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Ripping Yarns: Across the Andes by Frog
Episode 5, Season 1

"The frogs are restless tonight!"
I was at school in 1977 when the first season of 'Ripping Yarns' went out. Each new episode was a major talking-point on the bus next day. Opinions rarely coincided; two exceptions were 'Tomkinson's Scholdays' ( everyone loved it) and 'Across The Andes By Frog' ( everyone hated it ). In fact no-one dared mention the latter episode until the school gates were almost in view. Peter Finnemore, one of my friends, chirped: "Ripping Yarns last night was trash!". No-one rushed to disagree. Set in 1927, it tells the story of 'Captain Walter Snetterton' ( Palin ) who leads an expedition to the Andes to see if frogs can survive at high altitudes. The Peruvian natives ( among them Louis Mansi, later to appear in 'Allo, Allo' and Terry Gilliam associate Charles McKeown ) are far more interested in listening to English soccer matches on the radio. 'Mr.Gregory' ( Denholm Elliott ) on the British Embassy spends his time sleeping with the local women, and eventually so do most of Snetterton's expeditionary force. Tragedy looms...

If this had been a two-minute sketch for 'Monty Python', fine. But at almost thirty minutes, it is a real chore to sit through. The main sources of humour are Snetterton's failure to realise the utter pointlessness of his expedition, the natives misunderstanding the English language, and endless frog references.

The 1977 screening lacked a laugh-track ( as had 'Escape From Stalag Luft 221B' ), something that would be changed in time for repeats, but it still did not improve the episode. Elliott is as ever first-rate, as is Don Henderson as a sex-mad 'Sergeant-Major'.

Fortunately, a superb climax was a week away in the form of 'Curse Of The Claw'.

Funniest moment - the opening sequence in which a scientist dissects a frog, and pops its leg into his mouth!

Ripping Yarns: Whinfrey's Last Case
Episode 1, Season 2

Skullduggery in Cornwall!
After a two-year gap, Palin and Jones' 'Ripping Yarns' returned for a second, shorter season ( it was an expensive show to make ), of which 'Whinfrey's Last Case' was the first. It is 1913, and British Intelligence has learnt that the Germans intends to start The Great War a year early. Britain is not ready yet ( not enough spoons, for one thing ), so in desperation, that dashing adventurer 'Gerald Whinfrey' ( Palin ) is called in. To everyone's amazement, he passes on the job despite it being of great national importance, saying that he is tired and in need of a holiday. He goes to Cornwall to take up residence in Smugglers Cottage. But there is a mystery waiting for him...

Alan J.W. Bell ( of 'Last Of The Summer Wine' and 'Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy' ) took over as producer for this and the next episode 'Golden Gordon'. It boasts some stunning location shots of Cornwall and the strong supporting cast includes Maria Aitken. the late Edward Hardwicke, Richard Hurndall, Jack May and Mark Kingston. As well as the Bulldog Drummond-like Whinfrey, Palin also reprises the role of 'The Introducer' from 'Tomkinson's Schooldays'. He gives a lecture about Whinfrey's London home, completely unaware that a large van has pulled up behind him and the house can no longer be seen by the audience.

The episode received complaints on its original transmission due to the louder-than-usual laugh track. George Harrison attended the taping, and it is his laughter than caused the problem. It was mixed off the soundtrack in time for the repeats.

Despite its many plus points, 'Whinfrey's Last Case' is never as funny as it ought to be. At times it resembles a period 'Avengers' ( 'The Town Of No Return', in particular ). The movie 'Bullshot' ( made by Handmade Films, also responsible for 'Life Of Brian' ) covered the same genre a few years later and was funnier by far.

Funniest moment - Whinfrey, trapped in his bedroom at the cottage, discovers not one but 23 different exits!

Second funniest moment - at the inn, Whinfrey is introduced to several local men, all of whom have beards and are named either Tony or Eddie. "Good to be among sane people again!", remarks Whinfrey. The camera then cuts to a man who looks anything but.

Ripping Yarns: Murder at Moorstones Manor
Episode 4, Season 1

Whodunnit? Everyone dunnit!
Next to 'Tomkinson's Schooldays', this is my favourite 'Ripping Yarns' episode. 'Sir Clive Chiddingfold' ( the wonderful Frank Middlemass ) and 'Lady Chiddingfold' ( Isabel Dean ) have a family get together one weekend at Moorstones Manor. Their sons are the car-obsessed 'Hugo' ( Palin ) and his bounder of a brother 'Charles' ( Also Palin ), the latter being responsible for the murder of 'Aunt Mabel' ( though we never find out why ). Hugo dumps his wife 'Dora' ( Candace Glendenning ) en route and arrives at the manor alone, while Charles's wife 'Ruth' ( Ann Zelda ) wants whisky but keeps being offered Bovril. Then the deaths begin, and the first to go is Sir Clive himself...

