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A distinct improvement on PRESCRIPTION: MURDER, especially in the visual field: this was actually released in cinemas in Britain, in 1973, and it's easy to see why. Despite some gimmicky camera effects, dating the show as the product of the early 70's (but why the hell not), the style of the visuals, particularly the opening murder scene, and the atmospheric music lend the TV production an enjoyable air of assured professionalism more associated with the big screen. (Especially, one might add, with Hitchcock, whom Levinson and Link had previously written for.) Lee Grant is a simply superb adversary, coldly beautiful and never once descending to the "chink-in-the-armour" factor that let down some of the later COLUMBO murderesses. Falk looks no different in this second pilot (in effect a special, anticipating the series' current status) than he would in the series, and has also raised his voice above the near monotone employed in PRESCRIPTION: MURDER, although his loss of temper with Grant's obnoxious stepdaughter is quite unlike the easy-going Lieutenant we all know.
"Ransom For a Dead Man," one of the earliest episodes in the entire
"Columbo" series, is also one of the best. Lee Grant is terrific as the
arrogant and confident Leslie Williams who is sure that she has
succeeded in fooling investigators into thinking that her husband was
murdered by kidnappers. Even after Columbo subtly implies that he is on
to her plan, she coldly and gloatingly dismisses him in true classic
Columbo killer fashion.
Everything comes to a very desirable end with that incomparable seen in the airport. Columbo gives us a wonderful conclusion as he smoothly but surely makes that smile disappear from Leslie Williams' face. Her tribute to him after being nailed serves as very memorable and very uplifting to our hero.
I love this Columbo pilot movie...it has a richness of production
lacking in most of the regular series episodes. I wish the regular
episodes looked and felt like this.
The musical score by Billy Goldenberg is absolutely beautiful...variations on a simple theme, first as a intriguing, gently unfolding tune as the murder is planned and carried out. Then, as the cover-up is under way and we are introduced to a lush dramatic orchestration of the same theme, exciting and beautiful, worthy of a James Bond film. So versatile, this amazing tune, that it is used throughout the movie without ever sounding quite the same. The final iteration is as a jaunty little ditty in the airport coffee shop that sneaks up on you...totally unnoticed until the fun wrap-up and credits. Genius! Billy Goldenberg was only 34 when he did this...a master!
I also like the way the titles at the beginning and end look. The way the camera lingers at the last scene, of nothing but an airport window, allowing the credits to play out as the music plays, is so much more satisfying, more "movie-like", than the abrupt ending cut and the harsh yellow titles against stills of prior scenes of the regular series episodes. Some have derided the digital zooms and other editing choices made in this episode, but I couldn't disagree more. One of my favorite images is of the coldly beautiful Leslie, standing at the edge of a cliff, her eyes black as night, then suddenly ablaze like diamonds. They are actually the headlights of the big Lincoln she is driving in the scene. Beautiful imagery not even attempted in the series episodes.
That gets me to my final point as to why this Columbo is a cut above...Lee Grant! I enjoy watching Columbo match wits with female adversaries, and Leslie Williams is one of the best adversaries, if not the best, he has ever had...beautiful, sexy, flirtatious, shrewd, cunning and let's not forget - "greedy". I could watch her all day...I can't get enough of her. She is in control of every frame of film she appears in, every word, movement, every breath. Lee Grant is a great actress - great acting in a really fun part.
This episode is not perfect, but the Billy Goldenberg score, the "movie" look, and especially Lee Grant elevate it to the top for me. Fun to watch anytime.
Lee Grant, smirking and narrowing her eyes like a cat about to pounce, plays a hotshot lady lawyer who kills her attorney husband and makes it look like a kidnapping-turned-homicide; Lt. Columbo, curiously on the case from the very beginning (before there is a dead body), matches wits with Grant, eventually using Lee's hostile step-daughter as a tool to uncover the truth. This early "Columbo" teleplay by Dean Hargrove, with an original story conceived by the team of Levinson & Link, gives us some fun background details on Columbo himself (he's nervous in planes, likes root beer and always orders chili at Barney's Beanery in Los Angeles), but skimps a bit on the lieutenant's investigation. Without showing us the homework involved, Columbo seems to be picking details out of the air (always the right details, naturally), and when he talks about the victim's car keys missing, or the car-seat being too close to the wheel, it's unfair to spring these details on us as afterthoughts (there's no suspense involved when Columbo does his puzzle-solving off-camera). Aside from cunning Grant--and Peter Falk doing his usual solid work--the acting here is relatively mediocre, and the cut-and-dried climax seems a little flat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So far I have seen many "Columbos". This one belongs to the better part
of them all, however, it has some logical defects, as I believe. A
coldblooded lawyer kills her husband and partner-in-business. Her
motives can only be guessed in the midst of the film, when the daughter
of her killed husband (and her step-daughter) unveils her father's
character to Columbo as straightforward and honest "He could never live
with a lie." The evil lawyer-woman on the other hand only wants to
share in her husband's reputation and wealth - thus the reason for
marrying him. According to the daughter's testimony her father finally
finds out and threatens with divorce. The man is killed just in the
beginning of the film - as usual in a "Columbo" - no arguments and
fights are shown, therefore we have no other evidence for the woman's
motive to kill him than the daughter's statement. We can also assume
that the stepmother does not begrudge some money to the stepdaughter,
thus adding to the motive for her crime.
