Friday, May 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Firebrand

"The Night of the Firebrand" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: With an outlaw and his partners planning to incite Revolution in Canada, West and Gordon must stop their plans and receive a stolen supply of guns and get those weapons to a beleaguered frontier fort.

Jim: We are getting more traditional western set pieces this episode with Fort Reilly, the classic saloon and the wagon chase. That's a nice change from some earlier episodes that all seem to take place in the exact same manor house set.

Trey: This is probably the most "Western" episode we've watched. Only the hint of international intrigue sets it apart from a typical Western of the era. So far, Season 3 has been very action oriented. This episode has two chases, something we haven't really seen before. I'm almost tempted to say it seems to have higher budget, but I suspect the budget is just being spent on different things. 

Jim: Like fanciful sets and fight choreography.

Trey: Right!

Jim: Pernell Roberts makes a good villain for this episode as he comes across as both cunning and physically intimidating.

Trey: Yeah, he's a surprisingly good heavy. 

Jim: Even before the more humorous bit of dialogue between West and Gordon on the wagon, I had a sense this episode was trying to give us a more "buddy cop" feel. I actually think that's a big missing element in a number of episodes. Then again, Robert Conrad might not have pulled off such patter as well as Robert Culp.

Trey: True. We should say everything wasn't great here, though.

Jim: I raised an eyebrow at Vixen's earnest desire to help the disadvantaged getting cut off in mid-sentence. That strikes me as some CBS Old Guy pandering.

Trey: There is definitely sexism--and probably a bit of dismissal of youth movements--in that ending.

Jim: Also, pressure points? That's a rather convenient way to dispatch Vixen O'Shaughnessy. However, this tactic was all the rage in this era of pop culture, so I guess it makes sense.

Trey: West is Vulcan nerve pinching so much in this episode, but we've never seen him do that before!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

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

"The Night of the Bubbling Death" 
Written by David Moessinger
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: When the U.S. Constitution is stolen by a revolutionary, James West and Artemus Gordon are sent to a lawless region on the border with Mexico to recover it.

Trey: This is a good episode to start a season with. So spy-fi with sneaking around, gadgets and disguises. The plot is admittedly thin for an hour, but these incidents fill the time I think.

Jim: Normally, I'm not much of a fan of the "Underground Fortress," as used on this show, but the extra details put into this one make it a winner. I notice it seems to be one of the more favored episodes among fans as well, no doubt because of how West and Gordon navigate the labyrinth ending with the zipline scene over the titular Bubbling death pool. Also, The efforts to break into the hidden chamber give me a nice Mission Impossible vibe.

Trey: It isn't as weird as my favorite WWW episodes, but I think the good far outweighs the bad. It may be one of Artie's best spotlights.

Jim: It's also great Great to see Harold Gould as Freemantle here. Gould is a favorite character actor of mine from this time period, with the Hawaii Five-O "V for Vashon trilogy" being a highlight of his CBS career.

Is it me, or does this episode employ a more modern sounding soundtrack? Especially as West and Gordon are sneaking through the maze.

Trey: Oh, it's definitely got a groovier soundtrack. Sort of jazzy.

Jim: The double cross at the end was a nice surprise just when you think the episode is all wrapped up. We usually get those much sooner on the show.

Trey: I feel like the twist ending is telegraphed by Carlotta's willingness to abandon Freemantle sp quickly. It isn't West's charms! She's got a plan B.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bogus Bandits

"The Night of the Bogus Bandit" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: A string of bank robberies leads West and Gordon to Dr. Loveless who's running a training program for bandits with a goal beyond simple larceny.

Trey: And Season 2 goes out with a whimper not a bang.

Jim: Yeah, I'm not happy with the way the writers wrote Loveless this episode. He's less the Wizard Who Shook The Earth, and more just a dollar store megalomaniac. Michael Dunn, as always, is a joy to behold on the screen, but I feel like the writers sort of forgot how Dr. Loveless has been presented in past episodes. This specific role would have suited another character/actor better. I could see Frank "The Riddler" Gorshin killing it in this particular role.

Ross Martin is given a lot of solo screen time this episode, which makes up for the lackluster characterization of Dr. Loveless a little.

Trey: Agreed. I did think the "burnt $100 banknotes" was a nice bit of investigation. It beats West and Gordon being mostly reactive which happens a lot.