A wonderfully funny half-hour, bolstered by a first-rate supporting cast. Middlemass' torture-obsessed 'Sir Clive' is reminiscent of Trevor Howard's 'Sir Henry At Rawlinson End', while Dean affects the right blend of sweetness and light as his wife. Special mention must go to the late Harold Innocent as the devoted butler 'Manners'. Iain Cuthbertson's 'Doctor' does not show up until late in the story, but he's worth waiting for, trying to seduce Lady Chiddingfold and complaining about his 'cheap upper lip'. But its Palin's show throughout. His 'Charles' is a fabulous Woosterish character, stuck-up, referring to his mother as 'Mumsy' and father as 'Dadsie Pie' while plotting to do away with his family to inherit the Chiddingfold estate.

Funniest moment - alone with Hugo's corpse, Charles' rifle goes off. He explains to his mother that he was cleaning it and it went off by accident, the bullets hitting Hugo. "But Hugo's already dead!", she points out. "Yes, I know!", says Charles, casually, "Lucky thing!".

Second funniest moment - the Peckinpah-inspired climax!

Produced by Terry Hughes.

Ripping Yarns: Escape from Stalag Luft 112 B
Episode 3, Season 1

The not-so great escape
When this was originally broadcast in 1977, it lacked a laugh track ( the previous episodes did not ) and subsequently came across as a bit flat. For the repeats, a laugh track was added. With Terry Hughes having moved on, 'Goodies' producer Jim Franklin took his place.

'Escape From Stalag Luft 112 B' is, as you may already have gathered, a send-up of P.O.W. movies such as 'The Colditz Story'. Palin plays 'Major Phipps', a British officer determined at all costs to escape from Germany and get back to Blighty to resume the fight against the Bosche. So determined is he that he makes escape attempts repeatedly, including three on the way to the prison camp. His fellow prisoners don't seem particularly keen to go with him. The opening scene has Phipps trying to waken his fellow officers in the middle of the night, only to be met with apathy. Then comes the morning when he wakes up to find the others have all escaped, and that he is the only P.O.W. left in the place...

Even with a laugh track, this does not come across as particularly funny. Part of the problem is that it is a bit too similar to 'Tomkinson's Schooldays' ( which also had Palin trying to escape from a terrifying establishment ). The genre itself has been parodied extensively, ranging from the excellent film 'Very Important Person' in 1960 to 'The Dick Emery Show' and David Nobbs' 'Stalag Luft', which starred Stephen Fry. Palin and Jones are not able to bring a fresh perspective to the subject. Still, there are some good moments, and the late Roy Kinnear makes a welcome guest appearance as 'Vogel'. David Griffin ( later to appear in 'Hi-de-Hi' and 'Keeping Up Appearances' ) and John Phillips also are on view. One of the Germans is called 'Biolek', possibly named after Alfred Biolek, the television executive who brought the Pythons to Germany.

Funniest moment - Phipps being woken in the middle of the night by the Germans, who shyly ask him if they can accompany him on his next escape!

Ripping Yarns: The Testing of Eric Olthwaite
Episode 2, Season 1

The bore of Denley Moor!
'The Testing Of Eric Olthwaite' was the first 'Ripping Yarns' episode made following the pilot 'Tomkinson's Schooldays'. Palin and Jones decided to remove the Pythonesque element from the show, and do something in a gentler vein. 'Testing' tells the story of Eric Olthwaite ( Palin ), a man so incredibly boring his interests go no further than how black a black pudding can be, his neighbour's shovels, and rainfall. His family get so fed up of him they leave home, taking the outside loo with them. Eric decides to make himself more interesting by getting a job in a bank, and that's where he meets 'Arthur' ( Ken Colley, who played 'Jesus' in 'Monty Python's Life Of Brian' ), who is robbing the place. Arthur takes along Eric as hostage...

As noted earlier, the humour is considerably different from the previous episode. There is affection on view for the characters, particularly boring old Eric. Influences here come from any number of Northern dramas, the Alec Guinness movie 'The Card', 'Bonnie & Clyde', and even a famous television commercial for Hovis bread. The supporting cast includes Barbara New and John Barett as Eric parents, Anita Carey as Eric's toilet-mouthed sister, Petra Markham as 'Enid Bag' ( who is sexually promiscuous but Eric never notices this ), and Reg Lye ( an Australian actor who came to Britain in the 19960's and made a living playing Cockneys, Scots, and various assorted nationalities! ).

Funniest moment - Eric fetching coal for the fire. Its located in a sideboard in the living room!

