Episode 3: Death Ride

Starsky and Hutch set out to safely escort a protected witness’ daughter to him, unaware she’s a decoy and that someone is leaking their every move to a man determined to assassinate the witness before he testifies.

Linda Williams/Joanne: Kathleen Miller, Andrew Mello: Jeff Corey, DA Coleman: Paul Hecht, Joanne Wells (Mello): Trish Mahoney, George: Joe Bova, Jenson: EJ Andre, Cook: Robert Nadder, Terry Evers: Mary Margaret Lewis, Phelps: Ben Marino. Written By: Edward Lakso, Directed By: Gene Nelson.


Sending the guys on the road usually results in a show that is less than stellar: look at “Satan’s Witches” or “Moonshine”, two episodes not improved by the country air. This episode, however, is enjoyable and nicely paced, and filled to the brim with great partnership moments. The chase is beautifully realized and comedy is perfectly balanced with tension. Starsky’s love of expensive watches is introduced, as well as his (never quite sated) appetite.

There’s a great opening shot of the coolest apartment or hotel in town, a modernist petal-balcony round tower. An argument erupts about Starsky’s watch and how much Hutch hates it just as the mobster Andrew Mello is escorted into the car. He’s very rude to the two guys and Hutch makes a little gesture to Starsky, touching his arm at the elbow, as if in solidarity, and the earlier disagreement is forgotten entirely.

“I know who they are,” Mello says when his chauffeurs are pointed out to him. “I just don’t know why you wanted ‘em.” How would a criminal warlord like Andrew Mello know a couple of detectives? Or does he mean he just knows a cop when he sees one?

It’s interesting the DA orders them to grab the two would-be assassins and Starsky coolly tells him that they’re sticking with Mello. This is a theme that will be explored repeatedly, the fact that they never lose sight of the objective, even with faced with a tantalizing option: revenge.

“He’ll live,” the DA says casually, looking down at Mello in the car. Jeez, the guy has been shot close to the heart – he’s bleeding badly. How can he be so sure?

Ejected from the hospital and Mello, the guys head to Huggy’s, where they seem to be a little on the tipsy side during their scene.

Starsky and Hutch get their assignment, which they accept, but without asking why Mello would risk the safety of his daughter at a time like this. Surely it would be better to get the dangerous, life-threatening testimony over with first before bringing her into it, but perhaps he will immediately disappear into the witness protection program for the rest of his life and so would never see her again.

This is a high-profile case but DA Coleman still has to refer to his notes to find the name of Mello’s daughter. It makes me question his preparedness. Coleman is another in a long line of bureaucrats with absolutely no sense of humor and no creative intelligence. Dry as a stick and incapable of seeing past the rules, he shows none of the clever wiles his job demands of him.

Enter the worm in the apple. She has their tickets to San Francisco. “Starsky,” she says, and goes to hand the first ticket to Hutch. He has to remind her which one he is. This brings up several issues. If she doesn’t know who is who, this implies she is new to the position. If she’s recently been hired, then why is she trusted with the details of this this top secret mission? If Dobey really was concerned about interdepartmental security – and if he isn’t at this early stage, he certainly is later on – then he should have dealt with the details himself.

The camera following the taxi down the suburban street, around the corner and to the building where Mello’s daughter supposedly lives is the longest, most time-wasting shot in the entire series. For the modern viewer it seems like an eternity. But as they walk into the apartment building we hear one of the most loved and quoted Starsky and Hutch mottos.  Hutch concedes he’s worried, and asks Starsky who he thinks they can trust. “Like always,” Starsky says, slapping Hutch’s back, “me and thee.”

Could that be some very nice high-end designer luggage Joanne has? If so, it shows good attention to detail. “That’s one heavy bag,” Hutch murmurs, to which Starsky inexcusably replies, “Just like a woman.”

If Starsky and Hutch were so wary, why didn’t they pick up on the two-car tail sooner than they do? It seems pretty obvious.

