Columbo Turns 50!

Zombie Twin

Well-known Member
Well, tonight is 50 years since the first episode of Columbo was broadcast! Directed by none-other than Steven Spielberg, Murder by the Book saw the detective in the shabby mac lean, mean, and without the shameless capering of later stories.

It's always been a firm favourite of the wife, who drew me into the web, but with an awesome collection of guest-stars and some of the best "gotcha" moments on TV, it was a welcome trap. To celebrate, we've had an appropriately Italian theme, with meatballs for dinner, followed by Italian beer whilst watching said first episode. Oh, and some J&B to wash it all down with.

Just one more thing: for the record, her favourite episode is Murder Under Glass (NOBODY says 'Fugu-fish' like Louis Jourdan) and mine is Any OId Port in a Storm with Donald Pleasance ("An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this LIQUID FILTH!!").

I'll leave you with a review I wrote of Murder by the Book for the UK Blu release.

Following Star Trek in being the only show to commissioned after a second shot, Columbo as a series was approved. After getting his feet wet through directing a episodes of other TV shows, a young director named Steven Spielberg had caught the attention of network executives with his work on the Rod Serling show Night Gallery, and was brought in to helm the first story in an historically popular show which spawned a thousand crap impressions of Peter Falk and turned him into a national hero in Romania!

So what is the story that kicked off a legend? Well, authors of the hugely successful Mrs Melville crime books Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy) Jim Ferris (Martin Milner) are ending their writing partnership and washing their hands of the lucrative franchise. Trouble is that Franklin is a tired old hack, merely handling the marketing of the books rather than contributing anything creative towards them - and very protective of the decadent lifestyle Mrs Melville affords him. His plan? Make the split seem amicable before killing his partner, blaming it on the mafia and helping himself to the recent insurance policy taken out on him. The only problems? A nosey eyewitness with the hots for Franklin and an equally nosey police detective in a rather scruffy raincoat…

This might well be the ultimate Columbo episode - OK, it’ not the absolute favourite here, but it’s one which best displays exactly what the show would be capable of. The story is solid, the characters perfectly drawn and superbly played. Spielberg’s direction is excellent, bringing his (as yet unproven) cinematic prowess to television and making it something to grab the audience rather than letting them passively experience it. TV was awfully prosaic around this time, and there are those of the believe that Spielberg’s work on Columbo forced the industry to take a good look at itself, which lead to more visceral series being put into production. As usual, Falk is great, using the space between his second outing and the series being put into production to iron out the last couple of wrinkles. As a matter of fact, it’s only worth pointing out his performance when he’s doing something wrong!

What is there to say about Jack Cassidy other than that he’s an oily prick. That might sound harsh, but when he ended up being a three-time Columbo baddie with only death stopping him from further appearances, it shows that he was a master of the form. Cassidy plays Franklin as a man with an almost frightening lack of sincerity, working in tandem with equal parts ego and smugness, making for a total [email protected]@rd and a Columbo repeater only rivalled by Patrick McGoohan and Robert Culp. His horrific death in a fire five years later through passing out in a stupor with a cigarette in his hand shocked the industry, and really shouldn’t have happened.

With Falk on top form and Cassidy so great, it’s almost easy to forget how good Barbara Colby is as the snooping fan-turned-blackmailer. Buck-toothed and gangly, she’s simultaneously ditzy and awkward, with glints pure steel whenever Franklin tries his usual guff with her, proving that she’s a calculating woman, smart enough to resist the invitation for a moonlit boat-ride out on a lake with him. The problem is that discovers too late that trying to extort money from a killer is not the most sensible thing in the world. This character would be echoed in the later Any Old Port in a Storm.

Both she and Cassidy died premature deaths within almost a year of each other. Colby had just hit the big time on TV, cast in the Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Phyllis, standing out among a distinguished cash and the world was her oyster. But three episodes into the series, she was shot dead one night whilst getting into her car, at the age of just 36. A friend of hers was also killed in the attack, and there was no conviction for the motiveless murders.

