Route 66: The Complete Series
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All 116 Episodes Collected In One Complete Series Set!
On a weekly basis, from 1960 to 1964, the CBS network treated American audiences to two things they loved the most: television drama and cars. Starring Martin Milner, George Maharis and later Glenn Corbett, this series presented the exciting adventures shared by a pair of good-natured friends as they drove their Corvette convertible across the country, traversing the often dangerous highway known as Route 66.
By the end of the shows run of 116 episodes, this semi-anthology series boasted an award for writing and two Emmy nominations for acting. The programs impressive guest star roster included such classic screen legends as Lon Chaney, Jr., Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, as well as up-and-coming cinematic stars Robert Duvall, James Caan, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Lee Marvin, Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman and many more, making Route 66 as iconic as the highway itself.
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Top Customer Reviews
When it was announced several months ago that Shout Factory and that the entire series would be released in one big affordable box set, that news seemed promising. "YES! Shout Factory has acquired the rights to Route 66! Now it will finally get the treatment it deserves!" wrote one fan of the series on the Shout discussion forums. The implication we were given, and that SF seemed to encourage, was that Shout Factory was going to redo the series from the beginning, taking the time and care to transfer the highest quality prints available to produce the best possible release for the fans. This optimism turned out to be, to put it mildly, premature.
Now that the set is out, it is clear that absolutely NOTHING was done in terms of improving on the quality of Infinity's product, and that the first three seasons appears to be EXACTLY the same prints used in the original Infinity release of the show, which include the sub-bootleg quality of the early first season that company put out on the market. In regard to this earlier release, Infinity spokesman Kirk Hallum later admitted that the company issued a substandard product in an effort to meet a street date in depraved indifference to the desire and best interest of the show's fans.
So fans had every reason to expect an improvement with Shout's, acquisition of the series, and that was bolstered by regular posts to the forum by the set producer, a man named Brian Ward. Ward regularly posted glowing updates of how he and his staff were working with loving care on the release, using "the best sources availible" from "multiple sources" and that "the footage looks good." A few posters to the forum directly addressed the issue of the poor quality of the Infinity releases, specifically the case of the episode "A Fury Slinging Flame" for which a poor-quality print edited for syndication was used. These posters made clear to Mr. Ward that this was a major point of contention with them, and that they did not want a syndicated print used in this new version. Ward assured the forum that "we are doing everything we can to make sure we have the complete episodes," and then vanished from the forum.
Several weeks later, the first editions of this set arrived in the hands of consumers. Eager hands popped discs into DVD players and were horrified to find the exact same shoddy Infinity episodes, including the chopped-up "Flame". The Shout Factory forums exploded with outrage. When the news broke on the Route 66 discussion boards, fans began cancelling their pre-orders left and right.
This re-release is particularly egregious when one considers that the episodes for the first three seasons are the same ones that fans who faithfully bought the Infinity sets already own. This means that Shout is now asking consumers to fork over 100 clams for a product that many of them already own three-quarters of, just to get a set of the fourth and final season's episodes. This after strongly giving the impression since acquiring ownership of the show that their box set was going to be a new and improved product.
It turns out that Brian Ward has an EXTENSIVE history of lying to Shout's consumers. concerning various TV show releases, telling them anything they want to hear before a set is released; upon which it is discovered that what he said just ain't so.
On the positive side, the packaging is simply gorgeous, with magnificent artwork and nifty individual color-coded case boxes for each of the four individual seasons. Unfortunately, the product within is uneven, making this just essentially just another bootleg in a pretty box.
Of course I must reiterate that this series, one of the greatest of the 1960s, is a five-star classic and my one-star rating for this fiasco should not be confused with that.
