September 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the first airing of Columbo Season 1 opener Murder by the Book – and it remains one of the most compelling pieces of episodic television ever made.
Directed by 24-year-old Steven Spielberg, then merely a promising new kid on the Universal block, the opening episode of Columbo’s first season proper helped catapult the show into the hearts and minds of the viewing public after their appetites had been whetted by official series pilot Ransom for a Dead Man six months earlier.
From the dizzying opening shot that pulls back from villain Ken Franklin’s car on the highway into the high-rise office of victim Jim Ferris, Murder by the Book grabs the attention and holds it tight for 75 thrilling minutes. Through Spielberg’s lens, we become part of proceedings through long, continuous scenes and extreme close ups, while the numerous POV shots help everything seem as large as life on the small screen. In essence, the viewer is injected into the action to become an eyewitness to Franklin’s murderous ways.
Series creators and producers William Link and Dick Levinson were so impressed by Spielberg’s visual mastery that Murder by the Book was bumped ahead of Death Lends a Hand to open the season. It proved a smart move. The episode was a critical hit and a ratings winner, and interest in the crumpled detective’s subsequent cases skyrocketed to make it one of the hottest TV tickets of the time.
But Murder by the Book is much more than just a master director’s announcement of his arrival on the global stage. Pretty much every element of the episode was aced, from future cult film-maker Larry Cohen’s original story concept, through Stephen Bochco’s classy teleplay, Billy Goldenberg’s spellbinding score, and the performances of the main cast.
“Arguably what most makes Murder by the Book sing is the presence of Jack Cassidy as the ultimate foil to the scruffy sleuth.”
Although still finding his way in the role, Peter Falk’s Lieutenant Columbo already feels authentically lived in, while disguising an intellect that is steel trap sharp. The range he provides between the warm, human cop who cooks an omelette for a traumatised Joanna Ferris and the shrewd investigator who bursts Franklin’s aura of invincibility by noticing he’d opened his bills right after finding his dead partner on his front lawn represents an actor at the top of his game.
However, what most makes Murder by the Book sing is the presence of Jack Cassidy as the ultimate foil to the scruffy Columbo. His Ken Franklin is urbane, stylish, arrogant, extroverted – and utterly heartless. Yet being a double murderer never seemed such fun given Cassidy’s gleeful wickedness that makes him one of the series’ most cherished guest stars.
Cassidy is my favourite Columbo guest star killer of all. I rate many others extremely highly, but Cassidy had the X-factor and was the absolutely perfect choice to play Franklin. Just as Donald Pleasence was born to play Adrian Carsini in Any Old Port in a Storm, no one could have embodied Franklin better than Cassidy. His contrast to the earthy Falk makes their every encounter absolutely zing.
Elsewhere, Martin Milner’s affability makes him one of the series’ most sympathetic victims as Jim Ferris, while Barbara Colby’s tragic and deluded Lily La Sanka bites off more than she can chew when she tries to make a deal with the devil himself, ultimately becoming Franklin’s second victim. Her bellow of “Mr Fraaaaanklin – yoo-hoo!” when she collars her man at the theatre is one of the series’ most memorable sound bites.
Even if the gotcha moment leaves some viewers a little underwhelmed, there is more than enough magic in Murder by the Book to ensure it’s as enjoyable to watch today as it was 50 years ago. The COVID pandemic has even helped a new, housebound audience discover Columbo, proving that outstanding writing and performances never go out of style – even in a world where a slow-paced, talky show seems something of a relic from a by-gone age.
That’s the power of Columbo, and Murder by the Book is one of its most essential chapters, making it one of the most important television episodes ever filmed. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and I dare say that Murder by the Book will remain just as captivating for the discerning viewer of 2071 as it is for us today.
View Murder by the Book in full below
Courtesy of the official Columbo YouTube channel
What are your recollections of viewing Murder by the Book for the first time? Share your thoughts on this epic viewing experience in the comments section below. You can also read my full review of the episode here.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Murder by the Book’s first airing, a new book, Shooting Columbo, also goes on general release on September 15. You can read all about the book here, but I can assure you all that it’s a fantastic read and full of behind-the-scenes information never previously published. There’s a link to the book (and some others) on Amazon below (will ship globally), but you ought to be able to ask your local bookshop to stock it too, so everyone’s a winner!
And if that isn’t enough for you, you can also get your hands on a new, limited edition celebratory Murder by the Book artwork, created by ace illustrator and movie poster creator Tony Stella. The stunning work is pictured below and prints can be purchased via Tony’s website – along with several other splendid Columbo pieces that even Dale Kingston would approve of. It will sell out quickly, so get amongst it ASAP!
