Columbo - Mystery Movie Collection, 1989
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Legendary Peter Falk is back checking his pockets for clues as everyone's favorite trenchcoat wearing Police Lieutenant in five immensely popular TV movies on DVD for the first time ever in the Columbo TV Movie Collection 1989. Smart, witty and entertaining, Columbo is on the beat of unlikely criminals who always think they can outsmart TV's most probing and perceptive detective. Join a dossier of guest stars, including Fisher Stevens and Lindsay Crouse, in this landmark TV movie set that opens a new chapter on the Columbo legacy! Disc One "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" There's much more than meets the eye when Columbo investigates the death of a magician who supposedly was killed by one of his own clever magic tricks. "Murder, Smoke and Shadows" Columbo searches for clues on the cutting-room floor when he suspects a high-powered film director of hiding evidence of murder. Disc Two "Sex and the Married Detective" Does the heart rule the head, or vice versa? Columbo ponders the answer to this timeless question and others when he must out-wit a sex therapist involved in a crime of passion. "Grand Deceptions" Rank and reputation prove to be particularly difficult obstacles when Columbo looks into the murder of a respected military General by one of his overly-ambitious Colonels. Disc Three "Murder, a Self Portrait" It's no murder-by-numbers when Columbo investigates the deadly relationships between a savvy artist, his troubled ex-wife, his attention-starved current wife, and his live-in model.
After a 10-year break from the role that made him a TV superstar, Peter Falk returned as rumpled LAPD homicide detective Lt. Columbo in 1989, appearing in feature-length episodes of The ABC Mystery Movie. The first five of those TV movies are collected here as the Mystery Movie Collection 1989 comprising what is essentially the long-delayed "eighth season" (and part of the ninth) of Columbo, the popular series that made its debut on NBC in 1971. Now signed to ABC with a lucrative new contract, Falk returned to his iconic role as if he'd never left, still wearing the same worn-out overcoat, still driving the same old 1959 Peugeot rust-bucket (with his lazy Bassett Hound "Dog" in the passenger seat), still making frequent references to the never-seen "Mrs. Columbo," and still annoying nervous murder suspects with his politely cunning approach to solving homicides in Los Angeles. As created by TV mystery masters Richard Levinson and William Link, the Columbo series was nothing if not formulaic, but the fun of watching these 93-minute TV movies comes from seeing how that formula still works like a charm: The first half-hour shows how the killers commit and conceal their crimes (Columbo is a police procedural, not a whodunit), and the remaining hour shows Columbo grilling his suspects, slowly turning up the heat until the killer's goose is summarily cooked. With his trademark line "Just one more thing...," Falk fits his role like an old shoe, and the show's writers played on the character's beloved status by milking humor from Columbo's well-established mannerisms, such as leaving the room after gently probing suspects for telling clues, then returning (after a pregnant pause) to deliver "one more thing "--his crime-solving coup de grace (aptly referred to by Rockford Files creator Stephen J. Cannell as Columbo's trademark "dart to the heart.")
The Mystery Movie Collection emphasizes a colorfully Southern Californian element of crime and eccentricity, from the beheading of a magician in "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" (with Anthony Andrews hamming it up as the killer) to the malicious misdeeds of "Murder, Smoke and Shadows," in which Spielbergian movie-mogul wunderkind (Fisher Stevens) stages an electrocution murder on the backlot of Universal Studios. "Sex and the Married Detective" is a lightly comedic film noir send-up, in which a sex therapy radio-host (Lindsay Crouse) invents a sexy alter ego to eliminate her cheating lover. In "Grand Deceptions," Robert Foxworth's misdeeds on a military training base aren't clever enough to fool Columbo, and in "Murder: A Self Portrait," Patrick Bachau plays a selfish lothario with three lovers (wife, ex-wife, and girlfriend) who decides that three's a crowd and his ex (Fionnula Flanagan) has got to go! Clever enough to hold anyone's attention, these murders are smartly conceived and entertainingly solved, and the performances and direction are uniformly strong. But the obvious appeal of Columbo is Columbo himself, and with Falk in the role he was born to play (even though it was originally offered to Bing Crosby!), the character remained so popular that he appeared in 19 more TV movies between 1990 and 2003. The Mystery Movie Collection includes one DVD bonus feature: a 30-minute tribute to "America's Top Sleuths," as chosen in a 2007 online survey by viewers of the newly-launched Sleuth TV network. Columbo ranks #2 (out of 10), a close runner-up to Tom Selleck's Magnum P.I. --Jeff Shannon
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Universal, which owns Columbo, has called this set "Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection 1989." Included are all of the episodes that fans consider comprise Season Eight, along with the first episode of Season Nine, which ultimately had six episodes. Those episodes apparently are going to be released in the next boxed set of these later movies.
