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This is not the first time Columbo has entered the world of magic and illusion in the course of his investigations; it is an ideal setting for murder, with its built-in "things are not what they seem to be" theme. This movie, however, goes into greater detail exploring the mechanics of trickery, and adds in the richer theme of (supposed) paranormal phenomena to make things more confusing. A renowned magician and debunker of fake mystics (perhaps modelled somewhat on James Randi) declares that a celebrated young psychic is the genuine article, and has actually succeeded in passing rigorous laboratory tests to prove his psychic ability. In fact, the psychic is a fake, as the magician is fully aware, but a combination of guilt and sentiment over some shared history between the two men leads him to cover up for the young man, who takes advantage of this weakness to kill him. Columbo must not only work his way through the tricky surfaces presented by professional magicians, he has to also deal with a murderer who has been authoritatively declared a genuine psychic by the victim. The most useful advice he gets comes from a rather snotty little boy who is a magic buff and tells him "It's a trick. You start out knowing it's a trick, and then you figure out how to do it." Watching Columbo learn how to duplicate the apparently mystical feats of his opponent is highly enjoyable.
When Columbo returned to television in the late '80s, the integrity of
the original series was usually in place. The qualities that made
Columbo tops were never more apparent than in "Columbo Goes to the
Guillotine," with guest stars Anthony Andrews, Anthony Zerbe, and Karen
Austin. Andrews plays a psychic being wooed by a government
organization for his gifts, but of course, they want to see proof. He
is connected with a psychic institute run by beautiful Karen Austin,
who not only wants the credibility a win like this could give her
institute, but Andrews himself. She is running tests and helping him
Enter Zerbe, a magician who makes his living debunking psychics. He is brought in by the government to administer special tests to Andrews. Turns out, he and Andrews knew each other once, long ago, in a third world prison, and when Zerbe saw his chance to get out, he did, leaving Andrews behind. There is a hint here of more than just a prison friendship - in the hands of two excellent actors like Zerbe and Andrews, they have etched these characters and their relationship with a lot of layers. Andrews plays the card of their old friendship to get Zerbe to give him elaborate tests that are carried out by trickery, and then sanction him as real to the government. This accomplished, Andrews plays the revenge card for what Zerbe did by abandoning him years ago and, in a remarkable scene, gets rid of him. It's brilliantly done as the murder is never shown, but it makes you sick anyway.
It's up to Columbo to debunk the psychic and reveal him for what he really is, a cold-blooded killer. Watch Columbo figure out the tests, with the help of a boy who is a magic aficionado, and be prepared to be caught up in the scenario and feel like you've just seen a pretty great magic show. One of the truly great Columbos.
I think of Peter Falk's Lieutenant Columbo as an old friend. I love watching him in action. Peter Falk is so good at playing him and he obviously enjoys it as well because he keeps coming back to him as well. I know that he kept the trademark raincoat from the series. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine was the first of many Columbo television films that came back after a decade long absence from our homes. We notice that Columbo hasn't changed that much including his raincoat over the last ten or so years that he stopped playing him. He's still the smart, funny, forgetful, and lovable Italian detective that we remember and treasure. I wish there was another episode even now. They're all treasures. I love how he doesn't change with the times but the characters do.
Elliot Blake is a well-known psychic who is working to prove his skills
to the US Government so he can enter the lucrative and highly secretive
programme for developing psychic powers. Despite having blitzed the
tests (with a little help from the inside) the game appears up when
magician and renowned cynic Max Dyson is brought in by the Government
to give him a harder test. What the Government agents don't know is
that the men have a history and Dyson helps Blake by passing him
despite him being a fake. However this history also drives Blake to
kill Dyson in the latter's own magic guillotine making it look like a
tragic accident. It appears an open and shut case of death by
misadventure but a Philips head screwdriver is enough to put doubt in
Columbo's mind. Finding that Dyson had just worked with Blake and
signed him off as genuine, Columbo turns to his unique talent to assist
him with the case.
