Episode 72: Moonshine

Starsky and Hutch try to track down some moonshiners responsible for a batch of bad whiskey.

Willy Hall: Billy Green Bush, Dolly Ivers: Mary Louise Weller, Sam Ivers: Shug Fisher, Melvin Hall: Zachary Lewis, Treasury Agt. Kendall: James Noble, Earl: Lee McLaughlin, Ben Meadows: Pat Corley, Rudy: Bruce M Fischer, Hank Munson: Bill Cort, Frank: Johnnie Collins III, Virgil: Dennis Fimple. Written By: Fred Freiberger, Directed By: Reza Badiyi.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

“The Dukes of Hazzard” lamentably debuted in 1979, and I wonder if this episode is an attempt by producers to capitalize on the success of that series. There are enough hot-pants, dusty revving of engines and sassy countrified comebacks to qualify this as a lost “Dukes” episode and make us begin to sympathize with the lead actors’ growing frustration with the whole process. However, there are a few moments that rescue this episode from the doldrums: the drunk scene, Hutch’s great musical performance, and some imaginative police work.

We just know that’s an Andy Kulberg soundtrack the first scene: Kulberg is David Soul’s bandleader and friend, and has readily provided the music any time some authentically soulful harmonica is needed.

The guard at the warehouse has a bandanna wrapped around his head, but surely that’s not enough to stop him from yelling, is it?

The thieves, Virgil and Frank, are giggling and clumsy as they steal the sacks of sugar. They also smash the bottle they’re drinking from on the concrete. This implies a) they don’t take this robbery seriously b) they’re drunk on whatever they’re brewing and c) they don’t care about leaving serious evidence of their business concerns, which will narrow the list of suspects down considerably for police. Isn’t this a little cavalier? Later in the episode it’s mentioned this moonshine business has been successful for generations, but from the look of this burglary one wonders how that could be. Why wouldn’t the Big Boss send more appropriate people to do this very tricky, dangerous raid?

How expensive is wholesale sugar, anyway – expensive enough to justify stealing it? Perhaps it’s not the cost, but rather the danger of alerting officials when purchasing large amounts, much in the same way grow-ops are exposed when caught appropriating electricity from the hydro company.

The opening location is lovely: railways and warehouses in the packing district.

It’s nice to see our friend Zachary Lewis, late of “Nightmare” fame as the loser-with-a-shred-of-a-conscience Mousy Loomis. Here, he is the loser-with-a-shred-of-conscience, hick farmboy Melvin.

Treasury Agent Kendall does not elicit the usual brutal snobbery of Starsky and Hutch, who usually despise anyone in a three-piece suit, especially out-of-towners. They treat Kendall with a modicum of dignity. Why? My guess is Kendall’s relaxed attitude, and his reassuring perma-smile.

There is absolutely no way Dobey would not know who Eliot Ness is.

This, granted, is not the best Starsky and Hutch episode; in fact it’s probably in the bottom five. Like much of the Fourth Season, it is strangely facile and empty. The moonshiners are clichés and the hillbilly stuff is played for laughs. The undercover work has both men acting outrageously, sort of like Mr. Marlene and Tyrone from episodes past, only this time with cowboy hats and southern drawls. There is no genuine danger, no grit. A respected Federal Agent is murdered (we never find out how) and nothing is made of it. However, there are elements here that cannot be dismissed, as discussed in the opening paragraph, and one of them is the thrilling confidence both Starsky and Hutch display when they accept the case from Dobey. They are masterful and calm. They understand the risks, and accept them without hesitation, with the kind of élan that is very funny and at the same time deeply satisfying.

If these moonshine producers are so serious about the quality of their product, and have survived and thrived “in three states, through four wars, and more than twenty presidents” – a respectable, even laudable history – I always wonder why they never consider going legit. They could have had a real business, like Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniels, instead of pursuing this ramshackle operation hiding in falling-down barns and fueled by bags of stolen sugar. The profits (that is, if the product is any good) would surely have outweighed any downside. Is it really just about taxes, as daddy explains to daughter later at the Backwoods Inn? Is this contemporary Tea Party madness that we’re seeing, decades before someone slapped a name on it?