The crime itself is clever carried out and the alibi built up in a sophisticated way that shows the intelligence of the woman.
Columbo works his way through the cobweb of lies and fake facts as we know him playing in this film the role of the gawky cop with special emphasis, which let's us smile many times. The filmmakers even go so far as to point out Columbo's peculiarities, his anecdotes and his "wife" (a silent role, as she is mentioned in nearly every film, but in fact never seen - experienced Columbo fans will know this) to the viewer through the killer's mouth, when she finally sees through Columbo. By then she will have regretted underestimating "bloodhound" Columbo, I am sure. The ending of the film, however, leaves me a bit puzzled behind. It comes too quickly, too predictable and does not fit in with the clever character of the evil woman - to my taste:
S p o i l e r:
In a talk with her stepmother Margaret gives her a hint, that she might shut her mouth and stop trying to track her down, when Leslie gives her a considerable amount of money in cash here and now, promising to leave the country for Europe again. Of course, this is a trap set up with Columbo, because in this way he can get hold of some bills of the "ransom" money, which in turn is the final evidence and the last nail to Leslie's coffin. Even as Columbo tries to explain it in the end (more to the viewer than to Leslie, I presume, because the filmmakers might also have felt the weakness of this ending): "You are an exceptional intelligent woman, but you have no conscience, and therefore believe, that others are alike, so hoping to "buy" Margaret's silence." - I don't swallow that. The woman is much too bright, no matter how low her conscience may be, to believe, she could settle this by paying Margaret out. Especially because it was her beloved father, whom she killed. How dumb must a killer be, to assume, that he could buy forgiveness from the victim' relatives? It also does not need much to know, that the money bills are registered and therefore must not be used, given out or spent after much dust has settled over the issue. As I said, this does not fit to the coldblooded killer-lawyer at all and leaves a good developing film with a stale end.
Overall this second pilot for the Columbo series does not have the
dramatic impact and sustained tension apparent in the original movie
"Prescription: Murder." The movie does however boast a strong
performance from Lee Grant as the conniving and arrogant lawyer, Leslie
Williams, and an even better performance from Patricia Mattick as her
single-minded, spoilt step-daughter.
Peter Falk's characterisation had positively matured since the original and some of his scenes have wonderful dialogue attached to them , which epitomise the complexities of his character.
Nevertheless, the ransom scenes which dominate the first half hour drag a little and in retrospect, one is at pains to understand why Columbo is present as the kidnapping plot develops.
The direction from Richard Irving. who also directed the original, is somewhat flat and he insists on using some intrusive, mind-numbing (and now somewhat dated) visual effects.
It's a decidedly patchily entertaining Columbo adventure, whose rather predictable ending nevertheless conflicts with the murderesses's hitherto smartness. In spite of this, the collective successes of the pilots instigated one of the best series to hit our TV screens.
Three years after the original Columbo pilot "Prescription: Murder",
the great man got another chance for immortality in this film. Of
course, the rest is history as Columbo went on to become one of the
greatest and best-loved TV characters ever.
This pilot sets a high standard (which wasn't always maintained, let's be honest) and has strong writing and characterisation, as well as showing some visual flair with slow fades, jump cuts and other effects.
Columbo here is the Lieutenant we will come to love, absent-minded, rambling, but with pin-sharp instincts and a deep sense of justice ("I couldn't have you convicted on false evidence" he says at one point. He wants to catch the criminal but he will do it fairly and properly). The performances of Peter Falk and Lee Grant are excellent.
Some reviewers have felt the suspect wouldn't be stupid enough to use the ransom money after being so smart in planning the crime and covering her tracks. I think the fact the money was going into a *Swiss* bank probably made her feel it was a risk worth taking - you can't get any information out of those guys, so no-one would know it was the ransom money. Besides, she really doesn't have a conscience.
