Wednesday, December 22, 2021

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

"The Night of the Winged Terror (Part 1)"
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: When prominent citizens engage in acts of senseless destruction, West and Frank Harper are put on the case. They discover that all of these men have in common a recent eye examination and a gift of spectacles from a Dr. Ocularis, and the mysterious intrusion of a raven.

Trey: I feel like this episode should have been called "The Night of the Raven," but alas, that name had already been used for an episode that barely features an raven!

Jim: You're right! I really like William Shallert as agent Frank Harper. He provides an interesting physical contrast to James West. That's something that was lacking with Pike.

Trey: Harper is also given a bit of characterization to differentiate him from Gordon--a consideration Pike never really got. Like Pike, though, Harper doesn't seem to be made to have a complimentary skill set to West in quite the same way that Gordon does, though he does demonstrate disguise skills.

Jim: The opening gives me a Manchurian Candidate vibe. The raven on the hand car makes quite the evocative method to deliver the triggering device.

Trey: Yeah, this episode has a great, pulpy high concept.

Jim: As the first Dr. Horatio Occularis, Bernard Fox makes an excellent bait and switch villain. He's got just the right amount of theatrical projection to walk the line between campy and compelling--a bit like Victor Buorno or Michael Dunn. It's a shame he was dispatched so quickly in the episode.

Trey: We've got some other TV stalwarts though. This is the second WWW appearance for Michele Carey, for instance. We last saw she way back in "Night of the Feathered Fury."

Jim: Christopher Cary as Tycho is one of the most striking villains we've seen in a while. His appearance is an appropriate blend of 50's alien scientist and eccentric inventor.

Trey:  I think this was a really good episode, though I'm holding complete judgment off until the second part. It harkens back to S2 in content and structure.

Jim: I agree with you, this is one of the better episodes we've seen this season. I feel like it uses the expanded story time to build the mystery and stakes. I'll be interested to see if the second part is as good, too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Pelican

"The Night of the Pelican" 
Written by  Richard H. Landau
Directed by Alex Nicol
Synopsis: The enigmatic, dying words of an informant has Pike searching Chinatown, and West undercover as military prisoner on Alcatraz, to stop a plot involving a stolen explosive.

Trey: This is a more Bondian episode than we've gotten in a while. Alcatraz makes a good setting for this sort of thing, even if the scenes don't really look much like Alcatraz at times. Of course, I don't know what Alcatraz looked like in the late 19th century, I guess!

Jim: Overall, I enjoyed this episode. It uses the "agent in a prison" trope fairly well, as we see the battle of wills between West and Corporal Simon, played with gusto by Vincent Beck.  And yeah, you get that Bondian feel, like in the way West explains Chang's plot, that brought a smile to my face. 

Trey: I feel like Pike really comes into his own in this episode. Well, maybe not quite "his own" in that it's still very much an Artemus template he's following, but he gets to do a lot of stuff rather than just being a sidekick.

Jim: Yes, I found Aidman's Pike rolling along with this episode a lot more palatable. He's not Gordon, but he feels like he's found his stride. 

Trey: I don't really understand the villains' plot here fully. It seems to be "pretended to be after a large, more terrorist goal," but really all they want to do is commit a robbery.  It's Die Hard, I guess! But it seems a lot of trouble to go to with a lot of risk just to commit a robbery. 

Jim: I agree. The entire scheme feels tacked on, as it's only revealed in the final minutes of the show. I'm not even sure why the writers thought that was necessary. West's plan of blockading the port makes more sense. Maybe someone on the staff brought up the issue of Chang's cohorts being driven out by a siege, and the writers felt like they needed to adjust the script to account for that? As a robbery plan, it's a bit complicated to say the least.

Trey: Speaking of Chang, we get the unfortunate but not unexpected yellowface here--but we also get an Asian actor doing a bit of whiteface in an amusing turn! Khigh Dhiegh here is of course probably best known for his role in The Manchurian Candidate.

Jim: It's always great to see Khigh Deigh in any capacity. His performances are understated, but commanding. You know who it's also great to see?

Trey: Francine York as Dr. Gibson?

Jim: Got it in one!

Friday, December 3, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of Miguelito's Revenge

"The Night of Miguelito's Revenge" 
Written by  Jerry Thomas
Directed by James B. Clark
Synopsis: West and Pike race to solve a mystery based on a nursery rhyme before Dr. Loveless completes a series of kidnapping and completes his revenge.

Jim: Nice to see Dr. Loveless return to the show!

Trey: I had thought we had seen the last of him. Good to have him back, though it's a shame Artemus couldn't be in this one.

Jim: This episode leans heavy into the sixties color a lot more than other episodes recently. The underground lair with all the clowns and carnival décor, the color coded cages Loveless uses to hold his kidnap victims--even West's red satin lined coffin! It reminds me of Batman.

Trey: This episode also gives Jeremy Pike the introduction that the first episode aired with him in it didn't deliver.

Jim: It feels, as did the last one, like it was written with Ross Martin in mind, which makes sense. Aidman seems less sure of himself in the role than in the previous episode.

The poem that is so important to this episode was first recorded in A. E. Bray's Traditions of Devonshire in 1838. There is a lot of variation among older versions. In some, Friday's child is the one with the woe.

Trey: Who's to say what version Loveless heard?