Jim: Yes, where this episode excels is in the way it manages to showcase the talents of both Conrad and Martin, more so than an average episode. Martin is allowed to go undercover and  sleuth it up, while Conrad is given a nice range of action scenes.

Another thing I liked: Loveless' solution to the problem of reckless gun owners looks pretty effective to me.

Trey: The "trick gun" gets a lot of play this episode. It really kind of lampshades some of the silliness of that sort of thing.

Jim: Speaking of silliness: Is it odd that Loveless is playing the role of stereotypical movie director in the 1870s?

Trey: ...And cut! That's a wrap on Season 2! Say goodnight, Jim.

Jim: Goodnight, Jim.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night Of the Wolf

"The Night of the Wolf"

Written by Earl Barrett and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis: Escorting an old and ailing Eastern European Prince to his coronation, West and Gordon encounter wolves controlled by the sinister Talamantes, who is determined to take the kingdom for himself.

Trey: I'm interested in your take on this one, because it might be more in the direction of things you would like WWW to do. I feel like it has an interesting premise but the execution is lacking in some ways, leaving it only average.

Jim: You are right, this is more in the area I think the show should pull from, though I must agree with you, the way it's done is a bit lacking. 

I think the chief problems are 1) lack of a truly evocative threat out the gate. We spend a lot of time dwelling on intrigue and lackluster visuals. The wolf attack is interesting, but the show spends some time priming us for something more exciting. 2) The pacing seems a bit wobbly. 

Trey: Joseph Campanella is great as always as the mad scientist villain with a creepy angle. Some of his early appearances here are are pretty clumsy cuts, though. They clearly were trying to build atmosphere, though.

Jim: Lorri Scott does an excellent job looking mesmerized. Almost too good.

Trey: Yeah, Lorri Scott seems sort of wooden before she ever gets hypnotized!

Jim: Conrad gets a rare change of outfit in this episode that really seems to fit him. It also gives the episode a little bit more of authenticity that his usual blue cowboy attire seems to diminish. 

Trey: The wolf "special" effects really fail the show. This was perhaps a plot too ambitious for this budget. That perhaps all sounds more negative that I really feel about it, but ultimately it's a B-side.

Jim: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. This is definitely B-side material, but it did a have a few things I liked: The wolves as weapons is a neat gimmick. The runaway mining car makes for a good escape mechanism. I was cool to see Artemis riding a horse at full gallop for once. 

Trey: Well, the next one promises to be better with the return of our favorite villain: Dr. Loveless!

Jim: Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cadre

"The Night of the Cadre" 
Written by Digby Wolfe
Directed by Leon Benson
Synopsis: West impersonates a killer in order to infiltrate a conspiracy to kill the President with mind controlled assassins.

Jim: I believe I remarked in an earlier discussion how I thought the show should feature more Civil War holdouts as villains. This isn't quite that, but at least it's about a grudge going back to the war.

Trey: Of course, all these guys seem to be Union officers, but yes. I think one of the best details about Trask's character is that he was only a sergeant, but has promoted himself to general. It tells you a lot about the man.

Jim: I found the choice of uniforms a bit puzzling.

Trey: I don't know if they're modelled on a specific army, but clearly they are European in style. I think they're just meant to emphasize what a martinet Trask is.

Jim: Overall, this is a solid plot with an interesting gimmick in the subsonic whistles and mind-controlling crystals. Trask's history of cruelty provides a bit of rare background into a WWW villain. Artie gets to wear a couple of disguises, including one with a fake nose.

Trey: Agreed. Interestingly, this is the second time the fake element franconium has shown up in a WWW episode. The first time was in the 1st season episode "The Night of the Glowing Corpse." It also shows up in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals."

Jim: So, can we spare a moment to discuss the poor decision to once again cast Richard Jaeckel as a second in command to a lackluster villain? We last saw him in "The Night of the Grand Emir," where he played second fiddle to Don Francks. This time he's stuck with glowering most of the time while Don Gordon chews up the scenery. Gordon, who was in Bullitt, has his fans, I'm sure, but Jaeckel is one of my favorite recurring television villains from this period. I hope he finally gets his due before the last episode of the show.

Trey: You sort of wonder why his character is even following this idiot. I mean, the only thing Trask has going for him is a mad scientist willing to but crystals in people's heads. And his plan collapses under its improbability in short order!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Deadly Blossom

"The Night of the Deadly Blossom" 
Written by Daniel Mainwaring
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis: Jim and Artemus must foil a deadly plot to kill a Hawaiian King on the high seas.

