A funeral took place on March 31, 1990, one to which we were all invited: Mrs Columbo’s!
Yes folks, this time it’s personal as the deranged Vivian Dimitri, the widow of one of the Lieutenant’s previous arrests, is out for revenge against the detective and his wife – and she doesn’t even care if she ends up in jail for it.
That’s a tight spot to be in, so how can Columbo foil her fiendish overtures? Let’s dress in funereal black and slather slices of toast with lemon marmalade as we find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Vivian Dimitri: Helen Shaver
Leland St John: Ian McShane
Charlie Chambers: Ed Winter
Sergeant Brady: Tom Isbell
Dr Steadman: Roscoe Lee Brown
Mitch Connelly: Michael Alldredge
Written by: Peter S. Fischer
Directed by: Vince McEveety
Score by: Richard Markowitz
Episode synopsis: Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
Behind a mild-mannered exterior, real estate sales sensation Vivian Dimitri is a roiling ball of pent-up hatred. Her dearly beloved husband, Pete Garibaldi, died in prison of a heart attack and now she wants revenge on the two people she most blames for his incarceration: her current boss, Charlie Chambers, and the man who put Pete behind bars: Lieutenant Columbo.
It was Chambers whose snitching initially alerted the police to Pete’s wrongdoings (he was convicted of manslaughter) – and he’s first on Vivian’s hit list. While ostensibly celebrating a BIG sale with him alone in the office on a Friday night, Vivian slays him in cold blood with a silenced pistol, takes his wallet, and beats it.
She then establishes her alibi by going on a dinner date with married lover, Leland St John. Excusing herself to powder her nose, Vivian scuttles out of a rear exit and jallops to a nearby ATM to withdraw $200 – using Chambers’ card. Quite why we don’t yet know, but it’s not long before she’s back at the restaurant, cooing happily with lover boy.
The two later slip away to a hotel for some illicit romping, but Vivian rouses herself at 2am and bids St John farewell. Rather than heading for home, though, her plan is to fix up the crime scene. She returns the wallet to Chambers body – neatly establishing a perfect alibi in the process. The ATM slip will suggest that Chambers withdrew the cash at the time she was out wining and dining. She also steals some files, then disposes of the murder weapon on her way home, where she burns said files in a roaring fire.
The following morning, Lieutenant Columbo is on the scene investigating – just as Vivian had planned, having established his return from vacation prior to putting her plan into action. She admits that she saw Chambers alive, alone, in the office before her dinner date and immediately goes on the faux defensive, feigning incredulity that she’s the de facto prime suspect.
The alibi Vivian reveals is a weak one: she claims to have gone home alone to a relaxing bath and early night, although her neighbours are unable to verify her movements when Columbo probes them. It forces her to ‘reluctantly’ admit her true alibi: the date with Leland St John, a rendezvous that the man himself even more reluctantly confirms.
While Vivian’s alibi looks pretty tight, Columbo is struggling to make sense of the case. For one thing, he found an envelope on Chambers’ body that leads him to a bookmaker at a seedy hotel. Here, he discovers the dead man had a big win on the basketball that very day – so much so that he had $1400 cash on him. Why, then, would he go to an ATM and withdraw an extra $200 prior to being murdered? The answer? He didn’t – the killer withdrew the cash to cover their tracks.
Vivian looms large in his suspicions again – even more so after St John admits that she did spend a few minutes away from his gaze in the ladies’ room at the restaurant. Those unaccounted minutes could easily have been used by Vivian to dash to the ATM, which means Chambers could well have been killed much earlier than the police believe.
Vivian’s planting of the murder weapon and destruction of client files are part of her dual plan to avert suspicion. She’s attempting to frame furious rotundo Mitch Connelly, who has an axe to grind with Chambers over a real estate deal gone sour. More pertinently, though, she goes to great efforts to befriend the Lieutenant, help with his enquiries and seek information about his life and marriage.
During a friendly chinwag, Columbo recalls that he met Vivian previously under her then-married name of Annette Garibaldi when he was investigating the case in which he arrested her husband Pete. The detective assures her that he was only doing his job and was sorry to hear of Pete’s passing as he’d always found him a likable chap, despite his crime. For her part, Vivian appears to hold no ill will towards Columbo.
The wily Lieutenant isn’t fooled, though. He’s wary about why Vivian is so keen to arrange a meeting with Mrs Columbo, although does accept a gift of lemon marmalade from her to pass on to Mrs Columbo. His feeling of unease is only heightened after a lunch meeting with Vivian’s former psychiatrist, Dr Steadman. Although unwilling to break doctor/patient confidentiality, Steadman does broadly hint at Vivian’s unhinged state of mind, and how it wouldn’t be sensible to let her anywhere near the detective’s wife.
Steadman also highlights a troubling scenario: if such a troubled mind as Vivian were to gain revenge on those who wronged her – say, by killing the wife of the man who put her husband behind bars – she would want him to know she did it in order to cause as much pain as possible, even at the price of life behind bars.
It’s a chilling thought, but Columbo maintains the mask of friendship and appears to play Vivian’s game, letting her believe that he’s fallen for her scheme to frame Connelly for the killing. But that’s just the start of his deception. A short while later, Columbo receives devastating news while in Vivian’s company: Mrs Columbo is in hospital after being found unconscious at home by a neighbour. He flees the scene to be with his wife, leaving Vivian barely able to conceal a faint look of triumph.
We then fade to the funeral that we’ve intermittently been seeing betwixt the episode’s flashbacks. Mrs Columbo is interred and a sad Columbo seeks solace in Vivian, who is amongst a sea of guests. He says he just needs to talk, and she understands his situation better than most having recently lost her own beloved husband. It’s the invitation Vivian has been looking for.
Before the two head off to Chez Columbo, however, the Lieutenant is stopped by a fellow officer who tells him that the filling in of the grave will have to be delayed. Mrs Columbo’s autopsy has shown some sort of irregularity, which will need to be investigated. Columbo nods a weary acceptance and then heads for home with Vivian.
And it is there that the depth of his sting operation is finally revealed. Columbo helps himself to some of the lemon marmalade on the kitchen table, commenting that it looks like his wife had already sampled it. He then tucks in as Vivian casts an interested eye over proceedings.
Complaining of suddenly feeling hot, Columbo fields a phone call. It’s the coroner’s office, who tell him the cause of his wife’s death was poisoning. The stunned detective cannot believe his ears, slumping into a kitchen chair and appearing disorientated and confused.
Believing that Columbo’s comeuppance is upon him, and that he’ll soon perish in front of her eyes due to the poisoned marmalade he’s just eaten, Vivian can’t resist the opportunity to gloat. She admits to the killing of Mrs Columbo and goes into detail about how and why she slew Charlie Chambers. Smiling, she tells him that he, too, will soon be dead – thanks to her.
“I don’t think so, ma’am,” he responds, snapping out of his haze and calling for Sergeant Brady in the next room. Brady duly appears, having tape recorded Vivian’s entire admission of guilt. This isn’t Columbo’s house at all – it’s the Sergeant’s, and it’s the culmination of the Lieutenant’s carefully worked charade to draw her out.
Mrs Columbo, of course, is alive and well. Columbo never even gave her the marmalade in the first place because he suspected Vivian’s ill intent and had it checked by the forensics team. He’s been onto her from the start and her bid for revenge never had a chance of success. That’s gotta hurt!
The now-livid Vivian at least has the satisfaction of delivering an almighty slap to Columbo’s cheek before being taken into custody. All that’s left is for the Lieutenant to call his wife and murmur some sweet nothings to her over the phone as credits roll…
My memories of Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
My first encounter with Rest in Peace came in the 1990s, when I caught the episode airing on terrestrial TV at home. Although I didn’t know the series particularly well at that stage, I knew enough to be instantly gutted at the thought of Mrs Columbo’s death – especially as the dear Lieutenant seemed to be genuinely devastated during the funeral scenes.
I recall being both surprised, delighted and relieved at the table-turning gotcha moment, although little else from the episode sticks with me. I know it better from watching on DVD from the mid-2000s onward and have always thought of it as one of the better revival episodes, although not one without some overly melodramatic moments.
However, having not watched this for at least five years prior to reviewing, there were a lot of mental gaps I needed to fill in on plot points so I can honestly say I was viewing about 80% of this with comparatively fresh eyes.
For the first-time viewer, the opening scenes of Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo make for seriously bleak viewing. A wretched Lieutenant Columbo, dressed all in black, stands at a graveside getting soaked to the skin in a raging downpour as a priest mumbles empty platitudes nearby.
If the episode title wasn’t confirmation enough, we’re soon given the information we need via voice-over: this is Mrs Columbo’s funeral, and her killer – Vivian Dimitri – is also planning to bump off the Lieutenant himself. That’s quite the opening gambit, and as there’s nothing to suggest it’s not the real McCoy, it makes for an unsettling, disheartening experience. It looks for all the world like ‘her indoors’ really is dead!
So begins a very different Columbo adventure, and one in which the main crime – the murder of Charlie Chambers – is ultimately of secondary importance to the viewer, whose attention has been fixated on the fate of Mrs Columbo, and what exactly can have happened to lead us into this ghastly situation.
To give the episode due credit, the illusion of her demise is well done. On the downside, though, the shock impact of the story line is a one-off. The overall strength of the episode, therefore, can really only be assessed during subsequent viewings as we pick apart the Lieutenant’s double dealing and look for the clues that tell us Mrs Columbo is never truly in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t need to search too hard to find the indicators that the funeral is all a sham. Knowing what we know of Columbo’s devious nature, and how quickly he sees through Vivian’s alibi, it actually ought not to be a surprise to us at all that Mrs Columbo is alive and well.
I can’t help but feel that the episode would have been stronger if there had been more room for doubt in Columbo’s mind over Vivian’s guilt and fiendish schemes, but it’s very unambiguous. He never falls for her attempts to frame Mitch Connelly for the murder of Charlie Chambers, he swiftly deduces she withdrew the money from the ATM when supposedly in the restaurant ladies’ room, and is always non-committal towards Vivian’s overtures to meet Mrs Columbo in the flesh.
Not only that, we are spoon-fed his level of distrust towards Vivian through his detailed (and unusual for the series) conversations with young Sergeant Brady, who is essentially the surrogate audience and the one Columbo uses to relay to us in easy-to-follow terms just how on top of the case he actually is.
