Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Season One, Episode 2: A Lance of Straw

Air Date: October 14, 1960
Director: Roger Kay
Writer: Stirling Silliphant
Guest Stars: Janice Rule, Thomas Gomez, Nico Minardos

Good thing Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard used "Black November" instead of "A Lance of Straw" to sell Route 66 to CBS, otherwise there might not be a Route 66.

Unlike the pilot episode, where everything came together so well, "A Lance of Straw" is one of the show's weaker episodes.

Buz and Tod drive into Grand Isle, Louisiana, where they go to work on a shrimp boat. The place is filled with people who have lousy Creole accents (some sound Portuguese, others Italian, with occasional traces of French). The wandering pals go to work for a female shrimp trawler skipper, Charlotte Duval (Janice Rule). She is involved in a tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with a pretty boy named Boussard (Nico Minardos). Boussard thinks he's a badass. In the opening scene, he's beating up on some hapless soul who can't fight worth a damn. Boussard is jealous of Duval and the two butt heads, though they're clearly attracted to each other.

Throughout the episode, Buz becomes smitten with Duval. Big mistake. We all know where this is going, right? While Buz and Tod are out trawling for shrimp with Duval, a big hurricane blows in and sends the vessel bobbing up and down like a toy boat. There are a few tense moments when Duval is struggling to navigate her ship back to shore through the waves and rain. Meantime, back on dry land, Cabateau (Thomas Gomez), who works with Duval, listens on a Coast Guard radio for updates on the fate of the missing boat. At last, Duval makes it back to the pier and - surprise surprise! - links up with Boussard. Those two gravitate to each other like magnet and steel, leaving broken-hearted Buz watching from the sidelines as Boussard gives a lovey-dovey speech in broken English (that sounds more like an ersatz Italian accent).

The episode ends with Buz and Tod driving out of Grand Isle. They stop for a cigarette. Tod says to Buz: "Say, aren't you the fella who once said - speaking about girls - 'they're all nice kids'?" Buz nods. "Yeah, I'm the fella. That's me." They reflect on their experiences, share a chuckle, and get back in their car, headed elsewhere.

"A Lance of Straw" is not necessarily a bad episode of Route 66 (believe me, there are a few of those). Rule gives a decent performance as the strong skipper who ultimately folds under the pursuit of her possessive suitor. Thomas Gomez, a veteran of so many movies and TV shows (he plays one of Rocco's goons in Key Largo), is always pleasant to watch in these anthology TV shows, although in this episode his accent sounds vaguely Portuguese. There are a few other good things happening in this episode. The moments out at sea, with Buz and Tod and Duval working on the boat are quite effective. The storm scenes are believable. The episode contains some fine dialogue here and there.

But, ultimately, "A Lance of Straw" simply doesn't deliver the same rewards as some of the better episodes of the series. We never really come to know the other characters or care for them very much. Buz broods at the end over losing Duval, but they were never very intimate in the episode to begin with. There were just lots of scenes of her being a strong skipper and Buz watching her with dreamy eyes. It doesn't exactly add up to a passionate romance.

You aren't likely to find "A Lance of Straw" on anyone's Top 10 list. Silliphant's writing falls flat in many scenes. The dramatic tension is too weak (often nonexistent) to sustain the episode. And the performances are satisfactory (in a going-through-the-motions kind of way), but not great.

Believe me, the show gets better. Hang in there.

Rating: 6 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. The problem with Route 66 is hardly a matter of bad Creole accents (as if anyone at CBS ever knew the difference). The problem is the bad chemistry between Maharis and Milner - no one belives these two would ever hit it off - and Sillliphant's ridiculous scripts, whichave two average Joes week after week stumbling into over the top dramatic (and totally improbable) situations one after another. Kidnappings, amnesia,
    dying notable characters around every corner. What the show needed was Glenn Corbett in Milner's spot and some scripts that were remotely realistic.Silliphant is trying to be a philosophical Shakespeare and morality playwright all rolled into one.
    He should have realized his limitations and hired talented scriptwriters to give
    substance to his original concept, which was good one.