‘Night of the Steel Assassin’ — “The Wild, Wild West”

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058855/]

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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.

Triv­ia:

  • 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

2 Responses to “‘Night of the Steel Assassin’ — “The Wild, Wild West””

  • Darci says:

    Anoth­er episode you might be inter­est­ed in is “The Night of the Winged Ter­ror” (Sea­son 4 Episodes 15 and 16, Jan­u­ary 1969).  Dr. Occu­laris was able to con­trol promi­nent cit­i­zens of a West­ern town.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he hap­pened to draw the atten­tion of Jim West.
    Hope this helps,
    Darci

  • HypnoMedia says:

    I know the episodes Dar­ci: I even remem­ber watch­ing them when it was first aired. (Dat­ing myself much?) Drug-induced mind con­trol assist­ed by a prim­i­tive light machine and trig­gered by the appear­ance of a raven. It will make an appear­ance here even­tu­al­ly, but there were a few oth­er instances that I will be blog­ging about before then.

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