Sony // 1977 // 1130 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // March 16th, 2005
"Starsk, would you consider that a man who spends 75% of his time with
another man has certain...tendencies?"
-- Hutch, putting things in perspective by pointing out how much time he and Starsky spend together, after discussing Starsky's uncomfortable feelings about homosexuality
Starsky & Hutch was based on an idea by William Blinn to create a cop show that is shot exclusively at night. It was to have a hard-edged, film noir feeling to it, and the two wisecracking cops in the lead were best friends as well as partners. Although the show moved away from its nighttime roots early in the first season, the hard edge remained, and the characters of Starsky and Hutch still carried most of the burden of success or failure of the show. The unique bond between the two made them closer than close; these guys were more than just brothers, they were soul mates, so perfectly matched that they seemed to read each other's minds. You know that if one of them is in trouble, the other won't be far behind. Writers who knew how to cater to this relationship usually created strong stories that were fan favorites, and the buddy cops became the primary draw for fans.
Detective Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Detective Ken Hutchinson (David Soul) police their turf in Bay City (a hybrid of San Francisco and Los Angeles) and fight crime. Whether undercover as high rollers from out of town or busting a ring of devil worshippers, the two cops rely on each other to wipe the scum off the streets. Their backup and support is Captain Dobey (Bernie Hamilton), who is known for his short temper (and his paunch) but is fair and honest in his administration of the precinct. When they need the word on the streets, they turn to Huggy Bear (Anthony Fargas), a go-getting opportunist who has his fingers in almost every pie in town, and isn't above trading what he knows for the cops to turn a blind eye to his dealings.
The five discs in this Season Three boxed set include 23 episodes:
* Murder on Voodoo Island, Part 1
* Murder on Voodoo Island, Part 2
* Fatal Charm
* I Love You, Rosey Malone
* Murder Ward
* Death in a Different Place
* The Crying Child
* The Heroes
* The Plague, Part 1
* The Plague, Part 2
* The Collector
* Manchild on the Streets
* The Action
* The Heavyweight
* A Body Worth Guarding
* The Trap
* Satan's Witches
* Class in Crime
* Hutchinson: Murder One
* Foxy Lady
Of these, a few stand out from the pack:
* I Love You, Rosey Malone
Starsky meets an attractive girl on the jogging path, and it's love at first sight. Unfortunately, it turns out that she is the daughter of a crime boss, and Vice is now breathing down his neck. Starsky must exploit their attraction to get close to her and get inside information, but he ends up falling in love with her and has to decide where his loyalties are.
Grade: B. I can't resist romances, especially ones fraught with moral dilemmas. As usual, Starsky does the right thing.
* Death in a Different Place
When Starsky finds an old family friend and police lieutenant murdered in a seedy hotel he learns that he was a homosexual and had been hiding a secret life from his wife and friends. Starsky is determined to find his killer, but he must deal with his feelings about homosexuality and his friend's closeted life.
Grade: A. This was a gritty, streetwise story and a startlingly candid look at gay issues for a 1970s television show. Charles Pierce, a popular gay entertainer in real life, guests as a female impersonator in a gay nightclub that the lieutenant in the story frequents, and Starsky discusses his apprehension at discovering that his friend was gay but covering it up with a wife and family. Rather than portraying the gay scene as a hotbed of crime and perversion, the episode portrays the nightclub regulars as being just as much victims as anyone else in the story, and an openly gay politician chastises Starsky for being part of the reason that men like the lieutenant stay in the closet in the first place.
* The Plague, Parts 1 and 2
In this two-parter, Starsky and Hutch meet a colleague returning from Europe at the airport. In a minor scuffle with a thief, the colleague is wounded when a fellow passenger scratches him accidentally. Within a few days, he is dead from a mysterious illness and the CDC is called in to investigate. When more cases are reported and Hutch is diagnosed with the infection himself, the city is put on alert and Starsky must track down Patient Zero, the other passenger from the same flight.
Grade: A+. I really liked this one -- it was a very human story. Patient Zero is an assassin who comes to town for a job and takes a room at a boarding house. There, he bonds with the son of the proprietor, who nurses him through his illness. He doesn't die from the plague, but he infects the young boy, and he must come out of hiding if he is to save the boy's life. When Hutch gets ill it complicates things and separates him from his partner, who has even more incentive to find a cure. This was a tightly written, suspenseful story that kept me on the edge of my seat for two hours.
* Hutchinson: Murder One
Hutch is the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, who appears out of the blue and is found dead in Hutch's apartment, apparently from a bullet out of his own gun. Starsky must clear his name.
Grade: B+. Episodes in which one of the partners is in trouble are always good opportunities for suspense and action, as the other is usually working against the clock to find a solution or get his partner out of trouble, and this episode is no exception. The fact that the murder victim is Hutch's ex-wife also lends a personal angle to this story, which amps up the drama. A well-rounded murder mystery.
Starsky & Hutch has a golden formula: keep the detectives on the streets of Bay City where they can hunt down bad guys, make the action fast and furious, and don't forget to inject some humor into all but the grimmest of situations. Straying from this formula usually results in trouble and ruins the chemistry between the two leads, which is one of the reasons Starsky & Hutch stands out from the average cop drama in the first place. It only works when the two partners know that they are on their own in a wilderness -- they get the occasional assist from Captain Dobey or Huggy Bear, but when it comes down to the wire, they can only count on each other. Thus, take them out of Bay City and you ruin the core appeal of the show by making them strangers in a strange land, dependent on the locals and at the mercy of criminals who know the turf better than they do.