In his book on "Route 66," author James Rosin lists his top 25 episodes, but I decided that that would be kind of silly for me to do, as that would have represented almost 1/4 of the entire series run. Instead, I have limited myself to a baker's dozen here (it was almost impossible to restrict myself to a Top 10 list). I tried to be completely objective in my choices, and base my picks on the show's artistic merit--its writing, its emotional impact, its entertainment value, its performances--rather than the inclusion of several of my favorite actors and actresses; otherwise, the episodes with Anne Francis, Tuesday Weld, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff et al. would have automatically been included, irrespective of the show's other qualities. Thus, here are my favorite episodes, based on a single viewing, and with the full knowledge that this list very well might change after later, repeat viewings. The episodes are listed in chronological order:
1) SHEBA--The one with Lee Marvin as the ranch owner. I loved the surprise ending of this one, but the biggest surprise in this episode for me, and one that almost made me fall off my couch, was when Carol Ohmart appeared on screen. Ohmart is an actress who I have long been enamored (and a little scared) of, by dint of her performance in the classic horror film "House on Haunted Hill." In the many decades since I first saw the film as a kid, I have only seen her in two other films, "Spider Baby" and "The Scavengers." It is not exactly easy to see Carol Ohmart in anything, and her appearance here really put this ep over the top for me.
2) AN ABSENCE OF TEARS--I am a big fan of the genre of movies known as film noir, and this episode--the one featuring Martha Hyer as the blind woman who goes after her husband's killers--is just about as close as "Route 66" ever got to a genuine film noir.
3) MOST VANQUISHED, MOST VICTORIOUS--The one in which Tod and Buz do a favor for Tod's aunt (Beatrice Straight), and endeavor to find a cousin of his. I have never seen Buz do anything tougher than burn that punk kid's leather jacket in the street, and the fight against the gang at the end was just too cool for words.
4) A SKILL FOR HUNTING--I'm not gonna lie...I have a preference for the "action episodes" and the "horror episodes" of this series (as opposed to the comedy episodes, or the tearjerkers, or the over-the-top dramas), and this one, with Gene Evans gunning for the boys in the mountains at the end, is one of the best. The finale, with that bear trap, is wonderfully tense stuff.
5) A MONTH OF SUNDAYS--The one with the dying Anne Francis. Putting aside my lifelong love of all things Anne (the woman who jump-started my puberty, by dint of her performance in 1965's "Honey West," and who was kind enough to send me TWO handwritten letters years later, following my request for an autograph), we have a beautiful love story here, wonderfully photographed in Montana, with a killer-diller of an emotional finale. Perhaps my very favorite episode of the 116.
6) THE THIN WHITE LINE--Tod takes some kind of psycho-inducing drug and goes bonkers all over Philadelphia. I love this episode for Milner's remarkable performance, for Al Lewis' priceless reaction shots, and for that incredible ending on the bridge. We know that Tod will not kill himself here (not with 2 1/2 seasons to go!) but such is the power of this ep that the viewer is worried about his fate anyway. Similar to the drug that Tod unwittingly ingests, this episode itself is very strong stuff. To quote Tod: "Deee-licious!"
7) TO WALK WITH THE SERPENT--I was amazed at how timely this episode was, depicting a group of terrorists who plot to blow up a bomb in the crowded streets of Boston, 50 years before the terrible actuality. The scene in which the FBI agent (Simon Oakland) shows Tod and Buz the film of the group's meeting is absolutely chilling, as well reflected on the boys' shocked faces.
8) AREN'T YOU SURPRISED TO SEE ME?--The one in which the religious nut (David Wayne) kidnaps Buz and threatens to kill him, unless the world straightens up and starts obeying the 10 Commandments. Tense, suspenseful, and capped by one remarkable speech from Buz at the end.
9) EVEN STONES HAVE EYES--One of Maharis' favorite episodes, and one of mine, too. A nicely believable reaction to his blindness from Buz, a realistic feeling of helplessness from Tod, a sweet romance between Buz and the Barbara Barrie character, a sad yet honest ending, all add up to a genuine winner.
10) THERE I AM...THERE I ALWAYS AM--The one in which playgirl Joanne Moore is caught in the rocks with the tide coming in, and Buz attempts to get her out. It was about this time that I realized that on this show, anything COULD happen to any character. Maybe Joanna Moore WILL drown in this episode. She would naturally be saved on any other program, but perhaps not on THIS one! Another tense and suspenseful episode, with beautiful scenery and the pleasing sight of George Maharis doing a LOT of physically demanding running around.
11) BETWEEN HELLO AND GOODBYE--I love the "horror episodes" of "Route 66," as I have said, and this one surely qualifies, with gorgeous Susan Oliver, here in her second of three appearances in the series, playing "twin sisters." A surprise ending (that I actually saw coming from the get-go) and a fantastic double performance from Susan really put this one over for me. (By the way, the new documentary on Susan Oliver, "The Green Girl," is just terrific, and can be purchased at thegreengirlmovie.com.)
