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…
Contribute to this site’s upkeep from just $3
Dozens of Columbo gift ideas right here
Love Perfect Murder? Vote for it in the Columbo fans’ favourite episode poll
One of the great joys of Columbo is how it acts as a time capsule of both Los Angeles locations in particular and American attitudes in general at the time it was produced. This episode stunningly highlights the overt misogyny of Hollywood at the time…which honestly hasn’t gotten that much better 45 years later.
Trish Van Devere is just excellent in this role, and the long scene with Colombo at her childhood home is a series standout for me. This series is at its best when it provides an opportunity for Falk to spar with another top actor, and this scene truly delivers a complex and engaging interaction which is all the more remarkable for not having any real plot purpose that I can recall. No big clue is revealed, but we gain a better understanding of both of them. This is one of the murderers that Columbo seems to truly like and respect in spite of their crime.
Which makes it all the more disappointing when we learn that her murdered paramour was right and Kay is simply bad at her job, And she is bad in ways that are just so…female. She prioritizes a personal friendship over business in a way that damages not just the business but the friend, and subsequently makes a rash decision to cover that mistake. However, neither of these are in keeping with the calm, calculated executive we have gotten to know. Would Kay really spend a year producing a film that cost $1 million then throw it away as filler with absolutely no advertising? No, she would not. Both of these decisions are at odds with the woman who meticulously planned and executed the four-minute murder. But, you know: WOMEN, amiright?
This is completely indicative of evolving attitudes in the late 1970s when women have been accepted as hardworking and competent employees that have an accepted place in the workforce…,but NOT as the boss. Women can’t make logical decisions and are guided by emotions! Women need a man to provide grounded guidance for them to succeed! And, of course, women always sleep with their boss…who they will murder if given even the slightest excuse!
This would have been truly groundbreaking if Kay had been allowed to be good at her job, if all of those scenes of her work machinations had contributed to her rise in the company…only to have Columbo take it all away. That would have been truly tragic: she had to commit murder in order to gain the opportunity to soar, but that very murder clips her wings as she is flying high. As it is, she’s already been fired by the time she is arrested so doesn’t have that much to lose anymore, making the ending less effective than it could have been. But…of course the male writer and all male production team made her bad at her job! Of course they did!!
I don’t think Columbo is a particularly misogynistic show, but it is a vivid reflection of the widespread misogyny of the time…of which this episode might be the perfect example. After all, she is given the last word, and even though she was both bad at and lost her job, then got caught for murder…she doesn’t crumble but will still soldier on and fight another day. It’s almost as if Kay is saying, “You men really gave me the shaft in this story…but someday a woman will write an episode and things will be different.” But that day never came…did it?
[Note: I will be on the lookout for any female writers or directors as I conduct my official watch/rewatch, but I’m going to take an educated guess that there were neither; and If a woman does show up, it will be as a writer since female directors were practically unheard of during the 35-year run of this show.]
In any era, murderers — particularly murders with selfish motives — deserve to be unsympathetic. All of the character traits you regard as misogynistic could equally have been designed specifically to deflect sympathy from Kay. We want to see Columbo prove his suspects guilty. Would we have wanted to see Columbo prove your “groundbreaking” Kay guilty? Imagine if Mark had lied. If his success had been due solely to Kay’s skill. If he deliberately falsified his official assessment of her abilities in order to make himself look more valuable to the network, unwilling to share credit where at least shared credit was due. If every advancement he got was rightfully hers. That would have made Kay a very interesting character. But I doubt it would have helped make MMAPM an effective Columbo. We don’t mind a modest touch of sympathy for our murderers, but the best Columbo villains are charming but unlikeable. If they get too sympathetic, something must be done to rein that in. Take an otherwise sympathetic murderer like Col. Rumford (“By Dawn’s Early Light”). Our sympathy for him was sharply curtailed by his repeated attempts to frame an innocent cadet for his crime. No, we don’t want our murderers too sympathetic.
Columbophile was right, about that run-time fluff they fill in because I instantly forgot those drawn-out scenes as soon as the credits rolled.
I thought this episode did a tremendous job of fleshing out a female villain for the ole cigar-comping Basset Hound to wrestle with. Makes me wonder what kind of tantalizing scenes we would get if the ole Lt. was a bachelor before he met Mrs. Columbo. Perhaps he’d grills the suspects differently…
This episode was particularly interesting to me because Columbo is an inverted ‘whodunit’ show & this episode felt like an inverted version of Jodie Foster’s protagonist in the Silence of the Lambs, but if Jodie’s character was the villain instead.
K like Foster’s character are driven and determined to succeed and survive in an cut-throat competitive and very male-dominated industry. And just like Silence of the Lambs the best suspense scenes are the scenes when they are not just overcoming the male-dominated pyramid (alone) but are struggling to SURVIVE with their feminine physical limitations (K’s antennae-fishing the gun on the lift, she uses her handbag and folder to boost herself up to essentially claw for the gun, Jodie Foster’s night-vision google scene with Buffalo-Bill, I imagine that scene would be less tense with a male protagonist).
I do wish they would incorporate more examples of Columbo’s sleuthing, mastery of deduction and his subtle craft of being dunce-smart.
I also wondered if that’s something that’s lost in the inverted ‘whodunit’ format like Columbo, where this show is more about the killer and their interaction Columbo, as a traditional ‘whodunit’ is more about the detective and how he gets deduces through the lie(s), clue(s) and evidence(s). Which is an essential journey discovery element in a traditional ‘whodunit’ genre.
I have no empathy for Kay. I was never rooting for her. Her motive for killing is way too flimsy. She made stupid decision after stupid decision, stupid mistake after stupid mistake. She’s just a delusional, dangerous fool.
