January 1973 was an intriguing month in US history. Against the backdrop of the oil crisis and Vietnam war, Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second (and short) term of office, while the Miami Dolphins won Superbowl VII to complete the NFL’s first ever ‘Perfect Season’.
More important than all that, though, January 21, 1973 marked the return of Columbo to screens after a two-month winter break. He was also back in LA and hanging out with Tinseltown legend Nora Chandler after boobing around in London in his last outing. But is Requiem for a Falling Star a comeback of epic proportions, or a straight to VHS bargain bucket affair? Let’s see…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Nora Chandler: Anne Baxter
Jerry Parks: Mel Ferrer
Jean Davis: Pippa Scott
Frank Simmons: Kevin McCarthy
Fallon: Frank Converse
Edith Head: As herself
Directed by: Richard Quine
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Episode synopsis: Columbo Requiem for a Falling Star
A dark-clad female enters a bathroom and fires a gun through a screen door at a silhouetted form, which slumps to the ground. Is this the quickest Columbo killing since Season 1’s Suitable for Framing? Not quite. An explosive start it may be, but this is just an action-packed scene from a forthcoming TV movie starring former Silver Screen Queen, Nora Chandler.
Filming wrapped up, Nora heads home to her ‘cottage’ – a half-acre dwelling slap-bang in the middle of the Universal Studios lot. There she finds long-time assistant Jean Davis cooing sweet nothings to gossip journalist Jerry Parks – a man whom Nora clearly has precious little love for.
Jerry is blackmailing Nora. He’s demanded quite a sum from her to prevent him blabbing to the studio bosses that she defrauded them to the tune of $2 million dollars years before. Nora, however, isn’t taking the bait, and Jerry quickly exits stage left to a book signing.
Jean subsequently announces that she and Jerry are to be married. Nora is dismayed and, knowing the lovebirds have planned a date for later, tearfully demands Jean instead run an extensive list of errands. It’s the least she can do if she’s planning to leave Nora after all those years of dedicated service, after all.
Successfully guilt-tripped, Jean sheepishly heads off with the list. She heads to Jerry’s book signing, but Nora is there first. She watches as Jean heads into the book store and, after seeming to tamper with Jean’s car in some fashion, we next see Nora carelessly spilling gasoline all over a car driveway. As Jerry’s instantly recognisable E-Type Jaguar pulls into the drive, she sets the gas alight and… BOOM! The quarterback is toast!
Cut to a cushy restaurant. Nora is dining with studio bosses Fallon and Simmons (her new love interest), when they’re interrupted by an urgent message for Nora. Police explain that there’s been an explosion at Jerry Parks’ home. Why tell me, asks Nora. After all, she and Jerry aren’t particularly close. Lo and behold Jerry strides into the restaurant. It’s Jean who’s dead after she borrowed Jerry’s car due to a flat tyre. Faithful Jean, who’s been at Nora’s side for 18 years, and who stuck by her after the mysterious death of Nora’s husband, Al Cumberland, 12 years earlier. Stunned, Nora faints.
All this means that Lieutenant Columbo is on screen as early as the 11th minute as he arrives at the studio to interview Nora. In a nice call back to Prescription: Murder, we even see the very location where he first meets Joan Hudson on the lot before he arrives at Nora’s cottage.
Encountering Nora, Columbo is instantly star-struck – so much so that he asks to call his wife and have the two speak. Is it all an act to ingratiate himself to the star, and to put her off guard? Probably, but it’s convincing. Alas, Mrs Columbo isn’t home, but Nora does exchange a few words with cousin ‘George’, much to the Lieutenant’s obvious delight.
Columbo updates Nora on the case. Looks like arson rather than merely an exploding car gas tank (that old chestnut), he says before having his usual nosey around the house, spotting a framed photo of Nora and late husband Al Cumberland in the process. Naturally Columbo knows all about him. After all, Cumberland built this studio and died mysteriously 12 years ago after heading out alone on his boat.
Columbo also knows that Cumberland was a Kingpin in the Shriners (an international society linked to the Freemasons), and sees that he’s sporting his Shriners’ Ring in the photo. Remember this, ladies and germs, as it’ll become a prominent clue later on.
After a friendly chit-chat, Nora and Columbo admire her splendid garden, complete with non-functioning fountain prop from her first major film (clue alert!), and the Lieutenant even nabs a rose for his wife before paying a visit to Jerry Parks.
The smug gossip columnist doesn’t appear to be overly upset that his fiancee of yesterday is today’s charred corpse. The wily detective probes Parks expertly, suggesting that he was more interested in Jean for the dirt she might give him on Nora. Parks laughs it off. Who’s interested in a sliding actress, he asks. The only thing of note Parks reveals is that he and Nora are ‘very good friends’.
“The smug gossip columnist doesn’t appear to be overly upset that yesterday’s fiancee is today’s charred corpse.”
After Columbo beats it, Parks rings Nora to set up a rendezvous. He tells her he knows she’s the one behind Jean’s death, and that he’d want 10 times as much money now to not spill the beans to the studio about Nora defrauding them. Not so fast, Nora zaps back. She’s got copies of all his love letters to Jean that show how he’s desperate for money and has been borrowing heavily from Jean. He has a motive for killing, and Nora’s sure the police would be interested in hearing about it.
This fascinating stalemate is gatecrashed by Columbo, who’d tailed Parks. The two spin Columbo a yarn that they were having a consolatory chat about poor Jean, but Parks can’t resist one last barb at Nora before she leaves. “Her dear departed husband would be spinning in his grave… if he had one…” he says.
Back at the studio once more, Columbo gleans some insight from studio boss Fallon about Nora’s home. It’s worth a fortune but Nora won’t sell it, no matter how good the offer. This doesn’t mean much to Columbo at this time, but it’s another crucial clue for his swiftly-filling notepad.
There’s more for it shortly, too, as Columbo gets some hot info (plus a new tie) from Nora. She admits that she and Parks hadn’t met to discuss Jean, but because he’s got some juicy goss on her that he’s holding against her. Although Nora doesn’t say what it is, she does urge Columbo to seek a warrant to search the journalist’s files ‘for Jean’s sake.’
Columbo does just that, making a neckerchiefed Parks unlock his filing cabinets and air the proverbial dirty laundry. Under duress, Parks hands over ledger files that show Nora scammed the studio out of $2m. Columbo gives them straight to Simmons but to his surprise Simmons tears them up. Turns out he already found out about this 10 days ago, but has worked out ‘an arrangement’ with Nora so doesn’t care about the money. Sadly, we never find out what this arrangement was. Deeds to the house? Accessory to call on to secure studio investment? Bedroom access? We can only speculate…
Once again we find ourselves at Nora’s home. She’s dressing, so the Lieutenant again tries – and fails – to get his wife on the phone. He does learn, however, that there’s a Nora Chandler film being aired right now, so tunes in. It’s a picture he hasn’t seen before, featuring Nora dressed as a man in trench coat and hat. As he watches, a lightbulb goes off in Columbo’s head. He doesn’t say what, but it’s a biggie.
“Nora’s home on the lot is worth a fortune but she won’t sell it, no matter how good the offer.”
