Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 7

Episode review: Columbo Murder Under Glass

Columbo Murder Under Glass opening titles

Years before he directed the world’s most terrifying gourmand, Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme was cutting his gastronomic teeth on the second episode of Columbo‘s seventh season – Murder Under Glass.

Starring Louis Jourdan as murderous food critic Paul Gerard, and notable for featuring more aspic per square yard of film than any other television production ever, this is an episode certain to expand waistlines merely through the process of watching.

But is Murder Under Glass a televisual banquet fit for a queen? Or is it more of a mystery meat kebab that you gulp down at 3am and live to regret? Let’s loosen our belts and roll back the clocks to January 30, 1978 to see how well it’s aged…

Columbo Murder Under Glass cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Paul Gerard: Louis Jourdan
Eve Plummer: Shera Danese
Vittorio Rossi: Michael V. Gazzo
Mario Deluca: Antony Alda
Mary Choy: France Nuyen
Max Duvall: Richard Dysart
Kanji Ousu: Mako
Sergeant Burke: Todd Martin
Albert: Larry D. Mann
Written by: Robert Van Scoyk
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Score by: Jonathan Tunick

Episode synopsis: Columbo Murder Under Glass

Fuming Italian chef Vittorio Rossi has had it up to HERE with the antics of revered culinary critic Paul Gerard, who appears to single-handedly control the destinies of a trio of the city’s top restaurants.

Gerard, you see, is extorting the owners of said eateries. For a mere 25% of their profits (paid to the shadowy Restaurant Developers Association, which Gerard runs with naive accomplice Eve Plummer), he has used his clout to build up their reputations and make the establishments known hotbeds of haute cuisine.

There’s a catch, though. If the proprietors dare to stop paying, Gerard will drag their names through the gutters and pen enough poison about them to ensure no civilised diner will go within a mile of their front doors.

Columbo Paul Gerard
Paul Gerard: an expert at demonstrating insouciance under fire

Vittorio is now regretting making such a pact, and over a brief meal with the critic leaves him in no doubt that the tables are about to turn. Indeed, the fuming Italian claims he’ll expose Gerard’s corrupt antics and leave him to ‘starve like a beggar in the streets’. Oof!

Gerard, playing it cool in a way that only a Gallic super-villain can, acts like the wronged party for the benefit of witnesses, but he’s the one that will be dissolving this particular partnership. You see, Gerard has secreted some deadly Japanese blow fish (fugu) poison within the nozzle of a pneumatic bottle opener that Vittorio will use to open a bottle of wine (although we only find that out at the end). Whomsoever drinks from that first glass will swiftly perish in unimaginable pain.

Calling time on the dinner, Gerard makes his exit while a raging Vittorio falls for the trap and opens the wine to enjoy a calming glass. Moments later – in front of the eyes of his hapless young nephew Mario – the restaurateur ceases slamming kitchen drawers, seizes his chest, gasps a bit and slumps dead to the floor. Unable to speak a word of English, poor Mario is forced to ring his own mother in Italy, and she, in turn, alerts the LAPD.

Our mate Columbo is the chief investigator on the scene, and is tucking into a bowl of cioppino when Gerard – having been summoned by the police – reappears at the restaurant. After eating the same meal as the deceased, Gerard is concerned to hear that Vittorio died of suspected poisoning – but not so concerned to have taken himself off to hospital as a precaution before answering the police summons: a fact Columbo will squirrel away for future reference.

With Gerard in tow, Columbo questions Mario and gives the trembling young wimp a torrid time, aggressively accusing him (in Italian) of murdering his own uncle. It’s a most un-Columbo-like approach, leaving the fragile waiter even more of a bundle of nerves.

Columbo Murder Under Glass Mario
There seems to be no justification for Columbo’s wild antics here

However, while unable to explain why his uncle was slamming kitchen drawers just prior to his death, Mario does recollect that Vittorio and Gerard were engaged in a furious argument of their own. The critic is able to explain this away easily enough, though. The Restaurant Writers Awards have been held at Vittorio’s for the past three years, but this year they’re switching to a new venue. Gerard claims that Vittorio was livid at this perceived slight.

Columbo’s investigations continue the next day at Chez Duvall, another world-class eatery owned by Vittorio’s mate Max Duvall. There the Lieutenant enquires about Vittorio’s frame of mind the day before and receives some telling insight. According to Duvall, there was nothing to suggest Vittorio was about to become a victim. “On the contrary, he seemed like a man about ready to commit murder himself.”

As luck would have it, Gerard is also at Chez Duvall – tucking merrily into some spew-inducing meat in aspic on the rear terrace. Columbo sidles up and reveals that the poison that killed Vittorio wasn’t in the food – it was in the wine. This strikes Gerard off the list of suspects, because Mario has testified that the wine wasn’t even opened until after Gerard left the premises. But how did the poison get in the wine?

In one of the most sensible suggestions ever put forward by a Columbo killer, Gerard suggests that perhaps an insecticide spill at a French vinyard could have contaminated the bottle. But the Lieutenant has already checked on that, and the World Health Organisation has reported no such incidents.

Columbo even suggests a theory of his own: perhaps Vittorio was planning to murder Gerard with the poisoned wine! And once Gerard left, the angry Vittorio made the fatal error of drinking the wine himself! Both agree it’s a ridiculous suggestion.

Columbo Murder Under Glass
Yum-yum – heart attack on a plate!

However, Gerard is sufficiently spooked by Columbo’s investigations to order his lover / personal assistant Eve to close down the Restaurant Developers Association account, which is made out under her nom de plume, Irene DeMilo. He then shoos her away to prepare for a hastily-arranged trip to Europe, where the two will revisit the continent’s great restaurants.

Columbo, meanwhile, is back at the crime scene trying to understand Vittorio’s final moments. Just why was he slamming drawers? It’s then that the detective finds a drawer stuffed full of cancelled checks made out to the Restaurant Developers Association – nearly $100,000 worth!

Columbo also takes Vittorio’s pneumatic bottle opener away to examine after Albert tells him that he replaced its gas cartridge on the night of the killing. Strangely, it’s now empty. Perhaps there was poison in the gas cartridge? The proverbial plot thickens…

“The plot is now so thick that even ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson would struggle to punch his way through it.”

Hoping for a lead on the association, Columbo takes one of the cancelled checks with him to Vittorio’s funeral and (disrespectfully) has it passed around the attendees as the eulogy is read. Interestingly, Max Duvall takes one look at the check and dashes away. Mary Choy keeps hold of it, before tearing it up and (disrespectfully) littering the cemetary with it as she bustles away! Is funeral etiquette a lost art?

Columbo, therefore, makes a beeline to Chinatown to grill Mary. She admits to being the President of the association, and reveals that Duvall is Vice Prez and Vittorio was the Treasurer. But she claims no knowledge of the cancelled checks. To her knowledge, there was only $175 in the association’s commercial account. The plot is now so thick that even ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson would struggle to punch his way through it…

Anyways, Columbo amscrays to the bank, where he discovers the association also has a SAVINGS ACCOUNT into which checks were routinely paid by Vittorio, Duvall and Choy. But the account was closed three days before by one Irene DeMilo, who cleared out everything except $3000, which she converted into travellers checks.

I tell ya, this association sub-plot is now even thicker than Albert and Vittorio’s eyebrows combined. Not sure how thick that is? Look below…

Columbo Murder Under Glass Vittorio
Jeepers, 1978 was a big year for Italian eyebrows…

To fathom it out, Columbo goes on a ‘fishing expedition’ to Gerard’s home – and gets a lot more than he bargained for. Gerard and Eve deny any knowledge of the association, but Columbo does get to sample some fugu, which Gerard had prepared for his Japanese dinner guest, Kanji Ousu. Mr Ousu gleefully reveals to Columbo that fugu is deadly poisonous – unless prepared by an expert like Paul Gerard.

Gerard also, and rather clumsily, drops into conversation that Eve is heading off to Europe the following day. And before you can say ‘travellers checks’, Columbo has the majority of the case figured out. He confirms his suspicions the next day by tricking Eve into revealing herself as Irene DeMilo. Her trip to Europe is officially off!

The mystery of how the poison got into the wine continues to elude him, though, until just before that night’s Restaurant Writers Awards dinner. Playing around with the bottle opener, he has a moment of clarity: the poison could have been in the opener’s nozzle. And who’d been to the restaurant and could have switched the openers? Paul Gerard

“Gerard proposes a toast, and Columbo takes a good swig from his wine glass. Is it game over for our favourite detective?”

As a result, he creates an elaborate set-up to draw Gerard out. Promising the crowd at the awards bash that Vittorio’s murderer will be in police custody within 24 hours, he then invites Gerard to a farewell lunch, which he’ll prepare at Vittorio’s restaurant the following day. Seeing an opportunity to rid himself of the pesky detective once and for all, Gerard agrees.

