Columbo’s season 5 opener proved that the show had lost none of its ambition by casting Hollywood Royalty Janet Leigh as musical murderess Grace Wheeler-Willis.
With an Oscar nomination to her name and a slew of blockbuster motion pictures on her CV, Leigh became one of the series’ highest-profile killers, bringing vivacity and vulnerability to a challenging role as a fading film star plotting her route back to the top.
But is Forgotten Lady certain to win the hearts and minds of a contemporary audience? Or will it fade into obscurity like an aged leading lady without her former dance partner? Let’s turn back the clocks to 14 September, 1975 and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Grace Wheeler-Willis: Janet Leigh
Ned Diamond: John Payne
Dr Henry Willis: Sam Jaffe
Raymond: Maurice Evans
Alma: Linda Scott
Sergeant Leftkowitz: Francine York
Dog: As himself
Written by: Bill Driskill and Peter S Fischer
Directed by: Harvey Hart
Score by: Jeff Alexander
Notable locations: Wheeler-Willis house, 141 N Grand Ave, Pasadena, California
Episode synopsis: Columbo Forgotten Lady
We’re on the red carpet at the premiere of Song & Dance. Amongst the attendees being interviewed for TV are Grace Wheeler and Ned Diamond, big stars from the musicals of yesteryear, although far from the household names they once were.
That could be about to change. Buoyed by the reception to the movie (which featured snippets of classic musicals, including those she and Ned appeared in), Grace takes the opportunity to reveal she’s plotting her comeback in a new Broadway show that darling Ned will direct and choreograph. Grace herself will cough up $500,000 in funding to make it a reality.
While Grace is loving the limelight, someone else is less impressed. Watching the interview on TV at home, her decrepit husband Dr Henry Willis switches off the set and turns his attentions instead to a good book.
Once home, the energetic Grace sashays around like a woman in love… with herself. She sneaks a sleeping pill from the unguarded medicine cabinet and shimmies up to her bedroom – a gaudily decorated monstrosity, replete with photographs of herself from earlier days – before finally popping in to see Henry.
As butler Raymond delivers Dr Willis his bedtime milk and designated sleeping pill, Grace whirls about the room, cooing about how the crowd loved her and how half a mill of Henry’s hard-earned dollars will be a great investment. After all: “The qualities that make a star never diminish,” she reasons. “So, by financing my own production, I will be before the public again, and they will learn to love me all over again.“
Henry doesn’t so much as rain on Grace’s parade as smite it with a hurricane. He won’t be bankrolling the comeback, and he chides Grace for living in a fantasy world. I rather suspect they’ve had this conversation several times before…
Henry’s unwillingness to finance a pipe dream seals his fate. As soon as his back’s turned, Grace empties the contents of the extra sleeping pill into his milk before flouncing off to watch her favourite movie. Old Henry subsequently downs a double dose of sleeping draught. That’s NAP TIME, baby!
Once she’s safely in front of said movie (Walking My Baby Back Home – a big hit from her past), Grace puts the rest of her plan into action. After Raymond has set the film rolling and returned to his late supper, Grace jallops out across the lawn and removes a gun from the glove box of Henry’s car. She returns in time for Raymond to change the reel.
After the meddling servant has beetled off again, Grace sneaks up to Henry’s room and finds him deep in a drug-induced slumber. Setting a medical file open on his bed and his book on the side table, she places the gun in Henry’s grip and – BLAM – rids herself of the old killjoy for good.
Luckily the palatial size of the house, coupled with the servants watching Johnny Carson at a million decibels, means no one hears the shot, so after locking Henry’s door from the inside Grace hops off the balcony onto a tree limb and springs to the lawn as deftly as Catwoman to make good her getaway back to the home cinema.
There’s a fly in the ointment, though. While she’s been out SLAYING, the reel of film has broken! In a flap, Grace fixes it and settles back to watch the closing scenes before the skulking Raymond returns to tidy up after her. She slips away and sits cooing at her own reflection in the mirror until her husband’s fate is uncovered by the butler.
Cut to the exterior of the house and an ocean of police black and whites. Lieutenant Columbo is amongst the investigating officers – and he’s as exhausted as we ever see him. Woken in the dead of night, the addled detective hasn’t even remembered to put on his suit jacket, so doesn’t have his police ID on him. Finally admitted and armed with a cup of coffee, he heads upstairs for a look around.
The medical officer makes it clear that he’s fallen for the depressed-old-man-commits-suicide theory. Henry appears to have been reading a medical report recommending prostate surgery, after all. Columbo, however, has doubts. For one thing, Raymond says Henry wasn’t depressed in the least and was planning a trip around the world. Hardly the actions of a man planning to take his own life.
Also why take a sleeping pill if you’re about to put yourself to sleep permanently? It’s a puzzle alright, but with Grace sedated due to the ‘shock’, Columbo will have to wait till morning to seek further answers.
The next day, Grace is up and about and breakfasting with Ned. He offers to postpone starting work on their production, but she won’t hear of it. “What did Rosie do the night her father died?” Grace asks, referring to the title character from Walking My Baby. “She performed. Best performance of her life.”
Ned looks a bit bewildered, although doubtless puts it down to the shock of Henry’s death. “Grace, Rosie was a character in a film,” he responds gently. “But there’s no difference,” Grace replies – giving the audience the first clear hint that she’s ‘not all there’ upstairs.
Columbo arrives and is cock-a-hoop to lay eyes on Ned Diamond in the flesh. “My wife dragged me to every musical you were ever in,” he enthuses. “I’m sorry you had to be dragged,” Diamond deadpans back. It’s not all bonhomie, though, as Diamond warns Columbo not to upset his beloved Grace.
There seems no danger of that as Columbo fawns over Grace at their first meeting – much to the delight of the fading film star. She’s satisfied that Henry took his own life and is determined to ‘be strong’ and carry on. The two inspect the scene of the crime and contemplate the tree that grows up beside the balcony. Could a killer have come into Henry’s room this way? No way brah, says Grace. It’s not humanly possible to climb up as the lower branches have been removed.
Columbo next heads to hospital to speak to one of Henry’s contemporaries – a Dr Lansberg – to discuss the state of the victim’s troublesome prostate. And while it was subject to infection and could have become malignant if untreated, Henry himself was reasonably unconcerned about it – as befits one of the leading diagnosticians of his time.
It’s yet further reason to doubt suicide, but as Columbo digests this information he’s accosted by Sergeant Leftkowitz from the LAPD’s computer section. According to her files, Columbo hasn’t taken his pistol test for five years! He’s required to pass one every six months. Blaming computer error, Columbo denies the accusation and the officious Sergeant bustles off promising to double check her sources.
Someone else running into trouble is Grace, who’s struggling to keep up with the demanding dance routine in the first practice session with the cast of the new musical. She’s losing her cool and blaming the ‘rank amateurs’ around her for her woes rather than accepting the fault lies with her.
Her mood is not improved when Columbo drops in. He’s got questions about the book Henry was reading on the night of his death. Not only was it a comedic read – strange choice for someone about to commit suicide – but it had not been ‘dog-eared’ on that final night, as was Henry’s usual bookmarking style. Instead the book had simply been closed and placed on the bedside table.
Grace doesn’t see the relevance, but it’s one of those classic ‘little things’ that bother Columbo. “From my experience, ma’am, I’ve discovered that people don’t usually forget to do that which they usually do,” he explains. Yet more evidence to suggest foul play.
After a further run-in with the department about his failure to complete his pistol test, Columbo grills Raymond about the night of the crime. The butler explains that he started the film for Grace at 11pm sharp, then watched Johnny Carson until 1am. When that finished, he returned to the projection room where the film was just finishing. Make note of this, as it will be vital later on. Columbo even gets the go-ahead to check Henry’s medical files that he kept locked in the basement.
Grace and Ned are also home, and Columbo’s presence unnerves Grace. She becomes irritable, first demanding Ned replace the young hunk he’s hired to be the lead man in the forthcoming musical, then raging at him for the drunken car crash, years earlier, that forced Diamond to quit dancing and scuppered both their careers. It’s a scene packed with regret.
