Episode 16: Losing Streak

Starsky and Hutch try to find and help Vic Rankin, a pianist childhood hero of Hutch’s, who gets in over his head when he steals counterfeit money from mobster club owner Gil White.

Vic Rankin: Dane Clark, Evelyn Rankin: Jacqueline Scott, Garth (Gil) White: Arthur D Roberts, Belinda Williams: Madlyn Rhue, Foote: Zitto Kazann, Oscar: Henry Slate, Toby: Rozelle Gayle, Dealer: Don Sherman, Banker: Frank Geraci, Orange: Connie Lisa Marie, Olivia: Adina Ross, Lemke: Gene Labell. Written By: Michael Fisher and Robert Holt, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s a beautiful opening shot of a bridge silhouetted in a so-beautiful-it’s-lurid Los Angeles sunset, just the voices of the guys requesting directions to a hamburger joint, which gives a jazzy feel to the whole show.

Of course, the one time Starsky is right, according to Hutch, that the hamburgers are terrific, he’s beset with a toothache that robs him of any pleasure (there is a further elucidation of this motif in Character Studies 19: Food Fight!)

The beautifully named Rozelle Gayle, as regular pianist Toby, is beaming at Vic Rankin’s piano playing. He calls Vic “the greatest”. Vic’s a fan favorite too, according to the henchman. We learn later he’s had a famous past. Then why do his tinkling ivories sound so generic?

Oh, those wall-to-wall-carpeted wood-paneled rooms. With the brandy snifters and brass fittings, and minor Impressionist paintings. And bad guys in suits and ties. This, as I’ve said before, is the apex of evil in the Starsky and Hutch world.

It’s not great security that a crucial back window to White’s sanctuary is not only unlocked but swinging free. Also, Vic is able to open a locked filing cabinet with a few jogs of a letter opener. This is one crime outfit that needs to rethink its strategies.

It’s a great scene when Vic finds the suitcase with the money: he’s going to steal the whole thing, before conscience interrupts and he just takes what is owed to him. This is important when setting Vic up as a basically good man despite his many weaknesses and faults.

It’s very typical of this series that the guys are particularly gentle when talking to Vic’s wife Evelyn, when they learn the extent of Vic’s problem. They go from gun-brandishing cops to quiet listeners in the space of a second.

Starsky asks Mrs. Rankin why Vic waited so long to get his take if he worked for White six months previously. How in the world does Starsky know this? They only just heard about the connection between White and Rankin a second ago.

“Anyone tell you,” says Olivia, putting a hand to Starsky’s face, “that you’re as cute as a teddy bear?”
“I can’t help it,” Starsky says to a smirking Hutch, then laughs and pinches him as they walk. It’s a great friendship moment, with no jealousy or one-upmanship. But Hutch does play the shoulder-tap, shortly thereafter, apropos of nothing. Or something?

Olivia, ostensibly a waitress, gives off a powerful sleazoid vibe when she coquettishly asks the guys if there’s anything she “can do” for them. Her choice of phrase, coupled with the not-quite-clothing she’s wearing suggests there’s something else going on here along with the jazz and covert gambling. Just how iniquitous is this place, anyway?

“Now that,” Starsky says, “is weird.” This while Hutch is watching two older ladies walking by in each other’s arms. “It is?” Hutch says, thinking about lesbians, which these women seem to be; Starsky says impatiently, pointing at White’s door, “No.” “Oh, yeah,” Hutch says, still examining the women. Hmm… Later, in the aftermath of the ill-fated poker game, in which Vic accidentally shoots someone, one of the players says, “we caught him playing with queer.” “With who?” Hutch says, all interested.

“Poker is sure getting popular,” Hutch complains as they go from game to game. Imagine what he’d say now when it’s actually broadcast on television.

They were actually going to murder Vic for few lousy bucks at a poker game? His fellow player sure goes for the gun fast.

The scene with the nosy witness at the dregs of the game is priceless. The comedic timing is perfect, the guys both masterful and hilarious, and there’s a suppressed joy in the whole scene that makes it jump off the screen. It’s a perfect foil for the grim storyline.

Evelyn Rankin is an amazing character. Played by the steely Jaqueline Scott, Evelyn is a resilient woman who is both stronger and more compassionate than Starsky and Hutch initially give her credit for. I love how her slapping Hutch – which is actually a serious crime, an assault on an officer – changes them from a kind of sympathetic condescension to tough realism, treating her as an equal.

Hutch says he had Vic Rankin’s records in high school. This would have been extremely unusual at the time, marking him both as a bit of an outsider or rebel. Most of his friends would have dismissed jazz as old fashioned and snooty.

