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Episode review: Columbo Etude in Black


September 17, 1972 marked the ‘Return of the Mac’, not to mention the car, the cigar and the eccentric mannerisms. Yessir, Columbo was back for a hotly-anticipated second season, seven months after Season 1 rounded out.

TV show line-ups didn’t come much stronger. Joining Peter Falk were screen icons John Cassavetes and Myrna Loy, as well as future superstar Blythe Danner. Although series creators Dick Levinson and Bill Link had moved upstairs, the episode was penned by Steven Bochco; the mastermind behind Murder by the Book.

So far so good, then, but does Etude in Black live up to the hype? Let’s apply our boutonnieres, leaf through our dog name’s dictionary, and bust out our MASSIVE robotic conducting arm moves to find out if it’ll be a standing ovation or a Bronx cheer at episode’s end…


Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Alex Benedict: John Cassavetes
Janice Benedict: Blythe Danner
Lizzi Fielding: Myrna Loy
Jennifer Welles: Anjanette Comer
Paul Rifkin: James Olson
William: James McEachin
Audrey: Dawn Frame
House Boy: Pat Morita
And introducing… Dog!
Directed by: Nicholas Colasanto
Written by: Steven Bochco
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis – Columbo Etude in Black

Musical Maestro Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes) has a problem – and one that threatens his glittering career as a celebrity conductor. He’s been romping with thigh-revealing pianist Jennifer Welles, who believes their primal love will provide greater sustenance to Benedict’s soul than his ‘safe’ marriage to Janice (Blythe Danner) and the zillions of dollars said marriage entitles him to.

Cover those thighs, strumpet! This is a family show…

Jennifer – clearly not a good judge of characters – is wrong. Benedict hatches a dastardly plot to rid himself of the ivory tinkling trouble-maker. Leaving his Jag at a grimy mechanic’s shop, Benedict gets a lift to the Hollywood Bowl with wife Janice to begin his prep for the evening’s symphony.

After bossing a few underlings around, Benedict retires to his dressing room for a nap. And when we says ‘nap’, what we really mean is ice-cold, premeditated MURDER. Before the killing, however, Benedict has got some work to do. He’s already faked a suicide note from Jennifer, so donning an amazingly conspicuous and memorable disguise of a long beige trench coat and HUGE sunglasses, Benedict sets out from the Bowl and jogs – in broad daylight no less – back to the car workshop.

“Musical maestro Alex Benedict has been romping with thigh-revealing pianist Jennifer Welles.”

He enters via a window of the rankest-looking toilet in TV history and confidently leaps into his extremely eye-catching and memorable Jaguar, which he drives to Jennifer’s house and parks literally around the corner. Did I mention already that all this is done in broad daylight? Benedict has balls, I’ll give him that…

Entering the house, Benedict pashes with Jennifer, who gives him an ultimatum: tell your wife about us, or I will! He assures her he’ll break the bad news to Janice ASAP, and tasks Jennifer with playing a heart-warming ditty on the piano. As she obliges, Benedict wraps a heavy ashtray in a cloth and clocks her around the back of the swede with it. He’s got 99 problems, but Jennifer Welles ain’t one of them anymore…

Benedict plants the faux suicide note in Jennifer’s typewriter, lifts her limp frame into the kitchen and turns on the oven gas to make it look like she took her own life. He then returns his car to the garage, seemingly not considering the odometer will show the mileage increase.

He’s behiiiiind yooooou!

The perfect crime? Hardly, Maestro. While lifting Jennifer’s stricken frame from the piano, Benedict’s boutonnier – a tell-tale pink carnation – has fallen to the floor. He hasn’t noticed, and it’s the only thing that can tie him to the scene (if you exclude the disguise, the car mileage, the workshop break-in etc, etc). Will it come back to haunt him?

Hours pass… Safely back at the Bowl, Benedict is informed that one of his musicians hasn’t showed up for the concert. Who? None other than Jennifer Welles, of course. Flying into a temper, Benedict orders an immediate change to the concert program while raging at Jennifer’s lack of reliability. His own ability to trip her phone number off the tip of his tongue alerts his wife’s suspicions, though, who struggles to maintain her belief in her man for the rest of the episode.

It’s now that Lieutenant Columbo is called into action. He’s at the vet’s getting a shot for his new dog – a slovenly basset hound he rescued from the pound – when he receives a summons to get to Jennifer’s house where she’s been found dead.

“All he does is sleep and drool”: ‘Dog’ made his debut in Etude in Black

Although all signs point to a suicide, little things immediately bother Columbo. Why would someone so talented and beautiful want to take her own life? And if she loved her pet cockatoo so much, why would she allow it to die of gas poisoning too?

