Opinion / Pilot

Columbo pilot ‘Ransom for a Dead Man’ turns 50!

Columbo Lee Grant
Ransom for a Dead Man made a big impact from the get-go

Most serious Columbo fans are aware that 2021 is a big year for the Lieutenant given that September marks 50 years since the premiere of Season 1’s opening episode Murder by the Book.

While that is undoubtedly a reason for celebration (Murder by the Book being one of the greatest and most important TV episodes ever made), it might never have come about had Columbo’s official pilot episode, Ransom for a Dead Man, flopped six months earlier.

Debuting on March 1, 1971, there was a lot riding on Ransom for a Dead Man. For Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link, this was a chance to fulfil their dreams of seeing their star creation granted a series of his own after the success of TV movie Prescription: Murder three years prior. For Peter Falk, meanwhile, it was an opportunity to really make his name after years of critically acclaimed roles in commercially unspectacular TV shows and movies.

There was also plenty at stake for Ransom’s leading lady Lee Grant, as she continued her on-screen revival after ending up on the Hollywood Blacklist as an alleged Communist sympathiser from the early 1950s to the mid-60s.

All the major players have reason to consider Ransom for a Dead Man a big success. Despite that, though, Ransom remains on the periphery of many Columbo fans’ personal list of favourite episodes, and arguably doesn’t garner the appreciation it warrants.

Columbo Ransom for a Dead Man
Ransom is a joy ride for all involved (except Columbo)

Part of that is doubtless because it falls between two such iconic episodes: the Lieutenant’s 1968 debut in Prescription: Murder; and the Steven Spielberg-helmed seminal TV chapter that is Murder by the Book. Yet if weighed up against them with an analytical eye, Ransom is found wanting in very few areas.

Notably, we see a large evolution of the Columbo character from the headstrong and dapper detective of Prescription: Murder. Initially intended as a one-off character, there are only shades of the Columbo we’ll come to know and love in Prescription. By the time Ransom came around, though, Falk was already well on the way to perfecting the good Lieutenant.

Granted, he might not have 100% mastered the character (he arguably didn’t do so until Season 2), but he’s very close. It’s a terrific performance, full of warmth and trickery, and packed with the idiosyncrasies that will come to define the character. It’s a big step up from Prescription and sows the seeds of a character that we’ll truly take to our hearts.

“Falk delivers a terrific performance, full of warmth and trickery, and packed with the idiosyncrasies that will come to define the character.”

Ransom’s Columbo is a less confrontational figure than in his debut outing, while his efforts to lead those around him to underestimate his mental prowess were strongly dialled up. Take his intro scene, when the seemingly bumbling Lieutenant is searching fruitlessly for a pen in the dark doorway of the Williams’ household. He doesn’t seem a threat to anyone.

Soon after, Columbo muses on the troublesome issue of how the lemon-shaped soaps in Leslie’s bathroom stick together when wet. The expressions on display from Leslie and snooty FBI agent Carlson make it abundantly clear that they believe him to be a fool. It’s the classic Columbo disarming technique in action and was rarely displayed better. Falk was in the groove straight away.

Columbo Ransom for a Dead Man
Falk and Grant shared terrific on-screen chemistry

Lee Grant predictably excels as Leslie Williams. She would earn an Emmy nomination for her turn here and one must concede that it was well deserved. She’s wickedly cold, yet dangerously alluring at the same time; a confident woman in a man’s world who isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. It’s a gripping performance from Grant, and an important stepping stone in her Hollywood renaissance that would culminate in a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for her role as Felicia in Shampoo.

If the performances of the two leads were suitably grand, the same can also be said for Ransom’s production values. In many ways, it’s a seismic leap from Prescription: Murder, which occasionally felt constrained by its stage show roots. Ransom, however, was an original story and a big budget TV production that deliberately set out its stall to impress.

Everything was ramped up to 11: the sets, costumes, fashions and locations – including filming within the legendary Barney’s Beanery chilli haunt; and capturing sumptuous aerial footage of Leslie’s light aircraft over California’s Tehachapi Mountains. It’s a lavish spectacular, which captures the opulence of the high life in early 70s LA quite beautifully. Director Richard Irving (who also helmed Prescription: Murder) certainly made an impression here.

Ransom was a big budget TV production that deliberately set out its stall to impress.”

Special praise must also go to Billy Goldenberg’s score, which is as good as anything gracing the silver screens at the time. He created a single iconic theme and then fashioned variations on it, sometimes subtle, sometimes haunting, sometimes sweeping and orchestral. Heck, there’s even a muzak version being played at the airport. It’s simply great stuff, which adds no end to the episode’s cinematic feel.

