The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

22Jan/111

The Top 10 1970s Columbo Episodes, Part Three

Part One is here, Part Two is here.

3) A Friend in Deed (1974)

This episode has a good twist in it. For starters, the primary villain is none other than the Deputy Commissioner of Police (played by Richard Kiley). For another, he didn't commit the initial homicide.

The story begins with a friend of the Deputy Commissioner meets him at a bar and tells him he just killed his wife in a moment of rage and doesn't know what to do. The Commissioner assures him he'll take care of it and carefully re-arranges the crime scene to make it look like it was the work of a burgular who had been hitting local homes and arrange an alibi for his neighbor.

Then the Commissioner murders his own wife and uses the occasion of the wake for the first man's wife to enlist the help of the first killer in covering up his own murder.

This case presents a unique challenge to Columbo. There are several cases when the prominent murderers he hunts will use their connections to pressure Columbo to back off, but this time Columbo is facing off against corrupt superior with more direct authority and control over the investigation. Even as Columbo produces more inconsistencies with "the burgular did it" story, the Commissioner pushes him towards that one answer.

The Commissioner is one of Columbo's chilling villains, combining his sociopathic nature, an intimidating personality, and the raw power of a high police official.

In the end, Columbo has to get very creative and enlist the help of the real burgular to solve the case in one of Columbo's memorable endings.

2) Now, You See Him-1976

This episode is the second Jack Cassidy episode on the list. This is perhaps the Columbo episode I enjoyed the most. Cassidy is fantastically believable as the Great Santini, a clever magician with a past that he must keep secret at all costs which leads him to kill his employer who is blackmailing him.

Even though, the music and style of the Great Santini are totally 1970s, there's a certain edge of coolness even watching this episode 30 years later, and Cassidy plays the murderer with a great deal of charm throughout the episode.

This episode saw the return of Sergeant Wilson (Bob Disky). Wilson had appeared in the 1972 episode, "The Greenhouse Jungle" as a young by the book police sergeant who chafed against Columbo's unorthodox methods, only for Columbo to be proven right after Wilson arrested the wrong man. In, "Now You See Him," Wilson has grown a bit and actually is helpful to Columbo on the case. It should be noted that this is the only time that giving Columbo a sidekick worked out well.

With a solid denouement featuring Columbo's own magic trick with some key help from Sergeant Wilson, this is a fun way to spend 75 minutes.

1) A Stitch in Crime-1973

This episode begins with a fairly clever murder plot in which a Dr. Barry Mayfieldplans to murder his partner by putting temporary sutures where permanent ones ought to go, which will lead to the doctor's death. A nurse finds out and the Mayfield kills her to stop her from spilling the plan.

As Nimoy is most famous for playing Spock on Star Trek many reviews will reference this as Spock v. Columbo. The comparison is not entirely without merit. Nimoyis cold, calculating, and throughout most of the episode, detached and unemotional. He's the picture of a perfect sociopath and very menacing. The scene right before he murdered the nurse is perhaps the most startling in the series. 

Like with "A Friend in Deed," what makes Mayfield a particularly dangerous killer is not just that he's a heartless murderer, but his position. In this case, as he's a doctor who is supposed to be a healer, it adds another dimension to the character.

In this episode, Columbo has to work to prevent the original murder that Dr. Mayfield set out commit. This adds some additional tension to the episode that isn't your ordinary episode of Columbo. This episode is also notable for being one of the occassions where Columbo gets mad at a killer and shows it:

The ending to this episode just can't be beat. As we get to the end, it does look like Columbo may have lost or more accurately, got a split decision that will leave Dr. Mayfield free. It's only in the last forty-five seconds that Columbo pulls it out. 

Of course, other fans have their favorites. And it's a hallmark of Columbo movie reviews that on nearly every 1970s episode, some fans will insist it was one of Columbo's best and others will insist it was one of the weakest. Your feedback is always welcomed.

The entire 1970s Columbo Series is available on DVD from Amazon, along the 1989 and 1990 Mystery Movies series. The 1991-93 Mystery Moviesseries will be available on DVD February 8th. Episodes of Columbo are also available on DVD and Instant Watch from Netflix.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post.

UPDATE:

Linked by the Rap Sheet where folks are discussing their own favorites and suggesting substitutions.

