Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Bottomless Pit"

Subtitle this one “Jim and Artie Escape from Devil’s Island.” While you are subtitling the episode, go ahead and whoop it up, because that is the most fun you are going to have with it.

Jim sneaks his way into a French prison ship by taking the place of a journalist who has been sentenced to Devil’s Island for critiquing the human rights violations of the place lovely twist of irony, that. Jim’s plan is to spring an undercover Secret Service agent who activities in France landed him on Devil’s Island, too.

Mix prison cliche with Wild Wild West cliché, stir liberally, and you have “The Night of the Bottomless Pit.” There is a chain gang, twenty lashes with a whip, a solitary confinement pit, and an elaborate death rap involving hordes of fire ants. Combine that with Artie in disguise rescuing Jim, a henchman with a killer gimmick (an iron foot, in this case) , and a pretty girl who helps our heroes escape. You know the drill.

Oddly enough, what bothers me about the episode is the implausibility of it all. It is strange after episodes dealing with growth formulas, reanimating the dead, and psychic mediums, the fact Jim does not fake a French accent and no one knows the difference is too much for me to take. It is doubly worse, because Artie did fake oe as he applied for a job as a prison guard.

About the only really amusing part was trying to figure out if the lagoon from Gilliga’s Island was doubling as the location our heroes stashed their escape boat. I am quite confident it was, but I have not foud any confirmation via the web.

“The Night of the Bottomless Pit” is mediocre. It has some amusing bits, but othing you have not seen before.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

UPATE: Cofirmation that was the lagoon from Gilligan's Island. Too bad Dawn Wells did nor show up, too, no?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Poisonous Posey"

“The Night of the Poisonous Posey” is another surreal, but fun episode. Jim and Artie earn yet another vacation, perhaps because their sojourn in New Orleans turned out so badly in ’The Night of the Big Blast,” but this one does not wind up much better. Our heroes enter the tiny town of Justice, Arizona and wid up in the predicament immediately pictured above.

Fortunately, it is all the town’s idea of a joke. The place is called Justice, after all. They become the guest of honors for a quick town celebration. The two decide to stay, but would you not know it, te town is playing host to a conference of international criminals.

Each one of them is a caricature of what part of the world he comes from with is own gimmick: the Russian throws knives, the cowboy has a lariat, the Latino assassin leaves tarantulas as hi calling card, the Arab is a crazed pyromaniac, etc. They were all brought here by Lucretia Posey:She has a plan to organize criminal into one, big network covering the entire planet. Yes, women cannot vote yet, but an international group of criminals are going to follow her orders. How progressive for the 1870's. The actress, Delphi Lawrence, is from the United Kingdom just like Ida Lupino. Apparently, the show had to import all its female mastermind-type villains.

Jim is captured right off the bat a placed in an insanely elaborate death trap it takes him one and a half acts to escape from. He must be losing his touch. Meanwhile, Artie poses as a latecomer, Ascot Sam. He plats each criminal’s gimmick on another to make it look like they are betraying one another. It works until the real Ascot Sam shows up. Jim and Artie have to brawl their way out I a particularly exciting action sequence. For a nifty change o pace, Artie is the one to capture Posey. He rarely gets the pretty girl.

“The Night of the Poisoous Posey” is comical, adventurous, and pure fun. There is nothing particularly memorable about it, but it does have goofy entertainment value.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Flying Pie Plate"

“The Night of the Flying Pie Plate” is every bit as ridiculous as “The Night of the Returning Dead’ was spooky, yet it works. Chalk it up the two factors. First, the scam being pulled does not have the obvious resolution. Second, Jim and Artie are on the ball the entire time, so no one’s intelligence is insulted by the outlandish plot.

What is that outlandish plot? While escorting a million dollar gold ship through Arizona, Jim witnesses a UFO crash. The aliens inside are beautiful green women from Venus. Their ship is out of fuel. You will never guess what they use for gas. Yep--gold. They have plenty of jewels worthless to them, but invaluable to us Earthlings to trade for it. Unfortunately, it is government property.

At no point does the story try to pass this scenario off as anything but a scam. The conflict is discovering who is behind it. Is it the bank president, a traveling hellfire and brimstone traveling preacher, or any number of thugs I town? It turns out to be all of them. One might think it is a cop out the red herrings are not red herrings, but, really, how often do you see that happen?

Mot of the fun of “The Night of the Flying Pie Plate” is not the scam, anyway. It is a 1960’s television series loading up an episode with 1950’s flying saucer cliché and setting it I the 1870’s. The “Venusian” girls are hot, too:Fun, but goofy.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Returning Dead"

“The Night of the Returning Dead” marks yet another turn with the supernatural. This time around, we get two members of the Rat Pack to go along with it--Sammy Davis, Jr. and Peter Lawford. No Frank Sinatra, though. Bummer.

Dais plays Jeremiah, a former slave to Col. Beaumont Carson. Carson and his family were kidnapped, tied up, and burned alive in an old barn at the start of the Civil War so a group of men, lead y law ford’s character, Carl Jackson, could steal the Carson family fortune. Jeremiah escaped and has since looked for a way to ring Jackso to justice.

He found it by contacting Jim and Artie. They concoct a plan involving Jeremiah’s apparent supernatural power to control animals along with his disguising himself as Carson’s ghost I order to spook out a confession.

Spooky it is. I remember Jeremiah faking the possession by Carson at the courthouse I which he descries being burned alive in vivid, unearthly detail scaring the bejebus out of me as a kid. I was quite freaked out just watching it now. Davis was a very good actor. I do not thin he gets enough credit for it. Or maybe I am just too young to know that he revived recognition when it counted. I hope the latter.

When Jeremiah controls every horse in town, forcing them to stampede the courthouse during his possession, it is terrifying because we do not ever see ay horse at all. Just the sound and fury of their attack. Brutal.

The plan works, even though our heroes are captured by some of Jackson’s cohort’s and must devise a means of escape. Jackson confesses to Jeremiah about the murders and is taken into custody. Jeremiah is set to ride of into the sunset when Jim offers him a job with the Secret Service. Jeremiah refuses, saying only Will smith would be dumb enough to believe he could pull that off.

I may have made that last part up. Here is a guilt ridden Peter Lawford as compensation:There is one point in the episode Jeremiah, posing as Carson’s ghost, wears a Confederate uniform. What kind of coniption fit would the PC police throw about something like that these days?

I like “The Night of the Returning Dead.” It till creeps me out as much as it did twenty-three or so years ago when I first saw it. The supernatural theme was a change o pace for the show, but one that fit in surprisingly well. There will be much more to come in the future, but this is a fantastic start.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Big Blast"

I am a big fan of the mythology surrounding Frankenstein, whether we are talking about the original Mary Shelley novel or the various adaptations on stage and screen. Therefore, I always look with keen interest in homage such as “The Night of the Big Blast.” But the episode is far more than that. It is largely an Artie solo adventure which strays far from the usual formula, yet does not pay the price for doing so.

