Sunday, February 20, 2011

Season One, Episode 7: Three Sides

Air Date: November 18, 1960
Director: Philip Leacock
Writer: Stirling Silliphant
Guest Stars: E.G. Marshall, Stephen Bolster, Joey Heatherton, Johnny Seven, Paul Genge

Tod and Buz drive into scenic Grants Pass, Oregon, a small town west of Medford. They end up intervening in a bar fight between tough guy Becker (Johnny Seven) and weakling Curt Emerson (Stephen Bolster), who happens to be the son of a prominent local businessman, Gerald Emerson (E.G. Marshall). They're fighting because Becker is getting fresh with Curt's sexy sister, Karen (Joey Heatherton, pictured left), and Curt - who is always trying to prove his manhood - doesn't like it one bit. Becker throttles Curt (Curt is no match at all), but Buz intervenes. And... Well... Do you really think Becker stands a Popsicle's chance in hell of beating up Buz? My money is on Buz. Hell, my money is always on Buz.

Buz kicks Becker's ass. Pouty, spoiled rich wimp Curt (right) is all sore because he was no match for Becker, and he doesn't like that Buz routed him so easily.

Buz and Tod end up bringing Curt and Karen back to their big house, where father Gerald, the respected owner of a huge local hop farm, lives with them. Poor Gerald. The guy must have three or four ulcers from the pressure of running his business combined with his lousy, ungrateful kids. He is dealing with a sex kitten daughter who's always showing off her body and teasing local yokels, and pathetic Curt, who's getting into trouble more or less constantly as a result of trying to show the world that he's strong and resourceful. Problem is, Karen is truly hot while Curt is mind-numbingly inept and does nothing to help his father's hop farm. In fact, he ends up hurting it. Not only does he keep fighting with Becker (and losing), he gets in a rowboat race on a local river against Becker that almost costs him his life. Curt's boat capsizes and the only reason he survives is because Becker jumps in and saves his waterlogged ass.

Later, Curt - trying to be macho - insists on driving a truckload of hops down a treacherous road that is avoided by motorists. His father's assistant, Galloway (Paul Genge), who is beloved by all the workers, insists on going with him. Sure enough, Curt wrecks his truck and Galloway is killed. Curt emerges from the wreckage relatively unscathed. The workers back at the hop farm hear of this and all of them walk off the job, leaving Buz and Tod alone to help Gerald.

Karen comes through by rallying her friends to pitch in and help her dad. She is reunited with Becker and she teases him and he gets all riled up and tries to have sex with her. Curt intervenes. He once again has the shit beaten out of him by Becker. Becker once again has the shit beaten out of him by Buz. It dawns on Curt that he has spent his whole life hurting, not helping, his patient father. He finally realizes he has to do the right thing. For the first time in his life, he rolls up his sleeves and pitches in to help on the farm. Buz and Tod join the others and they end up helping to save the harvest. Gerald (right) is grateful that his son and daughter have finally assumed some responsibility.

Buz and Tod hit the road again, in search of new adventures. The show ends with an interesting exchange that involves Tod sharing a profound insight:

Tod: I just remembered something.
Buz: Is it good for bruises?
Tod: Knowing Mr. Emerson and Karen and Curt brought it to mind. Something dad used to say.
Buz: What's that?
Tod: Whenever you reach an impasse, look at the third side of the coin.
Buz: Third side?
Tod: Yeah.
Buz: I thought there was only two sides to a coin.
Tod: The third side is the edge, the place the two sides come together. The meeting place of heads and tails. Dad used to say that was the best side because it welds opposites together. And it's a circle, a continuing circle, closed and perfect, as endless as understanding itself.

Buz flashes Tod "a look" that can either be interpreted as "Wow, that's profound" or "What in the hell is this guy talking about?"

"Three Sides" is one of those solid Route 66 episodes that is a real credit to the series. It's not one of the masterpieces, like the previous episode, "Ten Drops of Water." But it's effective and believable and touching. It owes its success to smooth directing by veteran Philip Leacock, a splendid script by Stirling Silliphant, and excellent acting, particularly by E.G. Marshall, one of those great method character actors who appeared in so many TV shows and movies. Today, he is perhaps best remembered as Juror #4 in Sidney Lumet's gripping Twelve Angry Men (1957). His quiet performance in "Three Sides" burns with intensity and he makes the episode a must-see. The rest of the actors are in top form, too, particularly Stephen Bolster as the spoiled son Curt. Bolster went on to become a soap opera star, appearing in such series as The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, One Life to Live and Another World.

Add to that a couple of really excellent Buz Murdock fistfights, a beautiful Oregon backdrop and actress/singer/dancer/model Joey Heatherton (left), a woman of many talents, in her first role, before she became famous. Heatherton is only sixteen in this episode. She looks much older. And best of all, she is a decent actress. According to Internet Movie Database (IMDb), this was her big breakthrough performance.

Bottom Line: "Three Sides" is a splendid episode on so many levels. Unfortunately, the next three episodes that aired after it, "Legacy for Lucia," "Layout at Glen Canyon" and "The Beryllium Eater," were three of the more mediocre entries in the series. It would take until January of 1961 for the show to regain its momentum.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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