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5 best moments in Columbo Prescription: Murder

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By now most of you will be fully aware that I write lengthy articles critiquing each episode of Columbo.

And while I do so heart long-form content that really looks at each episode in detail, there’s room for bite-sized analysis too. Hence this thrilling new form of article about the five best moments from each episode.

As I’m reviewing the episodes in chronological order, I’ll be doing the same here. So with no further ado, here are my thoughts on Prescription: Murder‘s top 5 moments to treasure.

5. Columbo: first contact

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True to the Lieutenant’s nature, his introduction is suitably low key. As Ray Flemming enters his apartment after returning from his Acapulco jaunt, he surveys the crime scene with an air of complete calm – until startled by Columbo wandering out from the bedroom, his first on-screen line simply: “Dr Flemming?”

Also true to his nature, Columbo takes something meaningful from the encounter, wondering why Dr Flemming didn’t call out to his wife to let her know he was back. It’s reason enough to suspect the doctor, and Columbo doesn’t let go until he has his man.

4. Death bed confession?

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Dr Flemming made a hash job of the killing of Carol Flemming, leaving her clinging to life after a vicious strangling as he flew to Acapulco for a weekend of fishing and evidence disposal.

Stunned to learn she remains alive, the good doctor accompanies Columbo to the hospital where they receive the news that Carol’s flicker of life has finally extinguished. “If it’s any consolation,” a medical man tells Flemming, “the last thing she said was your name.” Little do the on-lookers know that what Carol was really doing was giving them the name of her killer.

3. Game over, Raymond

Prescription Murder Ray Flemming

He’s had enough hen peckings from Mrs Flemming to know that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but Ray never considers that Joan might sell him out. As he’s essentially confessing to Columbo that he’d have somehow found a way to get rid of Joan (who he believes he’s just seen pulled dead from a swimming pool), he’s left reeling as she appears from behind him after hearing every duplicitous word.

Having been confronted by the real Ray Flemming, Joan is only too happy to make her confession to the police then and there. That’s game over, Raymundo. Game over!

2. Joan stands firm – just

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It’s not only Ray that underestimates Joan Hudson. Columbo thinks that he can turn up the heat on her and get her to crack through shouting accusations at her in the workplace. He’s wrong.

Although she comes close to capitulating, Joan pulls herself together and refuses to give Columbo the hard evidence against Ray that he’s after. Even he has to admit that her resolve surprised him, but he makes it perfectly clear that this is just the beginning. Sooner or later, he will get what he wants from her – and he’ll make her life merry hell until that time. For now, though, it’s honours even.

“Although she comes close to capitulating, Joan pulls herself together and refuses to give Columbo the evidence he needs.”

1. The hypothetical debate

The episode highlight just has to be the extended ‘hypothetical’ conversation about the crime between Columbo and Dr Flemming over bourbon in the Doctor’s office. Adopting the ‘You know I did it; I know you know I did it; but you’ll still never catch me’ approach, Flemming oozes arrogant self-assuredness as the two men mentally size each other up.

With such conversational gems as Flemming telling Columbo he’s “a sly little elf”, it’s a scene boasting great writing and fine performances from the contrasting leads. It was also much emulated but never bettered in the show’s long life-time. Need a reminder? Then here we go…

Let me know what you think of this article in the comments section below. Did I miss out your favourite moment? And if you’re hankering for a more detailed read, access my full review here.

You can also support my bid to get Google to create a Columbo Google Doodle to mark the 50th airing of Prescription: Murder in Feb 2018 here.



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17 thoughts on “5 best moments in Columbo Prescription: Murder

  1. Fans of this episode might also enjoy a season 3 episode of The Mentalist called
    “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” . . .

  2. The one and only time I believe, that Columbo wore Hush Puppy shoes. Advertised as the pilot show in England, however, I agree with you, it’s too fine a show to dismiss it as such. I don’t think I ever missed an episode. Later episodes we see our hero in the morgue and in the Lab, but, I cannot remember a episode where he showed up at Headquarters either siting at a desk, or interacting ‘My Captain’. Maybe he ran off with the wife we never saw.

  3. Gene Barry was excellent in this role. Makes you wonder why he hadn’t made a second (or more) return to the series as the villain as the years went by.

  4. great scene great words absolutley grweat trade off between the 2 like boxers slugging it out but for me it drags a little , i prefer the interrigation scene between columbo and mrs hudson later on that for me is brilliant columbo losing his temper and mrs hudson withstanding tis is probably onre of the best scenes in television ever.

  5. The showcasing of furnishings really gets to me in this episode. The icily elegant gold and black of the Dr’s pied-a-tierre contrast with the gorgeous poolside villa rented, I assume, by Katherine Justice’s character, though there are doubts she could have afforded all this on her own? The colors in this poolside house, the plum and avocado green, with splashes of brilliant pink, take me back to several of my friend’s homes in Riverside, CA that were furnished very similarly, with cream shag carpeting and cream walls, so effective. And the smog…..how I remember that smog rolling in from L.A. on summer afternoons and how I hated it!