The idea, therefore, that he’d pass on anything Vivian gave him to Mrs Columbo – especially after being warned of her parlous mental state by Dr Steadman – is too far-fetched to be considered. Because of all this, a more knowledgeable fan simply must smell a rat, making the gimmick of the funeral and of Columbo appearing to be dying of marmalade poisoning aspects that really only work for the uninitiated viewer.
Does this matter? Yes and no. I think a more casual fan, who perhaps doesn’t realise how important Mrs Columbo is to the series, could fall for the set-up hook, line and sinker – just as I did when I first viewed this as a teen – and go through the emotional wringer. The more you know about Columbo and the depth of his relationship with his wife, however, the less surprised you’ll be at the twist in the tail.
It’s for this reason, I’m sure, that the episode puts us in the shoes and mind of the killer more than ever before. Even if we know Mrs Columbo is fit and well, Vivian doesn’t, and we can certainly enjoy her fury and devastation when she learns that it was she, not Columbo, who has been played like a fiddle throughout.
Helen Shaver’s performance during the denouement is particularly impressive. We’ve seen earlier glimpses of Vivian’s instability (including the remarkable scene when she dances and weeps alone in front of a projected image of her husband), but here at the end all the pent-up rage and hatred pours forth, and Vivian’s swift descent from gloating triumph to agonising defeat is very nicely played.
I give Shaver props here, because when she strikes the Lieutenant across the face, tears in her eyes, I feel real sympathy for her despite her callous attempts to kill off the Columbo clan. We’re reminded that this is a woman whose life was turned upside down when her husband was jailed, and who was plunged into depression and a negative spiral following his death. She didn’t ask for any of this.
Unlike most Columbo killers, Vivian isn’t merely out to safeguard her way of life or get her hands on oodles of loot. She’s mentally ill and has been seeing a psychiatrist since her husband’s death in a bid to deal with the hand fate has dealt her. Ultimately, she finds that her only way of dealing with it is to hurt the ones who hurt her. In doing so, she becomes a shadowy reflection of what anyone might become if cruelly robbed of a loved one, and she feels dangerous because she doesn’t care what happens to her.
While I’ve never researched this, I’d wager that Vivian gets more screen time than any other killer we encounter in the series. Fortunately, Shaver is a good enough actress to carry the role. There are a few shades of soapy melodrama later in the episode, but she largely succeeds in balancing the dangerous, deranged Vivian with the fragile flower.
As a murderer, she’s competent and the way in which she draws out having to reveal her dinner date alibi is the work of a careful and clever schemer, and would almost certainly have fooled any other detective within the LAPD. It was arguably only the misfortune of her not realising Chambers had a wad of cash on him from his basketball bets when she killed him that scuppered her grand plans.
I guess we can put any discrepancies in the plot down to Vivian’s mental state. However, a tougher critic than I might pick fault in her approach to eradicating Mrs Columbo. Unlike her murder of Chambers, Vivian appears to have had no clear plan to destroy the Columbos’ lives. Her high-risk decision to proffer up poisoned marmalade appears to have been an off-the-cuff move based on the Lieutenant commenting that his wife liked the stuff.
This all seems a little at odds with the meticulous planning involved in the Chambers killing, and her careful timing to ensure Columbo was back from vacation to lead the investigation. Vivian’s attempts to inveigle Columbo into arranging a meeting between her and Mrs C seem similarly uninspired, as if Vivian was groping for the right opportunity, rather than forcing one.
One would think it would have been easier for Vivian to tail Columbo home one night (or hire a PI) to find out his home address, gun down Mrs Columbo at her leisure, wait there for the Lieutenant to return and then send him to join her after divulging the entire plan. Problem solved! Still, that would have made for one hell of a dark way to sign off the series, eh? Indeed, had this been the last ever Columbo episode, it would have thematically worked very well as a farewell.
As well as the unusually high amount of screen time for the killer, Rest in Peace is noteworthy for being the first Columbo story largely told in flashback form. The episode starts in the present, at the phony funeral, before launching into a series of four flashbacks, each of which is introduced by a character at the funeral via internal monologue (groo!), and which relays a hefty chunk of the story.
While I find this an intriguing enough concept initially, it soon wears thin. Indeed, two of these monologues are delivered by characters so unconnected to Columbo that it’s bizarre to think they’d have been invited to the funeral at all: Leland St John (whom Columbo met once, and who was relatively surly to him) and the ruddy secretary of Chambers’ real estate office, who is of zero relevance to the plot!
The two flashbacks introduced by Vivian are acceptable, but the other two represent another example of ‘new Columbo‘ flogging a dead horse and searching for ways to artistically extend an episode’s running time. It’s too much for me, but then I do detest internal monologues, which are almost never done convincingly.
As is the usual with the revival episodes, there’s too little story to warrant the 90+ minutes’ running time and I did occasionally find my attention wandering. I’m not going to bang on too much about this today (it’s a complaint I have about pretty much every episode from 1989 onward) but to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, the story is stretched, like butter over too much bread.
It’s particularly irksome as the sub-plots go nowhere. The framing of Mitch Connelly is dismissed so swiftly by Columbo that it was hardly worth the effort of including. Similarly undercooked is Vivian’s dalliance with St John, which had the potential to be a lot more pivotal and entertaining, especially with an actor of the calibre of Ian McShane in the role.
Both McShane and Roscoe Lee Brown as Dr Steadman are underused given the length of the episode. Brown, in particular, could have been harnessed far more effectively than the single scene he was given. Who knows, maybe his schedule didn’t allow for it, but when you have an actor of his standing available, the more screen time the better.
Either of Brown or McShane would have made for an excellent killer in their own right, both offering a suitable contrast to Falk and a hard edge, as well as having delightfully distinct voices. Alas, it was never to be. Perhaps McShane was too wrapped up in playing antique-selling rogue Lovejoy on UK television instead?
With a strong cast to play off, it’s little wonder that Peter Falk is on good form. When in detective mode, he’s grittier than normal, displaying a sharp edge in his interactions with fellow officers and never falling into the sort of puerile antics we’ve seen too often in the comeback series. This Columbo feels like the real deal, not a caricature. His stern but restrained treatment of Vivian at episode’s end is spot on, and seems fitting for a man who’s got to be simmering with fury at her murderous intents, while still recognising the pain he has caused her. Bravo, Peter.
The portrayal of a grieving husband / poisoning victim is less believable (some might say a little hammy), but overall you feel the writer has really got a grip on the character – as well should be the case, because 70s’ Columbo regular Peter S. Fischer was back on writing duties for the first time since A Deadly State of Mind 15 years earlier (he disowned his involvement in Old Fashioned Murder in 1976).
As well as Deadly State, Fischer conceived or wrote the teleplay for some of the best-loved Columbos of all: Publish or Perish, A Friend in Deed, An Exercise in Fatality and Negative Reaction. He’s widely recognised as one of the series’ best writers, and someone who ate, breathed and slept the character. Certainly, Falk had great faith in Fischer’s abilities. Having one of his former favourites back must have been a terrific boost for him.
Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo is also notable in welcoming a new player to the fold who would go on to make a considerable contribution over the next seven years: the late Vince McEveety. A veteran of both TV (including Star Trek TOS) and film direction (including 2 x Herbie films), McEveety would eventually helm seven Columbo episodes – more than any other director.
There’s some nice camerawork in evidence on his debut here, with the extensive use of locations helping make Rest in Peace feel like a lavish production – something which can’t always be said of the seven previous episodes. Heck, even the sombre, sparse score has dated well, enhancing the episode and blissfully sidestepping any twee use of This Old Man.
All in all, it’s a classy production and a much more sober time capsule of the era than Columbo Cries Wolf, with its poppy score and trashy wardrobes. Vivian Dimitri is the best-dressed killer of the new Columbo era so far, who rocks countless looks throughout the episode – notably that little red dress. Just about the only dodgy aesthetic element is Columbo’s hair, which is terribly dyed. Knowing what a silver fox Falk would become, I do wish they’d not bothered trying to conceal his ageing process.
Despite the many elements of Rest in Peace that do work, in my opinion it still falls short of the series’ very best efforts and underscores an issue I have with the revival episodes: you just never know what you’re going to get from one episode to the next.
The change in format here is pretty significant, and while the odd departure is OK, the last four episodes have all been markedly different. Think of the black and white dream sequences in Murder, A Self Portrait; the stylistic 90s’ assault and complete fooling of the Lieutenant in Columbo Cries Wolf; the classic style of Agenda for Murder; and now this ‘is-she-or-isn’t-she-dead?’ bait-and-switch.
It’s by no means all bad, but I can’t shake the feeling that the creative team (which included Falk and William Link in Executive Producer roles) still wasn’t confident enough in the traditional strengths of the show to appeal to a modern audience, hence the continual tinkering with the formula. It’s no coincidence to me that Agenda for Murder, the standout ‘new’ episode to date, is the most faithful to the original style and format.
Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo is admittedly one of the better latter-day departures, which starts and ends memorably (Vivian’s slap to Columbo’s face being a great moment) and has a pleasing darkness at its heart. However, once the novelty value has worn away, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill outing that lacks the rewatchability of the very best episodes.
Still, we should count our blessings. We’ve now gone three decent episodes in a row, including one very good one in Agenda for Murder. After a sluggish restart, Columbo seems to be hitting its stride, and its central star is back on sizzling form, looking like he’s got the bit between his teeth once more. Onwards and upwards? We can but hope.
Did you know?
Shera Danese wasn’t the only wife of a Columbo heavyweight who secured multiple acting roles on the show – as can be seen from Rosanna Huffman’s cameo as home buyer Mrs Thornwood early in the episode.
Rosanna was married to series co-creator Dick Levinson from 1969 until his untimely death in 1987. She previously starred as Dale Kingston’s accomplice (and second victim) Tracy O’Connor in Suitable for Framing way back in 1971 – sporting the single-most 70s’ haircut in history in the process.
How I rate ’em
A commendable and reasonably compelling addition to the timeline, Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo is boosted by good writing and fine performances from our leads. I just wish I could view it again for the first time, but from the perspective of a knowledgeable fan, in order to better assess the effectiveness of the surprise twist in the tail.
Missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo’ episode reviews? You’ll find them via the links below.
- Agenda for Murder
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- Grand Deceptions
If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them all in order, they can be accessed here. If Rest in Peace rocks your world as much as Vivian’s red dress rocks mine, you can vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.
