Columbo was in exulted company on 7 October 1973, as the second episode of Season 3 pitted him against his most highbrow opponent yet: wine connoisseur Adrian Carsini.
It’s a true fans’ favourite, but under critical analysis is Any Old Port in a Storm truly a vintage episode, or is it comparative swill? To put it another way, is it a Ferrier Port, or a Marino Brothers carbonated rosé? I can’t wait to find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Adrian Carsini: Donald Pleasence
Ric Carsini: Gary Conway
Karen Fielding: Julie Harris
Joan Stacey: Joyce Jillson
Maitre D‘: Vito Scotti
Billy Fine: Robert Walden
Directed by: Leo Penn
Written by: Stanley Ross and Larry Cohen
Score by: Dick De Benedictis
Episode synopsis: Columbo Any Old Port in a Storm
Winemaker extraordinaire Adrian Carsini is hosting an intimate Sunday shindig at the family winery for three highbrow cohorts. After some pleasantries, Adrian ducks out to fetch a bottle of fine claret from his office. Ear-wigging in via intercom, he overhears his fellow connoisseurs confirming that they’re about to name Carsini as the Wine Society’s ‘Man of the Year’.
The wind is taken out of his sails, however, when he’s confronted in his office by hedonistic half-brother Ric. Polar opposites in every way, Ric is sick of Adrian’s pursuit of wine perfection over financial gain. He’s come to Adrian seeking a $5000 loan so he can jet to Acapulco to get married for the fourth time.
Adrian is unimpressed and the two trade barbs before Ric slips in the sucker punch: he’s planning to sell the land the winery is built on to mass-market wine producers, the Marino Brothers!
Adrian is livid! The prospect of losing the one thing that has meaning for him stings him into action. He snatches up a heavy object and smashes Ric over the head. Ric is out cold, but alive. Showing remarkable composure, Adrian gathers the claret and heads back to his guests.
He receives another surprise, though, as officious secretary Karen Fielding is outside his office prepping for the pair’s looming wine-buying trip to New York. She’s seen Ric’s car outside, but before she can ask too many questions Adrian shoos her off home to pack some ‘splendid gowns’ for the trip. He then finally returns to his guests who ‘surprise’ him with news of his impending accolade.
“Adrian and co are soon chilling in the cabin of the airliner as a comely hostess delights onlookers with a fine performance on an electric piano.”
The happy quartet then engage in the most mean-spirited toast in televisual history, as Adrian says: “May our enemies never be as happy as we are at this moment.” Ummmm, cheers…?
After all this frivolity, Adrian has to deal with the aftermath of his spat with Ric. And by ‘aftermath’ I mean dragging Ric’s beefcake body to the wine cellar and trussing him up like a spring chicken. Switching off the air conditioning unit that regulates the temperature of the precious wines, Adrian leaves Ric to his fate.
The next thing we see is Adrian, Karen and co chilling in the cabin of the airliner as a comely hostess delights onlookers with a fine performance on an electric piano. It’s first-class travel 70s style, and is utterly fabulous.
To prove to Karen how pally he and Ric are, Adrian asks her to send a cheque for $5000 to the newlyweds in Acapulco – a sum Adrian promptly spends on a single bottle of wine for himself at one of the auctions. His justification? “No one really needs a $5000 bottle of wine, Karen. I just don’t want anybody else to have it.” We’ve all been there, ammirite?
Back in LA, meanwhile, the should-be Mrs Ric Carsini is worried. Her fiancé never arrived in Acapulco and there’s no sign of him here either. She tries to report him to missing persons, but the department is empty. Instead she finds Lieutenant Columbo, who promises to do what he can.
Some days later, Adrian is back home and ready to complete his cunning plan. Somehow squeezing Ric’s bloated corpse into a wetsuit and then into the Ferrari, Adrian drives out to a remote cliffside location and tips Ric’s body into the ocean. He then cycles back to the winery on a silly little fold-up bike.
It’s not long before the body is found. It looks like a diving accident, where Ric’s dashed his swede underwater and passed out before running out of air. Columbo is amongst the crime scene investigators and when the body is identified as Ric Carsini, he remembers it’s the missing person the mystery blonde reported to him some days ago.
Heading out to the lakeside club where Ms Stacey hangs out with her cool cat pals, the Lieutenant delivers the bad news. The hipsters receives it surprisingly well – even furnishing Columbo with useful background info that Ric and half-brother Adrian didn’t get on and that Ric was planning to sell the winery. It’s reason enough for Columbo to immediately suspect Adrian of foul play.
The case throws up its usual puzzles for Columbo. Medical examiners reveal that Ric hadn’t eaten for 2 days before his death. For a guy with such a healthy appetite this seems odd. Also suspicious is that Ric’s treasured Ferrari 330 GTS seems to have been left with its top down on a rainy day (Columbo checked with the weather bureau to find out) – and there’s not so much as a watermark on the paintwork. How can that be?
Columbo gathers a good amount of circumstantial evidence, but with Adrian known to have been on the East Coast on the presumed day of Rick’s death, his chances of securing an arrest seem slim. Even a nosy around Adrian’s wine cellar appears to lead to a dead end. Columbo is desperate to find out whether someone could be locked in the cellar and suffocate, but he discovers that getting out from within is child’s play as the door can’t be locked from the outside.
He does find out something useful, though. The air conditioner for the cellar is vital in keeping the wine at the right temperature and humidity. Without it, very hot days could cause the wine to reach high temperatures and spoil.
Columbo’s policeman’s nose tells him that Carsini is his man. But a visit to see Karen at her home seems to put paid to that. She confirms that on the day of hers and Adrian’s trip to New York, she saw Ric both arrive and leave the winery. If that’s true, Adrian is definitely innocent. To apologise for suspecting Adrian, Columbo offers to take both he and Karen to dinner the next evening.
The three meet at one of LA’s most exclusive eateries, although Adrian is initially disgusted that Columbo has been seated near the kitchen. His temper turns to delight, though, as he finds the Lieutenant to have swiftly honed his wine appreciation skills to perfectly select wines to match their meals.
The best is saved till last as Columbo summons the sommelier to order a bottle of 1945 vintage Ferrier Port – one of the finest ports known to man. Adrian is giddy with joy at the prospect of rounding out a fine dining experience with such a venerated drop.
“An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this… LIQUID FILTH!”
His smile soon dies on his lips, however. Although Columbo and Karen near swoon with how good the port it is, Adrian’s superior palate identifies a problem. “This…is…dreadful,” he softly fumes to the sommelier. “Don’t you realise that a great wine is like a great work of art? Such disdain cannot and will not be tolerated!”
Adrian can tell that the wine has been exposed to temperatures in excess of 150 degrees, oxidising and spoiling it. His rage at this poor treatment cannot be masked: “Is there something wrong? Everything is wrong,” he bellows to the Maitre d’. “An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this… LIQUID FILTH!”
The flustered Maitre d’ insists that they don’t pay for the meal as Adrian storms off in Timmy temper. Columbo catches his guests outside, and Adrian reiterates that the wine was definitely bad due to overheating.
This reminds Columbo of the super-hot day LA experienced when Carsini was away in New York, and how the Columbo family fridge packed in leaving him with only warm beer to drink. That day had seen the mercury hit 109 degrees in the shade, which means that indoors without air conditioning the temperatures were even higher. He then thanks Karen again for confirming that she’d seen Ric drive away on the fateful Sunday, and bids the couple farewell.
Adrian is most displeased to hear that Karen has lied for him. On the drive home, he expresses his resentment that she now has a hold over him. In response Karen tells him that she wants to be more than an employee: she wants to become Mrs Carsini! Stunned, Adrian tells her they’ll talk about it in the morning and leaves her without a backwards glance.
We next find him in his cellar filling baskets with wines, which he drives to a clifftop to fling into the churning Pacific. When returning to his car he finds Lieutenant Columbo lying in wait.
“They were all spoiled, weren’t they?” the detective asks. Adrian spins a yarn that he’s just getting rid of some inferior wines but Columbo doesn’t buy it. He’s learnt his stuff, and recognises that the bottles Adrian is discarding represent a great personal and financial sacrifice.
“Adrian’s one of the few men in the world with a palate delicate enough to have discerned that the wine had been overheated. His own ego does him in.”
Columbo then reveals all: on the day Adrian left him in the wine cellar to try and find a way out, the Lieutenant had pocketed a bottle from Adrian’s collection. That bottle was the very same Ferrier Port they drank in the restaurant, and that Adrian had himself identified as having been subjected to a temperature of more than 150 degrees.
The irony isn’t lost on Adrian. He’s one of the few men in the world with a palate delicate enough to have discerned that the wine had been overheated. His own excellence and ego have done him in.
A resigned Adrian gives himself up. He’ll be glad to confess to a crime he feels no remorse for. Besides, what’s his other option? A loveless marriage to Karen? Hardly. “I suppose freedom is purely relative,” he sighs as Columbo leads him to his battered Peugeot to be driven downtown.
There’s time for one last stop off at the winery, though. Cutting off the engine, Columbo produces a bottle of Montefiascone dessert wine and two glasses. The men drink a toast before we see Adrian drain a glass at a gulp and clutch the bottle to his chest as credits roll…
Any Old Port‘s best moment: the bittersweet farewell
The final scene – a mutually respectful exchange in Columbo’s car as he drives Adrian away from his winery to a life behind bars – is a beautiful thing. Two perfectionists, from completely different sides of the tracks, have found a genuine understanding and appreciation of the other. It’s the sort of TV moment that almost doesn’t exist any more and is all the more poignant because of it.
And you know what that means, don’t you? Yes, it’s an even better scene than LIQUID FILTH and easily one of the best ever Columbo moments.
My views on Any Old Port in a Storm
From its opening moments, where our gracious host references Titian, Any Old Port in a Storm has a lexicon and style all of its own.
Regular readers of this blog may be aware that Any Old Port leads the way in the fans’ favourite episode poll by a mile (see the top 10 here). Donald Pleasence’s performance as Adrian Carsini is a huge part of why this episode has captured fans’ imaginations for decades.
Rather like a Carsini label claret, Pleasence is absolutely superb. Every line he delivers is an event in itself, and he’s the beneficiary of a truly vintage script that makes the most of his English accent and exceptional range. He exhibits charm, aloofness, surprise, fury and pomposity effortlessly over the course of the episode, giving the audience a fully-rounded character to root for.
And root for him they do. Despite his lack of remorse for the killing of his brother, Pleasence makes Carsini one of the most interesting, sympathetic and complex killers we ever see on Columbo. Love for the winery and the art of wine-making – something that he has devoted his life to – drives him to murder. In doing so, he’s protecting what he loves most from his villainous brother.
But back to that line delivery! What a show Pleasence puts on. Some personal faves come in the opening scenes where Adrian quarrels with Ric, calling him ‘remarkably gauche‘, an ‘adolescent imbecile‘ and a ‘muscle-bound hedonist‘ in quick succession. If you love words and highbrow put-downs, you can’t help but love Adrian Carsini.
All this aural pleasure culminates in Carsini’s explosion of rage in the restaurant near the conclusion of the episode, where he berates the luckless wine waiter for delivering a bottle of LIQUID FILTH. It’s a scene that belongs in the pantheons of TV greatness and you can view it in all its glory below.