Fortunately, there are only a couple of missteps like this in Season Three, notably the two-part season opener "Murder on Voodoo Island." Starsky and Hutch go undercover to a resort on a remote island (called "Playboy Island," and although it has no official connection to the magazine empire, it does feature several lovely ladies in skimpy outfits) in order to locate and observe the reclusive billionaire proprietor and see if he is being set up for a takeover by a prominent crime boss. Huggy is there, because he has relatives on the island, and a voodoo witch doctor is trying to kill Starsky & Hutch. It's not a bad two-parter, per se, but it does nothing with the chemistry between the two and comes off as a generic cop show thriller. To a lesser extent, "The Collector" is also a formula-buster, with two guest roles that completely overshadow the detective duo: Robert Viharo as an unstable con man who is looking to steal the money stash of a loan shark, played by Susan Tyrrell. Viharo, as a smooth Irish assassin, and Tyrrell, as a has-been child actress now in her adult years and suffering from acrophobia, completely steal the show with their creepy, intense performances.
The early-season weakness may be due to the last-minute return of Paul Michael Glaser, who wanted to get out of his contract after Season Two wrapped in order to pursue other projects. He was going to be replaced with a female detective (to be played by Roz Kelly, who does appear in character for "Fatal Charm"), but his change of heart signaled a return to business as usual for the duo. Needless to say, the show probably would not have survived without the unbeatable team of Soul and Glaser in the title roles, with their unique take on the buddy-cop relationship.
Although Starsky and Hutch are at their best when they are cleaning the scum off their streets together, several episodes in Season Three demonstrate that they can break out of the normal routine without killing the magic: They go undercover in "The Action," but they stay in Bay City and pose as out-of-town high rollers in order to bust up an illegal gambling ring. Hutch ends up the victim of a deadly virus in the excellent two-part "The Plague" toward mid-season, proving that the duo can be separated and under the gun without destroying their chemistry. In fact, this episode produces one of the most moving scenes of the entire season, when a distraught Starsky is forced to observe the fevered and miserable Hutch through the window of his isolation ward, unable to comfort him directly, and borrows the lipstick of a female doctor to write "STARSK" backwards on the window, so Hutch will see it when he wakes up and know that Starsky is still working on it. Soul and Glaser even get a chance to stretch a bit, with a Laurel and Hardy routine in "The Crying Child" -- not nearly as painful as the street performer undercover bit in Season Two (a completely out-of-character mime performance), and actually relevant to the plot because they appear at an elementary school in costume to participate in a school play, which puts them on scene for a teacher to report a suspected case of child abuse.
Most of the episodes in Season Three are divided neatly between cases involving personal conflicts and those that focus on social issues. The personal storylines tend to be thrillers in nature, such as "The Plague," which is a race-against-the-clock suspense story very similar to the Season One "A Coffin For Starsky" (in which Starsky is injected with a deadly poison and Hutch had to find his killer or an antidote within 24 hours). Later in the season, "Hutchinson: Murder One" finds Hutch as the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, and Starsky must clear his name. Other episodes reflect a host of social issues, ranging from romantic obsession ("Fatal Charm," in which a nurse fixates on Hutch), homosexuality in the workplace ("Death in a Different Place"), child abuse ("The Crying Child"), and even satanic worship ("Satan's Witches," where Starsky & Hutch attempt to vacation in Captain Dobey's cabin but are pulled into a local conflict involving devil worshippers). While obviously a comment on the times, these shows are rarely heavy-handed in their moralizing and stay true to the streetwise, buddy-cop formula that makes the show work.
One of the few episodes that doesn't take place on the streets this season is a flashback story called "Partners," in which Hutch is hospitalized after Starsky's reckless driving runs them off the road and Starsky must tell him about their past in order to bring back his memory. Normally, these types of episodes are done late in the season to save money and are usually tedious and obvious, but this one is done surprisingly well, with typical Starsky and Hutch humor (including a charming twist ending), and flashbacks to some of their best shows. It's like a walk down memory lane, and reason for fans to pull out their first- and second-season boxed sets.
In general, Season Three is very good, with solid writing and suspenseful episodes, but this season is weaker overall when it comes to the chemistry between Starsky and Hutch. It has moments, such as the backwards-writing note to Hutch in "The Plague," and a funny moment in "Death in a Different Place": Hutch tells Starsky that they spend more time together than he spends with women, "And you're not even a good kisser!" -- upon which Starsky takes a beat and replies, "How do you know?" Mostly, though, the writers play it safe, and in this respect Season Two was probably the apex of good writing for good Starsky and Hutch moments; this is also a big part of the reason why Season Three gets a mixed review from fans of the show.
This boxed set doesn't sport much in the way of extras, unless you count several Sony previews. However, as with the Season Two boxed set, the image and sound quality is pretty good for a mid-seventies series. The transfer has good color depth, even if the overall image is slightly washed out. Fortunately, the series still retains good light and shadow levels and doesn't suffer from over-brightness or over-darkness. Sound quality is also pretty clear (only a little bit of hiss at higher volume) and sounds good in the front-channel stereo separation. Most of the problems with the soundtrack sounding muffled or too quiet have to do with the source recording. The set is packaged with the familiar red and white colors found on Starsky's Gran Torino, includes a convenient episode summary booklet, and matches the style of the Season One and Two sets.
One surprise in this box set was the lack of subtitles or alternate language tracks -- there is only a mono English soundtrack that has been piped into stereo for this release. Subtitles would have been nice to make this series more accessible to foreign-language audiences.
Another great boxed set from Sony, and more adventures of Starsky and Hutch -- what more could you ask for? With a focus on street stories and social issues, Season Three is a little light on Starsky and Hutch chemistry, but the unique buddy cop humor is still there, making this a solidly entertaining season.
Aw, these guys are free to go -- who are we kidding?
Review content copyright © 2005 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1130 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sony Previews
* Episode Summary Case Insert
* David Soul's Official Site
* Paul Michael Glaser's Official Site