James West (Conrad) was a Union Army vet. He’s the kind of act first think about it later kind of guy. Artemus Gordon (Ross) was a typical con man. He could create the most convincing disguises and was also a master of sleight of hand. Together they worked for the Secret Service in the days of the western frontier. The two of them were the prototype of the future spy. They would use incredible inventions and Bond-like gadgets along with their own skills at trickery to investigate major Federal crimes, often plots against the United States. Think of James Bond in the Wild West.
Because of their common release date I had the fortune of watching The Wild Wild West at the same time I was also looking at Mission: Impossible. I discovered something I hadn’t seen before. These shows are quite similar in many ways. Both of the teams work as a kind of government black ops. Both employ a master of disguise. While James West is a lot more active than Phelps, they do share more than the same first names. Both shows have the same formula, the elaborate con or scam played on an unsuspecting bad guy. Where The Wild Wild West diverges from this path is the setting and amount of action. The western traditions of The Wild Wild West allow for a bit more down in the dirt fisticuffs and shootouts. Later The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., would employ a lot of these same themes. A lot of the gadgets and inventions in the show are really a glimpse at more modern contrivances we already take for granted.
Unlike Mission: Impossible, this show is far more character driven. The team is really just two here, so there is a lot more for each of them to do. The chemistry between West and Gordon was essential for the show to succeed. By this third season some of the gadgetry and over the top stories began to get a little out of hand. Many of the participants became aware of the comic book direction the show was heading, and there was to be only another year to come for West and Gordon.
Each episode title begins with The Night of… Season three features a ton of what you are likely looking for out of the show. Ross dons many very cool costumes and West works his own brand of charm in every episode. The season opens with the theft of the United States Constitution in The Night Of The Bubbling Death. Many of these first episodes of the season involve the approaching hostilities with Mexico. West is involved in a plot to assassinate the Mexican president in the episode, Night Of The Assassin. One of the show’s better episodes is The Night Of The Death Masks. Stark, a man West once put away, seeks revenge. West and Gordon find themselves in an abandoned town that seems to be full of Starks. The season’s list of guest stars includes: Robert Duvall, Beverly Garland, Marl Lenard, Harold Gould, William Schallert, Lana Wood, Robert Loggia, Harry Dean Stanton, Ted Knight, Nick Adams, and Michael Fox.
Each Wild Wild West episode is presented in its original television full frame format. We’re talking about a 40 year old television show, and your expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Overall the transfers are remarkably solid. While colors are a bit soft, the picture itself is rather clean. Print defects are minimal when you consider the age, but they are there. Black levels are about average on the whole. If I have any complaint it is the amount of grain that too often presents itself.
The Dolby Digital Mono track does what it needs to do, nothing less, nothing more. The sound does have some trouble. I did hear some warble in a few episodes. Everything is very mid heavy and is sometimes a little muted. You do hear the dialog fairly well, and that might be just about all we can justifiably expect from this mix.
Unfortunately nothing at all.
It has been many years since I last saw The Wild Wild West. I used to think that James T. West was a lot like Kirk from Star Trek, although today I can’t think exactly why. Perhaps it is the similarity in names or West’s ability to end up with the girl most of the time. As for Gordon, I remember I couldn’t get enough of his great disguises and cool inventions. He was truly a Wild West renaissance man. Robert Conrad recently gave an interview in Starlog Magazine where he talked about the toll the show did on his body. Turns out he insisted on doing most of those stunts himself. If Conrad went through all that pain, the least you can do is buy the DVD’s. If you pass this show up, “Why, you ought to be horsewhipped.”