Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or so the saying goes. And that premise was put to the test in the third episode of Columbo‘s seventh season, Make Me a Perfect Murder.
Starring Trish Van Devere as murderous TV executive Kay Freestone, and boasting a supporting cast jam-packed with talent, viewers the world over were surely champing at the bit to wrap their eyes around it.
But is Make Me a Perfect Murder a sure-fire ratings hit, or a dismal flop certain to lead to bungling TV executives being given their marching orders? Let’s rewind to 25th February, 1978 and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Kay Freestone: Trish Van Devere
Mark McAndrews: Laurence Luckinbill
Frank Flanagan: Patrick O’Neal
Walter Mearhead: James McEachin
Valerie Kirk: Lainie Kazan
Luther: Ron Rifkin
Jonathan: Kip Gilman
Sergeant Burke: Jerome Guardino
TV repairman: Bruce Kirby
Dog: As himself
Written by: Robert Blees
Directed by: James Frawley
Score by: Patrick Williams
Significant locations: CNC Network HQ (3944 Lankershim Blvd, Studio City, LA); Mark McAndrews beach house (26646 Latigo Shore Dr, Malibu)
Episode synopsis: Columbo Make Me a Perfect Murder
When TV exec Mark McAndrews gets promoted to head up the CNC network’s East Coast operations, he has a nasty surprise for his brilliant Executive Assistant (and secret lover) Kay Freestone.
Not only is he not taking her to New York with him, he’s also not going to put her forward to replace him as CNC’s West Coast head honcho. In his own patronising words: “I can’t give you the West Coast, babe.” Why? Because although she’s great at what she does, he believes she doesn’t make decisions, but takes guesses – and is too big a risk to fill his shoes.
Kay, naturally, is hopping mad and doesn’t hide it, but Mark retains his cool. “You wanna sue me? Shoot me? That make you feel better?” he asks, whipping out a gun from a drawer. “Right through the heart. Make me a perfect murder, babe.”
In a final (and poor) attempt to sweeten the pill, he reveals a peace offering: he’s bought Kay the new Mercedes she’s had her eye on and has personalised it just for her. “The licence plate says K#1,” he says. “Well that’s a comment from the management.”
Such mansplaining hardens Kay’s heart further against Mark. She pinches his gun and it’s not long before this ambitious dame has cooked up an equally ambitious and high-risk revenge plan.
During an exec screening of a new and violent TV movie she has masterminded (named The Professional), Kay takes her place in the projection booth alongside super-fly projectionist Walter – ostensibly to ensure he doesn’t foul things up for her, but really so her murderous scheme can be put into practice.
Sending Walter off on a low-level errand, Kay has a nerve-shredding four minutes in which to sneak to Mark’s office, slay him, and get back to the projection booth to change the reel. Any delays will blow her cover completely and she’ll be behind bars before you can say “Make me a perfect murder, babe.”
Monitoring her progress with a tape recorded countdown, Kay gets up to Mark’s office without being noticed. He is snoozing on his executive couch but looks up as she enters – just in time to see her produce a gun and pop a cap in his treacherous heart. Better cancel that New York trip, eh Mark?
Kay now faces a desperate race to get back to the booth in time – and it’s far from plain sailing. Although she successfully stashes the murder weapon on the elevator roof, her route is agonisingly blocked by a dawdling security guard who’s taking far too much interest in a Playboy centrefold as she lurks in the shadows, itching to get moving.
The guard blunders off just in time, allowing Kay to race back to the booth to make the reel change with a cliche-tastic second to spare. As Walter returns to the booth, the only evidence of Kay’s ‘perfect murder’ is the cotton editing glove she was wearing, which she hastily flung to the floor. Moments later the screening is called off after word of Mark’s slaying reaches the execs. What a whirlwind!
We next encounter Kay the following morning as the police investigation is in full swing. She’s summoned to Mark’s office where she encounters Lieutenant Columbo lying prone on the couch, Mark’s reading glasses on the top of his head. He asks Kay to pretend to be pointing a gun at him in an attempt to test his theory that Mark knew the killer because he didn’t put his glasses on.
Despite threats made to the station by activists, Columbo is also convinced the killing was an inside job because of the building’s top security. But everyone’s whereabouts are accounted for at the time of the murder, so it’s a terrific puzzle. Columbo also happens to be on the scene to hear CNC’s ‘big boss’ Frank Flanagan ask Kay to take over Mark’s duties – in the short term at least. Could this promotion provide a hint of a motive?
Columbo next questions our mate Walter, who’s down in the projection booth working on an intricate model ship. The detective spots the discarded glove on the floor and pockets it, claiming he’s going to give it to his movie-loving nephew. Kay appears at the booth and Columbo tails her to her next challenge: calming an errant performer who’s running scared ahead of the next day’s live show.
Here we see Kay at her best: a compassionate and caring friend, who is able to turn around a difficult situation and persuade reluctant former child song-and-dance star Valerie Kirk to return to the sound stage and basically get her sh*t together. The amazing turnaround in Valerie’s attitude is noted by the show’s director. “How about walking on water?” he suggests when Kay quips what her next task will be.
Jaded by her exertions, Kay makes a pilgrimage to the family home where she grew up. It’s now nothing more than a derelict shack but if she hoped to be alone, she’s to be disappointed. Columbo is there waiting for her after a tip-off from Kay’s secretary – and he’s in the mood to talk.
Over a pleasant chat (and a back rub for the Lieutenant!), Kay reveals that she doesn’t believe Mark would have promoted her to the west coast top job. But she pours water on the notion that she might have killed Mark to get behind his desk. “I don’t think people kill just for a job,” replies Columbo. “Either there was no motive at all, like in these crazy kind of murders that you read about in the newspaper, or there was a very good motive.”
As long as Kay’s relationship with Mark was strictly professional, Columbo says he has no reason to suspect her. She was in the projection booth, after all. The detective also questions Kay about a slip of paper found in Mark’s office. It has the letter K on it, as well as a series of numbers. We viewers know it’s Mercedes model numbers, but Columbo is kept in the dark after Kay remains tight lipped.
The next day is a big day for both hunter and hunted. Columbo finds out a critical clue from projection ace Walter. On the night of the killing, when he returned to the booth from his errand, Walter was disgusted to see the main protagonist in the TV movie being screened blow his own brains out. This will provide Columbo with a light bulb moment later on. On a visit to Mark’s beach house, the Lieutenant is also on hand to pick up a dry cleaning delivery – a woman’s jacket! Maybe Mark had a love interest…
Kay, meanwhile, has BIG trouble on her hands. Valerie has gone AWOL just hours ahead of the live show – and when Kay tracks her down she finds a hot mess of a woman high on booze and pills. There’s no way Valerie can perform, so Kay has to pull a swift one and arrange for The Professional to be dropped into its place on the schedule at short notice. It’s the right length, but the subject matter is a liiiiiiitle different.
Columbo was one viewer hoping to catch the Valerie Kirk Show – so much so that he heads to a TV repair shop to pick up his broken set out of hours. The surly repairman is just finishing the job but alerts Columbo that The Professional is airing instead. The Lieutenant is just in time to see the scene where a guy blows his own brains out – and it’s the trigger he needs to start making a solid case against Kay.
He confronts her that night in her office. He’s traced the woman’s blazer that was delivered to Mark’s home. It was tailored specifically for Kay. She has no choice but to come clean about their romantic attachment, claiming it was all kept on the down low to avoid network angst. Columbo has more questions, but Kay has another fire to put out at a delayed filming shoot so the two head for the lift.
It’s there that Kay notices the tell-tale silhouette of a gun – visible clear as day through the frosted elevator roof panel. Ditching Columbo at the front door, she returns to the lift and tries repeatedly to reach the gun, her desperation palpable before she finally succeeds. The offending weapon is subsequently flung down a drain, but only after Kay receives a further shock: her Mercedes has been delivered to CNC HQ. Denying any knowledge of it, she drives off into the night to get the shoot back on track.
Her night’s going to get worse there. Frank Flanagan tracks her down – and he ain’t happy about Valerie’s blowout, or Kay’s decision to play The Professional instead. Its ratings were dire – she’s wasted an expensive picture. He’s also heard that Kay was planning to move into Mark’s office. “Why not? The office comes with the job,” she retorts. “But you don’t, Kay,” is his soul-crushing response. He’ll give her until the end of the month to find a new job.
Following this bombshell, the last person Kay needs to show up is Columbo, but show up he does – and he’s there to make an arrest. His case against Kay is complete, and it’s a very strong one.
He’s found out about the Mercedes Mark bought for Kay. It looks very much like a parting gift to a spurned lover. Based on Walter’s earlier testimony, he’s also figured out that Kay diddled with the projector’s footage counter on the night of the killing to buy her enough time to commit murder while still appearing to be in the booth.
He’s gathered even more damning evidence, too. The glove he took from the floor of the projection booth has gunpowder on it. And as for the gun itself? That’s the piece de resistance. Columbo reveals that police found the actual murder weapon that afternoon and replaced it on the roof of the elevator with another.
He shows Kay footage of the gun being placed – right before she and he took their elevator ride to the lobby. He then shows further footage of the elevator panel right after Kay had exited the lift later. The gun had gone – and only Kay could have done it.
Down but not yet out, Kay puts on a determined front. “I’ll fight. I’ll survive. I might even win,” she says pragmatically before surrendering to Columbo as credits roll…
Best bit: the final countdown
Shown in glorious real-time, Kay’s four-minute mission to slay lover Mark and race back to the projection booth is televisual tension at its very best.
The cool, androgynous calmness of Kay’s countdown voice on the tape offers a terrific contrast to the stressful and hectic nature of her mission – never more so than when the dithering security guard (Columbo favourite Mike Lally) blocks her path as he eyes a dirty magazine centrefold.
The pressure is almost unbearable – for the viewer as well as Kay – and we, like her, can breathe a sigh of relief when she finally makes it back to the booth. A brilliant scene, this is one of the best, most exciting murders of any Columbo episode.
My view on Make Me a Perfect Murder
A serious study in the corrupting influence of ambition and power, Make Me a Perfect Murder is a real countermeasure to the lightheartedness of season 7 openers Try & Catch Me and Murder Under Glass – and is a highly impressive addition to the series.
Columbo is back in TV land not quite 18 months after the Ward Fowler case in Fade in to Murder, but this time he’s viewing things from the network perspective giving this episode a very different flavour. Make Me a Perfect Murder is all about serious business carried out by serious executives in a serious manner, clubbing it in with the likes of A Friend in Deed and By Dawn’s Early Light as one of the series’ most straight-faced adventures.
As a rule I like my Columbo episodes to pack in a few good gags, but the sober treatment here seems spot on. Kay Freestone exists in a high-pressure world that demands excellence and punishes mistakes. What little humour there is here is largely limited to the Columbo’s neck injury and subsequent recovery, and is gentle enough not to dull the edge of the intrigue.
As Kay Freestone, Trish Van Devere is a revelation. A woman succeeding in a man’s world, she’s tough as teak, fearless and pragmatic while reserving genuine affection for those dear to her (i.e. Valerie Kirk). The writing gives us a fully-realised character and Van Devere brings her to life superbly. As female Columbo villains go, she’s right up at the top table.
Despite a lack of remorse for her actions, Kay remains a sympathetic figure to the audience throughout. She’s carelessly cast away by callous lover Mark, who’s condescending dismissal of her from his life has the viewer firmly on her side. Her gentle treatment of Valerie also marks her out as someone with a genuinely good heart, making Flanagan’s ruthless jettisoning of her services another gigantic crushing blow.
The worst thing for Kay is finding out that everything Mark told her about her limitations was correct. She was foolish in following her gut instinct in a failed attempt to get Valerie to perform in a family-friendly live show against the judgement of others, but she followed this up with a desperate gamble in choosing to fill the gap in the schedule with a gritty and violent spy thriller. And as Flanagan dismissed her, Kay can’t have helped but hear Mark’s ‘you don’t take decisions – you make guesses’ rebuke floating around in her head.
Still, these power-broking men that have harnessed her strength and talents should also take their share of the blame. A bit of better mentoring from Mark on how to approach critical decision making would have been good for everyone. Instead, he seems to have pigeon-holed her as an expert in putting out fires in an approach that can only hold her back while elevating his own status. Damn men!