The emergence of Alex Benedict at the house also provides some food for thought for Columbo as he witnesses the Maestro picking up a flower from the floor near the piano and attaching it to his lapel. Benedict claims it fell off as he removed his coat there and then. If Columbo knows otherwise he doesn’t say so, although it’s not the sort of detail that normally escapes him.

The scene is enlivened further as drunk trumpeter Paul – a former lover of Jennifer’s – stumbles onto the scene, braying about how there’s no way Jennifer would take her own life. The proverbial plot is well and truly thickening.

Remaining inconspicuous doesn’t appear to be amongst Benedict’s strong points

As Columbo’s investigations continue, we fall into the same delightful pattern the show so enamoured us with in Season 1. The Lieutenant fastens himself to his suspect, seeking his (oft ludicrous) opinion on all matters of the case, and is there every time Benedict turns around, unsettling him at the car yard, at his home and in his place of work.

He even seeks assistance from an unlikely source: young Audrey, Jennifer’s precocious next door neighbour (for ‘precocious’ read ‘annoying’). She says she can identify Jennifer’s love interest, who is someone from the orchestra. Sensing triumph, Columbo whips her along to an orchestral session. Can she identify Jennifer’s lover? You bet she can! Only the joke’s on Columbo this time, as Audrey IDs drunkard Paul instead of Benedict.

“The Lieutenant gets one of his trademark lucky breaks when returning to the vet’s to get a booster shot for the dog.”

The Lieutenant doesn’t give up that easily, though, and he gets one of his trademark lucky breaks when returning to the vet’s to get a booster shot for the dog. A re-run of the Benedict concert from the previous week is on air and the wily detective is finally able to lock in on some hard evidence.

Calling the Benedicts to the Hollywood Bowl’s recording studio to watch some video tapes of the previous concert, Columbo makes his case. ‘Look!’ he points out during a freeze frame. Benedict doesn’t have a flower in his lapel during the concert.

So what, comes the response from Benedict. I don’t always wear one. But you picked one up from the floor at Jennifer Welles’ house, points out Columbo. That’s your word against mine, retorts Benedict, and I don’t remember that at all.

“I love you.” Benedict’s poignant parting words to wife Janice

What about this, says Columbo, flashing up footage of Benedict speaking to the media in the aftermath of her death being revealed. Another freeze frame clearly shows a carnation in his lapel. Where did it come from? When Janice refuses to back up Benedict’s claim that she pinned it on him straight after the concert, the game is up. Whispering words of love in his wife’s ear, Benedict salutes Columbo and allows himself to be escorted down town.

After making sure Mrs Benedict is being taken care of, Columbo takes his seat to watch the full re-run of the concert as credits roll…

Etude in Black‘s best moment: Chopsticks at the Bowl

Perhaps Columbo will deputise for Jennifer Welles at the next concert?

Nothing beats the simple pleasure of seeing Columbo indulging in some cheeky Chopsticks action at a deserted Hollywood Bowl.

Not only is it charming in its own right, but the moment also leads into a delicious, extended hypothetical debate between the Lieutenant and Benedict about whether the Maestro could have committed the crime, and ends with Columbo shattering Benedict’s impregnability by revealing that his superiors are letting him investigate the case as a homicide. There’s even a classic ‘Just one more thing…’ thrown in for good measure. Lovely stuff…

My take on Etude in Black

Having canvassed many a fan’s opinion on the matter over a period of years, I’m fully aware that Etude is treasured by a high percentage of Columbo fans. Many even rate it as their single favourite episode. So, it’s with a hushed voice and guilty heart that I must reveal I don’t like it that much. If I haven’t instantly lost your respect and attention, I’m grateful. And if you’ll hear me out, I’ll state my case.

Etude in Black marked the first episode (pilots excluded) with the longer 90+minute running time, which would have been 2 hours on network TV including ads. Season 1 episodes ran for about 75 minutes each (90 mins with ads) and were almost all perfectly paced. But Columbo was such a hit, the network, NBC, insisted on some longer episodes to maximise advertising revenue.

NBC needed the extra ad breaks to help pay for Cassavetes’ appearance fee

Many Columbo purists, myself included, think that move was a mistake. It led to widespread padding out of scenes in the longer episodes. The stories had a tendency to sag and the potential to lose viewers’ attention. It’s no coincidence that few of my personal top 10 Columbo episodes are ‘long’ ones.

And while Etude was the first of these longer episodes, it suffers less than some that followed it because, unlike subsequent long episodes, Etude was originally intended as a regular-length transmission. Indeed, the 75-minute version aired in Canada before an extended cut was foisted on US audiences, but while there are some scenes added for padding, the scenes themselves haven’t been padded out. That’s an important distinction.

