Episode 18: Omaha Tiger

When an old friend dies under suspicious circumstances at a wrestling arena, Starsky and Hutch take on the case.

Eddie “The Omaha Tiger” Bell: Dennis Burkley, Ellen Forbes: Barbara Babcock, Tessie: Mary Jo Catlett, Al Taft: Wynn Irwin, Carl Boyce: James Luisi, Mac Johnson: Bob Wilkie, Felton: Thayer David, Barnes: Nicholas Worth, Mummy: Richard Kiel, Harold: Christian Grey, Fireball: Robert Tessier. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: Don Weis.


Dennis Burkley gives a stand-out performance – both naturalistic and authentic – in this only-in-LA intersection of weirdness and murder, showbiz and violence.

The episode begins with a charming apropos-of-nothing chase scene with hapless small-time criminal Fireball ducking into a greasy spoon, and the spaghetti-all-over-Starsky routine (for some reason Starsky, far more than Hutch, is the victim of any gags having to do with messy spills; he deflects this one by affably advising the chef to use “about twenty more minutes and a dash more oregano”). The car chase rips through the typical grungy LA periphery with its ominous ribbon of smog, ending in the restaurant backyard. This scene, for all its playfulness, manages to  underscore several important points about the show in general, both thematically and stylistically. It pays homage to slapstick, something both Soul and Glaser admire, and it’s also a kick-ass car chase, which is pleasingly cinematic. When Fireball cries out in despair, begging Starsky and Hutch to shoot him and spare him years behind bars, the guys are both lenient, sympathetic and humane, signaling the “new generation” of post-1960s liberalism the show espouses. And to top it all off there’s a neat psychosexual joke about Hutch “looking rather nice in basic black and pearls,” which Starsky comes up with awfully fast, considering Fireball is wearing a blue jersey dress. The guys, it seems, are not afraid of dipping a toe in dodgy gender waters.

Kudos to Edward Lasko, who comes up with the immortal line: (Hutch, arguing with Starsky about the “art” of professional wrestling): “Starsky, I went to college. That’s not art. That’s effort.”

The guys have mentioned to Fireball they’re on their way to the wrestling match. But the next scene shows them in an empty theater, hours before any match was to start, or perhaps some time after. They have a brief chat with old friend Mac but nothing really happens. Why are they there, and did they even see the match?

Hutch throws Starsky in the ring in an attempt to prove wrestling is stupid. They both go through the moves, including an arm-on one-shoulder, arm-on-the-other-shoulder move Hutch uses that would make any other straight man wary or uncomfortable but has no effect on Starsky, who does what he’s directed to do with no hesitation. Hutch pins his partner neatly and makes him say that he’d been collegiate champion three years. Starsky repeats it, hamming it up. This is a wonderful scene, and not merely because it sparkles with humor and provides insight into the back-story of both characters, but also because it depicts a level of friendship that many people in this lonely, often alienating world are in need of, and may never find. Unless you have a best buddy you are comfortable joking with, abusing, knocking about and generally being intimate with, it’s impossible to watch this little interaction without a frisson of envy.

Then, as Mac comes down the aisle, the two guys squash themselves together on the ropes, and it’s clear, once again, how unusual their physical comfort level with each other is.

Later, when Mac walks off, Starsky challenges Hutch to a fall. Hutch says no. Starsky says, “what are you, a chicken?” Hutch says “Yeah.” It sounds so completely off-the-cuff it could be ad-libbed.

The next scene opens with several notable details. First, the marquee advertises Andre the Giant, the late and lamented actor and wrestler. Then inside, two little people – both men in their thirties, it looks like – are fighting pretty hard, and it’s disturbing to think of such sideshow entertainment in the latter half of the 20th century. Plus, the scene introduces Tessie, the female wrestler, (women wrestling is obviously in the same crass, jokey category as the previous example). Strangely, she’s training not with a woman opponent, but with a man in a wig and false breasts. Basic black and pearls, indeed. Tessie cries out, “cutie!” when Starsky interrupts her, and Hutch has a marvelous moment of gesturing “does she mean you, or me?” to Starsky, as if it matters. Which it does to Hutch. Vanity dies hard.

