November 28, 2009

Review - Columbo: The Complete First Season

 Today, I'm reviewing Columbo: The Complete First Season on DVD. Yes, I know the box set was released years ago, but I only got it on Tuesday, so bear with me.

 To be honest, in my early years of watching mystery shows on television, I somewhat avoided Columbo because of its tendency to show the murderer commit the crime at the beginning of each episode. To me back then, figuring out who the killer was was half the fun. Now that I'm older, I can see why this show has remained so beloved years after it first aired. Because these episodes show the murderer at the beginning and are much longer than most episodes of mystery shows, they allow for more character depth and get the murderer's identity out of the way so we can instead try to find how our title character figures out who the killer is and how he proves that person's involvement in the crime.
 Our hero Lieutenant Columbo is not your usual mystery-solving cop, as he's trench-coated, cigar-chomping, super-polite, and doesn't carry a gun. His slow-witted demeanor, though, is actually a put-on to lull suspects into a false sense of security, and in every episode Columbo proves to be a brilliant detective with an eye for detail.
 The set includes the two pilot movies, Prescription: Murder, and Ransom for a Dead Man, and features a wide range of guest stars like Leslie Nielsen, Roddy McDowall, Eddie Albert, and Ray Milland.
 Image quality is no issue here, as these episodes are beautifully restored. The set's devoid of special features, although later DVD sets include an episode of Mrs. Columbo.
 I should add that the music, especially that in Prescription: Murder, is fantastic and very effective, giving each episode kind of its own theme.
 I captured some images from the DVD to illustrate (sorry about the image quality, my computer's DVD player captures an image in bitmap, so I had to use Paint to convert these to JPEG). Click each image for a larger version.

Lee Grant as Leslie Williams in Columbo: Ransom for a Dead Man

Peter Falk in Columbo: Ransom for a Dead Man

Jack Cassidy as Ken Franklin in Columbo: Murder By the Book

Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy) and Lily LaSanka (Barbara Colby) in Columbo: Murder By the Book

Pat Crowley as Lenore Hunnicutt in Columbo: Death Lends a Hand

Brimmer (Robert Culp) and suits in Columbo: Death Lends a Hand

Peter Falk in Columbo: Dead Weight

Eddie Albert as Martin Hollister in Columbo: Dead Weight

Ross Martin as Dale Kingston in Columbo: Suitable for Framing

Dale Kingston (Ross Martin) in Columbo: Suitable for Framing

Susan Clark as Beth Chadwick in Columbo: Lady in Waiting

Peter Falk in Columbo: Lady in Waiting

Betty Bishop (Anne Francis) and Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowall) in Columbo: Short Fuse

Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowall) and Columbo (Peter Falk) in Columbo: Short Fuse

Patrick O'Neal as Elliot Markham in Columbo: Blueprint for Murder

Peter Falk in Columbo: Blueprint for Murder

Mystery buffs and children of the mystery-obsessed 70's should definitely check this set out!

November 22, 2009


 "We can't bust heads like we used to. But we have our ways. One trick is to tell stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for m'shoe. So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you'd say. Now where was I... oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn't get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones... "

---- Grampa Simpson, The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield"

November 10, 2009

Why I Love... "Murder, She Wrote"

1. It's straightforward. You know, intro, characters, murder, clue collecting, murderer revealed. Although it did get a tad formulaic in its later years, the show served up some good mysteries that made it a Sunday night staple on CBS for much of its 12 year run.

2. The guest stars. Sure, many of today's stars were on the show before they were really famous, but the show's well-known for featuring stars from Hollywood's Golden Age, such as (in no particular order): Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, Arthur Hill, Ned Beatty, Janet Leigh, Leslie Nielsen, Martin Balsam, Ernest Borgnine, Buddy Hackett, Virginia Mayo, Lynn Redgrave, the list goes on and on...

3. The guys behind it. Richard Levinson and William Link, best known as the creators of Columbo, teamed up with Peter Fischer to rework some of the elements from their short-lived Ellery Queen series into a much more successful premise.

4. Cabot Cove, Maine. A cozy, coastal New England town with a staggering amount of murders per year. In fact, the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations coined the term "Cabot Cove syndrome".

5. Angela Lansbury, of course. Charming, likeable, and talented enough to play the down-to-earth retired English teacher-turned bestselling mystery writer, Lansbury plays Jessica Fletcher better than anyone could imagine with the actresses who were offered the part initally (could you imagine Jean Stapleton headlining this show?). Check out early episodes when Jessica goes "undercover" or in disguise during a case to see how good of an actress she is.