US 395 in Popular Culture [Back to the main US 395 page]

US 395 in popular culture

Despite its continued presence and significance in the modern day, US Highway 395 doesn't carry the historic cachet that, say, US Highway 66 does (or did) and is still perceived as a highway of only local importance by many despite its fairly long reach. That doesn't mean that there aren't cultural memorials to it, however, and we will explore some of them here. If you notice US 395 elsewhere, please send sightings to so that they can be added to this log. -- Cameron Kaiser

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In this entry

Film and television

Highway 395 (2000)

All images copyright © 2000 Fred Dryer Productions. All rights reserved.

[DVD cover, Highway 395 (2000).] (IMDb link) One movie exists entirely about, and ostensibly on, the highway -- Fred Dryer (of TV's "Hunter" fame)'s independent film Highway 395 (2000), which he starred in, produced and directed. [Still #1.] A low-budget thriller released as the first of several planned features through Dryer's then-new production company, the movie opens with this haunting quote from character Dilbert Quintana, Sr. (in, states the movie, the year 1932): "And what is life when there is no family? It is the dry, parched soil of a heartless desert." From there, we see Dryer perched on a horse and a stunning view of Mono Lake (in Part 8 of the main photoessay) as rich, majestic music plays; solidly, gracefully, he rides across the wild grassy mesa ... to be nearly run down by a speeding tractor-trailer as the music soars ominously into the title sequence.

[Still #2.] This contrast of bucolic idealism with the harsh modern world is pretty much the entire crux of the film. Dryer juggles two main plots -- a series of brutal, bloody murders and a methamphetamine ring gone bad -- jammed into the peaceful beauty of the Mono county wilderness. In between scenes of natural splendour, Dryer's Mono county sheriff Rawley Wade unceasingly hunts down a perverse, deranged killer and systematically kicks the legs out from under a drug smuggling operation tied together by a blown deal, a jailed patriarch and the highway over which everyone drives.

[Still #3.] Strangely, even the parts of Highway 395 allegedly taking place on US 395 mostly weren't filmed there, probably because of traffic logistics. The scenes in Bridgeport (shown in Part 9; I will not repeat them here for space reasons) are on US 395, a portion of US 395 is shown in the scene in Independence in Inyo county (Part 5), and the scenes depicting expressway were shot on US 395 through northern Inyo county (Parts 5 and 6), but the two-lane highway portions are either local roads or actually US Highway 6. [Still #4.] US 6 does appear as itself over the Montgomery Pass (with advance signage to Tonopah, NV), but one scene ostensibly showing US 395 at the Nevada state line clearly shows a Nevada US 6 postmile. Moreover, when US 6 is standing in for US 395 it seems wrong, anaemic and strangely deserted for a "major" highway even to the uninitiated, and the local roads used for other scenes look even worse; at least one of them features a terribly fake appearing sign which totally ruins it (at least for me, as a true roadgeek demands perfection; the ugly shield they employed is the very last image in this review). [Still #5.] The DVD cover adds even more insult to injury with the completely bogus Federal shield that Dryer fronts (top left).

Technicalities aside, I tried hard to like this movie but Highway 395 is just not good cinema, though most of this is not Dryer's fault -- it's the script, which he didn't write. Despite their occasional inaccuracy, the settings are otherwise fine and certainly scenic by and large, and for a low-budget flick he managed to get a fair number of well-known indie and recognizable conventional stars into his cast (such as Diane Delano as the gritty "big and beautiful" Violet; Bob Fimiani as Rawley's father and sheriff Joseph Wade; [Still #6.] Christopher Neame as the grotesquely slimy Klaus; the winsome and criminally underutilized Shawn Huff as quasi-love interest and fellow officer Karen Geller; and Geoffrey Lewis as the dour miner Dilbert Quintana, Jr.). [Still #7.] Unfortunately, their largely decent acting and his direction are let down by a script that is relentlessly unoriginal and ultimately unsatisfying in its development. The drug plot employs some of the most blatant stereotypes about truckers, tweekers and jailbirds, and is crippled by some truly bad dialogue to the point where sometimes even the actors can't believe what's coming out of their mouths. [Still #8.] This is counterpointed by the similarly derivative murderer thread, in which you spy the killer nearly from the first scene he appears in, and who himself breaks no new ground as the predictable archetypical crazed lunatic with a Charles Manson complex. Worst of all, the attempt to dovetail these plots is perfunctory at best, and the film's final denouemont is egregiously short and painfully anticlimactic. Viewers concerned about content should be aware the film is rated R (MPAA) for frequent language, a (rather nauseating) sex scene and several gunfights.

