Posts Tagged ‘columbo’

Preface: OK, this was fairly inevitable, wasn’t it? As I was preparing last week’s final ‘tv themes’ post, I knew I’d need a new Ten Things post for this week, and I received quite a few ‘but how could you miss out…?’ Comments after I did my first Columbo Ten Things.

As I said last time, though, there are so many good, so many bloody good, episodes to choose from, that throwing ten darts at a list of the almost 70 Columbo episodes produced? You’re gonna hit 8 or 9 good ones and 3 or four that would make most people’s lists.

As with last time, I’m going to limit it to two of each in the entirely arbitrary categories I’ve chosen to use. So, two [more] clever murders, two [more]wonderful baddies, two [more] lovely relationship pieces, two [more] ‘lightbulb moments’ and two [more] reveals.

Again, as before, however, I’m going to inevitably neglect some wonderful episodes, maybe your favourite. Sorry.

I’ll stick the previous entry’s pics in italics under the category title, just in case you’re reading this post first and wondering why the hell I missed out the obvious – to you – episode.

WARNING: Many, many, MANY spoilers below. If you don’t want to see them, best look away now.

And the usual Ten Things reminder… they’re not the objectively considered best, nor necessarily personal favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)

OK, preface over, blog begins.


 

*** TWO [MORE] CLEVER MURDERS
[Earlier post: Publish Or Perish and Short Fuse]

How To Dial A Murder (1978)
When the question comes up, as it often does, who would you cast as a baddie in Columbo, I’m not entirely sure what whoever-suggested-Nicol-Williamson was drinking, but it was a mark of genius. Williamson excels in the role, while seemingly effortlessly not actually taking it too seriously. I’m sure he did, by the way, but he’s not exactly perfectly suited for the show. What he is perfectly suited for, however, is the type of murder that his character – Eric Mason – commits: murder at a distance, while Mason remains entirely secure and safe elsewhere.

The sheer… satisfaction as he hears the murder being committed is odd to watch, to be honest.; he’s trained his dogs to attack on hearing a word that Mason manipulates his victim into saying. But again, it fits the character perfectly.

What’s ‘nice’ about this episode, apart from the murder and the reveal (although I’m not as big a fan of it as others seem to be, and the ‘eureka moment’ is a bit too coincidental for me) is how much Columbo and Mason just plain dislike each other as people. Columbo’s faux ‘just trying to find out what happened’ attitude rankles Mason more than usual and once Columbo realises that, he seems, very subtly, to increase the edginess of it.


 
 

Double Exposure (1973)
I go back and forth on how much this episode has dated. Honestly. One day I’ll think it’s too obvious, given what we now know about subliminal triggers, and yet another I’ll be convinced it could still work as a murder mystery if the trigger was more cleverly hidden, more up to date. I dunno.

What I do know is that Robert Culp excels – as he always did – in the roles of baddie. There’s an inherent arrogance in all of Culp’s baddies in the show that fairly invites Columbo to puncture it. Never pompous in the way that Shatner’s were, never quietly confident as others were. It’s sheer, unfettered, arrogance. He knows he’s smarter than Columbo; hell, he knows he’s probably the smartest person in any room into which he walks. And that definitely applies here to Dr Bart Keppel, a master of motivational research.

The very idea that he could be outsmarted doesn’t even occur to Keppel.

I’m not sure how novel the ‘I’ll step out of the way of the projector so you can enjoy the pictures [and I’ll switch to a tape so no one knows I’m off murdering someone]” was at the time, but I’ve seen it done any number of times since. But how it’s done is clever. As is the murder itself, which is equal parts simplicity and elegance; brutally simple, elegantly executed. While helming a presentation, Culp’s character shows a video into which is cut subliminal shots of cool drinks aimed at his victim, and shots telling the shortly-to-be-victim how thirsty he is. This after he’s fed him salty caviar. At the same time, the room is warmed.

The victim steps out (in the dark so no one’s sure he’s left at first) to get a drink… and is shot by Culp, who everyone else there will swear blind was narrating the video presentation at the time. Nicely done, Dr Keppel.