And so we reach the denouement of the episode, as Columbo prepares a dish of veal scaloppine for Gerard in Vittorio’s kitchen. The two men chat amiably, and Columbo divulges key details of the case. He’s figured out that the murderer was a silent partner in the Restaurant Developers Association, and was evidently someone who had the power to boost the reputation of its members. And he believes fugu poison was used in the bottle opener to poison the wine.

The problem with his theory? It’s impossible to prove. So instead the two sit down to a meal and a glass of red wine – the bottle opened by Gerard using the same pre-prepared opener that he has again laced with fugu poison. Gerard proposes a toast and Columbo takes a good swig from his wine glass. Is it game over for our favourite detective?

Columbo Murder  Under Glass
Just think, only 7 years earlier he could barely cook an omelette!

No! Columbo is, as usual, two steps ahead. He suspected Gerard of switching bottle openers, so put a nick in the top of the one in Vittorio’s kitchen prior to cooking dinner. But there’s no nick on the top of the one on the table right now. It must be a different opener.

Gerard shrugs this off and is about to knock back a celebratory mouthful of wine from his own glass when Columbo sharply stops him. Gerard switched the bottle openers, but the Lieutenant switched the wine glasses! Once the lab boys can examine the wine, he’ll have the proof he needs to convict.

And the trigger to his initial suspicions? The fact that Gerard didn’t seek medical advice when police informed him that Vittorio had been poisoned, and instead came immediately to the restaurant to help with enquiries. “That’s the damnedest example of good citizenship I’ve ever seen,” Columbo explains.

“You’re a very able man, Lieutenant. But I really don’t care for you very much,” concedes a mildly shirty Gerard. “You know sir, I was thinking the same thing about you,” counters Columbo. “I respect your talent, but I don’t like anything else about you.”

Finally Gerard tastes the food that Columbo has prepared. “Lieutenant, I wish you had been a chef,” he laments, as credits roll…

Columbo Jonathan Demme
A spin-off series featuring Columbo as the new assistant chef at Vittorio’s restaurant was canned after test audiences jeered throughout

Murder Under Glass‘s best moment: parting is bitter sweet

The conclusion to Murder Under Glass is really rather delicious – due in no small measure to the mutual contempt the two men hold each other in. They’ve disguised it well throughout, but in reality Columbo and Gerard are as incompatible as milk and melons.

Once he’s been busted, Gerard doesn’t bother to maintain the pretence any more, letting Columbo know outright that he doesn’t care for him very much. More unusual is that Columbo responds in kind, telling Gerard that while he respects his talent, he really doesn’t like him at all.

Such open antagonism is extremely rare from the mild-mannered Lieutenant, who generally keeps a very close guard on his true feelings. It ensures that the erudite Gerard is lumped in with Dr Barry Mayfield and Milo Janus as villains that Columbo – and the viewer – simply can’t stand. Enjoy the bitterness of the exchange below…

My take on Murder Under Glass

On paper, Murder Under Glass sounds like an absolute rip-roarer of an episode. Bond villain Louis Jourdan playing a food critic who murders a restaurant owner using blow fish poison injected into a glass of wine? Fantastico! That’s a scenario we haven’t even come close to seeing in the series up to now.

Thanks to hindsight, we also know that multi-Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme was at the helm. Stupendo! Surely those are all the ingredients required to serve up a tasty slice of detective drama? Alas, not quite. There’s a lot wrong with Murder Under Glass, which, much as it pains me to say it, gets less palatable with every viewing.

I didn’t use to feel this way. Years ago I really liked Murder Under Glass and would have considered it a top 20 outing. The interplay between Gerard and Columbo amused me no end and the unique nature of the crime helped it stand tall in the memory. Now that I watch with a more analytical eye to pen these reviews, though, its failings become all too apparent.

Peter Falk Murder Under Glass
Columbo is behaving rather oddly in Murder Under Glass. Maybe it was something he ate?

In a nutshell, Murder Under Glass has a highly flawed and confusing sub-plot about the Restaurant Developers Association; the Columbo characterisation borders on infuriating; and the interactions between detective and suspect are, at times, so overdone it’s like watching an amateur dramatic society at work. And while it’s by no means all bad, these issues take plenty of shine off what could’ve been a really grand adventure.

I think the best place to start is to examine the Columbo portrayal in detail. If you read my recent review of Try & Catch Me, you may recall I bewailed how far the evolution of Columbo had removed him from the charming and natural character we knew and loved from the first 4-and-a-half seasons.

By season 7, Falk’s interpretation of the role had veered towards pastiche and is more akin to someone pretending to be Columbo, rather than actually being him. There were some indications of this in Try & Catch Me but Murder Under Glass ramps it all up to 11 to deliver the most annoying Columbo representation since Last Salute to the Commodore.

As an example, have a look at the clip below of Columbo first meeting Gerard. The overblown movements, expressions and style of line delivery are pretty hard to to digest. And the episode is stuffed full of ’em…

The weirdness that affected Columbo in Last Salute is out in force here, too. Take the scene when he roars at Mario in Italian, accusing him of killing his own uncle before cupping the lad’s face in both hands in an attempt to quell the panic that he himself caused. It’s truly bizarre.

Since when does Columbo treat an emotionally fragile material witness so cruelly? Poor Mario has just seen his uncle die horribly in front of his eyes. He speaks no English and the rest of his family is thousands of miles away. I get that the Lieutenant is putting on an act for Gerard, but it’s waaaaaay out of character and makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Columbo also ruins Vittorio’s funeral with his thoroughly disrespectful passing around of the check while an emotional eulogy is being read out. Admittedly the Lieutenant has previous here after being similarly impish at Frances Galesko’s funeral in Negative Reaction, but it’s not exactly what I’d call considerate behaviour.

“In terms of the Lieutenant’s portrayal, this isn’t far off Last Salute V2.0.”

But really, every scene featuring Columbo suffers from Falk’s over-acting. The arm gestures have never been bigger; we’ve never seen as many puzzled ‘out-to-lunch’ expressions, or pouts, on his face; and the ponderous line delivery is like a stand-in deputising (poorly) for the star of the show. Seriously, if you were directing an am dram stage version of Columbo and your lead man was fooling around like Falk was here, you’d be bellowing at him to rein it in – yet no one stopped it!

Worse yet, it seems like Jourdan caught the malaise, too – although if we assume he’s merely an expressive Frenchman it’s more acceptable. However, when the two are on screen together it’s as if they’re having a competition to see who can produce the most flamboyant gestures. There are more hand movements here than in a Punch & Judy re-enactment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It raises the question: is this what Demme wanted, or was Falk calling the shots? I have my suspicions…

Columbo Paul Gerard
In their now-legendary dance-off, Gerard favoured ‘The Robot’ while Columbo whipped out trusty crowd-pleaser ‘The YMCA’

It’s a shame, because French ace Jourdan is actually rather good as Gerard and is well cast as the aloof and slimy food critic. He oozes aristocratic Gallic arrogance and is wonderfully acerbic towards the Lieutenant at episode’s end once he no longer has to keep up the pretence of civility. He’s certainly one of the series’ most loathsome killers, and if he and Falk had toned down the tomfoolery, Gerard could well have been considered amongst the great Columbo baddies. Le sigh

Now to the plot, which is awash with holes that tighter writing could have salvaged. Let’s start with the murder itself, shall we? Because it’s evident that Gerard is also clairvoyant in being able to predict that Vittorio would proceed with opening (and drinking) the wine once he had departed from the scene.

Who knows, perhaps Gerard knew that Vittorio was a raging alcoholic who could never refuse a glass of the good stuff, regardless of mood? If not, then there’s a lethal weapon lying around Vittorio’s kitchen that could kill any innocent stooge at a later date. A pretty risky strategy, non?

Far more ridiculous, though, is that Gerard would try the exact same stunt to bump off Columbo! Obviously the fella’s risk management skillz are in dire need of assessment, because a person would have to be TRULY SIMPLE or DANGEROUSLY FOOLHARDY to attempt such a manoeuvre and expect to get away with it.

Did Gerard forget that Columbo is a police officer, and that it’s highly likely other officers would know about their little lunch tête-à-tête? If Columbo had wound up dead following this meeting even the Keystone Cops would’ve been able to pinpoint Gerard as the only viable suspect. It’s a reminder to us all that blind arrogance and a smug sense of superiority need to be kept in check at all times!