[Ersatz shield used in crash scene.] Originally released by Creative Light Worldwide, their Highway 395 page no longer seems to be up (404's) and just dumps into a parked domain page, so it appears this movie isn't available in legitimate form anymore. It does occasionally appear on local TV in an edited form, and I have seen it at least once on cable, so the interested should set their TiVos to stun. Otherwise, I recommend this remain solely in the domain of US 395 completists like myself.

Out of the Past (1947, a/k/a Build My Gallows High [UK])

All images copyright © 1947 RKO Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved.

[Title, Out of the Past.] (IMDb link) When it comes to roadgeek-friendly film noir, this is the stuff, baby: a hardboiled, tenacious detective (Robert Mitchum) trying to make good but dragged back into the life he left; a fatcat thug (Kirk Douglas) with a taste for treachery; and a gorgeous beauty (Jane Greer) with an aptitude for blackmail and a touch that's almost poisonous.

[1947 US 395, Out of the Past.] Welcome to Jacques Tourneur's deep, intoxicating drink of 1940s darkness, a true American movie classic. And there's a treat for us, the roadgeeks: a significant portion of the movie is also filmed in Bridgeport and again right on US 395, providing a valuable peek at the road the way it was during its early days of existence. These screen grabs, and more, are also in Part 9 of the main photoessay. In particular, the movie even gives us wonderful views of signage, and some of the elements of this charming town that are still standing today. Its views of the Lower Twin Lake and the Walker River canyon are also outstanding, and we provide screen grabs from those sections of the movie in Part 9 as well; in addition, historical enthusiasts of US 50 will enjoy the views of Lake Tahoe from Douglas' character's mansion.

[Still #1.] Not that the movie isn't superb without the roadgeek aspect, of course. Robert Mitchum makes a brilliant, brusque performance as Jeff Bailey, a one-time private investigator earlier hired by Douglas' Whit Sterling, a thuggish man of ill-gotten riches, to find his departed beauty Kathie Moffett (Greer) who he alleges absconded with $40,000 of his money. He finds her, all right, but he also finds her alluring and they flee together; as chinks of distrust and an incriminating bank book scar her apparently perfect porcelain visage, Bailey escapes to obscurity in Bridgeport, where the movie begins in media res. [Still #2.] From there, it is the job of the jovially vicious Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine) to track him down and bring him back to Whit for one more job ... one that the taint of his days with Kathie will ensure he can't refuse, even as her faithlessness is contrasted against Virginia Huston's Ann Miller, the Bridgeport girl next door who loves him no matter what. [Still #3.] From the A-list cast to the briefest extra, the performances are exceptional, including a young Richard Webb as Bailey's deaf-mute shop boy Jim who demonstrates a surprising ability to prevail in a clutch in the movie's climax and a mature, thoughtful and completely wordless performance that is perfectly capped in the film's epilogue. Put all these together with the riveting tale of cross and double-cross from Daniel Mainwaring's novel and screenplay and you have a widely appealing film that will keep you watching up until the last minute as Bailey artfully turns the tables on forces determined to make him the patsy for their crimes.

[Still #4.] The new DVD reissued by Warner Brothers is excellent quality and accompanied by a (surprisingly non-insipid and) insightful commentary from critic James Ursini, along with the usual trailers. The DVD is inexpensive and this film is fabulous moviemaking, and as such it deserves to be in the collections of everyone with even only a casual interest in US 395 or classic movies.