Trey: This episode feels like a mashup of Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. The latter may be accidental, though, as it aired about a month before that film was released in the U.S.

Jim:  I think you're right to credit the Bond films as inspiration on this episode. Especially given that the uniforms Barkley's henchmen wear are similar to the uniforms Dr. No's scientists wear. I'll offer up another suggestion for the inspiration for this episode: Conrad loved working on his prior show, Hawaiian Eye and suggested the storyline as an attempt to travel there again!

Trey: I assume you mean "travel there again" metaphorically. I'm pretty sure both shows were filmed in California.

Jim: If you're going to let facts get in the way of a good theory... But anyway. when Jim tries to leave Barkley's compound, his hand gets cut in the ambush and there's a gush of bright, red blood. It's one of the rare instances of actual blood being shown on the show. Later, a henchman is killed by the swinging pendulum. You can start to see how the show might have gotten tagged as "too violent" for 1960's television. 

Trey: You're right. This episode is definitely a bit more violent than most. There's a good mix of Artie and Jim action in this episode, too.

Jim: I found Artie's adventure on the docks more interesting than Jim's struggles in Barkley's residence. He had some amazing bluff when tagging along with the rest of the dock workers. They are all showing some mark on their wrist to gain entrance, but somehow Artemus manages to get in anyway. Later when he gets the idea to hide in one of the crates. I did enjoy how Jim freed himself from the pendulum trap, though.

Trey: Yeah, Jim's plot seemed a lot of marking time to the finale. Artemus seemed to be doing something.

Jim: The reference to the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands was a new one to me. Apparently, that was the name James Cook gave the islands in 1778.

Trey: No one can say The Wild Wild West isn't educational!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Colonel's Ghost

"The Night of the Surreal McCoy" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis (from IMDB): President Grant wants to go to Gibsonville to dedicate the statue of an officer under his command during the Civil War. James West travels ahead to ensure it's safe for the President. West finds Gibsonville is now a ghost town and is experiencing an "epidemic" of broken necks. The few residents left are seeking buried gold--and the number of bodies is rising.

Trey: This episode is competent, and a decent TV murder mystery (though I suspected the location of the gold from the minute I knew the townsfolk were looking for treasure), but it is middling WWW, due to the lack of a lot of the ingredients that make the show unique.

Jim: I'll agree this episode deviates from the established formula, but I really liked it. The "Whole Town Looking for  Treasure" is just the sort of classic TV trope I like to see on this show. All we need now is a "James West on Jury Duty," episode, and I'll be satisfied.

Trey: Funny you should mention that, because next week...

Jim: Really?

Trey: No. But hey, Jennifer Caine is played by Kathie Browne. She was also in the Star Trek episode "Wink of an Eye" and was the wife of Kolchak, himself, Darren McGavin.

Jim: Is it me, or is Browne even more wooden than Conrad? Every line is delivered like she's balancing a spoon on her nose. There's another Star Trek alumni in the form of Lee Begere, "Colonel Gibson." He played Abraham Lincoln.

Trey: Oh, in "The Savage Curtain!" As far as Browne's performance, I will say in her defense, she isn't given much to do.

Jim: Well, true. I feel like this whole episode is reminiscent of Faulkner's "Centaur in Brass."

Trey: That story is sometimes viewed as a critique of capitalism. I certainly think you could read that into this story, as well, though I think maybe it's more about the American war machine--particularly coming as it did in the Vietnam era. Here's a fortune in gold in the form of a fake war hero made by sucking the prosperity from a town. The remaining townsfolk are searching to get this back, and never realize it's right there in front of them.

Jim: I could buy that. This is one of the rare episodes where the final freeze panel isn't from a scene inside the train car. I think that's testament to the amount of time it took for this plot to play out.

Trey: True. It ends on an unusual for the show downbeat but ending right after the climax. 

Jim: I guess they didn't know how to wring any levity from this ending!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Surreal McCoy

"The Night of the Surreal McCoy" 
Written by John Kneubuhl
Directed by Alan Crosland, Jr.
Synopsis: When the famous Herzberg jewels are stolen from a locked room in a museum, West and Gordon become suspicious of a wealthy art collector who had a painting on loan to the museum in the same room. They soon discover the collector is in league with their old nemesis Dr. Loveless who has devised away to enter alternate dimensions in paintings.

