Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 1

Episode review: Columbo Suitable for Framing


After the comparative disappointment of our last outing, Dead Weight, Season 1 of Columbo came roaring back into life on 17 November 1971 with the art-tastic Suitable for Framing.

Let’s don our velvet tuxedos, crank up the electric blankets and prepare to slay our most lovable uncles as we stride out with Dale Kingston and co to give eloquent critique to this most artful of episodes. Is Suitable for Framing a Degas or merely a De Groat? Read on and find out…

Suitable for Framing montage

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dale Kingston: Ross Martin
Edna Matthews: Kim Hunter
Frank Simpson: Don Ameche
Tracy O’Connor: Rosanna Huffman
Landlady: Mary Wickes
Sam Franklin: Vic Tayback
Mitilda: Joan Shawlee
Captain Wyler: Barney Phillips
Nude model: Katherine Darc
Directed by: Hy Averback
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Score by: Billy Goldenberg

Episode synopsis – Columbo Suitable for Framing

A friendly looking elderly man in a stunning mansion plays Chopin’s Tristesse on a grand piano. A solid, younger man in a crushed velvet tuxedo walks in to the room. The two men exchange pleasant nods, but within seconds Mr Tuxedo, AKA art critic extraordinaire Dale Kingston, has pulled out a gun and slain the lovable old boy – his own uncle Rudy – in cold blood. Yes folks, Suitable for Framing is off to an explosive start!

Suitable for Framing opening

Note to Uncle Rudy: NEVER trust a man in a crushed velvet tuxedo and bow tie the size of Alaska…

Kingston tucks the corpse beneath an electric blanket (that old chestnut…) and tampers with the patio door locks before going on what may be history’s gentlest rampage around the art-filled house; toppling chairs, worrying bookcases, tilting picture frames, kicking maps to pieces, that sort of thing.

As he’s removing some fine works of art from their frames there’s a ring at the doorbell. Has Dale been busted so soon? No, good reader, it’s his accomplice Tracy, who, despite her initial revulsion at the sight of the cadaver, is soon passionately embracing Kingston as he departs to create an alibi at an art show.

She takes guardianship of the real treasures Kingston wanted: two Degas pastels valued in excess of $500,000. Waiting until the security guard’s 11pm drive-by, Tracy packs away the electric blanket, fires the murder weapon out of a window and trots confidently down the back steps of the garden to safety as the security man dithers uncertainly at the patio door.

“Dale is wowing the crowds at the art show, laughing fiendishly at his own jokes.”

Dale, meanwhile, is wowing the crowds at the art show, laughing fiendishly at his own jokes while making darn sure that everyone knows exactly what time he arrived. Of course he’s alerted to his uncle’s death and dashes to the mansion to find the place packed with policeman, and with one Lieutenant Columbo immediately asking shrewd questions and pointing out the inconsistencies in the crime.

Dale artshow 1

I could’ve watched a whole hour of Dale at the art show quite happily…

Why did the killer bother unframing cheaper paintings, ignoring others, before stumbling across the Degas works – the only things he bothered to take? Why did he break in through the patio doors? Pros always use windows. Columbo also knows there were two people in on the act to ensure they could by-pass the alarm system. He even knows that one was a woman after the security guard confirms that he heard high heels clip-clopping down the garden stairs.

Of course he can’t tie it to Kingston. He was at the art show, after all. But he does arrange to tap his phone in case the artworks will be ransomed. And of course he’ll be needing a lot of help on this case…

After checking out Kingston’s art show alibi (including a rib-tickling scene featuring a surly hungover artist and a nude model giving Columbo the eye), the Lieutenant collars Dale at a TV studio. He’s on the phone to twitchy Tracy, and gets her swiftly off the line. Columbo, however, hangs around and engineers access to Kingston’s home so he can ‘borrow some books’ on art. Kingston, meanwhile, alerts Columbo to the fact that his dotty Aunt Edna – who divorced his uncle years before – could be a suspect as she lives in a house at the bottom of the hill under the mansion. The plot thickens…

Driving out to the LA hills, Kingston meets Tracy to pick-up the Degas from her. Assuring her of his love and affection with a vile kiss, he then promptly brains her with a rock and flees the scene: his only link to the crime now safely erased.

“Assuring her of his love and affection with a vile kiss, Dale then promptly brains Tracy with a rock.”

When he returns home, however, with artworks in tow, he finds Columbo slumbering in an armchair. The confused Lieutenant claims he dropped off, and wants to know about Dale’s day – and what he’s carrying in that art folder. As he reaches in to the folder, Kingston sharply cuts him off and is saved by the ringing phone. It’s for Columbo: a girl has been found dead in the hills. Looks like a car accident, but it turns out she’s an art student so the Lieutenant sets out just in case there’s a link to the first killing.


Accomplice Tracy predictably becomes Kingston’s second victim

The case continues to challenge Columbo. He makes the acquaintance of Edna, who seems harmless, but is thrown when he discovers Rudy’s will has been changed. Dale won’t inherit the artworks. They’ll all go to Edna. There’s more: Dale has known for more than 10 days about the change in the will, so he’d have nothing to gain by killing his uncle. ‘Go and find the real killer,’ he hisses at Columbo and seethes out of there.