As Columbo killers go, Kay is under more continual stress than just about anyone I can think of. Her job, her love-life, her friends all seem dead-set on hurting her. Her act of murder is set against a supremely tight deadline that, if missed, would absolutely doom her, while her attempts to retrieve the gun from the elevator lift are so tense that the viewer’s heart fairly thumps along as her struggles intensify.
No wonder, then, that Kay appears to be unravelling in the control booth at episode’s end as Columbo appears to wrap up the case. And if you’re anything like me, when she regains her composure and tells the Lieutenant that she’ll fight on, and that perhaps she’ll win, I’m absolutely rooting for her. Columbo has a strong case against her, but I like to think she gets off on a technicality in court and goes on to great things in her TV career, masterminding the downfall of CNC from a rival network.
“Falk dials it right down here to deliver his best performance of the season so far.”
As an aside, another wonderful thing about Kay is her sense of style. Her clothing, her enormously thick 70s’ hair, and her strength of mind all help her stand out as one of Columbo’s most kick-ass women. It’s fair to say she’s stolenn a rather large slice of my heart.
It helps that Van Devere’s believable performance is off-set by a much more restrained turn from Peter Falk. If you’ve read my review of previous episode Murder Under Glass, you’ll know that I was less than enamoured by the theatrical high-jinks notable in his performance there, which I found borderline infuriating. He dials it right down here to deliver his best performance of the season so far – and it’s a very welcome return to form.
As befits the tone of the episode, Columbo is playing things straight here. He’s attentive and focused, shrewd and amiable but never silly. Even his struggles with his neck injury are nicely underplayed and there are plenty of opportunities for the two leads to build a natural rapport given the oodles of screen time they share.
As has become a theme of the series since Richard Alan Simmons took over production duties at the end of season 6, there’s an excellent scene where Columbo and Kay get the chance to really gain a better understanding of the other – on this occasion at the run-down shack where Kay grew up.
The detective is able to literally and figuratively see just where the high-flying exec has come from as the two share honest and interesting insights about their lives, while Kay realises the fundamental differences between the two. “You’re a very special man, Lieutenant,” she says. “You accept things as they are. I try to change them.”
Whether or not this exchange adds fuel to Columbo’s suspicions isn’t clear, but an investigator as wily as he is can likely infer that Kay doesn’t wait for opportunities to present themselves – she makes them and takes them for herself. Could that include murder? At this stage, I believe he certainly thinks so, making this another really good scene.
Elsewhere, the episode makes the most of a great cast which, on paper, is as strong as any in the entire series. Laurence Luckinbill does a fine job in a few minutes of screen-time as Mark McAndrews to get viewers fully off-side, while his stern, God-like boss Frank Flanagan is given all the authority we could ask for by Patrick O’Neal, here making his second Columbo appearance after starring as murderer Elliott Markham in season 1’s Blueprint for Murder.
I’m a big fan of James McEachin, so was delighted to see him pop up for his own second Columbo outing, this time as projectionist Walter. It’s not a big role, but it’s well handled and again makes me lament the fact that McEachin was never cast as a Columbo killer. I think he’d have been awesome as the black murderer the show never had. What a missed opportunity!
Finally, special praise to Lainie Kazan, who was just fabulous as the fragile Valerie Kirk in a couple of fleeting scenes. A Broadway star herself in her early career, Kazan was superbly cast in a role that apes the troubled demise of Judy Garland, her lack of self-esteem and vulnerability to the temptation of booze and pills making her a pathetic figure.
Valerie and Kay’s relationship is an intriguing – not to mention under-cooked – one. This whole sub-plot serves to highlight just why Kay was ultimately unsuitable for the job she craved, but it also raises major unanswered questions. Why did Kay have such faith in someone she knows had substance abuse issues? And exactly what type of relationship do they have?
Clearly it’s a deep and meaningful one. Some viewers even believe they may have been lovers – a very daring thought for the time. Whatever the truth the viewer is left to interpret things for themselves, but there’s certainly a lot more going on than meets the eye, adding to the episode’s intrigue and the depth of Kay’s character.
So far, so good. But there are inevitably weaknesses in any Columbo outing and Make Me a Perfect Murder is no different. For starters, the motive for murder is a pretty flimsy one. Yes, Kay has been jilted and treated with contempt by her lover – but is this enough to driver her to homicide?
The character as written is as determined and practical as they come. I don’t see her committing murder over this. I see her quitting the network, joining a rival, excelling and proving that git Mark McAndrews wrong, although admittedly this wouldn’t make for great television.
The murder scene, as detailed above, is superb, but I feel that Kay flinging the glove on the floor of the booth was far too convenient a way of delivering a crucial clue to Columbo. Anyone who’s watched any murder mystery (as a network exec would’ve done zillions of times) would know that a glove would pick up gunpowder residue. Sure, she needed to whip it off before Walter noticed, but wouldn’t you then discreetly pick it up and dispose of it at the first opportunity? It’s such an amateur error.
Columbo also makes an erroneous observation that Walter wouldn’t have left the glove on the floor because of the immaculate condition he kept the booth in. If that was the case, why didn’t Walter spot the glove himself and dispose of it? His very act of not tidying up the glove disproves Columbo’s hypothesis that he keeps the booth in immaculate condition!
“Kay flinging the glove on the floor of the booth was far too convenient a way of delivering a crucial clue to Columbo.”
Granted, this is a minor gripe but I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from: Columbo ought to earn his clues through sound police work. This vital evidence is given to him far too easily. Without it, it would be very tough to convict. Oy vey…
Staying on the subject of clues, when he first meets Kay the Lieutenant is fixated with the idea that Mark must have known his killer because he didn’t need to put his bifocals on. A more plausible suggestion to my mind was that Mark was simply asleep with his glasses on his head. He was stretched out on the sofa, so why wouldn’t police assume he was having a kip? Again, it’s an example of Columbo’s focus being too easily narrowed.
If those sins are forgivable, the episode’s biggest failure is that pesky longer running time, which means Make Me a Perfect Murder is packed with filler and, running at 100 minutes in length, is far too flabby for its own good. Regular readers will know that this is a familiar complaint of mine, but this episode is damaged more than most by the extra running time. Indeed, I’d pair it with Candidate for Crime as a good episode that could have been great if it had moved a bit quicker.
Whether it’s a drawn out, hushed conversation between Columbo and his police sergeant, unnecessary exposition about how projectionists know when to change reels (we’ve seen Double Exposure, ya know!), or Kay’s overlong button-bashing meltdown as we reach the conclusion, there’s a lot that could have been cut without damaging the story. Even Columbo’s car-crash and whiplash woes were added to bump up the running time and I could have easily lived without all that.
The worst example of padding in Make Me a Perfect Murder may even be the worst example of padding in the entire 70s’ run when we see Columbo tinkering with the controls inside the technical booth. All the neck-braced Lieutenant does is push buttons, stare at patterns on a screen and look pleased with himself for more than two minutes, which, I can promise you, feels more like two years. Most fans hate the scene and if you can’t recall it, view it below with caution…
These imperfections take the edge off what is an otherwise excellent episode. The core of the mystery is well-written, the pay-off satisfying and there are some lovely directorial touches courtesy of James Frawley, here helming his second of six Columbo episodes, after opening his account with Try & Catch Me two episodes earlier. Frawley even appears on screen as the suicidal spy in Kay’s star-crossed picture The Professional.
It’s also well worth paying heed to Patrick Williams’ sensational score, which is one of the very best of the classic era. Williams scored every episode of season 7 except Murder Under Glass, and would return to do five more in the 80s and 90s. His work here is as good as anything you’ll hear on the big or small screen, and does a great deal in enhancing the episode’s unique atmosphere.
To sum it all up, Make Me a Perfect Murder makes for a compelling Columbo adventure. Like Kay Freestone, it has a lot of the goods required to make it in the cut-throat televisual world. But, and again like Kay, it falls just short of being the best in the business. A perfect murder? Maybe not, but a very diverting piece to factor into your schedule the next time Valerie Kirk pulls out of a live show…
Did you know?
A baseless myth exists that George C. Scott (Trish Van Devere’s husband of the time) appears in this episode as the TV technician Columbo speaks to up in the studio booth. This is, however, baloney! Make Me a Perfect Murder is a Scott-free zone!
For unknown reasons, Scott was previously credited on IMDB as appearing in this episode, but even Van Devere herself has scotched the rumour so if you hear of a fellow fan claiming that Georgie Boy is in this episode, please re-educate them ASAP.
As can be seen from the above picture, the two are very different fellas, with the uncredited technician actually played by John Furlong, a bit-part actor with dozens of film and TV credits on shows such as The Rockford Files, Dallas and Murder, She Wrote.
Make Me a Perfect Murder is also notable in that it’s one of the few 70s’ episodes in which Columbo appears before the murder – this time in the very opening scene as his car prang produces his whiplash injury.
The other 70s episodes in this exclusive club are Greenhouse Jungle, Troubled Waters, Candidate for Crime and A Case of Immunity. Columbo also appears before the victim actually dies in Prescription: Murder and The Most Dangerous Match.
How I rate ’em
Hampered slightly by the usual concerns about padding out the longer running time, Make Me a Perfect Murder remains an excellent Columbo episode and one that gives us one of the series’ most intriguing killers in Kay Freestone. As it is, it falls just short of my A-List, but a faster paced, 75-minute version could have been a good few spots higher.
Check out any of my previous reviews via the links below.
- The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
- Suitable for Framing
- Publish or Perish
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Negative Reaction
- A Friend in Deed
- Try & Catch Me
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Now You See Him
- Double Exposure
- Lady in Waiting
- Troubled Waters
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- Prescription: Murder
- A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
- An Exercise in Fatality
- Make Me a Perfect Murder
- Identity Crisis
- Swan Song
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Candidate for Crime
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Forgotten Lady
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Fade in to Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- Murder Under Glass —C-List starts here—
- A Case of Immunity
- Dead Weight
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal
- Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
- A Matter of Honor
- Mind Over Mayhem
- Old Fashioned Murder
- Dagger of the Mind
- Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here—
As always I’d love to hear your views on this episode, which I believe is a popular one with many fans. What are its thrilling highs and devastating lows? And how do you rate Trish Van Devere as a killer?
Our next outing (expected in early 2020) is How to Dial a Murder, the penultimate episode of the classic era in which Columbo risks life and limb to bring down a homicidal movie fanatic who uses killer dogs to do his dirty work. See you then…
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I was surprised to see no mention of Bruce Kirby in his role as the TV repairman, coming just a few episodes after his most recent turn in his recurring role of Sgt. Kramer. When I first saw this episode, I couldn’t figure out why Columbo’s old colleague was repairing televisions and it took me a few minutes to realize he wasn’t supposed to be playing the same character (forgive me; I was young). Still, always nice to see this veteran character actor.
I thought he gave the funniest performance in the whole episode – his cynical and sarcastic attitude towards Columbo’s dog was hilarious.
The overlong episode has got to be remembered as winning a world record for the amount of times the word lieutenant is used. Particularly by the murderess. It’s cringe making and so guilt laden.
One of my favorite episodes. The filler issues are pretty minor in my view. However, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the biggest flaw of all — the scene at the old home. I totally get the purpose of the scene but it is completely preposterous. If this was Detroit the scene might be realistic. No way a home would be boarded up and abandoned for years in Los Angeles — real estate is far too valuable, even in crappy neighborhoods.
i love that scene though ”whenever anyone says its nothing personal that’s usually when its VERY personal”
I guess I’m in the minority here.
I respected the lady killer, but didn’t feel any fondness or sympathy towards her.
I thought the actress played her superbly. I thought that the episode was constructed/produced well.
And… my favorite part of the episode WAS that silly musical interlude when he was fiddling with the knobs.
Just like the Murder Under Glass episode when they had another musical interlude involving the banquet, and during the same episode when he was mugging coyly with the Geisha… loved it all, then also during the Ruth Gordon episode where he had the extended conversation with the other detective about her dead nephew’s leather shoes.