How Carsini interacts with every character is a joy to behold, whether that be affability with his wine-loving cohorts to his cold indifference to long-time secretary Karen. Pleasence’s biggest success is in giving Carsini genuine depth. It’s as if he’s played the role for years, not just one episode.
Another strength of Any Old Port is the burgeoning relationship between the two leads. Naturally Adrian initially underestimates Columbo. Why not? He’s an outrageous snob, after all, and Columbo’s a comparative slob, a beer-drinker no less. But respect quickly follows as Columbo’s wine know-how increases.
This cordiality is an aspect of the episode that nicely blossoms. Suspicion gives way to admiration on both sides and even if Columbo is up to his usual tricks to get his man, by the end of the episode we see genuine appreciation between the two. Theirs is a Columbo relationship like few others.
Falk takes something of a backseat to Pleasence but still has several moments to treasure. It’s such fun to see him interacting with the hipsters, for one. The opening of the scene, featuring couples rock and roll dancing in swimsuits, cracks me up every time.
The scene pitting the Lieutenant against the drunk in the bar is another enjoyable romp. A fed-up Columbo has to repeatedly shush his drinking partner as he listens to a news report about Ric’s death. The drunk eventually gives up, using one of Columbo’s famous lines against him: “I’m sorry that I bothered you.” Very nicely done.
Any Old Port also gives us Columbo’s first use of the This Old Man theme, which he whistles while waiting for information on the telephone. It’s lovely to hear it in this episode before over-use in later series dulled its appeal.
Aside from our leading stars, Any Old Port‘s cast boasts typical strength in depth. Julie Harris convinces as plain Jane secretary Karen, all diligent and impassive until she senses the opportunity to get more from Adrian than ‘$700 per month and 2 weeks’ paid vacation’ per year. There’s no light in her heart, though. Even her act of providing an alibi for Adrian is cold and loveless.
“Pleasence’s biggest success is in giving Carsini genuine depth. It’s as if he’s played the role for years, not just one episode.”
Gary Conway’s Ric Carsini is on-screen for just a few minutes but he does enough to get the audience off-side, taunting Adrian and delivering the stinging put down that ultimately leads to his death: “I’m sure the Marino Brothers will let you lick the labels on their new carbonated rosé.” He knew how to hit big brother where it hurt, alright (and vice versa).
Any Old Port is also notable in that it marks the first appearance of one of Columbo’s most-loved regulars – Vito Scotti. The versatile character actor was a long-time friend of Falk’s and graced six episodes between 1973 and 1989. Always good value, Vito’s simpering Maitre d’ oozes humour.
If it was just about the performances, Any Old Port would trounce almost all the opposition hands-down. That’s why I believe it rates so highly with fans. It’s a hoot to simply sit back and drink in (pun 1 jillion per cent intended). But I’m looking to cast a critical eye over proceedings here, and in doing so can’t help but highlight some shortcomings.
As with almost all the longer episodes, Any Old Port could have easily lost 15 minutes without harming the storytelling. A case in point? The real-time car manouevering, where Adrian first moves his Rolls Royce out of the garage, then moves Ric’s Ferrari in. You can’t tell me that would’ve been left in a 75-minute version. Several other scenes trundle along at a snail’s pace, and offer no pay-off or plot advancement. It’s mostly quality filler, but filler nonetheless.
“If it was just about the performances, Any Old Port would trounce almost all the opposition hands-down.”
There are several question marks regarding the crime, too. For one thing, Adrian leaves Ric alive, albeit unconscious, in his wine cellar as he jets off to New York. He’s taking an outrageous chance! Ric is a terrific athlete. Is it not conceivable that he could shake off a clash to the head and wriggle to freedom?
Adrian also switches off the air-con in the wine cellar as he leaves Ric. We must take it that the intention is to shut off the fresh air so that Ric will suffocate. But wait! The wine cellar is sufficiently large to have enough air in it to keep a man alive for an age. He’d die of dehydration first. So why flip the switch? It’s not a logical action.
It all adds up to the air conditioning switch-off being simply a convenient mechanism for the wine to become oxidised on the roasting hot day. Adrian would have been better off finishing Ric with another blow to the head in the cellar, just to be sure. Think about it: he loves his wines enough to kill for them. So why wouldn’t he finish the job to guarantee their survival? It’s a plot hole that would doom a lesser episode.
I have problems with the restaurant scene, too. Not the performances, which are world-class, but the concept behind it. How could Adrian accept that a lowly-paid police officer could afford to pay for the meal at such a high-priced establishment? And that’s even before Columbo ‘orders’ the 1945 vintage Ferrier Port.
Adrian admits that the price of the bottle would be prohibitive. We must therefore assume it would cost, at a minimum, several hundred dollars at early 70s prices. Columbo could never afford this luxury, so Adrian should smell a rat.
I also query whether Columbo would choose to jeopardise the prestige of the restaurant the way he does. The commotion Adrian made would have caused some serious reputational damage, while making monkeys of innocent employees. That’s out of character for Columbo.
This scene only makes sense if the Lieutenant has had the full backing of his superiors, who have agreed to foot the bill in its entirety and fill the place with plain-clothed officers. Even for a guy with Columbo’s arrest record, that’s a helluva lot of trust (and taxpayers’ money).
“The restaurant scene only makes sense if the LAPD has agreed to foot the bill in its entirety and fill the place with plain-clothed officers.”
Finally I even have some quibbles with the clifftop encounter that seals Adrian’s fate. He’s evidently flinging the wine away to avoid it being used to incriminate him. But if he’s already decided he can’t let the blackmailing Karen into his life, then why would he? Remember, he loves his wine collection above all things. I can only attribute it it to the old Columbo adage that people do strange things when under duress.
Speaking of which, oughtn’t Carsini be more visibly emotional at the act of destroying his wines? As he lobs bottle after bottle off the cliff, it merely seems like it’s an inconvenience to have to do it rather than a personal tragedy, which it undoubtedly would have been. I’d have preferred to see tears coursing down his cheeks with every agonising hurl. Still, what it all leads to is the glorious finale in Columbo’s car – a scene so good that any faults with the episode can almost be forgotten.
So all in all Any Old Port in a Storm is compelling viewing and a barrel load of fun, but is by no means perfect. As Carsini says, a great label doesn’t always equate to a great wine. I feel the same about this episode. The slight imperfections, perhaps noticeable only to those invested enough to look for them, take the edge off what is for all intents and purposes one of TV’s greatest hits. The pity is that all these failings could have been effectively and succinctly addressed in the script.
So much of Any Old Port is great, exceptional even, but I never quite savour it as much as I hope to. Perhaps, ultimately, I’m too much like Carsini. And in this instance maybe that’s not such a good thing…
Did you know?
You’d think that being a murder victim in a wine-themed episode of Columbo might have put Gary Conway (Ric Carsini) off the grape for life – but not a bit of it! Gary and wife Marion actually own a vineyard of their own – the Carmody McKnight Estate in Paso Robles, California!
Regardless of whether the quality of the wine is Carsini-esque or more like the Marino Brothers, you just couldn’t make this up…
How I rate ’em
I can understand why Any Old Port is so revered by so many fans, but it wouldn’t do for us all to like the same things, would it? I certainly consider it amongst Columbo‘s top tier of episodes, but overall I admire rather than love it. Controversial? I hope not… Check out my other reviews using the links below!
- Suitable for Framing
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Lady in Waiting
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- 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
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal
- Short Fuse
- Dagger of the Mind
Am I being too hard on this televisual gem? Or will my insights cause you to throw your Any Old Port DVD over a cliff after seeing it in a new light? Let me know below.
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to visit the site. Next up on the episodic expedition is Candidate for Crime, so keep ’em peeled! For now, santé!
Reading all these comments about credibility brings to mind Hitchcock when discussing the ‘Plausibles’: “I can’t be bothered with all that.” Hitch wants to toss birds at Tippy Hedron for a week. He’ll be damned if he’ll let her sudden penchant for method acting (Hitch, why would I go up there?) stand in his way.
It’s the same thing with Columbo. A writer gets an idea of catching a wine snob by his own palette. Promising. Now all he needs is a somewhat credible murder to get him there. He doesn’t care what a Plausible would think. He just cares if it’s possible.
Is it? I suppose…
1. Carsini evidently built his wine cellar in the attic and protected his million dollar stock with an Emerson CoolAire wall unit. Likely? Not really, but possible,
2. Using the skills he learned as a boy scout, Carsini binds his brother to a post in the wine cellar and unplugs the Emerson before flying to New York. His brother struggles to hang on before dying just as Carsini returns. There’s no extensive cleanup required. Just a puddle of urine and some broken wine bottles. Maybe some curse words etched in the floor with the heel of his shoe.
3. Carsini collects his brother’s scuba gear (being sure to select an empty tank), puts his brother’s body into the suit, drives out the the pacific, holds his brother under the water while compressing his chest (would that work? shrug), cleans up the scene and rides back home on his collapsible 2-wheeler.
There. We’ve successfully worked our way from point A to point B. Is it plausible? Probably not. But, it is possible,
To me, the more important question is this: if Carsini and a few others are the only people on the planet with a sensitive enough palette to detect spoiled wine, is it really spoiled? Why go through the expense of constructing a wine cellar? Why not just stop inviting Carsini?
OK but the problem wasn’t “there’s a few plot holes”. The problem was me going “wait, is that guy dead or not?” for far too long, because no part of that murder made any damn sense.
I can’t help liking your “no extensive cleanup” comment.
I know the subject gets a whole lot of laughs, but I’ll bet it’s a huge generalization that a miserable B.M happens to someone who dies suddenly (sort of like the belief that everyone on earth over a certain age goes around in a diaper!).
And of course Ric doesn’t even die suddenly.
Head canon! Yeah, if my posts weren’t already too far long I would’ve touched on this and other interesting things connected to the issue of suspension of disbelief, which does indeed strike different people differently. I consider myself to be pretty critical about these things, but even I shake my head and wonder at that very vocal segment of mariners who claim that the magnificent movie All is Lost was utterly ruined for them because he didn’t have some fancy gadget that would’ve automatically led rescuers to him. I mean, I think that’s a vanishingly small amount of disbelief to suspend given his apparent state of mind (as given by his note / the voiceover at the start of the movie) and the fact that the initial scenes show plenty of other equipment being wrecked by seawater.
(Another irritating instance of this can be found in Ebert’s review of Memento, which is an “objection” I’ve heard many other people make. I mean arguably it isn’t even a plot hole at all based on what the movie told us about instinctive memory plus his hand tattoo, and also the fact that there’s no realistic reason to suspect his head injury would have some sort of completely irreversible, 100% impossible to overcome, light switch instantaneous effect at that exact moment.)
But those were both movies that I loved a lot. People do a lot more mental legwork for stuff that they love, or want to love. I can appreciate that the poetry and irony of this episode had a LOT of potential, easily the most potential of any Columbo episode. I would’ve been willing to overlook or head-canon a significant amount. But in this case there’s just *so much* that needs to be overlooked or mentally rewritten, and not just on the scientific side of things…
There has to be someone around willing to do the legwork needed to make the poetic script also plausible. Or at least mostly-plausible.
But everyone’s head-canon has different tolerance levels.
lol head canon. Hear something new every day. Reading the definition, it certainly applies.
I just think the poor writer had a great idea, but there was no way from A to B without introducing a bunch of contradictions.
