For my birthday this year one of the things I directed my money toward was a complete series collection of The Wild, Wild West that ran for four seasons in the late 60s, and starred Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Like I did with The Avengers a little while ago, I thought I’d write up some mini-commentaries on different episodes as I watch through them.
The Wild, Wild West is a series that I’ve only ever seen a few episodes of, back when I was a kid visiting my grandparents’ place in Colorado. I enjoyed it at the time, funny mix of western, espionage and science fiction that it is. The set that I’ve bought contains all the episodes of the show, spread across some random number of DVD’s. It’s hard to know how many since the packaging is truly terrible. The box is hugely fat but contains only four “pages” for the DVD’s to be stored, so there are multiple disks stacked on top of each other that you have to dig through in order to find what you want.
Anyway, this is Disk 2. Read about Disk 1 here.
Night of the Casual Killer
Disk 2 of this show starts off with a pretty conventional Western story, which was shot near the beginning of the season according to a little audio introduction from series star Robert Conrad. The plot features West and Gordon attempting to find, capture and bring to justice a notorious outlaw who is hiding in the wilderness: John Avery, a former government player and now one of the most wanted men in the country. The story offers up a pretty simple but compelling reason why he has to be captured and not killed (so he can be brought to justice in a way that proves the US President was not showing him any favor), which sets up the drama of the episode effectively.
To achieve this, West and Gordon pretend to be theatrical performers who just got lost, and end up as prisoners of Avery’s gang. What’s interesting about this is that apparently Artemus Gordon’s cover is so effective that he can just act as himself–no false identity necessary! It’s different for Jim West, who must allow the local goons to beat him up to try to prove that he is not dangerous. Of course, John Avery turns out to be quite the formidable opponent–highly intelligent and highly dangerous–and Jim West’s cover does not last for long. Unfortunately for him, Avery has a girlfriend who is no match for Jim’s charms, and soon the group has got a daring escape plan going.
It all culminates in an exciting shoot-out finale which involves our heroes riding away in an out of control cart while throwing dynamite at their enemies–pretty exciting stuff.
But for the most part, quite conventional stuff. Indeed, other than the fact that they ride around on their own personal train, the only bit of “spy-fi” that the show includes is the fact that Jim has a bomb hidden in his pocket watch. But still, as a one-off, I didn’t miss it. It was a fun story.
Some quick trivia–Artemus plays the violin in this episode. It seems that that’s really Ross Martin playing–it was something he was quite proficient at. And also, this is apparently the only episode in the whole series to not start with the word “the.”
John Dehner (Avery) has appeared on lots of shows, but one of the funnier ones is Enos, the spin-off show of The Dukes of Hazzard, as a police lieutenant. Ruta Lee (Laurie Morgan) also has had a lot of roles, including as Ruth in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (the woman who marries the third brother, Caleb). Charles Davis plays Tennyson, making his second of four appearances in the show (although his first one credited) as West’s butler. Len Lesser (Mason) played Uncle Leo on Seinfeld.
For the first time, none of the credited actors had roles on Star Trek, but some of the uncredited ones did (also uncredited). One of them, Nick Borgani, also appeared in the next two episodes of The Wild Wild West.
Episode co-writer Bob Barbash also was one of the writers on The Black Hole from 1979.
The Night of a Thousand Eyes
This is a pretty violent episode of this show. I mean, The Wild Wild West never seemed to shy away from killing off characters, but here we learn (and see a bit) a riverboat full of people being gunned down by villains, a woman working for the bad guys gets shot point blank for beginning to spill the villain’s beans to Jim, and the main bad guy’s girlfriend gets accidentally skewered by a sword! That’s two women dead–I think maybe the first two women I’ve seen killed off on this show (although the first one, Crystal, is clearly seen breathing after she’s been murdered).
The story features another memorable villain: Captain Ansel Coffin, a blind man determined to control all passage on a river (I assume the Mississippi, although I can’t remember if it’s ever specifically said). To this end, his band of crazy murderers tricks local river traffic to run aground and then shoots everyone on board. We see this at the start, although their plan only works because of a terrible storm that is happening. I’m not sure what they do when the weather is clear. Anyway, his plan is to take control of the river and then to basically charge a toll for any boats the government want to send through his territory. Pretty fiendish stuff.
Artemus gets to dress up as a fancy gentleman, but he doesn’t get to act like one very much as there isn’t all that much “undercover” work for him to do. But he does get an extended scene of tricking two would-be assassins into letting him prepare a bath which he uses to his advantage in a quick. Jim, meanwhile, gets stuck in a trap that is straight out of 1960s Batman–he’s put into a metal cage which is suspended in the air and attached to a lightning rod during a thunderstorm. Of course, he escapes, and is even able to use the cage to help take down Captain Coffin, at the end of a great fight sequence. West is temporarily blind for this bit and thus at a major disadvantage in this confrontation.
The hardest thing for me to swallow about this show is the way that Jim is constantly seducing every woman he comes into contact with, and all of those women are villains. After not getting very far with Crystal (because she’s killed), he meets would-be assassin Diane McBain who shoots him point blank in the chest. Jim survives thanks to his bullet-proof vest (and thanks to Diane handily grouping her shots all so tightly) and immediately goes about romancing Diane to get her to do what he wants. She then disappears from the story for a while until the coda, where she and Jim are locking lips. Artemus complains that it’s patently stupid to trust this woman and to advocate for leniency for her, until she trades partners and starts kissing him instead. Then Artemus is completely convinced. It’s so incredibly aggravating to try to watch.
