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,"

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