After a hiatus of more than two years since Ashes to Ashes aired, Columbo fans could have been forgiven for thinking they’d never see a new adventure featuring the man in the rumpled mac.
That all changed on March 12, 2001, when Murder With Too Many Notes quietly appeared on schedules with little fanfare. Peter Falk’s BFF Patrick McGoohan was at the helm, while the villain of the piece was – intriguingly – Scottish stand-up comedian Billy Connolly in a rare dramatic role.
After the ratings flop that was Ashes to Ashes, Columbo badly needed a hit in order to remain a viable proposition for Universal and ABC. Could this story of a past-his-prime movie composer slaying his young protégé hit all the right notes? Let’s see…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Findlay Crawford: Billy Connolly
Gabe McEnery: Chad Willett
Rebecca: Hillary Danner
Sergeant Degarmo: Richard Riehle
Sidney Ritter: Charlies Cioffi
Nathaniel Murphy: Obi Ndefo
Tony: Scott Atkinson
Marcia: Anne McGoohan
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Written by: Jeffrey Cava
Score by: Dick DeBenedictis
Movie musical Maestro Findlay Crawford is the John Williams of the Columboverse. Every motion picture he scores wins plaudits for the calibre of his musical interjections – and he even snared an Academy Award for his last great effort on prophetically titled blockbuster The Killer.
The only problem with this is that ol’ Crawford is well past his sell-by date. Nowadays, the best elements of his scores are cooked up by his apprentice Gabe McEnery – an eccentric but likable baby-faced fellow, who listens in via radio to Crawford’s efforts from the film studio roof and lets his instincts guide him towards musical perfection. These efforts are passed on to Crawford, who passes them off as his own.
McEnery, however, is fed up about his lack of stature and prospects at the studio after five years in the great man’s shadow. The score to The Killer was, McEnery claims, 75% his own work – and Crawford didn’t even thank him when accepting the Oscar statuette.
Due to this, McEnery is going to blow the whistle on Crawford and reveal to his long-time directorial cohort Sidney Ritter how the young pretender is really the one pulling the strings. He’ll even show Ritter Crawford’s original score and his own adapted version that won such critical acclaim. Crawford will be finished.
The wily Maestro isn’t all too keen on that outcome, but is able to take advantage of McEnery’s unbelievably trusting and gullible nature. Spinning a cock-and-bull story, he tells his apprentice that he’ll reveal all to Ritter that very evening and will recommend that Gabe and not he scores the director’s next film.
Not only that, he’ll allow McEnery the honour of conducting the symphony orchestra himself at a special ‘Crawford Conducts Crawford’ event at the studio the following night. Amazed by the older man’s gracious offer, McEnery takes the bait and agrees to keep quiet – sealing his own fate in the process.
As soon as the young simpleton vamooses, Crawford puts a wicked scheme into place. He assesses the studio roof, where Gabe is wont to hang out and find musical inspiration as he listens to Crawford conducting the orchestra via radio. Bizarrely, Gabe chooses to conduct right on top of an old freight elevator trapdoor. The elevator hasn’t been in service for years, but a quick demonstration from el Maestro proves that it’s in full working order. Why does this matter? Wait and see, my friends, wait and see…
Next day, a chipper Gabe turns up early at the studio to rehearse for his expected conductorial debut. There, he opens a gift from his lover (and orchestral piano player) Rebecca, AKA Becca. She has thoughtfully provided him with a new baton, inscribed with a secret LOVE MESSAGE written in musical notes. He responds in the form of a musical stave of his own, which he prints and signs and slips into the inside pocket of the hired tuxedo he thinks he’ll be conducting in later on.
Some time later, Crawford arrives at his studio bungalow where a grinning Gabe – now resplendent in his full tux – is in high spirits. These soar higher still when Crawford tells him that Ritter has agreed to allow the young man to score his next movie. To celebrate, Crawford cracks open a bottle of Champagne, which Gabe throws back like a college freshman downing tequila shots. Sadly for him, the fizz has been drugged and the wunderkind is soon gasping for breath and dropping unconscious. As he falls, he cuts his wrist on the broken champagne flute – an incident you can bet will rear its head further down the track.
Putting his scheme firmly into action, Crawford finishes dressing Gabe by putting shoes from the tuxedo bag on the slumbering lad’s feet and stealing his house key. He also clears up the broken wine glass and somehow lugs Gabe’s limp form all the way from bungalow to studio roof, in broad daylight, without being seen. Here, he leaves Gabe on the elevator trapdoor that will fling him over the edge of the building to certain death once it opens, and places the new baton in the luckless youngster’s hand before he splits to get ready for his triumphant evening.
Cut to the waiting audience, three minutes ahead of the curtain going up. Catching up with Ritter, Crawford pretends to have left his baton in his bungalow and urges his compadre to start the intro without him. He uses this time to jallop down to the basement and send the slow-moving elevator on its way to the roof before jalloping back up and emerging right on cue to warm applause from the gathered crowd.
The only potential fly in the ointment appears to be that the creaking of the decrepit elevator appears to have been picked up by the sensitive equipment being used to record the show. Will this come back to haunt the murderous Maestro? Time will tell…
Anyways, Crawford does his thing (wagging his arms vaguely in time to the music) as the elevator creeps inexorably towards the waiting Gabe’s comatose form. Once it reaches the trapdoor, Gabe is catapulted off the roof and plummets to the alley below where he falls at the literal feet of late-running concertgoers Tony and Marcia, who sound the alarm. Cue chest-beating, teeth-gnashing and general commotion as the audience dashes out to gawk at the tragedy.
Naturally enough, police are soon at the scene – chief amongst them our mate Lieutenant Columbo, who is down on all fours, nosing around Gabe’s corpse when we first encounter him. Observant as ever, the detective immediately notices the wet blood from Gabe’s crumpled-in head and the dry blood on the graze to his wrist. Grilling the eye-witnesses, he ascertains that the deceased fell from the roof in complete silence. No Wilhelm scream, no ladyish gasp – not a peep. Strange, no?
An inspection of the roof with his sidekick Sergeant Degarmo further highlights the lack of logic behind Gabe’s silent, deadly plunge. There are only two viable explanations, says Columbo. Gabe was either unconscious or already dead at the time of his fall. (Click below for suitably dramatic musical cue).
The Lieutenant finds his way to Crawford’s bungalow, where the composer is gulping Scotch with gay abandon to ‘recover’ from the ‘shock’ to his system brought about by his protégé‘s demise. He makes general sympathetic noises and does little to arouse suspicion. All Columbo comes away with is Gabe’s tuxedo bag and backpack for further examination – plus the intel that Gabe (of course) used a baton when conducting on the roof. This is another loose end for Columbo to clear up because they find no baton with Gabe’s body nor on the studio roof.
