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15 August 2009
JD Cannon plays Gen. Flory, a sadistic French soldier with a Napolean complex who builds an armoured battering ram capable of knocking any train right off the tracks. Using enslaved Mexican coal miners to keep his "monster" running, Flory plans to acquire a section of U.S. territory in which to establish his own Napoleanic rule.

Interestingly shot by director William Witney and director of photography Todd Voitlander, this one contains quite a number of long, gorgeous, if oddly distracting closeups of the cast. One action sequence features Robert Conrad aiming blows directly at the camera as if they were trying to shoot a fight in 3-D. Also noteworthy: West lashed to a giant gong alarm clock is good enough to be an iconic image for "WWW". The real highlight, however, might just be the scene in which a train rolls out of a tunnel, it's engines pulsing to the familiar sound of the Martian war machines from "War Of The Worlds". Searching for it's prey, the "monster" rams a U.S. military train right off the line and into a ravine before rolling back into the shadowy tunnel. The camera then pulls back to reveal West and Flory standing next to what turns out to be an expansive artificial terrain that would make any model train enthusiast drool.

Though the title spotlights a bed over the much niftier train ("Night Of The Iron Horse" might have seemed a better name), on a whole this episode is really quite a fun ride. So all aboard for the oddly-named "Night Of The Deadly Bed".
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State Of The Art
20 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In an opening sequence that can rightly be described as "Wild", the governor of California gets the shock of his life when a bronze bust in his likeness suddenly opens it's eyes and looks back at him. Next, the governor is slipped a paralysing injection and placed into the hollowed out table from which his double has disengaged himself. So begins "The Night Of The Torture Chamber" as the ersatz politician now in charge sets about diverting state funds to an art-obsessed collector who schemes to buy all the great works of art. A strange plot to be sure, but also a refreshing break from the megalomaniacs with a yen to control the world generally favoured by "WWW"'s writers.

Orchestrated with zest by frequent director Alan Crosland Jr., "Night Of The Torture Chamber" benefits from a brisk pace as well as some fine action sequences including a street fight with a pack of thugs that ranks among the most exciting of the series. A well-cast Henry Beckman effectively plays both the kidnapped governor as well as his nervous double. Also noteworthy is the return of the duplicitous secretary to the governor, Miss Piecemeal played by Sigrid Valdis. Previously seen working in the same office in "The Night The Wizard Shook The World" for Dr. Loveless, Miss Piecemeal apparently is an evil secretary for hire. Ross Martin has fun assuming the guise of a stuffy French art appraiser who dupes the villainous Prof. Bolt into thinking his prized collection is one big pile of forgeries. Alfred Ryder, playing art-hungry professor may not be quite among the best of the WWW villains, but this does little to de-value what is otherwise a genuinely entertaining episode.
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The Outer Limits: The Invisible Enemy (1964)
Season 2, Episode 7
Mars Attacks
12 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In "The Invisible Enemy", astronauts journey to Mars in search of answers as to what may have wiped out the crew of a previous mission. The story is populated with underdeveloped characters of little interest (not to mention the surprising revelation that the need for artificial breathing apparatus is optional on mars), but what does work is the considerable suspense generated whenever the astronauts venture out to explore the eerie surface of the planet. Though the second season often gets knocked (and justifiably so) for not being as good as season 1, this episode's ingeniously conceived effects rank among the finest work ever done for "The Outer Limits". For genuinely spine-tingling moments, few in the series can out-do the scene in which a strange object rises out of the surface of the landscape and begins moving through the sand like a fish swims through water. Whatever is under the surface, nothing more is revealed until later when our first real glimpse comes in the startling form of two lobster-like claws reaching out of the sand. Later as the thing's dragon-like head finally makes it's appearance, we see the object that had been cruising across the surface is a dorsal fin mounted on top of it's skull. Zeroing in on motion- or the smell of blood- it literally is a sand-dwelling shark.

After the first doomed expedition made the mistake of not following proper procedure, Earth naturally sends another reckless bunch (this time commanded by Adam West no less). Among the crew is a puzzling officer (Rudy Solari) who considers obeying orders secondary to collecting martian flowers and gathering up little diamonds that litter the sand. Also head-scratching is a scene where West seems to be completely deaf to repeated warnings of the sand shark's presence. Later, West finds temporary safety on a rock, but from the viewer's perspective it seems so small we wonder why the creature doesn't just swim over to the marooned astronaut and gobble him up. Ironically, actor Peter Marko, playing here an astronaut eaten by the marauding sand shark would later show up in the "Star Trek" episode "Galileo Seven" in which he lands on another spooky planet to be crushed by a giant ape.

Anyways, despite the not-so-well-thought-out-script and budgetary limitations, director Byron (The War Of The Worlds) Haskin and the Projects Unlimited team deliver a truly memorable monster that's both frightening, and perhaps even inspirational as one wonders if the graboids of "Tremors" may just be the terrestrial stepchildren of this memorable season 2 horror.
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The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Kraken (1968)
Season 4, Episode 6
Makin' Krakens
24 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The Night Of The Kraken" features perhaps the most frightening super threat of the entire series: a giant squid that attacks both at sea as well as extending it's slithery reach to shore. In the episode's most suspenseful scene, West and a local fisherman watch as a massive disturbance breaks surface right next to their comparatively tiny boat. Never has West's trusty derringer seemed so tiny a defense when a huge coiling tentacle rises out of the water. As the fisherman is dragged kicking and screaming into the depths, West barely manages to save himself by hacking off a portion of the creature's arm. An altogether impressive sequence, even the image of West clinging to the side of the boat makes for a memorable portrait in the show's brilliantly-conceived four scene title logo.

As in other episodes with paranormal themes, there's usually someone behind-the-scenes pulling the strings. In this case, it's a mercenary who's built himself an underwater fortress from which he plans to test a limpet mine capable of seeking and destroying ironclad ships. The kraken itself is revealed to be a mechanical monstrosity built (like in any good "Scooby-doo" episode) to scare off the locals who might uncover the bad guy's nefarious plot.