As a general update for long-time readers, please accept my sincere thanks for the many on-going messages of support I continue to receive regarding my daughter’s health. She’s had a horrid few weeks, with lots of illness and painful side effects to chemo and radiation treatment, but she keeps bouncing back we’re hopeful she’ll be fully recovered before Christmas. I can’t be sure when the episode reviews will get back on track, as I just don’t have the time to devote to the cause anytime soon, so thanks for your patience and kind thoughts!
I loved murder by the book because the writers paid so much attention to detail, ie; The 9000 building is the Peterson Publishing building and Ken and Jim were writers. You’d only know that if you lived in LA. Ken Franklins house in Beverly Hills was torn down in the 90’s. It was on 5 acres and replaced by the most expensive home in LA. Sold for almost 200 million. Definitely not as tasteful as the original from the episode.
No one says ‘gape’ like Jack Cassidy. 😉 One of the best episodes ever.
Cheers from Tokyo.
Here’s another point I didn’t even realize…Columbo couldn’t even arrest Cassidy at the end because the Martin Milner murder actually did happen in Big Bear. So he would first need to convince the San Bernardino County authorities that Cassidy was guilty and get them to issue a warrant before trying to arrest him. Good luck with that flimsy evidence!!
Sorry, Gary. Under Section 790(a) of the California Penal Code: “The jurisdiction of a criminal action for murder or manslaughter is in the county where the fatal injury was inflicted or in the county in which the injured party died or in the county in
which his or her body was found.” Ferris’ body was found in Los Angeles County. Furthermore, as long as a police office in California has probable cause, that police office can arrest for a felony anywhere in the state.
Thanks for the Penal Code. I’ll read more deeply into that. But probable cause certainly would not apply in this case. His gotcha evidence at the conclusion would fall far short of that.
I am a Columbo fan for sure but “Murder by the Book” is one episode that disappointed me from the beginning and doesn’t get better with age. It’s especially astonishing after realizing that the excellent, polished “Death Lends a Hand” was actually produced before “Murder by the Book,” which has the extreme roughness of a subpar pilot episode. For a start, Jack Cassidy is an over the top caricature of a sniveling villian whose devious plan makes no sense whatsoever (he shoots the victim during a call so that his wife hears, which immediately sets the police on the case. Why not shoot him AFTER the phone call so he has unlimited time to conceal the crime?) Columbo steps in and is completely unable to gather evidence to catch him, permitting Cassidy the opportunity to kill a nosy witness right under Columbo’s nose (!!!). To top it off, Columbo’s gotcha moment is so weak, and suddenly Cassidy crumbles and confesses. All while we have to suffer the repetition of the same notes of an annoying, clichéd murder mystery harpsichord throughout the episode. And let’s not forget Spielberg’s direction. The camera moves so much it becomes a nuisance in the way of the episode. The interior lighting is too dark, making the grip lighting very noticeably stand out. And he already shows his tendency to direct women to be clumsy, awkward, light-headed beings (something that would continue with Jaws and the first two Indiana Jones movies). And the typewriter sound in the opening was a big mistake. It dated the episode horribly.
I love all the original Columbo episodes (can’t bear to watch the newer ones) but I enjoyed reading your analysis. I for one like the typewriter sounds, I learned to type on one of those…
Yeah, Gary makes some fair points, but the typewriter effect “dating” the episode is is not the equivalent of something aging poorly. The story is set in the 70s, people used typewriters. The story centers around novelists. The scene is appropriately set through the loud clacking. It’s perfect.
Of course, Franklin’s plan makes sense (to the same extent that any so-called “perfect crime” in any mystery drama makes sense). “Why not shoot him AFTER the phone call”? Because Joanna has to hear the shot that silences Jim, just after Jim says he’s in the office. If you wait until Jim hangs up, then it’s no longer evidence that Jim was shot in his office (while Ken was in San Diego).
Let’s also remember the type of mystery the creators were showcasing with this Episode 1. Not a gritty cop drama with realistic criminals pursued by realistic cops. Columbo was supposed to be an intellectual puzzle, a mythical crime-solver unraveling the carefully planned crimes (by itself, a wholly unrealistic premise) of the pretentious cream of society. Jack Cassidy exemplified that kind of villain. It helped that he played characters who were showmen of one sort or another.
And, personally, I love the gotcha. The logic by which Columbo distinguishes the clever first murder from the sloppy second one, and his resulting deduction (that Jim crafted the first one), is impeccable — even if it turned out not to be true. “You wanna know the irony of all this? That is my idea. The only really good one I ever had. I must’ve told it to Jim over five years ago. Whoever thought that idiot would write it down?” Brilliant.
I appreciate your thorough reply. The problem with the plan is that making his wife believe he was killed in his office isn’t the same as convincing police he was killed in his office. So he fooled the wife…so what? That doesn’t make it evidence. Also, the episode writer got really lazy with the other evidence. For example, Columbo says he checked Cassidy’s bank account and saw the quick withdraw and deposit of the ransom money for the 2nd murder victim. But he never would have been permitted access to that account because it has no bearing to the first murder. A judge would have to believe the account has evidence of a crime, which does not exist for the first murder. And the second murder is out of Columbo’s jurisdiction. I found it patronizing.