It’s these little things that bring out the humanness and warmth in the character. That, among other things are what draws me.
I agree, I enjoyed the musical interlude, so Columbo.
I agree. I love the musical interlude as well as Columbo’s affection for Dog.
I’m the same. She’s smart, hardworking, ambitious. I like those qualities. But she is also cold, cruel, arrogant, and entitled. When Kay’s boyfriend mentions he got “the” job in New York, her reaction is “We did it!” We? Apparently her success is hers, but his success is *theirs*. But so what? Maybe she felt (or was) instrumental in his rise to the top. Even if true that doesn’t explain her arrogance with regards to taking the victim’s now-vacant job, his office and so on. She just waltzes in and pretends that everything is fine. Think about that for a moment: she takes the office IN WHICH SHE COMMITTED MURDER. Why? Because she felt like she had been passed over (welcome to working for a large company) by her boyfriend. Even the boss suggests that shows exceptionally poor taste.
She’s not just confident, she’s overly confident. She screws up the airing of the the TV movie, overestimates her ability to calm her drunk, pill-popping dance star, thinks the boss is head over heels for her to be in the producer’s chair when he gave no indication the interim “promotion” would be permanent. She’s so cocky as to believe she can get away with murder when she was the only one with a motive who was in the building at the time, with the flimsiest of alibis and a poor hiding spot for the gun. And yet she even compares herself to Jesus Christ for her ability to “work miracles”. It would have taken a miracle for her to get away with it.
And when she was finally busted, does she have a moment of remorse? A tingling sensation of regret? A “what have I done” shred of humanity? No. She’s sorry she got caught and vows to fight. In other words, she thinks she can, AND SHOULD get away with murder. Even the ex-Nazi Santini in Now You See Him humbly admits defeat. Ruth Lytton in Old Fashioned Murder surrenders with a sad, graceful dignity. But not Kay Freestone. After all is said and done, she acts like SHE was the one who was wronged and the murder was incidental, if not justified.
I think there is a word for people like that: sociopath.
That’s how I saw her, too. I can’t in any way see any justification for this murder. He threw her over and didn’t give her a promotion? Welcome to the real world, sweetie. If that’s an excuse for murder, much of the population would be murder victims. Her tenderness toward Valerie seemed out of character to me in light of the rest of what we see about her. Makes me wonder if she had some other motive for that, too. I did enjoy the episode and van Devere’s performance, but I think this is one of the weakest motives and most unlikeable killers in the whole series.
I am beginning to think that Kay saw Valerie more as a project rather than as a friend. In other words Kay wants to help her not out of love for an old friend, but because it will make Kay seem like that much more of a miracle-worker. The more I think about the character, it seems she treats everyone and everything as a chess piece, to be moved at her will, and she expects to be lauded for her genius. And it is being presented by reality that really offends her.
I compare Kay to Dr. Allenby from Sex and the Married Detective. Both highly successful, ambitious, and educated women who are both wronged by their lovers (albeit in different ways). Both snap and kill their lovers in their own offices. But the key difference is that Dr. Allenby fears her murdering alter-ego even more than being caught. In the end, she is deeply hurt and regretful. I don’t think Kay Freestone was hurt in the same way. I think she was insulted that Mark didn’t perceive her as well as she perceived herself.
That’s why I think Kay doesn’t really love Valerie, she loves herself and her self-made image of a savior.
On the other hand: it’s just a tv show.
Your last sentence hits the bullseye. But what a great oen!
LOL. You’re right, it’s just a TV show but look at how much joy it’s brought to all of us on this site!
I agree about Kay and Valerie. At one time they probably were great friends, but I think in this context she sees Valerie more as an asset to be managed than a friend n need. Not a friend in deed- that’s a different show. 🙂
Kay Freestone is a sympathetic character IMHO. Also I think she will land on her feet no matter what, even if she goes to jail for 20 years. She’ll do her time, get out of jail, and start rebuilding. She’s a survivor!
I’m with you! Kay is a fighter and survivor. She’ll prove ‘em all wrong again and make something of herself.
She’s a cold blooded killer. Lucky for her California no longer used the gas chamber
Kay is a psychopath! She refused the Mercedes!
True, I want to say that perhaps she was, do I dare say the only Murderer to say she’ll fight and she may even win. I don’t believe others had that fighting spirit, but I’d honestly be happy to be proven wrong Mr. Columbophile.
Was it here that it was brought up a possible lesbian relationship between Kay and Valerie, I didn’t feel it or see it. In the upcoming episode with Faye Dunaway, before knowing the other woman in the murder victims life was her daughter, I felt a lesbian vibe between the two.
The example that springs to mind is College cool cats Justin and Coop from ‘Columbo Goes to College’. As they’re being dragged away, Justin says something along the lines of: ‘Don’t count us out, because my father hates to see me fail.’ I can’t recall any other ideas off the top of my Swede.
I am impressed, and after you pointing this out, yes I remember it now. You deserve the name my friend.
I never like this episode because thought it was one of the only ones where Colombo really seemed mean. He certainly had more cruel murderers, like the guy who left his brother to suffocate or die of thirst, the woman who left the victim to die of lack of air in her fault, The guy who had his best friend ripped to death by his dogs as he listened. But he treated them fairly gently. They was a strong hint of steel in this episode – Maybe as you say because it mirrored the dog eat dog, hectic and pressured life of film production and Hollywood that the writers, actors and producers of the show would know.
Another solid review of a very good episode. The Kay/Valerie relationship is indeed interesting – you have two women who fought their way up from nothing, but one (as you say) is tough as teak, the other far more vulnerable. Does Valerie wish she could be as tough as Kay? Does Kay look at Valerie and think ‘There, but for the grace of God…’? It’s a very touching moment when Kay says something like ‘all us girls can do is stick together’.
And yes, fiddling with the control suite making patterns while a fake classical music soundtrack trills away is one of the most pointlessly silly in the entire history of Columbo!
There’s a subtle whiff of uncharacteristic firmness in Columbo’s demeanor when he tells Kay in the final scene, “Keep bearing with me ma’am. Sit down.”
yes I piked up on that line , a very memorable episode makes my top 10 overall
I always read Valerie as a ‘sister from her past’ that is, if not a flesh and blood sister, then a neighbor or good friend, someone that walked out of poverty with the same determination Kay did. It explained Kay’s late night visit to her old home place as well as the unwavering support, not to mention the fact Valerie had keys to Kay’s apt.
A wonderful analysis of a very interesting episode. I think the episode could be subtitled “It’s Tough at the Top”. I like the fact that it deals with rather an unusual and serious subject – a seemingly isolated woman fighting to survive in what is very much a man’s corporate world. Her steel-like toughness is emphasised by her emotionless and almost defiant reaction to Flanagan’s intimation that she’s been sacked – not only is she not visibly upset, but she also seems ready to bounce right back. And it’s the same when Columbo takes her in at the end.
I personally can forgive the fact that she hands Columbo a gift by leaving Walter’s glove on the ground, it could perhaps be put down to being flustered in a situation of extreme stress, which is compounded by the unexpected delay in her return to the projection room. Even she might have needed some time to properly gather her thoughts after nearly getting caught. But I totally take your point about Walter not spotting the glove himself and picking it up if he is as tidy as Columbo says.
Although she seems merciless towards one of her juniors when she expects him to work all night, I find it interesting that it’s her soft side – as shown by her closeness to Valerie, who any objective bystander could have seen was a car crash waiting to happen – that ultimately contributes to her downfall as a TV executive. A ruthless, impartial approach to that situation might have enabled her to survive longer, as it turns out. And as you say, it’s an awful irony that Mark’s comment about her making guesses turns out to be justified. It’s yet another cross she has to bear, on top of everything else.
Finally, I think it’s a crying shame that we never get to see Valerie Kirk’s show, other than a few tantalising seconds of high campery from the dancers! She’s hilarious. That would have made for a far more entertaining two minutes of padding than Columbo twiddling buttons.
Has anyone in the UK noticed that 5USA really love this episode? they seem to be repeating it a lot lately, on consecutive days sometimes.
Yes me , Its been on a hell of a lot over the Xmas , its one of my favorites too even in my top 10 but they overplayed it a bit , I was a bit dissapointed they didn’t play Try and catch me or Negative reaction ( my top 2 )over the X mas period , but they did play how to dial a murder and swan song 2 very good episodes , They also could have played A stitch in crime or Blueprint for murder 2 other very good episodes but they didn’t .
They played a lot of new ones on ITV 4 undercover about 6 times which Is a stinker
Murder of a Rock star about another 5 or 6 times which is Not too Bad and Strange bedfellows about 3 times which is not as bad as a lot of people think
Death hits the jackpot was on at 4 am last Sunday my favorite new one with the excellent late rip torn
but at least they spared us Murder with too many notes and Murder in Malibu which are the 2 worst for me .
Yet another solid Columbo episode that is very entertaining and well written. The actors all did a great job and i really enjoyed Patrick O’neal in this as well as the killer in Blueprint For Murder. Some padding in this one though but it doesn’t diminish the episode much at all. Also i believe Kay would have done the same to him if given the chance, they were both using each other for the same greedy goal. Just another fantastic episode in by far the best TV detective series ever!
Yes I liked patrick o neal in Blueprint for murder I think blueprint is underatted I know its not top tier , I just dont know how requiem for a falling star is ranked above it in columbophiles list , I also think its better than Candidate for crime and an exercise in fatality
Yes though Requiem has a good plot and a nice ending, it is just not as entertaining as others which may not have had as strong of plot. Blueprint hovers at #10 for me, I think Falk did a good job given the circumstances.
Blueprint isn’t a top top tier episode but is definetley a bit underrated in my opinion
I enjoy it more than Etude in black which is generally rated very highly on various blogs and websites but is overrated as columbophile also acknowledges
The Gun Shot Was Very Loud ,the loudest i Can remember in the series , Troubled waters The shot was also quite loud but silenced by a pillow loud Making a positive attribute to 2 very good episodes , Trish Van Devere is superb in this which is the main positive from the episode along with the murder countdown Perfect murder is on 5 USA a few time across the XMas period and is always a great watch , One of my other true favorites Swan Song with johnny cash who and IDA lupino who also put in excellent performances is on tomorrow / Saturday 28th December.
I think the cannon shot (KABLAMMO) in By Dawns Early Light was likely the loudest murder weapon.
How about the exploding car in Short Fuse?
Blessed with a hypersensitive ear, I clued in right away, way back then, that Van Devere was probably not from California. She’s more other coast than any actor from the entire series. So, like if I was trying to sound like her I’d have to change big time! Everything about her was decidedly different than anyone I’d even met.
Actually Trish is credited as “Patricia Van Devere”. (I give myself credit for recognizing her!)
Excellent pick up! I’ve never seen that at all.
That was in the movie The Landlord
OMG I just saw Trish Van De Vere in “The Landlord” 1970 movie with Lee Grant and Beau Bridges. I don’t know if she was credited for the part, it was pretty small. But amazing of course.
As a matter of fact Make me a perfect murder is being aired today on 5 USA as I speak also How to dial a murder which is next for review . 2 Very Good Episodes perfect murder .
I also love this episode, but I have to go along with Columbophile’s complaint about the padding. In particular, the scene with Columbo messing about with the camera controls (over two minutes!) seriously diminishes the impact of the scene that follows — which is a shame, because it’s the final confrontation between Columbo and his antagonist and as such should get a better build-up. Also, it’s not really clear why Columbo’s suspicions fix upon Kay in the first place. Later on he gets some clues that indicate her as a possible murderess, but he seems to have made up his mind from the moment he laid eyes on her.
Still, Trish Von Devere’s performance is electrifying; she makes Kay Freestone a strong candidate for the most sympathetic murderer. And it helps that the episode has such a strong supporting cast (one not mentioned in the review is Ron Rifkin as the beleaguered director — a minor role, but perfectly rendered).
A great review from Columbophile, as always!
Hi I love Make Me A perfect Murder , It Does Have its Fair Share of padding But it is a Very enjoyable episode Mainly The Murder and Trish van deveres good looks and excellent performance , terrific music score Stellar cast Patrick o neal etc A tad of humor for for good measure , I also like the scene in Kays childhood home i think it was a nice touch , a much improved episode on Murder under glass which I put in my Bottom 10 of the seventies , How to dial a murder Next up not quite in the same league but still a very decent outing and Then The conspirators which I am Not a Big fan of looking forward to next year .