As always, I now invite you to share your own opinions on the crushing lows and dizzying highs of today’s episode of choice. I’m particularly interested in your first opinions of this episode, whether the funeral sham had you hooked, and how the adventure holds up under repeat viewing. Thoughts on Helen Shaver’s performance as the tortured Vivian Dimitri would also be most welcome.
I’ve gotta dash now, as a kindly neighbour is coming round to drop off a few jars of lemon marmalade for me, my wife, and the Columbo juniors. What fun! Once we’ve feasted, I’ll be able to turn my attentions to the next episode in our saga: Uneasy Lies the Crown, which revives a script written in the early 1970s by no less a luminary than Steven Bochco. Does a four-peat of cracking episodes await? Check back soon…
The secretary “of zero relevance to the plot” is played by Teresa Ganzel. Which to me and a lot of others is all the excuse she needs to have scenes in the story.
I am new to your site and really enjoy your reviews very much and the fans’ comments. There are many times reading your reviews that I have a good laugh. A lot of your comments are very funny.
I really enjoyed this episode despite the melodrama and the shortcomings that you and others have noticed. The first time I saw it, I was most shocked by Vivian Dimitri’s slapping my hero.
“There’s just one thing that’s bothering me. These little things keep me up at night. I’m sure it’s not important.” (Get to the point, please.)
“The aquarium has no fish.” (What?) “Sargeant Brady’s aquarium. It has no fish.” (Well, Maybe he is about the set it up and he hasn’t bought the fish yet.) “Oh yes. That would explain it. Thank you very much.”
This just hit me!
Vivian has a LOT in common with Etta Stone, the character played by Bette Davis in the Immortal Gunsmoke episode “The Jailer” (season 12, Episode 3, at the very beginning of the color era). If you haven’t seen it, Etta sends her sons (including a young Bruce Dern), who are just out of prison for a crime which got their father hanged, to kidnap Kitty Russell, Matt Dillon’s true love, knowing Matt will track her down. When he does, Etta and the boys trap Matt and lock him in the tack room, where he can watch them building a gallows for him. He was the one who turned the Stone men over to the law. In a soliloquy beside her husband’s grave, Etta says she doesn’t care what happens to her after the Marshal (and later Kitty) are hanged; revenge is all she lives for.
The director of “The Jailer” is none other than Vincent McEveety of RIP Mrs. Columbo. He helped more than three dozen Gunsmoke segments in the last decade of its run, including several all-time classics. Absolutely, he brought his work on “The Jailer” over here
For some reason, I never got around to making this additional comment.
Vivian’s attempt at poisoning the Columbos is a direct lift from the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Adventure of the Dying Detective,” one of the later entries in the canon. Dr. Watson, having not seen Holmes in some time, is summoned by his landlady to come see Holmes, who is dying an agonizing death from poison delivered by a spring-loaded tooth in a device. Watson summons a wealthy man at Holmes’ request, and then hides behind the bed, also at Holmes’ request. The wealthy man shows up. You know the rest.
They should have cast Kate Mulgrew as Mrs Columbo’s would-be killer!
No, because they would later make a series called MRS. COLUMBO starring Kate Mulgrew…so…how could you kill off Kate Mulgrew as Mrs. Columbo…then reveal it to be only a ruse a little later in the episode…THEN bring back Kate Mulgrew a little later to play Mrs. Columbo in a show ACTUALLY titled MRS. COLUMBO?
Seriously, it would ALL just be….TOO MUCH.
I guess I liked it…not as convoluted or head-hurting as MOST episodes of COLUMBO tend to be.
Actually Mrs. Columbo (AKA Kate Columbo AKA Kate the Detective AKA Kate Loves A Mystery) ran ten years *before* this episode ran, the last episode airing almost exactly a decade before this one in fact (March 19, 1980).
I honestly haven’t seen this episode but clicked the title to see if they’d gone nuclear on the old show and killed the “fake” Mrs. Columbo in an absolutely insane plotline, it was actually much more normal than that XD It was well known absolutely no one involved in Columbo was happy with the other show existing and deliberately mocked it at least once.
In the attempted frame up of Connelly, it was very amusing
his reaction to being dragged from his house by police cars
with flashing lights and then to be told that he was never under arrest !
His angry frustration was understandable but still very funny.
My favorite part of this episode is the series of conversations between Columbo and Sergeant Brady. Wouldn’t we all like to Watson to Columbo’s Sherlock and listen to him unravel the case?
Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a lot of similarities between this episode and the Holmes story “The Dying Detective” both relying on the same strategy to get the killer to confess the crime while a hidden assistant listens to the confession.
Finally, I would have loved to have Roscoe Lee Browne as a Columbo villain in another episode. I think the chemistry between the two would have been outstanding.
Shocking… that 20-something Sgt Brady’s decorating style is that of an 87 year old woman! =0)
Where other episodes have callbacks, references to past episodes, this one has a “call forward:” while Columbo is walking through the docks, discussing the case with Sgt. Brady, he complains of a toothache, which will be addressed in the next episode, “Uneasy Lies the Crown.” I wonder whether any other episodes set up future stories?
Hi everyone ! I discovered this episode just yesterday and I love it (my favourite so far).
Peter Falk is the best (it’s undeniable).
But I’m writing here because I’ve been desperately searching for hours for the singer of the songs It Had To Be You and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (during Vivian sad scene). I fell in love with the singer but couldn’t found her name. Please can someone help me ^^
Indeed, rousing versions of both songs. I can’t find the artist either. Sounds maybe more than a little bit like Julee Cruise, active at the time in TV and a bunch of different genres, and known for doing covers; she’d be my best guess.
A long, grinding slog of an episode; might have been decent at 45 minutes.
What would you have kept, and what would you have left out, to make it into the equivalent of a standard “hour” long weekly TV series episode?
I found the twist obvious from the very beginning, but that’s probably because I’ve had 30 years of seeing various twists since then. This one reminds me of a low-key take on Fatal Attraction.
I’m a fairly new Columbophile. The opening funeral scene had an inside joke. It was dark and pouring rain, and Columbo wasn’t wearing his raincoat!
And there was a continuity glitch. When the clergyman finished leading the prayer, near the end of the episode, the weather was bright and sunny!
Weather clearing up (is) was a nod to the plot ending in a positive way (wink)!
When I saw that episode for the very first time I was shocked his wife died!
Thanks, Pacific, for your thoughtful posts on this board. I’m sure the director would appreciate your tongue-in-cheek explanation for his glitch. See my reply to Chris below.
Hi Robert. Welcome aboard. I hadn’t spotted the in-joke about the raincoat, but not even Columbo would wear his usual raincoat at his own wife’s funeral. And as has been pointed out, I think the weather just cleared up.
Thank you Chris. And thanks for your wealth of posts on this board!
I’m sticking to my view there was a continuity glitch. I DVR-ed this episode from Cozi channel last week. I just re-watched the final scenes. The duration of the clergyman’s prayer could not have matched the length of the story up to that point. Graveside ceremonies usually last 10-20 minutes once everyone’s assembled. Given the large amount of rain in the opening scene, there should have been water everywhere when the ceremony ended.
Instead, there were only a few drops on the coffin, a few drops on a car and a few small puddles on the roadway. Most tellingly, the Lieutenant and Mrs. Dmitri’s hair and clothes were bone dry! Neither of them had to dry off when they arrived at the Sargent’s grandmotherly home. The opening scene was dark and gloomy — and the flashbacks were there — to give the episode a noir-ish vibe. The director went out of his way to dispel this atmosphere in the final scenes. As Pacific points out above, this may have been intentional to anticipate the happy ending. I can’t buy that. Isn’t it the director’s job to maintain tension and drama in a crime drama? Maybe the director was simply being kind to the actors and crew, and had budgetary or time-limit constrictions.
I never would’ve thought about the raincoat.
Hi again Robert, and thank you for your kind comment. Much appreciated.
You have clearly put a lot of thought into your opinion regarding the weather during the funeral scenes, and, as I was only commenting from memory, i will try to watch these scenes again.
As you may have noticed, I often have to correct myself when faced with the evidence!
Just one more thing, Chris. I forgot to mention an obvious element from the Classic Noir Era that’s also present here: the femme fatale. Helen Shaver would have fit in perfectly in that role had she been acting in the forties and fifties. Like all the other stars who appeared as villains on this show, she is capable of communicating a great deal of information with her expressions and body language. Vivian Dimitri was able to manipulate all the men in her life — until she ran into Lieutenant Columbo. Her charms were no match for Columbo’s genius level skills — and his unshakeable loyalty to Mrs. Columbo.
Not a favorite of mine
Once again, Columbophile sums up this episode perfectly: “Vivian unashamedly rocking the side pony tail – what of it?”
Does Columbo have kids or not? Barring the dreaded Mrs. Columbo tv show, Columbo himself has mentioned in earlier outings that Mrs. Columbo was home with “the kids” on several occasions. Here, is he simply shrouding his personal life from a suspected psychopath? Or does he indeed not have kids? In real life, I believe he adopted his daughter. Never a mention of his own kids doings. Only his knitting nephew before a weightlifting match etc.
I’m sorry, but I thought this episode was ghastly. Badly directed too: SO many of the actors ham it up.
Really liked this episode even though it had it’s faults. But I was pleasantly surprised when I watched it a couple of weeks back.
It’s even better Aman, in the second or third time you watch it, when you know in advance the depth of Vivian’s love for her deceased husband, through the dream sequence flashbacks. It helps you appreciate her words and actions prior to her revealing in the episode how she holds Charlie Chambers and even Columbo responsible for the fact that she can no longer hold him in her arms, or vice versa. Very well done!
That was Columbo in the 90s: pure ham and cheese. At least Falk got his millions so all was good and he lived comfortably the rest of his life.
Amazing what watching this episode, the first time in about 15 years does!!
Previously, I couldn’t buy Helen Shavers ‘crackpot’ widow portrayal. But now, knowing more about mental illness and how it can effect us all
Once again this has resulted in yet another Columbo way ahead of it’s time and this time it’s a ‘new’ one
Shaver, continues the high quality of female killers in the series
Hmm, phone calls aside, we never see who’s on the other end. Columbo can be an odd duck sometimes, even if alone. Thus, I have to say I still have reasonable doubt even after getting this far through the series if there even IS a Mrs. Columbo. 🙂
Decent episode by ‘New Columbo’ standards. Largely because of Helen Shaver’s performance and the great production values. I agree that the flashback gimmick did wear thin after a while. The background actors were all really good (underused really as noted) and could have made excellent antagonists in their own episodes.
