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couldron
SS novice field agent

1444 Posts

Posted - 12/31/2003 :  13:10:13  Show Profile
HAPPY NEW YEAR
This is a favorite of mine although it has little plot. James West is held captive most of the episode. Why didn’t the villain shoot a real bullet at Jim? (Silly me the series would have been over or at least for Robert Conrad.) Speaking of the villain, we do not see him until the very end. We do see the wonderful actor Lloyd Bochner as his puppet surrogate. I am not sure if Bochner was the one in make-up at the end speaking of which that skin on his head is awful. The actors did a terrific job of portraying puppets. They bounced just enough to give us the illusion of being on strings. It is never explained why Skull wants Jim who he considers a buffoon. (1: a ludicrous figure: Clown 2: a gross and usually ill-educated or stupid person). The scenes in the bar with both Jim and Artie are clever. The waitress (Janis Hansen) was a playboy bunny and neither of our boys gets her. I guess they were preoccupied. I know that they were on a limited budget but couldn’t it have been a little more difficult to find the source of the steam. The real Skull is presented as a spider in a web and that fascinates me. He looks so much like a black widow. NO! I have not started drinking early. If they were that close to the blast why didn’t they drown? (Again silly me!) I wonder who the children were. The firing squad reminded me of the toy in Whirring Death.


ccb
SS Quizmaster Emeritus

3908 Posts

Posted - 12/31/2003 :  15:54:18  Show Profile
Not a doubt in my mind:

If "The Steel Assassin" was the first episode whose images I can recall around the age of nine, then this episode is the first I remember saying to myself: "Whoa! This is one cool series!" It was hard for me to keep up with West's first season during its original broadcast, because my local CBS affiliate showed it, not on Friday nights at 7:30, but tape-delayed on Monday evenings at 7:00 p.m. This conflicted with weekly Boy Scout troop meetings. Things got ironed out with Season Two, when my local station accepted and broadcast the national feed. The next year I started having different problems, because Friday nights in small towns conflicted with high school football, and I was in the marching band . . . . but I digress.

Where was I? This is one cool episode—one of the coolest, the best of the Mantleys. It always will stand among my top five favorites, without question. Why?

1. I think it is, hands down, the best script Henry Sharp ever wrote for the series. (No, I am not forgetting "The Lord of Limbo.") "Puppeteer" is one of the best scripts anybody ever wrote for the series: a nearly perfect blend of outright fantasy with humanity in a villain with whom you could sympathize, without condoning his homicidal insanity. From teaser to tag, Sharp plotted out a fascinating story with interesting characters. If you like your Wests western, with a believable premise, this one will not be your cup of tea. If your threshold for fantasy is low, however, how could you not love this one?

2. Lloyd Bochner delivers a mint-villaianous portrayal as Zachariah Skull (#1 and #2). Aside from the silky urbanity of Skull #1 and the weird melancholy of #2, please notice that his performance as #1 does not cheat. On second viewing, assume that the Skull with whom West is mostly interacting is itself a puppet, and you'll see that Bochner does not making expansive motions or wild facial expressions. He plays a puppet—albeit one under very skillful control—whose most dynamic expressions come through his wonderful voice, not histrionic gestures. I know, I know: Even a master ventriloquist would have required some apparatus for voice amplification. But if I'm willing to accept this show's premise, then I'm ready to assume that, or forget about it.

3. There's a legitimate reason for the guest-starring woman, beyond being eye-candy for the viewers and a squeeze for West. Imelda de Martin may not have been the world's greatest actress, but for this episode they didn't need one. They needed a trained dancer. And she was. (Did you know that she was in the chorus of the premier perfomance of My Fair Lady on Broadway? You do now.)

4. There's a legitimate reason for Artemus's impersonated character—which, by the way, is delightful enough that Ross Martin needs no makeup other than his own.

5. Irving Moore's direction in brilliant. I don't think he ever turned in a better episode of West, and he directed most of them. Like vintage episodes of The Twilight Zone, this West is staged like theater, with spotlights against silk-black backgrounds. (Although Moore and Sharp vividly recalled this episode because of the colors in the puppets' costumes, this, for me, is another show that benefis mightily from monochrome. Shot in color, it simply would not have been as surrealistically eerie.) I agree with Mary: the other actors playing the other puppets did a perfectly wobbly job.

6. Al Heschong's set for Skull's lair, the spiderweb—both the painting (from distant point of view) and the close-up framework with cords—is brilliant, both in conception and in rendering.

7. Dave Grusin's weird music, using what must have been an early vesion of a Moog synthesizer, is just right. Although he is given a full music credit that he didn't deserve—most of the cues are by Markowitz (lifted, primarily, from "Sudden Death" and "Glowing Corpse")—the original music that Grusin did compose is a small masterpiece for a very small orchestra. I especially love "Vivid's Waltz" in Act II: a lovely cue whose harp sounds tenderly childlike, punctuated with appropriately minor modulations on oboe. We never again heard it in the series, which is just as well. It belonged to Vivid.

