Episode 15: The Hostages

Starsky and Hutch discover a plot to blackmail armored car driver Tom Cole by kidnapping his wife, Ellie.

Tom Cole: John Ritter, Ellie: Linda Kelsey, Sweet Alice: Nellie Bellflower, Belle: Jean Hagen, Madame Yram: Susan Peretz, Meg: Kristy McNichol, Ames: Will Hare, Conrad: Clay Tanner, Amy: Melissa Newman, Tobin: Madison Arnold, Gibson: Richard Foronjy, Miller: Art Burns, Manager: Chuck Hollom. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is my favorite kind of episode: tightly written, fast moving, case-oriented, with a lot of great partnership moments and no negativity. The episode is inward-looking and timeless, with no cultural markers, no acknowledgement of the era in which it is set. As well, there is an element so special to the series as a whole: a way of looking at the marginalized, the sad, the down and out, society’s refuse, through a special lens that renders them interesting, worthy, and poignant.

Harry Johnson, the first driver, does something quite poignant in the opening scene: he throws a towel at his assassin to ward off gunfire.

This is one of the rare times the guys accidentally stumble into a case, rather than having it assigned, or, in the case of personal tragedy, forced on them. The coincidence is believable and inventive. Plus, because they check on Harry as a favor to someone they don’t know all that well, it highlights their humanity. Many other cops would dismiss Amy, or fob the call off to a patrol car, but they don’t.

Hutch tells Starsky, in “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead”, says “Two out of three isn’t bad,” in relation to being left-handed and discovering Rosey. He repeats this now when Starsky tells him waitress’s horoscope says she’ll meet a “tall, dark and handsome stranger”. Which of the three attributes is he eliminating for Starsky? It would probably mean handsomeness, judging by the smirk, and besides one can’t really dodge the facts, as Starsky could be classified as both tall and dark.

When the guys enter the café, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder, in an intense squish that has nothing to do with actual available space. Unusually, Hutch is genuinely charmed by his partner’s high spirits rather than irritated by them. He’s also supportive when the pursuit seems to be falling flat.

“Looks like the moon just flew right past the cusp of your Venus,” Hutch says when Starsky learns he’s struck out with Amy, the horoscope-loving waitress; amusingly, this line sounds very dirty.

That’s a long time for the kettle to be whistling on the stove: Harry would have put it on before he took a shower, and presumably it’s at least twenty minutes later when the guys show up at his door. Logically, it should have boiled dry and possibly started a fire.

When Starsky and Hutch visit Mr. Ames, the owner of the armor truck company, they also squeeze together at the dispatch desk as they did earlier in the café.

“I was once almost as pretty as you,” Belle tells Ellie. You can see right away she identifies with her much-younger captive. Their names sound similar, and Belle is a great example of the empathy we often associate with women, especially when the issue of pregnancy is part of the mix. They also share the same unusual hair color, although you can bet Ellie’s is natural while Belle’s is dyed, which we can take as symbolic of corruption, or more precisely the pretense of corruption Belle has necessarily assumed over time, given her profession and lifestyle (and by that I mean indifference to suffering, commodifying sexuality, the preservation of self over others).

You can see Belle is totally out of her depth in this situation. She spent years honing her tough-gal exterior, which came in handy in her role as a madame, but she could never really hurt anyone, and it shows. Why did they recruit her, then? As with poor Julio in “The Psychic”, the addition of a third person into what is essentially a two-person heist is a complication that deserves examination. Adding Belle as co-conspirator will reduce their take, as well as introducing the possibility she will rat them out at some point. You could speculate they needed a woman’s touch with a female hostage, but why bother, if they’re going to kill Ellie anyway? Do you think they were planning to kill Belle too?

Tom enters the office, Starsky and Hutch are waiting for him. He protests his innocence. They look at each other in silent communication, and the positive evaluation of Tom Cole – his involvement, his innocence – is signed, sealed and delivered in about a second. Hutch gets down to business, handing him the clipboard.

“I’ll pretend to be an encyclopedia salesman,” Starsky says, preparing to enter the Cole household.  “Uh, Starsk,” says the impeccable Hutch in his green-grey turtleneck and soft camel suede jacket, “maybe you better change that to a plumber, huh?” Causing Starsky’s ego to collapse, which is always Hutch’s intention.

Notice Starsky’s graceful little quick-step onto the retaining border wall to glance into the window.

The scene with Meg, the nosy kid neighbor trying to fix her bike, is interesting. The guys, when they see Meg is a tomboy, have a noticeable increase in affection for her. They obviously like her a lot more in dungarees and a cowboy hat (and later with a mitt and runners, still later in a tough-guy jacket) than if she’d been wearing a dress and playing with a doll. This is a guy world, and guys rule. Girls who act and look like guys are almost as good. They don’t have to be charmed or protected. You can depend on them to be realistic, and straightforward. They’re allies, even when they’re bothersome. They can be trusted to tell the truth, and not get caught up in a lot of emotion. Girly-girls are trouble. They’re ex-wives and hookers, schemers and brainless twits.