In later episodes it became clear that there wasn’t always enough material to justify the longer running time. So scenes that could have been raced through were drawn out to the nth degree. Think of Carsini’s real-time car manoeuvring in Any Old Port in a Storm; the endless garage investigation scene in Candidate for Crime; and the agonising wait for the computer printer in Exercise in Fatality.

“Etude in Black is arguably the most ambitious episode since Ransom for a Dead Man.”

Those episodes are damaged by the longer running time because scenes become a bore – something that’s largely avoided in Etude. While it’s easy to identify scenes in Etude that appear to have been added in later, they’re actually not bad in their own right. The scene where Columbo drops in on Benedict in his own house is a prime example. It’s a classic unsettling move by the Lieutenant, visiting his quarry in their own backyard while never asking a single question relevant to the case – and leaving with an autograph for his wife.

The scene eats up more than five minutes without ostensibly progressing the plot at all. It’s fun stuff, but it’s not strictly necessary – and wasn’t part of the original story. Cassavetes’ shorter haircut is testament to it being filmed weeks later and cut in to bump up the running time.

Excuse me, but what did you pay for that haircut?

I’ve never seen the shorter version of Etude, but writer Bochco and Falk himself both admitted that the extra running time did it no favours. I find it an episode that I struggle to really commit to for the full duration. Still, its length is not the sole reason why Etude remains on the fringes of my Columbo favourites. For my money, the central clue just isn’t compelling enough. I don’t think Benedict would cave in on the evidence of the lapel flower. Sure, it doesn’t look good, but it falls short of condemning him.

I liken it to Murder by the Book. Ken Franklin could’ve talked his way out of that fix in a second. Similarly Benedict had a way out. Because he often wears a carnation and had just taken his coat off, he might simply have assumed the one on the floor was his and picked it up. It could plausibly belong to someone else and could have been dropped much earlier.

We learn later that the carnations are a rare type, grown specifically for Benedict by his wife in their garden. I think this point could have been laboured further. It would have been easy for the script to include a reference to these particular carnations being absolutely unique to the region and that the one found at the crime scene could only have come from Janice’s garden. That way, Benedict would have far less wriggle-room in a court of law. His admission of guilt seems too convenient a way to paper over this rather feeble gotcha, which makes for an unsatisfying finale.

“For my money, the central clue just isn’t compelling enough. I don’t think Benedict would cave in on the evidence of the lapel flower.”

With the carnation clue in mind, I put forward a tantalising alternative path the episode could have followed to lead to a much more damning indictment against Benedict. The dropped flower at the crime scene would remain central – but in this instance Benedict wouldn’t return to the crime scene to get it, instead not noticing his loss. The entire symphony orchestra would normally wear pink carnations and Benedict’s being absent on concert footage would alert Columbo to his potential guilt.

However, without being able to verify that everyone in the orchestra was wearing a flower, the Lieutenant would remain uncertain about the killer’s identity until closer examination of the bloom revealed it to be a special kind – the kind only grown by Janice Benedict specifically for her husband. That would absolutely tie Benedict to the scene of the crime, while pulling the rug out utterly from under him at the end of the episode. While it would have required some substantial reworking of the script, I think this scenario could have worked well.

The carnation clue fails to fully blossom *titter*

Something else that could perhaps have been tightened up was Benedict’s reckless approach to setting up the murder. Lest we forget, he takes a heck of a lot of chances getting to Jennifer’s house from the Hollywood Bowl, wearing an extremely conspicuous outfit as he jogged about in broad daylight, and then parking his extremely memorable car right around the corner from the victim’s house! If nothing else, one has to admire his chutzpah but I really don’t consider his actions very plausible if avoiding attention was his goal.

Yet for all that, I can understand why many fans love Etude in Black. It has some marvellous moments and is arguably the most ambitious episode since Ransom for a Dead Man. It’s almost cinematic in scale, with its extensive use of location shooting and the epic orchestral score – featuring Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart – putting it a level above most episodes in terms of production values.

“I’m no expert, but isn’t a conductor’s baton supposed to be caressed rather than wielded?”

Cassavetes’ friendship with Falk was a crucial factor in him taking on the role of Alex Benedict and his casting was a seriously high-profile one by television standards. True to form, the two seem to revel in each other’s company, although I don’t feel they zing in the same way Falk and Jack Cassidy do. And while it’s a relatively minor gripe, I can’t help thinking Cassavetes could’ve tried a little bit harder to look like he really knew how to conduct an orchestra.