Ida Lupino plays Dr. Faistina, a mad scientist who has developed a method to reanimate the dead using electricity. She requested funding for further research from the federal government, but was turned down since no one believed her claims could be true. Out for revenge for beig spurned, she uses a reanimated duplicate of the captured Jim as a bom to kill four cabinet officials. Artie, desperate to prove the assassin was not Jim, is captured by Fautina. She creates a duplicate of hi in order to assassinate Ulysses S. Grant, but it is stopped by the escaping Jim and Artie.

There are some serious plot holes here. Why did Fautina not demonstrate her ability to reanimate the dead instead of just telling the government se could do such? She could have used a body donated to science instead of grave robbing like she normally does. The feds we probably chomp at the bit to use her technology I order to create super soldiers who could easily e reanimated. Faustina definitely went about her plan the wrong way.

You also have to wonder why, when four Cabinet officials are killed by Jim, does grant still come to New Orleans and no one suspects the fake Artie is going to kill him even though he is running the exact scam as the fake Jim. Looks like all the other Secret Service agents are very slow on the uptake.

Casting that aside, “The Night of the Big Blast” is an exciting episode. It is not revealed until the fifth act that Jim is still alive, much less he did not kill the Cabinet officials. We knew that, but it was not obvious how Jim was still alive. Artie steal the episode trying to find him. The highlight of his adventure being a sword fight with the Three Musketeers during a Mardi Gras costume party.

“The Night of the Big Blast” is not only one of the best of the secod seaso, but a highlight of the series as a whole.

Rating: *** *(out of 5)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Raven"

With all the changes from the first season to the second, it seem only natural archenemy Miguelito Loveless should make an early appearance. The demented dwarf isat his best here, with the most outlandish plot he has concocted thus far.

Loveless has kidnapped Princess Wanakee of the black Foot nation and demanded, by telegram, she be rescued by Jim and Artie. The tribal leaders give them three days to save Wanakee or their peace treaty with the united states ends. Jim and Artie are promptly captured by Loveless’ men at the destination point and become prisoners along with Wanakee.

Teir frequent near successful escapes frustrate Loveless, who is working on his latest plot for world conquest and cannot afford the distraction. Said escapes are really just a way of padding out the episode to avoid too much of the expensive special effects involved with loveless’ plot-- shrinking Jim down to the size of an action figure!

Loveless has developed a formula that will shrink all of humanity down to that size. So he can easily rule over them, of course. A couple problems with this brilliant plan, however. Loveless is assuming the tiny size will render people powerless against him. But wait, insects are man’s mot dangerous enemy. They ruin crops, transmit diseases, and destroy untold amounts of property every year. There is not a whole lot we can do about it. Insects do these things instinctively, without any coordinated plan. Humans would not do things that way. Loveless would seriously have his hands full.

In Loveless’ defense, he is insane, so it can be excused he has not thought his brilliant plan all the way through. He was crazy enough to create an antidote that would return shrunken people to normal size and put it within Artie’s reach when it would help Jim most, so either he does not think his plans through very carefully or his innate sense of self-loathing prompts him to sow the seeds of his own defeat. However much credit you want to give the writers for psychological insight is fine with me.

Jim and Waakee are shrunken in the fourth act. Jim escapes rom a literal doll house prison and has to deal with a vicious cat, a tarantula, a mousetrap, and a rolling 8-ball decades before Indiana Jones outran the famous boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Artie makes certain Jim gets the cure durig a scuffle with loveless’ men. Loveless, of course, escapes, but his plan is ruined and Wanakee is returned safely to er people.

There is a very clever anachronism/homage combo featured in the prerequisite Loveless ad Antoinette duet. They sing a couple of verses of ’The John B Sails,” an old folk song featured in the 1917 Carl Sandburg novel Pieces of Eight in which it is referred to as “an old Nassau ditty.” whether it is a real song or one made up for the novel is not known, but Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys adapted the lyrics for inclusion on their famous Pet Sounds album. “Sloop John B” was a big hit I the sprig and summer of 1966, a few moths before “The Night of the Raven Aired.” If you have a fondness for Land of the Giants, this is the episode for you. I could take or leave that show, in all honesty, but I do like this episode. It is full of geeky science fiction elements lie man eating plants loveless has bred, items like mousetraps serving as deadly obstacles, and laughable images such as Jim lifting a small plate of butter that is the size of a footlocker to him or Loveless carrying around an obvious doll that is standing in for the shrunken Jim. “The Night of the Raven” has to be seen to be fully appreciated in all its weirdness.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Golden Cobra"

That is the great Boris Karloff pictured above. He plays Mr. Singh a wealthy Indian ex-maharaja who has ironically built a palace in the middle of Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Too clever for words on the writer’s part, no? Singh has heard of Jim’s reputation, whih is quite extraordinary considering he is an undercover agent for the United States government. Singh wants Jim to train his boys I the fine art of killing and will not take no for an answer.

So Jim is put through the ringer: fistfights, deadly cobras, more fistfights, a vicious tiger, a polo match with him as the target, and plenty of smooching the maharaja’s daughter in between. It is a hard knock life, but at least the boys are learning what it means to kill. Or something like that. The action is all padding for a paper thing plot.

The true reason for luring Jim to the palace is revealed at the climax. The Indian Commissioner discovered oil on land the Pawnee have settled. He is going to se the maharaja‘s cash to exploit it, but he needs the Pawnee to move on and hopes Jim will utilize his often mentioned, but never explained, solid reputation with Indian to convince them to leave. He refuses, of course. Singh feels betrayed by the commissioner’s threat on his daughter, so they scuffle. Or rather, an obvious stut man in a very bad wig scuffle. Both are killed when Singh’s heart cannot take the stress and the commissioner drowns in a pit of oil.

I could have sworn midway through the episode this absurd dancing ape was artie in disguise coming to rescue Jim, but he came later posing as a maician. This ape was supposed to be real. It did not quite work:“The Night of the Golden Cobra” is goofier than most, almost to the point of embarrassment. But it has the saving grace of featuring Karloff. I am a big fan of old Universal horror films, so your mileage may vary, but I thought it was totally cool to see him as the villain. Karloff was 77 at the time and since he spent the entire episode sitting on a throne, I suspect he was in poor health or at least had trouble moving about. Still, subdued Karl off is better than no Karl off at all.Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Eccentrics"

“The Night of the Eccentrics” marks the beginning of the second season and three major changes. First, the series was now broadcast in color. Second, series creator Michael Garrison had fallen down the stairs of his Beverly Hills mansion and fatally broken his neck a moth prior to the season premiere. His untimely death--one of many suffered by those associated with the show-- resulted in a revolving door of no less than six show runners fop the rest of the run. Finally, the menagerie of show runners promised frequent changes in theme, but from here on out, the series dwelt mostly on over the top science fiction and hammer Films’-esque gothic horror.

The plot of “The Night o the Eccentrics” is straightforward. A group of international assassinations, each with a circus sideshow method of killing, poses as a real circus as a cover for doing its dirty work. This time around, they have been hired by a distant relative of deposed Emperor Maximilian to kill President Benito Juarez of Mexico and return the country to French rule.