Jim: Overall, this feels less like a Dr. Loveless episode and more like an Agatha Christie mystery or something. The steam powered android is a novel gimmick, but I feel like it should have had more screentime. But this isn't the first lackluster Loveless episode we've seen in the series. At some point in the series, the show turned the amazing scientist Loveless into just an ordinary villain.

And Agatha Christie angle is a bit flat too. The key to this sort of plot is that either the various participants in the story need to reveal sordid secrets or be conspirators in a scandalous crime. Loveless' targets are pretty random. 

Trey: I think this is far from the worst Loveless episode we've seen, though I would agree it isn't the best. The steam-powered robot here is probably one of the best fantastic elements in the show, regarding its execution. As far as Loveless' revenges being really petty, well, that's very much in keeping with how he has been portrayed in previous episodes, so I didn't mind that. 

Jim: So you're saying he's sort of a small man?

Trey: ...

Friday, November 19, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Camera

"The Night of the Camera" 
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: To take down an opium-smuggling ring, Jim West and Jeremy Pike join forces with Bosley Cranston, a seemingly timid secret service agent who possesses an extraordinary skill.

Trey: Our astute readers will notice not mention of Artemus Gordon in this episode. That's because he isn't in it! Ross Martin had a heart attack shortly after filming "Fire and Brimstone," and had to be replaced for several episodes.

Jim: Charles Aidman is here, in this case, as Jeremy Pike. Aidman does an admirable job, but he's a bit too much of an Artemus clone for my tastes. I'm going to say that's less a failing on Aidman's part, and is more likely the result of Martin's sudden absence from the show. The writers obviously didn't have time to create a new character, so he's just playing the role as it was written for Martin. I will say Aidman rises to the challenge of portraying the various disguises the script calls for quite well. My biggest criticism is that Aidman's delivery of some lines is a bit flatter than how Martin would deliver them. Martin just knows how to hit certain words harder for a more dynamic reading. 

Trey: I agree that Pike is very much an "Artie clone" in terms of personality. I might quibble that Pike seems a little more action-oriented, but Gordon's proclivity for action is pretty high by Season 4, so any real difference just may be down to slightly different approaches to scenes by the actors. 

Funnily enough, the next episode aired actually gives more an an intro for Pike, because it was actually the first in production order with him in it. Why they chose to show them in a different order, I don't know.

I wonder if the purpose of adding Bosley was to distract from Pike being a "new guy?" Also maybe to distract from a very bland, pedestrian villain.

Jim: The wonderful Pat Paulson is Bosley Cranston, that timid secret service agent with the photographic memory.  He was a regular guest on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Love American Style, he's perhaps most famous for his many satirical runs for President of the United States over several decades.

Trey: Well, they should have found a way to work a Presidential race reference into this episode! I mean, this was November 1968 (post-election).

Jim: A missed opportunity! Am I mistaken, or is this our third episode in a row that starts in San Francisco?

Trey: I think you're right. That should make you happy!

Jim: It doesn't do much here. All in all, this is a pretty standard episode made somewhat better with the addition of Paulson's character and a bit of humor here and there.

Trey: The "we have to work with a bumbling guy, but hey, he turns out more competent than we expect" is such a stock plot element for classic tv and film. Admittedly, I can't immediately recall an example off the top of my head, but I know I have seen it!

Jim: I can think of episodes of McHale's Navy, Car 54, and The Andy Griffith Show with variations on that theme.

Trey: I knew I could count on you!

Jim: I'm there for your classic tv trivia needs.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of Fire and Brimstone

"The Night of Fire and Brimstone" 
Written by  Bernard McEveety
Directed by Joel Kane and Milton "Butterball" Smith
Synopsis (from IMDB): West and Gordon hurry to the mining ghost town of Brimstone to meet Professor Colecrest, who claims to have made a very important discovery. Instead of the Professor, they find a group of thieves also after Colecrest's secret. In the mines beneath the town, West fights a running battle against the thieves and makes a surprising discovery of his own.

Trey: Well, this episode is definitely "weird!" Sure, the basic plot is fairly standard WWW stuff: A gang of criminals in a conveniently depopulated town after some treasure. (We saw it before in "The Night of the Colonel's Ghost"--where ironically Gordon impersonates Grant. He impersonates Lee, here!) Then the episode adds the weird wrinkle of the Confederate holdout who doesn't know the war is over.

Jim: The outstanding performance award for this episode goes to Dabbs Greer as that Confederate Holdout Captain Lyman Butler. He previously appeared in "Simian Terror," but this role really gives him more time to shine. 

Also making a return appearance from "Simian Terror" is the steampunk audio device Gordon uses to distract the guards. 

Trey: Was it in "Simian Terror," as well? It appeared most recently in "Doomsday Formula."

Jim: I had forgotten it was there! This episode makes good use of the caves (as mining tunnels) that have appeared several times on the show--and perhaps other CBS shows as well?

Trey: I feel like they surely have, but I don't know where.

Jim: I also liked the ruse West and Gordon use to escape the barn. It's the sort of clever, low tech solution that we should see more of on the show.

Trey: Yeah, in general, I liked really good West and Gordon team moments in episodes.  