Columbo might be eccentric, but he’s not delusional. If he wasn’t talking to his wife on the telephone, who was he talking to? Whoever it was, he is holding a picture of their sister.
And in “Troubled Waters” the Captain remembers her name and the Purser says “Isn’t that your wife?”, so that’s two responsible ship’s officers who can confirm Mrs Columbo’s existence. She just doesn’t look like Katherine Janeway is all.
It’s farfetched, but potentially possible. A number of the stories he tells suspects about his wife or family could very well be hokey adlibs to draw them in so they underestimate him further. A small part of me thinks that him talking on the phone alone could be explainable if he’s like an actor practicing lines or a magician practicing tricks. Just to keep those subterfuge skills sharp.
Good point about ‘Troubled Waters’. It is unlikely he would smuggle someone on board in the guise of Mrs. Columbo or some other trick to dupe the crew into thinking he’s married… unless he’s “in character” all the time. But who knows – it’s TV and it’s fun to theorize that there might be multiple layers to this.
I remember watching Katherine Janeway as the title ‘Mrs. Columbo’ too, as brief as that show was on and with its many name changes. 🙂
I think we can assume that Mrs Columbo and the rest of Columbo’s family really do exist, but that he does sometimes make up or exaggerate something about them. (Anne Baxter talks to his brother in law on the telephone and Suzanne Pleshette, who’s not a suspect, questions if he really does have a niece and he makes a joke about it).
And not only is there really a Mrs Columbo in Troubled Waters, it was she who won the cruise in a raffle. Otherwise, Columbo could never afford such a cruise.
Come to think of it, Peter Falk was a method actor, so I think whenever Columbo makes a phone call, there was a real person on the line that Peter Falk was talking to, At least, this was the case in Any Old Port in a Storm, where he really does call the weather bureau.
And as I have said elsewhere, I thought that “Mrs Columbo” was a fine series about a young housewife and mother who solves murders, but it should never have been anything at all to do with “Columbo”.
Forget the “new Coumbo style” There are only 4 of them that are bad. The rest are good by any standards, regardless of what Mr. Weill thinks
Watching this on “Cozi TV” in the US, and while Columbo’s hair dye job reminds me a little of my own when I had enough to bother with (do I digress?) Vivian’s truth of heart (well into the show) as she tearingly recalls her beloved husband who died in jail is enough to show the quality of this episode for me. Much better than a number of the early editions.
I’m using this reoly method of replying to my own comment in order to amend/update it. This is a strong episode all around, I rate it as high as Columbophile–but one has to be alert and totally tuned in to that 90 seconds or so of the scene between Ms. Shaver and Ed Winter to understand the complex premise, or have to try to pick it up later.
Well, thanks for another fine summary and review. We watch a Columbo every weekend and we’re going through every last one, and since discovering this site it’s been a pleasure to come and read your thoughts immediately after watching the episode.
We agree on a lot. However, on this episode, I’m pretty shocked you haven’t made more of the astounding idea introduced in this episode of a character who has previously tangled with Columbo…coming back for more! I thought that was amazing, and a great element within a plot that offers a few clever innovations.
So I feel you may not have given enough credit for that fascinating concept. Contrarily, I think you may have been overly disappointed by the lack of suspense in Mrs Columbo’s faux-funeral. I don’t think the point of that little device was to hold us in suspense for long, and personally I enjoyed the sigh of relief early on when it became clear that it was one of Columbo’s ruses.
So, the interest in the drama was not vested in that bit of trickery but in watching Columbo unravel the “why” and the “what next” after quickly dispensing with the “who” of the original crime. And I thought that process sustained this episode perfectly well, although I do agree that all these 90-minute affairs strain to fill the time slot. It felt like she danced in front of that projection for about 14 minutes.
I’d even consider it a potential number one among the new ones so far, for the reasons I’ve mentioned and the strengths you’ve mentioned, although I’d probably ultimately settle it into the two-slot. So far.
Watching it this evening in the Chicago area, John, and appreciating it more than on previous viewings. I agree with you; it certainly belongs in the top five. To me, at least an equal to “Columbo Goes To College”. But that’s where the reviewers’ personal experiences and the factor of the inestimably refreshingly new setting of a college campus with energetic (and devious!) young people comes into play. They’re both good in their way.
It just struck me that there might be some significance in the name of Vivienne’s late husband, Pete Garibaldi. He plays a very important part in the story, yet never appears other than in photographs. Where did the name come from? Could it be “Pete” as in “Peter Falk” and “Garibaldi” as in “Giuseppe Garibaldi” the famous Italian general? Maybe Peter Falk was known as “Pete” to his friends and the Columbo character was referred to as “Garibaldi” off camera?
CP: “I’m particularly interested in your first opinions of this episode, whether the funeral sham had you hooked, and how the adventure holds up under repeat viewing.”
Well, since you asked, I just watched RIP for the first time as I make my way through flipping between the new and old series (one left to go in Season 1 on the front end!). I did watch random reruns of Columbo as a child (i.e., early 90s) but have little recollection so all but a handful of eps I’m seeing with fresh eyes, including RIP.
Perhaps because of time spent on this awesome forum (though I do try to avoid spoilers), I came in largely presuming that Mrs. Columbo didn’t actually die and I would agree with the commenters who suggest the writer/director made it a poorly kept secret nearly from the jump. Perhaps a young teenager or Columbo newbie in 1990 would be less sure, but for anyone who’s watched a dozen or so episodes and understands the near-mythic nature of Mrs. C, I think the fact she is not really dead is as obvious in this oddball ep as who the killer is in more normal eps. So the fun is intended to be in watching how the detective exposes Helen and in learning why Helen *believes* she has finished the dastardly deed.
In this regard, I am glad CP walked back his initial expectations of high praise for RIP after this recent “mature” viewing. As others have noted, Helen’s broken mental state makes Columbo toying with her feel mildly cruel, if perhaps necessary. Because it has been telegraphed that Columbo is faking the funeral charade, the scenes focused on extraneous funeral attendees feel quite belabored and the extended scene of Columbo pretending to die is more depressing than humorous because we know he’s about to crush an incredibly sick and fragile (if dangerous) human being.
I did enjoy watching Columbo school Sergeant Brady left and right, even if those scenes increasingly came across as blatant audience hand-holding. Speaking of Brady, loved that they used his house (great call on the Grandma decor, CP) for the bait and switch because it could have given showrunners a chance to drive home the possibility that Mrs. C may not actually exist. Unfortunately, the phone call over the credits ruins the possibility for that illusion.
How cool would a scene have been of low-level cops at the fake funeral chatting that they’ve never met Columbo’s wife and weren’t sure she was even real. That alone would have taken RIP from average to good, in my eyes.
(Note: I realize Mrs. C’s true existence has been verified in prior episodes, but it’s my opinion that those particular writers erred in lifting the veil and I personally prefer episodes that leave the matter up for debate, not only in the killer’s eyes but the viewer’s as well. After all, as an anthology series spanning 30 years, episodes are often not viewed in sequence anyway.)
The Columbophile forum is not for the faint of heart, since the deep analysis of these episodes are so complex, I always reluctantly dip my toe in the water. But I liked your 2 points so much here goes: 1) How cool it would’ve been for low-level cops conversing in the background at the funeral about how they’ve never seen Mrs. C. and don’t know anybody who has. And 2) Mrs. C’s true existence has been verified in other episodes. If that had not been the case, the illusion would’ve easily worn thin, hashed over repeatedly by some very astute fan/viewers. The point being that an easy episode to be watched is Troubled Waters (upcoming Sept 27, 2020 – MeTV Network / Weigel Broadcasting USA). Whereby Columbo goes chasing after his wife on one of the Ship Decks, who is lost in a dense crowd of people. As filmed it seems like he’s only a hair’s breath away from spotting her. Had she not existed there would’ve been no writer’s credibility (left) or excuse for including that scene. Because once a writer starts playing games with the audience, then their entire premise weakens no matter what.
Yes, “Troubled Waters” is proof positive that Mrs Columbo does exist, as both the captain and the purser have met her and the purser recognises her getting onto the boat.
Columbo also mentions that it was his wife who won the cruise in a raffle, and is worried when the purser knocks on his door in case there have been complaints about her behaviour.
Come to think of it, Robert Vaughn might be the only murderer ever to have seen Mrs Columbo. He could have seen her around the ship with Columbo before he committed the murder and before he found out Columbo was a policeman.
And in “Old Fashioned Murder” Columbo mentions to Joyce Van Pattern that he and the wife had gone on a cruise of the islands the previous year, so that’s at least one “Mrs Columbo story” that seems to be true.
Don’t forget the phone calls. Columbo to Mrs. Columbo, with no one else around. No one to manipulate. They’re in “Any Old Port in a Storm,” “An Exercise in Fatality,” and “Troubled Waters.” I find them even more convincing than the ingratiating remarks of a ship’s captain or purser.
I do not deny there are episodes, including RIP, that prove Mrs C’s existence. My stance is that the writers/producers of all of those episodes sold out what would have been a cooler approach … that the viewer never knows for sure.
Obviously at some point
in a long-running series freshh ideas run thin and shows are written that scratch the audience’s itch for more character development. But I love the clearly intentional tone of early episodes that leave Mrs C’s reality more of an enigma.
RIP can’t change the eps that preceded it, but it could’ve easily pretended they didn’t exist by ending the ep without the phone call. Again, a signoff with some fellow cop asking the Lt. when he’s ever going to get around to finally introducing him to Mrs C would have been wryly perfect.
I doubt that was the creators’ original intent. Columbo’s wife has been a fixture since “Prescription: Murder,” beginning with: “You don’t have a pencil, do you? … You know, my wife, she gives me one every morning, and uh, I just can’t seem to hold on to it.” The possibility she was always just a figment of Columbo’s imagination, even to his co-workers — like some kind of an imaginary friend — would paint Columbo as someone with mental illness. Inventing relatives as an interrogation technique, that’s fine. But even the slimmest chance that he invented a wife to everyone, including his fellow cops, doesn’t sound like the character we know. More like Norman Bates.
I assume that when Levinson and Link wrote Prescription: Murder it was not with the intention of Columbo being an ongoing character. He mentions his wife, what he says about her may or may not be true, but there is no need for her to be seen, as the story is told from the viewpoint of Ray Fleming and Joan Hudson.