More twists and turns ensue. The murder weapon (planted by Dale) is found on land near Edna’s house; the paper the stolen paintings were wrapped in is found in her rubbish (yep, Dale again). Things are looking bad for her, Kingston says. Columbo agrees but maintains his belief in her innocence. This stings Kingston into his fatal error.

In cahoots with lawyer Frank Simpson, Kingston arranges for the police to search Edna’s house. It’s the only way to give her peace of mind, and prove to the police she’s innocent, he claims. He and Frank also conspire to get Columbo thrown off the case.

Of course Kingston is stabbing Edna in the back. He plants the pastels in her linen closet. The police arrive and begin a search. Columbo is late on the scene after seemingly being kept out of the loop. Kingston attempts to shoo him away, but the doughty detective hangs in the background and attempts to comfort a worried Edna.

Suitable 2

Columbo comforts loopy Edna as Dale’s trap tightens around her

There’s a commotion! The pastels have been uncovered! Edna is in shock, and Dale acts like the wounded party. “Edna… How could you?” he mourns. Columbo steps in. It’s still his case – much to Kingston’s surprise – and he has no intention of charging Edna. He knows Kingston did it, and now he can prove it – through fingerprints.

Nice try, says Kingston. I already told you my fingerprints were all over those because I unpacked them. I’m not looking for your fingerprints, explains Columbo. I’m looking for mine. He recounts the evening when he lay in wait for Dale at his home, and reached into his art folder, actually touching the paintings. If Edna stole the paintings, how could Columbo’s fingerprints be on them?

A trembling Dale seeks a last way out. This is entrapment, he stammers! You touched those paintings just now when I wasn’t looking! Without a word, Columbo removes his hands from his pockets where they’ve been since he arrived. He’s wearing gloves. It’s game, set, match to Columbo as credits roll…

Best moment – the gloved hand reveal

A moment so marvellous it’s hard not to roar with approval, the wordless revelation that seals Kingston’s fate is a work of art in its own right.

It’s such a clever clue, and is arrived at so startlingly that there’s nothing Kingston can say in his defence. Watch closely and you can see his lip quiver in terror. It’s so satisfying for the viewer.

It tops my list of the best Columbo ‘gotcha’ moments. But more than that, I personally rate this as the single greatest TV moment of all time. Quite a claim, I know, but I stand by it.

Suitable gloves (2)


Suitable for Framing – my opinion

From the startling impact of the quickest Columbo killing of all, to its gripping conclusion, Suitable for Framing is virtually picture perfect.

It satisfies on every level. We have a killer we can really loathe, a scintillating support cast, and a compelling mystery containing one of the best central clues the series ever cooks up. All credit to writer Jackson Gillis. As well as that barnstorming finale, the script allows for a number of memorable clashes between Kingston and Columbo, while also showing the Lieutenant’s everyman appeal and nous. It was Gillis’s first Columbo script. He would write several more, including Short Fuse and Requiem for a Falling Star, but  never topped his effort here.

I must say, I LOVE Ross Martin’s performance as Dale Kingston. He gives us a different kind of killer than we’ve seen up till now: an unpleasant, unlikable, smarmy ASS! He’s also more condescending than previous killers, talking down to Columbo time after time. And, of course, what a low-life to try to frame his delightful Aunt Edna for his crime. It all helps to make him a killer we can love to loathe, and it makes his downfall all the more enjoyable.

Kingston on TV

I’d pay any amount of money for the transcript of this lecture delivered by Dale Kingston…

It’s hard to pinpoint when Martin is at his zenith, such is the strength of his performance. However, the art show cut scenes, which show him at his egocentric best, are a joy to behold. Here he is, resplendent in velvet tuxedo, making highbrow jokes about art that are utterly unfunny, but he has the temerity to lead the laughter as he and his hangers-on quaff the champers. Could it be that Gillis was playfully poking fun at the shallowness and obsequiousness of the art world? I rather think so, and it’s a hoot to watch.

Kingston must have been great fun to play. Not only committing actual crimes, but also crimes against fashion (have you seen how big his tie knots are? Bigger than Spain!) and crimes against humanity (terrible art show gags). I’ve said before and will undoubtedly say again that Jack Cassidy is my perennial favourite Columbo killer, but of the one-off guest star murderers, Ross Martin really made an impact.

The same can be said for his co-stars. In the role of Edna, Kim Hunter brings the kooky eccentricity and vulnerability demanded by the storyline. Don Ameche plays one of the great cameos. Despite just a few scenes, I rate his turn as lawyer Frank Simpson as one of the best of all guest star appearances.

He gives Simpson a depth of character that makes a mockery of his limited screen time. Who is this man? What motivates him? Is he a good guy at heart, or corrupt as sin? Compared to Tim O’Connor’s openly bent lawyer in Double Shock, it’s a very interesting portrayal. Simpson is anything but black and white.

Frank Simpson and Edna

Oscar winners Kim Hunter and Don Ameche help make the Suitable for Framing line-up one of the series very strongest

Continuing the theme set out in the early Columbo episodes, the Lieutenant is sharp as a tack and quick to reveal his sagacity to his quarry. He seems to jump to conclusions extremely quickly, although he’s always able to justify it. He’s on to Kingston in a flash. His alibi is too perfect, and when Columbo explains this we can see why a hardened homicide cop would be suspicious.

