50th anniversary of The Wild Wild West’s best episode

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

April 15 is the 50th anniversary of what may be the best episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring. If not the series’ best outing, it’s in the conversation.

It was the next-to-last episode of West’s first season and the fourth to feature Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless.

The episode, written by John Kneubuhl (creator of Dr. Loveless) and directed by Richard Donner, removed all of the limits from the villain’s initial encounters with U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

Loveless is determined to kill humanity to restore Earth’s ecological balance. The villain has come up with a chemical, when mixed with water, will spur men to hallucinate and go into a murderous rage.

Loveless’ first test subject is James West himself. The Secret Service agent imagines he kills his partner.

That’s just the start. Loveless conducts another test where his lackeys kill each other. Loveless does so simply to demonstrate to West and Gordon he means business.

As an aside, one of Loveless’ thugs is played by Leonard Falk, the real life father of Robert Conrad.

This was not Loveless’ final appearance on the show. But it was arguably the most memorable. The only significance weakness was the episode didn’t have an original score, forcing music supervisor Morton Stevens to dip into the music library of CBS. Among the music used is the original Dr. Loveless theme, composed by Robert Drasnin, who scored the first Loveless episode of the series.


U.N.C.L.E. before there was U.N.C.L.E.

An international agency, with agents of various nationalities, works mostly in secret to capture the most ingenious and dangerous menaces. That could be part of a promo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which ran from 1964 to 1968. But it was also the premise of an unsold 1962 pilot, The Specialists.

The show ran as the final episode of NBC’s Thriller anthology series. The audience is never told the group’s name. It has operatives in North America, the U.K. and the European continent. We also see one agent who’s Pakastani, so it may agents in Asia as well. The episode follows agents led by Peter Duncan (Lin McCarthy) who are trying to break a criminal group operating in Europe and North America.

There are elements of spy shows that would populate the airwaves a few years later. Duncan notes that two of his men were killed by police, who thought they were gangsters. “They knew the risks,” Duncan’s Washington-based boss replies. Duncan and his men only work through the police when it’s necessary.

There are significant differences, also. Duncan is a family man, unlike James Bond-influenced characters such as Napoleon Solo and James West. Duncan’s wife thinks he’s a lawyer. In terms of style, The Specialists comes across more like an updated Untouchables (Duncan and his men all wear hats, similar to Elliott Ness & Co.) than the ’60s spy shows.

Still, there are a few connections to those same ’60s spy programs. The show was scripted by John Kneubuhl, one of the most important writers for The Wild, Wild West (he created Dr. Loveless and wrote five of the 10 Loveless episodes for that series). And future U.N.C.L.E. writer Alan Caillou has a small role as a British police superintendent who cooperates with Duncan’s group. There isn’t an original music score, but The Specialists uses music that Jerry Goldsmtih and Morton Stevens composed for earlier Thriller episodes. Goldsmith would do U.N.C.L.E.’s theme and he and Stevens both did first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes.