Beth Chadwick has lived all her life controlled first by her father, then after his death, by her brother Bryce who manages the family business. Now she has fallen for Peter Hamilton, who works for Bryce. But, as usual, Bryce objects to her choice and threatens to fire Peter. So Beth decides to murder her brother and to do it in such a way to let it to appear like an accident. Lt. Columbo realizes at once the truth and starts looking for evidence. Written by
Baldinotto da Pistoia
Beth's sitting on her bed, waiting for Bryce to come home. She opens a box of chocolates and reaches in for a piece. There are no wrappers on the bed at this point but as she puts the piece of candy in her mouth, the bed is suddenly littered with candy wrappers. See more »
...I won't be a hypocrite, Lieutenant. I'm sorry about poor Brice being killed, but it has gotten Beth out from under his thumb.
Oh, yeah, yeah... Wat out!
[He gestures with his hands]
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A "Columbo" movie where the killer elicits our sympathy only to lose it halfway through
Beth Chadwick (Susan Clark, best known for the sitcom, "Webster") has a brilliant scheme to murder her overbearing brother. On the night the servants are off, she'll trick him into entering the house through her French windows. Then she'll shoot him and tell the police she thought he was a burglar. To make this lie seem credible, she'll leave several deceptive clues, including a burnt-out light bulb and a set of keys thrown in the bushes.
But on the night of the murder, a couple of things go wrong. Her brother does not act according to her plan. And her boyfriend (Leslie Nielsen) unexpectedly shows up at the door only minutes after she pulls the trigger. These later seem to have been minor obstacles until our rumpled Lt. Columbo unravels her defense.
Stephen Bochco, who earlier had scripted the great "Columbo: Murder by the Book" (then went on to create TV series like "Hill Street Blues," and "NYPD Blue") gives us our most sympathetic "Columbo" killer yet. Miss Chadwick is a mousy introvert who suddenly flowers when her domineering brother is dead. And when Chadwick's belittling mother (Jessie Royce Landis) greets her daughter with a slap across the face, we're willing to forgive this murderess anything.
But Bochco makes the interesting decision to slowly turn us against her. As she reaps the rewards of her crime, she becomes arrogant and imperious. She takes over the family business, makes radical changes and threatens to fire anyone who may disagree with her. She even announces her engagement to her boyfriend, which surprises him as much as anyone else. Bochco's decision was probably wise. We can't help but root for the most diabolical of murderers in this series, but ultimately we want Lt. Columbo to triumph. Make the killer too sympathetic, and we'd want to throttle our beloved detective.
Still, this absorbing entry is not one of the top-notch "Columbo" episodes. It's one thing for a killer to be a charming rogue from beginning to end. But it's another to engage our emotions then cut them off halfway through.
I think the key to the problem is Peter Hamilton, the boyfriend. When we lose sympathy for Miss Chadwick, we naturally should be transferring it over to him. But we can't. We can accept as plausible the idea that Hamilton really loves her; we can accept that he is not the fortune hunter her family says he is. But nothing in the script or in the male mannequin charms of Leslie Nielsen makes this fact come alive for us. Hamilton is about to lose the woman he loves, and we don't care.
But you won't be griping about any of this when you see it. This probably won't be your favorite "Columbo" episode, but you'll still be thoroughly entertained.
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