I’m no expert, but isn’t a conductor’s baton supposed to be caressed rather than wielded (no double entendres intended)? Yet Cassavetes’ arm movements are as stiff and stilted as they come – and nowhere near being in time with the music. It’s as if his only direction was: Pretend to be conducting an orchestra really badly. if so, he carried out his instructions to the letter. He’s certainly no match for this chap…

The calibre of the supporting cast was suitably grand, too. Cassavetes is impressive enough, but to have silver screen Goddess Myrna Loy also gracing the episode was a real coup. Playing Janice’s mother Lizzi Fielding, Loy’s role was a small one but the charisma and authority she brought cannot be overstated. Dare I say it, Etude could have benefited from a few more minutes of her time.

Blythe Danner was also a hit as the vulnerable Janice Benedict, hoping against hope that her husband wasn’t really the git she suspects him to be. Danner, who was pregnant with daughter Gwyneth Paltrow at the time, was sympathetic without ever being pathetic. One senses Janice has the moral fibre to bounce back from this blow and get back on with her life at some point – something that can’t always be said for the many wronged wives of the wider series.

There are even cameos for the awesome Jimmy McEachin, as Benedict’s sidekick William, and Pat Morita (AKA Mr Miyagi) as the mysteriously titled ‘House Boy’, who allows Columbo into the Benedict residence, so there’s plenty to surprise and delight the keen viewer. And, last but not least, we welcome ‘Dog’ into the fold. The lovable mutt would go on to win the hearts of millions of viewers and there’s plenty of fun to be had during his debut as Columbo struggles to get to grips with the responsibility of pet ownership.

Myrna Loy: awesome in this and EVERYTHING ELSE!

Just about the only character that irks is the precocious Audrey – Jennifer’s pre-teen neighbour whose sassy attitude towards Columbo and his lack of pet-tending skillz quickly starts to grate. For me, her scenes singularly fail to provide the injection of humour that I suspect was the intention.

So there we have it. Etude is an interesting study. On one hand majestic, dynamic and a quite amazing statement of intent for the season. On the other, it’s mired in plot holes that prevent it delivering the sucker punch the lavish settings and big budget set it up for.

As a result, it has never completely won me over. The heart wants to love Etude in Black. The head, like Janice Benedict suspiciously eyeing her husband, can’t ever fully commit. So, it’s warm applause at episode’s end, rather than a rapturous 13-minute standing ovation. Sorry Maestro…

Did you know?

Although Nicholas Colasanto (AKA ‘Coach’ in  Cheers) is officially credited with having directed Etude in Black, word on the street is that both Falk and Cassavetes took on the lion’s share of directorial duties. And that’s a pretty cool thought…

How I rate them so far

We’ve now got an actual top 10 of episodes form the reviews so far and, true to sentiments expressed above, Etude has fallen into a sort of halfway house. It’s still a goodie, but not quite as good as it perhaps ought to have been. Read any of my past reviews by clicking on the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Murder by the Book
  3. Death Lends a Hand
  4. Lady in Waiting
  5. Prescription: Murder
  6. Etude in Black
  7. Blueprint for Murder
  8. Ransom for a Dead Man
  9. Dead Weight
  10. Short Fuse

Am I being fair? Leave a comment below and if you treasure Etude above all others, do vote for it here in the favourite episode poll!

I’ll be reviewing the under-the-radar Greenhouse Jungle in the coming weeks, so check back in soon. And thanks, as ever, for reading. You’re da greatest

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You can read my thoughts on Etude in Black‘s top 5 scenes right here

The good cop/bad cop spin-off series ‘Audrey and the Lieutenant’ never took off
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125 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Etude in Black

  1. Thanks for the classic Looney Tunes clip, always a treat to watch.

    Etude is OK, probably won’t crack my top 30. Highlight of the episode for me was the double take by Blythe Danner when she hears her husband rip off the phone number of hot dead girl. In an instant, her expression conveys an agonizing hurt that cuts right to the viewer’s empathy. We know this is not going to end well for anyone.

    CP makes an astute point about the different types of episode padding, additional scenes vs stretched scenes. I agree that the former is a more tolerable approach, provided the superfluous scene is more like the foyer autograph in Etude than the tuba fountains in Sex/Married.

    Speaking of tuba, the Chopsticks scene is good for sure, but I couldn’t help think that the writers of the tuba scene were hoping to recapture the same charm by way of Columbo playing an instrument. Knowing that their attempt failed so miserably kind of hurt my appreciation for musical Columbo here. Feels too cute by half.

    BTW CP, nice drop in of ‘Bronx cheer.’ I’m a little surprised that American idiom made its way to the U.K.

  2. This seems to be the only episode that reveals the punchline at the very beginning of the show. Not sure i like this though. I’d rather be surprised at the end like all the other episodes. Still is a great episode though.

