Episode 43: A Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road

Starsky and Hutch try to catch the stalker of a country singer.

Sue Ann Grainger: Lynn Anderson, Jerry Tabor: Joshua Bryant, Cal Claybourne: Dick Haynes, “Fireball”: Scatman Crothers, Bartender: Skip Young, Hotel Clerk: Jack Grinnage, Redneck: Walter Scott. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: George McCowan.


Hutch the sartorial risk-taker: throughout the series you can always count on Hutch to wear something interesting. From collegiate jacket to guitar shirt to super-fashionable flares, this is a man who loves his clothes. He’s loyal to individual items – he’s worn that emerald-green t-shirt for years – but he’s always willing to try something new. (You can bet he was the first one in a flap shirt in 1982.) Hence the splendid serape in scene one.

Sue Ann finishes her country song and begins another, a new one. This song is decidedly not country – it’s more of an upbeat AM hit one might generously call “new country” and obviously a song Lynn Anderson wants to be a hit in reality (she is, as you may recall, well-known for her Grammy-winning, country crossover mega-hit, “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden”.) Starsky enters in what might be considered the opposite of a serape, in a chic post-punk striped shirt, black leather jacket and his jeans, looking like he was just drafted to play with The Cars. He makes a sarcastic comment, something about Hutch’s “blond tuft of hair” and the “tent”. Hutch, reconsidering his offer earlier of inviting Starsky in the first place, corrects him. “Serape,” he says.
“Is that Indian?” Starsky says. “I didn’t know they allowed Indians in a hillbilly joint like this.” To me, this is a central motif in Starsky’s life, the kid-of-the-forties reference to cowboys and Indians. Hutch is in a bind here. He loves the vernacular, the plebian, he wants to be a loner, an aesthete. But he also wants to be with Starsky. And, add to that, he wants to show off and be the sophisticated one. All these things are incompatible, which is why he gets himself into knots all the time, and there’s nothing better or funnier than Hutch in a knot.

Note the girl at the table giving Starsky the appraising look – more than once.

Give it to Starsky, though, throwing himself into enjoyment full-throttle, making the best of a bad situation and putting his own interests aside in favor of Hutch’s. This is his basic temperament: cheerful and optimistic. But by now Hutch is too concerned with what other people are thinking to enjoy himself, which is his basic temperament: self-conscious and easily irritated.

Starsky is taking the photograph of the band, probably at Hutch’s request, yelling sarcastic comments about serapes. “He’s a tourist,” Starsky says, presumably meaning Hutch, “don’t mind him.” As with most jokes Starsky makes, this is also shrewd and on point. Hutch is a tourist’s mix of wonder and discomfort, a need to belong, trying but not quite succeeding in behaving like a native. But it’s all quite sweet, when you think of it, Hutch asking his partner to take a photo of him with the band, and the band complying.

Lynn Anderson is perfectly cast. With her authentic look and sound, she’s a perfect foil for the action. She never tries too hard, never attempts to be something she isn’t. Her acting is so natural it’s like there’s no acting at all. I love the little nervous laughs, the quick fake-looking smiles. The all-white Nudie-style suit and bleached hair is great. I love how she’s considerate to Dobey, with his complicated Charley-Pride-high school story.

“Lousy seats” in a bar that seats roughly fifty people? Hardly a viable complaint, more like an excuse to brawl.

Hutch is manhandled and thrown into the arms of Starsky. They exchange a loaded look. Hutch is annoyed and his look conveys this, Starsky replies with a reluctant, but determined, a sort of “okay, if they want it that way” look. It’s pretty fun to see how this all works out in the space of a second and a half.

Hutch’s innocent “who?” when Starsky mentions Dirty Harry is an inside joke: he had a major breakthrough role in the Clint Eastwood movie.

Jerry Tabor looks right at the camera and says hoarsely, “I warned her not to call the police”. A strange breaking-the-forth-wall moment, and actually quite surreal and creepy.

If Sue Ann’s last show is at 11:00, are Starsky, Hutch and Dobey giving her preferential treatment by having her fill out her complaint at Metro at roughly 1:30 in the morning?

