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In the late 1970s Robert Conrad and Ross Martin reappeared as James
West and Artemis Gordon, their roles from THE WILD WILD WEST (a.k.a.
THE WILD WEST), a fun send up of the James Bond type of spy stories in
the 1960s. THE WILD WILD WEST was set in the Grant Administration (1869
- 1877) and most of the villains were ego-maniacal types who were
determined to take over a territory or the country or the world (or
just make money) with some 1870 style devices that would possibly
change the world. The leading villain was Michael Dunn, the sharp dwarf
actor . He played Dr. Miguelito Lovelace. Originally Lovelace wanted to
have only the state of California but as he kept reappearing he wound
seek the whole country, or the whole world as his goal. Another villain
on several episodes was Victor Buono as Count Mazeppi (Mazeppi was more
pragmatic - he just sought money ), but while Lovelace was usually
captured Mazeppi usually got away (once in a balloon). It was a pretty
good show actually.
Michael Dunn was dead when the first "reunion" movie was made. Instead Paul Williams played his son. The first television movie took place in Grover Cleveland's first administration (1885 - 1889). Wilfrid Brimley played Cleveland (who with other 1880 leaders has been replaced by duplicates by Miguelito Jr. The head of the Secret Service was Harry Morgan (Robert T. "Skinny" Malone). The obnoxious English diplomat and spy was Rene Auberjonois (Sir David Edney). It was a pleasant ninety minute diversion.
It was so successful a second film was made within a year, again with Conrad and Martin, but bringing in Morgan and Auberjonois as well. This time the villain was Jonathan Winters as Albert Paradine II, who bumps off his four twin brothers with bombs in the beginning of the movie (one I recall is blown up when he starts to cut a knock-wurst he is eating - a ripoff of a similar joke assassination in the film THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU, LTD). Paradine plans to use his inventions to take over the U.S., but first he plans to demolish an international peace conference in Washington.
It is supposed to be the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison (Cleveland's successor, 1889 - 1893). Harrison is never shown, but we see Morgan conferring with Harrison's Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Messinger (Victor Buono). It, of course, was a spoof of Dr. Henry Kissinger, Nixon's and Ford"s Secretary of State. It was not the only spoof of modern diplomatic problems in the movie.
What makes the "Messinger/Kissinger" spoof interesting is that Harrison's Secretary of State was a significant figure - it was former Speaker of the House, Senator from Maine, and Presidential Candidate James Gillispie Blaine. He had been Secretary of State in the brief Garfield Administration (1881), but Harrison reappointed him. An extremely capable and energetic Secretary of State, Blaine kept defending American interests abroad in Samoa, the Behring Straits, and Latin America. He successfully avoided war with Chile in 1891, and also resolved (with President Harrison) an embarrassing diplomatic crisis with Italy in 1890). But in 1889 he did call a major diplomatic conference - the Pan American Conference, where representatives of all of the nations of the hemisphere were invited to confer about common issues and problems. One wonders if this achievement (the first time an American Secretary of State ever tried to bring together foreign nations for such a conference) was heard of by the script writers, who used it as a peg for their plot.
As an entertainment, MORE WILD, WILD WEST is mildly fun to watch - specifically because of Conrad and Martin working so well together together (as always) despite weak material, and the humor of Winters, Buono, Morgan, and (in one sequence only) Dave Madden and Avery Schrieber. The latter was an event in the peace conference that happens that helps (momentarily) to disrupt it. It involves the German Ambassador (Madden), the Russian Ambassador (Schreiber), and the Spanish Ambassador. It has come to the attention of the Secretary of State that Cuba (a Spanish colony at the time) has just gotten a reinforcement of German troops which does not make sense. Why are the Germans there? Madden, caught off guard, starts explaining that the Cubans asked them to assist them in Cuba. But it suddenly becomes known that the Germans were shipped to Cuba by the Russians. Schreiber tries to deny this, but the three diplomats (in protesting too much) manage to reveal some unknown type of skulduggery going on. Schreiber and Madden end up having a physical fight.
Now the thing that a viewer of this television film might not understand in 2005 is how this was a reference to a Carter Administration incident that was on the minds of the script writers. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, while the U.S. Government was perfectly willing to work out their deal to avoid nuclear war with Russia, we naturally kept an eye on Cuba to see that the Russians did take down their missiles as they promised. Russia did comply (as we did with Turkey, where we had missiles). But in late 1979 the U.S. intelligence discovered a build-up of troops in Cuba, mostly from East Germany. The Russians had tried to disguise their current attempt to rearm Castro with men from another client state. This incident (Russia eventually had to remove the German troops - Carter's relative success here was hidden in the disaster of the Iran Hostage Affair)is what is spoofed in the film.
The classic espionage TV series The Wild Wild West, which ran from 1965 to 1969 on CBS, was followed by two TV movie sequels: The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980). The original series episodes ranged from thrilling espionage episodes to more comedic and campy ones, but the follow-up TV movies continued only in the campy and comedic vein. That was considered a let down by some fans of the series who were hoping for something closer to the more serious episodes of the show. I can understand their viewpoint, but I found both movies entertaining for what they were: a fun bit of escapism featuring the reunion of two favorite characters and the actors who played them. The chemistry between these guys can't be beat. Both movies have their weak points, but Conrad and Martin, reunited as an older West and Gordon, make for fun viewing.
I only watched about a half hour of this, but since no one else has
commented I might as well say something.
I had high hopes. The original series was excellent and I recognized the director as the guy who did the very funny Support Your Local Sheriff, but the movie immediately felt a little off. The series was a clever, light-hearted action show with a weird sense of humor, but the movie went for very broad, not especially funny comedy. Martin was in pretty good form but Conrad seemed a little worn out, as though he had become an organic farmer lured back to reprise a role he was no longer too comfortable with. There was also a really dumb British spy.
The best thing was Jonathan Winters, who seems to have watched the series and understands that the villains are not comedic buffoons but rather clever, forceful madmen. Unfortunately he wasn't on screen enough in the first half hour to keep me watching.
I was a big fan of the original show. I have been watching the episodes
on DVD and can see the eventual progression from serious sci-fi western
to campy spoof. The first couple seasons were great. By the fourth
season, competing with Batman, the show was very watered down and
Then came the reunion movie a decade later. It was awful. It was great to see the two leads together again, but the script was just terrible. This sequel was put together and just shows you how far the series has dropped. It's just a bad comedy, bad being the key word. It's hard to believe this is the same show from that first season. West and Gordon are just like a campy Batman and Robin now. They're there to deliver bad '70s attempt at comedy - spoofing various 70s shows like the Hulk and others (Six Million dollar man was horribly spoofed in the first movie). The style from the original series is completely gone. When you cast Jonathan Winters as your villain, you've pretty much admitted it's not a serious show anymore. This movie was for little 8 year boys pretty much, boys who like myself in the 70s, came to know the original show from reruns. No adult of the show could possibly have found these awful films entertaining.
It's always great to see Conrad and Martin together again, those two guys are always great. But the scripts for both of these movies were just absolutely terrible. A real disappointment.
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