What follows is nearly seven minutes of televisual FILTH as Columbo offers to escort the inebriated Crawford home by road, driving ahead of him at approx. 10 miles per hour, causing rage to Crawford, other road users and viewers alike. Pretending to run out of gas, Columbo then takes the wheel of Crawford’s car and drives him home at a similarly pedestrian pace. The stunt achieves little beyond extending the episode’s running time. Ho-friggin’-hum.
Having found no house key in Gabe’s personal effects, Columbo gains entry to his home via the skillz of a police locksmith. There he encounters a sleepy Rebecca, whom he leaves to her misery taking only a framed photo of Gabe with Crawford at some awards bash in which both are wearing tuxedos. Some aspect of the photo strikes a chord with the detective, who studies it with a magnifying glass before punching the air in a manner that can only indicate he’s arrived at some important conclusion.
Then it’s off to the tuxedo rental joint where he hears that Gabe asked for a discount on the hire if he didn’t take the shoes with it. However, he was in so excitable a mood that he ended up with shoes anyway, although the shop clerk had to guess the shoe size as Gabe was in a world of his own and unresponsive to basic questions (?).
From here, Columbo races to the studio where he interrupts Crawford and his orchestra rehearsing. After some excruciating moments during which Columbo joins a sing-song of That’s Amore before failing to recognise iconic scores from Psycho and Jaws, he hits on some luck. A playback of the concert recording from the night of Gabe’s death reveals some grating and rumbling noise in the background. It’s a snippet the Lieutenant squirrels away for later.
In conversation with Crawford, Columbo reveals what so interested him in the photo he took from Gabe’s house: he was wearing sneakers even whilst in a tuxedo. Indeed, he always wore sneakers. So why was he in dress shoes on the night of his death? Crawford responds the way any sensible person would, suggesting Gabe probably hired them this time because he was about to conduct in front of a live audience for the first time and wanted to look his best. So far, the investigation is leaving him completely unruffled.
Once darkness falls, we find Crawford letting himself into Gabe’s modest home with the stolen key. ‘Why would he take such a risk?‘ I hear you scream? Well, it’s because he wants to get his hands on some crucial evidence and it’s not long before he finds it. Tucked away under the bed is a box of Gabe’s musical compositions – including the reworked score to The Killer, which won Crawford the Academy Award. Without that, it’ll be tough for Columbo to prove motive against him.
Columbo, meanwhile, has been musing on Gabe’s AWOL baton. Perhaps it fell down the elevator shaft? To that end, he gets a tour of the basement from Ritter and spots clear evidence of clutter recently being moved to enable access to the elevator itself, and a distinct lack of dust on the up and down buttons. However, when the Lieutenant attempts to get the lift moving he draws a complete blank. What he does find, though, is that pesky baton – and it will help the detective blow the case wide open.
Taking it to show Rebecca, Columbo is finally dished some useful dirt. She explains that Gabe had been pulling Crawford’s strings for a considerable time, and that pretty much every note of The Killer’s score was Gabe’s handiwork. Of course, she can’t find the amended score to back up her words, because (as we know) it’s now in Crawford’s oily clutches. It leaves Columbo facing an uphill battle to prove foul play.
Things aren’t going all Crawford’s way, though. Now unable to harness Gabe’s creative magic, the score for his latest film is going nowhere fast. Ritter brays that “it stinks” and gives Crawford a day to make it right. It’s at this opportune moment that Columbo emerges and makes a bad day worse by revealing that he’s treating Gabe’s death as murder. Maybe Crawford can help him find the killer?
Although Crawford scoffs at the very notion, Columbo starts slapping down some hard facts. He’s discovered what caused the noise caught on tape in the background of his concert on the night Gabe died – the freight elevator. He theorises that it was sent on its way up to the roof during Ritter’s introductory comments and reached its destination shortly after Crawford began waggling his baton on stage. To demonstrate, he takes Crawford and Sergeant Degarmo on a little jaunt up to the roof with him.
When they arrive, they’re not alone. Becca is there, seated at an electric keyboard. Tony and Marcia, who witnessed Gabe’s body crash onto the ground, are there too. It is now that Columbo explains that finding the baton in the basement is what convinced him the elevator was used to slay poor Gabe. After all, the baton handle is too wide to allow it to fall through the trapdoor unless it was wide open.
So why didn’t Gabe simply hear the elevator coming up the shaft and get off the trapdoor, Crawford asks. Because he was unconscious, Columbo explains. And he can prove it. The dried blood on Gabe’s wrist revealed traces of secobarbital – a strong sedative that swiftly metabolises in the bloodstream. Although no trace of the drug was found in Gabe’s body, the dried blood was full of it. Ergo, Gabe cut himself shortly after ingesting the secobarbital and was unconscious long enough for it to metabolise. That’s why he didn’t hear the elevator approaching – and why he didn’t scream as he nosedived 80ft to his death.
Add into the mix that damning, missing musical score, the missing house key and the odd fact that Gabe was wearing dress shoes two sizes too big for his feet and you (allegedly) have a recipe for murder. Despite the flimsy nature of the case against him, Crawford cheerfully submits to police custody. We’re left with the heart-warming sight of Becca teaching Columbo how to play This Old Man on the keyboard as credits blissfully roll…
Patrick McGoohan is an undoubted Columbo icon, but one who leaves something of a chequered legacy. One the one hand, we have a magnificent actor and creative mind who gelled so well with Peter Falk that he would have a connection with the show stretching nearly 25 years as a co-star, writer and director.
On the other, McGoohan’s appetite for eccentricity, for encouraging Falk to ‘push the boundaries’ of the established Columbo character and for extensive rewrites of the episodes he was involved in contributed nearly as many negatives as positives.
For all the nuanced brilliance of his performance as Colonel Rumford in By Dawn’s Early Light, and for the majestic directorial touches displayed in Identity Crisis, there was too often madness in the method. Few can forget (or forgive) the debacle that was Last Salute to the Commodore – a fine mystery on paper that was ruined by over-indulgent silliness by Falk and director McGoohan.
An excellent – and largely restrained – dual role as co-star/director of Agenda for Murder in 1990 resulted in one of the best Columbo adventures of the new era, and while his reappearance as a killer in 1998’s Ashes to Ashes was a welcome boost to an ailing series, his script tinkering and injection of camp nonsense (such as the God-awful Funeral Director’s awards musical medley) took some of the edge off a decent story.
Alas, Ashes to Ashes bombed in the ratings, pulling in Columbo’s lowest ratings of the 90s. However, with pre-production on Murder With Too Many Notes already well underway when Ashes aired in October 1998, McGoohan and Falk were given another chance to dance a last tango. McGoohan wouldn’t star in this one (although he was Falk’s first choice) but he did agree to direct and promptly gave Jeffrey Cava’s original script a damn good thrashing to get it into what he considered suitable shape ahead of filming.
