Thursday, March 10, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tycoons

"The Night of the Tycoons"
Written by  Barney Slater (story) & Louis Vittes (teleplay)
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West investigates the suspicious deaths of members of the board of directors of the Jupiter Corporation with the help of the privileged son of one the former chairman. 

Jim: Following the wisdom of Silver Age DC comics, this episode entices us us with an ape, specifically one in a Union soldier uniform! 

Trey: "You Can't Pin A Medal on a Gorilla"....But I digress. This one definitely has the elements of a number of good episodes:  an elaborate plot, high concept goons, a simian throwing an explosive, but...

Jim: Let's not get to that final judgement so quickly! It is a weird episode in that its corporate intrigue plot is more fitting for a show like Mannix or Banacek. Even the chauvinistic comments by West would fit shows like that better.  Then there's scene with the circus seals goes on for quite a long time! Also, where is Artemus Gordon? 

Trey: Yeah, I think this is the most sexist episode of WWW we've watched. It's not that our heroes have never made sexist comments before, but not this number and not in such a way it seemed almost an ethos.

As to Artemus, well this is an episode from before Martin's return. It was produced right before "TNOT Diva." But as to my final judgement...

Jim: Oh no!

Trey: Here it comes! Despite its good qualities, the episode fails for sexism, but mostly because it lacked a strong or at least suitably eccentric main villain.

Jim:  Yep. I enjoyed the circus of crime and the crossbow death trap, but outside of that, this was a sadly lackluster finale for the series. Now, I'm wondering what would've been a good last episode? One final battle with Dr. Loveless perhaps?

Trey: Another appearance by Loveless would have been great. I think getting any recurrent villain like Valentine or Count Manzeppi would have been good, too. A team up, would have been awesome, but probably more than one could reasonably hope for.

Jim: And with that, our heroes rode into the sunset!

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Plague

"The Night of the Plague"
Written by  Ed Adamson (story) & Frank L. Moss (teleplay)
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: West and Gordon must protect the royal family of Karovnia who have traveled to the U.S., fleeing an assassination attempt in their homeland. They are pursued by Count Balkovitch who seeks an icon he needs to possess in order to usurp the throne.

Jim: The stagecoach comeuppance at the start kicks off this episode with a bit of humor, and lets us know what we need to know about the character of Averi Trent. We can already tell it's going to be a different type of story with the way West is dressed.

With its spoiled governor's daughter and plague-related ticking clock, this has a very 60's television vibe, but I appreciate the touches humor. There are times when the tone even reminds me of the Coen Brothers' movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou, mostly due to William Bryant's stage actor patter and his slight resemblance to George Clooney in that role.

f I have any qualms with this episode, it's that the whole plague plot point seems completely unnecessary. Outside of spurring Gordon to find West (something he could have done anyway) the plague angle doesn't present any real motivation or tension. It does give us an anticlimactic ending by providing a reason for the bandits to surrender. I almost wonder if it was tacked on during a rewrite? 

Trey: Kesler, author of Wild Wild West: The Series, doesn't like this episode much. I think she's a bit unduly harsh, but I would agree it could really have been an episode of a lot of Western shows, minus the plague angle--and even potentially including that.

As you point out, though, they don't leverage the plague for increased tension. They teased "West is going to get sick!" but then resolves it so quickly. I wonder if rather than that being tacked on, it was actually a bigger point in the initial story, but it got slimmed down in favor of a lighter tone and cute interplay between Wood and Conrad?

I also wonder about Conrad's wardrobe change, here. Was it merely that he is supposed to be "undercover?" If so, why does he wear different outfits so rarely. I wonder as the 70s were looming if they were thinking about moving out of the so very mid-60s tight blue suit in favor of something grittier, and this was like a test run?

Jim: Another Conrad related note: it seems like he still does a lot of his own stunts here. I was under the impression he stopped after his skull injury in Season 3 ("TNOT Fugitives") that he had stopped that.

Trey: I thought the same thing. It certainly looks like him doing a number of those things. And their are a number of impressive for TV stunts here. The episode follows the trend of S4 of having more action.

This episodes most famous guest star is Lana Wood as Averi Trent. She's not as famous as her sister Natelie, true, but she is in The Searchers and was a Bond girl in Diamonds Are Forever.

Jim: You're burying the lead! She was also in the second Reb Brown Captain America TV movie!

Trey: And here I didn't even know there was a second one!

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cossacks

"The Night of the Cossacks"
Written by  Oliver Crawford
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West and Gordon must protect the royal family of Karovnia who have traveled to the U.S., fleeing an assassination attempt in their homeland. They are pursued by Count Balkovitch who seeks an icon he needs to possess in order to usurp the throne.

