by Tony Dayoub
Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), Yale grad, inherits a new Corvette from his father, who died unexpectedly penniless. Buz Murdock (George Maharis) is a friend he met while working for his dad. Also an orphan, Buz joins Tod on a cross-country soul-searching trip through America's cities and rural areas. The young men take on odd jobs when in need of money, and often become embroiled in drama of some kind with the people they run across.
This was the premise of one of TV's classic series, Route 66, which ran from 1960-1964. Writer Stirling Silliphant, who went on to win an Oscar for his screenplay for In The Heat of the Night (1967), was responsible for a sizable amount of the show's literate and highly involving dramatic scripts. The stories showcased some now-famous talent at early points in their careers, including Alan Alda, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Lee Marvin, Julie Newmar, Robert Redford, William Shatner, and Martin Sheen. The chemistry between the fiery, darkly handsome Maharis (The Sword and the Sorcerer), and the laid-back, boyishly good-looking Milner (Adam-12), was influential to many future "buddy pics".
But the most innovative aspect of the series was its location shooting. TV series today are frequently based in LA or Vancouver, and will use those cities to double for a myriad of other locations whenever necessary. Route 66 was, and maybe still is, unique in that whatever town Tod and Buz happened to be the setting for the story, the episode would actually be shot there. This gave an authenticity to the background and regional supporting players that has never been duplicated on television on such a regular basis since then. And man, did these guys travel. Leaving the titular Route 66 behind early on in the series, they travelled all across the U.S. from California to Maine to Florida. The series almost serves as a visual historical document, capturing the life of the open road as it was in 1960, before commercialization and interstates all but destroyed the backroads of America's heartland.
Couple that with the hit instrumental theme composed by Nelson Riddle, and the first extended look at a true American classic, the Corvette, and it is easy to see why the show still has its vocal fans. So vocal that when the series debuted on DVD in split season volumes with dingy visuals, fans complained loudly. Infinity Entertainment Group listened. They've digitally remastered the program, and are now rereleasing the series in season-long box sets.
Strongly recommended for fans of drama, due to strong acting from the guest stars, as well as a showcase of Maharis' early potential (which sadly is little heard of these days), get Route 66 on DVD next week.
The first set will be released on August 5th on DVD. It includes all thirty episodes of the first season, classic TV commercials, filmographies of the cast and guest cast, and a classic Corvette photo gallery with specs.