If I recall correctly, Lee Grant won or was nominated for an award for
her great performance of Leslie Williams, a cold blooded killer and
confident lawyer who is both arrogant and greedy. She exhibits no
remorse whatsoever during the entire episode, as we get to see her
coldly murder her influential husband. She manipulates the detective in
charge, but when the husband's body finally surfaces, Columbo is in
charge and he sees right through Leslie, even when she falls apart at
the bad news in front of several people. Without describing in detail
the rest of the episode, there are some memorable scenes which has
Columbo attempting to fly Leslie's plane, and how Leslie's step
daughter Margaret constantly hounds her, because she feels that Leslie
murdered her father. I thought perhaps there was a bit too much
Margaret, as her tirades towards her step mother go on and on for much
of the latter half of the segment. Anyhow, you'll have to sit through
close to 2 hours before we finally get to the underwhelming finale when
Columbo finally arrests Leslie, which seems slightly convenient rather
This is a solid season 1 episode, and watch for the fine portrayal by Lee Grant, who makes this Columbo a memorable one. Peter Falk also does a fine job as he's on the hunt after the killer.
The Columbo movies are all great murder mysteries to watch. Difference
with most other serials/movies is that in a Columbo movie you always
get to see the killing right in the beginning, which also means that
you already know who is the killer. So all the Columbo movies show is
how Lieutenant Columbo solves the crime, in his own unique way. This is
an approach that always works surprising well and the movie also still
leaves plenty of surprises, since you never know exactly how the killer
came to its deed and what the motive was.
The movie gets of course carried by Peter Falk as the strange and quirky but of course clever and very observing Lieutenant Columbo. Though I liked the 'old man' Columbo better in the later TV movies. He pretends to be more stupid than he in fact of course truly is, in order to harmlessly gain trust from his suspects. It's a great character and basically the foremost reason why this Columbo TV movies are so popular and still great to watch after all those years. The Columbo movies were made in even 5 different decades, all with Peter Falk in the title role, which says something of its popularity and quality of the series, that just never seems to dry out. The series will probably won't ever stop until Peter Falk is no more. Acedemy Award winner and multiple nominee Lee Grant also plays a good role but most of the other actors in this movie seem like C-grade TV series actors. Especially Patricia Mattick was annoyingly bad and all her character ever did was moaning.
This movie is the second of two Columbo pilots. Strangely enough it was made 3 years after the first Columbo pilot "Prescription: Murder", as if the first pilot was not a total success but they still wanted to give it a chance, having faith in its potential.
It has a good story that drags a bit at points and the clues left out for Lieutenant Columbo are at times a bit too obvious but knows to keep your interest throughout. It has some interesting side-plots and developments but it doesn't ever allow things to fully develop in order to make it all fit into the time span of the movie. This also means on the other hand that the movie feels like it wrapped up too fast toward the ending.
The movie features some quirky '70's effects and trick but luckily enough it never really crosses the line. It's also a reason why this movie surely doesn't feel outdated and is actually now just still as good as ever to watch.
Leslie Williams is a very clever lawyer and has just become an equally
clever murderer. Shooting her husband and dumping his body, Leslie uses
a tape recorder and some threatening letters to make it appear that her
husband has been kidnapped. Naturally she contacts the police and drops
off the money only for her husband to be found dead with the police all
lamenting their failed attempt to get him back alive. However the
liaison with the local police (Lieutenant Columbo) has one or two
things that just don't ring true and suspects something other than a
As with many TV film series (such as Perry Mason), if you like one or two of them then you'll pretty much like them all. This entry in the Columbo series pretty much follows the usual formula we know the killer and the "perfect" plan but then watch Columbo follow his hunch and gradually starts to pick holes in the story he is told before eventually finding enough to prove his suspicions. Knowing this ahead of time won't ruin anything for you; it is simply what happens in all the films. With this strict adherence to formula it is usually down to several factors whether or not the Columbo film stands out or if it is just average. However with this film we are really in the territory where the formula was created. This second pilot sees a murder committed in the first few moments, Columbo brought in and filled with doubts and suspicions. In essence the plot is solid and interesting, with Columbo picking away at small things that bother him but it doesn't quite ring true.
The film brings in Columbo quickly, which is a good thing, but it seems to spend too much time on Margaret, which is a bit of a drag. The film could have lived with her in a smaller role but outside of her the rest is still pretty strong. Falk is much, much better as Columbo than he was in the first pilot (Prescription Murder) as he is much more animated and quirky rather than flat as he was then. He is funny and dogged and, although he isn't as good as he would quickly become, he is still pretty good. Grant is strong and is a good foil for Columbo shame they do not have as much time together as other films allow. Mattick is annoying and, like I said, she gets in the way and is a misjudged part of the film generally.
Overall a good start proper to the successful series. The majority of the formula is in place and it is surprising how little tweaking it needed to make it run and run from there. Fans will love it of course but it has an appeal beyond that (it was released in cinemas in the UK) and is worth a look.
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