On the criticism side, I feel like there are missed opportunities here than usual. The "coal mine fire" angle could have made for an eerie set (a la Silent Hill), but I guess that was beyond the budget of the show and wouldn't have allowed so much action in the cave. The Confederate holdout could have figured more into the plot than he did.

Jim: As soon as I saw him, I thought that's where the focus of the episode should have been. Outside of that, the turmoil in the town is all bit vague. I would have loved to have read the TV Guide description of this episode. 

Trey: Having written the synopsis above, I can tell you it's not easy to describe accurately and succinctly!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Egyptian Queen

"The Night of the Egyptian Queen" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder and Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis (from IMDB): A priceless ruby is stolen from an Egyptian exhibit at the San Francisco Museum, threatening an international incident, and West and Gordon are charged with recovering it. They find it on the toe of beautiful young dancer. The dancer goes on the run, and pair find they are competing with several unsavory characters to see who can get the gem first.

Trey: We're back in San Francisco, which always means the seedy waterfront. WWW has two main modes: depopulated Western town, or eccentric, Barbary Coast nightspot.

Jim: When the episode first started up, I got a real Batman tv show vibe from the music. As the episode continued up to the title sequence, that vibe was reinforced by the museum robbers costumes. This set the tone for what I expect to be a bit of a campy(ier) episode.

Trey: I assume you were not disappointed on that score? This episode is also pretty action packed with a lot for West and Gordon each to do.

Jim: Well, this is a bit of a roundabout episode with several scenes of people awaiting torture until West shows up to free them just in time as the search for the ruby plays out. The final scene revealing ancient treasure was cool enough, but outside of that, this wasn't a particularly 'wild' story, in the sense of being "weird."

Trey: Well, that's true, though I feel like that running around is fun. You sound a bit more negative on this one than me. 

Jim: Could be! I did enjoy the scenes with Ross Martin and William Marshall quite a bit.

Trey: Speaking of William "Blacula" Marshall, this episode has a number of guest stars: Tom Troupe, and most surprisingly, a young Sorrell "Boss Hogg" Brooke as Heisel, in addition to Marshall. Of course, I can't forget the lovely Penny Gaston as Rosie.

Jim: Having both Marshall and Troupe on this episode was quite a treat. It makes up for some lackluster villain actors we had on some other episodes.

I have a couple of thoughts on Penny Gaston as Rosie...

Trey: I'm sure you do!

Jim: Quiet, you! Anyway, I felt like she was an odd choice for a harem dancing girl costume, but I'll just chalk that up to a bit of dance hall pageantry. The other was how the show didn't make her hide her navel. 

That probably seems like a trifling detail to notice, but after years of hearing how the "censors" wouldn't allow Barbara Eden to show her navel on I Dream of Jeannie, seeing Gaston get away with it makes me wonder. What I'm left with is that either the showing of the navel simply went unnoticed by the CBS censors or NBC was just more uptight.

Trey: Well, if Cracked is to be believed, the oft-repeated story is sort of "fake news." Read about it here.

Jim: Well, that explains some of it! But maybe not all.

Trey: I think this enough for this episode, so you'll have to continue that navel gazing on your own time!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Fugitives

"The Night of the Fugitives" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder and Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis (from IMDB): To break a powerful crime syndicate, West and Gordon must capture its wily bookkeeper before Diamond Dave and his goons get him first.

Jim: Oh man! This episode is infamous for the scene where Conrad tries to swing on the chandelier and nearly breaks his neck! I had just learned about this incident recently, but didn't expect to see it so soon.

Trey: Yep. This show was actually the last show shot in the third season, but was aired until the middle of Season 4. The first part of the episode was filmed by Hellstrom, but there was a 12 week shutdown in production after Conrad's accident and Moder was brought in. After the accident, the insurance company restricted Conrad from risky stunts. 

Jim: He went out with a bang. That saloon fight is a doozy! It may be the most action packed fight scene we've ever seen so far.

Trey: Yeah, this is a pedestrian episode in many ways, but it does have good action from the saloon fight to the zipline out of the church bell tower. I've said this before, but it feels like the episodes without a science fiction/fantasy element tend to be the ones with the most action.

Jim: I would agree there is very little to make it "wild." Probably the wildest thing about this episode was the last act arrival of the real Hallelujah Harry. (A plot twist that left me a bit baffled.). As the kids say: I have so many questions about that plot twist--namely, at what point did Artemis steal the original Harry's wagon? Was Harry someone Artemis captured earlier, as part of the mission, but then escaped? 

Trey: The appearance of the real Hallelujah Harry is odd for a number of reasons. Not only why did Artie steal it, but why did Harry have any reason to believe Desmond would help him get it back? I mean, Desmond liked the Artie Harry because he was a criminal. Why would the fact he stole the wagon from (maybe) another conman make him turn on him?

Jim: I enjoyed seeing Simon Oakland in the role of Diamond Dave Desmond. Also, nice performance by J. S. Johnson as Norbert Plank. I love the way Norbert vacillates between arrogant bookkeeper and sniveling coward. 

Trey: Simon Oakland seems sort of like he might be trying out for the role of Al Capone--or maybe just Edward G. Robinson! Susan Hart's character Rhoda joins the Pantheon of women not swayed by West's charms. I like how her motivations are pragmatic and she is never discovered and put in peril by the villain.