This episode is not perfect, to be sure. Mary's correct, and Moore agreed, that Schoenfeld's best efforts couldn't give us a convincingly bald skullcap for Bochner near the end. Conrad still hadn't loosened up enough; his performance is more wooden than the puppets are supposed to be. It's pretty obvious that a real dancer, not Conrad, is doing his waltz-work in the spot-lit long-shots with de Martin in Act II. Mary's right that the episode is largely static. I don't care; I don't care; I forgive all imperfections.

I could go on, but must leave something for others to say. For me, this is a defining, wonderful, classic episode. If anyone out there must spend New Year's Eve alone, I suggest you pop this one into the VHS or DVD. Better yet: Watch it with someone you love! What better way to close '03, or open '04?
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Elaine
SS 1st assignment - desk job

356 Posts

Posted - 01/01/2004 :  12:56:26  Show Profile
I can only chime in that this episode is also one of my favorites.

Can anyone tell me more about Lloyd Bochner? I remember him, but cannot place him, probably because he was on a show I did not watch regularly.

I give this one
(The fact that Artie looks smashing in evening clothes is icing on the cake!)
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K Mills
SS novice field agent

849 Posts

Posted - 01/01/2004 :  21:26:49  Show Profile
I do like this one. And I love the fact that this is the first episode that ccb has really raved about. He was also in the band and a Boy Scout! I like when Jim and Artie fight towards the end. The bullwhip clown was a nice touch.

"How do you feel, Jim?"

"As brittle as a day old bread stick."

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ccb
SS Quizmaster Emeritus

3908 Posts

Posted - 01/02/2004 :  17:36:14  Show Profile
And I love the fact that this is the first episode that ccb has really raved about. He was also in the band and a Boy Scout!

I was an all-American boy. Remind me someday to tell you about my lemonade stand and PF Flyers decoder ring.
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ccb
SS Quizmaster Emeritus

3908 Posts

Posted - 01/02/2004 :  17:44:37  Show Profile
Can anyone tell me more about Lloyd Bochner? I remember him, but cannot place him, probably because he was on a show I did not watch regularly.

Working from memory, Elaine, I know that Bochner was Canadian and trained as a legitimate stage actor. (With his height, matinee idol looks, and voice, that's not hard to believe, is it?) Viewers from the 60s probably best remember him from a classic episode of The Twlight Zone, "To Serve Man," in which he plays, well, the main course. I think that, in early 80s, he may also have had a continuing role on Dynasty, or another Dallas rip-off of that era. His son Hart is also an actor, who, despite his own good looks, seems not to have done very much.

Our regular webcrawlers can check the usual sites and fill in my blanks.
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beerbad
SS novice field agent

759 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2004 :  07:44:46  Show Profile
This is one of the episodes that i waited 35 years to see and finally got it off this website last year. At that time ccb asked me if it was worth the wait and it certainly was.

Twilight Zone is exactly what I thought of when I saw this. It should be the runner-up to the Rod Serling Award (if one exists) for best Twilight Zone doppelganger in another series.

Speaking of doppelgangers and Twilight Zone, what was the title of the one where the woman kept seeing herself at the bus station?
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ccb
SS Quizmaster Emeritus

3908 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2004 :  08:16:32  Show Profile
b.b.: Speaking of doppelgangers and Twilight Zone, what was the title of the one where the woman kept seeing herself at the bus station?

"Mirror Image," with Vera Miles as the distraught victim and Martin Milner as the stranger who tries to help, getting naught but a nasty surprise at the end. That, too, was one creepy episode. If you recall, it was set at night during a terrible storm. Rather than punctuate images with clichéd lightning, George Clements shot some of the scenes with what appears to have been a window-pane, washed with water, across the back-lighting—proving, once more, that imagination on a shoestring will carry you a lot farther than a vacant head with all the money in the world.
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JimPhelps
SS 1st assignment - desk job

USA
417 Posts

Posted - 02/06/2004 :  13:55:40  Show Profile
(I apologize for my extreme tardiness but I was swamped at the office all January. I will have to catch up)

TNOT PUPPETEER

With veteran Irving J Moore at the helm we have one of the series’ classiest episodes. And creative, with a neat twist at the end. As our story opens we find Jim trying to protect the life of the first doctor of the Enterprise, oops sorry wrong series, but it is the reliable John Hoyt as Justice Chayne who Jim is trying to warn of an assassination plot. Naturally, the justice dismisses Jim’s warnings as nonsense even though he has received a miniature coffin in the morning mail. The justice must be a very confident man because something like that would certainly give me the creeps. Thankfully, the assassination attempt against the justice is just that, an attempt. It fails but not before the wonderfully bizarre ending to the teaser which leaves our hero knocked out; shot with a tranquilizer dart by a puppet. Certainly a creative beginning which promises much and delivers.