It’s also worth noting that it’s not until the gotcha that the viewer finds out precisely how Gerard managed to get the fugu poison into the glass. We never saw him syringe it into the nozzle, and the switcheroos he did with the bottle openers also were done off-screen. I’m guessing this subterfuge was meant to amaze the viewers at point of reveal, but I personally think it adds to the confusion and would have helped the viewer to see it all pan out on screen.

Columbo Murder Under Glass
If nothing else, one must admire Gerard’s chutzpah in attempting to kill off Columbo in the exact same way he killed Vittorio

The biggest fault of the lot, though, is the confusion surrounding of the Restaurant Developers Association sub-plot. Almost every aspect of it wilts like a limp lettuce under closer examination, starting with why Vittorio finally decided the time was ripe to expose Gerard’s shady dealings?

We never find out. He acts as if he’s only just found out that Gerard is the mastermind behind the association extortion. This makes no sense, though, because during the opening scene of the episode Vittorio and fellow association members Max Duvall and Mary Choy seem entirely aware of how the set-up works, and comment that Gerard has ‘done alright for us’. Why is Vittorio the only furious one?

This leads to a bigger beef: all three restaurateurs have benefited from Gerard’s patronage to the extent that their establishments are considered amongst LA’s finest. So why not collectively stop paying Gerard the 25%? They don’t need him anymore, and if he tries to trash their reputations now they could either sue him or expose his fraudulent ways.

“For all its failings Murder Under Glass is still fun to watch.”

And even if they did take a short-term hit in profits after ditching Gerard, they’d presumably still be making more money than when they were paying him the 25%, and their restaurants would still be, y’know, as good as ever, so they’d soon be raking it in once more.

Finally, the time-scale surrounding the creation of the association is very murky. It would have needed at least a few years’ commitment for Vittorio et al to become a central destination for LA’s foodies, yet the Restaurant Developers Association appears to be some sort of scam cooked up by Gerard and Eve Plummer, under her pseudonym Irene DeMilo.

Eve – a naive 20-something – seems to be relatively new in Gerard’s life judging by her uncertainty about the status of their relationship, so it doesn’t ring true that she’s a long-term associate on this scheme. This confused writing raises so many questions! And it matters, because the poorly sketched premise is what the whole murder is built around.

Columbo Murder Under Glass Shera Danese
Bond villain Kamal Khan thoroughly enjoyed his Columbo cameo

Max Duvall also needs a roasting, because although he tells Columbo that Vittorio was in the mood to commit murder, he doesn’t then reference that Vittorio was due to confront Gerard that same evening. WHY, Max? Don’t you want your buddy to be avenged? It’s pretty inconsistent stuff.

Still, there must be a few crumbs of comfort, right? Well, thankfully yes because for all its failings Murder Under Glass is still fun to watch. Jarring characterisations aside, the script serves up several gems; the cat-and-mouse elements work; and Columbo never tires in his attempts to trip up his prey.

He plays Gerard like a fiddle when asking the critic whether Vittorio might have poisoned the wine to kill Gerard, before forgetfully imbibing it himself. Desperate to divert suspicion, Gerard says he can see how that might happen. “You can, sir?” asks Columbo in sham amazement. “Maybe you could explain it to me. I mean, how could a man make a mistake like that?” The critic is forced to backtrack pretty quickly.

Columbo later seizes on Gerard’s explanation for missing Vittorio’s funeral, which he claims is because he likes to remember his friends as he last saw them. “I believe Mr Rossi was yelling at you when you saw him last, isn’t that right sir?” the detective asks with a playful wag of the finger.

This is followed by another fine moment around the dining table when the excitable Kenji Ousu asks Columbo whether he has a hot suspect. “Weeeell, I’ve got my eyes on one,” the detective beams, slowly swinging his gaze round to land on Gerard. Even the Frenchman seems to enjoy that one!

Columbo Murder Under Glass Louis Jourdan
No prizes for guessing who the Lieutenant has his eye on…

The performance of Shera Danese is also an unexpected bonus. I’m not a huge fan of hers (particularly her far-too-many guest slots in the 90s), but she’s actually pretty good. Sure, there’s not a lot of depth to the role but she’s spot on as the not-too-bright-but-a-bit-sassy Eve Plummer. Of the main cast she arguably puts in the most believable turn – who could have predicted that?

Gold stars also go to the ingenious and unique murder method, as well as Columbo’s clever switching of the wine glasses at the end – a stunt that was totally stolen by The Princess Bride and is almost certainly the reason Peter Falk ended up being cast as the lovable grampappy in that splendid film.

And of course we get the very real pleasure of seeing Columbo tuck in to all that delicious food. Whether it’s calorie-rich foie gras canapes, eggs in jelly (blurgh), or a 20-course banquet, the Lieutenant has never enjoyed his grub more. And he doesn’t get an upset stomach – proof that his digestive system has toughened up after so much rich food with LA’s jet-setters. Plus we even see him sporting a chef’s hat as he cooks up a storm. HOT STUFF!

These bright spots can’t paper over the cracks, though. Murder Under Glass isn’t too far from vintage Columbo, but it’s hampered more than most by Falk’s theatrics. I so wish he’d toned it down, because if you were to insert season 3’s Lieutenant Columbo into this it would have been 10 times the episode.

Murder Under Glass also has the ignominious honour of being the first episode (I believe) to elevate This Old Man beyond a ditty Falk would hum or whistle to himself into a full-blown part of the score – and it’s as camp as a row of pink, floral tents!

The brisk, military-style rendition forms the backing track to a montage of Columbo and co. being served endless dishes at the Restaurant Writers Dinner. I consider this an ominous portent of what the show will become in the 1990s, when This Old Man was routinely worked into episode scores, making it Columbo‘s de facto – but increasingly charmless – theme tune. If you can’t recall this particular scene, take a look below…

All in all, Murder Under Glass is a tricky episode to assess, being neither the best nor worst of Columbo. In its own right it’s an enjoyable, if flawed, piece of television. Compare it critically against the entire Columbo back catalog, however, and it’s a sandwich short of a picnic.

If you’re the sort that simply loves any Columbo without worrying too much about the minutiae, it’s likely you’ll rate this one highly. For me, though, Murder Under Glass is more of a cafeteria dining experience when it ought to have been striving for a Michelin Star.

Did you know?

Columbo Louis Jourdan
Butter wouldn’t melt, eh, Paul?

Paul Gerard is part of a select group of just six Columbo killers who tried to do exactly that – kill Columbo!

The frowning Frenchman is joined in this dubious club by Beth Chadwick (Lady in Waiting); Dr Eric Mason (How to Dial a Murder); Elliott Blake (Columbo Goes to the Guillotine); Vivian Dimitri (RIP Mrs Columbo); and Fielding Chase (Butterfly in Shades of Gray). Read more about this sinister sextet right here.

Incidentally, France Nuyen (who played Mary Choy) was the real-life wife of three-time Columbo murderer Robert Culp, from 1967-70. And what a smoking hot couple they were!

Columbo France Nuyen Robert Culp
Robert Culp was never this cuddly in his Columbo outings, why not?

How I rate ’em

After the back-to-back euphoria of Bye-Bye Sky High and Try & Catch Me, reality bites back here with a distinctly average adventure that never gets close to hitting the heights of the very best episodes.

Missed any previous reviews? Then hit ’em up via the links below…

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Identity Crisis
  20. Swan Song
  21. The Most Crucial Game
  22. Etude in Black
  23. By Dawn’s Early Light
  24. Candidate for Crime
  25. Greenhouse Jungle
  26. Playback
  27. Forgotten Lady
  28. Requiem for a Falling Star
  29. Blueprint for Murder
  30. Fade in to Murder
  31. Ransom for a Dead Man
  32. Murder Under Glass
  33. A Case of Immunity
  34. Dead Weight —–C-List starts here—
  35. The Most Dangerous Match
  36. Lovely but Lethal 
  37. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  38. A Matter of Honor
  39. Mind Over Mayhem
  40. Old Fashioned Murder
  41. Dagger of the Mind
  42. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here
Columbo Murder Under Glass
Peter Falk is said to have gained 500 lbs during the filming of this episode

Hit me with your opinion on Murder Under Glass below. I can quite believe that many readers enjoy it far more than I, so please share your thoughts as freely as a French chef shares his crab-stuffed mushrooms.

Next up on our Columbo journey is Make Me a Perfect Murder, which takes us into the shadowy realm of ambition, betrayal and murder in the cut-throat world of network television. Check back soon, and until then bonjour and Bon Snax!

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Columbo Paul Gerard Bon Snax
Sell out, Gerard!
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103 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Murder Under Glass

  1. A major “problem” for me in this episode is that it the writers try to make Peter Falk’s persona like a comedic scene from “The Godfather” films.

    It also tries hard to make all Italians into a stereotype. As an Italian-American myself, I am not a fan of “all Italians must be in the mafia” etc. stereotypes.

