"Columbo" Murder, Smoke and Shadows (TV Episode 1989) Poster

(TV Series)

(1989)

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Tricky
Robert J. Maxwell13 May 2004
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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9/10
One of the Columbo's you definitely should watch
Maarten Hofman9 January 1999
This Columbo has everything that you'd expect from a good Columbo: great dialogue, a bright murderer who only makes a few tiny mistakes and a wonderful setting (a movie studio) which adds interesting metaphores and storylines. Columbo is getting older, but not worse, and I enjoyed watching this from the beginning to the end.
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8/10
Well enough done for Columbo fanatics but still not reflective of the quality of the original series
The Welsh Raging Bull17 July 2005
One of the best of the "new" Columbo adventures, which sees him cross swords with a relentlessly cocky and arrogant movie director who murders an old friend who discovers the truth behind his sister's death on a movie set some years before.

Fisher Stevens is undeniably excellent as the cold-heartedly manipulative and scheming Alex Brady whose empire is gradually eroded by the emergence of progressively incriminating circumstantial evidence. His increasingly antagonistic scenes with Falk are the main asset of the story and almost dispel the theory that you can't recapture the style and enjoyment of an original series by re-making it.

As is customary Columbo is "lucky" with some of his evidence (the shoe heel which gives Columbo the location of the murder being a case in point); but one can argue that his unwavering thoroughness entitles him to find the most unlikely things.

Another good thing in this adventure is that Columbo doesn't really have enough concrete evidence until the very end and even then the murderer is dismissive of Columbo's perceptions of proof.

One negative observation is Falk's portrayal of Columbo - it is decidedly more matter-of-fact nowadays, which is probably attributable to his age and the time-lapse between the old series and new series.
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10/10
Fisher Stevens is a genius
aromatic-223 June 2001
Fisher Stevens gives a tour-de-force performance as a Spielberg-like director with delusions of omnipotence. Columbo gives him enough rope to hang himself and Stevens uses it spectacularly. There is never a dull moment as Stevens, for the first time, meets another chess player smarter than he, and unwilling to bend, Stevens ultimately breaks -- in unforgettable fashion. An "A+" Columbo episode.
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5/10
The Annoying Movie Director
Henry Kujawa8 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Fisher Stevens gets my vote as the 2nd-most arrogant, obnoxious and annoying murderer in the entire history of COLUMBO. (#1 goes to the 2 guys who planned a murder together, a few seasons after this!) That Stevens' character was (ahem) "inspired" by Steven Spielberg may not matter that much, though I have to admit, I'm in a minority who has found very few of Spielberg's films enjoyable at all.

Stevens' performance may be exactly what they were going for, the film a statement about "youth" culture gone mad, a total lack of respect for age, experience, or all other people in general. Here's a guy who was responsible for a young woman's death, who murders to cover up evidence of it that might destroy his career. If you look at the way things go for him, it looks like his life was about to collapse even without the murder.

There was just something very "off" about Peter Falk's entire performance as COLUMBO the entire season that ABC brought back the series. He was slow, his movements exaggerated and theatrical to a painful degree, and he seemed more retarded and senile than ever before. I really don't know how I ever made it thru those first 4 new installments.

The following year, Falk took over the series as co-executive producer, and began to "play" with the format. The show became less predictable, and Falk's portrayal of COLUMBO improved drastically. We got to see more of him away from the murderers, and when he wasn't putting on his "act", it became clear for the first time in years that this man was BRILLIANT. Many of my favorite COLUMBOs were from the 90's. Looking at this one, it's amazing we ever got there.

Molly Hagen may be one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen on this show. I've also seen her in CODE OF SILENCE (the girl who gets kidnapped) and DEEP SPACE NINE (the 1st "Vorta"). I do have to agree with the reviewer who said the scene where she confronts her director-boyfriend with his duplicity seemed too abrupt, but that's more the writing and directing at fault.