12) WELCOME TO THE WEDDING--Buz had been kidnapped in "Aren't You Surprised to See Me?," and in this ep, it was Tod's turn to be taken by a psycho bad guy; namely, Rod Steiger, here contributing one of the most intense performances of all the 116 episodes.
13) IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK--Another terrific horror episode, with Ruth Roman as the woman who had killed her father with a fishing tool and is now feeling a bit edgy again. There is one scene in this episode that is just striking. Ruth looks out of a window and sees a couple strolling on the beach. The shot is filmed from behind her head, and the look of the image is like something out of a European art film; almost as if Ingmar Bergman were shooting the scene on Faro Island or something. This one shot is like nothing that was being done on television at the time. It really surprised me.
As for my favorite performances, choosing my favorite 13 episodes out of the 116 was hard enough, but since each of those eps contained at least one or two noteworthy performances, and some of them three or four, you can see that I had a LOT to consider here. Thus, I decided to simplify matters for myself a bit, and eliminate from consideration any performances that had featured in my favorite episodes. This seemed like common sense, almost, as the reason that many of those episodes were my favorites to begin with was largely due to the performances therein, and I do not wish to repeat myself here. But this also meant eliminating such powerful performances as that of Martha Hyer in "An Absence of Tears," Gene Evans in "A Skill for Hunting," Anne Francis in "A Month of Sundays," Al Lewis in "The Thin White Line," Dan O'Herlihy in "To Walk With the Serpent," David Wayne in "Aren't You Surprised to See Me?," Barbara Barrie in "Even Stones Have Eyes," Susan Oliver in "Between Hello and Goodbye," Rod Steiger in "Welcome to the Wedding" (an amazingly focused and intense performance) and Ruth Roman in "In the Closing of a Trunk." Still, there were hundreds of remarkable acting jobs left to consider; indeed, I don't believe a single episode of "Route 66" EVER featured a lousy performance from anyone, a testament to the directors and actors who worked on the show. After some thought, I have come up with a list, not of the best performances--I despair of ever doing that--but of some of my favorite standout performances; a baker's dozen that perforce could not include such amazing work by luminaries such as Michael Rennie, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Matthau, Darren McGavin, Ethel Waters, Inger Stevens, Pat Hingle, Albert Salmi, Steven Hill, David Janssen, Luther Adler, Sorrell Booke, (yummy) Madlyn Rhue, Joanne Linville, Richard Basehart, (scrumptious) Diane Baker, Dick York, Rip Torn, Miriam Hopkins, William Shatner, Jo van Fleet and Michael Parks. Has any show in TV history boasted such incredible guest casts? Anyway, as to my highly personal picks, which of course might change the next time I take this road trip, here they are, again presented in chronological order:
1) DAN DURYEA as Mike McKay, in "Don't Count Stars"--Really, I could just as easily have chosen Duryea's performance in "A Cage In Search of a Bird," but found this one to be a bit more highly emotionally charged. His work here as the alcoholic uncle--in actuality, the father--of a young girl was just tremendous, and his scene with Maharis toward the end one of great emotional weight. No surprise here, really; Duryea has long been one of my favorite character actors from the `40s and onward, whose presence always improved any film that he appeared in.
2) SUSAN OLIVER as Joan Maslow, in "Welcome to Amity"--Not perhaps as impressive as her double performance in "Between Hello and Goodbye," but really, some very fine work, still, playing the steely and determined young woman who comes back to her hometown to move her pariah mother's burial plot.
3) NEHEMIAH PERSOFF as Dvorovoi, in "Incident on a Bridge"--This pitiful character, an almost deformed Neanderthal brute, turns quite touching by the episode's end, when he offers money to the Lois Smith character so that she might be able to go to speech school. Persoff makes the brute almost akin to a Quasimodo, and the viewer actually believes that pretty Smith would want to run away with him. I was tempted to give the nod to Persoff's performance in the later episode "First Class Mouliak," but found this one even more affecting.
