Episode 29: Tap Dancing Their Way Right Back Into Your Hearts

Starsky and Hutch go undercover as teacher and student at Hollywood legend Evans’ dance studio, where instructors Stearns and Starger run an extortion ring.

 Marsha Stearns: Sondra Currie, Carl Starger: Devren Bookwalter, Marianne Tustin: Veronica Hamel, AC Chambers: Liam Sullivan, Ginger Evans: Audrey Christie, Mrs. Dodsman: Dorothy Shay, Diedre: Nora Marlowe, Officer: Nicholas Stamos. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: Fernando Lamas.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a light-hearted episode that could use a little bit of darkness to improve it. The broadliy-drawn characters of Charlie and Ramone, while charming, keep the script from being its best. A bit more edge – more grime, maybe, more toughness, a deeper expression of sympathy for the victims in this story – could have elevated this script, but instead things are kept relentlessly airy throughout. The original script does not have the hot dog stand conversation, Starsky’s pinch, or the dip scene back at headquarters (the whole tag was to take place while they were seated at their desks), all of which are, frankly, the best parts of this episode and most likely more proof of Glaser and Soul’s unsung contributions. And while filming, ever in the spirit, Glaser more than once broke into a tango whenever the director called action.

Starsky is not sporting a real moustache although he’s certainly capable of growing one; you can see the gleam of spirit gum in most of the scenes and he’s quick to rid himself of it during the dockside arrest. While he could have been called to this undercover operation before he could properly grow one, days and even weeks have passed since. Wouldn’t he be worried about this faux facial hair slipping? And in the same lines of inquiry, did he have to take extensive dance lessons in preparations for this undercover assignment? He’s been shown to be an enthusiastic dancer, yes, but the intricacies of the tango and the foxtrot would demand certain educational standards.

I like the opening scene in which Dierdre is basically ordering Starsky to engage in erotic talk with her, taking control of the situation while pretending to be in his thrall. Starsky is similarly wonderful in that he catches on with her little act and willingly – dare I say respectfully – goes along with it, causing her shivers of delight. Hers is the first line spoken in this episode and it charmingly echoes the last of the episode as well: she asks, “Ramone, when do we dip?” And then, mischievously, “You do dip..?” Oh yes Dierdre, he does. An older, somewhat matronly woman’s strong libido is not something we normally witness in series television, even now, which is worthy of a round of applause for writer Edward Lasko, for she is not represented as either silly or embarrassing but rather just a regular woman with an interesting hobby. One wonders if she’s just naturally hot to trot or if her tango teacher is bringing out a new side of her personality. We also see that Claire Dodsman, another lady of a certain age, has had sex with Starger – setting her up for blackmail. Somewhat off-topic, we rarely, if ever, see an accurately presented forty- or fifty-something female character; this series, as many others, appears to assume women go from nubile youth to stately pensioner (“Photo Finish” could be called an exception, with Nicole Monk as a sexually-rapacious wife). It could be purely a marketing decision, as mature women were not expected – or really intended – to be in the audience.

This criminal operation, which is basically luring rich folks into compromising positions and then blackmailing them, would be far more interesting if the story concentrated only on older, vulnerable women like Dierdre and Claire. The fact that the police investigation has begun after the murder a recalcitrant male victim – Ted Tustin – is just an easy way to include Starsky and Hutch in the undercover operation, with Hutch as another possible target. It’s never quite believable that Tustin, powerful, rich, and on the younger side of middle age, would gravitate toward a fuddy-duddy establishment like Ginger’s Tango Palace. A guy like that would be far more likely to flash his cash at a strip joint or the bar scene.

It’s hilarious when Marsha inquires what the stench – or rather the “aroma” is, and eager Charlie says proudly, “That’s toilet water.” I understand the somewhat old-fashioned term, but it still cracks me up.

“Somebody pinch me,” Charlie gushes when he’s told he’s invited to “terpsichore” at Ginger’s “soiree”. Starsky, who’s been watching this burst of character-acting from his partner with an expression on his face that could be called affectionate bemusement, obliges.

It’s interesting that Hutch is willing to blow their cover – obviously well thought out, and carefully executed – for a silent alarm call. And watch for another in a series of long-running jokes about Starsky never being able to eat when he wants to, as he is denied a bite of the hotdog when duty calls.

It’s a cool little detail when Starsky lets the Torino shut its own door when he drives off.