 

 
 
** TWO [MORE] WONDERFUL BADDIES
[Earlier post: Dr Ray Flemming – Prescription: Murder and Wade Anders – Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health]

Note that I’m saving the ‘wonderful baddies because they’re fun to watch with Columbo’ for a moment’s time. These two are just out and out wonderfully evil.

I tried to resist doing what I’m about to do, but couldn’t… as I kept coming back to these two characters. Again and again.

The Great Santini – Now You See Him (1976)
Someone once described Santini as “the nazi you’ll enjoy watching’ and I kind of get what they mean. Yeah, he’s a nazi SS guard who escaped after the war, got to America and set himself up as a stage magician… who becomes very very famous. the owner of the club knows it and blackmails Santini who greets a demand for more money with delight, as you can imagine. In fairly quick order, he uses a few magic tricks (including one that utterly fascinated me as a kid when I saw it) to kill the club opener while everyone in the audience is convinced that Santini is suspended inside a locked glass tank filled with water, trying to, y’know, escape from said locked glass tank filled with water.

Santini commits the murder, then ‘escapes’ and is on stage at the moment the body is discovered.

Santini takes an obvious dislike to Columbo, apparently semi-convinced that the cop is just there to steal secrets… and Santini values secrets. Any and all secrets… alibi? Well, obviously I was on stage. “But it’s a trick.” “Of course.” “How’s it done?” “Not telling!”

When Columbo does the reveal, there’s a moment, just the faintest moment, though, when Santini loses his arrogance. He’s stunned by the step by step that Columbo has done, topped off by a bit of magic of his own. But you know, you just know, that the moment Santini leaves the room, his arrogance and assured confidence will return.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up running the prison he’s put into, given his talent with locks and magic and experience, shall we say, with blackmail.)


 
 
Ken Franklin – Murder By The Book (1971)
The first of the Columbo episodes proper, broadcast almost exactly 50 years ago, in September 1971. After two pilots, this was the one the producers decided would be the episode to demonstrate to the viewing audience what the show was all about. And they nailed it.

From the opening scene, one hell of an establishing shot by a young director named, what was it? Oh yeah, Steven Spielberg.

And what a baddie. Ken Franklin. A womanising, smart, clever, utterly amoral, wholly selfish writer who kills his ‘Mrs Melville’ writing partner who wants to dissolve the partnership so he can publish his own work; understandable, really, since the partner does pretty much all of the writing anyway. From the moment he kills the partner, things start to go sideways as a) Columbo starts to nose around, and is pretty sure from the first moment that Franklin’s involved and b) Franklin himself has to do more and more to cover up and explains mistakes he made.

Another murder follows, and I really like how Franklin reacts to the reveal. His sureness punctured, his plans in a mess, everything’s gone wrong and it’s only at that point that you sympathise at all with him, when he almost but not quite boasts that the first murder was tghe only decent idea for a murder he ever had.

It’s a stunning reversal and unlike Santini, you wonder whether he’ll ever be sure of his own rightness ever again.


 

** TWO [MORE] LOVELY RELATIONSHIPS
[Earlier post: Adrian Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm and ]

Tommy Brown – Swan Song (1974)
I’ve seen this episode any number of times and I’m damned if I can say why Tommy Brown isn’t utterly detested as a character by everyone involved, including Columbo and including the viewers. I mean, it can’t just be down to Johnny Cash as a person, let alone his portrayal, can it? I suspect the answer to that is, well, yeah.

Because there’s no reason why Columbo shouldn’t loathe him. And yet, the scenes between them are glorious and there’s a definite grudging admiration for how Brown came out of ‘nothing’ and sang like he did.

I dunno – definitely not in the Carsini or Mitchell mould, but there’s definitely something when these two are on the screen together. (Although I’m far from convinced by Brown’s final lines to Columbo.)


 
 
Lauren Straton – It’s All In The Game (1993)
Faye Dunaway. What the hell can you say about Faye Dunaway that hasn’t been said before. Fantastic actor – no, truly fantastic, and almost the only suspect on Columbo that… well, let’s just say that his mind wasn’t always on the job.

