5 best moments from Columbo Etude in Black

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Etude in Black Cassavetes Falk

Airing on September 17, 1972, Etude in Black, the first episode of Columbo’s second season, was ‘event television’ in the truest sense.

A big-budget affair with Hollywood royalty John Cassavetes and Myrna Loy headlining the cast, Etude was a magnificent statement of intent for the series, and one which highlighted that the show wasn’t planning to rest on its laurels after the stellar success of its opening season.

Etude in Black is many fans’ numero uno episode. But just what are its absolute highlights? Here’s my take on Etude‘s top 5 scenes…

“A big-budget affair, Etude was a magnificent statement of intent for what was in store for Season 2.”

5. Dog’s debut!

Etude in Black Dog

Columbo’s much-loved basset hounds makes his bow in Etude in Black, with viewers first encountering the slovenly scamp getting his shots at the vet’s after being rescued from the pound. The absolutely perfect choice for a canine sidekick for the crumpled detective, ‘Dog’, as he comes to be known, went on to become the single-most recurring character in the series aside from Columbo himself, appearing in eight 70s’ episodes.

His presence here is both endearing and entertaining, but it also has plot benefits as it is the music-loving vet’s rewatching of the Alex Benedict concert in Columbo’s presence that leads the Lieutenant to crack the case over the missing carnation.

4. Loy lays down the law

Myrna Loy Etude in Black

Don’t you DARE smirk at Loy’s boy-scout-meets-tablecloth ensemble…

As befitting a silver screen icon, when Myrna Loy is on-screen as Benedict’s mother-in-law, Lizzie Fielding, it’s all eyes on her. Lizzy’s family money and connections keep Alex living the good life, so when she says ‘jump’, he’s pleading to know how high. It’s perfectly clear who really wears the trousers when it comes to symphony relationships, and Loy also presides over a disciplinary hearing for rogue trumpeter Paul like a boss.

It’s a small role, but it’s all class from Loy, who is arguably the most watchable individual in an episode jam-packed with watchable individuals…

3. Benedict’s knockout blow

Etude in Black Murder 2

“He’s behiiiiiiiiiiind you…”

The philandering Benedict has a problem on his hands in the shape of thigh-revealing pianist Jennifer Welles. The two have been having a love affair, and Jennifer is now threatening to blow the whistle if Benedict doesn’t leave his young wife Janice.

Benedict loves money too much to remove himself from the Fielding family bosom, which can only mean one thing: MURRRRRDERRRRR! So after sneaking round to Jennifer’s house (in broad daylight, wearing a conspicuous disguise, and driving a very recognisable car) he shows his sheer ruthlessness by braining the lass with an ashtray as she lovingly serenades him with a piano ditty.

Effectively staged and edited to spare viewers the sight of any actual violence, this is one of the series’ most powerful and memorable murders.

2. Unsettling the Maestro

Etude in Black haircut

Etude was the first Columbo episode extended to the ‘long’ 2-hour running time (90+ minutes without ad breaks). As a result, a number of extra scenes needed to be shot after initial filming to bump up the running time, including this one where Columbo visits casa Benedict (note Cassavetes’ shorter haircut). I’m generally not a big fan of scenes added in simply to pad the episode out, but this example is a cracker!

In a classic unsettling move, Columbo troubles his quarry at a time and place they feel most secure. In this instance, Benedict is enjoying some quiet time at home at the weekend when Columbo shows up unannounced. The Lieutenant spends 5 minutes with the Maestro and doesn’t ask a single question relevant to the case, eventually leaving with an autograph for Mrs Columbo – and the satisfaction of knowing he’s really getting inside Benedict’s head.

1. Chopsticks at the Bowl

Columbo Etude in Black chopsticks

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

Not only is it charming in its own right, but the moment also leads into a delicious hypothetical debate between the Lieutenant and Benedict about whether the Maestro could have committed the crime. This ends with Columbo shattering Benedict’s aura of impregnability by revealing that his superiors are letting him investigate the case as a homicide.

There’s even a classic ‘Just one more thing…’ thrown in for good measure. Bravo!

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

Let me know your own episode highlights below! And if you’re keen for a more detailed analysis of Etude, you can read my full review here. Thanks for reading, and check back again soon!

Etude in Black Pat Morita

Look here, Mr Miyagi, I don’t care if he is waxing the car – I want to see The Maestro right now!

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