In addition to the episodes in 1990, the franchise churned out 13 more terrific episodes between 1991 and 2003 featuring the rumpled (and ultimately attractively graying) Peter Falk in the title role, which has truly and deservedly become an iconic TV character. Hopefully, the entire Columbo catalog will be released on DVD.
This boxed set includes a cornucopia of great stories and stellar acting, a trademark of the series. The last episode included is my favorite episode of the entire series. This three-disc set includes:
Disc 1: "Columbo goes to the Guillotine," which aired Feb. 9, 1989. Lt. Columbo delves into the world of magic, ESP and slight of hand as he investigates the death of a magician, Matt Dyson, who appears to have been beheaded by his own invention, a trick guillotine. There appears to be a tie to a prodigal psychic supported by a government founded institute on parapsychology. Primary Guest Star Anthony Andrews as Eliot Blake.
"Murder, Smoke, And Shadows," which aired Feb. 27, 1989. An egocentric film director resorts to his mastery of special effects to murder a vengeful friend who discovers the director's role in the movie-stunt death of the friend's sister years before. Filmed on University Studio's backlots. Primary Guest Star is Fisher Stevens as Alex Brady.
Disc 2: "Sex and The Married Detective," which aired April 3, 1989. A radio personality billed as "The Sex Therapist of the Airwaves" finds she must counsel herself when her personal assistant ends up in bed with her business manager/lover. The scorned lady murders the cheating beau and tries to pin the blame on her assistant. Lt. Columbo smells a beautiful rat. Primary Guest Star Lindsay Crouse as Dr. Joan Allenby.
"Grand Deceptions," which aired June 1989. A man heads a private military think tank, First Foundation for American Thought, for for would-be soldiers. The foundation is owned by a wheel-chair-bound General, who has become suspicious because a large amount of money seems to be siphoned off into to a "Special Project Fund" that he knows nothing about. The General tell a close college to investigate, but instead of reporting the fraud he discovers, the "friend" decides to blackmail the foundation operator. Primary Guest Stars Robert Foxworth as Frank Braile and Stephen Elliott as General Padget.
Disc 3: "Murder: A Self Portrait," which aired Nov. 25, 1989. A famous artist, lives very unconventionally with his wife and a beautiful live-in model at his beach house/studio. The artist's ex-wife lives in the beach house next door. Together, these women comprise Max's private little harem. He loves them all in different ways, but, more importantly, he likes to control them. In fact, Max derives a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that they all fight for his attention and are reliant upon him financially, emotionally and sexually. The competitive jealousy between the women reaches a crescendo at the dinner table one night when he asks each of them what they think of the other. Their answers prove the intense rivalry between the women, and one of them winds up murdered. Primary Guest Stars Patrick Bauchau as Artist Max Barsini, Fionnula Flanagan as Louise Barsini and Shera Danese as Vanessa Barsini.
Patrick Bauchau is a familiar face on TV, having guest starred on numerous shows, and had been a regular on the cult classic The Pretender as Sidney. In an interview, Bauchau has called his role as Max Barsini his favorite in his long and successful career in the US and Europe. It is also my favorite Columbo episode ever produced. The cast is amazing and the story so compelling that it will stay with you long after the well-deserved credits have rolled.