Did they take Meg to look at mug books without parental permission? Seems incredible. Maybe they called her parents as part of the deal, although that too seems improbable, as any parent would insist on accompanying a young child to a scary place like a police station.

Starsky lets Hutch do all the menacing during the meeting with Dobey and Ames. How often does this happen? Is it pretty well fifty-fifty?

From the Useless Advice Department: being told to “relax” during a stressful experience has the opposite effect. It makes things much worse and not better. The guys tell Tim to relax when they first meet him during the cash run, Belle tells Ellie the same thing after Tom’s phone call.

Why does Starsky laugh so much at Hutch’s dry comment that Dobey might want to buy two thousand dingle dollies? Is it a metaphor of some kind, or a comment on Dobey’s gullibility and good nature? Or perhaps it’s just funny hearing a dignified guy like Hutch say the words “Dingle Dollies”.

Look how Starsky falls back when they enter The Brig to see Sweet Alice, letting Hutch do his magic. In many circumstances throughout the series both Starsky and Hutch know when to give the other plenty of room, and this is obviously Hutch’s turn. The fondness and respect both men pay her is really something: not only is it unusual for the times, it’s unusual for police in general.

Sweet Alice is a real character. I like her opening remark to the bartender: “One sip of scotch and the whole world just mellows right up.” Her adoration for Hutch is so transcendent it approaches the spiritual, most likely providing an antidote to the degrading physical demands she endures daily. He is her warrior, her dream lover, but also her saint. It’s safe for her to flirt so relentlessly – and so sincerely – with the one person who will not give in. One wonders, though, how much of Hutch’s tenderness toward her is mercenary, and what’s real, and if he even knows the difference, and if it matters either way.

Starsky is much less comfortable as the object of a woman’s affection: he squirms throughout the encounter with Mary Polanski. His discomfort with the situation is played for laughs, but that’s not my issue here. My issue has to do with the more subtle and poisonous undercurrent of can you believe this one really thinks she has a chance? Mary is a joke, and we are all invited to laugh. A version of this can be seen in Season Four’s “Discomania”, in which a woman also judged to be beneath Starsky and Hutch in the desirability department makes a doomed play for both of them, only to be rejected. Even though Mary is in a similar situation as Sweet Alice – she fakes her way through encounters designed to make people feel better about themselves – she is seen as vulgar, even horrifying. In contrast, Sweet Alice’s come-ons are not only acceptable but considered flattering. Is it because Sweet Alice is perceived as an ephemeral being, while Mary is more the earthy sort, is it a simple matter of physical beauty, or is it because Mary comes off as a charlatan, selling something that isn’t real, as opposed to Sweet Alice’s demonstrable merchandize?

Hutch is amused enough by his partner’s discomfort to call him by the name of the moving company they’re supposed to be following: “Angel”. This use of a substitutive nickname is very common throughout the series. Both call the other a series of endearing or jokey names as a way of communicating affection while being outwardly demeaning. Starsky’s nicknames for Hutch tend to the physical: Blondie, Blue Eyes, and the like. Hutch’s nicknames for Starsky are more varied and complicated and often relate to the immediate situation: Gordo, Charlie, Dummy, etc.

Belle must be doing all right if she moved her brothel operation out to the rather grand suburban estate. The rent is a lot higher here and her operation is more visible, more likely to raise the ire of her neighbors and more likely to be under suspicion. And yet Alice remarks that Belle was worn out and looking to retire.

Starsky and Hutch have notably good instincts about potential suspects or offenders who are, for all their iniquity, essentially good. They immediately trust Belle for this reason. They know she wants things for the best and don’t hold her profession against her.

This shades-of-grey attitude toward crime and criminals is an interesting sidebar to the series, and must cause both Starsky and Hutch a lot of trouble with the brass. Today, they are the sort of cops who would support harm-reduction agendas such as safe-injection sites, alternative sentencing programs and certain legalized drugs. We do see instances of uniformed cops or higher-ups accusing them of excessive liberalism or show-boating. In “The Committee”, for instance, it’s said that the pair do too much clowning around with suspects and not enough tough enforcement, in “Snowstorm” the older detectives accuse them of being “punks”, and Captain Ryan in “Iron Mike” says some pretty nasty things about the possibility that Starsky and Hutch’s successes are due to playing fast and loose with the law. In “Pariah” the uniformed officers accuse Starsky of knowingly causing harm to their own, causing them to refuse his donation to the widow’s fund, and in “Heroes” the unflattering newspaper article causes a lot of unkind they-deserve-it laughter in the squad room. All of this is caused in large part to jealousy, because Starsky and Hutch’s way of dealing with crime and justice – subtle, empathetic, and anti-authoritarian – is what makes them far more successful than any other officer in their city.

