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!


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