Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Doomsday Formula"

Actor Kevin McCarty, famous for the lead roles in the classic science fiction Cold War allegory thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, rounds the unfortunate trio of Pernell Roberts and Harold Gould as villains from The Wild Wild West who ave passed on within the last year. McCarthy died I September at the ripe old age of 96. His IMDB page not only lists 200+ roles, but his final one is dated 2010. He kept working right up until the end. Amazing. What kind of role does a 96 year old man play?

His turn as Maj. Gen Krull in “The Night of the Doomsday Formula” makes for one of the best villains of the series. The episode brings the feel and tone of some of the series’ best from the first and second seasons. The series has fully recovered from the dull third season even by this early date.

A scientist informs Ulysses S. Grant through a telegraph he has developed the most powerful explosive known to man. When Jim arrives in Denver to meet the scientist, he discovers by his daughter the scientist has already gone off with “Jim West.” she is then kidnapped right out from under Jim’s nose. When he and Artie find out the materials needed for the explosive have been well hidden, they surmise whoever kidnapped the scientist wants him to develop a new batch and are going to use his daughter to force him. The race is on to recover them both.

Their only clue is a steel fist handle on an umbrella used to cok Jim on the head. The umbrella belongs to Krull. Krull, a disillusioned former US military officer, has become an international arms dealer specializing in new technology. He fears the US military has grown complacent and gun shy in the wake of the Civil War. Artie hilariously poses as a Bedouin looking to buy the explosive krill is rumored to have while Jim breaks into Krull’s ranch through the *ahem* back way in order to find the scientist an his daughter.

In the true spirit of ’60’s television westerns, which often shared sets to hold down production costs, Krull’s ranch is the Brakley Ranch from The Big Valley. Some iconic sets have pulled double duty in this show, but this appearance struck me as funny as when the lagoon from Gilligan’s Island and the settlement from Star Trek’s “Arena” once stood in for Devil’s Island.

All the classic elements are here. Jim the swashbuckling hero saves the girl from a fiery pit in the same manner as Batman saved Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batmn. Artie is comedy gold as he uses a recording of his bad Arabic singing to cover his tracks while he snoops around, and then use fireworks as a distraction for Jim’s escape. Krull dies by his own weapon in the end. Not so predictably, the scientist has a fatal heart attack. The formula dies with him.

I like ’The Night of the Doomsday Formula.” It is a classic and therefore earns four stars for being a return to the series’ true form.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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