Jim: After a certain point, she's too smart to be involved in the episode period!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: "The Night of the Kraken"

"The Night of the Kraken" 
Written by  Stephen Kandel
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: In San Francisco, West's and Gordon's friend, Lt. Bartlett, is killed, apparently the victim of a tentacled sea creature. The navy keeps the fishermen away, but it soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy, not a monster, lies behind Bartlett's murder.

Trey: This episode is very enjoyable, but it's really kind of a retread of "The Night of the Watery Death" (which I think is superior) with the addition of the kraken....You know, this is kind of a Scooby-Doo plot!

Jim:  I can see why you might be reminded of "Watery Death," as there are a lot of similarities. Where this episode surpasses that one for me is with the addition of the character Jose Aguila, Ted Knight's performance and the mystery of the Kraken, which is presented more realistically than the serpentine torpedoes of Watery Death. However, once West enters the undersea fortress, this episode pretty much retreads all of "Watery Death."

Trey:  The kraken is pretty well realized, though, even it the fight scenes with it are not. Having Ted Knight here makes this episode feel a bit campy to me. Or probably better to say: a bit campier than usual. On the subject of guest stars, Darj Dusay (Dolores here) is another ST alum. She was in "Spock's Brain."

Jim: One of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes! I feel like they give away Dolores' involvement in the mystery a little quickly with her actions after the explosive assassination of Admiral Hammond.

Trey: How did she and Ted Knight's character get together? And who is he, particularly, anyway? It seems like a bit of backstory to tell us how we got to this status quo would have been useful.

Jim: I feel like you've just got something against Ted Knight.

Trey: I'll have to think about that. Anyway, I feel like the retrotech in this episode is a bit lazier than usual. Particularly that "scuba" tank. The design isn't awful, but since "standard diving dress" was in production from the 1840s, maybe just a little bit more futuristic version of that instead of working backwards from modern scuba gear would have been the way to go. 

Jim: I agree. Also, there's the thing they keep calling an "underwater missile." What they show us is not a missile at all, but a mine--and naval mines had been around a long time at this point. I guess Bartlett's innovation is the use of the magnetic guidance system, as the first magnetic mines weren't developed by Britain in WWI?

Trey: We can't end this discussion without talking about West's scuba diving attire. 

Jim: Oh yeah. Very specialized!

Trey: It's his regular tight pants...

Jim: And his boots!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gruesome Games

"The Night of the Gruesome Games" 

Written by  Jackson Gillis

Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Synopsis: Racing the clock to recover a stolen vial of deadly germs, West and Gordon stumble upon a party hosted by an eccentric millionaire Rufus Krause who delights in playing dangerous--and potentially lethal--parlor games.

Jim: This episode starts off quite well, with the highlights for me being the missiles Dr. Raker set up to ambush West, and how Artermis riled up the yokels with his rabble rousing talk. However once Dr. Raker takes a dive into the river, I found myself perplexed by the path the story took from there!

Trey: This feels like a Season 1 story done in the S4 style--or maybe a mashup of two S1 stories! I don't feel like the ticking time bomb bacterial container isn't as well-integrated into the story of the party and the vicious games as it might be.

Jim: Yes, the bacterial threat does seem unnecessary given how the rest of the episode plays out. There are a number of other ways West and Gordon could have found themselves invited to Krause's manor. I will say, in defense of this specific plot element, that it provides time pressure for our heroes to work against. It's possible that was added in a second draft of the script or changed at some point, which is why it feels awkward.

Trey: They try to tie things in by making the hidden villains the source of the deadly games, but it's not explained why the old man doesn't care that some people have died. It seems quite a coincidence that these folks were invited to the party of an old man who played dangerous games and was indifferent to murder.

Jim: Well, at one point Krause says he often gives into his baser desires, so maybe murder isn’t that high up on his list of offenses. Long time television staple William Schallet makes a good Rufus Krause, even if he does constantly remind me of Dick Van Dyke's Mr. Dawes Senior from Mary Poppins.

Trey: Sherry Jackson (Lola Cortez) is always welcome, but there doesn't seem much point to her being here. She fades in and out as the "girl of week" being with our heroes in some endeavors but often just being one of the crowd of victims--or suspects.

Jim: You are so right about Jackson's minimal role in this episode. Her intermittent use gives me more reason to wonder about rewrites on this episode. Part of it plays like And Then They Were None. If that was the original direction, I could see how her character might have had more purpose. 

The music in this episode seems to fit better than in some of the previous episodes we've watched this season. Even when it sort of deviates from the standard fare, as with the cue at the first break, it still sounds more appropriate for the show than the modern sounding scores we heard so far.

Trey: Did you note the stereotypical Asian Henchman's name  was No Fun? Very Bondian pun, that.

Jim: Yes, No Fun's name also gave me a chuckle. It's definitely a Bondian style pun, but I also wonder if it's a possible tip of the hat to another CBS villain, Hawaii Five-0's Wo Fat.

Trey: That’s the fifth time you’ve brought up Hawaii 5-0 when discussing this series. How much is CBS paying you to promote it? 

Jim: Not enough!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Sedgewick Curse

"The Night of the Sedgewick Curse" 
Written by  Paul Playdon
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis: A mysterious disappearance at a hotel and spa leads West and Gordon to Sedgewick Manor and the sinister secrets its inhabitants are keeping.