The whole take-down at the grocery store is very neatly done. The guys exhibit great psychic skills and inventiveness: the spider distraction, a paper-bag explosion, and some misplaced shoes. Atypically, neither pulls a gun, preferring instead the unexpected-punch method of subduing a criminal, which implies great strength. When the cop arrives all the robbers are handcuffed together – one hopes the guys get their gear back – and the joke is wonderfully dry. The cop asks who did this and the store owner says, “You won’t believe this. It was a blond cowboy and an Arab with funny shoes.”

Marianne Tustin says regarding her brother’s affair with Marsha, “Ted’s one failing. He loved his wife, adored his kids, but he loved to play.” The very next thing she says is, “My brother always had a very bad temper, I mean a really bad temper.” Does Marianne not consider this a failing? Or having grown up with him, doesn’t take his temper seriously? Do you think his wife and children feel the same?

Occam’s Razor: Marianne makes a mighty big leap when she says, regarding Marsha, “do you think this girl was trying to blackmail him?” She doesn’t say anything like, “so you think this girl’s boyfriend got jealous enough to hurt my brother?” which would be the more obvious explanation.

After Marianne’s remark that Starsky must be posing as “the doorman”, (a humiliating misnomer Hutch chuckles at, of course) Dobey comes through the door saying the credit check on “Charlie” has gone through. He says this right in front of Marianne, and this is classified undercover information. This is sloppy police work, and it makes me cringe every time I see it. Neither detective seems unduly worried about it but no family member or anyone should ever know details of an ongoing undercover investigation. It ends up putting everything at risk, and blowing the whole case.

But at least Marianne proves herself to be determined and resourceful, and she might have made a good police officer if she was willing to drop into the middle class. But her ambitions make her less laudable, as one has to question whether she is really motivated by the death of her brother or just living out a fantasy.

Ice-queen Veronica Hamel is slightly miscast as the avenging sister. She’s altogether too composed and arch, and does much better next season as the unfortunate Mrs. Hutchinson. You don’t quite believe her version of Marianne would go out of her way to help anybody – if that is, in fact, what she’s doing. Personally I feel Marianne is having just a little bit too much fun, and her shopping habits prove it – there is no way she came to Los Angeles with that red dress in her suitcase.

Still, Marianne is right about one thing: putting a blackmailable woman on the case is probably a better bet. I suppose it’s too much to expect there to be any woman on the force over the age of forty who could slip into the role; Marianne is far too young and assertive – verging on aggressive – to really be an attractive victim.

Hutch’s (intentional, mostly) clumsiness is put to good use in this assignment, as is Starsky’s natural grace.

Claire Dodson leaves the office, obviously upset, and both Starsky and Hutch are remarkably diffident about it even though they know the reason why. Yes, the chances of her admitting anything is remote, given the extreme embarrassment she must be suffering and what it might cost her if she admitted her affair to her husband. Why not discreetly approach her the following day, out of her husband’s sight, just in case she’s willing to make a statement? They don’t even try. Likewise, they never attempt to draw Ginger into their confidence. Ginger has been hoodwinked by Chambers, and surely would be angry enough – and strong enough – to exact revenge in a useful way. After all, this is her good name on the line. This is a story about older women being victimized because of their romantic yearnings. These are lonely, alienated, frustrated women who have taken a huge risk – and this includes Ginger, because she was a long-forgotten movie star offered a chance to shine again. The fact that the script does not sensitively explore this issue, preferring to concentrate on the Tustin murder and pretty young Marianne’s involvement, is a misstep.

Gold Star for Villainy: As he leaves Chambers’ office following the extortion demand, we see Devren Bookwalter’s Starger as just the most evil, smug, self-satisfied bad guy ever. Don’t you just want to slap the smirk right off his face?

If Huggy knows Hutch is undercover when he shows up at the mouse races with Marsha, how was Hutch able to impart this information to Huggy beforehand? More importantly, why would he jeopardize the whole case by coming here in the first place? Surely Huggy would have more than one bar regular coming down, and there’s a very good chance someone in the crowd would recognize him. If Hutch wanted to prove to Marsha he was a betting – and a losing – man, who not just take her to the horse races? It’s more impressive than a bunch of mice in a cardboard enclosure, and much less likely he’d run into trouble. Does he come to the mouse races because he’s experiencing symptoms of loneliness, trapped in the character of the Loathsome Cowboy for days on end? Does he just long to see a familiar face? Or, more complicatedly, does he want to see himself as a stranger in a strangely familiar situation – recognized but not acknowledged – as a way of proving something to himself? Or does he simply wish to show off to Huggy his rather impressive acting skills?

Also, note how Soul enjoys his cheroot smoking in this scene. He’s puffing away like his life depends on it.