Agonisingly – for both Cava and viewers – the changes he introduced seemingly served only to dilute the strength of the original mystery, and to cater to McGoohan and Falk’s fondness for fooling around. I recommend reading David Koenig’s 2021 epic Shooting Columbo for more detailed intel on the production of this episode. In a nutshell, though, McGoohan tore the heart out of Cava’s story, jettisoning several crucial clues and replacing them with mindless filler, such as the aforementioned scene of Columbo escorting Crawford home, and the absolute TOSH of the Lieutenant shambling through failed attempts to identify iconic movie scores.
We haven’t encountered a Columbo characterisation as annoying as this since Last Salute to the Commodore, but whereas that Lieutenant irked due to his stoned demeanour and touchy-feeliness, this one enrages due to his presentation as a borderline-senile idiot on numerous occasions.
I’ve shown the series some tough love during my reviews of the revival-era episodes, largely due to some gimmicky production decisions (tuba!) and the inconsistent, increasingly cartoonish nature of the Columbo portrayal. This episode is the culmination of that descent, with pretty much everyone Columbo encounters throughout the episode’s 98-minute running time having justifiable reason to consider him a picnic basket short of a picnic.
Early in the piece, Columbo’s sidekick, Sergeant Degarmo, looks quizzically at his superior officer when he starts to conduct an imaginary orchestra on the studio roof. Columbo later struggles to come up with the word ‘unconscious’ without Degarmo’s prompting, and even launches into random conversation about the cuteness of walruses with the Sergeant and a bemused Findlay Crawford.
Far worse, though, is his behaviour when escorting the drunken Crawford home by road. Columbo drives at no more than 10mph and repeatedly stops his vehicle and dashes over to Crawford’s to raise minor points relating to the case. Faking an empty gas tank, he then gets behind the wheel of Crawford’s Bentley – and continues to drive at no more than 10mph. How we laughed…
It’s a scene that eats up more than 7 minutes of screentime but does nothing to further Columbo’s case. We’ve seen him engage in shenanigans in the past to unsettle his quarry (e.g. dropping in unannounced to get Alex Benedict’s autograph and snoop at his house, asking Paul Galesko for a pin-up photo of a cocker spaniel), but this is taking that to the nth degree. There’s no pay-off from this scene, and absolutely no charm. Columbo is simply being an annoying presence – to both Crawford and the viewer at home. Bah humbug!
Even this pales in comparison to the skin-crawling AGONY of his visit to Crawford and his orchestra during rehearsals, which is hands-down one of the worst Columbo scenes of any era. The detective’s vacancy and pained facial expressions as he attempts to recall the titles of two of the world’s most popular and unforgettable films (Psycho and Jaws) after hearing their entirely distinctive theme tunes is embarrassing enough. Having the entire orchestra shout out the answers to him as if he were a simple child is an insult to viewer intelligence.
Again, it’s several steps beyond Columbo’s usual bumbling schtick. He may want to ensure Crawford underestimates his threat level, but has no reason to make an idiot of himself in front of a whole orchestra – yet that’s exactly what he appears to be. If I’d been an eyewitness to his antics here I’d have been calling the LAPD to seek assurances that he was actually on their payroll and not just some elderly weirdo who had lost his way on a studio tour. For a character who has provided so much delight, and exhibited such mental dexterity over the decades, it’s unforgivable to present him this way.
Falk isn’t alone in being lampooned in this scene, though, with the scripting and direction also serving to make a complete monkey out of Crawford. For starters, McGoohan has him jigging impishly at his keyboard to the backdrop of a sinister film score and leading his orchestra in a sing-song of That’s Amore. Would John Williams indulge in such silliness? I have my doubts…
Crawford also spouts some utter piffle about how moviegoers never notice a film score if it’s good – only if it’s bad. This is palpably untrue and a very odd thing to have a renowned, Oscar-winning composer even think, let alone say aloud. It’s indicative of McGoohan’s overindulgence when redressing the script. Sadly, Falk apparently was in no mood to reign him in, as the disastrous scene below clearly indicates…
It also appears that McGoohan took a number of liberties with the clues provided in the original script, amending or omitting several that would have helped Columbo create a much stronger case against Crawford. For all his endeavours, Columbo has almost no concrete evidence against Crawford by episode’s end. It makes the gotcha scene a decidedly weak one – just as the Ashes to Ashes gotcha was in our last outing.
The only meaningful proof Columbo amasses is that poor Gabe McEnery was sedated prior to his death. The traces of secobarbital in the dried blood wound on his wrist are proof of that. His lack of a death scream also suggests that he remained unconscious to the end, when the studio freight elevator door popped him over the edge of the roof to his demise four storeys below.
What this patently does not prove, however, is that Findlay Crawford was responsible. No witnesses saw them together prior to the evening show. No one saw Crawford shift Gabe’s unconscious form around the studio lot and onto its roof in broad daylight. No one eyed Crawford as he slunk into the basement and set the freight elevator on its way to the roof. Yes, Columbo can infer that someone did all this, but there’s nothing to say it was Crawford.
For all his endeavours, Columbo has almost no concrete evidence against Crawford by episode’s end.
Even Becca’s revelation that Gabe wrote almost all of the Oscar-winning score to The Killer is really neither here nor there, because there’s no proof of that beyond her word. Having already robbed Gabe’s house and removed the incriminating, revised score, Crawford can simply deny it and counter-claim that Gabe was developing delusions of grandeur.
Likewise, Columbo discerning that someone else must have put dress shoes on Gabe because the ones hired were too big, and that he always wore trainers, falls well short of being damning. How about having Columbo reference the laces being tried incorrectly like in Exercise in Fatality to give that clue a bit more clout? As it is, it’s all just a load of unsubstantiatied, circumstantial poppycock.
Crawford remains jovial to the end, quipping with Columbo about whether there are any penitentiaries with a decent music program he could contribute to. Many viewers consider this to be a confession of guilt, but Crawford could always later spin it and say he was merely playing along with the ludicrous nature of the investigation and has no real idea what the Lieutenant was talking about. It certainly wasn’t a full-on confession like that of Investigator Brimmer or Justin and Coop in preceding years.
To my mind, Crawford has nothing to fear here. There’s little doubt that he’ll be a free man 20 minutes later when Columbo’s furious superiors release him due to lack of evidence – while simultaneously busting Columbo back down to Sergeant for sullying the good name of the LAPD. As finales go, this one is a real limp lettuce.
The person who must have been most hurt by all this was Jeffrey Cava, who was a young production assistant at Universal at the time, and who produced the teleplay on spec and worked hard to get it seen and read. Witnessing McGoohan undo so much of his work must have felt like a knife in the guts and I wonder what long-term damage it did to Cava’s confidence. Too Many Notes remains his one and only screenwriting credit.
