Created By: Sterling Silliphant
Starring: Martin Milner, George Maharis, Glen Corbett
So you’ve just graduated from Yale, ready to join your father in running the family empire. But suddenly your father dies and the empire turns out to be a charade. After all of the bills are paid the only thing your left with is a brand new Corvette. What do you do? Well if your Tod Stiles, played by Martin Milner, you pack a suitcase and strap it to the luggage rack of that Corvette and hit the road with Buzz Murdock, played by George Maharis, another young man from an entirely different background who used to work for your father. Together you will seek excitement, adventure and because young men just traveling the country having fun wouldn’t be dramatic enough they are of course also looking for themselves. Luckily for TV viewers in the early sixties, and us now that the shows are coming out on DVD it took them four seasons to find what they were looking for.
Of course you won’t learn that from watching these episodes. This the third season after all. There are only a few hints of Tod and Buzz’s backgrounds, a suggestion that Tod’s Yale education won’t do him any good in this situation or a comment that Buzz is a long way from Hell’s Kitchen. I guess you were supposed to have picked this stuff up in the first two seasons. The third season starts out with Tod and Buzz heading to Oregon to work a salmon boat for a widow. The widow just happens to have a young daughter, Toika, who has fallen for a damaged, alcoholic WWII vet with a chip on his shoulder. When Tod takes an interest in the widows daughter the vet takes an interest in Tod. Of course everything works out in the end. Not to say that the ending of every show gets neatly tied up. Some episodes are more light hearted like when they fall under the spell of a jinx played by Buster Keaton, after giving him a ride home. Or when they team up with Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr to scare the dickens out of a secretaries convention at a luxury motel. Some get darker than I would have imagined for a mainstream early sixties television show. Such as when Tod and Linc help to rescue a little girl from Cuba, or when they pay a visit to Linc’s lieutenant from Vietnam who after suffering a head injuries now has the metal capacity of a eight year old boy. They even serve up some light fantasy when Tod nearly falls in love with a mermaid.
Oh yeah, Linc. Halfway through the third season George Maharis became ill. While it looked like he would be able to return Tod traveled around sans Buzz. To explain his absence Tod would dutifully give Buzz a call every week to see how he was recovering. When it was determined that Maharis would not be returning Glen Corbett stepped off the bus in Houston as Lincoln Case a Special Forces soldier back in the states from Vietnam for some leave after escaping a P.O.W. Camp. Linc is not in town long before a misunderstanding over a woman ends up with Linc, after an inordinate amount of provocation, beating up several local boys that Tod has befriended. Tod takes it upon himself to return the favor and follows Linc to his hometown. After giving each other a thorough thrashing they end up traveling together until the show goes off the air. The original audiences never really took to Corbett and the loss of Maharis from the show is generally credited as one of the big reason that the show was ultimately canceled. Linc was a contrast to Buzz, but I liked him, he tended to bring out a lighter part of Tod the Buzz didn’t.
The on the road trope is firmly established now but at the time the show was a unique blend of the story of the week style drama’s and the episodic style shows prevalent at the time. Route 66 blazed the trail for shows like The Incredible Hulk, The A-Team, King Fu, Highway to Heaven, Knight Rider, Quantum Leap and a hundred other shows that I am forgetting. With only Tod and Buzz or Tod and Linc returning each week there were a great number of guest stars. Just to list a few, Rod Steiger, Ed Asner, Leslie Nielson, Ron Howard, Dick York, Vera Miles, Alan Hale, Alan Alda and a bunch more faces that I recognized but couldn’t name. The show was shot entirely on location, even if ironically most of those locations were no where near US Route 66, which makes it unique in a world where Southern California stands in for anywhere in most TV shows and even movies. The on location dimension makes this show a true treasure. The production company traveled from Oregon to Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois, California, Ohio, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Missouri in small towns and big towns recording a priceless portrait of early sixties America. It’s also a portrait of Chevys. There is of course the Corvette which mysteriously transforms from a ’62 into a ’63 mid-season, but Chevy’s are everywhere. Nearly every car you see is a Chevy, but not just brand new Chevys. If the script called for a twenty year old car what got filmed would be a twenty year old Chevy, amusing in an inside baseball way.
The video is presented in the original full screen 4:3 aspect ratio in gorgeous black and white. The show was expertly filmed. Even though it was shot entirely on location the lighting is nearly always perfect, maybe the black and white stock is just more forgiving but interior, exterior, day or night the scenes are always crisp with minimal grain. Being shot on location there are more hand held shots than I’ve ever scene in a old TV show. Usually it’s no big deal beyond some minimal camera shake but occasionally the focus does not keep up with a zoom or somebody will be a little blurry for a moment or two. This just tends to remind you though that this was shot in somebodies house, on a moving bus, or hanging off a telephone pole. Roxbury and Infinity Entertainment didn’t try to cram as many on to a disc as they could. The thirty one episodes come on eight DVD’s so they are not overly compressed. In fact I didn’t notice any compression artifacts.
The audio is presented in good old fashioned mono. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles. The score though is excellent and the mix is professional. The dialog is always clear and easily understood.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVDs, all eight of them come packed into a double width DVD case. The understated artwork on the cardboard slipcase is mirrored on the insert artwork and carried over to the discs themselves and the DVD menus. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. The only extras are some vintage commercials that would have aired with the episodes when they were originally aired.
The first episode on the third season opens with Tod and Buzz driving up the Oregon beach on the way to Astoria. Tod remarks that the beaches in Oregon are a pubic highway and he’s wondering exactly where it is they turn inland. Another time the boys are staying at a motel that describes itself as a “luxury motor hotel”. I want to stay a night or two at one of those. It’s these little glimpses of how different American life was nearly fifty years ago that make this show truly mesmerizing. On top of that the show is actually entertaining. The stories for the most part are entertaining, the acting is good, the cinematography great, but for better or worse it’s overshadowed by the locations or more precisely the locations at that particular time.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10