Character Studies 21: In Praise of Steven Keats and Albert Paulsen

There are some performances in the Starsky and Hutch canon that snag in the mind like a briar, refusing to let go. Case in point is Season One’s “The Shootout”, written by David P. Harmon and directed by Fernando Lamas, in which the two out-of-town killers Joey Martin and Tom Lockly terrorize the denizens of an Italian restaurant as they wait to ambush mysterious mafioso Vic Monty. The sheer power of the actors’ performances is enhanced by the fact the episode is mostly confined to only two rooms, enabling both to dominate nearly every scene.

The clash of contrasts is always fun, and in this episode it’s pretty spectacular. Albert Paulsen’s Tom Lockly is controlled, compressed, intellectual and verging on suave, with a dignity and aloofness that is quite aristocratic. Fastidious and calculating, he’s a loner, a miscreant who prefers books to people and his own vastly superior company to any other. He finds Joey’s rambunctiousness distasteful and tiresome, and keeps him on a tight leash like an untrained dog. Albert Paulsen, an Ecuadorian-American with a mature, stony face, is ideal for this role. His accent is ambiguously “European”, his eyes hooded and expressionless, and he never overexerts himself, instead playing it cool the entire time. Wearing a tie even when in bed at the motel, Lockly is able to convey a great deal of chilly power with simple, quasi-polite sentences, such as “you’re not going to make it, friend” when comic Sammy attempts to back-pedal out the door to freedom. Lockly is so menacing he doesn’t even need a gun to be truly terrifying. His careful planning in ruins, he never lets his increasing worry show: instead, you see it smoldering under all those dark layers. Such a quiet performance is truly marvelous to watch. In an episode saturated with showy characters, Lockly could get lost, but Paulsen ensures he doesn’t – instead he is even more unnerving in stark contrast to everyone else. Mr. Paulsen had a long and distinguished career and passed away from natural causes in 2004.

Joey Martin is a perfect foil for Lockly’s icy calm. Jumpy, energetic, tempestuous and erratic, he’s the powder keg in this situation. He can’t keep his mouth shut, and is alternately sinister and facetious. His initial scene in the motel room is telling: simultaneously drinking, reading the paper (or slamming the pages around), pacing and shouting at the radio, his excitement is cut short at Lockly’s condescension. Joey’s eyes go dead, and his clumsy attempts to wound (“Mister smart-man, mister intellectual”) are typical of an insecure bully driven to destroy what he doesn’t understand. His highs and lows are extreme – one minute drunk on power as his victims cower before him, the next fearfully lashing out when things go awry. Steven Keats plays Joey as loose, bouncy, nearly comic, flipping the switch between jokey guy and sadistic murderer so fast it never fails to thrill. Physically, he’s wonderful: his face expressive and mesmerizing, that big wide gap-toothed grin always surprising with its force and queasy charm. Joey could easily be a caricature, but Keats never lets it get that far. He reins it in when he needs to, as in the scene in which he’s shocked into silence watching Starsky’s pain. Like Paulsen, Keats is lucky to have a wonderful script to work with, but it’s his nearly supernatural instincts as an actor that give his monstrous character so much complexity. For instance, look how he sprawls with his feet up on the table in marked contrast to Lockly’s neat posture. The episode is so jam-packed with perfect, seeming improvisational choices like this it would be easy to write a whole book on the subject. I would love to have the opportunity to express the depth of my admiration to Steven Keats, but sadly Mr. Keats committed suicide in 1994 at the terribly young age of 48. It is a great loss to all of us.

The series has many remarkable performances (see “Character Studies 12: Five Great Guest Appearances”), but to me Steven Keats and Albert Paulsen stand out from the rest and deserve their own spotlight. The cliché is “a perfect storm”, and normally I avoid clichés like … clichés, but this time it fits perfectly. “The Shootout” is a rare combination of great writing, emotional intensity, and beautiful performances.