    • The murder set-up was supposed to suggest she turned the gas oven on, then sat on a stool beside it until she passed out, then smashed her head on the oven door when falling off the stool. Not very convincing, I know…

  3. You’re right, ,the conducting was horrible — not only was it stiff, but in the daytime rehearsal scene at the Hollywood Bowl, it was totally out of character for the music. Conducting isn’t just about keeping time and giving cues to the orchestra, it’s about reflecting how you want them to interpret the music (flowing, bombastic, gentle, forceful, etc.) and what should be emphasized. But what actually bothered me almost as much is that the music you hear in the jazz club uses an electric bass rather than the upright bass being “played” by the actor.

    I was surprised that more wasn’t made of the fact that the car was up on the hoist in the garage at the end of the day but sitting outside in the morning. None of the mechanics would’ve said “Hey Al, did you move that conductor’s car outside? I left it up on the hoist when I left last night”?

    • Good point about the hoist. I consider the phony suicide note to be far stronger evidence than the carnation. After all, he could have said the carnation was in his pocket, he forgot it at the concert, dropped it when he moved his coat at Welle’s apartment (when there with the cops) and put it on. Plausible? Not really, but it could give reasonable doubt to a jury. But second to the suicide note is the car.
      -Nothing was wrong with it
      -The mileage was exactly the distance to Welle’s home and back
      -As you correctly mention the car wouldn’t have been on the lift

      What else could explain it?

      • Yep, and they could’ve made more hay of the suicide note too. They got the misalignment part, but they could’ve looked at the ribbon… they could’ve pressed the “messy handwriting so typed everything” issue.

        • I guess it’s silly to over-analyze a show from the Nixon Administration era (and yet here we are!) but I always sort of assumed that just because Columbo prefers a certain line of evidence, there is no reason to think that’s the *only* evidence being collected. After all, surely once they suspected Benedict, they would have executed a search warrant and found the real typewriter used to create the note.

    • Cassavetes conducting is terrible, but I think the review is a little tough on Etude. Audrey is supposed to be an annoying teenager. Teenagers of that era, I was one, were very annoying and bossy and know it all. My wife and I watch a Columbo every Saturday night, and when Etude comes up in the rotation, I am thrilled it’s arrived. The one thing that is a complaint for me about the episode is that the garage holds all those expensive cars yet doesn’t have a locked gate to secure the property.

  4. Thanks for this beautiful reviews! I’m a big fan of Columbo, and I love the show… and with that out of the way, I will say what’s my main “problem” with the series, which is visible also in Etude in Black – the “bad guy” sooner or later acts “stupid”, meaning falling into trap of giving his/her opinion about the crime in order to clean themselves. In this episode, Benedict tries to convince Columbo that suicide should not surprise him, even though he’s not on his ropes yet, meaning we’re very early in the episode, and not a glimpse of evidence was brought up. It’s foolish really, as we see these killers telling to Columbo (policeman with a years of experience) how the murder could have taken place in their theory, just because that’s how they’d like Columbo to acknowledge it. It’s not a biggie, and doesn’t take away the enjoyment, though it makes those baddies look like 12 years old.

  5. Comments about scenes added in later to fill out the episode: in the restaurant scene Myrna Loy is wearing the same outfit at both the restaurant, and later in the scene where the Board of Directors is meeting regarding the upcoming scandal. A lot of time had passed, and it probably wasn’t the same day.

  6. I love Myrna Loy, but I found her performance in this episode to be erratic. She was marvelous in her final scene, evoking some classic Nora Charles impishness as she dealt with Paul Rifkin. But in the earlier scene in the restaurant, she veers from community playhouse level over-emoting to a marked stiltedness, as if she were reading her lines for the first time off of cue cards. I’m going to assume that was one of the scenes shot after the fact in order to pad the episode, and so Loy was probably rushed into it without much time at all to prepare or rehearse.

  7. The reason why he doesn’t try to talk his way out of his guilt regarding the flower is really quite simple. Watch the episode again. At this precise moment, he knows that his WIFE KOWS, that he committed the murder. It’s obvious to him, that at that moment, he knows his wife HAS LOST ALL FAITH IN HIM. You can clearly see that he is now a broken man and he doesn’t have the will to fight. The person he loved, (and he clearly did, as he killed the pianist for her, knows he’s a killer and doesn’t believe him anymore. His fight is gone. He has lost everything. For me that gives the ending a real piece of melancholy sadness.

    • Great observation. This notion is further supported by Columbo clearly making it a point to include her in the reveal. And possibly explains his less than enthusiastic ensuing reaction to finally getting his man.

    • You’re right about his reaction, but the reason is a little bit different. He didn’t love his wife, he loved his carreer, which depended of his mother in law. That’s why he killed the pianist.