Trey: Dr. Loveless returns and with him his creator and usual writer John Kneubeuhl. I feel like their last outing ("Green Death") was lackluster, but this is a good one. Crosland who directed "Gypsy Peril" and "Night of the Skull" most recently, again demonstrates a good sense of pacing and use of action.

This episode's more fantastical conceit made me not remember it fondly, but I think my feelings in this regard have shifted--and it's a bit more rationalized weirdness than I recalled.

Jim: It's interesting that the premise of this episode didn't appeal to you at one time. For me, it's quite the opposite, with this episode looming large in my memory. In fact, I believe this episode is largely responsible for my skewed idea of what makes the show work. Over the years, I've always thought of the show as being all about the "fantastic," but as our weekly reviews have shown, the truly weird episodes are the outliers.

Which is to say, it's a bit like expecting all Star Trek episodes to be like "The Trouble With Tribbles," or something.

I  like the "science" displayed here, as it reminds me of the sort of pseudoscience that would appear so often in the pulps and classic television shows. 

Trey: Yeah, as I've mentioned before, when WWW does the fantastic, I want it to be implausible science, not the "supernatural."

Jim: This episode provides further evidence for my theory--

Trey: Your crackpot theory!

Jim: My theory that Loveless is more than he seems, and possibly immortal: first with a remark that he is beyond the grasp of death, (which seems true), and then a little later when he suggests he's spent half a decade learning the show necessary to devises and carryout his plan.

Trey: If that were true, you would think he would have learned to choose criminal co-conspirators better. It seems like he's always getting betrayed, but this time, at least, it's not by a young woman, lured away by West's good looks. 

Jim: Well, true. It seems like that's a pretty essential element of a Loveless episode. Another essential element is the classic Artemus switch with Lightning McCoy, which  gives us our episode title.

Trey: It's funny that West is the only one who sees through his disguise. I get the feeling at times the show is ambivalent about how much a master of disguise Gordon really is. I mean, he often fools folks just playing a made up character, but it seems like he is frequently revealed when disguised as a specific person. Loveless doesn't even suspect him here.

Jim: A wide-brimmed hat and a fake mustache go a long way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Deadly Bubble

"The Night of the Deadly Bubble"
Written by Calvin Clements
Directed by Michael Edwards
Synopsis (from Wikipedia)West and Gordon, investigating a series of mysterious tidal waves off the coast of San Francisco, encounter a fanatical marine environmentalist bent on eco-terrorism..

Trey: This episode was written by Michael Edwards who also wrote "The Night of the Watery Death." He clearly had a niche in ocean-themed episodes.

Jim: Please tell me he went on to create Man from Atlantis.

Trey: I cannot tell you that. I can tell you--though I hate to be negative out of the gate--this episode just didn't do much for me. It's by the numbers, a decent Bond riff, but it lacks something. Some of it may be the structure. The heroes are (like last episode) perhaps in the clutches of the villain a bit too soon. There's also less humor in this episode, though.

Jim: I think the big problem with this episode, and a few like it, is that harkens back to some pulp stories where victims are dispatched by a mysterious or unusual means which lead back to a mad scientist. The dispatching is an essential part of what makes those stories interesting, but here it's missing.

Trey: Yes, there is, oft times, an "economy of the fantastic." If the villain has a plot involving some element of the fantastic, then the deaths may be elaborate or difficult, but they will not be fantastical, unless their means is the same as the villain's plot.

Jim: That makes sense, but I wonder why?

Trey: Budget likely has something to do with it. That and the desire of the suits at CBS to keep the fantastic elements to a minimum, maybe.

Let's move to things we did like! I thought the cold open was fairly atmospheric for a WWW episode.

Jim: I agree. The lighthouse lamp casting its ruby red glow on everything in the scene was a evocative. I don't recall seeing this special effect in old television shows before.

Trey: Alfred Ryder is suitably unhinged as Philo and his plan is appropriately grandiose. 

Jim: Definitely. Is Philo our first ecoterrorist on the show? I want to say yes.

Trey: I think so, too. Judy Lang is good as Dr. Pringle, both indignant yet distracted by West's charms in the way these things go.

Jim: Me early in the episode: "I bet Dr. Abigail Pringle will eventually reveal there is a beautiful woman hidden in that librarian façade. Don't let me down 60s TV Tropes!"

Trey: Do you think anyone was ever actually surprised when that happened?

