The Wild, Wild West 43 Years Later
A Fledgling Secret Service Department
The sixties was a fun time to be alive if you were a child. Aside of the existential threat of instantaneous annihilation by the Soviets and the last Friday-of-the-month air-raid drills, most of us ran around with nearly boundless energy.
TV was transitioning from black and white to color, and the difference seemed startling. Besides that technological advancement, there were some entertaining shows to watch on the "boob tube," e.g., "The Wild, Wild West", "Star Trek", "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "The Avengers", "The Twilight Zone", "Honey West", "The Outer Limits", "T.H.E. Cat", "The Prisoner", "The Saint", and others. Out of the group, "The Wild, Wild West" was my favorite.I recently re-watched the entire series on DVD, and the series holds up well. While most of the episodes are repetitive, the structure provided a comfortable framework. Each episode could be divided into four more-or-less equal time boxes.
- Box number one would contain the set up.
- Box number two would show our heroes, James West and Artemus Gordon, falling into big trouble.
- Box number three usually showed West and Gordon getting into deeper trouble.
- Box number four would reveal a turn of events and resolution.
Though formulaic, one could never foretell when some kind of fight scene would erupt. Both West (Robert Conrad) and Gordon (Ross Martin) worked for a fledgling Secret Service Department.
Usually, they were given or fell into one sinister plot or another. West was part James Bond and part Batman. One of the main things that caused the show to stand above the rest was Conrad's physical ability to perform his own stunts, and the fight scenes were well choreographed. He had no compulsion about literally diving into five or six bad guys that would result in a mostly bare-fisted brawl.
West also had a lot of handy gadgets provided to him by Gordon (the cerebral side-kick who was not only a great gadget maker but a master of disguise. Gordon used a very wide range of disguises for the purposes of gathering intelligence or helping West escape from a deadly situation.
The two main characters were unique and played their roles effortlessly. Conrad and Martin had great chemistry, and the banter continued even throughout calamities.
A dissection of why I preferred the show over others probably revolves around the fact that it was more action-oriented and less talky. The bad guys were often charming in their own twisted fashion. The different apparatus concocted by the villains displayed their warped level of genius. The various tricks, gadgets and methods West and Gordon employed to free themselves from captivity almost always seemed like child's play.
While James West had a charm that allowed him to seduce almost any woman, a few endings displayed both West and Gordon (in their luxurious train coach), each with a lady on their arm, ready to trip the light fandango. The show wasn't all firearms and fisticuffs.
The writing contained a substantial amount of humor -- regardless if the repartee was between West and Gordon or between them and their opponents. Dialogue among West/Gordon, the guest stars, and eclectic group of villains never became cheesy.
The musical composer was very good, using mostly light instruments (predominantly a harpsichord) to create myriad effects and moods.
But, most of the credit for the show's success would have to go to Robert Conrad and Ross Martin who always played their parts in a cool, unflappable manner.
The Wild, Wild West Intro
Ross Martin suffered a heart attack in 1968, forcing him out of the series. The show went on but was never quite the same without him. Martin recovered and went on to do a lot of performances on television.
Conrad also extended his career well beyond "Wild, Wild West," and put forth some of his best acting in these later years.
Both Conrad and Martin were basically well-attuned actors in their own right and have left a legacy of work as a testimony to their talents.
In doing most of his own stunt-work, Conrad suffered all kinds of injuries, but the guy was unstoppable. If for no other reason, you have to visit the "Wild, Wild West" just to see Conrad in action. I've never seen an actor equal him in his physical capability and willingness to do extraordinary physical feats. No one even comes close to his daring -- not to this day. What possessed him to do so is anyone's guess, but he created an unmatchable standard.