After a brace of lacklustre adventures, Columbo’s parting shot of 1991 came in the form of Death Hits the Jackpot: a story of a lottery win gone wrong, a cheating wife, a murderous uncle in fancy dress – and a juvenile chimpanzee (not a monkey).
If that all sounds a little too zany, here’s the good news: the guest killer was comedy ace and Oscar nominee Rip Torn – a man who could never be accused of not fully committing to whatever role he happened to land.
First airing on December 15, 1991, could Death Hits the Jackpot end the Columbo year on a high? Or, to put it another way, is it a winning lottery ticket of an episode, or a rubbishy $5 scratch card? Let’s tune in and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Leon Lamarr: Rip Torn
Nancy Brower: Jamie Rose
Freddie Brower: Gary Kroeger
Martha Lamarr: Betsy Palmer
Sergeant Jack Stroller: Warren Berlinger
Judy: Marilyn Tokuda
Trish: Britt Lind
Meyer McGinty: Shane McCabe
Joey the chimp: As himself
Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom
Score by: Steve Dorff
Episode overview: Death Hits the Jackpot
Luckless photographer Freddie Brower is wading through the final stages of a sticky divorce. His estranged wife, Nancy, has refused to sign divorce papers because she believes she’s being unfairly saddled with paying off half of Freddie’s pre-marriage debts.
Freddie drives round to confront her of an evening and idly watches the lottery results being called out as he waits for her to finish changing her clothing. As the fickle hand of fate would have it, Freddie has bought a lottery ticket and watches in increasing amazement as all six of his numbers come up. The hard-up snapper has scooped the $30m jackpot! His luck has finally changed. Or has it? Freddie and Nancy are still wed, so if Freddie cashes in the ticket, she’ll be in line to scoop half of it herself. As a result, Freddie plays it cool, agrees to her demands to change the divorce agreement, and screeches off into the night.
A day or two later, Freddie heads off to seek help from his only living relative, uncle Leon Lamarr, a wealthy jeweller whom we find out moments before Freddie’s arrival has just gone bust after a presumed series of foolish investments gone wrong. Facing his own ruin, Lamarr is only too happy to agree to help his naive nephew out by cashing in the ticket himself and repaying it to Freddie at the earliest opportunity. Nancy need never know the truth, so can sign the divorce papers with a glad heart.
Despite having dire cashflow problems, Freddie celebrates by buying a crate of Champagne and settles down to watch the TV announcement of his uncle’s big lotto ‘win’. A gaggle of oddball neighbours drop round to help him swig the fizz, one of which is a tubby fella’s pet chimp, which, if there’s any truth to the Chekhov’s Gun theory, is certain to have a part to play in proceedings further down the line.
Time passes. Freddie is becoming increasingly desperate to get the cash and Lamarr seems to be stringing him out. However, he promises that the handover will take place within two weeks and plans a fancy dress Halloween Ball at his palatial mansion for the same day as his fiendish plans start to take shape.
All Hallow’s Eve duly arrives. Lamarr (resplendent in a King George III outfit) busies himself around the house as wife Martha gets ready. Once he’s alone, Leon jallops off to a nearby parked car and vrooms over to Freddie’s apartment. His luck holds as no one seems to spot him on the way, and the dozen or so nosy neighbours are conveniently conspicuous by their absence – all except CHEKHOV’S CHIMP, which Freddie is ape-sitting for in its owner’s absence.
Before handing over the loot (which he claims in his car below), Lamarr proposes a Champagne toast. As Freddie turns to fetch some glasses, his dear uncle delivers a stout blow to the back of his swede, knocking him out cold. Lamarr then sets up a scene to suggest an innocent dip in the tub gone awry. He undresses Freddie, smashes his watch to set a time phony time of death (yes, that old chestnut) and plops the unconscious lump into the water. It’s then that things take a shocking turn. Freddie awakes and fights for breath. Stunned, Lamarr forcibly holds him under until the struggle is done. Yes folks, to quote soul legend Curtis Mayfield: “Freddie’s Dead.” (click below for suitably atmospheric soundtrack)
As Lamarr tidies things up, who should appear at Freddie’s apartment but Nancy! She wanders up the stairs and let’s herself in finding her villainous uncle-in-law adjusting his King George suit. Rather than being alarmed and/or confused at his presence, Nancy slowly walks up to Lamarr and the two launch into a passionate clinch! The redheaded minx has been in on the plot all along…
All that’s now left for Lamarr to do to establish his alibi is get home unnoticed (check), welcome his guests at 8pm sharp (check) and field a supposed phone call from Freddie (really Nancy, check) letting him know he’s running late for the party. With an ocean of rich and therefore trustworthy eye-witnesses able to place him at home, it’s as rock-solid an alibi as we ever see in Columbo.
Cut back to Freddie’s place, where Columbo is cooing at and cuddling a juvenile chimp, whose pathetic cries alerted hippy neighbour Trish to the tragedy playing out in the apartment block. Naturally enough, Columbo’s fellow officers immediately fall for the ‘slipped and hit his head before drowning’ trick laid down by Lamarr. Columbo, however, is noticing little discrepancies, such as why was Freddie’s bottle of skin conditioner open when it’s supposed to be used after a bath, not during?
During a snoop around the living area, Columbo also discovers a brochure for a flashy sports car with a $175,000 price tag and a note from a car dealer suggesting delivery of said car could take place in Paris, Berlin or Bern. Curious! A fellow cop, meanwhile, has discerned that Freddie made a call to the home of Leon Lamarr at 8.01pm – just three minutes before his death, according to the smashed watch. The duty-bound Lieutenant, therefore, heads to the party at Lamarr HQ to break the bad news.
What he encounters is a bunch of raaahing, drunken toffs who applaud his arrival due to the perceived cleverness of his fancy dress ‘costume’ – really just his standard raincoat and suit. Lamarr takes the news of his “poor, innocent, irresponsible, wonderful” nephew’s death badly, roaring with crocodile tears in a scene where no piece of the scenery is left unchewed.
It’s not until the following day that Columbo meets Nancy, who was informed of her late husband’s demise by the chimp-owning mutual friend. She’s largely unmoved by the development, as befits a woman who has been looking to escape from an unhappy marriage. Most of their chat revolves around expensive lingerie and Columbo’s impending wedding anniversary, and much more hay is made at the Lieutenant’s subsequent meeting with Lamarr at his jewellery store.
The lab boys have been able to prove that Freddie’s designer watch was really a counterfeit, worth perhaps only $100. This surprises Lamarr, who had gifted a $3000 real deal to his nephew for his previous birthday. The pair agree that Freddie must have sold the original to make ends meet, and been too ashamed to tell his uncle. This doesn’t solve Columbo’s real problem, though: why would Freddie wear the counterfeit watch in the bath when he knew it wasn’t waterproof? It’s the first suggestion that the crime itself wasn’t watertight (as usual, pun 1 trillion per cent intended).
The Lieutenant’s next encounter with Lamarr and Nancy comes at Freddie’s funeral, where his hippy pals send him off with a guitar-strummed lament before uncle Leon wrings out a heartfelt tribute. Columbo, as is his wont, disrespects the grieving process by asking questions of the guests as Lamarr speaks – earning a rebuke from a cliche-licious Italian grandma in the process. Although prevented from grilling Lamarr by the officious priest, Columbo does get some intel from Freddie’s pals: namely that there was no chance he’d be in the market for a $175,000 car when he couldn’t even afford to pay his rent.
The detective goes in search of further answers on the car conundrum at the dealership where he has it confirmed that Freddie had placed his order for the pricey sportscar. He then returns to the crime scene where those wacky neighbours are staging a gentle wake. Nosing around, he finds a crate of expensive Champers under Freddie’s kitchen table and also pockets some photos of that rascally chimp for later examination. He hits a proverbial jackpot of his own when asked to take a photo of the gang on Freddie’s camera. While examining the lens, Lamarr’s winning lotto numbers 4-5-6-8-11-16 leap out at him. Why, it’s almost as if Freddie had won the lottery himself!
Confronting Lamarr with the new intel from the case, Columbo wonders why Freddie needed to call his uncle so often in the last month of his life. Because ne needed money, Lamarr sanguinely replies. Gee that’s strange, retorts Columbo, because around that time he ordered a $175,000 car. How can that be explained? According to Lamarr, it’s because Freddie lived in cloud cuckoo land and it wasn’t unusual for him to enact crazy fantasies, such as hiring a Rolls Royce and going to look at expensive houses.
That’s all well and good, but Columbo remains puzzled about how a broke Freddie could be begging for money and still spending $520 on a case of Champagne. That ain’t a fantasy – it really happened. This rattles Lamarr and Columbo delivers another sucker punch when he reveals that there was no Halloween costume at Freddie’s house – strange when he was due to the party at Lamarr HQ.