Problems are mounting for everyone – not least Columbo who is told to complete his gun test or lose his badge! His determination to close the Wheeler case is as strong as ever, though, and he undertakes an unusual experiment to test a hunch. While Grace and Ned entertain a merry crowd at Wheeler HQ, Columbo slips up to Henry’s room. He takes a leap of faith off the balcony on to a high tree branch and, after dangling awkwardly, releases his grip and tumbles onto the lawn below.
Having noticed all this, Grace rushes out to see what’s going on. Columbo is unhurt but has proved a point. Someone could have locked Henry’s door from within and escaped via the tree – especially someone in better shape than him, which Grace certainly is.
Grace, however, isn’t concerned. Indeed, she suspects his repeat visits are less to do with cracking the case and more to do with him simply enjoying ‘being around the magic of show business‘! It’s a delusional thought at this stage of a murder inquiry, and Columbo’s facial expressions indicate he thinks so, too.
As we accelerate towards the conclusion, Columbo starts forcing the issue. He pays a colleague to take his pistol test and confronts Ned about his belief that Grace killed Henry. And despite a damning list of evidence to back up his claim, the ever-defensive Ned won’t accept that Grace is a murderer. So Columbo plays his trump card. “I think she did it,” he says forcefully. “She invited me to her house tonight to watch her film. I’m going. If she means anything to you, you ought to be there.”
Naturally, Ned shows up. Columbo has selected Walking My Baby as the film to watch, and Grace has pulled out the stops to impress. There’s Champagne, caviar and hors d’ouevres, and all three are dressed in their best – including Columbo, who’s sporting a tuxedo in the series for the very first time, earning praise from Grace who enthuses that he looks ‘simply smashing‘!
As Grace flits about, the two men share a broken conversation. Columbo lays out more of his problems with the case. For one thing, the movie they’re watching tonight – the same one Grace watched on the fatal night – has a running time of 1 hour 45 minutes. Yet on that night it was still playing when Raymond came back to tidy up – two hours after he started it. That’s 15 minutes unaccounted for.
The detective has surmised that Grace left the home cinema and slew Henry before returning and finding the film had broken. The time it took Grace to repair the film, plus the time she was committing murder, would explain why the film over-ran by 15 minutes. To test that theory he’s laid a little trap, rigging the film so that it will break moments into the screening – sending a panicky Grace fleeing to the projection room, where she proves she’s suitably adept at splicing.
“Grace’s inoperable brain aneurysm means that, in all likelihood, she can’t even remember killing her husband.”
Reality is dawning on Ned. But Columbo then reveals his moral quandary. When examining Henry’s medical files, Columbo found one under the name of ‘Rosemary Landon’ – Henry’s codename for his wife – that reveals Grace has an inoperable brain aneurysm. It’s caused a progressive memory disease that, in all likelihood, means that Grace can’t even remember killing her husband.
That’s why Columbo knows Henry would never have agreed to bankroll Grace’s comeback, because the strain of performing could kill her at any moment. “How long has she got?” Ned asks. The answer is grim. A couple of weeks, perhaps. Two months at most.
Ned thinks fast. “All you’ve got is proof that it wasn’t suicide,” he concludes – just as Grace returns from splicing to overhear them talking. She flies into a temper, unable to understand why the subject of Henry’s death is still a matter of discussion. And as Columbo steps forward, seemingly about to accuse her outright of murder, the noble Ned does the only thing he can think of to protect her. “Grace, this has gone on long enough,” he says, taking her by the shoulders. “I killed Henry.”
Quaking at this stunning blow, Grace can’t take it in. But when Ned explains that he did it to allow her to become the star she used to be, and that everything will be all right, she allows herself to be seated in front of the film in a dazed, child-like, state.
The two men make to leave. “It’s not going to take long to break your story,” Columbo warns. “It might take a couple of months,” replies Ned, walking out of the house – and out of Grace’s life – forever. Columbo takes one last, wistful look back at Grace, who is sitting enrapt and tearful in front of the movie screen, as credits roll…
Forgotten Lady’s best moment – Noble Ned
The poignant conclusion to the episode packs an almighty punch – and no one helps the scene succeed more than John Payne, whose performance as Ned Diamond ranks as one of the series’ greatest support star outings.
Ned, who has been protecting Grace from harm throughout the episode, is racked with grief as he comes to accept that his long-time love is both a murderer and mortally ill. So rather than allowing her to face what little time she has left alive behind bars, he steps up to take the rap and calm Grace’s desperately fraying nerves.
Combining gentle tones with utterly convincing body language and expressions, it’s as believable a display of love as I’ve ever seen on the small screen. Forgotten Lady marked John Payne’s final screen appearance. He certainly went out on a high.
My thoughts on Forgotten Lady
An interesting departure from the norm, featuring a stunning twist and great emotional depth, Forgotten Lady makes for one of Columbo’s most thought-provoking adventures – and one that stays with the viewer long after the closing credits.
The key issues to consider are the desperate plight of Grace Wheeler-Willis at episode’s end, her behaviour throughout the episode and how our interpretation of her actions determines where our sympathies lie. Because this is not an open-and-shut case, for the viewer or the Lieutenant. Grace is a Columbo killer like no other.
For the most part, we can make our minds up about a Columbo killer pretty quickly. They’re generally a loathsome cad (Ken Franklin or Dale Kingston), or a sympathetic soul we can quietly root for (Abigail Mitchell or Adrian Carsini).
Grace is more difficult to pigeon-hole, because there are essentially two characters at play. The first is the petulant diva who kills her husband to finance delusions of grandeur, and whose haughty manner hurts those around her. This Grace is hard to love.
The second is the vulnerable and frustrated fading star who has never recovered from her career being cut short through no fault of her own, who has earned the love of the noble Ned Diamond, and who is succumbing to a terminal illness that has been hidden from her.
Leigh succeeds at both. At the age of 48, but playing a character I’d estimate to be closer to 60, she gives us a three-dimensional protagonist, complete with foibles, to get to grips with. And Leigh does it so well that it’s not always easy for the viewer to reconcile whether their sympathies lie with victim Henry – on the surface a wronged old man – or with Grace herself.
“Columbo’s revelation that Grace has just weeks to live must have represented a jaw-dropping twist for the first-time viewer.”
On that front, the last 10 minutes of the episode, where Grace’s condition is exposed, represent the crux of the matter. Columbo’s revelation that Grace has just weeks to live must have represented a jaw-dropping twist for the first-time viewer, who is suddenly given a potential reason for Grace’s murderous ways and erratic behaviour. This bombshell is dropped so abruptly, however, and so close to the end, that it’s difficult to digest the impact her condition might have had on the episode as a whole.
For those of us who have watched Forgotten Lady multiple times, however, it’s a different experience and one which I believe should significantly impact our feelings towards Grace.
From online conversations, I’m aware that many viewers don’t feel any sympathy for Grace. They cite her demanding behaviour as reason to castigate her, and claim that if she was mentally sharp enough to plan her husband’s murder then she deserves everything she gets. Perhaps you agree?
I don’t think that’s being entirely fair. I take the perspective that Grace’s terminal illness has affected her behaviour over a prolonged period in the build-up to the events we see on screen, and accelerates as we watch. We don’t know how long ago her condition was diagnosed, but it’s not unreasonable to think that it could have exacerbated her negative emotions, heightened her delusions and fuelled her irrational fears – a direct causal link to the killing of Henry, which Grace believes was justified to fund her fantasy comeback.
I don’t believe that we can just assume that Grace is peeved about her husband’s miserliness and has made a rational decision to to bump him off solely because of that. To do so would be to do a disservice to writers Bill Driskill and Peter S. Fischer, who did a first-class job of subtly portraying Grace’s decline – right from her first minutes on screen when she struggles to recall names in the limo ride home.