As Nora emerges, resplendent, he updates her on the case. The tyre on Jean’s car definitely wasn’t punctured. What does this mean? Well dear reader, it means that someone deliberately killed Jean after letting the air out of her tyre so she’d borrow Jerry’s car. This is good news for the police, because, as Columbo puts it, Parks has so many enemies they’d never have found the killer. Jean can’t have many, though, so it should be easier to trace who did it.
This gives Nora one big problem. She has to shift the police focus back to believing Parks was the intended victim all along. And she does this via a hilarious sham attempt at a hit-and-run in a parking lot, which leaves the writer scratched and shaken, but never in any real danger. Columbo is sent to investigate the scene, but there are no witnesses. The lightbulb that went on earlier is still shining, though, and the Lieutenant seeks out a Shriner in the crowd and is directed to the local bar in his bid to borrow a Shriners’ Ring.
He succeeds. Muscling in on Nora’s shooting of a driving scene, he tells her about Parks’ near miss. He also explains that Parks claims that he has hard evidence against Nora, which Columbo hands to her in an envelope. It’s a Shriners’ Ring. The Lieutenant doesn’t know what it means. Does Nora? She claims not but once Columbo exits, she begs off filming and jallops home in a state of alarm.
Racing up her path and through her house, Nora flings open the doors to the back garden when the lights go up in her darkened home. Columbo has been lying in wait, and he’s there to arrest Nora for the murder of Jean Davis. He admits it was a tough case, but he kept coming back to the same thought: Jean knows a secret that Nora wants to keep from Jerry Parks. Find the secret and he’ll find the motive.
The fountain helped, Columbo says. His researches show that Nora ordered it from the props department on September 16, 1960: the day after Al Cumberland went missing. It always troubled Columbo that the fountain didn’t work. But he figured out that for it to work, the lawn would need to be dug up for pipes. And Nora couldn’t have anyone digging up the lawn, because they’d find the body of Cumberland. That’s why she raced home – in case the Shriners’ Ring meant that Big Al’s mouldering skelington had been uncovered.
The two share a scotch, and Columbo reveals more. Seeing the film of Nora dressed as a man got him thinking. Nora and Cumberland were pretty much the same height. She could have dressed up as him to fool witnesses into thinking it was him taking his boat out on that fateful day 12 years ago.
Nora comes clean. She did dress up as Cumberland on the boat, and had killed him – with a bottle to the head during an argument the day before. In a panic she buried the body in the garden. Jean did know, and had faithfully kept the secret to the grave. Fetching her coat, Nora allows the Lieutenant to escort her off the premises and switch out the lights on the cottage for the last time as credits roll…
Requiem for a Falling Star‘s best moment
It just has to be costume design LEGEND Edith Head’s cameo as herself. Edith comes up with a new tie for Columbo to help spruce up his shabby appearance. while all the while her array of Oscars are clearly visible on the desk behind. Deliciously, one of these Oscars was won in 1951 for her costume work on All About Eve – a film for which Anne Baxter won a Best Actress nomination.
It’s a delightful Easter Egg of a scene, made even better by the fact that Peter Falk would present Head with a further Oscar the following year for her work on The Sting. Could it be that Falk was given this award to present because of Head’s Columbo appearance? I rather hope so…
Read about more Columbo’s Oscars connections here.
My opinion on Requiem for a Falling Star
Columbo is back where he started in Requiem for a Falling Star, treading the Universal lot nearly 5 years exactly after his visit here in Prescription: Murder. It’s nice to have him back, and even nicer to have him mixing with bigger cheeses this time round in the shape of past-her-peak-but-perennially-popular Nora Chandler and the studio bosses.
Requiem is nicely constructed and does a fine job in keeping the audience guessing. Indeed, this guessing game is the show’s biggest success and biggest departure from the norm. When Jerry Parks strides into the restaurant after the police tell Nora there’s been an explosion at his house, we, the viewers, are as stunned as Nora – right down to the dramatic fainting (or was that just me?).
Parks is such an odious little man, and he so obviously holds something over Nora, that’s it’s only natural for the audience to assume he was Nora’s target. It’s a long time before we’re certain that Jean was intentionally killed. For many viewers, in fact, I suspect it’s not until Columbo reveals all to Nora herself at episode’s end that everything falls into place.
And that’s great! It does no harm at all for Columbo to toss viewers a curve ball every once in a while, especially given the show’s dependable format. It’ll happen twice more before the season ends, too, giving the audience extra incentive to pay close attention.
What works in the viewer’s favour here is that, for a change, we’re not aware of all the facts. There’s much more to the crime than meets the eye, and Nora’s motivations are enjoyably revealed piece by piece. It’s a development of what we saw in Suitable for Framing, where Dale Kingston’s scheming ran far deeper than mere murder.
“Parks is such an odious little man that’s it’s only natural for the audience to assume he was Nora’s intended target.”
Jackson Gillis was back on writing duties here, and he has two great central clues to his credit in the aforementioned Suitable for Framing and also Short Fuse. There are a number of vital clues Columbo needs to string together to crack this case and, to Gillis’s credit, they’re all pretty strong and plausible.
Let’s look at those clues. First the fountain. For an inquisitive mind, in which anything out of the ordinary needs an explanation, Columbo’s curiosity about why the fountain in Nora’s garden doesn’t work makes sense. In its own right it isn’t much. But when teamed up with subsequent evidence, notably her reluctance to sell her home, it becomes a clincher.
The relationship between Parks and Nora is next up. Despite public shows of friendship, they clearly hate each other’s guts. Parks is in the business of knowing stuff, so it’s plausible to conclude that he might be using Jean to get to Nora. If so, and Nora had something to hide, it would indeed be a motive for keeping Jean quiet permanently.
Then we have Columbo’s moment of clarity as he watched the Nora Chandler flick where she dresses as a man. He’s already commented that he was surprised that Al Cumberland was so small in stature. If he’s looking for reasons to suspect Nora (which would be reasonable), leaping to the conclusion that she may have passed herself off as her husband years before is permissable, although a bit of a stretch.
The clue I have most trouble with is the Shriners’ Ring. To me, it’s a bit too convenient and feels like it’s given too cheaply to Columbo, rather than being something he earns through his investigations. The jump he makes in using a Shriners’ Ring to draw Nora into making her final, panicked dash home seems, therefore, practically Bob Beamon-esque (Google him, younger readers)!
“There’s much more to the crime than meets the eye, and Nora’s motivations are enjoyably revealed piece by piece.”
Fortunately Gillis’s rich evidential tapestry and well laid-out back story means the whole thing does stack up – even if the conclusion’s not nearly as satisfying as the classic ‘gotchas’ he concocted for Framing and Short Fuse.
It does raise an interesting conundrum, though. If Nora knew about Jean and Jerry’s relationship, and had already opened up to the studio owners about her fraudulent past, why didn’t she just kill Parks? Getting a back-stabbing and salacious curr like Parks out of the way makes much more sense than killing a faithful assistant.
Still, this is entertainment so doesn’t have to be entirely logical, (and indeed would have made for dull viewing) so rest assured that I shan’t be losing too much sleep over this (he writes while wringing his hands as 50th straight hour of wakedness ticks by on the clock).
Onto the cast and by Jove it’s a belter! It’s great to watch Anne Baxter in action. Sure, she’s a bit hammy at times, but nothing compared to what we saw from Honor Blackman in Dagger of the Mind (which was also directed by Richard Quine).