While there’s nothing particularly damning in Columbo’s observations, they are enough to trouble the wicked uncle, who tells Nancy they’ll have to cool things off while the detective remains on the case. She’s less than pleased and her greedy little mind starts worrying about when she’ll be able to get her oily clutches on her half of Freddie’s winnings.
The depth of Nancy’s treachery is revealed in the next scene, where Columbo has been lying in wait for her to return home. His investigations have revealed that Freddie had removed the communal debt clause from their divorce decree at Nancy’s behest, and mailed her a fresh copy almost a month ago. Why hadn’t she signed it? We know it was to ensure Freddie remained reliant of Lamarr to handle the lotto cash, but she can’t tell that to the good Lieutenant. Instead she spins a sob story about the emotion of finally closing that chapter of her life had got the better of her. Sounds plausible!
With the co-conspirators increasingly at loggerheads, Columbo steps up his pursuit. He shows Lamarr Freddie’s camera, which features the lotto numbers. Lamarr plays a straight bat, suggesting that his own familiarity with cameras (he taught his nephew everything he knew) means the lucky numbers were second nature to him. The Lieutenant then rocks Nancy’s confidence by telling her he knows her ex-husband was murdered. He just doesn’t know why.
That is all cleared up the following day. Disturbing Lamarr at a jewellery auction, Columbo breaks the news of the suspected murder. Lamarr becomes agitated – especially when Columbo asks him to account for his whereabouts earlier in the evening of Freddie’s death. He claims to have been home all day and night, but Columbo can prove otherwise.
He busts out the photos of the chimp he took from Freddie’s. They crucially show that the adorable young ape had a fascination with shiny objects. He then reveals a fingerprint that can place Lamarr at the scene of the crime on the night of the murder. Lamarr scoffs at this. Afterall, he’s been to Freddie’s loads of times. How can his prints prove he was there on that specific day? Easy. That’s not Lamarr’s fingerprint – it’s the chimp’s. And it was taken off the shiny medallion Lamarr wore as part of his King George Halloween costume. They already knew the chimp was in Freddie’s apartment on the night of the murder. Now they can definitely prove Lamarr was there, too.
There’s a further surprise in store when Nancy is ushered in. Columbo has summoned her to tell her the bad news that Freddie was murdered by his dear uncle. Freddie also bought the winning lotto ticket, so Nancy is entitled to all of that loot. Lamarr won’t let that happen, though. He vengefully lets the police know that Nancy was in on it up to her ears, and she promptly goes berserk and attempts to scratch his eyes out. The two crims are bundled away, she screaming, he laughing, leaving Columbo and Sergeant Stroller to idle chit-chat as credits roll…
My memories of Death Hits the Jackpot
For no particular reason, Death Hits the Jackpot is one of the few Columbo episodes I’ve hardly ever watched and probably haven’t seen for the best part of 10 years. This normally means I have previously considered it swill, but I actually have no such strong feelings or memories of it. However, were it not for fellow fans online telling me how much fun it is, and how good Rip Torn is in it, I’d have approached viewing this with some trepidation.
My chief recollections of it are that the chimp was involved in solving the crime, and that Torn wore a ludicrous costume in which to commit murder. The death of Freddie also stood out as a sad and brutal one by series’ standards. Pretty much everything else – including Nancy, the silly neighbours and the auction house finale – has escaped me, so I went into it with an open mind and hoping against hope that 90s Columbo could dish up a rare winner…
The first five minutes of Death Hits the Jackpot are so hammily acted out by Jamie Rose (Nancy) and Gary Kroeger (Freddie) that one could be forgiven for thinking it was actually a day-time soap rather than a quality detective drama. Thank goodness, then, that Rip Torn emerges from this opening morass to give us one of the most memorable, entertaining and diabolical antagonists of Columbo’s comeback era.
With his hypnotic southern drawl and craggy expressiveness, Torn’s Leon Lamarr is the most fun we’ve had with a killer since the impish Joe Devlin limericked and boozed his way into our hearts in 1978’s The Conspirators. A better comparison, however, would be Jack Cassidy as Riley Greenleaf in Publish or Perish. Both he and Torn were having an absolute scream filming their respective episodes and the joie de vivre is contagious. Torn feels especially energising after far too many lacklustre guest star killers since the Lieutenant shambled back onto screens two and half years earlier.
Jeffrey Bloom penned this story with Torn specifically in mind, and the bombastic performance he provides is a real tonic. It’s just as well, too, because it’s an unusually long opening act of the episode with Columbo not even showing up until the 33rd minute – his latest appearance in the 35-year history of the show. Had we been left in the hands of a less watchable villain (Frank Brailie, anyone?), this could have seemed like an eternity. As it is, the allure of Leon Lamarr easily keeps the viewer fixated on the action, despite a fair share of plot contrivances.
Working alongside a pro like Torn also seems to have had a beneficial impact on Peter Falk’s efforts. A comic actor by nature, Torn’s madcap antics took a lot of the burden off Falk, allowing him to put in a much more controlled and believable turn as a seen-it-all-before homicide cop. Although not entirely absent, the overblown schtick that has become synonymous with the Columbo characterisation since 1989 is dialled right down. The Lieutenant we encounter in Death Hits the Jackpot is playing it just like he did in the 70s – and it’s such a relief.
There’s more steel and a lot more substance to Columbo here than we’ve seen in most of the revival episodes. His focus on the case never waivers, and he puts in a lot of quality policework off camera to strengthen his hunches – notably with regard to the divorce papers. His ability to see the cracks in the crime without overplaying his hand, meanwhile, hark back to the good old days. and his straight-faced reactions to the histrionics and sob stories told by Lamarr and Nancy evoke memories of how he saw through the likes of Paul Galesko, Ken Franklin and Adrian Carsini years before.
The sham grief on display here would never fool a cop with Columbo’s arrest record and, to his credit, Falk’s performance makes it abundantly clear that he’s fully on top of things throughout. We even get to see the Lieutenant pulling rank on a disdainful luxury car salesman in one of the series’ best ever f*** you moments. It raises the question: why didn’t Falk play it this way all the time in the ‘new’ episodes? The series would have been so much stronger if he had.
While we here, can we also talk about Falk embracing the grey in this episode? He’s had some extremely dodgy dye jobs over the last dozen or so episodes, but Death Hits the Jackpot marks the first time that Columbo’s silvering locks are unleashed. The man is a genuine silver fox! Why Falk and/or the production team felt the need to cover this up until now eludes me. All I can say is that Mrs Columbo is a lucky woman! After all, did you notice how hippy Trish was making eyes at him when he was cuddling the chimp in Freddie’s apartment? She’d have snaffled him up in a heartbeat!
On the downside, there are several moments of silliness from Columbo that would have better been avoided. His cooing at the juvenile chimp, his gushiness when realising Lamarr was the lotto winner he’d seen on TV, and his unwitting bids on priceless jewellery at the auction are right out of the 80s/90s Columbo playbook. Worst of all, however, is his ham-fisted, theatrical look of amazement (accompanied by a twee tinkling of This Old Man) when noticing the winning lottery numbers on Freddie’s camera lens.
This is so clearly screaming that SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAS HAPPENED one must assume the production team took viewers for idiots. There’s even some needless audio ‘comedy’ added in post-production with Columbo’s car noisily backfiring at Lamarr’s upper-class shindig and again at the expensive car dealership. We get it, it’s a clapped-out jallopy! We’ve known this since 1971. Audio cues aren’t required!
Falk’s occasional horseplay, however, is overshadowed by the cartoon outlandishness of Freddie’s weirdo neighbours. Hippies, whores, Italian clichés and an artistic type with a pet chimp, they belong in a bad sitcom. ‘New Columbo’ has habitually done a poor job with its secondary characters, who are all too often mere ‘comedy’ stereotypes with zero substance. Freddie and Nancy are similarly two-dimensional: a paint-by-numbers wimpy alcoholic and a shallow, adulterous money grabber. I hate to always harp on about the qualities of the 70s’ series, but one aspect it inevitably nailed was the strength-in-depth of the casting – right down to the bit-part players. That’s nowhere near being replicated here.
Fortunately, though, troublesome as they are, these aspects don’t overshadow the episode like some of the ghastlier aspects of earlier outings (don’t make me mention the tuba and bin-rummaging scenes from Sex and the Married Detective again, please!). In fact, I’d go so far as to say the good comfortably outweighs the bad when taking Death Hits the Jackpot as a whole.
“Falk’s occasional horseplay is overshadowed by the cartoon outlandishness of Freddie’s weirdo neighbours.”