Indeed, so evident are Ransom’s cinematic qualities that it’s little surprise that it was amongst a handful of Columbo episodes selected for limited theatrical release in Europe in 1978. Movie goers in England, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Yugoslavia must have been lapping up the action as Ransom unfolded on the big screen. It must have been quite a spectacle, and was an event that also saw a number of striking movie posters released in support of the launch – many of which you can still purchase online today.

Columbo Ransom for a Dead Man posters
Rad Ransom movie posters from Italy, England and Hungary

Ransom isn’t perfect, of course, but what is? Some viewers find the hate-filled relationship between Leslie and her estranged stepdaughter Margaret (performed by 20-year-old Patricia Mattick) hard to stomach. Leslie’s motive for killing her husband is never fleshed out, leaving a gap at the heart of the mystery, while staunch critics contend that a woman as intelligent as Leslie ought never to have been caught out in the way she was by paying off Margaret with the ransom money.

Wherever you stand on those issues, one truth remains: Ransom for a Dead Man was a critical success and a ratings winner. In terms of ambition and scope, few other Columbo episodes come close to matching it, and it did its job well enough to convince network execs to greenlight a full series, which would air six months later. I call that a job well done.

And even if Ransom isn’t on my personal A-List of episodes (view my rankings list here), it’s still a magnificent piece of television with a majestic quality that helped pave the way for greater things to come. Its production values are such that it has aged extremely well, and as Ransom celebrates its 50th anniversary I would urge all fans to raise a glass to the vital role it played in the enduring success of the series.

View Ransom for a Dead Man in its entirety below


What are your views on Ransom for a Dead Man, and how well do you feel it holds up as it reaches its 50th anniversary? Share your views in the comments section below. Until next time, my friends, adios!

Read about my top 5 scenes from Ransom for a Dead Man here.


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97 thoughts on “Columbo pilot ‘Ransom for a Dead Man’ turns 50!

  1. I’ve just realized a critical
    angle to Columbo’s set up
    of the gotcha sting at the end.

    The strobe light that Leslie drops from the
    plane that the kidnappers use as a signal
    for where she has to drop the loot, is built
    in a way that one light will always flash
    upwards no matter the way it lands. A blunder
    on Leslie’s part, as there is no reason for the
    kidnappers to use a strobe that can be dropped
    from a plane.

    Leslie has no way of knowing that the FBI has
    recovered it. So when she runs into it after
    Margaret dangles it from a string during
    the chase through the mansion, she concludes
    Margaret is onto the equipment she used. That
    would be all Columbo would need to “show to
    the DA”, in his words, for him to re-enter the
    case.

    It’s just a clever ruse, and an extra incentive
    for Leslie to pay off her daughter, to make sure
    that she goes to Europe and never talks to
    Columbo again.

     
  2. In watching the version
    of Ransom posted here
    on Columbophile, I am disappointed at the
    studio’s keeping their out-of-order
    sequencing of scenes in the episode.

    The scene at the beanery, where Margaret catches
    up with Columbo, was moved inexplicably to AFTER
    the scene in which Columbo confronts Leslie at her
    office, culminating in the flying sequence in which
    she answers all his questions.

    It is actually Margaret who inspires the “crazy idea”
    that comes to Columbo in the beanery, that the entire
    kidnapping was faked to cover Paul’s murder. Which
    he should have run by Leslie LATER at her office, not
    BEFORE.

    The reason why the beanery scene was moved to
    occur later, was so that it could immediately precede
    the scene of Margaret planting Paul’s incriminating
    lost set of keys, which came up at their meeting in the
    beanery. So that a broader audience of Columbo fans,
    (unlike the devotees here), could follow the plot.

    As it is now, it appears that Columbo is discovering
    the idea of the fake kidnapping at the beanery well
    after he confronts Leslie with it, making his dealings
    with Margaret there duplicitous and insincere.

    I believe that that the studio’s meddling here is wrong,
    as it changes the episode’s writers’ and director’s
    intentions.

    If there are any other fans out there interested in
    lobbying to have the original episode restored, please
    let me know.

     
    • What makes the moving of
      these scenes even dumber,
      is that in the now ‘earlier’ flight scene
      with Leslie, Columbo baits her with her
      own words about her husband being a
      ‘bore’. Which he will not learn from
      Margaret, until the now ‘later’ scene at
      the beanery.

      Why do some studios insist on mutilating
      great art long after its creators have made
      it?

       
      • Very good question! The arbitrarily changing of the order of scenes truly affects the episode. Also I wish the Margaret character would have been better developed- less unidimensional. Could have been so much better for the episode’s development.

        Having said that, it’s still a great episode.

        Regards,

        Ed from Florida

         
  3. Hello, everyone. Just wanted to mention that today December 6th is the 18th anniversary that Pattye Mattick passed away- as all Columbo fans know she played the stepdaughter Margaret Williams in the 2nd pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man, and was awesome. After her tv career in the 1970s she graced many theater stages in the 1980s & 1990s through the country. Sadly she passed away of cancer at only 52 in 2003, a day like today. We lost an awesome actress; the heavens won an angel. Flowers will be placed on her grave, and her mom’s, in their native Granby, Colorado. You are always remembered, never, ever, forgotten, Patricia!