Hutch has an awesome moment of getting out the Torino before it comes to a stop.

Starsky and Hutch never discuss, at least not that we see, the method for dealing with the armored car. They never mention a plan to Dobey when they have him on the phone a few moments earlier. And yet they execute it perfectly: Starsky blows out the tire, Hutch crosses the street and points it out. How do they understand each other so perfectly? It couldn’t be a discussion in the car on the way – they don’t appear to have had one. This is an interesting parallel to the many instances throughout the canon, including wonderful “Nightmare” laundry scene, the argument in front of Dryden in “Hutchinson for Murder One” and in the “Survival” car warehouse, when the psychic bond is revealed to be not only predictable and useful, but life-saving.

This is a personal favorite take-down scene, not only for neatness but nerve. Starsky’s perfectly-executed kick of the rifle, the quick turn only to have Starsky’s gun right in his face, Starsky saying calmly, “like your chin? Want to keep it?” Surely one of the most gruesomely funny lines ever, and the guy’s right to nod nervously. Nothing in Starsky’s demeanor suggests he won’t blow it off at the slightest provocation.

“I thought I looked pretty good in green,” Starsky says mournfully when Dobey criticizes them for their uniforms. That should be the end of it, but it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. Hutch has to weigh in somehow. “With blue tennis shoes?” he sneers.

Clothing notes: Starsky is unusually, luxuriantly rumpled: overgrown curly hair, blue cloth jacket, unbuttoned blue-striped shirt – unbuttoned maybe a button more than is necessary. Hutch wears his brown cords with the thigh pockets, camel suede coat and greenish-grey turtleneck, and aviator sunglasses.

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9 Responses to “Episode 15: The Hostages”

  1. King David Says:

    It’s definitely a good take-down scene at the van; imagine it from the crook’s POV. Which is more menacing, the gun barrel or those eyes?

  2. Anna Says:

    Sweet Alice might be my favorite minor character in the whole show. It’s baffling to think that she was only in two episodes, and one-scene appearances in those two episodes to boot. She utterly transcends the lines and actions she delivers onscreen. And Hutch’s exquisitely gentle, easy, respectful treatment of her and his acceptance of yet lack of intent in her adoration of him was so beautiful it hurt. This show tends to be really good at portraying downtrodden people with all the little uglinesses they possess yet without judgement or pushiness. When Alice says “Some day, I’m gonna go straight” it’s wistful and you know she probably never will, and she knows she probably never will, and she knows that Hutch knows she probably never will, she’s just saying it because it makes her feel good for the moment, and that moment of feeling good is all she has. And Hutch’s reaction to that line, the indulgence in her little moment of idle fancy in the middle of her terrible, dreary day, without any condescension or attempt to genuinely fool her or lie to her, or to burst her bubble, is just so achingly kind of him.

  3. Patricia Ackor Says:

    I made a large mistake in the comment I posted about “Texas Longhorn,” when I let myself be diverted by someone’s reference to Sweet Alice. She wasn’t in that episode, of course, we first saw her here. I’ve just gone back to Texas Longhorn and discovered that I can’t seem to edit or delete my comment, so I’ll post it here, where it’s relevant (sorry for not paying sufficient attention):
    Also, no one has mentioned what I consider to be the sexiest moment in all four seasons: Hutch sliding Alice’s spaghetti strap back up onto her shoulder. I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t scripted (so much of what they did wasn’t “scripted”), it was a move David made, probably during a rehearsal or early take, and it worked so well, they kept it. Alice shudders with pleasure at his touch, and I’m also willing to bet most female viewers did, too. I often wonder how they got it past the censors.

  4. stybz Says:

    I’m wondering if Starsky just had an image of Dobey in his head surrounded by Dingle Dollies and that’s why he laughed. 🙂 I can see Starsky playing that joke on Dobey, filling his office with the toys leaping around and making noise, with Dobey getting redfaced and shouting, “STARSKY!” LOL!