Sometimes the liveliest and most enjoyable moments in the series come apropos of nothing. “Hey,” George the cabbie says nervously, “you guys sound like cops.” “We are,” Starsky says. George mutters, “that’s funny, you don’t look like cops.” “What?” Starsky says, in such a dangerous way George hastily backs off.

There’s a great subtext here of Hutch being bossy and controlling, and Starsky letting him get away with it, for his own obscure purposes. Everything Starsky has Hutch either seems to want for himself, or else make a big deal out of dismissing loftily. For instance, he’s derisive about Starsky’s watch (as he will be in future episodes) but then, in a crunch, urges it onto George the taxi driver, saying, “It’s a great watch!” “Hey, I thought you said you hated that watch,” Starsky says with justifiable outrage. “Did I?” Hutch says innocently.

That’s an awfully shiny taxi that pulls up to the garage and truck moments after the great cornfield shootout.  Where are the stalks in the grille? Where are the bullet holes, the smashed glass?

When the hit men approach the diner Hutch orders Starsky to pay the bill, and then, when Starsky is scrambling to grab the map and get his money Hutch turns and yells, “and get the dishes!” Which, incredibly, Starsky does. He clears the table before running out. Seconds later Hutch orders Starsky to pay the mechanic for his van, which Starsky does.

The gunmen didn’t head to the airport after all, like Starsky said they would. Instead they stop at the garage/diner and start sniffing around. Dumb luck, or what?

Starsky is both brave and imaginative with his guy-under-the-hood ruse. With this and driving the bad guys off the road, he’s definitely in charge here, although “your driving’s a bit shaky,” Hutch feels obliged to say.

Charlie Picerni, Glaser’s stunt double, has his first cameo in the series as one of the hit men.

It’s infantile, but it still cracks me up when the secretary hisses, “where have you been?” and the hit man says, “In the can. Why?” This little bit of naturalistic dialogue is thanks to series regular Edward Lasko, who wrote both “Omaha Tiger” and “Tap Dancing”, both episodes distinguishable by a fast, often funny dialogue.

“You two are wonderful together,” says Detective Williams, after Starsky has just rattled off a monologue and Hutch tersely orders him to shut up. Is she sincere, or sarcastic?

Now let’s pause a moment and think about what Andrew Mello’s enemy Kester is trying to accomplish here. It’s never said, but it’s assumed Kester wants to kidnap Joanne to keep Mello from testifying once his assassins failed to kill him during the vulnerable window of time between his leaving the hotel and his ensconcing at the DA’s office (or wherever he was going to give his sworn testimony). However, it doesn’t take long for the hit men to enter the hospital, subdue an orderly and get into position, ready to take out four, five cops with impunity, grab the girl, and somehow get out of a crowded, unsecured building. If they can do this, why not skip the kidnap – messy, expensive, with a high probability of failure – and just bust in and gun down Mello in his bed?

The two goons knock the orderly unconscious and put him into an improbably small laundry hamper, then pile dirty linens on top of him, where he will wake up a few minutes later with a headache. Very often during the run of the series this sort of thing happens – there are a lot of quick knockouts – and when it does I always imagine what actually happens. That is, they put a bullet in his brain and dump the body on the floor.

It’s a perfect, poetic bit of irony when Starsky’s love of watches is what saves the day in the end.

Starsky shouts into the chaos, “Now!” and kicks a trolley into the path of the gunman. Hutch instantaneously dives into the hall and shoots the falling man. It’s great that Starsky know Hutch is: a)able to hear him in all the commotion, b)is able to act, and, most incredibly, c) can understand what Starsky means with his one-word command.

Incredibly, Hutch wastes valuable seconds flirting in the aftermath of the shooting. The only redeeming detail of this ridiculous exchange is how bravely stoic Detective Williams is about her bullet wound. At last, a tough woman. That nurse might have been tough too if allowed to do her job, i.e. tending to the wound, if Hutch hadn’t ordered her away with his vaguely sarcastic, “think you could find a doctor?”

Seeing Dobey in the hospital corridor uneasily holding his ridiculously small gun makes one realize how difficult it is to act convincingly with firearms. Yet both Glaser and Soul are total naturals, showing a remarkable facility with them. See how Starsky ejects the cartridges in the hallway following the shooting; it looks totally unaffected. You never for a second have a doubt that these are real cops with real guns.