Why do you suppose ol’ Pa puts up with Will as an employee? He’s rude, insubordinate and a pig, all round.

Starsky acts like an idiot, swerving into the dirt-pack parking lot and spraying dust everywhere, for no good reason. He might be getting into the General Lee spirit of things, or he could be fuming about the dance contest he’s been forced to enter.

As Starsky and Hutch enter the Smokey Mountain Inn bar, you can hear Lynne Marta’s song “Nobody Loves You” from “Quadromania” playing in the background. Starsky accepts the offer of the local liquor, and instead of an ounce or two you can see his glass is alarmingly full – of perhaps ten ounces. And no space-filling ice! Rudy’s “generosity” may be a joke – or maybe not – but it’s an expensive one(that stuff can’t be all that cheap), and potentially lethal too.

Casting note: this is an ol’ homeboy sort of episode: other than Zachary Lewis, Rudy the Bartender is played by Bruce M Fischer, a quiet, steady kind of guy and perfect for his role. He also played the undercover-cop/long haul-trucker in “The Set-Up”. Bill Cort, who plays the detective with the giant red pickup, was in “The Committee”.

There is a lot of geographical confusion in this episode. Just how far is the Ivers still from Bay City? Clues: It is clearly out in the country. Hutch calls it the “northwest quadrant of the county.” Starsky and Hutch don’t appear to stay overnight there. Starsky mentions being back for the dance contest that night. Dolly refers to Starsky as “a local cop.” The stores in town claim the town’s name as Newhall, which is north of Bay City and about 31 miles from 5th St. and Wall Street, the heart of Starsky and Hutch’s beat. Why don’t the local police get involved? Are there any, and if not, why? Another question: just how far is the Ivers barn and moonshine still from Newhall? Dolly complains “I didn’t drive all the way down to that hot and smoggy city just for my health.”

Here, Starsky isn’t as good an undercover cop as he could be. He could merely pretend to drink the hooch (I can think of a dozen ways to pull that off) but instead gets completely wasted. His skills are severely curtailed, to say the least. This is yet another instance of the two detectives refusing to take this case seriously, even though they are trying to rid the county of a potentially deadly poison.

Rudy seems like an okay guy. He’s obviously been a bartender at the Smokey Mountain Inn bar for years, and probably does not want his customers keeling over dead from bad liquor. He is also cooperative with Starsky and Hutch and gives them some information. Why, then, does he stare at them with such disdain, attempt to poison Starsky with an overdose of liquor, then rip up Hutch’s contact numbers? Does he not want to keep his customers alive, or is this a comment about how mountain folk will always hate city folk, no matter what? From “Bloodbath” to “Satan’s Witches”, Starsky and Hutch have never met anyone from the sticks who has one iota of trust or faith in them. Is this realistic, or are all these cold hard stares something writers invent for a little local color?

Starsky’s drunk scene has to be one of the funniest and most likable comic scenes in the canon. It allows both Soul and Glaser to stretch their Buster Keaton-esque muscles and give us an unforced, relaxed scene that also highlights their extraordinary physical ease with each other. Starsky is wonderfully rubbery and Hutch is smiling happily as he tells his friend to “give me the keys and you can drive”. He finds Starsky’s dancing shoes and makes a silly joke without his usual meanness.

Dolly’s barn looks to be the same barn Starsky and Hutch get trapped in by Ernie Bagley in “The Trap”. There’s no way barns in California would be this wimpy. Crap construction, no insulation of any sort, all one room with a dirt floor, an odd shape. What gives?

Frank and Virgil are shown swilling moonshine. Sam Ivers drinks moonshine by the Mason jar. While Dolly mentions drinking it, “I’m not taking a chance on poisoning myself,” she is never shown actually consuming any. Is this because she is smarter? A woman? Some other reason?

