Columbo: Season 13, Episode 2

A Trace of Murder (15 May 1997)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 592 users  
Reviews: 16 user | 3 critic

A beautiful wife and her forensic expert boyfriend try to frame her very rich husband for murder.



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Title: A Trace of Murder (15 May 1997)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Patrick Kinsley
Cathleen Calvert
Clifford Calvert
Raye Birk ...
Howard Seltzer
Will Nye ...
Officer Will
Harry Jenkins
Alice Backes ...
Harriet Jenkins
Stuart March
Tracy Rose
District Attorney (as Kymberly S. Newberry)
Store Clerk


A millionaire's being threatened with a lawsuit by a man he did business with. When he gets into a fight with the man, his trophy wife is more embarrassed than concerned about her husband. Now she can't divorce her husband because of a pre-nuptial agreement. And if she kills him, she would be the prime suspect. So she along with her lover decides to kill the man who is suing her husband and frame her husband. Which they do. When Columbo investigates the murder, one of the forensic people helping him is the woman's lover. Written by <>

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Release Date:

15 May 1997 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was one of the primary locations used for filming. "Columbo" was visiting a mortician's convention. Sitting in an adjacent lobby-hallway, outside the ballroom was a vintage Cadillac Hearse. The Construction Coordinator, Doug Vlaming and his "hammer tones" had to pull the hotel's Hollywood Boulevard Entrance double-doorways, in order to drive the hearse into the hotel's hallway. Replacing the entrance for filming, afterwards removing the entry, again, to back the Hearse out of the hotel, and re-installing everything that they had removed. The Hotel Management, approved any production request, because management was familiar with the "Columbo" Art Department team, (Hub Braden, Mary Dodson, Bill Gregory, and Doug Vlaming). They had been the same staff on the "Murder, She Wote" production crew which had used the hotel facility for many repeat location filming for the MSW yearly series schedule. See more »


When Columbo is showing Pat a map, he starts to lay the map out on a desk and says "This first". In the very next shot he once again says the same thing, "This first". See more »


Clifford Calvert: Am I a suspect?
Lt. Columbo: [Responding to the utterly bald Calvert] Oh no, sir, no. This is just routine. I have to file some kind of a report. So you'll just answer a couple of questions, I'll be outta your hair.
[pause, as he notices angry glare from Calvert]
Lt. Columbo: Sorry, sir.
See more »


Follows Columbo: It's All in the Game (1993) See more »

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User Reviews

Slightly changes the formula just enough to make it feel different without losing touch with what has made Columbo successful down the years
2 April 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Cathleen Calvert wants to leave her millionaire husband Clifford and set up with lover Patrick Kinsley. However a water-tight prenuptial agreement means that divorce will leave her with nothing. Killing him is deemed far too risky and obvious a crime but if only they could get him out of the way without losing access to his wealth. Luckily for them, Clifford is being threatened with a major lawsuit from accountant Howard Seltzer and Cathleen decides that the easiest thing to do would be to murder Seltzer and frame Clifford. The deed is easy and it looks like an open and shut case given how much evidence is available (thanks to the knowledge Kingsley has as a member of the police forensics team). Problem is, for Lt. Columbo, it just doesn't ring true and he just keeps digging.

With the long running Columbo formula it is tempting to try and change it and "new" Columbo films have occasionally fallen into the trap of ditching the formula and trying something new – it rarely worked. However with this film the writers have successfully varied the formula while still retaining enough of it to avoid losing the elements of the series that make it so successful. It is a bit of a problem that the plot is built on a lot of coincidences and illogical risks but generally the film manages to keep things working so that I just accepted the events. Having said that, it didn't ring true that Kinsley, having left enough forensic evidence to frame the pope, would feel he has to get more involved in the case. Such things aside though the film is an engaging mystery that is fun to watch because we get to see Columbo at work, going after his main suspect as per formula but also having more out there to engage his mind and take him in a different direction. It is a nice touch and, like I said, it allows the film to do what the series normally do while also doing things differently.

Falk works with this well and embraces the chance to show his character working internally with the slightest little clues. He delivers some nice comic touches throughout and, as usual, seems totally comfortable within his own skin. The casting of the two male supports is good. Corbin is a solid presence and he provides the tension with Columbo while Rasche provides the "I'll help you solve this" element of the formula – so together they provide the usual stuff but the fact that it is split makes it more interesting. Danese is less convincing but the film doesn't put too much on her. There isn't much support to speak of and generally the main three male actors do well to carry it with good performances.

Overall then a pretty enjoyable Columbo film. Although the change in formula comes with illogical devices and unlikely setups it does generally work and it presents the formula while also changing it. As many of the new Columbo films show, changing the formula is a risky business but here it pulls it off.

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