     
  4. Hello, everyone. For some strange reason looks like my posts aren’t posting- at least the one from July 31st- so here it goes again:

    This past July 31st Pattye Mattick would have turned 70…. but sadly she passed away of cancer on 12/6/2003. Pattye started as a tv actress in the 70s and went on to grace the stage with her talent in dozens of plays in the 80s and 90s. She was “Janie” in the original “The Beguiled”- 1971. She guest starred at 19 in Columbo as Margaret Williams in the 2nd pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man.

    Her love for acting started in high school and she was truly amazing. She has a Pinterest board, she’s on Listal, FB, and several memorial sites such as Ancient Faces and Find a Grave, and her Everipedia page, among others. Flowers were placed on her grave(and her mom’s, Laura Patricia) in Granby, Colorado this past July 31st. , where she rests next to her mother. Rest In Peace, Patricia Colleen, you are always remembered, never forgotten. Happy heavenly birthday!

     
  5. Hello and happy Sunday! Tonight at 6 pm EST on METV “Ransom for a Dead Man”. Go back to 1971 in an episode full of intrigue, superb drama and “idiosyncrasies.” Don’t miss it!

     
  6. It’s always fun to see more about Ransom for a Dead Man. Patricia Mattick was my closest friend for many years, including when she worked on Ransom. The photo at the bottom, of Pattye smiling into Lee Grant’s face, was her favorite moment of filming. I was fortunate to know her and to see her in so many theatre productions. She was a rare and lovely person, and a huge talent.

     
  7. RFADM also marks the first appearance of Timothy Carey as Bert and the legendary Barney’s Beanery (featuring only the exterior at 8447 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, CA, as the interior restaurant scene was filmed elsewhere).

    The scene with Peter Falk and Timothy Carey is brief, but the chemistry between the two is immediate, as Columbo seems right at home with Bert at the restaurant and the two seem like old friends. There’s good reason for this. Peter Falk greatly respected Carey, as Carey was a great actor, held in the highest regard by directors and other great actors alike. Carey was a favorite actor, for example, of such luminaries as Stanley Kubrick, Marlon Brando, and Jack Nicholson.

    Here are two powerful scenes featuring Timothy Carey from Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), one of the greatest war movies ever made:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJDkLgwJopQ
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfgQfrI2TJY

    And Barney’s Beanery had a history of its own, starting from the days when it was favorite hangout of such stars from yesteryear as Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland and Rita Hayworth. Director Quentin Tarantino also spent time there writing and rewriting the screenplay for his film Pulp Fiction (1994).

     
  8. Certainly enjoyed rewatching “Ransom for a Dead man” but my wife and I have a question. What exactly was the gadget that Lee Grant tossed out the window of her plane a few minutes before she tossed the bag? Part of her answering machine? In our minds it’s not real clear how this action and this gadget figures into the plot.

     
    • It is a part of Leslie’s scheming.
      I’ve 2 theories of what this object is:

      1) It is a homing device, intended to be dropped with the loot,
      so that the police can find the bag more quickly and gather
      more information about the kidnappers, such as a license plate,
      before they flee the scene. Leslie doesn’t want the police to
      notice there are no kidnappers, so she drops it ahead of the
      actual bag with the loot in it.

      2) This I am leaning more towards. Leslie doesn’t want this
      object to be found, so she disposes of it from the air. It is
      found along with the bag anyway, as a plainclothes shows it
      to agent Carlson, but only as some unknown object.

      It could very well be the timing device Leslie uses to set off
      the robot call to her house to make the FBI think her husband
      is alive. It is the same sort of object that Margaret dangles in
      Leslie’s way when she chases Margaret through the house
      after she is shot at with blanks. Which happens shortly after
      Columbo shows Leslie how he sent her a message from him
      remotely by using the card dialer and a timer.

      As part of Columbo’s head game that both he and Margaret
      are onto different aspects of how Leslie did it. All the more
      incentive for her to cave in to Margaret’s demands for cash,
      just to get rid of her.

       
      • In fact, what it is, is explained
        by the FBI agent who shows
        Columbo the flight map, and the route Leslie is to
        fly over the desert. Before she sees a flashing light
        from the kidnappers telling her where to drop the loot.
        There are no kidnappers, so Leslie has to drop the
        flashing light, as if there were.

        Leslie is unaware police have found the light too, so is
        surprised to see Margaret dangling it in her face during
        the chase in the house. Again, part of Columbo’s head
        game to make her think Margaret has everything figured
        out.

