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Episode review: Columbo Murder, A Self Portrait

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait opening titles

After a six-month vacation, Lieutenant Columbo swaggered confidently back onto screens on November 25, 1989 in the overtly arty Murder, A Self Portrait.

Starring Belgian Bond villain Patrick Bauchau as artist extraordinaire Max Barsini, as well as a bevvy of beauties that includes Shera Danese in her biggest Columbo role to date, Murder, A Self Portrait has a look and feel entirely of its own. Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

Our last artistic Columbo outing came in Suitable for Framing way back in 1971. It seems a lot to hope that this outing could match the majesty of that particular outing but hope springs eternal. So, is Murder, A Self Portrait a dark, Goya-esque masterpiece of an episode? Or is it more like one of those paint-by-numbers kits favoured by Mrs Columbo? Let’s see…

Columbo Murder a Self Portrait cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Max Barsini: Patrick Bauchau
Louise Barsini: Fionnula Flanagan
Vanessa Barsini: Shera Danese
Julie: Isabel Lorca
Vito: Vito Scotti
Dr Sydney Hammer: George Coe
Dog: As himself
Written by: Robert Sherman
Directed by: James Frawley
Score by: Patrick Williams

Celebrated artist Max Barsini appears to live a charmed life, residing in a stunning beach-front home where he is waited on hand and foot by three women: current wife Vanessa, first wife Louise, and live-in lover/model/muse Julie.

While Barsini revels in the four-way relationship, things are a lot more fraught for the women in his life. Mature Louise (who lives next door) is outwardly happy enough with her lot in life, while Vanessa is fiendishly (and understandably) jealous and young Julie just wants to be loved by them all.

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
What reasonable wife could possibly object to this type of living arrangement?

The tension this situation creates seems to help Barsini thrive. He lives to control them and takes pleasure in watching them fight for the scraps of his affections. It is Louise, however, who shatters his perfect existence when she reveals her intentions to MOVE OUT of her home (and Barsini’s life) and MOVE IN with her psychologist/lover, Dr Sydney Hammer.

Barsini can’t let this happen – because Louise is the only person who knows about his shadowy past. Although we don’t initially know what happened, we find out that Louise has been repressing memories from her early life with Barsini that suggest a terrifying, traumatic event. These manifest as a series of nightmares, which she is working to decipher with Dr Hammer.

Fearful of what secrets Louise will spill once she’s out from under his yoke of oppression, Barsini strikes. Pretending to be painting a scene of Vito’s bar in old Los Angeles (from the attic apartment in which he scratched a living with Louise years before), the artist slips out of the fire escape and heads to the secluded beach he knows Louise will be at.

Here, he uses a cleaning rag doused in paint cleaner to put her lights out before lugging her unconscious frame into the ocean and leaving her to drown as if it were a tragic swimming accident. He then hotfoots it back to Vito’s before his absence can be noticed and unveils his finished work to the delighted bar owner. It looks for all the world like Barsini has spent his day at the easel but he actually painted the picture the night before and hid it below a blank canvas. It’ll be a tough alibi to crack.

Barsini is duly called in to identify the corpse of Louise and assist Columbo with his enquiries. There’s one thing puzzling the Lieutenant straight away: Louise was wearing only one contact lens – the other being in a case in her bag. Why would someone go for a swim wearing one contact lens? She was also said to be a very strong swimmer.

Columbo Murder a Self Portrait
This is the very place where the devil meets the deep blue sea

Columbo next meets Dr Hammer at Louise’s home. He dispels any suggestion that she might have had reason to commit suicide but does reference the ‘demented’ situation whereby Barsini still claimed Louise as his own. Hammer was keen to smash that relationship apart (pun intended) and claims he feels nothing but disgust for the artist. Barsini, however, is on a charm offensive towards Columbo. He even masterfully puts the detective off his stride by suggesting he paint his portrait.

Columbo’s mind is only off the case momentarily, though. A visit to see Hammer at his clinic pays dividends when he learns that Louise was going through a phase of recording her nightmare memories on cassette for future analysis. These tapes will have a material impact on the unravelling of the case.

He also heads downtown to visit Vito’s bar where he gets an eyeful of Barsini’s finished alibi painting – and a sleeveful of red paint when carelessly touching the still-wet canvas. He has a snoop about the cramped apartment where Barsini and Louise used to live and takes in the easily accessible fire escape.

The heart of the episode really begins when Columbo begins his portrait setting for Barsini and the two listen back to Louise’s recollections of her nightmares. In the first, she dreams of her elderly French uncle coming to her door at night and raving about something he’s lost. When Louise cried out to Barsini to help, he raced down to hair and hacked the man to pieces with a cleaver!

Barsini, wisely, takes the dreams as being indecipherable and meaningless. Columbo, however, appears to have instantly succeeded where trained psychologist Dr hammer failed and found meaning amidst the nonsense. Although Louise had no uncle, the French for my uncle is ‘mon oncle’. And, hey, there was a photo of Louise, Barsini and his monocle-wearing agent Harry Chudnow on the wall at Vito’s bar. Could her dreams have something to do with him?

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
I haven’t seen acting in Columbo this hammy since Dagger of the Mind

The dreams are explored further during the next sitting. Louise’s second nightmare features a furious Barsini returning home and taking packages of meat from their refrigerator and throwing them into the sink. He then sits down and gorges on strawberries and blueberries before Louise notices a living hand amongst the meat packages in the sink and wakes up a-screamin’.

Again, Columbo zeroes in on the hidden meaning. The meat is suggestive of bloody violence. Could the berries that dream Barsini merrily gulps represent something that has been buried? At this suggestion, the artist become peevish, calls time on their painting session and storms out. Left alone, Columbo is just able to resist the temptation of looking at the covered canvas – but notices as he does so that the area beneath the easel is awash with paint splatters, both old and new. This gives him an idea.

Screeching over to Vito’s bar, Columbo jallops up to the upstairs apartment (again). He looks at the spot where Barsini’s easel still rests – and notes that there are no paint splodges anywhere to be seen. It’s a crucial clue. Another follows when the Lieutenant visits the coroner’s and takes a sample of a red stain left around Louise’s lips on the day of her death. It looks like lipstick, but could it be paint?

As Columbo closes in on his man, the artist’s once-perfect life is caving in around him. Vanessa and Julie have established a common ground and realised Barsini will never make them happy. Much to Barsini’s rage and astonishment, both pack their bags and leave – and it’s against the backdrop of this conflict that Columbo arrives for his final portrait sitting.

Columbo Max Barsini

Louise’s third recurring nightmare is the topic of discussion. This time, she finds Barsini dropping a broken pocket watch into a cup of tea. He leads her down to the basement, where a dead body can be seen lying face down in the bare earth. Barsini strikes the body with a pick sending a broken monocle into the air. Cue screaming, waking, gnashing of teeth, etc, etc.

This final dream had pushed Columbo into some off-screen investigating. He’d found an old newspaper clipping about how Barsini’s agent Harry Chudnow had routinely fleeced his artist clients by not passing on the full proceeds from their sales. He later disappeared completely. From this, Columbo has deduced that Barsini killed Chudnow and buried him in Vito’s basement – the event that triggered Louise’s nightmares.

Barsini laughs this off and the Lieutenant admits that dream evidence would never be accepted as a reason to dig up Vito’s basement – but he wipes the smirk off the artist’s face when he suggests that Barsini is guilty of Louise’s murder.

The detective begins to unveil his list of evidence, including the fact that there was no paint on the floor under his easel at Vito’s. Barsini easily explains this away: it was a different, more clinical painting style using more controlled strokes of the brush. Columbo will need to do a lot better than that to get a conviction – and, of course, he can.

Lab tests have revealed the stain around Louise’s mouth was Barsini red – a special colour mixed only by Barsini himself. It got there from the paint stripper-doused cleaning rag that was used by the murderer to subdue her. The rag in question was Barsini’s, and lab tests have revealed traces of Louise’s lipstick on it. That places Barsini at the scene of the crime – and his motive was to ensure Louise never revealed the killing of Harry Chudnow.

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
Ironically, the painting looks more like Columbo than Columbo himself does here!