Joanna is the police’s best witness. She heard the shooting. Is there a better witness? As for the LaSanka murder having no bearing on the Ferris murder, of course it has a bearing. LaSanka was an eyewitness to fact that Ferris was not murdered in his office, but in San Diego — and with Franklin. That’s not evidence relevant to who murdered Ferris? As for jurisdiction, police officers are police officers statewide. Franklin’s bank presumably is in L.A. It would not be difficult for Columbo to get L.A. bank records. He wouldn’t even need a court order. The L.A. District Attorney could issue a grand jury subpoena and have them in 24 hours.
But my main point is: Columbo is not a police procedural. It’s not a law school training video. Columbo is a mythical cop solving mythical perfect crimes. He’s like all the great, golden-age fictional detectives.
Unfortunately, Joanna would simply be able to say she heard a shot and her husband SAID he was in the office. If Cassidy actually thought that was rock solid evidence, he wasn’t thinking too far ahead. The trouble for me is that it stood out as a flimsy crime. It didn’t seem anything as perfect as the Prescription Murder plot. It felt half baked. The problem with the LaSanka argument is that she never presented herself as a witness to police. Columbo only assumes that she was a witness after she’s been killed. And that killing was out of Columbo’s jurisdiction. To see the bank account, he would need to establish that it shows evidence of a crime to Martin Milner’s killing. And clearly it would not nor would even Columbo himself have reason to think so.
As I said, to see the bank account, all he would need is a GJ subpoena. These require no evidentiary showing up front. The bank would have to go to court to move to quash. And banks never do. Even if the bank did, its motion would be denied — because the relevance standard for a GJ subpoena is very low. The bank would have to convince a court that there is no possibility Franklin’s bank records could bear upon the Ferris murder. In fact, Franklin’s spending pattern alone would be relevant evidence showing his motive to kill for the insurance benefits.
Even a grand jury subpoena has to meet legal requirements. A Los Angeles district attorney isn’t just going to try to subpoena bank statements for a crime outside Columbo’s jurisdiction. And the bank would certainly have grounds for quashing it. And if it went to trial, evidence gathered in such a way would likely be tossed. Columbo would have to pray for a confession. But more importantly to the episode, we don’t see Columbo figure out beforehand why he should look at the bank account and show the audience as he goes why he chose that route. Such a scene certainly could have been put in place of that silly omelet scene.
A) Columbo only quotes a portion of Ferris’ story idea. “Should I read some more?” Presumably, Franklin knows what else is coming on that scrap of paper..
B) In the Columboverse That Is Not Real Life, the ending works if its convincing to the killer and the viewer that Columbo has gotten the upper hand. The potential 12 in the jury box don’t count. “Law and Order” it ain’t, nor should it be.
C) Rich is a lawyer and former prosecutor.
My view is that the conclusion is not convincing to the viewer. It’s heavily contrived. The evidence is provided in a backwards manner. Columbo’s motivations aren’t shown. And so what if Rich is an attorney. Attorney’s get overruled, cases tossed, evidence tossed, held in contempt all the time. In other words, they make mistakes.
I agree it’s not a remarkable episode, but I disagree about the typewriter being a mistake. Nobody foresaw texting in 1972 or word processors. Likewise, the use of telephones was not a mistake. Maybe it dated the episode, but who foresaw cell phones? It’s not the job of writers to predict the future. I do agree the gotcha moment was a letdown.
Placing this sad item in this most recent CP blog entry:
Reported today (11/9) that Dean Stockwell passed away at age 85. His Columbo roles may best be described as “hapless”, whether as murder victim in “The Most Crucial Game”, or attempted framee in “Troubled Waters” (I pined for Poupeee Boucar too, Dean).
Although most recognizable from “Quantum Leap” and plenty other TV fare, he had a pretty busy film career as well. If you want a compelling Dean Stockwell movie, I recommend “Compulsion”, with fellow Columbo vet Bradford Dillman – pretty chilling.
You guys probably already know this but an interesting fact about this episode is that items from “Murder by the book“ can be found in other episodes. the portrait of Mrs. Melville can be found on the wall in the living room in “The bye-bye sky – high IQ murder case“ and there’s also a set of the Mrs Melville books at the end of “suitable for framing“ sitting on the bookshelf. Have you guys found any more items from this episode in other episodes?
Ken Franklin’s house in “Murder by the Book” later became Eric Wagner’s house in “The Most Crucial Game” and Barry Mayfield’s house in “A Stitch in Crime.”
Ken Franklin’s Mercedes shows up in “Blueprint For Murder”.