Though represented only by a single tentacle, the kraken is still quite an ambitious effect for the series to have undertaken. Basically, the illusion is created by disturbing the waters around which the monster's limb rises. Though the mono-filament that actually pulls it up is visible, the attached lines actually give an organic look to the movement of this full-sized prop, thereby enhancing the illusion considerably. Also impressive is the sight of the limpet mine as it appears to move under it's own power straight for it's re-directed target: the underwater fortress. The artistic design of the prototypical scuba apparatus West uses to search the depths features some rather neat baroque touches. The only really bad effect is a shot of the interior of the base's underwater access pipe as it looks no bigger than your kitchen drain.

Ted Knight is surprisingly effective in the guise of a bellowing doom prophet, a cover to protect his true identity as the mastermind behind a plot to destroy the USS Missouri. Like Harvey Korman in "Night Of The Big Blackmail", it's at first odd watching an actor like this, known primarily for his comedy roles, playing it straight as a villain. Still, Knight is able to fit into both parts of his role quite nicely. Decked out in his black leather "bad guy" jacket, Ted's trademark silvery hair looks especially striking. Disappointingly, the complicity of Marj Dusay's character is pretty much given away in the first act, canceling any shock that might have been derived from her eventual confession.

Throughout the episode Ross Martin disguises himself as a Portuguese fisherman, a Swedish repairman (who doesn't want to play any "hinky-dinky games") and a henchman who looks like Rick Springfield with a handle bar mustache. And in each case, it's clear that no matter what face he adopted, Ross always looked pretty snappy with a little facial hair.

Richard Shore's music well captures both the awesome size and dangerous presence of the kraken, and his use of metal drums imbues more than one sequence with a particularly cool vibe.

As spy vs. squid tales go, one is not likely to find any better than this.
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The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Brain (1967)
Season 2, Episode 21
Brainiac
14 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A madman tips off West to a series of impending assassinations so perfectly planned that they occur right in front of the Secret Service agent without his being able to prevent them.

The veteran character actor Edward Andrews plays the calculating evil genius of the week, Mr. Braine. Andrews was a familiar face in comedies from the 1960's including the Disney classics "The Absent-Minded Professor" and "Son Of Flubber", so it's quite a switch to see this guy, usually cast as lovably befuddled types, playing a demento so mean he kills a henchman for missing a button on his uniform. The prerequisite scene in which Braine explains his grand scheme for world domination features Andrews doing some powerful scenery-chewing, followed up by a globe bursting into flames to accentuate his point. Frankly, with his feathery haircut and excessive use of eyebrow pencil, Andrews looks kind of silly here. However, in an episode filled with gadgets (one scene includes both a trap door & an ejector seat), Andrew's Mr. Braine gets the coolest prop of all: a nifty self-propelled wheelchair equipped with rockets and nasty triangular blades for people-gutting.

As stated above, "The Night Of The Brain" has quite a high gadget (and action) content, which is fine as these are certainly among the main attractions to this kind of escapist entertainment. At the same time, there are nagging little aspects that do stick out and bother a fan. For example:

-employing knockout gas is all well and good, but relying on it three times in the same episode may be over doing it a bit.

-West takes on a trio of guards, one of whom apparently misses his mark and blocks the camera before stepping out of the shot. Odder still is how Artie simply watches from the sidelines instead of helping West take them out.

-Mr. Braine pursuing West with his steam-powered wheelchair is fairly exciting and well shot- that is, until the end when unimaginative staging doesn't show West using any kind of cleverness to get himself out of trouble. He just suddenly jumps on board the armored conveyance and sends Mr. Braine rolling to his doom.

-Also stretching it a bit (so to speak): Gordon's "double identity" is a tad unbelievable as it would imply Artie carries on him the means to whip up full facial appliances in little more time than it would take to read the front page of a newspaper.

Interestingly, "The Night Of The Brain" is helmed by Larry Peerce, who over the years made terrific films like "Goodbye Columbus", and directed everyone from Henry Fonda & Elizabeth Taylor in "Ash Wednesday" to Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch in "The Ghost Busters" for Saturday morning TV. Hm, considering a career as varied as his, perhaps he was particularly in his element for this good, if uneven episode.
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Movie Piracy
31 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A refreshing switch from the usual evil genius seeking to take over the world, in "The Night Of The Big Blackmail" West and Gordon smuggle a 19th century version of a motion picture film out of the embassy of an unnamed European country. The film in question shows a staged act of treachery in which a dead ringer for president Ulysses S. Grant appears to sign a defense agreement with an "unsavoury foreign nation". Since copies have undoubtedly been made, West and Gordon hatch a plan to sneak back inside the embassy, this time with a little movie of their own.

With the sort of plot you'd expect to from an episode "Mission: Impossible" (but done a lot more entertainingly than that series was ever capable of pulling off), "...Black Mail" features all kinds of elaborate action including an opening sequence that finds West dangling precariously outside of embassy windows and later evading patrolling guard dogs. To keep watchful henchmen from realizing they're not on board the train, Artie creates the illusion of silhouettes moving in the window with a pair of cut-outs riding a toy train (much like what Kevin did to fool the burglars in "Home Alone"). However, Artie goes one step further here than Macauley Culkin by leaving a trip wire for the snooping bad guys that releases a cloud of neutralizing gas.

Once inside the embassy, the two agents discover an awesome security device designed to protect the kinetiscope: a huge piston acting as a vault door and powered by thousands of pounds of steam pressure to keep what's on the other side safely locked within.

Next, in one of the season's most thrilling extended sequences, West subdues the crew in the steam room while Gordon works to switch the contents of the box inside the vault. A neat touch here is that the door is designed to stay open only as long as someone keeps their hand on the locking lever, forcing Gordon to move out of the way of the crushing piston whenever an unconscious steam room worker comes to. Especially great is the moment when two henchmen awaken at the same time presenting West with the tricky task of fighting off both thugs while trying to keep one hand on the vault lever.

The late, great Harvey Korman does a nice job here as Baron Hinterstoisser, the mastermind behind the plot to discredit Grant. Though his casting might now seem an odd choice, we have to remember this was 1968 when the Carol Burnett Show was still new to the airwaves, and it would be several years before Korman's appearances in screen parodies like "Blazing Saddles" made him most closely identified as a comedic actor. Also, it's just nice to see him get to play a role so different in tone from the kinds of things he was usually offered.