Baxter’s Nora Chandler is somewhat sympathetic, especially when set against the ghastly Jerry Parks. But she never shows contrition for slaying her constant companion for nearly 2 decades. That’s pretty cold, and makes Nora an enigmatic villain. As an actress she’s used to putting on a front. So we must ask: is she as wickedly selfish as her crime would suggest, or is she a tormented soul inside for what she did to poor Jean? We never really get to know Nora, so the viewer must make up their own mind. I kind of like that.
Mel Ferrer excels as Jerry Parks. He’s surely the slimiest co-star we’ve seen since Dale Kingston and his cavalier attitude marks him out as a man who, by the series’ usual standards, deserved to be the victim. His chemistry with Baxter is terrific and theirs is a cracking example of the love-hate but symbiotic relationship between media and megastars: a theme that’s as relevant today as ever.
Like all good Columbo‘s this is an episode where the whole cast earns its keep. Kevin McCarthy’s Frank Simmons nicely contrasts Parks with his noble protection of Nora. The downtrodden Pippa Scott makes for one of the series’ most sympathetic victims (read more here), while Frank Converse’s dishy Fallon gets some choice lines to play with.
“Ferrer and Baxter are terrific and theirs is a cracking example of the love-hate but symbiotic relationship between media and megastars.”
Falk delivers a much more enjoyable performance than we saw in Dagger. He gets plenty of time with Baxter and gets to do his ‘star-struck’ routine in fine style, raising a few smiles along the way. At times he’s adorable, but the steel is there, too. There’s no playing around when he comes to arrest Nora. You can see the glint in his eye. This was a tough case, but you sense he actually enjoyed the test it presented.
As befits the movie lot setting, the cast and crew were able to have a little fun at their own profession. At one point Fallon even tells Columbo: “Avoid actors. They’ll kill ya!” Given Falk’s run-ins with Universal in Season 1, studio execs would’ve been forgiven a wry smile.
Columbo is also on the receiving end of some memorable put downs. “I’d never typecast you as a detective,” Fallon smirks at one point, while Nora gently implies that the scruffy detective ought to spruce himself up a little. “Why don’t you get your wife to take you on a shopping tour for your anniversary?” she asks, looking him up and down. “Take a look at some suits, some shirts, slacks, socks, shoes…”
It’s pretty friendly stuff for the most part, although Simmons clearly sees through Columbo’s veneer. “You have an obsequious manner which some people find ingratiating,” he says. “I do not.” You’ve been told, Lieutenant!
Fitting for an episode graced by Edith Head, the fashions throughout are sublime. Nora Chandler easily ranks amongst Columbo’s most stylish stars, and even the men get in on the act. Parks at one stage sports a neckerchief along with light blue patterned white slacks. Fallon rocks a red-flares/red sweater/brown blazer look. The 70s rarely looked so casually rad.
This is also an episode that upholds my argument that the ‘standard’ Columbo running time of 75 minutes is the show’s ideal length. There’s a lot packed into this episode, but the pacing is perfect. Nothing is rushed and there’s no unnecessary filler. It’s a far cry from the ponderous Dagger of the Mind, that’s for sure.
And yet for all that’s good about this episode, I still can’t shake the feeling that Season 2 hasn’t really caught fire. Requiem is a welcome return to form after the woeful Dagger, but it still rarely threatens to reach the stellar heights hit several times in Season 1.
Did you know?
Requiem for a Falling Star features several in-jokes and nods to All About Eve, the 1950 movie that really put Anne Baxter on the map as the titular Eve. As well as the Edith Head cameo, the similarity of the name ‘Nora Chandler’ to Bette Davis’s ‘Margo Channing’ is no coincidence, while Baxter’s nemesis in both is a newspaper columnist: Jerry Parks here and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve.
How I rate them so far!
Despite the largely positive review, Requiem for a Falling Star is quite hard to rank. Like many mid-tier Columbo episodes it’s full of goodness, but perhaps lacks the blockbuster finale or truly memorable confrontations between Columbo and killer that are the hallmarks of a classic. And that question of why Nora didn’t just kill Parks still niggles. Did I miss something?
While the intricate plot and clever detective work are top-notch, Requiem remains an episode I rarely choose to watch, and I take less pleasure from it than from others of a similar standard. Still, that’s not meant to damn it with faint praise as I’m confident this will end up nearer the pinnacle than the trough once every episode has been reviewed.
Check out my other episode reviews via the links below!
- Suitable for Framing
- Murder by the Book
- Death Lends a Hand
- Lady in Waiting
- Prescription: Murder
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- Dead Weight
- Short Fuse
- Dagger of the Mind
How do you rate Requiem for a Falling Star? Let me know below…
I’ll be back to review A Stitch in Crime, featuring the ice-cold Leonard Nimoy, in a few weeks. I mentioned above that Season 2 has yet to truly catch fire. I have a feeling that may be about to change!
Catch my thoughts on Requiem‘s top 5 moments right here!
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PS – I deliberately spelt ‘skeleton’ wrong earlier this in article before anyone points it out.
It’s interesting to note the insight Columbo uses to solve the crime was used in similar fashion during an episode of “Murder in Suburbia” starring Edward Woodward, a cherry tree substituting for a fountain.
Requiem is a not-bad episode; Falk is in fine form as is Baxter (when not so frantic, or trying so hard) and watching the snare tighten around her is worth the watch.
Perhaps a bit convoluted, having to fit in her unusual drinking habit, etc. An episode that needed tightening up, writing-wise. But even to jaded audiences, engaging, and nicely misleading.
Maybe if she had hidden her disgust about her relationship with sparks, she could have just gone ahead and killed him and pinned it on some unknown target of his “journalism.” Unfortunately her opinion of Parks was known to Jean and his demise might have lead Nora’s previously loyal secretary to spill some tea.
Seems reasonable to me. But this was just my first somewhat confused time taking this episode in. Maybe I’ll think differently on a second of third viewing.
Quite the sad departure from the traditional Columbo in my humble opinion. Yah see, I like to see the crime ahead O time.
This one was not just hidden…twas unfortunately impossible for anyone to figure out until it was explained. At least it was to me. If anyone figured it out the first time? Would be quite the surprise to me and they need to go to Vegas as surely the odds would be in their favor.
Living near Hollywood and meeting some movers. The sound man on Columbo bought my Vegas home…he played cards with Peter and Marlon was a close friend…on the island? The fat one…the fat one was his favorite.
So the Hollywood jovials are quite the fakes and when they fake on a Columbo tis too much for me to bear! It tis not nice to fool Mother Nature, nor tis certainly not nice to fool a Columbo fan…pie in my face?
I give one a cookie as Don Rickles would say…now please go away! Lol
Sorry, zero sympathy for the victim, Jean the assistant, who showed a total lack of moral compass in schtum about the murder of the husband!
I noted the architecture of Nora Chandler’s home as it struck of Frank Lloyd Wright’s style. Well, little did I know he was her grandfather!
Anne Baxter, the granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright who built her own career acting in roles that ranged from the scheming ingenue Eve Harrington in “All About Eve” to Victoria Cabot on TV’s “Hotel,” died today, eight days after suffering a stroke and collapsing on Madison Avenue. She was 62. Dec 12, 1985
My problem with this episode is the old Deliverance-era “doofus(es) secretly bury a body” cliché, easily laughed off by anyone who’s been frustrated digging something as simple as a campsite latrine hole. Six inches down, and you’ll already start getting hemmed in by rocks and roots. And then there’s the issue of where to hide all the soil you’d need to remove to bury something as large as an adult human body.
