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These two gifted actors were so dynamic together in their previous
team-ups in the early Columbo series, that much was made of this
installment in the second wave of newer Columbo films.
Once again Peter Falk dons the trenchcoat as Lt. Columbo, and Patrick McGoohan ("The Prisoner") this time is a murderous criminal attorney(!). Basically, this one is another great showcase for their talents, with Falk playing dumb, and Pat playing wise. As if no time has passed since the last episode they worked together, there are jabs, barbs, playfulness, intensity and tension. Columbo gets his man as he always does, but in the simplest way possible, that even McGoohan doesn't believe it.
This episode isn't as clever as the first two, but it is still very good. If you're someone who likes TV, a good mystery, and good acting, then flip on to this movie whenever you spot it. It's not a waste of time.
Patrick McGoohan plays Oscar Finch, a brilliant attorney who has murdered a man who has been blackmailing him. He makes a good attempt to make it look like a suicide. However, Lieutenant Columbo is on the case and he soon begins to suspect foul play. McGoohan is arguably the best Columbo villain, having made four appearances. This is his third outing. He and Peter Falk play a game of cat and mouse which is great entertainment.
The effervescent Patrick McGoohan plays a Columbo murderer for the
third time (and does a directorial turn to boot), as he depicts the
hitherto untouchable lawyer, Oscar Finch, whose past comes back to
haunt him in the form a notorious racketeer, Frank Staplin, who
threatens to expose a 21 year old scandal in which Finch bribed the
District Attorney at the time, Paul Mackey (who is now running for Vice
President) to discard vital evidence that would have had severe
consequences for Staplin.
McGoohan's performance deservedly won him an Emmy - McGoohan encapsulates the "charm" of a Columbo villain effortlessly with a crisp, precise and purposeful portrayal, tinged with a mild eccentricity, ensuring that his scenes with Falk have a razor-sharp entertainment value.
The script-writer, Jeffrey Bloom, also ensures that the vital commodity of humour is inserted at several well-timed moments in this TV movie, and like the 1973 episode from the original Columbo series "Candiadate for Crime", Columbo's intrusions with key personnel become increasingly antagonising as the presidential campaign reaches it's climax.
Satisfying as a whole, the episode is really only guilty of losing some its initial zest and pace around its mid-section when some of the investigation becomes a little drawn-out as the discussion of the clues becomes deliberately selective and individualised.
The resolution is totally unexpected and it astounds the murderer and viewer in equal measure: a devilishly clever element to a largely solid, well-made adventure for Columbo, which is probably one of the most polished stories of Columbo's latter-day movies.
This is one of the best Columbos. The reason for this is the cat
and mouse games Columbo and the bad guy, Patrick McGoohan
(who won an Emmy for this one, I believe), use against each other.
Also the way Columbo catches him is really funny. I always enjoy
Columbo but I enjoy it even more when McGoohan shows up. (For
those of you who don't know McGoohan watch the old British tv
show "The Prisoner" or more recently watch him as Edward I in
McGoohan makes the man he murders looks like he committed suicide. No one knew that McGoohan was showing up excpet for the man he murders. Lt. Columbo is still able to figure out that he did it. To give away more would be wrong, so I won't do that.
The dialogue between Columbo and McGoohan is some of the most entertaining out of all the Columbos that I've seen. McGoohan really thinks he is going to get away with it but he's up against Columbo and we know how that will work out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the later group of Columbo episodes several previous villains were
able to return for new confrontations with Peter Falk. William Shatner
and Robert Culp (actually in a comic bit) were two of the returnees,
but Patrick McGoohan made two return visits. The first was this one.
McGoohan is a leading criminal trial lawyer, who has been managing the career of a former assistant District Attorney (Denis Arndt) who is now a popular young Congressman. McGoohan is approached by a Governor (Arthur Hill) who is the party's leading contender for the Presidency - he wants Arndt as his Vice President. McGoohan is quite happy at this prospect - not only his protégée as Veep but he would possibly hold a cabinet post. But he gets a call from Louis Zorich, a mobster who is facing prison. Zorich knows a dirty secret about McGoohan (his former attorney) and Arndt regarding destroying vital evidence against Zorich twenty years before. Zorich wants McGoohan to help quash the criminal case against him now.
McGoohan has no intention of ruining his chances or Arndt's. Instead he kills Zorich, but sets things up to make it look like a suicide after a conference ended hours earlier. Of course, when Colombo shows up he notes the interesting modern tech telephone system that Zorich has, and that it records the last phone number he dialed - and this is where he starts zeroing in on McGoohan.
With the earlier episode co-starring Jackie Cooper Falk's detective twice gets involved with political campaigners who don't deserve their chance at office. But the unraveling of the two cases are different, and the duel of wits by McGoohan with Falk was far more compatible and even(Cooper seemed too surprised in his battle of wits at times). This episode is interesting too because it is one of the few episodes that refers to an actual criminal case: here the conviction of Ted Bundy. Definitely one of the better later episodes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A brilliant Spin-doctor has got his protégé on the Presidential ticket.
However, as he breasts this career peak, a cruel blow sends him
crashing, careering, downwards. He is threatened by an old corruption
scandal and seeks to resolve it by a perfect murder. In an opening
reminiscent of a carefully crafted 'Danger Man' sequence, McGoohan has
Oscar performing a bewildering sequence of mysterious actions, using
tin foil and gunpowder. The trap is set. Making one final, failed
attempt to dissuade his criminal nemesis, Oscar is compelled to carry
out the wicked deed.
At last Peter Falk shuffles onto the scene. A tiny drop of blood is found dried on the floor, beneath the fallen pistol. Columbo has found the loose thread and Oscar's scheme unravels.