There are many examples peppered throughout that give the observant viewer every opportunity to see a broad picture of Grace’s collapsing mental state. Consider:-
- She continually forgets Columbo’s name – even after admitting it’s an unusual one
- She doesn’t know what day of the week it is when her vocal trainer calls in for a lesson
- She fails to grasp that Columbo believes she committed the crime – instead thinking his presence at her home is due to the ‘magic of show business’
- Mood swings, over-reactions and irrational behaviour at times of stress
- Child-like self absorption and inattentiveness
- Failure to see the difference between her life and that of character Rosie from Walking My Baby
She’s clearly not compos mentis. Things are affecting her beyond her control, and as a result her plight fairly wrenches on the heartstrings. Indeed, with the benefit of ample contemplation, I have more sympathy for Grace than any other murderer.
Even if you’re harder of heart and think Grace is a murderous b*tch, I don’t see Henry as an entirely blameless victim. He may have loved Grace and wanted to protect her (similar to Ned, in his own fashion) but denying her knowledge of her own terminal illness borders on playing God.
True, it’s an act that likely sits less comfortably with a modern audience, but why does Henry feel it’s OK to act in such a controlling manner on so vital an issue? Oughtn’t he to have respected and loved Grace enough to tell her what fate had in store for her so she could prepare for it on her own terms? The great strength of the episode is in the moral questions like this it leaves the viewer to ponder on.
If the exposure about Grace’s illness is the unforgettable climax of the episode, there’s plenty more that warrants discussion, not least the stellar performance of John Payne as Ned Diamond. As excellent as Janet Leigh and Peter Falk are, it’s Payne who steals the show and delivers one of the great Columbo guest star performances.
He makes Ned’s nobility, selflessness, guilt and heartbreak entirely believable. When required he’s the enforcer protecting Grace’s interests. At other times he’s her rock and shoulder to cry on. His regret that Grace chose to marry Henry rather than he – presumably after his car crash wrecked their careers – remains palpable and close to the surface throughout. He won’t let her down again.
Ned’s unshakeable faith in Grace makes him an excellent barometer for the audience. Even when Grace is at her worst, he offers patience and support. If he can love her for all her failings, she surely deserves some understanding from us.
Such is the power of Payne’s performance, and of Leigh’s during the stark finale, that Forgotten Lady must rank as one of the most emotionally charged Columbo episodes of all. The Lieutenant himself is also drawn through the emotional wringer in a case that tests him to the max – in all the wrong ways.
“The great strength of the episode is in the moral questions it leaves the viewer to ponder on.”
The Lieutenant loves his work and thrives on cracking a perfect murder. Here, though, his moral conundrum regarding Grace’s mental state leads him to do what would have previously been unthinkable: he lets the guilty party off the hook, sparing Grace the trauma of spending her final, confused days in police custody.
It’s an act of kindness by Columbo, but is not lightly reached. Not only did he do a very thorough job of scotching the suicide theory, but he was also required to subtly manoeuvre Ned into a position where he could both believe Grace committed the crime, and decide to protect her from the consequences by taking the rap himself.
In another nod to the excellence of the writing, Columbo’s willingness to let Grace go is nicely foreshadowed by the subplot surrounding his pistol test.
We know from previous episodes that Columbo hates guns and never carries one. We learn here that he hasn’t taken his gun test for 10 years – something that ought to earn him immediate suspension. To avoid this, he pays a colleague to take the test for him. Although these scenes raise a smile, they mask a serious aspect of his character: Columbo will bend the rules if they do not align with his moral compass. Sure enough, he does the same when he lets Ned take the rap for the murder of Henry Wheeler.
It all sounds rather sombre, doesn’t it? And it is. But there’s still room for a little fun in the script – some brought about by Grace’s complete lack of self-awareness. Her line about Columbo being drawn to the magic of show business after he falls from the tree would be hilarious if it wasn’t tempered by a sinister underlying reason for her wide-eyed obliviousness. She also looks at Columbo like he’s the crazy one when he tells her he’s promised to take Dog to the park, rather than enjoy schmoozing at her house. Pot / kettle anyone?
Columbo and Ned have some fine exchanges, too, none better than when the Lieutenant seeks dancing advice from the musical legend. “My wife is a terrific dancer, but I got two left feet when it comes to dancing in public so she always has to sit out,” the detective laments. “What can you do for a problem like that?” Ned’s response is pointed and brilliant: “Become a critic.”
The Lieutenant also pokes some straight-faced fun at Sergeant Leftkowitz, who tracks him down about his pistol test. When she comments she’s never seen him down at the homicide department he shoots back: “Well I don’t get there too much. None of the murders take place there, you know.” She doesn’t appreciate the joke.
The presence of Dog is as fun as ever, while the decor at Wheeler HQ even raises some unintentional giggles to the 21st century viewer given some of the outrageous wallpaper designs on display. Who knows, perhaps too much exposure to these affronting patterns over a prolonged period pushed Grace over the edge? It happened in The Yellow Wallpaper…
Despite all this goodness, Forgotten Lady has its problems. Chiefly, its pace is very slow – sometimes agonisingly so. The cycle of Columbo’s visits to Wheeler household and dance studio, interspersed by run-ins about his gun test, becomes a tad repetitive. Indeed, and I say this with wariness, I found some of it a bit boring…
It may be that the slow build-up to the charged finale was a deliberate attempt to mirror Grace’s accelerating descent. I’m of the opinion, though (as usual), that the longer running time contributed to scenes being tediously drawn out, and that Forgotten Lady could’ve easily lost 15-20 minutes without damaging the story.
Forgotten Lady isn’t a lot of fun most of the time either. I prefer a bit more levity when I watch Columbo, although adding too much tomfoolery to this particular episode would admittedly have blunted its impact. As a result, Forgotten Lady is something of a strange beast to me. Rather like By Dawn’s Early Light, I appreciate its many strengths and applaud the writing and performances, but it falls short of truly capturing my heart. Sorry, Grace…
Still, what do I know? Peter Falk was a big fan of this one, naming it amongst his very favourite episodes due to the calibre of the writing and the clues Columbo cracks to jettison the suicide theory. If it’s good enough for him it’s likely to be good enough for most fans, too.
Just don’t forget to pack your hanky so you can dab your eyes at the tear-jerking finale. And remember, the ending is really only the start of the journey in truly appreciating and understanding this unique Columbo outing.
Did you know?
Janet Leigh really did appear in the film Walking My Baby Back Home in 1953, although the name of the character she played in it was Chris, not Rosie. Genuine footage from the film was indeed being watched by Grace around the murder of Henry, and also during the closing scenes.
However, the actual running time of the film was 1 hour 35 minutes, not 1 hour 45 mins as Columbo suggests to Ned Diamond. What are you trying to pull, Lieutenant…?
How I rate ’em
I can’t deny its power, but beyond its gripping conclusion Forgotten Lady doesn’t really scratch my Columbo itch. It’s a worthy drama, but is far from the first episode I would choose to watch if selecting them from my own DVD collection, so it slides into the mid-tier of my personal preferences.
It may look like it’s low on the list now, but remember there’s very little to choose between any of the episodes on my ‘B List’. As such, it’s still a cracking piece of television.
Missed any of my other episode reviews? Then view them via the links below.
- Suitable for Framing
- Publish or Perish
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Negative Reaction
- A Friend in Deed
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Double Exposure
- Lady in Waiting
- Troubled Waters
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- Prescription: Murder ——– A-List ends here—
- A Deadly State of Mind
- An Exercise in Fatality
- Swan Song
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Candidate for Crime
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Forgotten Lady
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man —– B-List ends here—
- Dead Weight
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal ———— C-List ends here—-
- Short Fuse
- Mind Over Mayhem
- Dagger of the Mind
So where next I hear you ask? Well, we find Columbo injected into the intriguing world of Middle Eastern diplomatic relations in A Case of Immunity. See you there…
Contribute to this site’s upkeep from just $3
As always, please let me know your views on this episode and where you agree or disagree with me about its merits. And if you rate the magic of Forgotten Lady above all others, vote for it it in the fans’ favourite episode poll right here!
See where Grace Wheeler ranks in my list of most sympathetic Columbo killers here.