(begin author dialog)
Okay, Carsini smacked him on the head. Is he dead? I wouldn’t wanna stuff a 7-day-old body into a wet suit, especially one that’s been sitting in a 150 degree wine cellar. Okay, he must be alive. How long could he survive without water? Not long, especially since dickface turned off the air. So leave the air on. But I need that to ruin the wine in a way that only Carsini could detect. Maybe if I move the heat wave to later in the week. But then Carsini notices how hot his wine cellar is and I lose the great restaurant scene that ignites the spark that leads to the poignant scene where Carsini realizes he’s not only lost a brother but his life’s work as well. Besides, no one lasts 4 days without water. But I have it on good authority (my brother-in-law) that you can drink your own urine twice. The third time will kill you, though. Good to know, but it does me no good here. How could he drink his own piss with his hands tied? Maybe if his hands are tied close to his crotch and he has good aim… and a good prostate. But, I digress. Nope, the heat wave has to occur Thursday so Carsini knows nothing about it when he returns….
Look, just hit the important points and hope for the best.
(end author dialog)
Even after all that, Columbo never really could establish that Carsini’s brother was even in the wine cellar. The author valiantly struggled to point B and so what? I think that’s why he added the secretary sub-plot. He wanted Carsini so beaten down by the end that when Columbo finally showed up, he’d offer to drive.
I remember when I first saw the episode 30 some-odd years ago that I was with kennethuil. Is he dead? Wha’ happened? Later in the episode, I remember thinking 150 degrees? a wine cellar? What did he do, put it in the attic? Other than that, I didn’t find much amiss. This is, after all, the Columbo universe where bodies don’t bleed (why should they stink?). Where a guy can kill another guy from 10 feet down the hall with one shot using a .22 (lucky shot).
I’m with Hitch on this. I can’t be bothered with all that.
He might as well have kept it on the stove 🙂
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about all the reality breaks in this episode. Let me offer another one: Putting aside whether or not “suffocation” can be determined forensically (actually, the correct term is “asphyxia”; here, more specifically, “non-obstructive asphyxia”), from the physical evidence, how could any official possibly reach the conclusion that Ric died in the ocean?
Carsini didn’t empty his brother’s scuba tank. Or even check how much oxygen it contained. Presumably, it contained some oxygen, even if Ric used it earlier that day. And because Ric died, i.e., no longer was breathing, before Adrian dressed him in his scuba gear, whatever oxygen was there originally would have remained there. Thus, the official theory that he accidentally hit his head, lost consciousness, and ran out of oxygen could easily be rebutted from the contents of the scuba tank.
Nor could a disabling blow to Ric’s head have caused his death by dislodging the regulator mouthpiece on his scuba gear. This would explain why oxygen was left in his tank — but it also would have resulted in a death by drowning (e.g., water in his lungs). We know this never happened.
So unless Ric’s scuba tank was fortuitously empty from the beginning — something we don’t know to be true and, more importantly, something Adrian never cared to find out was true — the official reconstruction of his death makes no sense.
But I still love this episode.
Deep down in the archived comments, I discussed that very same issue. Can you imagine the heat capacity of all that stone? Over the course of a few days of 100+ degree weather (not just one, as scripted), I doubt that the temperature inside would exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit (if that). Moreover, all those stone arches suggest a foundation supporting massive structure above, which would further mitigate the temperature fluctuations.
One thought that just occurred is that perhaps the interior decor of the wine “cellar” is fake–just chicken wire and stucco, a mere affectation by wine-snob Carsini. If so, it should have been in the script: Columbo says how impressed he is by the stone work and Carsini laughs while slapping the wall and asserting that it’s all Hollywood tinsel.
However, even if it were just an ordinary interior room in a wood-frame structure designed for wine storage, it would be very heavily insulated during construction. The faux-stone room would still substantially mitigate brief outside fluctuations in temperature and (as you say) never, ever magnify them.
So it seems that this plot point is not redeemable. I will just have to put on my “science fiction” hat and ignore it.
The series’ frequent disconnect from the actual geography, municipal subdivisions and climate of southern California always drives me bonkers. For some reason, I (a scientist) find it easier to forgive the various idiocies in science fiction films than the misdeeds of the Columbo writers. However, like an abused spouse, I keep coming back.
I too love this episode.
It’s pretty funny you mention that, because the jaw-dropping basic scientific inaccuracies were one of the biggest aspects that ruined this episode for me. I mean I’m not expecting CSI level accuracy in a Columbo episode, but the understanding the writers showed regarding heat, oxygen, wine rooms and the human body was one of the most baffling and cringe inducing things I’ve ever seen.
With sci fi, at least you can hand-wave a lot of it away as some weird unknowable future tech…
I’ve lived in California my whole life and I don’t think it is possible to have 48 degree rainy day, within a few days of a 109 degree day, at locations only an amateur bike ride apart on a crappy 70’s foldable. I’ve been in 105 degrees about 40 miles from the coast where it was foggy and 50 degrees on the same day, but not rain showers. If it’s raining it’s not summer or fall when inland areas are hot. I couldn’t get past this plot element. Also that a crime lab couldn’t separate a strike from a blunt object with some random underwater collision. On the shore, wave action could do it but then he wouldn’t suffocate. All the other aforementioned flaws also glare. Still love this episode and all the visual elements and the dialog, it’s all really fun, but the crime action is poor. Also also pretty sure the buyout cheapo winery refers to Ernest and Julio Gallo which does indeed produce gallon jugs of actual liquid filth, the worst.
Ernest and Julio Gallo, forgot about that. Reminds me of Boones Farm, cheap awful wine for sure. This is indeed a great episode despite it’s faults.
Van, there’s little question that the Marino Brothers, who were seeking to acquire the Carsini Winery, are a fictitious take on the Gallo Brothers.
Ironically, the actual location of shots for the Carsini Winery scenes was the Mirassou Winery (at 3000 Aborn Road, San Jose, California, USA). In 2002, Gallo bought out the Mirassou Winery.
However, while Gallo’s gallon jugs of wine may be deemed “liquid filth,” the Company itself has acquired several high quality wineries and brands over the years.
And speaking of wine, I’m reminded of those commericals where Orson Welles was the pitchman for Paul Masson wine. I believe that Orson would have made a teriffic murderer in the Columbo series and would have excelled in that role with its classic cat-and-mouse interplay with Peter Falk. Unfortunately, that was never to be.
According to David Koenig’s “Shooting Columbo,” “Orson Welles was the top choice to play the murderous Great Santini by everyone—except [NBC liaison Bob] Metzler.” But Welles’ price would have broken the budget for “Now You See Him.” Regardless, Falk thought he’d be worth the extra money. (Although I can’t quite see him navigating that ladder and trap door for the water cube trick.)
Thanks, Richard. I didn’t know that. But I checked David Koenig’s book, and, apparently, NBC had an arbitrary cap of $12,500 for guest actors and Orson would have cost about $20,000. But I can see Orson as the Great Santini, given that he loved performing magic and was quite good at it.
I also saw in Koenig’s book that Peter Falk originally wanted buddy Ben Gazzara to play Hassan Salah in A Case of Immunity, but NBC refused “for a measly $7,500” as Peter put it.
Although money is always an important consideration, sometimes being overly budget conscious can lead to bad decisions.
Reminds me of that line from the film “Wall Street,” where the character Lou Manheim (played by the late, great actor Hal Halbrook, whom I met about 12 years ago and was a terrific guy) says: “The thing about money, Bud, is it makes you do things that you don’t want to do.” William Link once explained in an interview that NBC had pressured him into stretching Columbo out into 2 hours, when he felt that 1 1/2 hours was ideal for most of their stories. NBC wanted the longer shows because they were more profitable. He said those longer shows suffered by the padding.
It being 109 degrees wasn’t even the big problem… it was the absolutely insane notion the wine room would’ve magnified the heat to over 150 degrees. That’s not how wine rooms work. That’s not how heat works. (Also, there was the very silly notion that he would’ve suffocated in the first place, like shutting off the A/C is like turning off an oxygen generator inside the International Space Station)
On the plus side, the incompetent crime lab you refer to was somehow able to *prove* suffocation, which is utterly impossible (because, spoiler alert, we all stop breathing after death.)
My prev. analysis seems to have been so long that it broke the automod, so let’s try again:
The climax to this story doesn’t have one fatal flaw. It has, like, a dozen. It’s impressive how it managed to make no sense, whatsoever, on any level.
* Why did he realize the spoilage only at that precise moment? We never see him drinking the wine, and he was just distracted by his blackmailing amorous maid.
* Was the spoilage at the restaurant meant to set his mental gears in motion? Err, why? How? He doesn’t know that the restaurant’s wine was his! Many days had passed and he apparently hasn’t heard or thought about any heat wave. There’s no logical connection here, at all. What Columbo did should not have triggered anything.
* Why was he so cavalier about his extremely beloved and expensive wine collection as to shut off the A/C?
* Why was he so cavalier about throwing it all away? Re: both his emotions and his finances… why doesn’t he care? As he himself said, most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and as he pointed out, few people would actually drink these anyway but instead would keep them (especially the oldest ones. 150 year old wines do not make for good drinking… they just don’t!). He’s chucking tens of thousands of dollars into the sea.
*…and he’s making himself look more suspicious in the process! How does all of his wine disappearing overnight help matters?? If someone had somehow discovered the wine was spoiled (he says most people wouldn’t notice), they still have no way of pinning down *when*. But since Columbo saw the full wine room, it would definitely look weird if they searched it a week later and it was suddenly empty.
* That’s a big wine cellar, that’s a regular old wooden door, and simply shutting off an A/C does not hermetically seal the ducts. Zero chance that would cause the guy to suffocate after 2 days, zero chance. This REALLY confused me on my first watch through… at first I didn’t grasp the significance of the A/C at all, especially in light of the next point.
* No way for the autopsy to show that the cause of death was suffocation. Suffocation leaves no signs because everyone stops breathing at death. The only unusual reaction at all that might take place would be hypercapnia, but you’re certainly not going to be able to detect that in a body many days later.
* The BIG one: Wine cellars are not designed to magnify the outside heat!
If wine cellars turned 110 degrees outside into 150 degrees inside, ancient pre-A/C cultures would not have invented them. Stone insulates! Earth insulates! Wine cellars are cooler than the outside, even without A/C! There are four basic ways for the inside of a structure to become warmer than the outside during a heat wave: greenhouse effect (large windows), thin walls with radiant heating (e.g. attics), being at the top of a structure so as to receive rising heat (also attics), or having some source of heat generation inside the room. None of these apply to wine cellars or wine rooms. There’s the guy’s body heat, but that’s obviously not enough to raise the temperature from 110 degrees to >150 degrees. That room should have been significantly cooler than 110 degrees, not warmer.
* If the room had nonetheless magically been over 150 degrees for hours, THAT certainly should have shown up on the autopsy.
This episode had a lot of promise but I have a hard time understanding how anyone can forgive the third act. It’s just one big, neverending train wreck. I don’t see how anyone can suspend that much disbelief.
Oh I nearly forgot: even if we somehow ignore ALL of the above–that laundry list of the physical impossibilities and the inexplicable and inconsistent behaviors–it’s still one of the weakest gotchas in the series (and this is a series rather famous for its weak gotchas.)
Proof that some wine has spoiled is very, very far away from proof that someone suffocated their brother in the basement.
(Some might claim he’d rather go to prison than allow himself to be romantically blackmailed, but surely he’d simply figure out how to eventually get rid of her as well? Or at least try to call her bluff.)
