DVD Review Route 66: The Complete Series DVD Review

Richard Gallagher

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Let's cut to the chase. Route 66: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory is a mixed bag. Those who are familiar with the previous releases of Seasons 1-3 by Roxbury/Infinity are well aware of the problems with those releases. The first release of Season One was in the wrong aspect ratio (that at least was corrected by Roxbury/Infinity), the picture quality was (to be charitable) variable (the first 15 episodes are widely regarded as substandard), at least two episodes were edited syndicated versions, and the packaging was poorly designed and excessively bulky. Fans of the series were hoping that Shout! Factory was going to correct all of those problems, but that is not the case. A direct comparison shows very little improvement in picture quality, although the excessively dark contrast has been lightened up a bit. The two edited versions are still edited, although Shout! has added a disclaimer to one of them. On the other hand, Season Four looks terrific (one episode has a couple of brief glitches which are discussed below), includes a disc of interesting extras, and the packaging is vastly improved.



Route 66: The Complete Series

Studio: Shout! Factory
Year: 1960-1964
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: Approximately 100 Hours                           
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Languages: English Mono
Subtitles: None

The Program

Let's cut to the chase. Route 66: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory is a mixed bag. Those who are familiar with the previous releases of Seasons 1-3 by Roxbury/Infinity are well aware of the problems with those releases. The first release of Season One was in the wrong aspect ratio (that at least was corrected by Roxbury/Infinity), the picture quality was (to be charitable) variable (the first 15 episodes are widely regarded as substandard), at least two episodes were edited syndicated versions, and the packaging was poorly designed and excessively bulky. Fans of the series were hoping that Shout! Factory was going to correct all of those problems, but that is not the case. A direct comparison shows very little improvement in picture quality, although the excessively dark contrast has been lightened up a bit. The two edited versions are still edited, although Shout! has added a disclaimer to one of them. On the other hand, Season Four looks terrific (one episode has a couple of brief glitches which are discussed below), includes a disc of interesting extras, and the packaging is vastly improved.

For the uninitiated, Route 66 follows two young men as they travel around the United States in a Corvette while looking for fun and adventure. The pair originally consisted of Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis). Maharis contracted hepatitis during the filming of Season Three and he was forced to miss many episodes. He also got into a dispute with the show's producers and he wanted to make feature films, so his character was written out of the series and was replaced by Linc Case (Glenn Corbett) toward the end of Season Three. The series features outstanding production values with on-location filming throughout the country, superb and intelligent scripts (many by Stirling Silliphant), and a bevy of famous guest stars. It is one of the iconic television series of the Sixties.

I will not rehash the first three seasons here, as they have been discussed at length in previous threads. I will just mention that the Season One episode "A Fury Slinging Flame" is the syndicated version which is missing approximately five minutes of footage. As noted, Shout! has added a disclaimer noting that this is an edited version and was mastered from the best elements available. The Season Two episode "Blue Murder" also is the syndicated version, although Shout! has not seen fit to add a disclaimer to it.

Season Four contains many enjoyable episodes, although the show suffered from the fact that Glenn Corbett never projects the kind of charisma which George Maharis was capable of. Even so, the final season of the series includes many very good episodes. Of particular note is "I'm Here to Kill a King," featuring guest stars Robert Loggia and Tina Louise (a year before she took on the role of Ginger in Gilligan's Island). Martin Milner plays a dual role as Tod and his exact double, a hired killer named Paul Kades. The assassin is being paid to kill the King of an unnamed Middle Eastern country by the King's chief of security, Colonel Zaman. The action takes place during the King's visit to Niagara Falls. There is an inevitable mix-up when Tod is mistaken for Kades and when Linc mistakes Kades for Tod. Milner is every effective playing both roles, but the real significance of the show is that it was scheduled to air in late November, 1963 and was pre-empted following the assassination of President Kennedy. Some sources report that this episode was aired only in syndication, but elsewhere it is reported that it aired on March 20, 1964, a week after the show's last episode. In any event, Shout! has placed it where it was intended to be aired, as episode nine of Season Four.

Guest stars in Season Four include Jack Warden, Sessue Hayakawa, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney Jr., William Shatner, J. Carrol Naish, Stefanie Powers, Jessica Walter, James Coburn, Soupy Sales, and Barbara Eden.