OK, the usual stuff out of the way: Dunaway’s character and her [secret] daughter discover they both have the same lover; Lauren kills him then the daughter stays with the body, keeping it warm under a blanket. Then when mother and building manager arrive, she fires a shot and escapes.

Long story short, Columbo figures it out, braces Stratton and says the daughter will go down for murder unless… after which Stratton says she’ll confess in full, as long as Columbo lets her take all the blame.

OK, so far, so mundane (apart from Columbo letting a conspirator escape.)

Except that for once, the murder and the solution are almost a side-bar. What makes this episode special is the chemistry between Columbo and Dunaway’s character. The screen… sizzles when they’re both on screen. Columbo of course would never betray Mrs Columbo, but for a moment or two, neither the viewer nor Columbo (as shown) is absolutely sure of that.

Rarely has Dunaway seemed more… vulnerable, yet quietly confident. At no point during the episode is Columbo even aware that the younger woman is Stratton’s daughter until right at the end… and how they get away with that is a demonstration of the writer’s and director’s skill. Oh the writer? One Peter Falk. You may have heard of him.


 

** TWO [MORE] EUREKA MOMENTS
[Earlier post: A Trace of Murder and Uneasy Lies The Crown]

Murder Under Glass (1978)
This is kind of a cheat to include but it’s such a glorious moment when the eureka moment is revealed that I’m not even going to pretend there was any temptation to resist including it.

(Not for nothing, the episode was going to make it in somehow; either here or as Louis Jourdan’s character’s marvellous report with Columbo. Not for once a liking for each other, but a distinct dislike. Still counts, though.)

Jourdan’s plays a restaurant critic, Paul Gerard, who supplements his income by receiving bribes for reviews, poisons the wine of a restauranteur won’t won’t pay for a good review and threatens to expose the critic. He poisons the wine while they’re having dinner together.

Of course Columbo works it out. But for once the eureka moment wasn’t “how did he do it?’ But instead ‘how did Columbo KNOW that Gerard was the murderer?’

That eureka moment? Oh you don’t see the moment itself. Sorry.

No, Columbo tells the murderer what it was… after the reveal.

It was that Gerard didn’t seek medical advice when police informed him that the victim had been poisoned, and instead came immediately to the restaurant to help with enquiries. “That’s the damnedest example of good citizenship I’ve ever seen,” Columbo observes.

 
  
A Matter Of Honor (1976)
This is one of the sweeter reveals, I must admit. And as sometimes happens, the rest of the episode is fairly so-so. I mean, sure Ricardo Montalban is a superb baddie, the shield of his [once deserved] arrogance one moment away from cracking throughout. But the murder itself is fairly pedestrian, the reveal is… ok. And the supporting cast is similarly… ok.

And the eureka moment is… ok, well it’s shoehorned in, but what I like about it is that it’s enough for lots of dominoes to fall for Columbo.,, It’s the single thing that makes everything else make sense for him. He was sure Montalban’s character – a revered bullfighter, now retired but still hugely respected – had murderer the victim.

He was edging towards why but he couldn’t prove it. Until… until… he sees some children playing bullfighting and discovers precisely why they soak the cape. And… eureka.

 
** TWO [MORE] REVEALS
[Earlier post: Suitable for Framing and The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case]

Ransom For A Dead Man (1971)
I hadn’t seen this for ages until – on one of its reruns – I wanted it last week and was blown away. I’d genuinely forgotten his good this was, Whoever came up with the idea of Lee Grant as the follow up baddie to Gene Barry earned their pay that month and how.

Utterly ruthless, completely amoral, and yet, completely and utterly different from Barry’s character.

And what nails her at the end, what makes the reveal so satisfying, is Columbo’s realisation that Grant’s character has no conscience whatsoever. Her amorality, something she thought of as one of her greatest strengths, was what sunk her.

Grant plays Leslie Williamson, a successful lawyer who’s tired of her elderly husband, so kills him. As you would, when you’re a successful lawyer who’s tired of her elderly husband, obviously.

