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.


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