The pity of it is that there are some strong elements to the murder plot of Too Many Notes, and the opening 25+ minutes are really rather engaging. The murder method is reasonably unique (notwithstanding borrowed elements from Murder Under Glass) and I’m interested in – if not enthralled by – the situation playing out between Crawford and young Gabe.
I wouldn’t say Billy Connolly is the world’s greatest thespian but he puts in a creditable turn as Crawford, particularly during the opening scenes when he has to display fallibility, affability and complete callousness in his interactions with Gabe. He’s also leaps and bounds ahead of fellow Columbo Maestro John Cassavetes when it comes to simulating conducting an orchestra, his arm waggling being at least somewhat in time to the music.
Interestingly, Jeremy Irons had been approached the play the role before Connolly but his price-tag was too high. Once Connolly was cast, the Maestro character was rewritten to be a hard-drinking Scot played by a hard-drinking Scot – something that famously caused some tension on the set during filming when a slurring Connolly was unable to remember or recite his lines with any clarity. It has been well documented that a fuming McGoohan stopped filming and delivered a very public down-dressing to Connolly, who retreated to his dressing room to sober up and commit his lines to memory.
Leaving that blip aside, Connolly is fine in the role, being neither the best nor worst of Columbo villainy, but at least committing to the role and being convincing enough given the episode’s cartoony presentation. Even the name of his character is an in-joke based on a stand-up sketch of Connolly’s in which he pokes fun of the names rich folk give their children – Findlay and Crawford being two examples he gives.
Chad Willett’s Gabe McEnery makes for a sympathetic victim, although one must club him together with the likes of Tony Goodland (Greenhouse Jungle) and Lily La Sanka (Murder by the Book) as gullible fools who didn’t cotton on to such obvious signposting that their lives were in jeopardy. Sadly, that’s a lesson that can only be learned once…
My favourite bit-part player is the impressively moustached Sergeant Degarmo, played by prolific character actor Richard Riehle, who has chalked up more than 400 credits since the late 1970s. Riehle also popped up as the same character in Ashes to Ashes and has a slightly expanded role here, notable for his genuine likeness to a walrus being cheekily referenced in the closing stages of the episode.
That aside, though, it’s pretty slim pickings for the supporting cast with even Gabe’s love interest Becca (Hillary Danner, niece of Columbo alum Blythe Danner, and cousin to Gwyneth Paltrow) relegated to a cursory background role that could easily have been fleshed out to give her something worthwhile to do. She gets a couple of decent scenes with Falk but her contribution to his investigation is negligible and is more notable for her busting out a rendition of This Old Man on the studio rooftop to a dah-dah-dahhing Columbo, which serves as the crowning turd on this most unimpressive adventure.
Whatever potential Murder With Too Many Notes may have had in its original form, it’s final, McGoohanified version is a distinctly unsatisfying experience. And that’s not just my view. IMDB’s fan rankings place only three Columbo episodes below this one in the overall popularity stakes: Murder in Malibu, No Time to Die and Last Salute. I think that’s a fair enough assessment and the ABC network decision makers of the day were similarly unimpressed.
Despite filming wrapping up in December 1998, the episode was canned for nearly two-and-half years, finally rearing its ugly head in March 2001. In the interim, Falk and co. continued to plan for future Columbo episodes with no guarantee there would ever be another one. However, when Too Many Notes did debut it surprised and delighted ABC execs with a strong ratings performance that paved the way for Columbo Likes the Nightlife.
To put it bluntly, Columbo himself is the most ruinous aspect of this episode.
While viewers of the day may have tuned in in sufficient numbers to prolong the Lieutenant’s lifespan, it’s an episode that stands up woefully today when considered purely on its merits. McGoohan and Falk had given fans plenty to cheer about over the course of their 25-year Columbo love-in, but whatever magic they had was conspicuous by its absence here.
Granted, Too Many Notes is not the shock to the system that Last Salute to the Commodore was in Columbo’s heyday, but this is a still a bad piece of television featuring some questionable storytelling and plunging the Columbo characterisation into unwelcome new lows. To put it bluntly, Columbo is the most ruinous aspect of this episode. Everything takes a nosedive once he’s in it. That should never be the case. Yet it happened, and it happened on McGoohan’s watch.
Due to the time taken to get this review together, I was forced to endure Too Many Notes twice to ensure I didn’t overlook anything vital in the write-up. After that, I can’t envisage watching it again this side of 2030. For a Columbo contributor with as proud a history as Patrick McGoohan, Murder With Too Many Notes is one heck of a disappointing way to sign off.
Did you know?
Despite the row with McGoohan, Billy Connolly has nothing but good memories of his time on Too Many Notes. As recently as 2022, Connolly spoke of his Columbo experience with gladness in his heart, while also revealing that a framed photo of himself with Peter and Patrick takes pride of place on his mantelpiece. You love to hear it.
Meanwhile, keen viewers may remember that Patrick McGoohan’s daughter Catherine appeared alongside him in Ashes to Ashes and this time the familial love was shared again with with another of his three daughters, Anne. McGoohan Jnr. was cast as Marcia, one half of the husband-and-wife duo who encountered Gabe as he splatted on the tarmac. This was her sole acting credit.
Not only that, Hillary Danner’s father Harry also got a bit-part in this episode as some county morgue guy. With all this nepotism galloping around, it’s a wonder that Shera Danese didn’t get a walk-on part!
How I rate ’em
You don’t need to have the detective nous of Columbo to realise that I don’t consider Murder With Too Many Notes to be amongst the show’s finest hours. How bad is it? Very bad indeed… And while I won’t go as far as to place it rock bottom of the standings, it’s easily amongst the worst outings of either Columbo era.
To read my reviews of any of the other revival Columbo episodes up to this point, simply click the links in the list below. You can see how I rank all the ‘classic era’ episodes here.
- Columbo Goes to College — top tier new Columbo episodes —
- Agenda for Murder
- Death Hits the Jackpot
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Ashes to Ashes
- It’s All in the Game
- Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine — 2nd tier starts here —
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
- Butterfly in Shades of Grey
- A Bird in the Hand…
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star — 3rd tier starts here —
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- Uneasy Lies the Crown
- A Trace of Murder
- Strange Bedfellows — 4th tier starts here —
- No Time to Die
- Grand Deceptions
- Murder With Too Many Notes
- Murder in Malibu
I’ve done my part, so now it’s over to you. Is Murder With Too Many Notes a true stinker, or do you find more to enjoy about it than I do? How does Billy Connolly work as a Columbo killer in your eyes? And what damage – if any – does this do to Patrick McGoohan’s legacy? Head to the comments section and share your views with the waiting world.