Detractors of the show do bleat on about Columbo cottoning onto the suspects unreasonably soon, and worrying them into confessions. That mindset does the show, and its writing, a great disservice. Pay any decent level of attention and it’s clear that Columbo’s an assiduous professional, who follows his hunches and finds the evidence to back them up. We don’t always see this activity on screen, but we are told it. Case closed, haters!

“As well as the double delight of the finely crafted mystery and the top tier performances, Suitable for Framing is notable for a rich vein of humour.”

In a rarity for the series, Columbo’s superior officer – Captain Wyler – appears sporadically, and he gives the Lieutenant his full backing. It’s a nice indication that the powers that be have full faith in his capabilities, as well they might.

As well as the double delight of the finely crafted mystery and the top tier performances, Suitable for Framing is notable for a rich vein of humour. There are several scenes to treasure, notably Columbo interviewing prickly hungover artist Sam Franklin (Vic Tayback displaying possibly the hairiest back and shoulders ever immortalised on screen); Kingston berating his TV producer for leaving him mugging at the camera at the TV studio; and, best of all, Columbo’s hilarious meeting with Tracy’s busybody landlady, played with aplomb by Mary Wickes.

As she gossips away and flips through photo albums, denying the Lieutenant the quick getaway he’s desperate for, Columbo is finally given a taste of his own medicine. Wonderful stuff…

Suitable for Framing Mary Wickes

If you can’t enjoy this scene between Falk and Wickes you’re not truly alive…

Billy Goldenberg wrote the score, and it’s very nearly as memorable as his previous outings. It’s perhaps less grandiose than Ransom for a Dead Man, and less inventive than the typewriter-sampling in Murder by the Book, but its jaunty closing number ranks among the iconic Columbo themes.

Kicking off the episode, meanwhile, a chilling, shrieking strings crescendo underscores the shock of the crime, the camera work jumping from painted face to painted face, accentuating the horrific deed. A spiralling, manic piano solo then takes over as Kingston trashes the house. It’s a truly arresting couple of minutes’ TV. If you can’t remember clearly, view the clip below. It’ll be time well spent.

So, electric from the off, with the best gotcha of them all to wrap it up, and oodles to cherish in between, Suitable for Framing is pretty special stuff. It easily stands shoulder to shoulder with the strongest Columbo episodes of them all. Is it the Mona Lisa of Season 1? I believe it is.

Did you know?

As well as sporting the single most 70s hair-do ever seen in this episode, Rosanna Huffman (Tracy O’Connor – below right) was married to none other than Columbo creator Richard Levinson.

Meanwhile, after a mystery stretching back nearly 50 years, I can now confirm the identity of the uncredited nude model who so abashed the Lieutenant. Read more about  that here.

Suitable for Framing did you know

How I rate ‘em

It was always going to take a titanic effort to oust Murder by the Book from top spot, but Suitable achieves it, largely due to that magnificent ending. Check out my other reviews via the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Murder by the Book
  3. Death Lends a Hand
  4. Prescription: Murder
  5. Ransom for a Dead Man
  6. Dead Weight

Many a fan rates Suitable as their very favourite. If you’re one of them, do vote for it in the Columbo favourite episode poll here. More than 1000 people have cast a vote so far, so get amongst it!

As always, I really appreciate you taking the time read this, share it and pass comment. And I’ll be back again soon with the next episode in Season 1: Lady in Waiting.

Read my views on the 5 best moments form Suitable for Framing here.

Contribute to this site’s upkeep from just $3

Dale Kingston

See you next time? I’ll drink to that *uproarious laughter to fade…*

How did you like this article?

200 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Suitable for Framing

  1. I think Dale walks! All he has to do is deny that he gave Columbo permission to enter his home. At that point, given that Columbo had no warrant, Dale’s Rights were violated, ergo the prints are inadmissible.

    • Didn’t Dale give Columbo the key in a fit of cockiness? If that ain’t permission to enter, I don’t know what is. I mean, sure, I guess he could deny doing so in court, but not very believably.

      • He gave Columbo permission and the key but didn’t think he would still be there asleep. The prints would definitely be admissible,

        • I very clearly stated, “All he has to do is deny that he gave Columbo permission to enter.” Operative term there is probably, uhmmm, let’s see……..Deny! Just say you often keep the key under the mat and Columbo must have found it and trespassed. This is pretty simple to follow.

          • You make some good points, but Hildy or somebody else at the TV studio might have overheard their conversation (Dale was talking loudly enough) and seen Columbo take the key that Dale proffered. We might not be able to see anybody else from our POV during this exchange, but I doubt that Dale and Columbo are alone in the “barn”.

            And Columbo had asked the police department to call him at Dale’s number if any cases involving art came up. If Dale really had walked in and found Columbo in his apartment without any permission of any kind, he would surely have exploded on the phone when he took the call about Tracy?

  2. I have a little confusion over the will-reading, will-changing story. If I’m completely missing something, please clue me in. Dale says he knew about Uncle Rudy changing his will, so if Rudy told him, wouldn’t he also have told Edna, especially as they had gotten on friendly terms again, and Rudy seemed to have regretted divorcing her? That would completely destroy her supposed motive. Wouldn’t lawyer Simpson have known it too, and have told her if Rudy didn’t? I don’t remember what Edna’s reaction was at the reading.