As for the resolution... for anyone who got confused, Columbo did not set up anything about the scene with the 2 actresses and the security guard (all 3 who were under the director's order). It was the scene in the restaurant with the secretary Columbo stage-managed, and his "sting" involved the director bribing her with a free vacation as an "admission of guilt". STILL flimsy. The officers taking bows one by one was just going way, way too far, though.

Indicentally, the thing I'll probably always remember James Frawley for was directing 28 episodes of THE MONKEES! (That's about half the entire run.)
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8/10
A fun Columbo
blanche-28 September 2005
A Steven Spielberg type director murders an old friend who has uncovered the director's murder of a young woman years earlier. Columbo investigates, and we are treated to him walking around a studio and spending time in this young man's opulent dressing room, complete with a soda fountain. Columbo, of course, helps himself to a sundae.

This is one of the better "comeback" Columbos of the '80s and early '90s, with a delightful performance by Fisher Stevens as the director, who, despite a childlike quality is a total jerk. Nan Martin and Molly Hagen also turn in good performances.

There's a rumor that Steven Spielberg ghost-directed this episode. Hard to know, but the director does seem to have been modeled on him - not the murder part, though.
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3/10
What happened to Columbo?
jimkis-19 June 2007
After a considerable hiatus, Columbo returned to TV in 1989, and all 5 episodes from that year are very uneven. It's mostly because of the writing, but it is also because of the casting. None of these episodes has any of the fun "big" names that the Columbo character was associated with before. No Shatner. No Mickey Spillane. No Ruth Gordon. This particular episode typifies that problem. Fisher Stevens, who is so obviously supposed to be Spielberg that it hurts to watch him, just is not in the league with the type of guests starts Columbo was known for previously. He seems like he's 12 years old and gives no depth to his character. He tries to be quirky but he just can't pull it off. Peter Falk attempts to save the episode but he is saddled with a script that puts him in embarrassing situations that are uncomfortable to watch. One example is when he tells Stevens his friend is dead then asks if he can make himself an ice cream soda. I know Columbo is supposed to be disingenuous but here he seems just rude and/or dumb. Falk does his best with the rest of the teleplay but Stevens is just not strong enough an actor to make the interplay between detective and murderer either intriguing or entertaining. After a while, it is all rather tiresome and fails to satisfy as the best of the old Columbo series did.
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One of the stronger "new" Columbo films despite not being up to the high standards of the original
bob the moo11 October 2005
Alex Bradey is a successful young director having gone from young auteur to studio daringly in a few short pictures. He has retained his sense of fun and childlike pleasure in cinema but all this seems threatened by the reappearance of old friend Leonard Fisher. Fisher has uncovered film that shows that Leonard's sister died during a stunt gone wrong for Alex and not on an accident on the way to the set as Alex had claimed. He plans to expose Alex but the director cannot allow this to happen and kills his friend – dumping the body on the beach with the face and fingerprints removed. A book on Bradey's films dropped near the scene leads Columbo to his door though, looking to solve the strange connections that are bugging him.

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. Having had my fingers burnt with my first "new" Columbo, I wasn't sure if I should bother going back or should just rewatch the original series from the seventies, but I thought that the formula can't be that hard to pull off and figured that it was worth another pass. With this film I was pleased to find that it went back to basics by having a simple cat/mouse game with Columbo learning stuff in a new world. The connection to Alex is a bit of a stretch at first but the film copes with it well and manages to smoothly move into the formula.

The mystery is not that impressive but the delivery is good nonetheless. The characters are pretty good and the lead two work well together. Falk isn't as good as he was in the 1970's but he is better here than the other new episodes I have seen recently. He doesn't do the comedy as well as he can but he plays well enough with the mystery to make it work. Stevens is nowhere near the class of the 1970's guests but he is pretty enjoyable in a reasonable reference to Spielberg. He isn't that strong but he works well with Falk. The support cast are OK but nothing more than that, so the film wisely leaves them mostly in the background and focuses on the lead two.