        In any case, it is a cube, with lights on opposite sides so
        that one will always be seen flashing. It’s a flashing
        marker, not a homing device for the money, nor a timing
        device for the card dialer phone machine.

         
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  10. Greetings! Is Ed, that librarian from Florida…. Since this post is about the 2nd Columbo pilot , Ransom for a Dead Man, I took the liberty of including here a few sites I humbly maintain or started about the actress that played the stepdaughter, Margaret Williams, the late Patricia Mattick:

    https://everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/patricia-mattick

    https://www.listal.com/patricia-mattick

    https://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/533576-patricia-mattick

    https://www.ancientfaces.com/person/patricia-c-mattick-birth-1951-death-2003/88324785#biography

    She also has a Pinterest board, under Patricia Colleen Mattick, and you’ll find her on Instagram, too, hashtag #patriciamattick #pattyemattick or #patriciacmattick.

    After her career as a 70s television actress, she had an accomplished career as a theater actress from the late 70s to the mid nineties. 💐She was awesome. 👩🏻‍🦰👓

    Be well, best regards,

    🙂 📖 👋

     
  11. If there is one thing i learned from this episode, is that when it comes to chili (“it’s the crackers that make the dish”).

     
  12. Two specific moments in RFADM interest me in particular because Columbo handles bothersome details there very differently than he will in the episodes to come. As a rule, when Columbo’s suspicions are aroused because of someone’s (i.e., the murderer’s) odd behavior, he finds a way to air those details with the murderer directly. By doing so, he tests the suspect’s reaction, elicits a response that might later come back to haunt the killer — and, in the process, also shows the audience what a keen observer he is.

    But twice in RFADM — both after the ransom call and at the end of the courtroom scene — Columbo confronts Agent Carlson with those bothersome details. In the first of these scenes, Leslie Williams apparently overhears Columbo, but isn’t herself confronted with his observations. We see Columbo’s mind at work — but nothing more. [As an aside, has anyone ever counted how often in Columbo “stress” is the go-to excuse for suspicious conduct?]

    I’m inclined to believe that if these scenes had been written a year later, writer Dean Hargrove would have found a way to make both of these moments Columbo-Leslie confrontations. Like the mail scene in “Murder by the Book,” or the Birnbaum moment in “Suitable for Framing.”

     
    • I imagine it’s possible that a template of sorts was used following “Prescription Murder” with Columbo’s muttering asides to be overheard by a superior in lieu of approaching the suspect directly. Columbo employed the same method with William Windon in “Prescription Murder” when he is musing over Dr. Fleming not calling out to his wife when he returned home.

       
    • I heard the podcast and I was disappointed because both of Prescription: Murder’s strongest points are not at all mentioned:

      1) The disclosure of what makes Columbo so invincible as a detective (when Flemming and Columbo discuss his character) right at the beginning of Columbo’s TV career
      2) The beauty of how Columbo is catching the adversary with his own psychological people-see-what-they-expect-to-see weapon, when Columbo presents Flemming a fake Joan Hudson corpse by the pool

      The beauty of the dresses worn at the high society party are cherished instead.

       
      • maybe I’m just not into podcasts but I couldn’t listen to the insipid giggling and waste of air time at the beginning so i just gave up.

         
      • Yes. Absolutely critical points. And Prescription has way more formative Columbo-isms than are often recognized. That’s the pilot episode.

         
        • I get where you’re coming from, but semantics aside, “Prescription Murder” was a stand-alone TV movie in 1968. In 1971 NBC looked into having “Columbo” as part of a mystery series with “Ramsom” as the pilot episode in March. When “Columbo” got the green light “Murder by the Book” was the first episode in September.

           
  13. …..”There was also plenty at stake for Ransom’s leading lady Lee Grant, as she continued her on-screen revival after ending up on the Hollywood Blacklist as an alleged Communist sympathiser from the early 1950s to the mid-60s…..”

    How many other Columbo actors/writers/directors/producers, etc. had their careers affected by the HUAC blacklist?

    In addition to Grant, several others that I can think of:

    Leo Penn, who directed 3 Columbo episodes, including ‘Any old port in a storm’. Father of Sean Penn.
    Will Geer, who appeared in ‘A stitch in crime’
    Eddie Albert, who appeared in ‘Dead Weight’
    William Link, Writer and co-creator of Columbo
    Jose Ferrer, who appeared in ‘Mind over mayhem’
    Ruth Gordon, who appeared in ‘Try and catch me’
    Sam Jaffe, who appeared in ‘Forgotten Lady’
    Kim Hunter, who appeared in ‘Suitable for Framing’
    John Randolph, who appeared in ‘Swan Song’

    Along with Grant, makes 10…The “Columbo (Hollywood) 10”

    I was certain Theodore Bikel had been blacklisted, but couldn’t find any evidence. Lee Grant is the only one who is still alive. She was definitely easy on the eyes back then, though I wonder if her red hair was dyed, a wig, or naturally red…like her politix 😉

    I guess the Columbo series was subversive, but in a good way. It seems to have been the only detective series where the audience saw the crime occur at the beginning of each episode, except for the dreadful ‘Last salute to the Commodore’.