Palin and Jones decided to have another crack at northern melodrama in Season 2's 'Golden Gordon' ( which references 'Testing' ).

Ripping Yarns: Tomkinson's Schooldays
Episode 1, Season 1

The worst days of your life!
I regret to say I missed this particular episode on its original screening. I caught it in 1977 when it prefaced the 'Ripping Yarns' series. For the uninformed, it was a comedy series - shot on film - starring Michael Palin, written by him and Terry Jones, and designed as a spoof of 'Boys Own' adventure stories. Palin and Jones were fresh from 'Monty Python' and it shows. 'Tomkinson' ( Palin ) enlists as a pupil at Graybridge school, a place so fearsome as to make Colditz castle seem like Butlins. Strict discipline is in force; boys are either shot or nailed to the walls as punishment, and the headmaster ( Palin ) is a pervert who loves a good caning. The school bully ( he has an office with 'School Bully' written on the door ) is 'Grayson' ( a pre-'Saint' Ian Ogilvy ), who regards Tomkinson as a 'snivelling little tick' and is determined to keep him in his place. Tomkinson makes several daring escape attempts, but each time is caught and brought back. Eventually, he experiences the ultimate horror - he is made to compete in an inter-school hopping race...

That's enough of the plot. To say too much more would spoil the fun. As you may have gathered, 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' is the main target here, with nods to the television series 'Orson Welles' Great Mysteries' and umpteen P.O.W. movies. Palin is on great form as both the fresh-faced 'Tomkinson' and the 'Bash Street Kids'-like 'Headmaster'. Jones makes his only 'Ripping Yarns' appearance is one of the teachers. Special mention must be made of Gwen Watford as Tomkinson's mother, whom butter would not melt in her mouth yet is followed everywhere she goes by randy, half-dressed men.

Funniest moment - Tomkinson wrestling the school bear! Second funniest moment - Grayson announcing he is leaving Graybridge to become the new school bully at Eton, as theirs has 'gone to join the government'! With Britain currently being run by the Bullingdon mafia, the joke is much funnier now than it was then!

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Surreal McCoy
Episode 23, Season 2

If a picture paints 1000 deaths..
John Kneubuhl's 'The Night Of The Surreal McCoy' is unique in two respects; firstly, there is no female lead, and secondly, it presents possibly the most outrageous concept ever seen in the series. The Herzburg Crown Jewels are stolen from a Denver gallery, a guard murdered, and yet there is no sign of a break-in. Jim and Arte are baffled. Noticing that a painting in the gallery is fake, they follow the owner - 'Axel Morgan' ( John Doucette ) - to his ranch. His safe contains the stolen jewels. Jim is attacked by three men who have apparently appeared out of nowhere. Arte escapes, but Jim gets captured and taken to Morgan's boss - Dr.Loveless!

The evil cherub has found a way - using sound waves - to transmit people into old paintings, and by donating these to galleries can pull off amazing robberies. Jim must battle a gang of gunfighters inside a painting of a deserted western town, while Arte tries to pass himself off as the legendary 'Lightning McCoy' ( John Alonzo ). It is the outrageousness of the central premise - almost Pythonesque - that makes this so much fun to watch. I bet no-one would have the nerve to do anything like it today.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Grand Emir
Episode 18, Season 1

The league of gentlemen assassins
Donn Mullally's 'The Night Of The Grand Emir' opens with Jim and Arte on assignment - to protect the 'Grand Emir El Emid' ( Robert Middleton ) who is in the States for an operation. A dancer tries to blow him up, but Jim saves his life. He follows her as she escapes in a carriage. She drugs him using her special ring. An exile called 'Dr.Mohammed Bey' ( James Lamphier ) is her boss. Jim is suspended from a ceiling by strait-jacket. The dancer - the wonderfully-named 'Ecstasy La Joie' ( Yvonne Craig ) - is given a tambourine which, when thrown like a frisbee, will cut the head off of anyone unlucky enough to be in the way...

Usually television plots where the hero has to act as bodyguard to a visiting monarch or dignitary bore me rigid. But this one is well above average, thanks to the ingenious 'Avengers'-like concept of a club of gentleman assassins, led by ''T.Wiggett Jones' ( Don Francks ). Richard Jaeckel - 'Sergeant Bowren' of 'The Dirty Dozen' - is one of their number. The club wants the Emir dead to acquire a stretch of the Suez canal. Jim is placed in a cubicle where the air will cut out unless he agrees to join up. Fast-moving fun. And it goes without saying that Yvonne 'Batgirl' Craig is an absolute knockout as the luscious Ecstasy! Her tambourine must have been made by the same firm responsible for Oddjob's bowler hat!

