Wild, Wild West, The

Tagged: Film | TV

1. US tv series (1965-1969). A Michael Garrison Production/CBS TV. Created by Michael Garrison. Producers Garrison, Fred Freiberger, Gene L Coon, Collier Young, John Mantley, Bruce Lansbury. Writers included Henry Sharp, John Kneubuhl, Ken Kolb, Ken Pettus. Directors included Paul Wendkos, Richard Donner, Irving Moore, Robert Sparr, Alan Crosland Jr, Marvin Chomsky. Four seasons; 104 50-minute episodes. First season black and white; colour thereafter.

An amusing, sophisticated and successful mixture of Western and secret-agent fantasy, The Wild, Wild West series featured Robert Conrad playing Jim West, an 1870s James Bond. The plots usually involved anachronistic, futuristic Inventions and often featured Mad Scientists attempting to overthrow the government, using everything from manmade earthquakes to Time Machines. At its best The Wild, Wild West had something of the bizarre quality of The Avengers (1961-1968), to which it was the nearest US equivalent, but its stylization was not always light or witty enough. Low-angle shooting and clever use of sets ensured a genuine sense of decadent menace in the more baroque episodes. Michael Dunn played an often reappearing Villain, the dwarf Mad Scientist Dr Loveless who invents Androids, Miniaturization, hallucinogens (see Drugs) and a lot more. The bland persona of the hero was offset by Ross Martin's jovial performance as his partner, Artemus Gordon. The series can be seen as anticipating Steampunk. Two sequels appeared a decade later as made-for-tv movies: The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980), both directed by Burt Kennedy. [JB/PN]

2. Film (1999) as Wild Wild West. Peters Entertainment/Sonnenfeld Josephson/Worldwide Entertainment. Directed by Barry Sonnenfield. Produced by Jon Peters and Sonnenfield. Written by S S Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price and Peter S Seaman, based on characters created by Michael Garrison. Cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Kevin Kline and Will Smith. 106 minutes. Colour.

This belated large-screen adaptation of the series sees Captain James West (Smith) and Artemus Gordon (Kline) commissioned by President Ulysses Grant (also Kline) to save the USA from diabolical Confederate schemes masterminded by Dr Loveless (Branagh) – now legless rather than dwarfed – and to bring the Villain to justice. There is considerable action on the railroads, and much now overtly Steampunk Technology is deployed, Loveless's ultimate Weapon being a vast mechanical spider armed with nitroglycerin cannon. As female romantic interest, Rita Escobar (Hayek) performs the traditional tasks of messing things up, getting captured and held hostage, etc. Comedy content is low and the film was critically excoriated. The novelization is Wild Wild West (1999) by Bruce Bethke. [DRL]

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