Probably because footage filmed for “Murder by the Book,” involving the car (i.e., the tire blowout), was later used in “Blueprint for Murder.”
More evidence that this show used and reused every single resource they had. A practice that goes on today especially in shows like Law and order.
This one’s unique. Bochco originally wrote the blowout scene for “Murder by the Book.” By the looks of it, some of the scene was filmed before it was cut from the episode. When Bochco included the cut scene in “Blueprint for Murder,” they clearly used as much of the cut footage as they could (basically the long shots of the car struggling with a blown tire, probably driven by a stunt driver wearing Ken Franklin’s tan cashmere jacket). So they reused the same car and put Elliot Markham (Patrick O’Neal) in the same jacket.
It might very well be correct that some of the scene was filmed during Murder By The Book before being cut and re-used in Blueprint. Of note, though, is that the practically-neon Have A Nice Day sticker that Ken Franklin so cheekily put on his back bumper (a Spielberg touch, no doubt) is conspicuously absent in scenes where you can see the back of Markham’s car. That includes some of the blowout scene. Yes, those are night scenes, but the yellow sticker is way brighter than the yellowish digits of the license tag, and we can see that just fine. We can also see the green of the car’s inspection sticker. If there was indeed some cut footage, it doesn’t appear to have been extensive.
Markham’s car is also in another scene, at the construction site. Alas, no back-end views of the Mercedes there. Of course, keeping the sticker on the car for the episode would have been a tad obvious, although I suppose in sunny 1972-L.A., several murderers might have wished their victims to “have a nice day.”
Kind of creepy when you think about it in real world terms. That a car from one murder was sold to another person that became a murderer.
Its a shame the th reviews have stopped , i hav eva dad who has arthiritisc with the last ten years
Who was a bricklay erand i had a mother with cancer but i still found a way to get things done i do aprecite cp s daughters illness and treatment but i still think thevreviews are long overdue and if there isnt going to be any more let us know
As strongly as I know most of us would like to reply to Mr Steve, I suggest we not contribute to the negative energy, and simply register our sentiments with a Thumbs-Down vote. Mr. Steve’s feelings about this topic are by now well-known to Columbophile regulars, and – without knowing whether or not he’s simply trolling us – nothing we say is going to make a difference anyway.
Having said that, I’d like to see how high we can get that vote number.
I think replying to him the way we have done is a positive thing. It shows a camaraderie and evinces a very nice protective (of CP) reaction, and shows our strong admiration and empathy for the awesome creator of this blog. The replies have been quite restrained and civilized, as far as I’m concerned. Where I grew up in Brooklyn, on the other hand, the response to this guy would not have been as, er, um…kind.
Russ, no question I totally agree with the show of support and empathy for CP. Unfortunately, this is not our first rodeo with Mr. Steve and this issue, and I’m sure by now CP knows which side of the fence 99% of his readers are on. My concern is that negative replies, however restrained, play right into the Troll Playbook of giving people like Mr. Steve a feeling of control. It’s right there in the expression “pushing someone’s buttons” – the pusher of the buttons is instigating the emotions of others. He knows exactly how we’re all going to react….at this point, why give him that satisfaction?
I don’t want to presume to speak for CP, but I’m guessing that he’d rather have a blog without negativity – in whatever direction it goes. That kind of stuff can get out of hand too easily. The beauty of this home for Columbo fans is that we can show our camaraderie in more appropriate ways, even as we agree to disagree on whether this Gotcha or that Gotcha is the better one. We’re a safe haven from the political and social ills around us, and maybe I speak for myself, but I’d like to keep it that way.
Besides, there’s always the Thumbs-Down option.
Dear Glenn, you’re spot on. Regarding Mr. Steve, from now on I’ll adopt two measures: the thumbs-down option and silence comment-wise.
Glenn — I didn’t know that that this troll had been regularly doing this. So I’ll ignore him. With that in mind, if the idea is NOT to give him any satisfaction at all, I’ll also refrain from using the thumbs down on this guy, since he will likely enjoy each thumbs-down as a missionaccomplished-feather-in-his-troll-cap.
Actually, I wasn’t really suggesting that we ignore trollers and negative commenters entirely. Pushback to clearly inflammatory and rude dialogue is important to affirm the social norms and boundaries of behavior. (As a History teacher, I can tell you that saying nothing doesn’t work).
My point is that when we respond with our own comments in response, we are bringing our own personal emotions to the table. If Troller X sees that Glenn Stewart and Russ B are upset with him, then X gets his satisfaction of controlling my/our feelings – that’s even if we use pseudonyms. Refraining from my own comments doesn’t make me any less mad, but it also doesn’t put that emotion out there to satisfy others.