But aside from that it’s a good episode with some tight action scenes and good characterization.
Jeff Corey (Captain Ansel Coffin) was a prolific actor who was blacklisted during the anti-Communist hearings in the 1950s. He appeared on Star Trek, in The Cloud Minders. Victor French, aka Mr. Edwards from Little House in the Prairie, has an uncredited role as “Arnold”.
The Night of the Glowing Corpse
For the second episode in a row, Jim gets shot point blank in the chest by a woman who is one of his love-interests, but survives thanks to a bullet-proof vest. This time the villain is Amelie, who is part of a plot to steal a valuable new element and to help Prussia get the upper-hand in an upcoming war with France. (At least this time, Artemus mentioned how convenient it was that she only shot him in the chest). I was really worried that even though Amelie took such delight in doing this, that the episode would still end with she and Jim merrily kissing each other on the spy-train, while Artie looked on with chagrin. But instead, Amelie is killed by the real villain of the story, who is another potential love-interest of Jim’s, Cluny. She winds up arrested at the conclusion, which makes this one of the few I’ve seen so far where Jim doesn’t have a love interest who is also a reformed member of the villain’s gang.
This episode features Artemus Gordon inventing super-glue and SCUBA gear, and also shows that he can pretty easily decipher Morse code without taking notes. He also gets to disguise himself as a low-class delivery guy in a scene which is funny but annoying, as it seems unnatural that he is able to distract the villain for as long as he does with these shenanigans.
Still it’s a good episode, featuring as it does a some very good suspenseful cliff-hangers, both when someone tries to kill Jim and Artie with a bomb, and when Jim is locked in a trap with poisonous gas. There is also a great creepy sequence at a haunted house in an amusement park, and a henchman who seems to come straight out of James Bond movies–“Ironfoot” who attacks by kicking. Eventually it’s revealed that he has metal legs! I really liked the part where Jim is able to goad Ironfoot into fighting him, rather than just flat-out shooting him as the main baddie wants.
Even though the story’s main female characters are all dead or arrested at the end, Jim and Artie still scoot off with some featching local lasses prompting a French character to look at them and say with great admiration, “The Yankee…formidable!” A very silly indication of the sensibilities of the time period the show is from.
Phillip Pine (Armand) was in the Star Trek episode The Savage Curtain, as Col. Green. Oscar Beregi jr (Ormont) played the “sadistic jailer” in Young Frankenstein.
The Night of the Dancing Death
The last episode of our second disk opens up with Jim meeting the princess of Albania, who seems set up to be exactly the sort of beautiful woman that he normally runs around with, except that she is suddenly and gruesomely murdered by a knife the stomach when she is exposed as an imposter. This leads to a story where Jim and Artie must figure out what has happened to the real princess, as well as deal with the anger of her brother the prince.
He is played well by Peter Richman and is quite compelling to watch. Of course, he is also very predictably the main villain of the story, which is a shame since he has such an interesting personality. Generally The Wild Wild West is full of stock characters and pretty formula-driven storytelling, so it might be nice to have a character as adversarial as the Prince who is not actually evil…but sadly that is not the case here.
Of course, the most typical stock character of the show so far as been the beautiful woman who works with the villain with varying levels of consent, whose attempts to murder Jim do not stop him from spending time being all kissy with them. This happens twice in this episode, with the more significant character–Marianna–being used with particularly ridiculousness. She fully tries to kill Jim multiple times with kind of a crazy zeal, but the episode still ends with a humorous scene where she shoots down both Jim and Artemus’ attempts to make out with her because she’s too busy trying to familiarize herself with a typewriter.
The climax of the episode takes place over a one-on-one kung fu fight between the Prince and Jim. It’s a pretty unconvincing effort with some lacklustre editing and stuntwork. It ends with the Prince plunging down a big hole to his death in the middle of a dance that the Prince was hosting, thus justifying the episode’s title.
Artemus doesn’t have too much to do this time around–he does dress up and pretend to be royalty at the dance, but not too much comes of that. But on the other hand he does a good job tricking Marianna into giving away some critical information, and he also invents tear gas!
On the whole, this is far from my favorite episode. There are some good moments, including an extended fight between Jim and a bunch of guys with spears, and like I said I like the Prince. But it feels like a paint-by-numbers episode as far as the story is concerned.
The episode was co-written by Fred Frieberger, who has produced some episodes of The Wild Wild West and was also the producer of Star Trek‘s third season. Peter Mark Richman (Prince Gio) was in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone as one of the guys from the 20th Century. Arthur Batanides (Marius Ascoli) was in the Star Trek episode That Which Survives as a doomed crewman. Booth Colman (Perkins) was in an episode of Star Trek Voyager—Nemesis. Byron Morrow (Majordomo) played two different admirals in episodes of the original Star Trek—Amok Time and For the World is Holy and I Have Touched the Sky.
Onward to Disk 3!
One thought on “The Wild Wild West 2 – The Complete Series – Night of the Casual Killer, The Night of a Thousand Eyes, The Night of the Glowing Corpse, The Night of the Dancing Death”
John Dehner has a much better role as a steampunk cyborg in “Night of the Steel Assassin” though the female role is painfully sexist even for this series.
A lot of the first season’s episodes were relatively mundane because CBS saw this as “tongue in cheek Western” rather than “James Bond in the Old West”