Watch Deliverance again. The men claw at the ground ineffectually and end up covering the corpse with branches and leaves. They know that an impounded lake will cover the body.
Do you notice that in Nora’s last conversation with Columbo, she asks him if Jerry Parks is all right after the attempted rundown, and is relieved when Columbo says yes, Parks is fine.
Since Nora had nothing to lose at any point by killing Parks, it makes me wonder if she and he were actually friends, despite all evidence to the contrary?
I wouldn’t take the word of a two-time murderess at face value. I prefer the easier explanation that the actress just plays the role of the well-mannered lady who doesn’t wish for anything bad to happen to anybody, so Columbo wouldn’t dare to suspect a civilized person like her of foul play.
Um, Columbophile, I did finally watch “Chase A Crooked Shadow” from 1958 starring Anne Baxter, and have verified the trivia about it on The Internet Movie Database.
The name ‘Chandler’ comes directly from one of its characters, (not All About Eve, except maybe indirectly). Baxter is again a murderous heiress pursued by a detective, who (spoiler alert) has killed her brother in his car. A fountain gushing water similar to Nora’s is prominent in the opening Barcelona scene. There is again an allusion to a drowning that never occurs.
It may’ve given Baxter satisfaction to revisit the British film as a fading actress who
clings to the old studio system lifestyle, one she herself gave up over a decade before.
One of the best episodes, and one I would put firmly on the A-list.
Regardless of other clues and herrings, Columbo’s belief in Nora’s guilt and motive finally comes down to 1) Jean was the intended victim 2) the columnist’s ‘romance’
and upcoming marriage to Jean, and 3) Nora ordering the fountain one day after her hubby’s disappearance.
Columbo’s reliance on psychology and non-physical evidence is also interesting. Fairly early, he realizes that Nora has been playing him with her acting chops, then turns
her front of innocence against her.
A-list Anne Baxter’s performance here as Nora is first rate. Including her intentionally
B-movie, sympathy-getting collapse at the end.
All About Eve, yes, with even more coming from “Chase a Crooked Shadow”, the British-made film film where she is a murderous heiress pursued by a detective posing as her brother. Worth looking up and watching sometime.
My rating 9.5/10
Columbo just puts
this one together, from Nora’s first
words, and sometimes the smallest
One of his very best outings.
Some more details of
Entertainment: 5.5/5 (0.5 bonus for Anne Baxter’s performance!)
Final Gotcha: 2.5/2.5
Clues Leading Columbo To Killer: 1.5/2.5
-0.5 Jean’s cold-blooded murder inconsistent with Nora’s nature,
-0.5 Jerry was her most logical victim)
After much reconsideration, I am able
to realize that Jerry was NOT Nora’s
most logical target.
That is because, she must chose between
Jean or Jerry. But eliminating Jerry creates
a new problem. Jean knows too much about
why Nora could have killed Jerry, and could
let that slip out during an investigation into
his death. Logic says that Nora should chose
to murder Jean, and keep her first killing secret.
So my deduction of 0.5 for it being illogical is
But it is still out of character for Nora to heartlessly
fricassee her faithful longtime assistant. It’s a fault
of the writing. So my deduction of 0.5 for that
remains, and cancels out the bonus for Baxter’s
Final Adjusted Rating: 10 out of 10
I remember Bob Beamon. Saturdays. Wide World of Sports.
This was a middling episode, yes. Just didn’t keep me riveted to the screen.
Nobody here has mentioned this but, in the scene where Columbo keeps asking the cops if they are a Shriner, one of the cops calls him by his first name, Frank.
“You know, Frank, the bartender on the corner, is a Shriner.”
I assume, Frank is the bartender’s name, and it is him to whom the cop refers.
It’s one of my favourite episodes; will be, always.
To me one of the biggest flaws of this episode is the murder itself. Nora goes to Jerry’s house and spreads gasoline in the driveway. What, she’s planning to stick around until the car pulls in and she can ignite the gas? And THEN make her alibi dinner engagement? Of course the car pulls in just as she’s finishing, so no waiting necessary. Pretty fortuitous!
I do like the idea posted here that Nora assumed that Jerry and the assistant would be together in the car and would both die. Actually, do we know why Jerry was NOT in the car? Why didn’t he come home with his lover/fiancee? What’s HIS alibi?…
Jerry was signing books while Jean departed early to arrange his birthday dinner.
Thank you. I missed the birthday dinner element entirely. I thought she met him at the end of the book signing.
She would’ve also had to use a non-vaporous propellant. Regular gasoline would evaporate in ten or so minutes, with Nora torching the house and herself with it!
Sorry, I mean a less
flammable liquid than
gasoline, with a higher flashpoint.
Propellant is something else.
I think an explanation for why she killed Parks rather than Jean is not too difficult. Jean knew that she killed her husband and could easily prove it at any time. The fact that after 18 years of devoted service/friendship she was planning to run away with an obvious sleaze-ball who was manipulating her shows that her judgment can’t be trusted. Nora could have killed Parks but the problem of Jean would continue to exist. She obviously had lots of time to think about this while reading Jean’s mail and realized that the only permanent solution would be to kill Jean.
Exactly. Also, if she’d killed Parks, Jean would’ve been questioned by the police. She’d be crushed and would probably suspect Nora. But, even if she didn’t, there is no way Nora could risk having an emotionally devastated Jean grilled by the police about people who might have had motives for killing parks. Jean had to go.
Still really disliked this episode. Don’t know if it was the director but whole thing felt artificial and unreal — like I was watching actors in a poorly staged play. And not just Baxter, they all seemed off to me, including Falk. Thought some of the over-the-top eccentricities that would become a problem in later episodes were starting to show up.
But, regardless, the choice of victim made perfect sense.
I have to say this is one of my least-rated episodes in general.
The script is okay, and I like the victim-misdirection. I don’t know anything about cars or arson so I’ll just trust the script for that and accept facts as presented.
However, I just can’t, can’t, CAN’T stomach Baxter in this. I haven’t seen her in anything else, and I’m not sure I want to, because the performance she gives here is just atrocious. I don’t know, maybe I’m used to a different thing, but the silent-era way she just keeps flashing the whites of her eyes, over and over, and not doing much else, is the polar opposite of what I consider “good acting.”
Every scene with Baxter in this episode reminds me of telenovelas I watch to improve my Spanish. They have the same eyeball-game and it’s just horrible. In a way, I prefer Blackman in “Dagger” because she’s just so hammy it’s weird and unreal, while Baxter falls straight into uncanny valley. I feel like this episode is gaslighting me, the production itself and the fan reactions insisting her acting is great, and I’m sitting here being appalled. The eye-flashing, the jaw-dropping, the least-believeable slap to the face, the finale where she “runs,” flopping her hands around and basically having some sort of horizontally-moving seizure… and the garden doors scene, where she just looks like she’s drunk and trying not to burst out laughing.
Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but… I can hardly watch her. At least Blackman had a fellow ham to play along. it felt more natural that way. Here, there’s these nicely convincing people (dat Fallon, style and substance in one!) and then there’s Mrs Eyelash Eyeflash. Brr.