Trey: It seems to me episodes with Russian/Eastern European visitors often have decent action, but are otherwise lackluster. I feel like this one fits that pattern.

Jim: Lackluster? I think that's a harsher criticism than this episode deserves! I actually found the character drama, political intrigue and use of Eastern Slavic culture in this episode a welcome change of pace. It gave the story a bit more depth than the average would-be tyrant storyline.

Trey: Slavic culture or Slavic caricature?

Jim: Well... Anyway, I did find amusing  how West has to really play diplomat here. He's got to tactfully correct his visitors who lack cultural fluency with American customs and are perhaps a bit rustic without insulting them. It strikes me as one of those quaint examples of the paternalistic notion of America during this era as the more experienced, older brother on the world stage that was so dominant in television at this time.  

Trey: It's a quaint notion at the best of times, but it's downright anachronistic here! It's the 60s seeping through. 

There are a couple of guest stars of note, here. Aliza Gur plays Maria. She was Miss Israel 1960, and perhaps best known for her role in From Russia With Love. The Prince is played by Guy Stockwell, younger brother to Dean.

Jim: When you say that, I can see the resemblance, but I would have never got there on my own.

Trey: That's what I'm here for! Well, one of the things.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bleak Island

"The Night of the Bleak Island"
Written by  Robert E Kent
Directed by Marvin J Chomsky
Synopsis: West goes to the aptly named Bleak Island to retrieve a diamond bequeathed to the National Museum. When howls of a ghostly hound are heard and a murder occurs, He teams up with another invitee and an old acquaintance, Sir Nigel Scott of Scotland Yard, to solve the mystery.
Jim: Given the opening shots of the tiny ship tossed amongst the waves, this really would have been the better episode to have Alan Hale Jr. guest star on. They even use the same ship from Gilligan's Island in one shot.

Trey: The little boat they were in I'm pretty sure was the same one in "The Night of the Pelican," too.

Jim: All the guests talking on the small boat as they ferry to Bleak Island gives us an appropriate And Then There Were None vibe, though the actual episode leans more on The Hound of the Baskervilles. With a slight nod to Wilke Collins' The Moonstone! This episode manages to find a way to tip its hat to at least three classic English mystery stories.

Trey: The title may even be a reference to Dickens' Bleak House, too, but that could be just a coincidence.

Jim: I'm curious when this episode was filmed. Was it during Martin's absence? If so, they sat on it for a bit before showing it.

Trey: Looking at production order, this the last episode filmed before Ross' return in "The Night of the Diva." I don't know why they saved it.

Jim: Interestingly, it has some Gothic trapping and tropes in common with that episode.

Trey: Agreed!

Jim: John Williams, as Sir Nigel Scott, makes  a good Sherlock Holmes analog. Though, I think I would have enjoyed seeing a much younger man portraying the real Sherlock Holmes. However, given the way the plot plays out, though, it makes sense why they didn't go that way.

Trey: Yeah, if we go by fandom theorizing, Holmes would have been in his 20s probably here. He's like 10 years younger that West. As you say though, Sir Nigel presents the aging British Empire and West up and the up and coming United States. I don't think the SPOILER--reveal of Sir Nigel as the villain plays a part in the allegory, though.

Jim: I'm gonna have to think about that.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Diva

"The Night of the Diva"
Written by  Alf Harris (story) and Ken Pettus
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Synopsis: In New Orleans, West and Gordon struggle to protect an opera diva from Italy from a plot to kidnap her. They discover she's not the only opera singer to meet with foul play recently.
Jim: New Orleans is a welcome change of venue! Also good to get the real return of Artemus. During the opening scene, Gordon is really on emotive fire, and Conrad seems to be genuinely enjoying his performance.

Trey: New Orleans is one of WWW's "go to" locales, but you're right, it has been a little while.

Jim: I loved the humorous tone of this episode. It may be a bit more tongue in cheek than some fans would like, but it hits the sweet spot for me. I also liked the natural convergence of both West's and Gordon's plots. The villain's identity reveal was a shocker too. Overall, this was excellent episode.

Trey: While I agree there are humorous parts to this episode, there are certainly aspects that are far from humorous. It's another with Gothic touches, and the reveal of its primary villain is positively Hitchcockian! Without Artie's travails with the Opera Singer, I'd call this one of the more horrific/thriller-like of Wild Wild West episodes.

Jim: Good point. It goes from a mildly humorous beginning to women in cages in a dungeon!  Did the cinematography seem different this episode? They must've used a hand held camera for the alley fight, because the frame was jumping all around, almost cinéma vérité.

Trey: I thought the same thing regarding the alley fight. I think it did use a shaky camera, much like part of the opening of last episode. This more cinematic camera work and shots at times definitely positions us more like the 70s TV to come than the mid-60s TV where we started. Another indication of changing times: the addition of Mason and other women secret service personnel in a few other episodes this season makes it seem to me they were considering adding a regular female cast member, but they never fully committed for one reason or another.

