Now available on DVD for the first time, Route 66 has been digitally transferred from the original masters. The television series, which aired 1960-64, is one of the most brilliant dramas to emerge from the '60s, famous for its catchy Nelson Riddle theme song, intriguing characters, top-drawer writing and stellar guest appearances. The original "road trip" drama, this classic television series was one of the most highly rated of the era, establishing the Corvette as an American icon.
Vintage TV buffs will get their kicks (you saw that one coming) from Route 66
, the 1960 nomadic series that brought Beat-inspired wanderlust to primetime. Three years after the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road
, Yale-educated Tod (Martin Milner) and his scrappy Hell's Kitchen-bred friend, Buzz (George Maharis), set off in search of America in Tod's awesome Corvette convertible, his sole possession following his once-wealthy father's death. Buz ("the kid with the punch") handles most of the scrapes the buddies get into as they take odd jobs and invariably become embroiled in the personal dramas of the people they meet, as in the pilot, when they arrive, unwanted, in a closed-off small town hiding a shameful secret.
Route 66 is perhaps best-known today for Nelson Riddle's classic cruising theme song (not the Nat "King" Cole tune), but nearly 50 years later, the series still runs like a top, with a vivid sense of place (the cross-country episodes were filmed on location) and dialogue that goes from cool banter ("Buz." one lunchtime pickup inquires, "is that your name or a high frequency?") to philosophical musings. Sterling Silliphant, who would go on to win an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night, wrote the bulk of the literate, compelling scripts. The DVD box misleadingly pictures as guest stars Walter Matthau, Robert Redford, and Martin Sheen, who did appear during the series' run, just not in these first 15 episodes. But we do get Lee Marvin as a nasty rancher in "Sheba," Leslie Nielsen as a scientist who takes refuge in Carlsbad Caverns in anticipation of a bomb attack in "A Fury Slinging Flame," and E.G. Marshall as a misguided father in "Three Sides." There is unfortunately no star commentary, but this four-disc set gets some extra mileage from original commercials for Bayer Aspirin and Phillips Milk of Magnesia, and one touting the '61 Chevy Biscayne featuring William "Bub" Frawley and the kids from My Three Sons, and a Chevrolet Corevette photo gallery that should get classic car buffs' engines running. --Donald Liebenson