to discredit him, but the second? Having a fake occult ritual in a mausoleum would seem to invite attention that would reveal Tristam's plan, not help conceal it.

Jim: I agree. 

Trey: Then there's "the villain undermines confidence in the hero or gaslights him" thing. This is floated, but it creates no dramatic tension because the audience never doubts West, and it doesn't create any significant obstacles to him solving the mystery, because all they happens is he's ordered to take a leave of absence for a rest--at some point in the future, apparently.

 Jim: Well, I guess I should say what was good about it: For one thing, this episode starts with one of the best build ups I’ve seen so far in these rewatches. Between Professor Robey’s fearful actions and pronouncements and the antiquities adorning his study, it’s got a bit of a Victorian horror feel to it. It also is the third time we've seen a bait and switch villain, and I haven't got tired of that yet.

Trey: All true. I appreciated the bait and switch of the faux-magic villain to the pure pulp science one. It still carries through the horror vibe, though: a madman killing renowned scientists to harvest their brains to put their brainpower to work for, well, some evil end.

Jim: Seeing Don Rickles was a nice bit of stunt casting, as well.

Trey: Yeah, though he may get too much screen time or have a role underserved by the script, depending on your perspective. The best player here to me was Ann Elder as Astarte. I never once believed she could convince folks she was totally not pursuing stodgy old professors with nefarious intent, but her edge of cold cruelty and her platinum blonde locks make for a good femme fatale.

This, by the way, is the only episode we've watched so far without at least a sympathetic female co-star, much less a love interest for West.

Also: West does a turn worthy of James T. Kirk in exhorting those brains to turn against Dr. Tristam.

Jim: It does feel bit slipshod, though.

Trey: Maybe two episode ideas that got stitched together: A femme fatale in a cult (or fake cult) with a theatrical wizard as villain, and a femme fatale marrying and killing old men for their brains to be harvested by a mad scientist?

Jim: I still wonder where the druid's blood went.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Puppeteer

"The Night of the Puppeteer"
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): The mad puppeteer Zachariah Skull re-creates a courtroom drama, using life-size puppets, to seek revenge on both Jim and the Supreme Court Justices who sentenced him to death.

Trey: This is one of my favorite first season episodes. It makes good use of the lack of color. The mostly dark setting and it's obvious staginess adds an air of the surreal. This was all the idea of the director, Moore, who had been told he had to bring the elaborate episode in under budget.  It reminds me of the sort of story that might have been on the British contemporaneous show, The Avengers.

Jim: It reminds me of some Twilight Zone episodes. I'm thinking of "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," particularly. There's definitely a creepiness factor, too. Normally my teenage daughter joins me as I rewatch the shows, but the first appearance of the puppets and she was out.

Trey: Those puppets were the work of Bob Baker, who worked the alien puppet in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and some monsters in other sci-fi films.

Jim: One of the things I’ve noticed watching the episodes again is how often the same sets were reused. In this case it’s the huge alcove with the marble staircase that was the stage for West’s big battle in "The Night of the Grand Emir." The show does a good job in redecorating the sets in each case.

Trey: That probably helped keep those costs down, too.

Jim: West seems atypically astute in this episode as he remarks on theme of deformity in the dolls, and he figures out the connect to Triton. I’m not suggesting that West is normally a dumb character, but here his powers of observation seem to have a temporary boost.

Trey: Maybe. We're rewatching less that half the episodes, so far, so we might not have the full extent of his capabilities. And he still gets in a lot of fights, including with a caveman puppet! It is interesting he easily makes the mythological connection and it takes Artemus (the smart one) a bit longer.

Jim: Muted shades of Holmes and Watson there.

Trey: Lloyd Bochner is great here as Skull with his urbane bearing, and the silky menace of his voice.

Jim: He really is. Bochner’s screen credits run long, as he was a staple of television during the 60’s through the 80’s. One of his most notable genre roles would be in the Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man" where he appeared with another WWW regular, Richard Kiel. 

I also like the reveal of the real Zechariah Skull (played by Bochner in makeup), like a big, black spider in a center of his web.

Trey: It works really well. I think the actors playing his puppets did a good job. Bochner plays a puppet, too. The bit where West grabs his invisible "strings" and Bochner sort of floats up then slouches down when released works surprisingly well.

Jim: A feel like there's an acting class exercise in that, but you're right: everyone gets an "A."

Trey: Skull would have been a great villain to make a return appearance. We don't even see the body, so it has the perfect setup for that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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

"The Night of the Whirring Death"
Written by Jackson Gillis
Directed by Mark Rydell
Synopsis (from IMDB): Jim and Artie are collect money from millionaires buying bonds to save California from bankruptcy. The problem is, Dr. Loveless is back and blowing up the would-be benefactors with booby-trapped toys to steal the money.

Trey: This is the closest WWW came to a Christmas episode. It isn't stated in the episode to be Christmas, but the winter weather, focus on toys, and other story elements give they vibe. It aired, however, in February of 1966.

Jim: It starts off with a nice tip of the hat to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Jeremiah Ratch taking the place of  Scrooge. Ratch is played by Norman Fell, aka Mr. Roper from Three’s Company. Fell’s comedy chops come in handy as he hams it up with the Ratch character for the short time he’s on the screen.

Trey: This is Dr. Loveless' third appearance and the first not written by his creator. It sticks pretty close to the establishe Loveless schtick though: he's still trying to carve his own kingdom out of part of California. Voltaire (Richard Kiel) and Antionette (Phoebe Dorin) are back, as well.

Jim: I believe this is the one and only time Loveless is ever shown smoking. It’s mostly for comical effect, admittedly, after he's revealed as the “child” who gifted Ratch toy soldiers.

Trey: Voltaire speaks for the first time, too. It's note as being a change within the episode. One Loveless related conundrum: Why does the brilliant doctor continue to employ lovely female assistants in his plans, who he knows by now are only going to fall for West's charms?

Jim: He tries to maneuver Priscilla away from it, but to no avail! She is the most wide-eyed innocent of the group, so far.

Trey: Unbelievably naive is the better descriptor! I wonder if her toy maker grandfather raised her with no contact with the outside world?

Jim: A funny bit is the look of cynical disbelief on lovely Antionette’s face when Priscilla is convinced by Loveless that the exploding toy train is a perfectly fine toy.

Just putting this out there: with the naivete Priscilla displays, I think a nice plot twist for the episode would’ve been to have her be revealed as a human sized animatronic created by Loveless. 

Trey: I could buy that.

Jim: In general, I think the level of technology in this episode seems a bit advanced. We see electric trains and phonographs.

Trey: The phonograph was an anachronism noted in Loveless's first appearance. The electric train is similarly just a bit ahead, having been invented in the 1890s. Incidentally, this episode actually gives us an onscreen place and time: "San Francisco, 1874."

Jim: One of the unintentionally funny bits to me: After West is ground zero at the explosion in Ratch’s shop, Gordon proclaims that he's fine and just needs some rest. Supporting him in this dubious claim is a city cop who says, “He’s right lady. Working this beat, I’ve seen enough to know he’ll be fine.” Just how violent is this neighborhood?

Trey: Thinks are hard in California in this alternate 1874, apparently. I mean, the governor's plan here is explicitly laundering money for rich people with shady, possibly criminal, business practices to keep his state solvent. 

Jim: Vote Loveless! How could it be worse?


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