Thursday, February 10, 2011

Season One, Episode 4: The Man on the Monkey Board

Air Date: October 28, 1960
Director: Roger Kay
Writer: Stirling Silliphant
Guest Stars: Lew Ayres, Alfred Ryder, Frank Overton, Bruce Dern, Ed Asner

One of the best episodes from Season One (not to mention the entire series), "The Man on the Monkey Board" is one of those amazing Route 66 experiences that gets you hooked on the show.

Buz and Tod park the Corvette and board a helicopter bound for an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where they go to work with a crew that includes a mysterious man named Bartlett. Bartlett is an aloof bookworm played beautifully by Lew (All Quiet on the Western Front) Ayres, pictured above in the helicopter and right, philosophizing on the deck of the oil rig.

Buz and Tod are immediately drawn to Bartlett. At first, they're suspicious of him, and they soon learn he's not exactly who he appears to be. Turns out, the man is not your average oil rig worker. He is a man with a past, who is infiltrating the rig, posing as a roughneck to search for a Nazi Holocaust criminal.

What makes his job harder is that there are no extant photographs of the villainous figure. They've all been destroyed. All he has to go on are some fragmented descriptions of the man. He could be anybody on the oil rig.

So Bartlett begins playing a suspenseful game of Cat and Mouse with his coworkers. One by one, he scratches their names off of his list of suspects (left). At no point does he suspect Buz and Tod. They're too young. Eventually, when they find out about his past and his purpose on the rig, they decide to play an active role in helping him. Soon, Buz and Tod are thoroughly wrapped up in Bartlett's relentless quest to find the elusive Nazi before it's too late. As they close in, like a noose, the episode grows more and more suspenseful. They finally track down the culprit and a confrontation ensues.

To give away any more than that would be to undermine the excitement of watching one of the finest episodes of the series.

Everything about "The Man on the Monkey Board" works, from Ayres' brilliant, understated acting to the writing to the episode's gripping pace. The guest appearances include a veritable Who's Who of Anthology Show Greats, including Ed Asner (veteran of five episodes), Bruce Dern, Alfred Ryder (veteran of two episodes) and Frank Overton (veteran of four episodes).

The writing is, without question, some of Stirling Silliphant's finest. He gets a message across without preaching or clobbering the viewer over the head. As a suspenseful episode, this one ranks up there with some of the best from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive. Setting the tale on an offshore oil rig was a brilliant move. The place adds to the tension, giving the episode a claustrophobic feel (despite the wide-open spaces and spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico in several scenes).

Most Route 66 episodes tend to be somewhat slow-moving character studies, but not "The Man on the Monkey Board." If suspense is what you're looking for, you'll have a difficult time finding a more gripping Route 66 episode than this one. Like Rod Serling's scathing indictment of Naziism "Deaths-Head Revisited" on The Twilight Zone, "The Man on the Monkey Board" is a taut and effective statement about the lingering evils of the Third Reich, which was still in power 15 years before this episode aired. The episode is brimming with humanity and it contains a simple, yet potent message: Justice is not automatic. Good people must fight for it or run the risk of allowing evil to continue and perhaps even flourish somewhere else.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I have just begun to watch the series, having gotten them from our library.

    There is a lot to discuss, but for now, if anyone understands the last line, They finally got him, maybe you can tell me. Also, did the man hit water or the rig?

    Then, it was hard to understand the tone, was it to serve justice to ex Nazis, or to forgive.

    Great that you are vegan, nonviolent, and for animal and human rights.