    • Edna reacts surprised after the will-reading and tells Dale how sorry she feels for him, so Edna didn’t know about the will-changing. I suppose Rudy didn’t tell Edna and the lawyer because he wanted to save the best way to explain his regrets for last and wanted to wait until he’s gone to surprise Edna then, in case she would survive him. This was Rudy’s heartwarming way of saying “Farewell and I still love you”.

  3. Now that we’ve all see the “gotcha” scene numerous times…it was very telegraphed. The final six or seven minutes of the set-piece have Columbo clearly holding his hands in his coat pockets the entire time. It’s great that first-time viewers are stunned, but I’m not sure it’s so great after a few viewings. Columbo makes such an effort to keep his hands in his pockets. It’s not like it was freezing in Sothern California, which would have anybody keep their hands in a coat pocket that long.
    Still, one of the greatest gotchas, but, for me at least, it’s hard to mot see it coming a mile away after the initial viewing.

    • That’s what makes the ending so great: The first time viewer is not being manipulated or tricked into a fake gotcha, because he is clearly presented with Columbo’s preparation for the final shot. The second time viewer is supposed to wonder “Why didn’t I notice this the first time?” But even if he had noticed it, would a first time viewer be able to anticipate why Columbo needs to hide his hands? Anticipate that Columbo wears gloves? And if so, why? Could the first time viewer tell how the scenario will unfold?

      • Totally agree. It’s not as if we only see Columbo in close up in the final scene, or he’s standing behind a flower arrangement the whole time.

    • Good point, but at the same time remember that Dale and Tracy were wearing gloves in the scene on the cliff, so maybe California was having a cold spell?

      • Dale must wear gloves because he is planning to murder Tracy and mustn’t leave prints on her car, while Tracy must wear gloves because she doesn’t want to leave prints on the paintings.

  4. Pingback: Columbo top 10 episodes as voted by the fans: 2019 edition | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  5. Watchede suitable yesterday
    Top episode not guite in my own top 10 overall , one slight negative i have is that tracys roadside killing is a bit rushed , the rock is too conveniently placed on the ground despite it being a rocky area , theres little build up , the second killing in a case of immunity which is similar shows the car being pushed over the cliff , in suibtable which is a far better episode than immunity
    They should have shown this
    Very memorable episode though

    • I think it’s question of good taste, i.e. not wanting to dwell on the killing of a woman. Tracy is killed in much the same way as Lily La Sanka in “Murder By The Book”, both in method and depiction. Seeing her car going over a cliff with poor deluded Tracy’s body in it would be too unsettling.

      I do agree though that the rock is just a little too conveniently placed. Maybe Dale could have picked it up somewhere between his car and Tracy’s. And if Columbo ever finds out where Dale killed Tracy, there is probably a bloodstained rock lying around as evidence.

  6. Why (and how) did Columbo leave the key under the mat (and lock the door) when he was still in the house sleeping?

    • The (supposed) arrangement with Dale Kingston is that Columbo will let himself in, then leave the key under the mat when he leaves. The door is self-locking. It can be easily opened from the inside, but can only be opened from the outside with a key. Columbo opens the door with the key, puts the key under the mat, goes in and closes the door, locking it. When he left, all he’d have to do was go out the door and close it, automatically locking it and leaving the key for Dale to find. And bear in mind that Columbo might not really have been asleep. Even if he was, it was all part of a master plan to catch Dale off-guard. Of course, if he’d had Dale tailed, he might have prevented the second murder . . .

  7. Loved the art gallery scene. We hear Sandra Gould’s inimitable voice before we see her face. And we get the first appearance of the $1,200 “Esprit D’un Chien Mort” seen later in the art gallery in Playback.

  8. I think it must be said that our Columbophile reviewer really rose to the occasion of reviewing arguably the best episode.
    The review had wonderful light and shade; one moment I am sent to the online dictionary to find out what “doughty” means, and in another moment he (at least, I presume “he”) reminds us so bluntly that hapless Tracy was “brained” with a rock.
    And his use of the term “mugging the camera” when Dale was left to force his show-closing smile for several uncomfortable seconds suggests someone with the perspective of a television insider?
    Our reviewer brought his “A game” to this episode! Thank you!
    Would I be tasteless or a very unreconstructed male to comment on the spectacularly bra-less Tracy and her very-60s/70s tight sweater as she hands over the Degas pastels? Ironically, she is more revealing than the nude model!
    My favourite moment was not the gloved-hands reveal, but the Lieutenant’s insistent grope of the contents of the art wallet, even as Kingston objected. My theory at that point was “mission accomplished” – I simply figured Columbo had gauged the size of the drawings within.
    And that moment was yet another insight into Columbo being very willing in the line of duty to take an unorthodox or intrusive liberty.

    • Now, here’s the thing. The solution to Columbo’s greatest case hinges on him still being in Dale Kingston’s apartment late at night when Dale gets home with the stolen paintings.

      Did he really fall asleep and touch the paintings in the bag in all puppy dog innocence, realising the significance only later?

      Or had he planned from the start to be there whenever Dale got home in order to unnerve him and get some sort of an edge? (It doesn’t matter if he really fell asleep, or if he was just pretending).

      I think Columbo gets lucky here, but it’s an example of a good detective making his own luck.

  9. Does anyone know the name of the actress who played the makeup artist on Dale’s art TV show and proposes to remove his makeup with “high-speed turpentine”? So familiar but I can’t place her.

