Sunday, March 20, 2011

Season One, Episode 9: Layout at Glen Canyon


Air Date: December 2, 1960
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Writer: Stirling Silliphant
Cast: Charles McGraw, Bethel Leslie, Zhora Lampert, Richard Shannon, Lane Nakano, Elizabeth MacRae, Donna Douglas


"Layout at Glen Canyon" is done in by its convoluted and implausible plot. The acting isn't bad, but - like its immediate predecessor episode, "Legacy for Lucia" - it just, well... for lack of a better word... sucks. It starts off with a stupid fistfight between Buz and Grady the foreman at the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona where the boys are working. It goes downhill from there.

The fight is apparently a test. Grady wants to make sure the boys are up to the task of escorting around a group of models working for a New York fashion magazine who are coming to the area near the dam for a photo shoot.

The plot is much too intricate to describe here. So here it is in a nutshell: Models show up with chaperone Jo Galloway (Bethel Leslie). We later learn she used to be married to Grady the foreman. Buz and Tod escort the models around. The duo becomes enmeshed in the personal lives of a few of the models. One of them, Sue (Zhora Lampert) is plagued with emotional problems and disappears from the shoot. There is lots of dynamiting going on in the area, so the boys have to track down Sue before she gets blown up. While searching for Sue, the boys learn from Jo why she and Grady separated (their son died, and his death broke up the parents). Ever idealistic, Buz and Tod seem to hold out hope that Grady and Jo will get together again. They eventually find Sue. She doesn't get blown up. The models get back on the plane for New York City. Jo and Grady can't save their marriage, despite the best efforts of Buz and Tod to help. The plane takes off and Buz and Tod drive away in their Corvette. Poor, forlorn Grady is left standing there, all alone.

"Layout" is not a complete waste of time. No Route 66 episode is. But if it's the only Route 66 episode you ever see, then you'll never understand the appeal of the show. It's got a bizarre plot. Lots of Route 66 episodes have bizarre plots, but they're saved by Stirling Silliphant's often magnificent writing. I say often because in "Layout," his writing blows. It's marred by unsympathetic characters. It contains zero tension. Nada. Zilch. Absolutely none.

It is blessed by breathtaking northern Arizona countryside. And there is a little bit of pathos in the show. It's hard not to feel bad for Jo and Grady once you learn what they've been through together. The scene at the end, with the plane lifting up into the sky, taking Jo back to New York City and ruling out a reconciliation with Grady, is haunting. And, as mentioned earlier, the acting is decent.

But, make no mistake: "Layout" is a mess. A jumbled mess. It doesn't hold together at all. It fails to maintain viewer interest. It goes nowhere. It felt as if Stirling Silliphant was running out of ideas and it's only the ninth episode of the first season, for frick's sake. To make matters worse, Buz and Tod are completely wasted. The characters don't engage them. They don't even need to be in it. In short, it's one of the weakest Route 66 episodes ever made.

Incidentally, I'm not the only one unimpressed by "Layout." Below is a review of the episode published in The Los Angeles Times three days after it aired that was quite negative. Click on it to get a better look. A highlight: "If this is the kind of thing taking place on Route 66, alternate highways are suggested for televiewers with weak stomachs."

Rating: 4 out of 10


Tap on the Los Angeles Times review (above) for a closer view.

3 comments:

  1. Keep going! Why did you stop? I recently started watching Route 66 on RTV and I'm hooked. I had been channel surfing, and I think I caught George Maharis during a particularly electric scene. It's really a forgotten classic - ambitious, inspiring, melancholic, cathartic. Stories that don't seem to exist or get told today. I'm nostalgic for a period of time I was never alive to see. Please keep writing! Reviewing your summaries, opinions, and background information is fun to do after watching the episodes.

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  2. I agree with Zach! Hope to see more of these reviews of "Route 66" -- it is running now on Me-TV and since they are also out on DVD, your reporting is much appreciated!

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  3. I wonder if there isn't a lot more behind the failure of this particular episode. I never saw more than a couple of episodes when they first came out, but have now seen quite a few. There is some unevenness to the writing, but they are always best when there is a real issue at stake. At Glen Canyon there certainly was. It was the most beautiful and accessible of the many canyons of the Arizona and New Mexico area. A relative of mine explored it with his friends and produced a very moving slide documentary which was converted to 16mm film with excellent narration and a passionate message to stop the insanity of the dam. It was built primarily because "it was such a great spot for a dam". It has never been put to much practical use - recreation only. It has stunted the Colorado River so that it never reaches the sea, changed the ecosystems all up and down the great Colorado and is now about half full of sand and will be filled in another 30 years or so. It causes the water of the Colorado to seep away into the desert and evaporate, with a huge loss of resources down river. All these issues may have come to mind with a person like Silliphant, but there may have been some pressure at the time to make the series "less controversial". There were a whole string of episodes the just failed to connect like the earlier ones. Stuart Udall, the head of the Department of the Interior said that not stopping the Glen Canyon was his biggest oversight and his deepest regret.

    I would love to know if there is any back story available on this particular episode and that period in the series.

    Dave Lea, Fish Creek, WI
    Second cousin to Phil Pennington of Denver, CO and Portland, OR; my hero!

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