I kept hoping there would be more to the story revealed in the end that would justify the murder but no, that imbecile supposedly killed for a job and/or out of “heartache”. Let’s examine that : thing is, even those motives don’t make any sense :
– her job situation didn’t seem that bad in the first place, and if she was unhappy she could just have easily looked for a job in another TV station. It’s not like Mark told she was blacklisted or something.
– Her first reaction when Mark tells her about NY is to ask when they start packing. So clearly she was not expecting to take Mark’s job in the first place. So how is the murder about the job at all ?
– she doesn’t come across as the kind of woman that would be so madly in love that she’d kill if she were to be left : she makes a total 180 and turns ice cold as soon as she gets Mark is dumping her, and never ever seem to regret or mourn him. That’s not someone who was in love. So the murder can’t be about love for me.
– So was she only sleeping with Mark for advancement ? But as I said the job thing doesn’t make sense as a motive. And anyway even if it did, how could someone calculating and long-planning enough to sleep around for promotion do someting as reckless and foolish as take down someone who could still prove useful in the future, and risk everything she had for such a short-term satisfaction ?
It just makes no sense. Except if I see her as the complete arrogant, delusional fool she is. That’s it. She’s just stupid beyond belief.
Why should I root for such an imbecile who’s bringing her own demise for no plausible reason at all ?
Mark is even proven right in his decision not to promote Kay, given the foolish way she handles things when in charge. Compromizing a primetime TV show over some friendship with an addict ? Airing a brand new movie as a last-minute replacement ? A violent movie to replace a family variety show ? Wasn’t Frank perfectly justified in the way he treated her after all of that ? It was actually one of the best moments of the episode. She had it coming, big time.
So, with such a shaky premise it’s hard to take the episode very seriously. But then there’s all the filler as the icing on the cake. My God ! The episode could probably be cut in half without missing anything relevant. I can see why that Columbo staring at the technical booth screens scene seems so famous. As highlighted in the review, too many instances of Columbo jumping to conclusions as well.
On a side note, I also had strong lesbian vibes from her scenes with Valerie. When Columbo asked Kay several times if Mark was into women, I even wondered for a moment if their couple was a mutual bearding thing.
One of the lowest points of Columbo so far, as far as I’m concerned.
There are “white holes’ (things you *know* you don’t know). And then there are “black holes” (things you *don’t* know you don’t know). – No reference to race intended here – just something a (white) guy once told me.
I think a lot of the guys here dismissing the sexism Kay certainly experienced in 1978 (and I felt, watching her great performance and this great episode) clearly didn’t experience the rampant sexism of that time, as we women growing up then *constantly* did.
It was *THE FABRIC OF THE CULTURE*. Even a couple of episodes earlier, there’s a joking conversation between Columbo and one of the “cute girl” secretaries about how male secretaries will have the opportunity to be promoted to accountant, whereas – naturally – female secretaries never would be.
*Thank you*, @banbroview, for GETTING IT.
And thanks, CP, for another great review.
Just one more thing:
The whole (specious) hypothesis about the “lesbian” relationship between TVDV’s character and LK’s character makes me smile sadly but wryly.
“Of COURSE” it follows that:
if two women share tenderness, loyalty, love and bonding – then –
of COURSE! There’s only one explanation!
“THEY MUST BE LESBIANS! !”
It’s really too much, over the top, mansplain-abilatomy in this line of “reasoning”.
Well, that was uncalled for. Why ruin a perfectly good review with sexism and misandry? Whenever you self-proclaimed “feminists” are about to make an awful sexist remark like this, just replace it in your head with “Damn blacks! Damn women! Damn gays!” and hear how awful it sounds, then maybe step back from the prejudice and discrimination and stereotyping a bit.
The CNC logo kind of looks like a bicycle that is falling apart.
There’s one aspect, where the show hasn’t aged well and that’s when it comes to his female characters.
“Make me a perfect murder” is actually a very good episode, but when Flanagan lectures her in the car, the episode loses me. at that point she is just another woman in the show, not good enough to play with the big boys. off course the episode provides enough proof but well…they could have written it otherwise…like the episode later were Kim Cattrall is also a good character but suddenly in love with the professor and still holding on to her teddy bear…there would have been no harm to anyone just to not make the characters small.
Besides that, as said, entertaining, Kay is a strong character (that’s why it annoys me here especially what I mentioned above), the scene with the carousel is excellent.
Prompted by this comment, I rewatched the scene with Flanagan in the car, mentally swapping a man for Kay. Frankly, I heard or saw nothing from Flanagan out of place. The first allusion to Kay as a woman is when she asks, “Do you expect hysterics?” But that’s from Kay and is after the “lecture.” So I can’t agree that this exchange has anything to do with a woman excluded from playing with the “big boys.” To me, it’s the sad ending to a promising career due solely to serial misjudgments which would have fared no better if made by a man.
Agreed. Here, we see that Kay has decided to play with the big boys and isn’t cut out for it.
It justifies what Mark said about her, but we can still view her empathetically, because in some respects she was set up to fail – in that classic way the underdog (here female, but it could be any suppressed group) is always set up to fail by making the bar higher just for them.
I see it quite differently. She wasn’t “set up to fail.” Her unbridled sense of entitlement was her undoing. Yes, she had her professional skill set, as shown in the editing room on “The Professional,” but not the necessary executive skills. Is this Mark’s fault? Was it his responsibility to groom her to excel at his job? Had he tried, I suspect her exaggerated opinion of her own importance and ability would have gotten in the way.
The real question, to me, is the significance of her personal relationship to Mark in all this. Re-imagine the beginning of the episode with no such relationship — where the scene between Mark and Kay about his promotion, her assumption about her future, his response and offer of a car as a consolation prize all takes place in the office. Theirs could have been a close, platonic business relationship that concluded with exactly the same ill feelings on her part.