      • I’m not positive but the makeup artist looked like Odessa Cleveland, who played Nurse Ginger Bayless on early episodes of MASH. If it really was her, I wonder why she wasn’t credited?

        • It certainly could be “Ginger”, but it’s not unknown for a supporting actor to go uncredited, even if they have a line or two. For example, who played the cop kneeling by the dustbin when the wrapping paper was found? I always think that he looks like Tracy’s boyfriend in the landlady’s photo.

          • Come to think of it, there was the great mystery over who played the blonde model in this very same episode. She also had lines, and a character name, but was not credited.

        • My best guess is Vernee Watson from Welcome Back Kotter, Carter Country, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, among many other credits.

  10. It doesn’t bother anybody that Columbo gets his man for possession of two stolen paintings, but still has a lot of work to do to prove that he murdered two people?

      • Columbo has to prove that he committed murder beyond a reasonable doubt. This “motive, means, and opportunity” nonsense is pure television. In 15 years as a big city prosecutor I never once heard that phrase used. In most of Columbo’s cases, a competent defense attorney would shred his case. His targets are always foolish when they confess.

        • As a “big city prosecutor” you would know that Columbo does not need to prove murder, that is the job of the district attorney. Id est, you. Columbo’s job is to interview witnesses and collect evidence. Occasionally, they break.

          And if means, motive, and opportunity are “nonsense”, then does it make sense to convict someone who has none of the above? It is true that motive is just a guide for police. Some thrill killers have no rational motive. But people who murder for inheritance certainly do. And such motives are often pretty compelling for a jury, especially when they know that the alleged killer also had the physical means of murder, and the appropriate time window to do it.

        • Excuse me Bill, I’m not doubting you, but in which big city (or cities) were you a prosecutor please? I only ask to make sure we are all talking about the US legal system here.

            • Thanks Bill. I’m a UK resident, so I’m sure you know more about the actual US legal system than I do. I guess we all enjoy Columbo because it’s pure entertainment, and doesn’t necessarily have a lot in common with real life.

    • Dale was in possession of the two stolen paintings on the night Columbo was in his apartment. If Columbo assumes that Dale was innocent of murder and theft, then he could have simply paid the ransom and recovered the paintings. So why conceal it? Why make up a story about insipid water colours that he’s been asked to evaluate? And who asked him? That could easily be checked. I suppose “the real killer” could have substituted the stolen pastels for the water colours to frame Dale, so that they would be found in his apartment, but I’m getting into the realms of fantasy again.

    • One issue Columbo would have yet to prove is punch a hole into his alibi. The business of the electric blanket was a clever ruse and our favorite detective would also have to show that such a device was employed.

      I am surprised for example that the blanket would not have been stained with blood.

      The gun was left in Aunt Edna’s property. So the “means” would be hard to connect to Kingston.

      The episode is greatly acted and directed. But from a purely investigative standpoint it seems to be only half of the work needed to convict.

      As for poor Tracy’s murder, we would probably need another full episode to have Columbo connect her death with Kingston.

      All this of course in no way detracts from the beauty of the episode.

      • Worth noting that the thing with the doctor saying “no need to see the autopsy, I can already conclude when death happened from the temperature of the body” thing is pretty clever- it evades the fact that body temperature is only one of several ways that time of death is detected, and it may well be that an autopsy would have concluded that an earlier time of death is not just possible but probable, casting doubt on the alibi.

  11. Priceless–Mary Wickes’ expression when she tells Columbo that Tracy was dating an “actor fella.”

    • Yes, I always like it when characters make a disparaging remark about “actors”. In the BBC sitcom “Steptoe and Son” there is a Christmas episode where the old man is looking forward to the Christmas specials on TV, praising the actors for “giving up their own Christmases just to entertain us”. When his son says “Don’t be daft. All them specials is filmed in October!” it gets a big laugh from the studio audience.

      • To bring it all full circle, Mary Wickes appeared on an episode of Sanford and Son as a lazy maid. On another episode, Sanford conducts an investigation of his son’s girlfriend dressed as Columbo and calling himself “Peter Falcon”. Aunt Esther disparagingly refers to Sanford as “Old Dumbo”.

        • Thanks Eric. That’s interesting about Mary Wickes. I’ve never seen Sanford and Son, although I understand that it was based on Steptoe and Son. Sounds like they came up with some original plots of their own, as I don’t remember anything about a maid or an “investigation” in the BBC show.

        • Speaking of “full circles”, the BBC sitcom Til Death Us Do Part became All In The Family in the USA. As I understand it, this begat a spin off series called Maude, which in turn had a spin off called Good Times. And to complete the circle, Good Times transferred to British ITV as The Fosters.

          But to tie in British TV with Columbo: in the UK we have to pay a licence fee to fund the BBC, but also so we can watch any other TV channel. In the 1970’s, the government put out a public information film about how the TV detector vans could be in your area, checking for any indication of TV reception in homes without a TV licence.

          They put the fear of God into us by having the technician confirm that one such home had a TV on “And they’re watching Columbo”. As Columbo was always on ITV in those days, the implication was that they could even tell what channel you were watching.

          Evening all. Mind how you go.