Trey: This episode is probably the most effective Gothic riff in the series, so far. Even the music--different from the traditional WWW score, but also not the modern, jaunty stuff we've been hearing recently--supports that vibe.

Jim: Oh yeah, this episode makes great use of the creepy vibe. Once West gets into Lavinia's dark mansion, it's one Gothic visual after another, culminating with the beautiful Lavinia aging before our eyes, a consequence of her doomed quest for eternal youth. Also, it starts with a variation on the Vanishing Lady/Hotel Room urban legend, which was popularized by another classic CBS show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the episode "Into Thin Air."

We have occasionally talked about how often the guest actors (villains) on the show may not have been the best choice for the given role. I have no such complaints about this episode! Jay Robinson is wonderfully unnerving as Dr. Maitland. His monologue about the historical portraits is almost Lovecraftian.

Trey: He is great, and he's one of three Star Trek alumni guest starring here. The other two are Sharon Acker and Anthony Jochim.

Jim: I don't remember Robinson from Star Trek, I DO remember him from "Dr. Shrinker" a segment from the short-lived Sid & Marty Kroft show, The Krofft Supershow.

Trey: Robinson's role in ST is pretty minor. He's the Troyian Ambassador in "Elaan of Troyius."  He's also got green alien make-up on and a wig, so not easy to spot except by that voice.

Jim: Yeah, he would have been pretty much invisible to me during that episode, as I would have only had eyes for France Nuyen!

One thing I admire about James West is that he is often so confident of his abilities that he doesn't worry about sleeping in a dangerous place. (Something he's done a few times in the series.) We never see him or Gordon quibble about who will have first watch, or how to best secure their area. I wish he was leading my D&D party.

Trey: He has the confidence of a man who knows he's the series lead. He's particularly lucky this episode, though. It's Gordon that gets put in two death traps whereas he's usually the rescuer!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Juggernaut

"The Night of the Juggernaut" 
Written by  Calvin Clements Jr.
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): West and Gordon discover homesteaders are being run off their land by some sort of armored machine.

Jim: I've been waiting for this episode. Whether it's Speed Racer vs the Mammoth Car or Six Million Dollar Man's Death Probe, I always find the concept of a hero facing off against an unstoppable menace enjoyable. Man, do we jump to the setup and action quick with this one! We're just in the cold open, and we already get West and Gordon facing off against the steam-powered juggernaut.

Trey: It definitely doesn't waste any time.

Jim: How "science fiction" do you judge the juggernaut to be?

Trey: Well, the basic idea is perhaps credibly in the realm of "near future" speculation, but the specific design of this juggernaut is pretty fanciful compared to the steam-powered cars of the era.

Jim: It does seem odd it's so fanciful. There's not really a reason for the villain to paint it like that.

Trey: The driver even has a matching uniform! Maybe there's some sort of villain infernal contraption road race, and this was going to be his entry?

Jim: Now, that's an episode I'd like to see! Back to this episode, though, I enjoyed Lyle Dixon (played by boxer/actor Floyd Patterson) as the homesteader in this episode.

Trey: He's good guest star. Season 4 has had more Black actors in the episodes we've watched than any 2 other whole seasons, I bet. The times were changing! Overall, while I still like this episode, I think it appealed to me more when I was younger. The "tank" was emblematic of this being a different sort of Western to me then. Now, it feels a bit like a gimmick to enliven a fairly average episode. But it does enliven it.

Jim: Yeah, if you remove the juggernaut, this was just another spin on the rancher chasing off homesteaders trope.

Trey: Yeah, it's very stereotypical, and it's also the second time we've gotten a "I want the land for the oil" plot in the episodes we've watched, the first being "The Night of the Golden Cobra."

Jim: One think I noticed at the end of the episode: Is Robert Conrad's hair getting longer? It looked longer, particularly the sideburns.

Trey: I did! Like I say, the times are changing!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Doomsday Formula

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  Samuel Newman
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): When arms dealer kidnaps the inventor of a powerful new explosive, Jim and Artie attempt to rescue him before his formula's sold to the highest bidder.

Jim: First, we gotta discuss that groovy 60's music in this episode! At times it sounds like it could be the score for an episode of I Dream Of Jeannie! At times, it's so anachronistic that it completely pulls me out of the episode.

Trey: It's interesting that it's only aggressively modern in the cold open. The rest of the episode is scored a bit more conventionally, I think. I'm not sure about I Dream of Jeannie. It reminds me more of the 70s cop show work of Lalo Schifrin.

Jim: This episode does an admirable job giving both West and Gordon things to do. Gordon in his Middle Eastern guise provides Ross Martin lots of engaging screen time, and Conrad climbing through the air ducts and riding zip lines are entertaining physical sequences. In many ways, I think this is peak Wild Wild West, as this is probably how the characters are best utilized.

Trey: I agree that this episode really utilizes them both well and kind of in the archetypal way they ought to be used. Something to ponder, though: I feel like the "formula" is really most clear and most well executed in the episodes that are more conventional, less high concept. Is it a case of the writers who best understood the formula gravitated toward more straightforward plots, or is it an artifact of weirder episodes requiring the characters to work in different ways?

Jim: Hmm that's a good question. I can see how a conventional plot would allow the writers to focus on the characters strengths. I can also see how a weirder plot would require more exposition and setup, so it eats into the time West and Gordon get for their schtick.