As for little problems here and there, well, the hoaxed film sequence isn't entirely believable thanks to the obviously hand-held motion of the camera. After all, why would Grant do something so incriminating when he'd have to be blind not to be aware of it's presence? A scene where the agents become trapped in a room with a disappearing floor seems pretty much lifted from an earlier "Man From U.N.C.L.E." episode in which Illya Kuryakin faces a similar peril and, if truth be told, the "U.N.C.L.E." version worked a lot better.

On a whole though, with it's nifty storyline, some well-executed action sequences, terrific art direction as well as Richard Shore's compellingly cool music, "The Night Of The Big Blackmail" is one mission that's well accomplished.
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Bad Dog!
9 May 2008
A rockin' good fourth season episode, "The Night Of The Bleak Island" has West traveling to the island of a deceased millionaire who has bequeathed to the government one of his most prized possessions, the Moon Diamond. Upon his arrival, West learns of the island's legendary reputation as the hunting ground for a blood-thirsty spectral dog, and if this is starting to sound a lot like "The Hound Of The Baskervilles", wait'll you hear about the Sherlock Holmes-like British detective who arrives just in time for all the fun. Borrowing quite liberally from Arthur Conan-Doyle's classic story, Robert E. Kent's script entertainingly poses the question "what if agent James West were to join forces with a character very much like Conan-Doyle's famous detective?" Nicely played by the actor John Williams, British sleuth Sir Nigel Scott arrives on the trail of one Dr. Jacob Calendar, a faceless Prof. Moriarty facsimile who he believes is also on the island. When a butler is murdered and the diamond is stolen, West and Sir Nigel attempt to determine which among a group of greedy inheritors is responsible. Robert Conrad and John Williams display a surprising chemistry as an oddly-matched crime fighting team, and the perfectly cast Williams is easily the best of the guest partners brought in to sub for an ailing Ross Martin who'd suffered a heart attack during the 4th season.

This is a twisty tale, eerily enhanced by a continually howling wind, punctuated occasionally with the howls of the titular demonic dog. It's an episode that's difficult to find any real fault with- although, when he finds himself trapped in a dry well, West's rock climbing hooks seem a tad too convenient to just happen to have up his sleeves. Also, sharp-eyed baby-boomers will find themselves taken out of the story for a moment when they surely recognize that the boat West uses to get to the island is the S.S. Minnow from "Gilligan's Island". Just the same though, if "Wild, Wild West" producers could borrow from Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, then why not also Sherwood Schwartz?
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The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Falcon (1967)
Season 3, Episode 10
A Direct Hit
21 January 2008
The agents must locate a super cannon capable of destroying an entire city.

A motley crew of international criminals bid on a megalomaniac's doomsday weapon. In order to crash the auction, Arte passes himself off as adeceased South American crime lord while West attempts to enter the Falcon's nest through a booby-trapped entrance.

As the smiling bad guy Felice Munez, Ross Martin displays both arrogant machismo as well as "extra-ordinary" charm. His fellow bidders include a monocle-wearing German munitions merchant, an Eastern opium pusher and a British gentleman thug with a switch blade in his walking stick. Playing the evil Falcon is none other than a pre-fame Robert Duvall. And though it doesn't have any lines, playing just as pivotal a role in this episode is the super cannon everyone wants to get their hands on. Few moments in the history of "Wild, Wild West" can match the impact of the moment in which the enormous weapon (beautifully designed in the shape of a giant falcon) makes it grand entrance trundling out from behind massive doors as assembled characters, quite appropriately gaze in awe of it's grandeur. Of all the props ever built for "Wild, Wild West", the falcon cannon is surely the most impressive.

While much of this big-scale episode works very well, there is the odd misstep here and there as when West knocks out a guard who appears for a moment to be unsure if he was supposed to go down while in another scene an aging bad guy shakes off two attacking henchmen with unlikely ease. Also, the sight of the Falcon's headquarters in flames looks terribly unconvincing by today's standards. However, such flaws do little to diminish the impact of this superior entry, and coming in a season where stories seemed to concentrate on western themes at the expense of the "wild" component, "The Night Of The Falcon" delivers both with pinpoint accuracy.
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Prospecting
1 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The Night Of The Feathered Fury" centres around Count Manzeppi's bid to acquire an item of singular value: a toy chicken with the power of the legendary Philosopher's Stone to transmute any object into gold. Played with style by Damon Packard-clone Victor Buono, Manzeppi performs feats of legerdemain to dazzle West and Gordon when he isn't attempting to kill them. Of the methods of assassination he employs, the most unique is a grenade-tossing monkey. In one of the best scenes in the entire series, Manzeppi serves up a feast to a captured West. "If you can't beat 'em," he observes as he lifts a sterling food tray cover to reveal a hand holding a gun, "kill 'em.". Another exciting scene features some clever security devices hidden on West's train car. Also cool is a henchmen who carries a ball-in-cup novelty that's really a spring-loaded weapon.

The smoky-voiced Michelle Carey plays one of the more alluring in WWW's roster of bad girls, but it's really Buono who commands the centre stage with his effortless mixture of humour and deviousness. A performance that seems even more astounding when one considers that Buono (looking here like a man in his late 40's) was at the time a mere 28 years old. His casting (like Michael Dunn's Dr. Loveless) was dead on and it's just a shame Buono wasn't brought back for further reprisals of the character.

In a series that occasionally worked elements of fantasy into it's plots, one can accept the existence of a legendary artifact capable of turning objects into gold. However, acceptance might have come more esily had they disguised the object in question as something other than a toy chicken of all things. Still, this doesn't change the fact that "The Night Of The Feathered Fury" is a solid gold entry.
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Down The Rabbit Hole.
24 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A virtually perfect episode beginning with U.N.C.L.E. headquarters being thrown into an uproar after radar detects the approach of a mysterious object. The object in question turns out to be a toy airplane containing the sardonic message "Boom! You're dead."

As it turns out, this fake attack comes on the eve of an important conference of world leaders set to be held at U.N.C.L.E.'s New York headquarters. But when civilian Kay Lorison, (Zohra Lampert) unwittingly becomes a "guest" of U.N.C.L.E., Napolean and Illya must find the source of this and other recent breaches in security before the conference can convene. Little do they know however that a professor of logic, Mr Hemingway (Richard Hadyn) has been putting the agents through their paces in order to expose U.N.C.L.E.'s vulnerability to attack. Nor are they aware that a deep-cover THRUSH agent named Riley (Peter Haskell) plans to wipe out the visiting dignitaries using a conference table molded out of an explosive material.

