Character Studies 23: Five Great Soul Scenes

While Paul Michael Glaser’s David Starsky is steady and consistent (even when he explodes, it usually comes after a prolonged simmer which telegraphs his actions far in advance of his making them), David Soul’s Kenneth Hutchinson is far more of an unpredictable and mercurial presence in this series, and Soul’s portrayal is a tour de force. Hutch is both vain and anxious, sarcastic and genuine, deeply invested in his professional and personal relationship with Starsky and determined to upend it by being a complete jerk. Despite extraordinary good looks and a privileged background – or maybe because of these things – he can be contrary, sharply disapproving of conventionality and drawn to fads, alternative lifestyles, junky cars and damaged women. Part of him is a psychological mess and part of him is steadfast, brave, thoughtful, and rational. All of him is charismatic. Soul leaps into the challenge on day one and never disappoints in the four years he portrays this magnetic, bad-tempered, loving, deeply moral individual. I’ll probably overuse the word “emotional” but that’s what David Soul does best: he’s an actor with great depth and dexterity, and there’s nowhere in the prickly, dense, scary underbrush of the human condition he’s afraid to go.

Here are some of his best characteristics and the scenes that embody them:

Alienated: irked by rules and regulations in “Lady Blue” (written by Michael Mann) There’s nothing better than Hutch frustrated by the mechanics and confines of modern society. Any other actor given these diatribes would wear out our patience and perhaps lessen our allegiance, but Soul’s sparkling wit and energy gives these speeches a special piquancy which approaches – but never quite steps into – comedy. You just never tire of them. You laugh and feel sad at the same time. They give us access to his complex personality, a man who feels thwarted and misunderstood despite an overabundance of natural gifts. In this instance, anger over car troubles sends Hutch on a hilarious rant against phones, corporations, numbers, numeric systems and issues of personal identity, and it’s a joy to watch. Soul keeps it tight, never tips it into caricature, and easily reins it into drama a moment later.

Patient: negotiating with a psychopath in “Bloodbath” (written by Christopher Joy, Wanda Coleman, Ron Friedman) Beautifully filmed, Hutch’s two interrogations with Simon Marcus are unremittingly intense and show us the intellectual, patient side of this emotion-driven character. Hutch is forced to control both fear and antagonism in order to find information necessary to save his partner. Very often the series uses threat to the partnership in order to bring out the best in both characters, and here it’s perfectly played out as Hutch understands his baser instincts are no match for someone with nothing to lose.

Kind: being a true friend in “Starsky’s Lady” (written by Robert Earll) The beautiful tag on the end of a harrowing episode in which Starsky’s girlfriend is murdered is a showstopper. Hutch is alternately funny, warm, silly and wrenchingly grief-stricken. This scene is made more difficult by the fact both are drunk, and intoxication is notoriously difficult to act convincingly. Alternately goofy and serious (at the same time), tears swim in his eyes as he reluctantly faces his own grief and responsibilities while opening the letter and gift from Terry. In this scene, as in many others, we’re aware of his unusually expressive voice, and how he uses it in subtle ways to convey deep emotion.

Indomitable: the ransom run in “The Psychic” (again written by Michael Mann, who knows a thing or two about dramatic escalation). Yes, I have gone on about this scene more than once, but it does sum up the remarkable gifts of Mr Soul, whose speed and endurance is front and center here, and much missed after a skiing accident in the third season reduced him physically for the remainder of the series. I imagine extreme exertion and an acting performance are normally mutually exclusive, but here Hutch is not only running hard and bursting through the doors of bars and booths and Laundromats, he’s conveying fear, determination, and rage. Every second of the ransom run keeps you on the edge of your seat, and at the end you’re nearly as exhausted as he is.

Volcanic: Coming upon the murder scene in “Gillian” (written by Ben Masselink and Amanda J Green). Mere words can’t describe the devastating impact of this scene, and Soul’s incredible acting range in this and other moments of this episode (the “freeze” scene in the alley, for example). He goes from confusion to dawning realization, from horror to violent rage and finally to sobbing grief within minutes. There is not a false note or hesitation here, from his expressive voice to his extraordinary fearless body language – and all of this matched point for point by note-perfect Glaser. There has never been more painfully acute depiction of what true friendship really means. It’s ugly, raw, redemptive, astonishing. It helps this was reportedly filmed in one take, giving the actors a rare chance to let it flow naturally, and the result is very difficult to watch, but even more difficult to turn away from.


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11 Responses to “Character Studies 23: Five Great Soul Scenes”

  1. Kerry C. Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. What else can I say? Well…except..more, more, more.

  2. Kerry C. Says:

    Hello again Merl.

    You may not wish to post this but you can decide in “moderation” whether you do or not. Now that you have reviewed all the episodes and done some marvellous character studies, I think that you might have time to consider another entry. Would you consider doing a piece on what it is about S and H and DS and PMG that makes you want to write about them with such conviction, skill and caring?

    What is it about this unique relationship both on and off screen that calls to you to attempt to define and describe the characters and the essence of their relationship?

    It would be a different take on your usual entries and studies, but I would love to hear it and I am sure that all of your readers would also.