Shera Danese is Peter Falk's wife, and appeared in five other Columbo episodes during the run of the series.
Fans should continue to thank Universal for releasing these episodes on DVD, helping new generations of viewers discover why is series was such a TV landmark.
Many of these virtues were retained when Columbo returned the air in 1989. Eventually, the show would become the best and most successful revival of a dormant television character in tv history. (The Star Trek franchise notwithstanding as it was more sequel than revival.) That may sound like dubious praise but it was an always intriguing show that stood on its own even if it never quite touched those glorious '70s episodes.
These episodes, the first back on the air after the hiatus, show the series took a little time to get back to speed. The producers made a few mistakes about the show when they got back on the air. First, they appeared to have thought that Peter Falk, Columbo and a mystery were enough to make the formula work. That wasn't the case. One of the big draws of the old show was that Columbo would square off against an icon or at least an extremely popular character every episode- Janet Leigh, Jose Ferrer, Leonard Nimoy, Dick Van Dyke, William Shatner, John Cassevettes, TV jack of all trades Robert Culp etc. etc. They were actors and personalities to match Peter Falk and that tension is missing here. The closest thing to an icon here is Robert Foxworth. Fisher Stevens, Academy Award Nominee Lindsey Crouse and Anthony Andrews are all fine actors but they lack lived in feel that the old stars had and are really not a match for Falk's Columbo. One of the fatal flaws of Crouse's episode "Sex and the Married Detective" is that we don't have enough scenes of just Falk and Crouse going back and forth. Later seasons would correct this bringing in stars like Faye Dunaway or Rip Torn from time to time.
The second mistake the producers made was overestimating the role of humor in the show. The original was, indeed, quite funny with Columbo and his foes often as absurd as they were compelling. However, humor on the original show was there mostly to leaven the tension. Many episodes like "By Dawn's Early Light" with Patrick McGoohan were elegaic and almost tragic. The Columbo character had a tough, serious side that often bubbled over. The implicit message that we was working to win justice for the victims was pervasive. It kept the show from being just another Miss Marple or "Murder She Wrote." Here the tendency is to go for the cute joke rather than tension. It was a flaw that remained with the revival to some extent through its entire run. It kept it from achieving the heights of the '70s show because it did become just an excellent mystery show rather than an exquisite character study with mystery and humor elements.
The other big flaw in this season was the writing. The writing on nearly all these episodes is rather lazy. The crimes are relatively unsophisticated and easy to solve compared to the old show and Columbo's detection techniques are as often simple minded as they are brilliant. In "Grand Deceptions", the Foxworth episode, Columbo actually goes into Foxworth's medicine cabinet and steals a tootbrush to get the evidence he needs. The original Columbo would never be so crude.
Still, even at half-power Falk as Columbo is priceless. He's a little more broad than he was in the 1970s but he still conveys that essential shrewdness and determination. And though I disagree with the overemphasis humor, you do laugh and enjoy yourself during these episodes.
Universal's presentation is their usual mixed bag. The three discs are packaged, like many series these days, in a two fold box with the final two discs on top of another. It makes it tough to pick out the bottom disc but I suspect it cuts the price. The picture and sound are superb although there are some (deliberately?) grainy passages in indoor night scenes. Universal has once again failed to provide chapter menus which is a major flaw as the Columbos are movie length. There are chapter breaks but you have to play the movie and hit your skip to find them. There is also no information provided about the shows- original airdates, history on the discs or boxes.
The only extra is a 30 minute documentary from the Sleuth channel counting down TV and movies' top sleuths. You've seen dozens of shows like this on VH1 and other stations with talking heads praising/mocking a show in between clips. Not surprisingly Universal owned characters dominate the list. I thought #1 was a travesty but what can you do?
All in all this is decent product. Columbo diehards will need to own this. But more casual admirers may want to save their money for future editions or seasons from the 1970s show.
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