What does the sexual component add? Does it make Mark more of a villain? Does it make Kay more sympathetic? Why? Are we to assume that a quid pro quo governed the relationship? What would that say about both of them? And if there was no quid pro quo understanding, then why does the relationship matter to anything — other than making Kay even less sympathetic, for murdering someone she supposedly cared about?
It’s 1978. There is no way she is given equal status in terms of senior management roles in the same way ‘the boys’ are.
That’s the point I’m making. The fact she’s not up to the job is actually irrelevant. Lots of men around this time, were just as bad, but got indulged more as it was seen as their right.
It’s an excellent Columbo episode, because we get a taste of just how many barriers were put up for females at this time – but it’s brilliantly subtle. And the fact that the female in question is a killer, makes it more delicious.
If so, then why didn’t Flanagan immediately give one of “the boys” Mark’s job, even temporarily? I’m sure there were plenty working a door or two down the hall. (That may have made for a more interesting episode, after she murders him, too.)
Ironically, Flanagan respected her. As usual it’s not those at the very very top – it’s usually those at the same level or slightly below or above, who show the bigotry.
All of what I say is speculation and opinion (here, at least):
I think Kay had had to submit to Heaven knows how much degradation and humiliation to climb as far as she did up the corporate ladder. Maybe she didn’t have to sleep around for each promotion (although that is certainly possible), but she was surely written off as “just a pretty face,” who somehow isn’t part of the secretarial pool.
There weren’t a lot of women in television in 1978, period. I can rattle off a list of women who got one chance and were written off as failures. Read a good history of Saturday Night Live, or of the network news.
It’s obvious that Flanagan totally holds Kay’s abilities in contempt. He probably thinks Kay slept her way to the top, getting to her position on no, or very limited, abilities. He has not the slightest compunction about firing her for one mistake–which is bleakly humorous considering how many missteps NBC programming executives made during the late 1970s. (MMAPM hit the airwaves before Fred Silverman joined NBC, he managed to survive three years despite ordering Mrs. Columbo, Supertrain, Pink Lady, The Big Show, United States… on and on and on.)
Kay is sympathetic in some respects. Growing up as a girl, she probably had to do a lot to support her mother and sisters, even if they also worked. I also think she may have seen Valerie on television or in concert, and greatly adored what Valerie had accomplished. Kay may have genuinely thought Valerie was well-loved enough that a comeback special could be a huge hit. (Hey, look at Elvis!)
Not one mistake. Two huge, costly misjudgments. Scheduling a live show dependent upon the chronically unreliable Valerie Kirk is a separate misjudgment from then squandering a valuable network made-for-TV movie as an unpublicized, last-minute substitution for the Kirk debacle.
I would add that while Kay is, to some degree, sympathetic in the sense that she overcame relative poverty, she’s also pretty psychotic.
In addition to the Valerie Kirk debacle and the squandering of the TV movie, she also took the position and the office of the slain before the corpse was even cold. That is level-red narcissism. That was not a move that went unnoticed by the Network brass.
I’m reminded of the business concept of one being “promoted to the level of incompetence”. In other words Jeff is a great janitor, so let’s make him the head of janitorial, he’s great at janitorial, so let’s make him facilities manager, he’s great at facilities, surely he must be great at sales manager…but he isn’t.
I feel this is the case with Kay. Only in this case she promoted herself. She seems really good at organizing, but terrible at executing. In the end I think she believes herself to be too smart to be outmaneuvered by anyone.
Overconfidence is a quality of nearly every Columbo villain, but she committed murder over a promotion she wasn’t qualified to receive herself. She still had a great job with quite a lot of future opportunities (with a little patience), got a sleek new car, she’s only 37 (assuming Kay Freestone’s age is close to Trish Van Devere’s) and hey…planes exist if Kay wants to see Mark on occasion. And yet she planned an elaborate murder, looked her victim right in the eyes and killed him. She doesn’t even seem to regret it, merely feeling disappointed that she got caught. That’s pretty vicious if you ask me and once again demonstrates her commitment and exquisite ability to organize a lot of moving parts, but failing to see the big picture.
Which would be, wrongly, tolerate more, if a man had done this in the 1978 world.
Money has no gender. Network accountants don’t use different color ink to denote multiple millions lost by women versus men.
Not in 2022 they don’t. Very different in 1978. Full gender equality only arrived in 1970.
It’s a bit of a stretch that a female is going to be treated an equal at the very top of industry, just 8 years later.
This is what I love about Columbo, they presented us with lots of indications of unfairness – without rubbing our noses in it.
I also think you underestimate the part laziness plays in these decisions. Flanagan would have loved nothing more than had Kay handled Mark’s old job flawlessly. Less work for Flanagan. Now he must replace her. Now he must get more personally involved in the replacement’s initial months on the job. How can you do all that and still keep your morning tee time at the club? Anyone who can save the boss fuss and bother is a prized commodity. Flanagan undoubtedly had high hopes for Kay, and was sorely disappointed by her downfall.
Columbophile: “Make Me a Perfect Murder is a
There’s still a connection to Patton, even if George
C. Scott never appears in a Columbo episode.
General Patton angrily retorted “only a New Orleans
pimp would carry a pearl-handled gun!”, when
a reporter suggested the handles of the personal
pistols he carried on him were pearl, not ivory.
Dead Weight’s killer, General Hollister, carries a
pearl-handed pistol, yet is compared to Patton
(“ol’ blood and guts”) in the episode. Hollister is
obviously corrupt, so the gun is no new hint.
Six seasons later, the same clue is much more
Kay in ..Perfect Murder, also uses a pearl handled
gun, an automatic. Of course the actresses’ husband,
George C. Scott, famously.played Patton in the film
of the same name.
I think therefore, the pearl handled gun hints
that Kay too, is basically corrupt. Probably she is
sleeping with Mark for advancement, not love.
