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"Columbo" Short Fuse (1972)

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14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Good first-season Colombo

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
5 March 2006

This one has Roddy MacDowell as the chief villain, a conniving and brilliant member of a family that owns some kind of gigantic chemical plant, only two victims away from the presidency. Good support too, from James Gregory (huffing and puffing), Anne Francis, Ida Lupino, and William Windom.

In order to eliminate the two obstacles to his career path, MacDowell blows one of them up with an exploding cigar and frames the other one for fornication and first-degree mopery.

Comic moments include Colombo being forced by circumstances to take a 15-minute ride on a tram suspended from cables, at times half a mile above the earth. Steve Bochco was the story supervisor and he knows his character. Colombo is frozen with fear but never speaks a word, perhaps unable to. He just stands there like a statue, avoiding the windows, while his guide points out all the scenic features.

The climax is good too, however implausible. MacDowell is led to believe that the exploding cigar is now aboard the tram, along with him, Wisdom, and Colombo. As the time passes and the moment of destruction ticks nearer, he becomes more nervous, finally betraying himself by becoming hysterical and ripping the box of cigars out of Colombo's hands.

It's lots of fun.

Curious note: Both Falk and Anne Francis were raised in Ossining, New York, the site of Singsing Prison, born only a few years apart. Falk visited his home town recently on a kind of nostalgic tour. Arriving, he was greeted by an enthusiastic, cheering crowd, raised his hands, smiled gratefully, and announced, "I gotta take a leak."

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Worth An Extra Point For The Scenery Alone

Author: stubbers from Essex
27 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If it wasn't for the stunning mountain scenery and the role it plays in this story, I'd probably only give this episode seven. But the dramatic cable car scenes certainly add an interesting dimension to this intricately plotted Columbo adventure.

Roger Stanford is extremely annoying, I can't deny, but I don't have any problem with Columbo murderers being annoying. It just makes their eventual arrest that much more satisfying. And the way in which Stanford incriminates himself is very enjoyable.

I find the ins and outs of the plot quite a lot to take in, despite repeated viewings. It all revolves around the wheelings and dealings of a large family-run chemical corporation. The murder is caused by a home-made bomb planted into a cigar case.

It's not the best, it's not the worst, but it's highly watchable.

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13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

A typically enjoyable Columbo film

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
28 March 2005

When his Uncle uncovers compromising evidence against him, Roger Stanford is offered an ultimatum – sign away his rights to his Aunt's corporation or be exposed. Without any options Roger plants a bomb in his Uncle's car and kills him on a remote mountain road. When someone as important as Doris Buckner calls in a missing person, the Police Commissioner sends his best man (Lieutenant Columbo) to investigate. Whenever the wreckage of the car is discovered at the bottom of a ravine, it appears like an accident but a phone message, strange burn patterns and a curious Stanford make Columbo suspect that something untoward may have caused the fatal crash.

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. Saying this is not a spoiler – it is simply what happens in all the films. Here the film is pretty obvious throughout but does have some nice touches along the way. The main problem is that Roger is about the least subtle murderer that the series has seen – not only eccentric but with loads of motive and ability, Columbo goes after him as usual but the game is not as good it can be mainly because the character is so unusual. However the film has a neat ending that is tense and enjoyable even if it is a bit obvious. The fact that it has dated very badly is a bit of a problem, thanks to loads of seventies touches in the music, the direction and, most hilariously, the costumes. It isn't much of a problem but it is funnily distracting at times. The lack of consistent tension is more of a problem and the lack of clues means that the "investigation" is more of a speculation rather a building case.

Falk is his usual self – crumpled, self-deprecating and with a good line in mocking wit. He is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes and is very good value. McDowall is not as good but the problem is more to do with his character than anything else. He is an oddball and he drips suspicion at every turn, he never convinced me that he was the genius that the script would have us believe he was and, what's worse, he never once came across as a match (or anything like a match) for Columbo. The two have vague chemistry but there are no sparks between them and you almost feel pity for McDowall by the end because it was all so easy. The support cast threw up a flashback in the shape of Ida Lupino but it is Falk that steals the film as usual.

Overall this is a standard entry in the series that has the usual formula that will please fans but lacks anything special to really make it stand out. It is enjoyable on these terms but I didn't get much more from it than the average – watch it if you like the films generally but don't expect it to win you over if you have no particular love for the crumpled little policeman.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Reasonably enjoyable but fell short

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
10 April 2012

I am a huge Columbo fan, but while Short Fuse is not one of the worst of the series(Last Salute to the Commodore is for me the worst of the pre-1989 episodes, and No Time to Die, Murder in Malibu, Grand Deceptions and Dead Weight were also underwhelming) it was one of the weaker and blandest entries of that time period. I'll start with the good points. The locations and photography are stunning, the direction was solid enough and the music is well composed and fitting with the mood and period. Peter Falk is brilliant as always, embodying the iconic detective in the way that only he can do. In terms of any effective scenes, the best were the pretty clever murder sequence and the ending.

However, there are a number of problems, including a script that is lacking in wit and fluidity, a story that is good in concept and reasonably well paced but with plot twists that feel laboured and a lack of chemistry between Falk and MacDowell(when there is any it feels vague), disappointing considering that this is one of the best things about Columbo. Roddy MacDowell's performance is nowhere near the worst of the series(Andrew Stevens in Murder in Malibu and almost the entire cast of No Time to Die) but it was a performance lacking in subtlety and felt over-the-top in places, especially the laugh. In conclusion, enjoyable but fell short.

