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 As an adult, I still  like it, though for the historical references and slow build up.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!


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