Not a great Columbo film then and certainly not up to the standard of the original series' but it is one of the better "new" films. The focus on formula plays to the strength of the series and limits the amount of misjudged clutter that it has. Fans will like it – new viewers should skip back about 15 years to find out what all the fuss was about.
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6/10
Even James Frawley can't fully save this movie.
Boba_Fett113811 September 2008
The movie is directed by James Frawley. His Columbo movies weren't among the fastest going ones but they always were among the more stylish ones. He directed the movies with lots of class and he is among my favorite Columbo movie directors. Throughout his career he directed a total of 6 Columbo movies, evenly divided between the '80's and '70's. The also always had a certain amount of fun written over it, in a quirky kind of way, this movie included. The humor always has been one of the great things about the Columbo-series and James Frawley was a person who always seemed to got it right. This was an entertaining movie in parts but I just did not have as much fun watching it as I do watching other Columbo movies.

In this case the movie its pace isn't a great thing about the movie. It takes a long while for Lt. Columbo to enter the picture, which normally is an indication that the movie itself also isn't going to be among the best the long running Columbo series has to offer. The movie is a lot of talk but not enough action. Not enough is ever happening in this movie and the movie gets stuck in its pace.

Combined with this gets the fact that this movie doesn't feature the best Columbo 'villain'. Fisher Stevens also isn't exactly the best known or most perfect person imaginable to play the part. The movie really features some bad casting and the movie was lacking a good and well known actor playing opposite Peter Falk. None of the '80's Columbo movies feature any big stars opposite Peter Falk in it. They obviously were trying to head into a new direction with the series, after it had stopped in 1978 and got re-launched in 1989. It's a reason why the 'later' Columbo movies mostly aren't as good as the beginning of the series, during the '60's and '70's.

The story has a good concept though, although it's perhaps not as well written or clever as it could had been. It still has a great ending though. The movie is set entirely at the Universal studios. It wasn't the first Columbo movie that got set at the Universial studios though. Universal was of course also the distributor of the Columbo movies, so they had no hard time getting permission to film on the lot.

A slightly below average Columbo movie entry.