Trey: I suppose it could always be that we notice the character stuff in more conventional episodes more because there is less other stuff to distract us!

Jim: There's that, too! Kevin McCarthy is okay as General Kroll, but he is lacking the qualities to make him standout. He doesn't have an interesting gimmick, appearance or motivation, and he's not charismatic enough to engage us without one of those things. That can be a challenge for some of the guest star villains on this show!

Trey: True. McCarthy's style makes me think that he's trying to convey a man of calculation and cruelty. Maybe the death trap he puts Lorna Crane in to convince Dr. Crane to give him the formula is evidence of that, but I feel like we needed more. Ultimately, his playing straight man to Gordon's mummery antics sort of robs him of the chance to shine. I mean, he's got a cane with a metal fist on the end, did he ever fight West with it?

Jim: You're right! I don't think he did. One thing I liked: the audio device playing Gordon singing might be a bit anachronistic, but I appreciate the steampunk looking design. 

Trey: It is definitely anachronistic, but it wasn't a bad design. Sometimes WWW fails because close ups of their gadgets show them to look like more modern gadgetry in terms of design or materials, but this time they got it right.

Jim: So you're saying you'll accept a miniature grappling gun in the 1870s, but not if it looks like it's made of plastic?

Trey: You gotta draw the line somewhere.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  David Moessinger
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: A foreign diplomate, Baron Hinterstoisser, plans to use a fake kinetoscope film of Grant making a secret alliance with a another nation to embarrass the United States for political gain. West and Gordon must break into the embassy and substitute their own film before it is shown to the public.

Trey: While we both prefer episodes with at least a tinge of weirdness, this one is about all you could want from a "straight" spy-fi episode: Good set up, groovy music, and great action. It was the 6th episode produced for the season, but CBS wanted it to air first and I can see why. It's really all around well written. It reminds me a bit of the Season 3 opener, "Bubbling Death" in its virtues.

Jim: Yeah, the episode has a real Mission Impossible vibe. From the start with West stealing the film strip, to the wax seal on the box, and then the ominous warning of seven dead agents, you can tell you are in for a fun reverse heist type of plot. I'm a fan of Mission Impossible, so I found myself enjoying this installment more than I was expecting, from reading the synopsis.

Coincidentally, Ron Rich, who plays Dick January in this episode, would later share the screen with Robert Conrad again in a two part Mission Impossible episode called "The Contender."

Trey: He isn't the only guest star here. The big one, of course, is Harvey Korman, best known from his time on The Carol Burnett Show.

Jim: Weirdly and against my expectations, he plays everything so straight here. It's perplexing because many actors found a way to put a little camp into their characters in earlier seasons. Maybe that was a directorial decision?

Trey: There's good interaction between West and Gordon in this episode. 

Jim: I found West disregarding Gordon's warning on the red lever pretty funny. but the highlight of this episode is the fake film with Gordon clowning around!

Trey: Artemus Gordon: Inventor of Silent Film Comedy.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death-Maker

"The Night of the Death-Maker" 
Written by  Robert E. Kent
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: After foiling an elaborate attempt to assassinate President Grant, West and Gordon discover the mastermind is a former Army officer who was stripped of his command, and is building a private army for another attack on the President.

Jim: And so we come to the end of Season 3. Will it end with a bang or a whimper I wonder?

Trey: Survey says...whimper. Nothing is bad, really, but we have seen it all before--and better done before. 

Jim: Agreed. I will tell you the first thing that struck me about this episode, though--

Trey: I bet it's the first thing that struck me!

Jim: This late 19th century town has better paved streets than some of the areas places around my town today!

Trey: And with as many oil stains!

Jim: The foiled assassination attempts makes for an exciting opening, I'd say. The episode takes a bit of a conventional Western path from there, but things get more intriguing when the missing monks and the Cullen Dane's forces are introduced. 

Trey: I kind of like Cullen Dane's girlfriend, the actress, is a true believer and not a dupe. She doesn't fall for West and get "rescued!"

Dane definitely has delusions of grandeur. He doesn't seem to have a large enough force to take California, much less the U.S. as a whole. In fact that goal seems so tacked on, they should have just left it at the revenge assassination.

Jim: I feel like this story could have been improved with monks guarding an ancient relic or alchemical formula. Especially if that monastic secret had been coupled with some fantastic element like invisibility or invulnerability!

Trey: Eh, I can't go with you on that one.

Jim: C'mon! I've decided that Wild Wild West works best in one of two modes: When it's delving into more scifi or weird stories like "Burning Diamonds" or "Simian Terror," or when it's using the team of Jim and Artemis in a more conventional television storyline like "Iron Fist." 

Trey: Well, that I would agree with, at least in broad strokes. 

Jim: Success!

Trey: And with that, we exit Season 3.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

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

"The Night of the Simian Terror" 
Written by  Earl Barret and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: The estate of a senator and his family is being stalked by a perhaps inhuman killer. What family secret do they harbor related to this horrifying events? West and Gordon must unravel the mystery before more people die.

Trey: In which Robert Conrad utters that immortal line: "Get your hands off me you dirty ape!"

Jim: That didn't happen. 

Trey: No, not really.

Jim: It should be no surprise that this episode is a favorite of mine. This is a perfect example of the type of gothic horror story I would have liked to have seen more often. 