6/10 Bethany Cox

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:


Author: superfloususer from England
6 March 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Firstly I love Columbo. I think it is the best written, and most intriguing of all Murder Mystery dramas.

However I am not sure on this one. The basic plot is that a rich stepfather, is killed by his stepson (McDowell) with an exploding Cigar Case which makes his car explode. As usual Columbo resists all normal lines of interrogation and starts finding those small clues to highlight who the real culprit is. The final reveal is brilliant (Columbo, Company VP and McDowall in a Cable Car with the exploding case. Columbo knows that McDowall will try to get rid of the case before it explodes and kills them all, but the trick is its not the original case) And now why I don't like this episode, and I have to admit its common in Columbo episodes...The villain. McDowall's inane laughter was just so grating. He acted to portray a childish person, but it just comes off so "lame", even though he is supposed to have great intelligence proved by his concoction of his plan. For me he ruined this entire episode, because no-one would have believed him in real life. Case in point :- When he finds the photos of his stepdad with the secretary and doesn't want his mother to see them. Over the top acting, which detracts from Columbos brilliance Best Columbo villain for me ? The Great Santini (Cant remember the episode), or the Conductor from Etude. The best villains are the ones who don't over-act, but are cool ,calm and cerebral

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Columbo and a box of cigars

Author: Petri Pelkonen ( from Finland
4 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowall) decides to kill his uncle David L.Buckner (James Gregory) using exploding cigars.Lt.Columbo's job is to prove the death of Mr. Buckner wasn't an accident.Columbo: Short Fuse (1972) is a very good first season episode.Peter Falk's Columbo, an avid fans of cigars gets to investigate a case of exploding ones.Roddy McDowall makes a great villain in this one.Ida Lupino plays his aunt Doris.Anne Francis plays Valerie Bishop.William Windom is Everett Logan.A brilliant cast.Columbo entertains in Short Fuse as he always does.The last sequence high in the lift is great to watch.Columbo makes Roger a little nervous when he makes him believe he has the exploding cigars with him.He's always one step ahead of the crooks.

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14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A Columbo adventure without much spark!

Author: The Welsh Raging Bull ( from Port Talbot, South Wales, UK
10 March 2005

When I say that the ending is the best part of this final Season 1 Columbo adventure, I'm not being totally sarcastic: it is the most enjoyable and entertaining aspect of what is a largely indifferent addition to the series.

Roddy McDowall is certainly not one of Columbo's strongest adversaries, a fact that is perpetuated by his character's alarming tendency to incriminate himself. The story is not bloated with the typical script ingenuity or fluency, the plot development is laboured and the characters are decidedly boring.

All in all not one of Columbo's finest hours. On reflection, nobody's heart appears to be in it. For Columbo completionists only.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Roddy McDowell as a slimeball

Author: blanche-2 from United States
3 January 2016

Like others on this board, I agree that "Short Fuse" may not be the best Columbo episode, but the last scene makes up for a story that moves slowly.

McDowall plays Roger, the heir of a chemical company. He's a problem and has been since childhood when his aunt (Ida Lupino) took him in after his parents died. His uncle by marriage (James Gregory) doesn't like him and wants him out of the company. He intends to sell it, and Roger objects to that, believing the ownership should be his.

Roger is quite smart and rigs a bomb in uncle's cigar box, so that while his uncle is on the road to a country cabin, the bomb goes off.

Columbo shuffles around and the look on Roger's face when his aunt says, "The commissioner told me he would send is very best man" is priceless. Columbo, of course, has caught onto Roger immediately, and you'll see why. He does pick up on the little stuff.

The end is priceless. William Windom and Anne Francis also costar. Enjoyable.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Enjoyable But Undistinguished Early Columbo Story Of Uncle-Killing Chemist

Author: ShootingShark from Dundee, Scotland
15 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Roger Stanford is the wayward family heir to a large chemical corporation but the current chief - his uncle David - wants him sidelined. When the uncle meets with a suspicious car accident, Columbo investigates the possibility of murder.

This early Columbo story is good entertainment but doesn't quite compare with many of the later stories. The formula hadn't quite settled down at this point, so there are some anomalies; Columbo is called in before the body is discovered, there are too many post-death scenes without him, he doesn't ingratiate himself with the killer and he looks almost presentable. Having said that, the plot is fun - McDowall blows up the car with an untraceable exploding cigar, and the story builds to a climax in a cable-car where he is led to believe the booby-trapped box may result in his own death. The performances are good too - particularly Francis and Lupino - but overall this Columbo movie just isn't quite as clever, idiosyncratic or amusing as its many successors. The cable-car mountain locations were filmed at Palm Springs/San Jacinto in southern California.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Lacklustre Columbo

Author: Leofwine_draca from United Kingdom
24 November 2015

Being a huge fan of the Columbo films, it's hard for me to find ones I don't enjoy, but SHORT FUSE is one such production. It's a Columbo story that nearly sent me to sleep, which is saying something because these films usually have me totally entranced.

The problem with SHORT FUSE is the writing. The running time is mercifully short but the writing is below par compared to what we're used to from this series. The opening murder seems rushed and ill thought out, and the villain is so obviously guilty that there's little suspense from watching Columbo work his magic around him. It's a particular shame because the guest star is Roddy McDowall, and I love McDowall, just not his annoying, man-child character here.

Other than McDowall, we get Ida Lupino (again, after SWAN SONG) and William Windom in the supporting cast, so the actors are fine. Falk is on as good form as ever. But this is simplistic stuff indeed, there's nothing here that hasn't been done elsewhere, and other than a dark room encounter there's very little humour on display.

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