6/10

http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
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8/10
Not too shabby....
zmartever13 March 2014
I liked this installment better than the first movie from '89 where the snobby villain was rather dull. At least here the villain, although a tad young, had some personality. I liked to watch his building frustration as Columbo tightened the noose. All in all, a better effort all around. I think i am figuring out why the original columbos were just better. Made in the '70s they had a certain style and simplicity thats maybe lacking in the newer films.....the newer versions try to do too much. Everything is a bit cheesier, even the music. Funny but the "newer" episodes seem more dated to me than the older stuff. And i am, so far, missing the big name villains. I am hoping the episode with Faye Dunaway will rectify this. However, as always, i enjoy Peter Falk. He remains as good as ever. Best moment: columbo shows his incredible deduction skills to the viewer and the villain during an early scene where Columbo can tell so much from 2 left over ice cream sodas. It's right up there with vintage Columbo. Secondly, the scene where Columbo literally hangs in the air scanning a movie set. His dislike of heights is known from vintage episodes.
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Weak Portrayal of Villain
rakegoat3 November 2002
If only another actor had portrayed the Alex Bradey villain in this episode, we'd have had one of the better latter-day Columbos. Imagine, if, as replacements for Fisher Stevens, William Shatner had over-acted and Johnny Cash had under-acted--- as they had in past Columbo antagonist roles, then this episode would have succeeded. Steven's weak performance plunges this episode into confusion. The actor seems as if he is constantly trying to upstage Mr. Falk. Mr. Falk, acts like a driver who sometimes, suddenly gives a reckless driver a lot of room in which to have an accident. Deplorably and perceptibly, Mr. Stevens requires the prompts of eye contact, gestures and auditory signals by Mr. Falk who by both yielding to the younger actor's odd histrionics, is managing to hold each scene together; Mr. Falk here and there, is directing the insipid thespian to take a beat that ought to have been taken lines earlier. It is as if Mr. Stevens thought that he was doing a part in a musical comedy, or in a B-melodrama. I have decided that Mr. Stevens was either fraught with influenza, or, had purposely chosen to disparage the show through ham tactics--- that is, if he didn't lack the significant talent for playing this role. Without a scintilla of cheating-back, or pulling away, he shamelessly tries to overwhelm the other actors with his attempts to chew the scenery. It seems as if the actor playing his secretary would like to raise her hand in order to do her line. The scene where Ruth 'Ruthie' Jernigan's character changes a romantic scene by turning on a dime to oppose her the evil director-character, is also so choppily acted by these two "thespians" that their apparent or purposeful lack of "acting" would seem touching, if it would not also simultaneously seem to be infuriating to note that they are running an otherwise fine episode of a great t.v. show into the ground. When her Molly suddenly informs Bradey that she has recognized his depraved indifference to the death of his friend's sister, their modulation from the romantic to combative, is so poorly accomplished that one wonders if the director had used one of Stevens' or Jernigan's insipid screen tests for the final shoot. She runs through her lines with too great a speed for the listener to understand her motivation for turning against her lover. The writing is an odd mixture of witty dialogue and illogical premises. Columbo is his usual brilliant and ironic self. However, the resolution of this episode fails because Columbo doesn't really solve this case, albeit the show's director James Frawley would have us believe otherwise. At the conclusion, we are asked to believe that Columbo has planted confederates in both the studio and its cafeteria to undermine the director's ploy to misdirect the detective using a conversation that was held between two stock actors, (a chat written by the director to pretend to his innocence). Columbo, upon overhearing the actors' conversation during lunch all but tramples over a security guard to stalk these actors in an attempt to continue to eavesdrop. During the gaudy denouement (complete with Spotlights and orchestra) it is revealed that one of these actors had been planted there by Mr. Columbo, and thus that the "misdirection" had been inflicted upon the director, all along. Columbo, moreover, tells Bradey that the waitress at the cafeteria had been played by Jernigan, incognito. The confederates' efforts prove that Bradey had tried to mislead a murder investigation. But the writers of this episode never depict Columbo establishing that the confederate's role was significant for the purpose of using Bradey's contempt for the investigation as proof that he had shown depraved indifference toward the death. The significance of Jernigan's confederate waitress is also never explained for its supposedly crucial part during the `sting.' Moreover, it is never explained why the exposed misleading of a murder investigation also proves the suspect's guilt. The possibility that a potentially-innocent Mr. Bradey was performing the misdirection only to get the detective off of his back, is also never explored. In conclusion, after listening to an hour and a half of Stevens trashing his lines, his voice venturing momentously between shrill highs and raspy, basso lows (much in the way that Jiminy Glick speaks), I would like to have called 911 on this episode! I am one of the biggest Columbo fans that you'll ever find. But I have sadly, finally found a dog in the Columbo library and I am tempted to blame its entire canine status on Fisher Stevens--- perhaps just for the fun of doing so.
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6/10
Not As Good As The Originals
Colonel_Potter19 July 2007
As a devoted fan of Columbo - well the 1970s Columbos which were filled with great star names of the day, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Jack Cassidy(thrice!)Anne Baxter, Janet Leigh etc it was with initial dread that I watched the newer versions of the late 80s and 90s, as they had such a hard act to follow.

This film is nowhere near as good as the old ones - Fisher Stevens, who he? - well whoever he is, he is not in the same league as his fellow past guest villains either in acting ability or menace at all.

Peter Falk looks as though he's just going through the motions and delivers every sentence as though he is mocking all the time, sarcastically trying to be funny and unsettling at the same time, neither very convincing.

