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Columbo: Grand Deceptions (1989)
Good 2nd series episode
"Grand Deceptions" has a lot to offer the Columbo fan. It follows the leisurely pace adopted by the series in its second go-round. But there's a lot of nice little bits-- the humorously resolved skirmish over a piece of evidence, his unexpected arrival at a critical locale, the kindness and gentleness with which he questions one of the people most hurt-- that are well-written and perfectly executed. Also, Columbo's reliance on good police work is particularly well-realized. His adversary is satisfactorily pompous and cruel. It even has his dog. As a long time fan, I don't have a problem saying it's the best episode in the 1989 season, and one of the dozen or so really good Columbos overall.
Columbo: A Friend in Deed (1974)
One of the gems of season 3
Thanks to Universal for releasing the DVD sets. I became a Columbo fan in the 1980's when CBS was running heavily-cut versions after midnight. Edited Columbos are pretty good-- uncut, the good Columbos are the best TV detective programs of all time.
And Richard Kiley is the best Columbo villain of the third season. Donald Pleasence and Jackie Cooper also turned in emmy-quality performances that year, but Kiley brings a presence to the role that, physically, is intimidating. I don't think the Lt faced anyone quite this scary until they cast Rip Torn in the revival series in the '90's. He was the perfect choice for deputy police commissioner, in the way it makes you realize how a someone who seems to be so "in charge" can be evil penetrating the highest levels of order, and how he can pervert attempts to uncover it. The Lt's perplexity at Halperin's unwillingness to cooperate is one of the good bits on this. Big red flag, and you can see the Lt realizing it, in a turning point for the story.
This episode also has one of the best depictions of Columbo at work. As he wanders about the murder scene, it's like the camera's not even there--here's the bare intellect putting it together, and repeated viewings, when you know what he's thinking, are fun to watch.
Also, good job by Val Avery-- he was in a few other episodes, but Artie Jessup, a greasy little cat burglar just trying to make it on the outside, is his most memorable. Check out the way he tries to intimidate that fence, who isn't buying. Futility or what?
And catch Columbo's reaction when the husband hands him the major break, about the nightgown-- the case is cracked and he doesn't let on at all. Again, repeat viewing just makes it better.
Also I would be remiss not to mention the brief appearance by Arlene Martel as the jewelry saleslady. If I brought my crappy little watchband in, and she smiled at me like that while she turned me down, I'd consider myself blessed. By the way, Columbo picked up a bunch of people who had worked on Perry Mason-- Jackson Gillis was script editor on both shows, and some of the actors, such as Ms Martel, and the lovely and talented Jeanette Nolan, turned in memorable roles on both programs.
Finally, this episode covers the range of life in LA, from cozy clubs of the privileged to the seedy dives of the desperate. In fact, Columbo cracks it by having Halperin, a habitue of the former, be dragged into the latter.
One last comment-- I don't think Columbo did that well in seasons 2 and 3-- the episode with Julie Newmar and Martin Landau, for example, was in season 2-- the most depressing Columbo murder ever. And the cosmetics murder episode? If I had a chance to work with Vincent Price, I'd have made him the murderer if I'd had to rewrite the script from scratch. What. A. Waste. And that robot alibi in the one with Jose Ferrer-- even in 1972, they would have connected the computer with a cable, you wouldn't have had a ham-handed robot trying to type like a person. But they had Robbie the Robot available, so they had to write him and this Cute Kid into it. Completely unnecessary.
Peter Fischer (the author of this episode) came on board in season 4 as story editor, and frankly the improvement is noticeable. So, as a Columbo fan, looking at season 3-- I'm just glad they got Mr Kiley for this one, that Columbo had to fight someone within the department, and that his solution relies on the character's shortcomings like it does. Best of season 3.
The Hangman (1964)
Saw it a couple times forty years ago when I was kid and never forgot it. An eerie and disturbing little gem from Melrose Studios. Animation is excellent, of a photocollage style you hardly ever see: stark photo images and gaunt, jagged lines. It seems to be taking place in a backwater of infinity, or a nightmare world of pale colors and limitless space.
The hangman is an ogre who shows up out of nowhere and builds a gallows, which starts out about the size of a doorway. He says it's for the one who serves him most faithfully, and with each execution-- tests, he calls them-- it grows bigger.
The hangman takes a foreigner, then a critic, then a black man and a jew, and the townspeople fall into silence at his excuses, as he rounds them up one by one and the gallows comes to dominate the town's skyline...until he comes for the narrator. "'For who has served more faithfully? With your coward's hope.' said He."