Orchestrating Murder

Peter Falk and John Cassavetes in Columbo: Étude in Black (1972)

Conductor Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes) has it all; fame, a great career, a beautiful wife (Blythe Danner) and wealth. But Alex also has a secret lover, Jenifer Welles (Anjanette Comer), who threatens to tell his wife and as his career is reliant on her money and his mother-in-law's company he murders Jenifer and makes it look like suicide. But after orchestrating what he thinks is the perfect crime Alex finds himself hounded by lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) who is not convinced that Jenifer took her own life.

Let me start with a brief side note in this review of "Columbo: Étude in Black"; Blythe Danner was pregnant with Gwyneth Paltrow at the time of filming this and at times you do a double take as the then Blythe Danner looks so much like Paltrow does. Anyway back to the real review and "Columbo: Étude in Black" was the opening episode of season 2 of Columbo back in 1972 and you get a sense that the producers set out to achieve two things with this opener; deliver the familiar which everyone liked but then do something to attract people's attention.

Blythe Danner in Columbo: Étude in Black (1972)

Now for some that attention grabbing will be to have John Cassavetes and Peter Falk on screen together as there is such naturalness between them which ramps up the entertainment when Columbo starts nibbling away at Benedict to get under his skin and cause him to make a slip. And there is some enjoyment to be had from seeing Cassavetes and Falk on screen in a Columbo together. There is just as much joy in seeing Blythe Danner, Myrna Loy as well as George Gaynes in minor roles.

But then there is another side to "Columbo: Étude in Black" which some people love but for me tends to spoil things. That is the direction/cinematography as there is a very distinct artistic side to this with plenty of distant shots, shots framed by objects in a room such and some flashy techniques such as the use of an image in the lenses of Benedict's sunglasses. The thing is that the styling continually over powers things and spoils some of the enjoyment an episode of "Columbo" always offered. And the thing is that because there is so much focus on the style it ends up making small things, such as a dropped flower too unsubtle as it uses the clues in a forced manner.

What this all boils down to is that whilst the basic enjoyment of watching Columbo is still there when you watch "Columbo: Étude in Black" it is somewhat lessened by a forced visual style which is too over powering for this sort of thing.

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