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!


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