Yup. “Stolen” directly by uber-producer Norman Lear from the British series ‘Till Death Do Us Part”. (Actually, I think he paid for the rights.)
Perhaps you would recognize the name of Rob Reiner, who got his start as the liberal son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic. This series aired mostly during the controversial Nixon administration in the USA. It was so well written that Nixon supporters felt Archie won most of the arguments with Meathead, while Nixon haters (like me) felt the opposite. Lear himself was famously liberal, so it is a tribute to the writers and to O’Conner himself that it was even possible to think otherwise.
One problem with this kind of show is that the political jokes have become seriously dated in the you-had-to-be-there sense–both temporally and geographically. However, the chemistry between O’Connor and his long-suffering wife (“Stifle, Edith!”) played by Jean Stapleton is universal and still shines through. The kids, played by Reiner and Sally Strothers, come off as less memorable, even disposable. Neither had much further success as actors, but Reiner remade himself as a first-rank director, probably eclipsing his famous actor-director father, Carl Reiner.
I’m not someone who knows a lot of Columbo neither about film. Just watching for fun. My idea about this episode was that the ending was hard to understand, and I agree with all your remarks about the crime. To me, it wasn’t as much amusing watching as other episodes – Columbo is humour as well, but didn’t find it here a lot – though I reckon that it was very beautiful with excellent actors.
It wasn’t the most hilarious scene in the series but I really loved the sequence where he’s trying to figure out if it had rained the previous Tuesday, he calls a place but they’re closed, then he starts asking random people and then yells for attention in the bar, just to ask if anyone remembers whether or not it had rained last Tuesday. And in the end no one remembers and he has to wait until the meteorological place reopened.
I really liked that little sequence. To me it was just one of the most Columbo-esque moments in the entire series.
Yeah the ending was, in my opinion, not just hard to understand but the worst written ending in the entire series (though Columbo Goes to the Guillotine is also pretty bad.) I’ve ranted on it in greater detail elsewhere here. The sequences aren’t logically connected, the guys’ behavior isn’t at all consistent, and it violates the laws of physics in like three different ways.
“As with almost all the longer episodes, Any Old Port could have easily lost 15 minutes without harming the storytelling. A case in point? The real-time car manouevering, where Adrian first moves his Rolls Royce out of the garage, then moves Ric’s Ferrari in. You can’t tell me that would’ve been left in a 75-minute version. Several other scenes trundle along at a snail’s pace, and offer no pay-off or plot advancement. It’s mostly quality filler, but filler nonetheless.”
There is also a lengthy moment where Columbo makes some phone calls and whistles while doing so. This is obvious (and very annoying) filler. Also, asking everyone in the bar whether it rained on Tuesday only to be met with blank looks. This was also just to pad out the time as Columbo ultimately got the info he needed elsewise and could have done it offscreen without any of the preceding nonsense. If it was meant to be comedic, it takes up too much time with not enough payoff.
Overall, this wasn’t a very satisfying episode to me as the killer is too gracious and even likeable; you’d expect Carsini to be a jerk but he just isn’t (imho). I like my killers to be total a**holes like the one Leonard Nimoy plays.
Also, your criticisms of this episode are all on the mark. Just too much plot contrivance and convenience. And Adrian wouldn’t know about the weather in southern California? Absolutely absurd. I’m not even sure how the spoiled wine proves Adrian did it. How is it the clincher?
For me the most obvious sign of filler content was the episode where they spend a full 5 minutes on a dock rearranging letters used to paint on a boat.
That was so freaking annoying.
I also agree there there are parts of Any old port in a storm that could’ve been cut and not really affected the story line.
Very surprised that people would rate this episode high, for me it deep on the bottom of the list if not at its end.
This episode features a killer driving the body of his victim in an open top car just covered with a blanket. Without anyone noticing, just magically. In other stories you would see the killer going to great extends to hide the body and get rid of it discretely, yet for this murderer the problem just doesn’t exist.
There’s even a guard on the entryway that knows about the cars arriving and leaving, noticing that the sports car arrived and never left… and not caring about that whatsoever? Completely missing the murderer bring out the car a week later? If the guard was not present for that then why have a guard at all?
Okay, and the ending. The gotcha moment isn’t a gotcha in any sense. First of all, it’s not even the clue about the murder. Second, the fact that wine was spoiled is a consequence of AC not working. AC not working is necessarily a not a consequence of it being turned off on purpose. AC could have malfunctioned, and that makes the choleric winery dude guilty? Really, without the confession, Columbo still kinda had nothing. Well, other than – as mentioned – people likely seeing the red sports car driving through the land to the cliff on the “wrong” day.
But even without that. Whatever, lieutenant doesn’t have to prove the guilt in court because of the confession. But the whole restaurant debacle? Columbo bribing a sommelier to play along with the wine that he brought and then having that wine as an excuse to leave without paying? Doesn’t that sound like he swindled the establishment? Imagine this happening from the sommelier’s point of view.
The gotcha was catching him clandestinely trying to dump the wine. I’m sure the department compensated the restaurant.
Just watched this episode again and noticed the calendar on the wall in the winery lab when Columbo first finds Carsini is for March 1973, where the 18th is clearly shown to be a Sunday, not a Tuesday. If it’s assumed the this story takes place in 1973, the day/date combinations that are used would only work in September (a month before air) or December. The most recent month with a Tuesday the 18th prior to that was July 1972. Anyway, I’ve never seen this blooper noted before…
>>a truly vintage script that makes the most of his English accent << As a native speaker of the German language, perhaps you were misled. I have lived the last 41 of my 63 years in Germany, but as a U.S. American, I can assure you that Pleasance obviously took *great* pains in this episode to shed every trace of his natural English accent. (At the same time, he also succeeds in avoiding any noticeable *American* accent – a real accomplishment!) Patrick McGoohan in "Dawn's Early Light" achieves the same brilliant effect. For a native speaker of U.S. English, it is a delight to hear accomplished British actors achieve a believable U.S. accent without resorting to cliches.
As an aside, there were a couple of times that I was struck by how much Donald Pleasance reminded me of the late ‘Sex and the City’ actor Willie Garson. Beyond the facial resemblance and almost identical hairline, there’s something at times about Pleasance’s posture, walk, and the way he holds his shoulders that is almost exactly like Garson – or at least Garson’s character in SATC…
Excellent blog; congrats and thanks! Just found it after watching “Any Old Port…” because the idea of Adrian having turned off the air conditioning during the summer seemed like such a massive implausibility/plothole that I thought I surely must have missed something. I’m at least happy to discover that I didn’t miss something, though I certainly mean to detract from what is otherwise a well-written, -directed and -performed episode!
I think the main reason that so many people love this episode is the performance of Donald Pleasance, the interplay between him and Peter Falk and the sheer beauty of their dialogues.
Everybody is touched by their strange relationship that, at first, grows so inconspicuously from a certain initial alienness (based on their very different backgrounds and fundamental characteristics) into a mutual respect – and, finally, into an intense simpatico. Nevertheless, their relationship is always moderated and/or characterised by the fact that they are on opposing ends of the law.
I have had a veritable Columbo marathon in the last few days, watching certain episodes with different friends and family members if they wished to – or, if I managed to finagle it, to wet their appetite by them seeing me watching it in the background 😉
It is amazing how almost everybody who gets a look at it – even people who usually show now interest in the show when I tell them about it – get interested very soon or even hooked on it! Age, gender or general outlook make no difference. It’s the quality of the story, the charm, the acting, the charisma … and this episode is probably the epitome of this seductiveness! Columbo is unique in its powers to appeal to anyone, and “Any Old Port in a Storm” is a prime example.
I have to concur with Columbophile and many others, however, in recognising its shortcomings as an “air-tight” story. The ending is more like an “I give up” by the killer than an impressive take-down by Columbo – he (Carsini) simply seems to be tired of the game, and the details of the crime are iffy, indeed!
Even IF someone would die under those circumstances it would be such a horrible mess, not to mention all the factors that could go “wrong” – but it is Columbo, and we have (and want!) to suspend a certain amount of disbelief and accept the stylization that is so common for the Show and all TV. And it is about fine wine, sooo …
What was the mindset of TV creators in the early 1970’s? Did they envision their programs being rerun repeatedly, being syndicated, run as marathons, released on video? I doubt it. It’s no wonder that first-time viewers never seem to pick each episode apart like we do. They’re getting the initial, direct experience the episode’s creators envisioned. We already know the story, we already know the dialogue, we already know the gotcha — so we focus on other, less important stuff. It’s a testament to Columbo that it survives all of this microscopic scrutiny. Oh, to be able to wipe our minds clean of all prior memories of an episode and to be able to watch it as if for the first time.
Exactly! I am also certain that they couldn’t possibly have imagined that anyone would be so interested in their work many decades into the future – even apart from technological advances like VHS, DVDs and online streaming, all of which makes everything so incredibly available at all times. You can watch whatever you want as often as you wish, irrespective of schedules.
We can put everything under a microscope, and we do, because we are so fascinated by every little detail of the shows we love.
Did the creative minds behind Columbo envision repeated reruns, syndication, VHS, DVDs, streaming, and so forth of their work?
In a way, yes. Creative writers had long envisioned many of means of communication we enjoy today long before they were technically or economically feasible.
And reruns had already been around for more than a decade before Columbo. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, for example, started doing reruns for “I Love Lucy” going back to the early 1950s. The idea started when Lucy became pregnant and had to take a break from the show.
While the Superman TV show (starring George Reeves, Jack Larson, Noel Neill, and John Hamilton) was originally being filmed in black and white, the show’s creators switched over to color film, even though color TV sets weren’t economically feasible to be mass produced. Their reasoning? They though that one day, color TV sets would be ubiquitous and the show could then be played in color in syndication in the future. They were right.
Writers are often a very forward looking group. In 1789, the writers of the Fourth Amendment wrote the following: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated[.]” I doubt any of them could have envisioned personal computers, Android and iPhones, and other such means of storing personal information. Yet, they had the vision to use the word “effects,” denoting moveable personal property, to encompass things that haven’t even been invented yet. Now, that’s foresight.
Yes, Desi Arnaz invented the rerun. He offered to reduce his and Lucy’s annual salaries if he could retain the rights to (and negatives of) the original films. CBS executives agreed because the notion that anyone would want to see a TV episode twice was unthinkable to them. The unthinkable made Lucy and Desi very rich. And you’re right about Superman, too. But the long runs of I Love Lucy and Superman were both unusual and not in prime time. Prime time reruns were used to fill out the current season. They didn’t have a long shelf life. It’s hard to believe anyone in 1971 would expect a 50-year run.
And most TV episodes weren’t produced with the care of a feature film. Aaron Sorkin has said that in TV, unlike the movies, you film your first draft. Perhaps the Sunday Mystery Movie’s wheel concept allowed for something closer to a feature — but as David Koenig shows, Columbos were filmed on a fairly tight schedule (which would have been even tighter if not for Peter Falk).
My point remains that putting each frame under a microscope was never intended, and probably skews our perspective quite a bit. As I like to ask critics of particular moments: How many times did you see the episode before you noticed that … ?
I’ll throw this into the discussion too: As a society, thanks to social media (and media blogs like this one) we are now trained to be constant critics, of TV, movies, sports, politics etc. In the 70s the only real guide to a show’s popularity was the Neilsen ratings. We now have exponentially more means of expressing our opinions, and the “picking apart” of episodes is a function of a more critical mindset.