[Movie poster, Out of the Past.] It should be noted that the superlatives I heap upon Out of the Past are not reserved for its much more inferior remake Against All Odds (1984) (IMDb link). Not only did it transplant the scenery from the quiet sumptuousness of Mono county to the distasteful funky grit of 1980's Los Angeles, but it also saddles the plot with ridiculous cliches (making Jeff Bailey into Jeff Bridges' Terry Brogan, a compromised professional football star; Whit becomes James Wood's Jake Wise and a scummy L.A. nightclub owner, lacking the fascinating contradiction of Whit Sterling's brutal opulence) and tries to restore the clothed sexual tension between Greer and Mitchum that was lost in Bridges' numb performance (and the script's inept dialogue) with just plain out-and-out sex. Rachel Ward tries hard as Jessie Wyler, the rewrite's replacement for Kathie, but the movie gives her little opportunity to show her ability except to get naked, and get naked often. The only bright spots in this otherwise dull and trashy film are a superb if incongruous car chase on Sunset Boulevard, the indefatigable Alex Karras playing the Joe Stephanos role as Hank Sully (who gracefully shoulders the kind of moronic typecasting that would put a former NFL star into the role of a crooked pro football trainer), and the surprisingly more-than-cameo appearance of a mature Jane Greer as Jessie's mother. Don't bother. Besides lacking our favourite highway, it's not even a good movie anyway.

High Sierra (1941)

All images copyright © 1941, 2003 Turner Entertainment Co., an AOL Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

(IMDb link) Don't like Bridgeport? (Good gravy, man, really, you don't?) Okay, then, let's move it south to the spectacular Mount Whitney and the location of the Humphrey Bogart classic High Sierra, where outstanding on-location filming and a hard-boiled plot combine for another fine classic film treat for us, the adoring fans of US 395. One of Bogart's last classic gangster roles, the film made him a star and fed directly into his timeless performances in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.

[Title, High Sierra.] High Sierra features some fabulous location shots of Lone Pine and Whitney Portal where many of the pivotal scenes were filmed. Although some are studio machinations with stock footage, the vast majority were filmed right on the mountain and along US 395 (except, of course, for the parts filmed in the city). While we don't get much look at signs except for a beautiful US 395 shield in Lone Pine (Part 3), we do get a good feel for the road and the look of the highway as it existed in southern Inyo county during the 1940s, plus a greatly heightened sense of dramatic tension from the austere beauty of the landscape contrasted against the brutality of the men that hide from the law in it.

[Still #1.] [Still #2.] Nor, particularly, is High Sierra a typical by-the-numbers film noir or gangster movie, instead fusing some of the strengths of both genres into what is in fact a rather unique transitional work; the plot is rather involved and so I'll take a little more time explaining it. As the movie opens, robber Roy Earle (Bogart) is being pardoned from a jail in Indiana, by an apparent bribe as future scenes will later suggest, and drives across the county to the Owens Valley and to a cabin on Mount Whitney, where his employer Big Mac (Donald MacBride) has directed him to engineer a resort robbery. Along the way, he is nearly run off the road by an old junker being driven by a country family trying to start a new live in LA, and Bogart is further annoyed by the inexperience of the men Big Mac sent (Babe and Red, played by Alan Curtis and Arthur Kennedy), the jumpiness of the inside man Mendoza (Cornel Wilde), and in particular the mere presence of Marie (the outstanding Ida Lupino), whom Babe picked up in a bar and Earle believes will be a distraction (he turns out to be correct). However, Marie is obviously attracted to Roy from the first glance and convinces Roy to let her stay, and Earle's consternation grows further when the local dog Pard refuses to leave his side. (Pard wasn't acting -- this particularly winsome and engaging mutt was played by Bogart's own dog Zero. Pard is probably the weakest plot point, a clear example of foreshadowing; as the dog that spreads bad luck everywhere despite Roy's terse denials, we know Bogart is marked for tragedy right from the very beginning, but dang if that dog isn't a cute one and steals every scene.)

[Still #3.] Meanwhile, Earle meets the country family by chance while arranging the heist and falls in love with their beautiful daughter Velma (Joan Leslie), whom he discovers is crippled and unable to properly walk. Earle arranges an operation at his expense to correct it, but also finds that medicine (in the form of the jovially dishonourable Doc Banton [Henry Hull]) cannot fix the problems of Big Mac, who is slowly dying of heart failure. [Still #4.] The heist ends in calamity with Earle shooting a guard and Babe and Red crashing their car, and although Marie, Pard and Earle escape, the situation gets worse when Big Mac dies and Earle is unable to fence the jewels he stole. To add insult to injury, Velma rejects his offer of marriage for the slimy fiancee she had back East and Roy leaves in disgust at her superficiality. Turning to Marie, the woman who stood by him, their romance is interrupted by the arrival of the law and his flight back to the cliffs of Whitney Portal where, pursued by the Inyo county sheriff and the Highway Patrol, a desperate standoff and climax is staged against the highest mountain in the lower 48.