As a urologist. I’d like to comment on the prostate issue that was mentioned in this episode as the reason for the victim’s “suicide”. It is suggested that the prostate was to be removed for recurrent infections, but surgery to treat this condition is almost never done in common practice. Columbo mentioned “collagen fibers and hyperplasia” and this refers to benign growth of the prostate, resulting in obstruction of the urinary outlet, causing urinary retention, of which one symptom is recurrent infections of the urine (not of the prostate). The condition is also treated with medications, but is also commonly treated surgically. And yes, these operations are quite safe, even in elderly men in whom it is common.
Great to hear a genuine medical opinion. Thanks.
A really good episode with a great ending showing Columbo’s fundamental humanity which makes his character so special and enduring.
Francine York is a bit of a dish as Sgt Lefkowitz – maybe it’s the uniform. She could certainly give me pistol practice any time (I say, steady on, old boy!).
This comment is rated PG-13!
I enjoyed every minute of this episode which goes directly up among the very best ones in my estimation. The emotional depth and complexity of the main antagonist plays a crucial role here. It is always nice when the main characters aren’t just black and white, good or evil. Also the episode raises many questions that aren’t necessarily easy to answer, and it surely deserves credits for that. No wonder if Peter Falk loved it.
Also, I don’t mind the longer length here, I even tend to think that the other episodes are a tad too short.
The only aspect I really can’t relate to is the musical thing which I have never really liked. Admittedly, I am absolutely not an expect in musicals, but in my experience these types of films are more about show and spectacle than subtlety and artistic content: dance just for the sake of dance, but without actually meaning anything. But I am of course aware that I might miss some nuances.
Before you even get to anything… you have to ask why is a homicide detective called to a suicide? Is that the norm? Might be wrong, but I wouldn’t think a homicide detective would get called to an apparent suicide. That is a major flaw to me right off the bat, unless I’m wrong about homicide getting called to all suicides. Funny when he says, “The site of blood makes me sick,” in response to the invite to view the autopsy. Well, since he lives in a world TV world where people never bleed when murdered, he has no worry of being sick from blood. (haha!)
Lastly, all her adult life – Janet Leigh was one of the most beautiful woman on earth. Even at her age in this episode she was stunning!
The determination of suicide is made by a homicide detective. Suicide was only an unofficial assumption until the case was properly investigated.
IIRC it was in “Suitable for Framing” where Columbo said that any time there’s a death, even if it appears to be an accident, the homicide police get called.
Not only is there NO evidence against her but Columbo arrests a man he knows to be innocent while also knowing Grace’s heath situation and the fact that she no longer even remembers what she did. That he feels the need for a pound of flesh is pretty FUBAR.
That he arrests an innocent man is even worse. That this man volunteers makes it just slightly less loathsome than Columbo’s actually framing innocent characters — the offspring of killers played, respectively, by Jose Ferrer in “Mind Over Mayhem (1974) and by Faye Dunaway in “It’s All in the Game” (1993), ironically for whose protection their parents committed the crimes in the first place. Dunaway’s daughter is exceptionally innocent. Ferrer’s son (played by Robert Walker Jr.) committed plagiarism to try to appease his rigidly super-demanding father, but is still quite likable and honest (the son calls a press conference to announce the truth shortly before the episode’s denouement), so … has anyone else besides me observed that (aside from the two cases I just mentioned, NO Columbo killers have children. They are rich, mostly cold, emotionally and physically sterile.
That’s an interesting police procedural question. Colombo “knows” Ned didn’t commit the crime, but the man has confessed to having committed it. Does that need to be administratively sorted out, or does a detective have the discretion to ignore a confession?
Also, as with so many of these episodes, a dent may have been put in an alibi, but it doesn’t prove she did it. Maybe she nodded off and restarted the movie to pick up what she missed. Or hit the can (what elegant lady wants to admit she took a call of nature?).
“watched Johnny Carson until 1am” – Yes The Tonight Show was once a glorious hour and a half long.
I think it can be reasonably assumed that any confessor other than a crackpot call-in to the police — of which there apparently can be many in high-profile murder cases — would have to at least be booked and questioned. If Colombo ignores Ned, what’s to stop the latter from going public with his claims, essentially forcing LAPD brass to take steps to debunk the confession.
Now, I don’t know if verifying Ned’s innocence would truly take months, but if the suspect was uncooperative, it might not be easy peasy. Frankly, for a TV show, I find it an acceptable premise that Ned can buy Grave enough time to die or deteriorate in peace.
Though “Forgotten Lady” isn’t among my Top Ten, it’s a pleasure to watch and I never really tire of it. I did have a lot of sympathy for Grace (and not just because I liked the lovely Janet Leigh). What she did was certainly wrong, but like you said, one has to consider her mental state. And though Henry did try to spare her somewhat, he didn’t do right hiding her terminal condition from her; she had every right to know and it might have helped her put things in a better perspective. As for Ned, he was a prince. <3
The scenes with Dog and Columbo are lovable, as always!
I really enjoyed this episode because I’m an old movie buff. John Payne was the standout. Janet Leigh was on her game. The writing was fantastic and, to top it off, Columbo dances up the ornate staircase in a ’40s movie musical fashion. We also got to see him swinging from a tree…a rare treat. Topping it off, a sentimental, romantic, swoony ending. Aahhh.
What if she was asleep when the film broke? And it took her 11 minutes to wake up and fix it. There goes the Lt’s “broken film gap” theory.
Old55 is absolutely right, Eventhough Gracie doesn’t seem to remember killing her
husband, a good lawyer could put holes in Columbos theory of how she could
have done it, A Lawyer would say, my client fell asleep! She had had a long even-
ing, and once she relax to watch her movie, she fell asleep! She will also pass
a Lie detector test because she believes she didn’t do it! Everyone seemed to believe
he committed suicide, let it go with that, since he (Columbo) wants to let her off.
Ned shouldn’t have to cover for her on an accusation of murder!
“Old55 is absolutely right, Eventhough Gracie doesn’t seem to remember killing her
husband, a good lawyer could put holes in Columbos theory of how she could
have done it, A Lawyer would say, my client fell asleep! She had had a long even-
ing, and once she relax to watch her movie, she fell asleep! She will also pass
a Lie detector test because she believes she didn’t do it! Everyone seemed to believe he committed suicide, let it go with that, since he (Columbo) wants to let her off. Ned shouldn’t have to cover for her on an accusation of murder!” —
THAT is the problem here. Columbo doesn’t really WANT to let her off. He needs his pound of flesh, even if that means arresting a man he knows is innocent and knowing the guilty party has but a short time to live and no longer even recalls the killing. Perhaps NBC did not want to be seen as suborning any kind of crime but the ending perversely turns that rationale on its head.
I dismissed the episode because the way he backed off was out of character– in a way, it’s like what Henry did, about not telling her she was dying. Columbo stands for more integrity than that, if only in service to the truth. But good point about the unusually strong emotional framework. Part of the voltage Janet Leigh brings to the part is the adroit application of a sense of terror as an undertone.
I still see Dagger of the mind is rock bottom at this stage and rightly so . were no too far away from a matter of honor being reviewed . in my book that should knock dagger off the spot and i would like to assume that last salute to the commodore could take bottom spot after that again and i am sure old fashioned murder will be down in that murky sea bed of the 70s episodes it will be interesting to see .
candidate for crime and forgotten lady are similar as they both seem to have tediously drawn out scenes and wouldn’t have been damaged by a shorter running time . i do agree with columbophile forgotten lady is very slow and boring at times .
candidate for crime is not one of my true favorite episodes , but neither is forgotten lady. If i had a choice between the 2 id pick candidate as it has a much better ending .
As always an entertaining and thorough review of what I would class as a solid Columbo entry, although it’s largely thanks to the final scenes that it’s above the ordinary. My question about Dr Willis: if he knew Grace would die soon, why not seem to agree to finance her comeback? Start ‘negotiations’ to use a Broadway theatre, then take Ned into his confidence and stage a few undemanding rehearsals until Grace was too ill to work. She would have died thinking a triumphant comeback had been within her grasp, if it hadn’t been for those darned headaches…
I agree – the doctor could have played along. He was probably afraid she’d blow most of the money before she died on salaries, rehearsals, etc. I think he didn’t tell Grace about her illness because at the time he learned of it, she was too much in la-la land to really accept it.
