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.


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