  8. I enjoyed this episode quite I lot. When I worked in Hollywood, I used to drive by the Hollywood Bowl every once in a while, so the setting was familiar, and the casting was great. It was also one of the more cold blooded murders that I can remember, right up there with Death Hits the Jackpot and A Friend In Deed. I mean he even kills Chopin the bird! What an asshole!

    But for me, the critical clue isn’t the flower: it’s the “suicide” note, proven to have not been written on Welles’ typewriter. Had they executed a search warrant of Benedict’s home, they would have discovered his typewriter and almost certainly they would have done an analysis to match the unique imperfections of the typebars’ strike surface. That, coupled with the EXACT mileage on Benedict’s car from the garage to the murder scene and back, plus his unusual insistence to have his car serviced when nothing appeared to be wrong with it, would condemn him. After all, his mother in law was all too ready to throw him under the bus, and his wife plainly stated that she would have tolerated anything BUT murder. If she takes the stand, he’s finished.

    • I believe Alex actually typed the note on Jennifer’s typewriter at an earlier time. This was one of the few ingenious parts of his plan. The reason why it didn’t match later was because the paper could not be reinserted in the exact position it was originally, not because a different typewriter was used.

  9. I just found this site after deciding to spend a jet-lagged weekend binging on Columbo. The writing on the blog is witty and well done, congrats. I was never a huge fan and have not seen many of these, or have forgotten them….but these days I will gladly immerse myself in old TV shows and movies rather than watch the news. Falk is up to the challenge and I’m interested. I am up to season 2 epi 2. I wish someone had given Cassavetes a few lessons in conducting. The scene where he puffs on a cigarette with one hand while lazily waving his baton with the other – embarrassing. I am enjoying the comments and knowledge of those who know far more about this show than I ever will, and the host of the site. Loved the fashion comments. Thanks for all this. It’s sort of like going to a good party where everyone is sitting around a table talking. Remember when we did that, before we had Phones??

    • Boy, Cassavetes’ conducting style was terrible, wasn’t it? So robotic and graceless! Maybe the guy had no coordination, or maybe it was a joke because you have to think it can’t be that hard to wag a little stick with a bit more finesse!

      • Cassavetes’ coordination was probably shot due to his life long copious alcohol consumption.

      • Kinda reminded me of the time Thurston Howell III was auditioning to conduct the “Gilligan’s Island Symphony.”

  10. Well,we got there in the end.Eventually.The missing flower was the give away and it took a long time to wrap it up.
    Upon finding the flower,assuming that Columbo had’nt seen it,Alex would have put it in his pocket rather than pin it on himself knowing the concert was televised with him not wearing it.
    Mechanics usually record the mileage on completion of work,not before.The car could have been drained of fuel and oil for all he knew.Anyone could have seen him drive away.
    The dog scenes are a bore.

    • I have never been a big fan of etude in black , I find it a bit boring at times also and the clue about the carnation and the car garage dosent quite cut it for me and I cant say theres much humor in it either , In general this is rated very highly but etude in black wouldn’t even make my overall top 30

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  13. Alex ultimately relied on his wife to be his alibi. But when she is convinced that he killed her because of the flower discrepancy, she realizes that she can no longer cover up what she feels to be true (ever since she heard Alex blurt out Jenifer’s phone number). The flower certainly does not convict Alex, but like many episodes, it is the preponderance of evidence and lack of alternative explanation by the villain that ultimately dooms him.

  14. A terrific episode. My interpretation is that Columbo knows right from the start that Alex murdered her because he saw the carnation on the floor well before Alex showed up and when Alex picked it up claiming it was his and that he had “just dropped it”, it proved his guilt. The rest of the episode is Columbo filling in the loose ends (the car for example) that would satisfy the jury.

    Also, we need not assume that all of Columbo’s evidence is presented in the story. It would not be of interest for example, for the audience to watch Columbo interviewing bystanders who could place Alex’s car at the scene of the crime or would testify that they someone dressed like Alex near the apartment. We know all that already. We’re interested in the cat-and-mouse game, in the interaction between Columbo and murderer as he slowly draws the net. This argument would also go for many other Columbo episodes.

  15. Yes, definitely one of the better ones and more mileage for the old E-Type. Quality of acting direction and story varies wildly in the series.

  16. You say
    > On top of that there’s no clear reason why Benedict visited the crime scene on the night of the murder.

    Benedict had no legit reason to convey to the police, aside from citing concern for a member of his orchestra, but he had a *very* clear reason to show up, which was to pick up his lapel flower. He realized it was missing during his performance, so he clearly went to the house to try to find it.

    He’s a schemer, but no1 said he’s the sharpest tool in the shed. Otherwise he wouldn’t have cheated on his wife 🙂

  17. I think the boutonniere was traced back to him specifically because the wife grew them for him.

    The Pat Marito scene made me cringe. Why did he have to seem so stereotyped?