The ring entrapment is also going much too far. Columbo’s traps are a dangerous thing in general, seeing as they go beyond what’s lawful or legal or even healthy for police to be able to do. So when he does it, I want it still to be up to the perp to spring the trap: Galesko thinking he’s so smart about photography, Halperin insisting on framing the burglar beyond reason, Gerard straight-up trying to murder Columbo… if only they’d stomached their pride, they’d be fine. Here, we just have the lieutenant (fully aware she’s scared out of her wits) just lie, plain and simple, in a weird and gruesome way. The ring implies the husband corpse was dug up. By whom? When? Why not produce a rotting hand to match the ring, while we’re at it?
No. Never liked this episode, never will.
Interesting perspective you offer on Baxter. As a big fan of 40s/50s movies, maybe I have more tolerance for an overstylized acting style and frankly didn’t notice her over-the-top theatrics. I’ll keep an (unflashing) eye open for what you speak the next time I watch this ep.
I don’t see the problem with the ring ruse. Columbo doesn’t know her husband is buried under the fountain, he merely suspects it. He shows Nora a shriners ring never saying it’s her
husband’s, could be anyone’s, to which she fakes a suitably nonplussed reaction. If he’s wrong about the corpse, she goes about her day and Columbo slinks away in defeat.
Nora commits no crime by running home to check the fountain (which is what entrapment would involve), her actions merely admit she knows where her husband’s ring actually is (or was), which she shouldn’t know if he drowned. Catching a liar in a lie is hardly dirty pool in my book.
Well, I don’t get that impression when watching Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon. Rebecca, a little, but nowhere near this. And other Columbo guest stars are of similar age as Baxter and would presumably have a similar background and yet they don’t do this. I honestly don’t know what happened with her.
You’re right that the lieutenant caught a liar lying and that, in itself, is not a problem. What I dislike here is that, contrary to other cases I listed above, where he exploits the killers’ smugness, Columbo’s trap for Nora just hammers on her fear. He realises she’s near-demented with panic and just exploits that, extremely callously, heaping on lies of his own – claiming the ring was found on Parks, by a medic, that the envelope was signed “N.C”… I don’t know, something about this just creeps me out. (I have a similar problem with the blind men switcheroo in “Deadly State of Mind” where there’s just too many lies on Columbo’s part for my comfort.) This is, of course, all very subjective.
I love love love Bogie and Maltese Falcon — possibly the most rewatchable movie ever — but his big monologue to Astor explaining why he has to turn her in always struck me as over-the-top melodramatic. I do feel acting of that era was intentionally more showy. However, you bring up a good point that other golden age actors on Columbo, such as Myrna Lot were capable of updating to the contemporary style.
Like I said, been awhile since I saw Requiem so I’m not doubting your take on Baxter here. It’s something I’ll keep in mind.
She was breathy and wide-eyed in “All About Eve,” and even to some degree in the all-around over-the-top “The Ten Commandments.” I suppose we could give her a break and assume she was purposefully sending up that style with the breathy Nora. Only in the scene at the end when she’s resigned to her fate and explains the backstory to Columbo does she seem normal.
Miss Baxter did, believe it or not, win a supporting actress Academy Award for “The Razors Edge,” 1946 A rather pretentious Tyrone Power vehicle, worth watching primarily for the wonderful French decor-set-dressing and Clifton Webb. . Baxter, who always seemed to act with her shoulders: LEFT-RIGHT! LEFT,VRIGHT! is in many ways to thesping what her Granfather, Frank Lloyd Wright was to architecture: dramatic, eye-catching, memorable but not very practical, or everyday-livable. Baxter was discovered by Maria Ospenskaya, the VERY old-time actress/acting coach (she played Charles Boyer’s granny in the 1939 “Love Affair, and a gypsy-busy body in “The Wolfman,” 1941.) Madame O was a prine example of “those that can’t do, teach.” For the ultimate Hollywood ham banquet, check-out Baxter in the ultra-outrageous, 1962 “Walk On The Wild Side.” Anne plays a spicy, senorita-scenery-chomping cafe proprietor ripped-off by young con-gal, Jane Fonda. Her black wig, peasant-girl costume,tango-like movements and bizarre accent almost push Barbara Standwick, playing a New Orleans brothel keeper in love with Capucine, right off that silver screen.
This is one of my favorite episodes; however, I do agree that Baxter’s acting here is silly and overly animated. In more than a couple of scenes, she bulges out her eyes to a degree that she looks like a frightened horse. And her delivery is over the top. I think her “ham” factor is more suited for those scenes that were meant to be funny and/or sarcastic. There is a small window at the end of the episode, though, where Baxter exhibits really good acting as she confesses her crime to Lt. Columbo. In that small scene, she’s natural and she doesn’t display any artificiality. That small segment feels authentic. It’s almost strangely out of context in comparison to her performance all throughout the episode.
I know folks keep complaining about Ann Baxter overacting in this episode, but think about the role she’s playing. She supposed to be a hammy, over-the-hill actress who uses her “acting” to manipulate everyone. She thinks she has Columbo bamboozled especially in the beginning. The reason the final scene is more natural and authentic is because she is no longer playing the character for Columbo. She has been unmasked and she knows it.
I get the strange feeling that the great Kevin McCarthy, totally wasted in this episode, was supposed to catch caftan-clad Baxter, in her hammy swoon-faint, in the restaurant foyer, but being the method actor he was, let her crumple to the floor.
He’s billed as
“Dr. Frank Simmons”
so he probably had more lines
originally. Still, he impresses as the
big boss Columbo has to get around.
It looks to me Nora fell too
fast for him to catch her.
Besides, you know, she would
look like one of those pod
things, if he did.
Just one thing about your review, you mention the 1973 oil crisis as being in January. That happened later in 1973, it was initiated by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in response to US assistance to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in October of that year.
Watching all those humongous cars seen in this show must give you an idea why that was such a problem, those cars’ designs were based on a plentiful supply of cheap oil, the three American car companies could sell cars that only got 10-15 miles on a gallon of gas. I imagine they’re pretty astonishing to readers here from Europe, where cars have always been smaller. I grew up with cars that size but looking back they still astound me.
“…twas nought but an skelington, covered wiv skin…”. What struck me as weak was Nora’s explanation of the philandering husband. I didn’t recall any other references to that, which would have made it more believable. She may have actually decked him with the wine bottle for some other nefarious reason.
When Columbo talks to Parks they mention “[the husband’s] casting couch.” It’s one of the nicer scenes, with Columbo looking down with his patent poker-faced embarrassment shtick and saying “yes, I’m familiar with that term, sir.”
In fact, what he
really says is:
“Oh yes, casting couch. I’ve heard of that term”
As the story goes, Cumberland mysteriously disappeared after sailing off on his boat. We now know that it was Nora, disguised as her husband, who was piloting the boat. But if that was the case, shouldn’t we assume that the boat went missing too? Did Nora abandon the boat at sea and swim back to land? Just tying up some loose ends.
This is where “Last Salute to the Commodore” always came to my rescue. There I can see how to deal a fake accident at sea with a boat involved. From there I get my picture how Nora must have done it. Comparably young as she still was a decade before her second crime, I trust her to swim a mile or so. But what happened to the male clothes she wore? Did she swim away inside them or took them off so they would float on the water surface? This is the loose end in my book.
Alcohol and night swimming. It’s a winning combination!