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. The new Columbo films don't always pull this trick off but this one is enjoyable enough thanks to sticking close to the formula to cover up for the unlikely nature of the plot. Although it provides some nice ideas, the narrative lacks a real lack of convincing development and this at times put me off but generally it had enough about it to keep me interested.
The way Columbo solves the mystery isn't a nice, logical story but moves in jumps and sudden discoveries; again it is entertaining enough but not quite as satisfying where he picks at smaller details. The magical aspect of the story has been done better earlier in the series but it still works well here, providing Columbo with some nice scenes where he turns the tricks on Elliott to get his man. It isn't classic fare but it should satisfy fans. Falk is on good form, which helps, and he does enjoy a nice chemistry with Andrews. The latter is not great but he is good enough to work within the formula and make for an interesting target for Columbo. Support from Zerbe is good but other than him nobody else is really that memorable.
Overall this is not up to the standard of the better Columbo episodes from the 1970's but it is actually reasonably good. By sticking to formula it covers up the plot weaknesses and will do enough to satisfy fans of the film. A much better alternative would be "Columbo: Now You See Him" but failing a return to the best days this is an OK modern Columbo.
Without being absolutely outstanding, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine is a solid and nice return for the great detective. The second half does drag though, and some scenes go on for too long, but other than that it is a very good episode, helped primarily by a good script and a clever plot with some interesting magic tricks. The locations and photography as per usual are striking, and the music is good as well. The acting isn't outstanding but it is still good. Peter Falk I have no problem with, while Anthony Andrews gives a good turn as well, while the supporting cast while not as good are solid. Overall, it is a nice return for Columbo, with an 8/10. Bethany Cox
11 years after the last Columbo movie "Columbo: The Conspirators",
Peter Falk returns as the scruffy looking famous Los Angeles police
lieutenant. He could had made a far worse comeback, for "Columbo:
Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" is simply a solid and well made Columbo
For this project they safely picked director Leo Penn, who had already directed the solid Columbo movie "Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm", 16 years earlier. He provides the movie with a steady and pleasant pace, using lots of cuts and dynamic camera-work. I have to say this is really one of the more stylish looking Columbo movies, as if they had more money to spend this time and more time to put in details and make things look more perfect. It probably was also true, since they of course had to ensure that Columbo would be picked up again by the viewers and it all had to be as good and successful again as the 'old' Columbo movies.
Even though it takes a long while for the murder to occur (it occurs after 24 minutes into the movie) and therefore also takes a long while for Lt. Columbo to make his grand entrance, it still is a movie that will keep you interested throughout, due to its nice written and compelling story, even though it sort of 'borrows' at times from the previous Columbo movie "Columbo: Now You See Him ", from 1976.
Anthony Andrews is perfectly cast and he really suits his role well as the movie its murderer. One thing that is very typical for the 'newer', post-'70's Columbo movies is that they mostly feature unknown actors as the movie its 'villains' opposite Lt. Columbo, unlike the 'older' Columbo movies, which always featured some big stars from movie, TV and even from the musical world in it, as the movie its killer. This new approach for the later Columbo movies, with casting mostly unknown actors in the important roles, doesn't always work out as well as it does in this movie though.
Unfortunalty the movie sleeps in a bit in the movie its second halve. Some of the sequences go on for too long and could had made their point much earlier. Seems to me they just HAD to fill around 90 minutes. A bit of a shame, since if this movie entirely would had been more like it's first halve, this movie could had really been among the best Columbo movies out of the long running successful series. The movie tends to get better toward the ending again but its ruined by a more slightly weak ending.
Overall a nice comeback from the good old lieutenant and on par with most other quality Columbo movies.
I was excited to see the Columbo episodes that were made in the late
'80s and beyond, mainly because i really haven't seen most of them,
unlike the original series, where i have seen (and loved) them all.
This episode, the first after a decade long break, starts off
promising.I wish they had used a bigger star as the villain because
that was always part of the fun, as villains go the guy in this episode
is a bit lackluster for me. Actually, they should have used the guy who
ended up playing the magician as the villain....much better actor and
more menacing by far than the guy that ended up the villain. Another
gripe is the music....its pretty dreadful. Like something from "murder
she wrote", no disrespect.
