Wild, Wild West: Complete Series
There are memories that you have from your childhood that never leave you. Just where you placed your keys a few hours before or what you had for lunch yesterday may escape your mind but those childhood memories seem to stay fresh. For those of us would are part of the baby boomer generation many of these persistent memories have to do with the TV shows we watched and loved. Starting in 1965 one series was a must watch. You would talk about it to your friends the next day and spend your idyll time off from school reenacting scenes and characters from it. This show was ‘Wild, Wild West’. It combined two of the favorite genres of the day; westerns and spies. This was a time when the cold war with the Soviet Union was in full swing. While that didn’t affect us kids much except for the weekly in case of an H-Bomb duck under your plywood desk and kiss your butt goodbye drills. Spies were all the rage on both television and the movies. This was the time when a spy was lurking behind every shadow and the kids all watched things like James Bond, ‘I Spy’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Mission Impossible’. They had all the greatest gizmos around that could do anything the hero needed at the moment. The spy had danger and excitement on a daily basis. He also always got the girl but at that time that was not much of a concern for those of us still awaiting the onset of puberty. Well, the show under consideration here did help see many of us through that major life change. Then there was the western component of the series. We all played cowboys and Indians. Don’t judge, this was decades before the political correct term of ‘Native Americans’. The old west was a time of excitement and thrills. There were constant gunfights; plenty of horses and a lot of action. When you think about it form the standpoint of a 12 year old boy the two genres were very similar. This series offered the best of both worlds and for that reason alone was a memorable experience. The individual DVD season sets have all been released now but CBS Paramount has released the ultimate collector’s item for the legion of fans out there. They have all four seasons in one huge set. The cost of this package is less than all four individual sets so getting it is a bargain. It has all 26 discs that were contained in those season sets plus an all new bonus disc with never seen material. That includes the two made for television movies that followed the series. If you were alive in those days you will want to invest in this set. It is also something that has enough staying power so your kids will instantly get into it.
The series has been described both as ‘James Bond on horseback’ or a steam pipe science fiction. The series creator Michael Garrison would have been hard pressed to find a better combination of genres to pull in the young audiences. The great thing is this show was able to keep the adults tuning in each week as well. The stories were generally better than most of the television of the time. Part of this is the western drama was beginning to mature and the audiences expected more in the way of motivation for the villains. Still, more than a few were typical TV light action faire. Overall the writers seamlessly blended the genres creating a show that was satisfying to watch. For some the halo effect of a show we love as kids will take hold but even viewers new to this series will be pulled into the excellence of its production values.
James West remains one of the most recognizable figures in television history. The star of the series, Robert Conrad had already made a name for himself with a few films and a lot of TV work including regular parts of the popular crime dramas ‘Hawaiian Eye’ and ’77 Sunset Strip’. He cut a dashing figure of a crime fighter in this show. West was typically clad in his trademark bolero jacket and western style hat he did whatever was necessary to keep the young nation safe. Looking at these episodes again after all those years I have to wonder how he managed to move so fast or ride a horse in those ultra tight paints. It seems that his voice should have been a couple of octaves higher. West was lethal with anything at hand that could be used as a weapon. He did prefer the wonderful gadgets that were provided for him though. West was also the definition of the term lady’s man. Even the most dedicated villainess would swoon to his charms. West did not have to face the evil of the world alone. He had his faithful and inventive partner, Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), always at his side. Martin was one of the best character actors on stage, screen and television. It was amazing to watch him transform into one of his disguises. That was made part of the spy genre by ‘Mission Impossible’ but here it was done with an 1880’s flair. Gordon was also an inventor who’s ideas were frequently far ahead of his time. He made sure that West and the incredible custom train car they rode around in were tricked out to perfection. This series was a prop master’s dream. Considering how tight West’s clothing was it was beyond imagination how he fit all those things on his person.
Even hero needs a nemesis worthy of his talents. For West it was Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless. He was played by the diminutive actor Michael Dunn. What Dunn lacked in height, he was only 3’ 11’, he more than made up for in talent. Dunn was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in ‘Ship of Fools’. He appeared in ten episodes and each one of them was among the best in this set. Dunn never overplayed the evil mastermind card. He reigned in his performance bringing the feel on a man misunderstood by society and ahead of his time.
The series was there during the transition from black and white to color television. It may seem strange to the younger ones out there but we used to watch our favorite shows completely devoid of color. Like another spy series, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ the first season was B&W moving in season two to color. This impacted the series in how it was produced. The early B&W episodes were darker in nature and done in a more serious vein. Once it moved to color the stories increased in their camp value and it was played much lighter in tone.
A show like this that is so beloved by so many deserves the best possible DVD release. The set is presented in a collector’s quality box that resembles an old time small trunk. Inside are two circular containers that hold the discs; two seasons per container. The first two seasons take up seven discs each while the subsequent two seasons are six discs each. There is also a 27th disc that contains the extras. In this case it is the two made for TV movies, ‘Wild, Wild, West Revisited’ from 1979 and ‘More Wild, Wild West’ from m1980. All of the episodes are digitally re-mastered to make then crisp and clear; better than you have ever seen them. When you consider that on a per disc cost you are paying about $4.80 retail for this set it is quite a bargain; having your childhood memories back, priceless.