Originally aired: March 25, 1981
In the early exploration of All Things Culp, I mined my way through YouTube. Back in 2008 there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff posted, a couple episodes of I Spy , one or two made for tv movies and various miscellaneous vids that I’ll cover in other posts. Amongst the miscellaneous stuff, however, was a vid that single handedly sold me on Bill Maxwell and The Greatest American Hero series. This vid is brilliant.
I was especially sold on Culp’s Bill Maxwell, the calcified, old school Fed who freaked out and took off in the pilot after the visit with the “green guys” and the bequeathing of the suit to Ralph. He returned, however, out of a sense of duty and curious to see what the fuss was all about. By the end of the pilot, he was becoming quite comfortable with the idea of this supersuit and with this first regular season episode, he was ready to run the whole show, much to Ralph’s chagrin. Honestly, if the pilot for The Greatest American Hero didn’t sell you on watching this show, The Hit Car should have. This is by far my favorite episode.
So what’s the fuss all about? Read on…
Starlet Wilde has agreed to testify against Johnny “The Dancer” Diamante, the biggest “dope dealing slug” that FBI agent Bill Maxwell has been trying to nail for 15 years. After another Fed attempts to drive Starlet to LA from San Francisco and is shot in the process, Bill decides to go to San Francisco and bring her down himself – with help from Ralph and the suit.
Ralph, meanwhile, is trying to organize his class to do a Shakespeare play which will get them some credits for English Lit (which nobody seems to particularly care about). During the first meeting for the play, unfortunately, Bill shows up, tells Ralph they have a flight to San Francisco at 7 o’clock and it was go time.
Ralph, indignant, protests, saying he can’t just up and leave not without having to tend to some stuff first, like finding a babysitter for his son, Kevin. Bill solves that problem quick and asks for the next one. Pam tries to slip out but Bill doesn’t let her, telling her plainly, “You’re in this.” He then explains to both Ralph and Pam about his 15 years trying to nail Johnny Diamante and makes it clear. “We’re gonna get this guy, Ralph. Finally.”
Pam doesn’t care to be a “third string utility man” and Ralph’s not happy about Bill just barging in and taking things over. “Bill, you cannot going around changing people’s lives to suit yourself!” he says. “Sure I can,” Bill replies.
Despite neither of them liking the situation, there’s a grudging agreement to go along with Bill. Ralph asks Pam to take over the rehearsals for the play and Ralph and Bill head out…where Bill finds his hubcaps in the front seat of his car courtesy of Ralph’s students.
In San Francisco they arrive at the dumpy hotel room where Starlet is hiding. Starlet is pleasantly surprised to see Ralph – which annoys Bill.
Once inside her room, she tells Bill that she refuses to fly, citing some astro chart mumbo jumbo. There’s some lively discussion about driving versus flying, killers being on their tail and the stars predicting the future. Starlet also turns the charm on Ralph, which did I mention really annoys Bill? “Okay, boys and girls, over here please. Let’s put a dimmer on the goo goo eyes and try n’ hold a thought. We have killers after us in the immediate vicinity.”
Well Startlet doesn’t think there’s anybody outside the hotel room and she goes over and pulls back the curtain which suddenly shatters in gunfire. Bill pushes Starlet down to the floor and out of the line of fire and then hollers for Ralph to get out there and stop the gunmen.
Ralph sputters and mutters but does his thing, jumping through the bathroom window and flying across the way, only to crash into the penthouse across the street from the hotel. He manages to make his way out the suite, down the stairs and through the lobby all the while people are staring and snickering at him. He commandeers a trench coat on his way out.
Back at Starlet’s hotel room, Ralph knocks at the door. He gives Bill the bad news about not getting the hit guys and proceeds to confuse poor Ms. Starlet, who can’t figure out how Ralph ended up outside, when the last she knew, he was in the bathroom. Neither Ralph, nor Bill make any attempt to explain and Bill quickly changes the subject, they need to rethink their scenario as it’s obvious the hit guys are on to them.
Starlet still refuses to fly. In fact, so does Ralph.
Bill, sick of them both, gives in to having to drive back to LA.
During the drive, Starlet is impressed by Ralph’s intellect as he’s sitting there reading Shakespeare. Bill, in turn, is simply amazed by her lack thereof…
Having driven for a while, and hearing enough of Starlet prattle on confusing The Taming of the Shrew with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? Bill decides they’re going to stop at an FBI safe house in Salinas for the night. Only Starlet refuses, telling him they can’t stop until Santa Barbara – her astro chart and all. She can’t sleep except by the water.
Bill’s livid. Not wanting to hear the arguing, Ralph makes a suggestion to Bill that Pam’s boss has a beach house in Santa Barbara. If Pam can borrow it, they can stop there. Starlet thinks it sounds wonderful. Bill’s irritated as all hell by this point but they stop and phone Pam.
Somehow, Pam manages to get use of the beach house (would have been interesting to have scene showing her trying to explain this to her boss) and is there waiting for the trio when they arrive. Bill praises her on getting the beach house but laments that there’s no food. There’s then some added animosity from Pam toward Starlet. A great cap off to an already wonderful evening.