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12 Responses to “Character Studies 21: In Praise of Steven Keats and Albert Paulsen”

  1. Lynn Says:

    How great to see this review when I just watched this episode AGAIN last night (I know, my mental illness kicking in, LOL).
    I have to agree with you that this episode hits it out of the park on every level. The acting, the directing, the relationship between the two. How did this miss an emmy nomination? The looks by Soul that convey so much, and the twitching and moaning by Glaser. Soul carrying him into the back. It doesn’t get any better than this episode, except maybe The Fix.
    Thanks Merle for another great analysis. These two supporting actors deserved the recognition for a great job in this episode. How sad that they are both gone.

  2. Nikki Harmon Says:

    I am David P. Harmon’s daughter, and I know my father would have appreciated your understanding of the episode, and your kind words about his writing. Since he is, unfortunately, no longer with us, I wanted to thank you for him.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Nikki, your comments are so much appreciated. Your father was an incredible writer with a great sensitivity to the human condition and I can imagine how proud you are of him.

  3. Meg Gee Says:

    Thanks for another great article!
    I must agree that Steven Keats and Albert Paulsen were great in their roles – and this is one of the reasons this episode really works.
    There was similar episode in “The A-Team” (‘Without reservations’ – assasination attempt in Italian restaurant, Tempelton ‘Face’ Peck gets shot, Murdock tries to both take care of him and stop the bad guys) and even though Dwight Schultz (wonderful actor!) tried his best, there wasn’t really any drama in that. You just didn’t care about bad guys, because they couldn’t possibly win – they were too generic and too stupid, director could have just put a hallstand there and hung a ‘bad guy’ plate.
    In “Shootout” you know, of course, that Starsky can’t die and that Hutch will think of something, but the bad guys are so well written AND played, that you know they are able to make their plan work. There’s a real tension, because Joey Martin and Tom Lockly are really dangerous and a fair match to our detectives.
    Thanks for writing this ‘Steven Keats and Albert Paulsen appreciation’ article, they really deserved that! 😀

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you Meg, I thought it was high time Paulsen and Keats got a gold star for their incredible performances. The A-Team anecdote is priceless. Check in often, and keep your comments coming!

  4. Kathy Says:

    Thank you for doing this review. Shoot-out is one of my favorite episodes of Starsky and Hutch because of Steven Keats. Keats is my all time favorite actor – it was WONDERFUL to read what you said about him. I run a blog about Steven – there isn’t much “out there” on him but I do my best. I’ll post the link in the slot you provide below. Great review – I was so happy to read it! Also, awesome writing on that episode as well….I agree.

  5. Kathy Says:

    oops. P.S. here is the link to my blog on Steven:

  6. Kathy Says:

    okay, I’m making mistakes tonight. sorry, here is the correct link lol. (I mispelled blogspot in the link above). Please pardon.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Kathy, I was so amazed and impressed to see your blog! You’ve devoted so much time to someone who truly deserves the recognition. I’m very touched by your hard work and dedication to his career, and I know it’s a labor of love, much like this is for me. Thank you so much for writing, and for helping keep Steven Keats’ name alive.

  7. Kathy Says:

    You’re very welcome and thank you for taking the time to stop by and visit. I appreciate it. The funnest part of the blog was giving Steven a star on the walk of fame and also, well deserved Oscar and Emmy awards for four of my favorite performances of his. (Of course he deserved many Oscars and Emmys for numerous performances). The walk of fame star and the awards may only be via a photo but heck, maybe one day he’ll be awarded the real ones posthumously. Thanks for keeping Steven alive and Starsky and Hutch alive, in return. (^_^)

  8. Appreciative Says:

    I thought Steven Keats stole Peter Bates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle–which included an excellent cast. Yet I’ve read teviews that don’t even mention him. I don’t think I’ve seem him in anything else (yet), but I’ve just seen TFOEC (somehow, all these years, I missed it), and his performance blew me away. Surely a grievously underrated actor–at least, based on that performance. As sympathetic as the Coyle character could be, I kept wishing the story line would get back to Keats’ character.

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