The Streets of San Francisco - Pilot Episode Review

The Streets of San Francisco —
Pilot Episode Review

Copyright 2017 by Mike Quigley. No reproduction of any kind without permission.
Episodes without music credits use stock music.
Special Guest Stars are indicated with an asterisk (*).

WARNING: The following contains spoilers and the plots are given away!




★★★★ = One of the very best episodes, a must-see.
★★★ = Better than average, worthy of attention.
★★ = Average, perhaps with a few moments of interest.
= Below average, an episode to avoid.

Pilot Episode ★★★
Original air date: September 16, 1972
Director: Walter Grauman; Writer: Edward Hume; Music: Patrick Williams
Guest Stars: Robert Wagner, Andrew Duggan, Tom Bosley, John Rubinstein, Carmen Mathews, Edward Andrews, Lawrence Dobkin, Kim Darby (special appearance)
"Buddy Boy" count: 3

Holly Jean Berry (Kim Darby) is found floating near the shore of San Francisco Bay by a jogger. When Lieutenant Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and his partner Inspector Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) arrive, there are signs of drug use on her arm and the laminated business card of corporate lawyer David J. Farr on a chain around her neck.

When they contact Farr (Robert Wagner), he is hesitant to talk to them, but comes to headquarters in his yellow Jaguar XKE. Farr identifies Holly's body in the morgue. He says he barely knew her and bailed her out when marijuana was found on her at a hospital after she had a car accident several days ago. When asked about other relatives, Farr says she had come from Tennessee with her brother Delbert (Brad David) and mentions something about an uncle. Her brother was connected with some halfway house, likely because he had some problems with drugs. After Farr leaves, Keller tells Stone that the lawyer is hiding something, but Stone reminds his new partner that without a case, they don't have any suspects.

Stone talks to A.R. Malone (Andrew Duggan), Chief of Detectives, who says the town is becoming "a butcher shop." One prominent unsolved case in the news has to do with the mutilation and murder of six-year-old Joel Ramsey. Malone puts Stone in charge of this case in addition to that of Holly.

Keller searches for Del, Holly's brother, who worked at a gas station run by the halfway house, which he left two weeks ago. The Medical Examiner (Bill Quinn) says Holly was about 20 and hadn't been in the water more than 12 hours. She didn't drown, but died from a blow to the carotid artery. The autopsy is scheduled for that afternoon. The M.E. suggests that her death was a homicide.

Stone and Keller go to Holly's rooming house where Tom Bosley is Saretti, the landlord. His wife (Naomi Stevens) is noisy. Holly hasn't been there for more than a week. Her uncle, who said he was from out of state, visited three or four times, but she was never there. The uncle was more interested in finding Holly's brother.

Stone and Keller don't find anything particularly significant in Holly's room, other than a postcard mailed locally from her brother and a strip of pictures from a photo booth. A friend of Holly's who told Saretti about her accident, then opened her room with her keys and took some of her clothes is determined to be Farr.

As Farr is driving, he has a flashback when he stops near the house where he met Holly. He was there at a party for some rich types where a rock group called Lindy's Rock Bottom was playing, including Holly's brother on guitar. Farr was attracted to Holly, and the two of them walked alone outside the house away from the party and talked. He gave her his business card.

Stone and Keller go to visit Farr at his apartment, showing him the card which was found on Holly's body. They tell him that it is likely Holly was murdered and relate what they learned from Saretti. Farr says after he bailed out Holly, he took her to the Plantation Motel on Webster Street because she was afraid to go home after the car accident, suspecting that someone was trying to kill her: "She claimed that some man in a big black sedan tried running her off that freeway ramp ... that someone was after her. It had to do with something her brother saw in the trunk of someone's car." After getting her clothes from Saretti's, Farr returned to the motel and left them there; he never saw Holly again.

At the motel, the two cops find out from the desk clerk (Lou Frizzell) that Holly had checked into room 3-C and that when he was fixing the TV in 4-C, there was an "awful racket" coming from the room next door.

