Thursday, September 30, 2010

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

“The Night of the Falcon” is one of the more interesting episodes of the third season. For those who appreciate who appreciate the more James Bon-like elements of the series, this episode is about as close to a bond film as you will get. Granted, it descends into laughable campy elements towards the end--pictured above is, unfortunately, the doomsday weapon at the heart of the plot--but it is still an entertaining episode nonetheless.

I think it has the best teaser, bar none. The cavalry is clearing out a small Colorado town for reasons which are not yet clear, but everyone in the know keeps looking at their watches, anxiously awaiting the noon hour. When the hour arrives, so does an apparent missile attack which destroys the entire town.

The attack was a test run for a even bigger demonstration set for a few days later. The second attack will destroy Denver before a group of international criminals who will then bid on the weapon. The whole shebang is organized by the Falcon, a wonderfully megalomaniacal villain played by a young Robert Duvall. The story plays out in typical fashion for The Wild Wild West. Artie poses as one of the international criminals after he is killed. Jim eventually gets captured, but escapes. He and Artie wind up at the The Falcon’s secret lair I which they learn he has two of those bird cannons. One he will sell, the other he will keep to take over the United States. Our heroes fight it out with The Falcon’s goofily dressed minions. Ten the how place blows up.

“The Night of the Falcon” is an episode that must be seen to be believed. Dvall plays it completely straight, even when he is wearing a birdhouse. There are a couple really huge goofs. In one, Jim is nearly blown up while lying on a bed in is hotel room. He is wearing a shirt and pants. He jumps out of the window and onto his horse in order to pursue his attacker. Somewhere between the bed and the window, e put on his jacket. Somewhere between getting on his horse and making it to The Falcon’s lair, he put on a pair of chaps. Out of thin air, I assume. The second goof iswhen Jim knocks a uard out I order to escape his prison cell. Theactor apparently did not know he was supposed to stay down, because he gets up and slinks off screen an instant after he was "knocked out," but never stops Jim from escaping!

In spite of all this--maybe because of it--”The Night of the Falcon” is one of my favorite episodes.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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

We are back to familiar territory with ’The Night of the Circus of Death” after the sojourn into camp Indiana Jones territory. Very familiar territory, in fact. Plates from the Denver mint are stolen to produce nearly perfect counterfeit money which is beings spread around by a traveling circus. You may recall that is vaguely similar to the first season’s "The Night of the Sudden Death” in which plates are stolen from the Denver mint to create nearly perfect counterfeit money which is being spread around by a traveling circus.

The plots are not as identical as I make them sound, but you get the idea. Time made the two episodes blend together in my mind until I watched them both to catch the differences.

For one, there is a more elaborate mystery involved which takes up much of the episode. Jim and Artie have to investigate the death of a circus performer who left behind a suitcase full of money. Two, there is a lot more action. Jim nearly gets roasted by a flamethrower in the teaser. Later, he is locked in the lion’s cage. Finally, there is a conspiracy rather than a straightforward counterfeit operation. the wife of the mint’s director is in on it. She is using her senile old counterfeiting father, whom authorities believe is dead, to make the money without him knowing what she is doing with it.

“The Night of the Circus of Death” is an underrated episode in general. Perhaps that I because the general plot has been done before. There are enough new elements for the installment to stand on its own. I would not call it anything special, but considering how often the writers experimented during the third season, a classic, back to basics adventure I welcome at this point.

You may recognize Arlene Martel pictured above. She was Spock’s arranged ride-to-be in Star Trek “Amok Time,” which aired almost two months prior to this episode.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of Montezuma's Hordes"

I labeled the third season largely subdued, meaning there are very few episodes with over the top, world conquer ring villains and more straightforward western themes. Among the season, there are still a select few strange stories thatare high on the camp factor. “The Night of Montezuma’s Hordes’ is definitely one of those.

Two con men, played by frequent cowboy villain Jack Elam and everyone’s favorite Martian, Ray Walston, impersonate the leaders of an archeological team Jim, Artie, and a Mexican colonel are supposed to be escorting through the Mexican desert in search of an Aztec temple full of treasure. They intended to just steal the map from the colonel and find it themselves, but he memorized it instead, so the con men have to go along with the ruse until they all find the temple.

Have patience, folks. It is a long journey. Two acts worth, including two overnight camping scenes which are intended to show tension among the parties, but completely fail because it dragged out for two different scenes. I cannot help but feel the story was short on material so someone suggested doing the same scene twice, but with the cactus on the right side this time.

They reach the temple, which is not realy that well hidden, point of fact, to find the treasure is guarded by the Sun Goddess and descendants of the Aztecs. At this point, I have a low rent Indiana Jones ad the Last Crusade vie going on. Very low rent. The stone steps in the temple bend and creak like the plywood they really are.

Naturally, Jim pulls off the Sun Goddess’ mask and smooches her. Twice. Someone, this saves them all from certain death, but two of the party have to die. Big surprise that Jim and Artie are chosen. They wind up having to escape from a room with the ceiling slowly descending upon them. All right, so there is a lot Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom thrown in, too. Our heroes stop the crooks from stealing the treasure. Teir good deed earns the respect of the Aztecs, so they get to leave in peace as long as they keep the temple a secret.

“The Night of Montezuma’s Hordes” is a strange episode which drags in many places The series has too low a budget to try pulling off a plausible temple, as well. Still there is some goofy fun to be had. That keeps the episode from being a complete cellar dweller in my book.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, September 27, 2010

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

“The Night of the Hangman” is a unusual, but welcome straying from the formula. Jim and Artie get caught up in a mystery when they stop over in a small town as a very public murder takes place. Jim helps apprehend the alleged murderer. He serves as the key witness at trial, but after the guy is sentenced to be hanged, has doubts they have the right man.

Jim and Artie arrive in the midst of a town celebration thrown by the beloved local tycoon who employs most everyone and his young, trophy wife, Abigail. The local banker, a guy you get the impression everyone hates, is the resident grouch attempting to spoil tings for all. As the banker bends down to pick up his walking cane, a shot fires rom somehow hitting and killing said beloved tycoon. Everyone believes the bullet was meant for the ornery judge instead.

Jim gives chase to the murder. He finds himself in the room of Lucius Brand, played by a young Harry Dean Stanton, wearing a jacket identical to the alleged murderer and holding a gun. He protests his innocence, claiming he does not remember a thing. Things look bleak for him, however. Not only was he caught with the jacket and gun, but he had threatened to kill the banker for foreclosing on his farm. There is no surprise when he is sentenced to hang, but Jim still has his suspicions.

He is right to have them. The townsfolk are right out of a Stephen King novel. They have concocted a conspiracy among Abigail, the town’s most prominent lawyer, the sheriff, and a host of henchman to ill the tycoon, earn various sums of money or other advantages for doing so, and framing Brand for the murder by making it appear as though Brand wa killing the banker in revenge, but missed when he ducked.

Artie figures out Brand could not have fired the fatal shot by comparing photos taken at the event. His theorizing sounds very similar to the JFK Magic Bullet Theory, which has me wonder exactly how early the idea was popular among conspiracy theorists regarding whether Lee Harvey Oswald was framed/acted alone. Whether there is a homage here to the assassination conspiracy, Jim and Artie unravel the plan and save Brand from being hanged.

“The Night of the Hangman” fit’s the motif of the more subdued third season in that the episodes that are most unlike the typical episodes of the series are the best. No other episode plot compels Jim and Artie to do their thing on a personal, unauthorized mission. There is a genuine, well-plotted mystery here, too. The only drawback is how these townsfolk inexplicably use the typical super villain paraphernalia of trap doors and koc out gas to thwart our heroes. Why would they have such things? Their use is the only thing keeping the episode from earning four stars. Way too implausible, that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

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

Over the last five episodes, Jim and Artie have singled-handedly preserved the United States’ good diplomatic relations with Mexico three times, Canada once, and now Japan. How we ever made it out of the 19th century intact without those two is beyond me. Which is another surprise, because their butter fingers approach to protecting national treasures gets them in trouble yet again.