The next morning they prepare to head out. Bill, starving by this point, is making due with stale dog biscuits that would “float in a tub of spit forever.” There’s a nice scene here between Bill and Pam where he at least acknowledges that Starlet’s been putting the moves on Ralph and tells Pam that she’s more than welcome to set the show girl straight, with what we today call a good bitch slapping. It’s hard to tell tho’ if Pam appreciates the gesture since it was presented in such a Neanderthal way.
While this is going on, Ralph’s in the bathroom, putting on his red jammies. He sees a holograph in the mirror of the two hit men outside the beach house. At the same time, Starlet’s pounding on the door to use the facilities. She eventually busts in, makes a little pass at Ralph who deflects it and heads out to tell Bill what he’s seen.
Bill gathers the troops and lays out the plan rapid fire. He takes no grief from either Pam or Ralph and tells them to do what he says. Pam sees that Starlet is down and away from the windows while Ralph does his thing with the suit. Bill, meanwhile, goes right out the front door – John Wayne style. He catches the attention of the hit guys and exchanges fire with them, taking a wound to his hand. Ralph gets the drop on the two hit men and tosses one head over heels in Bill’s direction. While Bill places that one under arrest, Ralph chases after the second hit man who tries to make his escape in another vehicle. Ralph catches him and Bill follows up to pick up the guy. By this point there’s sirens in the air and the heat is on. Bill tells Ralph to disappear, won’t let him take the car and can’t let him take the van. Ralph indignant once again, issues a warning to Bill that his patience is running pretty thin with this “partnership.” He then takes to the air and tries to fly, only to go dive bombing right into the ocean. The two hit men are completely stupefied by what they’ve witnessed. Bill advises them to forget what they saw but after their arrest they babble on and end up in a mental ward somewhere.
They make it to the courthouse in LA, but not without a new hit squad trying to nail Starlet. Bill takes a shot to the leg this time but Starlet is spared and is ushered inside where the grand jury is waiting. Bill calls the entire mission a success….until he finds out later from the District Attorney that Starlet took the 5th and refused to testify.
At this point, Ralph figures out there was a different scenario going on the whole time and he explains it to Bill. They weren’t trying to kill Starlet, they were trying to kill Bill. Bill doesn’t buy it at first until he thinks about for a minute and it makes sense.
As they drive away from the courthouse, Bill and Ralph both lament about their day of which neither one has much sympathy for the other. Bill then makes an excuse about stopping for some cigars and he pulls up to a little Italian restaurant where, inside, Johnny Diamante is complaining about his day too. “The only thing that’s worked out in the last 24 hours is this tuxedo,” Johnny says to his henchman, Mike, “and if I didn’t look so good in this thing I’d smack you right in the mouth!” If Johnny thought his day was going bad it got worse, when Bill comes walking in with a cheerful rendition of “The Gang’s All Here” and walks (limps) up to Johnny’s booth, pulling a gun.
A tense moment passes before Bill takes hold of Johnny’s plate of spaghetti and dumps in right on Johnny’s lap. He not only just dumps it, he pushes the plate right into Johnny’s gut and then lets it slide down to the floor.
Bill doesn’t stop there. He then takes Johnny’s glass of wine and carefully pours that into his lap too all the while seeing out of the corner of his eye as Mike tries to move for a gun and Bill simply tells him to freeze.
In parting, Bill asks for Johnny to say hello to all the pretty people at the Grammy’s…
Knowing full well he’s angered Johnny, Bill returns to the car and asks Ralph to drive. Johnny and Mike follow in a truck that has the Hit Car in it. Once again, the conversation between Ralph and Bill is a bit one sided with Ralph prattling on about how they need to communicate better if this partnership is going to work. All Bill is concerned with is that Johnny is following them.
They arrive at the school, which Bill figures will work good for his scenario – the place is supposed to be empty. Only it’s not. Ralph has a dress rehearsal scheduled which sends Bill into code red mode and he tells everyone to get down just as Johnny opens fire through the doorway from the Hit Car.
The shootout underway, Bill faces down the Hit Car (and runs from it) while Ralph struggles with the change of outfits. Finally, Ralph gets his act together and flies in under the Hit Car. He tips the Hit Car on its side effectively trapping Johnny and Mike.
Upon seeing Ralph, Johnny realizes his hit guys weren’t kidding when they said a “supah guy” broke up the hit. Bill gives Johnny the same advice he gave the hit men: You didn’t see any of this. It didn’t happen. Johnny has no problem with that.
For all his bluster about Ralph’s students and sometimes Ralph, Bill shows up at the opening night of the kids play. He tells Ralph that he wasn’t there as any show of support, however. He just likes Shakespeare….
…and to listen to the baseball game on his transistor radio.
Great interactions between the characters (and conflict), great plot twist and nice use of a 1966 Dodge Charger (I’m a car nut). The scene where Bill dumps the pasta on Johnny’s lap is classic. In fact, I loved this episode so much I played around with the footage and created a couple of “trailers” for the ep (kinda like a movie trailer). Here’s one of them…
The Greatest American Hero – Season One is available at Amazon.com, either as a download or you can purchase the DVD set. You can also download the Hit Car episode itself through Amazon for about the price of a cup of coffee!