What the episode lacks in originality--not only was a similar plot used in the series premiere, Victor Buono played the villain then, too--it more than makes up for in quirkiness. Buono’s Count Mazeppi, who is my favorite villain behind Dr. Miguelito Loveless, has actual magical powers to go along to go along with his flamboyant personality. Each of the Eccentrics has his or her own oddball ways which Jim and Artie exploit in a confrontation at the presidential palace in order to save Juarez.

Te episode is fun and exciting. Jim is placed in an incredibly strange, painfully slow death device that is not as ordinary as the cages, wine press, and lobster boiler he has escaped from in the past. This certainly will not be the last time villains attempt to creatively do away with our hero and ail.

“The Night of the Eccentrics” is notable for featuring the first televised appearance of a very young Richard Pryor:Pryor plays Villar, a ventriloquist whom we never see in action like we do the others. One assumes that is because Pryor had no ventriloquist skills.. I cannot say he has a very illustrious debut anyway. Villar has a grand total of four lines and is never seen again halfway through the fourth act. Cannot win them all, I suppose.

A good episode all around an a promising sign of things to come.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Sudden Plague"

“The Night of the Sudden Plague” ends both the first season and the black and white era on a high note. At first glance, one would suspect the similarity in plot to the previous episode would be terribly conspicuous, but they both stand well on their own merit.

Towns all over a remote southwestern territory are facing outbreaks of illness which causes paralysis for 48 hours. Within that time, a gang of outlaws loots the town. Jim and Artie are sent it to investigate, but find themselves hamstrung by the arrogant governor who thinks he has been punished by being placed in charge of such a barren desert.

On their own, the two agents discover the outlaws are using an old fort as a hideout. (The fort, by the way, is the Federation settlement from TOS’ “Arena.” Humorously enough, Jim concocts a makeshift explosive in order to escape at one point. He does not build a cannon., however. Missed opportunity, that.) The fort is also the base of operations for a disgraced doctor who failed to save a Japanese ruler’s daughter from plague and had his wife killed as punishment. He lost his mind over her murder and created the plague as revenge.

The episode is quite good. There is plenty of action and gadgetry as well as a some unusual twists. For one, Jim comes to the rescue of Artie for once when he has been captured by the outlaws. Of course, that means no Artie I disguise this time around, but you surprisingly will not miss it. There is more than enough goig on otherwise to hold your attention.

Some interesting casting notes: H. M. Wynant, who plays the head outlaw Rodman, makes his second of four appearances as a henchman. He isstill acting tody at age 82. His most famous recent role has been Sen. Starkey on The West Wing. Theo Marcuse, who plays the doctor, will return as the commandant of Devil’s Island in “The Night of the Bottomless Pit” coming up in the middle of September. He also played Kolob in TOS’ ‘Catspaw” a month before he tragically died in a car accident. Nobu McCarthy, the doctor’s daughter, won the Mis Tokyo pageant in 1953.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Murderous Spring"

Dr. Miguelito Loveless returns for the fourth and final time in the first season. Michael Dun was forced to do much of this episode in a wheelchair due to an injury to hi left leg suffered in the final stunt of his previous appearance. Hardly anyone got out of this show completely unscathed. He was a rave man for not missing beat in is role.

Loveless is far more insane in ’The Night of the Murderous Spring” than ever before. Frustrated in his attempts to reclaim California, he has now decided the world must be reshaped into his idealized utopia. But such a world cannot be created while man still exists, so Loveless concocts a formula that educes violent hallucinations. With it, he will poison the world’s water supply. Once infected, every man, woman, and child on Earth will kill each other.

The key thing that sticks out I my mind about “The Night of the Murderous Spring” is how much more gruesome it is than the usual fare. When Jim is infected, he hallucinates murdering Artie. As a test for the captured Jim and Artie, Loveless infects a dinner party of twenty people by adding his formula to their wine. We do not see the ensuing battle, but we hear it behind closed doors with the resulting assumption all twenty people killed ach other with their bare hands. Finally, Jim sinks the boat Loveless and his two assistants are escaping on. None of them can swim, but rather than help, Jim and Artie watch the boat sink and wait for the bubbles to stop. Not a very heroic act.

Consider their actions in light of this, too: Loveless has a new assistant to replace Voltaire. She is a very overweight woman named Kitten Twitty. Loveless ensures her loyalty by promising her surgery that will make her skinny and beautiful. We know from “The Night That Terror Stalked the Town,” he can make good on his promise considering his skills in plastic surgery. Our heroes play on her insecurities in order to escape Loveless, then allow her to drown afterwards.

It seems incredibly cruel I light of how many beautiful women who were responsible for far more evil acts wind up free women hooking up with Jim while the fat, unattractive woman who is far less responsible for any wrongdoing is allowed to die right in front of them. I chalk it up to unintentional irony. Jim and Artie’s actions confirm Loveless is right about man’s evil nature. The pretty girls are aved and rewarded whether they have truly redeemed themselves, but no one cares about the fate of the less than stunning.

There is a clever use of a sharpened turkey bone and a pair of suspenders used as a slingshot makeshift crossbow that just has to be mentioned.

“The Night of the Murderous Spring” is a entertaining episode in spite of its darker tone than the usual lighthearted romps. I will still give the first season Best Loveless episode crown to “The Night That Terror Stalked the Town,” but ’The Night of the Murderous Spring Comes Close.” I would have preferred our heroes to take a more sympathetic tone towards Kitten considering how badly they used her, but the Secret Service is not the Boy scouts, so I guess they do what they have to do in order to save the world.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Burning Diamond"

As we inch closer to the end of the first season, we can see how the series is coming into its own. Stories have been up and own thus far, with some science fiction oddities mixed in with a straightforward western or two. “The Night of the Burning Diamond” marks he shift to a more science fiction/occasion horror series that just happens to be set in the Old West.

Jim and Artie are assigned to protect a foreign diamond exhibit because there has been a rash of unexplainable diamond thefts at major galleries and museums around the world. A Serbian national treasure is stolen literally right out from under Jim’s nose, so the two have their work cut out for them in protecting the exhibit.

It turns out a scientist named Morgan Midas--why name him Midas when no gold is involved is anyone’s guess--has developed an elixir that allows hi to move so fat, he cannot be seen. Unfortunately, is is made by burnig diamonds.

Which leads us to two problems. One, Midas never reveals his big plan. We can only assume whatever he wants to do with his abilities is worth more than the expensive diamonds he is destroying in order to make his elixir. Two, burning a diamond at 1,000 degrees would turn it into graphite, so Midas could save a lot of time and effort, not to mention he would avoid grand larceny, if he would just use pencil lead I hi formula. I suppose that would not be nearly as romantic.

I am skeptical aspects of having one’s body sped up so fat versus the reaction of the people and objects frozen I time around Midas, Jim, and Artie (when they are given the elixir) are always accurately depicted. Not all moving or dropped objects have the correct momentum. I would think one would injure his hand touching certain objects. I am inclined to think also Midas would leave a corpse when he burned up due to air friction in his final fist fight with Jim. A grown man would leave about five pounds of ashes if burned at 1,000 degrees. It would take about two hours, too, not instantaneously. Ah, Hollywood logic. How I love thee!