Freddie’s need for an ally to help him hide his new-found wealth from his grasping soon-to-be ex is plausibly handled. Sure, he’s a bit naive and innocent in his presumption that old Lamarr won’t turn against him, but we mustn’t forget that dear old Uncle Leon is Freddie’s only living relative, who has always treated him well. Freddie has no reason to think Lamarr won’t continue to act in his best interests, as he has no idea that his uncle and wife have been romping behind his back, nor does he know that on the very day he seeks his assistance, Lamarr has found out that he’s flat broke.
The latter issue is admittedly far too convenient and too quickly glossed over in the script for its own good, but Freddie turning to his uncle for help still rings true as wife Nancy continues to hold out for the best possible financial outcome in the divorce settlement. Some folk are of the opinion that Freddie should just be content splitting the money with Nancy ($12m went a long way in 1991, after all), but I tend to disagree. Keeping hold of all the cash that she’s legally entitled to as his wife would represent a revenge too sweet for the put-upon photographer to pass up.
The killing of Freddie is another episode highlight in that it shows what an absolute git Uncle Leon really is. It’s one thing to knock a man out, then leave him in a tub to drown. It’s quite another to forcefully hold him underwater as he fights for life. By Columbo standards, it’s a grisly and frightening murder, while the absurdity of the costume worn by Lamarr as he carries it out adds a grotesque edge to an already unsettling crime. A lesser star than Torn mightn’t have carried it off.
There’s a nice post-murder twist of sorts, too, when Nancy arrives at Freddie’s apartment as Lamarr is tidying himself up. First-time viewers might very easily assume she’s about to startle him and perhaps become the second victim. Instead we find out that she’s his accomplice and lover. It’s not exactly earth-shattering (and indeed is reminiscent of Dale Kingston’s accomplice Tracey ringing the doorbell as he wrecks the joint in Suitable for Framing), but is enough to keep us on our toes.
The fact there isn’t a second homicide is also a bit of a surprise. I was expecting Lamarr to either bump off his ageing wife Martha (I mean, who wants to be married to Jason Vorhees’ mother?) or Nancy herself – especially as the lovers’ relationship sours in the second half of the episode. Instead, it’s Columbo’s trickery that fully drives them apart as he plays the two off each other to fill in the gaps in his investigation – and ensnare them both – during the enjoyable finale.
The gotcha itself is a good one by recent standards, although not in the same league as the blockbusters of yesteryear. The chimp’s fingerprints on the fancy dress medallion do a good enough job to definitively place Lamarr at the crime scene and make it feel like it’s evidence that will really stick. However, the mere presence of the chimp during the killing made it a certainty to any canny viewer that it would have a role to play in Columbo cracking the case, severely eroding the wow factor.
The revelation that the chimp’s fingerprint, and not Lamarr’s, is the crucial evidence to place him at the scene also loses marks for being a major riff on Suitable for Framing. It doesn’t have anywhere near the dramatic impact of the gloved-hand reveal, and the exchange between Columbo and Lamarr about whose fingerprints are sealing the killer’s fate is almost a straight lift from the 1971 classic (chimp references excluded). Nevertheless, Falk’s pleasingly stern demeanour and Torn’s increasing agitation make the scene a winner.
Accomplice Nancy’s tantrum as she’s drawn in to share Lamarr’s fate is very stagey by comparison, though. There’s nothing as bad as Brenda Vaccaro’s pop-eyed hissy fits in Murder in Malibu, but it’s pretty ropey stuff from Jamie Rose. The actress does have her moments, though, particularly during the funeral scenes when she blows kisses at Lamarr and seductively runs her tongue over her teeth while making eye contact with him. It is moments like this that we can see why he’d risk it all for the redheaded temptress.
There are other familiar beats in the episode that will resonate with long-term fans, not least the alibi-creating phony phone call and the smashed-watch-to-establish-time-of-death stunt (which I feel like I’ve now seen a million times in the series). True to form from a cop who’s seen this exact trick tried before, Columbo is able to make a telling deduction about the watch that will help firm up his hunch that Freddie’s death was not an accident. What I like about Death Hits the Jackpot is that Lamarr never gives Columbo any help by suggesting crazy explanations to the questions put to him.
Of the broken counterfeit watch conundrum, Lamarr sensibly suggests that Freddie may have been about to remove it when he slipped and fell – exactly the sort of answer a sane individual would give. He later downplays the importance of the Freddie’s lack of Halloween costume and the numbers on the camera lens by saying that he himself is an avid photographer who gifted the camera to Freddie and taught him how to use it. Indeed, he has a good answer for everything Columbo throws at him, offering up little reason to further excite the detective’s suspicions.
“Rip Torn’s dynamism goes a long way toward papering over the episode’s cracks.”
The one thing that Columbo never adequately tests is Lamarr’s claim that he bellowed with glee and informed his son upon learning his lotto numbers had come up. This is pure fiction, something Lamarr made up on the spot. It has the feeling of a classic Columbo moment when he bursts the killer’s bubble by saying something like: “Gee, isn’t that strange? Your son never mentioned that when I spoke to him, and he told me you never played the lottery before.”
We’ve seen Columbo drop little bombshells like this time and again over the years to rattle the poise of his suspects (Ken Franklin’s open mail, anyone?), and it’s always a delight. Here, we never meet Lamarr Jr, and he’s never mentioned again, making the inclusion of this information a somewhat bizarre blind alley when it really should have been the moment Lamarr realises how much trouble he could be in.
Such a scene could also have been pivotal in the Lieutenant’s deductive leap that Lamarr killed Freddie for the money. After all, he never proves this before the gotcha scene, and doesn’t appear to know that Lamarr had gone broke and needed the cash to protect his way of life. Columbo has enough reasons to suspect foul play, but tighter writing could have hammered home his belief that Lamarr had adequate motive to kill his nephew.
To wrap things up, Death Hits the Jackpot isn’t perfect by any means, but it is a huge return to form after the slipshod Murder of a Rock Star. It’s nearly a very good Columbo by the standards of any era, so by ‘new Columbo’ standards it’s a revelation. Heck, even the 98-minute running time rarely feels bogged down in the endless filler that has blighted the series since 1989.
It just goes to show what good casting can do. Rip Torn’s dynamism goes a long way toward papering over the episode’s cracks, and with Peter Falk dishing up one of his best performances in years, this is a terrifically entertaining slice of TV. Ordinarily I’d say that such a fun episode would augur well for the future of the series, but then I remember that our next instalment is the almost-universally panned No Time to Die. Just as Freddie Brower might have thought when contemplating his lost fortune in his final, desperate moments of life, you can’t win ’em all…
Did you know?
Death Hits the Jackpot is the Columbo episode which takes place over the longest period of time. Most of his cases are wrapped up in days, but here a month or more passes between Freddie winning the jackpot to the case being wrapped up.
We also learn that the Lieutenant is on the cusp of celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. If true, he tied the knot with Mrs Columbo just before Christmas in 1966 – a little over a year before we meet him in Prescription: Murder.
How I rate ’em
A massively entertaining romp, with a joyfully wicked performance by Rip Torn, Death Hits the Jackpot is leagues ahead of most of its Columbo contemporaries. It’s perhaps not as coherent across the board as Agenda for Murder, which I place nominally ahead of it, but runs it very close. A fine effort and one of the very few episodes of its era that I would now consider essential viewing.
If you missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo’ reviews, access them via the links below.
- Columbo Goes to College
- Agenda for Murder
- Death Hits the Jackpot
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- Uneasy Lies the Crown
- Grand Deceptions
- Murder in Malibu
I haven’t yet started to slot the new episodes in amongst the classics in an overall rankings list, but you can see how I rate the 70s’ run of episodes right here.
Here’s where I turn the virtual floor over to you, dear readers. As always, share your own opinions on this enjoyable adventure. Could it have worked without as charismatic a lead as Rip Torn? Does the chimp clue satisfy? And how do you rate Jackpot against the entire Columbo back catalogue?
I’m just off to try out Freddie’s lucky numbers in this weekend’s lottery. If you don’t see me again, I’ve either won the jackpot and immediately uprooted to the Maldives; or I’ve won the jackpot and been slain by my favourite uncle and wife. If I don’t win, I’ll be back here in due course to supply a presumably stinging critique of many a fans’ least favourite Columbo outing – the dreaded No Time to Die.
I thought this Columbo episode started out more like a situation comedy. But it got alot better and more serious. Sympathy was built up for Freddie (Kroeger) and his winning the lotto. Torn was really good as the villain killer Lamarr. I thought that Freddie could have not told anyone about the lotto, and just waited for his divorce to settle. But he was way too trusting of Lamarr and Freddie’s wife Nancy (Rose). Falk and Torn had good chemistry on screen together. One would think someone had missed Lamarr, King George, at the party. Columbo seemed really sharp this episode solving the crime. The killing scene was a bit brutal to watch. Poor Freddie. One of the better new Columbo episodes. The pacing, script, and acting were really good. The chimpanzee was a good.