When Columbo returned in Ransom For a Dead Man, the same formula was kept, that he mentions his wife, but she is never seen, and this was maintained when Columbo became a series.
I read an interview with Peter Falk when Columbo first aired, where he liked to think that Columbo was a bachelor who lived in a furnished apartment and made up the stories about his “wife” just to rattle the suspects.
But eventually it must have been decided that to help his image with the audience as a regular Joe just doing his job, he would be seen (or heard) to be a happily married man.
The phone calls (and the cruise) prove that Mrs Columbo does exist, but we can’t believe everything he says about her to a suspect.
In short: Mrs Columbo does exist, but her never being seen just became a tradition.
I like the way you’ve phrased all that!
Thanks, I appreciate that.
I read a newspaper story in the UK many years ago about a man who was very popular with his workmates because he kept them entertained with stories about his wife and his mother in law, “the Dragon”. When the man died, his friends were astonished to find out that he had been a bachelor all his life. Perhaps he just wanted to fit in.
This could explain the possible “non existence” of Mrs Columbo in the earlier episodes. Going off further into the realms of fantasy . . .
Columbo was a widower whose wife was murdered by criminals and he became a cop to avenge her death. He keeps her memory fresh by talking about her as if she were still alive.
Mrs Columbo was actually Lt Columbo’s old mum, although she does seem to have passed away by the time “Try and Catch Me” takes place.
Mrs Columbo was just a slip of a girl and Columbo liked to give the impression that they were about the same age. Nah. No one is going to buy that.
As I wrote in a MeTV forum post recently about another series, writers (and the producers who depend upon them) never do anything haphazardly. And this is because of the credibility at stake, which the producers need to preserve (which R. Weill) carefully explains. But beyond that, Mrs. C. has a purpose. Which is to illuminate Columbo’s own personality. Yeah, this can be done a little bit through his cat & play with suspects. But it is so much more valid through the interplay with a loved one. Otherwise he would become just another kind of no-fail, impossibly brilliant detective. (Boring?).
Instead the developers needed a method of exposition to counter-balance his character with a sense of humanity, reality. As every fan knows, Columbo isn’t perfect in his private, personal life. Visually the statement has already been made (rumpled raincoat, boiled egg in the pocket, no writing instrument, dilapidated car). But the dialogue he has with his wife makes it even more fun! One-sided conversations always are if done very well. Just another way to showcase Mr. Falk’s talent! The effort establishes a human, foible prone character, who just happens to be brilliant in the analysis (and solving) of crimes! This is especially important when considering the durability of the show over so many years. They had to make Columbo a very rich character, to add depth to the storylines being created around him!
This Sundays Line Up for those lucky to have 5 USA
9 .00 am Old fashioned Murder ( watchable episode but that,s about it )
10 .35 A stitch in Crime ( Must watch )
12 .10 Murder under Glass ( One of my least favourite seventies but might still
1.40 The bye bye sky high IQ murder ( Must Must watch )
3.10 Any old port in storm ( The majority of people worship this but not so much me
5.10 Ashes to ashes ( my least favourite mc googan episode and one of my
least favourite new ones but preferable to some new
Columbo goes to college ( STAR PICK) Best episode on the list for me a very
enjoyable watch from start to finish )
some highs and lows for this Sunday to enjoy on 5USA if you’re staying in as the weather in the UK has turned pretty chilly and windy )
Thanks Mr Steve. The last 3 or 4 should be repeated on 5USA the following Sunday morning. And I agree that Columbo Goes To College is the star pick of this bunch, but Murder Under Glass is a particular favourite of mine, having the Columbo equivalent of a Gotham City supervillain: Paul Gerard, aka the Gourmet!
I know why the secretary’s in the movie: eye candy. Teresa Ganzel, played sexy dumb blonde types on a lot of TV shows in the 80s and 90s.
This was a good episode but they should have given Ian McShane more to do.
Oh, the sexy dumb blonde secretary is in the movie as eye candy, no mystery there.
(As I have said before, Columbo episodes usually have at least one scene with a pretty girl, and very nice too). And she is a nice character whose purpose in the story is to find Charlie’s body and mourn for him, showing that (as with Frank Staplin and his secretary) he wasn’t all bad. The question is, why did Columbo invite her to Mrs Columbo’s funeral? Even she asks herself that.
Very good review. I think Helen Shaver does an excellent job of portraying someone who is deranged by grief, as well as looking good in a remarkable number of outfits. But the trouble is, does such a person make a worthy adversary for Columbo? I think you have put your finger on the problem: those conversations with Sergeant Brady show that Columbo is so on top of the case, he is anticipating every move. And when the marmalade is brought along, I’m surprised it doesn’t have a skull and crossbones painted on it. It might be a better episode if you viewed almost everything from Mrs. Dimitri’s point of view: Connelly is shown being led away on local news; another phone call from Dr. Steadman; the only conversations with Brady are shams for her benefit. Maybe keep the restaurant scene as that is a highlight. It would also trim the running time.
Couldn’t put my finger on it before, but yours is the most valid perspective. While the premise might’ve made sense on paper from a writer’s standpoint, do real people go to that much trouble to accomplish the goal? Obviously she’s demented which automatically makes her a lesser adversary for Columbo’s above average skills.
Columbo took out her husband so she’s planned retribution against his wife? If she’s in the mood for murder why not just take out Columbo. Because the extra reach that’s necessary to pull off the crime is really just too complicated except for the opportunity to generate a detective story. So then we’re left with admiring (if possible) only how the actors deliver their roles. After all, this is only escapism. Meaning are the performances worthy enough for the time spent on watching. I would call this a filler episode. Some teleplays are held back for when others fizzle out. Or when production delays sideline a better story. Maybe seemed like a good idea at the time … just a thought.
Vivienne loved her husband very much and was devastated by his death. She wants to punish the two men she holds responsible, Charlie and Columbo. She plans to kill them, making sure that they both know that they are about to die, and why.
She guns Charlie down, but good old Charlie is already separated from his wife, so there is no point in killing her first. There’s no love lost between them, she didn’t even go to his (real) funeral.
But before he dies, she can make Columbo suffer the same agony that she has, by taking his beloved wife away from him. She already knows from 10 years ago that the way Columbo was always talking about Mrs Columbo meant that he adores her. And we the audience certainly know that. (If Columbo seems to be overdoing the grief and confusion in the kitchen, it’s because the Columbo character is overacting, not Peter Falk).
Vivienne is perhaps the only Columbo killer who is criminally insane. She is so intent on revenge, so full of hatred, that she can’t see he is always one step ahead of her.
The Columbo forum is fun because it’s so interactive! Fans are passionate about their viewpoints! Very enjoyable! I didn’t mean to minimize the episode’s plot without exposition. Just to examine it’s reality. By examining the premise in context. Columbo is a renown crime solver. In his experience he’s encountered the most diabolical of all criminals. However the premise of this episode is in believing what you’ve described (fair enough). But wouldn’t it have helped if the connection between Vivienne and her husband was more evident (meaning established or illustrated)? Instead we’re left to accept that assumption, simply through the evidence of her actions.. To accept how demented she as a result of that devotion and her revenge against Columbo.
When a writer establishes that kind of a motive (or personality trait) which is to explain their actions, then it dilutes the villain’s validity. Meaning that then Columbo is being put up against a weaker adversary automatically. Still a lot of time is spent on going through the cat & mouse chase. A demented character is going to make too many mistakes because of being driven only by emotion (compulsion) and not strategic calculous (as other villains have demonstrated). If Vivienne is taken as Columbo’s only demented adversary, a fair enough excursion. Just that the total episode isn’t up to the normal Columbo standards of matching wits with a character who truly has a more enterprising method of carrying out his plan. I think quite a few of the comments expressed that viewpoint.
It’s just a matter of a viewer’s individual taste. IMO, once it got past the funeral scene (the hook) then it was possible for the story to become tedious. Causing the real focus to be on acting style. But then my tendency is to focus on “production value” anyway, instead of just going along for the ride.
I think the connection between Vivienne and Pete was established and illustrated by the scene where she’s alone and looking at the slides of them in happier times. I think the only other way to do this would have been if it had been a sequel to a 1970’s episode, or if the first flashback had been 10 years earlier, with Vivienne visiting Pete in prison. But the way they did it works fine for me.
Excellent review, as usual, of a “meh” episode. As CP alluded to, this is not an episode that bears re-watching. Different doesn’t always equate to good or even memorable and I agree with CP that it is probably the result of the writers not having full confidence in the 1970s Columbo formula appealing to a 1990s audience. Again, this was a style over substance new episode for me.
There are any number of entertainingly original moments in this well thought out and performed episode. I’m viewing it now with a fresh viewpoint, and will look forward to seeing new surprises in it the next time around. Well, I guess we can’t all agree on everything! I will try to be more specific in a future post, but the commercial is over.
In the recent review of “Agenda For Murder”, CP rightly said that lawyers/politicians Oscar Finch and Paul Mackey should really have heard of Lt Columbo due to his high profile cases, especially the Hayward case. But as usual, nobody involved in the case who isn’t connected to the LAPD has ever heard of him. (And sometimes, not even then).
So, “RIP Mrs Columbo” is a radical departure from the norm, in that finally, the murderer knows who Columbo is! And the only way this could be done is by having her know him from her husband’s case and wanting revenge!
As to how she knew that Columbo would be assigned to investigate Charlie’s murder, perhaps Los Angeles is like Gotham City and the commissioner (or new deputy commissioner) just automatically picks up the Columbophone whenever there’s a murder?
“A lesser killer wouldn’t be able to pull off a blouse like this”
Yup. And there are very few others who are not lesser.
A better later years episode and a good change of pace. Even though these shows were no match for the stellar 70’s series, i do enjoy the attempt to try new things, and this is an example. Always a fun episode though i thought the ending was a little hokey.
Another excellent review by CP of an episode that COULD confuse many. I know my teenage self (at the time) was a bit confused with the flashbacks. I think this was the 3rd or 4th episode I ever saw.