A Spanish-speaking woman named Ramirez comes to the station house to tell the police that she saw Joel Ramsey getting into a black sedan over two weeks ago with a man who had a full dark beard and bushy eyebrows. She also recognized Joel's red cowboy boots. Malone tells Stone to leak the information about the man to the press: "They milked the boot [one of which the police previously found], now let them chew on the beard."

At the gas station where Holly's brother Del used to work, Stone and Keller talk to a mechanic who says that Del left in a hurry. He suspects that Del was back on drugs again and says that Del's uncle was "bugging him [the mechanic]," especially after Del left, describing the uncle as "a creep" who had a bushy moustache and a felt hat.

The two cops then go to talk to Farr's neighbor Larry Pyle (William Swan). Shown a picture of Holly, he describes her as one of Farr's "weekend tricks," saying "Every time I opened my door, she was either coming or going."

Stone meets Farr in the garage of his office building. Farr is annoyed, accusing Stone of intimidation and harassment, but Stone says, "You're involved whether you like it or not."

After this confrontation, Farr has another flashback to when Holly came to his apartment building on her own after the party. The two of them engaged in some smooching, and he invited her into his apartment, where they very likely "did it." After breakfast the next morning, Farr invited her to go sailing on his boat, but she declined, saying she had a "morbid fear of the water." Later, wearing only Farr's trench coat, Holly went outside to put money in the parking meter where her car (a Volkswagen) was parked. When she came back, Farr told her "one more trip like that, and I'll have the vice squad up here." She didn't want to take her car home because she was afraid that "somebody might wire it with a bomb." Instead, they went to an open-air market where Holly took the pictures in the photo booth and she laminated Farr's business card.

Having heard from Pyle that Farr has a green belt in karate, Keller goes to the Kenji Karate Studio. Kenji (Mako) thinks that Keller has come regarding Farr's keys, which were lost there the previous Thursday, including those for Farr's boat. But Keller wants to know how long Farr has been a student (six months).

Back at headquarters, the medical examiner confirms that Holly's death was a homicide. Her hands had been bound with adhesive tape, and all the hair was gone from her wrists. "The blow behind her ear finished her, but not before someone really worked her over."

Back at Kenji's studio that evening, Keller and Stone watch Farr break a board with his bare hands. They update Farr on how Holly died, with the implication that it was because he killed her. Later, Farr phones Stone and tells him he is getting fed up. He offers to track down Holly's brother in order to clear himself.

Keller and Stone go to the marina where Farr's yacht is moored. They talk to his neighbors, Joe and Sally Caswell (Edward Andrews and Carmen Mathews) who live on their boat. They say the day before yesterday there was suspicious activity -- a man who they think was Farr and a girl who were "sure bombed on something" took the boat out in a big hurry around 10:00 at night.

Farr goes to the Grass Roots club where Del's rock group performs. Del is not there, according to Lindy (John Rubinstein), the drummer. "He's not seeing anybody, he's very strung out." Farr tells Lindy to get Del to come to the club tomorrow night. Lindy says, "You got bread, maybe he'll show."

The next day, Farr goes to the marina and opens up the door to his yacht. He looks inside and sees something disturbing, but whatever this is, is not shown. He leaves in a hurry, but Caswell looks and then tips off Stone and Keller, who get there quickly. Inside the cabin, which is a mess, are fixings for injecting drugs. Some guy, perhaps the manager of the marina, talks to Stone and says that a "friend" of Farr's came to look at the boat, which he heard was for sale. This guy, who had a moustache, sounds similar to the mysterious uncle. Bosley earlier had said that someone bearing the uncle's description had visited Holly's place and took a postcard that was addressed to her from a pile of mail. This individual was driving a black car.

Forensics determine that fingerprints from both Holly and Farr were all over the boat, and Holly's belt, which was missing when she was found at the beginning of the show, was there as well. Considering what they have learned recently, Keller is all for arresting Farr, but Stone is not so sure. Stone goes to Kenji's, where Farr visited a couple of hours previously, saying that he didn't lose his keys there, but they were stolen. Kenji reports that an "observer" was there the evening this happened. Keller talks to the mechanic at the garage, who says that the uncle stopped coming to bother him after he gave the guy Del's sister's address.