Thanks, Coumbophile, for the review of an episode that is among my favorites.
You listed many of the reasons I enjoy it, but another is similar to yours for the Bye Bye, Sky High IQ Murder Case: Perfect Murder was the first Columbo that I really watched the entire way, though I watched mine when it originally aired, which is why I likely rate many of the final seasons of the original run higher than others.
My Mom always watched Columbo but I rarely paid attention. When this aired, I was under the weather (better now, 40 years later, thanks). This is the episode that brought me in.
The scene with the gun in the elevator was so intense. It had me on the edge of my couch, while bundled with blankets. But it was one of a couple of scenes (the other being the murder, itself) that were riveting.
Even at 9 years old, I felt for Kay. Her boyfriend jerked her around and, I unlike you, I definitely could see Kay being a killer. Crimes of passion can overtake the coolest of heads, and I believe that would have been the case with her character, despite her level-headedness in other aspects of life.
The one thing I do have a problem with, more than padded running time, is the glove. I know she was rushed, but I would have thought she would have considered where to stash the glove before doing in Mark.
Overall, one of my favorites. I became a 9-year-old fan of Trish Van Devere on the spot (and had a bit of a crush; grow up in the 70s, appreciate that 70s hair and fashion).
Oh, I am also a big fan of James McEachin. But with Walter, it’s funny to contrast him with Chuck McCann’s Roger White from Double Exposure. Same job in general, but they are definitely on opposite ends of the spectrum.
To me the gun in the elevator story (though it provides for some great suspenseful moments) is ultimately illogical. We know the gun is not Kay’s but actually belonged to the victim and presumably not traceable to her. So why did she even bothered to remove it from the elevator? Suppose someone eventually finds it there and alerts the police. So what? How will it implicate her? Of course police finding out that the victim had been shot from his own gun would mean that the killer in all likelihood was someone close to him. But Kay already knows that Columbo from the very beginning rejects the theory that the killer was some crackpot crusader for morality on TV. Her situation actually won’t change one bit. Logically she has no reason to take on huge risk of removing the gun from the elevator.
Interesting. Of course, when she hid the gun, she still hoped to sell the police on the “crackpot crusader” theory. But later, after Columbo was convinced that Mark knew (and trusted) his killer, how would it look to find the gun hidden in the elevator? (Assuming the gun was registered and traceable to Mark.). Because it’s not only the fact “that the victim had been shot from his own gun” which “would mean that the killer in all likelihood was someone close to him”; it’s also that fact that this “someone close to him” tried to hide the gun rather than, say, drop it at the scene. That means it was someone also fearful of his or her association with the gun. Who else could this mean other than Kay (particularly once her relationship with Mark was disclosed)?Then again, there’s also the question of which elevator this was. We aren’t told much about the building design, but could this be an elevator only certain people present in the building at that time would have had a reason to use? (Granted, if that was significant, it should have been established earlier on.)
You are right. The layout of the building could have some significance.
I think ultimately Kay’s downfall (and many other Columbo murderers as well) is her attempt to take Mark at his word (“Make me a perfect murder”) and create a needlessly overcomplicated plan. Her best bet would be to do exactly as you said that is to simply drop the gun in Mark’s room.
Yes Columbo eventually would be able to establish an opportunity for her and motive as well (however flimsy it is – millions of people go through breakup of a relationship and losing a chance of a promotion without killing anybody). She doesn’t even really need to deny her sleeping with Mark and can proactively inform Columbo about it before he finds out on his own. That would look much better for her. All she needs is to deny Mark cruelly slighted her and say they separated amicably (so she can actually accept this shiny new Merc as a clear sign of it in plain sight of Columbo). After all Mark can’t contradict her from his grave.
I simply can’t see how Columbo could actually place Kay at the scene of the crime or connect her to the murder weapon without this elevator business. Without it I don’t think any DA would be daring enough to indict her on a purely circumstantial basis (“circumstantial poppycock” as another Columbo killer would say).
As Columbo told Ray Flemming in “Prescription: Murder”: “You take our friend here, the murderer. He’s very smart, but he’s an amateur. I mean he’s got just one time to learn, just one. With us, well, it’s a business. You see, we do this a hundred times a year.”
Ha-ha. Yes, Columbo certainly would have had more than enough cases to hone his skills in real 60s-70s LA. As British pathologist from the “Dagger” jokes it was a veritable “place of opportunity”. Speaking of amateurs though I think one avenue the show didn’t really explore was pitting Columbo against a professional criminal.
No, but his interplay with Artie Jessup in “A Friend in Deed” shows that the professional criminal milieu is one Columbo could navigate very well.
You might also argue that Elliott Blake from the “Guillotine” is also a professional criminal though of a non-violent kind before the story begins. He is a conman and is totally aware that he has no psychic gifts but is in the business of providing “impossible on demand” as he aptly puts it.
McGoohan’s spy is also essentially operates as a professional criminal of a high stature though his actions are authorized by the government. I think his reaction to Columbo’s intrusion (thinly veiled threat to his family) is exactly how organized crime boss would react.
That’s what makes CSI man Kinsley such a tricky opponent in “A Trace of Murder.” He *also* does this a hundred times a year! It’s like Columbo has to outsmart himself! If it hadn’t been for the fact that he didn’t know about cigars—and Columbo did—he might have gotten away with it!
Except that Kinsley had spent most of his career teaching at the academy. Which may explain why he shot Seltzer so far from the panic button Seltzer supposedly pushed. (I never have understood why that fact didn’t bother Columbo.)
Well you know it’s not any of the executives because they were all together. It’s not the accountant guy because he was on the phone with his wife, and they both would’ve heard the gunshot. That leaves only Walter and Kay. Walter wouldn’t have had much of a motive plus he had to actually lug back the film reels. So he had to spend time going to pick them up at Kay’s request. that leaves only Kay. Hey, I am a smart as Colombo!
I’m not sure why everyone just assumes that Kay was in the projection booth all that time. It’s reminiscent of “Forgotten Lady” when they assume that Janet Leigh was watching the movie all the time except for the missing minutes. I’m surprised Columbo didn’t question Walter, who would have told him that Kay sent him down for the reels–which coincidentally took him almost four minutes. What if he’d come back to the booth sooner? (In college I was projectionist for our film series, so I enjoyed the “two dot” instruction scene. But our projectors were much simpler than the ones they used!)
Hi columbophile I Have looked forward to this review for ages and I didnt think it would be out till next year so great Xmas bonus . The review is very fair as always and Make me a perfect murder is one of my favorites and I do agree with the negative points on it in particular casually throwing the white glove on the immaculate floor is far too convenient same as the feather in troubled waters but also Drawing a massive line almost halfway in a huge american dictionary balancing it on a desk and leaving it fall on the floor next to it for columbo to find is as good as a confession in The bye bye which is considered the very best .
There is a hell of a lot of padding in this most of which I dont mind too much Except for the Valerie scene, But it has the best actual murder scene accompanied by a memorable music score The gun shot was also very loud Kay freestone is in my top ten killers easily
The motive is a tad weak and This is a very memorable columbo overall in particular with I like the clue about the glasses being on marks forehead meaning he must have known his killer is excellent writing and sets the tone for the episode .
However I have to say I thought columbophile would have rated it a bit higher in the ratings I cannot for the life of me Understand how An Exercise in fatality a barely average episode , and A deadly state of mind which is not a whole lot better could be rated above Make me a perfect murder , Which was on Last Sunday and is always a pleasure to watch ,
well at least its a rated much higher Than Murder under glass which I consider poor and forgettable
As for How to dial a murder next up Not a Bad episode but not in the gold club , Then one of my least favorite 70s, The Conspirators which was also on last Sunday , Nearly reviewed all the seventies now bar 2
Great work Columbophile .
One of the most memorable episodes because of Trish Van Devere’s performance, the tape-recorded countdown, and the gun on the elevator. Certainly a lot of the critiques above are legit, but I’ll watch this episode every single time it’s on TV! Columbo’s like pizza: even if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good!
I think it’s pretty clear that Kay Freestone is a variation on Diana Christensen, the character Faye Dunaway played in NETWORK. Which is why I was interested to see people here speculating about a lesbian side to Kay’s relationship with Valerie. When Faye Dunaway herself appeared as a Columbo murderer, it was in an episode where the audience is at first led to the (erroneous) conclusion that she is in a lesbian relationship. Perhaps her casting in that episode reflected a widespread interpretation of the Kay/ Valerie dynamic in this one.
Interesting. “Network” was released on Nov. 27, 1976. Robert Blees’ draft of the MMAPM script is dated Aug. 1, 1977. Did the former inspire the latter? Could be.
I think it must have. NETWORK was not only a big hit, but dominated the public imagination about what went on inside the TV business for many, many years after its release. And Kay Freestone very much like Diana Christensen- a brilliant young woman (“the only thing worse than a television lady who thinks she knows everything is a television lady who really does know everything,”) determined to rise to the top of a network’s executive structure by any means, whose affair with an older man at the network is not the career boost she had imagined it to be.
The resonance with NETWORK may also be why so many people find Kay Freestone likable. In reality, no one who could commit a murder in so calm a state of mind as to present the police with a difficult puzzle to solve would likely be very sympathetic. A killer cold enough to arrange an alibi, dispose of evidence, etc, would be very frightening indeed. But we don’t compare Columbo’s villains with real-life people who might kill us so much as we compare them with other fictional murderers. And compared to Diana Christensen (who is a murderer, among her other distinctions,) Kay Freestone is eminently relatable.
I’ve always liked this episode. Two little things I like best are Flanagan shushing one of his employees during “The Professional” viewing and the way the camerawork doesn’t reveal the woman in the bathroom is Kay at the beginning of the episode. But my main gripe is that Columbo says “ma’am” way too many times.
The Murder scene , The clock Countdown and , The musical scores the Excellent cast the way the professionals is cut and mixed into the episode into it along is the best aspect of this episode
Also you have a Good looking female killer , Columbo appearing before the murder an appearance from dog and Seargent Kramer this time as a TV repair Man which is also a funny scene little bits of humor also Maybe not the very best of endings to a columbo But in all a very good episode and a real heavy weight despite the l;longer running time Makes my top 10 seventies ,
Again a bit dissapointed to see it below An exercise in fatality and A deadly state of mind. which I dont consider to be Near The very best episodes An Excersise in fatality in Particular.
He also says “sir” way too many times. It’s one of the little annoying quirks of his character, but it’s pure Columbo.
Lol. Perhaps a break from him saying “sir” way too many times?
I never understood the whole ‘Kay saving Valerie from herself’ story line. Valerie being the Yentl-like “actress/singer” who had a plethora of psychological issues. Maybe that was filler, or her agent swinging the deal for her contract? This simply did not fit Kay’s personality at all (to be a caring, nurturing ‘friend’ of anyone, much less a self-destructive zombie).
“Make me a perfect murder, babe” may just be one of the lamest dialog lines in television history, fully deserving of Mark’s murder. It fits in with the avocado color-themed shag carpet of the time, Peanut Farmer President, “keep on trucking” t-shirts, “hang in there, baby” posters, plus disco and “we got a convoy, good buddy” blasting on the airwaves…..other than that, it was a great time to be young!
Columbo popping up on all of Kay’s monitors and speakers at the end was a tell-tale sign of the over the top sequences to be highlighted in future-run episodes (the dreadful Columbo as the Circus Ringmaster comes to mind).
Kay was definitely not a sympathetic murderess, in the least. I still enjoy this episode, thoroughly, though…..though I don’t really know why. The magic power of Columbo, I guess.
As always, an excellent review by Columbophile and superb thoughts/comments by fellow fan(atic)s.
Valerie Kirk serves a dual plot function. She is the first example of Kay Freestone’s rose-colored decision-making process, making her unsuitable for the top job. Kay builds a LIVE broadcast around this unstable, pill-popping drunk, ignoring all contrary advice.
