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If you are wondering about the strange title, "A Fury Slinging Flame",
of this episode from the first season of "Route 66", it is part of a
Tennyson poem quoted by guest star Leslie Nielson's character.
Specifically it is from "In Memoriam A.H.H.", a Tennyson friend who
died at age 22. "And Time, a maniac scattering dust, And Life, a Fury
Dr. Mark Christopher (Nielson) is a famous scientist who believes from his Russian friend's cryptic message that the USSR will initiate a New Year's Day nuclear attack on the United States. The episode was originally broadcast on December 30, 1960. One of the most interesting things about the series is the many episodes reflecting subjects about which 1960's viewers were especially concerned.
Christopher has been unable to convince his associates to act on this information and is under orders from the government to not disclose it, as doing so would create a panic. So along with his son and a small band of followers, he takes shelter deep inside Carlsbad Caverns (where the episode was actually filmed) much to the annoyance of the National Park Service (action star James Brown plays the Supervising Park Ranger). Tod and Buz assist Paula Shay (Fay Spain), a beautiful newspaper reporter who wants to interview Dr. Christopher.
Tod and Buz are pretty ancillary to the whole story. You know this not just because of their lack of screen time but because this is one of the few episodes where Buz does "not" punch out somebody.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an episode I could still remember vividly years after I first
saw it. It makes the other episodes seem unimportant by comparison. .
Leslie Nielsen is a scientist who, based on indications he thinks he
has received in playing chess with a Russian counterpart, thinks the
Soviets are about to launch a nuclear attack on New Year's Day. He
convinces a group of people of his belief and they all go to Carlsbad
Caverns in New Mexico, feeling that being deep underground will give
them the best chance of survival. Ignoring the pleas of park rangers
and friends, including another scientist, to leave, Nielsen and his
group, (which includes frightened children one of which is his own
son), grimly stay on until his ex-wife arrives with a court order that
she has custody of the children. As she and the kids leave, Nielsen
runs after them at zero hour. They get outside and
nothing happens. But
Nielsen doesn't give in to humiliation. He makes a haunting prediction
with a line that resonated with me to this day: "It didn't happen this
Wednesday. But does that just mean it will happen on some other
I grew up in this era and behind all our thoughts was that at some point we would experience that "other Wednesday". "On the Beach" had come out in 1959, a story of the last survivors of a nuclear war trying to live life as best they can before the effects of the war drift over to where they are, (Australia). The Cuban Missile Crisis was just around the corner. Conrad Nagel, (a grand old actor from the silent era), plays Nielsen's older colleague and gives a speech about how if the attack came, he'd rather be right where the missiles come down and get it over with because what remained wouldn't be much of a life even if you did survive it. We don't' think about these things as much these days. Time has passed and that other Wednesday hasn't happened- yet. The politics of the world have changed. But these weapons are still out there and so is human conflict. That other Wednesday will always loom until we learn to respect each other and minimize conflicts, rather than maximizing them.
Where are the boys during all this? They are working at a near-by amusement park and looking forward to their New Year's Eve celebration. They meet up with an attractive lady reporter who cons them into posing with her as new converts to Nielson's group so they can get a story. Todd has a good line of his own at the end when he suggests to Nielsen that there are other days of the week and perhaps we see what they have to offer before that Wednesday comes. The perfect attitude for someone who's life is just a trip down a road to see what's around the bend until the road comes to an end.
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