  12. Joan Shawlee, great voice. She was Sweet Sue, the bandleader in “Some Like It Hot” (“Beanstalk!”), and Pickles, Buddy’s wife, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

  13. I absolutely love this episode from the explosive start to that amazing gotcha. Dale Kingston is truly a villain we love to hate. On this current re-watch I even found myself applauding when Columbo took his gloved hands from out of his pockets. The whole episode is so brilliantly constructed. I also enjoy the humour here, especially Columbo’s face when entering the art studio and he sees the nude model and when he is looking through the landlady’s photo album. In my opinion one of, if not the very best Columbo episode.

    • It’s a real tribute to how good an actor Ross Martin was. On the Wild Wild West he played a terribly charming, good humored, patient, inventive sidekick (and many other characters-within-a-character), basically the opposite of Kingston who is cruel, terse, and easily agitated.

    • THE very best 🙂
      The greatest satisfaction is served by the episodes that leave the viewers stunned and make them want to congratulate Columbo on how cleverly the cat caught the mouse. While you find yourself applauding, I find myself reaching my hand to the screen, disappointed that the TV glass won’t let me reach through to Columbo’s gloved hand.

      • I agree that this is THE best episode of Columbo. Not only for the brilliant denouement and performances, but also the break from the usual format. (The murder takes place during the opening credits, so we don’t know at first who the victim is, or why he was murdered). But has anyone noticed that after Hildy removes Dale Kingston’s TV make up, he still looks exactly the same? Funny that.

  14. I can still see new things in this episode. When Kingston and Columbo are looking at the painting of “faceless people”, there’s an element of discomfort, and I just now got that Columbo’s ignoring his jokes. The silly _bon mots_ and quips about their missing faces aren’t making it, and it throws him off a little.

    • It’s the contrast between this and the laugh-at-anything crowd at the party, that’s kind of a hidden resonance with this scene.

      • Also Columbo basically uses the same gag as Kingston about artist’s signatures. At the art show, Kingston’s gag received howls of laughter including from himself. When Columbo mentions illegible signatures, haughty Dale shuts it down in a flash claiming it’s not appropriate. It’s a good example of what a two-faced git Kingston is.

  15. I think my major criticism of this episode is that I just don’t find it credible that Kingston would think anyone who has ever met Edna would believe that she’d be capable of murdering her ex and setting up a phony burglary, no matter how much evidence he plants.

    • My thoughts exactly. It’s implausible and a major flaw in his murder plot, but people ignore it because they are so in the gotcha moment in this one.

      • I guess it’s because those people saw her ruthlessly gun down her own son in an episode of Mission Impossible. OK, I’m kidding, but Kim Hunter did impress me at how very unlike Edna she was in that episode.

        To be serious, I think the plausibility of Enda actually being the murderer is covered in the scene were good natured Frank says to Dale “You don’t suppose . . .? After all, she did have an excellent motive.”. He immediately reproaches himself for thinking such a thing, but the seeds of doubt have been planted even in his mind.

        Or, we can put it down to Dale thinking that everyone is as greedy and ruthless as he is, (see “Ransom For A Dead Man”) so he believes that people will just accept Edna’s guilt.
        Dale is a clever man, but he’s an amateur with only one chance to get it right, and he makes mistakes.

      • I see no flaw in this. Which judge would ignore the hard evidence and release Edna just because everybody says that she is such a lovely old lady? There is a reason why Lady Justice is supposed to be blind.

        • That’s true. No one who had met Edna would think she’s guilty, but the judge and jury wouldn’t have met Edna. At least not socially.

          But for me, the flaw in Dale’s plan is his accomplice/2nd victim. Since it had been assumed that the paintings would likely be ransomed, surely his home and work phones would have been tapped -fine, Dale had forbidden Tracy from calling. But 1. She breaks the rule by calling Dale at his TV show, and 2. The two have a prior relationship. Even if Dale had been completely tight-lipped about it, it seems impossible that Tracy never mentioned it to anyone, or that no one else at the university ever noticed them together. And even if they had managed to conceal the relationship: 3. phone records prior to the murder would have exposed Dale’s deceit.

          • I see no flaws there either. As Dale is not working in a bureau eight hours a day, there is no regular work phone for Columbo to tap, so Tracy calling Dale at his show is no problem after all. And if he planned to use Tracy for his crime from the beginning of their affair, you can bet he would have been very careful not to leave trackable traces behind that could make Columbo connect Dale and Tracy together. In fact, we don’t know how they led their relationship before we first meet him, so any plot flaw there would be purely imaginary. Maybe they made each of their appointments orally or from telephone booths to be on the safe side. And even if somebody could testify that Dale and Tracy were lovers, would Dale have a reason to fear that this statement could prove that Dale murdered her? No way.

            • The establishment of relationship would demonstrate that Dale was lying about not knowing Tracy. The coincidences would start stacking up pretty fast. Remember, phone records go both ways and Tracy called Dale from her home, reading the number from her address book. (A strange thing to have written in one’s book if they are just casual acquaintances) Again, even if Dale follows strict rules of discretion, it’s pretty clear Tracy doesn’t.

              • From the very start, Dale chose poor, deluded Tracy to be his accomplice due to her being the same height and build as Edna. She was easily taken in by his charm, fame and promises to help her art career.

                Dale doesn’t have an extension at his work that can be tapped, which is why Tracy called him there. But it is a good point that her phone records could be checked to confirm if she called the TV station at the time Columbo was there (This probably happened later). It’s because Tracy is a weak link that Dale has planned to kill her all along, once her usefulness is over.

