Arguably the highest-profile case of his entire career, Columbo’s take-down of beloved former silver screen icon Nora Chandler would have been jaw-dropping news the world over.
Yet despite that, Requiem for a Falling Star is one of Columbo‘s lesser lights. While perfectly enjoyable by the standards of most TV ever made, the majority of fans rate this as merely an average episode of the greatest detective show of all time.
Still, with Jackson Gillis earning another writing credit and a stellar cast headlined by Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter, there are still highlights galore to be had. Just what are the highest highs? Here are my thoughts…
“While perfectly enjoyable by the standards of most TV ever made, the majority of fans rate Requiem as merely an average episode of Columbo.”
5. The playful farewell
Youthful studio boss Fallon pokes some playful fun at Columbo (and Peter Falk) in a nice exchange between the two men midway through the episode as the detective digs for dirt on why Nora refuses to sell her property on the lot.
It’s a subject that has long exasperated Fallon, and he lets Columbo in on his frustrations. “Actors, Lieutenant. Take my advice avoid actors. They’ll kill you.”
Given Falk’s own well-publicised run-ins with Universal execs during Columbo‘s first season, this is a fun little in-joke that has everyone smiling. The Lieutenant thanks Fallon, claiming he’ll be sure to tell his boss about his hospitality. It’s only then that Fallon reveals he is the boss.
Columbo mumbles an apology, having assumed someone as young as Fallon couldn’t be the top man. “It’s all right. I would never typecast you as a detective, either,” Fallon playfully responds as he takes his leave.
4. Columbo feels the burn!
For the most part, Lieutenant Columbo enjoys reasonably cordial relations with those he comes into contact with during the course of his investigations.
There are always exceptions (Milo Janus, Paul Gerard, for example), but there’s usually a grudging respect, if not overt friendliness towards the crumpled detective. It’s therefore a bit of a shock when Columbo is given a real down-dressing by Nora’s gentleman friend, Frank Simmons.
After savaging the odious Jerry Parks for generally being an absolute grub, Simmons turns his attentions to Columbo, who has been indulging in his usual meandering methods. “Lieutenant, as for you, you have an obtuse manner which some people find ingratiating,” Simmons chides, face as straight as a curtain rail. “I do not.”
It’s as frank an assessment as Columbo ever receives, with no hint of friendliness or playfulness to take the edge off it. In short, Columbo FEELS THE BURN, albeit not as badly as blown-up victim Jean did earlier in the episode…
3. The frenemies meet
The love/hate (or more accurately, hate/hate) relationship between Nora Chandler and slimy gossip columnist Jerry Parks is the gift that keeps on giving in Requiem. From their first meeting at Nora’s home it’s obvious the two can’t stand each other, but the gloves are really off when the pair make a secret rendezvous near a favourite eatery.
Parks essentially accuses Nora of wanting him dead, and wants cash to keep his mouth shut about this, and other dirt he has on her. Nora counter claims that Parks was using victim Jean for her money after owing a fortune to his ex-wives.
A snooping Columbo, of course, catches them in the act and the two have to slip back into pally mode to avoid rousing his suspicions further. With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies, right? It’s a classic example of the shallowness and skullduggery I have no problem believing is rife in celebrity circles. Nora’s octagonal shades are simply the icing on the cake!
2. The star-struck detective
Columbo is no stranger to high society types and household names, for the most part taking celebrity encounters in his stride. Sure he might request an autograph for Mrs Columbo, but he tends to avoid fanboy gawping to investigate cases on a professional footing.
That poise goes right out of the window when he meets Nora Chandler, though. Columbo is star-struck, looking like he might even pass out at one stage with the giddy thrill of it all. “I’ve been in love with you all my life,” he bashfully concedes.
The Lieutenant even rings home to try and get Nora chatting to the other love of his life, only to find that Mrs Columbo is out shopping, leaving Columbo and Nora mystifying his brother-in-law George instead.
Columbo is known for playing mind games with his quarry, and doing what he can to disarm them and make them underestimate him. There may be a hint of that here, but one senses he really is just a massive fan of hers, making their first meeting an absolutely charming encounter.
1. Edith’s golden cameo
Numero uno just has to be costume design LEGEND Edith Head’s cameo as herself. Fitting for an episode that features such luscious fashions throughout, Edith comes up with a new tie for Columbo to help Nora spruce up his shabby appearance, while all the while her array of Oscars are clearly visible on the desk behind. Deliciously, one of these Oscars was won in 1951 for her costume work on All About Eve – a film for which Anne Baxter won a Best Actress nomination.
It’s a delightful Easter Egg of a scene, made even better by the fact that Peter Falk would present Head with a further Oscar the following year for her work on The Sting. Could it be that Falk was given this award to present because of Head’s Columbo appearance? I rather hope so…
“It’s a delightful Easter Egg of a scene, made even better by the fact that Peter Falk would present Head with a further Oscar the following year.”
So that’s your lot, gang – unless, of course, you have a hankering for a more in-depth analysis of the episode which you can conveniently find right here!
As always, I’d be delighted to hear your views on the episode and if your personal highlight isn’t here, please let me know what it is in the comments section below.