Hutch goes directly to the photo of Belinda on the wall when indicating that he recognized it long before but didn’t think to mention it until Mrs. Rankin says so. This shows both his good eye for detail and an instinct for discretion.

Vic says sadly, “how did we end up like this,” putting himself and Belinda in the same leaky boat. The show has always been very good at depicting life’s losers with great compassion and understanding. Even as Belinda betrays Vic, there’s a strong element of sympathy for her actions.

Filming notes: on the marquee for Ziggy’s Jazz Café, the names belong to real production/technical assistants: Larry Warwick (art/production), Raul Bruce (sound), Alex Klinsky (craft service).

“What are you going to do when you find all that bogus bread,” says Huggy, “buy yourself a dental clinic?” Hutch then laughs with inappropriate glee, again taking pleasure in his partner’s pain.

“Orange” is a weirdly plausible Los Angeles character, Orphan Annie complete with Sandy, the dog. Why she isn’t called Little Orphan Annie is beyond me. Trademark problems, maybe. Starsky and Hutch seem to take this character in stride, like any seen-it-all cop; they’re relaxed as Huggy leads Orange away to question her, curious but not too curious.

Dogs aren’t normally allowed in commercial establishments, particularly those selling food and drink. Yet Orange seems assured this isn’t a problem. Is this a regular hangout for her, with an understanding from the management? Is this why Huggy arranges the meeting at Ziggy’s? Also, it’s quite unusual that Huggy feels the need to question Orange away from Starsky and Hutch. Normally he would just introduce them, and straight-out ask the question. Does Orange require special handling?

Hutch is grabbed by one of White’s guys (Ernie Lemke, we find out later) when they bust Melinda. When assaulted, he looks at Starsky who is coming up the stairs. Starsky slows down, not even interested in the other guy now running away. He leans on the wall, relaxed, enjoying it as Hutch pummels the guy, finally hitting him in the kidney. This moment is difficult to extrapolate. It’s sadistic, it’s also oddly joyful. At the risk of over-analysis, one gets the sense they are participating in a complicated ritual of truth or dare, that this fight has less to do with solving a crime or getting out of a sticky situation than it does about proving worthiness within the context of the partnership; in fact, during the entire fight scene, Hutch does not take his eyes off Starsky. It’s like, see? Look what I can do. “That was foolish,” Starsky says casually, when the guy is on his knees.

It’s interesting that White’s henchman does all his evil deeds while wearing a red velvet three-piece suit.

“What would you know about it?” Belinda tells Hutch when he comments that she needs a fix “real bad”. What is going through Starsky and Hutch’s minds as they remember Hutch’s experience with heroin? Even though they deliberately don’t look at each other, you can almost hear the snap of the connection between each other.

Belinda and Evelyn are two peas in a pod. Both are strong women who have made mistakes, both are using cynicism and toughness to hide their feelings, both feel as if they’re trapped in an ugly reality they can’t get out of. And both care deeply for Vic Rankin even as they publicly voice their hatred of him. Evelyn tells Hutch she doesn’t care if her husband gets killed, Belinda insists he’s just a “guy who used to play the piano.” Most importantly, both are women greatly damaged by a man’s world of money, sex and power.

“What am I going to do?” Belinda says, shivering, shaking, and rocking. Starsky seems ready to get up and leave, but Hutch isn’t. Once again, he shows his empathy, getting out a bill – a fifty, a twenty? – and pressing it into her hand. “Go on, Belinda,” he says quietly, “die a little.”

The “three different people at four locations” conversation in the Torino is a wonderful exercise in absurdity and a nice break from the action. Starsky putting clove oil on his tooth, a feeling of relaxed affection in the air. Strategizing, thinking, leading to a plan with the Rolls Royce that obvious needs no discussing.

The guy with the humorously aimed hose is like the nosy witness, a not-strictly-necessary but lovely ingredient to the story adding extra flavor.

How often is Hutch in charge, or seeming to be in charge? He appears to take the lead in every scene in this particular episode.

How does Huggy know so much about Spaceman Sam and his conversation with Vic Rankin? Did the guys give him a directive, which he followed? Or is Sam just really nervously chatty? Anyway, Hutch’s encyclopedic knowledge of the local jazz scene really comes in handy.

Starsky trades walkie-talkies with Hutch in a strange scene that has him begging Hutch not to talk him out of a dentist, Hutch in lecture mode, “Starsky, it’s your own fault, you know that”. Then Starsky, in a pique, exchanging his walkie-talkie for Hutch’s for no reason at all, possibly linking (however unconsciously) the receiver and the sender, needing to control the moment and be the aggressor for once.