What would a robust 90s internet have made of New Columbo?
A tuba meme, anyone?
My suggestion for a “Married Detective” tuba meme:
FOULPLAY!, THE HERALD LIEUTENANT BLOWS
That’s a good thing to remember when discussing most episodes, but in this one the problem isn’t so much “less important stuff”, but more “I spent multiple scenes going ‘is that guy actually dead or not?'”
This episode was fine and provided the expected entertainement, but I fail to get why it is so universally revered. It’s middle of the pack as far as Columbo episodes go. There are too much plot holes, the murder is as nonesensical and reliant on luck as Murder Under Glass. Adrian came across to me as an unsufferable psychopath smug instead of some endearing perfectionnist. I mean, killing off your own brother is such a gruesome way over wine ? And over $5000 ? Gimme a break. And killing him in a convoluted way that ruins the wine you killed to protect the first place ? Absurd. And don’t get me started on that swimsuit thing…
I don’t mind that Columbo got sympathetic towards Adrian because I never thought of Columbo as being any parangon of virtue, there’s always been a shady aspect about him, which is part of his charm, and I accept and like the character for what it is. Columbo was never meant to meet to childishly “pure” moral standards of our current times.
I agree that the performances were generally top notch. All the flaws of this episode come from the script.
I agree with some of your criticisms. But Adrian did not kill his brother over $5,000. He killed because Ric was committed to taking from Adrian the only thing in the world that mattered to him: his vineyard. That’s what makes Adrian sympathetic. He didn’t kill to enrich himself or gain power, or to protect himself from the revelation of past misdeeds. He killed for self-preservation. His entire identity was as a quality winemaker; Ric was about to destroy that. (As far as ruining his wine collection, the extreme heat wave wasn’t anticipated. In any event, Adrian killed to protect his vineyard, not his collection. His identity was as a winemaker; collecting was a sideline.)
Yeah I admit the $5000 thing was an exaggeration. I also get your other points, but they don’t make him much more sympathetic to me.
With the money from the sale, Adrian might have been able to buy another vineyard ; or he could have sold his wine collection (and whetever other assets he probably had) to buy his brother’s share of the vineyard ; if he wasn’t rich enough, Adrian could have found an associate among his wine-loving friends.
I understand he was deeply rooted in his dear vineyard, but that’s not valid enough of a murder excuse to gain sympathy from me. Which is fine btw, I don’t expect murderers to necessarily have “valid” motives or to give me any reason to like them. What bothers me a bit is the dissonance between Adrian’s actual self-centered obnoxiousness and the way writers go out of their way to make him seem sympathetic and even justified (successfully it seems, given the episode’s popularity). There are many instances of such dissonances in the show (Kay from Make Me A Perfect Murder comes to mind). And in TV in general, for that matter.
I’m not saying Ric is any saint either btw, but why does the episode try to make us feel he’s not entitled to his sum of the money from the vineyard he also owns ? However he spends the money is irrelevant. And I don’t think splurging thousands of dollars into bottles (to the detriment of the vineyard it seems) is any more respectable than living the playboy lifestyle.
Some questions btw :
1) Why was Ric the one calling the shots about selling the land ?
2) If he had such power in the business, why was he begging Adrian for money ?
3) If he didn’t, couldn’t Adrian just veto the whole thing ?
4) Did they have equal shares ?
5) If they did, back to question 1, why could Ric decide on his own to sell land ?
It doesn’t make much sense. Unless I missed some detail during the conversation ?
And thinking about it, money was indeed a big issue between the brothers. Ric always needs to beg and Adrian is always reluctant to give him any money. So while Adrian did not really kill Ric for the $5000, money and Adrian’s avarice played a huge part in the deterioration of their relationship, and Ric would probably have never thought about selling the land if not to prove a point to Adrian and get free of his hold.
I think part of the sympathy for Adrian is that the killing of his brother was in no way premeditated; rather it was in the heat of the moment. And that’s why it in no way compares to the murder you cited (Make Me a Perfect Murder) which was the exact opposite of the circumstances of Adrian’s crime — the most detailed and premeditated murder imaginable.
Adrian’s initial assault wasn’t premeditated. But this assault isn’t what killed Ric. What killed Ric was definitely premeditated. (Another elaborate Columbo murder plan conceived a bit too quickly for my standards of credibility, but conceived nonetheless.)
Correct, and I would only add that the actual murder, slow suffocation in a sweltering wine vault ranks as one of the most cruel and lengthy murders in the entire series, on par with Try and Catch Me (opinions vary on whether or not the victim in that case “deserved it” or not).
I’d rank only Death Hits the Jackpot and Double Shock as being more cold hearted in terms of the relative innocence of the victims and the personal nature of the attack.
As Richard Weill said, the initial attack on Ric wasn’t premeditated but the actual murder, and the cover-up, sure were.
Adrian & Kay also share the same coldness. They never feel the slightest remorse for what they did. They feel entitled. Adrian is celebrating while he left his brother to die in the most horrible and long agony. Kay can’t move in her victim’s office fast enough. These are the kind of things psychopaths, people incapable of any empathy, do.
Just take a minute and imagine Adrian taking clothes off his brothers remains to somehow squeeze it into a swimsuit… and not being bothered a bit by it !
According to the scene between Adrian and Ric, under the terms of their inheritance, Ric was left the land; Adrian was left the money.
Thanks ! I should probably have rewatched that scene more closely before asking. I just did. Adrian comes across as a child throwing a temper tantrum. Which is only fitting for someone with a psychopath mindset. And it makes his “adolescent imbecile” putdown so ironic.
It’s also very obvious Adrian is agonizingly jealous of Ric’s good looks and success with women.
“He’s evidently flinging the wine away to avoid it being used to incriminate him.”
I would assume he is just throwing them out because, by his standards, they aren’t worth drinking anymore. That’s how I perceived the scene anyway.
“that’s a hell of a way to beat the check – I gonna have to remember that”
Is pretty obvious that the restaurant was in on it, otherwise how would the sommelier present to the table the bottle of port that columbo had nicked from the cellar earlier?
Well, there’s no doubt about the skill and charm of the actors, particularly Donald Pleasance, in this episode, but there’s so much wrong with it in every other way that I personally can’t rate this one in the top half. Very little about the plot makes sense. It would be hard to make a solid case in a courtroom based on something as subjective as the taste of the wine. A good defense attorney would tear that apart. I also can’t see why Adrian would have chosen to toss the “incriminating” bottles into the ocean. Yes, it would have been hard for him to do that since they meant so much to him. But, also, the ocean is a lousy place to throw things if you don’t want them found. The tides are going to carry a lot of those bottles right back onto the beach, where they will eventually attract attention. Not to mention that it takes a long time to dispose of bottles one by one. In such a scenic place, you might very well be seen at some point. –Which of course Adrian was.
Then there’s the nature of the murder itself. If you think about it, it’s actually a horrifically gruesome murder. Adrian left Ric in the wine cellar ALIVE. The autopsy showed he hadn’t eaten for at least 2 days. The Intestinal tract only empties out like that if the person is still alive for quite some time. If he did suffocate in the cellar, it wasn’t right away. That also means the body — by the time Adrian went to get it — was a mess. And I don’t mean bloated. I mean body wastes — and perhaps blood, depending on whether Ric regained consciousness and struggled a lot. How do you get a dead body into a diving suit in that kind of condition? Unless you do quite a lot of cleanup before that, how does it not get noticed during the autopsy?
The gruesome nature of the murder, actually, bothered me the whole time I viewed the episode. Adrian’s charm seemed at odds with it. Alternatively, if we accept that Adrian was as charming and well liked by Columbo as presented, that denies the reality of that murder. These were all huge flaws in the episode that I really could not ignore.
Cris, you make a lot of great points. The one with which I disagree is that Carsini’s opinion of the spoiled port is too subjective to stand up in court. Carsini’s expertise in oenology is easily established. As an expert, his opinion is competent evidence. And here, that opinion was expressed spontaneously, emphatically, and unequivocally, with no opportunity or motive to hide the truth. It is a classic, reliable “excited utterance.” If he tried to contradict that opinion in court, his motive to lie would be obvious. As for his defense attorney, I doubt Carsini would tolerate his own attorney attempting to discredit the principal accomplishment of his client’s life: his mastery of the art and care of fine wines.
Ignore the murder part and just go along with the Columbo’s interpretation 😬
‘70s was an era where gruesome real murderers were never found.
Probably the society wanted to see something more “unreal” back then, compared with nowadays society which wants to see more “real” stuff and plots with more complexity, twists and turns.
Imagine what would’ve happened in at least half of the episodes if the murderer just had a very good attorney? Columbo never had much of a case against any murderer. But that’s the beauty of Columbo and the “unreal” effect. The murderer always confesses, without much debate.
By the way, no way the victim would’ve died of suffocation in that cellar. It was way too big and with that old wooden door (which Adrian is using to exit after he drops his brother there), I don’t see how that could happen. Probably he could’ve died as a combination of the wounds (that blow would’ve cracked his skull) and/or dehydration, but not suffocation.
Thanks, Danny, you put your finger right on top of what bothers me about a lot of Columbo episodes. Okay, granted, in fiction the author can create a world that with its own rules. As long as there is internal consistency, it’s fine. If it was clear that in Columbo-world you could just win court cases by presenting logic, including self-incriminating info from the accused, without defense attorneys nipping that in the bud, I’d feel better about the series. Likewise, if they explained away medical details in some manner. But they actually do use forensic evidence at times, and refer to the rights of the accused — and they DO talk about medical details when the details suit them. It’s just they ignore those same kinds of details at other times. Even so, that stuff wouldn’t bother me much if there were moral consistency. That’s why Any Old Port bothers me quite a lot. You just can’t be a good, decent person and kill another human being in such a prolonged and terrible manner. I have a medical background, so granted I’m much more aware of what that death would have been like than maybe some viewers. And I agree with you the brother wouldn’t have suffocated. Most likelly dehydration aided by hyperthermia, depending on how hot it actually got in that cellar.
Anyway, for me personally, the best Columbo episodes are the ones where they get the details mostly right (legal, medical, etc) AND still are entertaining. Candidate for Crime is one of them. Columbo did great police work there, and that guy would have been convicted. There are a number of other episodes I like. But, no, can’t like Any Old Port with that huge moral inconsistency. Just saying. Hopefully the point of a forum like this is you get a chance to complain when you want to complain and laud when you want to laud. LOL.
This is what has ALWAYS bothered me — the murder is horrifying. Carsini’s not a good guy, and I don’t think he deserves Columbo’s respect.
This is what I came here for, and was weirded out to find him described as sympathetic and his victim as “villainous.” Certainly Ric seemed like a brat, but who can blame him for lacking loyalty towards a monster like Adrian? He’s a cold, cruel, sickeningly entitled, hollow carapace of a human being throughout — his treatment of the waiters, his insistence everyone keep working without even going through the motions of mourning, his description of Karen as “sterile and passionless” and above all, calmly and deliberately leaving his brother to die a slow and agonising death while he blows $5000 on a bottle of wine just so “no one else can have it.” I loathed him — if anything he’s worse than Leonard Nimoy’s character who earned Columbo’s righteous anger. At least Dr Whatshisface didn’t cause such protracted torture. Even if we’re not supposed to dwell on the details of what Ric’s death would actually have been like, sorry, two days is two days! It was so weird that it ended on such a companionable note, like the whole thing was merely a game between gentlemen. Made Columbo almost feel like a sell-out to me.