Jim: Not since the days of radio, I bet.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Brain

"The Night of the Brain"
Written by Calvin Clements
Directed by Lawrence Peerce
Synopsis: Jim and Artie are taunted by newspapers predicting friends' death, all part of an elaborate scheme to replace world leaders with duplicates.

Trey: Another eccentric mastermind with a plan of conquest confronts our heroes! This villain's eye concept is that he is always one step ahead. It's a clever gimmick.

The design of this episode is very Bond or very low budget bond with the primary colored nehru jackets and the underground base.

Jim: I can definitely see the James Bond influence here. However, with the chess board floor and cave tunnels, what the episode really reminds me of is the Basil Rathbone Sherlock  Holmes movie The House of Fear.

Speaking of chessboards, I liked the James West chess piece at the beginning of the episode, though it seemed a little worse for wear!

Trey: Yeah, for all the Brain's meticulousness (shooting a henchman for losing a button), his James West doll looked like he let some toddler's play with it.

Jim: The stream powered wheelchair strikes me as the sort element that gets this show associated with steampunk so often. (Though, after watching so many episodes, I don't think that association is as strong as people think.)

Trey: I agree. There are occasional steampunk details, but that's not really its thing.  This episode has a lot going for it, but for some reason it's a bit less than the sum of its parts for me. Maybe it's that so much of the episode is just Braine monologuing to West in a cave set. 

Jim: That underground base is basically a damp cave. It seems out of place, aesthetically, when compared to the gold plated cane and hand made West doll. On the list of things it had going for it, I liked the fake out with Artemus and the double masks.

Trey: That's what tvtropes calls being "out-gambitted!"

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Vicious Valentine

"The Night of the Vicious Valentine"
Written by Leigh Chapman
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: Some of the nation's wealthiest men are being murdered in a methodical fashion. West and Gordon realize that all the men have been recently married, which leads them to society dame and matchmaker, Emma Valentine, who has a plot to take over the country.

Trey: I like this episode a lot. It's got most of the ingredients I've previously outlined:  high conception locations, colorful masterminds (and colorful henchmen) with dodgy plans, Artie in disguise, technology advanced for the sixties, barely lampshaded for the 1870s, and attractive ladies. 

For some reason, the episodes with this sort of format vary in quality, but they always tend to be ones that allow Gordon pretty equally partnership with West, and this is no exception.

Jim: I'm a sucker for villains that utilize some theme in their crimes, so the premise of the Alphabet Murders really appeals to me.

The initial exchange between West and Valentine is interesting because you can almost see Robert Conrad "remember" he's supposed to be emoting as Moorehead steals the scene.  Kidding aside, I'm amazed with how well she uses her body and facial movements during the scene. It makes me wish she had reappeared in an episode alongside Michael Dunn. 

Trey: Morehead did get a Emmy nomination for this episode. Yes, it's a shame we didn't get that Loveless/Valentine team-up. The ending of this episode suggests they at least considered bringing her back.

Jim: I was also impressed with the colorful outfits the costume designer put on Moorehead (and her charges) in during the whole episode. It's interesting though, because such lavish dresses don't really seem to jive with Valentine's philosophies. She strikes me as favoring equestrian wear while waving a riding crop. 

Trey: Ha! Well, it's funny, watching from 2021, her goals seem more sympathetic than they likely did in the '60s, even if we must still deplore her methods and (like Loveless) her desire for a dictatorship, however benevolent or enlightened. It is likely no coincidence this episode was written by woman.

Besides Moorehead, we should note the presence of Sherry Jackson, who we may recognize from the Star Trek episode "Shore Leave."

Jim: I thought I recognized her! 

Trey: One element interesting element, and one that shows the evolution of my thinking about WWW, is the irrelevant inclusion of Valentine's dating computer! True, it's there to show her genius, but it doesn't really have much of a role to play besides that one scene. 

Jim: Yeah, that dating computer is an odd element. I feel like it either should have been a more integral part of the plot or ditched altogether. 

Trey: And prior to this rewatch I would have agreed with you! I'm not sure, now. It's inclusion makes the world of Wild Wild West not our world, but in a rather unobtrusive way. I like that sort of thing; more now than when I first saw this episode.  

So, anyway, what's your pitch for a Valentine-Loveless team-up?

Jim: "The Night of the Loveless Valentine" West and Gordon are invited to a very special wedding!

Trey: Anyone at CBS reading this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tartar

"The Night of the Tartar" 
Written by Earl Barret & Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis: West and Gordon are tasked with escorting Rimsky, Russian criminal, to Siberia for a prisoner exchange. When the prisoner is killed, Gordon hatches a plan to pose as Rimsky.