It’s no wonder Columbo seems so much better at solving crimes than other policemen, as there are numerous instances where a crime-scene is being utterly contaminated by other officers. Hell, when investigating the suspected “kidnapping” scene, one of the uniformed boys carefully takes away a decorative skull from the writer’s office, as though he’s possibly found part of the body! Were they recruiting on the basis of the finding candidates through the uniforms fitting that year?? Columbo himself isn’t blameless in this area, as the first episode kicks off his habit of thieving from crime scenes, usually in the form of food - here, it’s sweets.

Little production details add up to a lot in this episode, and although many would have worked out that the character of Mrs Melville is based on Miss Marple, it premise is rendered really cool by the oil painting of Cassidy’s creation in his office looking rather like Margaret Rutherford, who successfully played her in a series of films only a couple of years earlier. In fact, Murder By The Book became the title of a 1987 movie in which Poirot appears to Agatha Christie and begs her not to kill him off in her next novel! Speaking of the books, Columbo is given a stack of them by Franklin, and we get to see that our man in the mac is one hell of a reader, as he manages to finish them in all in the space of two days, even with all of than troublesome investigation going on! Still, it probably helped that there were a couple of copies of at least one the books in the stack he was given…

If there is one the which bothers me (reference intended…) it that a smart guy like Franklin should have been able to account for his whereabouts more convincingly than he does here. When the good lieutenant tries to pin the murder on Cassidy through him not being in his cabin when he called their the evening before, he comes out with a feeble excuse which further drops him in it. The correct reply should have been: “Well, Columbo, I drank both of those bottles of champagne you saw me with yesterday, and I couldn’t answer the phone on account of being passed out in a pool of my own vomit, but nice try, though…”

Another minor gripe is that it takes a piece from initial Columbo outing Prescription Murder which was so brilliant and stuck pretty much the same thing in this one. Presumably the producers thought that the pilot wouldn’t be seen again on TV, the nicked the piece where the baddie almost leaves a valuable clue at the crime-scene, only to pick it up at the last minute, pulling the rug right out from under the audience. It’s to much lesser effect here, which is a shame. Oh, speaking of the Prescription Murder, one of the Mrs Melville books comes with that particular title as a nod to the shows’ origins.

Murder By The Book is classic Columbo, with everything needed to set the show off on its incredibly successful 70s run. The entire cast is superb, the writing mostly airtight and it just an all-round winner. Just rather odd that Columbo actually accepts a drink whilst on duty - but then again, it’s hard to turn down a glass of bourbon…

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Garrett

Moderator
What is there to say about Jack Cassidy other than that he’s an oily prick. That might sound harsh, but when he ended up being a three-time Columbo baddie with only death stopping him from further appearances, it shows that he was a master of the form. Cassidy plays Franklin as a man with an almost frightening lack of sincerity, working in tandem with equal parts ego and smugness, making for a total [email protected]@rd and a Columbo repeater only rivalled by Patrick McGoohan and Robert Culp. His horrific death in a fire five years later through passing out in a stupor with a cigarette in his hand shocked the industry, and really shouldn’t have happened.
There some one who tops them three albeit not the main murderer but his real life wife who was in 6 episodes as support character as far as I recall but not walk on roles but part of the plot.
I also remember watching the first Uk televised of that Colombo episode it was in a rotation of Murder Mystery episodes in my region the first one was Mac Millan & Wife, then Colombo and think the third was McCloud was which was based on the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff
Others where added I think Cades County and Hec Ramsey and Tenafly but non lasted as long as Colombo.

Jack was brilliant at slimey roles as in The Eiger Sanction, his ex wife was Shirley Jones, and I seen folk get mixed up with him and Ted Cassidy name wise Ted was Lurch.

Oh just one more thing. :D

Even though says Colombo it was the same opening for all 3 till they were shown outside the Umbrella of the title
 

Zombie Twin

Well-known Member
Jack was brilliant at slimey roles as in The Eiger Sanction, his ex wife was Shirley Jones, and I seen folk get mixed up with him and Ted Cassidy name wise Ted was Lurch.

His turn in The Eiger Sanction was funny, but really would invoke wrath these days, for obvious reasons. It seemed out of place in the film, where the novel was a spoof of the Bond books, but the script only took certain elements from it, and fused it into a straight Alistair MacLean-type story.

You have obviously heard the rumour that the fire which killed Cassidy happened just before his son David's drug use escalated, leading some to believe that his searing hated of his father for leaving his mother the previous year made him do something he soon regretted.