Janet Leigh played murder victim Marion crane in the very famous Alfred Hitchcock horror psycho
The shower scene alone took 2 weeks alone to shoot .
this just highlights the class of stars that graced columbo making it the greatest detective or even TV series of all time .
I wonder does columbophile know how long it took to film forgotten lady?
I don’t know about that specific episodes, but I believe a Columbo episode could take 12-14 days to film (far more than the network norm of the day) due to Falk’s meticulous approach.
In response to Mr. Steve’s post, I went looking online for anything about a Columbo shooting schedule or call sheet, and stumbled upon this: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/columbo-shooting-call-sheet-12-1977-491291997. A 1977 Columbo episode entitled “Snips & Snails & Murderer’s Tails”? Upon closer examination (although these sheets are very hard to read), it’s evident that the episode is the one we now know as “How to Dial a Murder.” [I’d read this episode was once entitled “The Laurel and Hardy W. C. Fields Citizen Kane Murder Case,” but this further title was a new one on me.] And while one of the sheets properly lists “Kim Cattrall” as “Joanne,” it does not list Nicol Williamson as Dr. Eric Mason, but rather what looks like “Richard Foster” as “Eric.” However, I can find no “Richard Foster” (or anything close) who might possibly have been cast in this role in 1977. [British actor Barry Foster, who played the murderer in the 1972 Alfred Hitchcock/Anthony Shaffer film “Frenzy” would have been a possible choice, but the first name listed clearly isn’t “Barry.”] It’s interesting what you can find when you hunt around on the Internet.
Thank you i just wanted a rough outline.
a case of immunity is up next , this will be a difficult review , it has good performances and stand out scenes and a good enough plot but the ending is one of the weakest along with forgotton lady as its just a mere surrender to columbo .
Columbophile’s review quotes Columbo’s challenge to Ned Diamond — the final lines preceding the grand denouement at the Wheeler-Willis home: “I think she did it. She invited me to her house tonight to watch her film. I’m going. If she means anything to you, you ought to be there. ‘Cause I think she did it.”
Not mentioned, however, is the musical crescendo that accompanies these lines. It’s a stereotypical Hollywood fanfare, so apropos for a story that starts with Army Archerd outside a Hollywood premiere. A delicious little touch.
Forgotten lady is similar to try and catch me in a way mostly because of Abigail mitchells age and while columbo is sympathetic towards old abi he remains professional and arrests her and although there is good chemistry between columbo
and grace wheeler, it dosent match that of old abi and himself .
furthermore grace was of sound mind while planning and carrying out the murder which she only deteriorates after so again im not a big fan of forgotten lady and i agree with columbophiles ranking ,rest assured when try and catch me is rated it will be up there with the greats , its also my personal favorite. .
Hello columbophile , Great to see the long awaited forgotten lady review has finally been rolled out.
I have read the review with a fine tooth comb and as always its accurate and enjoyable and not too lengthy as for me there isn’t too much depth and too many clues to go into its more focussed around the ending in this one as it was a sad ending.
as I said before I am not a big fan forall reasons you mentioned pacing too slow , no real funny scenes , a tad soppy and boring at times and im not with this letting grace off the hook and sending an innocent man down al be it only for a few weeks. I remember the ending as do most people for letting her go but not for the actual clues to the murder itself which for me puts this well down the rankings.
Abigail Mitchell in Try and catch me was very old and forgetful which still didn’t put columbo off arresting her while remaining sympathetic also the central clue was better .
on the whole Try and catch me is 20 times better than this Average episode and I definetley agree with columbophile ranking this where it is , I do like this episode just don’t Love it .
When did Abigail Mitchell forget anything? She pretended to, but she was pretty disingenuous about it (like when she smeared her fingerprints all over the spare key). She was unlucky with the car keys, but she couldn’t have known that he was going to leave them on the table.
I couldn’t help but think this would make an even trickier plot if they added a double ending. After Columbo and Ned leave, we switch to a later date with Grace and the Ross Elliott physician character in bed together. Grace comments how clever it was of the Doc to think of the idea of writing up the phony medical report just in case the police got suspicious, with Ross replying that Columbo sure bought her poor memory act hook, line, and sinker. Grace proved what a great actress she was. Now they were home free with Henry’s money funding her comeback and paying off his gambling debts. And won’t Columbo be mystified about Grace’s miraculous recovery. Plus using the name Rosie was brilliant. The fictional name could be anyone so assuming it was Grace was just a bad guess.
Wonderful review which really made me think about the episode, so I slipped in the DVD and re-watched it.
It is a great episode for me because of the wonderful performances by Falk and the four guest stars, and the complex characterizations. And I must say the comments here include some great insights.
An issue I would raise is your rather negative take on Henry. I also think it possible he told her gently and she simply forgot. Even if he didn’t, he certainly had her best interests at heart. This was a tough situation. Whatever, he was far from a control freak. It appears he and Grace lived all but separate lives, with him allowing her to be squired about town by an ex leading man and possible lover. I found him totally sympathetic.
And my take is some might be a bit too gentle with Grace. She had lived a gifted life. I just can’t get into feeling that sorry for “faded” stars. After all, most of us are never stars and no one makes a particular fuss about us. She was a beautiful and charming woman who was very self-centered and had no difficulty using her charm to get what she wanted. Several aspects about her bothered me. Her only photos in her room were of herself. The only movies she watched were her own. When Ned explained that he had always loved her, she replied she knew. But she married an old man for his money? And coldly murdered him when he didn’t do what she wanted. Was this all because of her illness? I don’t think so. I think she was always a selfish person.
Color me cold-hearted.
The episode has a difficult job to do, because it has to first lead us down the garden path of believing that Grace is a typical egocentric, privileged “Columbo” villain—but then at the climax reveal her illness, reverse our opinion of her, and make us pity her. Some viewers might feel this is too little too late, and not be convinced that their initial impression of her was wrong.
There’s some overlap here with Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)—an aging, faded star, delusional about her comeback, and the well-intentioned people around her who try to protect her from the truth. She kills someone, then loses touch with reality altogether. Of course, we feel sorry for Joe, and Max, but do we feel sorry for Norma?
Good review! Personally this is one of my all time favourite episodes. And similar to the episode Faye Dunaway episode, Grace is a very sympathetic character. I love when Columbo does his George Burns routine, “Luckily I didn’t come in my pyjamas.” So it is fitting on the Faye Dunaway episode he arrives in his pyjamas. I thInk the episode had lots of humour. Columbo does a comical ballet up the stairway of the house. Thanks for review.
Columbophile, just like the Columbo series, every review is so worth the read, as well as the comments that follow. Even if some episodes don’t rank highly with me (such as this one), I always MUST read the review, which seems to inevitably lead me to a second look at the reviewed episode. And now I’m about to do the very thing with this one. Today. If not sooner. 😀
There’s a lesser detail I’d like to comment about—Columbo’s paying someone else to take his pistol test. Not sure your comment about bending the rules was totally serious, but I can’t see Columbo stooping to other deeds to effect the outcome he wants. He has expressed how much he despises guns and in that instance he will wriggle out of it if he can. But I think he’ll stop there. Although there’s the saying, “someone faithful in what is least, is also faithful in much”…so there’s that. Still, I find it difficult to believe he would progress to other more suspect actions.
Maybe I just want to believe he has a stalwart honesty overall.
Thanks for this post and I’m off to watch this episode again.
Every aspect about this entire blog is top-of-the-line. Including the photo captions.
“If YOU were exposed to decor like this over a prolonged period, you might resort to murder too!”
LOL!! 😀 😀 😀
Though not in my top 20 this episode does have some redeeming qualities. A nice departure from the norm with a good ending. Leigh did look older than her real age in this, but still a beautiful lady. And you are correct the fashion is awesome in this, Columbo tops the list for biggest mansions and nicest cars in a series!
This has literally made my day 🙂 pls keep going!
