History: "The Wild, Wild West" was a reaction to the spy craze in popular culture with a Western twist with a healthy dose of Jules Verne added. The series was an instant hit when it appeared in 1965: it didn't hurt that there was a culture transition taking place between the fading Western genre and the new spy craze engendered by the James Bond films and TV series like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "The Avengers". But it also didn't hurt that the two main characters, as well as some of their re-occurring opponents, were strong, memorable characters.
Colonel James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin) were Secret Service agents patrolling the West in their private railway train on special orders from President Grant. The athletic and dashing West (Conrad did many of his own stunts) paired exceptionally well with the clever and debonair Gordon as they battled insidious criminal organizations, would-be conquerors, malevolent scientific geniuses and hostile foreign powers to protect the United States in its difficult times after the Civil War.
Description: 'The Night of the Steel Assassin' opens with a murder, one of a series, it turns out. West, investigating the series of murders, arrives just in time to see the murder, a man named Torres (John Dehner) who not only possessed incredible strength but was disfigured with steel plates mounted on his face. Torres proved too strong (and too well armored) for West and easily manages to escapes.
The reason West was investigating was that the murdered man, Gilbert, along with all the other murdered men, had a connection: each were officers of a military unit during the Civil War, and now only two remain: Torres and President Grant. That, of course, makes this the business of the Secret Service. Gordon investigates Torres and discovers his secret: he was horribly maimed by an accident during the Civil War, and, through implantation of metal prostheses, including the steel plates on his face, he was not only able to walk but also able to enact his revenge.
That accident was also the cause for his desire for revenge: a group of officers (including Grant) drew cards to see who would stand watch that night. Torres drew a Jack, but all the rest drew higher: the odds are astronomical for this to happen, and Torres was convinced they cheated. While he was on duty, a cache of explosives exploded and Torres was horribly maimed and disfigured. Now he is taking his revenge against the men who should have taken his place. His rehabilitation was grueling, and his self-control (through "auto-suggestion") was impressive: not only was he conscious during the surgery, he even directed parts of it.
Not knowing that he is the murderer, the daughter of the last murder victim, Nina Gilbert (Sue Ann Langdon), visits him to warn him.Torres distracts her with a bright light and a rotating shade that flashes the light in Nina's eyes, all the while talking about age regression. Nina eventually succumbs to his suggestions and becomes a giddy, child-like saloon dancer.
West and Gordon track Torres to a Southwestern town where President Grant is to be appearing soon. Gordon is captured and given the same hypnotic treatment as Nina, but he knows enough to fake being hypnotized, at the cost of having a needle thrust into his shoulder to prove he was entranced. West, too, would eventually be captured, set to die by an explosive rocket, just as is President Grant (actually Gordon in disguise, a trick he would often employ) but West manages to divert the rockets. Chasing Torres down, West is unable to hurt him but is able to throw him into an underground pool: Torres' increased weight prove too much as he sinks beneath the surface and drowns.
As for Nina, Gordon recovers Torres' hypnotic lamp and she is quickly returned to her old self. A very annoyed self, seeing herself still provocatively dressed as a dancer and not as the prim and proper lady she actually is. West and Gordon have to duck a hail of flung objects as the episode ends.
Commentary: The hypnosis here is only slightly stereotypical: Nina succumbs mainly because of Torres' almost NLP-like induction, whereas Artemis was able to resist while acting entranced, mainly because he was familiar with the technique. As for the gravelly-voiced Torres, John Dehner was a well-established actor with many appearances in Westerns, including starring in the series "Paladin" so it is no wonder that he appears in this episode. His career spanned over 40 years in TV, movies and voice acting.
Recommendation: I loved the series when it was first aired and it still holds up today. The Victorian gadgetry, the baroque villains, the casual interplay between the two actors and their characters, the understanding that Gordon was just as important a member of the team as West (while West could hold his own in most situations, there were still times when Gordon had to come to save him, and it was assumed that Gordon was the creator of many of the gadgets West used so effectively) all combine for an enjoyable time.
I also recommend this particular episode. This is one where the B&W format helps the story: the stark lighting adds to the mood at the beginning, as does the music. There's enough action and escapes to satisfy most any viewer who can overlook some of the slow areas of the plot. All total, I give this episode 3 1/2 spirals out of 5. Credibility of the hypnosis gets 3 1/2 spirals while the story itself gets 3 spirals. I have to give the scenes of the hypnotized and regressed Nina 4 spirals, though.
- Ross Martin was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award in 1969. That was the year he suffered a mild heart attack and missed five episodes.
- Agnes Morehead won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress for her appearance in 'The Night of the Vicious Valentine' in 1967
- Sue Ann Langdon was a former Playboy bunny