“Carapace”, what a great word. I’d have used veneer, but carapace is much better. Not the least of which being the invocation of the various creepy-crawlies that have that particular feature.
You can’t fairly compare Adrian Carsini to Dr. Barry Mayfield. When Adrian killed his brother Ric, that was a crime of passion. Dr. Mayfield’s attempted murder of Dr. Edmund Hidemann and his actual murders of nurse Sharon Martin and Harry Alexander, on the other, were criminal acts of an intellectual psychopath.
Now, there’s little question that both brothers Adrian and Ric were narcissistic, incredibly self-indulgent characters. But of the two, Adrian has dedicated his life to the family wine business, providing the best wines that he could as well as employment to many individuals and families.
In contrast, Ric only saw dollar signs that he intended to exploit solely for his personal pleasure. Moreover, although Ric had the right to sell the land to the Marino Brothers that Adrian despised, he never consulted with Adrian about his wishes, knowing full well that Adrian would be crushed by this news.
If Ric was more mature, he would have met with Adrian to give Adrian the opportunity to obtain financing to buyout Ric’s business interest in the winery. Instead of something approaching a zero-sum game, a mutually beneficial win-win deal could have been negotiated between the two.
Finally, apart from the differences in the two characters and the story, there’s also Donald Pleasence’s exceptional acting, which added a depth to Adrian’s character that went beyond the script. Pleasence had considerable expertise and experience in playing villains. But here, he clearly took pains to make his characterization of Adrian a more empathic one.
Ric’s murder was not a crime of passion. When Adrian hit him on the head, OK that was impulsive. But leaving him to die in slow agony, while partying, and then squeezing his remains in a wetsuit, were most definitely not.
Adrian did not dedicate his life to the family business and his employees. He dedicated his life at using the family business to spend outrageous amounts on bottles, boosting his sense of self-importance, taking pleasure in seeing his brother needing to beg for money because he resented him for having the good looks and success with women he could never dream about.
Let’s not forget Adrian’s careless spending on bottles is actually ruining the vineyard business.
Why would Ric consult Adrian about selling the land ? Adrian obviously holds Ric in very high contempt, probably never treated him as an equal and would never listen to anything he had to say. Adrian took very obvious pleasure in having so much control over Ric and would never have let it go. Well, look what happened when Ric actually mentioned selling the land !
Ric was the one who wasn’t mature enough here ? Look at the childish temper tantrum Adrian threw when selling the land was brought up. He’s looks like a straight up cartoon villain !
It wasn’t just about the vineyard and the money. It was about Adrian’s flawed ego and sense of self-importance, self-entitlement, and control over others.
Yes, at first glance it seems that Adrian has committed an impulsive act that would surely be no more than second degree murder and maybe even manslaughter. The gradual revelation of how it was a drawn-out death makes the act far more brutal, but the script never adjusts to this.
This episode was one of my favorites because of the premise, setting and the outstanding acting, but it was very flawed forensically. The only evidence that may have stuck for an indictment was Carsini’s confession that he promised to give Columbo, The validity of that confession, however, would be highly questionable considering the events that led up to him agreeing to provide one to Columbo.
Was the idea of Carsini being beholden to his secretary Karen so unbearable to him that he would prefer years, if not life, in prison? Second, the bottle of port and Carsini’s reaction to it would not have proven anything other than it was oxidized wine. Third, Carsini’s reaction, the bottle of wine and its remaining content would have been inadmissible since Columbo took the bottle from Carsini’s cellar without Carsini’s knowledge or permission or a court order. . Fourth, why were the maitre d’ and the wine steward so befuddled by the bad port and Carsini’s reaction. Didn’t Columbo state that the wine steward was in on it? Columbo gave them some money before leaving and the maitre d’ reacted like it was the most generous tip he had ever received. There wasn’t any reason to comp the dinner since it was Columbo’ who set up the taste test by Carsini to elicit a reaction and not the fault of the restaurant,
I believe that Carsini may never have been convicted on the evidence we were presented. He did need to remain silent and consult an attorney,.
I came here hoping to find an answer to the one question that gnaws at me after viewing this episode (which, sorry, but I did not find to be remarkable in any way) … how does the wine being ruined prove to Columbo that Carsini killed his brother? It’s never really explained (the way Columbo usually patiently explains it to the perp and therefore to the audience before hauling the killer off to the slammer), and I guess I’m not smart enough to figure it out.
It doesn’t really prove that Carsini killed his brother, but does show that Ric could have suffocated in the cellar during Carsini’s absence given that the air-con was switched off. Columbo really just adds up all the circumstantial evidence (car top left down on cliff despite rain, Ric not having eaten for days before death, Ric being at the winery on day of death, Ric having suffocated tying in with wine spoiled due to air-com switch off etc) and has enough to believe Carsini had the opportunity to commit the killing. It’d still be hard to prove without Carsini’s confession, though.
I need a definitive answer to this. Did Carsini not realize he had ruined all his wines? Was he just leaving them in his cellar so as not to spoil his alibi? Did the LIQUID FILTH destroy his composure?
Or did what he had done suddenly hit him when Columbo gave him a bottle which looked suspiciously like one he owned?
There are so many inexplicable aspects of the plot that I can barely enjoy the episode. None of it makes sense to me.
According to Larry Cohen’s story, after Carsini’s recognition that the otherwise priceless wine served in the restaurant had turned to “liquid filth” via oxidation, and after Columbo advised Carsini of the exceptionally hot weather shortly after he murdered his brother, those two facts planted the seeds of doubt that the high temperature may have destroyed his wine collection in the celler.
So, only at that point did Carsini suspect that his wine collection was destroyed.
However, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, there’s actually a flaw in the story if you think about it.
When Adrian later returned to his wine cellar, he would have needed to select a bottle of wine to test if his collection had been destroyed by the heat. So, what bottle would Adrian select for this test?
Even though Adrian was filled with anxiety, his obvious choice would have been his bottle of the 1945 Ferrier Port, the very same wine he found to be ruined from heat at the restaurant. Why open up a bunch of random bottles to test for oxidation? Adrian was too methodical and logical for that. But then, if he had done that, Adrian would have discovered that this bottle of Port was missing, and he would have easily put two and two together, recognizing that the events weren’t a wild coincidence. And Adrian would have uncovered Columbo’s trick.
Sure, Adrian would have then opened another bottle as a sample to test for oxidation damage, but with Columbo’s trick revealed, Adrian would have just left all the other bottles intact and there would have been no cliffside encounter with Columbo and no “Pop” ending.
I hope this answers all of your questions, including some you may not have considered before.
Excellent comment, thank you. As far as I can tell, before he died, Rick must have turned off the air conditioning, knowing that it would spoil Adrian’s collection. Is that correct? And when Adrian returned from NY, he turned the AC back on, which is when he would have started to worry about the possible risk to his wines, right?
My understanding is that Adrian turned off the air conditioning, not Rick, as a means to hasten Rick’s demise.
But that raises another flaw. As Columbophile points out: “The wine cellar is sufficiently large to have enough air in it to keep a man alive for an age. He’d die of dehydration first. So why flip the [air conditioning] switch? It’s not a logical action.”
And, perhaps, an even larger flaw is that Adrian relies solely on air conditioning to protect against heat damage. Someone as wealthy as Adrian could have had an insultated underground wine cellar built to provide maximum protection of his expensive wine collection.
Unless I missed it, I never saw Adrian turn off the air conditioning. And why would a man with his level of sophistication and a million dollar collection risk ruining his wines? That doesn’t make sense to me.
Chris, I haven’t watched the episode recently, so I can’t say for sure about how the air conditioning switch is addressed. But, as you say, there’s several things in this epsode that don’t make sense. And if you check IMDB’s “Goofs” for this episode, there are even more goofs than the many that have already been discussed on this blog. This is one of those unusual episodes where the crime “mechanics” of the story are relatively weak, but the characterizations are strong.
Hi James, just re-read the review — columbophile says:
“Adrian also switches off the air-con in the wine cellar as he leaves Ric.”
I popped in the DVD and, sure enough, he did exactly that. But it’s still no explanation why a savvy collector would risk his pride and joy by turning off the AC. I know I’m going overboard here, so I’ll let it go!
The Goofs page you mentioned is really interesting:
Adrian didn’t think he was spoiling his wine because he had no way of knowing about the near-record breaking heat-wave that was to hit Southern California while he was in New York. In short, Adrian knocked Rick out, bound him in the cellar and turned off the air conditioning believing that the cellar would be air-tight, and thus eventually suffocating Rick. (Adrian has a fiery passion for wine, but for his half brother, his veins are filled with ice-water!)
True, that we never see Adrian turn off the AC (to my recollection anyway), but we also never see him dress the body in SCUBA gear and all the other things he needed to do between setting up the murder and disposing the body. A lot of it all is inference. Remember we didn’t see Rick turn off the AC either, and since he has been going over the books, he might well believe (perhaps correctly) the wine in the cellar belongs to the Winery as a hard asset, rather than Adrian’s personal collection. Rick says directly “…I’ve kept a complete record of all the company money you’ve spent on wines that are so fancy and expensive that you’ll never drink them”. Who knows the terms of their inheritance, but I’d say Rick has a pretty good claim to the wine, or at least half. Thus Rick has no incentive to destroy the wine (he wouldn’t have known about the surprise heat wave either) because he could, and probably would, sell the wine at the first chance he got.
Never mind that I doubt a wine cellar, even one that locks, would be air-tight, or that it would be virtually impossible to get a dead body that had been in a hot room for several days into a wetsuit (A friend of mine is a mortician in Florida, every once in a while they’ll get a body that was exposed to heat over an extended period. I’ll spare you the descriptions she’s given me but Adrian would need a scoop, mop and bucket to get all of Rick off the floor.)
In the end, I think the spoiling of the wine was just a lucky accident that Columbo was able to exploit. Lucky for Columbo that is.
Technical flaws aside, I still really enjoy this episode for it’s characters.
Terrific analysis, Kevin, thanks. Just for fun, I loaded up the DVD, and yes, I missed it: he really did turn off the AC. It seems risky, though, I can’t imagine a world-class collector doing that. I’ve lived in LA — it’s always hot!
You’re right, I lived in L.A. for 7 years. I don’t remember many cool days, but a hell of a lot of hot ones.
I know nothing about wine cellars, are they meant to be airtight? I would imagine a good cellar (like one at a winery) would be insulated enough to more or less maintain a stable temperature even if there was a power failure. After all, wine cellars existed for centuries before air conditioning.
But once again, the technical flaws in this episode are MONUMENTAL. Were it not for the powerful and entertaining performances of the cast, I think this episode would rank pretty low, if not entirely forgettable.
This was a great episode, funny and oodles of fun, though I appreciate that this site and this thread provide a forum to lay bare all its illogistics, both technical and artistic.
After having read similar criticisms over the years, I suspect the commonly cited objections to Old Port would be less stressed if it wasn’t so frequently rated as the best Columbo ever … and by a wide margin. We nerds can accept why it appeals to the unwashed masses, but we also know no “idyllic” Columbo exists and therefore can’t help but view this episode through an overrated lens.
Be that as it may, I prefer to enjoy the many highlights of Old Port while willfully ignoring the plot holes. Frankly, it’s not the best Columbo. But it sure does have its moments.