    In a way this would be a sort of self-analysis so might be a bit revealing and soul-searching…but please consider?


    • merltheearl Says:

      Kerry, I’m very touched by your request. I can’t imagine who would be interested, and my story is probably fairly typical, but let me consider it. I know a treatise is best served by a writer clear about how they come to their subject, and how experiences have shaped their views. I have “unapproved” personal questions thoroughout the last four years of this blog (coincidentally, the length of the series), but maybe it’s time to reconsider. Thanks.

  3. Lynn Says:

    Dear Merle,
    I apologize in advance for this entry, but Kerry’s request of you sparked a need in me to respond as to my, shall we say, recent obsession with the boys. Feel free to delete this is you feel this is not the venue for my thoughts.
    Two years ago I was at one of the lowest points in my life. One of my brothers was dying of cancer, I had just gotten a bad diagnosis as to my vision, and I was at my heaviest. I remember laying in bed one night numbly flicking through the channels when I recognized a flash of red and white, and there was S&H on the retro channel. I watched the episode thinking that some eye candy, granted 40 year old eye candy, might be the diversion I needed. As I watched, night after night I began to see more than the beauty of the two actors. I saw their talent and the beauty of their relationship. I began to wonder what they were up to now. Hell, I wasn’t even sure they were both still alive. I googled and researched, and of course, found this blog as well. I found that both had had their share of tragedies. Despite their fame in the 70’s they were not spared what life hands out to all of us. Frankly, I don’t even know how PMG lifted his head off the pillow after losing his wife and daughter to HIV. David Soul, who had so many gifts, lost his way for a time with alcohol and multiple marriages. What I began to see was that they were both survivors, and wasn’t that what life is really all about? It’s not how you avoid misfortune, but how you deal with it. I began to feel that I owed it to myself and others to step up and meet my challenges. I began walking and eating healthy, losing a chunk of weight. I continue to read your blog and keep up with what’s going on with “the boys”. I think that they are inspirations, both on and off the screen, and I know that I owe them a big, “thanks S&H” for helping me out of a dark place. And, I certainly want to thank you Merle, for your incredible analysis and responses to all of us who have read your blog.
    Please keep it up, and thank you for being there.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Lynn, your comment is incredibly moving. I hardly know how to respond adequately, except to thank you for letting all of us read your story. You’re very generous and wise. I’m very sorry about your brother, and your own health challenges. This is a large part of why I have spent the hours writing these blog entries, trying to give dignity and depth to something many people dismiss as light entertainment, and maybe give a voice to people who see this series how I do. Because it isn’t light, not at all. It’s life-affirming, it’s beautiful, and there is meaning and consolation to be found here.

      Thank you again.

  4. Lynn Says:

    Thank you for your gracious response and allowing me to utilize your forum as I did. The last sentence of your response really does sum it up. I have studied this series (with your invaluable help), and my own life and have been inspired and consoled at the same time. I hope that by commenting here and giving some dignity to a grossly underated series and two exceptional actors that I am repaying them on some small scale for what I have gained from them. I am indebted to you for this blog, and once again thank you for it, and for the warmth and encouragement that you gift to all of us who have responded here.

  5. Dianna Says:

    Wow, Merl, what beautiful comments, “note-perfect,” as you are wont to say, and what moving replies.

    Lynn, your story got me crying. My story is close to yours, except that my sister’s death and my re-introduction Starsky and Hutch is more spread out in time, but they are most definitely related. I’ve been watching (and writing) obsessively for the past couple of months, and reading Merl’s comments has greatly enriched the experience.

    I avoid reading about episodes I have not yet seen, and I admit I’m a bit sad that I have now seen all five of David Soul’s top scenes, as selected by Merl. I am glad that I still have some of the best of Glaser still to come!

    • merltheearl Says:

      I think this list could be much, much longer. It’s hard to stop at 5. I actually wrote this long before I had finished watching the series as well, so I could very easily add more great scenes from later episodes (this goes for Mr Glaser as well). I think I didn’t give Mr Soul enough credit for his grasp of buffoonery. For that I would probably say his scene in the hotel room trying to get into the character of a hit man in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” would certainly qualify, or as the hairdresser in the much despised but strangely endearing “Dandruff”.

      Perhaps I should get busy and amend this list!

  6. DRB Says:

    I saw part of the series when it originally aired but had not watched until my brother recently brought whole set home. I remembered bits and pieces, especially that girlfriends had tragic demises so I was expecting the tragedies. When watching “Gillian” I was shocked by the impact of something OFF camera. Of course , I was mesmerized by Starsky’s distraught phone call when he found her body. His stammering plea for the authorities and frantic clutch at his hair certainly highlight the awfulness of his discovery. But what made me feel physically ill was the quiet voice from the doorway asking, “What’s going on?” as we realize Hutch is totally unprepared for the coming devastation. The soft question somehow makes everything worse perhaps because of my memories of shocking personal loss coming without any warning.

  7. Marianne Ewing Says:

    Wow, you all are expressing things I have’nt thought about in years
    We all have had dark moments -we are humans walking thru this world without supermans cape-in my darkest time David & Paul’s
    banter,intensity and love have helped pull me together. _and my true blue husband

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