The set-up here is pretty good. The ‘teenage’ hoodlums are convincingly out-of-it small-time hoods. The two guys Frank and Roy (Frank Gorshin and James Johnson) are antsy, trying too hard to be cool, while the ‘girl’ Bobbie (Joyce Taylor) is plenty cool, dropping “Daddy-O”-this and “lover-boy”-that everywhere. The kidnapping itself seems plausible enough; even though the hoodlums almost bungle it up. But things start to unravel a bit once the cops and robbers get off the beaten track.
Why would Sgt. Walsh (David Jansen) want to ditch the car? Going hiking through the woods with the three nutcases almost nullifies his chances of rescue. The remote location only serves to open up space for the instant romance that Bobbie kindles with Walsh. But the group hasn’t got any gear, nor food or water, just the whiskey that the quaint car-jack victim conveniently left behind. At least Walsh temporarily gets his gun back. He does freak out the geniuses when he raises the lynching possibility; and then tosses Roy down a ravine. Meanwhile, the reaction in town gathers momentum. The manhunt deal is smartly done, so there’s an inner consistency to this aspect of the plot.
The forest fire is a direct consequence of Frank’s carelessness. He’s not that dumb, as he points out the shenanigans between Walsh and Bobbie “we did some smooching” she allows. I’m wondering what’s the point of having a cop-molester subplot. If she’s just a year or two older, then it’s an allowable romance. Well, if we buy the accomplice-turned-cop’s-girlfriend implication. The posse, having ambushed the hoodlum element, is conveniently situated to help fight the fire. The fire is incredible: not only because of the path of destruction, but because the sense of panic it brings is as palpable as in most sci-fi monster movies. Rolling through the burning forest in the train is wild; when it stalls on the burning trestle it’s a tense and gripping spectacle. But, then, we’re done.
There’s no follow-up to Walsh’s legal issue, and Bobbie’s fate is ambiguous. She basically becomes Walsh’s sidekick as he tends the locomotive. Technically, the two of them save the townspeople. It would’ve taken a lot of re-jiggering to blend the crime story to the disaster story. As it is, it’s like a double feature with most of the same cast in both episodes. Both plots are entertaining, but why put two unrelated narratives together? Worth a look if just for the forest fire scenes.