                The fact that their relationship was a total secret is covered by the scene with Tracy’s landlady, which isn’t just there for laughs. If she doesn’t know about the relationship, nobody does.

                The real mystery here is the man in the landlady’s photo of Tracy. Is he the cop kneeling by the dustbin at Edna’s house when the wrapping paper planted by Dale was found?

                • Even though Tracy breaks Dale’s instruction not to call him, the phone record proving Tracy phoned Dale at the TV studio wouldn’t indicate anything. Dale could claim, a viewer of his art show had a question about the show’s content. As Tracy was an art student herself, nobody would wonder about that. It would just be another loose end for Columbo to tie within his theory.

                  It’s obvious, Tracy could have turned out to be the weak link in Dale’s crime chain comparable to Joan Hudson in “Prescription: Murder”, but Dale stepped in just in time to minimize his risk.

                  • With Joan Hudson “something would have been arranged” by Dr Flemming but with Tracy, Dale Kingston had her murder all planned well before Uncle Rudy started playing the piano. Come to think of it, is the first time we see Dale’s apartment when it’s empty, with the phone ringing as Tracy is trying to call him? She knows she’s breaking his rules, but she wants to warn him and then remembers he’d be doing his show. Would an unanswered call be on the phone records?

          • But surely, the whole point of any Columbo episode is that we see a clever person commit an apparently perfect crime, but they are not as clever as they think, and make mistakes for Columbo to find?

            Perhaps we can assume that any evidence not uncovered during the episode (such as Tracy’s phone records showing she called the TV station) have been found by the time the case comes to court?

            • After having read CP’s latest blog entry about the phone call records, I am pretty sure that there won’t be any traceable phone calls from Tracy to Dale or from Tracy to the TV studio, because they might all be local calls within the same area. So the script turns out to be concocted even more perfectly.

              • The prosecution can subpoena local telephone call records. They are called MUDS, and I did it all the time. In the real world Columbo would be working with the DA’s Office on each case for subpoenas, search warrants, etc. and to discuss what evidence the state needs. These are serious murder investigations, after all.

                • Hmmm… does that mean, Mr. Glenn Stewart has unexpectedly not done his research on the telephone records subject well enough, and that every local and every long distance phone call in “Columbo” could indeed be tracked?
                  If so, you should bring this up into the latest blog post for further discussions.

                  • I’m guessing that WILD is assuming that those phone records for local calls in the 70s in California exist, and could be subpoenaed by prosecutors. That’s not an uncommon assumption, and that’s why I delved into the Google black hole for details. But there are no records of the local calls, as my research showed.

  16. Keep an eye out when Columbo buys a coffee from the machine,you’ve never seen a coffee dispensed so quickly,it was already sat there waiting,it’s hilarious!

  17. I don’t even have Suitable for Framing in my Top 10. Ross Martin is not a great villain and the gotcha’ moment with the gloves belongs with the one in “Exercise in Futility” (solid, but takes too much explaining), not with the greatest TV moments of all time.

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  22. It is a great episode, probably 80% of the show’s fans would have it in their top five. A tiny criticism of mine is that when Aunt Edna was talking to Columbo about her past, I’d rather she had been more proud of her younger, wilder days (and nights?) in the art world. Instead she was almost apologetic about it. We the viewers didn’t need her so completely back on Uncle Rudy’s stuffy path.

    p.s. I think it’s possible the episode’s writer may not have known the dictionary meaning of “penultimate”. Here in North America the word is often used to mean ‘ultra ultimate’, even by the ultra educated.

    • That always drives me crazy “Penultimate” almost never gets used correctly. BUT, perhaps the writers did know the meaning of the word and Kingston is just using a big-sounding word to make himself appear smarter than he actually is. After all, he’s not actually that clever.

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  25. When Columbo yells to the policeman in the the house standing in the slider here she goes”. Great stuff. With AUTHORITY

    • I think that this occasion with Sally is the only time a female police officer assists Columbo in the original series? I’m pretty sure the only other time is when the nice red headed sergeant assists him in “Murder of a Rock Star”. By the ’90’s policewomen could kick in doors and chase suspects.

        • That’s a very good question. The actresses who played Kris the model and Hildy the makeup girl in this same episode didn’t get a screen credit either.

          Although it’s important to the story, it’s a small role, so my guess is that her first name really is “Sally”.

          BTW, I have since realised that there are at least two other episodes in which Columbo is assisted by a policewoman, but as they are not overt, I don’t want to spoil it here for anyone who hasn’t seen them.

  26. I disagree with the “penultimate” interpretations. I think it was simply a mistake on Kingston’s part, showing he was not quite the intellectual giant he pretended to be. His whole murder scheme was full of holes. If Edna was the killer, how in the world would she be thought able to jimmy a lock without setting off the alarm? As Kingston noted, it would take a professional. But if a professional was hired by Edna to steal the paintings, why would they be found in Edna’s house? And someone up to jimmying a lock without setting off a burglar alarm would seem able to figure a better way of getting rid of the gun or especially the wrapping paper than having them found on or near her own property?
    And was Kingston that great of an art critic? Who bought the Birmbaum paintings? As the old guy was only interested in investments, it seems logical he would buy established artists. So we have to assume it was Kingston, which calls into question his taste. (aside–I liked the blue horse painting, whatever the art critic thought)
    It was also a real big mistake, indeed a fatal one, to not hide the incriminating paintings before waking Columbo. Kingston acted without thinking this through.
    And he continued plowing ahead with his framing of Edna despite Columbo obviously being on his trail. Not the actions of a prudent or really sharp murderer.
    I don’t mean to imply criticism of this episode, which is one of the best ones overall, only to point out that Kingston’s estimation of himself was really not in line with the bungling criminal we see making one mistake after another.