  6. Pingback: Episode review – Columbo Prescription: Murder | The columbophile

  7. People often love to pick apart plot or logic flaws in Columbo and other shows, but they never complain about one flaw that pops up repeatedly, and even appears in some of the very best sequences in the entire Columbo oeuvre.

    Take the great scene from Prescription: Murder, where Columbo has snuck into Dr. Fleming’s office for a chat. Just before they sit down for a fascinating discussion about the “hypothetical” murderer of the crime that Columbo’s investigating, Gene Barry’s character opens a hidden compartment in the wall of his office. The compartment contains alcoholic beverages and an ice bucket filled with perfectly frozen ice cubes.

    But how did the fresh ice cubes get there when Dr. Fleming hadn’t been at the office for hours at the very least? Even Columbo wasn’t bothered by that inconsistency 😉

    Of course, those ice cubes could only have gotten there in their pristine condition because the studio’s prop department staff put them there not long before filming began. The always available fresh ice in a bucket can be seen in at least another great Columbo sequence, from Suitable for Framing, the climactic scene where Dale Kingson (Ross Martin) has invited the police over to Edna Matthews’ (Kim Hunter’s) home to search for evidence that he believes will incriminate her.

  8. . ” And in indication this article and seeing the #1 vista where Columbo and Dr. Fleming talk about the psychological nature of the “hypothetic” manslayer, I suddenly discovered something I had never recognized before, even though I’ve seen this seminal movie many times.

  9. I like the “5 Best Moments” article concept because it’s a thought provoking way to enjoy the episodes on a deeper level. (However, don’t be reluctant to include honorary mention moments, depending on the episode.)

    I can’t disagree with your selections for “Prescription: Murder.” And in reading this article and seeing the #1 scene where Columbo and Dr. Fleming discuss the psychological nature of the “hypothetical” murderer, I suddenly discovered something I had never recognized before, even though I’ve seen this seminal movie many times. Nor had I read about this anywhere to my recollection.

    Although that “something” was right in front of my eyes, I had missed it in all my previous viewings. Call it my own Columboesque moment. Here it is. Except for Columbo’s soon-to-be trademark tan raincoat, Columbo and Dr. Fleming are dressed in virtually identical appearing clothing: white shirt, light gray suit, black tie and matching silk coat handkerchief. And gray is the perfect symbolic choice because each of these intellectual professionals recognize that things aren’t as simple as they may appear and aren’t necessarily black or white.

    I don’t believe that the similar attire was a coincidence. In this superb scene, Columbo and Dr. Fleming demonstrate that they are each–in their own way–extraordinary psychologists, sizing up one another. They are actually alike in this unique respect and their similar clothing reflects their common skills.

    Ironically, although Dr. Fleming accurately describes Columbo’s own exceptional ability for obtaining insights into the psychology of his suspects, even to the point of recognizing that Columbo’s suspects tend to underestimate his skills, Dr. Fleming too ultimately goes on to underestimate the self-effacing lieutenant. Columbo proved that he understood Dr. Fleming’s psychology better than Dr. Fleming understood Columbo’s.

    • That’s a very good thought, and one that had never occurred to me either. Perhaps the ideas is that each is a shadowy reflection of what the other is or could be in different circumstances.

  10. Looking forward to your next full review. What I love about Prescription Murder is the awesome scene between Columbo and Dr Fleming when he brilliantly analyses him and sets the scene for all future Columbos. You could cyt the tension between Falk and Barry with a knife!

  11. Yes! I look forward to these mini-reviews– although I hope this doesn’t mean the end of your longer reviews (the longer reviews help me grasp plot-points I miss on first viewing; plus, you have a superb writing style that’s simply a joy to read). I’ve really been getting into Columbo for about a year now and stumbled upon your site a bit late in the game, so these mini-reviews will be a great way for me to discover more about each episode in chronological order from the get-go.

    I watched “Prescription: Murder” for the first time after viewing three seasons of the 70s Columbo and one season of the 90s version. It was both discomfiting and enjoyable to see Falk’s portrayal of the character in this earliest incarnation– sort of a pre-Columbo: more aggressive and lacking some of the mannerisms that absolutely defined his personality later. He wasn’t quite the character that got me interested in watching the series in the first place, but the hints of what was to come were already there.

    I think my favorite moment from this episode isn’t a “moment,” but the overall late-60s vibe I get from the decor, the fashion, the coolness, the society, the transportation details (my wife, an ex-flight attendant, was fascinated by the airport/airplane scenes), and the incomparable opening credit sequence that can only be described as psychedelic Rorschach. Of course, there’s always Katherine Justice in her poolside bikini . . .

    • Hello there, and thanks for the comment! Fear not, I’m still committed to the long reviews and indeed am just putting finishing touches to write up of Lovely But Lethal, which will be published this coming weekend!

      I take your point on the 60s styling entirely. The original version of this included that as one of the 5 points. Likewise in the 5 best moments from Ransom for a Dead Man I included Lee Grant’s amazing wardrobe. However, I felt like I was cheating a bit so replaced both with actual scenes!

      With regard to Katherine Justice’s swimwear, I couldn’t possibly comment. Mrs Columbo might notice…


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