The thumbs-down takes that emotion out of it. Having, let’s say, 50 thumbs-down responses to a comment doesn’t tell X which specific people he pissed off, but it also affirms that we, as the Columbophile community, disagree with him. That’s what you were suggesting earlier – the Columbophile Camaraderie. And that’s important to have and show.
Sorry for the extra discourse on this topic. But the social media and blogging world is contributing to Social Divide, if we let it. Some of it is haphazard but, in the case of a group like Facebook (whose engineers gave extra value to emoji reactions, including ‘angry,’ pushing more emotional and provocative content into users’ news feeds) it’s intentional. Getting people angry gets responses, and the more clicks make Facebook and groups like them more money.
Don’t buy into that anger, on this blog or any other platform.
Dismal news in a way…. 50 years on, and still no reboot!
What’s Steve McGarrett got, that Columbo doesn’t?
I guess it’s because the series was
one of those television rarities:
A star so indispensable, that the show couldn’t go
on without them.
(Great site here, by the way!)
Had the chance to watch “Now You See Him” the other day, and it got my mind wondering. We always see the murderer’s planning and the actual killing – there’s no mystery there. The episodes aren’t a “whodunit”, they are “how does he get caught?”
So it might make for a diverting little trivia quiz to ask people to name the episode when given the “how does the murderer get caught”.
For example – the murderer identifies the camera that took the staged kidnapping photo.
(No, I’m not telling. You guess.)
A man in Oklahoma has a Columbo statue in his yard, carved out of a dead tree.
Just wanted to mention that Barbara Colby (Lily La Sanka) and her boyfriend were shot to death in a parking lot after acting classes. Both died, she was 36. The case is still open. The boyfriend was able to describe the shooting before he died. 2 unknown men in a van. No robbery. She had just completed 3 episodes of the show Phyllis. Just sad as her career was taking off being on a weekly show. She was soooo good in this Columbo episode as was every actor.
you can watch Youtube clips of Barbara on “Phyllis”
I appreciate your daughters ill ness but that excuse is wearing thin and 5 usa have put out so many good and very good.episodes lateltry.and try andcatch me and they have daughters akso but i was ill and i survived
Rock star should be published even if u dont have any timen
You should find somewhere else to troll. Get lost.
Steve, although your garbled message is barely understandable, your stunning lack of humanity and empathy comes shining through. Do bugger off, there’s a good chap.
Ha love it…..bugger off….being from the mid west in the states i have never heard that phrase….but i’m quite sure i agree with you.
You’re a disgrace Steve.
You’ve long outstayed your welcome in Columbophile, I’m afraid.
Omg… such a lack of empathy. If you want a new review so badly, why not create your own Columbo website, write a review there and publish it yourself.
What an extremely insensitive comment.
“Phyllis” never recovered from her loss. They had to retool the show and it ultimately imploded. She did a great guest star turn on McMillan and Wife as well. Barbara Colby was a terrific actress.
A horrible reminder that
for some, no matter how
young, death may be just around the corner.
And an eerie foreshadow of the murders of
Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman 19 years
I have just begun a re-watch of MBTB and I had to break off to come here and ask this, because it’s something I’ve only just spotted. Near the beginning (around 11 minutes in), when Ken is driving Jim down to the cabin, Jim (apropos of nothing) starts the following conversation:
Jim: “Do you ever get a feeling of déjà vu?”
Jim: “Like you’ve done something before but you know you haven’t.”
Ken: “Why? What do you mean?”
Jim: “I’m getting it right now. It’s strange. You know I’ve never been here before.”
Ken: “Maybe in a previous incarnation huh?”
I’ve never thought about this before, writing it off as simply idle chit chat on the journey, but now I see it, it seems totally obvious that this conversation foreshadows the fact that Ken plans to carry out the murder using the idea that he told to Jim and that Jim wrote down several years earlier. Is this Jim’s spidey-senses tingling, telling him that something is amiss but he can’t quite put his finger on it? It certainly seems so to me.
You nailed it, Rob. 100%. As I mentioned below, the beauty of this scene is that it has virtually no meaning to any viewer watching MBTB for the first time; it only pays dividends to the devotee watching it again (and again).
Well it took me until about the 20th watch, but I got there in the end!!
Same here! 🙂
I love MBTB- Jack Cassidy, lots of suspense, crazy angles, beautiful to look at, and Dare We?
yes! That “Dare We” became a catchphrase between me and hubby!
50 years ago, isn’t that something. Never thought I would be around half a century after so many movies, songs, TV shows of the era of my youth but here it is.
Timeless episode despite the typewriters, landline pay phones and other dated technology.
Much as I like the episode there are some plot holes that always puzzled my. For instance there is the clue of the real writer writing down the exact plan that Franklin uses to kill him, which is found later by Columbo. Yet when the time comes he falls right into the trap which Franklin sets, even calling from the murder scene to lie to his wife which is quite against his nature.