Farr goes to the Grass Roots again, but Del still hasn't shown up. Farr persuades Lindy to take him to where Del is. They are followed by a black car. They arrive at the old ice house at Samson and Lombard. Farr pays off Lindy, who splits.

Del is totally wasted on junk. Farr wants to know what was in the car that is so interesting. Del says the uncle was in need of a new set of tires, so he took the keys from the car and opened the trunk and saw something (he doesn't say what). Del tells Farr that with the money he was going to get from what he saw, he and his sister could return to Tennessee and "them local dudes are gonna pop their gourds." Farr yells at Del that Holly is dead and asks who is this guy who might pay him to not talk about what he saw. He tells Del "Now you and me -- we're both in trouble." Farr asks Del for the uncle's name again, Del holds up a TV Guide-like magazine and says "Maybe it's in there," and throws the magazine across the room.

Farr leaves and places a call to Stone at his office, which Keller takes. Farr tells Keller exactly where he is, and Keller warns him that the uncle may be following him and could be dangerous. Farr says "The name of the game was blackmail. But the game backfired."

Meanwhile, the uncle shows up where Del is. Dell offers him the money Farr gave him, but the uncle kills Del with a single blow. The uncle follows Farr to his car and knocks him out. He puts the out-cold Farr in Farr's car and they leave just as the cops show up.

In Del's pocket, Keller finds a credit card receipt from the gas station for Gregory Praxis, who is the uncle (played by Lawrence Dobkin). Stone finds the TV Guide magazine and pockets it. The medical examiner tells Stone that Del died of a ruptured carotid artery, just like his sister.

After Stone goes home later, he has an "AHA" moment when he realizes his own TV Guide-like magazine is the same as the one he took from the crime scene. He compares the two for a torn out section, which is for a 1957 bogus movie called Angel of Death described as follows: "Diamond hunters encounter a jungle tribe who worship a strange and powerful white man they believe to be the indestructible Angel of Death starring Gregory Praxas."

At Praxas' place, the actor has taken Farr to a "chamber of horrors" in his basement, complete with torches, a scythe and a skeleton like one which perhaps might seen in Angel of Death. Farr is tied up and his mouth is taped.

Stone returns to the station and gets one of the cops there to get Praxas' DMV information from Sacramento and a picture of Praxas soon electronically arrives. The next morning, Stone picks up Keller and they go to Praxas' place. Praxas says he doesn't know anything about Del or the significance of the credit card receipt. Farr manages to move around and make some noise, which takes Praxas away for a few minutes, but when the actor returns, he shows Stone and Keller to the gate. Just as he is about to say goodbye, and is giving them a bunch of lies to establish his alibi for the night before, he says that he went to a city on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge to hang out at some property he owns. But it was all over the news that there was a huge pileup on the bridge at the time he would have gone there, and no one was allowed through.

The jig is up for Praxas, and both Stone and Keller storm his place. Keller is knocked out, but Stone shoots his way into the basement. Praxas approaches Stone with the scythe, saying words to the effect that he is invincible, but Stone shoots him dead.

Malone and other cops soon arrive as Farr, who is OK, is taken away in an ambulance and a large box is located in Praxas' house which holds a hat from Joel Ramsey and a lot of other evidence which Malone says "contains half the unsolved murders in San Francisco County. Stone picks out a locket from Holly with a picture of her and her brother with the words "California or Bust."

As they leave, Stone points out several mannequin heads to Malone with beards and moustaches which Praxas applied with makeup before his crimes. Stone says that Del was the first person to identify Praxas as the killer of Joel Ramsey, which is why Del and Holly had to die, and someone else had to be framed for the crime.

Malone asks "How did Del identify Praxas?" At the police impound yard later, Stone opens up Praxas' car trunk, which reveals Joel Ramsay's second red boot, which Del saw there.

The shows closes in Farr's hospital room. Keller apologizes for misjudging him. Farr says he didn't -- he could have saved Holly's life. Keller says "That's what I felt. Even though I knew you hadn't killed her, I couldn't forgive you for abandoning her at that motel." Farr says, "Yeah, well, I can't forgive myself." Stone says, "Come on, let's get off of this forgiving business." He gives Farr the strip of pictures that Holly took in the photo booth and he and Keller leave.