Impressed by Columbo’s tenacious pursuit of the truth, Barsini concedes defeat. Before yielding to the Lieutenant’s custodianship, though, he unveils his finished portrait. “Do I really look like that?” asks a pleased and amazed Columbo as credits roll…

My memories of Murder, A Self Portrait

Another ‘new’ Columbo episode I’ve gone years without watching, Murder A Self Portrait is more memorable than some of its contemporaries, largely due to the black-and-white dream sequences. While I remember these and knew they had a bearing on the case, the exact content of the sequences escapes me and, hand on heart, I’d have to say I recall them as being utterly hammy and scenes that were a major impediment to my viewing pleasure.

I never had anything against Patrick Bauchau’s portrayal of Barsini, although found the love-quadrangle a ludicrous premise that was, for the most part, dreadfully acted out. It leaves my fondest memories of the episode centred on the glorious beach scenery – and that fabulous portrait of Columbo that’s unveiled at the end. Pretty slim pickings, then, but perhaps it’ll have grown on me?

Episode analysis

After Columbo’s underwhelming (and, at times, pretty poor) eighth season, one would have expected the show’s creative team to pull out all the stops to ensure the crucial first episode of a vital season of television would be one that could win hearts and minds of new and old fans alike.

It’s therefore something of a surprise to me that Murder, A Self Portrait was the episode entrusted to do that. This is certainly not a bad piece of TV but it’s an acquired taste with a number of highly stylised sequences that were bound to limit its general appeal. Was kicking off the season with this, therefore, a massively confident move or an example of a production team taking a desperate gamble?

Columbo Dog
Geez, Dog’s been stacking on the pounds since we last saw him…

The episode certainly gets off to a disarming start. Instead of being injected into the usual environs of pre-murder machinations, we find ourselves at a basset hound talent show at which the good Lieutenant is shambling around with a massively overweight ‘Dog’, who bags some sort of participation rosette just for having turned up.

How you feel about the season opening this way will probably be coloured by how much you enjoy watching ageing men coo about dogs. For me, it’s not a promising start – especially after I’ve had reason to grumble about the high percentage of silly scenes included in the four episodes of Season 8.

There are several minutes of dog show tripe to wade through before we meet our chief protagonist, Max Barsini, and are given a whistle-stop tour of his life and loves. We first meet his naked young ingenue, Julie, who is being bossed about by the artist as he works on the latest in a series of nude studies of her for a new exhibition.

She seems nice enough and a stark contrast to Vanessa – Barsini’s current wife, who is openly dissatisfied at having to compete for his affections with not only Julie, but Barsini’s first wife Louise, who lives in the house next door and still cooks ruddy dinners for him, which all four eat together like one great big, unhappy family.

It’s a crazy set-up and one that’s very hard to take seriously. We can infer that Barsini is a narcissistic master manipulator with enough charisma to dominate three women, but the scenario never convinces and the women, in particular, boil down to uninteresting stereotypes: the vulnerable older woman, the jealous shrew and the naive youngster.

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
Wait a minute, isn’t that MY wife…?

Fionnula Flanagan’s Louise is the most credible of the three, although it’s a confused characterisation. Initially she appears quite cheerful and the one most at ease with her lot. However, after we find out she’s set to begin life anew with Dr Hammond, we see a traumatised and subdued woman who has yearned to break free from Barsini for years. Why she bothered to put on a bold front for his other love interests is a mystery never explained.

I’m not entirely satisfied with how her backstory is woven into the plot, either. We see her assure Barsini that she’ll never reveal his dark secret. This means she hasn’t actually repressed the memories of the earlier tragedy at all. She’s just chosen not to speak of them. Her dreams obviously relate to this trauma, so why has she been trying to decipher them with Dr Hammer? By doing so, she’d necessarily give Barsini away. It makes little sense.

Cast as Vanessa and Julie respectively, Shera Danese (AKA Mrs Peter Falk) and Isabel Lorca are weak links. This was the first Columbo episode in which Danese was given a starring role after two perfectly fine small parts in the 70s. I’m loathe to come across as a Shera hater (which I’m not), but she’s terrible in this, with line deliveries, facial expressions and body language as wooden as a mannequin. Her limitations as an actress have never seemed more apparent.

Lorca fares similarly poorly. An argument between her and Vanessa, where the two trade insults, looks and feels like two teens in a school production being asked to ad lib a playground argument. A little later, when urged by Barsini to try to get on with Vanessa, Julie cries out “I won’t, I won’t, I WON’T!” rather like a peevish five-year-old, only not nearly as convincingly.

Worse, when Patrick Bauchau shares screen-time with them he seems to catch the malaise, his standards dropping to amateurish levels of silly shouting and exaggerated actions (see clip below). The scene near the end of the episode, when he melodramatically flings both women’s suitcases out of the front door, comes across as something from a bad comedy.

The dodgy performances highlight the usual problem with these longer ABC episodes: there’s simply not enough story to justify the 90+ minute running time. The sub-plot of Barsini’s feuding loves is only there to bump up the running time. Of the three women, only Louise is required for plot purposes and a 75-minute episode that focused on her trying to break free from Max before he killed her would’ve been a whole lot more compelling.

While we’re considering questionable aspects of the episode, we may as well focus on Louise’s nightmares, which are far and away Murder, A Self Portrait’s signature sequences. Some viewers love them, seeing them as stylistically beautiful and in keeping with the artistic theme of the episode. While I can understand that viewpoint, I don’t share it.

To me, the nightmare scenes take me out of the episode at a point in the story when I should be most interested. There may be a beauty in the framing of the scenes, but I find them overly theatrical and really a little bit lame – like I’m watching a student film, or hokey amateur dramatics rather than a high-quality TV drama.

For many, the sequences are a little bit weird for their taste. I’d argue they’re probably not weird enough – certainly not when compared to Emmett Clayton’s psychedelic chess nightmare that opened up 1973’s The Most Dangerous Match. There was also an effectively presented shimmery daydream sequence in Lady in Waiting in which Beth Chadwick’s plan for murdering her brother was revealed.

The black-and-white dreams in Self Portrait are a bit too safe and cliched for me. I’d rather the production team had either pushed the boat right out and done something truly zany, or not included them at all. Personally, I think it would have been entirely feasible to massage the script to have allowed the dreams to simply be discussed by Columbo and Barsini without using them to provide visual clues to the convoluted backstory of the fate of the man with the monocle.

Dr Hammer quit psychology instantly when he learned how easily Columbo solved the mystery of Louise’s nightmares that had flummoxed him for years

Staying with those pesky dreams, does it irk other viewers how quickly Columbo is able to unravel them? We’re told by professional psychologist Dr Hammer that “dreams are tough enough to analyse” without the added trouble of repressed memories – yet Columbo waltzes to the heart of them like he’s reading a kiddies’ ABC book! The leap he makes from French uncle (mon oncle) to monocle is particularly preposterous.

Thank goodness, then, that the episode doesn’t fall into the trap of having the decoding of Louise’s dreams entirely crack the case. While they provide the dramatic spine of the episode, the Lieutenant actually relies on plausible deductions and honest police work to secure the evidence he needs to place Barsini at the scene of the crime.

It’s probably the strongest case he’s made against a killer since the classic era – and none of the evidence felt like it was given to him too easily. It makes for a satisfying conclusion – even if Barsini accepts defeat a tad too easily for my liking. As an emotional European, one might have expected a bit more of a blowout from the artist when cornered at the end. Instead, he meekly accepts his fate, which seems at odds with his combustible nature.

It may be that writer Robert Sherman was attempting to show that Barsini’s docile submission to Columbo marked the definite end of his domineering way of life following the loss of his three women. If so, I think he missed the mark because Barsini’s acceptance of his fate was too benign when I feel an egomaniac like him ought to have been brooding and defiant after seeing his world come crashing down in a single afternoon.

That aside, Barsini makes for an engaging villain. Although he’s a manipulative and dictatorial little sh*t towards the three women, he’s a lot of fun to watch and I do feel like Bauchau and Falk had a good level of rapport – certainly by the standards of the comeback episodes. Bauchau does both charm and irritability capably, so is well cast as an enigmatic and flamboyant artist. Plus, Bauchau’s lovely Belgian accent is music to the ears. I could listen to him say ‘Leftenant‘ all day…

Falk picks up where he left off in Grand Deceptions, playing things straight to deliver a strong and believable performance. I think this is his best turn since Make Me a Perfect Murder in 1978, with his no-nonsense approach to stating his case against Barsini and his earnest excitement at the prospect of having his portrait painted both coming right out of his 70s’ playbook. I’m impressed by his restraint, which augurs well for the rest of Season 9 – although his early fawning at Dog and the unfunny role-reversal scene with Dr Hammer do rankle.