In spite of the problems, I do like “The Night of the Burning Diamond.” It has a lot of actions, a decent plot, good villain, some mystery, and a couple instances of cool gadgetry. Fans of Firefly and Castle should take note Midas is played by Robert Drivas, who bares a striking resemblance to Nathan Fillion:Sadly, Drivas died in 1986 at the young age of 47 from AIDS related complications.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Freebooters"

For those of you wxig nostalgic for Star Trek reviews, “The Night of the Freebooters” has a couple big trek connections. First, it was written by Gene L. Coon. He wrote a number of episodes for the series, but is more famous for creating the prime Directive an Klingons for Trek. Second,--speaking of Klingons, William Campbell stars here as a henchman Campbell is most well know for playing Trrelane I TOS ad the Klingon Koloth in TOS and DS9.

The plot here is nothing new. A renegade American colonel has recruited a band of outlaws and mercenaries to tae over Mexico. Jim goes undercover as recruit, is eventually discovered, and has to be rescued by Artie in drag. Artie makes one butt ugly woman, too, let me tell you. He plays a madam, no less. What would Miss Kitty think?

The twist is the colonel has invented the tank. The Mexican army has no defense against it, but neither do the mercenaries when Jim steals it to use against them.

The plot may be nothing new, but the episode is good otherwise. There is more action than in a typical episode with far more gunplay than usual. I do not necessarily think firefight resolutions automatically make for good storytelling, but every nowand then, that is how things should work out. “The Night of the Freebooters” is nothing special, but it is not boring.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Druid's Blood"

“The Night of the Druid’s Blood” is the first of a significant number of episodes which will hint the supernatural exists within the reality of the series. The theme will be done much better later on. During the revolving door that brought in a grand total of seven executive producers, the series took had ups and down with the supernatural, but the best occurred with the hammer horror homage I the second and third seasons. But until then, we have to trudge through episodes like this one.

I do not want to sound too harsh. “The Night of the Druid’s Blood” is an amusing episode which posses a good red herring midway through that throws the story I a new direction. Such an effective story element is rare in the series. There is also a cool gadget/stunt combination I which Jim uses an explosive device under a bucket to propel himself out of a pit. Both are high points in the episode’s favor.

As are some mythological references. Don Rickles plays a master of the black arts named Asmodeus. Asmodeus appears in a number of ancient texts, including the Kabbala, the Book of Tobit, and the Talmud. The myths vary, but in general, Asmodeus had connections with king David or Solomon and became a king among the demos himself. Anothercharacter is named Astarte, the Greek goddess of love, sexuality, and war.

It is Asmoeus who dominates the episode up until it is revealed he is the red herring. Chalk it up to the lingering effects of Bob Jones University fundamentalism throughout my pre-college education, but I still get a twinge of discomfort when full blown Satanism is featured in popular entertainment. Hollywood flirted with a far less cartoonish version of Satanism I the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. I have an unease about witches’ mass and ritualistic sacrifice being depicted even now.

In some ways, I wonder if that is why Rickles was cast to play Asmodeus. He has a reputation for nasty humor that other people could not get away with, but most are not bothered by when he does it. Somehow, he can perform the dark arts without anyone getting upset. There is another way you cannot take him too seriously--he has a log sword fight with Jim in which it is painfully obvious the stunt man is fighting instead. For one the stunt man has head full of hair!

With Asmodeus out of the way, we get to the real pot--a doctor has been murdering scientists, but keeping their brains alive in order to utilize their intellects. The censors apparently would not allow “brains”--strange sine grave robbing had just been depicted in the previous scene--so they are actually fluid in beakers. Jim convinces them to resist in a move reminiscent of James T. Kirk’s extraordinary ability to talk a computer to death. Remember which Jim did it first, folk.

“The Night of the Druid’s Blood” is worth watching even through the combination of occult elements and over the top science fiction. The episode can be disturbing in places, yet it is also so goofy at times, it mustbe seen to be believed. I leave it up to you whether to take the challenge.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo"

“The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo” is another highlight of the first season. The characters are colorful without being too over the top, the plot twists are actually surprising, and the adventure is laced with much humor. There is a underlying poignancy I some behind the scenes drama I will get to in a moment.

Jim and Artie are assigned to protect a spoiled South Seas prince util he can sign a treaty with the United States. The price is an amoral brat who plotting to take over his father’s kingdom. At first, he just seems insufferable, but then it turns out he is in cahoots with a group of kidnappers. He plans to make it look as though American bandits kidnapped him, but his cohorts saved him. His father would refuse to sign a treaty with the United States because of the crime, leaving the prince free to eliminate the American missionaries on the island and rule unencumbered by American influence.

Artie portrays the price after his “kidnapping” in order to keep things running smoothly. He dresses in full bone necklace ad feathered poncho glory. There is no unga bunga or bone through the nose, but he does not miss it by much.

The prince himself is betrayed by his associates when it is revealed all they want is his jewels. In spite of the act he has attempted multiple times to kill Jim and Artie, they save him and he signs the treaty. He remains without a hint of remorse for his actions. A great ruler he is going to make one day.

It is made clear that the missionary influence is what has civilized the prince’s island and he resents the heck out of it. What I cannot put my finger on is whether the tone of the episode is implying evangelism has ruined other cultures or if, since the price is such an obnoxious jerk, evangelism has been a change for the better. I am going to cast aside my cynicism and say it is the former. You have to take the increasingly rare opportunities to be positive whenever they come around.As for the background I mentioned, the prince is played by Nick Adams. He is best known for portraying Johnny Yuma in The Rebel. Adams became close friends with James Dean when he took a bit part in Rebel without a Cause and became part of Elvis Presley’s entourage during the filming of Love Me Tender. As well as Robert Conrad. (Adams was once roommates with Dennis Hopper, too.) Dean’s death affected him deeply. He began acting erratically, being arrested for reckless driving three times in one year. Persistent drug use resulted in dwindling acting opportunities.

Conrad got him the role as the prince during the time his star was fading. Adams was given another role on the series in the fourth season just a few months before he died of a drug overdose. Some fans are inclined to speak of the urban legend of Rebel without a Cause being cursed, but I take note that Adams felt devastated by the death of Dean and abandoned by Elvis when his profile dropped in the mid to late ’60’s. but like when Conrad got Richard Kiel a speaking role in his last turn as Voltaire, he was looking out for his friend Adams right up until the end.

“The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo” is one of the most entertaining episodes of the first season. Much of the high concept gadgetry an wild villainy is kept to a minimum, but the plot is engaging as far as this show goes and is a lot of fun to watch.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Bars of Hell"

I remembered absolutely nothing about “The Night of the Bars of Hell’ before I watched it for this review. Now that I have seen it again after twenty plus years, I am still having trouble remembering anything about it. The episode is about as run of the mill as they come.

Jim and Artie go undercover to investigate a corrupt warden who is allowing his prisoners out in order to commit crimes while offering cover for them to return in exchane for a cut. The warden plans to blow up the prison once he has made enough to retire I order to cover his tracks.