This casts Kay and their relationship in a different
light. It also explains her violent reaction to
being dumped without a promotion, since her
relation with Mark was a self-serving chore, with
ultimately no payoff.
Of course, Mark is a fool not to have suspected
it all along. But he shows little inkling of how much
he is playing with fire.
The padding clip has been removed. It was just some simple Lissajous patterns (made by an oscilloscope, not any normal TV control room equipment) in a 3×2 configuration of Pre, FX, and AIR above, and CAMs1-3 below, all set to… Tschaikovsky, was it? Something flowery like “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, as tedious as it was pointless, and vice-versa.
The ADR (re-recording pieces of audio only) was particularly wretched
It’s only my theory to explain this wholly inexplicable
padding. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. The waltzing
fountains was at least funny.
When her lover executive is promoted to
the East coast, then dumps her, but not
for her to fill his shoes, jilted and continually stressed
executive assistant Kay Freestone plots her deadly retribution
and next promotion.
Entertainment: 5 out of 5
With one of the most taut murder sequences of any episode,
and one of the stronger performances of any guest star as
the villain, this one certainly dazzles. As well, Kay Freestone
is a somewhat sympathetic character, trapped as she is in a
high-pressure corporate world where mistakes are unforgivable,
and murder itself seemingly another executive option. It is the
same world as the one in ‘Network’, but without the laughs.
Clues Leading Columbo To The Killer: 2.0 out of 2.5
Mainly because of the building’s tight security, and her ‘perfect
alibi’, Columbo is onto Kay quite early, even forcing her to
reenact the killing. While an innocent person might point out
that the victim might’ve fallen asleep, Kay says nothing when
Columbo says that he recognized his killer. But it is Kay’s more
inexplicable, overt mistakes, that are worth a deduction. Her never
retrieved glove with the incriminating powder burns and her prints
inside. Her expensive car with personalized plates given her by
her victim, but never picked up at the dealer’s. Her dry-cleaned
clothes delivered to the murder victim’s beach house. Both proving
her intimate relation with the victim, Even her reliance on deceiving
the projectionist, but ignoring the memorable highlights of the film
itself, was critical but avoidable.
Gotcha: 2.5 out of 2.5
It’s really only the coup de grace, but it’s a zinger. Realizing it was
an inside job, probably hidden by the perpetrator on the night of
the murder, Columbo has his team find the gun. But it is free of
prints, so he does the next best thing. He allows Kay to retrieve
it then dispose of it. She won’t even be able to present it at her
defence to testify to any good intentions. It’s not the smoking gun
– the glove was that – but it’s pretty damning.
Final Rating: 9.5/10
While not at the very top, it is a very suspenseful, nearly perfect
Incidentally, I realize what
probably happened in this
episode’s one annoying scene. Which they probably
shot with Falk ahead of time, telling them that they
would ‘get it working’ later, but never did.
It is when Columbo is staring at the video console, and
pressing the different replay speed buttons. By default,
the screens will show the Lissajous figure for that frame
These figures can be Very Mesmerizing on an oscilloscope,
because they can be animated and seem to be solid objects
revolving around an axis. Hence Columbo’s blank stare.
The reason is because, on a scope, you can vary the frame
rate to be a non-integer, when the figure will seemingly begin
On the video console, the frame rates are set at 1,2,3,…etc.
when the Lissajous figures are just static. The technical
crew probably thought they would find a way to vary the
frame rate without ruining the console, but couldn’t.
At least there were no tubas.
Yes Mark could have been asleep when he was shot but maybe Columbo may have thought why did the killer only shoot Mark once because he or she might have time to shoot him several times because how would he or she have known someone else was in another office on that floor and would have heard the shot?Plus how did the killer have known Mark would be in his office at that moment unless he or she was someone close to Mark.As for Columbo playing with those TV control, maybe he did that to sort of make that engineer or whatever relax around him to gather info about Kay.
Has anyone identified the Bach piece the score keeps quoting? It’s so familiar but I can’t name it.
Editing Note: The license plate is “Kay#1” – not “K#1”, as you state in the review.
Why did she leave the gun on top of the elevator? Did she think it would simply fall to the bottom while the elevator was in use never to be found?
It doesn’t seem to fit with her personality. She thought out the murder well enough to time it, yet leaves a gun where it could be found a lot more easily than dropping it in the Pacific?
For all she knew, the police
would body check everyone
leaving that night, who very possibly did.
And search for it in the building overnight,
once they declared it a crime scene.
As for the gun, the bottom of the shaft is
maybe where the police found it. Before
they restored it to its original place at the
top of the elevator car, where Kay had
What she did with the gun was a reasonable
risk, but what she had to realize was that it
could reappear as bait to establish her guilt.
It took me forever to figure out that was Laurie Kazan. I guess I’m used to seeing her when she was older.
Trish Van Devere has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. Such a lovely tone and so well measured. I could listen to her read a phone book (if they still existed) 😉
Van Devere’s performance was top notch. Intense.
Poor pacing a problem. The silly asides were not funny enough to justify their diverting from an otherwise serious ep. IMO, this uneven flow pushes MMAPM beneath Death Lends a Hand and A Friend In Deed in the pantheon of “suspenseful” Columbos.
The review and comments cover most of the talking points, but I’ll add one observation regarding Kay’s error in airing The Professional in the Valerie Kirk time slot. While it has been noted that the movie was too violent for the time slot, I find it relevant that Kay’s cold, logical, narcissistic personality, which enables her to kill Mark, also prevents her from recognizing this fact. When she tells the station manager simply, “It’s the same length, it’ll be fine,” it reveals she does not have her finger on the pulse of the average TV viewer, in this world represented by Walter, who remarked earlier in the episode how disgusted he is at how violent TV has become.