Hence the beauty of the “deja vu” scene, which resonates far more in retrospect than when we first see it. Jim only has a very dim memory of this plot idea (because, as we learn in the final lines, it was Ken’s idea, not his; all Jim did, as was his habit, was quickly jot it down — more than five years earlier).
It all makes perfect sense.
But who says the writer wrote it down?
Only Columbo does. But we learn later, e.g. Make Me a Perfect
Murder, Negative Reaction, Requiem for a Falling Star,..
murderers shouldn’t trust Columbo’s evidence.
The plot idea is such a dumb alibi, the real writer probably just
forgot it as soon as Ken told it to him.
Good to see a fresh post again as autumn creeps in here in the UK
Murder By the book is not among my true favorites, its good but just dosent wow me and really get my juices flowing and yes its no secret but the ending isn’t quite 5 Star, although when i stop and think about i prefer it to publish or perish which for me is a tad overrated anyway Theres a Bumper line up today on 5USA
10am Double Shock
1125 Suitable for framing
1.00 Cries wolf
4.30 most dangerous match
6.00A deadly State of mind
7.30 Most crucial game
9.00 By dawns early light
a very decent line up so much so i could easily pick a top 5 there’s no duds in this line
up my personal top 3 would be Double shock , Suitable for framing and Playback
The episode with patrick o neal
A the body in the trunk is blueprint for murder , one of the slightly underrated episodes and
More enjoyable of the70s run for
Several online articles are now popping up for the 50th Anniversary. They’re pretty straightforward, and I won’t reference all of them, but this one, on the site Everything Zoomer (https://www.everythingzoomer.com/arts-entertainment/2021/09/15/columbo-turns-50-why-the-legendary-detective-series-became-an-unexpected-pandemic-favourite/) gets in plugs/links for this here Columbophile blog, CP’s twitter feed, David Koenig’s “Shooting Columbo” and Mark Dawidziak’s “Casebook” – that’s the Grand Slam of Columbo writings!
I was watching the Making Of My LIfe is Murder (an Aus/NZ murder mystery starring Lucy “Xena” Lawless) and several of the cast and crew were asked what their favourite detective show is. “Columbo” “Columbo” “Columbo”.
OMG, welcome back! And hope all is well. What a wonderful anniversary, and this episode still remains my favourite even though it was the first (well almost the first) and in my view, Jack Cassidy’s best performance. I still think this had a lot to do with Steven Spielberg, and I’ve just finished watching Make me a Perfect Murder and I really think he should’ve been name checked rather than Francis Ford Coppola.
Do let us know how you are with your family, and look forward to your continuing posts.
RE comments on Koenig’s book – one great little morsel was how “just one more thing…” came to be!
I can confirm the Koenig book is well worth it, ordered on kindle yesterday and already half way through it – I had no idea the length and depth of all the battles/arguments that went on behind the scenes.
It has to be said Peter Falk could occasionally be a right pain in a** especially during that first series.
Glad you highlight the Catz book, ‘Under Glass’ as while his episode reviews are not in your league it is a good book for analysing and deconstructing the Columbo format.
Best wishes to you and your daughter CP.
A top 5 episode for me, Cassidy is brilliant and the perfect match with Falk, not unlike Robert Culp. The “gotcha” is a little weak though but other than that it is superb. Too anyone who hasn’t seen Columbo, just suggest a Culp or Cassidy episode.
I didn’t find Murder by the Book all that outstanding. It was a good episode. Cassidy was brilliant as was Miss Colby. However, there was nothing to set it apart. The setting was bland Los Angeles, there were no temper outbursts by the lieutenant, and no sneaky “gotcha.” I would rank Dawn’t Early Light, Friend in Deed, Stitch in Crime, Exercise in Fatality, Now You See Him, Matter of Honor and Troubled Waters above Murder by the Book. They all had something to set them apart. Personally, they were more enjoyable to watch.
The gotcha was weak but still a top 5 for me after Double Exposure, Any Old Port and the superb Stitch In Crime. Exercise and Now u See Him are also great and Friend In Deed is number 6 for me. Kinda surprised about Matter Of Honor and Dawns Early Light, both in the 30’s/40’s for me. Troubled Waters is a blast!
Very sad that Jack Cassidy died in a tragic house fire about a block away from the office building used in this episode, in December 1976. I undersand the Mercedes Benz convertible used by Cassidy was his own car, later used in the Patrick O’Neil as killer architect episode, where the victims body is very noirishly in the trunk when O’Neil is pulled over by a policeman.
