Let’s Revisit “Tap Dancing Their Way Back into Your Hearts”

Marsha Stearns: Sondra Currie, Carl Starger: Devren Bookwalter, Marianne Tustin: Veronica Hamel, AC Chambers: Liam Sullivan, Ginger Evans: Audrey Christie, Mrs. Dodsman: Dorothy Shay, Deidre: 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 broadly-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. Not that I’m complaining, because this is, all in all, a delightful episode. 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, I should mention 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” might be an exception, with Nicole Monk as a sexually-rapacious wife who seems to be about forty). 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. She has bought it recently, happy to be playing a glamorous role in this game of cat and mouse.

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? Does he simply wish to show off to Huggy his rather impressive acting skills, 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?

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, and thus does very little to advance the case.

As for the series’ tendency to put its stars in the roles of cowboys, hairdressers, country music singers and other exaggerated characters, it might be a ratings ploy, or it might be a case of producers trying to keep their stars happy and engaged by dangling the chance for buffoonery in front of them like keys dangled in front of a 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? I’m asking these questions even though I know the answer. Because plot, as they say in amusingly economical internet parlance.

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 forcing-a-confession 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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15 Responses to “Let’s Revisit “Tap Dancing Their Way Back into Your Hearts””

  1. Lynn Says:

    Hi Merle,
    Just a little tidbit: Paul told us in April that David had no idea he was going to ‘dip’ him in the tag, so the shocked look on David’s face is quite real.
    Lynn

    • merltheearl Says:

      Lynn, thank you! It’s a privilege to hear these reminiscences. David Soul is such an extraordinary actor it’s difficult to know what is real and what isn’t!

  2. marianrose Says:

    Once again, I just want to thank you for your insight and analysis of this show. I always learn so much when I read your guide. It’s fascinating to understand how things were written in the script vs. how they ended up being filmed.

  3. Bilbrey Says:

    Now that I know David Soul was taken aback by PMG’s taking him into a dip, the whole scene is so much sexier. And the look on David Soul’s face, with PMG’s arms around him, is priceless.

  4. Shasta Says:

    Hi Merle,
    After having read a good portion of your blog here for the past few months, I want you to know how fascinating I have always found it. Wow, have you ever considered teaching a course on the series?
    I went to college in LA during the years this series was being filmed in the 70’s. The filming locations are very familiar to me and I wonder if I ever unknowingly drove past a shooting in progress. I am stunned, as I watch the series all these years later, how smoggy and dirty LA was back then. I guess at the time, I never noticed.
    Up until about 4 months ago, I had only seen one episode of “Starsky and Hutch.” In 1975, I watched “The Fix” and nothing after that. Then in Nov 2013, I decided to see if I could find that episode on YouTube. I did and I was floored, not by the subject matter, but by the relationship between these two men. It was mesmerizing. I had never seen that before. I bought the entire 4-year series on DVD and enjoyed every minute of every interaction between these two men. It reminded me of the love between two men from the Old Testament…Jonathan and David. Something so pure and almost unworldly. I do not believe any other pair of actors has captured this as well as Glaser and Soul.
    As I read your blog I am fascinated with your behind-the-scene facts and comments. Where did you get such precious information? It is almost as if you were there, present on the set. Whatever the case, it is wonderful.
    I have finished watching the entire series on DVD but I will continue to cruise through your blog simply because I find it so interesting. Thank you for pouring so much into it.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Shasta, thank you so much for adding your comments, and thank you also for your very kind words. I’m always glad when someone finds this small project and enjoys it. I think a post-graduate course on this series is a terrific idea but it seems as if we are in the minority in the big brash pop-culture-studies world. Any extra information here is due solely to a good memory for bits and pieces learned over the years, none of it verified and probably some of it wrong. (I wish I was on set. There would have been big changes, that’s for sure.)

      The story of Jonathan and David is a very touching and apt parallel – both because it is an all-too-rare example of a loving friendship but also because of the storm of controversy it causes, many readers wishing to mould the story to fit their own ends, which is exactly why we need these stories in the first place. Storytelling is elastic, meant to be shaped to fit our own dreams and desires, and “Starsky and Hutch” is one of those stories that seems more elastic than most.

      Please keep checking in and adding comments. And thanks again for reading.

  5. Anna Says:

    I’ve got to admit this episode doesn’t really ‘do it’ for me. I have no complaints about the charming scenes or Soul’s hilariously awesome acting, I’m just not interested. The set-up feels too…I don’t know. Too cute, I think. Too stodgy. Too un-street. I have a similar problem with a few other technically decent episodes that just kind of jar me when my mind abruptly reminds me of something, like how this episode is supposed to be taking place alongside grimy, harrowing episodes like Vendetta and The Specialist. I think maybe if these kinds of light-hearted, off-the-wall episodes were rarer, I’d appreciate them more.