    For instance, the first scene in which Columbo is sitting in the restaurant booth awaiting to meet Gerard…..it tries to be a funny takeoff from Brando’s “Don” in The Godfather. (The whispering, the waving him over to the table, etc…was just TOO MUCH) They tried to be funny and it failed. It was just done a few years ago in that popular film franchise.) Acting like a “Don” is NOT Columbo’s character. It was way off-based.

    It continued right away…with Falk yelling at Mario in Italian and the comforting him by gently grabbing his face (like Pacino to Fredo), acting like he loves him. It was beyond ridiculous and again nothing Columbo has done up until this point. It’s like a completely different Columbo character. Production tried way to hard to make it like The Godfather. Again, all Italians aren’t like this!

    The was a very similar scene in an episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry inquires with a supposed mob boss if there are any houses in Tuscany to rent. I didn’t mind that particular scene, because it was SUPPOSED to be funny…..and it also didn’t change Jerry’s character one bit. But that’s not Columbo. It fails here.

    • The Seinfeld episode is The Maestro, who isn’t a mob boss. He just doesn’t like Jerry asking about Tuscany because in his little social circle only he can have stories about Tuscany. It’s the same when Elaine gets the glasses from Malaysia.

      • Actually Jerry does meet with a local “don” character, not the Maestro, at episode’s end and gets intimidated into renting a property he only meant to inquire about. One of Seinfeld’s occasional dips into parody.

  2. One thing that always “bothered me” with this episode: The Italian restaurant never had any customers! In any scene!

    • The sign outside clearly says it was closed on Mondays. We can conclude the meeting between Girard and Vittorio was on a Monday night. The rest of the time it was closed as it was a crime scene and could not be reopened until Lt. Columbo solved the case, or otherwise authorized the reopening.

  3. What struck me about this episode was the fantastic score. It appears that this is Jonathan Tunick’s only Columbo score, which is too bad because when we first see Gerard step into the restaurant and that beautiful english horn (i think) melody plays, it really leaves an impression.

    I was slightly annoyed by Columbo’s exaggerated delivery a few times throughout the episode – it seemed like he was talking to Gerard like he was talking to a preschooler – but the ending made me realize why. He hates this guy! All the mannerisms and affectations are him talking down to Gerard. He doesn’t respect his motive like he did, perhaps, Ruth Lytton’s or Carsini’s. Columbo’s just trying to annoy someone he sees as a lowlife.

  4. Did not enjoy this one. Nephew antics were super-annoying. I also kept thinking it was Ashton Kutcher.

  5. I’ve just watched this one again for the first time in decades. I agree with you about its many failings, but did enjoy the final conversation between Falk and Jourdan.

  6. IMHO, this is one of the worst episodes. Falk’s hammy acting when departing the geisha girl scene is embarrassing and truly awful.

    • The scene where columbo shouts at the Italian waiter in Italian is a scene I strongly dislike , falks performance is far from great the whole food thing dominates the episode and there’s very little investigating also the location in that dark empty restaurant is rather dull,
      in fact there’s very little I like about this episode in fact think its one of the poorest of
      the seventies and id prefer A case of immunity , Lovely but lethal and even the most dangerous match which are placed higher on the list and if i had a DVD box set I would never choose to watch murder under glass , sorry to sound critical but I just don like this one much.

  7. Murder Under glass is a really enjoyable episode the acting is top-notch and the interplay between Peter Falk and Louis Jourdan is just rather fun to watch. Hugely entertaining and the food on display it’s just truly scrumptious and really add a big appetite to the episode. Love how columbo uses the intimidation trick to eliminate Mario from his suspicions immediately. Quick and to the point and it shows the lieutenant in a different light which is always good to see. I love the scene at the funeral where everyone is solemn and columbo quietly hands the cheque around to the gathering crowd to test reaction this is ingenious and gives him the clues he wanted. There is so much ingenuity going on around here in this episode but it truly is a delight to watch and as we all love variation it’s good that we don’t actually see Gerard swap the bottle openers with the cartridges because for once it’s good not to see how they actually do it and it adds another variation to the series. There is one moment where are you actually don’t see how it’s done. Who wants to be spoonfed the answers ALL the time. It adds to the imagination just how Gerard is getting away with this scheme and how does he do it which isn’t revealed until right at the end it’s a welcome addition to the many different ways Columbo episodes are concluded. No one wants everything the same all the time to stick to a formula. It’s entertaining to spin it around a little bit and make your audience try to work out how things are being done. Not every Columbo episode has to be exactly the same and stick to the same rigid formula of seeing how murders are done and the gotcha being done a certain way. I love how this formula is changed in Murder Under Glass And I think Columbo is acting and mannerisms are top-notch . The first meeting of Columbo and Gerard is fantastic where columbo is sat at the table and he let Gerard know from a distance who is in charge and it’s a truly fun scene to watch. The hand movements and gestures truly are Entertaining to cast your eye on and I love how Columbo mimics Gerard’s flamboyant gestures as though he is mirroring his movements. This is really great writing and really great direction from Jonathan Demme. A five star restaurant award to a great episode.

  8. I enjoy this episode, maybe because I am a big Louis Jourdan fan, and I am more or less okay with the villain attempting to use the same method to kill Columbo. After all, he is a professional chef, not a professional killer. Nevertheless there are 2 things that really bug me with this episode. 1 is minor: I find it annoying to watch people eat, particularly when they are trying to speak (like the lady eating cake in the bank). But #2. is when we find Columbo at the murder scene, awaiting Gerard, chowing down (see point 1).

    He tells Gerard that the victim appears to have been poisoned. (Not that they could know that so quickly, but hey, it’s TV.) And yet Columbo continues to eat like he had been starving. Columbo says that the chef, who also hates Gerard, that he assures him that all the food is safe.

    BUT HOW WOULD THE CHEF KNOW THAT? Even assuming the chef is innocent and telling the truth (as far as he knows), how could the Chef know that none of the food had been tampered with by someone else? Even if he personally tasted EVERYTHING in front of the lieutenant, the poison could have been a slow acting one. The poison could be “binary”: two ingredients harmless by themselves but lethal when combined, say, in a human stomach.

    Whatever the case, you have the Chef AND Columbo both assuming things they cannot possibly know: that the food is safe. But on top of that (and this is a constant gripe of mine) is that YOU DON’T EAT AT A CRIME SCENE. Safety aside, it can completely compromise the evidence.

    That drives me crazy.

      • Apart from the fact that without a toxicology report, no one would be able to reasonably suspect poisoning so early on (wouldn’t everyone naturally assume heart attack? Rossi was older, wheezy, and overweight and highly agitated -a prime candidate for heart disease) we still have the problem of people “knowing” things they cannot know at that point.

        It’s true that the chef began cooking for Columbo after becoming “very indignant” at the thought of poison coming from somewhere in his kitchen. And that he tasted what he made, I suppose to reassure the Lieutenant.

        But again, how could he know? At that point no one knows the type of poison, how fast it acts, or what was poisoned. It could have been anything: an ingredient, a piece of silverware, a tainted napkin etc. And the chef wasn’t even there when the murder took place. How does he know that someone didn’t screw with something in the restaurant in his absence?

        And even if the chef doesn’t consider these things and is just quite foolish, why would Columbo take his word for it at face value? Even if the chef “tasted everything”, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out ways to poison one thing but eat another thing that looks almost identical. It’s like when a magician says “there’s no way I can know which card is yours, right?” And yet, the magician DOES know. Or, once again, it might not be the food that is dangerous, but something that touches the food, which turns out to be the case.

        Even so, the murderer might have poisoned several things to ensure a kill. Gerard didn’t, but neither the Chef, nor Mario, nor Columbo could know that until every item and surface had been tested.

        As it turns out, the Chef and Mario have a pretty good motive for the murder: they stand to inherit the restaurant (as stated during the funeral) and Mario was the last person to see Rossi alive.

        Columbo says he firsts suspects Gerard because he didn’t rush to the hospital -a great little “tell” on Gerard’s part. But what about the chef’s behavior? I would think any ordinary chef would be petrified with fear if someone had been poisoned in their restaurant, even if it wasn’t their fault. Gerard’s confidence is a clue, but the chef acts equally suspicious.

        Had it not been for Gerard’s attempted murder of Columbo, surely a jury would have found reasonable doubt in the case against Gerard, given that Gerard’s financial trickery amounts to far less than the value of a successful restaurant that someone else stands to inherit.

  9. I’ve been watching the entire series for the first in my life.

    Each episode in order on Amazon Prime.