This time around, it is a samurai sword belonging to a Japanese prince our heroes are guarding. They are attacked by a group of kabuki make up wearing swordsmen who steal the thing right out from under them. The prince sets sail in the morning, so Jim and Artie only have one night to recover the sword.

“The Night of the Samurai” returns to the usual light-hearted adventurous feel with a dash of humor the series is known for rather than the darkly violent tone of the previous. The plots are awfully similar. The sword has been stole by an old friend of Jim’s named Gideon, a Westerner deeply attached to the samurai tradition, who stole the sword in order to end the United States’ growing influence in Japan. We also taught Jim how to fight with samurai swords, so take a wild guess what the climax is all about.

Before, we get there, we have some fun double crosses. An informant named the Dutchman leads Jim and Artie on a wild goose chase. Reiko, one of the prince’s servants, seems to be an ally, but instead leads the two into Gideon’s clutches. Even the prince’s translator, played by Wo Fat himself, Keigh Deigh, appears to be up to no good when he offers to rent the sword from a disguised Artie only for fifteen minutes.It turns out the sword is not so much sacred as it has nearly $ 1 million worth of jewels stashed in its hilt. That might be a commentary on the sacred traditions of Japan versus American greed, but I am not sure. If it makes you feel good to think so, be my guest.

In spite of a plot which is not only unoriginal, but almost a direct lift of the previous episode, “The Night of the Samurai” is fun viewing. Artie disguises himself as a Portuguese sailor in one of my favorite of his disguises and flirts with a fat woman I swore was a man in drag for at least five minutes. The Dutchman has plenty of hints of being modeled after Count Manzeppi, but Victor Buono played the type of roll so much more memorably.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Jack O'Diamonds"

A prominent feature of the third season is the more straightforward western themes throughout. The villains are more political in nature, rather than over the top would be conquerors with wild science fiction laced plans. The episodes turned to camp quite often anyway, save for the episodes whose plots could well have fit in with ay of the western series popular in the late 60’s. Case in point is ’The Night of the Jack O‘ Diamonds.” It could just as easily be Matt Dillon as the protagonist as james West.

Our heroes are assigned to escort a horse, which is a gift from Pres. Ulysses S. Grant to Pres. Benito Juarez. Just after they have crossed the border into Mexico, the horse is stolen by a revolutionary posing as their contact. He is with a group who wants to disrupt US relations with Mexico. The horse is immediately stolen from him by bandits. Jim and Artie have to sort out the whole mess before a diplomatic incident occurs.

The process of recovering the horse turns into the darkest, most violent episode of The Wild Wild West. Jim pursues the bandits alone and then the revolutionaries alongside the leader of the bandits, a man named El Sordo, once he realizes the horse is a gift for Juarez. Jim racks up an impressive body count by himself against the bandits. He ad El Sordo, combine for far more bloodshed. I stopped counting at thirty dead bodies, but not only did they not stop shooting, Artie eventually joins in to plug a few himself. The horse is recovered after everyone is dead.

“The Night of the Jack O’Diamonds” is as far from a typical episode of the series as it gets. Te violence is brutal and bloody. The pretty girl is thrown in for a few minutes just to fit the motif. There is only one instance of gadgetry. The ending--the entire episode, really--is one big gunfight. There is no cleverness to the plot or any creative twist.

If I was a bigger fan of westerns, I would probably think more highly of the episode, but I like The Wild Wild Wet for its high concept weirdness. It is not a ttal wash, mind you. The darker tone is strangely intriguing. But it feels very out of place compared to the rest of the series.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night Dr. Loveless Died"

Michael Dunn makes his ninth of ten appearances as Dr. Miguelito Loveless. This is the only episode to feature Loveless in the third season and the final time he will encounter Artie. His final appearance will take place during the period of time Ross martin was recovering from a heart attack. Jeremy Pike, the most popular of Artie’s replacements, will serve as Jim’s partner for that one.

If you have not already guessed, Loveless fakes his own death and arranges for Jim and Artie to go on an inadvertent quest to eliminate some of Loveless’ cheated accomplices so e can have a fresh start with his schemes. The plan works beautifully as loveless poses as his on German neuroscientist uncle during the adventure. The uncle cannot quite help but release his anger periodically over his nephew’s “persecution” by Jim. Nevertheless, Jim never catches onto the doctor’s true identity until it is too late.

Loveless thanks Jim by locking him in a sanitarium and preparing to perform a lobotomy. What an ingrate. Jim is rescued from the operating table by rtie posing as a French surgeon. Loveless, of course, escapes. He seemingly dies for real as the sanitarium burns down, but we know better than that.

A couple poit of note. First, Loveless’ uncle introduces himself as Dr. Liebknich. I German, that literally translates to “love not,” although it would not be spelled with a “k” in German. Second, Susan Oliver, who played Vina in the original Star Trek pilot, portrays the femme fatale. Oliver was a fascinating woman. Aside from acting, she was a licensed pilot who once attempted to be the first woman to fly from New York to Moscow. She was a noted expert on the history of baseball. In her later years, she became an acclaimed director. She won a Tony award for the only play she ever starred in. she managed to reach the pinnacle of several careers in one lifetime, no?

“The Night Dr. Loveless Died” is one of the better Loveless episodes because of how long the demented dwarf manipulates Jim and Artie into his bidding. The plot and execution are some of the most clever of Loveless’ non-would be conqueror plans. Susan Oliver is one of the loveliest ladies from the series, too. A definite highlight of the season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

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

Just to prove there is symmetry, even in international relations, Jim and Artie find themselves attempting to prevent a coup in Mexico seemingly perpetrated by Americans. This time te plan is a bit more well thought out than stealing a wagon load of war materiel and heading off to British Columbia.

Jim interrupts an assassination attempt in Mexico of Pres. Benito Juarez. While chasing after the would be assassin, he is ambushed by his accomplice. The accomplice turns out to be An American Relations between the two countries sour as marshal law is declared and Americans become prime targets for trigger happy Mexican soldiers.

Jim seeks out the escaped assassin at great risk to himself out of fear there is an American backed conspiracy to throw Mexico into chaos. The assassin, a young Texan named Halwosen, is captured by the brutal Mexican Col. Barbosa, who hides him from everyone in order to torture out a confession.

Jim arranges for Halwosen for his ‘father”--Artie in disguise--to meet in order to get the whole story straight from the horse’s mouth. He refuses to talk as log as he is a prisoner, so Jim and Artie devise a plan to break him out of prison before Barbosa can go to work on him.

Our heroes’ job is complicated by a pretty senorita who seems to show up at just the wrong time to thwart their investigation. The final straw is when she kidnaps the rescued Halwosen right out from under him after he as been rescued from prison.

It turns out she is working directly for Juarez to uncover the whole assassination plot. Working together, they all discover Barbosa is behind it all. He hired Halwosen ad his accomplice from the shadows to kill Juarez, then had Halwosen arrested to torture out a confession Americans were behind the plot. Then Barbosa would be free to take over the country.

Robert Loggia takes his second turn as a villain in the series. He is very menacing here, but not a particularly convincing Mexican. Nevertheless, the episode is good, if for no other reason than it well separates itself from the similarly plotted previous episode. The story has more of a covert caper feel to it than yesterday’s blow ’em all up and that will fix it plot. Good fun regardless.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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

I can see the wheels turning in the writers room about comig up with ideas for ‘The Night of the Firebrand.”

“How about a story about some revolutionary attempting to take over Mexico?” oe writer says.

“We have done that seven times already,” replies executive producer Henry Sharp.

“Okay,” the same writers says, “but how about shaking things up then. The revolutionary wants to kill President Benito Juarez.”

“We have done that four out of the seven.” Sharp reminds him.

“How about if the revolutionary has built up a militia of cutthroats to do his dirty work?” another writer interjects.

“Be funny,” Sharp retorts.

