Wild Wild West TV movies get home video release

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

TV movie revivals of The Wild Wild West from 1979 and 1980 are getting a separate home video release, according to the TV Shows on DVD website.

The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West were released in 2008 as part of a complete series release of the original 1965-69 series.

However, according to TV Shows on DVD, the two TV movies are being released as a double feature in June by CBS/Paramount.

Both TV movies included the original stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Both were directed by Burt Kennedy and produced by Robert L. Jacks, with Jay Bernstein as executive producer.

The Wild Wild West Revisited was written by William Bowers. In its original broadcast, More Wild Wild West had Bowers sharing the writing credit with another scribe, Tony Kayden. But at least some subsequent TV releases had Bowers getting sole writing credit.

Both TV movies had a much lighter tone than the original show. Still, Conrad and Martin were in fine form, the best reason to watch both.

The Wild Wild West Revisited is set in 1885, with the agents summoned from retirement to combat Miguelito Loveless Jr. (Paul Williams), who has mastered cloning and the construction of atomic bombs.

More Wild Wild West is set in 1890, when our heroes are again taken from retirement to combat a Albert Paradine II (Jonathan Winters), who has a pair of “Hulks” to do his bidding. (CBS was airing The Incredible Hulk TV show at the time.)

Also making an appearance is Victor Buono, as a character modeled after Henry Kissinger. Buono was the villain in the original show’s pilot and played Count Manzeppi in two second-season episodes.

Neither TV movie is the best The Wild Wild West has to offer but if you have all four seasons of the original series, it’s worth completing your collection.

For more information: WILD, WILD WEST?

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Coming soon (?): The Wild Wild West soundtrack

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

On April 10 on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — Inner Circle Facebook page, there was an item about how La La Records will be releasing a soundtrack album from The Wild Wild West television series.

Not a lot of details are available and there’s nothing, as yet, on the La La Land Records website.

The project, not surprisingly, is headed by film and TV music historian Jon Burlingame, according to the item on the Inner Circle page. Burlingame previously produced soundtracks for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible television shows.

Here’s a list of what the blog hopes will be included in a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West.

The Night of the Inferno (Richard Markowitz): Pilot episode, scored by Markowitz (1926-1994). Originally, CBS hired Dimitri Tiomkin, who earlier wrote the theme song to the network’s Rawhide series, to do the show’s theme song.

Tiomkin’s effort was found wanting and Markowitz got the job. His theme would be distinctive. However, he didn’t get a credit for the theme. He only got a credit for episodes of The Wild Wild West he scored.

The Night The Wizard Shook the Earth (Robert Drasnin): The third episode broadcast introduced Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), the arch foe for U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon. Drasnin (1927-2015) cooked up a “Dr. Loveless Theme” (the blog’s informal title) that would be used in the 10 episodes where Loveless made an appearance.

The Night of the Eccentrics (Richard Shores): The second-season opener concerned a bizarre gang called the Eccentrics, led by Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono). Manzeppi was intended to be another arch foe for West and Gordon. But he’d only appear in one more episode.

Regardless, the score by Shores (1917-2001) has a lot of energy. That music would be used for a second-season CBS promo that was re-created on YouTube.

The Night of the Man Eating House (Drasnin): One of the oddest, most tense and disturbing episodes of the series. Drasnin delivers an appropriate score.

The Night of the Big Blackmail (Shores): The fourth-season opener had a Shores score that would show up in some episodes of Hawaii Five-O. In the episode, West and Gordon race against time to break in to the embassy of a nation hostile to the U.S.

The Night of the Kraken (Shores): Another Shores score, which had “spooky” music that would end up in Hawaii Five-O episodes with tracked music when the budget didn’t permit an original score. The Stephen Kandel-scripted episode is a great example of the Jules Verne vibe that echoed through out the 1965-69 series.

For more information: Richard Markowitz’s wild wild TV scoring career.

Don Rickles dies at 90; credits include ’60s spy TV shows

Don Rickles with Don Adams in Get Smart

Comedian and actor Don Rickles has died at 90, according to an obituary posted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Rickles’ insult humor kept him in the public eyes for decades. In the 1960s, he was already well known and became a guest star on a number of spy series of the era.

His spy TV credits include a two-part Get Smart story, The Little Black Book, where he played Sid Krimm, a Korean Army buddy of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart; a first-season episode of The Wild Wild West where Rickles’ character appears to be the primary villain; and an episode of I Spy, Night Train to Madrid.

Veteran television director Ralph Senensky helmed Rickles’ appearance in The Wild Wild West, titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood. Here is how Senensky described Rickles in a post on his website about the episode.

“Don was a fanatically conscientious actor, deadly serious about his craft. But that was only during rehearsals and filming,” Senensky wrote. “Rickles between shots was the funnyman in charge. Between takes those final four and a half days seemed more like a Las Vegas showroom than a film set.”

That included insult humor aimed at the show’s star, Robert Conrad, according to the director.

“Robert Conrad was not the tallest creature on the planet, but according to Rickles, even with lifts in the shoes he wore, he barely reached the height of Billy Barty,” Senensky wrote.

“Rickles was merciless, but funny….For some reason Don never targeted me. I wonder if it was because he realized which side of the bread his close-ups were buttered on.”

UPDATE (3:35 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore noted the passing of Don Rickles on Twitter.

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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.