The mystery of what is going on is uncovered by the second act. The remainder of the episode deal with a pointless boxing match within the prison Jim is forced into so the episode can meet its fist fight quota and Artie rescuing Jim from bein executed in the electric chair.

Unfortunately, the first electric chair was not used until 1889, which is somewhere between twelve and nineteen years after this episode times place. The dates are a little fuzzy most of the time, but Ulysses S. Grant was president for the show’s entire run. The warden is not one of those diabolical geniuses with inventions far ahead of their time. The electric chair serves as an annoying anachronism.

There is not much to recommend “The Night of the Bars of Hell.” The plot is so thin, it barely merit’s a mention in the final three acts. Jim and Artie’s escape is stretched out over those final three acts. Not that the escape saves the episode with any particular thrills. I cannot honestly call it a bad episode. There is just nothing interesting about it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Puppeteer"

“The Night of the Puppeteer” is the mot memorable of the first season episodes. It is completely demented from beginning to ed. I love every minute of it.

Jim and Artie are assigned to protect a supreme court justice slated to e killed at two o’clock in the afternoon the same as two of his colleagues. The assassination attempt takes place at a puppet show for his grandson’s birthday when one of the puppet’s gun turns out to be real.

The assassin is most likely Zachariah Skull. With a name like that, how could he be anything else? Skull was an engineer and puppeteer who was, as he claims, wrongly convicted of murder. The United States Supreme Court refused to take up his case and the president refused his request for a pardon. He now plans to kill them all. He was presumed killed when he jumped off the train transporting him to prison. He survived, but wound up badly deformed as well as quite insane.

It is his inanity that makes the episode so creepy. He lures Jim into his underground lair which is staffed by life size puppets he controls. When it is clear Skull accepts these puppets as his own reality, Jim plays along to save himself. He dances with a pretty ballerina, is forced to fight a caveman, and is eventually put on trial, complete with puppet jury, for the “murder” of the puppet who tried to assassinate the justice. The minimalist set, dark cinematography, and the warped appearance of the puppets all add up to a surrealist nightmare.

The handsome guy we thought was Skull is actually a puppet himself. The real Skull has bee manipulating everything from above. Skull has a look that tat may have inspired Vincent price’s Dr. Phibes. I remember his face scaring the heck out of me as a id, but with HD television and modern DVD transfers, the cheap skullcap and make up I painfully obvious. Still, I can appreciate what they were going for.You may recognize Lloyd Bochner as Skull. Well, maybe not from the immediately preceding photo. He was a famed character actor who had appeared on just about every television series from the ’60’s through the ’90’s. He has appeared in everything from The Twilight Zone to Barnaby Jones, Battlestar Galactica, Dynasty, The Golden Girls, and the Batman Animated Series right up until his death in 2005.

In spite of Skull’s reveal not being as shocking as I remember, the Kafka-eque trial of Jim and weird movements of the puppets--real actors with strings visibly attached, more than fulfill the scary quotient. There are some The Phantom of the Opera elements and another Vincent Price film, House of Wax, to make “The Night of the Puppeteer” a frightening classic.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Whirring Death"

Michael Dunn makes his third of four first season appearances as Dr. Miguelito Loveless in “The Night of the Whirring Death.” The episode has a lot of things goig for it. It is a Christmas themed story, Voltaire is allowed to speak, there are some iconic guest stars, including Norman fell 9Mr. Roper on Three’s Company) and character actor Jesse White, plus the episode is directed by Mark Rydell of On Golden Pond and Mel Gibson’s The River fame. Yet it does not quite measure up to prior Loveless appearances.

California is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is iexplicably not mentioned, but one has to assume the state’s money troubles extend from Horatio Bolt’s spending the treasury on rare artwork in “The Night of the Torture Chamber.” The new governor has a plan to offer government contracts to some shady busiessmen for $ 5 million apiece in order to restock the treasury. That sounds like a crime I and o itself, but Ulysses s. Gant was a corrupt man himself, so it is no surprise that he signed off on the plan.

Jim and Artie act as couriers between the businessmen and the goernor, but cannot stop Loveless from using exploding toys in assassination attempts in which he also stealsthe money. Loveless’ ultimate plan is to kill the governor in order to take over the state himself.

Loveless is at his usual weirdness here. His hideout is a toy store with all sorts of killer--literally--toys within it. But his scheme does not come across as all that grandiose. He has not actually killed the busiessmen caught I his explosios, but he does intend to kill the governor. I think the dichotomy is meant to portay Loveless’ twisted sense of fair play, but it did not resonate with me.

There is a poitless fight with a bridge building tycoon’s bodyguards which was thrown in solely to have a fight scene. It happens o and around a staircase. When it is inished, Jim jumps up onto the top railig and climbs up instead of simply walking up the steps. Shall we chalk that up to an adrenaline rush? The guy had been caught in two explosions in less than two hours prior. E gets knocked ucoscious three times in one night, too. Jim probably has had more concussion’s than Troy Aikman at this point.

One other annoyance-- the bride building tycoon is playing with an electric train set Loveless sent him anonymously. At this time period, toy trains were run with clockwork mechanisms. Electric trains like his were not invented until the 20th century. You could defend the anachronism by claiming loveless invented electric trains, since he has shown a penchant for inventions ahead of their time, but no one around the train set acts like it is an oddity. Make up your own mind about the matter.

Voltaire gets to speak for the first time. I think the character loses some mystique because of it. Previously, it was assumed he was a mute who commented only through gestures and facial expressions. You could arue that was true. Perhaps Loveless cured him of whatever ailment caused his muteness. Artie even comments at his surpise upon hearig hi talk, which adds to the idea Voltaire is miraculously no loger mute. I would grig my axe about this, but as the story goes, Richard Kiel was upset he would beappearing for the third time, but still have no lines, so Robert Conrad insisted he be given some dialogue. I have to give some udos when the star of the show makes a selfless gesture for one of the guest stars, so I will not critique the matter. Voltaire speaks as a professional courtesy.

“The Night of the Whirring Death” is average for a Loveless story, but ay Loveless story rises above the rest. Dunn makes such an interesting villain. He looks like he is having such a good time playing the character, too. The joy of his insane villainy is infectious.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Flaming Ghost"

For an episode that is centered around the supposed return of militant abolitionist John Brown fourteen years after he was hug, the result is awfully pedestrian. His truth is not exactly marching o, but I suppose the concept is fairly clever. Poorly executed, but clever.

A man claiming to e John Brown back from the grave uses his story to recruit all sorts of revolutionaries and cutthroats into an army that will destroy the cavalry’s presence in the southwest so they can loot the towns. Brown uses such clever devices asan asbestos suit to walk through fire unharmed and an early form of a Howitzer cannon to prove he has the power to destroy the US cavalry.

Jim I captured while investing Brown’s Harper’s Ferry compound while Artie fetches the cavalry. It turns out Brown is the nephew of the real Brown who is tired of living in his uncle’s shadow. He does not care if he even succeeds I his plan as long as he merit’s a bigger page in the history books. The pretty girl of the episode is a sketch artist constantly chronicling his exploits for posterity. she also handle rattlesnakes with ease. Talented girl.