“Larry Cohen’s original story concept”? I’m hoping this is an example of the kind of juicy inside information David Koenig has unearthed. (I’ve ordered his book, but it hasn’t yet arrived.) Cohen gets “story by” credit for “Any Old Port in a Storm,” “Candidate for Crime,” and “An Exercise in Fatality,” but nothing for MBTB. And yet, when you listen to Steven Bochco discuss his initial work on Columbo, it’s apparent that the story was unlikely his conception. He admitted that he didn’t “know anything about mystery writing” at the time (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2wOnLS7lqc); Link and Levinson would “plot these damn things out” and he would write the scripts. I assumed that applied equally to MBTB, but look forward to learning more about the specific origins of this episode, my favorite.
The MBTB story concept is a terrific one. Mystery drama is full of mystery-wrter-as-murderer plots (e.g., “Sleuth”; “Deathtrap”) — including a mystery writer who uses an abandoned story idea for his crime: Frederick Knott’s play “Write Me a Murder” (his follow-up to “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”). Knott’s play also involved a writing team in which one member did all the plotting (the “key” to Columbo’s solution here). It’s a very realistic premise. Teams often divide up the work. (In the Ellery Queen collaboration, Frederic Dannay did all the plotting, Manfred Lee did all the writing.)
CP writes that “some viewers” don’t care for the ending of MBTB. I’m not one of them. Many’s the time I will pull up the episode, scroll ahead to the “matchbook scene” (the moment Columbo realizes the full implications of Ferris having all the plot ideas), and watch from that point forward. Through the best last lines in all of Columbo (“You wanna know the irony of all this? That is my idea.￼ The only really good one I ever had. I must’ve told it to Jim over five years ago.￼ Whoever thought that idiot would write it down?”). Among all the 70’s Columbo, MBTB is one of only two episodes solved with a clue that long preexisted the crime. (“Greenhouse Jungle” is the other.)
What a great episode. The more I can learn about its origins, the better.
The info is in David’s book, although Cohen himself has discussed the issue in the 2015 book ‘The Stuff of Gods and Monsters’. I get the impression he wasn’t very pleased that Bochco was feted while he received no credit at all.
Many thanks, CP. I’ll track down that book.
I found the excerpt on Google Books by searching for ‘Larry Cohen Murder by the Book’.
Watching it now on Prime. My wife goes nuts every time this episode starts, and I crank up the sound of Jim’s fingers clickety-clacking away on that old school typewriter…….one of the best episodes of all time television….
I think Ms. LaSanka got what what was coming to her in MBTB. Not Barbara Colby (who was brutally murdered in real life and the case is still cold), but the Lily character in this episode. She extorted $ from Ken, threatened his livelihood, was a busy-body into his personal amorous affairs, and worst of all, she interrupted Ken on his night out in town with an incredibly attractive dish a la mode, the lovely Anitra Ford.
Sure, Ken deserved getting the murder rap for what he did to Jim, but horse-chompers La Sanka’s evil-doings were also beyond the pale.
A young Señor Spielberg’s camera angle genius was evident in this episode, as well as the Night Gallery episodes he directed around the same time.
So you think murder is a good solution for a difficult, non-violent threat (extortion/blackmail and its resultant threat to one’s income) and petty annoyance (busybodying and interrupting a date)? Hah! Hope no one is unlucky enough to get on your bad side! LOL!
It’s merely a television show….actually, an excellent television series. And yes, I do believe Lily (the character) got what was coming to her. Hollywood used to be about fantasy fulfillment for the audience, mostly by living vicariously through others on the big screen or the boob tube….but nowadays, Hollyweird is more about force feeding every form of degeneracy and faux social justice that one can imagine in this new Babylon empire that mankind is now witnessing.
Vintage film noir movies and tv classics like Columbo transport us back to a simpler time, even the shows with a focus on murder. And characters played by such great lead/character actors/actresses like Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, Gene Barry, Ross Martin, Lee Grant, Patrick McGoohan and others, create fascinating murderers, some who you want to see get away with their crimes, or at least be the aristocratic, classy character you wish to hate. It’s only a tv show……..
IMHO, there’s no such thing as “merely a TV show.” TV shows, movies, music, are known to influence popular culture and attitudes.
Columbo, even though fiction, is not what I would classify as “fantasy.” Superman (I believe he can fly!) is a fantasy, but Columbo, despite some of the suspensions of disbelief that are sometimes necessary (mostly for legal issues and sometimes convenient coincidences), can be plausibly classified as at least “reality-based” TV.
How women and minorities were portrayed in TV back then has changed drastically — why? Because it’s NOT just a TV show. Otherwise, we’d still be OK with seeing people of color only as servants or criminals, or steroetypes like the disgraceful “Japanese” man as portrayed by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s!
So, if you see it as a fun thing/fantasy to see a woman brutally murdered (as LaSanka was) for the non-violent transgression of threatening a man’s reputation or income — enjoy!
I think in that particular instance, it made Cassidy’s character more detestable, because of the motivation for his brutal killing of her. You think she deserved that fate — or maybe in your fantasy life, you think it’s OK.
I think this and so many Columbo episodes are great TV, but there’s no way she “got what was coming to her.”
