According to the introductory comments by Robert Conrad on the DVD set, the stark look of this episode (shot mostly on a dark soundstage with spotlights illuminating the action and highly stylized sets for the bench and jury box) was the vision of director Irving J. Moore. See more »
The word "puppeteer" wasn't coined until about 1915. See more »
Jim West ( Robert Conrad ) is at the home of Justice Vincent Chayne ( John Hoyt ) when he sees children enjoying a puppet show. Without warning, a marionette fires real bullets at first Chayne, then West himself. West peers behind the curtain but there is no-one there. A clue takes him to Triton's, a seedy seaside tavern. Following a brawl with some customers, he escapes into the deeper recesses of the building, becomes trapped in an elevator, and taken to the underground lair of Zachariah Skull ( Lloyd Bochner ), a deranged puppeteer seeking revenge on the Supreme Court that convicted him. West is menaced by one life-sized puppet after another. Skull has harnessed the power of steam to make the puppets do as he wishes...
Even by this show's standards, this is an offbeat episode. Henry Sharp, the writer, had written for 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E', but I think his talents were better employed on this show. Though only puppets, what makes Skull's creations chilling is that they can actually kill. The late Lloyd Bochner seems to have played smooth-talking villains in almost every American adventure series at one time or other - you'll find him in 'Mission: Impossible', 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' and the original 'Battlestar Galactica'. He makes Skull a better-than average baddie. Later we learn that he himself is also a puppet, and that the real Skull ( badly deformed from injuries ) is hiding in the rafters at the centre of what looks like a giant spider's web. The pretty Imelda De Martin plays 'Vivid', Skull's daughter.
Whereas 'U.N.C.L.E.' had the same producer ( Sam Rolfe ) for its first season, 'Wild Wild West' went through several, including Fred Freiburger ( reviled by fantasy fans for his work on 'Star Trek' and 'Space:1999 ), Gene L.Coon ( a guiding light in 'Star Trek's early days ) and John Mantley ( who created 'Gunsmoke' and brought 'Buck Rogers' crashing to Earth in 1980 ). Despite the changes in personnel at the top, the shows are generally consistent in quality.
The unique look of Skull's base recalls those German expressionist films of the '30's, consisting as it does of a bare room with few props and stark lighting. According to Conrad, this was the idea of Irving J.Moore, the director. It certainly contributes to what is already a very entertaining episode.
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