Now that I’ve finally got that review out of the way, I’ll be able to turn my attentions to the final stop on our epic Columbo marathon: 2003’s Columbo Likes the Nightlife. Can an episode involving murder most foul set against a rave scene backdrop possibly grant a suitable send-off for one of TV’s most beloved characters? We’ll find out soon…
Billy Connolly is basically a silly man. Any suggestion of silliness in an actor is fatal to being convincing in the role of good, straight villain. Eric Idle for example would never have cut the mustard as a Columbo murderer, admirable & talented fellow though he is. Plenty of comedians and comic actors have, and could carry off villanous roles. But Billy Connolly is not one of them. If an over-the-top Scotchman was essential for the part on Findlay, the late Robbie Coltrane would have made a better fist of it in “Too Many Notes”. Frankly, almost anybody would. This dreadfully feeble episode deserves to have been more mercilessly panned by CP & the commentariat than seems to be the case.
Gotta disagree! Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Steve Carrell, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Bob Odenkirk, Melissa McCarthy, Bill Murray, Jamie Foxx, Bryan Cranston, Will Smith, Chris Rock. These actors were known for their comedic skills (some were sillier/goofier than others, of course), but did a very good — sometimes great — job in serious roles. If the actor is skilled enough, he or she can make you forget what he’s been know for in their past roles/success.
Connolly was excellent in “Mrs. Brown” with Judi Dench. As I recall, he was also quite good in “Absolution” with Richard Burton (a thriller by Anthony Shaffer of “Sleuth” and “Wicker Man” fame).
Unfair assessment, in my opinion. Connolly is an excellent actor who has appeared in plays from Shaw to “Play For Today” in the 70s. He has played downright frightening people (see: The Debt Collector) and, as others have noted, has a real dramatic flair. Also, a “Scotchman” is a man made of whisky. A Scotsman is a male human being who is Scottish.
I laughed aloud so many times while reading this – especially the captions. You’re a gem!
‘Too many notes, dear Mozart, too many notes’ is what Emperor Joseph II supposedly said after the first performance of the Entfuhrung aus dem Serail in Vienna’s old Burgtheater. Mozart’s reply was: ‘Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.’
I did not mind this episode as much as some here. I thought the story itself was good. I agree with the criticism of the drunken drive, but even that did not bother me that much. Having said that, I think there are far worse episodes of the re-boot era.
Is the reason this episode is called ‘Murder with Too Many Notes’ because of the notes on the baton? The way I understand how this makes sense is as follows: By having Rebecca play those notes on the rooftop it confirms that it wasn’t just any old baton that Columbo found at the bottom of the elevator shaft, but it was, in fact, the baton given to Gabe that day by Becca herself. And, since the baton couldn’t have fit through the crack in the elevator rooftop door it proves that the elevator was operated and – combined with the secobarbital evidence – establishes murder. This seems like a reasonable explanation for the title to me, but how do others see it? If this explanation is correct it indeed draws a link between the notes and the murder, but it still is in no way a ‘gotcha’ that proves that Findlay Crawford is the murderer.
Or — it could simply be that it’s a provocative title that doesn’t entirely fit the story. It wouldn’t be the first time. “Prescription: Murder”? Did Dr. Flemming ever write anyone a prescription? According to Joseph Cotten (who played Flemming on stage), in his autobiography “Vanity Will Get You Somewhere,” the title was something his wife Patricia Medina (who played Flemming’s mistress, named Susan in the stage version) thought up during rehearsals.
It’s a reference to Amadeus, when an emperor hears Mozart’s music and says it has too many notes.
Interesting. Peter S. Fischer’s original draft script of “In Deadly Hate” — later entirely rewritten by Peter S. Feibleman as “Old Fashioned Murder” — tracked Shakespeare’s Richard III. Is it possible that Jeffrey Cava’s original draft script of “Murder with Too Many Notes” — before Patrick McGoohan got his claws into it — tracked Amadeus playwright Peter Schaffer’s suspicions that Antonio Salieri murdered Mozart?
That’s a good point – I can definitely see the parallels with Mozart and Salieri. (The emperor supposedly said this in real life as well.)
I liked this episode. The storyline was good and believable. The car ride scene was very slow and tedious. Crawford (Connolly) was really good as the villain. He even looked the part with that beard and devilish grin. There was alot of sympathy built up for the very gullible McEnery (Willett). Columbo (Falk), except for that long car ride, was clever in solving the crime. Especially the quite fall clue from the building. I actually enjoyed the musicality of the show. I agree the case would have been difficult to prosecute in court. Just not enough to prove the case.I also liked that Crawford had an apparent drinking problem. He was a flawed villain. Very believable. Except for that endless car ride, IMO, a descent Columbo, but could have been alot better. Hillary Danner (Rebecca) was good.
Gee, I forgot to bring some evidence with me
Caption made me laugh out loud!
Totally agree with Columbofile review. One of the five worst ever episodes of the series. McGoohan was always idiosyncratic both in front of and behind the camera. And while his best work was done in the UK in the 1960s at Borehamwood and Shepperton – he I think got far too clever for his own good. Clearly Mr Falk as Exec Producer on ‘Columbo’ seems to have been good mates with McGoohan and as a result gave him far too much freedom to tinker and mess around with other people’s ( such as here with James Cava’s ) original script. Mr Cava must have been very upset at the results of Mr McGoohan’s meddling. And by the end of this penultimate episode I was left wondering what had happened to the Columbo character. Certainly well past it’s sell-by date. McGoohan’s appearance in an earlier ‘Columbo’, where he played a CIA operative was possibly his best front of camera performance. He by then had a well-publicised reputation for being difficult to work with. To diverge slightly, The Prisoner series finale episode made in late 1967/early 1968 entitled ‘Fallout’ was well panned for being a complete disaster and cop-out. And – while Mr Falk by 1998 may have been experiencing a serious decline in his mental health ( dementia ! ) – McGoohan thirty years earlier in 1968 was having some kind of mental breakdown making The Prisoner – no wonder when he was trying to be the whole show – and by all accounts, certainly not a nice person to be around – as reported by some of the actors / actresses who had the misfortune to work with him on that show. ( Leo McKern reputedly suffered a heart attack while working on ‘Once Upon A Time’ and ‘Fallout’ through being driven to the limits by the unrelenting demands of Mr McGoohan ! For me, the early series ‘Columbo’s ‘ are generally the best – but with definitely some ‘duds’ and ‘Last Salute ….being in my view the absolute worst of them all. RIP Mr Falk / Columbo.
Honestly, I think that Pat McGoohan is the worst possible thing that could have happened to Columbo, because his genius is only slightly outweighed by his ineptitude.
I had never seen Billy Connelly before (or after) so I was unfamiliar with his background. I thought he “overdid” it with his conducting motions (but I know next to nothing about conducting)
Those seven minutes of driving home were AWFUL when I first viewed it. Now, I can get through it because I thought Connelly did a tremendous job of showing his frustration in the scene.