Not even Columbo could have gotten to the truth on that one!
 

Garrett

Moderator
Not even Columbo could have got to the truth on that one!
Changed from American to English. :rolleyes:

I not read the book but did read one of Trevanian's called Shibumi but did not take it to be a spoof.
My mate disagree over the deaths in The Eiger Sanction
he says Hemlock killed the climbers, I say they were accidents.
What does it say they were in the books, spoiler tags please.
 

Zombie Twin

Well-known Member
Changed from American to English. :rolleyes:

I not read the book but did read one of Trevanian's called Shibumi but did not take it to be a spoof.
My mate disagree over the deaths in The Eiger Sanction
he says Hemlock killed the climbers, I say they were accidents.
What does it say they were in the books, spoiler tags please.
It's been ages since I read it, but the overall it's like taking the Derek Flint films and turning them into straight action/adventures.
 

mjn

Distinguished Member
If you like trivia, someone online has plotted the Columbo family tree. :smashin:
 

Garrett

Moderator
There some one who tops them three albeit not the main murderer but his real life wife who was in 6 episodes as support character as far as I recall but not walk on roles but part of the plot.
I also remember watching the first Uk televised of that Colombo episode it was in a rotation of Murder Mystery episodes in my region the first one was Mac Millan & Wife, then Colombo and think the third was McCloud was which was based on the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff
Others where added I think Cades County and Hec Ramsey and Tenafly but non lasted as long as Colombo.

Jack was brilliant at slimey roles as in The Eiger Sanction, his ex wife was Shirley Jones, and I seen folk get mixed up with him and Ted Cassidy name wise Ted was Lurch.

Oh just one more thing. :D

Even though says Colombo it was the same opening for all 3 till they were shown outside the Umbrella of the title
Some info on the Murder Mystery series some in the list were not shown in my region and it does not have Cades Country in it but I think they showed it in the Mystery Murder slot so took it to be part of they series.
Banacek was a good one, and finny they had Madigan which was based on a film of the same name
Where Madigan got killed which was in vouge at the time for the hero to be killed in the last reel.
It had a great theme tune as well :rolleyes: :rotfl:
 

Garrett

Moderator
Found the main titles for the series.
 

krish

Distinguished Member
Just one more thing :) ... although 50 years since the premiere of Season 1, it's 53 years since the original pilot (20th Feb 1968) and just over 50 years since the second pilot, six months before Season 1. Both are on the Season 1 and Complete Series boxsets.

I remember the original pilot being repeated on BBC1 (probably) in the late 80s or early 90s. Not sure if he had a hard boiled egg, but I'm sure he drove his tatty Peugeot 403 cabriolet in it.
 

Garrett

Moderator
Just one more thing :) ... although 50 years since the premiere of Season 1, it's 53 years since the original pilot (20th Feb 1968) and just over 50 years since the second pilot, six months before Season 1. Both are on the Season 1 and Complete Series boxsets.

I remember the original pilot being repeated on BBC1 (probably) in the late 80s or early 90s. Not sure if he had a hard boiled egg, but I'm sure he drove his tatty Peugeot 403 cabriolet in it.
Your right about the car and sure he turned up in it once with his basset hound in it.

BTW looked up who append most in Colombo and was a Mike Lally appearing in 25 episode but some part were that small most were uncredited.
 

Derek S-H

Distinguished Member
@Zombie Twin - I saw you had the DVD Box Set in your original (and highly entertaining!) post:

Amazon product

Amazon occasionally drop the price during their intermittent sales, I think the lowest I've seen it is £35.

However, you must know that there is also a Blu-Ray Box Set that is rather terrifyingly priced as it's from Japan:

Amazon product

Here's a rather amateurish review of the differences between it and the DVD version:



And this much better short comparison of the DVD versions:



I presume that your Box features the remastered discs? Any reason you know of why this still hasn't been put out on Blu-Ray anywhere else as a complete collection?
 

Zombie Twin

Well-known Member
The wife has been eagerly keeping an eye on the Japanese box - last month it came down to about £180, but there is every chance it will get clobbered for taxes, etc when it comes through.

She picked up the UK DVD set (the original proper cigar box one, not the odd square-shaped edition) about 10 years ago for £25 new at Amazon. They really have jacked up the price since!!
 

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