Jim destroys the cannon before Brown can use it against the cavalry. Brown dies in the ensuing explosion, so history will ever remember him.

There is another glaring instance where, contrary to Robert Conrad’s insistence he did all his own stunts, it is obviously not him climbing up the fortress wall via grappling hook or falling off the other side after getting hit by a rifle butt.

I also laughed out loud at the stock footage of the cavalry rushing to the faux Harper’s Ferry. I do not know what movie it was from, but the cavalry was very clearly heading straight into battle with Indians and not taking a day long journey to a desert fortress. You would have to see the sequence to appreciate how inappropriately exciting it is. Dudley Doright would not have been so animated. It would have offended his Canadian politeness.

I do not care much for the episode. It is kind of dumb in the first place, but but executed to boot. There is not much to recommend it.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Grand Emir"

Yes, that is the lovely Yvonne Craig as Ecstasy de Joie. She does a fie turn as one of the more memorable femme fatales of the series.

Jim and Artie are assigned to protect the despotic Grand Emir of the Ottoman Empire while he is in the United States. His eminence is much more interested I wine, women, and song, which makes te task much more difficult. Doubly so when he invites Ecstasy for dinner after she tries to kill him. Twice.

The third time is the charm as the Emir is kidnapped by the Club of Assassins. They are a professional group of assassins who murder political figures for a few. The Club is lead by a Brit named T. Wigget Jones. Surprisingly, for this show, he is not a renegade colonel, so we are breaking with tradition. Jons does offer Jim membership, however, so at least one common thread continues.

There is another--Ecstasy is not really a villain. She has never assassinated anyone in her life, although she would like to kill the Emir for his cruel ways. Ecstasy exists only to serve as a pretty girl who betrays the Club and falls for Jim. Not that I am complaining, mind you:
Jones has hatched a plot to ransom the Emir in exchange for the desert surrounding the Suez Canal. Quite prescient, that is. The clueless emir is not bothered. He is having way too good a time at the Club’s victory celebration to care that Jim and Artie are risking booby trapped swords, bladed tambourines, and poison gas filled prison cells to rescue him.

A fun episode, but I am disappointed the asassins were not as colorful as one would have oped for this series. Subsequent episode will more than make up for it, but why not here, too? They have eccentric personalities. Why not some nifty gimmicks, too? I think “The Night of the Grand Emir” is another of those cases in which we are supposed to look at the pretty girl so as not to dwell on such plot points.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night the Dragon Screamed"

The head of one of the warring Tong gangs is named Wang Chung. I guess everybody will have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

Our heroes get caught in the middle of a dastardly plot run by a rogue British Col. Allenby Smythe--what is it with all these rogue colonels? Smythe is the fifth or sixth one in sixteen episode.-- to kidnap a princess and use her as a puppet to rule China. The whole plan is to be financed by a lucrative opium trade.

One problem--the opium trade was legal until 1875. While the timing of the series is mostly ambiguous, past episodes mentioning the Franco-Prussian War and the reign of Maximilian of Mexico sets the date around 1870-72. A minor nitpick, I suppose, but annoying to a history buff. Opium was made illegal in 1875 San Francisco more as anti-Chinese sentiment than any beef with narcotics, but now I am just showing off by mentioning that.

“The Night the Dragon Screamed” is one of the most complexly plotted episode of the series. Jim and Artie are hardly ever on top of things and are usually at the mercy of deadly spikes, a laughably fake looking cobra, a Sword of Damocles contraption, or a pit for boiling lobsters. I kid thee not.

Artie spends the bulk of the episode dudded up as a fake Chinese in an impersonation that would make Charlie Chan blush. Ah, mid060’s television. A much more innocent time.

The princess turns out to be pro-West, both in our culture and in the Secret Service agent. The two spend a lot of time smooching when West is actually facing a midnight deadline to save Artie from certain death. Priorities, man! Priorities! I modern times, the pricess would be munching hamburgers and singing Lady Ga Ga songs while lamenting her prospective life of banging gongs ad tos of rice.

“The Night the Dragon Screamed” is a fun episode made better by the presence of a hatchet man sent to kill Jim, but saved by him instead, who turns out to be an ally occasionally, but a traitor more often. I am not certain why I found that so amusing, but I did.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Steel Assassin"

John Dehner makes his second appearance as a villain in a year, but does not play the ame character this time around. Evidently, changing him into a steam punk cyborg for ‘The Night of the Steel Assassin” is supposed to be enough to throw us off.

Dehner plays Torres, a former Unnon colonel who was gravely wounded when a Confederate cannon ball hit the ammunition depot. Torres had drawn the low card when his unit was choosing who would guard the depot and who could go to a party that night. Torres suspects his me cheated, so he therefore blames them for his injuries.

Torres miraculously survived. A doctor patched up his wounds with steel plates and bars, giving him an inhuman appearance, but incredible strength and invulnerability. He is an interesting twist o the usual Wild Wild West super villain.

Torres goes about murdering each man from his old unit in revenge. He uses the hypnosis technique he utilizes to control his pain on the pretty niece of one of the murdered men. She is played by Sue Ane Langdon. She is one of my favorite of the beauties featured on the series. My fondness for her probably has a lot to do with her Slave Girl Leia moment. She is normally a doctoral candidate in psychology, but Torres convinces her she is a showgirl, complete with skimpy outfit.

She looks nice:Torres’ final plan is to assassinate Ulysses S. Grant. Our heroes stop him and reverse the hypnosis on the girl, so she put more clothes on. Bummer.

“The Night of the Steel Assassin” is one of the more solid episodes of the first season. Torres does not show off a whole lot of the abilities he has gained from his steel body, but his act is pretty impressive for a low budget show. One wonders why he killed the other men in his unit with his bare 9steel) hands, but did not want the satisfaction of doing so with Grant. He attempted to usea rocket there. Weird, but the viewer is so distracted by Langdon, it does not really matter.

I imagine that was part of the plan.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Fatal Trap"

“The Night of the Fatal Trap” originally aired on Christmas Eve, 1965. The producers must have known there would not be many eyeballs glaring at television screens, because they certainly phoned this one in. The story is a straightforward shoot ’em up between lawmen and outlaws.

Jim goes undercover as an outlaw in order to stop a gag of crooks lead by a renegade Mexican colonel from terrorizing border towns. The plan is complicated when the colonel’s girlfriend turns out to be a old flame of Jim’s. She does not blow his cover, but a wanted poster with jim’s alias, but not his face on it, does.

What follows is a battle on top a runaway stagecoach which in spite of Robert Conrad’s instance, was not him doing the stunts in the long shots. Only in the studio shot scenes safe and comfy on a stationary stagecoach with scenery rolling by on a screen behind him is Conrad doing his thing.

The stagecoach crashes off a cliff in a sequence reminiscent of every off a cliff car crash you have ever seen on television or in the movies.

There is really nothing else to see here, though. Jim does not look comfortable taking over Artie’s role to play an disguised character. It is not fun to watch Conrad ham it up the way Ross Martin does. You know, Artie’s disguises would not fool a 99 year old granny with cataracts, but you love the oer the top way he plays it, so you buy into it regardless. Not so when the fake mustache is on the other agent, I am afraid.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Howling Light"

“The Night of the Howling Light” is one of the better episodes of the first season. Well thought out, even socially conscious for the time period. You have to sit through some rather gruesome scenes of torture, but it is worth the effort.