The story itself isn't too bad - not too good either, but at least it tries to recapture some of the magic of old.
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7/10
A good episode and entertaining!
Syl18 May 2006
What makes Columbo work in my opinion is that despite the seriousness of the crime which is always murder that there is light-heartedness. Fisher Stevens is the star of his own movie. The cast is excellent besides Stevens and Peter Falk as the dashing Columbo. You have Molly Hagen who is underused in the industry and has appeared in another Columbo as Fisher's girlfriend. They also have Nan Martin who is wonderful as the woman who helps and hurts the lead character. Anyway, the filmmaker played by Fisher Stevens does learns the hard way by trying to fool Columbo. You can't fool or mess with him around or you'll get caught. He always catches his man or woman. This episode could have been better but it's not bad.
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7/10
Good but not great
TheLittleSongbird3 April 2012
As I have said many times I love Columbo and always have done. Murder, Smoke and Shadows(wonderful title) is a good episode, but it is not my definition of a truly great episode. It looks great, and is scored very nicely. The script and story are more than acceptable, but I have seen better in other episodes. The script is clever with some nice wit, but it did feel a little too talky, slowing the pace of the story, a component that has been more diverting and perhaps more original before and since but still interesting and entertaining in the clues, the interaction between Falk and Stevens and Columbo deductions. The ending is great. Peter Falk while not as alert as he was pre-1989 is still terrific in perhaps his most iconic role, and while not my favourites of the series by all means Fisher Stevens still delights as a Steven Spielberg-like director character, who is a complete jerk often. Overall, a good episode, but just falls short of greatness. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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7/10
Good, but some incongruences
Harp27 July 2017
Columbo unmasks Alex thanks to the ticket found in his album.

1) Why did Fischer leave this ticket on the album?

(2) It will be easy for Bradey's lawyer to say that Fischer was able to enter the "boy's club" (which is not locked, as can be seen) without warning Bradey for some unknown reason.

3) Columbo suspects Bradey because he found a book he wrote around the place where the corpse was found. (As he says, not on the corpse, not on the side, but on the beach. And let's put aside the fact that Alex does not hear the book fall when he pulls his friend out of the trunk of the car) It could have been abandoned by anyone, and I do not believe for a second that a policeman would have been interested in him.
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Okay episode
Wizard-81 July 2017
As you may know, the quality of "Columbo" episodes made when the series was revived ranged wildly in quality. Some were good, and some were really disappointing. Then there were some that were okay, this episode being one of them.

There are some good elements in this episode - Fisher Stevens makes for a great adversary to Columbo, being an arrogant upstart that you'll hope will get his comeuppance in the end, while being smart - though of course, not too smart for Columbo. Peter Falk is also in good form in this episode, having great chemistry with Stevens when they are paired together. Also, Columbo does some really clever detective work on this particular case.

On the other hand, there are times when Columbo is almost literally handed some clues on a plate. There are also some slow spots here and there that are pretty blatant padding (The show worked better in the past when episodes were only about 70 minutes long before commercials.) And the concluding sequence, where Columbo traditionally reveals to the killer how he pieced everything together, is in this case a little over the top, too flashy and spectacular for both the show and the character of Columbo.

There are better Columbo episodes, but on the other hand, this one isn't among one of the worst. Your enjoyment of Columbo shows will probably dictate how much you'll enjoy this average entry.
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7/10
Wired For A Ham
DKosty12326 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
As Peter Falk took over as Executive Producer of this series, he changed Columbo into a character who outsmarted annoying criminals. Here he takes annoying wonder-kid director and catches him after he murders his friend because his friend realized the director had murdered his sister years before.

While this might sound a little strange, it is Columbo after all. I mean this guy is so rich he has his own Soda Fountain in his living room. That makes the famous Director, a Soda Jerk, and he is one literally.

As for Columbo, well he smugly makes himself an ice cream soda and whips the soda jerk by his own means. While this change from annoying detective to detective with annoying criminal cycle is complete here, and even though Columbo is no longer a spring chicken, there is no reason to throw out this case with the biscuits and gravy. There is still plenty of good food for thought in this episode.
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5/10
Death is the only part that's real
kapelusznik1810 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS**** Let. Francis Columbo, Peter Falk,really sticks his neck out here by pushing all the buttons on this deranged psycho whiz-kid director Alex Brady, Fisher Stevens,by inciting him to the point where he-Let. Columbo-may well end up being his next victim.It's Bradly's boyhood friend from Albany NY Lenny Fisher,Jeff Perry, who starts the ball rolling by accusing Brady in being responsible for his sister Jenny's death. That's by him not calling for help after she had a motorcycle accident in a movie that Brady was directing.