Things I always remembered about RIP: The marmalade (I’ve never had it, but I thought it looked more orange than lemon?)……the funeral and voice-overs (not a big fan, and I was confused the first time watching it)…the ending—which I think is outstanding!….and Dr. Steadman’s brief appearance. I think that Steadman’s words to Columbo were the final piece of evidence that the detective needed. I’ll always remember that Steadman was eating escargot, much like the victim in the Chess episode. (I’ve never tasted snails, either)
One of these days I’m going to go back and see which killer actually had the most screen time in an episode, as CP thinks it may be Helen Shaver here. (He’s probably right)
All in all, it’s an episode I personally watch when it comes on the tv, but only for the few memorable scenes. I agree that a lot of it is indeed boring.
Having said that, it’s in my top 10 of the NEW Columbo episodes….around 8th or 9th.
“Golden Shred” is probably the most popular brand of orange marmalade in the UK. The same people make a lemon variety, which is logically called “Silver Shred”, even though it looks more golden than silver. Still waiting for “Bronze Shred”.
I was thinking it was supposed to be Polaner jelly here in the USA. I’ve never had it, but I’ve the the jar, and they look similar.
Thanks. I always thought it odd we never see the label in close up, so I’m guessing it really is a jar of “Polaner jelly” (whatever that is) acting as a stunt double for “English marmalade”.
After another re-watch recently, there was a quick view of the label, and it indeed said “Polaner.”
Another thing about this episode: even though I liked it, Columbo was onto Vivian way too early for my liking. I know that’s a comment complaint about virtually all Columbo episodes, and I have just learned to live with it because it’s great television. But this episode is a classic example of Columbo (rightfully) suspecting the killer way to early/conveniently.
And the whole “Falcon Ridge” community (I think that’s what it was called) was used way too much in this episode. Kind of got tired of it.
All in all, though, a very good episode for “new” Columbo.
Great to see a fresh review up and about , As it happens this review was published the very same day I had watched it in full for the first time in Ages and I have already stated that I am not a Huge fan of this one , I dont dislike it and I admit it has some great performances , twists and settings especially towards the end but However its not one of the new ones I activaley or look forward to viewing ill just outline briefly for the time being why , Firstly i find the flashbacks a bit confusing and over complicates matters which is a negative for me , secondly and mostly thers not half enough of the investigation in the murder it seems to be very secondary to the plot it seems to focus too much on the marmalade and vivians mental state which makes me feel its a bit uncolumbolike , The whole poisoning of columbo was done before in murder under Glass this is a modern version of it , I do like the ending but I find a lot that comes before a bit boring and confusing at times and I find the whole fake funeral of miss columbo a bit over the top given how mrs columbo was so much referenced and loved but never seen in the seventies which was such a part of its heritage to then find columbo weeping over her casket and and mourning in his house even though it was all staged I just find it all a bit much , I appreciate most people love this one but its just not my cup of tea and does not make my top 10 new episodes .
Fictional detective wives can be a big problem, artistically speaking. The Columbo solution, of a never seen or heard wife, is basically borrowed from George Simenon’s Maigret.
I’ve been re-watching Van Der Valk from the mid seventies, and the production team there made a disastrous decision to make the detective’s wife an increasingly prominent figure in the episodes, which eventually became turgid and unwatchable.
McMillan and Wife? (aka “The Rock Hudson Show”) Sally helping her husband solve the crimes in the “Thin Man” tradition was the whole premise of the series. Until Sally died in an off screen plane crash (I think Susan St James wanted a pay rise?) and the series became “McMillan”.
An overall well-judged departure for the series with Helen Shaver giving a wonderful performance, one of the best of New Columbo, for sure. Two standout scenes: Vivian’s dance in front of the projected image of husband Peter and her slapping of Columbo. I find her one of the most sympathetic killers in the entire run.
Did you factor her premeditated attempt to murder Mrs. Columbo, a woman whom she’d never met, let alone had ever wronged her (even from her twisted viewpoint), into your sympathy equation?
Absolutely. Her attempt through the poisonen marmalade allied to that particular denouement in Sargeant Brady’s house makes her even more pitiful.
I agree with Columbologist that Peter S. Fischer had to know that most viewers wouldn’t buy the hook of the episode: that we’re actually at Mrs. Columbo’s funeral. But if so, then why the flashback structure? What was it intended to accomplish, if not to serve a final twist? Mr. Fischer has some ‘splainin’ to do.
I also don’t buy the Dr. Steadman analysis that Vivian is unconcerned with getting caught. As CP’s review points out, there were far easier ways to destroy Columbo’s life, and making him understand why, than this elaborate scheme — if Vivian didn’t care about getting away with it. This also would destroy the whole premise of Columbo. Every Columbo killer must want to get away with it. It’s a plot essential. Perfect crimes are designed to get away with it. Cat-and-mouse games would be pretty boring if the mouse didn’t care about its survival.
Don’t ATM machines take pictures of everyone who uses them? In her red strapless dress, Vivian looked very little like Charlie. And while Vivian tried to hold the ATM card by its edges, and touch the money and ATM slip as little as possible (but her fingertips did touch them), her hands were all over the wallet — and the ATM’s keypad buttons. Columbo knew the location of the machine. Why wasn’t it examined immediately for fingerprints? (And while Vivian is seen using a handkerchief to return Charlie’s wallet to his pocket, she’s never seen wiping off the prints she left earlier.)
I very much like CP’s observation about “young Sergeant Brady” — that he is “the surrogate audience and the one Columbo uses to relay to us in easy-to-follow terms just how on top of the case he actually is.” It made me think of other Columbo sidekicks, and whether they all were added for the same purpose. I remembered that great scene in “Now You See Him,” where, after Sergeant Wilson lays out his own far-fetched theory, Columbo says: “That’s very good. The magician did it.” It’s a subject worth exploring more.
Did ATMs take photos way back in 1990? And although the ATM’s buttons could have been checked for fingerprints, it had probably been used by at least a dozen other people after Vivienne used it. Vivienne says (probably truthfully) that Charlie let her use his card all the time, so it’s OK if her prints are on the card (she can’t wipe that clean) but she is careful not to leave her prints over his most recent ones. And if his jacket was ever off, he probably let her take the wallet out of his pocket, remove the card and replace the wallet, so her prints would innocently be on the wallet.
I thought ATM cameras went far back, but I’m not sure. As to fingerprints on the machine, there was no excuse for ignoring this possibility, regardless of the results. It was a relatively out-of-the-way ATM, and a subsequent user wouldn’t necessarily push the same numbers Vivian pushed. Of course, the faster the forensic team got there, the better.
Maybe somebody can confirm if ATM’s had cameras way back in 1990? The first ATM was installed in 1967 at a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield Town, England. It was officially opened by popular TV star, Reg Varney, who happened to live in the area.
The US didn’t get ATM’s until 1969. My point is, that even in the USA, ATM’s were still pretty recent in 1990 and might not have had cameras added until some time later.
ATMs in the 1980s routinely had cameras. A friend prosecuted a soldier using a stolen card who was wearing a T-shirt with his unit down to the company level. (And this was a small town ATM.)
Thanks Steven. I think even I could solve a case with that sort of evidence.
Good points all, Rich. In the thread below with Chris, I note the confusion of Dimitri wanting to be suspected, then wanting to be cleared, then wanting to be known as the killer. So which category does the ATM machine fit into? Because while it seems like a good feint at first, the fact that she uses an ATM in the very building where she’s establishing her alibi would seem a dumb move. But wait! Perhaps she wanted Columbo to only think it was a dumb move, when it really was a smart and devious move that was actually just pretending to be a dumb move! It’s all a head-scratcher, and not in that good head-scratcher way. but in that annoying this-makes-no-sense head-scratcher way.
I got the impression pretty early in ep that Dmitri planned on leaving just enough of a trail to garner Columbo’s suspicion but not one so obvious that she can be arrested the next day. She didn’t set out to commit the perfect murder but rather the perfect revenge, which may be convoluted but as we see is in many ways trickier.
With one exception, Vivian is the only Columbo killer who has met Columbo before, She knows his methods of befriending the suspect, turning up at all hours of the day and talking about his wife. She murders Charlie and uses his cash card in such a way so that she looks suspicious enough to warrant further investigation, but not so obvious that Columbo puts the cuffs on her while the body’s still warm.
That way, she can try to wangle her way into somehow meeting Mrs Columbo and “something would have been arranged”. What she hasn’t reckoned on is that the murderer never meets Mrs Columbo (which might be Columbo’s defensive policy all along).
The exception is the deputy commissioner in “A Friend In Deed”, who must know Columbo’s record when he assigns him to the case, and assumes that if he can fool Columbo, he can fool anybody.
Watching this episode now on 5 USA channel – Columbo in conversation with Dimitri about his wife ‘we never had children but we had each other’ – but in ‘The Most Crucial Game’ doesn’t Columbo refer to how irritated his wife gets when the Ding a Ling ice cream van goes round cos it spoils the kids appetite for dinner?
Columbo might be lying to Vivienne to protect his kid?
Well done Chris – just wondering who would be the first to spot that!
Nothing Columbo tells a suspect about his family should be accepted at face value. His wife’s existence must be credited because of all the proof independent of what he’s told suspects. But everything Columbo tells a suspect is a strategy of some kind.
Am not so sure about that. IMO the wife gambit is to extend the mystery of Columbo. But by using a realistic device, because he’s submissive to her in a way. Which is counter to his dominance in detective work. The obvious would be to assume the wife comments are part of his internalized strategy. But at some point the character needs to be humanized. Most detective shows introduce a confident of some sort. Mannix did with Peggy in the 2nd season. Most all of them have some sort of close assistant. The difference is they’re seen. Otherwise the hero (with a particular kind of intelligence like Columbo’s) runs the danger of becoming superhuman, meaning more removed from the audience, and less able to identify with. And that just wouldn’t be as much fun!
Good one; my first thought was of Any Old Port In A Storm. The murderer asked why Mrs. Columbo hadn’t come to dinner and he said it was because they couldn’t find a babysitter. And a few minutes later when he explains the hot weather the week before he said he had taken ‘my wife and my kid out on a picnic.’
I think Columbophile and I are of a similar age and probably both viewed this on its first broadcast on UK television in the early 1990s. I had already become a fan of Columbo through repeats of classic 1970s episodes broadcast in the late 1980s, so I think Columbophile’s point about the ABC episodes targeting a modern audience is interesting and something I agree with. Yet I imagine a lot of this modern audience were already fans of the show through repeats of the NBC episodes and wanted more of the same. So either the producers missed a trick here or they wanted these new episodes to be distinct from the original series and be more gimmicky. I never liked them using Columbo’s name in the titles of several of these episodes, it suggested a light-hearted approach that was in stark contrast to the dramatic tension of the original series.
