Riley Greenleaf is a publisher and Alan Mallory, a successful writer, is his principal asset. But Alan Mallory has decided to change publishers. Riley threatens to kill Alan. Then he hires Eddie Kane, a Vietnam veteran, to murder Alan and to leave evidence that the killer is Riley himself, who has an excellent alibi. But a key will betray him. Written by
Baldinotto da Pistoia
On the whole, an entertaining and well-written episode with clever ideas (a murderer who makes it look as though he has been framed, and the lock-changing) and another classy performance by Jack Cassidy.
Some of this episode's notable features include the freeze-frame shots in the opening sequence and, later, the triple-screen sequence showing what Greenleaf and Kane are doing in the minutes leading up to the murder. Greenleaf's barely-concealed distaste for Kane, with his obsession with explosives and the army, is highly amusing, as is the completely unconcerned expression on Greenleaf's face as he watches Kane collapse after the latter imbibes poisoned champagne.
What lets the episode down a little is Greenleaf's carelessness just before the murder takes place, and a contradiction between two scenes. The idea of making it look as though he was framed is a clever one, but having gone to the trouble of planning the "frame-up" meticulously, he then makes an open threat against Mallory's life in front of witnesses at Geoffrey Neal's party ("My dear friend, if you do you will die"). When Columbo visits the writer's agent (Eileen McRae), she tells him that Greenleaf didn't know about Mallory's new book (Columbo: "But still, the book would still belong to Mr Greenleaf, wouldn't it?" Eileen: "You've got a lot to learn about the publishing business, Lieutenant. Riley Greenleaf didn't know anything about the book, Alan never talked to him about it and never would.") This contradicts what Greenleaf had said in front of her the night before ("His new book belongs to me and I've got him on the contract"), so what McRae tells Columbo isn't true, and she should have known that. Why on earth doesn't she give Columbo this crucial piece of information? Greenleaf makes another curious slip when Columbo visits him at his home. Realising that he has been "framed", Greenleaf - who supposedly doesn't know about Mallory's new book - hands Columbo a motive: "Alan walked out on me, took his book to another publisher, and I suppose in anger, I killed him." If he wanted it to look as though Kane had framed him, he didn't need to give himself a strong motive for killing Mallory, especially since Kane wouldn't have known that Mallory was planning to go to a new publisher. Again, it's hard to reconcile this careless error with the thorough planning that goes into the first murder. The fact that Greenleaf's car "accident" coincides to the minute with the murder is also a little obvious.
A couple of other oddities: no autopsy is performed on Kane after his death, yet Columbo frequently orders them in other episodes even where the cause of death seems to be obvious. This means that the poison, which would have been an important clue, goes undetected. Also, Greenleaf phones Kane from his office to set up their final meeting - another unwise move given that the phone company records could have been checked, but mysteriously, this too goes undetected. One also has to wonder how Greenleaf had initially planned to kill Kane, as he only spots "How to Blow Anything up in 10 Easy Lessons" by chance. He takes a huge risk in relying on the spaced-out war veteran's guidance. A terrible, very obvious edit mars the brief scene where Columbo talks to the locksmith outside the latter's shop.
There are several reminders of other episodes. In the opening scene, Greenleaf uses the phrase "tribute to American ingenuity", which is repeated verbatim in Double Exposure. The two piano pieces played at Neal's party also feature in several other episodes including A Stitch in Crime, Lady in Waiting and Ransom for a Dead Man, and the music played while Greenleaf watches a film likewise features in other episodes, including The Most Crucial Game (scene where Columbo visits Eve Babcock, aka Regoczy, at her apartment). This scene reminds me of the scene in Double Exposure where Columbo comes to tell Bart Keppel about the murder of Roger White, as once again, the murder is watching a film while being told about the second murder in an episode. Michael Lally puts in just the briefest of appearances, at the end of the scene where Greenleaf leaves the car park where he had his car accident. One final little coincidence is the fact that typewriters and champagne feature in all three of Jack Cassidy's episodes.
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