Act I opens with Artie manipulating one of the marionettes as the eerie “puppet music” plays. It a strange sounding musical effect that sounds futuristic, but it is effective and played every time we see one of Skull’s puppets. The one with the scientific mind, Artie is intrigued by the design of the dart that injects its drug on impact, Jim is not so interested but slightly embarrassed that a marionette was able to get the better of him. One of the nice things about this episode is the attention to detail, first with the deformed puppet that Jim notices, the justice’s monologue describing Skull is a nice setup,

Speaking of setup, it describes what Jim walks into when he enters the Triton’s Locker pub. Personally the sudden silence when he enters would make me turn and walk out! It’s also our introduction to the pub waitress. Janice Hansen plays a small but crucial role as the sympathetic waitress who Artie affectionately calls “Wilbur”. Her warnings do not faze our brave hero and the result is a huge barroom brawl. Jim makes his “escape” through a curtain and it looks as if he might get away but we realize, just like Jim, that he has been perfectly manipulated like one of Skull’s own puppets into walking into this elevator. Things look grim at the end of the first Act with Jim collapsing to the floor under the great buildup of pressure.


Once again we have a delayed enterance for the villain, although it was skull who tried to shoot the justice in the teaser we do not officially see him until the beginning of Act II, or are we really seeing Skull? The art direction is inspired, having the action take place on a completely dark set with spotlights illuminating just the immediate area of action gives us the illusion that we are in a massive underground complex. The darkness that surrounds everything gives the sense that this is an inescapable predicament for Jim. Where can he go when he can’t see anything beyond what Skull allows?

With an arrogant demeanor and continental accent Canadian born Lloyd Bochner was a popular villain in 1960’s television. He made several appearances on “Mission” but his portrayal of Skull is perhaps the best I’ve seen of him. Bochner makes Skull dangerous and sympathetic, a misguided genius he may have been wrongfully convicted of the murder he was accused of but there is no longer any question that Skull is a murderer. In retrospect, after we discover the truth there is an extra level to Bochner’s controlled performance

Another interesting aspect of this story is how it highlights the differences between Jim and Artie and their approach to problem solving. Both enter Triton’s Locker and must deal with a hostile reception, both are able to get past “the guards” and behind the curtain but each in his own distinctive way. Jim of course tries to take on the entire bar and Artie schemes his way backstage with his great drunk act, subtly dropping hints to “Wilbur” and getting the information he needs. A nice touch from RC comes from his dance with Vivid, the music and Vivid herself does carry me away for a moment, Jim reacts the same way the way he suddenly snaps back into reality and shoves Vivid away, Skull is right when he says Jim is “shaken”. In an episode with so man y nice details it’s too bad the producers couldn’t get Roy Engel for a brief cameo as the “puppet” Grant, I believe this is the only time (with the exception of the pilot) that another actor portrays President Grant in the series. There was also some wondering as why Skull portrayed Jim as a buffoon in his gallery, I thought it was a comment on what Skull thinks of government agents. But who knows, it’s up to the viewer to decide.

It’s all suitably bizarre and different and in the fourth Act after the boys shut off Skull’s power supply it looks like we’re headed for the standard villain and West confrontation with Artie standing in the sidelines. However, there’s another ace up the sleeve here when we discover that “Skull” (at least the one we have become familiar with) isn’t Skull at all, simply a puppet, the only real person seems to be Vivid. The puppet master is indeed where he would be, always, in the middle of a huge web controlling his alter ego. Skull is cornered and chooses to take everyone with him; luckily our heroes get away with Vivid and miss a massive (although familiar) explosion.

The tag is cute, a restaging of the teaser, so we know we’ve come full circle. The justice thanks Jim for saving his life promising to heed warnings in future. The puppet show is on again, though with a less traumatic ending, and Jim and Vivid are together.

The commercial breaks are another good mix. Jim in the deep sea elevator for Act I, “Skull” with (a smaller) “Skull”, the puppet firing squad, and the puppet Vivid lovingly making sure Jim and Vivid have some privacy.

So this one is a lot of fun and it definitely deserves four prosthetic noses out of four.


Mr. Phelps
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JimPhelps
SS 1st assignment - desk job

USA
417 Posts

Posted - 02/06/2004 :  14:17:26  Show Profile
Bochner was also one of members of the evil cabal who were partners with Robert Goulet’s character in the completely insane and hilarious (especially if you love classic TV) “Naked Gun 2 ½” with Leslie Neilsen.

Mr. Phelps
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