A coach rumbles down the road, passing James West as he walks to meet Artemus Gordon. Jim passes an alley, and a crouching man steps from behind a crate, pulling a knife from his coat. Jim turns onto the wooden walk of a side street and the man follows. As he passes a support column, Jim grabs it and pivots, landing a solid kick to the torso of his shadower. A few sharp jabs later and the contest ends, with the assailant laid out on the boards. Not far away, a woman comments to the driver of her coach about Jim’s strength. Artie and pair of policemen arrive; the constables take charge of Jim’s attacker while Artie conducts his partner into the nearby restaurant for a brandy. The woman continues, saying to her driver that she will soon see just how strong. She enters after Jim and Artie.
Inside Jim and Artie have settled at the bar with snifters. They quickly notice the unattached and quite beautiful lady, whom Artie concludes must be awaiting a companion. Jim says no, the way she sits tells him she has come to the restaurant alone. Artie sidles up to her and tries to chat her up with a phony French accent and a generous catalog of flattery, but she wants none of it. Even his best line, about having seen her in Madrid, falls on deaf ears – and worse, draws a threat that she will summon the proprietor! Artie mumbles that he has made a mistake and withdraws back to bar where Jim teases him briefly. The agents finish their brandy and leave. Artie is convinced the lady waits for a companion, so he is surprised when she drops her handkerchief as Jim passes and then starts a conversation with Jim. She even uses the same basic approach Artie tried! It works – Jim says a pointed good night to his friend. When the lady calls Jim “Mr. Jordan” he does not correct her, and carries on the charade by pretending to know her, soon discovering her name is Marie Pinscher.
Sometime later a carriage pulls up; Jim and Marie board. Although Jim does not realize it, the carriage and driver at the same ones that dropped Marie at the restaurant earlier. Marie asks where Jim plans to take her. Just as he replies gas pours into the tiny compartment! Jim tries the door, but it will not open. He sees that Marie holds a mask to her face, but has breathed too much of the gas and slumps unconscious...
Sometime later, Jim awakens still inside the coach. Maria and the driver are nowhere about. The coach sits in the middle of the main street of a small town. Exiting, Jim moves towards the hotel and the sounds of activity he hears coming from it. Inside he sees only mannequins. The sound of horses comes from somewhere nearby but of the animals there is no sign. A cash register totals a purchase, people laugh, a woman chuckles. But the sources of these sounds remain elusive. Jim checks the stage depot and Zake’s Saloon next door. He hears a gunshot and looks about, startled, but sees no one. Finally his walk carries him to the sound of a woman sobbing, coming from somewhere inside a maker of tombstones. Entering, Jim finds examples of the craftsman’s work here and there. The sound of a chisel reaches his ears but as elsewhere, the craftsman is not evident. The sourceless sounds continue as Jim examines the desk. Then he senses something and spins, and there, perched on a tombstone, is Dr. Miguelito Loveless!
As Jim recognizes Loveless, the villain’s chief assistant Voltaire emerges from a nearby hatch. A third man, unremarkable except for a long scar down the left side of his face, enters as well. Dr. Loveless introduces that man as Janus. Loveless explains to Janus how important a man Jim West is, citing as evidence that Jim takes orders directly from President Grant. Jim tells Loveless that he did not expect to see him again, and Loveless tells his adversary how he didn’t really mind prison. There he could think to his heart’s content. But Voltaire was wasting away in his drab cell, and so they had to leave. Jim heard that both Loveless and Voltaire died crossing the river during their escape. Loveless merely comments that people believe all kinds of things. Then Loveless, with a somewhat sinister tone, tells Jim that he thought about the agent every day, and that in the last few months Jim became a sort of obsession with him. Loveless stands, then, revealing his choice of seat: a tombstone bearing Jim’s name and date of birth. The date of death is still blank, but Loveless plans to complete the stone in two weeks!