Hutch calls himself “Hutchinson” when he scolds himself. “Hutchinson, you sure picked a winner,” he says about Diana in “Fatal Charm”. In this episode, deep in Marsha’s lair, he asks himself under his breath, “What did you get yourself into, Hutchinson?” Is it too much to speculate that, on some dark level Hutch believes he is alone in this world, hence the stern self-talk? What do you think Starsky refers to himself under similar circumstances – or does Starsky never engage in the sort of disassociative behavior Hutch does?

“Seems almost a shame to charge him money,” says a sleepily pleased Marsha to her colleagues in crime. Okay, okay, this raises a bunch of questions, none of which can be answered but must be posed anyway. How much of that tape did Marsha play? It would seem mighty strange, if you ask me, if she played the whole tape to her two male co-conspirators, including her own complicit moaning. Also, I guess this encounter went all the way – or did it? Could Hutch, as a police officer, really have sex with a suspect just to get a conviction? How is that legally possible? How would that tape be introduced into court, anyway? What sort of licentious police department is this?

Back in Dobey’s office, there is more self-congratulation. “Do you think they taped you last night?” Dobey asks. “If they didn’t, they should’ve,” Hutch replies.

“I’m sure you’ll solve this case before I compromise my virtue,” Marianne tells them. That is to say, Hutch’s virtue is moot. This is comically understood by all as glances go around the room.

At this point one begins to wonder what exactly Starsky is contributing to this undercover operation. He told Hutch earlier he let it be known he was corruptible, but as an outsider, an unknown quantity, none of the blackmailers are willing to risk letting him in on their game, and why should they? Starger is the gigolo here, they hardly need another. As if he has figured this out long ago, Starsky is distracted throughout, preferring dancing to detection. As for the series’ tendency to put its stars in the roles of cowboys, hairdressers, country music singers and other exaggerated characters, could it be a case of producers trying to keep their stars happy by dangling the chance for buffoonery in front of them like keys dangled in front of a fussy toddler?

Hutch is amazing undercover in the scene in which he’s given the tape and blackmailed. Throughout he’s been convincing all the way as Good Time Charlie, and clearly enjoying himself to the point of shamelessness (grabbing Ginger, for example, and doing the worst imitation of dancing, and in front of an audience, no less). But at the moment of being blackmailed, he plays the right mix of rage, embarrassment and bewilderment, never seeming to be false.

Dobey reminds the guys extortion is tricky to prove, and Hutch says impatiently, “I know that.” A few things about the arrangement don’t seem to add up. It’s the morning after, so to speak, when Hutch arrives at the dance studio. He knows he’s going to be hit up for money – if not that day, then very soon. And yet he’s not wearing a wire when he goes into Chambers’ office. Therefore, whatever happens is going to be hearsay by the time it gets to the justice system. Especially since this is an episode about wiretapping, not to use the technology at their disposal puts the police department in a troublesome situation.

Also, when asked for money, why does Hutch refuse to bring it to the office, naming a freighter by the docks instead? It’s a far less stable environment than the office at the studio. More things can go wrong. If he just made out a cheque in Chambers’ office the following day, and had Chambers take it, couldn’t be have shut the whole operation down at that second, and be done with it? Why the mess of a second location, and marked bills? And how does Hutch know about that freighter in the first place?

Chambers is awfully assured of victory when he says all they have to do is kill Hutch before the drop. He doesn’t seem to think there’s any hard evidence against them, and isn’t fazed by reports of two cops and the Chief of Detectives having a meeting. There’s no sweaty panic, no realization his carefully constructed empire is about to fall. Starger is right when he says they should just cut their losses and run.

Why does Chambers have Marianne’s hotel phone number memorized? He dials it without reference or hesitation.

Marianne makes the stupidest move of the year when she accept’s Stanger’s anxious-sounding but vague invitation to an unknown location. She doesn’t alert the police and leaves without hesitation and without any sense at all. Perhaps there is an element of sexism hidden in the script after all.

“Hutch,” Starsky says, “take it up.” He’s referring to the forklift. “Okay, Charlie,” Hutch says, deftly transferring his undercover persona onto his partner.

Dobey, as is usual when allowed in on a bust, makes things worse by losing his cool during the arrest.

Do Starger and the heavy really think they’re going to be dumped into the ocean? It seems a little gullible to believe the cops are capable of cold-blooded murder. If they had the sense to calm down and demand a lawyer the whole enterprise would have fallen apart.

Why does Marianne kiss Starsky when he releases her from the trunk of the car? I don’t buy the just-glad-to-be-alive spontaneity. It seems like something a socially inept or immature person would do. Like not knowing how to tell a guy you like him, then doing something dumb, like throwing a punch or lifting up your dress.