Now for the good part.....Peter Falk is just priceless.....he may be a bit older and not quite as sharp but as clever as always. Considering he was in his 60's here, he still pulls it off well. Looking forward to watching all of the newer episodes.... Best moment : columbo making awed facial expressions as the phony psychic scans the crimescene for clues. I was laughing out loud.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was the first entry in the later series, eleven years after the
previous close, when somebody, probably an MBA, figured out that there
might still be a nickel left in the program if it were resurrected. Lo,
Columbo, come forth! It's not quite the same Columbo though. During his
salad days the character was smart as a whip and his intuition was
fulgurating. His speech came at a normal velocity. In this later
series, he's more rumpled than ever, clothing and character alike. He
seems always to be smiling, and he speaks slowly and clearly, as if
addressing an elementary school class.
I liked the earlier Columbo much better. When Columbo I was supposed to be embarrassed, he acted convincingly embarrassed. I mean, really flustered. The later Columbo can't, or won't, do that. When he apologizes for some gaffe, he seems to be enacting the role of a man who is supposed to be embarrassed.
The stories tended to be not so tightly wound either -- if the earlier plots with their multitude of holes can be said to be tightly wound. And the caliber of the guest stars declined as well. Instead of Janet Leigh or John Cassavetes, we tend to get Robert Foxworth or, as here, Anthony Andrews, a weak British actor who needs exactly the right role and who doesn't get it here. That's important because the episodes depended a great deal on their murderers.
Anyway, there is an old rivalry between Andrews, who pretends to be a psychic, and his mentor, Anthony Zerbe, who is intent on exposing him as a fake. Andrews manages to get Zerbe's head into one of those magic guillotines and chop it off. Columbo shambles about, poking into things, bumping into strange people, and unravels the plot by the most unlikely means.
One thing, though. The set ups that precede Columbo's entrance are usually pretty dumb, so much so that sometimes they're practically dispensed with -- as in that episode with the "Ding-a-Ling Ice Cream" truck. (I'm too lazy to look up the title, but the villain is Robert Culp.) Here, the set up is rather extended, bonded with later events, and interesting in itself.
It's not a bad episode, superior to most of those that would follow. I enjoy watching it but I'm sorry they gave it another try. The initial series was so entertaining that this strictly commercial adventure seems undignified, even insulting.
Anthony Andrews stars as a reputed psychic named Eliot Blake who decides(for personal reasons of keeping some shared secrets in the past) to murder a former mentor and now rival, a mentalist named Max Dyson(played by Anthony Zerbe) by the unusual method of guillotine in a magician's workshop. Lt Columbo(Peter Falk) must carefully proceed against the smooth but aloof killer, and make sure the same harsh fate doesn't befall him... Peter Falk returns to his signature role after a decade absence with success. Though Columbo is of course older and grayish, his mind is as sharp as ever, and the familiar formula still works, though the '70's grittiness is perhaps missing,
COLUMBO GOES TO THE GUILLOTINE is the first of the revamped shows that
saw Peter Falk returning to the famous role of Lieutenant Columbo after
an eleven-year break from the role. And it's business as usual for the
crumpled detective, as he goes after a psychic who may or may not be
involved with the murder of a magician and professional debunker.
The script offers an uneasy combination of psychic-busting thrills with more traditional magician fare. The influences are clear; the delightful Anthony Zerbe stars in a role that's obviously modelled on James Randi, the real-life debunker who made a living of exposing fraud. The villain of the piece is BRIDESHEAD REVISITED's Anthony Andrews, delivering a fun plummy character who Columbo has to get to grips with.
COLUMBO GOES TO THE GUILLOTINE is notable for featuring a particularly gruesome murder and a rather exciting denouement for the star. Falk is on assured form and the only thing missing is a hefty dose of the comedy that I particularly love from this show.
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