Why do you suppose the Ivers are in California in the first place? I can’t imagine there are more moonshine fans there than in Kentucky or Louisiana.

By the way Willy and Dolly are talking, everybody knows Willy is cutting the booze with cheap filler. However, they seem to accept this and absolve Willy of the murder of Virgil and Frankie. This makes absolutely no sense.

While it seems pretty stupid to cut moonshine with wood alcohol, which seems would kill off all your customers, there is a good chance Willy and Melvin were more careless than devious. Willy wants to cut the “old with the new … I’ll cut it plenty, Sam, so as no one will get poisoned, much less sick.” It is unclear if the wood alcohol is cheaper to produce, making the moonshine go further. If this is the case, perhaps they added it to the moonshine in too greedy a dose? Another possibility is Willy and Melvin’s technique: in the distillation process, one is instructed to pour off the first 50 ml produced, this first product being wood alcohol. Perhaps Melvin and Willy were too cheap to decant their hooch?

Dobey tells Starsky and Hutch that Agent Kendall’s body was discovered an hour ago. He transmits no other information before hanging up, only telling Starsky and Hutch their cover better be more successful than Kendall’s and they should be at the Backwoods Inn that night. Like many other occasions, Dobey often gives an astonishingly small amount of direction, counting on Starsky and Hutch to take care of these details themselves. Dobey is there, however, to help clean up the mess in what must be a huge amount of paperwork after the dust settles on each case. While this appears to be effective with Starsky and Hutch, is this hands-off approach one he practices with his other employees? How can he afford to do that, year after year? Does Starsky and Hutch’s extraordinarily high close-rate justify his methods?

Dobey tells Hutch their cover better be better than dead Agent Kendall’s. Just what was Kendall’s cover? Also, killing a Federal Agent would require more than the attention of two Bay City cops – you can bet there would be dozens of FBI agents crawling all over this case.

Starsky and Hutch are horrible to the precious red pickup owned by fellow detective Mundy. Hutch slams a guitar case on the hood, and the roar out of the garage like maniacs. This is in stark contrast to the care and attention they give their own cars. Why poke fun at someone else’s pride and joy when they’re so protective and defensive about their own?

It’s pretty funny when Hutch calls the bar the “Backwards Inn” rather than “Backwoods Inn”. Throughout the series as a whole, and this episode in particular, Hutch presents himself as a stalwart true-blue, back-to-the-land Americana sort of guy. And yet there is always a kernel of sarcasm in him, as evidenced by this telling slip. Interestingly, urban cat Starsky has no similar dark side even though he is obviously not into the rural lifestyle and would much rather be at a downtown pizza joint. Hutch, generally, is complicated and contradictory, Starsky is easy and accepting.

Starsky shows his rube status by carrying the guitar case all wrong.

Dolly asks Starsky, after he swats her with the guitar case, “Do you play that thing Curly, or is that just your way of getting attention?” He would probably tell her no, and point instead to his partner, but in fact he plays very well, as we will see later in “The Avenger”.

Starsky and Hutch reinvent themselves as a country singer, “the hottest country picker this side of Bell County”, and his manager. (Note that Starsky, yet again, is his fiery partner’s quiet support team. There is no instance in the entire run of the series in which Starsky is the flashy star, and Hutch the helpful second fiddle.) This is an unwieldy, attention-getting pretense for infiltrating a moonshine operation. Why don’t they present themselves as hopeless drunks or get-rich-quick schemers instead? What, too boring?

The band on stage, wonderfully, is David Soul’s actual touring band.

Like “Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road”, Starsky enthusiastically throws himself into the number-one fan, whooping and applauding from the sidelines.

It’s pure joy when the band replies to Hutch’s tentative yet technically proficient strumming, letting loose with some blistering country pickin’. Look at Hutch – ok, Soul’s – unabashed joy.