    When Starsky and Hutch stop the armored car by shooting the tire, take a look at the large tag hanging out of Hutch’s breast pocket of his jacket after he’s gotten into position across the street. It disappears when the camera goes back to him. 🙂

    Oh, and I want to take a moment to comment on Starsky’s driving in this episode. Before they get into position to stop the armored car, Starsky realizes they only have 20 minutes, so he thinks fast and turns down a one-way street… in the wrong direction! It’s an hilarious scene with Hutch wheeling around in his seat in a panic as Starsky weaves the Torino to avoid all the cars going the opposite way. A prelude to Partners, perhaps? 🙂 To top it off at the very end, Hutch asks breathlessly, “You didn’t see the arrow, did you?” And Starsky replies, “I didn’t see the Indian.” LOL! Priceless. 🙂

  5. Kit Sullivan Says:

    Another of my favorite episodes!
    But…as usual I have some questions. When Hutch, and then Starsky looks through the binoculars to try and see the phone number dialed by the villian they each squint as though they can almost see the numbers being dialed…but not quite. The immediate subsequent shot shows the POV looking through the binoculars. Not only are the phonebooth, the armoured van and the occupants very small in the image, there is no possible way for anyone to see a detail like what number may have been dialed from that view. What exactly were they squinting at?
    And the editing of that entire scene is off a bit: the bad guy has clearly finished dialing, yet Hutch and Starsky peer through the binoculars as if he is still doing so.
    The take-down of the armoured car is pure “Starsky & Hutch” style fun, but not very well thought out: would passers-by realize that the plainclothes detectives were police, and the uniformed van passenger a crminal, or would it appear to be a robbery of an armoured car in broad daylight?
    And just why does Starsky have a silencer? They are illegal, even for police.
    How did they drive the armoured van with a flat tire to the warehouse? Considering the “beat the clock” scenario, the time-crunch would not have allowed enough time for the tire to have been repaired or replaced.
    And ultimately, why proceed with the whole subterfuge at the warehouse anyway? All potential victims are safe at this point…why not just surround the warehouse with a phalanx of SWAT team members and wait them out?

    • merltheearl Says:

      Kit, all your comments are perceptive and, of course, indicative of logical thinking. I even enjoyed the holes poked in my favorite scene, the take-down of the armored car. Sometimes the grain of salt we are served during these episodes is a pretty big one, but take it we must.

  6. Kit Sullivan Says:

    Of course! My comments are in no way negative…simply observational. After all, this is a dramatic presentation, not a documentary. If i wanted total realism beyond all else, I would just watch the news.
    I take a break from the show for several months at a time, even a year or so…then always watch several in a row. I always spot something fresh that way!

  7. Becki Says:

    Merl, I just adore your site! I was only 9 years old when S&H went off the air, but I was a huge fan. While my friends were all fighting over who got to “date” the more glitzy Ponch and Jon, I only had eyes for Starsky and Hutch. Yep, into the gritty even as a pre-teen. I don’t think I’d seen an episode since Nick At NIte did a marathon back in the 1990s until I came across it a month or so ago on FamTV (or whatever it’s called). Suddenly I was hooked again! And since it’s been so long, it’s been like watching them for the first time. I bought the series on DVD and started watching obsessively. I’d just recently finished re-watching the complete “Twin Peaks”, following every episode with the corresponding “Fire Talk With Me” podcast episode for analysis. That was such an amazing way enjoy the series, so I was hoping to find something similar for S&H. Well, no podcasts exist (not a surprise, just a disappointment), but I did happen onto this site. What luck! I am totally enjoying your analysis, as well as that of your insightful commenters. Y’all always point out something I missed or cast things in a different light for me.

    I doubt I’ll be having much to add, but I did wanted to make a comment about the Mary Polanski encounter. I don’t think what we’re seeing here is a “can you believe this one really thinks she has a chance” situation. We need to look at this from a 1975 perspective. While the changing sexual mores of the late 1960s allowed for freer sexual encounters, these still would have conformed to a traditional male-as-pursuer situation. But here we are in 1975. It was only three years prior that SCOTUS mandated that The Pill be made available to unmarried women in all 50 states, and only two years prior that Roe v. Wade mandated that abortion on demand be available to women in all 50 states. We’re sitting in the very early years of women having complete autonomy over their reproductive choices. As a result, women no longer have to depend on men to provide the (hardly foolproof) contraceptive, nor will they be forced into motherhood if it fails. With that fear/uncertainty gone, women were finally free to pursue sex in the same way men had historically done. So what I think we’re looking at in these S&H scenes where the women are sexually aggressive is the general uncomfortableness Starsky and Hutch would have felt having the rolls reversed. These virile “ladies’ men” suddenly being put in the position of being the prey rather than the hunter must have been a bit emasculating for them, or at the very least quite disconcerting.

    Oh, and one last thing, it’s always thrilling to see who I’m going to recognize in each episode. I was so tickled to see Norman Fell in “The Shootout”, and then in the very next episode John Ritter! And Belle, OMG I spent the whole episode knowing I knew her but not able to place her. Then with the way she fixed her eyes in regret when talking to Ellie, it hit me, and I screamed “Lina Lamont!” What an absolute joy it was to see her again, and almost unrecognizable without the blonde hair and high-pitched voice. If I didn’t have every moment of “Singing in the Rain” memorized, I’m not sure I would have ever placed her.

    Thanks for allowing me to geek out for a bit~

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