But She Can Haz Smarts, so she fashions a ransom demand, and keeps the money, (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much.)

She buys the step-daughter (who thinks, for some reason, that step-mommy killed daddy) off with much money, so much money that she dips into the ransom money to top up the payoff.

After she sees step-daughter off at the airport, Williamson sees Columbo who’s apparently there for another reason. They go for a drink; she’s quietly confident she’s beaten him, and lets him know it,. He agrees, saying he was sure she had…

…and then a parcel is delivered to them. He opens it and inside is the ransom money Leslie just paid to the step-daughter.

“Mrs. Williams, you have no conscience and that’s your weakness. Did it ever occur to you that there are very few people who would take money to forget about a murder? It didn’t, did it? I knew it wouldn’t.”

Beautifully done.

 

This final one was probably the most requested ‘how could you leave this out?’ I received after the first post. I wasn’t convinced, to be honest, until I rewatched it and saw what everyone else meant. I mean, I still think the two I used in the first post deserved their places, but yeah, so does this one.

Negative Reaction (1974)
Once again, Columbo uses a character’s own self-confidence and sureness in their own mastery of their chosen field… against them.

But for once, Columbo steps over a moral line that he’s not entirely sure leaves him smelling of roses.

Dick Van Dyke’s character – Paul Galesko – kidnaps his own wife, someone he views as a harridan holding him back, snaps a photo to show she’s actually, y’know, been kidnapped, with a clock in the background showing the wrong time. Then kills her.

To ‘get’ him at the end, Columbo creates false evidence, a reversed image of the key photographic evidence, to show Galesko’s alibi is false. He then tells Galesko that while doing so, Columbo accidentally destroyed the original photo…

Galesko then says “ah-ha, but the film of the original photo will still be in the camera!” And immediately picks out the camera in the evidence store used originally for the photo to ‘prove’ his alibi. The problem is that only the murderer the killer could know which camera was used. Oops.

Great reveal, great manipulation. Not taking anything away from that, but yeah, it leaves a slight sourness. Which of course just enhances the scene.


 

** BONUS
 
Patrick McGoohan
It’s a genuine surprise to me, looking back at the twenty episodes I’ve highlighted that none of them involved Patrick McGoohan. I mean, his episodes were flat out marvellous. All were clever murders, all had great scripts and the interaction between his baddies and columbo were never less than fantastic.

It’d be wrong for me, just wrong, not to at least mention him in this post.

So… Patrick McGoohan.

There. I’ve mentioned him.

 


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others… During the last huge blog run, I did a few ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

And in this run, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns plus others…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

Preface: I only realised while planning this entry that this is both the easiest and hardest of the “Ten Things” posts I’ve ever done.

I mean it; there are so many good, so many bloody good, episodes to choose from, that throwing ten darts at a list of the almost 70 Columbo episodes produced? You’re gonna hit 8 or 9 good ones and 3 or four that would make most people’s lists.

That’s the easy part. Harder is picking just ten I like. Do I go for the cleverest murder, do I go for the baddie? Do I go for the relationship between Columbo and the baddie? Do I go for how Columbo worked it out? Do I go for the reveal?

I could easily pick half a dozen of each. Instead, I’m going to limit it to two of each. So, two clever murders, two wonderful baddies, two lovely relationship pieces, two ‘lightbulb moments’ and two reveals.

That means, of course, I’m gonna miss out some glorious episodes. Maybe I’ll do another run if this blog run continues after 17th August. (I’ve no plans to right now, by the way, none at all. But I said that in 2019 as well, and I ended up running the blog through to Christmas and beyond.)

WARNING: Many, many, MANY spoilers below. If you don’t want to see them, best look away now.

OK, preface over, blog begins.


 

I’d actually forgotten I’d said I’d do this one.

I only remembered when I reread an earlier entry in the run and came across the passage

So, again, predicting is a mug’s game, a fool’s endeavour, an idiot’s quest.

Except in one circumstance. There’s one situation where a prediction is overtly expected, actively anticipated… in fact, it’s positively encouraged.

