Lovely but Lethal is a lesser light of the Columbo opus. It’s not terrible, but, rather like Viveca’s doomed attempts to secure the vaunted miracle face cream, the formula just ain’t quite right.
Of course, even average Columbo is better than almost all other TV ever made, which means Lovely but Lethal is still rammed with enjoyable moments. But what are its very best scenes? Here’s my hot take…
5. Death by microscope
Enraged by former lover Carl Lessing spitefully denying her access to the miracle cream’s secret formula, Viveca lashes out at her ‘hairy little teddy bear’ (guh-rosssss) with the nearest weapon to hand – which just happens to be an anvil-like microscope!
Viveca – displaying the sort of one-armed strength that would make a pro arm wrestler envious – shatters Lessing’s skull, but seals her own fate when she kneels beside him on the living room rug as she inadvertently places her hand in the shards of the broken microscope slide.
She contracts a deadly nightshade rash in the process, and the resulting itch eventually turns Columbo’s suspicions firmly in her direction. Eat defeat, Vivi!
4. Shades of Dr Frankenstein
The ‘Mad Scientist’ opening credits with Dr Murcheson’s tense face filling the screen as he appears to be conducting experiments on helpless women are wonderfully atmospheric.
With horror legend Vincent Price in the line-up, and Dick De Benedictis’s screeching horror score used throughout, the shades of Universal Monsters’ Dr Frankenstein are unmistakable, and entirely deliberate. Murcheson even references Frankenstein during the scene. That he’s ultimately conducting make-up experiments on live women rather than reassembling corpse’s body parts really doesn’t matter.
3. The non-clandestine rendezvous
When Viveca meets up with creepy Shirley (her plant within rival David Lang’s company) at the boutique we’re subjected to a 70s’ horror show of off-the-rack fashions as the two women plot their next move.
Shirley has her eye on joining Viveca’s company in a well-paid job. Viveca just wants her grubby mitts on the magic formula and will say whatever Shirley wants to hear to gain as much info as possible. And all this pans out as the two inspect an array of spectacularly awful dresses that Viveca clearly wouldn’t be seen dead in.
The funniest part of it all? Shirley lights up a cigarette while surrounded by an ocean of highly flammable polyester. Thank goodness she had a steady hand, or the episode could have gone up in smoke well before the running time was out.
2. How to shake Lieutenant Columbo in one easy lesson
Just as she’s about to head out to kill, errr… meet Shirley, Viveca is interrupted by Columbo, who has driven out to the fat farm to ask a few more questions. He pesters her for a time until she artfully sidesteps him by entering the nude-sunbathing area. The bashful Lieutenant is far too shy to follow and is left dithering at the gate. It’s advantage Viveca – for now.
1. Cat fight at the cat walk
The episode’s delicious encounter early on between catty rivals David Lang and Viveca at the fashion show is terrific entertainment. It’s exposition heavy, but in a very good way as the audience is succinctly and plausibly introduced to the troubles facing Viveca’s company through Lang’s snide comments at her expense.
Viveca gives as good as she gets, as you’d expect, and the foundations are laid for a mouth-watering battle between the two which, sadly, never entirely eventuates. Still, combined with the outrageous and opulent fashions of the early 1970s – including Viveca’s unbelievable fashion turban – and you have an eye-opening scene that holds the promise of untold delights to come. What a shame, then, that Vincent Price – so joyous to behold – simply disappears halfway through the episode.
“The episode’s delicious encounter early on between catty rivals David Lang and Viveca at the fashion show is terrific entertainment.”
That’s all, folks. But as always I’d love to hear own personal episode highlights or your views in general on this episode.
And, of course, if you’ve got a hankering to revisit the episode in more detail you can read my full-length review right here! Until next time, adieu…