There were a couple of light moments with the household staff watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Peter Falk was a frequent guest on the show and even walked on one night unannounced in full Columbo garb. The episode which the cleaning staff were watching originally aired on June 27, 1975 and featured Della Reese, Euell Gibbons, Earl Holliman and Nanette Fabray.
So good to see a review again.
I see others have brought this up but, despite how exceptional this episode is in all other respects, it’s hard to rank it in the very top tier of “Columbo” episodes due to the weakness of the gotcha. Columbo completely fails to place Janet Leigh in that room. 10-15 minutes unaccounted for–she could have said she went to the kitchen and had a drink, she could have said she dozed off on the couch, she could have said she was pooping. The gotcha is one of the weakest ever, along with the later “The Bye-Bye Sky-High I.Q. Murder Case”.
It’s too bad because otherwise this episode is brilliant. Payne and Leigh both hit it right out of the park, and Leigh’s character is so well written. There’s the hints of Grace not being in her right mind, like how she seems genuinely scared/frightened when her husband’s room is locked. And she’s such a pathetic faded star–look how grateful she is to get *any* attention from anyone, Columbo is a nobody and she is so happy that someone cares about her that she rolls out the red carpet and invites him over for a private screening. And Payne in the last role of his acting career is similarly great.
Anyway, terrible gotcha, otherwise wonderful.
PS–Apropos of nothing, Janet Leigh was just about the sexiest woman ever, my goodness.
I believe she was at her sexiest in–believe it or not–“Bye Bye Birdie,” in which she played a character also named Rosie. Her scene in a hot yellow fringed dress, dancing provocatively with a stuffy bunch of Shriners in fezzes, really lit up the screen. Very talented lady.
Speaking of Columbo’s gun test, on last week’s NCIS Los Angeles episode on American network CBS, one of the characters mentioned Columbo, stating that Columbo was a successful detective who never carried a gun (in contrast to the NCIS characters). So all these years later, the iconic Columbo character is still being referenced in current television shows.
Awesome! Thanks for letting us all know. Always nice to hear a Columbo reference in other shows.
In episode 3 of the Netflix series “Russian Dolls” (“A Warm Body”), Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) speaks by phone with her ex, John (Yul Vasquez). He says: “Thanks to you, I got a chance to wear my trench coat today. I look like Columbo.” She responds: “No one’s mad at Peter Falk, right?”
She’s a bag fan of the show by all accounts and has started being mentioned (by fans of hers) in connection with a Columbo reboot!
This will be my shortest response ever to one of your pieces – because I was in lock-step with you on almost every line you wrote in the long review. The first and only thing I disagreed with was your suggestion that Dr. Wheeler was bad for hiding the truth from her. If anything, that shows his true decency and devotion to her. He knew she would die very quickly, but without the pain that would make her aware something was wrong.. Why make her suffer through it if there was nothing she could do to stop its progression. If anything, it turns him into a far more sympathetic victim. Also not related to this episode review, I disagreed with the order of some of the other episodes in the list you present at the end. But as far as this comprehensive review goes, absolutely sensible, logical, accurate and well-written. I could not agree more with nearly every point you made in it. Keep up the great work.
Thanks very much, Leon. I consider such feedback high praise from such a knowledgeable viewer.
Did columphile Know Janet Leigh starred as murder victim Marion crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror Phsyco in the famous shower scene which alone took 2 weeks to film. ( probably the most famous Hitchcock scene ever or even murder scene ) there was also a whole programme on it on BBC 2 last year which a much older Leigh herself spoke in . Also there is a mural of phsyco with a picture of Leigh as Marion crane outside Leytonstone underground station ( Hitchcock’s home town ) on the central line .
I follow the columbo trail its great fun .
It would have been about six years since I was a first time viewer of this unique entry, at first glance the killer misleading Columbo in the usual fashion, until a series of twists at the end create an entirely new perspective. Only watching it today, with a firm grasp on Grace’s failing memory, have I noticed something totally unexpected. She has successfully committed the murder and returned to the screening room, but once the butler returns for the movie wrap up she tenderly asks him to look in on her husband. It seems incredible of course, but even so soon after doing the deed Janet Leigh ably conveys the notion that Grace has ALREADY forgotten her crime, and therefore possesses no guilt, her worried expression as the butler fails to gain access through a locked door further proof of emotional distress and mental deterioration. A classic case of misdirection for the series, one that works as a change of pace. For my money John Payne’s performance is the heart and soul of the show, Grace’s guilt dawning on him one agonizing detail at a time in typically meticulous Columbo fashion. A legendary dancer/singer who had costarred opposite Alice Faye, Betty Grable, and Sonja Henie, his casting to me was perhaps the most astute for any non killer role, and truly a heartfelt climax to such a distinguished leading man career.
Just one more thing …
I have a theory about “Forgotten Lady.” I can’t prove it. Writer Bill Driskill, sadly, is gone. I don’t know what became of his files (because I’d love to sneak a peek at his first draft, outline, or notes for this episode). Nonetheless, I have a gnawing feeling I’m right.
I think “Forgotten Lady,” as originally conceived, included nothing about Grace having an “inoperable aneurysm” or that “she can recall things from a long time ago, but she’s very shaky about anything now.”
Why? Because of the intricacy of the crime she committed; everything she had to remember. Look at the complexity of her crime’s timing: fitting its various steps within not one but two precisely timed reel changes (without the assistance of a timing device like Kay Freestone (Trish Van Devere) used in “Make Me a Perfect Murder”). Remembering to swipe an extra sleeping pill even before giving Dr. Willis one last chance to back her Broadway venture. Remembering where Willis kept his medical file. Wearing a black leotard while slipping in and out of a white covering garment to conceal any possible blood splatter or dirt stains. Remembering to bring a handkerchief to Willis’ car, to leave no fingerprints on either his glove compartment or gun. And after splicing the film and waiting for Raymond to make the next reel change, even remembering to burn the length of film she’d removed.
This was not a crime committed by someone who’s “very shaky about anything now.” And if you think about the “gotcha” — Columbo making the film break again, timing Grace’s repair job, and explaining to Ned how this proves she committed the crime — nothing about this sequence (up to Columbo’s line: “But I have a problem with this case”) requires that Grace have an aneurysm.
But a healthy Grace would have made her completely unsympathetic, and I think that bothered people. So, under my theory, Driskill revised the script to add the aneurysm, Grace’s sporadic memory lapses to foreshadow the idea that “I don’t believe that she even remembers killing him,” and Ned’s final response. And while this changed the entire flavor of the episode (for the good), it did leave a huge inconsistency: an intricately detailed crime purportedly committed by someone with “a progressive memory disease that knocks out the memory cells.” Indeed, it’s even hard to imagine someone in that condition remembering new, intricate dance steps. Furthermore, if you watch Grace’s banter with Columbo about the crime, her memory seems pretty good (even as she can’t remember his name).
To my mind, the only thing that explains this inconsistency is a revision of the original story to make Grace a sympathetic character while, of necessity, leaving her “perfect crime” and its solution in place. If someone with direct knowledge of this script’s creation could weigh in, I’d love to learn what really happened.
It would be great to know, as you could very well be right. Shame there so little about this episode in Mark Dawidziak’s The Columbo Phile, because he seemed to have access to many of the writers to glean insights.
Dawidziak’s only clue is this Falk quote: “We had all kinds of problems getting that one to two hours.” Did he mean “expanding it to two hours” or “cutting it to two hours”? If it’s the latter, perhaps it signals that new material had to be accommodated.
I think he meant expanding it to two hours, as that seems to be the more familiar complaint.
RichardWeill, that’s an interesting point of view. Now it does seem that adding an aneurysm came in much later.
Ever read the William Brittain short story, “The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr”? It’s about a young man who plans the perfect locked-room murder (mystery novelist John Dickson Carr’s specialty) inside his uncle’s library, including scrubbing down the chimney so he could make his escape in all-white clothing with no trace of soot (and then starting a fire in the fireplace by dropping a chemical paper once he was on the roof). He made only one mistake: [SPOILER ALERT] once inside the library, he forgot to lock the library door.
That’s something a murderer with “a progressive memory disease” might do.