     
    • Excellent post, Ulsterfan. As a History educator and obsessive completist, I was compelled to spend a few minutes tracking down more names for your list. Theodore Bikel was a lifelong activist supporting many causes, but does not appear to have been on a blacklist. Perhaps you were thinking of someone else (not to presume at all, but maybe….Zero Mostel?)

      These names come from the “Red Channels” anti-Communist document naming 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcast journalists, and others accused of Communist manipulation of the entertainment industry:

      Paul Stewart (“Double Shock”, zapped with electric mixer)
      Sam Wanamaker (dir. “Bye Bye Sky High etc”, “Grand Deceptions”)
      Norman Lloyd (dir. “Lady in Waiting”)

       
    • Yes, I do believe you’re correct, Richard. I looked further and could not find any connection of Link to the blacklist, although the other names were tarred by Red suspicions and its an interesting thread to follow through film and TV history, well worth highlighting. I very strongly recommend the book “High Noon”, about the movie’s intersection with the Red Scare in Hollywood.

       
      • My bad. I’ll re-check my sources on William Link, and apologize if there was an error.

        I had no idea that Norman Lloyd directed an episode of Columbo. He’s still working at 106. He’s gotta be the oldest Hollywood Marxist from the HUAC era that’s still alive and kicking. Some of his best work was with Alfred Hitchcock.

         
  14. Since Lee Grant has for real actually responded to CP’s tweet about the “Ransom” anniversary, the next logical step is for her to go to the Columbophile site and read our comments!

    Columbo producer Dean Hargrove scripted “Ransom” from a Link/Levinson story, and much of the writing and plotting lays down the familiar elements of classic Columbo episodes to come. In hindsight, however, there are at least 2 moments where I suspect Hargrove may have longed for some minor rewriting.

    One is particularly jarring in light of the strides women have made in the workplace and in breaking feminist stereotypes since 1971. Unfortunately, we see that our hero wasn’t immune to succumbing to the “strong woman” stereotype of 50 years ago, as this quick interchange tells us:

    Columbo (to an associate lawyer in Leslie Williams’ office): I don’t know how you do it.
    Lawyer: Do what?
    Columbo: Work for a woman.

    Ouch. All that scene needed was a belly-dancer for Columbo to stare at.

    The other moment is when, at Barney’s Beanery, Columbo remarks to Margaret that “someone” found that the seat in Mr. Williams’ car was moved up, as if the car was driven by someone shorter than the tall victim. Hey, that’s a Columbo Clue! How much more satisfying it would have been to see him, and not some random copper, make that observation in an added scene of Columbo inspecting the auto.

     
    • So nice Lee Grant commented on Ransom’s 50th anniversary on Tweeter- had to retweet it. Ransom truly is tv history- must have been cool to watch its original airing in 1971…. actually my sister tells me I was in the room where the TV set was- and Columbo was on….but I was 2 years old…. so I don’t remember. Absolutely, tv history…..
      Pattye Mattick was totally awesome…. 👍

       
      • Check out Lee Grant’s page on Facebook. She’s also posting about the 50th anniversary!

         
        • Will check it out right now -many thanks. Legendary television…. don’t make tv shows like that anymore….

           
  15. I’ve attempted to give some further thought to the vexed issue of the corpse removal. I suppose theoretically you could have some sort of low level trolley contraption – which can then be jacked up to boot height, before tipping up – so the body then flops conveniently into the boot (?) (I recently watched an episode of the 1950’s British series Scotland Yard – where the entire case rested on a woman’s ability to use a stairlift device to move a gassed corpse.) But in Ransom the even bigger problem is how she subsequently gets the corpse out of the boot.
    Less painfully, you could just assume the part of an unspecified accomplice simply hasn’t been written into the play for dramatic purposes. But I would count this as a bit of a cheat.

     
  16. I just watched this one a few weeks ago and it certainly deserves to be better remembered. The final scene between Falk and Grant is one of the series’ best.

     
  17. This is one of my favorite go-to episodes. The musical score is fantastic. Seeing the Beanery is a hoot since so much has changed there. The IHOP is still there, however! I always thought Lee’s character should have run off with the young lawyer in her office! 😉

     
  18. What a superb review! Not to detract from the outstanding plotting and interaction between Mr Falk and Miss Grant, but I too was troubled by the abrasiveness of Miss Mattick’s character and the holes in the performance of the fake kidnapping. (Perhaps Miss Mattick’s loathing for Lee Grant works to make us a little sympathetic to the latter; as for the holes, one may imagine that someone with the mental gifts of Miss Grant’s killer could have found a means of moving the body and, at any rate, a real homicide detective will tell you that even the most careful criminal still commits stupid errors in execution). The overall achievement surely merited a place on your A list!