15Jan/110

The Top 10 1970s Columbo Episodes, Part Two

(For Part One, see here.)

7) Fade Into Murder (1976): This episode of Columbo was far from the most difficult case Columbo had to crack, however the guest murderer made the episode entertaining.

William Shatner plays the role of Actor Ward Fowler. Fowler plays a famous TV crimefighter, Detective Lucerne. Fowler kills the woman who is blackmailing him and tries to put the blame on her husband.

Shatner is perfectly cast as the hammy actor who tries to "help" Columbo solve the case by getting in character as Detective Lucerne. The interaction between Falk and Shatner is fun. The highlight of the episode comes towards the end when Fowler, in character as Detective Lucerne accuses himself of having committed the murder!

6) Murder By the Book (1971): There's a reason Jack Cassidy played the murderer on Columbo three times. Cassidy makes for a dashing and deceptive villain, and the chemistry between him and Falk made each outing memorable.

The plot centers around a writing team, where one member of the team writes best-selling mysteries and the other. Ken Franklin runs the business end. When the creative genius decides to leave the team, Franklin decides to kill him. The way Franklin commits the murder, it looks like he was miles away from the muder room.

The case presents a serious challenge to Columbo and thinks get even more complicated when someone who could blow Franklin's alibi tries to blackmail him. "Murder by the Book" was directed by a young Steven Speilberg.

5) Columbo-"Short Fuse" (1972)

Roddy McDowell plays Roger Stanford, a genius and the nephew of the owner of a chemical plant who murders his uncle by turning a box of cigars into a bomb.

Stanford's scheming doesn't stop there. He spends the episode trying to manipulate his aunt into giving him control of the factory through a series of cunning moves. Of course, the young genius is dismissive of Columbo which turns out to be his undoing.

This episode, written by radio veteran Jackson Gills, features a fantastic ending on board a gondola lift.

4) Death Lends a Hand (1971):

This was the first of three Robert Culp appearances and the best of the three.  It was a unique story for a number of reasons.

The first one is that the killing was not premeditated. Culp plays Bremmer, the an ex-cop head of a security and investigations firm that lies to a client to tell him his wife wasn't cheating on her, and then tries to blackmail the wife in hopes of getting some juicy information. When she comes to his door, threatening to tell her husband the truth, Bremmer gets angry and smacks her so hard that he kills her.  He then tries to make it look like a robbery that happened somewhere else.

Bremmer then gets into an even better position to further the cover-up when the grieving husband brings him in to help Columbo investigates. Columbo begins to catch on, and Bremmer tries to get Columbo off the case by offering him a job with his security firm.

Bremmer was one of Columbo's most worthy adversaries, and in order to get his man, Columbo has to use a good bit of trickery. Sometimes, this can come off as contrived, but the end to this episode is one of the most memorable in the series.

This episode was also well done from a visual and music perspective. The scene when the death occurs and Bremmer hides the body is fascinating viewing. Taken with a nearly unbeatable mix of Peter Falk and Robert Culp, and you can see why this is a classic that helped to put Columbo on the map.

The entire 1970s Columbo Series is available on DVD from Amazon, along the 1989 and 1990 Mystery Movies series. The 1991-93 Mystery Movies series will be available on DVD February 8th. Episodes of Columbo are also available on DVD and Instant Watch from Netflix.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post.

9Jan/111

The Top 10 1970s Columbo Episodes, Part One

Columbo was a unique detective show in that the murderer's identity was (almost) always known from the beginning. What made the show interesting was how Columbo would solve the crime and where the flaw in the murder lay.

Each episode represented a battle of wits between Columbo and the murderer. Columbo, due to his disheveled appearance and quirkiness, would almost be underestimated by the killer, who would try to lead Columbo down the path they wanted him to follow. Sooner or later, they would realize that Columbo was no fool and they'd move from helpful to hostile.

Columbo in some ways was the opposite of Dragnet. It was almost a police fantasy where a Police Lieutenant rarely supervised any men and didn't carry a gun, and all of his cases involved the rich and/or famous who committed murder at an alarming rate.

Somehow, it worked. Arguably, it worked best during the show's original 1970s run. So far, the only Columbo revival movie I'd put in the same category as the best 1970s shows is 1989's Columbo Goes to the Guillotine. However, I've not seen every one of the latter movies, so I'll limit this list to the 1970s run:

10) The Conspirators (1978):

In "The Conspirators," Irish poet and undercover IRA agent Joe Devlin (Clide Revill) kills an arms dealer who tried to double cross him and his conspirators.