I grew up in a family of ten - my parents, my maternal grandmother, and six siblings. We had one television set, and of course no one even dreamed that one day we would have home video and DVRs. Consequently, I had very little input into what we watched on TV. I still remember that one Friday evening in 1961 or 1962 I was attending a high school basketball game and I left early so I could go home to watch 77 Sunset Strip at 9:30 p.m. Alas, when I arrived I discovered that my parents had already decided to watch a different show. In those days video quality was subject to ghosting, snow, and electrical interference. I suppose that those experiences make me a bit more forgiving about the picture quality of vintage TV shows. Shows such as Route 66 and The Untouchables were not favorites in my home and I rarely got to see them. So even though this complete series set of Route 66 is far from perfect, after fifty years I finally can watch every episode, so it is a welcome addition to my video library.

The Video

As noted, the 1.33:1 black and white images seen in Seasons One through Three look much the same as what we saw in the Roxbury/Infinity releases. The first 15 episodes of Season One are not in great shape, although significant improvement is evident as the series progresses. Season Four's picture quality is excellent, exhibiting fine detail and solid contrast. There are several brief glitches during the first couple of minutes of the first episode of Season Four, "Two Strangers and An Old Enemy." While Tod is being questioned by the press, there are two momentary audio dropouts. The first occurs at the 37-second mark. The second occurs at the 57-second mark, where Tod says "I just started working here" but the word "just" drops out. Then there are a couple of very brief glitches at the 1:14 and 1:22 marks. Finally, at the 2:07 mark the picture freezes for two seconds but the audio is unaffected. Others who ordered the set directly from Shout! have reported seeing and hearing the same things, so it is not a question of me receiving a bad disc. Whether Shout! will address this issue is unknown at this point.

I of course have not been able to watch every minute of every episode of Season Four yet, but I at least scanned through each episode and have not seen or heard any other problems. The Season Four episodes also include the Screen Gems end credit and logo.

Some concern has been expressed about the fact that Shout! has put five episodes of Route 66 on each disc (the final disc of Season Two actually contains six episodes), but it has not created any compression problems which I can see.

The Audio

The mono audio is of course limited but it is generally satisfactory. Apart from the aforementioned glitches, the only issue I have with Season Four involves one scene in "I'm Here to Kill a King" which was shot at Cave of the Winds in Niagara Falls. The dialogue between Martin Milner and Robert Loggia is nearly drowned out by the sound of the falls. It would have nice if this had been remixed, but it only involves a few lines.

The Supplements

Disc Six of Season Four contains only bonus features. First up is a 25-minute segment of "Great Cars" which tells the history of the Corvette and celebrates the car's 50th anniversary. It is in color and black & white and is shown at 1.33:1.

From my perspective, the most enjoyable supplements are two collections of vintage television commercials which aired during the original run of Route 66. There are 15 minutes of Chevrolet commercials (including one for the Chevrolet Biscayne featuring William Frawley and the boys from My Three Sons). These are followed by 10 minutes of commercials for Bayer Aspirin and Phillips Milk of Magnesia. These of course are in 1.33:1  black & white and are in surprisingly good shape.

Finally, there is a 43-minute panel discussion of Route 66 which was held at the Paley Center in 1990. It was recorded on videotape and has faded colors but is certainly watchable. Panelists include George Maharis, series co-creator Herbert Leonard, and directors Elliot Silverstein and Arthur Hiller. Maharis was in his early sixties and he looks and sounds quite dapper. One of the more interesting revelations is that Robert Redford was tested for the role of Tod (Maharis was cast first), but he was rejected as being insufficiently mature for the part (Redford does appear in a Season Two episode, "First Class Mouliak").

The Packaging

Ah, the packaging. Here we see a substantial improvement over the horrid packaging by Roxbury/Infinity. The first three seasons released by Roxbury/Infinity altogether take up six inches of shelf space with gatefold packaging and plastic flippers which are prone to easy breakage. The entire Shout! set takes up only 2 3/8 inches of shelf space. Each six-disc season is securely held in a standard-sized DVD keep case, and the four keep cases come in a somewhat flimsy cardboard slipcase.

The Final Analysis

As far as I can determine, there has been no announcement from Shout! Factory about whether a single-season release of Season Four will be forthcoming. I certainly have no argument with those who already own Seasons One through Three and who complain that they are being forced to buy the entire series in order to obtain Season Four. And yes, the picture quality of Season One in particular is far less than optimal, and there remains the issue of two episodes which are edited syndicated versions. On the other hand, the reality is that this set is probably as good as it is going to get. Route 66 is a terrific show, and if you order this set you now know exactly what to expect.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: May 22, 2012


 

 

moviepas

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Unlike the reviewer, I probably saw every episode that was broadcast in Australia at its initial screening. I enjoyed the show as did others and I was happy to screen several episodes of the first set to a late friend who often asked me about the series availability. He died in July 2009. Another series I watched and liked was Cannonball but I have not heard of this in years along with Casey Jones, Circus Boy, The Whirlybirds and one that was retitled Jet Jackson(Captain Midnight or some such? in USA) in Australia. I recently got a 26-episode series that was made in the country area around our capital city(Canberra) called Whiplash and starred the now late Peter Graves. This was issued out of UK on DVD as a set. I had overlooked it and stocks were destroyed in the London riots last year but they decided to replicate it again as an "Exclusive".
 

