Favorite TV Episode: Route 66 "The Thin White Line"


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
ROUTE 66 12/8/61 “The Thin White Line”

This is one of those episodes people remember years later. The boys are at a party in Philadelphia. One of the other guests is a brutish football player that some psychology majors from a local school want revenge on for the way he’s treated them by spiking his beer with a powerful drug that produces hallucinations, confusion, euphoria, paranoia and then suicidal depression. The guy pushes them away and Tod grabs the beer and drinks it instead. He goes off the deep end and charges out into the night. Buz charges after him but loses him.

The result is a tour-de-force for Martin Milner, a much under-rated actor, as he goes through the various stages. A long scene in a bar where he threatens and then converts everybody to some kind of religion based on his visions and the need for charity plays like something from Eugene O’Neill. It’s been suggested the drug involved is LSD. It may be and it may also be that the symptoms demonstrated here are not authentic and that someone with real knowledge of this drug would see this episode as a sort of “Refer Madness”. I don’t know and I don’t particularly care. It’s a strong performance and a strong episode nonetheless.

It’s also the perfect vehicle for Stirling Silliphant’s penchant for poetic prose. What’s amazing is that he didn’t write this. Instead Leonard Freeman, later the creator of the rather unpoetic Hawaii Five-O, was the writer. The episode is also cleverly directed, with things like a scene where Tod looks in a store window full of mirrors and his laughing face in all of them. But it’s not directed by Sam Peckinpaugh or Robert Altman. This one’s directed by one David Lowell Rich, who did a lot of work on TV in those days but never really broke through as a film director. He went on to direct “Cat Ballou” and “A Man Called Horse” but whose career then petered out for reasons that are unclear.

I would have added one line for Buz to say at the end. Tod threatens to jump from a bridge. Tod announces that the two great adventures of life are birth and death and that he’s ready to experience the second- and greater- of those. I’d like to have heard Buz ask him about all the adventures in between.

IMDB: "Route 66" The Thin White Line (TV Episode 1961) - IMDb

You-Tube has it for $1.99 in one post but for free broken into 5 parts.
Here is the 1st:

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