To be honest, personally I did not like this episode. It takes half an hour for Peter Falk to show up in his own show, I don’t really see what’s so great about Rip Torn (I had a hard time taking him seriously with the accent), and I couldn’t stand the chimp, why is there even a chimp in Columbo? For me the chimp feels like one long tuba incident, and they use it’s fingerprints to solve the case, and fingerprints always feel like a cop-out in mystery shows. To give the episode credit, yes Columbo does good police work here, as unlike the last episode he gets a fairly concrete case for the murder. But at the same time, it feels like it took him forever to get anywhere; coupled with the long start, and it felt like by the hour mark we’d reached where we usually would be by the 30-45 minute mark. He doesn’t even admit it was murder to the guilty party until the 80 minute mark. Honestly I would have liked this episode more if they mixed things up a bit, perhaps have Brower kill Lamarr for the millions and make it a story about how greed corrupts. But perhaps I’m being too harsh on it, but I just don’t see the appeal.
I agree that this episode takes far too long to get going. It’s one of the few which begins before anyone yet has a motive to kill. As for the chimpanzee’s fingerprints, that clue has a long backstory. It was conceived years earlier, but never used. Was “Jackpot” designed as it was specifically to resurrect this old gotcha? Perhaps.
Look here (at 23:45) for Link’s account of the development of this clue: https://youtu.be/JiJxvU9IKPI.
We all love Rip, no doubt. But let’s think about this – you are a half-impoverished man going through a divorce and you win the lottery. How exactly is your wealthy businessman uncle, with lots of employees, friends, and a WIFE, going to cash your ticket and then GIVE YOU THE MONEY? Do you think that possibly the wife (never mind friends and employees) is going to be a bit curious as to why a fortune is being given away? I love Rip too, but this is an off-the-charts plot hole.
You just hit the biggest flaw in the episode. Because it’s the Columboverse, we’re not supposed to ask such questions! It was the 90s and Columbo didn’t give a crap about legalities, it was all about entertaining the viewing audience. Just ask Justin and his lover Coop why they ultimately got off for murdering their college professor.
If CP ever chooses to nominate the “10 Most Clueless Columbo Victims,” Freddie Brower definitely deserves recognition (along with Tony Goodland (“The Greenhouse Jungle”), Roger White (“Double Exposure”), and Shirley Blane (“Lovely But Lethal”) among others).
Yeah, Freddie was pretty pathetic but I still felt very sorry for him. He didn’t deserve to be ruthlessly drowned by his evil uncle King George. But it could have been worse: Lamarr could have also killed the chimp just like the Maestro did with poor Chopin!
Tony Goodland wins by a country mile!
Clueless? Yes, but also blinded by the lure of seemingly easy money. Freddie, Tony, Roger, and Shirley–as victims–each have in common the notion that they can benefit from doing something illegal or shady. But, as the two says go, “You can’t cheat an honest man” and “You can’t expect to dance with the Devil and not get burned.”
Are those two ideas measurably different? It’s only “seemingly easy money” because they are clueless to the risks their adversaries pose.
Yes, they are different ideas. Being blinded by seemingly easy money and being clueless aren’t the same ideas, although they can and do coincide, as they do here.
Freddie had no reason to think that his Uncle Leon would murder him. And he believed (incorrectly as it turned out) that Leon was already a wealthy man. Recall that Leon drove a Rolls and he had given Freddie an expensive watch, and owned what Freddie believed to be a successful jewelry store. From Freddie’s past relations with Leon, he had every reason to believe that he could trust him.
In contrast, the good nurse Sharon Martin was clueless to the danger posed by Dr. Barry Mayfield in the episode ASIC, knowing from the information she had that Dr. Mayfield may well have been trying to harm or kill Dr. Edmund Heideman. She had no selfish motives. The opposite was true. But she was clueless, nonetheless.
Sharon was like a whistleblower. And whistleblowers should always go public or to the proper authorities to protect themselves against potential retribution.
I wouldn’t put Sharon Martin in that category. Most of what she did to investigate the suture Mayfield used was done behind Mayfield’s back. Yes, there was one direct confrontation, but that was included solely to allow the audience to understand what Mayfield did to Dr. Heideman, not because Sharon was oblivious to Mayfield’s dangerousness.
Freddie’s deal with Leon was eye-rolling from the start (as Charles Crisp outlined above).
You’re conflating the teleplay writer’s approach to storytelling with the teleplay writer’s vision of the character. The writer depicted Sharon as an innocent, completely dedicated and selfless nurse. But she was also depicted as so much so that she was clueless to the potential dangers of whistleblower.
I agree that the need to explain things to the audience did create an odd contradiction in Sharon’s behavior. One moment she hangs up the phone because Mayfield comes into the room; the next, she is telling Mayfield her suspicions. Could it be that the confrontation was a late addition? Additional dialogue added because its absence caused viewer confusion? Because the Sharon Martin who picks up that bit of discarded suture and immediately puts two and two together, including Mayfield’s motive to dispatch Heideman, is no innocent.
I don’t see Sharon’s behavior in that scene as a contradiction.
Rather, I think it’s all part of her character; i.e., someone who is innocent and wants to believe the best in people.
The writer, Shirl Hendryx, is a seasoned author of many teleplays and has also written for Mannix and Mission:Impossible TV shows, among others.
There are several ways that Shirl could have conveyed what was going on without having the direct interaction with Dr. Mayfield.
But we can have our different opinions. ASIC is a terrific story and the characters are well drawn.
Incidentally, I believe that Shirl is still alive, which would make him age 99. I couldn’t find an obituary for him, but I did find a recent one for his wife Patricia, which includes some information about Shirl. https://www.tributearchive.com/obituaries/26989482/patricia-ann-hendryx
Unfortunately for Sharon, she didn’t have time to blow the whistle on Dr. Mayfield. The look of horror on her face as came out of the darkness was haunting!
I don’t agree that Sharon didn’t have time. Whistleblowers should not talk to or confront perps. But Sharon did, instead of hiding her concerns from Dr. Mayfield. All whistleblowers need to recognize that whistleblowing can potentially be dangerous and take steps that can help protect themselves, as I’ve explained.
Just one last point while it’s on my mind. There are sometimes other ways to avoid the wrath of an actual or potential murderer in a Columo story. This is some nicely written dialogue from Columbo and the Murder of a Rockstar:
Trish: I can wait six months for us to get married.
Trish: It’s for your own protection, Hugh.
As your wife, I can’t be forced to testify against you.
It’s the best insurance you could have. I have insurance, you should have some, too.
Hugh: What insurance do you have?
Trish: Life insurance.
If I should fall out an office window, have a sudden heart attack, get bit by a rabid dog, an envelope like this one would turn up on all sorts of desks, including Lieutenant Columbo’s.
Do we have a deal, partner?
Hugh: Well, yeah.
Screw Trish. She needed to be busted along with her lover at the end. Too bad Mrs. Columbo was too much of a diva to film the way the scene was intended. Sorry, but this is just another reason why the 90s Columbo sucked.
Further proof that the great Hugh Creighton is, in truth, the world’s worst lawyer. Otherwise, he would have replied:
“Trish, did they teach you anything about the rules of evidence at that law school you attended? And you want to be made a partner in this firm? What possibly could be in that envelope that would be legal proof of anything? The mask you wore when driving past the speed camera? No, you gave that back — and it wouldn’t fit in your envelope anyway. Surreptitious recordings of me telling you what to do? California is a two-party consent state. Surreptitious recordings are inadmissible. A typewritten account of what you think I did? Do the words ‘inadmissible hearsay’ mean anything to you? Just because you’ve written it down doesn’t make it any more admissible (if you’re no longer around to be cross-examined) than if you told a friend, and the friend was asked to repeat a second-hand account. It’s not a ‘dying declaration’; you weren’t moments from death when you wrote it. It’s not a ‘declaration against penal interest’ because it was written to be opened only after you were beyond the reach of the law. Don’t try to threaten a lawyer with legally useless garbage.”
The column on this thread is getting way too narrow for any further comments. So, I’ll stop here.
It’s certainly having less and less to do with “Death Hits the Jackpot.”
The threat might speak against Trish’s professional acumen. but Hugh’s failure to see its emptiness can be excused — finding out that she knew what he’d done rattled him. How on earth he could have failed to foresee that she’d immediately realize he must’ve sent her on that assignment in order to establish an alibi is another matter.
…. In fact, besides knowing he sent her on that strange errand, Trish also knows that he’s lying when he says it’s him in the picture. His alibi is set up so that she’s going to know the truth and even requires her to go along with his lie that he was the one speeding.
It isn’t all that obvious, but when he’s examining the bathtub you can see that Columbo’s glasses are held together by a large safety pin holding the left arm to the frame. .