 

1965: Jim West’s first encounter with Dr. Loveless

James West (Robert Conrad) has his first encounter with Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn)

James West (Robert Conrad) has his first encounter with Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn)

Two recent birthdays spurred us to check out the first encounter between James West and Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West.

Robert Conrad, who played the intrepid Secret Service Man, celebrated his 81st birthday on March 1. Leslie Parrish, a busy actress in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, also celebrated her 81st on March 13.

Both were in the third episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth, the first story to feature mad scientist Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn).

CBS apparently realized the episode was out of the ordinary. The network moved up Wizard so it would be one of the first stories aired (it was broadcast on Oct. 1, 1965).

The John Kneubuhl script gave Dunn a lot to do. His Loveless barely is holding onto his sanity. Yet, Loveless clearly is brilliant. In the second half of the story. West is shown some of Loveless’ prototypes for inventions including television, penicillin (mere “bread mold,” as Loveless tells West), automobiles and airplanes.

The James Bond influence on the show also is in evidence.

At this point, Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) is more like Q rather than West’s full partner. Artemus has built a horse-drawn coach that is the equivalent of 007’s Aston Martin, even including an ejector seat.

However the coach, similar to the DB5 in Goldfinger, only provides the hero a momentary respite from those who threaten him.

What’s more, the episode provides a preview of an actor who’d show up in the Bond films more than a decade later — Richard Kiel, who plays Voltaire, the main henchman for Loveless. The 5-foot-8 Conrad eventually vanquishes the 7-foot-2 Kiel.

The episode made an impression on the production team and the network. Loveless would return for nine more episodes, including three more in the first season.

 

50th anniversary of U.S. TV spymania

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

This week marks the 50th anniversary of spymania in the United States, when three spy television series premiered.

I Spy (Sept. 15): The hour-long drama on NBC was the most serious, least escapist spy program on U.S. television. Its greater significance, however, was having an African American actor receiving equal billing with a white star.

That African American actor was Bill Cosby. Cosby has been in the news since last year for numerous accusations of rape, the subject of a notable cover of New York magazine this summer.

A half century ago, Cosby’s presence on I Spy was a major breakthrough for U.S. television. The show debuted in the midst of  the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Culp, the show’s other star, also wrote episodes that gave Cosby’s Alexander Scott plenty to do and Cosby ample opportunity to show his acting ability.

“People writing…said that I was the Jackie Robinson of television drama,” Cosby said during a 2010 appearance. “I say to all of you if this true that Robert Culp has to be Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese.” He said Culp’s “contribution in I Spy was very valuable in terms of civil rights.”

Besides the show’s social significance, I Spy also had extensive location filming. The lead actors accompanied a small crew that actually traveled to places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo to film exteriors. That footage would be paired with interior scenes shot at stages leased from Desilu Studios.

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West (Sept. 17): The show was originally pitched to CBS as something like “James Bond and cowboys.” It became something much greater.

The series concerned the adventures of ace U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). They traveled in style on a train.

They traveled a lot taking on, among other foes, a 19th century cyborg (John Dehner); Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), a short scientist with major plans, such as wiping out the world’s population to restore ecological balance; and Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a villain whose magic tricks might not be tricks at all.

Highlights included Conrad frequently fighting a roomful of thugs. In reality, it was usually the same group of stuntmen and it took ingenuity to disguise that fact from the audience. Also a highlight was Martin donning various disguises.

The Wild Wild West really was catching lightning in a bottle. Attempts to recapture the magic (made-for television movies in 1979 and 1980 as well as a 1999 feature film) fell short.

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Get Smart (Sept. 18): The half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind. The network rejected it. NBC, looking for a show for Don Adams, snapped it up.

Brooks and Henry revamped the script to adapt it for Adams. For example, Adams had already perfected his “would you believe?” bit, using it on The Bill Dana Show situation comedy series. Thus, it was incorporated into the Get Smart pilot.

Adams’ Maxwell Smart was a force of nature. He bumbled his way through his adventures but, always confident in himself, emerged triumphant. It helped to have Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) on his side.

Get Smart, naturally, parodied the spy genre, including one episode that did a takeoff on I Spy. But the series had other targets, including an episode that parodied The Fugitive. There have been various attempts over the decades to revive Get Smart, most recently a 2008 feature film with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

Happy birthday, Robert Conrad

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Here’s wishing a happy 80th birthday to Robert Conrad, the star of The Wild Wild West.

The show was sold as “James Bond and cowboys.” In reality, it was far more than that.

Set in the 1870s, The Wild Wild West was Jules Verne for television. The top agents of of the U.S. Secret Service, James West (Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) encountered foes including dwarf scientists (Michael Dunn’s Dr. Loveless Loveless), to 19th century cyborgs, to masterminds trying to overthrow the United States government (quite a few).

The Wild Wild West was the classic case of capturing lightning in a bottle. TV movie efforts in 1979 and 1980 as well as a theatrical move in 1999 CAME UP SHORT in recapturing the spirit of the original.

Despite that, The Wild Wild West is still fondly remembered a half century later, with Conrad’s Jim West a major reason. In 2013, the actor appeared in a salute to his career. While it covered many of Conrad’s television shows, The Wild Wild West took up a major part of the proceedings. The WWW segment begins roughly around the 15:00 mark. At around the 22:00 mark, applause begins from the audience.

Happy birthday, Mr. Conrad.