Easily one of the best scripts to utilize the "innocent drawn into the world of espionage" (a story convention used many times throughout the series), "Mad, Mad Tea Party" is a potent mixture of both danger and character-driven humour. Zohra Lampert is excellent as Kay, a nervous bride-to-be dissatisfied with the banality of her life, who finds more excitement than she could ever imagine when Mr. Hemingway literally shoves her through the looking glass of Delflorio's shop right into the UNITED NETWORK COMMAND FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT. At one point guppies are discovered in the building's drinking water system (another present from the mysterious Mr. Hemingway) prompting Kay to quite accurately observe "I did fall into a rabbit hole, and this is a mad, mad tea party!"

Richard Hadyn's Mr. Hemingway makes an enjoyable, mirth-making gadfly. In one scene he wanders through headquarters and brazenly stops Napolean and Illya to ask for directions in how to get around this high security installation he's not even supposed to be in.

One particularly funny moment comes towards the end when the eventually captured Hemingway and Kay are both brought to the conference room where the dignitaries are set to gather. The single key to the room is passed from agent to agent like a bucket brigade, and eventually even Kay gets a turn handing off the key like she's now one of team. Later, when she finds herself among the world leaders who've come for the conference, an amazed Kay asks Solo, "do you know who's in there?" Solo: "Well, I have a pretty good idea." Kay: "And they talked to me!"

The spy tech aspect is very thrilling with the attack by the radio-controlled plane leading to the appearance of a nifty roof-mounted laser gun that rolls out to try and bring down the approaching target. The villain of the piece, Riley, employs a fountain pen which, when jabbed into the cranium of a victim, emits a high frequency pulse that homogenizes the brain. The scene where Riley is exposed before his disguised bomb can detonate is quite suspenseful, as is a hand-to-hand fight sequence between the THRUSH agent and Solo in the tight confines of an elevator.

Great story. Solid direction by Seymour Robbie and Lampert and Haydn give among the best performances of any two guest stars in the history of the series. Quite a party indeed.
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Serenity (2005)
Miranda
2 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
While that lumbering Bon Jovi-like song that every episode of the TV series was forced to fly in under is thankfully missing, the colourful crew of the good ship Serenity makes the journey from television to motion picture wholly intact. Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) is still his charming, if at times coldly autocratic self. Though he says he cares about "me and mine" aboard his ship, Mal can also be a tad obsessive and, occasionally, downright cold when it comes to what he figures is necessary.

In this story, the oppressive ruling government is personified by a lethal individual known only as "the operative", who does not appreciate dissent anymore than Captain Mal takes kindly to his crew questioning his decisions. A fact made clear during the crew's perilous journey to a planet called Miranda where ultimate truths lay waiting both for the enigmatic River (Summer Glau) as well as for the operative, whose mission it is to keep hidden the facts of what occurred on this mysterious world. The lengths that both the operative as well as Mal will go, believing their means will surely justify the ends, bears real significance on the outcome of this story.

The movie's effects work is all impressively done with the smuggler's ship Serenity (resembling something like a metal dog and a collection of garbage cans) flying into some screen-filling outer space warfare. Even more awesome is the film's stunning climactic fight sequence in which River, summoning all of her impressive abilities, single-handedly takes on a horde of mutant cannibals known as Reavers. Excellently shot, energetically choreographed and beautifully performed by actress Summer Glau, this battle is deliriously fun to watch and ends with an image of triumph that's as cool as anything you've ever seen in a movie. Coming on the heels of his other creation, Buffy the vampire slayer, the character of River confirms Joss Whedon's undeniable gift for creating memorable screen heroines.

One quibble with this screen adaption is Whedon's decision to kill off established characters as if he felt there was no reason to keep the entire crew breathing for a possible sequel. A disappointing and very questionable decision indeed.

That aside, this is still an action-packed adventure with an interesting cast of nicely defined characters. It's message (that what's right to some is not necessarily right for all, and that authority sometimes must be questioned) is well conveyed, and even timely. "Serenity" is definitely a worthwhile ride.
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Tin Soldier
19 September 2007
Col. Torres' shattered body is surgically repaired and reinforced with metal parts. Now endowed with super strength, the vengeful cyborg embarks on a quest to punish those from his regiment he holds responsible for his injuries. Among the names on his hit-list is President Ulysses S. Grant.

Technically quite superior for the time it was filmed, "The Night Of The Steel Assassin" features some outstanding makeup work including one particularly impressive shot in which Col. Torres receives a bullet to the face. Shockingly, the projectile tears a strip of flesh right off his forehead revealing nothing but metal beneath. Another effective touch is the weird electronic echo in Torres' voice that makes him sound as if he were speaking through a gramophone.

Col. Torres (played to grim perfection by John Dehner) plans to kill the visiting President Grant using guided missiles made to look like fourth of July sky rockets. West, despite being bound and hung from the ceiling, manages to divert the missiles' aim causing both rockets to spectacularly sail into the room where he is being held.

Though generally well directed by Lee H. Katzin, "...Steel Assassin" does at times suffer from an uneven sense of pace as in one plodding scene in which a miscast Sue Ann Langdon undergoes an all too lengthy hypnosis session, and a dance hall sequence also becomes rather tedious to watch. Still, the action sequences are very exciting; Col. Torres is both a menacing villain as well as a genuinely interesting character (sort of like a Dr. Loveless played without the humour); Richard Markowitz's music is superb and the episode's extensive model work, while not always completely convincing, is nevertheless always fun to inspect.

As first season episodes go, this one is, indeed, nicely forged.
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In Justice
30 August 2007
While passing through the little town of Justice, Nevada, Jim and Arte stumble upon a summit meeting of international criminals. One of the most enjoyable aspects of "The Night Of The Poisonous Posey" is the cast of colourful criminals that includes:

-Cyril, the world's sweatiest pyromaniac

-the metal glove wielding Brutus (played by one of the great movie trailer narrators, Percy Rodriguez)

-the chairperson of the criminal board, the ruthless Lucrese Posey (British actress Delphi Lawrence)

-and as the dapper gangster, Ascot Sam, Ross Martin gets to play one his funniest characters. Under a bowler hat and carrying a bamboo cane he dances into a board room meeting just in time to save West from being shot by Miss Posey. Particularly amusing is the part in which Martin's carefree pose evaporates into nervous anxiety as West appears ready to expose him as a "fink".