The fact that Jenny's death was indeed an accident not murder makes Brady's actions that much more bizarre. With the most Brady can expect is a slap on the wrist, like so many other Hollywood directors, in having a actor or actress hurt or killed in one of their movies he goes so far as cold blooded murdering Lenny making it a capital crime! Where he can end up being strapped into the San Quentin gas chamber, yes by 1989 when the movie was made the death penalty was reinstated in the US,and executed by lethal gas!

Let. Columbo smells something rotten when Lenny's body was recovered washed up on the beach with all his identity papers as well as fingerprints, that were burned off, missing. He's also not taken in by Brady sucking up to him about how great he is in solving homicides and promising Columbo to do or direct a movie about him and his adventures in crime solving. All Columbo sees in Brady is a snotty and unlikable creep who's covering up a crime that he in fact committed and thinks that he, being so smart and cunning, can easily pull it off!

****SPOILERS**** The only thing that Brady ends up pulling off is his pants or, in him being so young, diapers and showing Columbo what a first class a** he really is. It's by Columbo directing the final scene in the movie that he catches the smug and overconfident Brady with his pants down in getting the witnesses to his crime or alibi to expose him. Brady didn't figure that Columbo had his number or incriminating roll of film, in Jenny's death, right from the start! All Columbo had to do is set the time as well as place, in Bradly's studio, to lay it on him.
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5/10
Wriggling like a hooked fish
bkoganbing8 January 2017
As befitting the kind of criminal he was trying to trap Columbo gets positively theatrical in his effort to nail Steven Spielberg like director Fisher Stevens in the death of childhood friend Jeff Perry from Albany from whence they both hailed.

Of course being who he was Stevens kills Perry who holds him responsible if not legally, morally for the death of his sister. That would be not good for his career. In fact Stevens has become too much to handle for the industry in general and he's looking to cut all ties to those who knew him when. That would include agent Steven Hill and secretary Nan Martin among others.

The basic problem is that Stevens overlooked something and quite frankly it was something most of us would have overlooked in disposing of the body. He was hoping this would be an unidentified derelict on the beach and no connection to him would be established. But Peter Falk found the clue and from then on Stevens was like a fish already hooked, just fighting against the reel as Columbo knew exactly who he had to concentrate on. Nice but took a bit of edge of the suspense.

Still Columbo fans should be pleased.
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6/10
Not brilliant...but fun
Leofwine_draca23 June 2015
MURDER, SMOKE AND SHADOWS is one of the 1989 instalments of the long-running TV series and quite a bit of fun it is too. Instead of featuring a middle-aged villain (played by some Hollywood great), the murderer in this one is pretty much a kid who's up to scratch with all the latest technology, so the lieutenant has his work cut out for him.

Alex Bradey is a popular Hollywood director who has a dark secret from his past: a girl was accidentally killed while making one of his home movies years before. He covered up the incident, but a blackmailer from the past shows up to expose everything, so he has to be done away with. Cue the intervention of the typically bumbling detective who strives to get to the bottom of things.

One of the most amusing things about MURDER, SMOKE AND SHADOWS is how obviously the murderer is modelled on Spielberg - they even wear the same glasses! Fisher Stevens was a once popular actor from the 1980s (appearing in the likes of THE BURNING and SHORT CIRCUIT) and his youth makes him a neat counterpoint to the usual villains. Peter Falk is on top form, of course, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes where a vindictive Stevens indulges in some childish fun with the ageing detective (taking him on that high seat, and exposing him to some special effects). The story is a little slow in paces, but the ending is a good one, so it's worth sticking with.
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7/10
An enjoyable Columbo with a flawed ending
Rick-342 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I remember this was one of the first Columbos I watched in the late 80s or early 90s. I found the character of Columbo compelling and later watched all of the classic episodes from the '70s. This episode has the same basic framework: first we see the murderer, Alex Bradley, a top young Spielberg-type Hollywood director played by Fisher Stevens, as he meets and kills his victim. (To confuse the issue, the last name of his victim is 'Fisher', the first name of the actor playing the killer.) Then we spend the main part of the movie watching Bradley run away from the crime while Columbo slowly gathers clues, all the while ingratiating himself with the prime suspect. Finally there is the denouement as Columbo reveals some clever way to view simple evidence that leaves no doubt as to the killer's guilt.