Jim: A female agent would have been a smart addition to the series. I'm a bit surprised they didn't use Gordon's medical leave as an opportunity to team West up with a female agent. I would've cast either Sandy Duncan, Teri Garr or Marlo Thomas in that role.

Trey: All good choices! But man, Diana Rigg as a visiting British agent would have been awesome.

Jim: Right?!

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The NIght of the Pistoleros

"The Night of the Pistoleros"
Written by  Earl Barret and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Bernard McEveety
Synopsis: Called to an isolated border fort by an old friend, West and Gordon stumble upon an elaborate scheme involving imposter army officers to provoke a war with Mexico.

Jim: It's great to see Ross Martin return to the show, even if this was actually shot before he returned.

Trey: It is, but yeah, since this episode doesn't mention Artemus being away in Washington and the next does, it seems like this was shown out of production order. I also note  I think this is the first we've heard of Artie's Civil War service.

Jim: I found the focus on Artemis Gordon in this episode very interesting. It added a bit of mystery to the corrupt cavalry plot. When he was shot, I kept expecting to see him return in the next scene. This is probably one of the better fake outs we've gotten in the series.

Trey: The episode may be only the second we've seen that we've watched that truly integrated a Bond/Mission Impossible style plot with a Western one. That makes it better than a lot of the straight up Western riffs. It's also seems to be a notably violent episode. It opens with a shoot out, which is a rarity for this show.

 Jim: Yeah, I totally get a Mission Impossible vibe from this episode as well. Part of it is all extensive use of doppelgangers. The perfect duplication of a person's features via plastic surgery feels like a very 60's thing. The ambush and standoff made for a good cold open, and the pink smoke providing cover for their escape was a nice way to add some color to the scene.

Trey: 60s TV does love it's pinkish smoke! I'm disappointed that we don't get to know more about the villain, particularly because I believe he's unique in the series: a Mexican (I assume) mastermind. Most villains in the episodes set in Mexico are gringo interlopers. Mexican characters are at best supporting cast and at worst window-dressing. This guy is local, and has a plot that seems centered locally. The U.S. army is just the instrument he's employing. The surgeon seems extraneous to me, though. Why not have the mastermind also be the surgeon?

Jim: Yeah, the main villain and the surgeon could have been easily combined, but I would have wanted a better actor for that role -  maybe a reappearance by Ricardo Montalban?

Trey: Well, we didn't get Ricardo Montalban, but you know who we did get? A young Robert Pine of CHiPs fame.

Jim: I think Erik Estrada is really the only actor that deserves to be in the same sentence with "CHiPs" and "fame."

Trey: Good point.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Janus

"The Night of the Janus"
Written by  Leonard Katzman and Paul Playdon
Directed by Irving J Moore
Synopsis: The murder of a secret service agent points to a traitor in the organization. Jim West and Jeremy Pike must uncover the traitor's identity at the service academy. A sheet of music left by the dead agent is their only clue.

Trey: Jeremy Pike is back for one last go! And there's traitor in the service is an idea you and I had talked about, so it's interesting to see they did that. 

Jim: The real star of this episode was the secret service training school. I almost wish this idea had been introduced earlier in the series as sort of a western version of MI6. Combined with the plan to rob the mint, this made for one of the more enjoyable episodes this season.

Trey: It's solid, but I'm not quite as sold on the setting. The training academy seems a bit advanced to me, based on what we've seen of the secret service in previous episodes. I guess it makes sense if you think about they also have to have a place to make and distribute those gadgets--which we get to see here, too! Setting it all in Denver is a bit of a surprise, but I guess if most of the threats are in the West, you need to be there, and maybe San Francisco is too far West.

Jim: Oh, you're fretting too much over realism in a show about a guy in a bright blue cowboy outfit! Didn't you like the musical mystery? The song lyrics and music box clue is one of those mystery gimmicks I always enjoy. 

Trey: It was a nice too, for sure.

Jim: It was fun to see Jack Carter as Alan Thorpe. Carter doesn't bring much to the role other than his own personality, but he rings the appropriate nostalgia bells. 

Trey: I had him pegged as the traitor fairly early on (I recognized his voice when West was trapped in the training room), but I think the episode does a pretty good with not being too obvious and keeping you guessing about the resolution. I like that we get to see West use some smarts and skills here!

Jim: I definitely agree! The booby trapped room was the perfect way to show us how West stacks up in the field of secret service work. 

Trey: As tough as they obstacle course is, I wonder how many agents die in training?