Jim is kidnapped by Dr. Arcularis, a scientist who uses Pavolvian conditioning in order to turn people into willig puppets. Arcularis is in cahoots with an Indian named Akeema who wants to stop Jim from making a peace overture to Chief Ho-Tami. Instead, he wants Jim conditioned to kill Ho-Tami in public view to incite a war with the United States.

The bulk of the episode is Jim conditioning in an old lighthouse. He is subjected to constant bright lights, extreme cold, and sleep deprivation. The ordeal lasts a full three acts, only periodically interrupted by Artie’s efforts to find him. Artie winds up captured and conditioned himself to kill Jim in a rare climactic twist that adds to the story. The show is fun to watch, but often very shallow.

Jim’s conditioning does not take because of sheer force of will, so he is able to kill Akeema instead of Ho-Tami. I do have to question whether that was necessary. But it served dramatic purpose. Akeema feared his people would surrender themselves to the government ad eventually lose everything. History proves him right. I am not excusing hi actions y ay stretch, but considering his prescience, the episode ends a darkly cynical note.

Pavolv’s experiments to condition dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell have proven not to work on creatures of higher intelligence like man, much less turn them ito zombies ready to do their master’s bidding even if it would normally go against their moral code. But this is Hollywood and the vacant stres and absolute obedience generates an appropriately creepy feel. That everyone eventually resisted Arcularis’ conditioning is an effort to create a realistic resolution.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Torture Chamber"

We have our first return appearances of secondary characters, albeit played by different actors this time around. Gov. Bardford of California and his secretary, Miss Piecemeal, have not been seen since “The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth.” Jim and Artie are not too fond of the governor because of his lack of cooperation when battling Dr. Loveless, ut they do remember Piecemeal fondly. Too bad she is in on the dastardly plot this time around.

Prof. Horatio Block, curator of the state museum, kidnaps the governor and replaces him with a double. With the assistance of piecemeal, the double keeps up the charade while draining the state treasury buying rare art pieces for the museum. Luckily, the real governor got a letter off to Jim suspecting a conspiracy before he was kidnapped. Our heroes rescue the governor and end the plot before block can bankrupt the state buying the Mona Lisa from cash strapped France and blaming it on thereal governor.

Got all that? Because it is really dumb.

The minute the real governor is released, he is going to point a finger at Block. Everyone is going to wonder how the professor managed to afford all these expensive objects d’art. Even if it is difficult to believe he had a body double for the governor, all other clues would add up. There is a prison cell in the museum basement in which the real governor was held, the value of the art would roughly equal the amout o money missing from the treasury, and unless the double was murdered, ought to be easy to find.

Bolt is not the sharpest villain our heroes have ever faced, but at least the episode is not boring. Just try no to think about the plot too much. Few things will add up if you do.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Red-Eyed Mad Men"

For those of you anal about such things, I made a mistake last night and watched “The Night of the Human Trigger” out of order. “The Night of the Red-Eyed Mad Men” aired first in 1965. There are no continuity issues rising out of my error, but at least it is all out in the ope now. Confession is good for the soul.

“The Night of the Red-Eyed Mad Men” is not one of the better episodes. It is less outlandishly plotted, with an insane Gen. Grimm (Mission Impossible‘s Martin Landau) with his own private army planning to take over forts in the Southwest and set up his own country. Te episode is a straightforward western, save for a couple Artie-made gadgets as catalysts to get out of tough spots.

Grimm has developed a military strategy which is quite flimsy--he does not believe an army needs a grand strategy. Individual soldiers should be able to overcome any other in close combat. Such a strategy sounds like it could get his army picked off from a distance rather easily. Truth be told, Grimm’s forces never seem all that large or threatening.

They certainly are not sharp. Jim is tipped off to the militia’s existence by a Senator whose niece is engaged to one of its members. Grimm discovers her fiance wrote era letter and the Secret Service has been tipped off. However, even though Grimm is expecting an undercover Secret Service agent to infiltrate the group, he does not suspect the guy who just walked through the door to sign up--that would be Jim--even though he immediately starts asking around about the guy who wrote the letter.

I do not believe these guys have a decent chance of taking over the country. Maye is Pres. Grant was really drunk at the time….

Not much of an episode, but not horrible. Martin Landau plays a good villain. You will probably ave a good time trying to figure out if the governing philosophy Grimm is espousing is fascist, communist, or something in between. His style appears to take elements from a variety of totalitarian sources.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Human Trigger"

May fans dislike ‘The Night of the Human Trigger.” There a couple prominent reasons. One, the villains are goofy and not very formidable. Two, the production was obviously rushed because glaring mistakes were left in the final shots. I forgive both these problems, valid complaints they may be, ut they do make the episode a fun watch.

Burgess Meredith plays absent-minded former Harvard geology Prof. Okney Cadwalader. He has perfected a system overeating earthquakes he has been using to clear out tows I Wyoming in preparation for taking over the state--and all its silver mines--for himself. Cadwalader has a large brood of children, all of whom are laughably stupid, and whom e cannot keep any of their names straight. Nor ca he remember it is Jim West, not South, North, or East.

Okay, not exactly comedy gold, but Meredith wasa year away from playing the penguin for the first time. There are shades of eccentric villainy in his character, but he certainly had not perfected the persona yet.

But for a less than formidable villain, he is one step ahead of Jim and Artie right up until the end when his final earthquake does not trigger properly because of his own miscalculation. He winds up in jail rather abruptly without much heroism from our gallant Secret Service agents to foil his plan.

His brood’s idiocy contributes to a couple Jim and Artie escapes along the way. When I say that, mean escapes of the, ’Your shoe’s untied!” distraction variety. Yes, comedy gold.

I have ripped on the lackluster villains, but how about the production values? There is that abrupt ending that hints the writer backed himself into acorner, but that is not the worst bit by a log shot.

In the climax, Cawalader has Jim tied flat o his back to a bench with his outstretched hands tied to posts I the ground. He has placed the triggering device on Jim’s chest with a wire extending to the bomb beside him. The trigger is a pendulum set to go off if it touches either side of the triggering device, so Jim has to remain perfectly still. Artie shows up in disguise to distract Cadwalder. He walks over to Artie, stumbling over the wire, knocking it from the trigger, and--presumably Meredith breaking character--acknowledges the accident with an annoyed grunt.But they do not stop the scene! Jim goes on to carefully escape while Cadwalader is talking to Artie while trying not to blow up the bomb which is no longer attached to the trigger in the first place! I do not know if the problem was time or money, but the production obviously did not have an alternate take to put I the scene’s place.

I spite of these problems, I have a strange affection for “The Night of the Human Trigger.” Meredith does what he can with the material and his daughter, who falls for Jim, of course, was the hot, half-naked chick in Star Trek’s “Wink of an Eye.”I do appreciate that outfit.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night That Terror Stalked the Town"

Dr. Loveless makes his second appearance, firmly establishing himself as our heroes’ archenemy. He continues to be humorously portrayed as a genius of conflicting sensibilities. One who both abhors violence, but has no qualms about killing 5,000 men, women, and children in a quest to get what is “rightfully” his.

