Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

THE WILD, WILD WEST SEASON 1


THE WILD, WILD WEST CBS Television series 1965 - 1968. Created by Michael Garrison. Season 1.

This show had a great premise. Instead of another Man from U.N.C.L.E., James Bond, or comical Get Smart, The Wild, Wild West presented two Secret Service agents/spies/undercover men working under President Grant in the post-Civil War period. Like other spies, they had all sorts of nefarious bad guys and gals whose dastardly plots had to be stymied, not to mention certain megalomaniacs and genuises who had death devices and scientific achievements that were well ahead of their time. But our boys also had their own gadgets as well.

As Jim West, Robert Conrad is like no Secret Service agent imaginable, but that's part of what makes the show fun. Handsome West plays the role not in the humorless, stiff fashion you associate with government agents, but with a sexy, knowing insolence that makes his portrayal that much more enjoyable. He also wears the absolutely tightest pair of pants worn by any actor then or now on a TV show as part of an outfit that kind of resembles a bullfighters. Ross Martin is also notable as West's partner, Artermis Gordon, who generally dresses up in disguises in every episode. These disguises wouldn't fool anyone but they give good ol' Artemis more to do.

These first season episodes were in black and white. Among the more memorable episodes are: The Night of the Deadly Bed, which features a bed with a descending spiked canopy and a very exciting climax; Thousand Eyes, which presents a band of ship wreckers led by a blind captain; Howling Light, a relatively serious story of peace talks between the U.S. and native Americans being threatened; Steel Assassin, with John Dehner as a man made of iron parts; and Two-Legged Buffalo, with Nick Adams as a foppish prince and Dana Wynter as a woman supposedly hired to assassinate him. The Night of the Burning Diamond featured a jewel thief who had a super-speed formula, and Grand Emir boasted an excellent performance by Don Francks as the dandyish head of a club of assassins whose stronghold is invaded by West and Gordon. These last two were probably the best episodes of the first season, along with The Night of the Murderous Spring, about which more in a moment.

West's most notable antagonist was Dr. Miguelito Loveless, an evil genius dwarf played winningly and expertly by the wonderful Michael Dunn. Loveless, along with his giant helpmate Voltaire (Richard Kiel), was introduced in The Wizard that Shook the Earth, a disappointing episode despite the presence of Loveless/Dunn. His next appearance, The Night that Terror Stalked the Town, in which he creates a perfect duplicate of Jim West, was more memorable. His third appearance, Whirring Death, was pretty awful, but his final first season appearance, the aforementioned Murderous Spring, was more on the mark. In this Voltaire is replaced by obese Kitty Twitty (an excellent Jenie Jackson), who thinks Loveless will make her beautiful when he really intends to wipe out the whole world's population with a formula spread by ducks in the country's waterways.

Some of the episodes were real stinkers -- Night of the Freebooters was one of the worst -- but most were clever and entertaining, and some were quite excellent.

Verdict: Wild fun in the 19th century! ***.

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