Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
I was eleven years old when The Wild Wild West premiered in September of 1965. The show aired Friday nights on CBS for four seasons, and forever in syndication. The first season was filmed in black and white, and since I wouldn't own a color TV for another dozen years, I didn't know this fact at the time, and wouldn't have cared. I am a fan of Film Noir, so many of the movies I watch were produced before 1960, and therefore, the color vs. black and white issue is not a big deal - if the content is good, it translates regardless of format.
At a time when there were three networks, (and we hadn't heard of attention deficit disorder), an eleven year old kid would watch anything. How would the quality of this series hold up after forty years of changing interests and attitudes?
Robert Conrad and Ross Martin star as James West and Artemus Gordon, Secret Service agents with a direct (telegraph) line to President U.S. Grant, a penchant for fist-fighting, and unconventional methods for dispatching the bad guys.
The fact that this series is a period piece, set post Civil War during the administration of President Grant, makes it seem less dated than most series produced in the fifties and sixties. (Other westerns, such as Bonanza similarly benefit.) Occasionally you will notice a line of dialogue that contains slang straight out of the twentieth century. Audio introductions by Robert Conrad make note of the fact that the Electric Chair, from which West barely escapes in "The Night of the Bars of Hell", didn't appear in American prisons until the first decade of the twentieth century. The fortune cookie figures into one episode, although it wasn't introduced to America until 1918. Historical incongruities aside, the episodes are tightly written, well paced with clever dialogue, and have the right amount of humor to balance the tension.
All twenty-eight episodes are worth viewing; the most notable are the four that guest star Michael Dunn as Dr. Miguelito Loveless, the mini misanthropic megalomaniac who invariably tries to take over California (and the world) "for the children". His incredible evil exploits give these episodes a comic book feel. My favorite is "The Night of the Murderous Spring" where Dr. Loveless puts a drug similar to LSD in Jim West's hotel room water pitcher. Dr. Loveless then manipulates West's mind to convince him that he has shot his partner, Artemus Gordon, although Gordon won't arrive in town until the next day. The casting is particularly good in these episodes. The cohorts of Dr. Loveless are always physically extreme, frequently over the top, and contribute to the status of these shows as some of the classics of the sixties.
The variety of guest stars who appeared in The Wild Wild West is a treat for anyone who watched television throughout this period. Suzanne Pleshette makes a terrific tongue-in-cheek appearance in the pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno". Leslie Nielsen, Keenan Wynn, Richard Kiel, Katherine Ross, Dana Wynter, Nick Adams, Elisha Cook, Jr. - many of the best character actors working at the time appeared either as the villain of the week, or the damsel in distress.
Paramount/CBS has come up with an original quality video source for this DVD Boxed Set. The picture is crisp and clear with clean light and shadow separations. Many of the night scenes are day for night (shot in daylight with filters), and the true night scenes are without that muddy look that film can take on over time. (Similar to the bleached look that affects Technicolor film.) I have a High-Definition television, and Progressive Scan DVD player, so this review is based on viewing by way of above average quality components. The text, composition, and art work of this Boxed Set is top notch. The seven discs come in four slim cases in a cardboard sleeve for convenient storage.
This DVD compilation has Special Features which include audio commentary by Robert Conrad throughout the pilot episode. He offers interesting information and asides about production and casting, but his laid-back style would play better were it stepped up a notch. Conrad also provides a short introduction for each episode - the audio for these introductions is below par - you have to listen closely to hear it all. The fact that his commentary is tracked in over the theme music doesn't help. Also included are interviews regarding production, writing, and special effects. My favorite is the interview with Richard Markowitz, who wrote the excellent original title theme and musical score for the series. Also provided are recordings of scoring sessions where, through multiple takes, variations on the main theme are explored by the orchestra. There is also a network promo, photo gallery in black and white and color, and an Eveready battery commercial from the seventies starring Conrad.
Renewing my acquaintance with The Wild Wild West after forty years was interesting and entertaining. As we mature our views and standards change. Our subsequent viewing of these shows from the past gives insight to a simpler time when special effects didn't rely on computer generation, and good television relied on the talented execution of a good script. In one of the introductions, Robert Conrad makes reference to the fact that season two of The Wild Wild West (in color) will be released soon. The sooner, the better.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older