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait Vito Scotti
Vito Scotti: delivering Columbo goodies like ’twere 1973!

Giving a boost to both Bauchau and Falk is Vito Scotti, the much-loved bit-part player in five 70s’ episodes who makes his series’ farewell in typically amiable style. Scotti had that rare gift of turning what could have been disposable parts into three-dimensional characters of great humour and warmth, and he does more of the same here as bar owner Vito.

Aged almost 72 at the time this episode aired, Scotti’s presence was a welcome hark back to the show’s golden era and remains a lovely Easter Egg for fans today. He would grace TV productions only seven more times before his death in 1996 after a career spanning six decades and nearly 250 credits. I don’t think there’s a Columbo fan alive who doesn’t share a deep appreciation for everything Scotti brought to the show.

Another Columbo regular making his final contribution was director James Frawley, who had helmed five previous episodes starting with Try & Catch Me in 1977. Frawley was able to make stunning use of Malibu’s Paradise Cove beach and Barsini’s awesome beach-front property to deliver the best-looking 80s’ episode to date. The extensive use of locations rather than studio sets also helps Murder, A Self Portrait feel like a big-budget extravaganza once more – magic that was missing during Season 8.

“I don’t think there’s a Columbo fan alive who doesn’t share a deep appreciation for everything Vito Scotti brought to the show.”

Patrick Williams’ score, meanwhile, is as good as we’ve come to expect from one of the series’ finest composers, although there are a few strains of This Old Man throughout – a tune I’m now getting heartily sick of hearing. While I’m not a huge fan of the dream sequences as a whole, Williams’ ominous underlying score plays a key role in creating an eerie atmosphere.

No critique of this episode is complete without examining the artworks that appear throughout – especially the sensational portrait of Columbo we see during the final reveal. This, along with the prominent paintings of Julie, was created by Czech-born artist Jaroslav Gebr, who headed up Universal’s scenic art department for 30 years until the mid-2000s.

The iconic Columbo portrait is currently in the safe hands of his estate, although a limited edition run of 20 prints was made available in 2018 – selling out in a flash, including one nabbed by yours truly! Incidentally, if you have a few thousand dollars going spare, two of the original portraits of Julie from Murder, A Self Portrait are currently up for grabs on the Gebr Art website. Now that’s what I’d call a Columbo conversation starter!

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
Get Julie for your wall for the low, low price of $4000

To wrap things up, I’m in two minds about Murder, A Self Portrait. In terms of the central villain and the rock-solid deductive work put in by Columbo, this is a strong entry that also manages to avoid off-setting the balance by the inclusion of any truly stupid scenes of the sort that so damaged Sex & The Married Detective and Murder, Smoke & Shadows.

On the downside, some sub-par performances and the divisive nature of the artsy dream sequences take the edge off the drama. I feel like there was a much more cohesive overall episode here that was largely obscured by the decision to insert the hammy dream reenactments into an episode that was interesting enough without them. And what this sadly means is that the wait for a truly great ‘new’ Columbo episode goes on…

Did you know?

Patrick Bauchau Mr Scarpine
I’d tackle Scarpine before Grace Jones any day of the century!

Patrick Bauchau cut a rather stylish Bond bad guy as Scarpine in 1985’s A View to a Kill, where he was one of uber-villain Max Zorin’s chief lieutenants.

Bauchau joins eight other Columbo alumni in also appearing in a Bond film, the others being: Donald Pleasence (Any Old Port in a Storm / You Only Live Twice); Honor Blackman (Dagger of the Mind / Goldfinger); Louis Jourdan (Murder Under Glass / Octopussy); Anthony Zerbe (Columbo Goes to the Guillotine / Licence to Kill); Patrick Macnee (Troubled Waters / A View to a Kill); Pedro Armendariz Jr (Matter of Honor / Licence to Kill); Priscilla Barnes (Deadly State of Mind / Licence to Kill) and Frank McRae (A Bird in the Hand / Licence to Kill).

How I rate ’em

Murder, A Self Portrait is a tricky episode to assess. Its heart is in the right place but a more clinical, less flashy approach to telling the story would have been to its benefit. This could have been the best of the new episodes had it tread a more conventional line. As it is, it’s something of a novelty that lives in the memory mainly for the wrong reasons.

Missed any of my earlier new Columbo episode reviews? Then simply click the links below.

  1. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  2. Sex & The Married Detective
  3. Murder, A Self Portrait
  4. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  5. Grand Deceptions

If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them in order, they can all be accessed here. And if you can’t get enough of Mr Barsini and his harem, you can vote for Murder, A Self Portrait in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.

Columbo Murder A Self Portrait
Who the what now?

Time to join the debate. How does Self Portrait fare in your estimations? I’m particularly interested in your assessment of the dream sequences, how you rate Barsini as a villain and what you make of the performances of his cadre of concubines.

We’re now well overdue a world-beating Columbo adventure. Will we find it in the next outing, the sleaze-filled ogle at the world of top-shelf magazines that is Columbo Cries Wolf? Check back in soon to find out.

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132 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Murder, A Self Portrait

  1. Pingback: Columbo episode review – Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  2. I just saw this one for the first time, and I enjoyed it. It’s not in my top five, but an interesting watch. It feels to me like they were feeling competition from the Masterpiece Mysteries on PBS (e.g., Poirot) and were looking to catch some of that flavor.

    There’s also a certain haunting melancholy to this episode… isolation and love betrayed (Dog bites Columbo!)—even the douchebag artist complains of being lonely. I think in a lot of ways the scene where the two harem gals have their extended conversation trying to figure out what’s more important than being happy and realize they’re both miserable, is the real heart of the episode, while the dream sequences are just a gimmick to make “good television.”

    Plus, yeah, Vito Scotti. He’s gotta be worth a star himself.

    • Hi Wayne. Columbo isn’t actually in the dream, it is just symbolic of him representing us, the viewer.

      He is posing for his portrait and imagining the dream taking place around him, based on the description on the tape.

      It’s a bit like a “holodeck” scene in Star Trek, where the holograms are not aware of the real person, unless that person wants them to be.

  3. Slowly working my way through all of the Columbo shows…

    It strikes me that the 70s ones hit on a lot of the trends of the day (fitness clubs! fat farms! the mob!), while the 80s ones remind me more of movies and TV shows from that era (which I lived through).

    “Sex and the Married Detective” = the sex education superstar Dr. Ruth + the obsessive love/sex of Presumed Innocent. “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” = a lot of 80s movies + the is-it-real-or-is-it-movie? of The Stunt Man. “Grand Deceptions” reminded me a bit of Dress Gray, although that’s reaching – really, this one was quite boring. And “Murder A Self Portrait” very strongly of the painter/family in Mistral’s Daughter + the dream scenes and interpretations in Still of the Night.

    One thing that strikes me about Falk’s acting in these later ones is how much more relaxed and laid-back he is. In the 70s ones he seems like he really cares about the victims and bringing killers to justice, but in the modern ones he’s having a ball, noodling around, etc. In some of the newer ones it comes across as Columbo having real contempt for the killer and the mystery – as if the murders are SO obvious and easy to figure out, he can’t even be bothered to take it seriously.

  4. Something odd I noticed during the “gotcha” scene. In one unbroken shot, Columbo picks up a can of paint remover twice. The first time, the brand name is clearly visible. When he picks it up again, the brand is digitally blacked out. It’s the same can, and if you frame-by-frame it you can see the black “box” kinda jumps around. A weirdly sloppy bit of post-production editing there!

    • Is this something done by the programme makers 30 years ago, or more recently by your broadcaster?

        • Thanks Patrick. This clip looks the same as my recoding off of the UK’s channel five. We see Columbo pick up the can in his left hand. The logo is clearly visible and the pouring spout is on our left. Then the can goes out of shot, as Columbo transfers the can to his right hand and lifts it up again. This time the logo is blacked out, but the spout is still on our left, so we are still looking at the same side of the can.

          My guess is that there were actually two different cans, and when Columbo appears to transfer the can from one hand to the other, Peter Falk is actually putting down the first can and picking up the second can. My second guess is that the second can actually has the logo obscured by black paint. But why on Earth they should do this I have no idea!

    • I’ve always wondered if Peter Falk’s real-life squeeze Shera Danese ever made him cioppino like in this episode. It did look mighty tasty!

  5. Sadly, no one ever picks up on the pun in this episode.

    Barsini paints a bar scene. That’s a Barsini, alright.