If Dobey is that star-struck by Sue Ann and her music, and country music in general, why didn’t Hutch invite him down to the bar and not Starsky, even though this is a police-presence request made by the manager rather than a purely social outing? Presumably Dobey would have no idea about bands and bars, being a lights-out-at-ten suburban sort of guy, but he’d be thrilled to go with Hutch, if asked, and he certainly has the police credentials. Most likely Hutch had no idea his Captain was harboring such a little crush, and Dobey, who made this assignment in the first place, might have been too proud to ask.

How does Tabor get the number of Sue Ann’s hotel? How does he find out where she’s staying? Also, since when is the shooting death of a homeless man on radio, newspaper, and television? Either Starsky isn’t being completely truthful or he’s exaggerating, because it’s difficult to believe there would be that sort of coverage of the death of an old man in the alley.

“You won’t hurt him,” Sue Ann says when they talk about entrapping her stalker. No, no, Hutch insists. There’s a significant pause then Starsky says, “we might give him a bloody nose.” Hutch is deeply annoyed but Sue Ann is charmed and this is what leads her to agree. How often does Hutch’s sincerity and seriousness get in the way of things? How often does Starsky’s irreverence save the day? This scene is reminiscent of the conversation with Anna in “A Body Worth Guarding”: both scenes involve trying to convince a female performer of their worth as police officers, both involve Hutch making a faux pas. 

Manager Harry tries to reassure Sue Ann about her stalker, “We’ve got experts who can deal with people like that.” Does Hutch really have a solid faith in this, even after their experience with Commander Jim and his doctors? Or is he doing what Paco did to Andrea Gutierrez in Velvet Jungle when he tells her Sterling “has no power…he only pretends to be big.” Both Hutch and Paco aren’t necessarily telling the truth, as their past experience in the system has told them otherwise, but both seem willing to stretch this belief just a little further to get at something important.

I love the recording studio with all musicians and singer in the same giant room. It’s a lovely fantasy that never quite rings true. Mostly, studios are small, crowded rooms with the musicians sequestered from each other.

Tabor’s hypnotic control over Sue Ann is believably pathological. He “befriends” her, uses her private spaces to invade, plays the music back, and amplifies further her own powerful sense of guilt and secret feelings of fraudulence. She’s like many once-poor people when they strike it rich: feeling as if they’ve made a deal with the devil, and any moment now the devil is going to claim his due.

Sue Ann never uses Starsky or Hutch’s names. In fact, she’s strangely immune to them as individuals. It’s almost as if there are two basic cut-outs around her: Policeman 1 and Policeman 2. One can see how she could have sent Tabor over the edge, if she’s like this with everyone. It’s an innocent sort of ego, a discounting of others that could be seen as a snub. It’s only at the end, on stage, that she shows any sort of connection: it’s when Hutch reveals himself to be another musician.

Further notes on the psychology of this episode: I can’t emphasize enough what a relief it is that neither Starsky nor Hutch have any romantic involvement with Sue Ann. Far too often over the run of the series the writers seem to think the only woman interesting enough to invest screen time in, or who is convincing or sympathetic as a “victim”, is a woman who is flirty, vulnerable, girlish or enamored with one (or both) detectives. Sue Ann is a professional, preoccupied with her obligations, businesslike, distracted, and kind without being a pushover. She reminds me somewhat of Anna from “Body Worth Guarding”, minus the eros.

Dobey is a real dunce in this show. Starsky practically has to spell out the solution to the case before he picks up the phone to make a few calls. Still, I like how later the guys don’t fight Dobey when he tells them only six officers are available to work on the case. They trust him to know what’s best.

When the guys exit Dobey’s office Starsky does a great little grab around Hutch’s waist, a reassuring pat on his midsection. For the serious fan, doorways and hallways are a gold mine.

Fireball recognizes a plain-looking white man from a great distance and from a bad photograph, and in regular human traffic. The guy’s a snitch superman. Why don’t the guys use him more often? Maybe Fireball only knows one city block, but knows it better than anyone. “Who sees things like I see things?” he demands. “Nobody,” Hutch acknowledges. How crazy is Fireball anyway? Crazy enough not to be a reliable source they can mine repeatedly?

“Throw down your guns and get outside!” Tabor commands the guys. They do neither. They place their guns gently on the floor and walk toward him. In fact, they perform several complex maneuvers to overpower Tabor, including a dangerous leap onto the Torino. They seem to know when to conform to demands and when to contradict, their deep bond with each other enabling them to invent and convey plans with only a look.

