Thursday, April 11, 2024

Tonight's TV: Columbo (1973) - "A Stitch in Crime," "The Most Dangerous Match," "Double Shock" - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I've now wrapped up viewing Season 2 of COLUMBO via Kino Lorber's Blu-ray collection, with a trio of 1973 episodes. Two of them were big winners, while the other was a rare dud.

"A Stitch in Crime" was one of the best episodes to date. It was well plotted, with an interesting premise, a good cast, and some nice humor.

A very sleepy Columbo is called to a hospital crime scene: A nurse (Anne Francis) has been murdered in the parking lot. As Columbo yawns, cracks open a hard-boiled egg, and begs for coffee, his mind is already hard at work analyzing the scene.

The viewer knows that the culprit is Dr. Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy), who realized the nurse was on to his plan to kill his mentor, Dr. Edmund Hidemann (Will Geer), by using the wrong kind of surgical thread for Hidemann's heart surgery.

Dr. Mayfield and Columbo spar regularly as the detective inches closer to realizing that Mayfield is not only the murderer, but that Dr. Hidemann's life is in danger as he recovers from surgery.

One of the things I've noticed about the show, which is true of all three episodes reviewed here, is that the villains tend to taunt and argue with Columbo rather than be more circumspect in an attempt to cover up their crimes. I suppose we might say their egos get in their own way, but it's rather odd none are smart enough to recognize that being more subdued and cooperative might throw him off the scent!

Speaking of Columbo and Mayfield sparring, this is also a rare episode where the genial detective shows the depth of his anger toward a suspect, and it definitely gets the viewer's attention.

Everyone in the cast is good, including Francis in her brief role. Nita Talbot, playing Francis's somewhat kooky roommate, looks enough like her she could have convincingly played her sister.

I don't find Nimoy an actor with much range, but he was successful in this, as within his narrow "lane" he manages to be compelling.

The episode was written by Shirl Hendryx, who died last summer at the age of 99. It was directed by Hy Averback and shot by Harry Wolf, who filmed all three of the episodes in this review. I especially loved a shot of an ambulance speeding past KHJ Studios. Griffith Park also turns up in the episode.

We move from the sublime to its opposite with "The Most Dangerous Match," which is most certainly the only truly boring episode seen to date. Even the sub-par "Dagger of the Mind" was at least more interesting to follow.

The setup for the murder, which takes place against he background of an international chess match, is interminable, dragging on for well over 20 minutes. As someone who is always impatient to move on from the murder scenes to the appearance of Lt. Columbo, this was a real negative, especially as it focused on two colorless characters.

Laurence Harvey plays a partially deaf American chess master, Emmett Clayton, who attempts killing Russian chess player Tomlin Dudek (Jack Kruschen) when he realizes he won't be able to beat him.

Harvey plays the role completely on one note, staring and sneering, with no modulation to his performance. While Nimoy did much the same in the previous episode, he at least had enough charisma to keep things interesting. Harvey, on the other hand, simply can't pull it off. A better script might have helped, but I found his work in this quite poor.

Sadly the actor would die later the very same year this episode aired; he was only 45.

Lloyd Bochner is a complete cartoon character as a member of Dudek's delegation, complete with phony accent. The only bright spots in the show involve Columbo's dog and the veterinarian (Michael Fox).

This episode was written by Jackson Gillis based on a story he cowrote with series creators Richard Levinson and William Link. Edward M. Abroms directed.

I'm really glad I didn't start my COLUMBO viewing with "The Most Dangerous Match," or I might not have gone any further, it's that disappointing. Fortunately it's a rarity, and most COLUMBO episodes are good if not great. The next one in line, "Double Shock," certainly illustrates that.

"Double Shock" was well written by Steven Bocho, based on a story by Levinson, Link, and Gillis. The murder sequence is mercifully limited to about 13 minutes.

The episode is highly entertaining for a variety of reasons, starting with Martin Landau playing identical twins who stand to inherit a great deal of money from their uncle. As a matter of fact, thanks to the twins gimmick, this is a rare episode where we're not completely sure who the murderer is until the very end.

There's the fun surprise of Dabney Coleman turning up in a small role as a police officer working the murder scene with Columbo, and Julie Newmar is just great as a rather ditzy young woman who was engaged to the much older murder victim (Paul Stewart). It seems she genuinely loved him and not his money!

Jeanette Nolan is a hoot as the murder victim's persnickety longtime housekeeper, who can't stand disruption of either her household or her TV shows. A scene where Columbo sits in her pretty kitchen and earnestly apologizes for being messy -- she is not a fan of his cigars -- is really nicely done.

There's also a very unusual sequence where Columbo ends up appearing as an audience volunteer on a cooking show! This fun episode came as a great relief after the previous disappointment.

Robert Butler directed. He died last fall at the age of 95, and as a matter of fact there will be a tribute to Butler at the UCLA Film & Television Archives on April 13th. The evening will include screening the pilot for HILL STREET BLUES, which he directed.

As a side note regarding the Blu-ray set, I was surprised to realize that the first disc of Season 3 is at the back of the Season 2 snap case. Just a word to the wise which could prove useful.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray prints and sound, as always, continue to be excellent.

Previous COLUMBO review posts: "Murder By the Book" (1971), "Death Lends a Hand" (1971), "Dead Weight" (1971), "Suitable for Framing" (1971), "Lady in Waiting" (1971), "Short Fuse" (1972), "Blueprint for Murder" (1972), "Etude in Black" (1972), "The Greenhouse Jungle" (1972), "The Most Crucial Game" (1972), "Dagger of the Mind" (1972), "Requiem for a Falling Star" (1973).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray set.


Blogger tom j jones said...

I thought Bochner was quite good in the scene where Columbo explains about the toothbrush, and he's the first person to realise what the detective is driving at - but otherwise, it's thin gruel. Luckily, the other two episodes are so much better!

9:58 AM  

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