  6. Not a word of the cioppino…and why are my comments not making it on the site? I wrote a comment about the tuba episode and it never made it. Is this site for columbo lovers or snobs?

    • Hey, if my comments make it to this site, it definitely aint for snobs. I take it that by “the tuba episode” you mean Sex and the Married Detective? Did you post your comment on that thread, or reference it on one of the many others?

    • No, it was in the Sex and the Married Detective thread. Wait…am I supposed to say “Colorado is a river” before posting?

      I enjoyed this episode, as I felt it got back to basics, had a special guest from the past with Vito, paid homage to the name Barsini (from Any Old Port) and apart from the dream sequences I think it held it’s own.

      What surprised me was the lack of review on the cioppino. I made it to the half century mark with never hearing of this dish, which also means that as a kid I lived through the era of aspic (as seen in Murder Under Glass). It looked like a tasty meal that probably takes a day to prepare. I know for home made bread, it takes a few days to allow for the yeast to rise. So the whole scene of Barsini’s harem marching into dinner to eat a meal like that…and all Barsini does is dip his bread in it, and the rest hardly eat because the talk around the table is so caustic and cringy. IDK. Just felt like it was overlooked.

    • Yes! That fish extravaganza the women served was the best part of the episode, that and the Bassett hound contest at the beginning. The dish looked mighty tasty and at least Max dipped his bread into it as one is supposed to when enjoying it. Too bad the rest of the episode never really held my interest. Oh, and Columbophile is right: the painting Max did of our fave detective looked more like Columbo than Falk himself!

    • Also the music reminded me of “Grim Tales.” Exact same tune as one of the episodes, though I forget which one at the moment,

  7. Having attended two “Pug Fest” events in Milwaukee WI USA in the last few years with my niece and her pups, I have to say I appreciate the accuracy of the opening scene of this episode. That alone elevates it for me, but even without it, this is among the top five of the “new” Columbos. It is admittedly very different than the originals. And yes, Shera Danese is a much better actress in dark hair.

    • I have revisited my remark about Shera Denese’s performance after rereading Columbophile’s review. I still think she definitely is more believable as a brunette, but her performance as a blonde must have really um… been deficient.

    • Hey SC, I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit I’ve also been to multiple Milwaukee Pug Fests. (Wifey has a chug.) Small world eh.

      If the event returns post pandemic, perhaps you and I can chat about Columbo while the ladies soak up the “beauty” pageant. 🙄

      • Sorry to not have seen this earlier G4! The pug story has evolved considerably. Didn’t know Chugs were allowed at pugfest. Not afraid to share scottschada@yahoo.com. with you. BUT I think we need to have some input about “Columbo” from you. Please put together some thoughts about the “OLD” VS new episodes, or, actually, any special recollection(s) from the series. THEN I can chat about pugs off the Columbophile website. :–)

    • I think they were just trying to do something a little different with the dream sequences. And this was the nearest that the Columbo series ever got to doing a flashback sequence.

    • I didn’t much care for the dream sequences either, but the episode as a whole had some things going for it. The psych element was important so they needed to impart that somehow, the dreams just grew boring for me. Perhaps had they limited it to one well-done dream sequence, eased up on the pretentious artisiness a tad, it would have better gelled with the traditional Columbo formula.

      This ep also would have benefited in general from a shorter running time.

      • Okay, so I watched this again today. (Last time, for sure!)
        I must say that I paid the most attention to it this time around than I ever have before. I think the reason why I didn’t “get” everything in my previous viewings was because this episode (for me) was very boring. And, a boring episode makes it easy for me to get distracted with other things.

        I now appreciate it just a tad more. (Just a tad)

        I also re-read CP’s review, and he is spot on. I’m not big into rankings, but I would have flopped this one with from #3 to #4 in his order (at the time of publication). I wasn’t as bored during Murders, Smoke & Shadows as I was here.
        Out of the 69 episodes, I think the two dullest episodes are actually back-to-back! (Grand Deceptions and this one)

        I really think the beginning of the episode (at the hound festival) was done for three reasons:
        1-to fill ABC’s longer running time
        2- so we wouldn’t go so long without saying Peter Falk
        3- it does drop a clue….about jealousy. Columbo’s dog bites him and he later asks Dr. Hammer what that could mean. That has a minor part in the plot.

        I just think that the episode tries to be too clever.

  8. I actually quite enjoyed this episode for what it was – different from a normal Columbo, but entertaining and intriguing in its own way.

    I thought that Bauchau was great in the role – he was certainly casually charming, yet controlling, and easy to anger all in one. I completely bought his performance. Liked the chemistry with Columbo as well.

    Great to see Vito Scotti again – and he was strong and entertaining as usual.

    Columbo always has beautiful women, but this one took it to another level. And as young and pretty Isabel Lorca was, Fionnula Flanagan still had her beat.

    The dream sequences certainly were different. I knew they’d be controversial – it’s funny that I am now watching all of these 80’s episodes for the first time, and I’m just thinking about what CP must think as I watch them. I took them for what they were – something different for the show, but kind of interesting on their own, as maybe corny as they were.

    Yeah – the fight between the two ladies was next level cringe though.

    I think this episode is better than at least a couple of the 70’s ones, and I’d watch it again. I think CP is being a bit too harsh. Plus – how could you not enjoy a Bassett Hound Picnic? I’m afraid his heart might be colder than Dr. Barry Mayfield’s to not enjoy that.

    Last point – based on the comments, it seems the men sort of envy Barsini’s life in the beginning, while the women hate him for it. Very interesting.

    • Question: Apart from the occasional recurrences of “This Old Man”, the music for this episode is dominated by refrain that I don’t recall hearing in any other Columbo episode. Normally I’d assume that this would have been composed by the episode’s Musical Director, only we hear it sung as an opera duet over the titles at the end.

      So IS it a bit of classical opera…? Does anybody recognise it?

      • Thanks Stephen for noticing the opera music in episode 50. I think the whole episode is an Italian opera – the music, the hammy acting, the burlesque comedy. Puccini? Verdi? It is a tour-de-force. Wish we had the comments of the playwright and composer.

    • Stephen Palmer: The music actually IS from TWO different operas (the composers back in the day copied each other obviously):
      listen to
      * Verdi, Rigoletto, scene 2, duet Rigoletto and daughter Gilda:
      “Deh non parlare al misero”
      * Bellini, Norma, scene 2, trio Norma w/Adalgisa and Pollione:
      “Oh, di qual sei tu vittima”
      Verdi only used the main theme once and didn’t elaborate whereas Bellini made an entire trio out of it. Maybe Verdi knew he had “stolen” it from Bellini?

  9. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  10. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Agenda for Murder | THE COLUMBOPHILE

    • Venice beach, California (do not know whether it’s a real bar but I recognize the location)

  11. The storywriter was clearly trying to make one of his own male
    Fantasies out of this episode, but it turns off at
    Least half the viewers — the women. He could have had Louise already out of the house and divorced, with various models coming and going, but not living there. Or have Louise srillwirh him and wanting a divorce, so they separate, but she is financially dependent and won’t work. So he pays the rent for her next door just to get his meals, while screwing his models.
    The model or models seem to be red herrings to put sexual
    Jealousy into the murder motive mix. Julie and Barsini seemed far too
    Many years apart to connect unless she could be shown as Getting well
    Paid. Then she could be portrayed as a woman who was gradually realizing that she wanted a life of her own, and start complaining, she didn’t want to be with an old, moody and married mean artist. She could have a real boyfriend her own age (that dishy lifeguard would be good!) on the side, for example; to put in tension about barsinj’s fading charms.
    He could be then portrayed as an anxious man facing his older years alone.
    This would make the plot more realistic for both viewer groups, men and women, even if he could show that picking up another model was no problem as long as he had the dough to pay her. First wife could remain a problem
    Because he was still attached and she hadnt the money to be on her own.

    Well these are just suggestions to improve the plot weakness.

    The women leaving him was a long time coming, anyone could see that.
    He was terribly scrawny and scruffy. He’s supposed to be a
    Murderous villain. He had no charm to offset his looks… so only an older wife would really be attached to him in spite of his egotistical roughness
    Barsini’s accent sounded like a German accent to me,
    Not French. Especially his vowels, some of the expressions and word

    So that was Peter Falk’s
    Real wife!!! Great to learn.

  12. In the painting, Columbo reminds me of John Constantine, Hellblazer, particularly as he appeared on some of the painted covers of that comic book series.