Willy sees Starsky cuddling with Dolly and the look on his face reads clearly: I can never compete with that.

Dobey buys sugar for the undercover operation, the guy asks him what he wants it for. Dobey has a hilarious reply. “Pina Coladas. You can look at me and tell I love them, can’t you.” It’s a startlingly dry witticism in this episode filled with idiocy, and I love it.

The green and white dirt bike Starsky rides to cover Hutch in “The Psychic” and the one Hutch rides to find Starsky appear to be the same one.

Dolly is the only sensible person in the whole outfit. Sam Ivers is hampered by nostalgia and stubbornness, Willie is cruel and not too bright. Only Dolly understands about business, and is conscience-driven to boot. She’s also smart and resourceful. Let’s imagine she goes on to market a raspberry-flavoured cocktail mix for the 80s club crowd.

Tag: Hutch finds a suspicious amount of pleasure in taunting Starsky about being the stand-in for the dance contest.

Clothing Notes: there is a distressing amount of denim in this show. Hutch wears the blue ring again, but is otherwise without jewelry. He looks natural in a cowboy hat and denim vest. Starsky looks like a tourist in his denim jacket, bandanna and jeans. He wears the light blue shirt throughout.

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7 Responses to “Episode 72: Moonshine”

  1. Daniela Says:

    Hello,
    I have been debating within myself what to think of this episode…
    I didn’t care much for it, because of the cardboard cutout secondary characters, especially for their heavy handed southern drawl.
    And that made S&H also become like cardboard cutouts to match their depth…
    The only part I liked pretty much was the music part in the bar and few bits in passing.

    Do you think the 2004 movie took the scene of the passing of the keys of the red pick up truck and the advice the owner gives Starsky as he squeals out of the garage, as an inspiration for the Glaser & Soul cameos at the end of the movie?

    Also, barns: living in central California, I see plenty run down barns. They are just as flimsy and raggedy as they show in the episode!

    Now, do you think is fair to post the review of such a fluffy episode right before one where you talk about such deep and well fleshed out characters like the 5 heroes? It makes Moonshine seem even more lightweight!
    Daniela

    • merltheearl Says:

      I know what you mean about having conflicted – well, mostly negative – feelings about this episode. But I decided to be as positive, or at least as thoughtful as I can be in this blog. In the case of Moonshine, it meant talking myself into liking it more! It sort of worked, too. It’s good to know there are barns out there as bad as this one. But for an illegal, secretive, somewhat flammable operation? Maybe “flimsy” was some kind of hide-in-plain-sight plan on the part of ol’ Pa Ivers.

      I’m glad you had a reaction to my little character studies of 5 heroes. Think of it as a palate cleanser between this silly thing and the next episode, “Strange Justice”, which is shockingly fine in every way.

      I have never seen the Starsky and Hutch movie. And never will.

  2. Daniela Says:

    you know… there are maybe one or two episodes I really don’t like, namely the Turkey one and possibly Dandruff, just because of how they maimed Starsky and Hutch and made them look like total fluff… and the women were totally disgusting in their lust…. I mean, come on, get real!
    But even in those I extrapolate the gems of the two of them in their best moments…. So I know what you mean about making yourself like even this episode! LOL
    I think it was mostly the flat southern cardboard cutout characters…..

    About the barn, yes, not a very safe nor fireproof one…. But it seems to be a trend in the countrysides of California… These days they seem to run meth labs in those barns… at least that is what I hear….

    Palate cleanser? Sounds good! Looking forward to that post! The episode is not an easy one to find online, isn’t it?
    I think I saw it once on a DVD.