Jim suddenly breaks for the door, tossing a chunk of stone at Voltaire to delay him. Racing outside, Jim breaks for the fence. Inside, Dr. Loveless orders his men to wait, then opens a box on a post and throws a knife switch. Outside, Jim leaps onto the fence – and is shocked! Electricity courses through him, knocking him out and off the fence. Loveless inspects the stunned agent and is happy to learn that he is unmarked. Voltaire and Janus bring a coffin and under Loveless direction (and occasional chiding) they load Jim inside and carry him off.
Later, Dr. Loveless carefully measures Jim’s face with oversized calipers, and then transfers those measurements to a clay bust. Antoinette plays piano softly in the background. As they sing, Jim stirs and then awakens, discovering heavy straps restrain him. Dr. Loveless answers Jim’s first question readily, explaining that they are underground in a studio. On all the walls hang examples of taxidermist’s art: stuffed birds and small mammals, and even the heads of some larger creatures. Surfaces not occupied by scientific equipment also host stuffed creatures. His lovely partner Antoinette calls the studio the “embalming room.”
Dr. Loveless then works with a machine Jim has never seen – because no one has. In form it is a box housing a mechanism that turns a cylinder. A needle reads the cylinder and conveys the information to the mechanism and through it to a large horn. When Dr. Loveless operates the device, music emerges from the horn!
Loveless explains that he could have sent a lethal charge through the fence, and asks what Jim knows of electrical science. Loveless waxes enthusiastic about the discoveries of the recent decade, showing off a rather noisy electrical “candle” that converts electricity into light, predicting that one day the entire world will be lit using electricity! Bitterly, he asks Jim if he’ll steal that, too, for the government. Then he notices Jim isn’t paying proper attention, and asks if he’s boring the agent. Jim wonders what Loveless wants, speculating that it might be revenge and noting that Loveless planned to kill five thousand people with his explosive. Jim had to stop him. The doctor replies that mean spirited people might call him a lot of things, but never petty. He continues, telling Jim that his plan is to immortalize the agent in art, quoting the Latin “ars longa, vita brevis.” Jim asks if Loveless constructed the wax models in the town and Loveless proudly acknowledges doing so, further noting that he created all of the stuffed animals Jim sees around him and even trapped the living specimens. Just like, Jim realizes, he used Marie as a trap. Loveless comments that Marie is very charming but does have one small flaw – when a man rejects her she gets “out of hand.”
Jim claims he is still weak, and Loveless uncharacteristically sympathizes. First the gas, and then the charge from the fence... At Loveless’ instruction Voltaire removes the straps and escorts Jim from the room. Just before they leave Jim tries three rapid fire punches to Voltaire’s stomach. He might as well hit a wall; the mute assistant seizes both of Jim’s hands in one of his own giant paws, and pulls back the other to deliver a roundhouse that will certain rearrange Jim’s face. That’s when Loveless intervenes, forbidding Voltaire from punching Jim because the evil scientist still needs Jim’s face. Loveless promises Voltaire his fun after Jim’s face is no longer important. Voltaire, clearly disappointed, grabs Jim’s head and marches him from the room.
Sometime later Dr. Loveless and Janus sit by one of Loveless’ “talking machines” as Loveless explains the qualities of Jim West’s speech, ending the explanation with a near perfect duplication of the agent’s voice. Then he plays the cylinder in the machine, which contains recordings of some of Jim’s earlier comments, so that Janus may practice imitating them. Moving to a wall, Loveless points out a painting representing what he considers a new trend he calls abstract art. This particular piece has an additional feature – it slides up to reveal a window into a nicely appointed cell where Jim waits. Loveless directs Janus to study Jim’s face and to learn its firmness and resolve.
Inside the room, Jim paces. The window is a mirror on his side so he remains unaware Loveless and Janus observe him. Marie enters carrying a tray. On their side of the mirror, Loveless predicts Jim will make some attempt to romance Marie and suggests Janus listen carefully so that he might imitate Jim’s voice. Jim does indeed try his charms on Marie, but she is aloof. She suspects he wants to master her and then toss her away, for she has known men like that. He kisses her and she picks the knife from the tray, but gives in to Jim’s charms and lets the knife clatter to the floor. Dr. Loveless wonders if she would be so free is she knew she was under observation.