Tag: Onstage, Hutch shows his true colors, or at least those colors he’s careful to hide most of the time: he’s shy and self-effacing and eager to please. Sure, Starsky sings loudly and waves his arms around, but it’s only when Hutch falters onstage that the somewhat embarrassing intensity of this encouragement becomes obvious to him (the hilarious “you weren’t a hit at three police barbecues for nothing”). Still, Hutch’s rage at his partner’s behavior is excessive – he leaps from the stage to attack him. The whole thing is played for laughs, but it really is one of the most extreme cases of Hutch transposing his own inadequacies and fears onto Starsky. Or maybe, just maybe, he was looking for a creative excuse to get out of the limelight.

Clothing notes: this is an exceptional episode for awesome clothes. From the serape to Starsky’s black leather jacket paired with the red striped shirt, and later with a bright yellow t-shirt, to Hutch’s tennis outfit of navy blue and goldenrod, (Starsky makes gentle fun at this, saying Tabor must have had an aversion to it). Starsky is outstanding in a pair of white tennis shorts, red and black athletic jacket, matching athletic socks. In the tag, Starsky is spectacularly outfitted in a dark brown fringe vest and gold satin shirt and navy kerchief, no doubt borrowed from Huggy, who must have a closet full of this stuff. It’s an unusual bit of costuming from someone who is normally given more to grunge than grandiosity. He’s the Cowboy to Hutch’s serape-wearing Indian. I’m also particularly fond of Sue Anne’s outfits, including the gold-and-feather ensemble she wears during her second night at the Saddle-bar Club.


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19 Responses to “Episode 43: A Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road”

  1. Shelley Says:

    The retro TV station here has started running Starsky & Hutch on weeknights, and I’m enjoying reading the detailed Ollie Report the next morning. Back in the ’70s I was a huge fan until I got distracted by college life 😉 I only saw the last few shows of Season 1 and then all of Season 2, and so this is fun.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the blog! Even though my heart sinks at the “retro”. I always write my reports in the present tense and avoid the anachronisms in order to maintain the impression that this series is happening currently, that no time at all has passed. I’m not sure if this is delusory on my part or simply determined …

      • King David Says:

        I enjoy how you keep it in the current time; “we see…” “they are…” When I watch the series, it is always now, so it is easy to live in the now-ness of your reports. The trickiest part is trying to remember the 13-yr old me and how what I was seeing was so contemporary, and fairly believable, and then to sit here in 2013 and realise how far away in time I am.
        Long Walk: I love how Starsky, embarrassment to Hutch though he is, isn’t embarrassed by Hutch’s shaky performance. He is proud of him anyway…(or is it a calculated method to unsettle him?)

      • merltheearl Says:

        Thank you, KD. I’m so glad you’ve noticed this, because it’s a major element of this blog and something I consciously work at. Without that present tense I also feel the weight of the intervening decades pressing on me. It’s not a nice feeling. And also, I really don’t want this series to be relegated to archival status, the dreaded “retro”. To me, Starsky and Hutch are alive and contemporary. We’ve altered time here. Then is now, and we are simultaneously thirteen, with a child’s amazement and confusion, and we are also women and men, with our wounds and our experiences.

      • King David Says:

        What makes it easy to be there with them in those seventies streets is that I was, in a sense, there with them – it was contemporary with my life, and we saw stuff we were familiar with from our own lives. That was really how so much stuff happened, what we wore, what we said. I watch any episode and I am there with them all over again, and any fan from the day will instantly feel at home. They are perennial, and I applaud your efforts to keep it this way.

      • Shelley Says:

        I’m having an interesting experience on the topic of retro. I hadn’t seen S&H in years until the retro channel began running it. I don’t have the DVDs, and only saw the show once or twice a week on that particular channel over several months. The affiliate station then dumped the retro channel, so I haven’t seen S&H since. Yet, I get email notifications when people respond to the blog here for episodes I commented on. Also, Merl, I was glad to see you continued to update the blog after reaching the final episode. Because of all this, it’s like the show is still running right now, in real time, even though I can’t get the channel it’s on at the moment.

  2. Shelley Says:

    Hmmm . . . interesting. Yet you time travel here in this entry, for instance, referring to 1982. So it’s like the series is happening currently, but we know it’s set in the ’70s?