Director Alan Crosland Jr. orchestrates the action sequences with lots of neat setups and effective editing. Also impressive is Robert Conrad's dedication to doing his own stunts as in one scene in which a charging horse comes mighty close to trampling the actor's leg. The most interesting scene is an extended sequence in which West and Gordon are stalked in an ice house by a villainous gunslinger (H.M. Wynant). Not a word is spoken as the three characters stealthily move about a visually interesting backdrop of stacked ice cakes. Finally, there's the second season's most impressive prop: a revolving pipe organ that also functions like a gigantic revolver firing round after round as it plays a single mournful note.

With lots of action and a particularly strong guest cast, "The Night Of The Poisonous Posey" is a solid season 2 entry.
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Big Brother (II) (2000– )
Janelle
11 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Those who've won at the game of "Big Brother" usually can't say they didn't tell a fib or two along the road to victory. Seems to go with the territory. However, when there's a clear distinction between the more or less honest players and the consistently deceitful, this is when "Big Brother" can be a most absorbing contest to follow.

Such was the case in season 6. A line in the sand was drawn between the "Sovereign alliance" and the somewhat ironically named "Friendship Alliance" (later dubbed the "nerd-herd"). When the Sovereigns evicted the nerd-herd's leader (a pushy type "A" dictator named "Cappy"), the nerd-herders then eliminated the Sovereign's leader, an Iraqi-American named Kayzar. However, when asked which player they would like to see return to the game, viewers voted overwhelmingly to bring back Kayzar. Then in the next Head Of Household competition, nerd-herder Jennifer tearfully swore on her life that she'd nominate someone outside of Kayzar's alliance..if he let her be HOH. Kayzar agreed, and then, in one of the most under-handed double-crosses in the history of "Big Brother", Jennifer put Kayzar up for eviction, and with the help of her alliance, evicted the player that America had voted for in droves to return to the game. Amazingly, the nerd-herders would later scratch their heads in puzzlement over why viewers didn't seem to like them.

With Kayzar out, a particular Sovereign member next on their list, and another HOH victory expected for the nerd-herders, things looked pretty rosy for this bunch. But, they were soon to learn who it was they were dealing with.

At first glance, Janelle Pierzina seemed like just another pretty blonde, probably hoping to jump-start a career in show business through a stint on a reality show. Therefore, nothing special. Well, the truth is: one underestimates this girl at their own peril. For though the nerd-herders now had her in their sights, Janelle was not about to go gentle into that good eviction. Already a veteran of the hot-seat, Janelle refused to bow to those who'd put her there, and fearlessly mocked them as if she hadn't a care in the world. The most hilarious example was when sister sovereignist Rachel entered and Janelle commented, "Rachel, you're so beautiful," before spotting nerd-herder Maggie and casually added "Maggie, you're such a b*tch."

It was at the most crucial moment in the game, both for her and her alliance, that Janelle would heroically win the next Head of Household competition, and when host Julie Chen asked Janelle who she wished to nominate for eviction, Janelle playfully feigned a moment of deep deliberation before naming the deceitful Jennifer, and then Maggie, the new nerd-herd leader, with Jennifer eventually receiving her well-deserved eviction. The war was on.

Back and forth the struggle raged. When Janelle wasn't HOH, she was winning veto competitions that kept her from being evicted. In time, the Sovereignists were whittled away until Janelle stood alone. But once again winning for herself a life-saving veto, she triumphantly forced the "friendship alliance" to evict one of their own. Indeed, every attempt by the nerd-herd to eliminate this blonde thorn in their sides failed...that is, until one crucial 11th hour competition didn't go her way, and "Jedi-Janie" became the last evictee. Maggie would win the $500,000.

Then the "All Star" seventh season rolled around giving Janelle another shot at that top prize, and initially, things went very well for Janie and her "Season 6 Alliance". They dominated in the first few weeks, sending home with impressive speed such past "BB" vets as Jase and even better, the icky Alison.

However, thanks in part to some bad quarterbacking by fellow returnee Kayzar and also a certain whiny little mole working within their ranks, the season 6 alliance began to lose power. Soon Janelle found herself in a familiar position: standing alone against a house determined to evict her.

She could never fully depend on the support of her "pals" (the absurdly conceited, extremely oily dermatologist, Will and his servile life-partner, Mike), so Janelle, in yet another impressive display of pluck, athleticism and brains, astonished her competitors as well as elated home viewers by winning numerous competitions to retain her place in the house. Her streak just remarkable, and though she'd come so far and fought so hard, in the end, sadly another late-day challenge didn't go her way and Janelle was evicted just shy of the final two. It was so disheartening to see it happen to her again.

In the final analysis though, money comes and goes, but Janelle may have achieved something much more enduring. For now she's become something of a legend, but not just for winning more challenges than any player in the game's history. When she slapped the smugness off the face of "Chilltown" by evicting Will, the so-called "puppet master" from the house, she also reminded us that this girl is nobody to mess with. Indeed, in the estimation of many, Janelle Pierzina has retained for herself the distinction of being the most astonishing competitor in the history of reality TV.
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Left Some Big Tracks
17 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
After CBS ran the prime time special "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?", Bigfoot, overnight, became a pop culture sensation. Reports of encounters (even one of an alleged kidnapping committed by the forest giant) increased receiving major media attention. Indeed, "Monsters..." became the highest-rated television documentary ever broadcast (a record that was still intact as recently as the early 1990's and may possibly even hold to this day).

In addition to Bigfoot, the hour-long program also took a look at the ongoing search for two other elusive creatures: the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman. Personal accounts by eye witnesses were included as well as lots of interesting photos- though, curiously, the famous 1967 Bluff Creek film of an alleged Sasquatch was not among the evidence presented. In response to the public's now rabid fascination with Bigfoot, the documentary was re-edited and released a couple years later in theatres under the title "The Mysterious Monsters". While this version did include additional actor recreations, alleged audio recordings of the creature and, best of all, the Bluff Creek film blown up to 35mm glory for the big screen, it was still largely the same material shown in the TV version. Also, a particular disappointment about the re-tooled movie release is the absence of original host Rod Serling.

