For the first time in ages, I’ve watched an old episode of Columbo. ‘Murder, Smoke and Shadows’ involves a young film director, played by Fisher Stevens, with a gift for special effects, whose past catches up with him. A few years earlier, he and a friend were filming when the sister of another friend was killed in a motor bike accident. The Stevens character failed to save her, and now the sister’s brother has learned the truth, and is bent on exposing his betrayal. The brother is naïve enough to show his hand, and meets a grisly fate, electrocuted on a deserted film set. The director, naturally, persuades himself that he has committed the perfect crime.
Needless to say, he hasn’t reckoned on Lieutenant Columbo’s determination and detective genius. Bit by bit, Columbo sees through the evasions and pieces together the clues. The film-making background affords the opportunity for some clever and dramatic scenes before the killer is finally brought to book.
Columbo is formulaic in the extreme, but is so well done that I still found this episode very enjoyable, almost twenty years after it was made. Peter Falk is superb as the shabby detective and well served by ingenious and occasionally witty scripts. I think Columbo is (like, in a very different way, the Father Brown stories) best taken in small doses. But well worth taking, every now and then.