     
  19. I love this episode just based on Patricia Mattick for having the ruthless drive to take her step-mother on and accuse her for the murder of her father. She steals the whole film just on that alone.

     
    • It’s an awesome episode- the music, the airplane scene, the scene in Barney’s Beanery…..timeless….while it’s not perfect, but what is? .. And Patricia‘s acting surely was supervised and approved by the director, Richard Irving… Maybe a little hyper- but how would you feel if your mom died recently of a long suffering illness, your dad was killed and your relationship with your stepmom is not the best and you suspect of her?

      Patricia was awesome as the wronged stepdaughter…..

      👍📺👩🏻‍🦰👓

       
    • I also liked her performance and a lot of the dialogue between her and Grant, “but it’s difficult, because I’m SO sick “.

       
    • I thought Ms. Mattick played the role nicely. She plays a 16 year old well. A teenager with one big issue. Her stepmother.She knew Leslie did it. She had to march firmly forward in this endeavor. Love the scene in Barneys trying to convince the Lieutenant.

       
    • Great post , although im going to come straight out and say , ransom for a dead man is far from one of my favorite episodes
      Out of the 2 pilots i prefer presccription murder ,
      I love the scene in the plane, also
      The gotcha scene at the airport , i cant deny the excellent performances but while many love margatets charachter
      Im the oppositte , I find her role a bit annoying and
      while i accept it was a very important and well produced episode its far from the very best episodes of the seventies.

       
  20. The first airing of “Ransom for a Dead Man” was very important in my Columbo development. I was nearing my 15th birthday, had no recollection of “Prescription: Murder,” but do remember watching “Ransom” and it making such an impression on me that I was thrilled to learn later that year that Columbo was returning as a regular (though not weekly) series. If I hadn’t watched “Ransom,” who knows if I’d have missed “Murder by the Book.”

    I rewatched it very recently. It’s an interesting marker in Falk’s portrayal. Closer in appearance to the later Columbos, but a little less confident in his own abilities. In fact, there are brief moments when I heard a slight undercurrent of Joy Boy from “Pocketful of Miracles” in Falk’s performance.

    As for plot holes, no one has mentioned my favorite: that the FBI never fingerprinted the zippered bag recovered from the ransom drop. Shouldn’t that have been standard procedure? It might have the kidnappers’ fingerprints. Had they, they would have discovered no fingerprints at all. How strange — after agents touched the original bag when loading the $300,000.

     
    • It’s an awesome episode- it’s quite different from the first pilot- Prescription Murder…. – I like Ransom much better. I also saw it for the first time when I was a teenager- probably 1986- I was 2 when Ransom aired for the first time. I started watching Columbo then, but I appreciate it much better now….
      You are- there are quite a few details that somehow don’t make sense…. how Leslie could carry the body of her husband to the car all by herself, etc….

      But is a pretty good episode, all in all.

      Best regards,

      Ed the Florida librarian 👋

       
        • Watching now- Ransom doesn’t make it too often to prime time…. True- it has some things that don’t make sense- a very strong “lady lawyer” ….. but it’s an overall good episode. 👍

           
    • Its a great early episode, there is a plot problem with the automatic dialling of the phone call – alas the Bell System “card dialler” phone, which was very new at the time is a manual device, in no way remote controlled, you have to phsically push the card in and then press a key to release it. According to a late friend who was a Bell engineer at the time, the episode resulted in lots of enquiries for a system that didn’t exist!

       
      • Excellent catch TonyG! You are correct, and I found a PDF for the card dialer right here, touting its benefits: https://www.telephonecollectors.info/index.php/browse/document-repository/catalogs-manuals/western-electric-bell-system/marketing-documents-by-date/12708-bell-system-card-dialer-brochure-apr63/file

        However, it appears that the tech-savvy Leslie Williams, sly fox that she is, has rigged up a timer device to it that will do the dialing for her. You can see it at the 20:40 mark of the episode, right after one of my favorite Columbo lines, where he offers to peel potatoes.

        Interesting that when she meets with Columbo later, she specifically notes how she is not “big on gadgets”. Clearly, a stab at humility meant to throw our hero off the trail!

        I will consult with our host and look to make an addendum to the “Just One More Ring” article to clarify on this point. Thank you TonyG!

         
        • You are so right.
          I missed that part.
          But I suspect, it is an intended feature of the
          machine in the episode, not necessarily the
          real one. As Leslie doesn’t hide this part of
          the machine when Columbo visits her office.
          And what after all, would be the use of a card
          operated dialer, if you couldn’t do this with
          a timer? Otherwise you’d still have to be present
          to make the call. Wisely, Leslie doesn’t show
          this aspect of its operation.