But while there is plenty of circumstantial evidence indicating that Bradley may not have been fully candid about his relationship with Fisher (the victim, not the actor), by the end of the episode, about all we've really gotten is that he's lied about meeting the guy. Yes, Columbo has tracked down Fisher's driver, and yes, he's found the ticket to the studio tour in the guy's book, and there's even evidence from his secretary that he received the guy's phone call. But there's nothing to put him at the crime scene, and, really, there's no real crime scene to speak of. So I guess Columbo does show that Stevens had motive and had lied about meeting the guy, but a defense lawyer would found loads of reasonable doubt here.

To cover up for the lack of truly damning evidence, the episode concludes with various policemen coming into the spotlight at the sound stage, to take their curtain calls for their roles in spying on the main suspect. So the episode uses showmanship to substitute for better writing.

There is good to this episode: Fisher (the actor, not the victim) is very strong as a hot, young director. The supporting cast, including Nan Martin, Steven Hill, and Molly Hagan, is good. And of course Falk himself is a legend.

But the "ta-da!" finish is a bit amateurish. In later years, ABC figured out the direction they wanted these Columbo movies to take. And some were better, while others were worse. Few were at the standard of the '70s classics.
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Better than most latter day Columbos
Brian W. Fairbanks14 May 2003
As much as I enjoy Peter Falk in his signature role, many of the later episodes of the series find the great actor turning Columbo into a caricature. The charming but believable eccentricities of the early 70s detective became more pronounced and the effect more comical than amusing. This episode, the first of the refurbished Columbos to air on ABC uses Steven Spielberg, director of 1971's Murder By The Book, as an obvious model for the villain, but Fisher Stevens is merely adequate in a role that Roddy McDowell might have effectively played a decade and a half earlier. It's all fairly average, but it does offer a very accurate preview of the episodes to come in that none come close to equaling even the least successful episodes from the show's NBC run.
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7/10
The Director
AaronCapenBanner3 March 2016
Fisher Stevens stars as a successful young Hollywood director of blockbuster films named Alex Bradey who feels compelled to kill an old friend by electric shock who threatened to reveal an old dark secret from his past where he covered up his negligence in the death of an actress in one of his home movies. Lt. Columbo(Peter Falk) investigates the death that leads right to Bradey, but of course the egotistical yet overconfident director(obviously an amalgam of Steven Spielberg and John Landis) underestimates the good Lt. to his peril... Entertaining episode will appeal especially to film buffs, though the climax does seem a bit too theatrical.
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9/10
Epic Columbo episode.
punishmentpark8 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A really fun episode concerning a young successful director with a dirty past that is catching up with him. Almost every scene is a joy to watch, but especially the one on the fake street set, when Columbo gets on the camera crane and swayed up and down. The one with the fence (light and shadows) is another favorite, but the scenes in Alex Bradey's playroom' are worth mentioning as well. Fisher Stevens is perfect for the role, and Peter Falk plays along fantastically. Maybe some developments aren't all that and the side-story with 'Ruthie' may not be all too important (it does show what a jerk Bradey is, though, but we already knew that), but it didn't bother me much. Fine comeuppance, too, even if it's a little showy.

This is certainly one of my all-time favorite Columbo episodes, giving us a terrific peek inside the Hollywood (Universal) studios.

A small 9 out of 10.
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James Frawley eh?
D. Packard10 November 2001
I always thought that Spielberg "ghost directed' this episode. I seem to recall reading it somewhere at the time and the episode seems to have his style all over it. Hmm, anyways, I hope they get all the Columbo's out on DVD someday
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