The duel between the pair has it's inevitable conclusion because Right must overwhelm Wrong in the world of Columbo. However the meandering plot is anything but predictable as it wends its way to the final denouement. The sequence involving the fax machine and Falk's perplexed wonder at it's workings is superb and had me laughing out loud at one point. The fact that fax machines were not exactly new in 1990 makes it even funnier that Columbo should be so flummoxed by them! McGoohan is at his calculating best as the debonair Oscar, a man, not evil, but driven to great evil by his own ambition: a lesson for us all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oscar Finch is a celebrated legal prosecutor and political campaign
manager for a vice-presidential candidate. Things are looking rosy
until a skeleton from his past forces him to commit murder, and
subsequently lock wits with the intrepid Lieutenant Columbo.
This is arguably the best of the second-generation Columbo TV-movies. It has a great script by Jeffrey Bloom, with a terrific out-of-left-field plot-twist at the end involving a piece of cheese. It's handsomely produced, well-directed and has a fine cast, including Columbo's old sergeant Kirby. Best of all though, it reteams old adversaries Falk and McGoohan in their similar-but-couldn't-be-more-different personas. One is modest, quiet and affable while the other is imperious, dogmatic and assertive, yet both are the epitome of shrewd, calculating professionalism. The pleasure of the piece comes from watching them intellectually wrestle over the subtlest of plot points; a dry patch under a car, an inconsistent fax message, a dry-cleaning order, the position of some blood. Solid entertainment throughout, and don't miss the flasher gag.
At face value, "Agenda for Murder" seems pretty average: the typical
Columbo-esque villain is a businessman who commits a simple murder to keep
some professional skeletons in the closet. The crime is simply executed,
without the usual bells and whistles of a complicated alibi or
Patrick McGoohan, however, is brilliant. In "Braveheart" he chewed the scenery as the evil King. In this Columbo episode, he's a high-priced attorney vying for the position of U.S. Attorney General. He's efficient, wealthy, pompous ("If you can answer that question, Lieutenant, you're a smarter man than I"), intelligent, and underestimates Columbo by a long shot. McGoohan played different shades of the same role in other Columbo outings (a domineering commander of a military school, a secret government agent, and a suave funeral director), but he's at his best here.
Peter Falk as the Lieutenant is also top form - watch the scenes between Falk and McGoohan closely and you'll see how Columbo slowly manipulates Oscar Finch from a self-confident businessman into a man who is inwardly afraid of his own shadow but must keep his stern outward demeanor. As was mentioned in other reviews, their game of cat and mouse is a delight to watch, rivaled only by Falk's performances with William Shatner in "Fade in to Murder" and "Butterfly in Shades of Grey."
The episode is abound with clues that will make the viewer slap his head and exclaim "Why didn't I think of that?" Particularly clever are the faxed jokes and the drop of blood. I do think, however, that Finch was far too clever to mess up and leave behind the final clue that proved his guilt - he was, after all, a criminal attorney!
This episode is a must for new Columbo fans (after "Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health") and, should a distribution company ever decide to release the newer episodes on DVD, "Agenda for Murder" should be on the top of the list.
Patrick McGoohan is in brilliant form as attorney Oscar Finch. The rapport between he and Peter Falk is superb. Finch seems to have all the answers to Columbo's questions, but as with all Columbo villains he gets his comeuppance in the end. This is one of the finest films in the series.
Twenty years ago Oscar Finch was a lawyer who used any means necessary
to get his clients off including bribing young DA Mackey into
destroying evidence against client Staplin. Now he is still a lawyer
but he has managed to stay connected to Mackey over the years as his
political career has taken him to the point of a race for Presidential
candidate something that Finch hopes will see him placed in a cabinet
position. However Finch has not totally shaken off the past and when he
refuses to help Staplin, Staplin threatens to expose the "favour" that
Mackey and Finch did for him. Finch kills him and makes it look like
suicide. However when Columbo investigates a drop if dried blood gives
him pause, while a modern redial function on the telephone gives him
the last person Staplin called Oscar Finch.
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. With the strict adherence to formula it is usually simple enough for the series to do the business although I have had my fingers burnt with some of the "new" Columbo's. However this one appeared to have more potential with a solid cast and a plot that serves the formula well. It started well with the usual contrived murder and moves forward well with a solid mystery that Columbo gradually picks away at. It doesn't totally hang together and at some points the lack of consistent progress towards the solution is a bit of a turnoff but generally it does enough to keep it all moving forward. The film has a few attempts at comedy one or two fall totally flat (Columbo questioning the laundry delivery guy) but some are really nice (Columbo telling Mackey his wife's name is Mrs Columbo).
What makes it better than many of the other modern Columbo films is a collection of good turns from the cast. Falk looks good other films gave him grey hair and made him appear physically weaker, but here he looks as sharp as he did in the 1970's (sharp being a comparative word when used in reference to Columbo of course). McGoohan is a welcome return to the series after quite a few recent films had had murders that just didn't stack up at all against Columbo. Here McGoohan knows to play it up in this sort of thing and does his stern, intelligent and sinister authority figure role that the other films had given him and he does it well. The film could have give them more scenes together but they both work well together and their performances compliment one another within the formula. Credit also to McGoohan the director; he doesn't totally shake off the TV feel it has but he does give it more of a professional product. Support is good from Arndt and Zorich along with series regular Kirby. The only really bad turn was from Taggart as Mrs Staplin.
Overall an enjoyable entry in the new Columbo series thanks mainly to the presence of McGoohan as murderer and director. It does have the odd duff moment but mostly it moves forward really well and compares well with the 1970's episodes. Fans will love it and it is good enough to maybe win over some new ones as well.
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