“Jaws” and “Psycho” scene was one of the worst EVER.
What exactly is a “bungalow?” LOL
One positive: Columbo’s early clue that nobody heard any screaming from the victim while falling.
Looking ahead, “the fish ending” in the finale….I feel cheated. At no time (I think) were viewers led to believe the body was in the fish tanks in the floor. Where did Columbo come up with that?
Billy Connolly as the guest murderer in the penultimate episode of the franchise – what a truly wretched concept !
Maybe Robbie Coltrane could have done a better job. Maybe not.
Maybe, maybe, maybe …. In truth, the episode is so appallingly feeble, it’s simply not worth discussing.
There’s an alternate timeline wherein this episode wasn’t directed and rewrote by Patrick McGoohan, it’d be interesting to live in that one.
Apologies while I take a moment to veer away from MWTMN to add to CP’s discussion of Patrick McGoohan.
To help put McGoohan’s work with “Columbo” into some context, it’s instructive to look at his very obscure 1977 CBS medical drama TV series, “Rafferty”. Yes, McGoohan had an American TV series. I quote: “Come hell or hospital foul-ups, no one steps between Rafferty and his patients!….Disease and red tape are his enemies. Guts and dedication are his ammo. Patrick McGoohan is the rugged, outspoken doctor you want on (and at!) your side!”
If this exclamation-heavy hyperbole sounds like a warm-up for 2004’s “House”, you’d be right. As detailed in this very entertaining deep-dive, (Unmutual Website – The Prisoner Article Archive – Illusion of Freedom Patrick McGoohan Portmeirion) (theunmutual.co.uk), McGoohan signed on by saying, “I liked this doctor guy”, and indeed, the gruff, iconoclastic, red-tape aversive, crusading Doc role seems tailor-made for McGoohan. But that turned sour rather quickly: “I wanted him to be a roving doctor, and they promised me this would happen. And instead of that, I was spending all my time walking up and down f&*#ing hospital corridors!”
“Rafferty” came just over a year post-“Last Salute”, after McGoohan had had almost unfettered freedoms gifted to him by Falk in his earlier “Columbo” TV work. “Rafferty” took that control away. “A disaster … the most miserable job I’ve ever done in my life … a total frustration from start to finish … The scripts [were] monstrous pieces of garbage, [with] no time to rewrite them … There were too many people in charge and all passing the buck. I counted them. There were 11 people who thought that they were the ‘creators’ of this load of garbage. But you couldn’t find one to take responsibility [when it failed].”
“Rafferty” was slotted opposite “Monday Night Football” (on ABC at the time) and an NBC Movie of the Week, and reviews were, at best, mixed. It never had a chance. CBS toe-tagged it after 10 episodes aired in late 1977 (13 were filmed). One wonders why the principled McGoohan would’ve agreed to the hectic and chaotic pace required to churn out weekly episodic television. The best guess, of course, is money. After the enormous clout he had making “The Prisoner” and “Secret Agent”, nobody in the US or Britain was giving him the control over projects that he wanted, with one exception – Peter Falk. “Columbo, you see, was OK because Peter had the same sort of situation that I had in England. He had say-so.”
Why did McGoohan lean into the odd characterization choices, oft-goofy tones, and script butchery of 90s Columbo? IMHO, the answer is simple – because he could. Falk was the only person on the planet who would indulge the mighty Patrick McGoohan.
I’ve linked to the only extended piece I could find of “Rafferty”. I’ll let you count how many times the really terrible opening credits insist on telling you the show’s title:
RAFFERTY 1977 Starring Patrick McGoohan rare TV medical show – YouTube
Try these –
I sense a genre problem. The clip you posted was written by Robert Van Scoyk (who also co-produced the entire series), the only writer to win an Edgar Award for a Columbo (“Murder Under Glass”). Van Scoyk was a mystery writer: Columbo, Banacek, Ellery Queen, Murder, She Wrote. The IMDb descriptions of the two Rafferty episodes he wrote read like mysteries: “Rafferty plays detective … “; “Dr. Sid Rafferty is determined to prove that a businessman who died in the crash of a private aircraft he was piloting did not commit suicide.” But the description of the series seems anything but: “Military surgeon Rafferty, now a civilian, brings his rigid army ways to the more casual scene at City General. Often clashing with other staff, he’s a mentor to carefree Daniel Gentry while oblivious to nurse Vera’s affection for him.” And the pilot is also standard medical fare: “Dr. Rafferty fends off a millionaire parent, a socialite surgeon, and a malpractice suit as he works to rid a teenager of a near-total paralysis.”
So what exactly was Rafferty’s genre? Maybe no one ever figured that out.
“If I’d been an eyewitness to his antics here I’d have been calling the LAPD to seek assurances that he was actually on their payroll and not just some elderly weirdo who had lost his way on a studio tour.“ LMAO
Wow. I didn’t realize these posts were this new. I’ve been binging the show for the past month or so. I’m only up to Murder, a Self Portrait (Review posted June 2020), but I wanted to see what the consensus was on future episodes and realized this is a new post!
Here I thought this was just an older site the whole time.
What might have been ! Jeremy Irons is one of the world’s worst actors – how he ever made the big time is a complete mystery in itself, fully deserving of its own episode. The desperately wan thespian is both wholly unconvincing at everything he does, while at the same time coming across as deeply creepy in an indescribable, but unsavoury kind of way. The role of fraudulent composer/conductor in “Notes” would have suited him to a tee. What a shame his agent was too greedy!
Billy Connolly’s all too predictable inadequacy in the piece, for which presumably he must have been content to accept a mere fistful of bawbees, should have attracted far more critical opprobrium from CP in his latest review – inexplicably the hirsute jock escaped virtually scot free.
In real life there is a very good, serious, Scottish, classical conductor, Donald Runnicles by name, who continues to look eerily like Billy Connolly used to look – before he became very old & ill. Curiously “Runnicles” would have been a far better name for the Big Yin’s character in the Columbo debacle than “Crawford”
Some years ago I attended a BBC Proms orchestral concert in London without any prior knowledge of who would be conducting, and as the man I now know to be “Sir Donald” strode towards the podium in the Royal Albert Hall, I was momentarily convinced that Findlay Crawford had beaten the rap and was still plying his old trade – but maybe with a different baton.
Just a minor continuity thing, but Columbo already knows how to play “This Old Man” on piano, he did it in Season 7’s “Try and Catch Me” (IDK if links work on here but here’s a clip: https://www.tumblr.com/columboscreens/715988751843786752?source=share). Why did he have to ask Rebecca how to play it?
Perhaps he was just trying to take poor Rebecca’s mind off the loss of her true love by playing the fool?
There’s a hilarious moment you didn’t mention where some guy says “I love clues!”