And then Valerie’s unsurprising breakdown is the predicate for Kay’s decision to run “The Professional” prematurely, without any lead-up promotion.
Given the disastrous consequences to Kay from this series of decisions, there had to be some reason why she started down this path. Her belief in her power to remake Valerie (which, at first, looks justified) provides that reason. Kay was well-intentioned but mistaken.
Excellent hypothesis! Perhaps Kay’s pathological narcissism could lead to a messiah complex, and her radical feminist hatred of all things male would cause her to try and salvage a substance abusing, self-harming waste of flesh trollop like Valerie, but I think Kay would dump Val like yesterday’s trash before she ever developed any type of friendship with her.
I doubt Kay could ever connect with anyone on a visceral human-to-human level. Kay Freestone is really that malicious and evil of a character….although my armchair psycho-analysis of her thought process and taking inventory of her rampant character flaws is confusing, considering my strange attraction to her character…perhaps my actual psyche is even more disturbed than hers! Best not to dwell on it. Touché.
I consider Kay deserving of her comeuppance on par with the neutralizing of Edna Brown and Francis Galesko type of villains/victims. All of them more than deserving of their fates.
I would love to see a full version of “The Professional” if a deviant like Kay was so sold on it.
Do we actually know that Kay ”hated all things male”? Aside from that her murder victim was male it wasn’t immediately obvious that she hated men in general. I could imagine her hating women she saw as rivals a lot worse than she would a man. When i saw this episode for the very first time i actually wondered if she was going to murder Valerie too if Valerie had tried to blackmail her or something of course that didn’t happen but when i saw it the first time i did think it might because i wondered if the scenes with Valerie off her face were heading towards that
Is this response a parody?
During the current clown world in which we of ‘the west’ exist, life is a parody. I am fascinated by the parody/paradox known as 21st century, where good=bad, sick=normal.
The only reason Kay ever ‘connected’ with Mark was 100% career driven, which makes her odd ‘friendship’ with useless, soon to be industry black-balled stoner Valerie even more of a head scratcher.
From the start of the episode, Kay definitely is overflowing with Helen Reddy “I am woman, hear me roar” syndrome (Boomer reference), though she (Kay, not Helen) seems to possess quite a bit of testosterone, herself.
Still a great episode, top 20 fer shure, good buddy….
Such a great episode deserves such a great review.
I don’t think any Columbo episode has a more nailbiting execution of the murder or a more layered character as a murderer than Make Me A Perfect Murder.
Every time I watch this one I wonder why I tend to forget Kate is a murderer. Of course Mark is not someone the viewer would mourn too extensivily, but it’s more than that: I respect the way she tries to bring the most (not the best, the most) out of herself in any situation. Of course, since she’s human like the rest of us, she falls when flying too close to the sun. That’s why I don’t think the dropped glove is too obvious a clue. Executing her murder plan is almost killing her instead of her victim, she’s that anxious – something almost no Columbo murderer is – so she’s bound to make a mistake like that.
I’m not really bothered by most of the abovementioned ‘padding’, though surely the ‘musical interlude’ could have been 2 secs instead of 2 minutes. Other than that one I wouldn’t want to miss any scene and I think the pace of the episode is very comfortable as well. I think your descrition of Trish van Devere’s portrayal of Kay Freestone is spot on and I wholeheartedly agree.
Every aspect considered Make me a perfect murder would definitely make my A list, but then my list contains more episodes than yours.
Anyway it was a joy reading the review, thanks!
P.S. I think James McEachin would have made a great murdered indeed!
I think that this is one of the most interesting Columbo episodes ever. There’s a pretty strong implication that Kay and Valerie Kirk are lesbian lovers. What else are we to make of Kay telling Valerie “I’ll let you keep the key to my apartment” or Valerie saying “No, I don’t want to” when Kay tries to give her a hug?
Considering the era that alone would make this particular episode fascinating. But then there’s this message about how Kay’s bosses were right about her. She murders her boss because she feels ill-used and doesn’t get a promotion, but her incompetent bumbling with Valerie Kirk and “The Professional” proves that they were right to not promote her!
I also like that there was an issue of “Playboy” just sitting out on a table in a reception area. Isn’t it interesting, how social mores change? In some ways, society gets more liberal–see how this episode can only obliquely hint at Kay being bisexual. In other ways, society gets more conservative–would anyone *anywhere* have a nudie magazine on a table in a reception room?
Pretty strong episode overall, one of the best of the last run of 1970s “Columbo” episodes. 35 years ago or so I used to watch “Columbo” reruns late at night with my mom, and this is the only one I really remember. That bit about the little dot being the signal to change reels stuck with me for some reason.
I don’t agree that two women being close and hugging each other suggests that they’re lesbian. Women tend to show affection for each other more than men do. It seems normal enough to me, although in this case I have trouble seeing Kay as being sincerely affectionate with anyone.
“Why not? The office comes with the job,” she retorts. “But you don’t, Kay,” is his soul-crushing response. He’ll give her until the end of the month to find a new job.”
Frank Flanagin got away by the skin of his teeth!! He’s fortunate he didn’t end up like Dr. Mayfield’s second victim.
Great review. One of the better episodes, but the scenes with Valerie Kirk could’ve been omitted. If they were there to show the efficient aspect of Kay’s personality, they could’ve been scaled back; for me, they got far too much airtime.
2 scenes always come to mind From this episode. The first is the scene in the elevator when the killer is desperatly attempting to pull the gun from the ceiling. This has always been a stand out moment in columbo for me bc of how well the actor plays this scene. Pure desperation and panic at one of the highest levels, the panic in her voice, the eye poping look of fear on her face and then finally the releif when the gun gets retrived. CLASSIC!
The 2nd is at the very end when columbo is walking around the merry go round set, looking for the killer while she in in the control room, she insists shes very busy and cannot talk while the lt. continues to banter to the cameras, the killer loses her cool untill she attempts to escape when columbo is at the entrance of the door. Great episode & like always great review! Cant wait for dial a murder next!
Kay was just as slimy and unlikable as Mark.
Her 1st reaction to the promotion he got was “WE DID IT!”, her words meaning she was canoodling him for a position. Mark: “I want you to stay here” Kay: “YOUR JOB!” When she gets, she instantly bonds with the idea of murder to further her career. She’d have dropped him in a cold second if someone else had come along that was higher up the food chain.
She gets all pushed out of shape when the boss calls her on the limousines carpet about her botching of the live show and throwing away the 1st run of the film, then hammering her about jumping behind a dead mans desk.
I didn’t sympathize with Mark or Kay for a second and couldn’t wait to see her nailed. Both were equally repulsive, among the most unsympathetic characters in the entire series.
Had the stupid control booth and whiplash padding not been included, this would have been a taunt murder/rebuke of the dog eat dog Hollywood industry.
This episode also was the most blatantly padded, the control room, the accident are all pointless. This would have been excellent at 1:15. If anything, it was padded to get Falk more screen time when this is one that should have had less.
Hmmm. Yes, I am going to try to edit this one.
It bewilders me that some people seem to think Kay was just using Mark, because from where I’m standing, both the script and Trish Van Devere’s performance made it abundantly clear that she had genuine feelings for him. The use of “we” makes her *more* sympathetic, not less – clearly she believed the two of them were a couple, which was why she automatically assumed he’d be taking her with him, and presumably thought they’d remain so even if she stayed in LA. This is backed up by the later scene with Valerie; clearly Kay is anything but a cold-hearted, ruthless bitch who just abandons people when they’re no longer useful to her.
If anything, Kay’s main flaw is that she’s not ruthless or unscrupulous *enough* to succeed in her plans. If she really didn’t care about anything but her own ambition, she’d have cut Valerie loose without a thought and moved on to the next guy who could help further her career. And sadly, both those things would probably have worked out much better for her than the decisions she actually took.
This is a good point, the use of “we”.
Also her comments up in the room when she’s getting ready to leave, reveals that she thinks she was just used by Mark and then abandoned when he got his opportunity to move on.
I agree with Debbie one million percent. Her use of ‘we’ shows that Kay considers she and Mark to be a dream team. She’s happy for the both of them. He’s only out for himself. He’s an absolute ratbag!
Obviously, Kay has an exceedingly high opinion of her own abilities. Look at the superior way she carries herself at the beginning, shepherding “The Professional” through the editing process. Later, how she preens when it’s suggested she can walk on water. So when she says, “We did it!” what she’s saying is: I played an equal role in Mark’s success.
However, we’re told — and shown — that her high opinion of herself is wholly unjustified. No one now disputes this. So, no, while she may have assisted Mark’s success (that was her job, after all), she wasn’t an equal partner in the decisions that earned him Flanagan’s favor.
I wonder whether MMAPM and Kay’s character would have benefited immensely from making it clear that Mark’s “you make guesses” critique was a false, malicious, bad faith attempt to grab credit and benefit from successes justly due to Kay. Why wasn’t that the story? Why wasn’t MMAPM about a man skyrocketing to the top upon the shoulders of a woman, who was the real reason for his success, whom he then denigrated unfairly for his own purposes? It might have made a better episode.
But that wasn’t this story. Instead of focusing on the word “we,” how about the word “yet”? When Mark tells Kay: “You’re not ready yet.” He also tells her: “At what you do, you are the very best of all.” So Mark gives Kay the credit she’s due, and isn’t foreclosing her ultimately gaining the top spot. In fact, it’s not even clear he’s shared all of his concerns about Kay with Flanagan, who appears to have come to the identical conclusion independently.
Kay had some deficiencies she needed to improve. Had she taken Mark’s criticism to heart, sought his advice on the areas she did poorly, and impressed him with more than her ability to do her current job, she would have been better off. Instead, she murdered him.
Whether or not Mark’s assessment of Kay is correct is beside the point. There’s a time and a place for dispassionate career advice, and that time is not ‘to the girlfriend you just dumped, RIGHT AFTER sleeping with her’. Even in the most charitable reading of his actions, he still comes across as a self-absorbed prick with zero tact or sensitivity – particularly when he follows it up by trying to buy her off with a car. At the risk of stating the obvious, a car is not a substitute for losing your boyfriend and career prospects in one fell swoop, especially when you’ve just realised the former didn’t take either of those things seriously.
Right on, Deb!
What’s this obsession with the car? Would you really have a better opinion of Mark if he hadn’t bought her the Mercedes? Does buying her the silver 450SL — “the one you always wanted” — somehow make him worse than if he hadn’t? I understand your aversion to the “zero tact or sensitivity” he displayed, but I fail to see how his NOT buying her something she “always wanted” would have been an improvement.
Given the circumstances, the gift of the car is like leaving a hundred dollar bill on the nightstand after lovemaking.
Actually, converted to 2019 $$, it’s like leaving over $100,000 on the nightstand.
Of course that makes it worse- if he’d literally left her two dollars, it would be recognizable as a joke, albeit a very bad one. A fancy car looks like his actual assessment of the price for which she might be expected to sell her favors. That doesn’t constitute a legal justification for homicide, but it certainly does go a long way towards making Kay sympathetic.
The car she wants (for “her favors”) is disgraceful — but the job she wants isn’t?
“Baby, we did it, we did it, we did it. When do we leave?” “I want you to stay here, Kay.” “Your job!” “Yup. You earned it.”
Better? Even with the ambiguity of how she “earned it”?
She was expecting the job as part of her partnership with Mark, not as payment for services rendered to him as a client. That’s why the car, in this context, was a heartbreak for her.
I was going to write a response but: yeah, this exactly.
I think him giving her the car as a pay-off after ditching her is a heinously classless act and one that shows how little he really knows her, or indeed understands women in general. That was blatantly not the time to give such a gift and blatantly not the way to give it. If I had been professionally and personally crushed by a lover and then given an extravagant gift as a softener I’d be ruddy livid, too, even if I had wanted it.
I’m sorry but a single word (“we”) doesn’t erase basically everything else we see from Kay in the episode (cold, calculating, delusional, overconfident, in one word sociopath).
And this “we” can also be interpreted as her overstepping and taking credit for his success when nothing hints at her having any part in it.
Agree 100% they were both using each other to climb that corporate ladder….also the Doors best song is Peace Frog.