Tag: It’s a relief that Ginger Evans is proven innocent of any crime. She’s a lovely character: tough-minded, charming, and likeable from the moment she appears.

Starsky tells Hutch regarding the tango, “I’ll lead” because he is teaching Hutch. In other shows Hutch teaches Starsky to play chess, to meditate, to play golf. Starsky rarely, if ever, actively teaches Hutch something.

Hutch is resistant to being taught to dance, but when the guys link arms and prepare, Ginger knocks on the door. Now, the guys are basically caught in each other’s arms, but instead of being embarrassed – leaping apart, making excuses – Hutch actually throws his arm around Starsky’s shoulder and keeps it there.

Double mockery: Hutch mocks Starsky’s sexy reputation with the clients at the dance studio and then Starsky, instead of resuming the dance lesson, skips to the end and throws Hutch into a dip – and a really good one at that – and says, mocking Hutch’s two-time use of the phrase, “if you got it, flaunt it”, to which he adds, in mimicry of Hutch’s southern accent, “boy.” This is one of the most-loved little scenes in the canon and an all-too-rare case of the guys having a goofy good time with each other while showing, once again, how remarkably at ease they are in each other’s company.

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6 Responses to “Episode 29: Tap Dancing Their Way Right Back Into Your Hearts”

  1. Shelley Says:

    I wonder why the title involves ‘Tap Dancing,’ when there’s no tap dancing in the episode.

    I also wonder about Starsky having to take dance lessons to be able to teach dancing. The way he keeps dancing around outside of the dance studio makes it look like enthusiasm over a new skill. And you’d think having to take dance lessons would have given him time to grow a real mustache! That thing does look fake. I suppose in real life, filming schedule didn’t allow for that.

    And I think that opening scene with Claire and Starsky is cute, with the way he immediately fulfills her wishes. I think it made the audience like her, making the later extortion scene exceptionally sad.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Your comment about the episode’s title made me laugh. This series is filled with perplexing titles: some nonsensical, like this one and “Quadromania”, and some that are rather alarmingly bloodthirsty, like “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead!” and the gruesome “A Coffin for Starsky” (one imagines a pine box sitting at the ready). Some, like “Terror on the Docks” are overstatements. And “A Body Worth Guarding” is nothing short of a leering wink.

  2. Kit Sullivan Says:

    This is probably one of my top 5 favorite episodes of “S&H”: Just a wonderful display of the boys having a blast acting in-character, and out-of-character all at the same time. Soul and Glaser clearly relished the none-to-often opportunities to stretch outside of thier character’s well-defined but limiting boundries.
    When they have fun, we have fun, plain and simple!

    Every actor in this episode, from the stars to the guest actors did a marvelous job with thier portrayals, but I do agree with you when you say that Veronica Hamel was miscast. She definitely does not bring anything above ‘mundane’ to her workaday portrayal of Marianne.
    Glaser’s playful and charismatic banter with Claire is excellent: His charm propels the scene beyond the words on the page.
    However, what can be said of Soul’s performance as the multi-layered, simple yet vengeful Charlie? A bravura performance that ranks up there with “The Fix” for beliveability, if not for sheer disturbia.
    Hutch’s fumbling as “Charlie” with Marsha as she puts the moves on him are classic, showing that the comedy timing of these actors is every bit as sharp and refined as thier “drama” muscles.
    At this point in the series, it was hitting the perfect stride and running smoothly…alas, later “improvements” and tweaks to the formula resulted in episodes that while similar in style and writing, fell flat as both drama and comedy. For example, “Moonshine” comes to mind.

    Hutch’s self-reference to himself as “Hutchinson” is clearly his pitiful attempt to restore and remind himself, at least in his own mind, of his social superiority to those he spends his days with.
    Nicknames, such as “Starsk”, “Hutch”, or even “Huggy” may be friendly and familiar, but they are definitly not the style of communication that sophisticated people use when referring to one another.
    Hutch may enjoy his lifestyle and his fellow workers and friends, but his breeding and upbringing naggingly reminds him that he is slumming, and that persons of his ilk typically do not comingle with others in this strata of society. Complicated psyche indeed!

    And who’s to say that Starsky doesn’t already know how to dance well enough to fake being an instructor? It is every bit as plausible that as a young man his mother may have encouraged young Davey to learn to dance to improve his social skills, sensible when you consider that adult Starsky typically is not the outgoing emotional creature that oithers can be. It is possible he was picked for this assignment simply because he DID know how to dance, giving him the edge in an undercover opration that the other Bay City detectives didn’t possess.