    I’ve got to put this one near the top. I’m not looking for realism or consistency of character, I’m looking for fun. This episode had lots of campy fun for me. The parade of food with accompanying music, the Frenchman imitating Falk’s gestures during one extended scene… there’s more, but I found it endearing.

    I can understand why a purist would be concerned with character consistency, but my eyes are looking for an escape to a different time and place… kinda fun and retrospective.

    Falk just seems to be having fun, his character a bit wry, and mischievously conniving, plotting, confident.

  10. It completely sailed over my head what was happening between Mario and the Lieutenant. So you strongly accuse someone of a crime, and depending on their reaction, you really latch onto yeah or nay did they do it?

    They might clam up. Or an innocent person might think of saying something, decide it’s going to be taken wrong, and then not say it. And that looks terrible.

    These police ought to play a little tournament poker. It will humble them. Because you can be awfully confident of a read, and be wrong!

  11. Always disliked the title of this one. Murder Under Glass? I get that the poison ends up in the glass. But it’s not under the glass. And the glass is largely peripheral to the story. As is the bottle, if the “under glass” is referring to the bottle instead. Surely the title should refer to either the chef/food critic surroundings, or the blowfish (fugu). Unless of course, “Under Glass” has another meaning which i am unaware of.

    As for the episode, in my opinion it’s one of the worst episodes storywise, but becomes popular due to several scenes which are hugely entertaining. I always find myself drifting off, waiting for those scenes. The plot is really poor, overly complicated and frankly utterly boring. But there are enough good scenes to lift it to mid-table in the rankings. It’s a credit to everybody involved, that they made such a poor plot into a watchable episode.

    • “Under glass” is a word game, just like there have been so many word games before in Columbo titles. On the one hand it could mean “under the magnifying glass”, because Columbo must take a good look at this case to solve it. This little amount of blowfish poison is hard to detect, isn’t it?
      On the other hand, the wine bottle is made of glass, and the poison is inside the glass or behind the glass – or: under the glass, when you look at the bottle from top down.
      It’s a great title. Where I live, the episode is called “Murder à la carte”. Not bad either.

      • Patrick and Columbologist,

        It’s simpler than that. “Under glass” is a classy way of serving food, bringing it to the table on a plate covered by a glass dome. The term usually appears in the phrase “pheasant under glass” which is used in popular culture to show someone being a gourmet or a rich person with expensive tastes.

        Pheasant is supposed to be a luxury. I’ve only had the chance to try pheasant once, in the form of a soup. As you might expect, it tastes kind of like chicken.

        For a random “under glass” example that just came to mind, the “GI Joe” cartoon character Roadblock is also a brilliant chef, and he once jokingly threatened to make “parrot under glass” out of his team-mate’s misbehaving pet parrot.

        I really like the “under the magnifying glass” interpretation though! Maybe the title was supposed to work on multiple levels. 🙂

        • Felicity, I agree with you, no doubt in my mind that the murder was a delicacy, under glass. I too enjoyed this episode. I’m a bit disappointed especially in this episode, in hearing Frank Columbo’s favorite song. I know he’s a regular kinda guy at heart, but, “This old Man” and yes it’s Frank, there have been a couple of episodes where he showed his badge, and I stopped the scene and sure enough saw Frank Columbo. I wish I could remember which episodes, but there were at least 2. Columbophile help me here!.

      • I liked this episode. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my favourites. Good cast, good atmosphere, good decor, and the food makes me hungry. I liked young Shera Danese as Eve.

    • I generally agree this is one of the poorest seventies episodes , and overall , poorly plotted , i dont find any scene particulary funny or entertaining , i actually find them either very silly or very boring columbo isnt his normal self and the end scene is a bit ridoculous amd un satsfying to me , i even prefer dead weight , mind over mayhem and short fuse than this and even perhaps matter of honor not a fan of this one

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  14. I think you put your finger on it when you say we don’t see the actual mechanics of the murder – putting the poison in the opener, switching the openers – which should be a solid part of the Columbo formula and lead to us wondering how Columbo will work out the sequence of events and trap the killer?
    I think Louis Jourdan is very good here; he camps it up as Gerard but just enough for us to know his sophisticated bonhomie is a totally false front and he is really a nasty piece of goods. He doesn’t really overact, unlike Peter Falk. You use the word ‘ponderous’ to describe his work in this episode and that’s spot on.
    Finally, call me callous but I was very glad to see the back of Michael V Gazzo in the first few minutes because that gravelly, husky voice of his really gets on my wick. Every time he speaks I want to say: “For God’s sake, man, cough!”

  15. dear Columbophile,
    There’s at least one item of your analysis that isn’t discussed here. It’s your attitude towards aspic, which you mention several times. I agree there’s too much food to be eaten in this episode, and I think that Columbo has a “strange” way to eat them all, or to touch or approach them (hygiene towards food eaten by other people didn’t exist in the 70’s??).
    But, I’m sorry for you, cause good prepared aspic can be very tasteful. I like it. Maybe you only got bad one.

  16. I think you put it perfectly when you wrote “despite all of its failings, it is still fun to watch”. This episode may not be a classic but it is always enjoyable. I put this in the category with Lovely But Lethal as sort of a “Columbo lite”.

    • I am surprised so many people like this episode when it has nothing that a classic episode has.
      what makes a top episode is having a clear and strong motive like the revenge killing in try and catch me or Tommy brown s wish for fame and fortune in swan song , It should have a murder thats well orchestrated and you actually see you actually see for example again try and catch me , negative reaction, Troubled Waters and so on , columbo piecing the clues together with some fun moments thrown in instead of all this silly rubbish in this episode also nice outdoor scenes in the Californian sunshine which even last salute has not all set in this dark environment bar the funeral scene which is no comparison to the funeral scene in negative reaction , and of course the final gotcha which should be dramatic and well written which this instead you get columbo cooking in a kitchen dressed a s a chef ,No police officer of officers in the scene which many great columbos have , Playback , Double shock , publish or perish and now you see him all examples and the this Trying to kill off columbo nonsense does little for me .
      very silly and un satisfactory, You Also get columbo speaking Italian at the start and I cant understand that scene on the whole a Very Bad episode on the whole in my opinion at least , This is not one I actively choose to watch.

  17. Hi columbophile , great to see the reviews picked up real pace but I Expect this will be last of this Year . .I enjoyed the review as always However I am NOT a Fan of this episode in any Way ,in fact I think its a very forgettable , poorly written and poor episode with a very unmemorable killer and also a little bit silly at times including the ending . Definetley in the bottom 10 of the 70s . I know from above a lot of people Enjoy Murder under glass but Just dont get the same enjoyment out of it. i am surprised that you didnt place it under A case of immunity and the Most dangerous match which are Far from great episodes but comfortably better than this Dud , I would also even say I would prefer the dreary Dead weight and silly to Short fuse only last salute OFM and Dagger should be below this , Glad you got it reviewd before Xmas , Looking forward to Next Review which is Make me a perfect murder a much better episode with a very memorable murder scene , music score and the Lovely Kay Freestone/trish van de vere , Good work columbophile

  18. I’ve become more fond of this episode as time has gone gone, and I think you spelled out all the good points. I tend to be a Star-Watcher, and so my favorite part I guess is not the script (which was pretty good) but IMHO one of the best casts every in a Columbo, from Shera Danese in one of her best performances (agree with the over-saturation of her in the 90s) to Mako Iwamatsu, even if it was only a bit role (remembered for his immortal role in “The Sand Pebbles”), to France Nuyen, immortalized by Star Trek fans as the Elaan of Troyius, who made Captain Kirk fall in love with her by touching one of her tears.

    I agree about finding some of Columbo’s actions are bizarre. Thanks for translating the Italian; it makes it seem even more bizarre. Perhaps it was Columbo’s way of eliminating him from suspicion for good. This was also one of those Columbo’s where he held no respect for the killer, and you can tell by the way he has such respect for all the cooks who lavish him with their wares but barely conceals feelings towards Gerard.

    The award for best performance IMHO is of course Louis Jourdan. His suave, cool demeanor is never penetrated until he is finally caught, but up to that point he plays it as cool as the other side of the pillow.

    One final note: during the show, Gerard is shown in the beginning filming a commercial and turning in a suave over-the-top performance over his Bon Snax (good cracker, an Andy Griffith tongue-in-cheek reference?), a Ritz-like cracker. In real life, in the latter part of his career Louis Jourdan made the majority of his money doing commercials. He was quoted saying why not? An actor is a salesman, so why not commercials? He believed in them so much he participated in writing and coming up with the concept. He said something to the effect that between the Theater, Commercials and Movies, he loved the theater and never did a play he didn’t like, but that often one does movies just to keep functioning, leaving open the thought that commercials he enjoyed more than movies. After all, he made more money doing them, why not? There is no doubt, he was a perfect pitchman. 🙂

  19. Great episode but I think Columbo makes a very stoopid move at the end when he tastes the dressing without hesitate, made by a man who just tried to poison him. Throw it it he basket while he says the above mentioned “I don’t like anything else about you” line would heve been much better 🙂

  20. “Murder Under Glass” is Vince Gilligan’s favorite episode of Columbo. This would be the Vince Gilligan who created Breaking Bad.