Of course, "Monsters! Mysteries Or Myths?" didn't prove the existence of anything. It only presented the cases for and against the possibility that missing links and lake monsters were alive and among us in the 20th century. The featured experts who expressed doubt in these theories were, predictably, not as much fun to listen to as were the true believers. One especially entertaining re-creation of an alleged encounter featured actor Richard Kiel playing a sasquatch that crashes a boyscout camping trip.

As documentaries on crypto-zoology go, "Monsters! Mysteries Or Myths?" is one of the best ever made-- even if it IS now dated in spots. For example, the famous "Surgeon's Photo" offered as evidence in support of Nessie's existence has since then been exposed as a fake. Overall though, it holds up pretty well and clearly served as the template for similarly themed shows that followed in it's tracks like "In Search Of" and "Unsolved Mysteries".
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Killer Party
13 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is "Wild, Wild West" working at nearly every level.

The plot: West Gordon and Gordon must accompany a scientist to Grevely manor for a meeting of a tontine (a group investing in a common fortune with the last surviving member being the only one who collects). However, it seems one member is attempting to improve their odds of collecting by killing off the other investors. Drawing on Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" for inspiration, this episode quickly develops into an action-packed whodunit.

For gadgetry, the famous derringer slides out of Jim's sleeve for a welcome appearance. The heel of his boot also comes off revealing another handy item hidden inside. Some unique methods of assassination come in the form of an electrified book as well as an armchair-- no, make that an "armed chair", a neat metaphor for all the backstabbing going on in the story.

Actionwise, instead of taking on an entire roomful of bad guys as is his custom, West engages hooded henchmen one-at-a-time in the spooky passageways of Grevely manor and also gets himself trapped in a room with a wall of spikes slowly closing in on him. Plus, in one of the series' more elaborately-designed jeopardies, West finds himself hog-tied to an explosives-laden rail cart. Beneath the cart, rockets are attached to propel him down a railroad track leading to an exit out the side of a cliff where a sheer drop to the ocean awaits.

As West tells the hooded villain in charge, "you shouldn't have gone to all this trouble for such a short trip."

"Tontine" gives Ross Martin a chance to add Scottish to his catalogue of accents, and though plot wise his need to be disguised in this one seems a bit unclear, you gotta admit the blonde hair he sports really does something for him.

Among the guest cast there's recognizable character actor Robert Emhardt as Mr. Grevely, the sardonic host of the investor's party. Henry Darrow is amusing and suave as a deposed member of European royalty and, coolest of all, Mike Road, best known as the voice of Race Bannon in the "Johnny Quest" series, plays the mastermind behind all the untimely deaths.

With it's high-action content amidst the murder mystery plot, colourful cast, terrific scoring by Richard Markowitz, and even a nifty setting in Grevely Manor (an obvious but still quite artistically designed miniature), "Night Of The Tottering Tontine" is easily one of the best episodes of "WWW's" sophomore season.
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Lame games
3 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Easily one of the goofiest reality-type competitions ever produced, "Fame Games" has celebrities from previous seasons of "The Surreal Life" once again living together in a fabulous mansion. However, this time they're all there to compete in a series of events which will eliminate one of them a week until the winner is crowned at the end. Sounds like it should be fun, and granted, the amusing (and occasionally crude) shenanigans we expect when the celebrities interact still occur as when Tracy Bingham spends the night in Verne Troyer's bedroom. In fact, these two are funny enough to spin-off into a show of their own. "Stranger Love" maybe.

What defeats "Fame Games" is the game show portion which is badly designed and, at times, downright cruel. Example: the first challenge had the stars posing for pictures requested by fans. The two receiving the fewest requests would be declared the losers, and watching this play out, one just can't help but cringe along with the humiliated celebrities who weren't being asked to pose for as many pics as the other competitors. 

Competition losers get consigned to the "B List": a section of the mansion where the food isn't as good, and the perks not as perky. This wasn't really so bad though as it gave some of them added incentive to compete that much harder.

The worst challenge of all was probably when the celebs were asked to phone as many famous friends as they knew to see how many would return their calls. After all the responses were received, an expert in pop culture came in to rank the celebrity status of the acquaintances who were nice enough to call back. This sent returning "Surreal Life" vet Vanilla Ice into another one of his infamous tirades, demanding all his friends be removed from the list as he didn't want them to suffer the indignity of being ranked.

Particularly strange was the expert brought in to judge: she of the dorky glasses, former MTV VJ Kennedy was deemed qualified to determine which of the celebrities who called could probably get a good table at a posh restaurant. As a judge, it appeared that Kennedy was as intimidated by Vanilla Ice's rant as she was suckered by the tears of "Poor me, I don't know many stars", Andrea Lowell. After a very questionable job of name ranking, competitor Chyna Doll was sent home with the Fame Gamers (and viewers) left shaking their heads over the absurdity of Kennedy's rulings.

Similarly strange, the decision of who would win the grand prize was left up to actress/comedian Kathy Griffin. While she may be well-known for her love of reality TV, choosing the winner based on completely subjective stuff like who, in Griffin's opinion, gave the better improvised acceptance speech and who was the better dancer, really felt like it negated the validity of the final outcome. And though it was nice to see Traci Bingham win, it seemed like a debatable choice next to her much craftier co-finalist, Ron Jeremy.

"Fames Games" wasn't a well-conceived show, and it certainly wasn't very concerned with the feelings of it's stars (after all, does C.C. Deville really need to learn that his name got the fewest hits on Google of anyone there?). If the producers are smart (and if this show is re-newed), they'll return to the traditional concept of The Surreal Life: a dysfunctional family of famous and quasi-famous people trying to co-exist for a couple weeks under the same roof. Now that's fun.
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The New Avengers: Complex (1977)
Season 2, Episode 10
Scapina
10 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Agents Purdey, Gambit and John Steed travel to Toronto in search of an elusive spy named Scapina.