A third writer has a flash. ’Say, how about the revolutionary discovers a way to control people’s minds?”

“Shut up1!" everyone I the room says in unison.

“Go over to Gunsmoke with that stuff. They are running out of ideas over there at this point, anyway.” says Sharp. “We need to shake things up a bit.

“I’ve got it!” the first writer shouts.

“Well don’t give it to anyone else,’ the other writers quip.

“No, seriously. Let’s have the revolutionary plot to take over Canada. We’ve never done that before.”

“And ever will again, but I guess it’s worth a sht. Let’s do it!” orders Sharp.

With that, ‘The Night of the Firebrand” became a thrilling adventure to save all the moose in the Great White North from being taken over by Trapper John, MD sporting a terribly fake Irish accent. No wonder Canada was so often spared by this show’s villainous schemes.

Pernell Roberts, fresh off a long stint portraying Adam Cartwright on Bonanza, plays Sean O’Reilly, a revolutionary who has stolen a wagonload of arms and dynamite from American Ft. Hood with plans to overthrow the Canadian government. He has attracted the attention of Sheila O’Shugnassy, the young daughter of a prominent Congressman. Jim and Artie are to recover the wagon and rescue Sheila.

The episode takes a lighthearted tone with two running gags. In the first, Jim and Artie keep recovering the wagon, but perpetually lose it to O’Reilly along the trip from British Columbia to New York. In the second, they keep knocking Sheila out comically by a pressure point on her neck in in order to keep her quiet. Amid all the coon skin hats, fake Irish and French-Canadian accents, and the constant threat of even more stereotypical Indians, that is about the only toe the episode could honesty take.

The exciting climax is the episode’s saving race. Artie takes the wagon into New York while Jim stays behind with dozens of sticks of dynamite to delay the wagon’s pursuers. It is a particularly imaginative and explosive way of ending the revolution before it even begins. It blowed up good. Blowed up real good.

“The Night of the Firebrand” is a fun episode that can definitely not be taken too seriously. I am curious way Roberts would take a one time role in another western so soon after leaving the popular Bonanza, particularly if he was interested in avoiding being typecast. He makesa fairly good villain, all things considered.

Speaking of Roberts, he, like Harold Gould from yesterday’s episode, passed away earlier this year.

The episode has another fine pedigree. Sheila is a played by Lana Wood, the younger sister of Natalie Wood. Lana is still active as an actress, but she will probably always be most famous for playing Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever. She may be most notorious for publishing a memoir a few years after Natalie’s death that was a little too frank about her famous sister. Lana has found herself estranged from much of her family because of it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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

We arrive at the third season premiere at a highly apt moment. The villain of the episode, Victor Freematle, is played by veteran character actor, Harold Gould. Gould passed away last week at the age of 86 after a long, varied career spanning from the early ’50’s until nearly his death.

Freematle isa revolutionary who has taken a strip of land between the United States and Mexico as his own. He is demanding diplomatic recognition as well as a large sum of money from the United States. In order to ensure, he has stolen the Constitution for ransom. We are fortunate he did not steal the Constitution under Barack Obama’s administration when the document has become all but irrelevant. We would never have gotten it back.

Jim escorts an expert from the National Archive into Freemantle’s fortress to inspect the captured document. They are blindfolded and spu around as misdirection before being lead oto a makeshift bridge over a pit of bubbling acid which gives the episode its title. The expert confirms the Constitution is real, then is held hostage, too, as assurance the ransom demand will be met.

Thus begins the bulk of the episode’s action. Jim and Artie know where the fortress is, just not exactly where the Constitution is within it. Their break in to the fortress and subsequent conquest of various obstacles and booby traps hints strongly at the Indiana Jones movies which will come decades later. It is not hard to see The Wild Wild West is as influenced by ’30’s serials as the esteemed archeologist’s advetures will be.

The twist is the history expert is in on the caper. He helped Freemantle steal the Constitution and falsely claimed the forgery Jim and Artie are trying to recover is the real deal. Our rediscover the real Constitution hidden elsewhere and eventually capture all parties involved.

In addition to Gould, “The Night of the Bubbling Death” has a stronger than usual cast for a genre show. The history expert, Silas Gigsby, is played by William Shallert, better known as Patty Due’s father, but has been a character actor for decades. The feeme fatale is played by Madlyn Rhue, fresh off her seduction by Khan in Star Trek’s “Space Seed.”

“The Night of the Bubbling Death” is for fans who care more about action than story. The episode is high on trills and gadgets, but low on any sort of well thought plot.. Admittedly, the twist that Gigsby is I on the crime is one of the better surprises, particularly considering the character goes from a nebbish bundle of nerves to a gun toting thief in 0-60, ut that is the only neat story element. Even Freematle’s capture is done off screen and mentioned only in passing shortly before the credits roll. Ut the action scenes are very much a saving grace.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Bogus Bandits"

Michael Dunn returns for his eighth of ten appearances as Dr. Miguelito Loveless in ‘The Night of the Bogus Bandits.” The episode is underrated as far as Loveless stories go. Perhaps that is because his latest plan of conquest, while grandiose, does not involve any extraordinary science fiction elements like his most recent. But it is still enjoyable because the plot is cleverer than most.

Loveless has been training an army to work as a cohesive unit by robbing banks with precision skill. They never get caught because none of the money is ever spent. Loveless burns the loot in a bonfire with promises there is far more wealth to be had later. However, two C-notes escape one bonfire and are spent by two henchmen. Jim and Artie are assigned to track down who spent the charged money.

Artie becomes a tenant at the boarding house where one was spent on rent. Jim goes to a saloon to find the former owner o the other. Artie finds and tussles with Loveless’ henchman who is trying to clean up his mess. Jim finds the man himself and gets captured.

Loveless reveals is plan. He is training his army to make a three pronged, simultaneous attack I order to arm, finance, and conquer the territory for his own. He has apparently lined up some foreign ally is willing to recognize his new country once he gives the signal. In a surprising, but refreshing move, it is Artie that stops Loveless’ plan by destroying the communication device so the attack cannot go forward. Loveless, of course, escapes to scheme another day.

There is a lot of build up as our heroes go through the motions of tracking down the charged bills’ owners. So much time is spent on it, the ending feels a bit rushed. We have to accept Loveless’ army will not go all lone wolf and attack anyway because there is no time to actually deal with them. It is a small gripe, but one nonetheless. The grandiose scheme of conquest peters out with one move on Artie’s part.

A key point of interest is the town Jim finds Loveless in--from the entire town--downtown, jail, and the saloon--is Dodge City from Gunsmoke. Miss Kitty’s Longbranch saloon has only slightly been altered for the episode. This counts as the third glaringly noticeable time the series borrows a set from another show. The second was in “The Night of the Bottomless Pit” when Gilligan’s island doubled as Devil’s Island. the first was the appearance of the fort from the Star Trek episode "Arena" which has appeared frequently since the first season.

“The Night of the Bogus Bandits” is not the strongest of the Loveless episodes, but it is still a Loveless episode, so that puts it a cut above the rest. It could have had a little more pizzazz for a season finale, but it does end a strig of mediocre episodes on a strong note.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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

“The Night of the Wolf” takes another of the series’ X-Files turns into what appears to be the supernatural, but turns out not to be. It is also a unusual episode in that the guest characters are often more prominent than Jim and Artie.

Several years ago, a Croatian monarch was deposed by his brother with the elp of a Rasputin-like advisor named Talemantas. The brother died a short time ago, living the deposed monarch and his daughter, who have been living obscurely in the Arizona Territory, to return to his land. Jim and Artie are assigned to ensure the two get on the ship safely. Taemantas has come to Arizona to stop them…or has he?