Last of the Summer Wine: The Man from Oswestry
Episode 1, Season 3

Enter the warrior
It is hard to credit now but 'Last Of The Summer Wine' originally went out in a post-watershed slot on week-nights. It was only when it was moved to Sunday evenings that it took off in the ratings. 'The Man From Oswestry' opened Season 3. 'Cyril Blamire' ( Michael Bates ) has moved to Oswestry to court a widow, leaving his friends 'Compo' ( Bill Owen ) and 'Clegg' ( Peter Sallis ) to mourn his absence. The former, in particular, no longer has anyone to boss him about. Just as life begins to become really dull, salvation comes in the form of 'Foggy Dewhurst' ( Brian Wilde ), an eccentric ex-military officer who thinks the world would be a far better place if everyone stood to attention on hearing the sound of a bugle. He also has a penchant for 'mind fogs' - often losing concentration in the middle of sentences. Compo and Clegg take to him immediately. But Foggy's first outing to the pub is a disaster - he is confronted by the bullying 'Big Malcolm' ( Paul Luty )...

If ever there was a golden age for 'Last', this is where it started. The character of 'Foggy' gelled perfectly with the others, indeed many plots revolved around his idiotic schemes to make the world a better place. Michael Bates left the show to concentrate on 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', a sitcom that made better use of his talents. 'Blamire' was never mentioned in the show again. Whenb Roy Clarke came to write 'First Of The Summer Wine' in 1988, he ignored the character completely. Paul Luty had been 'Nobby' the barman in I.T.V.'s 'Love Thy Neighbour'.

Funniest moment - Foggy, Compo and Clegg pushing his trunk uphill on a cart, only for Foggy's scarf to become wrapped around one of the wheels. When they stop, the cart rolls backwards, pulling him along with it.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Druid's Blood
Episode 24, Season 1

The brain drain
The title is a misnomer. Henry Sharp's 'The Night Of The Druid's Blood' contains neither druids ( there are witches though ) or blood. It opens with the strange death of 'Professor Robey' ( Don Beddoe ) who bursts into flame before Jim's startled eyes. He had recently become infatuated with the beautiful 'Lilith' ( Ann Elder ). Before Jim can investigate further, he is suddenly taken off the case by 'Senator Waterford' ( Bartlett Robinson ). When Jim meets the man's wife, he begins to understand why - she is 'Lilith'.

Don Rickles plays evil magician 'Asmodeus', a prototype of Victor Buono's 'Count Manzeppi' from Season 2. Other distinguished scientists have perished recently, mainly in towns where Asmodeus has been playing theatres. But neither he nor 'Astarte' ( Lilith's real name ) are the real brains behind the outfit. The real brains are, in fact, brains...

The late Rhys Williams will be familiar to genre fans as 'Dr.Krupov', one of the triumvirate behind the GALAXY organisation in 'Our Man Flint' ( 1966 ). His 'Dr.Tristam' has not killed the scientists, but faked their deaths and preserved their brains in special tanks. Introducing this episode on the D.V.D., Robert Conrad had an attack of giggles recalling the scene where Jim persuades the brains to rebel against Tristam. It is certainly one of the more bizarre moments from the series. Along with the sight of Jim turning himself into a living rocket to escape a cell.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bottomless Pit
Episode 8, Season 2

The devil of Devil's Island
Jim takes the place of a French prisoner on the infamous Devil's Island because he wants to rescue an agent named 'Vincent Reed' ( Tom Drake ). The Kommandant is the sadistic 'Gustave Mauvais ) and when Jim stops a roller from crushing an elderly prisoner, he finds himself in a pit with other men, including the one he is searching for. The question now is - how to get him out? Perhaps Mauvais' sexy wife 'Camille' ( Joan Huntington ) might have the answer...

By 'Wild, Wild West' standards, this is fairly conventional stuff. I think on reflection it would have better suited the black and white Season 1. 'Papillon' it is certainly not. This was Marcuse's second time in the show, the last was as 'Dr.Vincent Kirby' in 'The Night Of The Sudden Plague'. No gadgets for Jim here. We never find out just how Reed wound up on Devil's Island nor why he is deemed important enough to stage a break-out. Arte's main contribution is to pose as a Foreign Legion officer on the island because of cowardice.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Deadly Bed
Episode 2, Season 1

Getting into bed can be sheer murder
Jim meets an informant named 'Captain Jackson' ( Bob Herron ) at a warehouse. A clock explodes. Jackson is killed, but passes on the name "Flory!". At a saloon, Jim is drugged by sexy dancer 'Gatita' ( Barbara Luna ) and wakes up in a bed with deadly spikes descending on him. He blocks them with a chair. A line of men are carrying baskets of coal towards a stockade. Jim discreetly follows them. In an underground cavern, a train is under construction. It is to be equipped with a battering ram. Sadistic French officer 'General Flory' ( J.D. Cannon ) has a Napoleon complex and intends using the train to wreck the U.S. railroad system...