Jim: They are wearing matching red shirts. That can be bad in 60s TV!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Sabatini Death

"The Night of the Sabatini Death"
Written by  Shirl Hendryx
Directed by Charles R. Rondeau
Synopsis: A dying crime boss makes a last request of West: make sure a young, blind woman receives the gift he is bequeathing her. The request isn't as simple as it seems, and West and secret service chemist, Ned Brown, are soon caught up in a mystery regarding a stolen fortune hidden in a Missouri ghost town.

Trey: This is a pretty good episode, better I think than it might look on paper. It's another ghost town with hidden treasure like we've seen in at least two (maybe three!) other episodes before, with a touch of Agatha Christie mystery atmosphere to it, perhaps--and there isn't anything "weird" about it! The script is pretty good though, and the guest appearances by Alan Hale, jr. and Jim Backus do more than you would think to help it along.

Jim: There does seem to be something about this script that gives it a bit more sparkle than the previous "hidden treasure in a ghost town" scripts. It almost feels like it was written for another series, but adapted to Wild Wild West. I didn't recognize the episode's writer Shirl Hendryx from any previous television series. Upon looking Hendryx up, I was a bit surprised to see that while he had worked on many other television series, most of his work was limited to a single episode! The longest stint was seven episodes on the series Combat.

Trey: Hale's Ned Brown is the first of the Gordon replacements that seems pretty differentiated from Gordon. It's a shame he was only in one episode, but at least that is sort of written into the story.

Jim: I totally agree about the inclusion of Ned Brown. Alan Hale plays him pretty much like he plays a lot of his characters, but it works well. He's not a precision actor like William Schallert, but Hale has a lot of natural charm, and he makes a striking physical contrast to Conrad.

What did you think of the Gilligan's Island in-joke at the end of the episode? I liked it. It has some additional irony in that Gilligan's Island was canceled to make room for Gunsmoke.

Trey: It's 60s TV appropriate. It didn't bother me, at all. It got me thinking in a Wold-Newton frame of mind: Maybe Jonas Grumby is one of Ned Brown's descendants?

Jim: Next you'll be telling me that Gilligan's Island is the same as the island in Lost!

Trey: Now that you mention it...

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Winged Terror (part 2)

"The Night of the Winged Terror (Part 2)"
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Ken Pettus
Synopsis: West and Harper race to stop Raven's plot to kill a Mexican official--but West has actually been brainwashed to carry out the deed! Harper must foil this plan and use his talent for disguise to infiltrate Raven's headquarters and save his partner.

Trey: This second part makes for an entertaining hour of television, but I feel like it's a little bit less accomplished than part 1. Mainly, this is in the fact that there's that "escape, capture, repeat" loop that tends to bother you more than me, but I'm not completely immune to getting tired of it. What makes it a bit egregious is it relies on our heroes acting dumb. West is so certain he hasn't been brainwashed with little reason. Ok, you could say that is part of the brainwashing, and Harper isn't fooled--but you've still got West beating around the push with putting his hands on Tycho (it wouldn't have matter, invisible screen and all, but West doesn't know that), and then Harper and West snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by setting off an explosion when the cabal has barely left the room!

Jim: Yes, this episode spins its wheels a bit. It's like the writer didn't know how to utilize the expanded format, so the fell back on their old standbys. Part of that might be the need to accommodate all the unnecessary second bananas that work under Tycho. Additionally, Tycho's plan never gets expanded in any meaningful way. In a James Bond movie, the villain's machinations are usually steps that build up to a master plan.  Here, they are all the same, and done to demonstrate Raven's power--for some reason. The final capture/escape combo with Tycho's glass shield was just stupid.

Overall, this was a disappointing follow up to the first installment, with Schallert's spots providing the most enjoyment to me.

Trey: There was dumb to go around to other characters, too. Tycho is pretty gullible for a guy supposedly as smart as he is. Then there's Laurette being so certain West is on her side after he had just been brainwashed by them.

Jim: Did you notice when Laurette is giving James the hard sell on Tycho, you can see the classic rock formation from the Star Trek episode "Arena" prominently in the background?

Trey: Yep, that's Vasquez Rocks.

Jim: I'm glad they selected Michele Carey to be the femme fatale in these episodes. She has a distinctive lilt to her voice that makes her delivery a pleasure to listen to. It was probably that voice that won her the role of Effie in another Robert Conrad series, A Man Called Sloane.

Trey: It feels a bit like Tycho was being positioned to be a replacement Loveless. His plots more resemble some other villains of the week, but he has the eccentric character and unusual physicality of a Loveless. 

Jim: Unfortunately, Christopher Cary doesn't have any of the personal charm or elegant elocution that Michael Dunn possesses. Tycho is more like one of those forgettable one off Batman villains that might show up between Joker and Catwoman episodes.

Trey: Ouch! 


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