Tlematas appears to have supernatural control over a pack of wolves that are impervious to pain and nearly impossible to kill. Jim shoots one twice without effect. It takes a large silver bullet from the king’s gun to kill one. Hence, there is the belief for much of the episode Talematas controls werewolves. The truth is, he has developed a serum with which he can control minds. Yes, I know. Just like the previous episode. His real plan is to kidnap the princess and control her mind as she takes over the thrown.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the exiled king is dying. He had his first cardiac episode upon learning of his brother’s death and his second upon the kidnapping of his daughter by Talematas. Artie runs off to gather everyone needed for an immediate coronation before the deposed ing dies so his daughter can tae over while Jim runs off to rescue the princess in the first place.

I recall not buying into the story even as a child. It is not just because the wolves that attack Jim on three separate occasions are clear fakes which do not even move as they “maul” him. It is the other, far greater problems in logic.

Supposedly, the wolves are so jacked up on serum, it takes one large bullet to kill them. For whatever reason, a hail of small bullets have no effect. The fact the large bullet was silver is noted out loud to be irrelevant when the truth about the serum is revealed. A hail of regular bullets should have been more effective than one large.

How did Talemantas get from Croatia to Arizona so fast? The news of the king’s death traveled far faster tan he could have made a transatlantic voyage, particularly if he took the longest possible route an landed in California. Why not just stay in Croatia and take over amid all the chaos of having no leader in place? He was controlling the king by serum anyway, so he was the guy in charge in the first place.

The third problem with logic is more amusing than anything else. Jim meets with a local sheriff who is part of the security team. The sheriff leads the deposed king up to his room and is not seen again until the quickie coronation. That means he is upstairs, but does nothing, while wolves attack, multiple gunshots are fired outside, Talemandas and his men beak in to kidnap the princess, and she is rescued by Jim. I have heard of sound sleeping, but that guy takes the gold medal in the event.

For the sake of being pedantic, I also note Croatia was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire I the 1870’s. No local royalty was allowed to reign over territory, so none of this could have happened anyway. The more you learn, the worse “The Night of the Wolf” gets.

I consider it the worst episode of the second season. Perhaps even the entire series. You can skip it without missing a thing.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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

“The Night of the Cadre” is a marriage of two popular concepts for the series--a sciece fiction plot to take over the world and a standard militia to…well, take over the world. Do they go together like peanut butter and chocolate? Not really. More like peanut butter ad bananas. It will do, but it is not the best combination of which one could conceive.

Jim is sent to a prison in order to observe the execution of a would be presidential assassin. Several others like him who have expressed a desire to kill Ulysses S. Grant have been inexplicably released by prison wardens in the last few weeks. Sure enough, the condemned is released ere after a whistle is blown I the vicinity o the warden.

An autopsy reveals the warden had a crystal implanted in is brain which increases the power of suggestion when in contact with the frequency of the whistle. Whoever ha been implanting these crystals has been freeing a small army of potential assassins for something big. Jim poses as an infamous assassin in order to become a part of the plan.

He is kidnapped from his wagon transport to a fort run by Gen. Titus Trask, a former United States Army officer booted out by grant. He now wants revenge, or so it seems for most of the episode. He really wants to implant a crystal in Grant’s brain in order to control him. When he discovers who Jim really is, he decides Jim, a trusted Secret Service agent, is jut the ticket.

Wait--how did a professional soldier learn about crystals that can control minds? I do not know. Since the episode never worries about such a frivolous point, neither should we, right?

The rest of the story goes exactly as you would expect. Artie, in disguise, rescues Jim before his brain urery can begin. Jim pretends he had the surgery anyway so he can infiltrate Trask’s army. There is a big hoot and fistfight at the end which resolves the plot. Trask fall off a cliff to his death as one of the most laughably obvious dummies in television history. Even for a low budget show, it was bad. They could not have just had a guy fall on a airbag? Geez.

“The Night of the Cadre” is also notorious for featuring the same plot hole that plagued "The Night of the Red-Eyed Madmen.” You may recall in that episode Jim infiltrated another militia, but his cover was blown because he had encountered another member before joining up. Since meeting the guy was the catalyst for investigating the militia to begin with, Jim should have known this would happen. Not only does this not occur to him then, but he did not learn anything. The same scenario happens again here. The condemned would be assassin from the opening teaser has been recruited by the militia and can identify Jim which he does the first chance he gets. Not only is this problem a huge illogical flaw once, it happens in two different episodes!

“The Night of the Cadre” is not the best. It is not the worst, either, in spite of its logical flaws. The episode is just sort of…there. The dumb bits are more amusig than annoying.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Deadly Blossom"

“The Night of the Deadly Blossom” is an interesting animal. It is one of those winks at the audience’s knowledge of history that takes a strange plot turn towards the absurd I order to make it fit in with the logic of the series. I am amused by it, although said absurd twist is terribly laughable.

An American navy ship is sunk off the coast of California, supposedly by a freak lightning strike, but no one believes that is plausible. The command officers of the Pacific Fleet are murdered I the middle of the investigation by assassins using traditional Hawaiian weapon. Jim and Artie are on the case, as Jim meets wit Adam Barclay, a British-Chinese diplomat, expert on pacific culture, and a guy plotting to murder the Hawaiian king as he arrives in the United States in order to build better relations between the two countries.

Barclay resents his Caucasian half of his heritage and doe not wat Hawaii to be corrupted by the outside world. By killing the Hawaiian king, he hopes to turn the island into a buffer to impede aval expansion by both the United States and Japan. Pearl Harbor is of course mentioned as the key strategic point for controlling the Pacific over the next century.

If you guessed there is a secret Japanese agent involved, you are correct. If you guessed she is a pretty girl, you have been watching this show too much. If you also guessed she and Jim form an alliance in the name of continued friendship and peaceful coexistence in the Pacific between the United States and Japan, you have been watching television in general way too much. It is all just to clever for words, no?

Barclay has created a rocket lunching base full of henchmen dressed in purple shower curtains from which he plans to detroy the Hawaiian kig’s ship. You should have figured out by now Barclay teted his missile on the nay ship, then decided no one would believe lightening caused its sinking, so e decided to kill the American navy’s top brass. Because that will attract any attention his plan.

Say, do you think Barclay’s lair was built by the same construction company that built Capt. Horatio Philo’s lair a couple episodes back? They are both hidden on the ocean and just outside San Francisco. You have to figure those are big, specialty jobs from a specific company. Since it only takes one man a single shot to destroy both, that must have had the Death Star contract, too. Probably out of business by now, with a track record like that.

“The Night of the Deadly Blossom” is not a classic, nor is it particularly logical even within the universe of the series, but it is fun in its own way. Jim’s escape from the swinging pendulum pictured above takes up nearly the entire third act, which tells me the thin plot had to desperately be padded. Still, it is absurdly enjoyable and the “predictions” about the future of Pearl Harbor were a ice touch.

In a true blink and you will miss it moment, keep an eye out for Soon-Tek Oh, the veteran character actor perhaps most famous for playing Col. Yit, the sadistic POW camp commandant in Missing Action II; The Beginning, as Barclay’s butler. He has no lines. In fact, all he does is serve tea and scurry off. But it is him. According to IMDb, it is the fifth role in his career. Miiko Taka, who plays the Japanese agent Hanuko Ishuda, will go on to play Kiri in the popular Richard Chamberlain miniseries Shogun

Coolest point of note: Barclay is played by veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff, who is not only Jewish instead of Chinese, but was the cab driver in the famous ‘I could have been a contender” scene between Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Colonel's Ghost "

“The Night of the Colonel’s Ghost” is an old fashioned murder mystery with a decent red herring and a resolution that is, in hindsight, so obvious as to be embarrassing if you missed it.

Pres. Ulysses S. Grant insists upon honoring a personal request to dedicate the statue of Col. Wayne Gibson, the son of the town of Gibsonville’s founder and a man who was killed with his entire company while under grant’s command during the Civil War. Gibson’s father spent the family fortune on the statue in the town square asa monument to his son.

