Saturday, October 23, 2010

Route 66: Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing

The Route 66 "Halloween episode" was originally broadcast on October 26, 1962 during the show's third season. By then, Route 66 had lost some of the edge that made it one of the best television dramas of the early 1960s. Of course, it's clear that neither writer Stirling Silliphant nor the splendid guest cast intended "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" to be anything other than a lark. On that level, it's a modest success and all the participants seem to be having a grand time.

Buz and Tod oggling the girls.
The episode features two plotlines which eventually intersect (somewhat awkwardly). Series regulars Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) land a job at Chicago's O'Hare Inn as "junior executives in charge of convention liaison." By virtue of a coin toss, Buz gets the plum assignment of supporting the secretaries' convention--which is like placing a wolf among the lambs. The incredibly bummed Tod ends up as liaison to the Gerenuk Society.

Tod learns that this mysterious "society" is a front for actors Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr. (plus Martita Hunt from Brides of Dracula as their legal advisor). Lorre wants to make new horror films, but in the same vein as the old classics. Boris thinks that won't sell anymore and that they need to focus on contemporary horror. (Lorre explans to Tod that a "gerenuk" is an endangered species of antelope...thus drawing a parallel to the old horror stars.)

Meanwhile, Buz pursues one of the secretaries, only to learn that she's smitten with her former boss. In a weak plot development, Boris befriends the lovesick secretary and solves her romantic problems. Apparently, when Boris Karloff (the actors all play themselves) calls you on the phone, you listen!

Her reaction: "You look exhausted!"
There's a sloppiness to the whole episode, but there are minor delights along the way. Chaney has some very amusing scenes, especially when he's trying to frighten the lovelorn secretary while she appears oblivious to his Wolf Man makeup and ferocious growls. It makes one wonder why Chaney didn't try his hand at a horror comedy (a good one...not Hillbillys in a Haunted House). The highlight of "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" is the opportunity to see Karloff in makeup as the Frankenstein Monster for the first time since 1939's Son of Frankenstein. It's also fun to see Lon as the Mummy and Hunchback (with makeup similar to his father) as well as the Wolf Man.

If you're looking for a great Route 66 episode, this is not it. On the other hand, if you're a fan of the guest stars, you won't want to miss this lighthearted ode to their roles of the past.

6 comments:

  1. Rick, I've only seen a few episodes of ROUTE 66, which unfortunately hasn't included this one. Your write-up is informative and delightful, so although you acknowledge that it's perhaps not a standout episode of the series, I still would love to see it. A wonderful read for a Saturday morning! And great pics, too!

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  2. Rick, I must've missed this one...or maybe I've just forgotten. Sounds like a lot of fun, tho. Loved those never-menial jobs Buz and Tod always seemed to land wherever they roamed.

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  3. Ah, way before my time, Rick. Too bad more modern shows don't do Halloween episodes.

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  4. Well Rick, unlike Kim (thanks for rubbing it in, Kim! LOL), Route 66 was not before my time. I would have been 9 years old when that episode aired. I remember watching Route 66, loving the theme song, and being smitten by Martin Milner. (At 9, smitten meant thinking he was SO CUTE.) I can't remember this particular episode. I would love to see it, though. Who cares if it isn't Shakespeare? I could watch Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr. reading the phone book. I just loved the movies with Boris, Peter and Vincent Price, sometimes Basil Rathbone, that were spoofs of the Poe stories. It was always fun to see them in that kind of part.

    You have a really good point about Chaney doing some comedy horror. He did some really awful movies late in his career. Too bad that didn't happen for him. Great fun to read, Rick. Wish I could get hold of that episode.

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  5. For anyone interested, the first three seasons of ROUTE 66 are on DVD and available from Netflix and other sources. I heartily recommend the first two seasons, which some great stars and strong scripts. Eve, Tod and Buz had some menial factory jobs, too!

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  6. I'm currently watching this as Decades airs the complete series back-to-back, and your assessment of it is dead-on. Compared to the excellence of some of the episodes from Seasons 1 and 2, this is a bit of a damp squib, save for the appearance of the horror icons of yore.

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