Death Hits The Jackpot is probably the weakest of Jeffrey Bloom’s three Columbo stories. I’d consider Bloom’s Columbo Goes To College and Agenda For Murder among the best written of the later period episodes.
The set-up of Death Hits The Jackpot is built on a shakey foundation. In the real world, even back in 1991, there would have been a video recording of Freddy buying his winning lottery ticket. By the 1980s, video security cameras were commonplace in the types of stores that sold lottery tickets in Pasadena, California, where Freddy bought his ticket.
And, naturally, Columbo would have looked into that when he first learned that Leon purportedly “won” the lottery. So, Leon would have had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do about how he got the lottery ticket that Freddy really purchased, especially since Freddy ended up conveniently murdered.
But this logistical flaw isn’t noticeable and, in fact, I don’t think I’ve read any criticism about it before. The episode is still fun and entertaining, and that’s what really counts. And Rip Torn is a delight to watch. Every film or show I’ve seen him perform in was the better for it.
Here’s an early great example, with a scene featuring Rip Torn and Karl Malden from The Cincinnati Kid (1965):
So do we think this episode (1991) secretly inspired the creation of Friends (1994)? The apartment scenes really reminded me of Monica’s flat: the brick, the frames, the colors, the eclectic group hanging out informally…
In the absence of contrary evidence, I’m going to say YES! Friends would not exist without Columbo!
I have a curiosity: in the end of the episode, after columbo showed Lamarr the monkey fingerprints evidence, he seems to be already trapped, so I was surprised that when Nancy came she said columbo said he needed her cooperation, I’m guessing this was just a way for columbo to get Lamarr to expose her, after he mentioned Nancy would inherit the 24 million dollars?
Yep, that was the coup de grâce. Columbo basically killed two birds with one stone and it made for a glorious ending seeing Lamarr and his evil harpy sent off to their demise!
Fun! Clever gotcha, and the episode improves in its final act. I agree with its high ranking among the new Columbo episodes. Rip Torn and Jamie Rose are the best guests in this one.
I might have missed something, but I expected the ticket to become relevant. We see the numbers circled and Leon claims he had seen them all at once.
I would say this murder ranks as the cruelest, most cold-blooded in the entirety of Columbo. Sure, the victims in A Trace of Murder, Murder in Malibu, Suitable for Framing and a few others are quite innocent. But their deaths were quick. Many, if not most, of the murder victims are “asking for it” by provoking the would-be murderer. And while the killing themselves are not justifiable, they are at least understandable: Rick torments Adrian Carsini by saying the beloved winery will be sold to THE MARINO BROTHERS!!! Frances Galesko is positively the worst nag ever on the show. Even sweet (yet very foolish) Ms. LaSanka tries to extort money from her killer. Chain smoking victim Clarke also tried to blackmail his opponent, and let’s face it: the guy was about as unpleasant as they come.
But Freddy? He was generous enough to give Leon a substantial portion of his fortune, and Leon STILL killed him, in a very personal and relatively slow way. Sure, Freddy’s wife might have had reason to be resentful, but Leon should have been dancing on daisies over his orphaned Nephew’s kind-hearted gesture. That’s cold, Leon!
Kevin, great observations! Leon Lamarr was truly an evil SOB. And let’s not forget Nancy. The gotcha at the end was great, especially the shrieking from the harpy from hell as she’s arrested!
Fun fact (To me, anyway).
Four weeks after this show aired, ABC gathered all the Columbos it had aired in 1989-spring 1991, bought the broadcasting rights to Prescription: Murder and Ransom For a Dead Man from a syndicator, and ran the whole package as a Columbo weekly series on Thursday nights. The Thursday time period had been nightmarish for ABC ever since The Cosby Show hit the airwaves, so ABC served up cheap reruns and prepared to see them run dead last in the weekly ratings.
Surprise. Columbo improved the ratings for the time slot by a good 50 percent It might have influenced the huge score of No Time to Die, which ran separately.
ABC reran the 1991-92 episodes, and a few others, in January-February 1993.
First very glad your daughter is making great progress – love and best wishes to you and your family.
Second. For once I agree 100% with your summary. There are too many plot holes to make this enjoyable, because you’re too busy shaking your head at the TV!!
Aaaghh!! Posted to the wrong flaming episode. Apologies!! Please ignore
Rip Torn really makes this episode. Killing his nephew while dressed in costume (not to mention sucking face with his coldhearted vixen) is truly one of the most bizarre moments in the series. I only wish Columbo had made him put on the King George wig when he busts him at the end!
Jackpot is one of my top three “new” Columbo episodes, along with “It’s All in the Game” and “College.”
I mentioned a year or two ago on here that Falk’s late arrival in this episode did not hurt the episode one bit.
I have not read the other comments on here yet, so I must ask this question to CP and fellow fans:
Are we REALLY sure that Rip Torn and Nancy were already having an affair before the episode even began? If so, that was completely lost on me.
I was always under the impression- even after multiple viewings- that Torn was caught red-handed in Freddy’s apartment by Nancy as he was cleaning up the crime scene. Town AT THAT MOMENT had to make a decision: kill Nancy or come-on to her and share the money. I thought it was a surprise that Nancy shows up right before Torn leaves. Torn had to make a choice ON THE SPOT right there.
Anyone else agree with this?
It wasn’t until reading CP’s write-up that I even considered the two were already lovers and in cahoots.
It makes sense to me now.
Thanks for another terrific episode summary and breakdown, CP!
Going to read the comments now.
I agree i have seen hits the jackpot numerous times as i live in uk and have 5 usa it also pops up so.e bank holisays
I Have always took it that leon worked alone and that nancy had turned up at at feddys apartment with some divirce papers ( as i recall she had some folder of some sort but not certain about this )and took leon by surprise seen the water overflowing and the chimp screeching and thats where there affair started im not saying cp is wrong its just a theory of mine but either way its a dramatic and memorable scence and i love the hallowen backdrop and leon is definetley a more ruthless baddie of the new episodes .
I feel that they’d been dallying beforehand. I base that on Leon’s alibi. He set up the party to give himself plenty of witnesses, and arranged for Freddy to “call” him when the guests were all there to make them believe Freddy was still alive, thus making his alibi airtight.
With Freddy dead in the tub, he had to have an accessory to fake the call. And that accessory was Nancy. He wouldn’t have staged the alibi he did without knowing for sure he’d have an accomplice to make that phone call from Freddy’s apartment at 8, therefore, they were in cahoots beforehand.
One thing I don’t understand is why when Columbo was asking about the car, why Leon didn’t just tell him he was going to give him a million or whatever from his winnings.
“Yes, Lt., I was planning on giving Freddy a million in celebration, but because of his divorce, we were waiting until it was finalized so he wouldn’t have to split half of it with his wife. That’s why he was car shopping. In the meantime, I was slipping him cash here and there as he asked for it.”
I get they had to sneak in little cracks for Columbo to find, but that’s a completely easy, completely plausible explanation that makes much more sense than ‘Freddy was just dreaming.’
I agree 100%. When a guy’s only living relative wins $30 million, the least he can expect is a new car. Even if Leon wasn’t in a generous mood, it’s completely reasonable that Freddy would expect a small taste from his only uncle.
You’re right, that would have been a good, quick fix.
yes, but Columbo took Leon by surprise. Leon didn’t expect that question, so he didn’t have an answer.
If I were Columbo (first name Glenn), I would respond: “Yes, well, that certainly does explain why Freddy was looking at new cars….But….Hmmm…”
Leon (impatiently): “What is it, Lieutenant?”
Columbo (pausing): “But….why did you also need to buy him a whole case of expensive champagne?”
How DID Freddy buy that champagne? On a credit card? Planning to buy an expensive car is one thing. Planning doesn’t require an immediate expenditure. The champagne did.
CP perfectly sums up 90s Columbo with this observation:
It raises the question: why didn’t Falk play it this way all the time in the ‘new’ episodes? The series would have been so much stronger if he had.
“The boy was ’bout to get a million or so dollahs as a gift, Lt. Glenn Columbo. So I gave him tha cash to buy some champagne to celebrate. I mean, boy’s so poah he’s been drinkin’ cheap beer all tha time. Surely you can’t blame me for wantin’him to have a taste of the high life while we wah waitin for the divorce ta go through, right?
“Wow, a whole case of champagne? Yes, that sure is a lot of celebrating…Almost as if he’d won the $30 million himself, wouldn’t you say, sir? Well, you have a good afternoon.”
Cut to Leon’s cold, hard look. End scene.
“A whole case of champagne?” “Come on, Lieutenant. I just won thirty million simoleons. Five hundred for champagne? For my nephew? That’s chicken feed. I was tipping bartenders a hundred bucks just to pass the pretzel bowl.”
