Saturday, March 05, 2022

Route 66: Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing

If only it had Basil Rathbone too. Still, anything that boasts the last on-camera appearances of Boris Karloff in his Frankenstein Monster makeup and Lon Chaney Jr. in his Wolf-Man makeup should definitely be of interest for horror fans. Plus, they also had Peter Lorre along for the ride. However, he gets offended that people find him scary without makeup in one of the extended gags running throughout the “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” episode of Route 66, which airs today as part of Decade TV’s weekend binge.

For the time being, our two suspicious drifters, Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock have accepted convention coordinator positions at a Chicago airport hotel. However, there is tension between them, because Murdock refuses to share his access to the convention of administrative assistants he was assigned to. Since this is 1962, there are all pretty single women.

Instead, Stiles finds himself facilitating a business meeting for three strange looking gentlemen in the film industry. They look like Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr., because they are, but they are traveling incognito. The three horror legends hope to form a new production company, but Karloff think they must adapt to the times, whereas Lorre and Chaney believe the old monsters will still work.

Since Stiles is starting to appreciate Lorre’s weird charm, he agrees to help him and Chaney scare the wits out of the “secretaries” to prove their point to Karloff and get back at Murdock. Chaos ensues, but there is one heartbroken woman they just can’t scare. Fortunately, Karloff is there to give her grandfatherly solace.

Admittedly, the secretarial convention storyline is painfully dated, but that’s on
Route 66, not Karloff, Lorre, or Chaney. On the other hand, the episode will delight horror fans, because of the way it capitalizes on the iconic actors’ personas. Karloff is kindly and genteel, evoking the spirit of his legendary cartoon voiceovers. Lorre is sophisticated, continental, and eccentric, whereas Chaney is a likable lug, who is devoted to his grandson Ron (who also appeared as himself).

Watching the great trio have fun with their images makes this episode almost a precursor to the
House of the Long Shadows. Seeing the famous Jack Pierce makeup in any context is a treat. Of course, it all turns into door slamming bedlam, but the three greats always maintain their dignity, as well as their senses of humor (unlike some of those monster beach party movies). Director Robert Gist finds the right tone for their arc, even though writer Sterling Silliphant induces cringes with scenes like Murdock walking into swimming pool while ogling guest-star Jeannine Riley.

At least one of the regular stars, Martin Milner was also totally down with the spirit of mischievous fun. While Karloff’s
Grinch is beloved by everyone, and Lorre was terrific in the “Man from the South” episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, this could be Chaney’s best TV appearance. It is definitely historic and a good deal of fun for fans (which is probably why it has had a standalone DVD release). Recommended for the affectionate nostalgia, “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” airs today (3/5) on Decades and streams on Tubi.