Trey: Yes, this is definitely one of the more Gothic episodes. We get the same estate gates we see in all the Gothic episodes from the first season on.

Jim: They're part of a really atmospheric opening, with Jim and Artie standing at those gate at night, the wind blowing wildly, as they call on the forbidding mansion. 

Artie's use of the small drill and miniature spyglass feels like an appropriately retro bit of spyware. 

Trey: The drill is a bit weird, because there's no reason he needs to see who's in the room since he already knows! It's only purpose is to let the audience see the speakers to better sort them out and make the scene more interesting.

Jim: It was nice to see Richard Kiel return to the show! After this, he would later get a recurring role as Moose Maron owner on the short-lived William Shatner western Barbary Coast. I have to think his appearances on WWW helped get him that role. 

Trey: It is good to have Kiel back. This is his last appearance on the series, though.

Jim: A historical question here: I know that Thomas Savage found gorilla bones in 1847, but how well known would they actually have been at the time of this episode?

Trey: his episode probably takes place in 1874 or so. Gorrillas would probably have still be exotic, but stuffed ones (and fake ones) had toured around by over a decade at this point.

I feel like Dimas and gorilla are perhaps not handled as well as they might be. The episode seems to be trying to misdirect to the idea that a gorilla is doing the murders (and the title helps with that) in sort of a reverse "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" fakeout. But the family seems to know what the deal is the whole time (and they're right) and their behavior doesn't make sense if it's a gorilla, so you're never entirely convinced. Then, we find out the murderer's Dimas AND there's a real gorilla. It allows for the escape scene and the pathos at the end, but I feel like restructuring to either utilize the gorilla more or eliminate it entirely would have been best.

Jim: I never thought I'd see the day when you were saying you wanted fewer apes in a tv show! Don't you have a statute of the Lawgiver from Planet of the Apes in your house?

Trey: Look, my religion is a private affair, ok?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Amnesiac


The Night of the Amnesiac

Written by: Robert Bloomfield, Leigh Chapman

Directed by: Lawrence Dobkin

Synopsis: West is wounded while guarding a shipment of smallpox vaccine and both he and the vaccine disappear, having been hijacked by outlaws who leave Jim for dead. The Secret Service receives an ultimatum: pardon and free Furman Crotty (Edward Asner), a nihilistic crime lord currently serving time in Leavenworth, or the vaccine will not be returned. Since waiting six days for a new supply means that many more people will die of the disease, the thieves' demands are met. Gordon sets out to follow Crotty, find West and stop an epidemic in the making. And finding Jim won't be easy, since the outlaws' attack left him with amnesia and he's wandering around trying to remember who he is...

Trey: This episode has a fair amount of action and moves along reasonably well. The opening business with the guy drinking out of the gun barrel is cinematic feeling, like some quirkiness you might see in a Spaghetti Western.

Jim: That was a neat scene. There are a number of flourishes in this episode that were enjoyable, but overall, I think the sum was less than its parts.

Trey: How so?

Jim: The key to a successful amnesiac themed episode is watching the hero discover their skills and abilities throughout the episode. Usually they are accompanied by a helpful stranger as they face off against a group of opponents. It's such a common way to run with this idea that it could be describing anything ranging from The Bourne Identity to the Six Million Dollar Man episode Stranger in Broken Fork.

This episode starts off in this direction, with West being taken in by Cloris Colton, played by the lovely Sharon Farrell. Farrell may be best known from later seasons of Hawaii Five-O in the role of Detective Lori Wilson.

However, that's about all the play we get out of the usual amnesiac formula. True, with the fight scenes, we get to see West use some of his skills (the bar fight was excellent) but that's about it. I think the problem is, this episode demonstrates that West's skills, as remembered by the writers of this episode, are a bit limited - or the writers just didn't want to go in that direction.

Trey: I can see what you’re saying. To me, the episode just feels very conventional (for lack of a better word) . Like the amnesia plot is so played, this could have been in virtually any action show of the era.


There's also some evidence, I think, of script changes. The subplot with the usurper brother seems under-fed and so pointless. Asner's character reveals himself to be a full blown super-villain with his discussion about unleashing a plague, but the "nothing but me and machines" comes out of nowhere. Perhaps he was supposed to be some mad tinkerer or something, but little in the episode as presented supports that.


Jim: You're right - that "machines and me" line comes out of nowhere. This episode had three writers, Robert Bloomfield is credited with the story, while Leigh Chapman and Michael Garrison wrote the script. Your suggestion that the script was tweaked during production makes me wonder what the original story looked like.


Trey: Ed Asner makes a good villain, though! I think this is the first villainous live action role I've seen him in, though he's done villainous voices on a number of DC animated things.


Jim: I agree with you on Asner in this episode. I wondered how he might be in the role of a villain. On one hand, his demeanor and physical presence make him seem like a natural, but unlike many guys with the same qualities, he seemed to avoid getting type casted in that role.

Trey: It sounds like we’ve covered this episode pretty well. Any final thoughts?

Jim: The banner saying Bible Class closed due to Epidemic spoke to me on several levels!

Trey: It was all too real!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Undead

"The Night of the Undead" 
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Calvin Clements Jr.
Synopsis: Searching for a missing scientist, West stumbles upon a voodoo ceremony--and possibly the walking dead.

