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Reviews & Ratings for
"Columbo" Murder, Smoke and Shadows (1989)

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24 out of 28 people found the following review useful:


Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
13 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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13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

One of the Columbo's you definitely should watch

Author: Maarten Hofman from Rochester, NY, USA
9 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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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Fisher Stevens is a genius

Author: aromatic-2 ( from New York, NY
23 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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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Well enough done for Columbo fanatics but still not reflective of the quality of the original series

Author: The Welsh Raging Bull ( from Port Talbot, South Wales, UK
17 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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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

A fun Columbo

Author: blanche-2 from United States
8 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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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

The Annoying Movie Director

Author: Henry Kujawa ( from Camden, NJ (The Forbidden Zone)
8 July 2012

*** This review may contain 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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10 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

What happened to Columbo?

Author: jimkis-1 from Indiana
9 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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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Not too shabby....

Author: zmartever from United States
13 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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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

One of the stronger "new" Columbo films despite not being up to the high standards of the original

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
11 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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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Even James Frawley can't fully save this movie.

Author: Boba_Fett1138 from Groningen, The Netherlands
11 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.


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