This time Columbo pits his wits against a movie director who murders an old friend on a set, because this friend is in possession of a damaging piece of film, on which the actress died and isn't helped by the movie director. Written by
Maarten Hofman <email@example.com>
When Columbo is eating at the commissary and overhears the conversation between the two actresses, he puts ketchup on his food. But, when the camera switches to a two-shot of the actresses, the ketchup bottle is sitting on the counter in front of them. See more »
One of the better entries in the second Colombo series. As usual Colombo stumbles into an unfamiliar universe in which his adversary condescends to him and underestimates his skills. In this instance, the heavy is Alex Brady (Fisher Stevens), a Spielberg figure, a young, cocky, talented, film director who electrocutes an old friend who's discovered a skeleton in Stevens' closet. Colombo solves the mystery with the help of his brains and a nearly miraculous dose of good luck. (Walking alone on a deserted set at Universal, he happens to step on a heel that turns out to be a crucial clue.)
It provides a good deal of expectable fun. So why isn't it as satisfying as the entries from the 1970s?
One reason is that Falk is 20 years older than when he started out. It's not his fault that he's aged, God knows, yet it's depressing, even though he was never an actor whose appeal rested on youthful good looks. It's a little like looking in the mirror with your 30th birthday somewhere behind you.
Second, Falk approaches the role differently. In the 1970s he was usually distracted. He frowned while concentrating, rarely smiled except with embarrassment. His eyes darted about. His speech may have been full of hesitation but his intuitions were accurate and lightning fast.
But he has changed. It's as one critic wrote of the return of Sherlock Holmes, after Conan Doyle's failed attempt to knock him off and get rid of him, "he was never quite the same man." His movements have slowed, his gestures have become more expansive, his smile has become practically a fixed grin regardless of the situation, and his voice is patronizing and patient, as if he were telling a fairy story to a couple of kids. Whereas before he seemed genuinely bemused, he now seems overly pleasant and phony.
The plot is interesting enough, up to most Colombo standards, but its execution suggests a sort of desperation to do something novel with the episode. We'll skip over the small implausibilities. (Colombo walks into a sound stage and knows how to operate the equipment.) The ending almost makes one cringe. Colombo has outwitted -- I guess that's the word -- Stevens by surrounding him in public places with police officers in wardrobe and makeup, playing the parts of waitresses, and whatnot, although what that has accomplished is a little slippery to the grasp. The role-playing cops are introduced to Stevens with a spotlight, one by one, dressed for their parts, and they take bows, while the score lapses into fanfares. It's a trick the 70s episodes would not have pulled, nor would they have had to pull it.
Stevens is pretty good as the arrogant young murderer. Steven Hill is there, briefly, as a producer. The best performance is by Nan Martin as the secretary, Rose, although her part too is a small one.
You can never recapture the past, as they say, but this entry in the later series is far ahead of some of the others. Some were unbearable.
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