No Dobey in this episode, which gives the impression the guys are completely independent on this one. In fact their success here, and in many other instances, has more to do with a combination of luck and empathy than the science of deduction.

In the tag, Hutch keeps shooting exasperated looks at Starsky, even though the conversation doesn’t warrant it. Vic’s wife seems to understand this, either laughing at Hutch’s controlling ways or Starsky’s (inexplicably) nervous attempts at conversation.

Clothing notes: Starsky is great-looking in the battered motorcycle jacket (which he zips as a punctuation to his meeting with White), and dark blue turtleneck; Hutch, as usual, is resplendent in a bright blue jersey shirt with the collar, with the green t-shirt underneath, tan khaki pants, reddish-brown leather jacket. Huggy is wonderful in the closing scenes in a green velvet tunic and red scarf.

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13 Responses to “Episode 16: Losing Streak”

  1. Dianna Says:

    Mrs. Rankin’s frustration and pain are hard to watch.

    I was a bit concerned that someone would report Starsky for drinking on the job!

  2. Patricia Ackor Says:

    I have never enjoyed watching fine actors trying to play the piano when they have no idea what music will be recorded under the scene, and probably can’t play the piano in the first place. I’ve always liked Dane Clark but the two scenes where he’s supposedly playing are painful for me. Also, I thought Madlyn Rhue’s performance was wonderful but I had a large problem with her fingernails. Since her nervous fingers-at-her-mouth portrayal of strung-out-ness would feature her nails prominently, why didn’t the director insist they be unpainted at the very least. They SHOULD have been bitten to the quick but I would understand if Madlyn had refused that suggestion. Still, a $75 salon job?? Picky, picky, I know but then again, this is not one of my favorite episodes.

    • Dianna Says:

      As far as I can recall, anytime the camera shows us a woman’s hands in any episode, she has long nails and a perfect manicure. It’s a bit annoying.

      • Patricia Ackor Says:

        I agree, Dianna. In this particular episode though, don’t you feel it’s just plain wrong?! Oh well, maybe we can hope she’ll use however much Hutch gave her to get another manicure instead of a fix. Or not.

      • Dianna Says:

        Yes, it’s ridiculous. She’s neglected every aspect of her health and appearance except for those all-important fingernails. They seem out-of character on the lady from Crowley Pharmaceuticals in “Coffin for Starsky,” but on the heroin addict they are ridiculous. Somehow they bother me more than the fact there is always easy parking available!

      • Patricia Ackor Says:

        I don’t think I ever noticed the fingernails of the Crowley Pharmaceuticals lady; will have to look better next time. And I laughed out loud at your reference to parking spaces. Always! And right in front of where they need to be. It’s those Parking Place Angels, I guess.

  3. merltheearl Says:

    Did I really miss that? Thank you!

  4. Kit Sullivan Says:

    Another of my favorite episodes, but not for any specific scene or plot-point…really just for the overall joyous entertainment of the episode as a whole.
    This episode is resplendent in the details that make season #1 so superior to the following seasons.
    Any reasonable reviewer must admit that the basic plot-lines of just about any episode of “Starsky & Hutch” ( or “Starsky and Hutch” prior to episode #8) are merely “serviceable” at best…being generous. The excellence of this series comes not only from the actors themselves, but also from the directors/ producers behind the scenes that allowed and apparently encouraged the actors to take chances and explore the characters freely…without the rigid restraint of ” hit your marks, deliver your lines, on to the next shot”. These characters LIVE in between and in spite of the scripted dialogue, not because of it.
    The little “bits of business”, things that actors do while delivering dialogue that go on in many episodes that most often have nothing to do with the actual storyline is where this entire series comes alive.
    To me that is why it has endured for 40 years, while TV shows by the same producers and that ostensibly followed the same formula lasted a few years and have been largely forgotten. ( “TJ Hooker”, anyone?)
    And on the topic of manicures, it has ALWAYS bugged me that David Soul clearly sports a very obvious and glossy manicure in nearly every episode.
    Seems a little out of character to me.

    • mrsowlcroft Says:

      Could the manicure that David Soul sported be because he plays guitar? If he doesn’t use a pick, but his nails, they might be varnished to keep them from splitting.

      • merltheearl Says:

        This is a genius observation, mrsowlcroft, thank you!

      • mrsowlcroft Says:

        Least I can do is offer a thought here and there, after getting so much enjoyment and information from your labor of love. I saw just a few of the episodes when they were first run and none since until now. Got the DVD set a month ago and am pacing myself to make them last!

      • merltheearl Says:

        Second viewings are even better than the first! Enjoy, and thank you for your kind words.

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