Conversely, Kay is not the least bit offended or bothered by the presumably graphic content of The Professional. It’s a subtle connection, but I think does a nice job of conveying Kay’s sociopathic tendencies and how/why Columbo could easily envision her as a murder suspect. Likewise, she doesn’t detect any issue with taking over her ex boss/lover’s office while every character with a functioning human heart is like, “damn, the funeral ain’t even till Tuesday.” LOL
I enjoyed reading your analysis.
There are two things that I really like about this episode. When she first meets Columbo, and for much of the episode, Kay is wearing a brown dress which, although very ladylike, shows off what is probably the nicest female figure seen in any episode of Columbo (at least for anything more than just a few minutes). It’s no wonder that Saturday was not too shabby. And no wonder that Mark recognised from a distance.
I also like Kay’s friendly relationship with Walter, the projectionist played by James McEachin. Although it’s a shame that Kay exploits that friendship, using poor innocent Walter to help establish her alibi. I remember James McEachin when he had his own series as Tenafly, and according to Wikipedia, Trish Van Devere was born in Tenafly, New Jersey and went to Tenafly High School.
Thumbs up for the Tenafly reference
I believe they twice played homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey in this episode – first while Columbo was fiddling with those knobs and secondly when the final credits began to roll. In these instances the music became the primary focus in the same manner of Strauss’ Blue Danube in the space movie. Perhaps this was not intentional but Patrick Williams certainly deserved the attention. I was lucky enough to pick up an album he released in 1974 (Threshold) and later picked up a reissue on compact disc. Music and television from the seventies…still listening and watching fifty years later!
I don’t buy into the Kay being gay or bisexual theory. We are given more than enough backstory to surmise the relationship between Kay and Valorie. Here are the facts:
1) Kay doesn’t let a chance or opportunity get by. Valorie was a once famous child actor and now is washed up. It is therefore safe to assume that Kay and Valorie met up in a social setting at one point. Kay recognized Valorie as a pill popping, booze guzzling, sniff snorting smoke smoker. Kay, coming from a meager background of a single mom with sisters, was probably very street savvy and realized that she could enable Valorie while at the same time have Valorie open doors for her in show business.
2) Kay has a stable job and allows Valorie to stay at her apartment. This has several meanings. First, LA is not cheap, so roommates are not uncommon. Not back then, and not now. But more than likely because Kay works like an ox, she was probably the one that would pay the rent on time, keep the apartment clean, and put up with Valorie’s antics provided Valorie was giving her something in return. In this case, clout.
3) Key giving Valorie a chance although the director said to fire her was a snub to “the man”, which Kay has to deal with on the daily a man-powered workplace. Kay, again, having grown up with a single mother and sisters, would have easily chosen to give her druggie friend a chance for redemption. This allows for her to feel like a martyr (“Walk on water for me, Kay”) and also gives her a chance at saving the day, which is a day in the life at work for Kay.
So the fact that two women can be friends without lovers is lost today in a society that assumes that you must be woke and look for oppression at every opportunity. None to see here, folks. Back then, and today, two same sexed people can be good friends and even roommates without there being a social justice cudgel gathering dust in the closet. And yes, puns.
Absolutely spot on!! You’ve got Kay’s character summed up perfectly
The double blow Mark gave to her is not only two more blows against her – it’s another symbol, to her, of the power of men and how women have to play by different rules
Never understood the lesbian angle
I agree with your analysis
of the character. I think she
shows her non-sexist humanity in many scenes.
But the male domination of this world comes
through time and time again. She has every
reason to expect to share in her boyfriend’s
success, and to feel betrayed when he doesn’t.
Regardless of his reasoning, he should have at
least given her a temporary promotion, leaving
her job as executive assistant unfilled until her
return. Not that this in any way, justifies her
actions. But just as a reminder, that she too is
made from flesh and blood, and can be pushed,
or used, only so far. She is not by nature a blind,
take no prisoners, corporate ladder climber.
“She is not by nature a blind,
take no prisoners, corporate ladder climber.”
She literally murdered a man in cold blood, took his job before the body was cold and without consulting anyone, and expressed greater grief over getting caught than the actual slaying of someone who had given her a rather expensive car as a gift only a short time earlier.
If that isn’t “take no prisoners”, I don’t know what is.
Yes, Kay was ruthless and cold-blooded but let’s not forget her motto:
I might even win.
my favorite episode. I watch Columbo since my childhood, in the late 70′. I remember the musics terrified me, in those time.
Since, I have always enjoyed the classic Columbo (I never watch any of the 90′, except those with McGoohan).
Of course, as time go bye, I am less stuck with the intelligence of Columbo, I notice more the failures of the scripts (and to be honest, I would have prefered to stay in this childish “stuckness”).
But Columbo, this is not only the plot of the murder. This is also a back to the 70′. Clothes, music, cars, etc.
And upon everything, the essence of Columbo is the show is a real TRAGEDY.
A tragedy don’t need to be sad, it just need to be determinist.
The murderer will be catch. No matter what he does to escape is fate. Columbo, so, appears like a greek divinity.
Even the dialogues stay on the implacable ground of the tragedy. Always the same, and this is this familiarity we love, as a good pair of slippers.
I can’t here say a lot about this dialogue’s structure, because I watch the show in french version (which is excellent, really), and I suppose the catchphrases are not the same.
However, if there is here some french-speaking people (or if google translate have magicial powers), here are the structure of what the murderer says in 99% of episodes.