Again, the guys have to explain the case to Dobey, who can’t see how the leak happened so fast. You can see his cogs turning just slightly slower than theirs.

There’s a great moment when Starsky teases Hutch about saying “give my love to the Eiffel Tower” to Williams before she leaves; you can see them grinning at each other.

I like the red telephone in Dobey’s office, which is probably a hot line to the mayor’s office.

Hutch refers to her as a “disbursement clerk” even though she does everything a highly-ranked personal secretary would do. She’s also stationed in a prime spot right outside Dobey’s office. What is her job anyway? And is her duplicity the reason Dobey never again has an assistant?

Hutch has to give Starsky money for the drinks machine.

It’s a small detail but much appreciated when Hutch mentions the secretary/clerk (her name is never said in the episode, which is an interesting omission but one that may be due more to editing than much else) had an expensive car she should not have been able to afford. It shows that they didn’t just start accusing her without taking the time to gather evidence.

As far as I know this episode has three unique features: the guys go to Huggy for information and he is unable to help them, Dobey allows his detectives to be undermined and misled by an outside agency, and we never see or hear directly from the primary Bad Guy (in this case, warring Mafioso Kester.)

Tag: that’s a pretty risqué joke, Huggy mistaking “horse” for “whore”. And what’s Starsky doing buying an expensive watch from Huggy, anyway? There are clues, albeit subtle ones, that he is more distrustful, or at least more realistic, about Huggy’s criminal affiliations and activities, than Hutch seems to be. And yet he forks over three hundred dollars for a watch Huggy just happens to have, then explodes in fury when it’s revealed the watch is hot? Where did he think Huggy got it from, anyway? It’s wonderful how he vents his rage without saying a single word – it fits perfectly with his character: taciturn, with occasional rapid-fire verbosity. Also, the last line, Huggy’s indignant “did anyone ever tell you was pushy?” hilariously foreshadows “Snowstorm”, when the three renegade cops accuse Starsky of the very same thing.

Clothing notes: It’s strange to see Starsky wearing a pair of taupe suede cowboy boots and not his super-lights. Both of them look great in their faded jeans and cloth jackets. Hutch isn’t wearing any jewelry, but Starsky wears the pinkie ring he wears throughout the series. Huggy, once again, steals the show with his seersucker plaid, bow-tie, taupe leather cap and red pants ensemble.


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24 Responses to “Episode 3: Death Ride”

  1. phaedrablue4 Says:

    I am enjoying your take and insights and totally plan to inundate you with my thoughts. I’m wondering if Hutch’s comment that Starsky’s “driving’s a bit shaky” is an inside joke because it was probably Picerni at the wheel?

  2. phaedrablue4 Says:

    Hutch and Starsky are pissed at being setup. Dobey shouts that he’s in charge but yet he still lets the D.A.’s office run the show. Starsky’s still not buying it. “Terrific, so with the help of Helen Hayes, here, the two of you turn us into a couple of clay pidgeons”. What a great line. Betrayals all around, which of course goes back to: “Who do we trust? Me and thee.”

    All seems to be forgiven by Starsky as they stroll through the hospital halls or is his seemingly lighthearted banter a way quench his still smoldering anger?

  3. Shelley Says:

    Good point about the taxi. They do this thing with cars all the time like here, where the taxi should be pretty banged up, but it looks like it doesn’t have a scratch.

    Diner scenes can be comical with these guys. Why does Starsky get the meatloaf when he’s been strongly advised not to? I believe Hutch when he says it’s awful; Hutch isn’t just harassing Starsky this time. As soon as Hutch says it’s awful, Starsky decides he wants to cover it up with gravy.

    I’m thinking Hutch ordered Starsky to clear the table to hide any evidence they were there in case the bad guys came into the diner.

    It was a bit of a stretch that the bad guys showed up at the diner in any case.

    And those jeans are a sight to behold. Whoa.