  18. Sometimes the villains in TV mysteries (including, unfortunately, our beloved Columbo) do seemingly unnecessary things that become distractions to my enjoyment of the program. The Maestro does three things before he murders Jenifer that make absolutely no sense to me.

    (1) Why did he put on his tuxedo and boutonniere before he went to murder her? He looked like he was in good shape, but still he would have sweated enough during his jog to the garage to possibly ruin the crispness of his tuxedo and crushed the boutonniere, especially since he had an overcoat on. Also, he risked getting the legs of the tux and his shoes dirty crawling though the bathroom window at the garage. Yeah, I know the boutonniere was Columbo’s first clue, but still…

    (2) Speaking of the garage, he took a big assumption that his car would be drivable. It was up on the lift, after all.

    (3) And why would he want to use his own flashy car to drive to the scene? It possibly could have been seen by any number of witnesses from the point where he drove away from the garage, to Jenifer’s house (where it could have been identified as being seen near the place of the crime), and back to the garage. Also, he was chancing a breaking and entering charge by doing so. Seems he could have arranged to have another car closer to the Bowl to avoid all this.

    These points keep Etude in Back from being the consistently excellent episode it could have been.

    • I felt that the fact that the Maestro didn’t lose the flower with that Sprint to the garage was, but it dropped off at Jennifer’s place was pretty funny.

    • There is also Columbo oddly referring to “Miss Welles apartment,” when it’s quite clear she’s living in a rather ritzy, detached house.

  19. This is a long episode with a very far-fetched crime, which still holds up well thanks to excellent acting and directing, and good use of some fine music.

  20. The reason why the Maestro visited Welles’ house was he noticed his carnation was gone as he was conducting. He thought he’d go back to retrieve it and none would be the wiser.

    I agree the evidence is thin and I don’t know why he wouldn’t just throw the flower away instead of putting it back on.

    And completely agree Audrey is super annoying. If there’s any scene needs to be cut to make it time, I’d vote for hers.

  21. Pingback: Columbo full episode: Etude in Black | The Columbophile

  22. Just one more thing…
    Seeing as the villain had a torrid affair with his victim, I’d assume her home would be COVERED in his fingerprints. The gloves he wore when performing the dirty deed seem a little silly, in that respect.

  23. A lot of other various columbo blogs and sites rate Etude in black very highly , while it is a classic, it is slightly overrated as columbophile himself will tell you i, it is not in my top 10

    Here is how I rate season 2

    1) A stitch in crime
    2) Double shock
    3) Etude in black
    4)The most crucial game
    5) The most dangerous Match
    6) The greenhouse jungle
    7) Requiem for a falling star
    8) Dagger of the Mind

    • Just watched Etude In Black and the fact that it barely cracks my top 20 is a testament as to how great a series this really was. I would almost have the same ranking as yours for season 2, especially A Stitch In Crime which would rank as #4 out of all episodes. Nimoy was a fine pairing with the great Peter Falk.

  24. I’ve always enjoyed this episode. John Cassavetes left us way too early (1989 at age 59 from cirrhosis of the liver). He and Falk were best buds in real life, and along with Cassavetes’ wife, Gena Rowlands, and buddy Ben Gazarra, they worked on many projects together. Rowlands also played wheelchair bound Elizabeth Van Wick on the Columbo episode “Playback” several years later. Blythe Danner played Alex Benedict’s wife on this one, though I wonder how Rowlands in the role would have turned out. Several observations:

    1) Why didn’t Alex just break it off with Jennifer Welles, instead of killing her? Also, breaking into the shop to retrieve his car to drive to murder Welles, then returning seemed too contrived.

    2) Anjanette Comer, who played Welles was a certified hottie back then.

    3) Great shots of the Hollywood Bowl. I never saw a show there, but did get to tour it in the daytime years ago. It’s a fantastic venue, nestled in the hills.

    4) Seeing Alex having Welles’ phone number (555-7921) memorized sent a red flag to Mrs. Benedict. He also flew off the handle a little bit much when he couldn’t reach her before the concert.

    5) I don’t mind the extra length of this one, even the padded scenes alluded to by Columbophile. I like knowing how much Alex paid for his mansion back then (only $750k….you can’t buy a 1 bedroom shack for that now in Cali). The only thing about Cassavetes is that I’ve always thought he was a Greek ham in front of the camera, and was better suited behind it. Though he did well, so many actors could have pulled this role off better than Cassavetes, as well as his Rosemary’s Baby character. It’s probably just me, but he’s one actor who I always noticed was always ‘acting’, and not ‘being’.

