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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For this viewer the fourth season of Route 66 has rarely been up to the
standards of seasons one and two. Things improve markedly here. As the
episode opens up Tod & Linc are in Florida driving by the sea and their
banter is crisp in the old style of Tod and Buz. Linc is trying to
collect on a breakfast he is reasoning to Tod is owed him and if he
orders breakfast at noon, well the hour of the day is irrelevant. Tod
finds his argument persuasive enough to offer lunch wherein Linc
believes it could be a bad deal because he gets his breakfast, but may
well now be indebted to Tod for a lunch. Whew! Tarrantino would
definitely see the charm in this.
So, Linc is about to get his lunch at stylish beach side drive-in when a fight in the parking lot among the local spoiled youth and our episodes protagonist ends in his being knocked unconscious...or just drunk? Turns out the young man is called Tank, played by the already seasoned TV actor 24-year old Michael Parks (Then Came Bronson), and he is perpetually drunk and in constant trouble as a result. His only lifeline to any normalcy is his faithful girlfriend Gaybee.
Linc, in his usual humanistic bleeding heart role offers to drive the couple to what turns out is the transient's livelihood, pick-up fights. As is also usual for the course Tod is entirely reticent to help and is angered over Linc's forcing his hand. Here is where it would be refreshing if the writers "pulled a 180". How imaginative would it be if Tod went into a bad situation wantonly? Nonetheless, Tod does get involved and finds out Tank's problem stems from an inferiority complex which started with his speech impediment that in-turn was likely labeled mental deficiency. His parents, tragically, took him out of school and the intervening years have been anything but kind. Tank has spiraled downward with no family or home save for the young gal who lived next door...she never left. Tank seems to be a hopeless case as he is already an advanced alcoholic. Why?, because when he drinks, before he loses control, he can then speak unencumbered by his stammering. Still he has no self-respect because of his lack of education and the drinking is a vicious circle.
On fight night Tank is, as expected, inebriated. Linc steps in his place and is taking his licks pretty well courtesy of a cock-sure Penny Baker (nice cameo by James Farentino), when all of the sudden Tank arrives at the ring and takes on everyone in a crazed brawl. Tank gets knocked out (his pattern, is he really a fighter?) and Linc gets paid which he in-turn gives Tank. Tank leaves alone looking for Gaybee. When he finds her there's a poignant scene where, perhaps inspired by an earlier dress-down intervention style talk given by Tod he shows his desire for redemption. That strong lecture by Tod prompted Tank to write (remember he can't read or write) "GOD" on a chalk board (alluding to the fact he isn't as lost as he appears). This was more powerful than it may sound reading about it so watch and see.
This episode was better and deeper than the bulk of the season four story lines. Things came together nicely, there's even a dream-like scene where the cinematographer uses inverse polarization for effect (it's crude by today's standards, but the gist of it works). Even if it not a must-see episode it stands out as a solid one in a season in need of, well, solid. No longer expecting the highs of the early years it nice to see the show still has some legs left. Now, here's hoping there is some lighter hearted travelogue episodes left before the show fades to black.
The writers went back to the "Requiem for a Heavyweight" well to do
another story about a pathetic punch-drunk fighter. (They'd previously
done one in season one's "The Opponent".) But this is a different
story. Michael Parks, a young actor with a sort of James Dean persona,
(in fact, I think he was a better actor and a better looking one than
Dean), who would late play a Dean-like character in "Then Came
Bronson", plays the fighter, (without a mark on his face). This fighter
has limited skills and even more limited intelligence. (I suspect that
he was never that smart to begin with but boxing has done him no good.)
The one asset he has in his life is a loyal girlfriend played by Ellen
Madison, another actress who seems to have had a rather limited career.
(I thought she was Lee Grant when I first saw her.)
This lady, of course wants him to quit fighting. Buy they have no other source of income. Then he gets in a fight with a group of teenagers and gets beat up some more. A doctor yells him to not fight again. Linc agrees to substitute for him in a local fight card to get them the $150 guarantee the promoter had promised. He finds out his training as a soldier didn't quite preparing to face a professional boxer. But Parks, after hearing that Linc has taken his place, runs into the arena and jumps into the ring, swinging wildly at the opponent, at Linc and at anyone else who tries to intervene. It proves the end of his prizefighting career, even if he went out with a bang. He finally tells his girl he loves her and they agree to find another life together.
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