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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