  21. Another hearty, meat-and-potatoes Columbo. It’s easier to pick ‘em to the bone after many viewings and decades gone by since they were served up fresh. I suppose the cigar at the funeral was a bit much, but the passing of the check wasn’t disrespectful, it yielded some key clues – and Columbo even shares his pleasure of the progress with the deceased Vittorio. I enjoy these shows in the moment and would find it extremely difficult to rank the entire lot.

  22. I always love your hyper-detailed and super-analytical reviews, even if I somewhat disagree with the final rating. In contrast to Joe Barron, I think the vast range of the ratings spreads between viewers is proof of how special the show is, rather than how poor it is. It is only because it has so many points of interests that each viewer can focus on certain aspects more than others and thus come up with a totally different rating. To some it is the humor, to some it’s the gotcha endings, to some the quality of the proof, to some the method of the detective work, to some it is the murderer quality and his or her interaction with Columbo. Ultimately, each viewer assigns different weights to each aspect, so that the particular strength or weakness of an aspect in a particular episode may strongly affect one’s overall tally.

    In this episode, I agree with your analytics for the most part, but I think you assign too much weight to the excessive mannerisms and to certain weaknesses in the detective work. I think the increased mannerisms are kind of fitting for a more aged and cranky detective. I also think Columbo the character generally acts it up more in front of big crowds, as opposed to private one-on-ones. I wasn’t bothered as much by the accusatory scene with Mario, because I think that was not for Gerard’s sake, but rather for the actual ability to eliminate Mario as a possible candidate. Hence, it was painful, but quick and necessary, and he knew he could end it as soon as he wants to. Likewise, I think you overdo the problem with the funeral scene. He quietly gives out the checks and does not make a sound. In the early episode with the Arabic embassy and Hector Elizondo, he interrupts far more. Such interruptions are quite common for Columbo, and something we accept as part of his nudnik nature. Finally, regarding the weaknesses in the plot, what bothered me most is the unrealistic gamble Columbo takes (how are you SURE that he already made the switch?) in drinking the wine, and even more so, his revealing it all to Gerard, when Gerard still is holding the cup and can simply throw it on the ground, shattering and spilling the proof.

    In summary, for me, the smooth and cold-blooded nature of Gerard, the rich menus and scenery, and the non-dragging pace of events, keeps you from focusing on the plot faults. It is when things drag on and you don’t enjoy the acting, that the plot holes cry out at you (e.g., Commodore).

    • Thanks for the other thoughts on Columbo’s crankiness, it does make sense in the nature of his character. After you’ve been around the hill so many times, I can see that seeing the same things dressed in different clothes would get a little old. 🙂

    • Good aspects to help the episode crawl back into the A list. But even the ending isn’t bothering me: Columbo could be sure that Gerard already made the switch because he marked the bottle openers. The missing mark told him, the switch already had occurred.
      Shattering the cup wouldn’t quite help Gerard to make him look innocent, and the wine would still be spilled on the floor for chemical analytics.

  23. Sorry to say this is my favorite episode. I love how Columbo lets Jourdans character think he’s getting away with it until the end.
    But then I do own a copy of Hudson Hawk if you want to rate my taste in entertainment.

  24. Every episode is different, has his charm, magic,mystery, But Columbo is Columbo, he is there to investigate and also to make us part of something, that’s the point. In this episode Columbo is having fun eating and playing the comedy, in fact I think this episode is very comic, la comedia del’arte, Italian comedy. That’s why for me I had really fun to see the program and enjoy the play of Peter Falk, exaggerated sometimes but eh, Italians are good comedians. 🙂 Jordan is also playing too much, but we are in front of a piece of theater where food, cakes and poison are there so let’s have fun and enjoy. Thanks for the review.

  25. I always wondered what Columbo had said to Mario in Italian. I understood the premise but had no idea he accused Mario of the murder. I would love a complete translation, but don’t do it if it’s a load of trouble. Thanks for the fun reviews!!

  26. I appreciate your reviews,still I don’t shate your irritatio for Columbo’s mannerisms. It’s character evolution, I think it was Jordan’s hamming it up that drove Falk to exaggerate his gestures.

  27. With all the money he earns in TV and advertising, what need Paul Gerard has of extorting people? And why the other two members of his phony association are putting up with him?

  28. This was fun mouth watering episode. I enjoyed it lot. It’s one of the first episodes I remember watching because of the fuge poisoning. I don’t know how he could taste that food with that cigar. I don’t think he was mean to Mario.

    • Actually, you’re both right! 🙂 Weirdly enough it was spelled “Lecktor” in “Manhunter” (1986) and then “Lecter” in “Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

  29. I guess I am a typical Columbo fan; I like “Murder Under Glass”, and although I cannot argue with any of your criticisms, I find the episode enjoyable. I will watch it any time it gets aired, and there are PLENTY of episodes I will take a pass on. Maybe it was all the food Columbo got to gorge on? I find that kind of in-joke running through the episode to be a riot.

    In his younger years, Vittorio was in the import business with Michael Corleone’s father, you know.

  30. Murder Under Glass is actually one of my favorite Columbo episodes; I was so absorbed in the story line that I wasn’t even aware of any plot flaws. Though it did make me uncomfortable to see Columbo ripping into poor Mario like that, not to mention pestering people at Vittorio’s funeral. The banquet scene was a lot of fun to watch, though. (It also made me hungry!)

  31. How interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this episode televised (have seen others countless times) so hadn’t seen this one for a long time before watching the DVD when I saw your review was out. Based on fond memories, I’d have unquestionably rated this as one of my favourites. However, now that I try to watch critically using your review as a guide it’s shortcomings are apparent and Columbo himself comes across as extremely annoying. I’d probably rate it a shade higher than you do, but it’s certainly dipped in my estimations.

  32. I’ve always enjoyed this episode despite its obvious flaws. Not Top 10 material, but generally an enjoyable two-hours of Columbo.

    P.S. You’ve left out “Try and Catch Me” from the episodes list at the bottom of the article.

  33. Funny review for a delicious episode that leaves you feeling full of Columbo-always a cozy feeling.
    Yes all the Columbos are beautiful-each is like a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant…hard to pick favorites and flaw-finding seems…..I don’t know, little things bother me..

  34. I do think the supporting cast is very, very good in this one, and they fill it with lovely moments. For example, I often think of the look of amusement France Nuyen gives when Columbo makes his joke about fortune cookies. Also, I’m much fonder of Shera Danese than CP is, I even like her in “Undercover.” And she is terrific in this episode. “I think I just lost a trip to Europe”- her reading of that line is both perfectly natural in the scene and very clearly a signpost that the episode is turning towards its climax.

    • I agree! I like Shera Danese’s characters in this episode and in “Undercover.” Those are her two most likeable “Columbo” characters. Her least likeable character is Cathleen Calvert in “A Trace of Murder.” I get the impression that Patrick Kinsley was not a killer by nature, and Cathleen used her femme fatale powers to push him into it. He goes from objecting to the idea of murder to killing an innocent person in record time. If he’d killed Clifford Calvert we could have sympathised; that guy was evil. But what did Howard Seltzer ever do to him? If anything Seltzer was wronged by Calvert!

  35. I’ve come to the conclusion that Columbo must be terrible show — for the reason that none of its fans can agree on what constitutes a good episide. In addition to your reviews, I’ve read Mark Dawidziak’s book, and I’ve listened to Jon Morris and RJ White’s podcasts, and your judgments are all over the place. Jon and RJ both love this episode (Jon gave it nine and a half out ducks galantine out of ten), while Dawidziak has scored “Bye Bye Sky-High” etc. as one of the weakest. Jon also detests “Suitable for Framing,” and you rank “By Dawn’s Early Light” far lower than anyone else does. With a show like “Star Trek,” there is at least a consensus on what the best and worst episodes are. With Columbo, no such consensus exists. How can we accept that the show is any good if no one can agree on what exactly is good about it?

    I think it’s time we give up.

    There are also a few factual errors in your review. The scene in the bank, for example, comes after the dinner scene with Mako, not before, which makes more sense. When the woman at the bank mentions the traveller’s checks, Columbo immediately knows who Irene DeMilo is. Hence the line, “This is the best cake I’ve ever eaten.”