  13. I wonder if it means anything that we’ve had a Carsini and a Barsini. Maybe Arsenio Hall should have played a “Columbo” character called Aarsini.

    Shera Danese looks good as a brunette.

    George Coe as Dr. Hammer (hey, from “Venture Bros.”!) is our second “Max Headroom” network chairman in a row, after Stephen Elliott last episode! AFAIK Charles Rocket wasn’t in a “Columbo,” though he did play a policeman in a “Murder, She Wrote.”

    It’s good that the other contact lens is in its case; otherwise, Barsini could reasonably claim that Louise went swimming with both lenses in, but one fell out in the ocean.

    “When Louise cried out to Barsini to help, he raced down to hair”? More dream imagery? 🙂

    Columbo deciphered the dreams because he was using 1960s “Batman” logic (as mentioned by Susan Dal Dosso earlier), or, for a more recent reference, “The DaColbert Code”!

    I wonder what pun the pocket watch in the tea translates to. Teetime? Barsini was a golfer?

    I like the painting of Columbo, but not the one of Julie. So there’s a quick $4000 saved. 🙂

    The arty black-and-white dream sequences might have been more appropriate in “Murder, Smoke and Shadows,” where they could be the type of nightmares a director like Alex Brady would have.

    For a look at what it would have been like if the characters had simply discussed the dreams, instead of showing them, check out the beginning of “A Deadly State of Mind.” In that episode, it would have been better to show, not tell, the backstory of Nadia Donner. The scene of her lying there, hypnotised, describing her memories to Dr. Collier, doesn’t grab the viewer right away.

    In my wishful mental landscape, Vito Scotti is somehow related to the Scotti Bros. record label which published “Weird Al” Yankovic’s albums in the 1980s.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen this episode but my memory of it is basically positive. The internecine interpersonal drama wasn’t interesting, but I liked the cast and setting. I’d watch this one again.

    • I take your point about Nadia’s backstory, but I do think that Lesley Warren performs it rather well. And George Hamilton is hearing it for the first time, just as we are.

      • True! The cutting back and forth between Nadia on the couch and Dr. Collier listening and smoking, in a dark room, provides some visual interest. And it’s neat how we don’t realise this is all taking place in a room at the institute (as opposed to a therapist’s office in some generic building) until Dr. Collier leaves the room and steps into the hallway to talk to Dr. Borden. 🙂

    • ROTF LACC(laughing at Columbophile comments). I also saved $4000 by not purchasing Julie painting.
      Arsenio Hall can be the first murderer in a reboot-Aarsini.
      I agree with dream sequences being used in the episodes you mentioned also but those episodes work well even without them as mentioned in other replies.

  14. >Staying with those pesky dreams, does it irk other viewers how quickly Columbo is able to unravel them?

    It is pretty weird and comical at first (my native language is French and I wouldn’t have gotten the “my French uncle” -> “mon oncle” -> “monocle” thing in a million years) but I think it’s fine when you realize that Columbo is most certainly working completely backwards in these sequences.

    He’s not genuinely looking for clues, he’s trying no unnerve Max, in true Columbo fashion. It seems rather plausible that he would be working backwards: he knows that something terrible happened some years ago that traumatized Louise and most certainly involved Max, he saw the monocled guy in the picture with the two of them, he went digging into that and he knows that he disappeared etc… Those tapes never actually introduce anything that Columbo couldn’t have already known beforehand.

    He doesn’t really care about the dreams, he wants Max to think he cares. After all, if we were to remove those tapes completely Columbo still has enough evidence to build a strong case (the red paint on Louise’s face, the lack of paint on the ground, the unusable sink, the very weak alibi etc…). For all we know he might be making stuff up as he goes along just to see how Max would react, and hope that it’ll push him into making a mistake.

    For me the dream analysis is just a longer, more convoluted version of the palm reading at the start of Death Lends a Hand.

    Now, as somebody who wears glasses and sometimes contacts, the idea that somebody could remove one but keep the other is much harder for me to believe, unless they were for cosmetic purpose only. I’d have a blinding headache after 30seconds, not to mention that it would be really hard to see anything correctly.

    For those who don’t wear glasses and can’t relate, it’s as if she was taking her shoes off but due to an interruption starts limping around with one high heel and one bare foot. It doesn’t add up, especially since her seeing Max shouldn’t be *that much* of a shock.

    • My goodness, what an insight! I can’t say if the director or writers meant for Columbo’s use of the dream sequences to be interpreted in the light that you propose. I can’t wait to watch this episode again to find out. I don’t think there is much there to point us in that direction, but I will have to watch again to see. There’s something I never thought I’d say: “I’m looking forward to watching Murder, A Self Portrait again!”

      I’ve always hated the dream interpretation part of this one and it ruined the episode for me. The whole leap from French uncle to mon oncle to the missing and presumed dead former agent who wore a monocle is as stupid as it can get and I disliked that they made Columbo do something so absurd. You’ve moved this episode from “rarely watched” to the “viewing rotation” set of DVDs.

      Your description regarding wearing only one contact lens as similar to wearing only one shoe high-heeled is also quite apt. Those who do not need corrective lenses can now understand how ludicrous it would be to accidentally wear only one of two contact lenses.

      • Louise wasn’t accidentally wearing one contact lens. She was removing them to swim but had only taken one out when Max interrupted her. It’s a clue that doesn’t pay off as strongly as it ought.

        • I did not mean to say Columbo thought that the contact lens was accidentally left in its case. I was agreeing that Columbo’s deduction that you outline was unassailable because no one would accidentally wear only one of two necessary lenses. But didn’t Max offer such an explanation? I haven’t watched this one enough to be certain of my impression that he did.

      • Actually the high heel would handicap anyone who wears it (watch the transvestites walk!). So technically that represents then the eye with no lens, handicapped with blurred vision. No one would high heels down to that sandy beach anyway../ maybe sandals or runners.

    • Sorry,
      But I don’t agree for the comparison with the palmreading at the start of Death Lends a Hand.
      It’s much more easy to see someone has a ring on his hand, than to know what’s on a tape without having listened to it.
      The (short scene of the) palmreading confirms easily what Columbo guessed. And he doesn’t talk about it to Investigator Brimmer.
      Whereas the content of the tapes, Columbo discovers it at the same time as Max does.
      And about “to see how Max would react, and hope that it’ll push him into making a mistake”, we have seen much more interesting examples in other episodes than in this one. The (long) scenes with the dreams and their explanation are rather annoying. For one dream, it may be acceptable. For two dreams it’s a waste of time, and for three a waste of talent (and of patience, from the viewer).

      • Is Columbo really hearing the tapes for the first time with Max? Or has he secretly listened to them earlier, giving him time to think up a link with whatever Louise had said with Harry Chudnow and his monocle? And one contact lens = monocle. Columbo is subtly letting Max know that Louise going swimming with one contact lens still in means that she was really interrupted and therefore murdered by Max, just like he murdered the man with one lens.

        • If Columbo had secretly listened to the tapes earlier, I’m sure we should have seen or remarked it, as we did in several other episodes.

          • True, but we didn’t see Columbo steal the bottle from Carsini’s wine cellar, or reverse the negative for Dick Van Dyke’s benefit. It’s never actually explained on screen how he can interpret the dreams, but if it’s all a bluff to unnerve Max he is either winging it, or he heard the tapes earlier. We know when the murderer is lying, but we don’t always know when Columbo is lying.

            • I agree with you, Chris, that we haven’t seen Columbo reverse the photographe in Negative Reaction, but we have seen how he questionned the man in the shop about the reversed photographe. And when the enlarged photographe is shown, we immediately see it has been reversed by Columbo. Our only question is why?
              And I agree that we haven’t seen Columbo steeling the bottle of (expensive) wine of Carsini, but it is explained completely at the end of the episode.
              Richard Weill is right that Columbo sometimes hides what he knows. He even gives false information (for instance the air plane ticket for Phoenix in Columbo Goes to College! It’s a very good trick). And even the story writers like to hide important information towards the viewers (the apartment in A Friend In Deed, for instance), but as I know that kind of missing information is always revealed to the viewers at the end of the episode.
              I don’t remember having seen even the smallest indication Columbo knew the content of the tapes before listening to them together with Max.
              As Cosvit writes above, Columbo doesn’t even need the tapes.

              • Perhaps by now, the audience has come to expect that Columbo might be hiding something (i.e. having listened to the tapes earlier) and it doesn’t need to be explained? (c) Chris Adams Clutching At Straws Ltd.