Champagne is a powerful celebratory symbol, and our boy Freddy sure had a lot of it. But it’s hardly a Gotcha. I have no doubt that at this stage, Leon could provide any number of plausible-sounding (and colorfully-delivered) explanations – that’s what good villains do. And I also have no doubt that Columbo could use the moment to cast a seed of doubt in them and let Leon know that he’s onto him.
After all the expounding and pontificating about champagne that Columbo did in the previous episode, this one should come easy to him.
*Slips on Robert Culp mask* “Why, Lt. Glenn, it almost seems as though you believe Freddy met with foul play, despite all the details pointing to Freddy having a simple accident.”
“But the body lotion in the bathtub….”
*Secures Culp mask* “Really, Lt. Glenn, you’ve never been in the shower or bathtub and accidentally grabbed the wrong bottle? Perhaps you started off with the conditioner rather than the shampoo, or accidentally slathered yourself with your wife’s body wash or bar of soap instead of your own.”
“Well, sir, Yes, I suppose I could see that.”
“Plus, it was established he’d been drinking, correct? So he wasn’t exactly of a clear mind to begin with. He was also in a hurry, and being in the bathtub, he’d taken his glasses off, which would make identifying the bottles by sight hard, especially if his face was wet. Using body lotion rather than the soap was just an honest, drunken mistake by poor Freddy.”
*Moves to doorway* “At any rate, I’d say, to use your vernacular: That about wraps this up, Lt. Good day.”
Nick, you’ve got the fun role, pretending you’re Rip Torn pretending you’re Leon Lamarr. Would you like some ketchup with that scenery?
I’ve slipped on the Robert Culp mask. Time for snarling. 😀
Poor gullible Freddie didn’t deserve being murdered but his evil uncle and
his equally villainous ex wife fully deserved being caught.
It’s not the first time that an animal as
played a crucial role in solving a Columbo case. This time it was a chimp, previously it’s been a cat or a
CP is back on track with review that made me LOL several times along with some of the comments too.
I totally love Halloween and I loved the decorations and costumes in this episode. I wished they would’ve shown more. I especially liked Colonel Sanders and the Chicken.
I enjoy horror movies but still find it difficult to watch the murder scene in this episode. So ruthless but Rip Torn was really amazing as the villain. Such a cretin!
CP, thank you for another hilarious recap of a great episode! Definitely one of the best of the 90s Columbo. Cheers!
A decent episode. I like the way the plot has the rich uncle murder the penniless nephew, in a reversal of the usual murder-mystery tropes (however, I do think Freddie kind of brought it on himself by refusing to split the money with his wife). I must also confess to finding the ‘Italian grandma’ scene amusing, cliché or no.
Just gave this a watch last night. I remember watching it years ago, but little about it. Review on point. Rip Torn is a real hoot. He’s very clearly enjoying the opportunity to bring this odious character to life, and even though he’s a real slimeball, he’s still entertainingly likable. I didn’t want him to get away with it, but I didn’t mind him keeping the wolves of the police away for awhile.
Definitely one of the smarter villains too, by not trying to ingratiate himself to Columbo and get himself “helpfully” involved in the case.
I still prefer the old series over the newer, but both it and “College” are definitely cream of the crop episodes. Torn does feel like a return to form with some of the more slimy original series villains like Dale Kingston and Jack Cassidy.
Torn’s always been a scene stealer. His role in “Defending Your Life” has always been a delight.
He was even great in “RoboCop 3”! 🙂
One of the better later years episodes with a clever gotcha. The acting was a little flimsy sans Torn and Falk, which did give it a Soap Oprah feel at the beginning as CP states, but the solid storyline holds up. Freddie was a moron for being so greedy, half of all that money is all he needed, why take the chance. Fun episode.
What are the odds of the 5/6 winning lottery numbers all being so low and close together ?????!!!!! Can’t believe no one has pointed this out
It’s the same as any six numbers. The odds of any one number coming up are unrelated to what the other numbers are. (It’s a little like the question: if you flip a coin, and you get heads ten times in a row, what are the odds that you’ll get heads the 11th time? Still 50-50.)
The ping pong balls in a lottery do seem to generally prefer not to get together like that in a camera f-stop formation. But, on the other hand, as a seasoned gambler at the craps table in a casino once told me, “Dice have no memory.”
Presumably same odds as them NOT being low and close together…?
Probably not bad odds. But what are the odds that
they MATCH THE APERTURES OF A CAMERA?
And, there was only one winner!
Similarly, what are the chances of you winning on the
first 6 prime numbers, and you’re the only player betting
Probably not very good each time. But who really knows?
I remember seeing this episode when it aired and I was so happy to see the “old” Columbo, the crime-solving genius. As time has moved on, this episode has become one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I have this one on my phone and listen to it on long drives.
Where do I start? I could write on this forever. First…there is NO ONE IMHO in this episode with any redeeming qualities other than Columbo and his friend Jack. This episode is wonderfully frozen in the snarky 90’s and has a cast of characters not seen before or since. Let’s list them, in no order.
– The apartment dwellers. You have people who break into your room at any time and demand your booze. This includes:
– Trish, who’s hitting on Columbo in the middle of a murder investigation.
– Meyer McGinty, who’s accent wanders around looking for an anchor and his pickpocket chimp.
– The classic Italian Momma’s boy who’s mother understands English but only speaks in Italian (I laugh out loud every time I watch them together).
– And the remaining cast of whatever they are.
So touched by Freddy’s death they break into his room, look for booze, then take a group photo in the murdered man’s apartment.
Leon Lamar’s trollish family. As someone form the south, Martha’s accent has the same effect of running fingers down a chalkboard…for a week. The materialist self-centeredness of the family, from the party to impress all her “new friends”, to the daughter choosing a car by color.
Next, Freddy’s scheming crazy ex-wife, Nancy. Hey Nancy! When your lover came to you about killing your former husband, did you think for a moment that you gain NOTHING? You could get half of the money without murder, the same I’m sure that your smooth-talking lover would allow you. Instead you KILLED your ex-husband and didn’t sign the release. Do you seriously think no one would see this?
Freddy himself. He’s one of those “victims” whose only sympathies comes from the brutal way he was murdered. Freddy! How the hell do you think you’re going to get away with it? Don’t your think that when you’re driving around in your ridiculous car with untold wealth, your ex-wife might get an idea? And how can you POSSIBLY give up the winning ticket, no matter how much faith you have? Take the 12 million and forget revenge. Live well and forget it.
Finally, Leon Lamarr himself. I so love Rip Torn in this. It may be my all-time thing he’s ever been in. His over-the-freaking top performance is ironically the anchor that keeps this episode from being cannon-fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Rip Torn’s performance brings a crazy depth to this episode and makes you asks questions. How long has this affair been going on? Was Nancy a friend of Lamarr’s daughter, is that how Freddy and Nancy met? In my mind I’ve built a backstory; Nancy married Freddy thinking she would share in the family’s money. Leon got the hots for Nancy and deliberately held back money so Nancy would get fed up with Freddy. Leon has been whispering in Nancy’s ear about leaving his wife and shacking up with her. And finally, his horrible financial acumen caught up with him. You get the feeling he would burn through that 26 million in a few years, from paying off his first wife, to living it up with Nancy, and making stupid purchases like buying jewelry for $200,000 above the asking price.
I could go on but I have to stop. Yes, I love this one, and I feel like the actors and writers enjoyed themselves in making this one too. And you’re absolutely right, it brought out the best in Peter Falk. Columbo was here in force and he doesn’t return until the final episode. And now I’ve talked myself into watching it again.
I concur. My favorite Rip Torn characters (in addition to this and his stint as Artie on The Larry Sanders Show), are Rip Torn in real life. Everything from being an Aggie, (in the Corps of Cadets) to graduating as a Longhorn (it’s a TX thing), then his insane attack of Norman Mailer with a hammer, and the best of all, breaking into a bank, drunk off his arse in his late 70’s, thinking it was his house. Truly a charmed life.
I re-watched this one again, and enjoyed this episode as well, with the exception of Freddie’s disgusting bohemian neighbors (except for the chimp). In the real world, both Freddie and Leon should have executed Freddie’s plan without killing his horrible ex-wife Nancy, then they could merely disappear with their new found wealth, or placed it offshore or other investments. But then, we wouldn’t have had this episode, one of the few later eps I enjoy. RIP Rip….
Rip Torn was so good as country music singer
Maury Dan, crashing and burning in the 70’s film Payday,
that I have to think he was seriously considered for
the guest lead in the 70’s Columbo episode, Swan Song.
(Yes, even over Johnny Cash).
Probably he would turn that role down. Which makes
me think his appearance here was a side effect of
being considered for the earlier role.
So who deserved the Emmy: Cash or Torn? As the old lollypop commecial said back in the day: “The world may never know.”