As for this episode being reviewed, I remember seeing an ITV trailer for it containing the funeral scene and being saddened to see Columbo in mourning. If memory serves, when I watched ‘Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo’ for the first time I gradually had the sense that all was not as it seemed so the reveal at the end wasn’t a total surprise. I also agree that Ian McShane would have been a brilliant Columbo murderer and it’s a pity this wasn’t to be.
Thank you for noting how annoying it was to see Columbo’s name in so many of the 90s episode titles. It seems nit-picky, but you’re so right that it puts too light a touch on things before we even get through the opening credits. This was a feature of every Monk episode, and if ever a show leaned way into the “comedy” of detective work, it was Monk.
Let’s play a game. Think of a 70s episode, then give it a new title with the name “Columbo” in it. I’ll start: “Columbo Takes a Cruise”.
“Columbo In London”? “Columbo In Mexico”?
Oh, let’s turn up the creativity – “Columbo Meets the Matador”! “Scotland Yard Columbo”!
OK. “Columbo Takes The Bull By The Horns”, “Signor Columbo”, “Columbo Of The Yard”, “Columbo Dons His Deerstalker” or “Sherlock Holmes In Washington” (no, that’s been done).
“Columbo and the Commish”!
See how I took one of the most super-serious Columbos and made it seem like it could be a fun-filled romp? Sadly, that’s what those 90s titles are like.
“Columbo and the Colonel”
“Columbo on the Couch”
“Columbo Goes to the Vineyard”
“Columbo Meets the Killer, Johnny Cash”
The photo of Columbo’s sister in law Rita gives us an idea of what Mrs Columbo might look like. (Do we know who she is? Mrs Link perhaps?) But how cool would it have been if they had got Kate Mulgrew to pose for it? Proof positive that she wasn’t the real Mrs Columbo, but looked a lot like her!
As to the dye job, maybe in the context of the story it’s Columbo who has been using the Grecian 2000, as he doesn’t want to look like an old man when standing next to the much younger Sgt Brady?
I figure Darryl recommended the hair dye. Columbo kept going back because Mrs. Columbo liked the new 70s look and he’s been mussing his hair (and ditching new raincoats) ever since!
I like this game! I’ll go with ‘Columbo Goes to the Dogs’.
That’s either “How To Dial A Murder” or “Last Salute to the Commodore”.
I like best the scenes where Vivian is being nice and to all intents and purposes she and Columbo really are becoming friends. It’s probably because Helen Shaver is an attractive lady and I like to think she is essentially playing herself in most of the “marmalade” scene.
I agree. Even though it was all an act, it was nice to imagine Helen Shaver being that nice in real life. I had the same reaction.
Thanks. I hope that a lot of viewers share our view. A charming lady.
That would be a good alternative title for ‘Murder in Malibu’… would it not?
Columbo and the Case of Liquid Filth
“Columbo Goes To The Academy”.
“Columbo Goes Cruising”.
“Nobody Does It Like Columbo”.
“Columbo And The High IQ Murder Case” (an improvement there).
“Columbo In New York”. OK, so they never made that one, but they should have. Columbo would have been a long way from his jurisdiction, but not a fish out of water. He could have teamed up with Marshall Sam McCloud to solve a murder in his old precinct.
“Columbo Goes to Hospital”
“Columbo Knows What He Likes”
“Checkmate For Columbo”
Probably the least imaginative Columbo title is “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star”, although I have to admit it gets the job done. If we apply this method to the original run, we get:
“Columbo and the Murder of a Doctor’s Wife”.
“Columbo and the Murder of a Lawyer” (aka “Columbo and the Murder of a Lawyer’s Husband”.
“Columbo and the Murder of a Mystery Writer”.
I’m not going all the way up to “Columbo and the Murder of an Arms Dealer” on this, but you get the idea.
Ironically, premiere Columbo killer Gene Barry was probably best known for his detective series, Burke’s Law, where each episode title began “Who Killed the . . . ”
If Columbo had teamed up with Amos Burke, we could have had
“The Amos Burke Columbo Murders”.
I remember seeing the ads for this episode before it aired for the first time. My mother and I were incredulous they would introduce Mrs. Columbo at last, but at her funeral and we HAD to tune in. We loved this episode, and were delighted with the twist ending.
This is my favorite episode ever. I still delight in the twist, even knowing it’s coming. Vivian’s mental state, contrasted with Columbo’s sharpness make for great viewing. I thought the writer did a good job raising valid points for Columbo to be suspicious.
The call back to Any Old Port with “You take care of your car, it’ll take care of you,” was a nice touch.
The dinner with Dr. Steadman is the best, the dance between the two of them, plus the comic relief from the waiter. Usually I’d have an issue with unnecessary comedy but the waiter just works here. Too bad Vito Scotti couldn’t have played the waiter.
I only have two issues with Rest in Peace. First is the random people at the funeral. Deedee, Leland, his wife, why would they be there? Second, it’s broad daylight when Vivian and Leland are in the motel. Sloppy.
Finally, the episode ties up nicely as we still never get to see Mrs. Columbo, that was her sister’s picture, but we get a glimpse of Columbo as a husband. We always have him talking about her secondhand to suspects, here he’s talking to her directly. It was a great way to end the episode and put the viewers’ hearts and minds at ease.
Hi Vivian. When did you get out?
What puzzles me about this episode (which I like) is that Vivian makes sure Columbo will be back on duty by the time Charlie’s body is found, but how does she know that he will be assigned to the case? Or that Robert Culp isn’t up to his old tricks again, and that Columbo is already on another case? I guess she doesn’t and is taking a big chance, but at least she got even with Charlie.
You’re right, that was luck that he was assigned to the case. But her calling pretending to be the dentist office was a great way to set up why Columbo was suspicious in the first place.
Just one more thing (ha) that bothered me. Vivian says she researched the poison for weeks, but the marmalade seemed impulsive. Was her original intent to get invited to the Columbo home for dinner and then poison their food?
Yes, I think that when Vivian first offers Columbo the lemon marmalade on an English muffin (or “crumpet” as we call them) that it is all part of the act, but is essentially done in all innocence.
It does however give her the idea of how to smuggle the fugu poison (easier to spell and pronounce) into the Columbo home. In fact, Columbo might even be manipulating her into doing this.
Incidentally, there was at least one brand of English marmalade called Rose’s that was made with lime. I don’t know if it’s still around, but it was very nice.
That makes sense. She researched and then had the idea of using marmalade, as he was not inviting her over.
I was able to find some lemon marmalade here, I buy it for when I want to view this episode.
Huh? You mean Columbo isn’t the only lead homicide detective on the LAPD? Do we ever meet any others?
Actually, we do in Peter S. Fischer’s discarded script (entitled “In Deadly Hate”) that ultimately was rewritten as “Old Fashioned Murder.” You can read it here: http://leethomson.myzen.co.uk/Columbo/Columbo_6x02_-_An_Old_Fashioned_Murder.pdf
“Thoughts on Helen Shaver’s performance as the tortured Vivian Dimitri would also be most welcome.”
You mention “the scene when she dances and weeps alone in front of a projected image of her husband” as being remarkable. In my eyes, it’s a weak scene, in fact the only weak scene in a strong performance in a strong episode. It doesn’t fit with the attitude Vivian Dimitri has in all the other scenes.
I like it because she’s not putting on an act for anyone. She’s drunk and emotional and I think she nails it. She’s hiding the depth of her despair from everyone but here it comes ringing out.
Columbophile, I agree with your take on this scene. The despair, the heartbreak, how she reacts to the call from Leland.
For me, it helped me understand her motives and how unstable she was.
I think the needed this scene to clarify her aching misery. I might even say it’s the best scene in the episode for the insight it provides on the killer.
The music used just elevated that sense of aching misery as well. They did a great job scoring that scene.
“it’s bizarre to think they’d have been invited to the funeral at all” you write.
Do people in the USA have to be “invited” to be present on a funeral in a public cemetery? where there are always participants one doesn’t know. There are even people who like to go to funerals, as there are people who like cemeteries.
Remember the “ruddy secretary of Chambers’ real estate office” is the one who discovered the body of her chief, she can have good reasons to be present at several funerals, including the one of the wife of a policeman she met at the crime-scene. Where her other chief (Vivian Dimitri) is present too.
I can’t vouch for the US, but the only funerals I’ve attended were ones I was invited to, and were for people I knew. Presumably, this being a sham funeral, folk would’ve been privately invited?
You don’t need to be “invited”, but I think the scene exceeds a natural limit on how far Columbo can go to fool a suspect. It’s a graveside service in the rain complete with a priest, a casket, a hearse, flowers, and a large number of mourners.
Yes, it does seem massively OTT for a sting operation to trap one murderer. We’re not talking about bringing down some kind of international crime racket here.
Because this time . . . it’s personal.
You’re right, Claude and Debbie, this scene, this action exceeds what normally can be done to mislead a suspect (not even to trap her, cause it’s the scene in the kitchen that traps her). That’s why I often saw the funeral as a flash-forward, in the eyes of Vivian Dimitri (what, I agree, doesn’t fit in its last minutes).
In fact, and it’s a pity, it’s in 1975 with the episodes 33 and 34 (“Columbo meets the King”; “Columbo meets the CIA” 🙂 that we are used to see scenes that not deserve to be believed: a young Arab king changing his plans cause he trusts a sympathic American inspector. And “half of the CIA”, including the big chief himself, with their great cars, mobilised to meet Columbo in a leisure park, Columbo even mocking at the chief, while the CIA is incapable to find the murderer of its secret agent…..!
The sting operation in the restaurant in episode 47 (1989, “Columbo in Hollywood, part…”) is small feat, but in number 51 (1990, “Columbo cries Wolf”) we see an inspector accepting to get into an unknown helicopter, and to mobilise several agents to dig up the premises of a “chateau” to find the body of a murder that didn’t take place, just because a british press lord asked him, and because of a dash of milk. In later episodes, Columbo will even co-operate with gangsters. If Peter Falk was still alive today, maybe Columbo even would meet the POTUS.
Funerals in the US are usually advertised publicly and unless the person is very famous anyone can just walk up an attend. If it’s a very famous person the details may not be announced and a private ceremony may be held that is invitation only.
