Case Number 19974: Small Claims Court

ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT: SET 3

Acorn Media // 1967 // 294 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // October 23rd, 2010

The Charge

By shining a spotlight on those who had gone unnoticed, Kuralt revealed that each of us is noteworthy.

The Case

In 1994, a few years prior to his death in 1997, Charles Kuralt told his biographer, "You know, most reporters can't go back to the towns they wrote stories about...I never wrote that kind of story." This attitude sums up the man he was -- a curious student of human nature, and a man who tried to see the good in everything. In fact, he set out to showcase these ideals in 1967, when he began traveling the United States by motor home, taking only the backroads in search of the essence of Americana. He would talk to anyone, and his stories were always heartwarming, often inspirational, and sometimes powerfully moving. He shared his wonder at the human condition with viewers at home, who traveled with him to see these other towns with customs and people that were both familiar and new. Kuralt, in a way, connected people to one another, even when he was interviewing a man who lived on a glacier in the shadow of Mt. McKinley.

For a more contemporary audience, these segments provide a way to look back at a snapshot of America (spanning 20 years that Kuralt was on the road), and a brightly positive look at the people of this nation in a time when reality television has sucked out appreciation of the human condition and replaced it with schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others). What I particularly enjoyed about the segments was Kuralt's infectious and genuine appreciation of these small-town stories; watching makes me smile. It's as simple, and as important, as that.

In addition to almost five hours of On the Road footage, there are a few extras of note. Two of the discs have "Road Updates," text-based notes directing viewers to websites or containing information about the places and people profiled by Kuralt. The major extra is a 55-minute interview with Isadore Bleckman, one of the cameramen for Kuralt during his On the Road years. Produced in 2010, Bleckman recalls some of the side stories during filming; effectively, a "behind the scenes" for the show. Bleckman tells a good story, not talking overlong or straying from the subject -- it's an interesting perspective on their years together and the people they profiled. One particularly heartwarming story Bleckman tells is of a dinner where he was being honored for his work behind the camera; he decided not tell Kuralt for fear that he would feel obligated to attend. During the dinner, however, he was delightfully surprised when Kuralt did appear and speak at length. Bleckman, like the viewer, becomes emotional as he tells this story.

These short "On the Road" segments were originally aired on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and the Travel Channel compiled them into episode format to air on TV. One of the really nice features of these box sets is the excellent closed-captioned subtitles provided by Acorn Media, which now makes these episodes accessible to a wider audience. The box set comes with three slim-case DVD boxes, each one listing the following episodes and the vignettes covered:

* Hex-Sign Painter, Missouri, High-School Plane, Christmas Tree, Alaskan Glacier Priest
* Horse Trader, Singing Mailman, Butterflies, Sorghum Making, Minnesota
* North Woods Guide, Tombstones, Steam Calliope, Huck Finn, Utah
* Dakota Farmer, Goose Lady, Oldest Park Ranger, Pennsylvania
* Bell ringers, Unicycle School, National Anthem, Mountains
* Cowbells, The Ice Meister, Gas Stations, Secretariat
* Udall, The School Teacher, Prospector, Balloons
* July 4th, Pioneer Grave, Pipe Organs, Kuralt's Roots
* Photo Family, Skill Olympics, Fire Hydrants, Free Doctors
* Wisdomkeepers, The Land, Dessie Odom
* Old Men and the Sea, Plank Road, Ellis Island
* Love Train, Worm Grunting, Elephants, Heroes of '41
* History of Norway, Hot-Dog Man, Donkey-Cart Man, The Eyelid Alarm, Running Water
* Loving Country, TX; Sewer Art; Last Lighthouse

As with past releases in this series, the box set is impeccably packaged, enclosing three slim-case boxes with full-color covers and episode list. The one unfortunate blemish on this release is the poor quality of the source material the video transfer was made from -- the images are sometimes so washed out and blurry that it is difficult to make out what is going on in wide shots. At best, they are merely mushy. Sound quality is also variable, as the small film crew often had to capture sound in noisy outdoor environments, and it has not aged well. It isn't clear why these segments suffered such severe age-related wear, but the show is quite watchable despite this setback.

The Verdict

If you are a fan of the show or would like some feel-good programming, you do not want to miss this set. It's like concentrated joy!

Review content copyright © 2010 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (CC)

Running Time: 294 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes
* Interview

Accomplices
* IMDb: Charles Kuralt
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0475559/

* Wikipedia: Charles Kuralt
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Kuralt