Revill turns in a charming performance as Devlin with fantastic chemistry with Falk. The show has some fun and relaxing scenes as Columbo and Devlin play darts, make up limericks, and talk about their past.

The show also does have some serious undertones as it deals with the conflict in Northern Ireland. Unlike the 1975 episode, "A Case of Immunity," the writers didn't fictionalize world affairs. Devlin had publicly renounced violence and was raising funds for the victims of Northern Ireland, but the money was actually to be used to buy guns to go to Northern Ireland which sadly did happen with quite a few international charities.

Columbo's challenge is not only to find the arms dealer's murderer but to stop the arms from going to Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Devlin has to get the arms without his dealer.

In a series that featured a lot insufferable snobs, the showdown with Devlin was a pleasant change that made for a memorable end to the 1970s run.

9) Murder Under Glass

At the other end of the relationship scale from the chummy Murder Under Glass. Columbo. In the 1977 episode, "Try and Catch Me" Columbo admits to liking people in general, and even some of the murderers he met, and explained his overall positive outlook on life:

It's rare for Columbo to express dislike for a suspect which makes the ending of "Murder Under Glass" so interesting as both Columbo and the killer express their dislike for each other.

Throughout most of the episode, Columbo and food critic Paul Gerard remain polite, even cordial, however, it's clear these two have growing contempt for each other. Gerard poisoned a restaurateur who had gotten tired of being blackmailed by Gerard. Gerard then frames a young Italian immigrant for the crime.

The case is fully based in the world of high class dining, and the writers did fantastic research to make the episode come alive. The most notable thing we learn in the episode is that Columbo is a good cook. While this contradicts an earlier episode, seeing Columbo cook was so fun, I don't really care.

"Murder Under Glass" comes down to a final scene where Columbo and the murderer prepare a meal, with the murderer becoming one of the few Columbo killers to think of killing off the good Lieutenant to evade capture.

8 ) Requiem for a Falling Star (1973)

One became one of the cliche's of Columbo series was Columbo saying to the murderer, "The wife and I are really big fans." After a while, I developed the theory that the police could most easily catch murderers by placing anyone Mrs. Columbo is a fan of under police under surveilance.

One of the earliest and most effective examples of this was in "Requiem for a Falling Star." Here, it really works.

Aging actress Nora Chandler (Anne Baxter) kills off her assistant. Columbo is called into investigate. He is very excited to meet Miss Chandler, so much so that he calls up his family.

Throughout the episode, Columbo remains very kind and respectful towards Chandler, even as her guilt becomes more obvious.  Chandler remains gracious towards Columbo until the end when she really feels him closing in on her.

This episode also features quite a bit more mystery than your average Columbo episode. Oftentimes, both the motive and method of the crime are laid out completely. I have to admit that I was a little confused by how Chandler pulled off the murder, and the motive remained a mystery until the final scene.

Taken together with great chemistry between Peter Falk and Anne Baxter, this is one of the most enjoyable Columbos out there.

Continued next week...

The entire 1970s Columbo Series is available on DVD from Amazon, along the 1989 and 1990 Mystery Movies series. The 1991-93 Mystery Movies series will be available on DVD February 8th. Episodes of Columbo are also available on DVD and Instant Watch from Netflix.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post.

1Jan/111

I Spy: A Cup of Kindness

This doesn't have anything to do with New Years Day except the title comes from the song, Auld Lang Syne.

I Spy is one of the best action adventure shows from the 1960s, continuing on in the fine tradition of A Man Called X and Dangerous Assignment. It's a truly underrated classic.

12Dec/100

Video Theater 011: Sherlock Holmes: The Christmas Pudding

A serial killer threatens to get Holmes before he's executed.

Episode 23 of the 1954-55 Sherlock Holmes series.

3Dec/100

Cos and the Classic Revivals

By the time the 1990s rolled out, Bill Cosby was huge.  He'd had many great efforts in television and other forms entertainment. He was supercool superspy Alexander Scott in the groundbreaking I Spy series. He was producer and host of the award-winning Fat Albert Series. However, his greatest success was the Cosby Show, which provided 1980s family friendly comedies that had gone missing for so many years (and have since disappeared again.)

