David Banner of Incredible Hulk “Behind The Wheel”

 
For this TV Protaganists’ Cars post, we look at a protagonist that doesn’t even own a car. He knows how to drive, and he carries a licence (from out of state), but David Banner usually finds himself driving for somebody else, with someone else, or driving alone out of desperation. In the case of episode #7 of 1979 (3rd season), Behind The Wheel, Banner takes a job as a hack for the beleaguered Majestic Cab Co. They say Bill Bixby, who plays Banner on the show, was a pretty good magician, and he proves it in this episode with an amazing car trick that mimics his twice-a-show transformation into The Incredible Hulk. Before we get to The Great Car Trick of Episode #7 of Season 3, let’s set up the scenario.
 
 
 
Above is Colleen Jenkins, the manager of Majestic Cab Co. David doesn’t know it, but Majestic is being extorted by a local drug cartel. Colleen is somewhat dishonest in that she is not very forthcoming with her “situation” as she interviews the job-seeking intinerant.  She also has angina, which is quickly diagnosed by David (he’s a former medic, after all) as she has a minor stroke-like episode in his presence.  But she quickly takes one of those fast-acting little pills that people in TV often do when they are having heart trouble and recovers rapidly, so much so that she quickly gives our protaganist some encouraging words and manages to get him to accept the job as a cabbie.
 
Here might be a good time to consider the uncanny resemblance of Esther Rolle’s character to the pre-PC Aunt Jemima:
 
 
At first The IP likened Rolle’s role (sorry) in this episode as typical Hollywood stereotyping, like one of the parodies seen in Hollywood Shuffle; it smacked of racism.  But the actual situation was probably more complex if you read the bio of Rolle.  She demanded and got a lot of control over her characters.  Anyway, back to the episode.
 
Before he hits the road, David is first introduced to Majestic Cab’s mechanic, the amiable but dyslectic Eric; Eric can’t read a map.
 
 
You should recognize Eric because he is played by John Davis Candler, a TV and movie actor with a credit list longer than an average pithecanthrope’s arm. Candler looked like Steve Buscemi before there even was a Steve Buscemi.
 
While Eric doesn’t know north from south (this is made evident by Colleen in a little map reading challenge for Eric that leaves David incredulous that a person could have such cognitive and directional dysfunction), he does know his cars, and he and Colleen set David up with what she calls “The Flagship” of her fleet: Old 43, which is a 1974 AMC Matador.
 
 
The 1974 Matador is notable for its “coffin nose,” a stylistic feature that is often bemoaned by some car enthusiasts as “ugly.” But the same also makes it distinctive, so one can easily determine make, model, and year when consulting The Intar-Webs.
 
 
David’s first Cab run is fairly uneventful, although he does head back to the garage to wipe some egg off the windshield of Old 43; is this a harbinger of worse to come? Of course it is. This is the Incredible Hulk, after all.
 
As fate would have it, David’s first afternoon fare is a very pregnant woman who needs to go the hospital. And this is where it gets interesting. The underlying historical moment of this episode is the “oil crisis” of 1973-4, and Old 43 is running out of fuel while his fare is going into labor.
 
 
 
Because this is her first pregnancy and her contractions are 10-minutes apart, former medic Banner decides there is enough time to get some gas before they get on the expressway. But alas, there is no gas; the first station he finds is closed, and then, all of a sudden…
 
BAM!!
 
WTF? Old 43 is rammed from behind by a green, 1972 Chevrolet Bel Air driven by a dude in a sleazy purple nylon jacket. Doesn’t he know that there is a pregnant woman in the back of Banner’s cab? “People just get crazy behind the wheel!” our pregnant heroine declares after she recoils from the first impact.
 
BAM!!
 
The green Chevy again rams Old 43 and then pulls up along side it.
 

Soon it becomes a side-to-side battle as the ’74 Matador and ’72 Bel Air straddle the yellow center line on the road that runs next to the railroad track. This is just before The Great Car Trick of Episode #7 of Season 3. Everything looks believable right before the bad guy in the sleazy purple nylon jacket decides to force David and Old 43 to slide off their relatively straight trajectory. As soon as the next establishing shot is made of that dramatic move, however, we are shocked to see that Bixby has magically transformed Old 43 into a 1965 Dodge Coronet right before our eyes!

As Mike Lafontaine of Hi Class Management would say, “Wha Happened?” How does a car transform into another car in the midst of a chase? Perhaps the first AMC was trashed before the dramatic slide across the tracks and they had to make a quick substitute. “Ah, who’s gonna notice that?” Well, The IP noticed.
 
 

 

As Banner drives off to find another gas station with the strangely calm pregnant woman who is in labor (she tells David how her husband sanitized a camera to bring into the delivery room), a sidewalk-walking witness dude in a red T-shirt that has seen the Hulk-like transformation of Old 43 into another car is left incredulous.
 
 
The next gas station our stressed out hack comes to is corralled by a classic 1974 gas line with cars wrapped around the block.
 
 
This is a good place to note the director’s use of actual historic aerial footage of a gas line to emphasize the stressful historical moment in which our TV protagonist finds himself. Even before Banner turns into the cue, the writer and director introduce some “realistic” 1974 gas shortage dialogue and imagery:
 
 
MAN: Two hours I’m in this line!
 
OTHER MAN: You think that’s bad; I spent the night here!
 
YAPPING WOMAN: It’s a conspiracy I tell ya, a conspiracy! And don’t let the oil companies tell you different!
 
OTHER MAN: Will you quit your yappin’…move your car?
 
YAPPING WOMAN: All right, all right…But it’s still a conspiracy!
 

Now that the viewer understands the gravity of the situation, Bixby concludes his amazing trick by changing the car BACK into the 1974 model as he finally pulls into the pumping area at the swamped gas station. How’d he do that?
 
   
You can watch the whole episode here if you’re curious about how things turn out, but this series of posts is only about the cars, so it’s about to conclude.
 
Special thanks to MK for coming up with the ID for the magic ’65 Dodge. 
 
Visit this cool site if you want to see some great on-location IH production shots from a dude who worked with the crew.  The above episode’s director and Bixby’s stunt double, Frank Orsatti, is featured in several fotos.
 
NYT DVD Review of IH
 
 
Lou Ferrigno & Frank Orsatti

One Response to “David Banner of Incredible Hulk “Behind The Wheel””

  1. I guess they didn’t have “production values.”

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