[US 395 south of Olancha, looking north.] Most of the US 395 roadgeek grabs are to be found on his flight back to Lone Pine, but the location is fouled by a rather large plot hole where Earle is supposed to be heading back to Los Angeles, and his progress on the California Highway Patrol dispatch map is shown heading south, but the motel he fled from was already in Los Angeles as shown by the newspaper headline. The movie doesn't make this any easier by throwing in fictitious town names, like "Palmville on Route Three Nine Five" around the 1 hour 22 minute mark, and giving the cops San Francisco police badges (1h24m45s), but we can still pick out some highlights. Despite what the dispatch map says, the scene at left was actually south of Olancha, much further south than Lone Pine; there is some Division of Highways signage up but it's hard to make out due to motion blur. The CHP tracks him on a geographically-accurate but locationally-wrong dispatch map going south from Independence to Lone Pine, although the photography makes it obvious he is not north enough to be driving around the Alabama Hills. [US 395 in Lone Pine on a fictitious CHP intercept map.]

[US 395 and US 6 in downtown Lone Pine, shot on location.] Arriving in Lone Pine, we are treated to this beautiful US 395/US 6 shield pair at right that you can see in close-up in Part 3, both shields being authentic and the scene indeed shot from the highway; a similar authentic early US 395 shield, which is happily safe in a local collection, can be seen in Part 1. [Ascending Whitney Portal.] From there we are treated to a thrilling and only slightly faked car chase up the narrow Whitney Portal road, which appears in all of its twisty and dusty glory, to the final climactic scene on the mountain, and the movie closes with a majestic view of the rock face as the credits and the cast roll.

As with Out of the Past, the highest form of flattery is abject plagarism and High Sierra was remade not just once, but twice. The first was just eight years later in Colorado Territory (1949) (IMDb link), which even shared the same director (Raoul Walsh); Joel McCrea took the Roy Earle part as Wes McQueen, and Virginia Mayo the Marie role as Colorado Carson. An extremely tightly tied duplication except for the less accomplished cast and its change of setting to the Rocky Mountains, the movie was not considered particularly notable and is only remembered today for being the first movie premiered at a drive-in.

[End card of Mount Whitney.] It seems, however, that an obvious transplant was not an obvious enough ignominy, and High Sierra was made to endure another retread, this time virtually scene-for-scene and in the same locations. A colour film noir, one of the few of that era, I Died A Thousand Times (1955) (IMDb link) uses exactly the same character names and the same settings save replacing the period-stereotyped black character Algernon (Willie Best) with a period-stereotyped Mexican one (Chico, played by Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez). Boy, that sure did the trick. The only real bright spots here, not among them Jack Palance who lacked Bogart's subtle farm-boy-turned-gangster style, were early performances from Lee Marvin and Dennis Hopper, and the great Lon Chaney, Jr. as Big Mac.

Back to the Future (1985)

All images copyright © 1985, 1989, 2002 Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved.

[Title, Back to the Future] (IMDb link) After these first movies with multiple entire scenes on US 395, we start getting into cameo territory. One of the biggest surprises in this category is the Zemeckis-Spielberg blockbuster Back to the Future (1985), the first of three hit films starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as high school student Marty McFly (trying to form a band) and the somewhat disheveled scientist Doctor Emmett Brown (trying to make a time machine). No points for guessing who succeeds first.

[Enlargement of Hill Valley US 395 sign, 64K] Only if you're a Taliban bodyguard hiding out with Osama bin Laden in a cave somewhere in Pakistan will you have not heard of this movie, which had a worldwide gross box office take of $350,600,000 -- a huge sum for 1985. And yes, US 395 really does appear in the film; US 395 appears directly in the fictional town of Hill Valley as Marty speeds in on his skateboard. The shield is a cutout but sort of goofy-looking, and the directional banner is given as east; also, it is shown intersecting US Highway 8 (which is itself incorrectly shown going south), which would be difficult as US 8 has only ever run from Michigan to Minnesota. Note how the US 8 shield has an old-style "US" bar, but is missing the state name, probably on purpose. Click the image at right for the full scene (64K). There is a scene in Back to the Future, Part II (1989) (IMDb link) that alleges Hill Valley is in California; Marty's work address is given as "11249 Business Center Road, Hill Valley, CA 95420-4345" on the fax telling him he's fired. This is actually the ZIP code for Caspar, CA, on the California north coast, but at least the state is right for US 395.