Maybe she says “we” because she’s his top assistant, is 24-hours-a-day hands-on and, as the studio man confirms to Columbo, is totally knowledgeable. She has been pouring her heart and soul into their output, so she sees “his” success as belonging to both of them. Maybe it’s not, but I don’t get the sense that Kay would have killed Mark for that. Even Columbo says that she wasn’t aiming for the job. Not until the guy stupidly offers her a car like she’s just a real expensive date and then she sees red does it turn to murder. For someone who is supposed to be so great at making decisions and not guesses (“there’s a difference”), he made a pretty bad decision.
I agree with you about Kay. I have no sympathy for her. Lots of people get dumped, lots of people miss out on promotions and get fired. That’s no excuse for murdering them. And she was so cold about it; she didn’t even pretend to be grieved at Mark’s death, just went on with business as usual. Even at the end, when Columbo catches her, she doesn’t show any remorse or “well, you got me, I deserve it” as other of the show’s murderers do. It’s “I’ll fight and I’ll win.” Well, I hope she doesn’t.
You’re absolutely right! …I think you, I, and a couple of others have noticed that clearly there are a few ridiculous, deluded, and/or nasty-angry social-justice warriors posting here.
Love this episode. Expertly acted, and I don’t mind the so-called “padding” at all. And, as noted, the countdown and the struggle to reclaim the gun are superbly done.
That said, let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that Mark is on the hook for not properly mentoring Kay in critical decision making. Right there in the episode, he gives her an honest, succinct, and ultimately spot-on performance assessment… and she literally kills him for it.
Sympathy for Kay? Sure, if I’m weighing the merits of her sexual harassment claim. As a juror deliberating murder charges, not so much.
As a wise, fictional character once lamented about his overly-ambitious boss: a man has got to know his limitations. Apparently, the same goes for fictional women.
Re mentoring, Mark does tell Kay that she’ll learn the art of decision making, but he clearly hasn’t done anything tangible to assist in this aspect of her professional development. Worth murdering him for? No, but it’s not what I’d call quality management. Giving an honest assessment of abilities is one thing, sitting back and not doing anything about those limitations is quite another.
If Mark really wanted to mentor Kay in decision-making, he shouldn’t have started a sexual relationship with her. Even in the 70s it should have been obvious that you can do one or the other, not both. He’s not telling Kay those things to help her improve her job performance, but to try and excuse himself for (literally and figuratively) screwing her and then dumping her the moment it’s convenient for him. No, it doesn’t justify murder, but I’m certainly not going to shed any tears for the guy.
Frankly, your reply(ies) suggests a warped World View. And, anyway, how does engaging in an intimate relationship negate the ability (or desire!) to mentor someone??!
Please let’s keep all debate on here civil. Thanks!
Debbie is completely fabricating a script that was not produced, and weaponization it to broadly browbeat men. I kept it way more civil than she did.
weaponizing. …..stupid auto-correct.
Debbie’s “script” is simply how they see things and I agree with that view – as opposed to your rather ‘colder’ version
But as ever, each to their own. Not certain why it matters ‘fabrication’ / ‘imagination’ is what we do on here!!
Yes I agree this is a pretty good episode. I think Kay is a partially sympathetic character, since Mark was a real git. I love the so called filler in the episode. I think they are trying to show the almost child like curiosity that Columbo has when he plays with the television buttons.. Hence why he is shown with ice cream on some episodes. I personally can’t stand the soundtrack. I like the earlier music the best. Obviously this was a comment on the studio. Since Peter falk had a a lot of runs ins with the Black Tower, Universal Studios. Look how they are treating the writers of Columbo. James Garner also had to sue Univerisal for money, i had thought it was the last episode because on my disc set it is although obiviously by the condtion of columbo’s car The conspirwators came after it. It would have been a fitting ending though the way the lights are turned off on the show, the end of Columbo until 1989.
I agree that the character study of Kay is quite well-done, with much detail and many scenes to show depth and nuance, a killer who is not just a basic cardboard cut-out.
And alas, that’s the very problem with this episode. There’s so much characterization, so much focus around Kay as a person that the clue-gathering, crime-solving element is slighted. Kay has a knack for leaving her clues behind and not collecting them afterwards. Surely, she could have found a way to retrieve her glove and her gun after the fact. Columbo and the plot spend a lot of time on motive….necessary in court, boring on television. Columbo does nothing to discover the critical piece of evidence – fellow cops find it in the elevator, and Columbo plants a phony gun in its place to smoke out Kay. Just think of how short this episode would have been if the gun had been found earlier!
The lengthy scenes with Valerie had zero significance for the crime (tenuously, I suppose, Valerie’s drunken escapades forced Kay to air the TV movie), and the shack scene was padding (neck rub was creepy), and the car bump and neck injury scenes were padding, and the button-pushing scene was padding…..Have I mentioned that there is a lot of padding in this episode?
No, sorry, this is a lesser 70s episode.
Excellent acting! Solid directing. Very weak script. Lame detective work. Much pointless, frustrating filler. This is a B- episode, max, saved only by the performances of all of the guest stars.
Also: yet again, Columbo is a magical psychic, immediately and inexplicably honing RIGHT in on the actual killer.
My first Columbo! (That I can recall, anyway.) I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I found the site, as it’s always been one of my favourites, for all sorts of reasons:
1) Kay Freestone is one of the very few murderers in the series I find genuinely sympathetic. Between her complete slimeball of a boyfriend and all those little characterisation moments that show her good side, like the scene where she reassures Valerie, I found myself almost hoping Columbo wouldn’t succeed here. She has a lot more depth to her than many of the other Columbo murderers, and it’s almost painful to watch her life gradually fall apart over the course of days. In fact, if you take out the detective aspect, this could make for a genuinely tragic ‘rise and fall’ story about a flawed woman struggling to succeed in a man’s world.
2) The murder sequence – one of the best, if not THE very best in the entire series. The ‘countdown’ sequence is brilliantly tense, and I defy anyone not to feel at least some empathy for Kay as she races against the clock.
3) The acting. Columbo is at his best here, Trish Van Devere is brilliant as Kay, and there are some very enjoyable performances in some of the minor roles like Walter and Valerie.
On the downside there’s the scene where Columbo plays with the controls, which I agree is one of the most blatant examples of padding in the entire series. Funnily enough, I don’t remember this scene at all from the first time I saw the episode (on ITV, I believe). Maybe it was cut out to shorten the running time a little? Either way, it doesn’t ruin the episode for me – it’s easy enough to skip past, or just go out of the room if you’re watching on TV.
Agreed 100% on all points.
Our host ranks the first Columbo he ever saw (Bye Bye Sky High) as his all-time favorite. I rank my first series episode (the original airing of Murder by the Book) as my No. 1. You have the same regard for your first Columbo. Evidently, this is a significant factor in how we each subjectivity rank these episodes.
I suspect nostalgia may well be a factor, but I re-watched this one recently and I genuinely think it holds up. In fact, there were quite a few things I’d forgotten about and appreciated more this time round, having been only a young teenager the first time I saw it.
You wanted a cold-blooded sociopath—who had much *less* valid reason to resort to murder than almost any other Columbo killer—to get away with it because……why, again? Simply because Meanie Mark was honest with her about her lack of palpable high-level talent? (And it’s even later demonstrated that Meanie Mark was absolutely correct!) So, someone’s feelings being hurt by honesty that they really needed to hear induces in you murder-justifying sympathy??!
I’m with Debbie, 100% here. One of my Columbo’s and one of my favourite killers and you’re entitled to your cold view of her motives, but you seem to forget that thanks to Van Devere’s excellent performance we see that if anything she’s way too empathetic – the exact of what you’re suggesting
You also forget that the late 70’s was a time when women were still seen as second class in the workplace. Mark simply wouldn’t have been so patronising with his analysis if it had been a man and it’s that what triggered the Kay into a killer
I agree completely with A.D. I see no legitimate justification in Kay’s murder of Mark.
I don’t see how Mark was a “slimeball”. As far as we know he wasn’t cheating, he didn’t backstab Kay, he was fairly and honestly promoted, and he fairly and honestly wanted Kay to remain in Los Angeles to gain more experience and hone her skills. he all but says she is good but not good enough yet. (Later proved true) As a peace offering he buys her a slick, expensive, personalized car. If that’s a breakup then sign me up!
Kay is clearly not upset that her lover is leaving, but by her arrogant assumption that she would also be promoted. Perhaps I am not remembering the episode correctly, but I don’t recall there being any sort of a broken promise where Kay had been guaranteed anything. She wasn’t even demoted, she was left alone to learn and grow.
How does any of this make Mark a slimeball? To my mind, Mark might be one of the most innocent male victims of the series. He wasn’t cruel, callous, inconsiderate, attempting blackmail, cheating on anyone, or not minding his own business. He accepted a job offer and for that he was murdered.
By total coincidence we happened to watch this episode this afternoon! Agree with everything you wrote but I would add that much of all the Valerie stuff was padding too. Thank you for your terrific site!
BTW, the playing with the controls scene wasn’t in the Cozi cut and I had never seen it before. Also Trish Van Devere was terrific and I’ve specifically looked at her movies because of how good she is in this episode
First let me say this, I love this site and enjoy the content, especially the reviews and the comments. Now I need to say a few things about the review..I have no sympathy for this killer and nor do I think we are meant to. This lady is possibly in love with Mark but is far more in love with herself, so much so that she seriously overrates her own abilities. The desire for the job is plain to see and the episode does it’s best to show that. The sense of entitlement is overpowering. Even the scene in the former home confirms it for me. Having shot someone and then proceeding on a self congratulatory mission relating to your own success is the sign of an excessively overweening ego. The reference to mentoring is not likely to result in anything useful. Any constructive criticism would be dismissed out of hand. Therefore, the motive was sufficient and in keeping with the killer’spersonality. Moving into the office was presumptuous and fully consistent with the motivational power of the job status. I found the scene where she was fired particularly satisfying. In terms of fillers, well, anything to keep Columbo on screen for as long as possible suits me….but that’s me. Clues can be flimsy at the best of times. Overall I enjoyed this episode, even the antics in the studio with tv screens I found intriguing because of the technical complexity of the equipment. I therefore restate that the job was the primary motive, exemplified by the acting of the killer in the way I describe. I consider her performance outstanding.
Great site…have all Columbo on DVD. Watch an episode every weekend. Now on second run.
I did have some sympathy for her. She is trying to advance in a cut-throat profession, but as the incident with Valerie Kirk shows, she is not quite callous enough to succeed. Even without a Columbo to solve the mystery and arrest her, the murder she committed was futile. It did not advance her career or provide much emotional satisfaction. That gives this episode something in common with our reviewer’s favorite episode, The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case. Oliver Brandt killed a longtime friend to try to conceal his embezzlement but that wasn’t going to protect him for long.
Although I can’t argue with any of your excellent points, I’m in the “have sympathy for Kay” camp.
I think the fact that viewers can watch the same episode and have very different feelings about Kay shows the strength of the writing and Van Dever’s performance in portraying her. While some killers are one dimensional in their hatefulness, Freestone/ Van Devere is a lot more complex. That we can honestly disagree to me is part of the excellence of this episode and character portrayal and why it should be ranked higher.
Columbophile does present us with intriguing reviews which we can all discuss in a civilised manner. One does learn a lot.
Except that Colombo himself says that he doesn’t think that people murder just for a job even an important one, and that he wouldn’t think she was the murderer unless it turned out she was having a personal relationship with the victim. So he pretty much identifies the motive as personal and not professional.
I agree. But one thing puzzles me. What was the point of her fiddling with the counter in the projection room? Changing the counter would not alter the amount of time she had to complete her murderous mission and get back in time to change the reel.
Fiddling the counter was a ruse to fool projectionist Walter into thinking the reel change was imminent. That way, he’d believe there was no way she could have left the booth while Mark was being slain.
THIS is one of my favorite Columbo episodes, one of those I turn to when I’m wanting to enjoy a good hour and a half. I’ve watched this one so many times, and this is one of the Columbo episodes that makes you think more and more every time you watch it.
First, a tour de force by Trish Van Devere. She’s one of the more sympathetic Columbo killers (sounds like a contradiction in terms) especially because she is surrounded by so many snakes. Let me count the ways.