    And speaking of seeing something, I didn’t see the movie either, only their cameo on YT and some clips, enough to feel absolutely terrible about having such rubbish associated with the real thing! One good thing about it was that it sparked a series of interviews with Soul and Glaser that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And they were both very polite in their assessment of the movie…. Of course, a couple of years later, their tune (at least Soul’s) changed totally….
    I do wish the two of them would do something together… I understand contract restrictions, legal stuff and all, but are they bound for the rest of their lives not to do anything together?
    That would be a bummer!
    Daniela

  3. phaedrablue4 Says:

    Hi Merl and Danielle. I only found this site, what…, about 5 days ago. I’ve been rewatching S&H end to end for over a week now, heh. Not getting much work done, however. 🙂

    It was a search on our two intrepid boys that tripped your site. I must say, I have read nearly every one of your posts and I’ve gone back and rewatched some of the episodes to check out your insights. There is much I find you are spot on with, Merl and there are some I see differently. Maybe personal perspective has an effect?

    Merl, you’ve made a couple remarks here and there that gives me the sense that you became a fan during syndication. Am I right?
    I was just at the right time for this show.

    I was 16 when this show started and 20 and heading for my first divorce when this show ended. Say, do you think maybe S&H’s terrible 4th season killed my marriage? I’m laughing at my own joke.

    The IMDB discussions are weak at best on the S&H page, but I’ve posted a few comments there under the name: ToniHunterOne.

    I’m still learning how to navigate this site; in some ways it’s not very user friendly. But, then again, I haven’t been a registered member but a few days.

    Is there a way to drip you a direct message?

    Thanks for your posts; they’re interesting and thougth provoking.

    Toni

  4. Dianna Says:

    I’ve been glad to see more activity on this board lately! I’ve just been too busy to post much myself. Besides, I’ve promised myself I would watch each episode twice before writing about it, and it was an act of will to watch this one a second time. Usually, reading Merl’s commentary helps me appreciate an episode more, but it didn’t work for this one.

    I’m searching for good things to say about it, and all I can think of is: it’s marginally better than the Voodoo Island episode, and Huggy Bear and the Turkey, neither of which I could stand to watch twice. (If Daniela rates Dandruff worse than this one, I am really not looking forward to watching it.) Also, Hutch’s musical interlude is pleasant — although it makes me question why there is a professional backup band hanging around on amateur night.

    Dolly’s fake accent makes me wince, and Mel & Willy’s cartoonish evil laughter makes my stomach churn. Re-using Bill Cort (Knight in The Committee) as Munson, the owner of the red pickup, made me do an uneasy double-take, although Cort seems considerably taller here, so I was not certain it was the same actor till I looked him up on IMDB.

    In the “tension-filled” scene when Starsky is prisoner in that barn, Starsky stands looking bored while Willy argues with Dolly and Sam. I think Daniela’s comment about cardboard cutouts pretty much nails it. (I also second her observation about there being plenty of rundown barns in California. Although the sight of what appears to be the outer slope of a landfill behind it makes it clear that this is indeed the same rundown barn we saw in The Trap.)

    And I shake my head in disbelief that Dolly and Sam could so neatly — and so quickly — be released to go back to Kentucky because they had been the “good” bad guys.

    Also, that’s might expensive sugar that our heroes recquisition: $727.50 for twenty five 50 lb. sacks of sugar. That is 58¢/lb. wholesale, which is about what we pay for sugar at retail prices today.

    The sight of all that C&H sugar has the old corporate jingle running through my head:

    C and H (C and H)
    Pure cane sugar (Pure cane sugar)
    From Hawaii (From Hawaii)
    Growin’ in the sun! (Growin’ in the sun!)
    C and H pure cane sugar, that’s the one!”

    I’m not sure whether that’s a positive or a negative.

  5. Darren Read Says:

    Another damaged Torino moment. When S&H chase the yellow pickup and are forced to skid to a halt due to a truck blocking the way, the back of the Torino slides into camera shot revealing a dented left rear with the back lighting cluster hanging freely, and then when we see them exiting the car you can tell by the seats ( earlier in the episode it had the single bucket seats now the seats have changed into the joined bench type ) that this it a different car. Oh and another point that I find funny is the so called secret police radio switch on the CB which didn’t take Willy long to stumble upon.

