Columbo: Season 2, Episode 1

Étude in Black (17 Sep. 1972)

TV Episode  |  Not Rated  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 1,260 users  
Reviews: 23 user | 5 critic

An amoral conductor murders the gifted pianist with whom he is having an affair. Lt. Columbo is on the case.


, (uncredited) , 1 more credit »


(teleplay), (story), 3 more credits »
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Title: Étude in Black (17 Sep 1972)

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Episode complete credited cast:
Paul Rifkin
Janice Benedict
Jenifer Welles
Lizzy Fielding
Billy Jones
Mike Alexander
The House Boy
Sam (scenes deleted)
Michael Fox ...
Dawn Frame ...
Charles Macaulay ...
Wallace Chadwell ...
TV Director


Music conductor Alex Benedict has an affair with a pianist. When the pianist threatens to reveal their affair to Benedict's wife, whose wealthy mother owns the company on which Benedict's career is dependent, Benedict decides to permanently silence his mistress. He arranges for her death to look like a suicide by kitchen stove gas asphyxiation. Lieutenant Columbo, a cunning detective in a rumpled raincoat, doesn't believe the pianist took her own life and suspects that Benedict was responsible for her death. He pesters Benedict with constant questions as he searches for clues to place Benedict at the murder scene. Written by Kevin McCorry <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

17 September 1972 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


Blythe Danner was about five months pregnant with Gwyneth Paltrow during the filming of this episode. See more »


In the sequence where Alex puts back his briefcase in his car, we can see many cables running along the sidewalk. See more »


Lieutenant Columbo: Can I ask you a personal question?
Alex Benedict: Please.
Lieutenant Columbo: What do you pay in taxes on this place?
See more »


References Citizen Kane (1941) See more »


6th Symphony, 4th Movement
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
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User Reviews

Splendid "Columbo" episode, with a razor-sharp script and lively performances
14 March 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes) is an orchestra conductor having an secret affair with his pianist. When she threatens to expose him and create a scandal if he doesn't leave his wife, he sees he has no choice but to murder her and make it look as if she had committed suicide. Too bad for him our rumpled detective, Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk), is on the case.

Stephen Bochco has written another razor-sharp episode for the series, following marvelous detail with marvelous detail. We watch the villain commit his murder and set up his alibi for about twenty-five minutes, and we're completely engrossed. Then when Columbo appears on the scene, it gets even better.

We first see Columbo after the murder (as per usual). This time he's at the vet with his new dog. Scenes of purely comic relief are usually the weakest ones in the show (think Columbo's discomfort over the nude model in "Suitable for Framing"). Columbo is hilarious when he's dithering or bumbling deliberately in order to trip up his quarry; but too many writers make the mistake of showing him in a ridiculous light when he's with non-suspects. Bochco, by contrast, shows Columbo a bit awkward with his new pet in a handful of low-key scenes that are funny and artfully integrated into the story. (And I'm grateful he didn't strain for a punchline to Columbo's quest to give the dog a name. As far as we learn, the dog remains nameless.) Bochco gives Columbo some of his best moments in this episode, and Peter Falk makes the most of them. He's particularly good in a monologue where he expresses disbelief that anyone could kill herself, much less this brilliant and beautiful young pianist. And he's even better in his scenes playing cat-and-mouse with Cassavetes. That these two long-time friends and collaborators would play off each other brilliantly is to be expected; and that's what we get. Notice how Alex Benedict can't help but admire the deceptively dimwitted Columbo, even as the brilliant detective is tightening the noose around his neck.

Bochco makes the most of every situation in his script. When Columbo goes to question Benedict's snooty mechanic, of course – of course! – he asks the man to look at his own beat-up heap. And when Benedict finds Columbo at the Hollywood Bowl before rehearsal, of course – of course! – he's on the piano playing "Chopsticks." And what should our audacious lieutenant bring with him but the victim's typewriter with the phony suicide note still in the roller.

Columbo also has good scenes with a precocious little girl (Dawn Frame) and the lovely Blythe Danner, who plays Cassavetes's wife. It's nice to see Myrna Loy show up as Danner's mother, though she does little with her minor role.

The director Nicholas Colasanto (who also acted, most notably as Coach in "Cheers") does a perfectly creditable job, though he follows the lead of nearly every other "Columbo" director by adding one or two silly flourishes. Scenes end by going out of focus and begin by coming into focus. Then there's that bit where Cassavetes sees the carnation he dropped at the scene of the crime – and we see a zoom-in shot of it reflected in his sunglasses. There's also one scene with Myrna Loy and group of old fogies that is atrociously performed by everyone except Cassavetes.

These are quibbles, though. This is a splendidly entertaining episode, the kind that made me a "Columbo" fan.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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