Jim rides on ahead to discover Gibsonville has become a ghost town, save for the handful of people who are dismantling the place looking for an alleged missing stash of Gibson family’s gold. The handful of prospector’s are being picked ff one by one by someone or something breaking their necks. The remaining prospectors do not seem all that upset their compatriots are rapidly becoming corpses. Nor do they appear too excited the murder is the alleged ghost of Col. Gibson.

Since this is not Scooby Doo, Jim spends more time attempting to find the gold than unraveling the murder mystery. This is an o point, considering his job is to make sure the town is safe for Grant’s visit. Regardless, we hear two things after every murder; organ music and a caged parrot squawking, ’it’s here! It’s here!” the oran music is supposed to give you the creeps. It successfully does. The bird, however, while supposedly announcing the presence of his former owner’s ghost, seems to be implying instead his cage is made of painted over gold. So many o the characters and scenes dance around the prospect.

Alas, the killer turns out to be col. Gibson himself. He was actually a coward who ran off from battle and allowed his company to be slaughtered. Gibson planted his identification tas on the body of a soldier mangled beyond all recognition so he could ’die” a hero. He played the role of his ghost to run everyone off from town so he could search for his daddy’s gold. The gold is not the bird cage, but the statue. The true material used to build it is revealed when a stray bullet in the climactic gunfight mars the surface. Kind of obvious in hindsight, no?

Speaking of obvious, there is a rather obvious glaring error in the story, too. The statue dedicated to Gibson has an inscription which says he died commanding a company of soldiers. Grant reiterates this fact. However, captains are in charge of companies. Colonels are in charge of regiments. Even if Gibson was promoted posthumously, he would have been a major. That is a factual error that could have been easily avoided.

“The Night of the Colonel’s Ghost” is not great, but it comes at a fortunate time. After a string of high concept plots, something so subdued is welcome, even if it is not crafted as expertly a it might. The factual errors and lapses in logic do not completely kill the enjoyment, but I think I would consider it a worse episode if it were not such a refreshing change of pace.
Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Surreal McCoy"

“The Night of the Surreal McCoy” is Michael Dunn’s seventh o ten appearances as Dr. Miguelito Loveless. It is also the most far out there, plot wise. As with all loveless episodes, it is a cut above the herd because of Dunn, but there is still something missing.

Jim and Artie are assigned to guard the Herzberg crown jewels at a Denver museum. When they are impossibly stolen from a locked, guarded display room, a local wealthy art collector named Axel Morgan comes to collect one of his paintings on displaying in the same room. Artie notices it is a forgery, so he weasels his way ito an invite to Morgan’s house to snoop around.

He an Jim eventually discover Moran and Loveless are in cahoots in Loveless’ latest plan. The demented dwarf has developed a way of transporting people into paintings through sound. He plans to gift all of Morgan’s art collection to various world leaders and financial institutions, then allow his henchmen to escape from the paintings when they are all in place. Thus, he will take over the world in one fell swoop.

But this is not his main objective. Loveless has arranged for the most notorious gunfighter in the West to fight a duel with Jim to see who really is the fastest. His plan there is to send both of them inside a painting so they will have no choice but to fight. What he does not count on is Artie intercepting “Lightning” McCoy and taking his place in order to rescue Jim. Jim and Lightning wind up dueling ayway. Takea guess who wins.

Loveless escapes inside a painting. Our heroes do not know which one, so they crate them all up. The final scene focuses on a crate with a sawing noise as Loveless works his way out.

As I said above, there are a few things. On a technical level, god directing is absent. Director Alan Croslnd keeps using strage angle to convey either Lovelsss’ arrogance or the surreal atmosphere when Jim is stuck in the world of the painting. Loveless is often shot from below in the same manner Orson Welles filmed Charles Kane in Citizen Kne to make him more intimidating. Cosland is not Orson Welles and the technique does not work for Loveless. His personality makes him formidable. Tryin to compensate for his small stature is nothing more tan distracting.

The strange angles in the painting world do not do much for me other than think Cosland is attempting to cash in on the popularity of Batman, which frequently used the technique.

Another problem is how poorly the two plots complement each other. Loveless’ plan to tae over the world is revealed and then dropped all n one act for the showdown between Jim and Lightning. It is almost like two different scripts mashed haphazardly into one. It is perfectly reasonable at some point for archenemies to care about little more than their danse macabre even at the expense of scheme of wealth or power, but it still feels odd the world conquer ring plot is introduced and then dispensed with so quickly.

Loveless is a bit off this time, too. The biggest issue is that Phoebe Dorn, Dunn’s real life singing partner, does not appear as Antoinette. That mean there is no duet this time around. Such was always a vital part of the character. He had an appreciation for beauty and yet was such an evil man. The episode is missing the contrasting element. Truth be told, loveless is constantly being bullied y Morgan, which diminishes the character. Morgan is a brute who fell into wealth and is trying to buy his way into polite society asa patron of the arts. He is obviously failing at it. It is tough to watch someone like him browbeating the erudite Loveless.

All that said, ad Loveless is better than no Loveless. The weirdness of “The Night o the Surreal McCoy” has to be experienced to be believed. One wonders what drugs the powers that be were on when they came up with the concept.

Rati: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Deadly Bubble"

“The Night of the Deadly Bubble” is not one of the most well thought episodes of the series, but at least there is a lot of action to distract you from the ridiculous plot.

Jim and Artie are called to meet with a professor regarding a series of tidal waves that have hit the west coast of the United States. The professor is murdered before he can reveal the tidal waves are beig artificially created, but thanks to the villain trying to cover his tracks, our heroes discover the professor’s murderer and the tidal wave creator is owe and the same.

Capt. Horatio Philo is a mad environmentalist upset at the polluting of the ocean. He has developed a technique of bellowing air bubbles to cause tidal waves. Philo plans to create the largest of the bubble barrages tonight, creating tidal waves that will leave the surface world under ten feet of water. Needless to say, it does not work out for him.

The plot holes are rather glaring. Philo has no plan to survive under the ocean for the rest of his life. The only reason the murdered professor’s lovely assistant is involved for more than one act is because she inexplicably lies about knowing all the professor’s work in exposing Philo. I am still not sure how blowing bubbles off the coast of San Francisco is going to drown the east coast of the United States, much less Europe. It seems like only the Pacific Ocean would be affected.

Oh, well. I am pretty sure this is Al Gore’s favorite episode, but it is not mine.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, September 13, 2010

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

“The Night of the Brain” gets us back to would be world conquerors, underground lairs, fistfights, and lots of gadgets. Even with all that, it is still a mediocre episode.

Jim is manipulated by a mysterious figure into being present at the murder of two of his old friends without him having the ability to prevent their deaths. Clues lead him to e captured an brought to the underground lair of Braine, a super genius and never once uses the word “snarf.” but he does wat to take over the world and needs Jim’s help.

Braine’s plan is to replace the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France, Spain and Russia with doppelgangers. He will then instruct them to launch a planetary. He plas to create a new world from the ashes with himself in charge. But he eeds the security protocols of the White House in order to kidnap the world leaders in the first place.

Needless to say, he is unsuccessful. Braine does, however, go out with a bag when he tries to run Jim over with his armored wheelchair/tank which explodes in as much of a fireball as ’60’s television special effect scan muster when he crashes into a wall. A rather inglorious ed.It is not much of an episode, either. Why kill two of Jim’s friends to lure him to Braine’s secret lair? Why not just kidnap him instead? For that matter, if Braine can create perfect duplicates of world leaders, why not just pull their strings instead of starting a devastating war? Braine is making things much harder than they have to be. No wonder he was dumb enough to crash his wheelchair.

There is a lot of action in “The Night of the Brain,” but I am underwhelmed overall.

Ratig: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Vicious Valentine"

Agnes Moorehead guest stars as Emma Valentine, the villain of the episode. She won the 1967Emmy for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama for playing Valentine. Her Emmy is the only major award the series won to date.

