Saturday, 14 March 2009

Murder, Smoke and Shadows


For the first time in ages, I’ve watched an old episode of Columbo. ‘Murder, Smoke and Shadows’ involves a young film director, played by Fisher Stevens, with a gift for special effects, whose past catches up with him. A few years earlier, he and a friend were filming when the sister of another friend was killed in a motor bike accident. The Stevens character failed to save her, and now the sister’s brother has learned the truth, and is bent on exposing his betrayal. The brother is na├»ve enough to show his hand, and meets a grisly fate, electrocuted on a deserted film set. The director, naturally, persuades himself that he has committed the perfect crime.

Needless to say, he hasn’t reckoned on Lieutenant Columbo’s determination and detective genius. Bit by bit, Columbo sees through the evasions and pieces together the clues. The film-making background affords the opportunity for some clever and dramatic scenes before the killer is finally brought to book.

Columbo is formulaic in the extreme, but is so well done that I still found this episode very enjoyable, almost twenty years after it was made. Peter Falk is superb as the shabby detective and well served by ingenious and occasionally witty scripts. I think Columbo is (like, in a very different way, the Father Brown stories) best taken in small doses. But well worth taking, every now and then.

9 comments:

Jane said...

I love Columbo.
My father is called Frank and he loved that programme too because it broke his rule.
Until Columbo he says that in every film/TV programme Frank is either a crook or a gobbin (lovely Lancashire phrase).

BooksPlease said...

I used to enjoy watching Columbo, but even back then I thought a few went a long way. I fancy watching another one though after reading your post.

Randy Johnson said...

I loved watching Columbo way back when. It was always the byplay between Falk and the "suspect" that made them for me.
The role became Falk's even though he wasn't the first actor to play the part, much as Peter Sellers became Clouseau even though he didn't originate the part.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Jane, I must admit I've never heard of 'gobbins' but it's a great term! I think the comments illustrate the popularity of the show. It may have been written to a formula, but it was a strong formula, and expertly done.

David Cranmer said...

Falk is great in that role... It's like visiting an old friend.

seanag said...

If you can believe it, my younger sister had a crush on a guy in junior high because he reminded her of Columbo! I mean, I see it in a way. And yet I don't.

I loved watching Columbo way back when, but I think I enjoyed just as much watching the rebroadcasts of them later. They felt slightly clunkier, yet that didn't really take anything away.

I have a sort of theory about television, which is that there are certain shows that are so successful at the form that they provide an immense comfort in the world, and hold up under multiple viewings. It isn't always easy to analyze why. But I do believe Columbo is one of them. Another crime show that I found satisfying in much the same way was The Rockford Files. Did that make its way to England?

Martin Edwards said...

Hi, Seana. It's a very plausible theory. Yes, Jim Rockford made his way to the UK, and was popular, although I only saw one or two of the shows. But I'm very keen on the theme tune!

Jane said...

A gobbin is essentially a bit of a dope. Think Frank Spencer, Frank Gallagher etc

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jane - I shall now try to think of a way to work the word into one of my stories!