Thanks! We can agree to disagree.
If my mean comment upsets you so critically, I’ll perform cancel culture on myself, as that seems to be the modus operandi for any discussion that deviates from the ‘agenda’ of the mass psychosis we’re currently living in.
Lighten up, Francis, it really is only a television show. (but a great show, indeed) Have a great day!
Hah! Good one!
I didn’t think anything you wrote was “mean.” I have no “agenda.” The only thing I see in our correspondence resembling an agenda is using silly labels like cancel culture to ignore what, IMO, are observations about the effect that media (of all types) has on popular culture and opinions.
Tossing off terms like cancel culture (even in jest like you do) feels like a deflection away from actually addressing any observations made on that subject.
We certainly do agree to disagree on some things, and I’ll admit, I do take things like racial stereotyping in media entertainment seriously; it’s my impression that you seem to think it’s all just a harmless element of fun entertainment.
I’m gonna go out on limb here and say that we do absolutely agree on one thing — Columbo is a great show — and it’s outstanding escapist entertainment!
Indeed. You have your opinions, and others have theirs. They are nothing more than that…opinions, and yes, Lily still deserved what she got, in my opinion, along with other Columbo victims. That’s all my original comment was about.
How you morphed a discussion about a 70’s television show into “racial stereotyping” only goes to prove that you definitely have an “agenda” of your own. End of story.
Thanks! Whether you meant to or not, you confirmed and reinforced my point of view quite well.
And again, we most definitely agree on one thing! Columbo rocks!
Indeed…Lily is still dead, as well as Jesse Jerome, Edna Brown, Francis Galesko, and the numerous other Columbo victims that got what they deserved 😉 Have a great weekend!
I think Lily’s lonely and barely making
a living when she sees a way to
greatly improve her prospects.
It’s also fair to say, as far as she’s concerned,
Ken is a very successful talented writer who has
much to lose from any further scandal.
After Jim’s body has turned up on his lawn,
she probably believes Ken didn’t kill Jim, though
he’s hiding his involvement. She might’ve even
bought into the organized crime theory.
So from her view, her extortion attempt for
romance and money is not at all in any way
I love your analysis. Thanks for the insights!
I did my own
review of the episode in the first
thread for it. I now rate it as one
of the very best ones.
So happy to hear the optimistic outlook for your dear daughter!
This episode would be the third television collaboration between Steven Spielberg and composer Billy Goldenberg. They began on a 1969 Night Gallery pilot episode called “Eyes” starring Joan Crawford (for the curious, its on vimeo), then paired for a weird sci-fi it-was-all-a-dream episode of the series The Name of the Game (for the really really curious, it’s on youtube). But they would save their best for the TV movie “Duel”, which debuted 2 months after “Murder By The Book”, and featured a jarring Goldenberg score that synced perfectly with Spielberg’s vision of an unseen trucker and his big rig stalking a jittery travelling businessman on an open desert highway. (If you think “Murder” holds up well after 50 years, you must watch/rewatch “Duel”).
Here’s 2 genius moments from them in “Murder”, and they both happen before Ferris and Franklin leave the parking lot. First, from Goldenberg. After the musically silent typewriter opening (#5 of CP’s Top 100 Columbo moments), Goldenberg’s theme for Franklin doesn’t make an appearance until 6 minutes into the episode, when Ken goes back to Jim’s office to “retrieve his lighter”. In “The Columbophile Casebook”, Mark Dawidziak notes, “Picking up on the typewriter sound, Goldenberg ran typing rhythms through a synthesizer and integrated the results into his suspenseful musical score.” Superb….But what goes unmentioned and makes the moment even more striking is that this is a very specific and localized musical effect, as the synthesized typewriter sounds are only used in Goldenberg’s moody theme at the episode’s beginning and end, each time when Franklin is in Ferris’ working office – almost as if Ferris is at his desk haunting Franklin’s musical piece. In other locales, such as the ride to Ken’s cabin retreat, the synthesized typewriter sounds are absent from the killer’s theme. Brilliant!
Any genius Spielberg moment is visual, so go to the full episode embedded at the end of CP’s tribute. Roll it ahead to the 5:03 mark to begin an extended chat between F&F. They are fairly tightly framed, but between them is hanging a gawdy poster for one of their books, with the title in garish red. Go ahead, have a look….I’ll wait. [Glenn waits, amuses self]. Now isn’t that creepy and inspired? It took one of my rewatches to catch that, and the foreshadowing blew me away.
CP, here’s hoping you and your family get the Christmas present you deserve!
Hi CP. Thanks for taking the time to post a new article on an important Columbo anniversary.
And thank you also for the update on your daughter. Sounds like she’s doing well.
Fabulous article on a fabulous episode. While I was reading it, I could hear the soundtrack echoing in my head!!!