Guy Foulard

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Traveling Matt said:
Nice to hear the packaging is more economical, but six discs in one standard case? Oy.
CBS did this with the Mannix releases, and they're fine. It's just a matter of having cleverly-engineered packaging (i.e. not stacking more than one disc on each spindle).
 
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Richard Gallagher

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Originally Posted by Guy Foulard /t/320863/route-66-the-complete-series-dvd-review#post_3929136
CBS did this with the Mannix releases, and they're fine. It's just a matter of having cleverly-engineered packaging (i.e. not stacking more than one disc on each spindle).
Yes, very well designed. Much more secure than the Roxbury packaging as well.
 

Darby67

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Sorry to bump a 4 year old thread, but this show has always intrigued me largely due to the comments of my fellow HTFers. I think I'm ready to do a blind buy on the complete series release.
 
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Darby67

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My favorite all-time series: great writing (mainly by Stirling Silliphant), great acting, profound themes (although pretty dark and without many happy endings) and, above all, location filming all the way, all through the US (and parts of Canada).
Thanks for your insiight, Jorge; this is definitely a buy for me!
 
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Flashgear

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Sean and Jorge, I love Route 66 so much I'm not a reliably neutral critic...it's a landmark and completely unique achievement in early American TV...apparently, the genesis of the show was a NYC lunch conversation between Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Silliphant, with Leonard reminiscing about his childhood friendship between himself (Hell's Kitchen kid) and a wealthy Prep School kid...apparently, despite their unlikely friendship, they were the best of friends and often mused about driving cross country in a sports car...Silliphant reportedly said "That's are next show!", and began writing a pilot teleplay...the 30m Naked City had just been cancelled and Leonard had to put up his own money to shoot the pilot telefilm because Columbia/Screen Gems were hesitant...at the time, Columbia owed a $350K bonus to Leonard (from Rin Tin Tin?)...and he used that money to produce the pilot... and upon Screen Gems greenlight, hiring George Maharis to play Buzz (Martin Milner was cast shortly after) and equipping the road caravan production company and hiring up to 60 people to crew the show...and cutting that deal with Chevrolet to use about a dozen brand new Corvettes every year...

The pilot, "Black November" was shot in Concord Kentucky standing in for fictional Garth, Alabama...Screen Gems were so impressed they OK'd the re-boot of the 60m Naked City at the same time...the production caravan began shooting the early shows of Route 66 at New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast at Grande Island, Denage and Venice LA...episodes were filmed at Grant's Pass and Merlin Oregon and the bulk of the first season at Texas (El Paso), Utah, (Kanab), New Mexico, (Carlsbad Caverns, Cordova, Santa Fe), Arizona, (Page, Eureka, Phoenix), Nevada, (Reno, Carson City, Broken Knee) and California, (Needles, Riverside, Malibu, Indio, Squaw Valley and L.A.)...the first season ended up filming in Ohio at Youngstown, Amity and Cleveland...second season saw the show travel to Montana, (Butte) Pennsylvania, (Philly, Pittsburgh, Boiling Springs, Carlisle) Ohio, (Lake Erie, Cleveland), Massachusetts, (Boston, Gloucester) Maryland (Baltimore), Texas, (Mesquite, Harcourt Junction, Dallas, Austin), Arizona, (Tucson, Phoenix, Colorado River), etc...by the third season, Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, Tampa Bay, Coral Springs and St. Petersburg in Florida...by the fourth season, Maine, Vermont, Minneapolis, Denver, Savannah Georgia, Niagara Falls and Toronto Ontario Canada, and Daytona and Tampa Bay Florida for the final episodes...Phew!

All together, 24 states of the contiguous 48...no weekly drama producing up to about 32 episodes a season had ever been done before with coast to coast filming...or since...the Great Sam Manners was in charge of production and was determined to produce a breath taking cinematography, often using helicopters for stunning aerial camera shots...and, the guest stars are incredible, unusual and rare like Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rod Steiger, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Signe Hasso, etc., along with just about every great featured players like James Whitmore, Jack Warden, David Wayne, William Shatner, Suzanne Pleshette, Tuesday Weld, Janice Rule, Joey Hetherington, Susan Oliver, Julie Newmar, Vera Miles, Lois Nettleton, etc...Last, but certainly not least, the Great Nelson Riddle Music!