For me this is a very impressive review of a not so impressive episode. There are only three Columbo episodes that I have more problems with than this one, namely No time to die, Undercover and Strange Bedfellows. However I can definitely see RIP Mrs. Columbo’s appeal and it’s even hard to argue with the strong points highlighted here. Before, moving on, I realise how much it all comes down to personal taste here. For instance, I love Agenda for Murder and I recognise it as probably the best of the “new” episodes. But despite it’s flaws I love Sex and the married detective even more and that’s probably to do with personal things like, when I watched it for the first time and the way it comforts me watching it at the right times.
I remember watching RIP for the first time and feeling very dissapointed and that feeling never changed, though I’ve rewatched it several times. I never believed Mrs. Columbo was actually dead in the first place; the plot never got to me because of it’s predictability; Vivian Dimitri never convinced me as a character; but most of all, like in Undercover and No time to die, I miss Columbo being Columbo and doing his Columbo stuff. It’s just not there in this one, the script could have been written for any (married) detective. This has nothing to do with the quality of acting, I agree with CP here that Peter Falk is actually in excellent form.
As an episode of a random detective show I may have liked it better, but that’s hard to tell and will remain speculation. As said before I can difinitely see why people like it. But I just don’t.
Mrs Columbo not been dead, never influenced my like or disliking of this episode
That’s because, it’s arguably the only episode where the killer is the dominating presence, i.e. as opposed to Columbo
Previously, I found Dimitiri OTT/hilarious etc, in that naive nobody this deranged would be walking the streets attitude – typical of 15 years ago
Now because we know so much more about mental illness – her performance is riveting and one of the best ever of any actors in the series
Virtually everything about her portrayal is 100% correct, her scathing attitude towards men, the delight she sees in others suffering etc. It’s simply a great watch
I am a 70s Columbo guy. I’ve said before in this blog that while I believe there are a handful of acceptable revival eps, the large majority are not worth the time. “RIP” was one of those that I had not previously seen, but I’ve observed that it generally gets decent reviews among Columbo fans, and it was written by Peter Fischer, who was enormously talented and influential as a writer and story consultant in the series’ original run. So, a couple weeks ago, I watched. And I’ll go light on the details because I know that fans of the revival are out there, and my intent is not to jab those people with a sharp stick. But I have to say that I thought “RIP” was pretty (**searches for a neutral adjective**) forgettable.
The positive – Peter Falk’s work here is excellent. Even in the context of play-acting his grief for the benefit of Mrs. Dimitri, it doesn’t lessen his acting chops. As for Helen Shaver’s overcooked performance, well, I think she failed her imaginary audition for the role of Cruella DeVille. Sorry CP, the next time I hear nails on a chalkboard, I’ll remember Dimitri’s solo film-watching scene. And Columbo producers can probably be excused for not realizing what they had in underusing the magnificent Ian McShane. He would go on to embody one of the most outstanding TV characters of all recorded time and space, and seriously, if you haven’t watched Deadwood, stop reading this and find a way to binge it right now.
The overall fault here is, sadly, Fischer’s writing. His 70s Columbo’s were sharp and smart, with great pacing and strong clues. His most popular post-Columbo achievement was co-creating and crafting a significant number of Murder She Wrote episodes. Now, as whodunits go, Murder is a perfectly acceptable, mass-appeal, by-the-numbers piece of entertainment – the McDonalds of Mysteries. But that’s not what we expect from Columbo, and perhaps penning so many low-wattage adventures for Jessica Fletcher dulled his instincts for this one. There is barely any clue-gathering by Columbo, mostly a parade of repetitive alibi-checking all over L.A. The tipping point here came early for me; after murdering real estate partner Colonel Flagg (oh sorry, that’s Charlie), Dimitri stubs out her cigarette and leaves it behind in the crime scene ashtray, with no interest or follow-up at all from our favorite detective. Ouch. I’ll bet that a bite of cheese would’ve gotten his attention.
I get that this episode is supposed to be a change-of-pace, but lackluster plotting is lackluster plotting. Fortunately, Fischer later redeems himself with Butterfly in Shades of Grey, to my mind one of the best of the 90s Columbos. But “RIP”? DOA.
Just watching this episode now. Surely, there is nothing suspicious about the cigarette Vivian left at the crime scene? She worked for Charlie and probably spent a lot of time in his office. She also leaves her fingerprints on his desk and on the drinks glass.
She tells Columbo she had a 7.30pm meeting alone with Charlie and left at 8.15pm. There’s never any doubt that she was there on the night he died, only when.
The difference between this and the “One bite of cheese” incident is that Finch denies ever having been in Staplin’s house and the dental evidence proves he was there.
I always liked Ed Winter as Colonel Flagg on MASH, but that was a cartoon caricature of a character, so it’s good to see him in a straight role.
I take your point about the cigarette, but it’s not even given a cursory inspection. It’s part of the muddled nature of the plot – Dimitri wants to be considered a suspect so she can pull the, “What, me?” routine and not seem too anxious to rope in her lover Leland (did I note that’s the magnificent Ian McShane everybody…go watch Deadwood!) who will provide her phony alibi…..but then she makes crystal clear to us that she wants Columbo to know it was her after all. So what clues are the phony ones and what clues are supposed to be the giveaways? Or did she simply plan on being right by Columbo’s side when he expired so she could do what all proper villains do, reveal her evil mastermind plot in all its glory? That’s a big fat leap there.
Great Columbo plot, summed up in a great and funny language. An important review, because especially this episode allows very different points of view.
Michael Striss, who wrote a German Columbo analysis book in 2007, rates the episode on top spot above all the other 68 entries. The flashback concept of “Rest in Peace” is also regarded as “something of the grandest the Columbo crew has ever come up with” in the 1998 Columbo fan book by Block & Fuchs, also published in German.
Case #53 never was my favourite, probably because I watched it for the first time after I watched case #57 (where Columbo’s wife was alive again), so I knew right away, the wife’s death had to be a fake. So the dramatic effect never worked for me. But it wouldn’t have worked anyway, because it obviously isn’t supposed to work. I guess, Peter S. Fischer spoiled his own final surprise (that Mrs Columbo has not been murdered) wisely and on purpose by spreading all the hints and insight into Columbo’s suspicions. Fischer might have thought, if the first time viewer was about to get hit by the solution without foreknowledge, he would have had the uneasy feeling being fooled and betrayed by the author. Then the viewer’s relief about Mrs Columbo being alive and well would have been a lesser joy.
Anyway, the ideas of making Columbo an essential target for his opponent, not only to rescue himself after he has been beaten, and letting the invisible Mrs Columbo play an invisible main role are thrilling twists to the formula.
I look forward to your review of Uneasy lies the crown. Ho il dente avvelenato contro i dentisti questo mese… Anyway, one of the 90’s best episodes INHO
Great review as usual, thanks! Ms Shaver’s performance is first rate, and maybe we must ascribe at Vivian’s mental state thinking that our dear LT would not have a jar of narmalade from a prime suspect unchecked and unanalysed TE case of Pete Garibaldi we never saw, but the embezzling story and the culprit doing it to best please his wife reminds me of Oliver Brandt, another tortured soul. Although I ardly see Brandt’s wife starting a vendetta for her husband’s sake. That’s too bad because wouldn’t it have been great mak3 this episode a sort of segue from a previous episode we’we seen?
Agreed, but there weren’t many candidates. Too many Columbo killers were wifeless — either before or after they murdered. The only choices were Janice Benedict (Blythe Danner), Vicky Hayward (Joanne Linville), Sylvia Danziger (Jane Greer), Elizabeth Van Wick (Gena Rowlands), Vivian Brandt (Samantha Eggar), Vanessa Barsini (Shera Danese), and Mrs. Finch (Penny Fuller). There was also a daughter: Della Santini (Cynthia Sykes) — with honorable mention to Janie Brandt (Jeannie Berlin).
Excellent research. I saw this episode when it first went out in the UK and assumed it was a sequel to a 1970’s episode I couldn’t recall. A sequel wold have been nice, but then we wouldn’t have got the excellent Helen Shaver.
There was an episode of the TV detective show “Mannix” where the hero promises a little girl that he will find her father’s killer. He gets the person who ordered the hit, but not the assassin.
Some 20 year’s later, the legendary Joe Mannix turns up as an old friend of Paul Galesko on Diagnosis: Moider, and with the aid of flashbacks to when he had dark hair, he finally fulfils his promise.
Diagnosis: Murder loved doing stuff like that. There’s an episode called “Discards” with a boatload of TV spies….(and, because of the nature of TV casting, a lot of Columbo players): Robert Culp, Robert Vaughn, Patrick Macnee, plus Barbara Bain and Phil Morris (from the 2 versions of Mission: Impossible). I have no idea if the ep was any good, but its a fun idea.
Being new to the site, certainly with an appreciation for the absolutely thoughtful analysis of the episodes, I was/am a causal viewer. With favorites based on (beloved) guest stars. With shows often caught in channel-surfing mode (as opposed to planned). Thus the plot and performances (or relationships) need to be compelling. Obviously the funeral scene caught my attention because I couldn’t under how “Mrs. Columbo” would be knocked off in this series. Meaning the fascinating trope was always about her never being seen. So I took the Columbo ride going backwards, benefitting from (or being duped by) the flashback sequences. Am not a fan of flashbacks anyway, being too easy plot devices.
But yes, the performance of Helen Shaver was compelling. As was the effort in trying to understand her motive. So I approached the episode from that vantage. Meaning getting hooked on the mystery itself (plot). I also found the HS character pathetic and weak and a poor adversary for Columbo (and thus desperate). I mainly enjoyed the wrap-up with Columbo in somebody else’s kitchen with the Marmalade. So in terms of being an “average” viewer I think the production met it’s goal. Meaning without a truly notable guest star (except for Ian McShane) it boiled down to Vivian Dimitri’s performance!! And the trickery of the plot itself.
IMO at some point a viewer just has to surrender to being in escapist mode, and go along for the ride. Which is every production’s actual goal. For that reason successful pacing is often the secret. So it would be most interesting to rate these episodes by including the element of pacing (meaning how well does the plot advance per scene!). Which can often be about the art of “editing.” (Just a thought!)
Much appreciation for all the work that goes into your Blog and for the fans’ reactions and contributions! Well done!!
Well timed, CP. This episode is on 5USA today at 1.00pm,
Helen Shaver’s always good value.