  3. merltheearl Says:

    That is so funny, and very well spotted! Yes I guess I do. It can get confusing when someone is attempting to reorder the time-continuum, doesn’t it?

    • daniela Says:

      Good thing you are not doing this blog for series like star trek et al, then it would really be hard to keep the time continuum in check!

  4. Jill Says:

    The tag for this episode is probably one of the best in the whole series; it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not just Starsky hamming it up and playing for laughs, but it’s Hutch’s reactions that are incredibly funny: the looks, the inward groans, the instructions to “sit stil and listen”. He’s like an embarrassed parent being shown up in public by an over-excitable child. You can almost hear Hutch thinking “just you wait till I get you home!”

  5. Dianna Says:

    I heartily agree with Jill that the tags on episode this were brilliant. Mr. Enthusiasm embarrassing the heck out of the Quiet Observer. Wow, did I empathize with Hutch here, from the moment Starsky began dancing in his seat in the intro. I was simultaneously laughing and crying during the end tag because I have been there, with an entire family of in-laws who behaves like Starsky did. If a private person takes a public risk in front of over-enthusiastic loved ones, the loved ones are so busy showing how loudly enthusiastic they are that they can’t possibly see, hear, or appreciate what the performer is doing, the performer can’t concentrate on what he or she is doing, and no one else in any audience can either because the loved ones have made themselves the center of attention. Even Starsky’s uncharacteristically flashy clothes draw attention to him. I have to respectfully disagree with Merl that his transgression is minor! I hope Hutch heals from this wound quickly!

    As for the meat of the show, I found it rather odd that Sue Ann had to go to the station to file her complaint. All it takes is a conversation and the filling out of a paper, which could very easily be done in the dressing room. Maybe this is a way to get Sue Ann into their star-struck captain’s presence?

    I was also bothered that Starsky and Hutch didn’t arrest the brawlers for assaulting Sue Ann, not to mention attacking police officers. I guess this was just a device to make Tabor see them so he could identify them at the tennis court and get away, so the episode could fill its 49 minutes.

    I was delighted by the “bloody nose” comment and Sue Ann’s response.

    However, I didn’t find the main story all that interesting till I read Merl’s observation that Tabor was breaking the fourth wall. Suddenly I realized that the fourth wall is the thematic element that ties the story together. It is so cleverly interwoven that is very convoluted and hard to avoid bumping into.

    There are two fourth walls, one between the actors and us, and the other between the fictional performers and their fictional audiences. What is inside the show and what is outside the show??

    Sue Ann and Hutch are both portrayed by real-life singers.

    The Dirty Harry conversation indicates that Dirty Harry is a real cop!

    There is a glass wall between Sue Ann and Tabor in the recording studio.

    As you note, there is a sort of wall between Sue Ann and the detective, because they are outside of her performing life. At the end she breaks the fourth wall by inviting Hutch onstage.

    Things go bad because Tabor thinks that the fourth wall doesn’t exist and that Sue Ann is singing her love songs directly to him; and then he tries to break in from the audience into her actual life.

    Starsky also breaks the fourth wall from the audience side and causes trouble for Hutch, so Hutch leaps off stage (straight through the fourth wall).

    Reused names department: Cal is also Dobey’s son’s name; Fireball is also the name of a cross-dressing petty criminal seen at the beginning of two different episodes.

    • DRB Says:

      “bloody nose” note: If you look at Sue Ann in the bar brawl, she is clearly enjoying our heroes’ skills. She mentions all the small towns and bars she has sung in later on in the episode so it seems fair to think she has a lot of experience in judging fighting ability. Maybe that is why she laughs at Starsky’s more truthful reply to her questions about hurting the stalker.

  6. Anna Says:

    I wonder if Sue Ann’s situation reminded Starsky of his ordeal in “Pariah.” There’s a couple of moments in this episode, like when she says it’s her fault and Starsky calmly and rationally explains that no, it was all Tabor’s choices, not hers, where it seems very close to the surface. I don’t know if it was intentional or not — more likely it wasn’t, since there’s not a whole lot of continuity in this show — but they did write in that beautiful unspoken reference to “The Fix” in “Losing Streak” so I won’t totally underestimate the writers by putting it out of the realm of consideration.