Tessie says, when they wonder how she knew they were cops, “I felt your gun”. The combination of looks is priceless – Starsky’s raised eyebrows, an almost involuntary pride despite his distaste of her and what she’s just done to him, and Hutch’s knowing snort.

Hutch wants to make a passionate speech about morals with Taft and the Omaha Tiger, Starsky calms them all down with a brief word.  Afterward, Hutch does one of his pretty left-hand-on-left-shoulder moves with Starsky, not-quite-hug that does just fine in a situation like this.  “Thanks, partner,” he says, acknowledging that his temper doesn’t get the job done.

There’s really no need for Iggy, the Russian Mummy (Richard Kiel of “James Bond” fame), to be lifting weights in full mummy regalia. Sweaty, or what.

Starsky twice saves Hutch in a boxing ring. Here, Eddie the Tiger nearly suffocates Hutch in the wrestling ring, Starsky sharply calls it off, saving Hutch. Later, in “Golden Angel”, Dobey nearly strangles Hutch in wrestling ring by pulling him through two twisted ropes, Starsky sharply calls it off, saving Hutch again.

Hutch equips himself very well in the ring, considering his opponent is 80 pounds bigger than him.  “You did good,” the Tiger says.

The classic airtight room scene is a rather overdone but nevertheless enjoyable example of their different styles, the intellectual approach versus the practical one. While Hutch sits down to calculate how much air they have left, Starsky gets to work and makes a battering ram. Which culminates, of course, in the quintessential Starsky-blown-into-Hutch moment.

There’s a nice running joke in several episodes in which Starsky and Hutch are called out for “not looking like cops”. Presumably this means they look like hippies or drug dealers. It’s an underhanded compliment, a product of its time and always good for a hilarious comeback. “Cops, eh?” says the stooge. “You don’t look like cops to me.” “Well,” says Hutch, “we believe in understatement.”

Again Starsky waits for Hutch to finish his fight, gun in hand, just like he did during “Losing Streak”.

Tag: a recap of the gay subtext that has charmingly persisted in this episode: Iggy, thanking Starsky for prompting him to marry, grabs him in a full-body lock and kisses both his cheeks; Starsky is supposed to return the favor. Which he does, squirming the whole time.

Sartorial notes: Starsky in his iconic brown leather jacket with faux-fur collar and dark blue sweater, Hutch in his so-dark-green-it’s-almost-black and white collegiate jacket, green pants and plaid shirt with the green t-shirt underneath. 


10 Responses to “Episode 18: Omaha Tiger”

  1. Heart-stoppingJeansIndeed! Says:

    I think there’s an inside joke going on when Hutch first observes Iggy the Russian Mummy. Iggy’s costume completely obscures his face, very much the same as David Soul’s costume as “The Covered Man” obscured his face. (Remember how, early on in his career, David Soul would sing in that face-covering get-up on the Merv Griffin Show?) I think Hutch’s extra-long scrutiny of Iggy is a nod to Soul’s own career as a “performer”, his performances having taken place on a stage, not that dissimilar from the wrestlers’ performances in the ring. Thanks for this blog; please keep the posts coming.

  2. Dianna Says:

    In the first scene of the main story, you can tell they went to the wrestling match, because Starsky is raving about the great moves they saw. “Did you really get a look at that?” and “Did you see the way that guy went flying out of the ring?” They are waiting around after the show, because Mac says, “Sorry to keep you boys waiting for so long.”

    I love Heart-stopping’s insight about the Covered Man reference.

    As in “Hostages” an “amusingly” unattractive and pushy female is flirting with Starsky and making him uncomfortable. (Of course the dismissal of a woman just because she is not thin is an irritant.)

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you, Dianna – you’ve answered my question about attending the match. I can’t believe I missed that. And yes, you’ll read many irritated comments I have made throughout the blog about the series’ attitude toward so-called unattractive women. I would dismiss it with “a sign of the times” but those times, alas, are now.