Done observing for the moment, Dr. Loveless decides the time has come to give Jim a tour of the town. He explains that when he arrived a few months earlier the town was a thriving mining community, but greed and avarice took over, there were shootings and murders. It was, the doctor says, a sad thing to see those people destroy each other, and all within a few scant months, and all due to liquor, women and cards. Sighing, the doctor admits he sometimes despairs of the world and the people in it.
Loveless has Voltaire turn off the sounds of the town – they come from another of his speaking machines. Then he offers Jim a drink of tea, for he abhors spirits. Jim asks about the sound making machine and Loveless explains that he calls it a speaking machine. He can make music, voices, any sound at all from what he describes as a toy. Jim asks about all the noises he heard and Loveless says he has speaking machines hidden everywhere. Jim turns his attention to the fake people and discovers they are made of rubber. The doctor acts surprised before he realizes Jim thought he stuffed the townsfolk, a notion he considers positively ghoulish!
Conversation turns to Jim’s fate, with the agent asking again what Loveless plans for him. The doctor explains that he intends to preserve Jim, to create a walking, talking Jim West who will do his bidding! Jim wonders why his name appears on a tombstone and Loveless explains that he will be dead. He will walk among the living while he lies under the tombstone, dead!
Jim smashes a bottle to make a crude dagger and threatens Loveless with it, keeping Voltaire at bay the same way. Then Jim orders Loveless to kill the current in the fence so they can walk out and back to jail. Jim maneuvers Loveless in front of him, failing to note the doctor press a button inside his jacket. Seconds later sparks fly, knocking the improvised weapon from Jim’s hand. Voltaire moves quickly, grabbing Jim in a full nelson hold. Loveless explains that electricity cannot pass through rubber or glass, and his underwear is entirely made of rubber, so his electric suit harms attackers but not the wearer!
Deciding that Jim is too impulsive and might harm himself, Loveless advances the timetable. He promises Jim answers to all his questions by nightfall and leaves the saloon. Voltaire frog marches Jim out following his boss.
Jim is once again confined to the table in Loveless’ studio. The doctor contemplates the bust as two ladies wheel in Janus, who is unconscious. Loveless explains his plan: with surgery, he will turn Janus’ face into a duplicate of Jim West’s face! It is his first step back to glory! Marie, acting as a surgical nurse, hands him scalpels, hemostats, and other instruments as he works on Janus. He explains in more detail that the false Janus will undermine and destroy the Secret Service, so the next time he asks for half of California the government will have to listen.
Still later, Loveless paces his studio. Voltaire reads. Loveless consults a page on his clipboard. Then, checking Voltaire again, he presses a button. A door slides open and Loveless cries out to Voltaire, warning him that Jim approaches. Jim uses a couple of judo moves to knock Voltaire to his knees, but the giant regains his feet and hoists his chair overhead to smash the agent. That’s when Loveless stops him – the event was a trick! The man who attacked Voltaire is Janus, with a new face that looks exactly like that of Jim West!
Marie brings Jim tea in his comfortable cell. He asks what time it is and she tells him Loveless hates clocks and will not allow them near – it has something to do with his past and with the agent! Jim tells her the story of Loveless’ earlier scheme to explode a powerful bomb hidden in a clock tower that would kill five thousand people. Then he asks if that’s the sort of man she should remain loyal to. She explains that when Loveless found her she was sick and starving; he took her in and fed her and gave her life back to her. Loyalty, she concludes, is the least she owes him.
Jim next asks what day it is. She says she has seen him every day since the operation – two weeks. Then she says she’ll miss him and tells him they haven’t much longer together. Once Miguelito sends for him... she leaves the threat unspoken. Jim suggests they could make their time last, if she helps him escape, but she believes Loveless is much too clever for them and that trying to escape would be too much risk. Jim kisses her, but does not change her mind. Voltaire interrupts further progress when he comes in to bring Jim to see Dr. Loveless. Marie says goodbye.