    • It is odd, isn’t it. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that different fans prioritize different elements of the show differently. The story vs. the performances. The clues vs. the humor. The production vs. the script. When a show does so many of these things so well, it gathers a large fan base for different reasons. But on an episode-by-episode basis, these differences produce inconsistent rankings.

      I love Columbo, but have always considered some of its tropes more appealing than others. I enjoy it more when there is a definite reason why Columbo focuses on his prey so early, than when the reason is rather vague. And I’ve never understood why some Columbo villains insist on trying to find answers to Columbo’s loose ends that, as presented, they have no reason to know. I much prefer a “why are you asking me?” response.

      So I understand why love needn’t be blind where this stuff is concerned.

      • I was thinking the same thing after I posted my comment. There are so many elements to a Columbo episode that your judgment will depend on which element you focus on. So thanks for that.

        As for Jon and RJ’s review of Murder Under Glass, it’s true they considered episodes out of order, but this one appreared fairly late in the series. Jon said it rewards multiple viewings..one for the score, one for the cinematography, etc. I particularly remember his comment that it’s hard to believe it was a seventh-season episode. He said it’s so good he had to keep reminding himself it did not appear in the fourth or fifth season.

        I have to say it’s one of my favorite epsodes as well, largely on the basis of all the eating, and the long final confrontation between Columbo and Gerard: it’s a good 20 minutes long, but it doesn’t feel like it. I still watch it whenver it’s on, which isn’t the case.with most of them anymore. I certainly prefer it to Try and Catch Me. Ruth Gordon was just too much of a pixie for my taste.

    • I wouldn’t arrive at such a damning conclusion as to give up on Columbo, as variances of opinion (often great) are part and parcel of almost all TV and film – just look at the raging debate regarding the merits of the new Star Wars trilogy compared to the Lucas versions. Thank goodness Columbo doesn’t stir the negative emotions in quite the same way.

      I like that there are so many different elements to enjoy in Columbo, and how these impact viewers differently. Personally, most of my enjoyment comes from the performance of Falk and his interactions with guest stars. I like Columbo to construct a rock-solid case with a damning gotcha, and, like Peter Falk, I like it when the show’s were fast-paced and laced with humour.

      By Dawn’s Early Light is an odd one. I think it’s marvellously done, but it’s an atypical episode, being very slow paced and straight faced. It lacks a lot of the ‘qualities’ I want when I watch a Columbo. As a standalone piece of TV it’s top-class, but I personally glean less enjoyment from it than the episodes I rank above it in my list.

      As for the high rating of Murder Under Glass by Jon and RJ, I believe they were reviewing episodes in random order, so considering each episode on its own merits, rather than necessarily comparing all aspects of it against the Columbo canon that’s come before? That could certainly explain it, because Murder Under Glass is perfectly enjoyable in its own right, but suffers when compared to the best outings from earlier seasons – especially Falk’s central performance.

      • The Conspirators(yet to be reviewed ) is NOT one of my Favorites either it also has a slightly different formula , It again maybe good enough in its own right but again it suffers when compared to the best outings of earlier seasons , However I have nothing against How to dial a Murder not one of the very best but a very solid entry all the same.

  36. The view that Peter Falk’s Columbo lapsed into caricature in the final seasons of the original run is not the product of over-analysis, repeated viewings, or excessive Columbo navel-gazing. I distinctly recall noting (and remarking) at the time these later episodes first were aired in 1977-1978 that Falk was veering into a “Tonight Show”-like Columbo impression. But, as I’ve said before, the worst is yet to come. “How to Dial a Murder” is definitely the test for how much overacting one can tolerate.

  37. This is one of my favorites, but I’m on season 5 of a full rewatch, and during my rewatch, I realized I hadn’t seen a lot of the early ones. I loved his season 4 because you can see his intelligence, and his portrayal is a little darker and more serious. I’m curious as to how I’ll judge some of my old favorites after watching seasons 1-4. I was disappointed in season 5 already (was he drunk in some of those episodes?), but my old favorite, “Now You See Him” was still fun.

    Fun fact, Mario is played but Alan Alda’s half brother!

  38. The plot may not make complete sense, but this is one of my favorite Columbo episodes due to the excellent casting, directing and musical score.

  39. I don’t think Columbo’s treatment of Mario is so unjustifiable. He has to rule him out as a suspect. Even though he’s pretty sure Gerard is his man, he has to follow every line of inquiry. He can see that Mario has a nervous temperament, and will probably crack under the slightest pressure if he really is the murderer. So he applies a bit of pressure – as an alternative to taking him in for questioning and having him formally interrogated, which would traumatise the poor boy even more.

  40. Only yesterday I rewatched this episode and what a delight it was again, as I’d expected. The cast is incredible, including Peter Falk, not bothered by any unjust criticism on his acting performance. In this review his mannerisms are outlined as if they are overdone, even being a pastiche on the earlier Columbo.
    Wrong. I’ve watched intently and if anything Columbo seems to be a bit slower, more thougthful in his actions and gestures. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest because, as I have said before in another topic: this is also who Columbo is, it’s called character development. I’m not bothered by his ‘mannerisms’ in the slighest. So from now on, every episode won’t suffice because Columbo has changed since Murder by the Book and the reviewer appreciates only half of who Columbo really is?
    The same goes for most of the other criticism Murder Under Glass apparently has to suffer from. Whatever is wrong with the casting, give me Larry D. Mann and Michael V. Gazzo anytime. Paul Gerard is a great villain, the absolute antithesis of Columbo. The only thing they have in common is they are both intelligent people, which makes for great chemistry between the two main characters. The scene described in the review (You can sir, maybe you can explain it to me?) is a great example of this.
    Add to this the great plot and mysterie: how did he do it, well, exactly? I didn’t figure it out the first time I watched and what a climax it was to watch the solution. It would have greatly dimished the ending if it was shown, or panned all out, as is suggested. It’s very clear when it’s explained, why ask for more? That would be a mistake like is made in A Trace for Murder, when in a sort of unnecessary epilogue the murder is explained, again, when all has been clear for some time.
    Why didn’t Max Duval tell Columbo about Vittorio’s intentions for meeting with Gerard? Perhaps that would have drawn attention to the Restaurant Developers Association. It’s not that hard to figure out!
    I could go on for a while, but allright, tastes differ, and so on, we can’t like the same things and come from different places. One thing does bother me, however:
    ‘If you’re the sort that simply loves any Columbo without worrying too much about the minutiae, it’s likely you’ll rate this one highly.’
    This conclusion implies that one can only love this great (in my opinion) Columbo episode if you’re incapable of watching critically and can only love it when you watch it as a smitten schoolboy drools over his first real crush, not being able to see her for who she really is because of it.
    Why would you write such a thing, if you put respect for other opinions in such a high place as you have? I can tell you that I am very capable of watching critically and still love to watch Murder Under Glass and think is great in almost every aspect, this very deserved winner of the Edgar Allen Poe award for it’s teleplay.

    • David, you seem just a bit, uh….testy about Columbophile’s review. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t mean it as a personal slight to you. Keep in mind that several people felt that Columbophile’s very positive review of “Bye Bye” was a misfire (I was one), and there was no need to demean anyone who felt differently. These are all just opinions, and we all can differ on the opinions and the reasons behind them. Columbophile’s tone seems to me to be playful, and not judgmental.

      • Yes it’s playful I’m aiming at, not judgmental. I’m always pleased when folk enjoy episodes more than I do. Viewing with a critical eye can sometimes take the edge of enjoyment off episodes, but c’est la vie!

  41. Not much to debate with this review. You have a way of articulating the little details that bother me (to use a Columbo phrase) that I can’t put into words. Your critiques are as usual accurate, and you never get into nit picking.

    My biggest gripe is that we don’t get to see the way in which Gerard got the poison into the wine bottle. Part of the appeal of Columbo is that we see him deconstruct the crime to figure out how it was done. We of course know the answer, so we can measure what he does and concludes against what we know to be true. We as viewers always know if he’s on the right path or not. The switch was made off camera, but it’s still difficult to see just how Gerard had the opportunity to do it, based on what we are shown.

    • This is not the first Columbo where key “how it was done” pieces were concealed until the final scene. “Double Shock” and “The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case” are earlier such cases. The involvement of both Paris twins — the key to how Uncle Clifford was murdered — is concealed in the former; the key role played by the red magic marker is very cleverly masked in the latter. We learn about both as part of the case’s solution.

      • In “Double Shock” we see the murder start to finish with the blender tossed into the tub. You are correct that we don’t see the rest as far moving the body, replacing the fuse, etc. . In “Bye Bye” we see Oliver Brandt set the whole crime up down to placing the dictionary and pen just so. Even if we don’t actually see the pen hit the book, we could have reasonably assumed one had to do with the other considering we saw Oliver set them up in a certain way. In this episode we have absolutely no idea how the poison got into the wine.