[Lone Pine in BTTF ... sort of.] One other fun US 395-ism in the film is totally coincidental; when Marty goes out to see Doc Brown's time machine in the beginning of the movie, Doc tells him to show up at Twin Pines Mall. While reminiscing, Doc observes that the land was once owned by old man Peabody, who was trying to breed pine trees. When Marty goes back to 1955, he wrecks a pine tree on Peabody's property during the landing sequence, and when the scene at the mall is revisited, the mall sign now reads Lone Pine Mall. Lone Pine, of course, is a town along US 395 in Inyo county, which we visit in Part 3, but naturally the scene wasn't shot in Lone Pine; both the original Twin Pines Mall and the subsequent Lone Pine Mall are actually the Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry, CA. Seems hard to imagine there would be a mall that large in the middle of Inyo county anyway.

Incidentally, the DeLorean time machine really is a registered, licensed California vehicle. Although its vanity plates read OUTATIME, the production notes give its true license plate number as 3CZV657 (two other DeLoreans were also used). Now you know. The IMDb page lists many other interesting facts, gaffes and goofs for these three fun films; the trilogy is on DVD for cheap, and I never get tired of them.

[I-99 in BTTF II.] US 395 does not appear in the other two movies, but interestingly enough, the much-hated Interstate 99 does appear in Back to the Future, Part II: watch for a strange white angular shield on one of the pull-through gantries as the DeLorean exits the floating freeway into Hill Valley 2015; the control cities are given as Phoenix, Boston and London (!). Obviously, I-99 isn't in California and most of us think it shouldn't be in Pennsylvania, either ... for those who don't know, it is probably the most egregious intentional error in Interstate numbering on the books and was pushed through with the number in stone by pork-barrel posterchild Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pennsylvania). Oh, and speaking as a longtime Mac bigot, there's an original compact Macintosh in the antique shop.

Saboteur (1942)

All images copyright © 1942, 2000 Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved.

[Title, Saboteur.] (IMDb link) We all know Alfred Hitchcock liked to insinuate himself into his own movies in cameos, but he also cameoed our favourite highway in this one, one of his earlier efforts for Universal. Saboteur details factory worker Barry Kane (Robert Cummings), framed for an act of sabotage that kills his best friend, who flees into the mountains from the authorities. [Still #1.] His route was allegedly along US 99 (says the California Highway Patrol radio), but he cleverly gives them the slip by going up along US 395. The scene and shield are both phony, shot and manufactured in studio, but the sign is definitely better than some of the other period fakes. Kane must escape both the police and the doubts of the girl he encounters, Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane), who alternately believes and distrusts him, while he tries to identify the real saboteurs and stop their plot. Kane prevents their plan from succeeding by a split second but the true offender (Norman Lloyd) escapes to the Statue of Liberty, where he falls to his death from the torch in what is probably one of the most iconic scenes of Hitchcock's early career.

[Still #2.] That one shot is about all there is for US 395 in the movie officially, although there are some related connections. The fictional Soda City, the hideout for the true saboteurs as they approach their first target (the Hoover Dam, or as it was called then, the Boulder Dam), seems to have been filmed in two places of note: its striking herald rock faces were taken from the Hagen Canyon in the Red Rock Canyon State Park, which was then traversed by US 6 and today by CA 14, and then the "city" itself was indeed filmed in the Owens Valley, actually on the lake (complete with alkali flat and extraction equipment). [Still #3.] Also, on Kane's initial flight north, he seeks shelter at a ranch owned by a well-known figure he believes he can trust, who turns out to actually be a secret co-conspirator. Tobin (Otto Kruger)'s ranch is named the Deep Springs Ranch, a possible reference to Deep Springs off CA 168 in Inyo county (Part 5), although it is doubtful the scenes were actually filmed there.