Trey: So do you think WWW still works...when they aren't even in the West?

Jim: I fear my answer to your question would involve major spoilers! But, in general, I feel like the "West" in the show is really more of an era designation than a place. Whether it works with more or less western tropes is sort of in the eye of the viewer.

Speaking of travel, I did like the effect they did when they were transported overseas. The semi-transparent, dreamy travel montage overlaid on top of a more clear, central scene of West drugged up. I think that's the first time we've seen that sort of thing in the show.

Trey: I think so, and given what gets revealed near the end of the episode, the dreamy/druggy eliding of the travel may have served a plot purpose, rather than just saving the budget and episode runtime.

Jim: True! But going back a little bit to the beginning,  I have a word of advice to any scientist, defecting spy, or whistleblowing politician who might find themselves under the protective care of West and Gordon: DUCK!

Seriously, these guys do not have a good track record for the safe delivery of people in their custody. I would love to see them working on their paperwork after some of their missions:  “Artie, does Man-Eating house need a hyphen?”

Trey: I feel like West and Gordon are remarkable good at not getting themselves killed, but are at best average for secret service agents in terms of not getting other people killed.

Jim: John Astin would not have been my first choice for playing a Russian Count, but his comical hamming is a good fit for this episode. 

Trey: Yeah, his accent is...well, sub-everyone else's, which is saying somethin--but his acting sold the self-important, wastrel of a Russian noble.

Jim: I was surprised by how quickly he was dispatched. 

Trey: Well, it was the end of the episode, but his end came swift within the scene. I don't know how else you'd do the knife-thrower's equivalent of an old fashion Western gunfight, except swift, though.

On another interesting casting tidbit, Susan Odin (Anastasia) was married to the director.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gypsy Peril

"The Night of the Gypsy Peril" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Alan Crossland, Jr.
Synopsis: West and Gordon must infiltrate a troupe of traveling entertainers to regain a missing elephant at the center of an international incident.

Trey: So, to get the elephant (heh) in the room out of the way, this episode is another (like "Golden Cobra") that has some depictions that are of it's time, and not the sort of thing that would fly today. It's portrayal of the Romani people leans hard into some stereotypes. It's vaguely Arab folk aren't served any better.

Jim: Flashback Disclaimer: Anybody who wades into discussions of old television shows is eventually going to run afoul of all sorts of stereotypes. I suppose some argument could be made that television allowed for the exposure of different cultural perspectives which has gone a long way to undercutting such stereotypes, but we're not here to defend it, only to put it in it's context.

But yeah, these are the standard "Gypsies with Bronx accents" that were popular on television at this time.

Trey: All that said, the title is a bit misleading. The Romani aren't really the villains here. In fact, this episode zigs a lot when you think it might zag, which is perhaps its only saving grace.

Jim: The elephant is a cute addition, too. Its introduction and some of the dialogue at the beginning sort of sets the tone for this being a more comical episode. And again, I swear I heard some Gilligan's Island music cues in there!

It's dubious ethnic portrayals aside, this episode really charmed me. It reminded me of some humorous Bonanza episodes. And the plot with the competing factions of bandits and "gypsies" allowed for some fun deviations. (Artemis' ruse with the firecrackers, West's trapeze audition, the Gypsy Dance of Death, etc...)

Trey: Yeah, its got some fun stuff. This gang of robbers has to be the toughest West has ever faced. No matter what he does, there always seems to be one ready to get the drop on him in every single encounter!

Jim: Dr. Loveless should hire these guys!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Feathered Fury

"The Night of the Feathered Fury" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: A woman offers to sell information to the government about Count Manzeppi. When she flees, Jim and Artie must unrival the mystery of a wind-up toy chicken that Manzeppi seems willing to kill over.

Trey: It's unfortunate that this is Manzeppi's last appearance. In some ways, I think it's a better episode than his first.

Jim: Again, the poor count has to deal with a disloyal female associate. Gerda runs to the government for protection, and West is pretty cynical about her lady in distress routine.

Trey: With good reason, as we soon see! If you notice, it's been a while since we had a full-fledged "girl of the week" romance interest for West. Those were much more common in Season One.

Gerda is played by Michelle Carey, probably best known for her role in the 1966 Western, El Dorado, which is known for being the second of three Westerns directed by Howard Hawks and written by Leigh Brackett where a sheriff and friends have to defend his office against an outlaw gang.

