And hey, we're back with another Wild Wild West review. One of my local retro channels, MeTV, has started running the show on weekdays at 5/4 central as of 1/1/18. And they started off with the second season in color, rather than run the black-and-white first season episodes. Not unusual, since a lot of stations would like to forget it. I suppose B&W doesn't appeal as much to modern audiences. Which is kind of odd for a retro channel: isn't that the kind of audience you'd think B&W would appeal to? And MeTV shows plenty of black-and-white Westerns... on weekends and very early mornings. But not so much on weekdays, I guess.

Anyhoo, the second season of WWW was the first one filmed in color. And "Night of the Eccentrics" wasn't the first episode produced, but it was the first episode aired back in 1966. You can see why: it's a very colorful episode, both figuratively (circus performers) and literally (purple smoke, flashy costumes). There's a weird obsession with the color pink: Deadeye the gunman wears a pink ten-gallon hat, Titan the strongman wears pink trunks, Tony the knife thrower wears a pink shirt, and Count Manzeppi makes people disappear in puffs of pink smoke. Were pink cowboy hats a big thing in the Old West?

Speaking of Manzeppi, he's played by actor Victor Buono. You can see that they were trying to recapture the screen presence of Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless. But he's not quite the same. For one thing, he's a talker, not a doer. Loveless could do martial arts and sing.

Manzeppi does a combination of stage magic and camera special effects, twitches his nose, and talks. A lot. However, he doesn't really say much useful besides expositioning the plot. It's not really clear if he's supposed to be an actual sorcerer as they imply occasionally, or a hammy stage magician. If a sorcerer, it's a poor fit for WWW. And if a stage magician, he isn't very good at it. It's like watching the performance of a 10-year-old who got their first magic kit and decides to do magic tricks at every opportunity. "Watch me produce a dollar bill!" "Watch me produce a flower!" "Watch me light something with a flash pan!" He even produces a rabbit out of his top hat at the end.

Manzeppi also uses henchman, albeit not very good ones. Titan loses to Jim early on. Deadeye isn't a better shot than Jim, and as the script points out, all he really does is shoot defenseless people. Yes, he does some trickshooting at walls, but you never get the impression that he's as good a shot as they keep describing him. Miranda betrays Manzeppi, then reveals she didn't betray him, then betrays him. And Richard Pryor (in his first TV appearance) as Villar does... who knows what he does. He's a ventriloquist. Does he throw his dummy Julio at people? Does Julio explode?

So the Eccentrics aren't that impressive a group of assassins. You also wonder how they received such a reputation for secrecy given that they are pretty public here. They don't stride down the street, but they seem pretty happy to reveal themselves to Jim when he visits the abandoned circus.

Let's recap. The episode starts by introducing the Eccentrics as Secret Service Agent Vance Markham arrives at their circus. They step out into the spotlight (literally) one at a time and then (off-screen) kill him. Jim and Artie show up a few minutes later to meet Markham, and find his corpse sitting up. Markham "speaks" momentarily, but it's either Manzeppi (who speaks immediately in his own voice), or Villar doing something ventriloquist-y.

Artie gets hung by a noose and Jim shoots through the rope. This sprains Artie's ankle (to account for a real-life injury), and we cut to the hospital where Jim is visiting Artie in the hospital. Colonel Armstrong, one of the rotating superiors for the first 2-3 seasons, shows up to give them a hard time and tell Jim to find the Eccentrics and stop them. Manzeppi has left a circus poster leading Jim to an abandoned circus. The Eccentrics step out and introduce themselves. Again. Buono goes on and on and on, and his strongman Titan fights Jim. Jim wins and Manzeppi has Deadeye shoot Titan. Because I guess Manzeppi went to the Darth Vader School of Kill Everyone Who Works for You and Fails Once, Because It's Great for Morale.

Manzeppi then "zaps" Jim into his underground lair. There's some more trickshooting and knifethrowing, and Manzeppi offers Jim Titan's position in the Eccentrics. When he refuses, Manzeppi drops him into a pit. Jim escapes with Miranda's help, and they go to the train. But the whole thing is a set-up by Manzeppi and Miranda, and Manzeppi wants to use the agents' position and their train to get close to President Benito Juarez.

Artie manages to escape and Manzeppi takes Jim back to his underground lair and puts him in a suspended platform with a pair of plaster giant woman's hands that supposedly hold Jim in place. The rope suspending the platform is treated with acid so it will drop Jim into an electrical arc represented by a bad special effect. However, back at the train Jim offered the Eccentrics twice their fee if they'd turn against Manzeppi, and Miranda accepts. She frees Jim and they head to Mexico in about five seconds. Artie is there posing as one of Benito's guards and takes Jim and Miranda to Benito.

In a rather confusing reveal, "Benito" is actually Deadeye wearing a mask. However, actor Anthony Eisley (Conrad's former co-star on Hawaiian Eye) looks a lot like Frank Sorello, who plays Benito. Maybe that's the point of having Deadeye pose as Benito, but it still makes for an odd reveal. It's also kind of confusing: Deadeye is an expert gunsman and a master of disguise?

