Monday, 1 March 2010

Columbo Blog1: Murder by the Book

This is the first in my instalment of ‘blogging Columbo’ articles.

A writer called Jim Ferris types away in his office, and opens his door to reveal a nutter with platinum blond sideburns and wearing a cream sports-jacket over a chocolate-brown jumper is pointing a gun at him. Still, Ferris is unperturbed because the practical joker (Ken Franklin) doesn’t have his finger on the trigger and anyway, they are pals who co-wrote several books. It was all a clever joke to show just how ridiculous the idea that Franklin would shoot his buddy is. I guess it won't surprise anyone that Franklin does shoot his partner within minutes, but this episode was filmed in 1971, which might have been before this had become a cliché.

Franklin, convinces his erstwhile collaborator to come to his holiday cabin and shoots him. This all leaves out a clever plot device about alibis and telephone calls, but it would probably take more time to write it than watch it.

Ferris’s wife then calls the police and we are introduced to Columbo who takes her home and makes her an omelette (no, it doesn’t really work better on the screen). Once there he meets Franklin who acts shocked at the murder.

Ken relies on his white teeth, cheesy grin and ‘perfect’ alibi to divert suspicion. Things aren’t quite that easy however. Firstly a drivelling tart has designs on him and saw Ferris in his car on the day of the murder. Secondly, Lieutenant Columbo is on his trail.

Aforementioned drivelling tart quickly succumbs to the charms of Ken’s white teeth and mean line in golden cravats (as well as his $15,000 payout). However, she turns down his romantic offer of a midnight trip in a rowing boat. With the help of an empty champagne bottle, he sorts out the troublesome witness and takes her for a boat trip anyway. A boat trip which ends with her being plonked into the lake.

Columbo is however, on his trail and eventually captures him. Except that he doesn’t really have evidence to convict him. However, Ken confesses anyway.

Whilst this episode was preceded by two pilots (which I haven’t watched yet, which is all the fault of whoever designed my boxset) I would not have said from this episode that it really had the signs of being the great series it would become. Peter Falk is (naturally) superb though less likable than he is in following episodes. Jack Cassidy is a brilliant baddie who latches onto the humour of the script without mugging. He later appeared in two more Columbo episodes possibly because his puffed-up arrogance that borders self-parody was a perfect compliment to Falk’s self-depracating, shambling detective.

However, the script isn’t the best. Columbo gets suspicious upon hearing that Franklin drove two hours after hearing of the murder instead of getting an aeroplane, which doesn’t seem especially suspicious. Maybe even worse, whilst he proves that the murderer of Ferris was well acquainted with him, he doesn’t prove it was Franklin. Even the very motive is a bit dubious: Franklin hardly wrote anything so he is afraid that he will be shown up by his friend's solo career. But why would Ferris give him the royalties and credit anyway?

This episode is notable by some for being made by the genius director of Minority Report and Jurassic Park II. I actually don’t see that as a plus: directors are always the most over-rated crew members and aside from a sentimentality in the portrayal of the lonely widower, I can't see any contribution he would have made.

If you think this sounds like a negative review, then you’d be wrong. I think I'd be incapable of not enjoying a 1970s cop show, and the very fact that it’s Columbo makes it great television for all its shortcomings.

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