    • merltheearl Says:

      I like your generous take on why Hutch orders Starsky to clear the table. I always figure he’s just being bossy. And as for your last point, at the start of this project I pledged to keep my own appreciative observations to a minimum in order to maintain a certain academic standard. Believe me, keeping that promise that has been the hardest part of the whole enterprise. I only slipped up once.

  4. Shelley Says:

    You have admirable self-discipline considering the level of eye candy going on here.

  5. King David Says:

    Where did you slip up, Merl? I haven’t imposed that level of self-discipline on myself, so I can appreciate the low-slung figure-hugging jeans, the thick leather belt, and any opportunity to see skin if a shirt happens to ride up.
    Yes, I believe that Hutch thought to remove any traces of their presence, although couldn’t the dishes have belonged to another diner, one who didn’t like the meatloaf? It didn’t automatically look ‘three absent diners’. And see how Hutch just barges right on in and helps himself to Starsky’s meal.
    Why do men in American TV shows and films carry cash (notes) loose? Doesn’t anyone have a wallet?
    See how Hutch hangs onto Joanne’s bag when dashing about the petrol station; it looks patently empty, but he gallantly carries it for her.
    Did Soul & Glaser have firearms training in preparation for the show?

    • King David Says:

      I just watched this, again, this morning, and I have some issues: in Dobey’s office he tells the pair that they will be catching a plane to San Francisco tomorrow morning, and paperwork and cash is signed for. We see them pull up at ‘Joanne’s’ apartment and go inside. She mentions the events of ‘this morning’, but surely she means yesterday morning? Then, when on their way back to the airport, it’s an awfully long drive, but surely they would’ve made the reverse drive only minutes before? We see them pull up, collect ‘Joanne’ then drive away again, so surely the trip must be fresh in their memories, so why does Starsky ask how much further to go? Just making noise?
      There is a lot of greenery caught in the grille of the taxi just after the cornfield frolic, but it is absent as they arrive at the petrol station, so we must presume someone removed it so as to not draw attention to themselves. And, if the villains were having a good look around for the cops, how come they didn’t look in the window of the garage right at the beginning? Not a very thorough search.
      Mello says he knows who Starsky & Hutch are; perhaps they helped bring him down, or perhaps his ‘mole’ in the Dept has kept him informed, or perhaps they are just well known and recognised. And having a third agent in the back of the Torino can’t have been helpful – after all, it is a two-door car. Not good for hasty exits. They should’ve had a car in front and a car in the rear. And how come the receptionist was able to be away from her desk at that time? Shouldn’t she have been at work?
      This is a good episode for so much outside location shooting (film, not gunfire.).

    • Sandra Says:

      Last year they both said they didn’t get a police training for the show (only David got some for “Dirty Harry”.) Paul said they went to the shooting range once and had to shoot sideways at the target which had him and David facing each other (since one is left handed and one is right handed) and then they had to draw their guns across their bodies to shoot at the target facing it sideways. But while drawing the gun Paul’s obviously got off early and he shot up dust right next to their feet. (David didn’t remember that and said, it was a good thing that Paul only told him this story now, lol) I was really surprised though that Paul said at that time the guns had not been dummied up, so they used real ones. Wouldn’t that have been dangerous?

      • merltheearl Says:

        Hilarious. I’m guessing the set guns wouldn’t have been loaded. But they would have been very heavy, which adds to my admiration for the natural way they both handled the weapons. Many actors, to this day, can’t seem to manage it.

      • Sandra Says:

        <on the other hand, I think Paul doas hold his gun very dangerously as Starsky sometimes. Not something you'd be taught at the Academy.

  6. Sweet Alice Says:

    Actually the luggage seems to be Gucci with the recognizable stripe of red and green down the center. Louis Vuitton is the classic brown with beige LV logo.

  7. Shelley Says:

    Alex had mentioned elsewhere about seeing a VW bug in every episode so I kept watch this time, and sure enough, there it was, in back of the car tailing from behind.