  3. stybz Says:

    I found it a sad comment on the era that Ellen Forbes had an outer office, while her colleague Carl Boyce had the fancy (wood paneled, again) inner office. 🙂

    This episode felt edited to me. There’s a moment when Starsky and Hutch comment on how Eddie looks at Ellen Forbes, but we don’t see a scene of the two of them together until after this is mentioned. I don’t know if the DVD is missing a scene, or maybe they cut the scene out and just figured the audience has to assume there was something there.

  4. Kit Sullivan Says:

    Kind of a silly lightweight episode but still one of my favorites for several reasons: it is an early ep, and the boys are fully displaying thier professionalism towards solving the case, are obviously comfortable in each other’s presence and are always 100% supportive of each other.
    Contrary to your credit listing above, “Fireball” was played by Sonny Klein, not Robert Tessier.

    The opening chase scene was very energetic…one of the most in the whole series. This entire opening sequence was used again as the opener in Michael Mann’s excellent second-season “The Psychic”, with Starsky’s line “We got a wrestling match to go to” deftly edited out.
    Since this entire scene is stand-alone and has absolutely nothing to do with the episode’s main storyline, it was a simple matter to recycle it for another episode. This surely helped the producers save a little time and money on the future episode, but it does cheapen the presentation as a whole, somewhat.
    This cost-saving trick was used again with the laundromat scene and Starsky having to wear a towel while arresting the bad-guys.

    Although Fireball is driving an early-60s Chevy during the chase scene, all interior shots of Fireball were clearly filmed with a Ford Elite ( and upscale Torino) with black leather seats. However, Fireball exits a Chevy with white vinyl seats at the end of the chase.

    How is it that Starsky is drenched in sauce and noodles, yet wears the same clothes in the subsequent scene, showing no sign of the remnants of the mess to him or his clothes?

    Moments before Starsky tips the ring-side water-bucket onto the approaching bad guy, he is turning his head away and closing his eyes…clearly in anticipation of the drenching he was about to get. Bad, bad acting.

    Hutch’s stunt-man in the final fight in the ring has noticeably differently-colored hair and while bis clothes are quite disheveled with shirt-tails out during the fight, David Soul’s clothes remain neat and “fully tucked” throughout.
    The stunts are filmed first, and the principals film their close-ups to be edited into the fight scene later, matching the moves of the already-filmed stuntmen.
    The continuity person is charged with ensuring cosistency in these circumstances…and they somewhat dropped the ball on this one.

  5. DRB Says:

    Several good moments here, but I watch this episode for the locked room scene. There are many amusing bits here: the discussion about the mice and Starsky’s rhetorical question, “Why don’t I ever learn?”; the shoving match at the locked doors; Starsky trotting like an anxious puppy after Hutch while he paces the dimensions; Starsky’s plaintive question, “Why aren’t we talking to each other?”; Hutch’s note to self on his equation, “He’s excited” indicating that a number needs to be increased; the contrast between Starsky’s practical activity with Hutch’s mental abstraction. I also wonder why Starky’s socks are such a bright red–bought to match the Torino? I always smile when Hutch announces the result of his computation but is not sure if he got the decimal point right: Is it 185 or 1850 hours before they suffocate? Talk about totally worthless information!

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you for this perfect summation of the charms of the locked-room scene.

      • Sandra Says:

        And I just have to say again, Merl, I still love your website and I always come back once in a while to see if someone has posted a new comment or just ro reread old ones. It’s still as fascinating and heartwarming as it was the first time I read the Ollie report.
        I wish you’d post new observations. It’s always to read about things I never even realised before.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Sandra, thank you so much! I would love to add to this project but honestly I feel as if I have said it all. Any ideas and thoughts would be appreciated – if there’s an episode you feel has been underwritten by me, please let me know. I still think about the series all the time and love it even more.

    • Sandra Says:

      I love that scene, it’s so funny and absolutely portrays their different personalities. It was also fun to watch Paul and David watch that scene at SurCon 2. They both laughed out loud. I also think I can make out a fan sitting behind Paul asking him if he remembered that scene and him saying “no” on the DVDs of that convention. It’s interesting that, as a fan, one thinks they must surley remember things like this, but I guess it was such a long time ago and they are not watching the episodes as often and as closely as we fans do.

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