I notice plot holes, but I also ask myself this question: How many times did you watch this episode before you noticed [whatever it is]? Episodes should stand up to repeat viewings but, much like freeze-frame enlargements of prop ID cards displayed momentarily, if it took a dozen views of the entire episode, together with another dozen views of the specific scene in question, before the hole occurred to you — maybe it doesn’t matter very much. [Ironically, I posted about a plot hole in “Butterfly” a few days ago, only to realize after meticulously rewatching a short segment, that I was wrong. That’s not good either. An episode should neither be criticized nor excused for something ordinary viewers cannot be expected to notice.]
I find it pretty easy to ignore even obvious plot holes if they aren’t pivotal to the mystery or if the script at least makes a token effort to explain them away. For instance, having just watched Ransom for a Dead Man, I noticed the lack of blood spill/cleanup from Leslie’s gunshot. Later, Columbo makes a point to say the killer used a .22 so that the bullet wouldn’t penetrate the body and leave a mess. Now certainly, using a .22 wouldn’t completely eliminate blood splatter from the scene. But including that line of dialogue was “good enough” for me. Dead Weight, on the other hand, doesn’t bother to wave off the inexplicable lack of forensic evidence in the general’s living room, making it a slightly more annoying oversight. Even there though, blood evidence is so ancillary to the point of Columbo that I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and move along.
Back to Old Port, many have lamented the size of the wine cellar having too much oxygen, but I think it’s hardly a stretch to accept that the room is “smaller than it looks” as portrayed televisually. Critically injured man locked up in tight space with no water dies of exposure — dramatic license makes this a believable enough set-up.
You can see the realization when Columbo is talking about the weather after the meal. Apparently Carsini had failed to pay any attention to the weather as he was away.
His attitude completely changed after he understood everything was ruined in the wine cellar.
As far as I know, Donald Pleasance was the only actor to play a murderer on both Columbo and on Mrs. Columbo. He appeared on the latter show during its spring 1979 test run.
Didn’t Robert Culp play a murderer on both shows, too? I know he was definitely in a Mrs Columbo, but my brain has refused to recollect the details.
Good catch, Columbophile!
Robert Culp was the villain in the first regular episode of Mrs. Columbo; Donald Pleasance the villain the following week. Looks like they were hired to try to draw in viewers who remembered them from their earlier appearances.
Richard Alan Simmons, who had produced Columbo’s seventh season, was producer here as well. And Sam Wanamaker, who had directed The Bye Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case, was a director here.
Too bad they just proved the show-biz maxim, “You can’t polish a (cow patty).”
David Rasche also plays a murderer in both series. He appeared as the killer (although unknown to the audience until to the episode’s finale) in the 11th episode of the Kate Mulgrew series, called “Falling Star”, 18 years before he turned into a Columbo killer in “A Trace of Murder”.
Alas, Any Old Port in a Storm rates dead last on my list of Columbo segments, old or new.
Surprisingly, I haven’t read anywhere that this is a knockoff of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado (sp?), which contains the most vicious and cruel murder in literature. I’d rate the murder here as perhaps even worse, sure to be an agonizing death for Ric in extremely drawn-out fashion.
Adrian Cassini has absolutely no redeeming features; a shallow, self-centered man without the slightest regard for human life. Frankly, no legal punishment in California at the time would fit the monstrosity of his crime.
But why rank AOPIAS “dead last”? There are lots of vicious and cruel murders on Columbo, and most Columbo murderers are self-centered with no regard for human life. They’re murderers, after all. Indeed, if you despise Carsini so, then you should enjoy especially the irony that his shallow, self-centered obsession with only the finest of wines is the very thing that tripped him up.
Sorry Rich, but why should he enjoy that particular irony? Just because you say so?!
Because it uses the very character traits of Adrian Carsini that he says he despises to bring him down. But my point was a bigger one. Why dislike one episode more than all other episodes for reasons that are common to so many others?
A.A., in addition to Richard’s comments, you might appreciate Columbophile’s article from 2015 on the most “sympathetic” murderers in Columbo episodes. It’s an oldie, but goodie: https://columbophile.com/2015/08/16/who-are-the-most-sympathetic-columbo-killers/
Each to their own, bro, but I can’t believe you rate Any Old Port below some of the puerile dross of the 80s/90s – even if Carsini is so loathsome to you.
“Puerile dross of the 80s/90s”
Perfect description of the Columbo cash-grab of the later years.
Honestly, Columbophile, I have seen very few Columbos from the 1989-2003 run. The only one I saw the entire way through was Murder With Too Many High Notes, admittedly a lesser entry. I saw enough of Murder in Malibu (from the murder forward) to put it near the bottom, though.
Just watched this for probably the 20th time in the last 30 years. What a superb episode, 90+ minutes but it doesn’t seem that long. An episode with no padding , just a terrific plot and great actors. The liquid filth scene including Vito Scotti and Monte Landis was done to perfection, and the final scene between Falk and Pleasence was one of the best…..a true Columbo classic.
That’s fair. I haven’t seen a good many of the ABC episodes.
None of the killers in Columbo, either version, would have been executed. The one in Sutable For Framing talks about a possible trip to the gas chamber, but California hadn’t executed anyone since 1967–and, frankly, the infamy of Nazi gas chambers would be enough to put most death-penalty advocates way off. (The same goes for hanging, which can easily be horribly botched.)
The United States Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional (by a 5-4 vote) in 1972. Several states, California among them, quickly tried to reinstate the death penalty, but most of them were ruled unconstitutional in their turn. Most states outside the South put unofficial moratorium on executing people over the years.
My viewpoint is extremely skewed because of two hideous rape-murders in my home city, one in 1977 and one in 1984. In both cases, the killer was sentenced to death. In both cases, prosecution bungling resulted in the death sentences being overturned. Since my state had not yet adopted life without parole, both murderers were eligible to get out. At least one, and possibly both, did.
I have nothing but unbridled loathing for Cassini and see no redeeming traits in his personality, not a one. Other killers might gather some consideration, but not him.
I don’t think Carsini throws the bottles away to avoid incriminating himself, he throws the bottles away because he knows they’re now worthless.
Absolutely. He ruined the only thing he loves. Columbo was just twisting the knife by telling him.
That’s just another confusing thing though: They’re obviously NOT worthless. We know them from the episode itself that most people buy them just to have them–not drink them–AND we heard Carsini himself say that most people wouldn’t even notice that it was spoiled.
(Furthermore, there’s something that the episode didn’t mention: the very oldest stuff is gonna be insipid at best and probably nasty. Wine that is 100+ years old, with perhaps extremely rare exceptions, does not taste very good at all and being heated to 150 degrees makes little difference.)
Thank you for expressing something I’ve been thinking— why would turning off the A/C contribute to presumed suffocation? I thought I must simply be missing or misunderstanding something. You have helped me realize I’m NOT totally clueless… LOL
Maybe I’m being thick, but wouldn’t another blow to the head mess up the appearance that Rick hit his head while scuba diving? (Apologies if this is has been addressed already.)
Very fine blog!
Do you happen to know where the lakeside club is? I’m out of state now, and my memories of the West Valley are hazy, but the landscape behind the lake on the show looks too hilly to be Westlake. Is it Lake Sherwood?
The back terrace of Bocaccio’s Restaurant was used to shoot the lakeside club scenes. It’s overlooking Westlake Lake.
One funny thing about this one (not ridiculous, just funny) is that Robert Walden, whose characters usually look so down to earth, has a such a trendy early ‘ 70s look to him in that one scene. A sort of Alex Cord look.
I just watched S1 Ep8 of The Rockford Files (The Case is Closed) and at about 30 min into the episode there is footage at the same club of the same young people dancing in swimsuits that was used in this Columbo episode
…or about 20 minutes in without commercials
Hah! thanks, I’ve seen that ep of Rockford recently and I had total de ja vu. Then I just watched Old Port and thought it seemed familar from last time Old Port was on, and didn’t connect it to Rockford. Makes me wonder how accidental it is that Columbo’s Peugeot appears in a panning shot and start of S1Ep1 of Rockford.
Although Adrian Carsini is probably one of the more sympathetic murderers in the Columbo case files, he nonetheless ultimately met a bitter end.
Things I notice that aren’t really important.
When Adrian meets Columbo for the first time he’s wearing a gray suit with a gorgeous red lining. You only see it for a flash. The tie is beautiful too. Great costuming.
Adrian always has the same handkerchief. Looks like tie or ice dyed silk.
I didn’t realize Columbo had children.
Karen’s hair was bright red at the beginning then goes to a strawberry blonde when it’s down.
Also the tour guides hair is absolutely stunning!
That actor plays a Welsh coal miner (though not the main one) in the famous OUTER LIMITS episode “The Sixth Finger. Even there he has that same hairstyle.
Just watched Any Port in a Storm and noticed Gary Conway heavily made up also plays the fisherman who finds his body! Anyone know the backstory?
Carsini, whose palate is so sensitive he’s one of the few men in the world who can tell his wine is off, has no issues dragging out a dead body that’s been baking in his wine cellar for five days!
It would have been hilarious if Carsini had been stuck with a wine cellar that permanently smelled like death and had to come up with lame excuses to keep everyone (especially the Lieutenant) away from it.
Carsini probably turned the air conditioning back on in the wine cellar after he dealt with his brother’s body and the air conditioning probably got rid of any smells.
One of the things that serious Columbo fans often do (and I’m no exception) is to try to identify flaws in the stories, which are often attributed to “bad writing.” However, if you look close enough, even the best and most beloved Columbo episodes may have some story flaws.
“Any Old Port in a Storm” is no exception. Take the “Pop,” as Peter Falk referred to the final clue. After Columbo orders the 1945 Ferrier Port as the after dinner wine, Adrian remarks that he doubts the restaurant would carry such a comparatively rare wine. But when the wine steward “finds” that exact vintage wine (stolen by Columbo from Adrian’s own wine cellar collection), presents the wine, and Adrian tastes it, Columbo successfully tricks him into revealing that the wine was ruined by excessive heat and oxidation. So far, so good.
Next, outside the restaurant, Columbo tells Adrian that during the exact time frame that Adrian knows his brother Ric was trapped in the Carsini wine cellar that the temperature rose to 109 degrees, a level sufficient to plant the seeds of anxiety deep in Adrian that his own wine collection may have been destroyed by the heat because of the means by which he killed his brother.
After this, Karen and Adrian talk privately, in what must be one of the gentlest blackmail scenes in TV history, as Karen expresses her feelings for Adrian and her desire to protect him from prosecution for murdering his brother. In Adrian’s mind, though, he sees Karen’s offer of marriage as a threat and a Hobson’s choice.
Finally, just before the ending “Pop” with Columbo on the ocean cliff, the scene cuts to Adrian, distraught and disgusted as he rummages through his damaged wine collection. This culminates with a final burst of anger as Adrians throws one of his formerly precious bottles of wine against the wall, shattering the glass.
Did you catch the flaw? In the many times I’ve seen this episode years ago, I didn’t until today, after viewing the pristine “print” available on Peacock video. When Adrian returned to his wine cellar after meeting with Karen, Adrian would have needed to select a bottle of wine to test if his collection had been destroyed by the heat. So, what bottle would Adrian select for this test? Even though Adrian was filled with anxiety, his obvious choice would have been his bottle of the 1945 Ferrier Port, the very same wine he found to be ruined from heat at the restaurant. Why open up a bunch of random bottles to test for oxidation? Adrian was too methodical and logical for that. But then, if he had done that, Adrian would have discovered that this bottle of Port was missing, and he would have easily put two and two together, recognizing that the events weren’t a wild coincidence. Adrian would have uncovered Columbo’s trick.