The characters and story for this pilot are based on the 1972 novel Poor, Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston. The teleplay was by Edward Hume, whose name appears on the end credits of every episode as having "developed [the show] for television" based on this book (which gets a full-screen credit in every episode). Hume appears to have never actually written any scripts for the show other than the pilot. He is credited primarily as a "developer" or "creator" at IMDb for other shows like Toma, Cannon and Barnaby Jones. Interestingly, he wrote the screenplay for two 1983 TV movies, The Day After, about a nuclear holocaust, and The Terry Fox Story, a dramatization of the story of the one-legged Canadian athlete who attempted unsuccessfully to run across the country to raise money for cancer research.

The book is set in Santa Monica, not San Francisco, and the two lead characters are veteran cop Al Krug (the Karl Malden character) and college-educated Casey Kellog (the Michael Douglas character). Farr, Holly and Delbert all have the same names, but Praxas is called Hubb Payley. Farr's next-door neighbor is gay and lives with some other guy. The dialog in much of the show is taken exactly from the novel. There were two more books in the original series by Weston with the same two lead characters, and more recently (2015) an "updated" book by Robin Burcell has transplanted them to San Francisco.

The pilot has very high production values in its photography and music and the acting is also very fine. The end, however, gets totally nutty with the cult movie actor Praxas -- who has already exhibited "all powerful/all encompassing" characteristics -- kidnapping Farr and holding him in the basement of his house. The ending is almost as if screenplay writer Hume wanted to suddenly switch the emphasis to "weird San Francisco," which included organizations like the Church of Satan and its founder Anton LaVey, as well as other cult types like Charles Manson, who established himself as a guru in the city's signature hippie locale Haight-Ashbury in the late 60's. (Considering San Francisco's reputation for cults and hippies as well what Wikipedia describes as "one of the largest and most prominent LGBT communities in the world," it is interesting how few shows actually deal with these subjects.)

There is something else that bothered me, though, which has to do with the background of how Holly's brother Del got involved with Praxas.

The TV pilot does sort of explain what happened, but you have to think backwards from things that happen at the very end of the show. When they open the box containing the trophies which Praxas took from his victims, they find a red hat, for example. There has been nothing said up to this point about this hat, which is connected with Joel Ramsey, the murdered kid. Joel was wearing a cowboy outfit, but this red hat in the trunk doesn't look anything like a cowboy hat; in fact, it looks more like a hat that Holly might have worn.

In the novel, they find Joel's red boot in the trunk. In the pilot, the boot, which matches the one we see Malone holding earlier in the show, is later found in the trunk of Praxas' Dodge which he abandoned near the ice house where Del was killed and was later towed to the police impound lot.

Praxas had originally brought his car to the gas station where Del was working for some gas, but Del, noticing that its tires weren't in the best of shape, wanted to sell Praxas a new set of tires. To check the spare tire, Del took the car key and opened up the trunk where he saw one of Joel's red boots. Later, after Del read about the boot which the police had mentioned to the press as a "clue" to stir up interest in the case, Del put two and two together. Then he got the credit card receipt which Praxas had signed for the gas and tracked him down and attempted to blackmail him. This whole business is not covered that well in the novel either, where Del keeps dithering about really telling Farr what happened, but it is easier to figure out than the pilot where the hat in the trunk is just a distraction.

There are also questions about the casting of Kim Darby in the role of Holly. At this stage of her career, Darby was another of those Michael J. Fox-like actors playing roles much younger than her actual age. There was a 17 year age difference between the actors playing Farr and Holly, Robert Wagner and her. (She is actually older than I am!) Darby's most famous role was in the 1969 John Wayne film True Grit, where she played a 14-year-old when she was 21. In this pilot episode, she looks creepily young. Even Farr comments to the effect that she is jail bait. I can't think of another actress who might have been more convincing in taking this "flower child" role. Maybe screenwriter Hume should have made Holly Del's older sister? I don't know...