Phase a) : “SI je puis vous aider en quoi que ce soit, n’hésitez pas” / “je vous en prie, lieutenant, ça sera avec plaisir” /
phase b : the murderer become more anxious : “L’enquête n’est pas terminée?/c’était pourtant un suicide/cambrioleur/son ex femme”, “je crois savoir comment le meurtrier s’y est pris”
phase c : anxious plus angry : “Ecoutez lieutenant, je suis très occupé, voyez avec ma secrétaire” / “où voulez-vous en venir” / “venez-en au fait” (those two last lines are said in EVERY.SINGLE.70′.EPISODE !)
phase d : nervous breakdown “qu’est-ce que ça peut bien faire que…” (detail of the crime scene)
But I digress. Here’s why I consider this episode as the best
a) the score : even better than the wonderful score of try and catch me
b) the personnality of the murderer : I think I’m a bit in love with Kay Freestone
c) the appearance of the murderer : she’s so well dresse, so chic, rrhhaa
d) the complicity between Columbo and Kay
e) the smartness of the murder plan
I appreciate your analysis. And agree that we live the whole package despite holes in the plot etc
I would like to add the f) The gun shadow on the elevator ceiling…
It’s not that Colombo episodes didn’t include any “instrumental leftovers clues”, they all did, but the shadow is so sophisticated. First it mixes guilt (of the Kay -“How did I left this trace”) that it’s resembles a pixelated blown-up image on today’s television (hiding a face). It is so ahead of its time, and should be included in a museum contemporary art as “impressionists image”. It’s like the shadow of a gun in Antonioni’s “Blow-up” movie.
J’ai remarqué les main schémas. “Great minds…”
J’aime bien votre analyse. Merci.
Great summary. I’m sure Kay Freestone is supposed to be gay. I thought it seemed a subtle (needed for the time period) but implied subplot. Kay tells Valerie Kirk “you can keep the key to my apartment.” – that line definitely implies they were lovers. It makes sense… it shows that Kay was using Mark as a lover to get ahead, but she really didn’t care about him. That’s why it was so easy for Kay to murder Mark when he didn’t give her the west coast job (she didn’t seem cut up when Mark was going east and she briefly thought she could have his job on the West Coast)… thus giving Columbo a person who DID kill for a job (one of his quotes in the episode). Kay murdered Mark yet forgave Valerie even though Valerie possibly ruined Kay’s career. Why? – because Kay loved her. It’s very subtle (not having Kay kiss Valerie on the mouth, etc.) so that audiences back in the ’70’s could interrupt it any way they preferred… but it’s a brilliant plot line… and it explains why the writer included a subplot that almost seems superfluous. It’s unique for it’s time.
* interpret (not interrupt) – darn spell check
Or it could be that Kay and Valorie lived in one of the most expensive places to live at the time. Hollywood is filled with stories of actors who were roommates and struggling before making it big: Brad Pitt and Jason Priestly, Christopher Reeves and Robin Williams, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr and Keifer Sutherland, Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder, Steve McQueen and and James Dean…the list goes on and on.
This is a case of society today trying to project their values on past societies…and not that far past at that. As I explained in another post in this thread, the more than likely scenario is that Kay used Valorie to open doors for her a CNC, and used Valorie’s drug addiction as an enabling device to keep the former star dependent on her, since Kay is a driven workaholic.
Using her seems more in line with Kay’s character. Good points.
LA is a black hole for
acting roles in film and
TV, yet remains a poor place to
actually live cheaply and in safety.
One magic solution: commute.
Even in “La La Land”, set in the
90’s, the hopefuls are doing just
that. These days though, California
is just too expensive for many.
Best and most memorable Columbo Ever!
Incredibly complex character development full of very human contradictions that are deftly placed to create a rich tapestry of the condition of a very particular individual. Brilliantly acted, wonderful chemistry between Columbo and Kay, grippingly tense scenes, and non of those overdone comic theatrics that brought other episodes down. It’s all there, social commentary to boot. Even its only weak moment – the dated computer effects scene – goes to show just how great the writing is as it’s pure filler that could be cut-out without denting the story a jot.
Regarding the critique that Kay’s motive was not realistic, I think this fails to take into account her deep and complex psychological state that is so well and purposefully developed throughout the story : her deprived childhood; her caring for the fallen; her total at-ease with those at the bottom of the heap; her stiffness and aloofness with the white male greasey-polers; her bubbling anger towards the glass ceiling. When she aimed the gun at Mark, she was aiming it the system as well last her ex. This was so much more than just a crime of passion committed by a spurned lover. The scene where she is alone listening to her tape recorded voice counting off the seconds to murder – that alone convinces me that the standard “rational motive analysis” does not apply here. Mark’s rejection was the straw that broke the camel’s back and set off a literal time bomb within her that has been brewing since her childhood. Right up to her last line : “I will fight this case I’ve had to fight for everything in my life”. Christ this is almost Mc Bethian stuff!
The only thing that doesn’t make sense about this episode is not the plot, but why it is not in the top 5 best Columbo’s of all time…now THAT’S a crime that even the man himself may not solve!
Brilliant summary. Totally agree. And I too don’t know why it’s not in the Top 5. I suspect though, it’s in a lot of the fans Top 10
disgusting comment. How do you talk, usualy, ah , yes, “hate speech”. This is an hate speech and a glorification of murdering. (against the usual victims, of course)
I don’t think there is much
to this “Rage Against The
Machine” angle behind her act. Mainly as Kay is not
a woman without her successes in this male network
world. Her usual opponent is the chauvinist male
attitude against women in jobs that supervise men.
And she’s already been able to get around that one.
On the main, she dismisses too easily Mark’s reasons
for declining to give her the job, after he dumps her
without much discussion, other than a parting gift. It’s
the double whammy that has made her so furious.
I don’t think ‘the glass ceiling’, or resentment against
men, are part of it.
And as Columbo says, “no one murders, just for a job”.
Which was why he was looking for an intimate relation
between her and the victim.
Oh yes, my rating was 9.5/10.
It’s in my current top 12 or so.
This review took a dark turn quickly. Rooting for a cold-blooded killer to be let off the hook, even when admitting that her motive for murder was weak and unjustified? Yikes.
