Monday, April 3, 2017

Columbo - Prescription: Murder





I always thought it was weird to journey back to ’68 and see Columbo not quite ruffled and disheveled as he’d later be. Oh the “eccentricities” of his detective are there, for sure, but not as perfected until the 70s. Still, Peter Falk was laying the groundwork for his irritating investigator, a “pest” who just won’t go away and seems to be the type who could be oh so easily “squashed”. He often posits details about the wife, sometimes to ease killers into being comfortable around him. Like Gene Barry’s intellectual, cocky psychiatrist who felt he had gotten away with the perfect murder, thought his powerful influence (the great William Windom, in a lesser role than he deserved truthfully, is a district attorney pal who is convinced to “pull some strings” to make the cop’s efforts to catch a killer rather difficult) would encourage favorable results, and even assured his lover actress (redhead Katherine Justice) that he has an answer for everything. Falk’s presence isn’t imposing or intimidating as much as irksome and tiresome. He slips in, “Oh, but one more thing…” to further glean potential trip ups from those who almost feel as if they have the upper hand. Columbo looks for the one mistake. All the great characters of the classic television murder mystery seal the deal with the snare. 



Prescription: Murder (1968) spends some extensive time with Barry building his complex arrangements to set up the perfect “burglary murder” where his wife (Nina Foch) seemed to have interrupted a robber in the act and was strangled in the process. To accomplish this, Barry’s Dr. Ray Flemming needed help from his pretty, younger lover, once a patient in need of therapy for peculiarities in her character that depended on others to help her through in order to build a career of success. Justice’s Joan Hudson poses as his wife for significant acts to propose a fight on a plane that resulted in her departing for home (a posh apartment), but black glasses and gloves could be minor props used in the murder that might come back to haunt them. Whether it is a weighted suitcase (containing items that Barry would dump in Acapulco waters while fishing such as the wife’s jewelry) at the airport, a reaction of concern when it appeared the wife would recover from a coma (Columbo studied him studiously), verbal cues that revealed a concealed affair (Joan slipping up by calling Flemming Ray and Columbo catching her on a detail that shouldn’t have been shared with “just a patient” regarding the case, a conversation between Columbo and Flemming), or “what ifs” Flemming shares with Columbo regarding the personality of the killer; the psychiatrist seems destined to usurp himself through his own ego and flaunting his intellect didn’t help matters either. He always seemed so sure he’d defy all the efforts used to expose him. When he felt Joan would no longer pose a threat to him through nervous anxiety after an implied suicide involving downed barbiturates, Dr. Ray just couldn’t help himself. Taking great pleasure in rubbing his success in the face of Columbo made his eventual downfall all the more sweet. Barry makes for a perfectly loathsome, narcissistic opponent for Columbo to outwit. Capitalizing on their certainty in being wiser than him always seemed to work to Columbo’s advantage. He was dogged and determined…he just done it in this “wart that keeps returning” fashion that doesn’t necessarily offer an antagonist that causes concern as much as annoyance. My favorite scene in Prescription: Murder is very much Columbo going to Flemming about possible therapy! It’s a means to an end: a play on this guy’s massive belief in himself. And Columbo is given the treatment as Flemming goes on and on about how Columbo has this act and he truly sees how smart and wily he is. Oh, the Technicolor painterly credits mimicking the Rorschach test is especially a visual dynamo…

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