[Still #4.] This doesn't have anything to do with US 395 actually, but this has always been my favourite Hitchcock scene both technically and artistically: the famous Statue of Liberty scene where saboteur Fry (Lloyd) falls to his death from the torch. Hitchcock greatly increased the tension and the dramatic impact of the scene by simply using the ambient sound and no music at all, and the stark lighting and shadow splashes a sharp, graphic contrast across Fry's face as he plummets screaming to the ground. The dramatic impact, however, is overshadowed by the outstanding visual effects used to accomplish it (unbelievably ahead of its time for 1942, and even by today's standards would be considered highly compelling). To rig the "fall," Hitchcock attached the camera to a scale model of the statue's hand and torch, filming Lloyd pantomiming wildly as the camera pulled back from him. The background around Lloyd was matted out and replaced with footage of the base of the statue and Ellis Island from a stationary overhead position, such that the net effect is Lloyd appearing to fall away from the camera, rather than the camera moving away from him. Only the merest glimpse of matte lines around his flailing arms spoils it ever so slightly.


Mission: Impossible "The Town" (1968)

All images copyright © 1968, 2007 CBS Studios, Inc. All rights reserved.

[Title, Mission: Impossible (the 1960s series).] (IMDb link) My favourite TV series of all time has always been Mission: Impossible, the classic spy show where the top secret and virtually omnipotent Impossible Missions Force deals with the critical cases home and abroad that the government cannot. As a kid I saw the 1988 series with a much older Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and was immediately hooked. Fortunately the 1966-1973 series was even better.

[Still #1, the original agricultural inspection station on I-40/US 66.] "The Town" is actually a very atypical episode, an intentional deviation from the show's normal format. Rather than receiving the famous taped mission and selecting his agents, Phelps stumbles upon a nest of deep cover spies while on vacation, who quickly overpower and paralyse him using curare administered by their leader, the local doctor (Will Geer). Their current mission is to assassinate a defector to the USA, and two of their agents are on their way to Los Angeles to arrange the hit. Meanwhile, when Rollin (Martin Landau) comes looking for Jim, the doctor informs him he was immobilized by a stroke and will likely die (with an additional dose to be administered for a 'final stroke'). However, Jim manages to communicate to Rollin through eye blinks that his stroke was faked, and Rollin takes over not only the Doc's identity with the help of the other IMF members, but prevents the murder and calls in the police.

[Still #2, mileage sign on US 66.] Because of its more improvised plot and being an episode not to heavily feature Phelps, "The Town" has never particularly been a favourite to casual fans (though more rabid ones adore it for precisely those reasons), nor to me especially, but it actually has a tremendous amount of roadgeek and US 66 material and for that reason alone might be worth a buy even if you don't particularly care for the show or this episode. On their way to kill the defector, the two clandestine assassins travel from the phony town through Needles, down future Interstate 15 to Victorville and then through the Cajon Pass on a route that can only be old US 66 (decommissioned by 1968, when the episode was filmed, but still very much in use before the completion of Interstate 40), and from there through San Bernardino on I-15/US 395 and into Los Angeles on Interstate 10. The episode features some outstanding closeups of old Division of Highway signage and even some route markers and interchanges, plus some portions of the northern part of I-15 in the Mojave Desert.

[Still #3, Cajon Pass.] Naturally we are most interested in the portions co-signed with old US 395, which are part of our Old Highway 395 exhibit in Part 17 and Part 18. US 395, co-signed with I-15 while exiting the Cajon Pass between the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains, is seen with old-style signage on the old expressway before it was overrun by the Interstate just a year later. In addition, we also see US 395 signed through San Bernardino on what was then also Interstate 15 and is now Interstate 215, the Barstow Freeway and Riverside Freeway, and its approach to Interstate 10 at the San Bernardino interchange. This last image is particularly important as it shows the old configuration of the interchange before it was reconstructed as the current four-level stack in 1972. I have much higher resolution images of the DVD in those two parts, so check them for more information and some comparison photographs to the present day.