           
      • AND….later, Columbo does his demonstration for Leslie in her office (1:19:45) where he does the same trick to her. He says, “I got one of these special phones of yours…I got a tape machine, and I got a timer, rigged it up…and that was it.”

         
      • I imagine, Leslie could have
        brought her office phone home,
        and used it discretely for the occasion.
        Maybe she even had a spare one at
        the house.

        This also makes the case for her having
        a phantom accomplice. Who could very
        well have been her associate, and possible
        lover. He may have been just following her
        instructions blindly.

        Perhaps that is why Leslie wanted to keep her
        husband’s abduction and murder case out
        of the media. More likely though, she feared
        Margaret would learn too many details.

         
    • I thought it strange that Leslie wore gloves during the shooting, when she didn’t really need to, but not while creating the ransom note, when a fingerprint in the wrong place could have ruined everything. The ransom note was strangely neglected as a source of clues.

      There were flaws in setting up the crime, but this is terrific television. Grant and Falk are great together in all their scenes. I have tremendous respect for how difficult it must be to create a Columbo episode. It’s marvelous that so much of it is done well.

       
    • I think that was an easily fixed
      oversight in the writing. There’s no
      reason Leslie couldn’t have put all the contents
      of her white bag into a different one in the
      locker. But switching bags made one more clue
      for Columbo to discover, when she chose the
      bag to begin with.

      Also, if by chance, the agents had beaten her
      back to the airfield, they would have caught her
      with a duplicate white bag. A different bag
      might’ve still made them suspicious, but they
      might not have checked it.

       
    • Prescription: Murder made a big
      splash too when it first came out.
      I remember that the villain, Ray Flemming was way
      more interesting to me than the somewhat creepy
      detective. Thanks mainly to the writing, and Gene
      Barry’s performance.

      But that was a hard act to keep up, probably why
      the series wasn’t green-lit until Ransom…

      Somehow, they had to make the detective interesting
      enough to carry the series.

       
      • Interesting note: In the play “Prescription: Murder,” Flemming (played by Joseph Cotten) was the leading role; Columbo (Thomas Mitchell) was a supporting part. But audiences reacted more to Columbo. Thus in the TV movie the order was flipped with Falk was billed above Gene Barry.

         
  21. Instead of one long post, I’ll sprinkle some random musings through this thread:

    I absolutely love how the two Columbo pilots introduce the character in completely different ways, yet each introduction tells us volumes about the artifices he will use to nail the villains through the series’ run. In “Prescription: Murder”, Columbo has already invaded Dr. Flemming’s personal space as he emerges (as if out of thin air) from Flemming’s private boudoir when the Doc arrives back after his trip. In this way, the Lieutenant cleverly makes the killer appear to be intruding upon Columbo’s space, instantly rattling the supposedly unflappable Flemming.

    But in “Ransom”, as CP notes, when Leslie Williams first meets him, a disordered and disheveled Columbo is bent over in a futile pencil search. This physical positioning immediately puts Leslie in the superior role. Later, Leslie relishes being in control over Columbo as they take that plane ride.

    Falk himself noted in an interview with Columbo chronicler Mark Dawidziak, “I remember being very impressed by Sherlock Holmes. He’d show up, and everybody would turn to him for the answer. I thought it was important in ‘Ransom For a Dead Man’ that no one turn to me for anything. I was just a local…I wanted to be ignored. Nobody wanted to know this guy’s opinion. There’s a lack of pretension.” Just as he wants, Columbo is underestimated.

    Each of those Columbo introductions are direct opposite approaches to reach the same end goal – using mind games to help trip up his prime suspect. Brilliant!

     
    • Is timeless, well written and great acting. Takes one back to 1971…. The true pilot… the one that convinced NBC to officially launch the series…Pattye Mattick was awesome- superb. Gone so soon….

      Ed the librarian

       
    • Totally agree- George- is a timeless episode- it takes one back to the 70s- like all the episodes from the NBC years. The characters, the script, the production, the ambiance, just amazing. So well done- superb.

      Amazing actors- to me, here we catch the first glimpse of the Columbo we will get to know and love- the chili, the family stories, the coat, the “idiosyncrasies” to quote the lady lawyer….

      And of course Pattye Mattick as the stepdaughter, Margaret Williams, superb. This was the nineteen year old second tv credit, after Room 222 the previous November- and it would be followed by an appearance on Ironside just 6 weeks later…. for a total of 18 tv credits in the seventies (plus the major film) The Beguiled -seven credits just in that awesome year of 1971.

      She would go on to be an accomplished theater actress from the late seventies to the mid nineties. Sadly she passed away of cancer at only 52 in December of 2003. She was just awesome, adorable, so talented. 👩🏻‍🦰👓

      I put together several online resources- here is her Everipedia page: https://everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/patricia-mattick

      Only Lee Grant and John Fink are still with us….