I hadn’t heard of it. Interesting!
I wondered about that length of film being removed–wouldn’t that have been noticed when it was viewed again? There would be a jump where there wasn’t before. Anyone familiar with it (though maybe Grace was the only one) would have seen the difference.
Great writing, per usual. Good analysis but I would rate this episode much higher, certainly in the top 10. The acting is top notch, better than even the stellar acting of much of the others.
The casting, acting, and characterization in this episode is top-notch, and its’ overall a very good episode. But my issue is with the Gotcha….Columbo outlines for Ned the options on why the movie ended at 1am instead of 12:45 as a result of the broken reel, and he comes to the conclusion that Grace was out of the room murdering her husband. What about…hmmmm….maybe Grace dozed off for a few minutes and didn’t notice immediately that the reel was broken???? That option is so obvious that the best Columbo can do is to not even try to explain it away, but to simply not acknowledge it at all. A tighter Gotcha would have elevated this episode…the character writing was outstanding, but this time the plot writing came up a bit short.
That Grace may have dozed off for fifteen minutes is such an obvious reason I’m surprised this otherwise excellent episode didn’t address it. It was late at night and we’ve all dozed off for 10-15 minutes watching a late night movie on TV. It would have been the first thing any defense attorney would have brought up.
I suppose they didn’t mention it here because Columbo has so much evidence to dismiss the suicide theory that it would have just slowed down the telling of the finale. But logically you’d expect Ned to raise this as a flaw in Columbo’s theory.
Although, when the film breaks, the loose end spinning on the reel does make a very distinctive and annoying thwapping sound, likely to wake up anyone who’d dozed off. When Grace returns after murdering her husband, you can hear this loud sound as soon as she reenters the house. [Oddly, when the film breaks in the final scene, the sound was omitted — likely because it interfered with the mood and dialogue.]
Great point! She is the type that would wake and then rewind the film.
Oh wow, I really thought Janet Leigh was closer to 60 than actually really 48. I’m stunned! I love the comedy you put into your reviews. “decrepit husband” “million decibels” lol What I want to know is how did they keep her diagnosis from her? She had to go into the doctor’s or hospital for test on her own. Or did she really know at one point and forgot over time and Henry decided not to remind her of her brain aneurysm? Although her medical file is under an alias which could also be besides keeping it from Grace but keeping it from the press too. But also back then and even further back the husbands I think had more knowledge of the wife’s conditions than the wife did or even power of attorney. That’s probably why husband’s were able to commit their wives back in the day. And Hipaa laws weren’t even around back then. So privacy wasn’t that much practiced at least when it came to husband and wife. The gun test. He bends the rules when necessary but a gun test (even if he doesn’t carry one) is pretty serious business. And to have someone else take it, I don’t know. Seems out of character to me. I have watched this on TV multiple times (the latest was a month or so ago, but I didn’t watch it). But it’s one I don’t reach for when I go through my Columbo DVD set. I know Columbo doesn’t like loose ends and Ned has taken the fall for the murder. But to keep Ned from going through the whole process of being arrested, booked, and being branded a murderer, etc., why didn’t Columbo determine it as suicide? To tell you the truth, I feel bad for Ned out of everyone. He going to jail for a murder he didn’t commit and for a woman who probably won’t even remember him soon no matter how long she has left to live. But I am confused about the ending. Is it implied that Ned will be tried for the murder or will Columbo take his time with continue “investigating” the crime? Overall, great review as always. Thank you!
I think the implication is that Columbo will wait till Grace is dead before blowing Ned’s cover. I imagine it would be pretty easy to break his story, despite his confession. But it would have been very interesting if the writers had gone a step further, as you suggest, and have Columbo agree to write it off as a suicide. Then he could leave Ned to care for Grace in her final weeks. Perhaps he’s too professional for that, and for Henry’s sake wants the facts to be known?
I was always confused about that ending. Thank you!
Writing it off as a suicide would be violating his oath, and a criminal act. Letting Ned take the fall temporarily is justifiable, since he had a confession vs. a circumstantial case. Moreover, I think the writers brilliantly left open the possibility that Columbo still intended to prove the lie himself, and this was merely pushing off the difficult decision. As he walks out the door, he says, “It’s not gonna take much to break your story.” When Ned replies, “It might take a couple of months,” Columbo freezes in his tracks, turns around, and after seeming to ponder the possibility a few long seconds, he responds, “Yes. Yes, it might.” I think they want us to believe that only at that moment does Columbo first entertain the thought that perhaps he could somehow move a little slow and they could actually save Grace from ever being declared the murderer while still alive.
I took the dialogue at face value: that Ned will stick to his confession, and Columbo will disprove his confession, but it will take two months, by which point Grace will have died. At that point, Ned will not go to jail and neither will Grace. This gives Columbo a legitimate way to let Grace off the hook while still doing his job.
The acting in this episode on all fronts was top-notch. Even Peter Falk, who is good in everything he touches, seemed a step above his usual, if that’s possible. His timing, especially in the final scene, was perfect. Plus he is so gorgeous in a tux!
This is one of my favorite Columbos and its due to all the points you made from the amazing acting performances from Falk, Leigh and Payne to the amazing writing with the huge twist as well as the excellent clues Columbo finds as well as the really fun long murder scene but my absolute favorite part was Columbo in his tux proving to Diamond that Grace did it. It was so Sherlockian and masterfully played by Peter. Also? Could not love more the more stern position Columbo put to pompous blowhard though a noble man in Ned Diamond. The way he insisted that Grace committed the murder and that he’d show him was exciting for me as someone who loves it when Columbo shows his edgier and tougher side. My only thing is maybe the episode would have benefitted better if it had the 90 minute run time of the earlier Columbo episodes than the two hour one but all and all one of my favs.
This is a episode like “Requiem for a Falling Star”, that I get more and more out of because there are so many unanswered questions, possible answers, and observations.. This is just a short list:
1) Could Dr. Willis have told Grace, but Grace wouldn’t remember and simply gave up? I have a friend who’s mother had Alzheimer’s. They would explain her condition to her and it would cause her enormous grief. They finally stopped.
2) How did Dr. Willis find out? It could have been a culmination of lost memories, or perhaps a collapse.
3) From the moment she killed him, I believe she completely forgot. There’s no point during Columbo’s interrogation that Grace acts like other killers, in which she’s afraid of being caught. All her reactions could be explained as a general confusion and an incapability to believe that anyone would want to kill Henry. The reason why this may not be true is that it’s such a unique plot twist that you would have expected them to reveal it.
4) The accident that Ned Diamond had was actually true-to-life, In 1961 John Payne was in a serious car accident. He was hit by a car in New York City and it took him two years before he was able to walk sufficiently to return to his career. John Payne was very much like Ned Diamond; a handsome leading man, serious, quiet, and would happily take secondary roles as well as the leading man. He retired to a happy life of grandchildren, cooking, and writing short stories. There couldn’t have been a better choice for Ned Diamond.
5) Columbo and the gun issue is one of the best side stories in the whole Columbo series. Blowing a kiss to the detective who was going to take his firing test was a nice touch.
6) We got to see more of the REAL Columbo in this episode than many others. He hid a lot from Raymond but he was honest and straightforward with Grace and Ned. From the moment he found in the records Grace’s condition, he became a lot more guarded when talking to Grace.
Finally, there’s a great sadness around Grace. In the last act, her desperation to please just a single fan, Columbo, reveals her desperation to be wanted and appreciated.
Great episode, and a great commentary. Keep up the great work.
As usual yours is an excellent post. However, there’s a small detail that bothers me (but if this is a bad time). You said she forgot right after she killed him. While I don’t disagree that she forgot, I’d say she forgot when she started watching the movie again and lost herself in Rosie. She knew enough that her tracks had to be covered right up until that point. Once she sat down, had a puff of her cigarette and started to live as Rosie again she was off in her dream world, oblivious to reality and the events of the past fifteen minutes erased from her mind. We see this again at the end of the episode. She’s distraught that Ned confessed to killing Dr. Willis. Ned tells her to watch Rosie, as if that word alone is enough to make her forget the present. The episode ends with her watching watching Rosie on screen, oblivious to the events of the past 10-15 minutes.