        • Look at “Bye Bye” again. You never see Oliver place the marker “just so.” Sam Wanamaker films the opening so deftly that, in retrospect, you may think you saw this — but never do. As for “Double Shock,” there’s a lot more to the murder plot than a blender tossed in the tub. (By whom? We think we know, but don’t.)

          • I’m not going to debate every minor issue because life is too short. But, in “Double Shock” we see Columbo observe and test various aspects of the crime (ie: the time takes to get from upstairs to the basement where the fuse box is) and we know there is a twin brother. We know both brothers have a motive. We know how the blender got in the house, we know how it got in the tub. That’s far more detail than in “Under Glass”. As for “Bye Bye”, same thing, we have far more detail. We know Brandt rigged the room to make it appear as though Bertie was shot much later than he actually was. We know a good chunk of what Brandt did and how, even if there were some pieces to the puzzle missing.

            • I don’t wish to prolong this either — and wouldn’t except that you make a very interesting point when you say “we know there is a twin brother.” You’ve identified yet another excellent Columbo sleight of hand. Before Norman Paris appears mid-episode, he’s referred to on occasion, but only as Dexter’s “brother” (or “beanbag brother”), never his twin.

    • The switching of the openers troubles me, too, because Gerard had to do it twice, not just once. First time there were witnesses in the kitchen, so he either required Santini-like sleight of hand tricks, or has a skeleton key to get in and out as he wishes. Removing the opener after the poisoning is even more problematic as you’d think police presence would deny him the opportunity. Perhaps it was ultimately hidden from viewers because the writing team couldn’t come up with a plausible way of showing him doing it, but I find it all a bit of a cheat.

    • yes this would have improved the episode a bit if we see Gerard actually putting the poison in the wine bottle , Take for example we see colonel rumford removing the blank charge and inserting the explosive into the shell in By dawns early light which is a much better episode , then sneaking off in the early hours and loading iit into and then blocking the cannon , we dont see this and it all happens to quick , I also think the ending was poor also on the whole I just dont rate Murder Under Glass but I suppose there would be great episodes if there wasn’t distinctly average ones as well. . ,

  42. Hilarious & insightful review! I have always been a fan of this episode, due to the food porn (& horror), Louis Jourdan’s suave villainy & my love for Michael Gazzo. But all your points are well taken! It also intrigued me that the hapless nephew was played by Alan Alda’s half-brother, who sadly died young of alcoholism.

  43. I like this one. LOVE the “good citizenship” gotcha (even though it’s not really a gotcha.) Love when Columbo points out something I totally missed that was staring me in the face.

    • It’s certainly an excellent reason to suspect the whelp in the first place – far more so than in many other episodes when he seems to latch on to a suspect through preternatural hunches rather than an obvious reason.

  44. It goes quickly, now. And that’s fine.
    Yesterday evening, I wondered if I should view this episode, preparing me for your review. I didn’t, but I should have done.
    Your opinion about this episode is mine. It’s good television, but not more than that.
    It also shows Columbo’s character is not always the same: in this episode Columbo speaks Italian, in other (I don’t remember which) he doesn’t.

    What you say about “This old man” is a consequence of the Columbo-character, as it is developped from episode to episode, from season to season. In “Murder by the Book”, we see a lieutenant with an old Peugeot, an old raincoat and a cigar (The cigar, and a CLEAN raincoat, he had already in the two pilots. The car, he didn’t.) In “Étude in Black” he buyed a dog. His wife, already mentionned in “Prescription Murder” (but as “my WIFE”, not as “Mrs Columbo”!) gets more and more important. Columbo starts eating Chili, and Peanut Butter with raisins. His car, his coat and his shoes are getting older and older, dirtier and dirtier. Episode after episode, the Columbo character is burried under more and more TICS and TRICKS. (“Just one more thing.”, and so on). “This old man” is just one more of them. May be Peter Falk overacts the Columbo-character because of all the tics and tricks inherited from the former episodes. There was no more space or liberty for a normal lieutenant.

  45. I liked this episode (save for the absurdly rough treatment of the poor boy Mario by Columbo totally out of charachter and unjustified) and maibe Columbo has been too theatrical but it was ok. As for 5he plot you are right on the weaknesses. Sill Ifound it a good episode all things considered

  46. For all its faults though I enjoy this episode.

    I can see what you mean about Peter Falk going a bit over the top – I wonder if the writer of this episode failed to take the advice given to Steve Bocho, don’t write Columbo, let Peter be Columbo – but I don’t find him that irritating ( unlike Last Salute or some of the 90s episodes ).

    My rule of thumb is that you can forgive plot holes and some implausibility if the overall result still delivers and this episode does so on balance a good episode – but yes would have been a great episode if we had the Columbo of 1973/74 not 77/78!

  47. The whole time I was watching this episode, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Simpsons and “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”.

    This was a pretty solid episode. Young Shera Danese was just lovely. One does wonder how Louis Jourdan was going to try and explain a second death by poisoning of someone he was sitting down to dinner with.

    • Even more on the nose was a later Simpsons episode that lifts the plot of Murder Under Glass. Homer becomes a nasty food critic and all the chefs in town conspire to poison him via injected eclair, right down to a French chef assassin standing in for Jourdain.

  48. The Mystery Writers of America bestowed its coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award (in the category Best Television Episode) to only one Columbo: Robert Van Scoyk’s script for “Murder Under Glass.” [Steven Bochco’s script for “Murder by the Book” and Jackson Gillis’ script for “Requiem for a Falling Star” were both nominated, but neither won.] I’ve always wondered why, of all the great Columbo scripts, this one should win the Edgar. Was it simply the fact that the series likely was coming to a close, had never won, and its writing deserved the recognition? Maybe it was the uniquely clever murder method Van Scoyk concocted (a method sufficiently mystifying that, in a slight deviation from the Columbo formula, it was concealed from the audience until the final scene).

    I do believe the method would have been cleverer still if Gerard had used a poison other than fugu — something more likely to find its way into a bottle of wine, and something less associated with an expert in Japanese cuisine. After all, Gerard exhibits his fugu expertise in the episode’s opening scene, and on television. Once the poison was analyzed and identified, Gerard is logically a prime suspect. This wouldn’t have been true with something less culinary.

    Columbo is known for murderers who are experts in one field or another. So it shouldn’t be surprising when that expertise informs how they choose to kill. But isn’t it rather a giveaway? When chemistry expert Roger Stanford (“Short Fuse”) uses explosives, or surgeon Barry Mayfield (“A Stitch in Crime”) uses dissolving suture, or photographer Paul Galesko (“Negative Reaction”) plans a crime involving a camera, or subliminal response expert Bart Kepler (“Double Exposure”) uses subliminal cuts, or psychiatrist Mark Collier (“A Deadly State of Mind”) uses hypnosis — or even The Great Santini (“Now You See Him”) uses illusion — doesn’t that make each of them that much more obvious a suspect? If you’re going to use your expertise, at least conceal it a little (e.g., Tommy Brown’s expertise with parachutes (“Swan Song”)).

    Gerard using his clever method a second time was anything but clever. And why? What did he have to gain by repeating his crime? What made him think that Columbo hadn’t briefed his superiors on every fact he had uncovered, and every suspicion he had? Killing Columbo wouldn’t accomplish anything other than putting the entire LAPD on Gerard’s trail. Gerard had gotten away with murder. Unlike other Columbo killers who fall into a trap because Columbo has boxed them into it, Gerard had no reason (other than pure hubris) even to accept Columbo’s dinner invitation.

    So clever method or not, I wouldn’t put this script in the special category that an Edgar Award usually implies.

    • In with you, seems bizarre this would win an accolade that much better episodes missed out on. I believe this episode was also singled out for praise by Richard Alan Simmons in The Columbo Phile for the quality of the writing. The unique nature of the fugu poison must have fogged a few lenses.

    • “Maybe it was the uniquely clever murder method” – by a great coincidence, only last night I read a Dorothy Sayers short story where poison is administered to wine through a hollowed out corkscrew.

      • Excellent catch, Ian. “The Poisoned Dow ‘08,” featuring detective Montague Egg. I guess Van Scoyk wasn’t as “uniquely clever” as I thought — but better read than I realized.

    • Great analogy as always. didn’t know about the Edgar…..forgive the impudence, but it must have been a slow year. I do think the injection method was clever, but if you think of it, this was the only way possible to poison him.

      • Maybe so. The other nominees in that category that year were an episode of the Eddie Capra Mysteries (“Murder on the Flip Side,” written by Lee Sheldon) and the pilot of Vega$ (“High Roller,” written by Michael Mann).


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