1) Mark – He knows that he’s going to break off the relationship, yet he has ONE MORE FLING with her before Dear Johnning her on Sunday. He knows he’s going to crush her by not only moving on but spitting on all the effort by not recommending her for her spot. He must know that by not giving her the job he is spelling out she has serious deficiencies sufficient to not warrant her promotion. He pays off himself by getting her a car. WHAT A CREEP.
2) Mr. Flannigan – while Mark is making judgments about her….judgment, Mr. Flanigan can’t make up his mind on whether to sign on a big star for a new series. Then when he berates Kay about being so cold as to “leaping behind a dead man’s desk”, his sorrow for Mark’s desk doesn’t stop him from firing her while on his ways to a party dressed to the nine’s.
3) Madge, Mark’s secretary – There’s only one way Mr. Flannigan finds out about Kay “leaping behind” Mark’s desk; Madge tells him. If you notice that smirkish smile she gives Kay as she tells her of her choice, inside she’s phoning Mr. Flannigan and effectively killing Kay’s career.
I agree, Mark’s assessment of Kay is depressingly accurate. However, with the right encouragement, Kay could be a good programmer, perhaps a great one. Her instincts were right on “The Professional”. They weren’t sadly with Valarie Kirk; she made the choice a friend would make rather than a professional.
I wondered once again if this episode was Peter Falk making a commentary on the television industry. Other than Jonathan and Walter, they’re mostly creeps. One more mention; the one move I disapprove of was involving Johnathan. He may have been there to establish the time of the murder, but it’s also possible to see Kay putting him there as a possible suspect. Kay might have the security measures in mind when she planted him there. Fortunately for Johnathan, he was on the phone and that provided him with an alibi.
Kay Freestone is a superbly drawn-out character, one of the best in the entire series.
Agreed. As I wrote in my reaction, i don’t know how Trish Van Dever could have been better.
Some say this is her finest moment.
A very solid and well written episode, another example why i believe this was the best TV Detective series of all time. Superb writing, great guest stars and of course Mr. Falk really set it apart from all others, and this episode isn’t even in my top 15 favorite list!
Terrific review. Fine episode, especially the extended development of Van Devere’s character. I’m not normally a fan, but I liked her here. I also like Falk’s restraint, though if he played the character that way all the time, I don’t think this site would exist.
The glasses. They are called “reading glasses” early in review and “bifocals” later on. The actual glasses are clearly not bifocals, as can be seen in the photo of Kay and Mark shown in the review: no telltale line or the focal ripple on the modern version, “blended lenses”. (I once tried those. I hated them.) We shouldn’t make too much of this. They’re just props, most likely with plain-glass lenses. What gives them definite character is the way Mark uses them. They are on-again, off-again, indicating that they have a single focal length. (Dr. Franklin invented bifocals precisely to eliminate or at least minimize the constant fumbling with eye glasses.)
How Mark uses his glasses in this scene is critical to the plot. The writer and director need to establish whether Mark is nearsighted or farsighted. Does he need them for driving or for reading? The first scene between Mark and Kay clearly establishes the latter. Interrupted in his reading, he at first talks to Kay with them on, then briefly pulls them down on his nose to look over the rim, and finally removes them completely when the conversation turns serious so that he can make solid eye contact with her. He has them off as he chases her around the house. (Anyone who uses reading glasses would understand why.) He holds them in his hand when he finally corners her in the bedroom to have it out once and for all.
OK. He needs them for reading. However, in the murder scene, Mark is shown reading a script or report with the glasses perched atop his head. Why? Maybe it’s a large-type font version printed especially for him (though IBM Selectrics at the time could usually print only 10 or 12 pitch fonts). Why does he even have them on at all? Most people would put their reading glasses on the table when engaged in a lengthy task that did not require them. Well, maybe he is switching back and forth between that document and one we do not see but for which he needs the glasses. But if none of the “maybe’s” are true, he is using the glasses in the murder scene in exactly the opposite fashion as in the beach house scene: as if he were nearsighted, rather then farsighted.
Let’s give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Mark really is farsighted as seemed to be established in the first scene. They really are reading glasses. He has them perched on top of his head for unknown reasons when Kay waltzes in with the gun. But here’s the point. Even if he were using them in a manner consistent with the prior scene, a farsighted person would have lifted them to get a better view of the intruder–just the opposite of what Columbo asserts he should have done.
In order for Columbo’s “uh-oh” to be plausible, Mark should always be shown as nearsighted, and extremely so. His glasses would then be distance glasses and should always be on, EXCEPT when reading. It also wouldn’t hurt for Columbo to make that point explicit when raising his concerns. Mark’s handling of the glasses in the beach house scene should be completely reversed. His brief appearance with the big shots from New York should also have been filmed with his glasses on.
I just noticed that there are a couple of one- or two-second shots of Mark reading while Kay is enroute to their deadly encounter. In these he has his glasses on, reinforcing the premise that he is farsighted. Apparently, he has momentarily pushed his glasses up when Kay enters, perhaps to relieve eye strain. There is thus no inconsistency whatsoever. Columbo is just dead wrong in his assertion.
Wrong again, Madden. Watched the entire episode again. Columbo does say “bifocals” (even though the prop glasses are clearly not). It’s still inconsistent with how Mark is portrayed using them, walking around glasses-free most of the time. Perhaps he is simply vain and doesn’t mind seeing the world as a blur most of the time, much like Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire.
Good review but PLEASEEE never use the word “mansplaining” again for the rest of your natural born life lol. Other than that, Trish Van Devere I thought was great in the role and had a fun spicy chemistry with Falk.
And “curate”. Everything is being “curated” today. It’s gotten so bad at Turner Classic Movies that I think they should have a swear jar. Everyone would have to throw in a buck when using any form of the word.
Mansplaining, mansplaining, mansplaining…
While I agree with most of the pluses and minuses discussed in this review, I depart considerably how those factors are weighed and, hence, with the bottom line. Better than “Candidate for Crime” and “By Dawn’s Early Light”? No way. In fact, in my view, “Make Me a Perfect Murder” is the poorest Season 7 episode.
A few specifics:
I have little sympathy for Kay Freestone. Was Mark supposed to recommend her for a position for which she was unqualified? As the review points out, “everything Mark told her about her limitations was correct.” Workplace relationships are inherently problematic, rife with power dynamics, and inevitably messy — that’s why we now generally forbid them. But nothing here suggested, under the mores of the times, that this was anything other than a consensual relationship without commitment. What justifies Kay’s reaction to Mark’s truthful assessment? Was she seeing Mark only to advance her career? Did his failure to champion her cause, when undeserved, breach some unspoken understanding? Why would her actions provoke sympathy?
The episode’s signature moment — Kay’s race against the clock — did provide some tension; and the use of the countdown tape was an interesting and memorable dramatic device. But the suspense is offset by the obvious fact, as every audience member knew full well, that, of course, Kay would get back to the projection booth in time both to make the changeover and to beat Walter back from his errand. Otherwise, there’d be no mystery for Columbo to solve. It was faux suspense because it had only one possible outcome.
But my biggest gripe with “Make Me a Perfect Murder” (a terrific title, by the way, but one justified here by a completely bizarre line of dialogue) is that it violates a sacred part of the Columbo formula: that Columbo murderers are rich and powerful people whom Columbo takes down. Columbo didn’t take Kay Freestone down. By the time Columbo pulls his “gotcha” on Kay, she is a shadow of her former self. Frank Flanagan did Columbo’s job first. Columbo takes down an empty shell. Kay’s statement of bravado to Columbo rings very hollow. The ending here is entirely anticlimactic.
One small point: Don’t fault the episode for “no mention of Kay’s fingerprints being left on the inside of the glove, a la Troubled Waters.” Editing gloves are made of thin white cotton. They hold no fingerprints.
Finally, the script of this episode is available online: http://leethomson.myzen.co.uk/Columbo/Columbo_7x03_-_Make_Me_A_Perfect_Murder.pdf
If you read it, you’ll find one major absence from the final episode: no whiplash incident; no neck brace. As Mark Dawidziak’s “The Columbo Phile” tells us, this was a late addition included to bring Columbo on earlier.
Sorry, Richardweill, I don’t agree on your first two arguments, and doubt about the third.
1) You say you have little sympathy for Kay Freestone. (I do have, but more important is that…) It isn’t necessary to have sympathy for the killer to have a good, or even excellent episode. Most Columbo-killers are not sympathic. Is Ken Franklin sympathic? Do you feel any sympathy for him? for Carl Brimmer? for General Martin Hollister? etc. etc.
2) You say the suspense is a faux suspense. In that case, all suspenses in almost all television series are faux suspenses, because we always know how it ends. The suspense is not “if” but “how” how Kay will succeed. Looking at that scene, I always feel the strong suspense.
3) We see how Kay Freestone gradually looses control, even before Frank Flanagan fires her, and finally collapses.If there’s a weak point in this evolution, it’s not about Flanagans decision, but about Kay’s attitude towards Valérie Kirk, which we don’t understand enough.
regarding your third commentary, I must point out the way Kay, as she begins loosing control, keeps retreating until that last sequence in the booth, where she’s literally caged.
The review said that “Kay remains a sympathetic figure to the audience throughout” and “I’m absolutely rooting for her.” I disagree. I neither like her nor am rooting for her. And there’s a reason the review describes Kay’s race against the clock as “cliche-tastic.” It’s entirely predictable.
Name one truly clever thing about this episode. The murder isn’t clever. We’ve seen the same basic beat-the-clock routine so many times before (“The Most Crucial Game”; “Troubled Waters”; “Forgotten Lady”; “Now You See Him”), and seen it done much better. The solution is run-of-the-mill. So Columbo tricks Kay into grabbing a copy of the gun. Among the tricks Columbo plays on killers, this is nothing notable.
But can’t think of another Columbo in which the murderer’s legs are cut out from under them so thoroughly before Columbo brings them down. (Not even when Carsini has to destroy all his precious wine.) I half-expected Kay to tell Columbo, “At least I’ll now have something to do.”
Kay leaving so many things open to investigation, such as getting her clothes at Mark’s place and knowing that car bought by Mark with a license plate that says “KAY #1” is out there makes Mark’s assessment depressingly accurate.
For me, the sympathy comes from Mark’s casually dismissive and condescending attitude towards her – especially coming right after a night’s presumed romping with her. He makes no attempt to let her down gently and the parting ‘gift’ of the car is a real insult. He could’ve handled the break-up a whole lot better, sparing Kay’s feelings and saving his own neck! I think he’s an absolute GIT, who has used her body and abilities to suit his own needs before discarding her as casually as a cotton editing glove on the floor of a projection booth. She may have a tough exterior, but the Valerie Kirk sub-plot shows a softer side and a good person at heart, who I think deserves at least some level of sympathy.
That presumes Mark began the relationship knowing that Kay lacked the judgment for promotion. I saw nothing that supports such a conclusion. Mark seemed genuinely sad that Kay didn’t have what the top job required, and would have been much happier if he could have honestly championed her ascension. As for the car, it was something she wanted. Mark used Kay? What makes you exclude the premise that she was trying to use him? As for the “romping,” each seemed an equal participant.
Exactly this – if Mark didn’t think Kay was up to the task, he should have been honest with her about this instead of leading her on (in every possible sense) to think he was grooming her to take over his job. The really unforgivable thing was having her over at his place for one last booty call right before casually dumping her. Even if you put the best possible spin on his behaviour – that he honestly didn’t realise she took the relationship a lot more seriously than he did – he still comes across as a total shit here. Like, did he really think buying her a car would make up for everything?
And the parting shot after presenting the keys is when he says: “The licence plate is K#1. Well, that’s a comment from the management.” What a slimy, condescending, arrogant DOUCHE!
What evidence is there that Mark was “leading her on”? What did Mark ever say or do to support a conclusion that Mark was “grooming her to take over his job”? It’s not that “Mark didn’t think Kay was up to the task.” In his opinion: “At what you do, you are the very best of all.” That never changes. On what basis did she think that she was ready for a very different kind of job (that she bungled royally once she was given it on an interim basis)? Was Mark supposed to assume that Kay was sleeping with him only to get ahead—only so he would feel beholden to her? Maybe she should have made those conditions clear.