                And Columbo Goes to College is my favourite of the “new” episodes. The plane ticket routine is so good, it took me three viewings before I twigged that there were no tickets!
                (That was just me being dim, it is all explained on screen).Needless to say, I am looking forward to the review of this episode.

          • As Columbo says in “Columbo Goes to College”: “Well, sometimes, when you know something, it’s better to keep it to yourself. You don’t have to blab everything right away. Wait. Who knows what will happen? Timing. That’s important.“

          • Basically there are two levels in my interpretation of these sequences: the first is that Columbo definitely has heard the tapes beforehand and he lies to Max when he pretends to hear them for the first time, the 2nd is that his interpretation is effectively rehearsed because he wants a pretext to bring that up with Max and sees his reaction.

            I admit that this 2nd part is probably a bit far-fetched and if it’s really what the authors intended they’ve been too subtle about it.

            However, the idea that Columbo would genuinely listen to these (shadily acquired) tapes for the first time, no knowing at all what’s on them exactly, in the presence of the person he strongly suspects to have commited the crime? That would be ludicrous, what would even be the point for him to do that?

            Now to go back on the 2nd aspect, I do think there are a few hints that could’ve been left by the authors to let you know what they were up to, but that’s faint admittedly.

            In particular consider the picture of Max, Louise and monocle man framed in the restaurant. We first see it when Max goes to the restaurant before the murder, where he reminisces about the good old time with the owner (that’s around 20minutes into the episode). Here the camera shows the picture of the three of them for a long time, while the owner explicitly and unsubtly comments “ah, Harry, with the monocle!”. Then we even have the bad English accent imitation, followed by a 2nd shot of an other framed picture of Harry the monocle man alone, with Max commenting off-screen with an extremely suspicious “whatever happened to him…”. Remember that at this point we know that there’s a “big secret” between Max and Louise. And we definitely know that there doesn’t appear to be a monocle man around either.

            I mean at this point the show might as well draw a huge red circle around him and say “REMEMBER THIS, THIS IS IMPORTANT”.

            Then about 45 minutes in, Columbo is in the restaurant, he already suspects Max, he knows something traumatic happened to Louise when they were living here and he knows Max was probably involved. He talks to Max, takes the same framed picture with the three of them in it and comments that it’s “you and the victim here sir” but seems to completely ignore the rather funny looking guy with the monocle? We are even shown the picture full frame once again, why do that if nothing comes of it? Are we supposed to believe that Columbo doesn’t even bother asking that Vito guy who he was? And Vito knows the guy “went away” an was never seen again.

            I can believe that it’s just shoddy writing, but if it is it’s insanely shoddy. They spend all this time establishing these pictures, showing them full-frame to us the audience but nothing comes out of it?

            I mean in the end, it is possible that it’s just shoddy writing and I’m just trying to find shapes in the clouds…

      • As a fellow Belgian, did you think his pronunciation of English seemed
        French or Dutch or German?

    • Or wearing contacts and glasses at the same time, like Habib Rachman in “A Case of Immunity”! 🙂

  15. This is one of my favorites of the newer episodes. The beautiful Bassett beginning was glorious. And hmm, Dog bit Columbo, which he never does, because there were so many other dogs around.
    Add the interesting story, the beautiful location scenes, and trio of lovely ladies. I think they all did a great job; passionate, not hammy.
    The villain was also entertaining. Although I don’t understand why the women put up with him for so long, it’s not totally unheard of -ala Sister Wives.
    I love that Barsini was pretending to paint Columbo’s ugly soul but at the end portrayed him beautifully-the hand paints what the eyes see.
    Columbo is once agaiin immersed in things he is not familiar with and determines to learn all he can to solve the case- Art, Dream Interpretation, and weird polyamory situations.

    But, I think a subplot is missing. Did the surviving ladies not suspect him at all? They never alluded to it but they were sure quick to scurry out of there soon afterwards.

    O and I like that caption’ isn’t that my wife?’

    • Hi
      I apologize for using “reply” to ask a question

      perhaps someone cud tell me….how do i post an actual comment as opposed to a reply to a commen

      I can leave a reply ….but not my own seperate comment


      • Marc, if you go ALL the way to the bottom of the comments, there should be a box that says “Leave your comment here.” That will be your comment and not a reply, and should post at the top (as the most recent).

  16. I was rather envious of Barsini. I like art and who wouldn’t want to live in that house overlooking the sea and that great food plus all services included. This episode is a lesson to all though. Too many women at once is going to be an issue, especially if you share a secret of that magnitude with one of them-you are an artist,stick with the original. The sad thing for me is the normality of everything, unlike today. In a way, these episodes can be depressing and not because of the entertainment. Best thing was the portrait-very impressive work.

    • This episode may be a lesson to all men? Hetero men anyway. But to this female viewer, the whole scenario looked fake. None of those three women in real life would put up with that. The first wife would be long gone living elsewhere and having lovers or new hubby of her own. The second wife would never allow a model to move in. She would leave. The model wouldn’t want to live alone with such an old burnt out and mean selfish guy, would just do it for the money and a lark, and avoid trouble with any wife. He would keep his studio separate from the wife and her control of his models if he had the money he appears to have.
      It didn’t look normal to me at all…. perhaps in Asia or the Mjddle East?

  17. I, myself, love the Bassett Hound Talent Show and wouldn’t of minded if that segment was extended. Sidekicks need love too!

    Columbophile hit the nail on the head with acting duties. Falk should’ve filed for divorce after Danese’s performance and Lorca should’ve been eaten by Orca(underrated film imho). Bachau, Scotti and Fionula Flanagan(say that 10x’s fast) were excellent.

    The dream sequences reminded me of the old Batman series and how easily the most convoluted clue could be unraveled at the drop of a hat(Batman: what weighs 6 ounces, sits in a tree and is dangerous?
    Robin: a sparrow with a machine gun of course). They were not only a nightmare to Louise but also to the viewers. My one friend couldn’t stand them and is a big fan.

    The episode is decent and fun overall. It would probably fit neatly in the middle of all newer era Columbo’s similar to how Columbophile has rated it at this point.

    I’ve been watching a ton of Columbo during this pandemic as it is so relaxing for me, like seeing an old and dear friend.

    Thanks for reading. Peace, out.

    • May have been to harsh on Shera Danese and Isabel Lorca so I’ll have to begrudgingly admit that very few women could’ve pulled off the acting at all while looking as beguiling as they do. They are from the upper echelon in the “looks” department.

  18. I do agree that this is a minor episode. I do like the dream sequences, they might be a bit on the nose, but are appropriately eerie. Frawley has done a great job, the episode has some beautiful shots and I think the acting is not that bad (Bachau is very good, the women are OK). But in the end, outside of the dream sequences, there is nothing that really stands out. I’ve put it at #56 in my ranking, between Lovely but Lethal and The Most Dangerous Match.

  19. Fionnula Flanagan has to be among the most beautiful and vulnerable victims portrayed on the show, the actress was pushing 50 and still heavy competition for the younger bimbos. Watching such a casual stroll out to the water’s edge to take her life was as reprehensible as Leonard Nimoy’s crimes as Dr. Mayfield.

    • Yes, she’s definitely one of the most sympathetic victims in the series. Barsini’s treatment of her was downright abusive, and just when she’d worked up the courage to finally leave him for someone who’d treat her better, he murders her. 🙁

  20. I have the same mixed feelings on this episode. Although nicely stylistic, the dream sequences don’t make sense. It’s a stretch to infer ‘berries’ with ‘buried’. You could infer just about anything from all these extremely vague associations. If they re-wrote these scenes to make more linguistic connection I would be happier with them. Look at Shutter Island, the associations of visions and words within the patient were deliberately kept simple in order to give credibility and easier inference. It just doesn’t wash here.

    Also making it more realistic would be a two women love triangle, not three. The women are fighting and with good reason, but all this shows is they wouldn’t go along under this arrangement from the very beginning. Like the extremely vague dream associations, this also doesn’t wash. Imagine if there were 4 women living together feuding-you get my point.

    The music is fantastic, and still not available except on YouTube, nor is the painting, which is also fantastic. I also didnt like the lack of any dramatic ‘nailed it’ scene at the end. The killer just simply responded something like-‘you could argue that‘, almost like he was discussing the weather that afternoon. The ending of the case needed way more conviction, the audience wants to see them guilty as charged, or angry and upset, not ‘well maybe you’re right’. It was deflating.