This was the second episode to be screened, the first produced by Fred Freiberger, who laid down some important ground rules - a beautiful girl, a dangerous villain, and a touch or two of the bizarre. The title is a bit of a misnomer though, a bed does not figure prominently in the plot. Conrad did his own stunts, and all the major ones for the next two series. One of the series' strengths in my view.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Torture Chamber
Episode 13, Season 1

Bolt from the blue
Jim and Arte receive a worried letter from 'Governor Bradford' ( Henry Beckman ). When they show up at his office, they do not know he has been abducted and replaced by a double called 'Sam Jameson'. The governor's secretary - 'Miss Piecemeal' ( Sigrid Valdis ) is in on the plan. Its real leader though is 'Professor Horatio Bolt' ( Alfred Ryder ), owner of the Bolt Museum of Fine Arts. The fake governor tells the secret service men that someone wants him dead. He is due to attend the unveiling of a new statue, but refuses to cancel the engagement. Bolt intends buying the Mona Lisa with the money he makes from the operation. Jim notices that the governor is suddenly right-handed. The real one is not...

Co-written by Philip Saltzman - later the Executive Producer of Conrad's 'A Man Called Sloane' - this episode works very well. Viviane Ventura is seen as 'Angelique' - this stunning beauty also graced a number of British films such as 'Finders Keepers' and 'Battle Beneath The Earth' ( both 1966 ). The climax in the museum has Bolt aiming a large crossbow at West. Beckman is very good as both 'the Governor' and 'Jameson'. Arte's impersonation of an art expert is among one of the most amusing in the whole series.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Flaming Ghost
Episode 19, Season 1

John Brown's body is not a-mouldering in the grave
A coach carrying Jim and Arte is held up by hooded men carrying rifles, who then proceed to make off with a dress designer and an artist. When Jim tries to follow, a wall of flame bars his way. He had Arte had been investigating mysterious thefts of kerosene and copper from the government. Something strange seems to be happening in the mountains. A strange fiery glow can be seen for miles at night. To deepen the mystery, the man at its heart is claiming to be the long-dead abolitionist 'John Brown' ( John Doucette )...

Co-written by Robert Hamner - a contributor to 'Star Trek' and Irwin Allen's shows - this is another solid entry. The lovely Lynn Loring plays bad-girl 'Carma Vasquez'. Not good if you don't like snakes though - Jim is almost bitten by a rattler, and Arte comes close to stepping on it ( it was under a blanket ). Brown is in fact the nephew of the original, and plans on equipping a private army with a flame-throwing cannon to destroy the U.S. army and loot major cities. To protect them, he has developed a flame resistant suit. Nobody knew just how dangerous asbestos was in those days.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Lord of Limbo
Episode 15, Season 2

The man who could control time
Arte vanishes during a stage magician's - Abu The Magnificent - act. The only clue is a sabre bearing the initials 'N.B.V.'. In Vicksberg, he locates the sabre's owner. one 'Colonel Noel Bartley Vautrain' ( Ricardo Montalban ). He is a mastery of magic and has a room in his house that is a doorway to the Fourth Dimension, through which one can go back in time. Having used Jim and Arte as guinea pigs, the Colonel wants to go back to the Civil War before he received the injury that caused him to lose both legs. But he has another far more sinister motive - he wants to reverse the outcome of said conflict by killing General Grant...

One of the best 'W.W.W.' episodes, benefiting greatly from Montalban's smooth performance as 'Vautrain'. Like the Kenneth Branagh 'Dr.Loveless', he too is wheelchair-bound but there is none of the crass overacting that characterised Branagh's portrayal. Dianne Foster adds glamour as his niece 'Amanda'. A reviewer has mentioned Montalban's later series 'Fantasy Island' as being possibly inspired by this episode. I think a better example would be 'Time Express', a short-lived 1979 series that starred Vincent Price and Coral Browne and featured people going back in time to change their lives for the better.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Werewolf
Episode 2, Season 3

Hungry like the wolf
When werewolves and mummies began appearing in 'Voyage', you immediately knew the writers were running out of ideas. Having said that though, Donn Mullally's 'Werewolf' is the first and best of the trio of wolf-man episodes. A team of geologists, headed by 'Dr.Hollis' ( Charles Aidman ), is studying volcanic activity on a sub-tropical island in the South Seas when one is bitten by a wolf. He in turn infects Hollis, who becomes a werewolf and murders the pilot of the Flying Sub. Unlike normal werewolves, whose transformations are triggered by full moons, radioactivity does the trick this time. And the Seaview has a reactor.