Requiem For A Falling Star will always be personally memorable to me because it was the featured film on a Continental Airlines Chicago to Los Angeles flight I flew. Being the late 1970’s, the DC-10 used projection tv’s onto drop down screens at the front of each cabin.
Inflight Entertainment Systems on today’s jets are far more superior in each person can select, pause and fast forward from a wide variety of perfectly clear videos on individual LED screens. But the old shared experience of everyone watching the same show on the same screen was exciting in its own way. I also remember when the flight attendant announced the featured film was a Columbo episode, there was a small cheer from the plane.
What a nice story! I wish I could have been there, although just like Columbo I’m afraid of heights. Do you remember how many passengers paid attention and were interested in the movie? I just can’t imagine that really everybody shared the experience with the other guests, but I sure like the idea of it.
Thanks. It was like watching in a theatre. You don’t really look at other people, you watch the movie. I do recall being slightly annoyed if anyone was in the aisle and blocked my view. I didn’t mean to suggest the entire plane was filled with enamored Columbo fans. There was a small audible approval when it was announced the feature was a Columbo episode. There was NOT any applause when it was over. People don’t applaud at home or in a theatre either.
Another detail was how important it was that all window shades needed to be closed. That old tv projection system was not very crisp even in a dark room. And in turbulence the videotape player might shake and the picture would suffer. Nonetheless, at the time that was state of the art inflight entertainment.
While on the ground before pushback, we had live tv of a Chicago Bears football game. Shortly after takeoff the signal was lost. But again, it was state of the art to even have any live tv onboard.
I was an employee so I was in first class. Super big seat, smoking, drinking, jetting to LA, watching Columbo! Ah, the good old days.
Very similar to Adrian Carsini seated in first in Any Old Port In A Storm. I love his unPleasance, horrified reaction to the bad wine served in first class on American Airlines.
At least, in an airplane, unlike in theatres, the viewers did not arise from their seats to leave in a hurry while the end credits were still rolling. That’s what I always hated the most in cinemas, especially when the ending was in a way emotionally touching like in “Requiem…”.
It’s quite late & I’m quite sleepy, but did anyone else notice that for such bitter enemies, not only did Jerry-darling have a pic of Nora-dear on the wall behind his desk, but also ON HIS DESK…. me-thinks they might be playing w the audience minds a bit…🧐
The method of murder is portrayed in a thin and unbelievable manner. First of all, how many starlets mess with gasoline and have any real understanding of it merely burning vs exploding? Also, there was nothing about pouring a fair amount of gas on a flat driveway that guarantees or even suggests an explosion would follow. And, no, the heat from the ignited gas puddle would not be hot enough to cause an instant (or even a delayed one, as that little puddle would burn through pretty quick) explosion of the car’s gas tank! And, on top of that, such a blast as depicted wouldn’t render the driver incapable of simply getting out of the car, albeit, perhaps, shaken up.
Columbo obtains the ring at night and then somehow gets it inscribed “N C,”…how? Did he find an engraver that same evening? Did we ever learn that Nora had her then husband’s ring inscribed? How did Columbo know that Nora would not be able to see at the studio that shriners ring not identical to husband (maybe all these rings are required to be identical? I dunno)?
I think that well-used (Columbo, Mannix, Mission Impossible, etc.)prop-cliche “exploding Jaguar” had to be incorporated into the story-line, some how? At least it didn’t go over a Griffith Park cliff! I understand a modern-era car gas tank, is designed not to blow-up, as it always does in SOOOO many TV shows, the infamous Ford Pinto excluded, for obvious fiery real-life reasons, that was driven by Lee Merriweather (Miss America, ’59) in Barnaby Jones and Kate Jackson on Charlie’s Angel’s. A whole Columbo File article could be done on the exotic glam rides used, and sometimes abused, on Columbo: Rolls, Bentleys, Jaguats,those Mercedes with dead body-sized trunks, Citroen-Maseratis, Stutz, Ferraris, vintage Cadillacs, stretch Lincolns. Oh my!
He didn’t have the ring engraved. The ring was in an envelope, and the envelope had the initials on it.
I enjoyed this episode for all its … quirks. While I agree it’s squarely on the B-list, I’d rank it above Crucial Game, Etude and Jungle. Granted, it may not hold up to repeat viewings as well as the others due to it’s reliance on keeping the viewer guessing throughout, but that is a minor criticism as re-watchability should not be the ultimate goal of every show/movie. But I do love your Die Hard reference.
Explosive killing scene was impressive and befit the dramatic leanings of a Hollywood star. Anne Baxter was really good as Nora Chandler. Edith Head scene was cute, as were the fashions across the board (the Jag!).
Most memorably, I thought this had one of the best Columbo intros. The crappy Peugeot gag has been done plenty but rarely this well. First the Lt. is mistaken for a demo derby contestant, then realizes his police sticker has been stolen (perhaps his acute observational skills are having an off day?), then his car backfires, visibly flustered he then puts it into the wrong gear (further holding up the line). Finally exiting the car, he literally has to dust himself off, yet he still goes to great pains to tidy up his appearance before knocking on Chandler’s door, only to get busted for creeping by the studio exec. This is absolute perfection from start to finish.
My primary confusion stemmed not from Nora killing Jean but from Columbo’s initial suspicion of Nora. Ostensibly he thinks Parks was the target up until the tire is proved to be tampered with, and Parks had many enemies. So why isn’t he hounding anyone else on his dirt list? Especially when a witness confirms that it was a man driving away from the scene? And when Jerry confirms he has nothing new or interesting about Nora? Columbo eventually finds the key clues by pursuing a woman he has little reason to suspect. That’s weak and the biggest problem with the episode slow-playing the motive.
All in all, though, totally worth the price of admission!
Possibly Columbo wondered about how willing she seemed
to go along with his gags on the phone. More than might
seem right for someone getting out of the hospital after
collapsing from shock.
But later, after arriving at the police garage, Columbo is
still clearly under her spell when they see the burned out
remains of the Stingray.
However in the garage, as they are leaving, Nora makes
her first gaff. When Columbo tells her, the only reason
why her assistant is dead and not Parks, is that the killer
made a mistake, he looks her in the eye. Nora is unable
to return his stare.
From that point on, Columbo listens to her with an impassive
face, listening, but not reacting. Not even during the scene with
Head, when Nora just teases the detective. But it’s not her fashion
sense that is beginning to trouble him!
In fact, Columbo’s reason to suspect Nora comes fairly early, but as
he later admits, a part of him didn’t want the murderer to be her.
After Columbo visits Parks, he learns that Nora lied about two things:
One, that Parks and Jean indeed were intimate, not what Nora had told
Two, Nora’s husband disappeared, and was presumed to be dead. He didn’t
die on a known day, as she had told him (in a slip of the tongue). When
he sees Nora on TV dressed as a man, it all starts to make sense what
the possible secret was that Jean knew.
The “pre-story murder buried on the grounds” calls to mind The Big Sleep, although I doubt that’s an intentional homage.
A good point. That is a Raymond Chandler plot, isn’t it?