    Despite all this I still quite liked it, which strongly suggests with a few tweaks it could have been a lot better. An innocent vulnerable older woman scorned for younger lovers and plagued by a dark suspicion was a very good and very relatable idea for a murder mystery that was worth more.

    • 1989 was an awful year for Columbo, so many bad or boring episodes.

      Thankfully it improved from 1990 onwards.

      • I agree 1989 episodes were dull , Murder smoke and shadows would be top at this point it took until 1990 with cries wolf which is a much better episode than self portrait in view before things improved

  21. I like the 70s episodes when they engage with what was going on in prestige television and cinema at the time. For example, the alleyways and cheap barroom of “A Friend in Deed” evoke the gritty urban realism of the American New Wave, and the presence of such leading figures in that movement as John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, and Ben Gazzara in various capacities in the making of the show calls attention to those connections. So when you come to the 1989-2002 run, you’d expect there to be some dialogue with the prestige television and cinema of that era.

    Since the 80s and early 90s were years when people like David Lynch were bringing surrealistic imagery and absurdism into mainstream entertainment, it isn’t surprising that the ABC run of Columbo features touches like the image of Columbo as a ringmaster at the end of “Murder Smoke and Shadows” or the Columbo figurine at the end of “Grand Deceptions.” Nor is it surprising that there is an episode that is so largely built around lengthy dream sequences. What’s disappointing is that those dream sequences are so mundane. Compare them with the dreams and visions that ABC was putting on the air in Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS at the same time, and they are not just lame, but ridiculously unambitious.

    What this episode does seem to me to be in dialogue with is one of my all-time favorite series, RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY. A 1983 episode of that show, “Rumpole and the Genuine Article,” features the bedraggled old barrister defending an artist accused of forging a painting. The painter whose work was forged had lived with his several children and their various mothers, all under one roof, a fact which sets Rumpole into deep reveries about what his life might have been like like had he taken up painting instead of criminal law. Columbo’s scenes with dog approach the homey quality of the Rumpole series, all of which feature the lawyer’s bickersome marriage and humdrum office in almost equal measure to the mystery. That formula works makes for an always entertaining, often brilliant show, but it is not transferable to Columbo. Like so many of the episodes to come, this one leaves me with very little but a desire to go back and watch Rumpole again.

    • Now I’ve got to watch that Rumpole episode. Art forgery has always interested me. I’ve read a lot about Han van Meegeren, the great Dutch art forger (whose paintings looked so genuine that he was charged with selling Dutch treasures to the Nazis). I highly recommend the movie “Incognito” with Jason Patric.

    • Thank you for introducing me to that series. I didn’t know it existed for I was in South Africa at the time attempting to acquire wealth. I loved it, especially the atmosphere and the dialogue. The judge reminded me of one of my business partners, he even looked like him. He was a public prosecutor, a rather strange profession considering that ,as my partner, we manufactured slot machines.

  22. I have a prejudice against episodes in which the murderer is nailed due to a sloppy mistake. It shouldn’t be something the killer easily could have avoided. It should either be unavoidable or the product of some tactical maneuver Columbo engineers. Barsini using a rag stained with his signature color (softened with cleaning fluid) was entirely avoidable. The only prior episode that is even comparable in this regard, I believe, is “Fade In To Murder.”

    • I don’t mind this one too much because the smear it leaves on her face was easily mistaken for lipstick, which Barsini would have expected her to be wearing. It’s certainly amateurish, but nothing compared to the utter bungling we saw from, say, Alex Brady, who couldn’t have been more careless.

      • What’s strange about this episode- and correct me if I’m wrong- is that there are absolutely no other suspects. heck, I’ll take it a step further: the killer (nor anybody else) even tries to throw anybody else’s name out there.
        Framing somebody or the murderer trying to push Columbo away onto somebody else is a staple of each Columbo episode…isn’t it?
        Not done here.

        • Barsini tried to make it look like an accidental drowning, so it was never part of his plan to frame anybody. He wouldn’t want to frame his current wife or his young lover/muse, as he has need of them, and Dr Hammer would probably have had a cast iron alibi at the time of the “accident”.

    • Leaving the beeper bracelet on diane hunters body in cries wolf was about the sloppiest mistake any columbo killer ever made but i rate cries wolf on the whole a lot more than this self portait tripe which i consider a load of nonsence , it had potential but it didnt work for me cp rates it higher than smoke and shadows which suprises me a tad ( note i havent seen self portait for ages as its seldom aired but i dont think i will love it too much when it does show up again )

  23. I thought the episode was slow and plodding and not believable….Does anyone know what episode Vito Scotti is in, where he tries to sell Columbo an insurance policy at a funeral home and he ends up telling Columbo he is a hard sell ?

      • I haven’t seen Self portrait for ages in fact i dont think it has even aired this year on 5 USA except once when i think i was out watching my beloved Arsenal/ gunners team play , thank god the premier league is coming back
        I Dont remember everything about this episode so I dont want to be too harsh on it but i remember Vito Scotties role and remembering I didn’t like it much which is a shame because I loved all his roles in the seventies particularly Swan Song , Negative reaction ( both of which are in my overall top 10 ) and candidate for crime. It just highlights the gulf in class between the seventies run and the new batch but dont worry thing, s will pick up starting with cries wolf which is rather trashy, unusual and drawn out but I prefer it a lot than self portrait ,

      • A very memorable scene , I rate Swong very highly , it has a great cast as well johnny cash and Ida lupino are on top form in it

  24. In all honesty, I believe there’s not much difference between this and the previous episodes. When they’re not poor, they’re still, for the most part, middle-of-the-road. That’s not to say they’re without merits. In this particular case, I enjoyed Bauchau’s performance as well as the stunning locations. Honorable mention to another nice turn by Vito Scotti.

  25. A very forgettable episode, one of the few i would probably never watch again. For me it has no entertainment value and it is contrived. I would have this in last so far.and only a couple later year episodes that are worse (Undercover and the pathetic Murder In Malibu). That being said it was great to see my favorite repeat actor Vito Scotti, he always delivered.

    • Murder with too many notes is marginally worse than this but that dosent say a lot for self portrait , Out of all 5 new ones reviewed so far my table would look like this
      1) Sex and the married detective
      2) Murder smoke and shadows
      3) under the guillotine
      4) Murder a self portrait
      5) Grand deceptions

      I am not a great fan of any of the above listed and none will probably make my overall top 10 New episodes when all is done and dusted unless maybe Sex and the married detective might just sneak in but it would only be by a cats whisker
      never the less things will improve starting with cries wolf which is half decent and at least has a good musical intro a decent performance from Ian buchanan a few twists and turns a few funny moments and a memorable gotcha which ( for me at least are are all of the things the 5 episodes reviewed so far dont have ) but cries wolf is far from the first columbo i would choose so season 8 and self portrait must be pretty sub standard )

      • I concur with your top pick. While there aren’t much differences between these entries, “Sex and the Married Detective” is easily the most enjoyable. I too believe there are superior episodes ahead.

        • Yes you are both correct, the new seasons did not start off well, and 9 of my top 10 are still ahead….though for some reason i have a soft spot for Grand Deceptions which is in my top 10. And Mr. Steve you are correct, Too many notes is in my bottom 5, it is quite bad. Funny you mentioned Cries Wolf, it was on Hallmark Channel the other day, hadn’t seen in a while and it was a lot of fun and great scenery!!

        • yes sex and the married detective is marginally the best out of those reviewed so far , I never like goes under the guillotine much and it looks weird to see it top , I find the first 30 – 40 minutes incredibly boring and drawn out , it does pick up a bit and the ending is just plain ridiculous in my opinion , Ive never warmed to this one at all , Cries wolf i find much more enjoyable all be it very trashy and for me thinks will really pick up from there especially when agenda for murder gets reviewed .

    • I agree I never liked this one much , I haven’t seen it for like years now and have never uploaded it or streamed any part of it , I think the last time i watched it in full with my dad one Sunday a couple of years back and remember it started off quite well , I Remember the dinner scene with everyone max and his wives around the dinner table of all the fine food and saying to myself another good episode lies in store but that just didnt happen I started to lose interest about half way , some of the acting is just awful , and I remember my dad saying all this dreams is off putting and not like columbo and i remember all this about strawberries and blueberries and people buried under ground a piece of raw meat and a living hand inside an empty sink and thinking what is all this drivel about .
      I stuck with it to the end but the only thing i remember positively was the nice sunny outdoor shots of the beach and surroundings and the portrait of columbo was a nice touch .On another blog (please dont hang me for treachery) this was considered among the bottom 5 worst new ones , (No time to die got the wooden spoon on that list no surprise) It stated something like an episode with a stereotyped french moustached painter with a pallet , some other stuff in between and i can clearly remember they concluded while the episode had potential the episode try to hard to tell a story thats both unconventional and at times confusing put together with the artists/murderers Dull collapse makes this one a bit of a mess .