  7. Louie Says:

    Starsky singing and windmilling his arms and looking like a total idiot, blissfully happy and not giving two shits about what anyone watching may think, during Sue Ann’s song in the tag, has got to be one of my favorite little snippet-scenes of his character ever. I am so glad that they used that clip under PMG’s name in the introductory titles for season 3 and 4. It suits Starsky so well and never fails to make me feel a little surge of affection when I see it up there at the beginning of each episode.

  8. stybz Says:

    Oh, Starsky, Starsky, Starsky. I’m still trying to figure this friendship out. 😉

    Starsky wasn’t invited. He was on assignment with Hutch, although he was fully aware of Hutch’s appreciation of Sue Ann’s music. I’m glad Dobey wasn’t there. It was bad enough seeing Starsky convulse like a maniac. At first I thought he was playing things up to annoy Hutch, especially when he did the shoulder-tap prank twice to the man Hutch befriended to get away from Starsky at the end of the concert. But he was just as exuberant in the tag. So was it true enthusiasm in the opener? I liked how encouraging Starsky was in the tag, but it made me wonder what was really going on in the opener. Does he love to needle Hutch and does Hutch know it? Or is he just THAT enthusiastic and this is why Hutch gets so irritable with him?

    What is truly going on between these two and why does Hutch put up with it if it annoys him so much?

    The rest of the episode played better than expected, though at this point I’m getting a little tired of the killer with a screw loose, especially since it’s followed by Murder on Stage 17, which also involves a crazed serial killer.

    I liked the Dirty Harry reference. Starsky doesn’t say, “the hot-headed cop in the movies.” Instead he says, “The cop from San Fancisco.” 🙂

    I loved the scene at the tennis court. I know Paul was an avid tennis player back then. Was David? It made sense to make Hutch look like the better player. Hutch served, while Starsky would bounce the ball and then hit it. He also used a double backhand at one point. I think back then it was a no-no, but more acceptable these days. 🙂

    Not all recordings involve everyone being sequestered. It depends on the studio and the type of sound you’re after. Abbey Road has some large studios and sometimes they do allow for more than one instrument to be in the same room, depending on the sound they want to create. Notice the drummer’s set-up with the umbrella and the coverage around him. I’m not saying it was totally authentic, but they did make an effort to make it seem like it.

    I’m surprised sometimes at how much legwork Dobey does for the boys. I realize he often delegates, but it’s still interesting when he’s the one giving them the info rather than someone in a more administrative position.

    When Starsky and Hutch walked toward Tabor when he ordered them to “go outside” perplexed me at first as well until I realized there was a door to the outside right in front of him. It could be he wanted them to go out the way they did or else he would not have seen them had they turned back and went out the way they came. This way he had his eye on them.

    • Anna Says:

      “why does Hutch put up with it if it annoys him so much?”

      Probably for the same reason Starsky puts up with all Hutch’s irritating or less-than-savory traits: they’re best friends. Still loving and enjoying being around someone in spite of finding some of the stuff they do really goddamn irritating is probably one of the most concise definitions of best friends. 🙂

  9. DRB Says:

    Hutch’s reactions to Starsky’s enthusiasm don’t strike me as annoyance as much as embarrassment. That is part of the mystery of Hutch; here he is in the bar in the second-most noticeable clothing (Sue Anne’s is most noticeable), but he doesn’t want the patrons looking at him. We were all laughing while watching Hutch inch away from Starsky; highly unusual behavior from him.

    His expression in the tag as he is being called to the stage is note-worthy, too. I fully expected him to tell Starsky, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

    Hutch deserves some credit for staying on stage as long as he does. I started off-key while singing a solo at my sister’s wedding, so I know how demoralizing it is to have to start over. It was a pleasure to get to hear as much as he could get out, because he sounded almost as good as he looked once he relaxed. I agree with the viewer who suggested his leap for Starsky is mostly an excuse to get off stage. I enjoyed Starsky’s expression as it dawns on him that he has carried his antics too far. He sees his partner’s deliberate movements in setting aside the precious guitar, and he knows well that he better be moving fast. Whatever motivated Hutch’s leap, you must admit it was spectacular! More of the mystery; hardly the action of a basically shy person. As usual with Hutch, we are left wondering what he is really about.

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