Most likely then Nora Chandler’s last name is homage to
Nora probably comes from Norma Desmond of Sunset
Boulevard. Both Nora and Norma are faded actresses
clinging to their careers when they deliberately murder
Sorry, but this one is bottom tier of the originals for me. Nothing about either killing made any sense. It was just done that way to provide a few twists. After all, not only would Nora killing Jean for what she might tell Jerry instead of killing Jerry for what he already had on her and might get in the future is as silly a motive as we have every seen in a Columbo. Then, couple that with the fact that, when she killed her husband, why not just take the body aboard the boat and dump it in the ocean if she already was going to take the boat out dressed as him making it look as if he disappeared. Even if the body was found, she killed him with a blow to the head which could have been easily been explained away in a boating mishap.
And how’s Nora supposed to lug her husband’s corpse all the way to the boat without being spotted by the very witnesses that she fooled with her clever ruse of impersonating hubby. The killing was an accident and the clock was ticking on body disposal. She couldn’t exactly pick the perfect moment.
Thanks for such a great resource! I’m discovering Columbo for the first time (which is sure to make you envious of me… actually I’m a little envious of myself!)— and this is the first episode that killed me into a false sense of complacency. Until the final reveal I wasn’t paying that close attention, assumed it was obvious Jean was the intended victim, and was ready to file this as one of the more mediocre episodes. Then the twist came and I wished I’d watched more closely from the start! I loved how all the clues – from the broken fountain to the stubborn refusal to sell – were there, but I didn’t recognise them as significant. Clearly I’m no detective!
So you assumed, Jean was the intended victim. You were supposed to assume, Jean’s death was a mistake, but you were right in the first place. 😉
In a classic Columbo script like this, almost every word and every detail fits into the full picture, and overlooking a detail due to a lack of concentration takes something away from its quality. Indeed I envy you since there is so much more for you to discover during your future Columbo evenings.
Most viewers miss the first clue.
Nora slips up when she tells
Columbo her husband’s photo was taken the day
“before he died”, instead of the day before he went
It’s not clear Columbo remembers it later, since he
never mentions it, but I think he does. Of course, it
means that Nora knows the exact day her husband
died, and that he didn’t just go missing.
Do we know if Edith Head did the costumes for this episode? Also, was that her actual office/ studio they filmed in?
Probably not, on both counts. Miss Head often took credit for other people’s work, a very common Hollywood occupational hazard.(paging Walt Disney!) She tried to cheat Givenchy out of screen credit for his brilliant “Sabrina” work, which cemented a “beautiful Friendship” with Audrey Hepburn, who once was Mrs. Mel Ferrer. Burton Miller did an admirable job with Universal TV wardrobe, across the board. A tough job, Universal being as cheap as it was then. Head Trivia: both the late, great Debbie Reynolds AND carrie Fisher were living in Edie’s former Beverly Hills home when they passed away.
Just found out that Burton Miller shared an Oscar nom for Airport ’77 with, tah-dah: Edith Head! Mr. Miller was also, behind…er-ah… responsible for Lee Majors’ sexy-70’s duds in the “Six Million Dollar Man.”
Just curious about the Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds info. I had heard that they lived next door to one another when they passed. Was Edith Head’s former property split up, or did they both reside in the same house?
I doubt it was her actual office they filmed in. Looks like a set to me.
The old Hollywood Universal Studios Tour, circa 1974, did, I think, feature the exterior of Edith Head’s “atelier.” And oddly Lucille Ball’s “dressing room .” The zany redhead was then working on the God-awful musical “Mame” a movie that SHOULD BE transferred to highly unstable, flamable silver nitrate film stock
If Parks is so good at blackmail, not to mention a top journalist, how come he’s broke? And what is his relationship with Jean really about? Proposing marriage to someone either to get a loan or on the off chance they have dirt to dish seems to be going a bit far.
It’s ashame Tom Selleck wasn’t around back then, to give Jerry a “reverse mortgage.” Mighta saved a life, and an XKE?
It seems to me, all that was really about is Parks
wanting to put more pressure on Nora to pony up,
else she’d lose her assistant too. If so, it was a ploy
that backfired horribly on Jean and her both. They
don’t call them muckrakers for nothing.
We have to remember sexy, Tinsel Town “insider” Parks probably had a bunch of ex-wives and “dependent” kids, to support, as did the suave Mel Ferrer, one being Audrey Hepburn. He, also, did NOT have the benefit of those modern, oh-so-convienent “reverse mortgages” on his mid-cen-mod Hollywood Hills love-shack, that are endlessly pimped-out and on TV, by the likes of Tom Selleck and Steve Garvey. I have actually had my “classic” Columbo experience interrupted by these tacky adverts. I figure that famous exploding XKE Jag had insurance? In 1975 it would have been worth about $3,500, on a good day? Today, in fine fettle, Up to $75,000! A while back I visited the fancy-schamcy, classic car garage featured in the John Cassavetes “Ettude in Black.” Also featuring a flashy XKE. Like so many historic sites in Hollywood, the current proprietor had absolutely NO IDEA what I was talking about!
I would guess they inserted a prop at the very last split second in the torched car scene. I’ll look at it frame by frame someday.
Maybe she came clean with studio head after the murder but studio head backed her up that it was 10 days earlier to protect her as she was his love interest…
One continuity error. Columbo tells Nora Chandler he’s never been to a movie studio before. In fact, in “Prescription: Murder” Columbo goes to the movie studio to interrogate Joan Hudson.
Or he could just be playing dumb so she thinks he’s a wide-eyed newbie?
Perhaps Nora killed Jean instead of Parks because she saw Jean’s singular devotion to her could be fading. After all if she fell for Parks even if he were gone might she fall in love again and possibly share the secret with them? Even if she killed Parks Jean was still a loose end. And presumably she knew Jean had not told him the secret yet since she was monitoring their mail to each other.
One production thing that makes me crazy in this episode is the lack of continuity concerning the many framed star photos featured in the backgrounds. In the scene on the lanai when Columbia and Nora are talking about her late husband, notice the positions of the four framed as they enter the room. The photo of the two of them hugging is way up one the upper right. But when columbo stands to talk about her husband the two-shot of them hugging has moved to the upper left position with the photo showing his ring now below it. Then in the scene in parks office, the first one where Columbo uses the excuse to use the phone in order to get in there, you can see a double row of star photos behind the desk. They change positions repeatedly throughout that scene. Cannot imagine no one in continuity or set design wasn’t tracking them.
Still it is one of my favorite episodes. Probably because All About Eve is one of my favorite movies. And the many nods to the movie are fun. Chandler vs Channing. The nagging Parks vs Addison DeWitt. And mostly that the plot in both revolves around the relationship between star and assistant. Only this time the worm has turned and the star is the evil one and the assistant is the innocent.
I think Nora is Eve grown older, and the ruthless rising star is now
the ruthless falling one. Incidentally, Sunset Boulevard
came out the same year as All About Eve. Suggesting perhaps that
the two films bookend the same character. Nora here is another
faded star whom like Norma Desmond, murders her assistant.
Really enjoying reading these after watching each episode for the first time in my life.
I just want to raise a point that I now see others have pitched in about—why didn’t she kill Parks instead? I think at first I thought the same as you, however I think Jean would have suspected Nora of Parks’s murder and would have fully co-operated with the police on this. Afterall, Jean would have been greatly upset by his death, knew that Nora despised him, and knew for a fact Nora has killed before. Nora had all sorts of motives for ending his life. And unlike Parks’s, Jean seems much more honest and not at all conniving.