Manzeppi explains that he set the whole thing up to lure the agents there so he could kill them as well as Benito. He then goes to take a nap (??), and Jim taunts Tony into throwing knives at him to entertain them. Jim tries to use one of them to cut himself free, but Deadeye is watching and stops him. Manzeppi comes back and has Deadeye shoot Tony dead. Jim points out that Deadeye only seems to be good at shooting defenseless men, and Deadeye takes offense and challenges him to a shootout. Jim wins, of course, and Deadeye is dead, eyes and all.

Manzeppi takes out a nickel-covered ball and claims that it's a bomb. Jim has no choice but to let him (and Villar, because he doesn't do anything so he can't fail at anything and be killed for it) and the remaining two Eccentrics leave through a secret panel.

In the denouement, the dick superior shows up and the agents discover that the secret passage has disappeared. Uh, huh? Maybe Villar is a mason as well as a ventriloquist. Or Manzeppi can make secret passages appear and disappear through sorcery. While Armstrong berates them from suffering from "optical illusions" and overwork, on a nearby bookshelf Manzeppi's hand reaches through a wallpapered spot in the wall, takes a rose, and replaces Benito's portrait with his own. And that's the last we see of Manzeppi until sixteen episodes later when they bring him back for "The Night of the Feathered Fury". And then he escapes yet again, never to be seen or mentioned again.

"Eccentrics" represents everything that was good--and bad--about WWW. Eccentric villains (so to speak), colorful sets, a couple of Jim & Artie gadgets, Artie in a disguise (even Jim doesn't recognize him, which makes Jim seem rather dense), a little bit of gunplay, an attractive woman with no personality and who falls for Jim for no other reason than IITS, and a plot that moves along so fast that you don't have time to consider all the implausibilities and plotholes until later. It's not an episode designed to be rewatched and scrutinized. But they didn't have VHS and DVD back in the 60s, either.

On the good side, Robert Conrad has upped his ante a bit. He banters back and forth with Buono, and at least the script features lots of banter. It was written by Charles Bennett, who did work on Hitchcock films, movie screenplays, the American adaptation of "Casino Royale" for Climax!, and in the 60s Land of the Giants and several episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. "Eccentrics" is Bennett's only WWW script, and it reads like something from a bygone day that's very... theatrical. Or at least florid.

Due to his real-life injury, Ross Martin doesn't have much to do. Which gives more of the spotlight to Robert Conrad. There's a lot of him, and like I said, his performance in "Eccentrics" is a few steps up from his first season appearances. Artie would soon become the exposition machine on the show, but Conrad and Buono manage to (barely) make the plot clear. It still amounts to "I'll kill you... sometime" with escapes and captures and re-escapes. But oh well.

Buono is engaging enough as always, even if he isn't given much to do other than... well, be Victor Buono.

Overall, "Eccentrics" makes a decent season opener with a so-so- villain that had CBS trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that they got with Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless in Season 1. It failed, and they never tried to reintroduce a new recurring villain again although Loveless would keep showing up. Maybe it was because Loveless had a personality, and a three-dimensional character. While Manzeppi never went beyond "Guy who wants to make money, likes to hear himself speak, and does magic tricks."

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (4)
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Jan 12, 2018
I think Richard Shores' score really helps "Night of the Eccentrics." Even when the plot doesn't make sense, I could listen to that score all day long, especially the music when West is beating up Titan. One thing I like about the season 2 episodes is that West isn't above using a weapon (like a chair leg) in a fight. I kind of wish West had worn the grey outfit he wears in the teaser in some more episodes. At least the plot is more than the "find the villain's lair; West goes in one way, Artemus goes in in disguise" idea that kept getting reused during the third and fourth seasons.
Jan 05, 2018
"implausibilities and plot holes" sums this one up for me. I was never really fond of some of Victor Buono's characters on TV but I always got a kick out of WWW. I tuned into MeTv's marathon of The Twilight Zone the other day - love black & white old shows - but I didn't remember it being so awful or maybe it was just the episodes that were aired. Anyway, thanks for a delightful review and recap!
Jan 05, 2018
I think the "aura" around WWW's B&W shows is also due to the rotating producers and the weird air vs. production order thing. There was the whole "Jim and Artie have a butler" thing, for instance. The butler Tennyson didn't add much to the proceedings, and he'd show up, and vanish, and show up, and vanish. And then eventually vanished for good.

There are good season 1 episodes: any of the Loveless episodes, Puppeteer, Burning Diamond, and Steel Assassin. Although Steel Assassin has its goofy moments: the fact that Torres it not only a steampunk cyborg but can hypnotize people is just... weird. but some of them are duds.

Compare that to the B&W Have Gun or Maverick or Twilight Zone, which had a solid string of writers and producers for at least a season, or half-season, at a time. So I don't think that it's WWW is B&W, but just the problems it had production-wise in that first season. If the first season had been color, it wouldn't be any better.

That, and I just don't think MeTV thinks B&W "sells" during the weekdays.
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