There are some good sequences here, most notably the werewolf attacking both Nelson and the ship's doctor ( Richard Bull ). There is some unintentional comedy too, including Nelson and his men bursting into the Reactor Room and, on spotting the werewolf, running out again ( its like something out of a Three Stooges short ). The make-up job on Aidman is first-class; unlike the werewolf in 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker' in 1974, this is the real McCoy, boasting hairy hands and fangs. It is a pity then the director ( Justus Addiss ) made a mistake in having it run around screeching in brightly-lit rooms. The same creature glimpsed in shadow from time to time would have been terrifying. At the story's end, Nelson is apparently cured of his werewolf condition, but he grew hairy for a William Welch-penned sequel: 'The Brand Of The Beast'.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Feathered Fury
Episode 17, Season 2

Who's got the toy chicken?
Henry Sharp's 'The Night Of The Feathered Fury' saw the return of portly Victor Buono as man of magic 'Count Manzeppi', last seen in 'The Night Of The Eccentrics'. This time round, he is after a toy chicken which contains the Philosopher's Stone and can alchemise base metal into solid gold. A girl in his employ - 'Gerda Sharff' ( Michele Carey ) - has absconded with it. Manzeppi no longer has his 'Eccentrics' ( they're not even mentioned ), but three killers in the shape of 'Luther' ( George Murdoch ), who uses a paddle-ball as a weapon, the well-dressed 'Dodo', and 'Benji', a Chinaman equipped with a scythe. The Count also has a pet monkey called Loki who is adept at hurling smoke bombs. The only lead Jim and Arte have is toy manufacturer 'Heinrich Sharff', Gerda's uncle. But the Count is laying in wait for them...

For some reason, I found this a disappointing instalment. The pacing was off in a few scenes, such as Manzeppi confronting Jim and Arte aboard the Wanderer. Some back-story for the toy chicken would have been welcome. I loved the food plate being removed to reveal a hand holding a gun though! Michele Carey later provided the husky voice of 'E.F.F.I.E.' the computer in Conrad's 'A Man Called Sloane'. Despite the open-ended climax, Count Manzeppi failed to return for the expected rematch.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Steel Assassin
Episode 16, Season 1

A cyborg rides into town
In his introduction on the Paramount D.V.D.'s, Robert Conrad describes this Calvin Clements Junior-scripted episode as being 'a little ahead of its time'. Indeed it is. Jim is walking past a shop that sells old military memorabilia when he overhears a struggle. The owner - 'Gilbert' ( John Pickard ) - has been murdered by 'Lt.Torres' ( John Dehner ), a man with revenge on his mind. Years before, Torres was almost killed when the arsenal he was in charge of guarding blew up. He only survived by being repaired using mechanical parts. Now is virtually superhuman. The idea predated 'The Six Million Dollar Man' television series by nearly a decade. Jim's bullets fail to stop him, so he uses a bomb. That does not work either. Torres runs off into the night. Jim and Arte track down Gilbert's niece 'Nina' ( Sue Ann Langdon ). Six of her uncle's former regiment have recently been murdered. President Grant is keen to see the killer brought to justice, and with good reason - he is on Torres' hit list...

John Dehner - who had previously appeared in 'The Night Of The Casual Killer' - gets a good role here as the revenge-seeking cyborg. When he first speaks, it is a genuinely chilling moment as his voice has a flat, robotic quality. His fondness for creepy organ music evokes comparisons with 'The Abominable Dr.Phibes'. He hypnotises Nina, turning her from a conscientious ex-student into a sexily-dressed strumpet at Torres' gambling den at Alton Nuevo. President Grant is due to pay a visit, and Torres plan killing him using fake Fourth of July rockets. The story grips throughout, even allowing for the improbability of a cyborg existing in the America of the 1880's. The idea was recycled again in 2012 in 'A Town Called Mercy', an episode of the B.B.C.'s 'Dr.Who'.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Howling Light
Episode 14, Season 1

Dark goings-on at a lighthouse
Jim is summoned to the Samaritan Hospital by 'Dr.Arcularis' ( Sam Wanamaker ) who tells him that Arte has died. The man in the morgue is not Arte. Jim is gassed and taken to the lighthouse off Barrows' Point where he is subjected to intense brainwashing - loud bells, blinding light etc. - to make him murder a native American leader named 'Ho-Tami' ( Ralph Moody ). A peace conference is due to be held at St.Louis and one of the participants - 'Akeema' ( Scott Marlowe ) - is keen to stop it happening, regarding any form of peace as slavery. By murdering Ho-Tami, Jim will ensure no peace exists between native Americans and white men.