Wealthy men all over the United States are turning up dead under strange circumstances shortly after marrying women much younger than themselves. By sheer luck, Jim and Artie discover the thank you note from the most recent widow expressing gratitude for their condolences is from the same printing shop as the wedding invitation for a beef baron about to enter a may-December marriage himself.

Through some investigations, they discover an Emma Valentine has been behind the matchmaking, wedding planning, and, of course, the murder of each wealthy man. Her plan is to consolidate thee wealth inherited by their widows to the point she can create a matriarchy I the United States.

The most exciting part of the episode is an elaborate escape from falling through wedding chapel skylight once “Here Comes the Bride” has finished playing with the result of said beef baron being flattened by two trussed Secret Service agents. A close second is watching Moorehead chew scenery in a manner that would embarrass William Shatner. She is relishing the villainous role. I am certain her obvious affectio for the character won her the Emmy.

Sherry Jackson plays the beef baron’s bride to be. She has a change of heart at the end and betrays Valentine. She winds up marrying the guy anyway. What they have is beautiful.You may remember Jackson best as the three-quarters of the way naked girl in Star Trek’s ’What Are Little Girls Made Of?”“The Night of the Vicious Valentine” is a fun episode largely because of Moorehead’s performance. There is a disconnect between the original premise, wherein the wealthy mean were being killed on holidays ad the wedding/murder our heroes are trying to prevent a few days after Easter when there is no holiday. I have no idea why the holiday idea was even mentioned since even the characters remark Valentine is abandoning her usual pattern but that is a small gripe. Ignore it and enjoy the story.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

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

If I thought the fake Romanian accents in the previous episode were too Boris and Natasha, I had not seen anything yet. “The Night of the Tartars” features nothing but Americans playing Russians. They are not plotting doom of moose and squirrel, but Jim and Artie.

Our heroes are assigned to escort to escort a distant member of the czar’s family, who has been arrested for running an extortion ring against Russian immigrants in San Francisco, to Siberia in exchange for the falsely arrested American consul. He escapes Jim and Artie in an attempt to grab the hidden money and run, but fatally injured I the attempt. They decide to go to Siberia anyway, with Artie posing as the extortionist log enough to make the prisoner exchange. It wll work, because Artie speaks fluent Russian.

Of course he does.

Local dignitaries are not satisfied. They drug, kidnap tour heroes, and shanghai them to Siberia where they become the prisoners of Count Nikolai Savanov,. Savaov is also part of the extortion ring. He needs the money to pay off huge ambling debts so he can return to his lavish lifestyle back in St. Petersburg.

After various torturous episodes, the imprisoned American consul decides to tell Savanov where the money is once Jim theorizes where the extortionist was headed when he had his accident. The consul, surprisingly crooked, wants to split the money with Savanov. He winds up killed as Jim and Artie execute an elaborate escape.

The fun twist is they discover they have been fooled, Mission Impossible style into thing they have been drugged for the month long trip to Siberia when they are actually still just outside San Francisco. Very creative.

Savanov is played with vicious style by John Astin with more than a hint of Gomez Addams’ quiet sadism. It is a joy to watch into chew up the scenery in his over the top manner.
One bit of note is hi death scene. It is particularly gruesome for this show. Jim has to throw a knife to keep from being shot by Savanov. The knife embeds near hi heart, but Savanov calmly walks over to a table and pours himself a glass of vodka before collapsing. Maybe it disturbs me because it is such a unusual thing to see Astin play such a scene. He usually plays such likable, goofy characters, there is an added shock value to his character’s fate here.

I cannot help but think “The Night of the Tatars” had a different receptio during the Cold War Era than it does now. I am a history buff, but I can only recognizea few subtle jokes and allusions the episode made to the then current Soviet Union without any of the emotional response. It is a picture of a poit in time with which I can oly appreciate the pro-freedom stance I the historical sense. It is an enjoyable episode nevertheless.

Rating : *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Gypsy Peril"

We are back to no gadgets or science fiction concepts, just a good old fashioned caper with a dash of absurd humor to make it fun.

Jim and Artie are assigned to escort the Sultan of Ramapour to Washington for a meeting with Ulysses S. Grant. They are also charged with protecting a gift from Ramapour to the united states--a baby albino elephant. Their task becomes infinitely more complicated when their train is held up by gunmen who decide to take the elephant.

The robbers plan to ill the elephant so they do not have to tend to it, but still demand ransom money. The youngest member of the gang is assigned to shoot the elephant, but cannot bring himself to do it. He happens along a circus ru by gypsies who cheat him out of the animal.

Meanwhile, Jim has caught up with the gang and had the prerequisite fistfight before discovering the elephant is now in the hands of the gypsies. He has to infiltrate the circus posig as an acrobat looking for work.

They have the elephant, but it turns out to not be an albino. Instead, it is a regular elephant. The sultan is in cahoots with the robbers to extort $ 1 million from the United States as compensation for the stolen elephant. The plot twist I not revealed until the final act. It turns out to be a genuine surprise as far as plot twists for this series go.

Ruta Lee makes her second and final appearance as a femme fatale. Here, she plays Zoe, the gypsy woman in charge of the circus. Her fake accent is almost as over the top as Natasha’s from Bullwinkle & Rocky.“The Night of the Gypsy Peril” is fun, frivolous entertainment. The sultan and the gypsies are so laughably stereotypical, it is difficult to take them seriously. But since our heroes are on the trail of a kidnapped elephant, it is kind of difficult to take any of it seriously. Just go with it.

For the third time, I have to dispute Robert Conrad’s claim he did all his own stunts throughout the series run. When he has to demonstrate his acrobatic skills for Zoe, Jim never faces the camera while turning flips on the high bar. It is painfully obvious that is not Conrad. You might argue acrobatic tricks are not technically a stunt, so it does not count against Conrad’s statement, but there are still two previous incidents to reconcile.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Feathered Fury"

The great Victor Buono makes his second and unfortunately final appearance as Count Manzeppi in “The Night of the Feathered Fury.” While I have to honestly say the Count plays second fiddle to Dr. Miguelito Loveless when it comes to recurring villains, the cot has a humorous, yet menacing demeanor of which I would like to have seen more. Alas, ’twas not to be.

The plot centers around the search for a toy chicken which was I the possession of Gerda, one of the Count’s associates, but wound up confiscated by the Secret Service when she was nearly captured. The significance of the toy is a mystery until the fourth act, but in the interim, there are double-crosses, fist fights, and other assorted machinations and Jim attempts to discover what is so important about the bird while the cout ad his ew cadre of eccentrics attempt to steal it from him.

The toy chicken is a shell that covers the famed Philosopher’s Stone, a stone which can turn bae metals into gold. The Count discovered the Philosopher’s Stone was real on some of his journeys . He decided to disguise it inside a toy for safe keeping, but has had a difficult time holding onto it as more people figured out what its true power.

Ggerda wounds up with the toy chicken, but accidentally turns herself into gold with it when exposed to a full moon. So the series that claims to be James Bond in the Old West features a direct homage to Goldfinger. The Count escapes in a hot air balloon with promises to return another day. Unfortunately, we know he will not.

“The Night of the Feathered Fury” features one of my favorite femme fatales of the series, Michele Carey. The smokey voiced beauty is quite alluring. She will return again in another avian themed episode I the fourth season called “The Night of the Winged Terror, Part I/II” a story I remember her being even more sultry in. We will see soon if my memory holds up.I do not recall her facing such a tragic end in the latter episodes.
“The Night of the Feathered Fury” is a highlight of the second season and series as a whole, largely due to Buono. He only played Count Manzeppi twice, so we have to take what we can get. There is a huge leap I logic getting Jim and Artie involved in the story--Gerda is to kill the two in revenge for thwarting the Count’s plan to assassinate Mexican President Benito Juarez. She fails and just happens to hae the toy chicken with her for o other reason than to drop it. Nevertheless, the episode is fun enough to overlook the absurd catalyst for it all. The Count is eccentric, after all.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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

Whatever lack of gadgetry ad odd science fiction traps there were in the two previous episodes have far been compensated for by “The Nigt of the Tottering Torture.” that had to be done to distract from the absurd plot and resolution.