That said, it was a fantastic episode, and has perhaps the best performance by a killer in show history. Here I was thinking a show is supposed to be going downhill by Season 7!
I was rooting for her when she shot him! He asked for it, literally and figuratively! Tossed her the gun and made the invite that gives the episode its name. When he did that, he basically was mocking her apparent inability to do anything about the situation but accept it or quit her job. She basically called his bluff.
She made her decision, for once – and it blew up. Mark was right all along.
And rightfully so. I love Trish but can’t stand Kay. She deserved every bit of justice as the rest of the murderers in the series. Kay might fight but she would never win – courtesy of our fave detective. As Mark himself would say: “Sorry babe, but you won’t be getting off killing a former lover.”
How many movies or TV shows have ever dealt with sexism in Hollywood TV and moviemaking? Also, I felt that the projectionist’s opening scene was amazing. She’s bitching to him about how the men are treating her, and he responds with some parody slave patois. The message: In this world, the white women might have it bad, but the black man is a slave.
Women have been slaves throughout history and in some places, still are. Don’t kid yourself.
This is one of my favorite episodes and it being a season 7 one, that says a lot. I thought it was pretty progressive for the time, if not even for today. Kay seemed to be on equal footing and respected by the men. You can tell she worked hard to prove herself, which in any high pressure industry that’s a must. Her character is pretty complex, maybe she felt there was a glass ceiling but I kind of feel she was still young and Mark knew she needed more experience to take his job. Also everyone knows when you mix business with pleasure like those two, it can get ugly. It was great parable of ambition and how you can be ambitious but without the knowledge or the temperament, ambition will only get you so far as evidenced by her crumbling under the pressures of TV production.
For all those reasons and issues, I think
it is a great episode, with enormous depth.
My only qualm is the trail of breadcrumbs Kay leaves behind
leading Columbo directly to her. Now if only she could have
followed her boss’s last ‘instructions’ to the letter.
Couple of things…..
CP- You said we see Columbo before the murder in “A Case of Immunity” in your review. Actually, there are two murders in that episode. We don’t see Columbo before the first murder.
I also disagree that Mark is a sleeze -bag. Did he ever say that they wouldn’t try a long-distance relationship? It wasn’t a fling. No fling has a person getting their dry cleaning sent to their lover’s home. Maybe the car was a nice gesture?
Also, about the run down house which kay returns to. People are saying that it’s to remind her of how far she’s come in life. But doesn’t she explicitly tell Columbo that’s not the reason why she’s there?
Why exactly is Kay there? I still don’t understand. maybe it’s not as “deep” as everyone thinks. Maybe it IS just padding.
Great score and a couple of tension-filled scenes.
Superb acting by Trish V.
Oh, one other nit-picky thing: she is counting WAY too fast in her “countdown” scene.
Quite right. I really don’t understand all the crap that Mark gets. Really, what did he do that was so wrong? He didn’t blow off Kay or dismiss her, he just suggested that she wasn’t ready for the big seat. In other words she had the drive and the smarts, but not the wisdom -yet. Mark bought her a nice car! Maybe Kay saw that as an attempt to placate her, but maybe it was a genuine gift from a man who cared for her.
I think the method of the murder demonstrates how Kay feels about her job: she thinks she’s better at it than she actually is. She thinks up a seemingly sophisticated plan but ignores all the downsides.
-She was the only one who would benefit from Mark’s death
-Mark was killed in his office, meaning whoever killed him probably knew him and where he worked
-Kay wasted no time in taking Mark’s vacant seat, literally and symbolically
-The building still had people in it working that night, presumably security working the lobby meaning the killer most likely worked in the building which, given the timing of the murder, gives a very short list of suspects
-The gun’s hiding place is not particularly good
In all, her plan and *ahem* execution of foul play was about as unwise as putting a burnt-out, emotionally unstable, junkie as the star of a live show before millions of viewers.
I’ll double-down on my thoughts about Mark. He was not a bad man. Just a man who, at that point in his life, cared more about this career altering opportunity in NYC than he did about his and Kay’s relationship. He wasn’t patronizing her with the new car. It was a sincere gift. And, like I said, there was no direct mention of a break-up with Kay. For all we know, he had genuine feelings for her, but knew that she just wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a leadership position at that time. At least not yet.
I’ve seen this episode about eight times, and not once did I think of Mark as a jerk. In fact, he seemed like a nice person. Career-oriented first and foremost, but not without feelings for Kay. I truly believe he liked her for more than just meaningless sex.
Watching this again I am reminded of what a great episode this is. For Kay to realize she wasn’t ready for the top job that she essentially killed for has got to be one of the deeper psychological insights into a Columbo murderer. She is very good at succinct decisions such as cutting pages of dialogue and action to get a picture back on schedule, but she misses the bigger mechanics of how it all works as a business. Of course Columbophile states it much better than I do in one of the best parts of the review:
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.
It’s in my all time Top 10
I don’t what it is about some of the female killers, but they were, on average, far better than the male ones (look I know you’ll mention ‘Dagger of the MInd!!)
I think when Columbophile reviewed the Top 100 scenes, someone commented that Kay makes a sympathetic killer that you don’t pity – great combination
I reckon think it’s the quality of the actors. In this era, people like Trish Van Devere and Fay Dunaway, simply have to be better to stay somewhere near the top and so we get better average acting
Excellent points. I can really appreciate the notion that she is a sympathetic killer that you don’t pity. Spot on. She just doesn’t see that she needs more experience, or better mentoring likely, before she’s ready. As Columbophile notes,
” 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.”
A Mark that treated Kay as someone more that someone to do the quick fixes and deserved to know how to make good decisions based on facts would have been better for them both. The dynamic that was set up between them was sure to end in disappointment or tragedy for one or both of them.
And as always the writers get the issues of that time 100% correct.