Another spot on review! I do find the episode entertaining, mainly because I find Billy Connolly entertaining. [Much the same way Clive Revell was one of the few redeeming features of “The Conspirators.”] And I thought the old-dried-blood vs new-blood as a means of proving that Gabe had been drugged was pretty clever. But dear God… the movie soundtracks scene (ohh… da fish… da FISH!) and Driving Miss Daisy scene were utterly dreadful. I think I literally cringed. And yes, there was sufficient evidence that it was murder and not an accident, but nothing that points directly at Findlay Crawford. As our friend Oscar Finch once pointed out (and I’m going from memory here), “You do realize that an accusation of that nature requires proof of presence at the scene of the crime? Have you got it?”
Let me at least raise a glass to Charles Cioffi, who played an engaged Sidney Ritter as a no nonsense hard charging producer-director. I enjoyed his engaging directness with Columbo and Crawford.
Yay! Yet another CP review that was as side-splitting & insightful as the episode itself was pointless & awkward. A million thanks, as always!
I agree with your review. McGoohan is the true villian in this installment, and it’s not even enjoyable enough to hate-watch. (Post found via Twitter)
The killer’s motive is the weakest point of the episode. Findlay can’t write good scores anymore but his anonym partner can – so why to kill him? Okay, he wants to have credits and fame finally but he’s also a broke young man: shoot his mouth with money first, bribe him, you have all the money in the world. Killing him will end your career also plus you’ll potentially end up in jail.
This is a rather frustrating entry with a nice set-up that goes nowhere. The fact that it allows for the viewer to concoct more viable alternatives, as the episode goes on, only makes it more disappointing.
When I saw this, I called it a “plus-and-minus episode: it has its good and its bad points.”
Good: Billy Connolly looks like he is having the time of his life. Having been dumped into the sinking ship of Head of the Class (and its bizarre sequel Billy) in 1990-92, you can’t say he had good TV experience. Playing an absolute GIT in a dramatic series had to be a great departure for him, and he is terrific to watch, even having fun with Columbo in playing the musical scores!
Good: Charles Cioffi! It’s a minor role, but Cioffi–famed for playing vicious villains and unscrupulous characters in endless TV guest shots, plays a relatively decent guy here and really enjoys it.
Good (REALLY good); Dick DeBenedictis’ score. It SOUNDS like an Oscar winner. And of particular note is the concert near the end, when it intentionally goes from soaring heights to total DRECK. As a music lover, I cheered (not literally) to hear a maestro at work.
Bad: PETER FALK. Most of it has been said already, but what I said to myself still applies: “At 73 (I didn’t know how long this episode had sat on the shelf), he looks 90 and sometimes acts it.”
PATRICK McGOOHAN. He directs as though he’s 90, or working for Aaron Spelling at the latter’s worst. Why, oh why did the conductor have his stopwatch on his music stand to count the time of the elevator rising? Gee, all he needed was to establish an alibi and he already did that. How, oh how did an unathletic conductor carry an unconscious man into a studio and to the elevator (I guess)? Why oh why didn’t the unconscious man wake up at some point in the hours before the
concert? Et cetera.
I gave this two stars on a four-point scale. Guessing I was too glad to see Columbo in any form.
Really not sure about the ranking. Watching this episode is one thing, but for all its flaws, 19 to 21 aren’t really better.
For me the disappointment lies more in the wasted potential. I don’t mind the elements which are there, including Columbo’s antics. Much more I dislike that they wasted time which could have been used to show an actual trail of breadcrumbs – something most new Columbos lack. Instead we get single pieces of circumstancial evidence piled up. Columbo cracked the elevator puzzle – that destroys the alibi. He finds a motive. Usually the murderer would now have to get connected to the weapon or location. Like the fuse for the elevator or the tainted champagne, either of which could be rather easily written into the car scene, adding some meaning to it. And it is painful that while watching, I could have these thoughts in real-time, whereas a bunch of professionals creating the episode seem to have failed getting there.
A tedious episode that is in my bottom five, and i agree that the last episode (Nightlife) was actually really well done and i’m glad that was the final one. This episode is just not that entertaining. There are others that have faults also but at least they are a fun watch, this one though…ugh.
It’s primary flaw is its runtime
First, Columbophile, thank you so much for this review which was certainly worth waiting for! Your humorous review was so much better than this wretched episode.
For me, worse than anything else (or at least as bad as everything else), was the totally unrealistic characterization of Rebecca in the last scene. Wasn’t she supposed to be in love with the victim? Wasn’t she grieving in bed at his place earlier? Here is she is playing around with Columbo on the roof where her lover’s dead body was catapulted over the edge and she appears to be enjoying herself. One would expect her to have emotional difficulty just being there and wanting to get away from that place as soon as possible. For me, when the writing fails in this way, the whole story is ruined.
Besides the non-existent gotcha, as Richard Weill put it, the demeaning way that the Columbo character is portrayed is hard to watch. When I saw this episode recently, it left me feeling sorry for Peter Falk who I imagined might have been experiencing early symptoms of dementia at that time. The character certainly appeared to be cognitively impaired. Was it cognitive impairment that led Falk to agree with McGoohan to act in this way and go along with the horrible scenes in this episode or was it just blind faith? Either way, it’s a real shame he did.
Poor Cava – I can’t imagine the pain of watching what was probably a good script being demolished. I enjoyed Glenn Stewart’s ideas about how the script could have been vastly improved. Perhaps Glenn has come close to Cava’s original version.
I thank you, Columbophile, for putting yourself through two viewings of this awful episode in order to help you write the review. That was an act of love for this blog which we Columbo fans all appreciate!
Does anyone know if Cava’s original, unbutchered script still exists? I would really like to know what he was aiming for.
Does anyone know if Cava’s original, unbutchered script still exists? I would really like to know what he was aiming for.
I’m sure it exists. But I’ve never seen it among the scripts available publicly. And those that are available publicly often are at varying stages of revision. Getting Cava’s original, un-McGoohaned draft could require some digging.
Thank goodness for “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” Without it, “Two Many Notes” would have been the series finale, and its dreadful rooftop scene the denouement of Columbo’s television career. Talk about ending with a whimper.
There is no worse resolution of a Columbo than that scene. Not “Last Salute” and “t’isn’t.” Not a gun-toting Columbo in “No Time to Die,” or the underwater salvage job in “Undercover.” Not even Columbo partnering with Vincenzo Fortelli in “Strange Bedfellows.” At least those endings established something. But what does Columbo prove with his elaborate rooftop setup: with Becca at the keyboard; with the blackboard? That Gabe and Becca used musical notes as a monogram. How does that incriminate Findlay? Even the fact that the baton Columbo found must have belonged to Gabe, and thus the rooftop door must have opened, doesn’t incriminate Findlay.