    6) The only extended episode during the classic years that really dragged on to where I noticed was Last Salute to the Commodore. I have nightmares of Columbo repeatedly yelling “Commodore’s Watch”. Egad….the horror. Rod Serlings “The Twilight Zone” did 3 seasons of half hour shows, then season 4 was a full hour, then the 5th and final season was back to half hour after the ratings slipped during the extended season 4. Another Columbo that dragged was Columbo playing tuba with those kids in the sex therapist episode. Many of the later non classic-era Columbo episodes seemed to drag on incessantly.

    7) Columbo’s interaction with young Audrey at her ballet lesson was one of those….. cringeworthy moments that just seems a bit…off and uncomfortable.

    8) Alex’s ’69 Jaguar XKE and his ’59 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II, both sweet rides, as well as the other vehicles at the mechanic shop (located in Van Nuys).

    9) The legend Myrna Loy and Pat Morita were great cast additions, and of course, the first appearance of “Dog”. Myrna Loy in “The Best Years of Our Lives” was incredible, as was the whole movie, IMHO. George Gaynes (Punky Brewster and Police Academy) also appeared in the restaurant scene as Everett, some kind of newspaper magnate, and friend of Myrna Loy’s character.

    10) The omnipresent Mike Lally. (as the English mechanic’s helper)

    11) At the murder scene, there was a Sergeant Meyer who appeared to be in charge until Columbo arrived, but imdb doesn’t mention him in the credits. Does anyone know who this guy was? He had several lines, was smoking a cigar, and had a weird sounding voice, almost as if it was dubbed in later.

    12) Blythe Danner was pregnant with Gywneth Paltrow during filming, who was born 10 days after the show aired.

    13) The episode was directed by Nick Colasanto, who later appeared as “Coach” on the “Cheers” television comedy series.

    More utterly useless observations. Thanks again, Columbophile for such a great site.

    • Next time you’re out on Youtube, look up “Cassavetes Peter Falk Dick Cavett”. Cavett later revealed it was the worst and most frightening interview in his career. Cassavetes, Falk, and Ben Gazarra were drunk as skunks and stumbled, staggered, yelled, fell down, and really freaked out Cavett. I enjoyed watching it, but I can see why Cavett was frightened, and wanted to pull the plug throughout the interview.

      Also, while you’re on youtube, query “Cassavetes: I’m Almost Not Crazy”. It’s a documentary made not long before his death in 1989. His body, skin, and hair look haggard, with the exception of his midrange being bloated, showing signs of extreme Acites, a condition that accompany’s cirrhosis/end stage liver failure. The difference between his appearance on Etude and this is startling. He was such a talented filmmaker, and it’s really sad to see him in this state. There are lot’s of shots with he and his wife and kids. It’s touching, but really sad. The guy lived his independent movie making, and it seems that his reality constantly crossed boundaries with his “craft”.

    • Another observation that might be mentioned is the fact that only a few months after this episode was filmed, both Falk and Cassavetes went in front of the cameras again to produce the masterpiece film “Mikey and Nicky”, directed by Elaine May and not actually released until 1976. This film is freely available on YouTube.

    • You are right about Sgt Meyer’s voice being wierd. I think he was dubbed by the cockatoo.

    • I also note that the whole basis of the murder was: a famous, orchestral conductor having an extra-marital affair?!? Big deal. I’d be surprised if he DIDN’T. If this character, based loosely on Leonard Bernstein, were having a fling with a MAN, (as Maestro B did,in the ’60s with a young, famous,still living concert pianist) it would have made more sense, but would have been too provocative for a 1972 tv audience.

    • Sgt. Meyer is clearly being played by Nicholas Colasanto, although I can find no sources to back it up. It’s unmistakably our beloved Coach, probably filling in for an actor who didn’t show up.

    • I think your answer to “why Alex didn’t just break off the affair?” Is that he couldn’t risk her telling it all. Most affair partners can be pretty nasty if the other person just breaks it off when they aren’t ready. She had been pressing him to divorce his wife because she didn’t play the other woman’s part well. There’s apart before he kills her where she tells him so. He knew he couldn’t trust her to just let it go.

  25. Her hair was an updo right before the final scene, when they walked into the studio it was in a pony tail.

  26. It’s interesting that Paul Rifkin is also a Jazz musician. It’s unusual given the two musical styles require different skills. A Classical musician will often have trouble with Jazz’s improvisational style while Classical is more rigidly structured. It is possible for a musician to be skilled in both musical genres (see Wynton Marsalis). It’s just rare and unusual.

    • Keith Jarrett is another example. He was once asked in an interview whether he’d like to do a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: “No, that’s hilarious,” he said. “It’s because of the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.”

  27. Hello does anyone know the title of the beautiful piece of jazz when colombo goes to the jazz club ( not “lover man” but the first piece of music with james olson on the trumpet) thanks a lot for the answer!


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