Whodunnits.

Murder mysteries. Private eye tales, detective stories.

You watch, or read, a murder mystery. And, in the absence of a Columbo-type story format¹, the author, the tv director, wants you to play along, to try to guess who committed the murder, who kidnapped the victim.

(¹Note to self: do a ‘Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

So, yeah, time to do a Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes post.

A reminder as always… they’re not the objectively considered best, nor necessarily personal favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)

*** TWO CLEVER MURDERS

Publish Or Perish (1974)
Jack Cassidy in his second appearance as a baddie, this time as publisher Riley Greenleaf who really really wants to stop Mickey Spillane heading off to another publisher. So he kills him. I mean… you would, wouldn’t you? I’m not sure you’d hire a hitman though, then go to the trouble to first ensure you’re incriminated, so that you can then prove you’re not involved… It’s clever as hell, and it’s utterly believable with Cassidy playing the role. All of his appearances involved clever murders, in all of them was he a fine match for Columbo, and in all of them he was, for the main parts, entirely unsympathetic, It takes skill and talent to be able to play such odious characters who are ostensibly perfectly reasonable, And Cassidy does it every time, in spades.

Whereas with some repeat guest stars, Columbo finds one portrayed character likeable, one detestable, say, with Cassidy, they very sensible made the characters entirely unlikeable… in part, I suspect, to make it harder for Columbo to remain entirely objective. A smart, smart move.


 
 

Short Fuse (1972)
Another smart character here – though to be fair, if they were stupid, they wouldn’t be interesting. Roddy McDowell is immature, irritating, capricious… and self-aware enough to know that people underestimate him because of it. And that works for him until it starts to cost him. People forget he’s smart. So when his uncle is killed via the means of an exploding cigar box, he’s not really the first person who springs to mind.

His immaturity somehow ceases to be an act at the denouement though. (Was it ever an act? You’re never quite sure). Columbo bluffs him with another cigar box, and McDowell’s character folds, quite dramatically…


 

(Oh, if you think there’s one very smart, say someone with a huge IQ, missing… trust me, he’ll be along later.)
 
 
** TWO WONDERFUL BADDIES

Note that I’m saving the ‘wonderful baddies because they’re fun to watch with Columbo’ for a moment’s time. These two are just out and out wonderfully evil.

Dr Ray Flemming – Prescription: Murder (1968)
The original, the one that started it all. Falk is still figuring out exactly how Columbo acts; he’s a little less bedraggled, a little more professional, a little less faux-absent minded, a little more obvious. And Gene Barry, as Dr Ray Flemming, is – surprisingly, if you’ve seen or read the original play – an out and out sociopathic prick. (I’d use cruder language but every so often I remember that I try and keep this place at least within shouting distance of all-ages)

So, yes, the original baddie, Barry’s smart, smooth, and highly intelligent, baddie is someone you can immediately decide “ooh, yeah, we like him, he’s horrible”. He kills his wife, and manipulates (I think that’s probably the right word) a vulnerable patient to help, assist and frankly, to kill herself to save him.

That it doesn’t quite work out like that comes as a surprise to Dr Flemming, and – to be honest – to the viewer. The show was off to one hell of a start. If you want to see where it all started, this is the episode to watch.


 
 
Wade Anders – Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health (1991)
I started this sentence with “George McGovern was…” before I realised what I’d typed. Now I’m not saying that this would have been a bad idea, but yeah, I’m not entirely sure the story would have worked as well. I have no idea why I was thinking of George McGovern, who ran for the US Presidency in 1972 against Nixon and lost, badly.

Anyways… George Hamilton, that’s the fella. He plays true crime tv presenter Wade Anders who is blackmailed by a rival who knows that Anders appeared in a porn movie at the start of his acting career. Oh, alongside an underage co-star.