Jim an Artie are assigned to escort a member of a investment group to its annual business meeting. The group is unusual in that they have arranged for the fortune amassed by each member’s small investment will go exclusively to the sole survivor. If you figure that arrangement is just begging for the members to be murdered off, you would be correct. Four have already been killed. Six remain.

Our heroes, their assigned investor, and the five others wind up trapped in a room in a professor’s seaside mansion where the house itself appears to have been rigged to murder everyone. There is a menagerie of investors, most all with unlikable personalities and/or a compelling motivation to wat the fortune now.

Turns out the first investor, who was killed in the teaser, was actually the twin brother of an investor named Dexter. Dexter is also the architect who designed the mansion with various medieval torture devices set to kill off everyone else. Jim himself has to deal with a rocket sled that falls into the ocean, a moving, spiked wall, a line of rifles which fire automatically, ad a rotating blade lowering from the ceiling in a locked room. Dexter winds up killed on the last one, leaving his accomplice--the pretty girl--to take the rap for murder alone.

Murdering a twin brother in order to fake your own death so you have a fantastic alibi for murdering everyone else while your girlfriend inherits the fortune and you both run of together. Well, okay. I will buy it. It is an exciting episode outside of the oly o television could this possibly happen plot. “The Night of the Tottering Torture” is also notable for featuring Henry Darrow, the first Hispanic to play Zorro, as a deposed and ow penniless dictator.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Lord of Limbo"

“The Night of the Lord of Limbo” is one of the most memorable episodes of the series. An interesting fact, considering how few of the normal elements of the show are present. While im and Artie get into the prerequisite random fistfights, there are no gadgets, no Artie in disguise, and no wild science fiction elements period. The episode is another trip into the supernatural wit the X-Files motif of leaving no proof anything extraordinary occurred. It is still one of the best episodes.

Artie disappears after he “volunteers’ for a live magic act. All that is left behind the stage is a Confederate saber on which is inscribed “NBV Vicksburg, Mississippi.” jim travels to a club for old Confederate soldiers in Vicksburg to find the owner and, hopefully, Artie.

The owner turns out to be Col. Noel Bartley Vaultrain, a man who lost his legs in the Battle of Vicksburg. Bc when Jim was a Union soldier, he encountered the wounded Valutrain and gave him first aid, but assumed he was mortally wounded, so left him there. Vaultrain survived, but has blamed Jim ever since for forcing him to live in a wheelchair. But he has now discovered how to travel through time thanks to inter-dimensional control He wants Jim to travel back with him to help restore his legs.

To prove his claims, he sends Jim into limbo where he is forced into a duel with Artie. He reluctantly fences with his apparently amnesiac partner until Artie gets shot and killed by highwaymen who come upon the scene. When Jim returns to reality with Artie’s body, he returns to life, convincing both Vaultrain is the real deal.

When all three travel back to the Battle of Vicksburg, Vaultrai’s legs are restored. He then reveals his true intention-- to use a hidden powder keg to assassinate Ulysses S. Grant when he commandeers the mansion as his field headquarters. Without Grant’s leadership, Vaultrain surmises the Union will lose to superior southern military acumen.A Union shell crashes into the house, knocking over a column which crushes Vaultrain’s legs yet again. It also sets the house on fire. Vaultrain urges Jim to leave an return to the future, but he is reluctant. The Wild Wild West is not famous for its emotional subtlety but this is one case. Jim truly does feel guilty for forcig Vaultrain to live as a cripple, even if he did so unintentionally. He traveled back I time willig to help right things. Now, even after learning he was duped, still has the notio he ought to sacrifice himself for the damage he caused Vaultrain. He is only convinced to leave in order to keep artie from dying, too.

“The Night of the Lord of Limbo” features one of the better stories in the series. It I easy to overlook some plot holes, such as why Voltraine appears as he was during the Civil War, but Jim and Artie do not or how Artie could head off to limbo on a stage in Washington, but every other time a special room is needed or, worst of all, how Latin lover Ricardo Montalban cn play a Mississippi plantation owner when his accent is very clearly not Southern.

But I can forgive all that. Especially Montalban, who makes a fantastic villain every bit as vicious in his dedicated cause as Khan Noonian Singh, the famous Star Trek villain he would play two months after tis episode aired. I cannot help but notice the similarities between the purpose of limbo and Fantasy Island. Mr. Roark, indeed.

I like the episode. It is good all around for its unique story elements and better than usual acting caliber of its guest tr.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Infernal Machine"

I believe “Night of the Infernal Machine” holds the record for most anachronisms of an Wild Wild West episode. We are not talking about little things, either, but glaring, plot destroying errors. Which is too bad, considering the cocept is oe of the better ideas the series ad.

Jim and Artie are assigned to prevent a possible assassination at a federal judges convention in Denver wen a wagon load of dynamite turns up missing nearby. When a jude is killed y an exploding cue ball while playing billiards, pieces of the explosive device point to a recently paroled anarchist named Zero Barata is the culprit. To make matters more interesting, Barata as paroled by the head of the conference, Judge McGuigan.

McGuigan is both nutty and ambitious. He was using Barata to build a large explosive with which he is going to use to kill every judge at the conference, including the entire Supreme Court, in order to enure himself an appointment. Barata has himself arrested before the big blast as an airtight alibi uder the promise McGuigan will parole him yet again. McGuigan’s other accomplice is the dancing girl serving as the evening’s entertainment, so once again, practically every guest star is a villain.

The episode is light on gadgetry an stunts, but high on plot twists and comedy. The plot twists ought to be obvious. Everyone is in on the scam. Slapstick, even. Artie is posing as a chef who is constantly getting into scraps with the egotistical Wolfgang Puck of Denver. Jim stops the exploding cake by stuffing McGuigan’s face in it, so there is a resolution the Three Stooges could appreciate.

McGuigan is played wonderfully by Ed Begley, Sr., father of you know who. His appearance is another of the great guest roles with which the second season has been blessed.

Ah, bout those anachronisms. The judges playing billiards refer to the game as if it is brand new. Billiards had been around nearly eighty years by the time of this series. While investigating who might have the skill locally to build a bomb into an elaborate clock, a salesman tries to sell Jim a “newfangled” alarm clock even though they had been around since 1847. But the worst, because the plot hinges on it, is the exploding cake prominently features the Statue of Liberty, which will not be gifted to the United States until 1886. That would be at least ine years and as many as seventeen after te eents of “Night of the Infernal Machine.”

Ultimately, I really do not care for this episode. It has its good points, but I am too anal about the anachronisms to enjoy it. Sadly enough, John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief presented a much better variation on this plot decades later--and it was quite bad, too.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

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

“The Night of the Skulls” is my sentimentally favorite episode of the series. It was the first episode I ever watched somewhere around twenty-five (!) years ago. I was hooked immediately. It will probably still rank as my all time favorite even after I have refreshed my memory of the remaining episodes. The episode left a long-lasting fascination with secret societies, conspiracies to coup d’ tat, and, oddly enough, the grim reaper.

Someone has been rescuing notorious murderers right before their capture by authorities and squirreling them away for some reason. Jim stages a fight with Artie in which he appears to murder him. While on the run, Jim is captured by whomever has been gaterig up other famous murderers.

He is brought to a fortress which is ru by robed men in skull masks. They have gathered together all the murderers and sought to determine their guilt for a special mission. Jim is confirmed as a cool blooded killer just I time for the competition to winnow their umbers down to three. Jim survives to make it to the final the and receives his assignment--he is to kill the vice-president as part of a plot to overthrow the government. The other two are to kill the president and secretary of state.

The (bone?) head of the operation turns out to be Sen. Stephen Fenlow, who plans to take over the government in the chaotic aftermath. Artie helps rescue Jim, figures out Fenlow is behind the plot, and has im arrested while Jim helps round up all the murderers left in the fortress.

