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!


Related Posts with Thumbnails