      Regards,

      Ed from Florida 👋

       
    • Crackers make the dish🥘 cause chili rocks! Pattye Mattick was awesome as Margaret, just adorable…👍👩🏻‍🦰👓

       
  22. Awesome post, Columbophile! 50 years! Time flies- in Ransom we get to meet the Columbo we will grow to know and love- with all his “idiosyncrasies”- his seeming absentminded ness, his family stories, we are introduced to the chili! The chili scene is key to the solving of the crime. Peter Falk and Lee Grant, 2 seasoned actors by 1971 were awesome, and of course Patricia Mattick -in just her second tv credit, was superb as Margaret Williams…. true, common name but cool character- I don’t care what other people say, she was awesome. 👩🏻‍🦰👓

    I checked the tv networks but none are showing Ransom today or tomorrow- silly people-guess maybe later in the month… But kind Columbophile has it available here on his website- is also available for free on IMDB (free with registration- is free) and on Peacock…. such a timeless episode….

    Everipedia page: https://everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/patricia-mattick

    Listal page: https://www.listal.com/patricia-mattick

    Memorial page: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21474363/patricia-colleen-mattick

    Have an awesome day,

    Ed from Florida

     
  23. I don’t normally allow plot holes to interfere with my Columbo enjoyment. But I am always nagged by the problem of a petite lady like Lee Grant somehow moving a 6ft male corpse in and out of a car boot. It would have been a better script with an accomplice (possibly a compromised legal client), which could also have given Columbo another interesting strand to his investigations. They could also have removed the inevitably blood stained armchair – and the sudden disappearance of a family heirloom might also have served as a very legitimate basis for the daughter’s suspicions – before they then turn to absolute convictions.
    As the author says, absolutely standout performances from Falk and Grant. Also, great gotcha/denouement scene – beautifully played by Lee Grant.

     
    • In “Uneasy Lies the Crown”, Columbo concludes that Lydia Corman must be innocent because it is unlikely that she could have carried the dead body and lifted it into the car. It is strange that Columbo doesn’t rule out Leslie Williams as “his woman” for the same reason.

       
  24. Right post at the right time! I have a penchant for celebrations like these. I’m doing everything I can to arrange myself a suitable “Ransom Day” tomorrow. If I could, I would even congratulate Lee Grant that thank God she is still around fifty years after being the first female Columbo killer.
    I already wrote myself a 50th Anniversary schedule list of the NBC Mystery Movies’ first season including Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife. I am planning to try to rewatch every episode on its anniversary date.

     
      • I wouldn’t do that. I learned that there is a danger the soap pieces could stick together when they’re wet.

         
  25. As an aside did you ever notice how the writers tend to use the same names over and over again? Margaret is used in several episodes and even the surname Williams. Is it some kind of Hollywood superstition or did they think we’d never notice? Or that we would rewatch the episodes so many times and get to know the characters so well?

     
    • In that regard my favorite is having two killers with the first name of “Nelson” within the span of 15 episodes.

       
            • I agree. I’m fond of “Goes to College” and “Agenda for Murder”, but the rest of the 1989-2003 episodes for me range from marginally watchable to simply unwatchable garbage.

               
          • Right. I’m not sure why it annoys me but it seems like a lack of imagination. If I didn’t watch the episodes so many times I never would have realized it.

             
            • If I can get back to your original comment here, I’d like to say that, being a writer, for me one of the hardest tasks in writing a novel is coming up with the names of the characters. Sometimes the name is symbolic, contains a clue or is significant in any other way (I love the name Milo Janus), but far more often we’re looking for insignificant, common names that do not disagree with the ‘feel’ of the personality of the character. For instance, my own very common first name would not often be used for hardboiled villains, because most people don’t imagine an evil murderer with one eye when reading the name David. For some reason Seth is a more appropriate name for a villain, generally speaking. And because of Clint Eastwood the name Clint is more often considered for the heroic type than, say, Jimmy.
              Columbo villains are typically wealthy, upperclass, succesful people and their names cannot distract from that. The other characters in a Columbo episode cannot have any names that stand out, unless they serve a specific purpose. And since Columbo episodes were written by many different writers, I can imagine they had a tendency for using the same “neutral” names for the supporting characters.
              And then there is the issue with names being similar to real life people. You cannot use the name of a famous lawyer for a fictional lawyer and using a common name gets rid of the suggestion that you’re refering to a specific person. I once had to change the name of a person in the title of a novel, because it was an uncommon name and someone well known in his profession field was called the same.
              Having said all this I think you have a valid point here, because a production team could have made alterations in the original script to make sure the same names were not used all the time. But it’s a tricky business all the same.

               

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