Anders kills the blackmailer. Obviously. With concentrated nicotine. OK, that’s less obvious. And he screws up how he does it, leaving some heavy handed clues for anyone to find. He’s much better at presenting crimes than, y’know, doing them. But, that aside, Hamilton is incredible on screen. Most of the guest stars on Columbo, there’s a generosity showing where neither of them is acting the other off the screen. Not Hamilton. Presumably it’s not deliberate because after all he was invited back, but when he’s on the screen, you barely notice Falk. Or anyone else. And that plays through to the character, where Anders, once he takes that first step of… well, murdering someone… is oily, smarmy, charming when necessary, icy… Just superb acting. And an out and out bastard throughout.


 

** TWO LOVELY RELATIONSHIPS

There are several other baddies with whom Columbo has a ‘good’, charming or even likeable relationship with through the show. Louis Jourdan’s chef, Faye Dunaway, even one of Patrick McGoohan‘s baddies. But if anyone made a list of just two, and neither of the two below were on it, I’d doubt their judgement.

Adrian Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm (1973)
Ah, Donald Pleasance in a simply wonderful performance, the perfect ‘man out of his depth who gets more and more out of his depth until being caught is almost a relief’. It’s a subtle role that gets even more subtle as the story progresses. I mean, let’s get it straight: he kills his brother because the brother wants to sell the winery. Strip everything else away, and that’s what he does. It’s not even done out of malice but because that’s the only option he sees left. And Carsini is not a sympathetic character on his own. He’s a snob, and he sees little need for, nor understanding of, normal human interaction. It’s not that it puzzles him as much as he sees no need for it.

And yet Columbo likes him. He does. He respects him, mostly. But – as Columbo admits elsewhere – while there’s never a murder he likes, there are murderers he likes. And he likes and more importantly recognises the expertise Carsini has for his job, just as Carsini recognises and acknowledges the expertise in his job that Columbo displays.

And seeing the two on screen together, you feel you’re getting a masterclass in how two giants of acting, two very generous actors, are at pains to let the scene flow. Each scene between them is not merely a chance for each to shine, but an opportunity for both to do so.

The final scene between them, when Carsini knows he’s been caught, when Columbo has laid it out clear and blunt (well, as blunt as necessary but no more than that), they spend a few minutes talking and drinking wine before Columbo takes him in. And the scene is certainly the best final scene of any Columbo, possibly one of the finest scenes with a baddie of any Columbo.


 
 
Abigail Mitchell – Try & Catch Me (1977)
And then there’s Abigail Mitchell, a deliberately quirky, funny, sensible baddie who you like from the moment you meet her. She may exasperate you on screen a teeny bit; you know damn well she’d exasperate you in real life. Played by Ruth Gordon, I defy you not to wonder why she didn’t play Miss Marple at some point. And she’s a vigilante. Well, not really, but kind of. She’s utterly convinced her niece was murdered by the niece’s husband. So she locks him in her airtight safe and then goes away for a bit, leaving him to suffocate. Cold-bloodedly? Well, yes… and no. I’ve seen this episode a dozen or more times, and I can’t say definitively.

Columbo likes her when he meets her. She likes him. He teases her. She teases him. It’s to her and some friends that he makes the comment above about never liking the murder. Again, the respect for each other’s job, and the skill and dedication with which they perform it, shines through.

The age gap is too huge for there to be any sexual interplay between them, thank heaven, but there’s definitely an element of ‘oh, Lieutenant, if I’d only met you thirty years ago…’ And it’s not until the final scene or two that that unspoken line takes on a whole new meaning.


 

** TWO EUREKA MOMENTS

A Trace of Murder (1997)

Perfect example here of a very not great episode, a not great pair of baddies, and – to be honest – a not that great performance by Falk, for once. But a bloody perfect lightbulb moment (not even spoiled slightly by Columbo’s almost pantomime-like reaction to it.)

Columbo, together with crime analyst Kinsley (one of the baddies, played by Barry Corbin) and Cathleen, the wife (the other baddie, played by Shera Denesa) of the fella they’re trying to frame for the murder, meet to discuss the case. As far as Columbo knows, they’ve never met.

And then as the coffee arrives, Columbo sees the former casually move the milk towards the latter. And as he’s starting to realise what this must mean, they leave… and confirm it. For if they’d not previously met, then how would Kinsley know that Cathleen gets car sick when sitting in the back?