“The Night of the Skulls” is classic Wild Wild West. Weird plot, crazy villain, odd henchmen, eccentric killers, a samurai sword fight, and extraordinary gadgets allowing for an escape. It is one of the more tightly plotted episodes, to boot. The only formula it really follows is that nothing is ever as it seems.

I even like this episode in spite of the glaring factual error in presidential succession. In the 1870’s, the law of the land was the Presidential Succession Act of 1792. The Act established the order of succession as president, vice-president, then President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and then Speaker of the House. The law was caned in both 1887 and 1947, but under none of them would the Secretary of State have been second in line of succession. Fenlow’s has a rater large hole in it, yes?

Oh, and once again, my political science degree comes in handy. Worth every peny, that little bugger.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Man-Eating House"

“The Night of the Man-Eating House” flirts even more with the supernatural than what was hinted at in “The Night of the Returning Dead.” It establishes the series shares the similar motif of the early seasons of The X-Files wherein it is either proven, nor denied, that anything extraordinary happened.

Jim and Artie are assigned to escort an escaped prisoner back to Beaumont, Texas. The prisoner is Liston Day, a man convicted of betraying Sam Houston’s forces to Santa Anna thirty some years ago. He has been in solitary confinement since then and is quite mad. Right off the bat, they let you know the story is Artie’s dream. Fortunately, it is not the cop out you might think.

Jim, Artie a local sheriff, and Day stop at a dilapidated old mansion for the night. The house seals tem in. As they attempt an escape, the house, in a woman’s voice, cries out in pain at the damage they cause. While attempting to figure what that is all about, they realize the mansion is the day family home. Day escapes from their custody to the upstairs. The house refuses to let our heroes follow.

After the house kills the sheriff--he was never given a name, so you knew he was not long for this Earth--they decide to cooperate with the house. Our heroes are lead to a hidden diary which reveals not only is the woman Day’s mother, but she knows he is innocent ad took the treason rap to save his father, a respected doctor.

Jim and Artie convince te house they can clear her so’s name if she lets them go. She does so, but Day, now appearing thirty years younger, captures them himself. Turns out he did not take the rap for his father. Both of them were traitors. He wet to jail I order to allow his father to continue his work breeding rats with carry the Black Plague. He plans to release the rats, spreading the disease to all the gringos "occupying” Texas.

Or heroes stop the plot in typical fashion. Artie awakes from his dream, when the four of them are back on the trail, they have encountered the house from his dream. It is in the same dilapidated condition and all. Jim opts to stay for the night just as he did in the dream. Is it all coming true? Your guess is as goo as mine. The episode ed as they enter.

I give ’The Night of the Man-Eating house” high marks for creativity. It is a uique episode and a stand out I the series. The frequently strange camera agles, reminiscent of the then popular Batman, add to the macare, dark atmosphere. The episode is one of the best of the series.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse"

How is this for a bit of twisted irony--it was during the filming of “The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse’ that show creator Michael Garrison fell down the stairs at his home and fatally broke his neck. The cast and crew were famously spooked they had to continue filming a episode centered around a mortuary immediately after garrison’s death.

Carroll O’Connor guest stars, five years prior to playing Archie Bunker for the first time, as Fabian Lavendor, a crooked mortician who kill drifters and performs cosmetic surgery on them to replace various criminals, murders, and other assorted never do wells for a price. That way, they can fake their deaths and begin a new identity with a new face.

Lavendor comes to the attention of Jim and Artie when the assassin of some flight by night dictator they were protecting winds up dead himself. Things just do not add up, so search about until they stumble upon Lavendor’s operation. In a rare twist, Artie is captured by Lavendor, so Jim has to save him instead of the usual reverse. Jim hides in a coffin in order to do so. That had to feel nice and cozy, considering Garrison’s recent departure from this veil of tears.

It turns out Lavendor is also blackmailing his clients about their new names and faces. When the assassin finds out, he kills Levandor himself. Just to wrap everything up in a nice, neat package, he was hired by the now dead dictator’s wife, whom he planned to ru off with. So every character except for Rose the barmaid wound up being villains. Man, that is one cynical view of human nature. I like it.

“The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse” is a particularly ghoulish episode, but it is amusing to watch. The description makes it sound awfully derivative of “The Night That Terror Stalked the Town” and "The Night of the Big Blast.” In some ways, it is, but there is enough unique elements to qualify the episode as its own creature. O’Connor makes a charming, but still chilling villain with a dash of macabre humor.Garrison’s death marks the beginning of the revolving door of executive producers the series will experience throughout the rest of its run. Six more will serve stints of various lengths. They will brig with them different philosophies and styles. Naturally, that will make the series uneven at times as the science fiction an horror elements go way over the top. Fret not. The over the top elements make for some of the best episodes of the series.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Green Terror"

Dr. Miguelito Loveless makes his fifth of ten appearances in ‘The Night of the Green Terror.” This time around, he is playing Robin Hood. However, he is not robbing from the rich to give to the poor. He is actually taught a lesson in conservative economic principles. Fancy that.

Jim and Artie are traveling through the forest on their way to an Indian reservation which has been suffering from a longtime famine. They have seen nothing but dead foliage and no animals for three days. Suddenly, they are accosted by Robin Hood’s Merry Men and taken to see Loveless.

Loveless is behind both the famine and a plot to turn the Indians into his personal army by posing as a great spirit in invincible armor who is supplying them food seemingly out of nowhere. The Indians have became literally enslaved by beig on Loveless’ dole to the point they resent the United States’ help with developing new farming techniques. Why work when you can et welfare, right?

Loveless promises to use his latest ivetion--incendiary bombs carried by helium balloons--to destroy American cities for the Indians to loot, with his Armored Spirit alter ego as their leader, of course. Jim challenges his authority, which prompts the Indians to demand a duel between Jim and the Armored Spirit.. Loveless cheats by usig a exploding mace, but Jim does not fall for it and up on the mad midget.

He wins the Indians’ respect, so they start farmig again utilizing the techniques they have learned. Moral of the story: give a man a fish, he will eat for a day and vote Democrat. Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime and vote Republican--unless he is from California or Massachusetts, in which case the guilt of his success will prompt him to vote Democrat again. Or something like that.

“The Night of the Green Terror” is not one of the better Loveless episodes, but it is enjoyable. Jim an Artie spend more time iteracting with the newly hostile Indians than their archenemy, so he does not getas much screen time to induge in his usual amusing quirks. The episode sufers from their absence. But my philosophy is subdued Loveless is better than no Lovelessat all, so I like it regardless.

Ratig: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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

Oh, I do have some mixed emotions about this one. Jim and Artie are investigating the sinking of a ship off the coast of San Francisco shortly before a visit to the city by Adm. David Farragut. Our heroes suspect his ship will be the next target. Now, I pull for Jim and Artie all the time, but Farragut is the war criminal who starved the men, women, and children of New Orleans into submission during the War Between the States. He, like William Sherman, hopefully has a seat close to the fire in hell.

The ship was sunk by what appeared to be a sea serpent guided by a homing device in a woman’s compact which Jim recovered from the wreckage. Tracing the owner leads him to Phillip de la Mer, a kook who has developed dragon-shaped torpedoes to sink the Pacific fleet and take over the ocean for his own country.

Jim does his best Johnny Weismuller by catching up to the torpedo even though it has a head start of over a minute and destroys it with a handy magnet bomb Artie gave him in the first act., ssaving Farragut. Which I suppose is a good thing. Farragut died in August 1870, so e went to hell soon after this events of this episode, anyway. Good riddance.

“The Night of the Watery Death” is an average episode. De la Mer does not make for a particularly compelling villain. His plan to turn the pacific ocean into his own country makes him sound too crazy to be interesting. The plot is similar to the first season’s “The Night of a Thousand Eyes,” but the idea of blackmailing ships rather than destroying an entire ocean’s worth makes far more sense.

The episode is not bad, but it is not great, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)