      Thats about all I will say on murder a self portrait , Am a tad surprised that columbophile places it above smoke and shadows but thers not been a lot to shout about in terms of stellar quality contained in the NEW ones reviewed so far
      look forward to cries wolf review which I consider an improvement and more satisfactory than this episode and perhaps all of the new ones at this stage in time .

  26. Max Barsini has to be one of the sleaziest, most loathsome murderers in the entire series. Mayfield was a cold-blooded psychopath, but Barsini is just pure SLIME. I hated him so much that I almost had to stop watching, but the scene where his wife and mistress both dump him at once made it just about worth it (hammy and overacted though it may be).

    As for the dream sequences, well, it’s… different, I have to admit that. However the less said about Columbo’s ‘interpretation’, the better.

    • I agree with Debbie- Barsini is the skeeviest villain ever – he made me gag- I like the episode, but not him. yeck.

    • He certainly was evil. He made the death look like an accident AND gave himself an alibi. He was prepared for the possibility that the murder would require more violence than it did, and he would have to rely only on the alibi.

    • He’s definitely up there, but I think when it comes to sleaze, Rip Torn’s character in Death Hits The Jackpot is even worse.

    • I hated Barsini! I think I loathe him most of any Columbo villain so far. Usually I can understand the motive somewhat, but there was really no need for him to murder Louise. He’s such a turd, but he has not one, but three women catering to his needs. That’s the most difficult part of the plot to believe, not the simplistic dream analysis.

    • The balls Barsini has to- in broad daylight!- approach is ex on a Malibu beach, put the rag on her face, and then throw her into the ocean (which we don’t see).
      It seemed like he was taking a HUGE chance, when there could have been other people around.

      • Yes, it’s risky, but it’s mentioned that it’s a “secret” beach, known only to Barsini and the victim. Which of course points towards Barsini when Columbo establishes that it was not an accident.

  27. Sorry, dear Columbofriends.
    For me, this is a very bad and boring episode. The same level as “Last Salute”.
    As I wrote when we were talking about “Grand Deceptions”: [To forget] “Murder, a Self Portrait” is the best thing you can do (…). Even Vito Scotti is lamentable in it. [A caricature of what he did in former episodes.] The only good thing in that episode must be what they eat at a dinner, prepared by Louise (Fionnula Flanagan). It looks good and has a nice name.

    Do you understand the psychologist giving the tapes to the lieutenant, and the lieutenant listening to them (discovering them) in the presence of the former husband of the woman we hear on the tapes?? Seems not very professional from the psychologist and from the lieutenant.

  28. The symbolic dream sequences remind me of the similar sequences in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” They weren’t particularly convincing there; they aren’t here either. But at least, as presented there, they were something a psychiatrist was trying to unravel. A detective trying to do so takes it a step too far.

    And is this how the subconscious mind actually works? I can understand the brain transforming something one witnesses into a comparable visual image. But would the mind translate a visual image (a man in a monocle) into a linguistic pun (monocle = mon oncle = French uncle)? Is that how our subconscious really processes visual information? Or is it a writer trying to be clever with words (as writers often are) without regard to realism?

    As for the rest, once again we’re faced with dispositive eleventh-hour evidence that should have been found in the initial investigation. Why wasn’t the red mark on the victim’s face analyzed right away? That would be routine. It’s “Dead Weight” and “Try and Catch Me” all over again.

    • To contradict my earlier theory, Columbo’s dream interpretation might just be a theatrical bluff on his part. He suspects that Max murdered Louise and Harry, and uses word association to come up with some subconscious “clues”, just to test Max’s reaction.

  29. We saw in “The Bye-Bye, Sky High IQ Murder Case” that Columbo is good at solving puzzles involving nationalities, “French leave, Dutch uncle” etc and having already seen a picture of Harry Chudnow and learning that he disappeared years ago, I don’t think the “mon oncle” clue is too big a leap. Does Dr Hammer even know anything about Harry Chudnow?

    I also assume that Lt Columbo has at least read some books on psychology as part of the extra work and long hours he did as a young man in order to make detective.

    As to little Julie, I think that Isabel Lorca does a good job of playing a girl with a womanly body, but a childish and immature personality.

      • To quote Dr Ray Fleming: “Not really”. Everything here is symbolic, so nothing is what it seems. it’s all down to word play, specifically homophones. There is no connection between the meaning of the words “berries” and “bury”, but they sound similar, and it implies, quite literally that the dreamer knew where the bodies were buried.

        Now, here’s a leap: Perhaps after his first recorded case in “Prescription Murder” Columbo read up on dream analysis? If so, the book might have been written by Fleming. Like maybe Columbo makes a point of reading any work written by a killer or victim?

  30. I enjoyed the “arty” dream flashbacks and thought they were well done. Bauchau is excellent in the role and for the first time in the “new” Columbos I thought he easily could have played a murderer in the early episodes. I loved the dog scene looking out at the sea but I don’t think dog could hang on a fence without any support and look that content! I wish that the second wife and muse were not featured at all and we could have had more scenes with Columbo and Barsini. Overall a good contribution to the series.

  31. Here’s a thought that came to me watching this episode and the previous one, Grand Deceptions. A recurring problem for the writers of Columbo is that a well-planned murder often doesn’t look like a murder at all. So how does a homicide detective get started when no one has any reason to believe a homicide has taken place?

    In the 1970’s episodes where a murder was disguised as a tragic accident (such as Dagger of the Mind, Any Old Port in a Storm, Swan Song, A Matter of Honor), there was usually something in the plot to explain Columbo’s early involvement. By this episode though, the answer to the problem was just to ignore the problem. Columbo shows up, without explanation, at the death scene and starts investigating.

    • In, IIRC, “Suitable for Framing,” Columbo explicitly says that all non-natural deaths are investigated by homicide detectives, even if they appear at first to be an accident.

      This conveniently covers the matter of how Columbo gets involved with what seems to be a perfectly-disguised murder. 🙂

      • This is borne out by “Last Salute to the Commodore” (which I’ve just seen). The Commodore has been reported missing, but a homicide detective is sent to investigate without even knowing if he’s dead, never mind murdered. It’s probably because the Commodore is very wealthy, providing an obvious motive. I don’t know if it’s the script or the direction, but Columbo is noticeably suspicious even before Robert Vaughn and his wife open the door.

  32. The dream sequences do not bother me. I see your point about hammy acting, but as they were dreams, it made sense to me that they were like that.
    As for Columbo unraveling the dreams’ meaning instead of the psychologist, he had the benefit of talking with Barsini, and visiting Vito’s bar. For a 90-minute running time, this made sense to me.
    I also had the impression Louise had nightmares while staying at her boyfriend’s, and he wanted to try and help her. She knew what they were about but had no intention of revealing the WHY to him, but was unable to avoid his help. She was likely scared of Barsini in a way, and wanted to make a clean escape.
    Pure speculation on my part but this is how I framed it to tie it all together in my mind. Louise’s murder is heartbreaking to me, she was so close to escaping Barsini and having her own life.
    I really enjoy this episode, from Vito, to “Leftenenat”, to the ladies teaming up and leaving. Great escapism TV.

  33. Yes, Self Portrait is something of a (slight) novelty. On the other hand, it doesn’t make me want to actually puke – like all modern CSI, NYPD, Law and Order, not to mention eighties contemporaries like Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder and so on !
    There is certainly some decent acting from Shera Danese and Patrick Bachau. Also, various nice touches – the Basset hound stuff (I love Bassets), Vito Scotti.
    Someone has also done some research on oil painting – (eg how to clean brushes). When Max starts to sketch out the bar scene, note how he uses vigorous, broad, straight brush stokes of heavily diluted oil paint to establish the big shapes and composition – exactly the way a proper artist would. You can certainly learn a lot from watching Columbo.

    • I don’t know about the other shows you listed, but “Murder, She Wrote” is great! On top of which, it shares a lot of DNA with “Columbo”! Same creators, and a lot of overlap in writers, actors, composers, directors, etc.


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