Written by Henry Sharp, 'The Night Of The Howling Light' showcases a fine, menacing performance from the talented actor/ director Sam Wanamaker. The episode was nominated for an Emmy for Ted Voightlander's lighting, but lost out to 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea'. The scenes in the lighthouse where Jim is brainwashed are disturbing, rivalling anything seen in 'The Ipcress File'. Linda Marsh is 'Indra', the daughter of the lighthouse keeper whom Arcularis brainwashed. She winds up assisting Jim.

Produced by 'Gunsmoke' creator John Mantley. Like Fred Freiberger, he is also notorious for screwing up a hit sci-fi show, in this case 'Buck Rogers In The 25th Century'.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Double-Edged Knife
Episode 9, Season 1

Cheyenne summer
It is difficult now to watch Leslie Nielsen's early work and keep a straight face. So used are we now to his deadpan persona being lampooned mercilessly in films such as 'Airplane!' and 'The Naked Gun' series that it is impossible to see him as anything other than funny ( how of us have howled with laughter at his 'Poseidon Adventure' role as a captain? ). This 'Wild Wild West' episode - written by Stephen Kandel - casts him as 'Major-General Ball', an embittered officer ( he was relieved of command due to his losing a hand ) who conceives a clever way to get his hands on a fortune - by staging fake Cheyenne attacks on a newly-built railroad, terrorising workers, and demanding a ransom of $5,000. In the course of his investigations, Jim meets 'Sheila Parnell' ( Katherine Ross, later to grace the classic Western 'Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid' ), daughter of a murdered railroad worker. Elisha Cook Junior ( later to play 'Gideon McCoy' in 'The Night Of The Bars Of Hell' ) is 'Mike McGreavey'. Jim infiltrates the gang just as they plan on robbing a gold-carrying train...

One of the more conventional episodes of Season 1, it is enjoyable on its own terms. Nielsen makes a decent villain. Kandel went on to write two episodes of Conrad's later spy show 'A Man Called Sloane' - 'The Seduction Squad' and 'Collision Course'. The story was adapted into novel form ( the only one to receive this treatment ) by Richard Wormser.

The Wild Wild West: The Night the Dragon Screamed
Episode 17, Season 1

A Chinese puzzle
There is more than a whiff of 1940's spy melodrama about Kevin De Courcey's 'The Night The Dragon Screamed'. It opens with Arte, disguised as a coolie, standing in line with others. One by one, they show off their Tong tattoos. Luckily, Arte thought to have one put on his arm. But there is a spy in their midst and, rather than try to find out who he is, the gang wipes them out with a Gatling gun. With Jim's help, Arte escapes.

Two warring Opium gangs are at work in the U.S.A. The one Arte infiltrated was the Order of the Crimson Dragon. Receiving a message in a fortune cookie, Jim heads for the House of Delights ( guess what sort of house it is ) where he is almost killed by a Tong hatchet man. After a chase, Jim is cornered - a moving wall pushes him towards a pit of spikes. Luckily, he has come prepared, carrying a tricked-up cane. The hatchet man is from the Sons of Stalking Tiger. Its leader - 'Wang Chung' ( Richard Lo ) - tells Jim that a disgraced British army officer by the name of 'Clive Allenby-Smythe' ( Ben Wright ) is planning to put a puppet Princess of the Hunan throne and thus control a fair chunk of China...

Modern audiences will probably balk at the racial stereotyping of this episode, not to mention the sight of Arte made up as a Chinaman, but if one can overlook these factors, it is a most enjoyable story, and benefits from being in monochrome. The beautiful Pilar Seurat is 'Princess Ching Ling', who fancies Jim like mad, while the action highlight is the sight of Jim surrounded by Tongs and taking them out in rapid succession as only the amazing Mr.West can.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bars of Hell
Episode 22, Season 1

Stone walls do not a prison make
Produced by Gene L.Coon, Robert Vincent Wright's 'The Night Of The Bars Of Hell' was directed by Richard Donner. Jim is posing as 'Charles Lane', an inspector from the Bureau of Prisons. Three attempts are made on his life in a short space of time - his bed is booby-trapped, a man throws a red-hot horseshoe at him in the street, and the owner of the hotel Jim is staying at tries to gas him as he slumbers. The warden of the nearby prison - 'Ragan' ( Arthur O'Connell ) - is exploiting the criminal abilities of his convicts for financial advantage i.e. making them commit robberies and so on.