Loveless concocts a plot with a twist on the old, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” idea by kidnapping Jim and replacing him with an exact double, Janus. Clever, no? Janus, in Roman mythology, is the two-faced god of doorways. With Janus, Loveless will destroy the Secret Service, get his explosive formula back, ad blackmail the country into handig over Southern California.

Loveless has invented plastic surgery, you see. He is far better at it than any modern surgeon, too. But you knew that already.

Two flaws. One, although Jim has learned every minute detail of Jim’s life and passes a close physical inspection by Artie, Loveless does not count on a lie about Jim haven been given another assignment on the sly is exposed by a telegraph from Washington with assurances they have not heard from Jim in two weeks. Two,--and this is really important--Loveless did not force Jim to wear a different outfit than Janus, so when the time comes to execute Jim, Loveless does not know who is who. Some genius.

I am going to overlook the fact Loveless was training Janus to mimic Jim’s voice earlier and assume he was surgically altered. Otherwise, Janus could have just spoken up in his real voice. The issue constitutes a very large plot hole otherwise. I do loathe those.

Artie helps rescue Jim ad foil Loveless’ plot. The maniacal dwarf returns to jail for the second time, which surprises me. I seem to recall from this point on, loveless’ fate is always up in the air at the end of his episodes I order to add to his mystique. Now I am unclear when that theme begins. Soon, I imagine.

“The Night that Terror Stalked the Town,” like every episode featuring loveless, is a true classic and one of the highlights of the series. Yes, I am overlooking that janus voice flaw in my determination.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Double-Edged Knife"

“The Night of the Double-Edged Knife” is the most straightforward western themed episode the series has had so far. It does not do anything for racial sensitivity towards Native Americans. While the Cheyenne turn out to be the good guys I the end, every last one of them was played full blown “me smokem peace pipe” style by white actors in bad wigs. But that is one of the reasons I remember this show so fondly. Politically correct, I am not.

The construction of the Central & Western Railroad is being sabotaged, evidently by the Cheyenne, by killing five workers a day until a $ 500,000 ransom is paid. Jim and Artie are sent in o behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to get to the bottom of thigs.

The local Cheyenne are lead by American Knife, a Dartmouth educated Native American who rejected his Christian missionary parents and wet back to his people after they paid for his degree in philosophy. If those missionaries had been associated with Bob Jones University, they would haae known he would do that after studying philosophy.

American knife is being scapegoat because the real culprit is Gen. Ball, a hero at the Battle of Shiloh. When he lost his right hand in the battle, the army sent him off to the frontier where he felt cheated enough to blackmail the railroad for the half million. Once cleared of wrogdoig, the Cheyenne help capture Ball and his bandits.

Here are two points to chew on. One, it is stated early on the Cheyenne do not use money, so their guilt ought to be cast into doubt by the characters from the get go. Two, Jim does not notice the raids on the railroad workers are identical to the ones Ball used to defeat the Confederates at Shiloh. Take these two points together and you will see Ball should is too dumb to effectively, but since im cannot catch on fast enough, he nearly gets away with it.

It is wise not to think about the plot too much and enjoy a couple of fine points. Jim lands two girls in less then fifteen minutes. One is the daughter of a murdered railroad worker before rigor mortis even sets in and the other is the Cheyenne tribal torturer. That is what you call variety.

The second point of interest is the casting. Ball is played by Leslie Nielsen back in his dramatic actor days. He makes a surprisingly good villain I spite of his tactics appearing to have been devised by Frank Drebin. American knife is played by John Drew Barrymore, son of legendary actor John Barrymore and father of Drew Barrymore. Not a very pleasant guy, but he possessed the family talent when not engulfed in a drug induced haze.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Dancing Death"

Now how is this for a plot: Jim and artie are supposed to escort the Albanian princess to her embassy. Unfortunately, when they get there, a friend of hers announces that is not the princess. Her brother, Prince Gio, is incensed the Americans lost his sister, which tells you right there he is the one who kidnapped her. We all knew it from the time he showed up on screen. The best place to hide her is in the Albanian embassy, after all.

Gio is an expert I a martial art that appears to be across between ballet and judo that Road House era Patrick Swayze would be embarrassed to perform on camera. His prowess has won him enough respect to make him the leader of a secret society called the Kamora. The Kamora plans to commit large heists in the United States and return home with the princess safely under the assumption the king will beso happy to have his daughter back, he will let Gio keep the riches.

Do I really need to describe how dumb all that is? Daddy is probably plotting a declaration of war right now against the united States for losing the apple of his eye. Is he really going to forget his son is a murdering thief just because he faked his sister’s kidnapping?

It does not really matter, because one kick from im sends Twinkle-Toes Gio falling to his death, so the princess is quickly rescued.

“The Night of the Dancing Death” is a dud. The Kamora even ties up Jim, gives him a wine bottle, and then leaves him alone log enough to break the bottle, use a shard to cut himself free, and kidnap their hot, female member I order to get the clue we already figured out--the princess is in the embassy.

Point of interest: Gio is played by Mark Richman, who played the snooty millionaire who was revived in Star Trek: the Next Generation’s “The Neutral Zone.” He is still acting today at the ripe old age of 83.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Glowing Corpse"

That looks suspiciously like a Metaluna Alien from This Island Earth behid jim at the Carnival House of Horrors. The Wild Wild West made a lot of subtle and not so subtle gestures to establish its science fiction roots.

“The Night of the Glowing Corpse” takes place during the Franco-Prussian War. A French scientist develops franconium, a radioactive element that can kill millions. Such an element could win the war for France quickly, so they have naturally surrendered it to the United States to prevent such a thig from happening.

The franconium is promptly by an old woman and a native American with feet made of iron. Seriously. The episode becomes a mystery as to who was behind the theft and how the franconium can be recovered.

A red herring I thrown in by way of a French patriot who disagrees with the idea of giving up the franconium rather than using it to wipe Prussia of the map 48 years before its time. But when he winds up dead, all signs point to the visiting botanist as the culprit. Sure enough, se is a Prussian double agent. This marks the first time Jim does not get to smooch the lovely villain by the end.

“The Night of the Glowing Corpse” features the most contrived use of a conveniently held gadget since Batman just happened to be carrying shark repellant. Artie fashions a gas mask for Jim, who uses it in the very next scene when he is trapped in a makeshift cell with deadly pesticide beig pumped in. He manages to escape in time with explosive silly putty.

The reuse of sets has become blatantly obvious by this point, too. The hotel in the previous episode doubles as the French consulate here. Seeing the same locale back to back but as another place is amusing.

It is not a classic, but “The Night of the Glowing Corpse” is entertaining. It hits all the marks: pretty girls, neat gadgets, a villain with an odd gimmick--I this case, iron feet from a train accident as a child, and a high concept plot. It works, strangely enough.

Rating: *** (out of 5)