Columbo - Complete Season 4 Review
In my review of the DVD release of the last season of Columbo, I was surprised to learn that the broadcast of the various episodes actually followed some kind of structure, a season even. However, unlike the recent boxsets of Knight Rider and The A-Team that I have, to a greater or lesser degree, enjoyed, there was so such meddling with the formula for Columbo. Indeed, Columbo, probably much to the satisfaction of its millions of viewers, is largely the same show regardless of the passing years.
The guest stars may change - though this was clearly the era of Dick Van Dyke and Patricks McGoohan and Macnee - Peter Falk may look a little older and the cut of the fashions might change but Columbo remains the same, with his creased mac, his cigar and his battered car lingering about a crime scene like a bloodstain. But there's an obvious sense of comfort that one gets from watching Columbo prepare to leave, stop, turn and say, "Oh, there's just one more thing..." that the show does well to let run and which, regardless of the various crimes, is the reason why we'll still be watching Columbo many years from now. Probably in the afternoon, most likely with a cup of tea beside us and almost certainly the rain pouring down outside but such is how one best enjoys as unchanging a show like this.
This review isn't a good deal more than an episode guide given that some of the background, although admittedly not a good deal, was covered in that earlier review. To be entirely honest, there never feels as though there's much to write about the show, largely because whilst its unchanging nature is at once something to be admired, equally nothing changes from season to season. Hence, for this fourth season, we have six investigations for Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk), all of which see him involved in a crime that the perpetrators thought perfect, be it their alibis, their framing of others or, more simply, a tendency to look down on the shabby 'tec as dim. Of course, we know that not to be the case and so these six episodes, like those before and after it, are perfectly entertaining in how they present the underdog taking on a killer who's least appealing attribute is often their own arrogance.
As for this fourth season, it opens with An Exercise in Fatality (94m00s), in which Columbo looks out of place - actually, something of a common feature for Columbo - amongst the leotards and jogging shorts of a fitness suite and health spa. He's there to investigate the killing of a co-owner of a string of health clubs, Gene Stafford (Philip Bruns), but the more Columbo investigates, the more he finds that Stafford had come close to discovering that the profits generated by the health clubs were being skimmed off and secreted in a string of Swiss bank accounts. Suspicion obviously falls on Stafford's partner in the business, Milo Janus (Robert Conrad), but he appears to have the perfect alibi. This is followed by Negative Reaction (91m09s), in which yet another killer looks to have constructed a brilliantly inventive means of avoiding detection. This time, it's Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke), who plans on murdering his domineering wife and framing an ex-con for the crime. Galesko's plan is to meet Alvin Deschler (Don Gordon) and silence him in an apparent act of self-defence during a ransom payment gone wrong. But, as Columbo well knows, a picture speaks a thousand words and Galesko's photographs of the scene admit his guilt more than his actions ever will.
The second disc in the set opens with By Dawn´s Early Light (93m59s), in which a spirit of modernisation at the Haynes Military Academy has fatal consequences. As William Haynes (Tom Simcox) plans on turning the institution into a mixed-sex junior college, a commandant within the school, Col. Lyle C. Rumford (Patrick McGoohan), objects in the strongest of terms, leaving Haynes dead on the very day that the school celebrates its foundation. Next up is Troubled Waters (93s52s), a episode that sees Columbo on a cruise with the as-yet-unseen Mrs Columbo, his wife having won the prize of a sailing to Mexico in a raffle. For Columbo, though, the trip is more of a busman's holiday as he gets involved in a blackmailing and a murder, in which singer Rosanna Wells (Poupée Bocar) threatens Hayden Danziger (Robert Vaughn), telling him that she'll reveal their relationship to his wife if he doesn't meet her demands. But when Wells is murdered on board the cruise ship, Mrs Columbo learns that one never clocks off on being a detective.
The third and last disc opens with Playback (70m53s), in which electronics genius Harold van Wyck is threatened by the family-owned business that he built up but which he also only married into. All previous efforts to oust van Wyck have been refused by his wife but when van Wyck learns that his mother-in-law holds proof of his having an affair, van Wyck silences her before she can present it to her daughter. Finally, the set closes with A Deadly State of Mind (70m57s), in which a psychiatrist (George Hamilton) abuses the trust of his patient (Lesley Ann Warren) by not only having an affair with her but, under hypnosis, drawing out her life experience for a novel that he is writing. When her husband learns what has been happening, the doctor decides that there is only one way to ensure his book is completed and that is without a word from this man.
Columbo has had three previous releases on DVD and whilst they're not getting any worse, they're also not getting any better either. As anyone who's watched any of the episodes of Columbo that Five are showing on random weekday and weekend afternoons or who can remember it when, like Perry Mason, it was afforded an occasional showing on the BBC, Columbo has always been quite a dark show with a very contemporary look, such that those shows produced during the seventies feature much brown in both the fabrics and the decor. The DVDs, though produced with as much care as any of the Universal Playback releases, capture all of this without flair, being a reasonable release rather than a particularly great one. However, as I'm increasingly coming to realise, they do accurately reflect the budget of the original show with the more-expensively-produced Knight Rider looking much better than this lower-budgeted show. In keeping with this, the DD2.0 Mono audio track, whilst obviously the one that was originally broadcast with the show, only sounds acceptable with the occasional bit of background noise being something that a better transfer would have dealt with more comprehensively.
There are never very many extras on any of these Universal Playback releases but this one includes a bonus episode of the spinoff series Mrs Columbo, A Riddle for Puppets (44m39s). Now, what you might be thinking is how can there be a Mrs Columbo of a spinoff series when one of the particular aspects of the parent show is that Mrs Columbo, in spite of the frequency with which she was mentioned, went unseen. Well, interestingly, it was a problem that was eventually conceded by the makers of this show, which began with Mrs Columbo being the wife of the Peter Falk carrier but who, after an offscreen divorce, became Kate Callahan in a show that was then retitled Kate Loves A Mystery. By this time, the makers were denying that this Kate Callahan and the unseen Mrs Columbo were anything other than entirely different people...which makes the inclusion of this episode a strange thing indeed.
However, the actual episode isn't a bad thing. It isn't, as one might expect, anywhere near the standard of its parent show but it's an enjoyable enough thriller that's none too demanding. It isn't a particularly memorable episode and probably won't encourage the same kind of sales if Universal Playback are warming up Mrs Columbo/Kate Loves A Mystery for a release.