For some Columbo episodes, finding five truly great moments can be a challenge. For Any Old Port in a Storm, the opposite is true. Whittling it down to just five top scenes is no easy feat when it’s as packed with greatness as a bottle of Ferrier Vintage port.
Still, that’s the assignment I’ve set myself, so after much soul searching and hand wringing I’ve come up with my personal list of episode highlights, which I accept may be vastly different to your own. C’est la vie, mes amis.
So without further ado, grab yourself a glass of magnificent claret, sit back and enjoy the most thrilling highs of Any Old Port in a Storm.
5. “I’m sorry I bothered you…”
For once, Columbo finds himself on the receiving end of a succession of annoying interruptions – and it’s a delight to behold.
Sitting nursing a beer in a bar and trying to listen in to the news report about the death of Ric Carsini, the Lieutenant is continually bothered by a burbling drunk sitting to his left. An impatient Columbo has to repeatedly shush the fellow before he finally gets the message, ending his attempts to communicate with one of Columbo’s oft-used lines: “I’m sorry I bothered you…” Cracking stuff!
4. Carsini unleashed!
There’s a distinct lack of brotherly love in evidence when Adrian and Ric Carsini clash horns in the early moments of Any Old Port in a Storm, with each man’s utter disdain for the other gloriously portrayed.
What begins as a spat swiftly escalates to murderous fury as Ric goads Adrian for putting his pursuit of excellence ahead of profit, and finally reveals that he will sell the land the family vineyard is on to mass-market wine producers the “69 cents per gallon Marino Brothers“. The cornered Adrian comes out fighting and dashes Ric over the head in a desperate bid to protect the only thing in his life that matters to him.
A scene of great drama is enhanced by a truly vintage script that allows Donald Pleasence’s clipped English accent to be put to wonderful use. In quick succession we hear Adrian describe Ric as an “adolescent imbecile“, a “muscle-bound hedonist” and an “ignorant Neapolitan” during a series of put-downs as enjoyable as any in the series’ history. It’s a real treat for the senses.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: Donald Pleasence gives Carsini such richness, and appears so comfortable in his skin, that it’s incredible to think he was a one-off character and not a role he’d been perfecting for years.
3. Columbo heads to Hipsterville
When tasked with the unpleasant job of breaking news of Ric Carsini’s death to his fiancee, Joan, Columbo has an audience of uber-cool pillocks to contend with at the hipster-filled lakeside retreat.
The place is simply awash with booze, aviator shades and devil-may-care fashions, and is a gloriously awful encapsulation of the vacuous lifestyle of rich and bored 20-somethings of the era.
My secret favourite part of this all? The couples rock ‘n’ roll dancing in the long shots of the club patio. We’re served up 360 degree spins, high kicks and the’tug of war’ in scenes that have to be seen to be believed and make me long for a life of idle frivolity in the 70s.
2. An exciting meal has been ruined…
No one reading this needs to be told why this is a great scene. The Carsini meltdown is one of the most enjoyable scenes of its type ever filmed, culminating in the explosive “LIQUID FILTH” line of legend – a line that no actor, ever, could have delivered better than Donald Pleasence.
Beyond that, though, the scene has many aspects to treasure: Carsini’s insistence that the table given to Columbo is exchanged for a better one; his surprise and delight at Columbo’s wine selections and masterful warning to Karen not to smoke and ruin the vintage port; Vito Scotti’s simpering Maitre D’; and Columbo sneaking back in after the hullabaloo to slip the humiliated waiting staff a couple of dollars.
It’s extraordinary stuff and would be the absolute pinnacle of virtually any other Columbo episode, so it’s a testament to the strength of Any Old Port that it doesn’t take top spot here. That honour goes to…
1. The bittersweet farewell
The final scene – a mutually respectful exchange of compliments and wine in Columbo’s car as he drives Adrian away from his winery to a life behind bars – is a beautiful thing.
Two perfectionists, from completely different sides of the tracks, have found a genuine understanding and appreciation of the other. It’s the sort of TV moment that almost doesn’t exist any more and is all the more poignant because of it. This is easily amongst the top handful of Columbo scenes across the entire series.
“It’s the sort of TV moment that almost doesn’t exist any more and is all the more poignant because of it.”
I have no problem believing there will be grumbles of discontent amongst some readers for the exclusion of terrific scenes such as Adrian wonking Ric over the head; the gotcha itself; the wine auction; and the connoisseurs wishing their enemies eternal misery, but when competition is this hot, something’s gotta give!
Let me know your own highlights in the comments section below and you can revisit my full episode review right here. Until next time, Sante!