Sure, Adrian would have then opened another bottle as a sample to test for oxidation damage, but with Columbo’s trick revealed, Adrian would have just left all the other bottles intact and there would have been no cliffside encounter with Columbo and no “Pop” ending.
Does this story flaw in any way detract from the otherwise well written story and terrific episode? No. Life isn’t perfect. Columbo isn’t perfect. And even great stories aren’t necessarily perfect.
I appreciate the sentiment but the list of flaws is far greater. I really don’t think the third act is salvageable at all. It doesn’t just involve people behaving inexplicably–it also involves *multiple* violations of the laws of physics (not just the suffocation in a large room with an ordinary door and open A/C ducts, but also the autopsy test results. Plus the idea that it would be 40 degrees hotter inside the wine cellar, instead of the reality–that it would still be cooler than the outside.) And to top it all off the gotcha isn’t a gotcha at all.
I know I’m in the minority, but this episode left me flat. I didn’t think there was anything special or riveting about this particular show. I also struggled to see the greatness in Donald Pleasence’s performance. Although I thought his overall performance was good, I couldn’t help myself from laughing out loud whenever DP displayed anger; he was so over the top. And, I was really annoyed with Julie Harris’s character. I couldn’t imagine any female being in love with, much less throwing herself at, such a self-absorbed, uncaring, and violent guy. What was up with that?!
I didn’t love it either.
Well, I don’t think she was all that much “in love” (whatever love means, to quote the Prince of Wales) with him. She was fast becoming an elderly spinster who had no live of her own and that is a condition most women abhor. And as for the character of her intended – do you think Melania married The Donald for his tender, emphatic and altruistic qualities? A lot of women marry for status and wealth. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, as long as she keeps her part of the contract, support him, is faithful, bear him children who are his, for example. By the way, those marriages tend to be much more stable than those based on “love”.) What I was asking myself is, why wasn’t she afraid that he, a murderer, might knock her off as well.
Please, call her a woman. Or a person. Not “a female.” You’re not talking about a horse. And notice how you didn’t call him a “male” but a “guy.” This usage is honestly disturbing, and sadly lots of people do it.
Other than that, I agree completely. While the happy or enthusiastic Adrian was perfectly fine, the furious Adrian was pretty much a caricature of an emotional Italian as seen through the eyes of emotion-phobic Brit. Makes you think of all the times Agatha Christie described pretty awful Italian stereotypes instead of actual people. Oh well.
And yes, the secretary makes no sense start to finish. She’s worked with him for years, she should be well aware that he only has the heart for wine, and certainly not her. And while people are able to idealise those they have a crush on, this wears off with time unless you’re a moron, and she’s not presented as a moron at all. More importantly, I can’t accept how she seems to jump offscreen to a conclusion that Adrian is guilty and decides to “save him.” She is neither immoral enough to condone murder, stupid and sentimental enough to “put love above it all” (nor to love him in the first place, like you say) or cunningly-cynical enough to crack the case based on the scant clues she knows about. She’s not even desperate for money. No, I can’t and never will buy Karen wanting to marry Adrian, or doing anything else she does in this script.
Another great weakness of this episode lies in the murder itself, which a) can’t possibly work b) couldn’t be disguised as a drowning accident c) would be cracked open by cursory forensic examination, even in the ’70s. And while normally I don’t expect “Columbo” to dwell on such matters as corpse decomposition, bodily secretions etc., this particular case goes so far that this stuff just can’t be ignored. And if you do – like the episode does – then you’re left with absolutely nothing but a suspiciously clean car as the reason to harass a recently bereaved man and mooch drinks off him. Meh.
as an avid Colombo fan, i agree that this episode, while still enjoyable, was not one of the best in terms of plots – the whole switching off the air conditioner to kill the brother in the wine cellar thing – i just didnt get it…..the fact that the wines were ruined because the ac was turned off, and then that being the evidence that the brother must have been murdered in there – just seems like quite a stretch and not up to the high standards of other Colombo episodes. As the author of this site mentioned – he would have been able to survive in there for a long long time, even just by drinking the wine! oh well, they cant all be great story-lines (though still enjoyed watching it nonetheless!)
My thoughts exactly, it’s a huge leap from ruined wine to therefore you murdered little brother by such a ridiculous scheme
How I wish this was the only time we ever heard “This Old Man”.
Was this a different car than in later episodes? It looked like a much darker paint color.
How about “This Old Man” performed full-blast by a marching band (Murder Under Glass)? Just kill me.
I liked the jazzy version of “This Old Man” in the closing credits of, IIRC, “Death Hits the Jackpot”! 🙂
Can’t stand any.
Better not watch any episodes of “Barney” then!
Hmm – for those of you who are pro-Rick – the young lady would have been his *fourth* marriage….
Lucky thing Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor were never murdered, they might not have bothered to solve the case at all, what with all those marriages.
Yes, but I loved him on “Land if the Giants”.
Conway was even better in1957 as the monster in “I was a Teenage Frankenstein.” J/K
Q How can you tell a good wine from an average wine?
A By the price! (naturally)
Let’s face it, if there is any one murderer in the history of the show who we’re all rooting for, it’s Adrian. Ric had it coming to him, and I only regret that Adrian couldn’t have killed him a couple of more times.
I’m not so sure. We all like Adrian because of his pursuit of excellence in wine and because it’s the very charming yet unassuming Donald Pleasence. But let’s not kid ourselves: while Ric might be (or rather was) a spendthrift playboy, Adrian is an egotistical elitist who also spends money irresponsibly, frequently buying expensive wine not as an investment, but that “no one else will have them”.
And while the winery produces a good product, it’s implied that the operation isn’t very profitable. Adrian says the cost would be “prohibitive” to sell his most excellent wine, but he doesn’t really say why. Producing it is the hard and expensive part. Adrian’s hoity toity wine buddies seem to think there would be eager willing buyers for just such a product. “I would rather serve it to my friends” Adrian says, demonstrating that it’s about ego, not running a successful business.
Whether or not one agrees with his business practices, at the end of the day it *is* Ric’s winery, not Adrian’s. Ric allowed Adrian to run it for years but the gains (if any) have been minuscule thus far. We have no reason to believe Ric lied when he said he looked over the books. Given Adrian’s habit of purchasing expensive wine it’s not unlikely that Adrian is siphoning profits from the Winery (profits that should either be reinvested into the winery or given to Ric) or the winery is actually losing money and Adrian is keeping it afloat with his sizeable inheritance. For all we know, the place could be heavily in debt. Ric has a solution, insensitive as it may be. But Adrian doesn’t seem to concerned with the employees’ futures (though at least some would likely be hired on by the new owners), but rather concerned about the fate of the wine itself.
For Adrian, it’s not a business, it’s a passion project. Everyone admires that kind of passion, but not when it leads to brutal murder.
Can you really blame Ric? A jerk to be certain, but why is it acceptable that Adrian gets to indulge in his very expensive, frankly wasteful, hobbies but not for Ric do to the same?
It’s fitting that they are (half) brothers. They are opposites of the same coin. Both egotists, both wasteful, both lack compassion. The difference is one is a murderer.
Agreed. I find it easy enough to adore Pleasance’s portrayal of Adrian (the Merino brothers?!!!) while simultaneously not finding the character all that sympathetic. Even Columbo showing the killer a more-than-normal degree of respect after the bust does not sway me into thinking the homicide was in any way justifiable.
Viewers perhaps can empathize with Adrian as a man facing the loss of the thing he holds most dear, or drawing the short straw to a sibling in the physical genetics lottery, or that his crime of passion was committed without forethought. But he is not a nice or morally upright person and probably even less so than Ric, whose friends openly lauded his value. (Meanwhile, Adrian repeatedly maligned his long-time industrious secretary.)
I reserve sympathy for those who are truly wronged by another or who demonstrate remorse. Adrian Carsini fits neither bill.
Great comment. In essence, we have sympathy for Adrian because of what a freak he is. In his elitist world, damaging a bottle of wine may be a worse crime than killing someone. It is because his priorities and perspectives are so warped by his wine mania, that we mitigate the cruelty of the murder. “After all, he had no choice but to kill Ric!. I it was killing him, or letting an elite wine producer be taken over by the Merino Brothers!”
*At least* one of the two is a murderer. We do not know what became of Ric’s former wives.
Such a great episode and really loved the ending too. Top 5 of all time for me.
Thank God for Peter Falk and his performance in Columbo, IMO the second most irreplaceable character actor in TV history which is still very high considering the hundreds of character actors over the past 75+ years. Easily in the Top 5..
by the way… take a wild guess who ranks #1….
Kate Mulgrew as Mrs Columbo, of course.
Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver in “Leave it to Beaver”?
Nope. All fine actors and guesses but the answer is Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker. Without turning this political, there was no character actor ever who was more irreplaceable or who created a more indelible mark in television than Carroll O’Connor. No one. Undoubtedly this might ruffle some feathers and create some disagreement but that’s my choice and I’m sticking with it..
My guess was a joke although I would seriously put Inger Nilsson as Pippi Långstrump (1969) into the Top 5 of irreplaceable series actors, while Kate Mulgrew as Mrs Columbo probably marks the top spot in most viewers’ miscast list, because she was way too young to be the lieutenant’s wife in 1979 – she must have been an elementary school girl on the date of her marriage someday in the 1960’s – and she didn’t suit her husband’s description in “An Exercise in Fatality”.
(Carroll O’Connor is unknown to me; I can’t place her.)
“(Carroll O’Connor is unknown to me; I can’t place her.)”
–Are you joking??? You seriously have no idea who HE was??? With all due respect I’m a bit shocked and wasn’t expecting to read that. Carroll O’Connor was a male. If you’ve never heard of the TV sitcom “All in the Family” then I can only assume that you don’t know who he was. If you were alive in the 1970’s then practically *every* person in the U.S. who watched TV knows who Carroll O’Connor and “All in the Family” was. He was undoubtedly THE most iconic irreplaceable character actor in TV sitcom history..
Carroll was a male? I was thinking of Carol Flemming in “Prescription: Murder”. This has to be proof that I know neither him nor his name. But before you explode again, I think I can explain it: I am born in the late 70’s in Germany and I am not into sitcoms that deep. It has always been hard for TV shows to make me laugh, yet Columbo found a way.
Okay, that’s what I thought. It was an age thing. I should have added before that if you were born in the 1980’s then you would not know who Carroll O’Connor was. But if you want to laugh the sitcom “All in the Family” will accomplish that. Hilarious show..
Back to Columbo.. an absolutely fantastic TV series and ranks in my All-time Top 3 of anything ever made..
I really need to see this All in the Family. As a Brit I’m aware of it as a sort of American version of the earlier British sitcom hit Till Death Do Us Part, with Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett in the Archie Bunker role. I very much enjoyed Carroll O’Connor in Kelly’s Heroes so I’m up for seeing him in his career defining role.
I’ll agree with your assessment of Carrol O’Connor. As great a TV moment as Colombo sharing a glass of dessert wine with Adrian Carsini is Archie clutching Edith’s slipper after her death.