    • I agree that Kingston wasn’t quite the intellectual giant he pretended to be. For instance, he was too obvious in his motives and so you can always read his innermost thoughts by his expressions. To be a successful criminal in high society you have to be a great actor and Kingston failed to do this.

      This is also revealed in that he shows his angst toward the disheveled sleuth way too early, which immediately makes him Columbo’s target. If he were as cunning as he thinks he is, he wouldn’t do this.

  27. I think that by “penultimate” Dale Kingston simply means that Goya is the second best artist in history, and that whoever he considers to be the best he would describe as the “ultimate” artist. We may not like much about Dale, but he knows a lot about art.

  28. I’m re-watching the episode for the umpteenth time tonight and only now just noticed a weird flaw. Tracy is watching Kingston’s art review show on TV and he makes the following observation: “…and Goya was the penultimate artist.” What? did he confuse this with the word ‘ultimate’ or was Goya really the next-to-last artist ever?

    • Possibly it’s to cement the flimflam, huckster aspect of the character? Just as Sopranos writers insert verbal errors into characters’ lines (e.g., Christopher) to underscore that they’re dumb.

  29. The only flaw is that the pompous art critic (Ross Martin) is too transparent in his motives — you can always read his innermost thoughts by his expressions — and he reveals his ire toward the rumpled detective way too soon, which automatically makes him the target of Columbo’s investigation. If he were as shrewd as he’s supposed to be he wouldn’t do this. I suppose it can be attributed to the streamlined 75-minute runtime.

    The episodes that run 95 minutes don’t have this problem, e.g. the two pilot movies and the 24 segments from the revival series (1989-2003). Of course, the downside to the longer runtime is that the stories can drag and have filler, but not if they’re done right, like the two pilots and, say, “Columbo Goes to College” (1990) and “Columbo Cries Wolf” (1990).

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  31. At any shooting scene, there is blood everywhere. But not in many Columbo episodes. In ‘Suitable for Framing’, in the real world the electric blanket would have blood all over it. But in the Columbo episode, the blanket is pristine when the female accomplice carries it upstairs. This happens in many Columbos. In ‘Dead Weight’ the site of the shooting in the General’s home should have been marked with blood on the floor and carpet.

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  34. Here is an interesting anecdote regarding Kim Hunter, with reference to her appearance in Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston: “Kim Hunter spent so long in ape make-up that co-star Charlton Heston did not recognize her when, after several months of filming, he saw her out of make-up for the first time. He recalled, “I went to the screening of the film, and this nice-looking lady came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Oh, how nice to see you again Charlton!’ I said politely, ‘Hi!’, but I had no idea who it was. She said, ‘It’s Kim! Kim Hunter.’ And I had just been working with her for about three months. I had never seen her out of makeup until then!”

    • Love this! This was the first time I’ve seen this episode. When I first saw the opening credits and saw Kim Hunter’s name, my first thought was that this will be my first time to see her without ape make-up and, hopefully, I’ll recognize her sweet voice. There was a lot of waiting before she appeared on screen but, sure enough, as soon as I heard her voice, I knew who she was. Surprised that Columbophile and no other commenters mentioned her being in Planet of the Apes.

      • It’s probably for the same reason that people don’t mention Planet of the Apes when talking about “Short Fuse”. It’s always interesting to mention when a “Columbo” actor appears in something else (I myself have spoken at length about actors who also appeared in Star Trek) but not necessarily relevant to the episode.

        In that spirit, Kim Hunter also appeared in an episode of Mission: Impossible, playing a character who couldn’t be more different to loveable Aunt Edna.

      • If and when you get the chance, catch her in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” for which she won the supporting actress Oscar. Great film, fabulous acting.

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  37. “Suitable For Framing” has always been my favourite episode of Columbo, but after repeated viewings over the decades I have only just realised that the girl standing next to Sam Franklin at the art show is the “mystery blonde” nude model, which makes perfect sense in the story.

    However, another mystery that I did spot years ago is the resemblance between the man in the landlady’s photo and the homicide detective at Edna’s house, the one holding the wrapping paper. This character never speaks, and again is played by an unaccredited actor, but I am sure that he also posed for the photo as Tracy’s other “older gentleman” boyfriend. There is no obvious connection in the episode, but it gives me the impression that one of the detectives is unwittingly helping to solve his former girlfriend’s murder.

    • Suitable For Framing is also my favorite episode. This is off-topic, but the reference to Degas and De Groat, in Columbophile’s opening, makes me think of the following joke: My favorite philosopher is the little-known De Horst. Of course, most people put Descartes before De Horst.

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  39. I think the blonde may have also been the corpse of Janice Caldwell in “Friend in Need.” Maybe.

    • Tie knots bigger than Spain. Lol! Very enjoyable episode. Agree with your assessment of Ross Martin as a great one-off guest killer. Brilliant use of that Chopin etude throughout.

      • Great review of a beautifully written episode.
        My favorite scene was the one between Columbo and the landlady, masterfully played by Mary Wickes.

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