[Still #5, US 395 and Interstate 10 in San Bernardino.] [Still #4, US 395 south through San Bernardino.] Incidentally, US Highway 101 makes at least one cameo appearance as well (possibly two). One sighting is almost guaranteed; the assassins enter downtown Los Angeles on what is obviously the Hollywood Freeway, with an exit for Broadway visible and a very blurry horned shield. The other possible appearance is an errant El Camino Real bell visible in at least one shot within the phony town, implying the town was shot on the coast despite it having to exist inland (possibly even over the state line; they do cross through an old-style agricultural station early in the episode) for the assassins' route to make any sort of sense. This looks like an unintentional production gaffe, but the reason I merely say this US 101 sighting is "possible" is that El Camino Real bells do appear on other highways, for example CA 33 (old US 399) in Ventura county.

For what it's worth, my favourite episode is still the chilling "Operation Rogosh" from the first season, followed closely by "Live Bait" from the 3rd. This is truly a show that didn't insult your intelligence (much), and I don't get tired of watching reruns on DVD over and over. Go buy the DVD box sets now before this page self-destructs. Good luck.


Highway 395 (1998)

All images copyright © 1998 Robert W. Adams. All rights reserved.

[Cover, Highway 395 comic.]      "Pleasant Valley, renamed Death Valley, is a 289-mile stretch of terror. Highway Three Ninety Five was an easier alternate route vs. the snow-blown Sierra Nevada mountains for tourists during the extreme winter months. Now, the straight stretch of road is a magnet for bullet bikers, drag racers and speedsters of all kinds. Hundreds of innocent lives have been claimed from high octane attitudes. As a result, special law enforcement agents have planned an operation, headed by Sergeant Mack Mackan, currently off suspension for excessive force, to crack down on speedsters who violate the seventy mile an hour speed limit. Sergeant Mack Mackan a/k/a Road Block Twelve had this to say:

    "If the road doesn't get you ... I will."

So begins Robert Adams' graphic novel chronicle of gasoline-fueled mayhem on the asphalt of our favourite highway, US 395. Although obviously intended as a series (due to the open conclusion and the numbering), there is only one released issue that I am aware of. Adams carries creator, writer, pencil and ink credits and the copyright on the comic, apparently self-published by RA Comics, "a division of Violent and Pointless Productions" (hmm). The reason for the choice of setting becomes clear when one looks at the address for RA Comics: they're in Reno, Nevada, which US 395 crosses through in photoessay Part 13 and Part 14. However, the Pleasant Valley they reference refers to the region between Carson City and Reno, which we pass through in Part 12 (though hardly 289 miles in length); possibly he took a tip from then-loud community complaints over speeding vehicles on US 395 through the town. [Art sample #1.] Despite being a limited-run indie comic and of "only local" scope at that, it seems to have been produced in some numbers because it's not as hard to find as one would expect; copies do appear from time to time on eBay, and I have seen it listed occasionally on Internet comic shops.

Considering the fact it's the ubiquitous setting of the book, US 395 is referenced strangely infrequently and in fact is mentioned by name solely on the cover and first page; the only other highway mentioned other than that, unsurprisingly, is Interstate 80 (as "Route Eighty" on page 30). Otherwise, Highway 395 is rather short on roadgeek material and plot and long on car chases and fiery explosions. Something like Mel Gibson's Mad Max transplanted into the deserts of northwestern Nevada, the watchword once again is he who prevails on the road ("the country's most terrorized highway," proclaims page 7), prevails over all. To this end, a cavalcade of loosely associated characters duke it out with one foot on the accelerator and one hand on the trigger in a dizzyingly densely packed tome of boom; [Art sample #2.] probably the most memorable, and certainly the stinkiest, member of this varied cast is the appropriately named Methane Man and his abilities concerning ... gas. However, his one-trick pony self is the most well developed of the characters introduced, which is to say that none of them are explored in any detail at all. Even Road Block Twelve himself has little additional "screen time" and hardly anything at all on his background, and most of the rest of the characters barely get named before they're punching RPMs and screeching off into the distance.

To be fair, it's not reasonable to judge the work as a whole on its single inaugural episode, since it was intended to be a series and Adams may have had other ideas in mind for his cast. Although the work is cheaply produced and only black and white except for the cover, the technical skill is there and Adams seems to possess the specialized but essential gift in this genre for translating the frenetic motion of supercharged racers into an immediately accessible static form. In this light, Highway 395 is best seen as a promising first effort in a series with some potential to transcend the critically overloaded road warrior genre that was unfortunately never achieved.

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