Am I missing something? Viewers comment frequently about how murderers on Columbo confess (or at least drop all resistance and quietly submit) too easily. Findlay Crawford’s quiet submission here is utterly inexplicable. It was as if Columbo demonstrated that the sun rises in the East, whereupon Crawford thrust out his wrists waiting for the cuffs to be applied.
David Koenig (“Shooting Columbo”) pointed an accusing finger at co-writer/director Patrick McGoohan for all of this, “particularly the ending”; omitting “other clues that were supposed to incriminate Crawford” and having “Columbo babble on about inconsequential circumstantial evidence until Crawford suddenly confesses.”
The only saving grace is that, by McGoohan finally receiving formal writing credit here (after years of monkeying with Columbo scripts, while letting others take the fall), we now have official proof of the ruinous stain left by McGoohan’s writing contribution to the series. [Koenig suggests that “the act was less to share the credit than to spread the blame.”] Like CP, my sympathies certainly go out to the original writer, Jeffrey Cava. I can envision his emotional rollercoaster ride: first, having his precious Columbo script green-lit, and then having to watch someone (who unfortunately enjoyed Peter Falk’s unqualified backing) swoop in, take over, and wreck it completely.
But at least we have one more episode: “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” a/k/a “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” Maybe the tank water can wash away the stench from that rooftop.
I agree with your points. All Findlay Crawford would need is to hire the services of the lawyer Paul Hanlon used. Assuming Hanlon didn’t defend himself and browbeat the prosecutor into submission. “I MIGHT have worn a Ding-A-Ling ice cream uniform?! I’m facing life in prison because my clock wasn’t working that day and it didn’t chime on the recording?! You don’t even have a motive for why I killed the man! He was letting me run the entire empire anyway!”
I think I got it, it took me a minute to connect with the word OBJECTION, your honor.
Love the photo captions. Always a good laugh. Sgt Degarmo haha
The Botched Gotcha, mangled on so many levels. McGoohan inexplicably cuts short the overhead shot where Gabe is rolled off the roof, so we don’t see him losing his baton through the opened elevator shaft. That’s a key element to Columbo later discovering the murder method! Without watching this happen, there’s no reason for us to attach any significance to Columbo initially being unable to find the baton at the crime scene. And since we don’t actually see why that’s so important (because McGoohan chooses not to show us), the baton’s discovery later at the bottom of the shaft becomes reduced to a belated, almost throwaway clue.
Since Gabe wrote virtually the entire score for “The Killer”, I would propose that there could have easily been a Gotcha to prove that the score likely did not come from Crawford’s hand. In fact, I’d speculate that my solution might very well be the Gotcha that Cava originally envisioned.
At the rooftop finale, Columbo makes a great deal of having Rebecca display the musical “love notes” written to her by Gabe. So why not have Gabe and Rebecca’s “love notes” shown to be a prominent part of “The Killer” score – raising the question, why would Crawford conspicuously include those exact notes in a score that he himself supposedly wrote? That would be difficult to explain away. If not for this purpose, why were the “love notes” even included in the script? For what purpose did McGoohan set up the blackboard in the rooftop scene as he did? I believe Cava imagined Columbo playing pieces of “The Killer” score and having the notes transcribed to the chalkboard, spelling out the names that Crawford should have no business including in a score of his own. Is it the greatest Gotcha in Columbo history? Nope. But it sure beats the nothingburger we’re treated to here.
Of course, in my version of the Gotcha, Rebecca would presumably know all about those love notes in “The Killer” score and she could simply tell Columbo about it….not very dramatic. To remedy this, Crawford would have been wise to find a way to bump off Rebecca as well (perhaps she finds him stealing Gabe’s scores), leaving it up to Columbo to learn about the love notes and deduce the final crime clue. In his addled old-man state, though, perhaps this crime-solving was a (musical) bridge too far.
Great post, Glenn. I don’t know if your speculation as to Jeffrey Cava’s original script is correct, but it should be. Terrific ideas for how the episode should have gone. And the time required to implant the vital clues you suggest could have come from scrapping the low-speed motorcade.
A Botched Gotcha? I call it this the Nonexistent Gotcha.
Thanx Rich, I appreciate your playwright’s perspective on my suggestion. If my musings are correct, then perhaps the ending got jiggered because of the clue’s similarity to the events of “Death Hits the Jackpot”. There, the lottery ticket that Lamarr says that he alone bought actually includes numbers that are on Freddie’s camera. Why would Lamarr choose a number that has such a personal, obscure connection to the victim? Lamarr’s explanation that he too is familiar with Freddie’s camera so knew the lucky number is preposterously lame. But since it wasn’t used as the Gotcha in that episode, there’s no reason a similar clue couldn’t have been used here. Besides, these 90s episodes are aired so far apart that it’s unlikely anyone would have been bothered.
This is one of the first Columbo episodes I watched as I first got into the show during the pandemic. I believe it was Suitable for Framing first, then this. In retrospect, quite the polar opposites in a few ways!
I will say, based on my memory found this one entertaining at the time, but it may have been due to my general unfamiliarity with the Columbo-verse at the time and my fascination with Billy Connolly and his accent (I kept thinking of him in the role of The Doctor instead of Capaldi). It’s Connolly’s charisma that I recall most, finding him to be a fun person to watch.
Because of those reasons (and that I haven’t revisited the episode since) I don’t find it as bad as some others like Commodore. But I do find myself anxious to get back to the comforts of 70s classic Columbo once I finish off the last few of the new era I’ve yet to finish…
I rank it, just above these – but only marginally so!!
No Time to Die
Last Salute to the Commodore
Murder in Malibu
Dagger of the Mind
Like our host stated, the opening 30 minutes is significantly engaging, you are lulled into thinking this is going to be another great ‘new episode’. Unfortunately, the last 60+ minutes, are easily the worst of any episode.
Dagger is a joy, even after multiple viewings. And I respect what writer Jackson Gillis was trying to do with Last Salute. I have neither joy nor respect for McGoohan’s handling of Too Many Notes.
Yes it starts off okay but turns.into tripe however Ashes to ashes is just as bad in my view
I don’t believe the story about Billy Connolly being drunk on set, he’s been teetotal since 1985.
Yeah, he’s famously sober – https://uk.style.yahoo.com/sir-billy-connolly-quit-drinking-200000253.html
LOL!! I can feel the anger in all those hours you’ve had to waste on this rubbish.
However, you have served us fellow fans a great service and at least have some crumb of comfort that this is the first review of yours, that I agree ONE HUNDRED PERCENT with.
Daft me rewatched the, er, ‘gotcha’ about a dozen times – thinking that I must have missed something. Clearly it got strong ratings, viewing, because other columbophile idiots – were also rewatching the ending, whilst picking jaws off the floor.
Never mind. ‘Nightlife’ is a lot better.