(Once he knows they know each other, it’s fairly predictable how he catches them. As I say, not great. But that lightbulb moment is one of the best in the entire run.)

 
  
Uneasy Lies The Crown (1990)
It’s probably a mark of how rare the genuine ‘lightbulb’ moments were in Columbo that both of the best ones come from the revival episodes. James Read is just about perfect as the young, ambitious, jealous, dentist who kills his wife’s lover (a mutual friend of theirs, and a patient of his), frames her for the murder and (a not uncommon theme) deliberately incompetently ‘tries to cover’ for her. Oh, the actual murder? He placed poison under a temporary filling, which dissolved, and killed the lover while the lover is in bed with the wife. And while the murderer has a cast iron alibi.

The eureka moment here shows its age as well. I’m not sure the idea of time-released medication is as foreign to most people these days but in 1997, it was probably new enough, and it was certainly new enough when the episode was originally written in the 1970s by Stephen Bochco. There are many conflicting stories about why the episode was rejected at the time. One suggestion is that Falk’s mother said viewers wouldn’t believe a dentist as the murderer? I dunno.

But the acting of everyone in the scene at the moment of comprehension is lovely, and Columbo throughout the entire story is edging towards the solution, so the eureka moment just caps it. The reveal is pretty good as well, including a double-bluff on both the baddie and the audience that’s revealed in the final seconds. Beautifully done.

 
** TWO REVEALS

And talking of reveals, Columbo excelled in them. There were a dozen, easy, I could have chosen but for me, two stand out far in front of the rest. One is a typical Columbo plot of using the baddie’s own cleverness against them.

But the first, the first is just exquisite.

Suitable for Framing (1971)
The story is fairly clever in its own right. Arrogant art critic Dale Kingston (Ross Martin desperately trying to leave some furniture unchewed) frames his slightly odd aunt for for the murder of his uncle. His plan involves planting stolen Degas pastels in the aunt’s place, having previously tried to get Columbo booted from the case. (Long time Columbo watchers know that’s never a good idea.)

Columbo turns up, and gets the artwork dusted for fingerprints, as he tells Kingston he knows Kingston killed his uncle and fingerprints will prove it. But not Kingston’;s prints, which Kingston has already said were on the prints ages ago… Columbo’s prints which – if the aunt did steal the artwork – couldn’t possibly be there. Kingston, thinking fast and on the very edge of panic, protests “But you obviously touched them just now!”

And that’s when Columbo reveals his hands – thus far kept in his coat pockets, but so subtly that no-one, neither the baddie nor the audience, even noticed – to show they’re in woollen gloves, and have been since he arrived.

 
 
The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977)
As others have said, there’s very little to dislike about this episode. Fantastic script,an on and off likeable baddie in Oliver Brandt, arrogance punctured, and a sequence of events involved that must have inspired that famous car ad, decades later.

Columbo starts to deliberately needle the baddie (played by Theodore Bikel) and ostensibly shows him how clever Columbo is… which Bikel’s arrogance in his own cleverness can’t take. Columbo shows Brandt how intelligent another suspect is. So, out of pique, offended arrogance and a desperation, a need, to show Columbo how clever he is, Brandt demonstrates to Columbo exactly how the murder must have been committed, the only way it could have been committed, then celebrates with a delighted bark as everything falls into place…

…before his laughter stops, as he realises that he’s just shown Columbo how the murder was committed… by him.


 

** BONUS
 
Dr Barry Mayfield – A Stitch in Crime (1973)
A bonus bit here, purely because I couldn’t let Leonard Nimoy’s star turn pass without comment. Solely because of THIS moment, one of the very few in the entire run where Columbo gets angry, and shows it. There are times where Falk, always underrated as an actor in my opinion, portrays Columbo struggling to keep his anger hidden. Here he doesn’t even try. It’s extra-ordinary, and glorious.

 


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others… During the last huge blog run, I did a few ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

And in this run, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns plus others…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked by message the other day: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.