Judge P.S. Colbert loves the wind in his hair as he races towards deadlines.
"If you ever plan to motor west
Meet Tod Stiles (Martin Milner, Adam-12), an Ivy League educated and recently orphaned adult. Tod's once wealthy father, an East River barge magnate, apparently shuffled off this mortal coil mortgaged to the hilt. After selling off the family business to pay all debtors, Tod was left virtually penniless, save for his father's parting gift—a nasty-cool, brand-spanking new Corvette. Homeless and emotionally adrift, Tod fires up the engine and drives towards tomorrow, wherever that takes him.
Perfectly positioned between Kerouac's "On The Road" and Easy Rider, Route 66 covered the highways and by-ways of the intercontinental United States from 1960 to 1964, shrewdly navigated by co-creators Herbert B. Leonard (Naked City) and Sterling Silliphant, Oscar-winning writer of In The Heat Of The Night.
Riding shotgun and playing Dean Moriarty to Milner's Sal Paradise was George Maharis (Land Raiders) as Buz Murdoch, "a survivor of Hell's Kitchen." Spouting street smarts in a poetic hep-cat style, the tall dark and broodingly handsome Maharis provided a perfect complement and counterpart to Milner's freckle-faced, clean-cut "boy next door" good looks and no-frills demeanor. When illness forced Maharis to drop out during the series' third season, Tod rode solo for a spell before running into Linc Case (Glenn Corbett, Chisum), who'd play Billy the Kid to Milner's Captain America for the remainder of the show's run. While conventional wisdom at the time was that with Maharis went the show's irreplaceable appeal, those who stuck around to see Corbett's first appearance in "Fifty Miles From Home" were unknowingly gazing into the future.
Like Buz before him, Linc was a survivor, albeit one from a battleground beyond the purview of most Americans in March 1963: Vietnam. On leave and making his way home to the little town of Landor, Texas…Lincoln Case, a highly decorated Green Beret and combat veteran who fought his way out of a Vietcong prison, refuses to wear his Purple Heart or attend the homecoming parade being planned in his honor. He feels "they're celebrating the killer," rather than the person they never recognized before he left for South East Asia.
Bitter, alienated, and confused about whom he was fighting and why, Linc takes the passenger seat to criss-cross America with Tod. But Vietnam will continue to haunt him going forward, particularly in future episodes where he encounters men he served with, equally plagued by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), a term that won't be coined for years to come. Corbett, simultaneously steely-eyed and wounded, is magnificent in his debut, and the prescience of the (Silliphant penned) script cannot be underestimated.
Not all episodes are as good (though some arguably better) and none of the one hundred sixteen produced fall below a certain standard of excellence. Today's audiences may find the highly literate writing a bit arch at first—characters are often saddled with soliloquies—but they'll no doubt be drawn in by the chance to see an America virtually unrecognizable today (the series was shot almost entirely on location). Not to mention the added bonus of seeing perhaps the greatest single collection of notable guest stars in television history, in all stages of career advancement. You never know who's going to be slinging hash or waiting tables at the next roadside diner the Corvette pulls up to, or who'll be working alongside in the factory job Tod and his partner have taken just long enough to raise money for their next road trip. I heartily recommend that you go into this experience blindly (like I did), to sweeten the element of surprise.
Fifty years is a long way to go without gathering some moss, and though Shout! Factory has done their usual cracker-jack job of restoring these standard definition 1.33:1 full-screen black and white episodes, some depreciation is evident, particularly in the first season; "A Fury Slinging Flame" comes with pre-show warnings about being taken from the best quality master available, and edited for syndication. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio quality also varies, but never to a fatal degree. Given its reputation for loving care towards vintage television, Shout! Factory has done their very best in terms of presenting the most adequate source material they could find. There are no subtitles, which is consistent with the studio's other releases, but one keeps hoping this will change.
The twenty fourth and final disc of the set—housed in the fourth season box—consists entirely of bonus features, and they're gems. First up is an group interview conducted for the 1990 Paley Festival, with Maharis, Leonard, frequent Route 66 director Arthur Hiller (Love Story), and several other key off-camera players. Their 30 year reunion finds the team happy to be together again and in a mood to reminisce, dispensing useful information and colorful anecdotes along the way. Next up are several of the original commercials that broke up Route 66 episodes in prime time, including a classic ad for the 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne featuring the cast of My Three Sons. Finally, Corvette buffs get their turn, with a 30 minute profile from the Great Cars documentary series, celebrating the classic's fiftieth anniversary.
Simultaneously nostalgic and timeless, Route 66: The Complete Series provides the perfect antidote for today's "500 channels and nothing's on" malady. May the road rise to meet you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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