'Jennifer McCoy' ( Indus Arthur ) has an uncle on Death's Row - 'Gideon McCoy' ( Elisha Cook Junior ) - and she wants Jim to find out what he did with her inheritance. Jim meets him and is baffled as to why the man has a sun-tan and well-manicured fingernails. Arte, meanwhile, is disguised as a street preacher. When the executioner arrives in the town, he takes his place. Unfortunately, Gideon has been substituted for Jim, who will become the first man in America to die in the electric chair...

Vincent wrote episodes of 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea - including the excellent 'And Five Of Us Are Left' - and this is up to the same standard. Arthur O'Connell had recently menaced Dean Martin's 'Matt Helm' in 'The Silencers' ( he played BIG O agent 'Joe Wigman'; ). The corpulent Jenie Jackson, cast as 'Kitten', played another character of that name in the Donner-directed 'The Night Of The Murderous Spring'. Again Conrad's stunts are a marvel to behold, including the sight of him crashing through a wall in the prison and finding himself in a secret drinking and gambling den.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Man-Eating House
Episode 12, Season 2

The house that bled a man to death
This John Kneubuhl-scripted episode is different to your average 'W.W.W.' story. Jim and Arte are assigned to deliver a recaptured prisoner - 'Lawrence Liston Day' ( Hurd Hatfield ) - into custody. As important in his own way as Benedict Arnold, Day has served a 30 year jail sentence for treason. Finding an empty old house, they - along with a 'Sheriff' ( William Talman ) - venture inside. The front door opens all by itself. The sound of a woman weeping can be heard. They become trapped, and try to break a window. The weeping changes to wailing. Jim's bomb does not dent the wall. The house appears to be alive. A chandelier almost falls on Arte. The sheriff is found dead, completely drained of blood. Furthermore, Day appears to be growing younger...

A good old fashioned ghost story with an interesting final twist not unlike the final scene of 'An Inspector Calls' by J.B. Priestley. Caroline Day's spirit wants to clear Day's name by leading Jim and Arte to a long-lost diary, but the insane Day dreams of returning Texas to Spanish rule. He has a tank of bubonic plague-carrying rats ( which, thankfully, we only hear, not see ). Creepy by television standards, and with a good guest performance by Hatfield as the old and young versions of Day.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Vicious Valentine
Episode 20, Season 2

Marriage means murder
In Kansas City, millionaire 'Curtis Dodd' ( J.Edward McKinley ) is killed by an arrow whilst playing the piano at his home. His death is the latest in what has become known as the 'Alphabet' killings - rich, lonely men are being bumped off in alphabetical order. Dodd was letter 'D'. The common denominator is all that all the dead men had recently wed women they had met at 'Emma Valentine' ( Agnes Moorehead )'s society parties. The letter 'M' on a printed card leads Jim and Arte to the Friendly Card Company, where they are shot at by a stone cherub and attacked by ruffians, one of whom has a laugh like a hyena. Emma is a megalomaniac who dreams of becoming the first woman President in U.S. history...

This entertaining Leigh Chapman-scripted episode has a strong 'Avengers'-feel to it ( I'm talking about the British spy show, not the Marvel comic ). In particular, Tony Williamson's 'The Murder Market' which also had a marriage bureau being used as a front for a murder agency. Moorehead - best remembered as 'Endora' in 'Bewitched' - is excellent as 'Valentine'. She places Jim ands Arte in one of the most dangerous situations they have ever faced - tied to a stained glass chapel roof that will shatter as soon as the organist beneath them plays a high note, causing them to fall to their deaths. Diane McBain and Sherry Jackson ( both of whom appeared in 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' and 'Star Trek' ) provide the glamour.

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Watery Death
Episode 9, Season 2

Mermaids can kill
A cracking episode scripted by Michael Edwards.

Jim is at the Mermaid Tavern in San Francisco, where he sees a beautiful girl dressed as ( what else? ) a mermaid. He is drugged, and wakes up aboard a gambling ship called 'Lady Luck'. With him is the lovely 'Dominique', who is carrying a distinctive-looking compact. Suddenly, Jim spots a fire-breathing sea dragon heading towards the ship. There is an explosion. Jim survives. His wild story is not believed. The S.S. Virginia is due to dock in three days, and aboard is a top naval hero. Jim thinks he is a likely target for assassination...

John Van Dreelen played many Teutonic villains in shows of this era, most notably the 'Death From The Past' episode of 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea'. Here he is cast as the 'Marquis de Le Mer', a madman who dreams of founding his own country, and wants to blow up the S.S. Virginia to indicate that he means business. The 'sea dragon' is, in fact, a prototype torpedo. It homes in on Dominique's compact. While Arte tries to get the compact off the girl, Jim swims after the Sea Dragon.

A lively episode with lots of thrilling action, and the sight of Jim imprisoned behind a force-field!

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