A stronger course of action for Nora would have been not to interfere with their evening plans, and once they retired to Parks’s home commit both murders in a similar fashion. With both dead, it leaves no witnesses as to Nora’s feelings about their dating, Nora as the sole source of her relationships with both parties, and both their deaths—if suspected murder—gives more possible options as to motive therefore muddies the waters. That is to say, did the killer mean to kill both or only one and killed the other by accident? If the latter then who is whom? It would have greatly populated the list of possibilities to eliminate… but as you said might have made it less interesting from a writing perspective.
For me the real question is why kill anybody at all? Even with Jean and Parks out of the picture Nora is not truly safe and never will be until her husband’s body is removed from the studio lot.
Her best course of action is not scheming new murders but simply doing the most logical thing that is digging up the bones and tossing them into the ocean. That way nobody will ever be able to prove anything against her and this solution also comes with the added benefit of her being finally able to cash in on this valuable property and getting a lot of money legally instead of cheating the studio and running unnecessary risks.
Why doesn’t she do this? It can’t be that there was no opportune moment in all this years. After all if the place is discreet enough to bury someone out there it is discreet enough to do the opposite. So is there more to Nora’s character than meets the eye? Can it be that in some perverted way she cherishes the thought that only she of all people knows what happened to her husband and where the body was? Usually her character is read sympathetically: she is effectively a prisoner of that house and garden because of a past mistake – killing the husband who mistreated her. Can it be the opposite? Nora thinks of this place as not a liability but something very valuable to her psychologically and is prepared to kill so it stays that way, all risks be damned.
Really excellent points!
The fountain I think explains this fairly well. Moving it to dig under it would raise more questions, and/or create more accomplices. Also it would be hard to recover all the bones from a rotted corpse, as there’s no casket. Finally, even with the body gone, Jean and whomever she told, would always know.
At first I thought Nora had indeed killed them both. But what puzzles me is why Jean drove the car back to Parks’s place, when she had all these errands including a dress to pick up for Nora.
Wouldn’t she drive to Nora’s instead?
They mention that Parks has “talked Jean out” of running those errands. She was not the loyal slave she pretended to be…
I too am a fan of Ann Baxter. Perhaps you should watch All About Eve. She is acting over the top in this Columbo episode because she is supposed to be playing a actress. One who has been a star for a long time and thinks she can ACT her way into manipulating everyone else in the episode. That is why she overacts in this role. Because that is what her character would do. Act to manipulate. Look at how different her style is when she is in a scene and not interacting with another character yet and then she turns it on when she starts to act to get them to believe something.
I have to agree with that. Look at all the acts Nora puts on after Columbo comes to arrest her. Each one an over-the-top rendition of one a hammy actress might try after being unmasked. Each satirical, and pathetic both. Finally we see the real Nora at the end, herself
a scarred victim, who murders out of desperation.
And as Columbo perhaps wonders in the end as he looks in askance at her fan portraits, her need to cling to a lavish lifestyle at the center of so much fan adulation.
IF Parks was killed, what happens to those files of research / blackmail? Who inherits access? What would be disclosed? What kind of legal battle would be required to keep them sealed? What kind of traumatic angst or vengeance would this stir up in Jean? IMHO Nora did exactly what she “had to do” to keep her secret.
Nora knows she’s in those files and chooses to reveal one “tidbit” while controlling how it’s done; leaving egg on Parks’ face and shoes in the process. Sure Parks suspects Nora of killing her husband, but when he doesn’t hit back with proof or evidence, she also has confirmation Parks was no longer a threat to her.
She was a cold witch, determined to maintain her status and career, no matter the cost. Jean was expendable with the least blow back. Nora got away with it once, why not again? Understanding the motivations of murderers is half the fun of mysteries. We want to make sense of the insanity from the safe distance of our arm chair and thru the eyes of a Noble, if rumpled, detective that we love and trust. But in the gotcha moment of fiction, murderers can be as unbalanced and illogical and senseless as the crime, so long as the detective isn’t.
“If Nora knew about Jean and Jerry’s relationship, and had already opened up to the studio owners about her fraudulent past, why didn’t she just kill Parks? Getting a back-stabbing and salacious curr like Parks out of the way makes much more sense than killing a faithful assistant.”
No, no, NO!
If Nora had knocked off Jerry, then Jean would have certainly suspected her of doing so: Jean KNOWS Nora has already killed a man (her husband); Jean KNOWS Nora hates Jerry; Jean KNOWS Nora doesn’t want to lose her to Jerry; etc., etc.
And Nora KNOWS Jean would no longer be faithful to her if Jean suspected she had ANYTHING to do with her lover’s death!
This is all so obvious, I will chalk (outline) it up to your lack of sleep when writing your review.
Oh, BTW, you are WRONG, WRONG WRONG about “Dagger of the Mind,” one of the all-time best Columbo episodes!
I agree that if Jerry was killed Nora would have been a suspect since she might have had motive for wanting him dead but as far as anyone knew she had no motive for wanting Jean dead.However i don’t think Nora really had anything to fear regarding Jean because if Jean had revealed that Nora killed her husband she would also have to reveal how long she’s known and so she could have been charged as an accomplice.However maybe Jean had other info on Nora besides her killing her husband and maybe Nora knew eventually Jean might reveal something to Jerry regarding Nora even if it wasn’t about her killing her husband.
This is a good point.
Jean has covered up
Nora’s act so long now, she’s virtually
complicit in an accidental killing.
Yet Nora doesn’t remind her of that
fact. Unlikely therefore that she
considers that it might help keep
Nora killed the other male-monster,
her husband, in a fit of rage. All the
more reason that she should get rid of Jerry, the other male
tormenter in her life, before he discovers her secret through
Jean might suspect she killed Jerry, but it would be a calculated
killing, which is not Nora’s style. In fact, given her previous trust
in Jean, it’s a wonder that she kills again just yet.
But the cold blooded killing of Jean by burning her alive is out
of character for her, and puts her right up there with Leslie
Williams of Ransom for a Dead Man. I agree with Columbophile.
Given her character, it’s a flaw in the writing.
However, she must have been thinking of having to kill Jean
for some time. And judging by her expression when talking with
Jean about Jerry, she realizes that this long dreaded decision
has finally arrived.
very forgettable episode in comparison to other seventies and some new ones , never enjoyed this one much , how it could be rated above blueprint for murder is beyond me .
I never choose to watch this episode , its just too boring and pedestrian with a forgettable ending one of my least favorites of the seventies .
I’ve just watched this again and like it even more! Having to edit down to accommodate commercials or whatever, can take a bit of intrigue away from the show…this is the first time I’ve noticed Columbo lurking in the background, between trees, watching Nora and Jerry converse. It’s at 35:30. Then the next scene is when he’s walking right up to Nora and she’s startled to see him.
There could have been an extra scene included for just a few seconds in-between, to bridge those two scenes together, for instance a close-up of Columbo watching them…I think it would have added a nice bit of intrigue to see that. As it is, you can miss that he’s there (I did and I’ve watched this episode several times).
You make a good point about “Getting a back-stabbing and salacious curr like Parks out of the way makes much more sense than killing a faithful assistant.” I always feel that many shows get heavily edited and could be the reason some things are inexplicable. On the other hand, perhaps she thought that Jean would definitely suspect her if she killed Jerry and since Jean was in love with Jerry and was going to marry him, Jean wouldn’t be able to contain herself and may have spilled the beans about Nora’s husband.