4) ROBERT DUVALL as Arnie, in "Birdcage on My Foot"--Not since Frank Sinatra's turn in "The Man With the Golden Arm" had we been presented with such a grueling depiction of a junkie going through withdrawal, and Duvall is frighteningly convincing here, especially in his wonderful scene with Maharis toward the end. Very powerful stuff!
5) JULIE NEWMAR as Vicki Russell, in both "How Much a Pound Is Albatross?" AND "Give an Old Cat a Tender Mouse"--The only character to be brought back for a sequel in "Route 66," and for good reason. Newmar is simply wonderful as the personification of the "free spirit," and indeed, I can't decide which episode she is more touching in.
6) TUESDAY WELD as Miriam Moore, in "Love Is a Skinny Kid"--First seen wearing a fright mask as she enters her hometown in Texas, Tuesday soon reveals herself for the broken beauty that she is. Weld, at this point in time, was not generally regarded as a quality actress, despite her excellent work on the "Dobie Gillis" show as Thalia Menninger, but her fans knew that she was much more than a (remarkably) pretty face, and that would be proved later in the `60s and `70s, when she demonstrated what a fine dramatic actress she could be. Her work in this episode is assuredly evidence of her early promise.
7) NINA FOCH as Autumn, in "Across Walnuts and Wine"--I was torn between giving her the nod for her work here or in the earlier episode, "A Bridge Across Five Days." In that earlier ep, she was extremely moving as a woman trying to adjust to life after being released from a mental hospital. Here, though, I think she is even more devastating, playing a lonely schoolteacher returning to her sister's home in Oregon. Her speech at the end is very touching; almost an ode to loneliness. Brilliant work.
8) VERA MILES as Ellen Barnes, in "Where Is Chick Lorimer? Where Has She Gone?"--Another damaged woman who returns to her old hometown, but here, we have an ex-stripper who is trying to cover up her past. Miles brings both pathos and grit to the character, who turns out to be more of a free spirit than even Tod Stiles!
9) LOIS NETTLETON as Isabel (and a bunch of other names!), in "Suppose I Said I Was the Queen of Spain"--Her character in this episode, who steals $9K using Tod's credit card, is surely not one to engender the viewer's sympathy, and yet, by the episode's end, which features a remarkable and lengthy speech from the woman, that sympathy is somehow attained. Tod applauds this speech, and, for different reasons, so did I!
10) J. CARROLL NAISH as Mike Donato, in "And Make Thunder His Tribute"--Naish had previously impressed me dozens of times via his character work in God knows how many films of the `30s and onward; he is one of the finest character actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, usually known for playing villains. Thus, how nice to see him here playing a decent but old-fashioned Minnesota raspberry farmer, who is at odds with his modern-era son! Naish gives a colorful and moving performance, especially when he lays on what must be assumed to be his deathbed at the end.
11) PARKER FENNELLY as Arthur Perham, in "I Wouldn't Start From Here"--I have no idea who this Parker Fennelly is; I don't think I have ever seen him in anything before, in film or on television. Still, what a wonderful, naturalistic performance he gives here as the hard-put Vermont farmer trying to hold on to his ancestral land. He makes acting look simple and natural, the way it ought to appear.
12) GEOFFREY HORNE as Simon Devereaux, in "Is it True There Are Poxies at the Bottom of Landfair Lake?"--Playing a returned vet in Savannah, Horne gives us a very unlikable character;a troublemaker and borderline nut case. Ultimately, though, in one of the longest speeches in all of "Route 66"--one that gets more and more dramatic until the screen fairly explodes--his character reveals why he is the way he is, and it is a fairly shocking moment. Surely, one of the most over-the-top performances of this series' four seasons.
13) LOIS SMITH as Lucy Brown, in "Who In His Right Mind Needs a Nice Girl?"--Smith's fourth appearance on "Route 66," and my favorite. She had been pretty brilliant in the episode "Only By Cunning Glimpses," playing a spooky clairvoyant, but here gives us a character who, like Nina Foch's, was almost heartbreaking in her loneliness and misery. Her decision to give a conning murderer her life savings on the off chance of happiness is just pitiful, and Smith plays the part wonderfully.
Anyway, those are my 13 cents' worth of thoughts on great "Route 66" performances. Oh, crap...I didn't even mention Joan Crawford, or Boris Karloff, or Buster Keaton, or Joe E. Brown....