In the fall of 1965 a new TV program debuted that was significantly
different from the other shows that came before or after it. The
Wild Wild West was a show that wasn't easily categorized. It
took place in the western US in the late 1800's, but it wasn't really a
western. It had fantastic, futuristic inventions and machines, but
it wasn't a science fiction program. The star was a secret service
agent, but it wasn't really a spy show either. The Wild Wild West
was a combination of all of these, taking the best elements from each genre
and creating a unique show that, surprisingly, was very good. Paramount
has now released the first season of the original show on DVD, and I was
a little hesitant about watching it. I remember this show from its
original run, (I always loved it when the animated Jim West punched the
lady trying to stab him in the opening) and I wasn't sure how well the
program would stand the test of time. I'm happy to report that it
still plays very well, and is just as fun and exciting as when it was first
broadcast. Forget the artless and miserable Will Smith movie, this
is the real thing.
Jim West (Robert Conrad) is one of the best secret service agents in
the country. He's on special assignment, working directly for president
U. S. Grant (played by James Gregory in the pilot), to stop trouble where
ever it might arise. Along with his partner, master of disguise Artemus
Gordon (Ross Martin) West travels through the old west in a custom private
train (under cover as a rich dandy from the east) and confronts terrorists,
mad scientists, would-be world rulers, and other assorted mad men.
Each episode, while they weren't necessarily formalistic, had the same
elements. There was always a beautiful woman (sometime working for
the villain) for Jim to get interested in, a fantastic machine or invention,
lots of cool spy gadgets, and a larger than life villain. Throw in
some fight scenes, a wicked plot to wreak havoc on society, and a dollop
of suspense, and you've got a pretty interesting show.
"I will say this
about you Mr. West; you have considerable style."
This first season sets the tone of that the show would follow through
all four years that it ran and includes some great episodes. The
Night of the Burning Diamond features a villain who has come up with
a unique way to turn invisible, and The Night That Terror Stalked the
Town has the duo arriving in a town populated by corpses. The
highlight of the set for me though was The Night the Wizard Shook the
Earth which features the first appearance of Dr. Miguelito Loveless
(Michael Dunn). Dr. Loveless will turn into West's main antagonist,
appearing in 10 episodes over the series run including four in this first
season. A scientific genius, Dr. Loveless has an incredible brain
but is trapped in the body of a dwarf. That paradox plays well in
the show and the most interesting episodes feature the tiny evil genius.
A lot of the credit for the show's long success goes to Robert Conrad.
While no one will confuse him with Lionel Barrymore, he's perfect for the
part. Attractive and fit (Conrad was a professional boxer before
turning to acting) he really looked the part. Dressed in incredibly
tight pants and stylish vests, he looked like a nineteenth century James
Bond. He also takes the show seriously, and that makes the viewers
believe in it too. When presented with a train that shoots fire or
an assassin who reconstructed his wounded body with metal, Conrad plays
it straight. There's no twinkle in his eye or any trace at how ridiculous
some of the situations are. That's what keeps the show from devolving
into camp and also gives it the timeless appeal that it has.
Ross Martin also does a good job playing the West's assistant.
He lightens the show a bit, though he's not a comic relief, with his fancy
gadgets and frequent disguises. Gordon's also the voice of
reason, telling Jim that his plan is foolhardy and to play it safe.
Advice that Jim West never takes.
The 28 hour-long episodes that make up the first season come on seven
DVDs with four shows on each disc. These are packaged in four double
slimline cases which in turn are housed in a nice slipcase.
The two channel mono soundtrack is crisp and clear and fits the show
very well. The range is a little limited, but that's to be expected
for a show this old. The dialog is clear and the music sounds very
good, including the bass line of the show's theme. Occasionally the
upper end gets clipped, but that isn't a distraction. A fine sounding
The black and white full frame image looks good for a 40-year-old show.
The contrast and black levels are excellent with strong details and a sharp
picture. That's not to say that the video is perfect. There
are a few spots and bits of dirt in some of the episodes, but these are
rare. These shows look much better that I was expecting them to.
This set is packed with more extras than I thought it would have.
Each episode starts with an audio introduction by Robert Conrad in which
he points out some of the highlights of the episode about to be screened.
He also provides a commentary to the pilot episode where he talks about
the show and relates some interesting anecdotes (including the fact that
he did all of his own stunts in the show.)
There are also several audio interviews with people associated with
the show that were done by Sue Kessler in 1988 as research for her book
on the show. Included are talks with John Kneubuhl (the creator of
Dr. Loveless), Ethel Winant (CBS Executive), producer Fred Freiberger,
special effects artist Tim Smyth, and composer Richard Markowitz.
The first disc has the original opening and bumpers for the pilot episode
which was originally entitled The Wild West as well as an extended
commercial for that first episode that CBS ran to promote the show.
The second disc has an intro blooper too.
Every Day from
1978. Dig that cool 70's set: pink shag carpeting and unfinished
As if that wasn't enough, there's an 8-minute excerpt from the show
Day from 1978 where Robert Conrad and Ross Martin are interviewed together
about the show. This was the only time the two stars were interviewed
together and it's a nice to watch. An Eveready battery commercial
staring Conrad, a network promo, and a theme scoring session wrap up the
bonus items. A very nice set of extras that adds a lot to the set.
This is a fun show. Taking the suspense and excitement of James
Bond, the other worldly awe of science fiction shows and setting it all
in the old west, The Wild Wild West still is as enjoyable today
as it was 40 years ago. Robert Conrad is perfect for the lead role,
bringing a sense of style and seriousness to the exciting scripts.
With 28 shows, ample extras, and a wonderfully restored image, this set
gets a very strong recommendation.