Voltaire takes Jim back to the studio, where Loveless sits contemplating his electric candle. Loveless has Jim sit, and then apologizes for two weeks of neglect, pleading distraction by the great many tasks he has underway. Loveless notes that Jim has lost some color, and Jim, irritated, shoots back that Loveless did not bring him to the studio to discuss his color. Of course not, concedes the doctor. He brought Jim in to explain the full plan, since the agent has been an invaluable component of it. Pressing the button to open the door, he gestures as Janus steps in and for the first time speaks – with Jim West’s voice! Janus moves around so Jim can examine him; Jim claims too many people know him and one of them will certainly realize that Janus is not Jim. Janus then challenges Jim to question him, desiring to demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge of the agent’s life. Jim asks about his father’s brother’s name and Janus replies that it was “James” and that the agent is his uncle’s namesake. Jim then asks what accident occurred at age ten; Janus describes the broken wrist and Loveless adds the name of the doctor’s young daughter, Betsy. Loveless and Janus have gone to great pains to learn everything about their adversary and they’re certain nothing can trip them up. Their next step is a test.
Dr. Loveless dispatches Janus to the Wanderer
and instructs him to make certain Artie gets a good close look at his face. After Janus leaves, Loveless asks what Jim thinks, and Jim replies that Loveless is insane. Loveless regards his plan as the soul of simplicity. Janus infiltrates the Secret Service and destroys it from within, then recovers the formula for Loveless’ powerful explosive and blows up the arsenal of bombs the government has built using it. Jim is incredulous, asking if the doctor understands how many bombs there are. Loveless seems to – he estimates their destruction will wipe half of Washington from the map, destroying politicians and generals as before. The end result will be Loveless in sole possession of the formula, and soon after in sole possession of “his” half of California. Jim, perhaps desperate, tells Loveless that Janus will never get past Artie; Loveless isn’t worried. He says that if Artie does discover the deception then Janus will kill him and return, and they will spend more time polishing the act. And if not? Well, then, Jim’s usefulness will be at an end.
Aboard the train, Artie listens to the telegraph clatter. Washington has heard nothing from Jim for two weeks and wonders if anything is wrong; they request an immediate answer. Before Artie can frame one, “Jim” walks in! Artie asks him where he’s been and explains that he hunted all over for his partner – it isn’t like Jim to disappear. Janus tells Artie there’s something in his eye and asks his friend to check. Artie bends down for a close look and misses Janus edging his hand toward his revolver in case Artie sees through the imposture. Artie asks Janus to look down, then left, then down again before he reports finding nothing. Janus lets his hand drift away from the gun butt; it appears his surgical disguise has fooled Artie for now.
Artie asks his friend where he has been but “Jim” has little to say. He says the following day he went to the governor’s office, but that was thirteen days earlier! Janus explains that he received a new assignment, which Artie believes is impossible. Janus pulls Artie’s gun from its holster and waves it in Artie’s direction, then explains that the gun isn’t balanced. As for the assignment? There simply wasn’t time to share it with Artie – but Janus offers details now. Janus asks if Artie remembers Dr. Loveless and on learning Artie would have trouble forgetting the little wizard, explains how he was assigned to find the crazed scientist and his gigantic assistant Voltaire, who were not shot escaping after all. All that remains to do is tell city officials where the pair of fugitive felons has hidden. Artie offers to go with his friend into town on that errand, but Jim tells him to remain at the Wanderer
and prepare for departure. Then Janus departs, promising to return later in the evening. As Artie’s great Aunt Maude always says, enthusiasm is a sure sign a man loves his work; Janus pauses briefly to ask after Aunt Maude, only leaving when Artie reports that she is fine.
Artie looks at the telegram from Washington, briefly spins his gun, and seems to ponder the situation.
Janus returns to Dr. Loveless’ fenced town. Loveless unchains the gate to admit his henchman, relocking it after he passes through.
Jim waits in his cell when Voltaire opens the door. Dr. Loveless reports complete success, which means he no longer needs Jim’s services...