    But the tag here is one of the most adorable tags in the entire show. Not only is the idea of Starsky trying to teach Hutch to dance – for absolutely no reason except that he’s having fun and wants Hutch to share because it’s second nature for them to always share their fun with each other – so charming that I dare anyone not to smile when they see it, but the whole scene is telling about their friendship: Starsky being enthusiastic about something, Hutch ridiculing him but secretly enjoying his enthusiasm, Starsky knowing that Hutch is just crabbing for fun, and Hutch knowing Starsky knows it, and Starsky surprising Hutch by unexpectedly but good-naturedly taking charge. And it takes such comfortableness in a friendship for Starsky and Hutch to have no macho issues with dancing with each other — Hutch only complains because he likes to complain, not because he thinks dancing with Starsky threatens his manhood or something.

  6. TEC4 Says:

    I have always loved this episode — especially the tag! Thanks for the memories and insight; I’ve been reading through your blog and will come back as time allows to read more.

    p.s. Much as I love the interplay and relationship between S&H, I can’t agree with the previous commenter who said that no one else on TV had the kind of chemistry they did. One of the reasons (IMHO, at least) the big-screen version of WWW didn’t work was the total lack of chemistry between Will Smith and Kevin Kline. When you consider how different Robert Conrad and Ross Martin were as people, their chemistry on screen was every bit as strong as David Soul’s and Paul Michael Glaser’s.

    • Spencer Says:

      So glad you brought up Robert Conrad and Ross Martin! I also agree that the team of RC/RM was a terrific precursor to DS/PMG partnership. Its sad that both the WWW and SH movies failed to recapture that wonderful chemistry.

    • Lisa Says:

      Yes, another of my favorite character teams and the first to hook me in. Precursors indeed! I think that in both movies, the people involved simply lacked understanding of what made WWW and SH so wonderful.

    • McPierogiPazza Says:

      Zach Braff and Donald Faison on “Scrubs” are another great male pair, though I’m a big fan of Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe on “Emerency!” There’s a depth to the onscreen friendship that shows up in lots of small ways, and as with S&H the high stakes professional partnership makes their friendship more significant. In both cases, these pairs are close friends in real life.

  7. stybz Says:

    I agree that the case was treated too light-heartedly. That said, I also enjoyed the characters Starsky and Hutch play in this episode.

    Do we know how hold Ted Tustin is? Granted Hutch’s Charlie is a younger guy vs the female victims in this scenario, but maybe Ted was older than we think.

    Marianne knew the intricacies of the operation prior to arriving at the dance party. Starsky and Hutch tell her at the morgue that Marsha may be involved in the blackmailing scheme, especially since Dobey tells Hutch his background was checked and says so right in front of Marianne.

    I think the mouse races might have been staged for Hutch’s benefit. There wasn’t a big crowd and everyone could have been friends of Starsky and Hutch who were willing to play along with the charade.

    As for why have the money exchange at the docks and not at the dance studio, having it out in the open allows for neutral ground and an opportunity for the police to surround them. Unfortunately, Hutch’s choice of a location wasn’t the best idea, but it worked out in the end.

    Not only does Chambers have Marianne’s phone number memorized, but so does Starsky. 🙂

    We hear the “Okay, Charlie” comment again from Hutch. Again I wonder what pop culture reference this is. I know Hutch was named Charlie, but that can’t be it. 🙂

    As to why Starger and the henchman believe they’ll be dumped, I think they’re concerned that Hutch really doesn’t know what he’s doing (thanks to Starsky questioning him and his not-quite-so-confident reply), or fake that he doesn’t. So if they don’t comply and Hutch drops them in, Hutch can always lie and say, “Well, it’s been a while since the farm. It was an accident.”

    I didn’t have a problem with Marianne kissing Starsky. They spent a lot of time together in this episode and she got to get close to him and dance with him too. She probably felt that if she got out of the whole thing alive that was the first thing she was going to do. Seize the day. 🙂

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thanks so much, stybz. I never thought of Mouse Downs being staged for the undercover operation and it tickles me to think of it. But we’ll have to agree to disagree on the kissing scene. The whole character of Marianne never sits right with me, and the kissing just emphasizes my notion that the writers had no idea what to do with this troubling character, an avenging sister who appears to have as much simmering rage inside her as her brother reportedly had, who actually gets into the same sort of trouble he did, and in the same way – by walking into a sexually-charged situation with the idea of outsmarting everyone. Same risky, narcissistic behavior, same terrible result. When she was released from that trunk she should have been spitting mad, embarrassed, her fantasy shamefully evaporated, not all swoony and grateful and acting all girly. But that’s the fun of critical analysis, our differing opinions only enlarge the scope of our subject.

      • stybz Says:

        I love the varying opinions in this blog. It makes discussing the episodes so much fun. 🙂 That’s why I like visiting and commenting. 🙂

        I do agree with your analysis about how inconsistent she was. I’m not a big fan of Veronica Hamel either, and I think they wrote this piece to showcase or introduce her as a fresh face on the scene. It’s the one thing that stands out for me about it. It’s just too glaring a showcase for her and it doesn’t work within the context of the episode.

        Marianne is a strong willed woman, though, which is a positive in some respects. She’s a bit ahead of her time, but that’s how Veronica approaches many of her characters. Had they written her a bit more consistently, then it might have worked. One constant other than her sticking with Starsky through most of the episode is that he’s the one offering comfort, squeezing her arm at least twice at the morgue. So that’s why I can accept the kiss, despite everything else. 🙂

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