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Case Number 17386: Small Claims Court

Buy On The Road With Charles Kuralt: Set 1 at Amazon

On The Road With Charles Kuralt: Set 1

Acorn Media // 1967 // 378 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 1st, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas travels the country in his mobile home, searching for stories about the mysterious figure named Batman.

Editor's Note

Our review of On The Road With Charles Kuralt: Set 3, published October 23rd, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

"There are sights in this country and people in this country to banish any gloom you ever may feel and to fill you instead with wonder."

The Case

Beginning in 1967, journalist Charles Kuralt traveled the country in search of intriguing stories about small-town America. His "On the Road" segments quickly became a very popular portion of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and Kuralt continued to produce the segments for the next twenty years. Over six hours of assorted On the Road with Charles Kuralt segments have been assembled as 21-minute episodes for this collection from Acorn Media. The 18 episodes are spread across three discs as follows.

Disc One
Episode 1: Blenheim Ginger Ale, Golden Gate Bridge Workers, Bicycle Man
Episode 2: Super Shoe Salesman, Down-Home Remedies, 80-Year-Old Cook, Unique Mailbox Posts
Episode 3: American Citizen, Blowing Bubbles, Junk-Mail Heat, Simplify
Episode 4: Domino Theory, Old Advertisements, Building Wooden Boats, Roadside Shangri-La
Episode 5: Kentucky Croquet-Playing Field, Black Diamond Private Railcar, Twidd, The Circus Bandleader
Episode 6: Whistle-Stop Ride, Toothpick Artist, National Weather Survey

Disc Two
Episode 7: All-Night Library, Life on the Bayou, Living in a Small Town
Episode 8: Lady Mayor, Bullfighter, Wind Symphony/Carousels, Shipbuilders of Maine
Episode 9: Interstate 80, Farming and Fishing in Kansas, Greek Sponge-Fisherman, Bishop of Spokane, Volkswagens
Episode 10: Piney Woods Thoreau, Coffee Cups, Wheat Harvest, Cadillac Ranch, Nebraska: Bountiful Desert
Episode 11: Illinois: Abraham Lincoln's Hometown, Hummingbirds, Maple Sugar, Woman Driver, Mayor of Duncan
Episode 12: Dowset, One-Room Schoolhouse, Brick Maker, Cable Cars, Iowa

Disc Three
Episode 13: Mushrooms, Covered Bridges, Turkey Trot, Kite Man, Montana: Little Big Horn
Episode 14: 104-Year-Old Man, Cymbals Factory, Sleighs, California: The Mission Trail
Episode 15: Chicken Man, Idaho: The River of No Return, Man Who Waves at Traffic
Episode 16: Pauli Murray, Delta Queen, Street Vendor, Colorado Prospectors
Episode 17: Stone Skipping, New Mexico: Atomic Bomb, Pothole Festival, Greenup H.S. Cheerleaders, Crop Artist
Episode 18: Bike Messenger, Lace Making, Cicadas, Capitals of the World, South Dakota: Cowboys of Deadwood

I honestly didn't expect much from these little vignettes, particularly with accolades like, "Television's Norman Rockwell!" scattered around on the packaging. I imagined they would be uplifting, feel-good puff pieces that were originally designed to serve as padding between segments of genuine "hard news." I underestimated Kuralt's gifts as a storyteller. As he wanders the country in his mobile home, he finds a collection of fascinating people, places and cultural quirks. He certainly had a knack for finding these things, but his real talent is finding the perfect angle from which to tell the story. He examines these people and turns them into larger-than-life figures worthy of good literature: saints with troubled pasts, working stiffs trying to alleviate the boredom of their lives, innocents discovering the true nature of the world, angels living among us.

The world is often an unpleasant and genuinely despicable place, and what we see each day on the evening news only serves to accentuate that. It's very easy to grow cynical towards humanity, to see the constant onslaught of negative behavior ranging from the childishly petty to the horrifically monstrous. Kuralt was a firm believer in humanity's capability for goodness, and his portraits here offer a persuasive argument of this. For instance, he finds a woman who spends all of her spare income on cooking meals for those in need. He also discovers a retired man who spends every waking hour of the day repairing bicycles and loaning them out to neighborhood kids free of charge. Kuralt slyly allows his narration to begin in a somewhat guarded manner before finally admitting that he considers these people to be modern-day heroes. By building up to his point rather than blurting it out upfront, he succeeds in persuading us of his viewpoints.

Not every piece is about heroic people. Sometimes they're just about homegrown oddities, like the toothpick artist and his peculiar creations, or the man who can craft endless works of art from bubbles. Sometimes they're memorable members of the working class, like the shoe salesman who believes he can sell a shoe to anyone who enters his store, or the man who refuses to compromise the "purity" of his ginger ale in order to please the masses. Even when covering something more conventional like interviewing survivors of a historical event, Kuralt finds that fresh angle. He has no interest in speaking to those who designed the Golden Gate Bridge, he'd much rather talk with the fellow who was part of the construction crew.

The transfer is actually rather miserable, as most of the pieces are more or less around VHS-level quality. Detail is simply awful, images are garbled and dirty, scratches and flecks are everywhere, color bleeding is severe…in other words, they look just a little bit worse than they did when they originally aired on television back in the day. Audio is similarly problematic, offering distortion and hiss at times. The only extras are brief text pieces about Kuralt and the program.

These are terrific little segments, and I defy anyone not to feel at least a little better about this country after watching them. Sometimes it's difficult to find any pride in being an American, but On the Road with Charles Kuralt spotlights our nation at its very best. Kuralt feels strongly about this land and the people living in it, and his good-hearted passion is positively infectious. Recommended.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 86

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 378 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Text Pieces


• IMDb: Charles Kuralt

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