  8. stybz Says:

    I just want to comment on the question about Hutch disliking/liking Starsky’s watch. I thought he was complimenting it in front of George so that George would want it. I don’t think he meant that he (Hutch) really liked the watch. He was just being a good salesman. 🙂

  9. stybz Says:

    Ah. Okay. 🙂

  10. Dianna Says:

    I just re-watched this episode, which I have always enjoyed, and it grew a bit in my estimation.

    The guys are, as Linda says, “Just a little bit short of perfect.”

    I believe this is the first time we see Hutch snatching money out of Starsky’s hand, and it made me realize that he’s always trying to control any large amount of money the partners have, not just when they are gambling (e.g. The Las Vegas Strangler and The Action, although he doesn’t seem to need to control the briefcase full of money, just the money being laid down on the table). I wonder if this tendency is a result of his life with Vanessa and her evidently greedy ways.

    The scene with the meatloaf also made me reflect on others’ comments that Hutch is the partner who gets sick in more episodes. He is also much much more choosy about what he eats than Starsky (except in The Game) and, in early episodes at least, he is shown as a fitness fanatic. I wonder if his constitution is just naturally more delicate than Starsky’s, so that he *has* to be more aware of his health. Starsky eats anything and everything, is never shown to work out, and yet he is really healthy, never gets sick, and as we all know, has a quite picturesque physique.

  11. stybz Says:

    I like this episode. 🙂 One of the better ones.

    As to why Starsky and Hutch took on the assignment unquestioningly, I think there was a concern that if the hit-men couldn’t get to Mello directly, then his daughter was the likely next target. So they either had to get her to a safe house in San Fran or get her down to Bay City. Since the department didn’t want too many people knowing about the plan, they probably decided not to involve the San Fran police. After all, Starsky and Hutch were ordered to not even call in to Dobey during that period. So the only other thing they could do was bring her down to Bay City as discreetly as possible.

    I didn’t have a problem with Starsky or Hutch not noticing the two-car tail on the way to the airport. One probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to a car in front and obviously didn’t until George pointed it out to them.

    At first I thought Starsky paid for everything, but in reality they both did. Starsky paid for the gas when they arrived at the station, and he also paid for the food. But Hutch shelled out the $200(?) for the truck. Starsky only had to add the additional $40 for the gas in the truck . In a way it might have been Hutch’s attempt to make it even so that they wouldn’t argue later over how much each paid and whether they’d get the money back in expenses (difficult without receipts). This way they both pay equally and it’s done with. 🙂

    Didn’t Charles Picerni appear in the pilot as Tallmann’s henchman who tail Starsky and Hutch in that classic who is chasing whom scene? It looks like him. Hutch is the one who tosses him against the car.

  12. Patricia Ackor Says:

    This episode is a pretty good one, in my opinion, in spite of all the “uh…” and “… wha’?” inconsistencies mentioned by everyone above. And, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier comment, almost every questionable action or ‘that makes no sense’ incident can be placed at the foot of the script, and the producers’ “Oh, Never Mind” attitude. This was Ed Lakso’s first S&H episode, he wrote mainly for “Charlie’s Angels”, that paragon of accuracy and believability. His later efforts in this series were much better, I thought.
    Also, PMG’s stand-in/stunt driver was Paul Picerni, not Charlie, his older brother. Charles also had several roles in various S&H episodes, and he directed at least one, “Partners.” They did look very much alike.

  13. jamesguitarshields Says:

    that cool round building at the start is the old Holiday Inn (you can see the Holiday Inn sign for a second when they’re walking) at Sunset and the 405…

  14. BC Says:

    As some others on this site, I have bought the dvd’s and am now rewatching my favorite show. Thank you, Merl, for this website. I read and then I watch, so many things I missed back in the 70’s! I hope there will continue to be posts because I can’t quit watching the boys. I have finished all the seasons and want to start over. I may have a problem…
    Did anyone enjoy the Hutch strut down the hospital hallway ahead of the others? Starsky was in the back so couldn’t see him much.
    Also, why was Starsky giving his amazing grin to Hutch as he got into the van, did I miss something?
    Thanks again, everyone, for making my second, third, fourth…viewings even better!

  15. john Says:

    anyone have a image or type of ring starsky wears?

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