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Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971)

 
 

The One that Steven Spielberg Directed

Peter Falk in Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971)

For years Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy) has lived off of the success of his writing partner Jim Ferris (Martin Milner) who is the man behind a series of mystery murder books. So when Jim decides he wants to go it alone Ken can't have that and murders him, making it appear he was nowhere near the place. But not only does Ken have to deal with Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) who immediately finds things suspicious but he also has to deal with a witness who sets about blackmailing him.

Season 1, episode 1 and not only does "Columbo" have the wonderful Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy giving it a big dose of snide but look who is in the director's chair, yes a young Steven Spielberg who is yet to really leap to the attention of audiences. And watching "Columbo: Murder by the Book" is an interesting experience especially when you have also seen "Prescription: Murder" from 1968 which saw Peter Falk play Columbo for the first time. Now I will say right off the bat that "Columbo: Murder by the Book" is not the greatest episode of Columbo, it at times feels a little awkward, a little unsure yet with some nice flourishes makes it worth while.

Jack Cassidy in Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971)

Those flourishes I mention are there right from the opening scene of "Columbo: Murder by the Book" as we enter the office of writer Jim Ferris and as we see him sitting at his desk behind him through a large window is the busy street below. The thing is that whilst some of the flourishes are good some are not so and the floating camera to add to the chaos of the police swarming over a crime scene ends up too messy and forces Columbo out of where he is so great, pouring over a crime scene and spotting the inconsitencies which other cops fail to see.

Other things which don't quite work in this first episode of "Columbo" is in the character of Columbo as he takes the victim's wife home and sets about making her eggs. It just doesn't feel right and to be honest Peter Falk seems ill at ease through out this as if the writing had robbed him of some of the mannerisms which made Columbo who he was. Interestingly this was actually the 2nd episode filmed but the first to air and maybe as the 2nd episode the producers had tried to second guess the audience and changed things slightly.

What this all boils down to is that "Columbo: Murder by the Book" as always is entertaining and is interesting considering that it is Steven Spielberg behind the camera. But there is something slightly off about this episode and it lacks the flow and quirky charm which I associate with "Columbo".

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