Artie rides through the woods, having followed Janus back to Loveless’ compound. First, he tries to shoot off the lock; when the bullet ricochets with a spark he realizes the fence is charged. Thinking a moment, Artie removes a bottle of spirits from his coat and pours the fluid on the ground, then breaks the bottle to improvise a glass fountain. Carefully propping the lock away from the fence with a stick, Artie uses his crude fountain to pour powder from a metal flask into the lock. Then he places a fuse into the keyhole, lights it and races away. Seconds later the lock explodes!
Janus enters Jim’s cell. It is almost sundown and perhaps not coincidentally, the sand has almost finished running from a large hourglass.
Artie pushes open the gate and enters the town.
Jim offers Janus coffee; the henchman seems surprised at the aplomb with which the agent greets impending death. He asks if Jim knows what Loveless intends to do, and Jim replies that Loveless intends to kill him, and suggests that it little matters how. Janus accepts a cup of coffee and offers to explain how.
Artie prowls the streets, finding Zake’s saloon and the wax figures therein.
Dr. Loveless tells Voltaire he can’t stand the noise of violence. If Jim tries to be brave then Voltaire may kill him slowly, but if Jim starts to yell, Voltaire must end it quickly to spare the doctor’s sensitive eardrums.
Artie crosses a street and continues his search.
The last sand falls to the lower chamber of the hourglass precisely as Loveless and Voltaire enter the cell. Jim pretends to be Janus! This flusters Loveless, who clearly did not anticipate the possibility and does not know what to do next. He accuses Jim of playing tricks, but Marie calms the doctor. She reminds him that she has kissed the real Jim West and can tell the two men apart. Loveless accepts this. She first kisses the man on the left, and then the man on the right. She correctly identifies Jim, and whispers into his ear that she will tell the doctor he is Janus. Jim gives her different instructions: he tells her to tell the truth.
Marie tells Loveless which man is Jim, and Janus jumps in to confirm his own identity. But Loveless suspects Jim has suborned Marie and is deliberately identifying the wrong man. He proceeds as if his own henchman is actually his arch foe, ordering Voltaire to strangle the man! Clearly Jim understood how Loveless mind would work in this situation. Loveless tells Marie to see “Janus” off; Voltaire turns to his work over Janus’ protests! Finally, desperate to save his own life, Janus punches Voltaire, distracting the giant long enough to duck out the door.
Marie and Jim enter the studio and Jim asks which switch controls the fence current. Marie does not know, but tells him that if he throws all the switches the equipment will explode! Jim slams home switch after switch; the electrical gear begins to whine alarmingly. Sparks begin to fly and smoke billow as machinery explodes inside. Artie enters the studio door as Marie and Jim race up to the landing; all three of them escape.
Seconds later Loveless and Voltaire enter the studio; Voltaire reaches to open some of the circuits but Loveless realizes Voltaire would die attempting to deactivate the overload, and warns him off.
Outside, Janus fires the cannon from the center of town and then starts a firefight but hits no one and evades injury himself. While Artie distracts Janus Jim climbs to a roof and from there into a window.
Loveless and Voltaire gain the landing only to discover Jim, Artie and Marie locked the outer door behind them. Loveless has Voltaire put him inside a glass box containing some of his taxidermy specimens; the glass will keep electricity from harming the scientist. Sparks jump, causing Voltaire to flinch from the pyrotechnic display.
Outside the firefight continues. Janus tries to reload the cannon as Jim emerges from another window and races across the roof, launching himself at his duplicate on the ground below. They wrestle. Artie and Marie emerge from cover too late to be sure which is which as two copies of Jim West roll in the dirt. Finally one of them defeats the other and stands, but Artie keeps the man covered. He suggests leaving, but Artie remains unsure. Marie solves the problem with another kiss.
Inside, the studio explodes...
Back aboard the Wanderer
the agents learn that Voltaire took enough electricity to kill an elephant but suffered only mild burns. Voltaire and Loveless have been returned to jail and this time double guarded! As soon as Artie gets a message off to Washington they can leave. That’s when Jim pulls his gun and has Artie raise his hands high in the air, and then turn around. Artie ponders whether he made the right choice to trust Marie, but then notices the gun is back in its holster. Turning, he sees Jim and Marie in a passionate embrace. Then he knows he rescued the real Jim West...