Inside a high security building, a nervous snitch with information about a breach in security awakens from a clobbering. The only ones in the room are Steed and a few others with top clearance but the fellow throws a fit claiming that Scapina is present. Terrified, he backs up against a window which opens sending the guy plunging to his death. So the question is: who is the mole and how is he stealing information from within this maximum security facility? Quite easily it turns out. For the culprit is actually the building's mainframe computer (code name: "Scapina"), and it monitors everyone within the building via security cameras. When it spots anyone coming too close to the truth, the computer takes steps to end their snooping permanently.

In Dennis Spooner's script, the super computer becomes quite an efficient assassin employing various means within the building to kill those who threaten it's security. As stated above, one opportunity comes when it simply opens a window at the right moment. Later, another opportunity arises when with shocking speed a guy is flipped into an incinerator chute. One second you see the man walking down a hallway into the path of an electric eye, the next you see a section of floor tilting up into the wall like a draw bridge. The poor guy isn't even seen tumbling inside, just muffled screams coming from within the wall. When the now empty panel flips back over, the readout on Scapina's monitor lists him as "Terminated- and Incinerated". Quite chilling, so to speak.

In another scene, Purdey is about to enter an elevator with a Canadian agent when in the blink of an eye the floor beneath him opens up and he, too vanishes.

Aware that Purdey knows of it's activities, Scapina locks down the otherwise empty building to keep her inside as it begins looking for other methods to kill her. At one point, Purdey walks past a metal grill when the air conditioning suddenly reverses catching her skirt and ripping it off her legs.

A neat touch: the sound of the computer at work is a rhythmic heartbeat-like pounding that adds a pervasive feeling of menace, and the towering skyscraper in which most of the story takes place proves an effective setting.

There have actually been a number of stories like this done for television over the years. Shows like "The X-Files", "The New Outer Limits", "Probe" and the lousy TV-movie "The Tower" have all featured computers usually in control of a building that go haywire and start killing people. Having said that, with the only complaint being the now dated look of the super-computer of 1976, this effectively told story of man against machine may just be the best told of the bunch. It's certainly a fine entry to the uneven "New Avengers" series.
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The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Raven (1966)
Season 2, Episode 3
Li'l Agent
17 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Especially wild even for this series, "The Night Of The Raven" has Dr. Loveless inventing a formula that can reduce any exposed subject to the size of a gerbil. When West smokes a cigar treated with this drug, the secret service man shrinks down to 6 inches in height. An Indian princess (Phyliss Newman) being held captive by Loveless is also miniaturized, and together West and the girl get to sit on a table between two giant candlesticks as the Dr. and Antoniette do their customary musical number.

There's not much that really works about the story until West starts interacting with the now giant environment around him. Thanks to the artistry of the set designers who built some impressive over-sized props, the best moments include:

West being chased by a huge rolling 8 ball;

a gargantuan house cat;

and an obstacle in the form of a man-sized mouse trap.

It's all pretty absurd but surprisingly exciting as long as you don't ask too many logical questions, like, for example:

-why does the strand of spider webbing West uses for a rope not stick to his flesh as you'd expect it would to a fly?

-when West steals a sip of the restorative formula, how come his clothes also return to normal size? Maybe Arte invented some extra stretchy clothes for Jim to wear just in case a problem like miniaturization were ever to arise.

No, "WWW"'s writers couldn't always be bothered trying to figure out solutions to these roadblocks in logic. Instead, they just filled episodes with action galore and hoped we'd be too entertained to ask such questions, and to be fair, most of the time their strategy worked.
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Magic
12 March 2007
A fully loaded 1977 "Doctor Who" classic featuring:

-The Doctor strolling through shadowy London streets wearing a Sherlock Holmes-inspired deerstalker cap.

-Leela out of her animal skin dress but still ready to rumble in ankle length Victorian-era garb.

-Also on board: a sinister magician in the service of his Phantom of the Opera-like master.

-Young wenches drained of their life energy to prolong the existence of a twisted time traveling scientist.

-A ventriloquist dummy that's actually a deadly organic/robotic hybrid (played by Deep Roy from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" no less).

-GIANT KILLER RATS! Okay, maybe not very convincing ones. But still, Giant Killer Rats prowling through the sewers.

-A huge sculpted dragon (quite impressive in scale considering the limited budget) that shoots death rays from it's eyes,

-and all these elements revolving around the search for a crystal key that opens another TARDIS-like time travel conveyance.

-The absurdly over-played Weng-Chiang aside, this one features terrific performances. Of particular note is the chemistry between the supporting characters Mr. Jago and Prof. Lightfoot.

"Talons.." is a "Doctor Who" episode that neither time nor dated effects can diminish the enjoyment of.
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"Code 20-A"
10 February 2007
(continued): which of course any agent can tell you means that Mr. Waverly, section chief of U.N.C.L.E. is down. More specifically, he's been poisoned by THRUSH in this exceptional entry that has just about everything you could ask for in a "Man From U.N.C.L.E." episode.

The unconscious Waverly is rushed to a hospital where, unbeknown-st to Solo and Kuryakin, the demented Dr. Debree (played by the "Bride Of Frankentstein" herself, Elsa Lanchester) is experimenting with a machine that can alter the brains of top government officials and diplomats. While the agents try to ascertain who it was that poisoned their chief, Dr. Debree secretly prepares to add Mr. Waverly to the list of those who've been rendered "half-killed" by her machine.

In addition to the marvelous casting of Lanchester, there's also fine support from guest star Abraham Soefar as the head of U.N.C.L.E.'s Eastern division who arrives to take charge in Waverly's absence. Ex-pro football player turned actor Rosie Grier plays an U.N.C.L.E. agent assigned to protect Waverly, and future "Bat-Girl" Yvonne Craig plays the episode's requisite "innocent" haplessly dragged into the middle of another conflict between U.N.C.L.E. and the forces of THRUSH.

"The Brain Killer Affair" excellently showcases the charisma co-stars Vaughn and McCallum possessed that made them so great in their respective roles. In one scene, Vaughn stands in a room full of mannequins and as he ponders his next move he scratches his chin using the hand off of one of the mannequins. In fact, this suave actor was quite a master when it came to injecting sly humour into almost any episode, but never at the expense of the dramatic and suspenseful aspects of the story.

Likewise, David McCallum, by simply emerging from of an elevator, demonstrates that he is an actor possessed of undeniable presence. Whether it was his physical appearance or perhaps something about the way he carried himself, McCallum made Illya Kuyakin fascinatingly cool to watch, and without having to say much of anything at all.