I've bought this show 1 and 3/4 times...the old Roxbury/Infinity sets and the Shout Factory complete series...and, I'd buy it again if it ever came out on blu...Love it!
 
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Flashgear

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The series holds up beautifully because it's entirely character oriented and the writing is fantastic.

The final season also included episodes in Cape Coral, Florida, by the way, which was a new community being developed by Gulf.
Wayne, I believe I remember you writing in your very insightful and entertaining episode reviews that you grew up there? One of the episodes you refer to, I believe, is "Who will Cheer my Bonny Bride?" with the Great Rip Torn and Albert Salmi...and Gene Hackman in a minor role as well...Those Florida based Route 66 episodes are wonderful...eye popping...and a fascinating slice of life time capsule from the early '60s...the "mermaids" of Weeki Wachee ("Cruelest Sea of All")...Jet boat racing and other idylls of the rich and lovely at St. Petersburg ( Janice Rule and Susan Kohner, "But What Do You Do In March?")...Miami Cuban exile anti - Castro rebels and Jai Alai ("Peace, Pity, Pardon")...the first wave of walking wounded and brain injury from the nascent Vietnam War ("What a Shining Young Man was our Gallant Lieutenant")...Route 66 and Naked City offer an unparalleled and precious time capsule of JFK era America...there's nothing like them...
 

Hollywoodaholic

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Wayne, I believe I remember you writing in your very insightful and entertaining episode reviews that you grew up there? One of the episodes you refer to, I believe, is "Who will Cheer my Bonny Bride?" with the Great Rip Torn and Albert Salmi...and Gene Hackman in a minor role as well...Those Florida based Route 66 episodes are wonderful...eye popping...and a fascinating slice of life time capsule from the early '60s...the "mermaids" of Weeki Wachee ("Cruelest Sea of All")...Jet boat racing and other idylls of the rich and lovely at St. Petersburg ( Janice Rule and Susan Kohner, "But What Do You Do In March?")...Miami Cuban exile anti - Castro rebels and Jai Alai ("Peace, Pity, Pardon")...the first wave of walking wounded and brain injury from the nascent Vietnam War ("What a Shining Young Man was our Gallant Lieutenant")...Route 66 and Naked City offer an unparalleled and precious time capsule of JFK era America...there's nothing like them...
Yes, my folks retired to Cape Coral, having bought lots from the Gulf Development Corporation while they were still living in Maryland. It's a pretty sordid corporate story (they bulldozed all the trees and drained the swamp and sold to northerners) with the corporation also paying for those episodes as a very early example of product placement (or swampland placement).

Here's the middle of that link from the Best of Route 66 thread where we started reviewing episodes if anyone's interested again....

http://www.hometheaterforum.com/community/threads/best-of-route-66.254186/page-23
 

Darby67

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Well thank you Jorge, Randall, Paul, and Wayne for your insights on the series! I can always count on my fellow HTFers not only for reliable information on a potential purchase but for also getting me incredibly enthused for the purchase as well.

Amazon has it for $68.33 so I think I'm going to pull the trigger on this one.
 

Wvtvguy

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Is there a benefit to getting season sets versus the complete series?? I think I’ve seen 1 episode and that was a few years ago. My appreciation for 50’s & 60’s tv shows had grown tremendously of late so I’m always looking for new series. I LOVE Naked City so I have some idea of the quality of this show.
 

LouA

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They're pretty much the same - complete vs. individual seasons , unless you look for the original Infinity single season releases . Infinity always was problematic with discs that wouldn't play , poor mastering , etc . I have both versions of Route 66 and I prefer SF by a wide margin. So reall,y I'd stick with the Shout Factory sets . You can start with season one , see if you like it , then work your way through the series . One thing , many favor the classic and iconic Maharis / Milner lineup, but season 4 with Glen Corbitt ( a good actor) replacing Maharis (who was either sick or on strike), is pretty good as well.
 

bmasters9

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One thing , many favor the classic and iconic Maharis / Milner lineup, but season 4 with Glen Corbitt ( a good actor) replacing Maharis (who was either sick or on strike), is pretty good as well.
The Streets of San Francisco is like that as well-- many favor the Malden/Douglas pairing of 1972-76, but the fifth and final go (Malden/Hatch) isn't all that bad (of course, there are some who thought the show went downhill when Richard Hatch was in; those opinions are equally valid).
 
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