This comment is spot on! I could never put my finger on why I completely believed Grace forgot in spite of the apparent meticulous planning – but you articulated it beautifully! Thank you!
Before I read this review said to myself, “He better mention how great John Payne was as Ned Diamond”, and you did. Like Columbo you don’t let a detail go unnoticed 🙂
I also think Janet Leigh was as good as it gets in this episode. You wrote, “I have more sympathy for Grace than any other murderer.” and I’m glad you did because I feel the same. This episode is the most tragic of all episodes and she is the most tragic figure. Leigh pulled off all of Grace’s complexities in a superb job of acting.
The only issue I have with your otherwise excellent review is your description of Dr. Willis whom you call “Dr. Wheeler” in the body of the review (Wheeler is Grace’s name). He’s not “decrepit”. As another doctor points out he’s an eminent physician who still consults but is retired. He was also about to go to bed as it was late at night, not the time to look your best. I could easily picture him addressing a group of medical students, well dressed and full of vigor. One can only imagine the kind of conflict he was feeling when he realized Grace was terminal and strenuous activity would speed up the process.
I’d rank this one higher than you did due to the quality of the acting by Leigh and Payne, and the thought provoking moral questions posed at every turn by the episode.
Great observations. I failed to mention my appreciation for Janet Leigh. Her performance is dynamite. She plays the role of an actor looking for one more chance at stardom magnificently, and the fragility of her ego was palpable. The side-story of Grace and Ned is one of the best well-rounded stories in all of Columbo.
I agree 100%.
Thanks for the heads-up on the Wheeler/Willis Dr shenanigans. I’ve updated the couple that I’ve seen at a glance and will look through more carefully. I used ‘decrepit’ in the sense that he’s elderly and infirm, which I think is reasonably clearly established despite his mental acuity. Also because it’s a more fun word than ‘old’!
Well ok, if you were just having fun with the term. Sam Jaffe’s time on screen is short, but he still conveys a kindness in Dr. Willis which no doubt contributed to his esteem in the eyes of his peers, probable students, and I’m sure his patients. I said I can see him addressing a group of medical students, I can also see the students happy to find out that Dr. Willis was giving the lecture. His character makes this episode all the more tragic.
Ok, this is my problem with the admittedly poignant conclusion: regardless of how she got there, the fact is that Grace is an able-bodied woman with a mental capacity so diminished that she is murdering those who she feels are in her way. Who’s to say that one of those “rank amateurs” aren’t next, or perhaps one of her servants? “Two months on the outside” is an awful lot of killing time.
At that point, the primary concern isn’t about anyone’s feelings, but keeping the public safe from a murderer who we all should have every reason to suspect might do it again due to her mentally compromised state. Seriously, fellas, how can y’all walk out of that house without at least making sure some kind of protection – legal or medical – is in place to prevent her from hurting herself or others? I expect that kind of vacuous virtue-signaling from you, Payne… but Columbo, my man, you should know better!
You are so.. right! Why did you have to go ahead and spoil our fun?
I catch your drift here. I think the final scenes are amazing, but find this episode rather leaves me cold. Hard to pinpoint why, but it does drag somewhat. I rate it mid-tier, too. It’s one of those ones I want to like more, but when push comes to shove I’d more likely opt for a Ja k Cassidy or Robert Culp Classic.
And mid-tier Columbo is still terrific viewing, so I hope folk don’t feel I’m hating on this episode. Far from it. A 75-minute version would, I feel, rank a lot higher.
yes I agree this also damaged Etude in Black and candidate for crime.
Average 70s columbos are terrific viewing and I had anticipated this being around the 20 – 25 mark and it is certainly better than the episodes Ranked lower than it except for blueprint for murder which I enjoy and feel its a little bit underrated by fellow columbo fans. also I might watch forgotten lady ahead of the greenhouse jungle , and if I was to hazard a guess at where A case of immunity will be placed I imagine somewhere between 18th and 26th.
It’s middle of the road for me too.
Middle of the road very much analyses forgotten lady , this its better than a good handful of 70s episodes such as short fuse , Requiem , murder under glass , dagger of the mind , mind over mayhem , last salute , dead weight lovely but lethal A matter of honour and the Conspirators . at the same time there is a lot more enjoyable 70s and a couple of new ones like Death hits the jackpot and Agenda for murder which are much more enjoyable.
Ranked below “Playback”? How could you? “Forgotten Lady” is one of my all-time favorite Columbos. Not just the final reveal and Ned’s response, but the entire last, tuxedo-clad sequence is outstanding. The “broken conversation” (as CP’s review puts it) is exquisitely paced, doling out details in bite-sized pieces. Columbo tricking Grace into demonstrating her splicing prowess, while explaining to Ned the “four possibilities” that could account for the excessive length of “Walking My Baby Back Home” on the night of the murder, is superb. All told, it is one of the best endings of the entire series.
As for Columbo “bending the rules,” Ned’s confession gave him little choice. How do you arrest a person on circumstantial evidence when there is direct evidence (what a confession is) someone else did it? How long could police have held Grace once a judge was told that someone else confessed to the crime?
“Forgotten Lady” is also another example of Columbo seizing on something topical as its source material. June 1974 marked the release of the blockbuster MGM retrospective “That’s Entertainment!” Clearly, this was the inspiration for this episode’s backstory, and its “Song & Dance” opening. So, like with “The Most Dangerous Match” springing from the Fischer-Spassky chess championship, “Forgotten Lady” would have had a very contemporary feel in 1975 (the days when Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” still ran 90 minutes).
Finally, kudos for casting another stage legend in a supporting role (a la Julie Harris in “Any Old Port in a Storm”). Grace’s butler Raymond was played by Maurice Evans who, in addition to his many Shakespeare performances, was the original Tony Wendice in the Broadway version of “Dial M for Murder” (the part Columbo-veteran Ray Milland later played on film).
Playback has a much better and more gripping ending to this despite it being a not being a top episode itself and although people sing praises for Forgotton lady its an average episode with an ending that leaves it down.
While I agree that we would not hesitate to inform a patient nowadays of a terminal diagnosis – indeed, it is a de rigeur protocol! – even in the 70s and early 80s (I was doing clinical training then) we were discussing whether we should not fully inform a terminally ill patient of the gravity of the diagnosis. Unthinkable now! So I think this episode is also colored by its times.
No doubt! Also it suits the story for Henry to conceal this info, so it is what it is I suppose. Given that he’d retired from practice months before the episode, though, you’d think he’d tell his wife out of LOVE if nothing else, then help her through the trauma. Silly Henry…
Excellent, astute analysis. I agree completely with your assessment of how Grace’s condition ought to impact on the viewer’s opinion of her. When I first watched this one I found her annoying and had little sympathy for her. On each subsequent viewing I’ve found my opinion changing and now I feel extremely sad for her by the end. A great performance by Janet Leigh. And as for John Payne? He was wonderful. Why wasn’t this guy a bigger star?
Many thanks, Mr Thesaurus! We clearly see eye-to-eye on this. And yes, I wonder why John Payne wasn’t higher profile. I believe he was in Miracle on 34th Street nearly 30 years earlier which seems to be his biggest hit, but he’s so good in this he could’ve been a sensation in any heart-wrenching drama!
I think John Payne was at his peak popularity in the early 1940s, starring in Technicolor musicals at 20th Century Fox. He did enlist in the military during World War Two, but remained stateside. After his service was complete, he resumed his career, but his popularity gradually declined.
I just read on “Wikipedia” that Payne got wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California. Maybe he didn’t need to act for a living after “Forgotten Lady”.
Actually, according to Wikipedia, Payne’s career remained strong into the 1950s.
Although the role for which he is best known — by a long shot — was filmed after the war: “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947).
On a lighter note, the pink, marabou-trimmed jumpsuit that Janet Leigh wears in the Columbo-climbing-down-the-tree scene has to be one of the greatest outfits ever warn by a guest star in “Columbo”…
The fashions are tremendous, it’s true, and that pink combination is a delight!