As I previewed earlier when CB said this one was coming, I like this episode but for a different reason: Freddie’s hippy, dippy neighbors. Their wake for Freddie really was touching and sweet and their presence explains something key to the episode and usually inexplicable — the presence of a chimp at the murder scene. Of course one of his friends would have a chimp! I also thought that having Freddie in their milieux confirmed his status as one of the saddest victims (and by the way unusual for Columbo in not being tied into the wealthy class somehow). He really was dear, sweet Freddie, played for a sap. That in turn made Torn’s villain even more reprehensible. As for Torn, sure he was having fun…overacting. He’s good at it but it was close to over the top, edging up to it. Columbo also gets points for good solid detective work, especially with the chimp photos.
The “Where have all the Flowers Gone” sing-song scene seems quite uncontrived and, as you say, touching. I also like the very opening scene where Freddie patiently tries to explain to his greedy ex-wife how his photography equipment helped pay for their lifestyle.
One big plot issue I had – Leon would have quite the gift tax giving all that money to Freddie!
I think the idea was that Leon would hand the money over to Freddie secretly. But then the other problem Leon would have faced would be explaining to his wife how $30m had turned into just $3m !
Freddy’s whole scheme makes no sense if you really think about it. If Leon keeps Freddy’s winner status a secret, then Leon’s has to pay the income tax on the whole $30 million. The “10% off the top” Freddy promised him wouldn’t even cover the taxes. And if Leon negotiates a discounted one-time payment with a third party, he’s still got to pay the taxes. Alternatively, if Leon ever fesses up, even after the divorce, Nancy’s still got a claim to half, as they were married when Freddy’s number was drawn. Oh, what a tangled web we weave …
I think we have to assume the plan was to keep it secret – (hence Leon’s offer to dribble the money out to Freddie). But in any case Freddie would inevitably soon draw the close attention of the IRS. And what if Leon’s wife finds out about the affair – and then sues for her “share” of the $30m, even though Leon only has $3m (before taxes) ? All of which illustrates the potential rich plot material with lottery fraud if given a more noir treatment – like Double Indemnity for instance.
Wasn’t “Double Indemnity” about an insurance scheme? Insurance proceeds are not taxable (because they’re considered compensation for a loss, not income).
I hadn’t realised lottery winnings were taxable in the US. Here in the UK they are tax-free, which would remove the plot hole!
Oh yeah, and a big tax too. I don’t play it but my dad played the Powerball and estimated you lost 30-40 percent of the winnings in taxes straight off the top.
Even in this episode, Lamarr only had 24 million after taxes, so they collected 6 million off of him.
I was wondering about that myself!
Ive never lived in los angeles or even been to america but i do know LA is quite vast and it troubles me slightly that given their differences in wealthand society and its said that leon lives in Beverley hills could have slipped away into a different or poorer neghbourhood as its well docuented that freddie was a pauper and got back in time without being missed if anyone knows about the timescale and geographic dynamics wiuld be appreciated.
One point i have watched hits the jackpot so many times and i consuder it a blockbuster but i cant recall where leon lemars son was mentioned as far as i recall columbo says ti leon where were when you the draw took place and leon said something like i was going over my accounts tv was on but i wasnt paying much attention my wife she was in the kitchen i was stunned for acouple of moments and the n i called out honey are you lisltening i won cant remember any mention if a sin but i hope somebody can clear it up perhaps hes mentioned in another scene .
Same scene. Lamarr claims that he called out his wife’s name, but she wasn’t home. Then he called to his son, and they hollered and hugged.
Thank you i remember it now its a blink and you miss it moment as said in the great review leons son dosent have any bearing in the case .
Heres a quickfire trivia or did you know this is also an episode where columbo speaks genuine italian others being murder under glass back in 78 wich i dont care for too much undercover he meets an itallian lady the rest i cant recall as its such a bad episode strange bedfellows rod steiger speak s some mafia lingo not sure how much columbo says if theres more examples thatvhave slipped my head please feel free to comment
He also speaks Italian to the glorious Vito Scotti (Mr Defonti sp?) in…the one with Leslie Nielsen and Patrick MacGoohan where they play operatives (not spies).
That was the closing stages of Identity crisis one of my favoriite 70s episodes
Great to see a fresh review and CP catching up death hits the jackpot is one of my favs rip tirn makes the eoisode and is rightfully in 3rd place despiste a few minor goosebumps but in the whole its in the revival gold club a big improvment on murder of a rock starme and my dad always enjoy it and it was only last week i watched iton 5USA
Most of the ’90s episodes have at least one scene that’s weird or baffling or something worse. The odd duck in this episode is the picketers who show up at the jewelry store after the lottery. I’m sure lottery winners get lots of unwanted requests for donations or investments, but picketers?
I disagree. The scene where Columbo finds out Lamarr is the lotto winner is one of the best! It’s very funny, particularly Torn’s performance. You can tell it’s partly ad-libbed! “Go-llly, what!”.
The scene in bird in the hand where columbo digs his heels into the car showroom floor and waves to the onlookers is a lot worse
Glad to see your latest, CP!
One thing I could never figure out in this episode – how did any of Freddy’s neighbors know his uncle Lamarr had won the lottery before Lamarr appeared on TV?
They’re all excitedly anticipating Lamarr’s appearance on TV in a few minutes when he will be presented with the huge (pun intended) check; but the lottery folks wouldn’t have revealed Lamarr’s name publicly before the big…reveal.
Maybe if we had seen Freddy preparing his private champagne celebration, then raise a glass to his uncle on TV at the reveal; *then* his neighbors suddenly pound his door shouting “Freddy! Your uncle just won the lottery! Let us in to help you celebrate!” *Then* Freddy would hurriedly hide his cases of champagne and the photo of his new car from his unexpected visitors before letting them in.
It makes sense “winner” Lamarr might have told his nephew Freddy in advance. Freddy *could* then have invited his friends to celebrate with him, but he obviously chose to keep it a secret (and consume all those bottles of bubbly himself). So if Freddy didn’t tell them, who did?
(Have I actually discovered my first real-live plot hole? I’ll have to buy a secret case of bubbly to not share with my friends.)
Except the TV broadcast Freddy is watching isn’t the announcement of Leon’s win, but Leon’s first public appearance. The initial announcement may have been earlier.
I’ve thought more about Nancy’s bathtub line: “I couldn’t [sign the divorce papers], Leon. If I did, we’d be divorced and then he wouldn’t have needed you.” It suggests that Nancy knew about the winning lottery ticket before Freddy gave it to Leon. Once Leon got and redeemed the ticket, it didn’t matter who Freddy needed. But nothing in the episode expressly supports this timeline. They cut directly from Freddy and Leon’s first long meeting to the TV broadcast, so we’re never shown exactly when Freddy handed Leon the ticket. If there was a delay after that first meeting, then perhaps Leon told Nancy before he had the ticket in hand. We just don’t know.
Even then, she could have signed, but waited until Leon received and redeemed the ticket before returning the signed copy. (Wouldn’t the ending be the same, as long as Freddy earned the $30 million before the divorce?)
Nancy never needed Leon. She could have admitted to Freddy she knew everything by the way he acted when she was at her place, and collected her half without ever stooping to murder.
As I’ve stated before, this entry almost plays like a farce, with Rip Torp clearly having a heck of a time. An infectious festival of smarminess, giving proof on how superior casting can make a difference.
I so agree. I give everyone credit in this, they made the most of it. I can’t help but feel they were really enjoying themselves.
With “Death Hits The Jackpot”, we get to revive one of the show’s hoariest old debates, and for many fans, this may not be easy to hear, but – Columbo’s first name is Frank.
I know, I know. Most people have been willing to accept the appearance of the “Frank Columbo” police badge in “Dead Weight” as an Oopsie and move on, since creator William Link insisted that it was a prop man who created it without consulting anyone. Then, the same badge showed up again in “A Matter of Honor”. Just like it was earlier, the close-up with his name is clearly an insert shot added later in post-production. OK, let’s call it another production oversight. In the pre-VCR-freeze-framing era nobody thought it would be an issue.
Producers of New Columbo (Supervising Executive Producer William Link) were presumably aware that Columbo should not have a first name. But here we go again….“Frank Columbo” pops up in 1991’s “Grand Deceptions” on an evidence bag – in the freeze-framing VCR era. OK, that close-up is also an insert shot that was added later in post-production, so let’s generously write it off as a third little blunder.
And now, “Death Hits the Jackpot”. For some reason, in this ep, Columbo is particularly fond of waving his badge before the camera. But its not until the 1:32:17 mark at the Gotcha where he holds it up twice – twice! – to Leon, and there it is, in clear view, neatly typed on the badge (but with a more disheveled photo of Peter Falk): “Frank Columbo”. It’s not a careless insert in post-production, because this time, Falk himself is holding up the badge to show us his name. In the VCR era.