Jim: She was also in a lot of late 60s-70s TV. Back to Manzeppi: again he seems to display magical powers when he is turning on the lights in the train car. On a side note, it's sort of funny how many people end up appearing in the train car. 

Trey: They really need to get better locks. It happens so often, they seldom seem really surprised.

Jim: True! Overall, Manzeppi reminds me of early Silver Age appearances of Magneto in that he's supposedly capable of magic, but rather than ever use his abilities in any exciting way, he has cronies do all the hard work.

Trey: It's like that want a villain with magic powers, but they don't want a villain with magic powers. Manzeppi's associates are less interesting this time.

Jim: But they are sort of James Bond--as is the fate of Gerda. A definite homage to Goldfinger. Before that, though, I liked how Jim and Artie get her to turn on Manzeppi.

Trey: The humor is that is that he even lays out their plan for her (and lampshades the trope for the audience)! And so, as Manzeppi departs in a balloon, we say good-bye to Victor Buono on WWW.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tottering Tontine

"The Night of the Tottering Tontine" 
Written by Norman Hudis & Elon Packard
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: West and Gordon are assigned to protect Dr. Raven, who is developing a secret weapon for the U.S. Government. Raven's life is in danger as members of a tontine he joined years ago are being killed off so the murder can inherit all their wealth.

Trey: They could have titled this one "And Then There Were None in the Wild Wild West," except that would have messed up the "The Night of..." convention. 

Jim: I'm a big fan of whodunits, so this riff on And Then There Were None really appealed to me. I particularly liked the round of introductions for each of the members of the tontine. There are were talented actors amongst the members (Robert Emhardt, Henry Darrow, Harry Townes).

Trey: It's a fine group of murder suspects! I liked this episode, too. Sure, It's a standard classic tv riff, but the house full of death traps gives it an adequate dose of WWW oddity.

Jim: I agree! The dark-hooded villains and death traps are just the touch that was needed. Question: After escaping the rocket car death trap in the mine shaft, West walks by what looks like a big circuit box on a wall. What the heck was that supposed to be? Was it actually a circuit box? I'm never sure how widespread electricity is in this time period.

Trey: It's an anachronism. 

Jim: At first I thought the seance was an anachronism, but apparently the practice was well established in America at this time with Mary Todd Lincoln being a fan.

Trey: Yeah, this would have been about the middle of the heyday of Spiritualism, I believe.

I got a question: Why would anyone hire are architect and give them free rein to the extent you wouldn't know that had built a secret railway and all sort of death traps into your house?

Jim: I'm Howard Roark, and I approved this message.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Lord of Limbo

"The Night of the Lord of Limbo" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Synopsis: When a stage magician makes Artemus really disappear, West's search for his missing partner leads him into a confrontation with a wheelchair-bound, former Confederate Captain, which a magical power and a score to settle.

Trey: Outside of the Manzeppi episodes (which get by with a figleaf of ambiguity and Victor Buono's performance), this may be my favorite "blatantly supernatural" episode of the series--and I think it handles the blatantly supernatural better than the Manzeppi episodes.

Jim: Well, that's a surprise! Why does this one get a pass?

Trey: It has a core, supernatural conceit that is explained in a reasonable enough fashion. It is almost more pseudo-scientific phenomena (or could easily be spun as such): "mental powers of the East!" Every instance of something supernatural happening in the episode easily falls under the provided explanation, and the events are considered highly unusual by the people that observe them.

Jim: Interesting! This episode was a mixed bag for me. Like a lot of my favorites, it had a villain who was had a "superpower." And as you point out, the explanation of how his powers worked were perfectly suited for the series, walking the line between the fantastic and science fictional, never pushing us too far into the realm of the magic. 

Trey: But?

Jim: The actual use of this super-power is a bit lacking. While the wavering, dreamlike transistions between were okay, once we are in the other realm, it's basically just a set change. Part of that is because the main plot doesn't really demand much in the way of setting changes, just time changes. But we end up with a 'battle scene' set inside a mansion! I would have preferred them being transferred to an actual battle, but that was probably way outside the budget. Still, I think a little more imagination could have made this limbo world more interesting. Star Trek would have done better!

Trey: Fair enough. I certainly don't want to appear to be praising it unduly. I feel like it is only a better than average episode, taken as a whole. It lacks the gadgetry and humor that seem to be essential ingredients of the truly classic episodes.