Cosby in the 1990s brought two classic TV concepts back to the American screen.

The first was Groucho Marx's classic, You Bet Your Life. Cosby was a huge fan of Marx and considered him one of the four best comedians of all time along with Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, and W.C. Fields. Unlike the other three, Cosby actually got to know Marx a bit. More than anything else, he'd admired Marx for You Bet Your Life.   Cosby had even met the old producers of You Bet Your Life to get a chance to do it and been turned down. In the 1990s, on the heels of the Cosby show and becoming a $90 million man, Cosby could pretty much get any project he wanted and so he got to follow in the footsteps of one his heroes in the 1992-93 version of You Bet Your Life.

The show may have been a little too early. A revival of You Bet Your Life could have gone well in the reality TV era, but alas made it only one season in syndication, and was not widely viewed or known. The only video clips available are from those folks sharing appearances by their relatives on the show. These two clips from the show are priceless comedy, although they go on a little long, it's worth a viewing:

Cosby wasn't done bringing classic concepts to a new audience. In the late 1990s, he revived another vintage TV concept. Art Linkletter did his House Party show for 24 years over CBS radio and television, and had been best remembered for its Kids Say the Darnedst Things segment.

Cosby once again revived a classic concept as he took his turn questioning kids and hearing the surprising answers they gave.

The big difference between You Bet Your Life and Kids Say the Darnedst Things is that Art Linkletter was still alive and in fact Linkletter worked with Cosby on the program. When I watched Kids Say the Darnedst Things for the first time, I was very curious as to who Linkletter was. I had no idea, growing up.

Cosby introduced Linkletter to a new generation. Most episodes of Kids Say the Darnedst Things featured some footage of some of Linkletter's most hilarious moments.  Linkletter, in his mid-80s at the time, appeared frequently on the show. Cosby always showed a warm regard for Linkletter and never illustrated it better than with a touching surprise tribute to the man on CBS:

Those who saw Linkletter and Marx in their prime feel that Cosby's efforts were not as good. There's certainly something to it as both Linkletter and Marx performances were definitive. 

I don't think the point of Cosby's effort was displace either of these two legends. Rather, Cosby did the shows because he enjoyed and loved the originals, and his efforts helped to bring awareness of the originals back into the public mind. And there's nothing better for a top entertainer to do than that.

8Oct/100

Green Acres on the Radio

Green Acres

If you mention Green Acres, people think of the 1965-71 Sitcom starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. But fifteen years before Green Acres came to TV,  it came to radio.

CBS broadcast Granby's Green Acres as a Summer replacement series. Granby's Green Acres told the story of John Granby, a Banker who got fed up with city life and took his wife and family to relocate to a farm.

Sound familiar?

The radio Green Acres were written by a 33-year old writer, who would go on to write 150 of the 170 TV episodes of Green Acres.

There were quite a few similarities between the radio and TV versions of Green Acres. Both featured a scatter-brained Mr. Kimball (although the radio Mr. Kimball ran the county store rather than being the County Agent.) Granby also had a farm hand named Eb. The radio show had some good bits that Sommers would dust off for early TV episodes.

An early Green Acres TV episode where Oliver can't decide what to plant has its basis in the radio episode, "Mr. Granby Plants a Crop."

And this great little bit of dialogue also came from the radio show originally:

Oliver: I'd take a seed, a tiny little seed, I'd plant it in the ground, I'd put some dirt on it, I'd water it, and pretty soon, do you know what I would have?
Lisa: A dirty little wet seed.

At the end of the radio run. John Granby (Gale Gordon) told listeners to send letters in to their local CBS station with their thoughts on Granby's Green Acres.  The show never returned to the air.

There were many reasons the show didn't make it in 1950. One big one might be that Granby's Green Acres was not a show that audiences were ready for. Americans had migrated in large numbers to cities like New York and Los Angeles in search of economic opportunities. Granby's desire to move to the country seemed absurd. When Green Acres appeared on TV, it was a very different world with violence and unrest, crime on the rise, and social unrest. Moving to Hooterville sounded a lot less crazy and made us more sympathetic with Mr. Douglas.