Here are your options: a) Peter Falk and New Columbo were trolling Classic Columbo fans; b) New Columbo didn’t worry/care about what William Link wanted; c) New Columbo didn’t worry/care about continuity and quality control; d) Columbo’s first name is Frank.
Ultimately, the precise moniker is a rather pointless debate. Is it Frank? Philip? Elvis? Pinocchio? It doesn’t matter. Whatever the name, Columbo eschews it in preference of being called “Lieutenant”. Falk himself has said that he thinks his character was “embarrassed” by the name. But a shrink might suggest that Columbo is so consumed by his work that he wants to submerge his own personal name identity in favor of his professional rank identity. His work is his life. That’s the more interesting issue to consider.
As for the actual name, I have to conclude that by this point in the series, after multiple times, they’re trying to tell us something. If there’s ever a reboot, I suggest that the first words out of our hero’s mouth should be, “I’m Frank Columbo, but everyone just calls me Lieutenant.” And never say it (or show it) again.
Speaking of continuity, a 25th anniversary in 1991? I’ve always dated Columbo’s marriage back to 1961. That’s based on his line to Viveca Scott (in 1973): “Every time I shave, there you are … Gee, I’ve seen this picture every day for twelve years.”
I think a more interesting question
is, why does he decline to give his
first name, on the rare occasion he’s
asked (as in By Dawn’s Early Light),
when it’s plain to see on his badge,
which he flashes often?
And who would be embarrassed, or even reluctant, to say his first name is “Frank”? Endeavour Morse, I understand. (Morse was nicknamed “Pagan” at Oxford for refusing to disclose his “Christian name.”) Cosmo Kramer, I understand. But “Frank”?
As the prescient newspaper editor says in the incomparable “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Falk tells that well-rehearsed and humorous tale about Columbo being embarrassed by his name on James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio interview from 1999 – 8 full years after he held up his “Frank Columbo” badge to the camera on “Death Hits the Jackpot”!
I could be wrong on this, but my recollection is that Peter had a hard time passing up a good story, and was, shall we say, “flexible” with his recollections. Coming right out and saying to James Lipton’s audience, “Oh thanks for asking me that Jim. The guy’s name was Frank” would certainly have sucked the oxygen right out of the room.
Side note – Rich, I’ve given up trying to watch Columbo on Cozi. Not only is the picture quality awful, their commitment to cutting scenes in favor of commercials is unmatched. They excised the Culp-sunglasses-montage in their showing of “Death Lends a Hand” a couple weeks ago, and that tells you everything you need to know about Cozi Columbos.
Sadly, it’s like that on every channel that shows /Columbo/, including MeTV and Vision TV. There should be a CRTC regulation against it
I’ve decided his name is now officially Pinocchio. Thanks for finally clearing that up, Glenn.
Glad to be of service, CP. And we can now all agree that Sgt. Wilson’s name was Elvis.
Steady on now, let’s not get silly…
Let’s not forget Sgt. Grover Vernon Humperdinck.
Glenn, you call it “the pre-VCR-freeze-framing era.” Actually, it was the pre-VCR-freeze-framing-and-rotate era. I was rewatching “Dead Weight” on Cozi TV Saturday night. The ID card wasn’t only flashed quickly, it was sideways.
Peter Falk has an obvious hair-dye job as early as “A Friend In Deed,” the official first season premiere, so it’s safe to assume he was a silver fox even at the START of the show. Even in the first season, his hair is sometimes black and sometimes dark brown with reddish highlights. I blame high-def TV, but I think the character should have shown his gray through the entire series — but ESPECIALLY in the reboot shows.
As the author states, a superior, memorable (if flawed) entertainment. Also agreed, it would have been so much better if Leon’s financial predicament had been better explored : Since this was revealed in his broker’s statement, my guess is the scene is set in the aftermath of the ’87 crash – or perhaps a Madhoff type Ponzi scam ?
My other plot concern is that even dimwit Freddie must have realised that once Uncle Leon publicised his lottery win, it would prove almost impossible for him to be satisfied with just 10%, given the inevitable pressure for conspicuous extravagance.
I don’t really have a problem with Freddie’s “hippy” apartment neighbours (particularly poetess, potter, songbird Britt Lind) – though this amiable padding time could obviously have been better spent developing the early plot stages. (Clearly, I am living in the wrong apartment block.)
William Link considered this episode’s gotcha one of his three favorites final Columbo clues (see https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/william-link?clip=96033#interview-clips — starting at about 23:00), and the only one of the three that was his idea. It was conceived during the 70’s run but never used.
Because of the gotcha, CP harkens back to “Suitable for Framing.” I thought of SFF long before that. During the episode’s endless setup, I thought: Oh, for the days of “Suitable for Framing,” where the victim is shot only seconds in. Or those classic Columbos where a perfect murder has been fully planned and its execution already underway when the opening credits roll: Ken Franklin inviting Jim Ferris to San Diego (“Murder by the Book”); Alex Benedict putting Jennifer’s “suicide note” in his briefcase (“Etude in Black”); Col. Lyle Mumford emptying the powder from the cannon charge (“By Dawn’s Early Light”); Oliver Brandt arriving at the Sigma Society with his squibs, alligator clips, and red magic marker (“The Bye-Bye Ski Hi IQ Murder Case”). Even when murder comes late in an episode, like “The Greenhouse Jungle,” it was planned from the beginning.
“Death Hits the Jackpot” takes forever to get going. It’s not just that Columbo doesn’t appear until 32:30, as mentioned, the latest of any episode. We don’t even meet Uncle Leon (Rip Torn) until several minutes in. When we do, murdering Freddy is the furthest thing on his mind. He doesn’t murder Freddy until the 27:30 mark. By that point in most episodes, Columbo has settled on who the murderer is, and is already on his way toward proving it.
For me, the extended pre-Columbo, pre-murder, pre-murder plan, pre-motive to murder (even pre-anyone having any money worth murdering over) period detracts from the episode. I have started to rewatch DHTJ, only to turn it off because of the interminable setup. Was there no way to shorten that first half-hour?
And in several episodes we can see the murderer preparing the murder, but have to guess how to assemble the different elements we see (play back, negative reaction, caution: murder can be hazardous to your health, lady in waiting, the most crucial game…), and even can guess the murderer makes a mistake. In this one, we don’t have any idea.
As 90s episodes go, this one isn’t too bad. Being his show, I’m happy to defer to William Link most times, but this Gotcha seems more contrived than clever. If Freddy had been, say, a vet’s assistant or worked at a zoo and had plausible reason to have animals in his orbit, the ending would have been a bit less telegraphed. I’ve invented a new rule: If an idea was considered and rejected during the Classic Columbo run – like chimp prints or dentist plots – there was probably good reason, so just leave it alone.
There is one moment worthy of Classic status. At his lotto celebration party, the big banner strung across the room says “Leon Did It! $30,435,885!” and there’s Rip Torn, standing directly under the words that tell everyone whodunit.
I checked Koenig’s book. When Link said this had been his idea for an episode that Falk rejected, I assumed he was talking about the 1970’s. Actually, this was a proposed “new” Columbo by Link and Jackson Gillis called “Double Vision,” in which one twin sister kills the other twin and takes her place. The victim was a model who posed for a photographer who had a pet monkey. Falk nixed the story primarily because he had an aversion to evil female characters. He didn’t nix the clue, only the story surrounding it. He made Jeffrey Bloom use it here.
Thank you, Columbophile.
However, have you seen there’s a little error in the figures on the camera?
Figures on the aperture of a camera’s are 32 22 16 11 8 5.6 4, and sometimes 2.8 and 2 .
Or, in ther other way, 2 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22 32 .
5.6 is the “half” of 11, and the double of 2.8 .
Freddie’s camera show the figures 32 22 16 11 8 6 5 4.
The order of 6 and 5 on Freddie’s camera is a mistake.
Mine doesn’t have a 32 aperture, so
I don’t think its universal. It depends
on the size of the lens.
I could believe they just altered the
numbers a little, for the sake of a
matching lottery ticket number.
I completely agree with your assessment of this episode. The the gravitas brought to the episode by Rip Torn really holds the viewer’s attention. And I always felt that Falk playing a bit more seriously and less for comedy also was a big positive, as was the grey hair flecks. I did notice right away the similarity of the “gotcha” to “Suitable For Framing” but it’s not a straight steal, just similar.
Side note. I was always amused by and wanted to count how many times everyone said “Freddy” in the episode. Definitely has to be a record number of times the victim’s name was mentioned. I don’t know why this amuses me.
Yes, “Freddy” is said so much. I’ve always noticed that. It’s kind of funny hearing Rip Torn saying it with faux remorse.