  3. King David Says:

    Oh, rest assured, that man can dance. And since that moustache is so obviously fake, it is possible he is there as some sort of OTT prop to allow the customers to adopt a persona away from their ordinary lives and justify it to themselves as escapism. (Crikey, that’s deep.) Anyway…
    I have one particular gripe with this episode, and it’s the ridiculous meeting of S&H with Capt Dobey, on a high point, in a public place, where all and sundry can see them. And of course, all and sundry DO see them, so this requires too much suspension of disbelief. I can readily accept Ramon and Charlie, and believe that the others cannot see through them, or at least Charlie, as I think Ramon is meant to be seen as not what he seems. Hutch, in the office, does the betrayed lover very convincingly.
    Far and away though, is the gorgeous dance lesson and dip in the tag; we can’t see where Starsky’s supporting leg is, but it must have been there so that Hutch wouldn’t fall. What a fabulously free and happy scene.
    Merl, you have such great analytical skill…I wish I had your command of language, eye for detail, and depth of knowledge to see all the psychology you display with these two.

    I’ve just re-read this post, and I recall that Hutch disparages Startsky’s dancing on several occasions. He must know that Starsky has the moves and fluidity on the dancefloor – disco or ballroom – and perhaps he resents that here at least is something that Hutch is bested in? (Or have I just stated the bleeding obvious?) In “Manchild”, Starsky is delighted when Mrs Green (is it?) says dancing is important in a partner (oh!) and as we all know, you can be very erotic, even with all your clothes on, if you make the right moves on the dancefloor.

  4. Dianna Says:

    There sure are holes in this plot, which other people have covered, but there are no flaws in Soul’s or Glaser’s delightful performances!

    In addition to the atrociously easy-to-observe meetings, Starsky is driving his own rather memorable car, instead of something Ramon would own — and evidently forgot to check his rear-view mirror to be sure he wasn’t being followed.

    As Merl said, the robbery at the grocery store is an absurd plot point, but it sure was fun to watch. This isn’t the first time they’ve been willing to blow a larger operation to go to the rescue of someone in trouble, as in Jojo.

    There sure isn’t much instructing going on in that dance studio. Even with Kit Sullivan’s excellent idea that Starsky and Hutch were chosen for this case because of Starsky’s existing dancing skills, supplemental lessons wouldn’t likely be enough for him to be a good enough dancer to get a job as an instructor. Not to mention that preparatory dance lessons might make him recognizable in the dance community right before he went undercover. At any rate, there was not enough time for him to have lessons, because Marianne’s brother’s body is still in the morgue.

    This episode could easily have been a two-parter, because it might have been helpful to see how they decided the dance studio was the place to go undercover, and we could have seen how they prepared and infiltrated themselves. Maybe a mention of how Starsky had won a ballroom dance competition in high school… but maybe it’s only Hutch’s championships we are supposed to hear about. (Too bad Starsky didn’t dance with any passengers in Murder at Sea.)

    I loved how Starsky got into his undercover role… and how Glaser got into the role of getting into the role! Once again, thank you, Merl for the delicious bits of background information!

    However, the elegant, mysterious Ramon would have had a more sophisticated haircut, and fussy Charlie would have trimmed the little curl from the bottom of his hair. Haircuts seem like trivial and obvious preparation for going undercover, especially since Health Food Hutch was willing to smoke for the role of Charlie.

    His having sex undercover is certainly strongly implied, and almost inescapable, although it is possible that he used the bourbon as an excuse to “doze off” instead of having sex, and that Hutch and Marsha were both showing off to their coworkers afterward. That seems pretty weak, I agree, but having sex as part of your job … yeah, that’s problematic.

    The outdoor shot of Marsha’s apartment is the building where Gillian lived.

    A drop point for the money that is under police control doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but the location seems not to have been thought out in advance, as Hutch hadn’t even bothered to make sure the barge he named would be there.

    Merl’s theory about going undercover being a sort of fantasy for Marianne seems like an excellent suggestion, and it explains her high spirits when she is rescued from the trunk.

  5. Sharon Marie Says:

    Well, I laughed myself silly with Hutch’s undercover Charlie introduction to the episode! He sure relished getting into this! I just love his portrayal of a simple guy throughout.

    Remind me not to buy eggs at that grocery store. They were sitting on a shelf, not refrigerated.

    Back in the dance studio when Hutch is dancing with Marcia talking about the corsage he got her, an extra is just off to the side with his eyes glued to her behind the entire time!!

    Last we saw Huggy’s mouse races there were no winners either. Makes me wonder if there are ever any winners!

    That is the most not subtle inference that Hutch ran the bases with Marcia. And by the next day in Dobey’s office he looked like he had repeated his base running through the night just to be sure! Thoroughness makes for a good cop!

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