Trey: I would be tempted to think this episode was inspired by Live And Let Die--if it didn't predate the film by by four years! Thinking about it more, I think White Zombie (1932) is it's likely antecedent.

Jim: Yeah, this episode busts out of the gate hard with the voodoo motif - and I like it! From the Stork hooded voodoo priestess to the seemingly zombie henchman, this episode really starts off in a way that suggests we are going to have another dip in the world of supernatural--an area not explored since the Sammy Davis Jr. episode, "The Night of the Returning Dead."

Trey: Though the answer is mad science, not magic, we are definitely back in the realm of the weird. An area this season as mostly avoided!

Jim: Well, this episode was written by a guy who gave us a first season episode with a strong premise, "The Night of the Steel Assassin." Though it felt that one didn't live up to its promise.

Trey: I feel like he delivers in this one.

Jim: Oh yeah. Artie's search for the source of the skull medallion gives Ross Martin a good bit of screentime. I suspect that on any other show, the amount of lines Martin is often given over Conrad would be a point of contention. However, I'm willing to bet that as long as he got some prime action scenes, Conrad was okay with Martin getting a lot dialogue.

Trey: Conrad was like: "Give me a shirtless scene and some fights. That's what the audience is here for!"

Jim: Ha! A quick question about West's fight scenes: Are they better than those of Captain Kirk's? I want to say yes. I feel like Conrad puts more physical intensity into his fight scenes, but that's just my unscientific opinion.

Trey: Absolutely, yeah. Conrad was into both stunt work and fighting. I don't think Shatner particularly cared about those things.

Jim: The underground vineyard is one of the better setpieces we've seen this season. It has multiple levels even!

Trey: Yeah, I thought that was really good, too, though I was suspicious it might be a redress/rearrangement of the set from "The Night of the Bubbling Death." But very Bond-like, I think, and also pulpy.

Jim: Dr. Articulus' plan to marry the daughter of his long lost love has got to be the creepiest master plan we've ever had on this show! Combined with the web covered mansion, this weird romantic angle gives the episode a very gothic feel. 

Trey: Agreed. It's like "The Night of the Man-Eating House" in that respect...Which also featured Hurd Hatfield!

Jim: You're right! So the voodoo setup we got in the beginning may have been a ruse, but it all works.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

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

"The Night of the Death Masks" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West and Gordon are caught up in deadly mind games, part of an elaborate revenge plot by an escaped criminal they put away.

Jim: Conrad spends a lot of time walking around with his mouth open in this episode. Is that going to be some new affectation that I can't stop noticing now? Or has he always done that, and I'm just now noticing it?

Trey: That's where you're going to start? But anyway, I think it's new.

Jim: Well, how's this? The opening scene with West fighting the three soldiers was sort of funny. West is over at the piano plinking away a few notes as he calls out the soldier's behavior. He doesn't bother trying to diffuse the situation. He knows how it's going to go down. He's all out of fucks, as the kids say.

Trey: I agree, though ironically, I feel like this is (for much of the episode) a bit darker than the usual WWW fare.

Jim: Yeah. It definitely goes in that direction. I get the feeling that West wandering the empty town is supposed to be a big gimmick in the episode. However, a lot of the creepy tension of Paradox is undercut by our knowledge that West was shanghaied and taken there by Stark's cronies. 

I feel like if you are going to go with a gaslighting plot like this one, then there's some value to holding out information from the viewer. The mystery should be drawn out more. When Artemis gets the news that Stark has broken out of prison that should be our first reveal as to what's going on.

As it is, there isn't a lot of narrative tension in the empty town. Even when Betsy Cole is supposedly killed and vanishes, and it's pretty obviously part of the game. Cole, by the way, is played by Patty McCormack who alarmed audiences ten years earlier as the murderous little girl in The Bad Seed.

Trey: Your point is well  taken, but I wasn't bothered as much as you by what was going on being obvious to the viewer and not to West. Indeed, I think this episode plays that sort of  The Prisoner-esque plot better than the season 1 Loveless episode that dips its toe into the same thing. 

Jim: The back story of Emmet Stark and the robbery at the mint, even though it's apocryphal, makes me wish we saw more old adversaries return to the series. In some ways, it's a hallmark of the series that's not capitalized on enough.

Trey: Seems like we've gotten a couple of those, but yeah, it's not common. Stark is one of the weaknesses in the episode to me, though. Ultimately, Emmett Stark is just a name. Beyond this plot he's  a cypher. I think a better actor with more lines could have made him seem a worthy foe. Also, I think it's too bad we don't see all the conspirators brought to justice. I know they were minor, but still!

Jim: Totally agree on the vacuum created by Stark's absence for most of the episode. The problem is, how do you work him into more of the episode, but keep the mystery going? What we really could have used was a scene with Stark addressing his cronies, which could have served the dual purpose of explaining why they were helping him.

Trey: Though expected, the one part that works really well is the unknowing gunfight between West and Gordon. 

Jim: It definitely seems the intended set piece of this episode, but it feels like we got to it in a bit of a roundabout fashion. Once it's in full swing though, it makes for a rousing action scene. My only complaint is the resolution depended on Gordon flat out missing West when shooting at him. 

Trey: Does he practice his marksmanship more after that, I wonder?


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