Still, there are good fight scenes in this--and Montalban makes for a great villain.

Jim: He is great. Another thing I like was the use of the unrepentant Confederates as the villains. I feel like the show works best when it leans on historical references.

Trey: Agreed.

Jim: The setup on this episode was good as well, with Artemis being gone for a good bit of the show, his return was actually a bit of a surprise to me. 

Trey: If they could surprise a jaded classic tv viewer like yourself, they were on to something.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Infernal Machine

"The Night of the Infernal Machine" 
Written by Shimon Wincelberg
Directed by Sherman Marks
Synopsis: West and Gordon protect a federal judge whose life may be threatened by an bomb-making anarchist.

Jim: This episode, felt like it was missing some of the hallmarks we've come to expect from the series.

Trey: Agreed. This episode lacks the peculiar magic of WWW. It's a negative example of what we were talking about last week. It's competent in all respects with a good cast, good action, a bit of humor, and stuff for both West and Gordon to do, but it feels flat because of its lack of anything weird.

It would be tempting to blame this on Lansbury and/or the suits at CBS, but this was actually a Garrison produced episode. It was filmed early in the season, but scheduled to air later. Clearly, even the execs found it lackluster, too.

Jim: That sounds right to me. Notice how we don't get a lot of colorful visuals (outside of Vashti's costume), either. 

Trey: Yes, it seems like its more pedestrian all the way around. But, let's not be completely negative. There was some good stuff here.

Jim: It features a nice dance routine, an element we had occasionally in Season One, but not this season. It's a welcomed addition.

Trey: Indeed. What else have you got?

Jim: The humorous enmity between Artie and the Chef was good.

Trey: One of the highlights of the episode. Go on!

Jim: The episode sets things up efficiently with the introduction of the Judge's gathering and the explanation for West's involvement.

Trey: Yes. You know, it almost felt like a pilot (or second pilot) in some ways. West and his expertise is introduced here, as is Gordon's.

Jim: Is this the first we've heard that Artie invented the explosive billiard ball in the train?

Trey: I think it is! Also, West and Gordon know each other, but they don't really display the buddy camaraderie we've seen in other episodes. 

Jim: All an all, a disappointing waste of a title that might have suggested something more Steampunk.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Skulls

"The Night of the Skulls" 
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret
Directed by Alan Crossland Jr.
Synopsis: West is a fugitive after appearing to shoot and kill Artie. It's a ruse, they leads him to a secret organization, rescuing fugitive criminals for a sinister purpose.

Jim: This episode really encapsulates some of the things we've been discussing the past few days.

Trey: That's right, folks. We talked about WWW even when not getting ready for one of these posts! But yes, I feel like it brings weirdness I like to see. Sure, a villain building a band of fugitive criminals for some caper, we've seen before, but it's the details: the skull make up and colorful robes, the kidnap hearse, the trial, and the insanity of the main villain and his motley, chosen group all lend what I view as the essential WWW touches. 

The writers are reported to have said: "We saw The Wild Wild West as a comic book type show, so we camped it up." I agree with their approach!

Jim: There is a good bit of humor in this episode. And the third act cliffhanger with West shooting Artemis (again) is one of the better ones. 

Like you,  I really liked the cloaked skull faced cabal in this episode-- though I found it amusing that the "girl of the week" Lorelei just got a domino mask.

Trey: Emblazoned with a skull, though.

Jim: I'm always impressed with the dining rooms of these secret, criminal cabals. The stylish chairs and sumptuous dinner makes a nice juxaposition with the various notorious thugs and murderers.

Trey: I feel like we may have seen that same table and chairs in a previous episode, but I'm not sure.

Outside of the camp and presentation, I think it's well done episode, with a fair amount of action and stuff for both Artie and Jim to do. There's a hint of friendly rivalry between them here which I think works. 

Jim: I was impressed with Artie in three different disguises. I found the aged minister at the funeral particularly good. It's no wonder he was nominated for an Emmy for this role, albeit not until the fourth and final season.

Trey: The only complaint I have is that Skull Judge and his crew are really quick to believe West has turned villain. I mean, even if he murdered Artie in a crime of passion, it seems a stretch that he's willing to help you overthrow the government.

Jim: That's the least of Skull's problems with rationality, I think.

Trey: True!

Jim: I have to say, seeing him rant at the end about how he's the rightful president of the United States hits a little too close to home!


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