Featuring some nicely staged action in the 4th act showdown, the proper balance of intrigue and humour is well maintained by the great James Goldstone, demonstrating once again that he was one of the best directors ever to work in television. A shame this was his only episode for the series.

"The Brain Killer Affair" also features possibly the best scoring for any single episode, courtesy of music legend, Jerry Goldsmith who also supplied the U.N.C.L.E. main title theme. In fact, several of his cues from this episode were used in later episodes.

Aside from the fact that the brain draining machine sounds more like a cake mixer than it does a sophisticated device, this is still pretty much a perfect episode that holds up extremely well despite the decades that have passed since it was first broadcast.
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The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973 TV Movie)
A List
23 January 2007
Reasons to recommend this TV-movie:

The story centres around an evil druid artifact that threatens the passengers and crew of an airliner in flight. Now how much more potential for good creepy fun could a premise hold? It's like something Matheson and Lovecraft might have put their heads together to come up with.

Eerie phenomena galore as the windows on a aircraft suddenly frost over as if blasted by an arctic breeze, spooky sounds (borrowed from "Forbidden Planet") echo through the plane and a flight officer inside an on board elevator is turned into a frozen corpse.

Great atmospheric music courtesy of Morton "Hawaii Five-0" Stevens.

William Shatner in one of his best post "Star Trek" roles plays an ex-priest who reclaims his faith to combat the evil force threatening the plane. It's almost too good to be true seeing Shatner once again on a plane encountering the supernatural just as he did in the similarly titled "Nightmare At 30,000 Feet" episode of "The Twilight Zone." And he's really good in this, too.

Roy Thinnes from "The Invaders" and "The Norliss Tapes" comes along for the ride playing the guy who brought the cursed artifact on board.

Also on the passenger list: grabbing an extra pay cheque in between episodes of "Barnaby Jones" is the one and only Buddy Ebsen. Hmm, actually he coulda' stayed on the ground, but then with a cast so jam-packed with stars at least one actor's presence is likely to stick out like a sore thumb, right?

Anyways, despite a little bit of questionable casting, a smidgen of scenery-chewing and a dash of dated effects, this is still quite an enjoyable little horror story that someone really ought to consider remaking.
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Wild, Wild Christmas
13 January 2007
A Dr. Loveless episode...set at Christmas...directed by Mark ("On Golden Pond" & "The Cowboys") Rydell? Sure sounds like it couldn't miss. Unfortunately, all these promising elements were not quite in proper alignment when it came time to make "The Night Of The Whirring Death". Granting the up-until-then mute Voltaire a voice was pointless, and only served to remove a layer of mystery from this character's intimidating presence. The opening sequence in which a pile of money is stolen from a Scrooge-like misanthrope takes way too long to set up, too.

Still, "...Whirring Death" does succeed in the action department with a well-staged fight between West and a group of bodyguards and the foiling of an assassination plot is quite exciting, too. Plus, you gotta' love the little wind-up time bombs.

Shoulda' been outstanding, but this one does at least have a few saving graces.
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The Twilight Zone: The Thirty-Fathom Grave (1963)
Season 4, Episode 2
Drawn Out And Dragged Down
6 December 2006
"The Thirty-Fathom Grave" is an atmospherically rich tale in which mysterious pounding noises from a sunken submarine are detected by a passing US naval vessel. As it turns out, onboard the naval ship is the lone surviving member of the crew of that sub. Plagued by creepy visions of his dead comrades sopping wet and beckoning him to join them, one cannot help but feel for the tormented character in this very well shot episode that ends with an effectively eerie revelation.

So why does it ultimately fail?

Quite frankly, because there just isn't enough story here to sustain the episode's momentum over the course of an hour. After starting off with a promising first act, the pace quickly begins to bog down to the point where the character of a young naval diver has to fill air time by making descent after monotonous descent to check out the wrecked sub. One other problem is the question of why the ghostly crew are so determined that their comrade should re-join them at the bottom of the ocean? Afterall, he didn't cause their deaths, and since the ending pretty clearly indicates that the phantoms are not just hallucinations, it becomes even harder to understand why they would be so determined to drive this guy to take his own life.

Had it been told at the usual "Twilight Zone" episode length of 30 minutes, this could well have been one the best such tales of the entire series, perhaps attaining the same standout status as did other classic episodes like "The Invaders" and "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet." Unfortunately, "Thirty-Fathom Grave" just drifts along before ultimately sinking due to it's own bloated length.
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The Prisoner: The Girl Who Was Death (1968)
Season 1, Episode 14
Sweet Dreams
11 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A spy who looks a lot like Number Six (Patrick MaGoohan) is assigned "Mission Impossible"-style to look into the murder of a British scientist. Soon he finds himself the next target of a comely assassin named "Death" (played Justin Lord with a touch too much eye makeup). Among the unkind things she does to him, Lady Death locks the spy in a steam bath, leaves him dangling over a bed of spikes, and traps him in a room full of poison-emitting candles which will explode if he blows them out.

As a framing device, each step in this "trail of Death" is illustrated in a children's storybook with the tale eventually leading to a madman with a Napolean complex plotting to destroy London.

In the final moments of the episode, the mad genius and his daughter, Death, are blown to bits by the heroic spy. Then we discover this has all been an elaborate bedtime story told by Number Six to a roomful of little children. We also see that the would-be Napolean and Lady Death are actually Number 2 and his assistant. As they spy on Number Six from the control room of The Village, the two grumble about the failure of this latest plan, for even among a group of innocent children Number Six will not let his guard down.

This one is considered something of an oddity because it spends so little time within the mysterious Village. It's also far less dramatic in tone than other episodes, and though "The Girl Who Was Death" is essentially played as a spoof, it does feature some very exciting action sequences with MaGoohan cleverly getting himself out of one tight scrape after another.

While it may not be completely in keeping with the approach of most episodes of "The Prisoner", it seems acceptable to have such a change-of-pace entry in what was essentially a very experimental series.

Plus, it also nicely showcases star Patrick MaGoohan's abilities, both as an action star as well as a comedic actor. You can definitely see here why he was the original choice of producers to play James Bond and how tremendous he would have been in that role.
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