The biggest problem with Granby's Green Acres may have been that it just wasn't ready for prime time. Granby is too much of a cantankerous blowhard.  The radio version gives you an appreciation of the talent with which Eddie Albert played the role of Oliver Wendell Douglas, as a complex mix of bombast, idealism, practicality, and romance that made the character a joy to watch.

In the radio version, Sommers only had given real airtime to Mr. Kimball from the store, and a know it all County Agent who always ate Granby's supper.  Pretty thin gruel.

Not continuing Granby's Green Acres was a smart decision. Even with great comics like Burns and Allen leaving radio for television, radio comedy was still undergoing a golden age and Sommers creation simply was not in the same league as shows like Our Miss Brooks,  Life of Riley, and Life with Luigi. 

It also had a nice aftermath. Sommers continued to develop as a writer and work the world of television, writing on such shows as Amos and Andy, Dennis the Menace, and Petticoat Junction.  When Green Acres came back, it became one of television's best sitcoms.

It featured Pat Buttram turning in the role Mr. Haney who was always trying to sell Mr. Douglas something, Eva Gabor as the sweet but often confusing Hungarian Princess Lisa Douglas,  and the Ziffels who treat their pig like he's their son, and much more.

While the radio show didn't have these elements, it serves as a rough draft of Green Acres, which makes it an interesting listen.

Related:

IMDB has the first five season of Green Acres available for instant watch.

Play
3Oct/100

Video Theater 009: Sherlock Holmes: The Cunningham Heritage

Sherlock Holmes (Ronald Howards) meets Dr. Watson (Marion Crawford) and they deal with their first adventure as a woman is suspected of killing her wealthy boyfriend.

Episode 1 (1954)

2Oct/100

50 Years of Yabba Dabba Do

It's rare for a TV show that turns 50 years old to be remembered, yet alone to make the front page on Google, but that's what happened to the Flinstones.

The show began in 1960 on ABC and has spawned numerous TV spinoffs, movies, and one-shot TV specials. Some of these efforts have been of dubious quality, but what keeps the remakes and spinoffs coming is that the show has so many fans that anything with the Flinstones in it will have an instant appeal.

The 1960-66 original TV run remains the bedrock (pun intended) for the Flinstones franchise. The show is in the same style of other classic "everyman" sitcoms such as The Life of Riley and The Honeymooners.  The show was lead by veteran radio and cartoon actors Alan Reed and Mel Blanc. It was strengthened by good writing that took advantage of the show's fantastic setting and the opportunities presented by cartoon physics.

What has made the show so popular for so long?

The first key is animation. Parents introduce their kids to cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Disney's gigantic cartoon collection.  They're the type of shows that parents have no problem introducing their kids to. And the grown up nature of the Flintstones helps to keep kids fans after they've grown up, even if they don't advertise it. They just buy the DVDs for the kids.

The second thing is the fantastic stone age setting. With pet dinosaurs instead of pet dogs, cars that move by the passengers and driver running, stone-age Television, and all the conveniences of living in Bedrock make the setting timeless, and help make the show as enjoyable and accessible today as when it first aired.

The Jetsons, which launched two years after the Flintstones, has endured, but with far fewer spin-offs and less prominence. The reason The Jetsons has enjoyed a lesser success is that it's set in the future and its vision of the future often seems dated. After all,  2062 is only 50 years away and its unlikely to be the world the creators of the Jetsons imagined.

The other advantage that The Flintstones has is the relationship between the Rubbles and the Flintstones. The friendship and love between the classic characters makes the show speak to every generation.   

Shows about the present and the future become dated far more easily than shows about a fantastic past, and shows that feature great friendships will last the longest of all.

Links:

Watch the Flinstones at AOL Video.

28Aug/100

Johnny Staccato Paroled onto DVD

Back in May, I wrote about TV detectives locked in Copyright jail. (i.e detective shows that are unavailable as they are under copyright and not being actively marketed by their copyright owners.) We can strike one detective from the list. All 27 episodes of Johnny Staccato, that Jazz Pianist Private eye played by John Cassavettes are being released on DVD this October 12th.

Kudos to Timeless Media Group for another great DVD release. From Crime Dramas like Checkmate to Westerns like the Virginian and Branded, they are doing great work in preserving some of the great forgotten shows of years past. Hopefully, Johnny Midnight and Felony Squad will get their chance soon.

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