  6. stybz Says:

    I liked this one better than Photo Finish. I agree with everyone about all the flaws mentioned here. However, there are some gems in here as well. I think despite everything, Paul and David had some fun in this episode. There are some lines delivered in a couple of scenes that made me wonder if they were ad libbed. And there are some fun moments where the two men are laughing together, which is really nice.

    My favorite moments:

    1. When Starsky says, “Mamma from Bama,” Hutch laughs but tries to hide it.

    2. Possible ad lib 1: When Hutch and Rudy are trying to get Starsky back on the stool after he fell off, they seem to be struggling with it. Starsky says, “What’s going on back there?” LOL!

    3. The entire drunk scene right through to the point of Starsky getting sick. Starsky falling off the stool and Hutch helping him back up. Starsky drunk. Convincing Starsky that he’s driving, getting him into the car, “Slide! Slide!” “I’m driving? You’re driving?” The brief moment when Starsky rests his head against Hutch’s arm. Hutch raising and lowering the clipboard on the top of Starsky’s coffee cup…. Too funny. 🙂

    4. Possible ad lib 2: At the Backwoods Tavern, when Starsky says he’s CW’s manager, he says he’s like Colonel Parker, which has everyone laughing. Then Starsky mutters to Hutch something like, “You think that’s funny,” and he and Hutch laugh before Starsky continues. 🙂

    5. Starsky putting his hand on Hutch’s arm just before he’s about to go on stage to perform.

    6. CW and the band. 🙂

    7. Loved Dobey’s Pina Colada line. Hilarious.

    I pondered the whole Elliot Ness thing too, wondering why Dobey wouldn’t have heard of him. Then I thought maybe it was some inside joke, that maybe Bernie Hamilton was in an episode of The Untouchables or worked with Robert Stack, but I couldn’t find anything. The closest I could find is that both Charles and brother Paul Picerni were on The Untouchables. Paul was a regular cast member, while Charlie acted in several episodes and did the stunts. 🙂

    I think Starsky took the drinking of the moonshine very seriously. He did not want to drink it, but Hutch insisted he should. He tried to stall, but the Mamma from Bama line backfired on him. He was being watched by everyone in the bar. He had no way of faking it. There was no plant nearby and even spilling it might have pissed off a few people and could have caused a bar fight.

    I do think Hutch took it too lightly, though. He didn’t seem too concerned about Starsky’s welfare, taking his friend’s drunken state in stride. I’m sure he and Starsky have gotten drunk together many times, so it’s old hat, but that doesn’t excuse the potential danger Starsky is in drinking the moonshine they know nothing about.

    I think Rudy wants to be helpful, but he doesn’t want anyone of his suppliers to know he was assisting the cops. He walked straight down the middle. Yes, he had moonshine, but it was one jug. No, he could not identify the suppliers by name, but it was a sexy woman in a yellow truck. 🙂

    Starsky sobers up fast. It’s still daylight when they borrow Mundy’s truck and Starsky seems all bright eyed and bushy tailed. I guess there’s no hangover concerns with moonshine? 😉

    I don’t know if it was because of David’s back issues, but there are a couple of scenes where Starsky is helping Hutch step up or stand up. First when Hutch as CW goes on stage to perform, Starsky giving him a supporting push. You can barely make out Starsky’s hands on Hutch’s back as he steps up onto the stage. Then later when Starsky convinces Hutch to join the others at the bar so he can be alone with Dolly, he helps Hutch to his feet. It’s the way he does it which is interesting. He wraps his arms around him and does all the lifting. In the context of the scene he’s forcing Hutch away, so it’s hard to tell if the way he does it is just for the sake of the scene or a way of masking Paul’s assistance in getting David to his feet. Once upright, David is fine and walks off like it’s nothing, despite being annoyed at Starsky. 🙂 It’s all in character, but I wonder if that was just for the fun of the episode or if it was a way for Paul to help David when his back was too stiff for him to get up on his own.

    David seems to move pretty well despite the back brace.

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