Females weren’t really respected for such positions and so there would be always ‘I told you you’d fail approach’ from the smug / patronising men
It’s Mark odious ‘pat on the head there’s a good girl’ attitude (great performance from that actor as well) which makes me want to give him a slap, never mind Kay!!
Absolutely. Here’s a car for your troubles is just so… . patronizing. And yes, great performances. A treat to watch professionals giving it their all. I read somewhere that when Raymond Chandler was writing his Philip Marlow novels he knew it wasn’t just pulp fiction. He knew he was creating art. I have always felt the same of the 70s Columbo seasons. They knew they weren’t just creating televisions – they were creating art.
“….misses the bigger mechanics….”
That’s what your underlings are for LOL
Best columbo of all time, although cinema and gadgets were a bit bulky – the pre “me too” era and on the other hand a woman that is capable of doing everything to promote her career in television. All of these are reflected so well. its “columbo textbook” with almost no bugs compared to the top 10 stylish episodes that are switching places from time to time.
This was one of the episodes that first got me interested in Columbo. I really enjoyed the pacing of the murder scene, which still is one of the best I’ve seen in the series. I also found these later episodes were cool because rather than being bumbling in his manner, Colombo’s adversaries treated him as more of an equal.
Also, you mentioned the score by Pat Williams. You’re so right, I think the score matched the scenes perfectly, especially the ending and the scene where Kaye has to fish out the gun from the elevator.
I did enjoy this episode, in spite of feeling no sympathy for Kay. But the fact that many viewers do makes me think of classic Hitchcock movies and the way he manipulated the audience. The murder scene, with Kay under time pressure to get back to the booth, even had me nervous for her, though I didn’t like her. It’s much like what Hitch did in Psycho when Norman Bates drives the car with Janet Leigh’s body in it into the swamp. The car starts to sink, then stops, and we actually feel nervous for Norman and root for it to start sinking again!
The other thing that strikes me about the episode is the irony of the ending. Kay committed murder partly because she hoped to move into Mark’s job, yet after doing that, she loses the job, even before she’s arrested for the murder, justifying Mark’s account of her competence and making her plotting and killing him completely futile. In most episodes we see the killer actually getting what he or she wants and being able at least to enjoy that for a fleeting time before they’re caught. After the murder, Kay runs herself ragged trying to fit into a job she isn’t suited for. She never gets to taste the spoils of her crime. Great touch on the part of the writer.
I enjoyed reading your comments. It’s one of my favorite episodes along with the one with Roddy McDowell and the exploding cigars
I agree with you, and partly with Elaine (as you can read above). This episode is a very good one, and Short Fuse is one too.
Sorry, Elaine, it’s not because of the job that Kay kills Mark. She kills him becauses he despises her. I think there’s even a remark of Columbo in the episode, saying “nobody kills for a job”.
How do you gather that Mark despised Kay? He may have bought an expensive, personalized car to placate her and not out of genuine affection, but why bother at all if he despised her? Is there any indication that he was being anything but honest? She had promise, but was cocky and inexperienced, and thus not a good fit for the job. At least, not yet.
I don’t think Mark despised Kay but i think her used to further his own career and maybe he even took credit for some of her ideas since she was his assistant or whatever.I also wonder if Mark was setting Kay up to fail because he may have known her friend Valerie wouldn’t be able to do that live show and Kay would get the blame since it might have been her idea for the Valerie to do the show.That way it could prove Mark’s point that Kay wasn’t capable to take his old job.
I’ve just watched this again (probably for the 50th time!!) and remember it as it was on of the first Columbo episodes I watched and wanted to immediately watch again
I’m totally perplexed how anyone cannot feel any sympathy for Kay, but note this unsympathetic view is held by a high percentage of females.
It’s significant because I guess the thinking is that Kay has gone through no worse than 90% of females – up to say year 2000 and if others before this date could shrug off the setback and get on with it, then why not her
I get it, but one of the greatest things I’ve noticed about Columbo and it’s taken around 10 reruns of the series to realise this, is how politically correct the series is, without resorting to rubbing your nose in it
Hence, whilst yes Kay is far too impulsive – which really is why she kills Mark and why he is correct about her, we understand her struggle and that she had no chance in breaking through the glass ceiling in 1978
A superb episode and it frankly it saves the last three series from been no better, on average, than the ‘new’ episodes that would follow
Whenever Kay entered a room at the office, the men were already there discussing things and she was like an afterthought. Then I find out she is called an “assistant” so I guess she was second tier.
There is an elegant mirroring in the plot: at the beginning, Mark “fires” her both as an executive and as a girlfriend, and she is absolutely shocked and stunned. Then at the Santa Monica pier in the limo, the big boss criticizes her work and fires her. Once again, she can’t believe this is happening. You can feel the nightmarish situation in which she’s trapped.
Thanks, banbroview, for “getting it”.
What a fabulous performance from Trish Van Devere. I never really mind the longer running time episodes because they can sometimes give us an insight into the lives, personalities and back stories of the characters. For example I enjoyed Kay going back to her old house and seeing where it all began for her and where she is now. Although this episode does contain the absolute worst example of filler with Columbo messing with the TV controls – I was waiting for the punchline but alas there wasn’t one. A brilliantly tense murder scene as well -The night watchman was really enjoying the ‘erotic art’ in that magazine wasn’t he. If only they would have similar reading material near me, I went to the dentist recently and they only had a camping magazine from 2016.
Trish Van Devere was fabulous as the scorned ambitious lover. Easily One of the 10 best eoisodes of Colombo
Trish Van Devere was one
of my favourite actresses
of the seventies.
I particularly remember her from
“Harry In Your Pocket”, a well-made TV
movie about a gang of pickpockets.
Also, her starring alongside her hubby
George C. in “The Changeling”. A really
well made supernatural horror film.
I still have a fear of Red, White and Blue
rubber balls to this day.