What evidence – well, everything about their conversation? The obvious familiarity and affection in her voice when she speaks to him, the language she uses (note the use of “we” as mentioned above), and her evident shock when she realises he doesn’t see her as an equal. Clearly this is the first time he’s ever made this clear to her – which means that in the *very best* case, he’s let them carry on a long-term relationship without ever telling her honestly what he thinks of her abilities. And now, right after breaking up with her, he suddenly decides it’s the right time for brutal honesty? LOL. “It’s not me, it’s you.”
An excellent primer on why workplace relationships are inherently of enormous concern and properly prohibited across the board.
But you don’t need the workplace component to have most of the disconnections you raise. What she wants out of the relationship needn’t be what he wants and visa versa. One may take the relationship more seriously than the other. One may expect things from the other that the other may not be inclined to give. Serious relationships have “obvious familiarity and affection,” but so do casual ones. Who’s required to speak up first? Is complete candor about the other’s perceived weaknesses really such a good idea?
Here is a woman who, when fired — not passed over for promotion, but fired — says: “I’m as tough as you are. I’ll survive. And you’ll want me back.” Doesn’t sound like she shocks easily.
It doesn’t bother me that Columbo doesn’t have more to do. That strikes me as a return to the original idea. Both in Prescription: Murder, and in the novel which L & L cited as their inspiration for Columbo- Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment- the murderer is the central character and the detective is there mainly to catch the murderer when he ultimately falls apart. Kay Freestone is a strong enough character that I’d be glad to see even less of Columbo than we do.
I disagree that the “original idea” was for Columbo to play a relatively passive role. Yes, in the play of “Prescription: Murder,” Roy Flemming (as he was named in the play) is the lead; but Columbo prods and prods, and is the sole cause of Flemming’s undoing. [In contrast, in the original AHMM short story, “In Corpus Delecti,” the detective only comes on at the end, and just happens to be at the right place at the right time. But that’s a function of the brevity of the form.] If Columbo didn’t actively bring the rich and powerful down, I doubt the show would have had the longevity and popularity it had.
Richard, you are one of the most intelligent and interesting commenters on this site. There are other cases in which I also disagree with you, but in areas where there are obviously two was to see things. In this case, I think you are using your intelligence to overthink, and ending up with an assessment that is less reasonable than what you are criticizing. Whether or not Kay was assuming too much, the way Mark let her off was disgusting and without even an ounce of sympathy. A despicable human being. As for the opening scene, sure you know she’ll make it, but the nerves are over HOW she will manage it. Will she be caught and have to make up some excuse? Lots of times the killer’s plan does not work out as perfectly as planned, and it is the backups and/or the excuses that make or break the plot. Finally, while Kay takes all the other devastating news in stride, it is only Columbo who makes her totally lose it. Plus, she may be humiliated earlier, but unlike in other episodes, she does not see the noose tightening around her (nor do we) until close to the end, when everything starts falling into place. So Columbo IS the one who brings her down.
A few weeks ago, there was a heated debate on this site as to whether Abigail Mitchell (“Try and Catch Me”) was a sympathetic murderer. Most said no. Compare her motive with Kay Freestone’s. Avenging a murder vs. avenging a breakup. Compare Lyle Rumford’s motive in “By Dawn’s Early Life”: trying to preserve a way of life Rumford considered in the national interest. Compare Adrian Carsini’s (“Any Old Port in a Storm”): like Rumford, trying to preserve an institution to which he had devoted his life. Compare Luis Montoya (“A Matter of Honor”): trying to preserve a reputation earned over a lifetime now imperiled by age and injury. Was Kaye Freestone treated as callously by Mark McAndrews as Tommy Brown (“Swan Song”) was treated by Edna Brown? Was Mark as controlling as Bryce Chadwick in “Lady In Waiting”? No, she doesn’t kill to conceal past misconduct, or frame an innocence person, or compound her crime with a second murder. But she does act primarily (though not exclusively) out of greed. She may not want Mark’s car, but she does want his job. When you scan the Rogues Gallery of Columbo killers, you’ll find many less sympathetic than Kay Freestone; but you’ll also find quite a few who deserve our sympathy more.
I wonder whether the entire show might have been inspired by Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.” Ray Milland as the lead is the focus of the show, and though he didn’t succeed in killing his wife, he’s brought to justice by the diffident, very Columbo-like detective played by John Williams. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
I’ve sometimes thought that myself. Certainly Ray Milland, in his two appearances, seems to have been making comments on his own portrayal of Tony Wendice.
This is my absoulute favorite episode. As usual I love your review, just wanted to point out that the glove is cotton and not latex…
Thanks, I’ve amended those sections now.
Excellent review as always, and some minor quibbles as always.
You state that perhaps McAndrews was sleeping with his glasses on his head. That would mean the angle of the bullet entry would have been much different and we can assume that it had already been determined that the angle was consistent with him sitting up.
To your point that Freestone wouldn’t have killed *just* because of getting dumped and not getting promoted. well….no. We don’t know how deep her feelings were for McAndrews, and we can only imagine the depth of the hurt and anger and she felt. We also don’t know her state of mind in the days and weeks leading up the murder. For all we know the events as described were the straw that broke the camel’s back and she snapped. What we do see is plausible reason enough for her to murder. I find her among the most sympathetic killers, and McAndrews among the least sympathetic victims.
I’d rate this one some spots higher than you did. I think it’s a top ten episode, even with the awful scene of Columbo in the booth playing with the controls. I think it’s padding at its worst, I hate that it’s in there. I can’t see how Trish Van Devere could have done a better job playing Freestone. It’s an all time best performance.
Just one more thing, the music playing at the very end of the episode is same music that was played at Haynes Military Academy on Founders’ Day.
Agreed, this episode is in my top 10, maybe top 5. What really makes Mark so slimy to me is that he sleeps with her one more time before giving her the brush-off. What a worm.
“What really makes Mark so slimy to me is that he sleeps with her one more time before giving her the brush-off. What a worm.”-EXACTLY
God, yes. Mark’s not the most evil victim in the series by any means, but there’s just something so disgustingly callous and disrespectful about the way he treats Kay (even buying her a car as a ‘consolation prize’.. ugh). Whereas she seemed to think they had a genuine partnership, both romantically and in their professsional lives. I can totally understand her being angry enough to kill him.
I agree! What a GIT Mark is. He seizes one last opportunity to take advantage of her before jettisoning her. He’s a bad man.
What’s even worse is that you get the feeling he thinks he is a perfectly fair gentleman and has done nothing wrong.
I LOVE this episode. The padding doesn’t bother me at all; I just fast forward through the “Columbo in the control booth” scene, and nothing else about the ep seems unnecessary to me. I adore Trish Van Devere’s performance, and would probably rate it as the best female performance of the series (although certainly Ruth Gordon gives her some stiff competition). As many times as I’ve seen them, the murder scene and the elevator scene still set my heart pounding. In fact, the murder scene is one of the most vivid Columbo memories from my childhood when I saw the show in its original run. Something about that icy voice saying “You have 30 seconds…you have 10 seconds…”, etc., just sent chills down my spine, and still does. And whatever was the backstory with Kay and Valerie, their scenes together intrigue me every time.
A classic episode. Just say “Trish Van Devere” to any Columbo fan.
One of my favourite episodes. I am convinced that Columbo genuinely likes her and that the kitchen chat wasn’t all about him trying to catch her out. Trish is excellent in this.
Do you notice how subdued he is at the end of the episode, as if he is disappointed that he has to take her in? There are episodes when he doesn’t like the killer much or sometimes he is indifferent, this time he was very downbeat and i agree he liked her, infact i think she liked him too.
I think he respected the hell out of her and she’s hot so there’s that too lol the killers I think Columbo liked best were Kay, Abigail Mitchell, Oliver Brandt, Col Rumford,Adrian Carsini and of course Faye Dunaway’s Laura and I think he sees the good in them and is genuinely disappointed they succumbed to the evil of murder.
All of those you mentioned are the most complex murderers. They have the most depth and they are the ones who killer for reasons we can at least find understandable, even if we can’t justify murder we can relate to them. The rest of the murderers are all good fun, and some of them are huge villains, but none of them have the depth this select few have.
Precisely. Columbo empathizes with the murderer if there is a mitigating justification for the murder itself (Abigail – knowing that he got away with murdering her niece; Laura – a sadistic torturer of her daughter, and user of herself), or if there is at least a human understanding of what led them to this act (Kay – a highly talented and proud woman being humiliated by the murder victim both in the way he fired her and in the way he treated their supposed relationship; Carsini – a man who has devote his entire being to his wines, and his good-for-nothing brother wanted to take it away). He depises them when they are cold-blooded egotists, especially when they try to make a mockery of him (Dr. Mayfield; the fitness guy in Exercise in Fatality).
Thank you, Columbophile, I agree with most of your comment on this excellent episode with an excellent killer.
I just should add one very strong moment, that is when and how Kay discovers she’s not alone in the shack where she’s grown up. That scene couldn’t exist without the car-crash scene at the beginning of the episode. (By the way, the car crash is also one other solution to show the lieutenant at the very beginning of the episode, while the murder scene is rather long (for excellent reasons) and the lieutenant doesn’t arrive before the 24th minute. There have been worse solutions to show the lieutenant at the very beginning, for instance in “Try and Catch Me”.)
I also mention that the lieutenant is not the only one to get a back rub from Kay. A technician in the studio also gets one, without demanding it either.
Oh boy, i’ve been waiting for a long time for this review! i first found this site back in 2016 sometime i think, you had reviewed up as far as Lady in Waiting or Suitable For Framing, somewhere in Season 1 anyway, i knew i had a while to wait for this one!
This is my favourite episode just because i think Kay Freestone is great. i actually don’t think the long running time is a problem in this one because i just enjoyed getting to know more about Kay, she got more development than any other killer i can think of. So many scenes stand out and i consider to be among the best in the entire series
When she commits the murder and has to get back to the projection booth
The scene between Kay and Columbo in her old home where they talk about their childhoods
The elevator/gun scene
the ”that’s an impressive desk ma’am, you could run the world from a desk like that” scene ”the world doesn’t matter, just the west coast”
When Flanagan fires her in the back of the car ”do you expect hysterics?”
Columbo talking to her through the TV screens (such a surreal moment)
THAT final moment when she says ”i’ll fight, i’ll survive, i might even win” Is she the only killer who doesn’t confess or just give up at the end?
Trish Van Devere is playing one of the most unflappable murderers in the series here, she is impressive. She only really loses it twice in the episode (elevator scene when she is on her own anyway and when she is hounded through the tv screens) the rest of the time she holds her nerve and i regard her as the best female killer in the whole series.
As you can probably figure out by now i would have put this episode a lot higher than number 19. But i kind of figured out that the episode would end up somewhere around there, having read all the previous reviews i worked out which episodes you would probably put it behind and which you would put it ahead of and this is about what i expected. Its still top 20 so far so i am pleased with that.and i have a feeling it might stay top 20 by the time you have finished reviewing them all, i can’t think of any episodes after this one that would be ahead of it but we shall see, i am 100% sure it will be in the top 25 at the end anyway
A very enjoyable and interesting review as always. I don’t often leave comments, its not because i don’t like the reviews i just don’t always know what to say but i do enjoy reading the reviews and the other articles here
So near to the end of the original run now! of the two 70’s episodes left i liked How to Dial a Murder but not a fan of The Conspirators at all and thought that was one of the worst from the 70’s
You mentioned in the review that Kay and Columbo have a lot of screentime together,which is another reason why i love the episode. It made me wonder which episodes does Columbo have the most interaction with the killer and which ones the least? This one must be one with the most. But in The Greenhouse Jungle for example Columbo hardly seems to have any scenes with Jarvis. Could be an interesting idea for a topic, the killers he had the most screentime with and the ones he had the least with
LOL his WOKEness truly believes it’s fine for the evil white man to be executed because he didn’t give #METOO poor woman his JOB! I wonder what he does for a living, and if he wouldn’t mind be shot through the heart, because he is a dreaded white male?