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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
She Went to the Races (1945)
Just a time-passer.
One of the most enjoyable films of the 1940s was "Ball of Fire". Barbara Stanwyck spends most of the movie hanging out with an adorable group of aging professors and finds love with handsome Gary Cooper. Well, in "She Went to the Races", Frances Gifford also spends most of the film hanging out with an adorable group of aging professors and finds love with handsome James Craig....but the movie is hardly a classic. More a time-passer if you ask me.
When the story begins, Professor Pecke (Edmund Gwenn) learns that his faculty position at the university has been eliminated. The other professors decide to try to save his job by betting at the horse races in order to fund this faculty position...and they use scientific methods to accurately guess the results. In the meantime, Professor Wotters (Gifford) falls for one of the horse owners (James Craig). Unfortunately, another woman (Ava Gardner) also has her sights set on him.
This story is only okay...mostly because while the professors are cute and wonderful supporting actors, the story itself is only okay and nothing special. Watchable but hardly a film you need to rush to see.
Packin' It In (1983)
Unlike cheese and fine wines, this didn't hold up well over time.
When I was a teen I saw this film on television. My parents loved it so much, they were happy they recorded it. Well, many decades later, I decided to try the film again. After all, I may still love it....or I might wonder why I liked it in the first place!
The story is about a couple who are sick of the city life and so they follow the lead of some friends and they move to rural Oregon....to rough it and live off the land. Unfortunately, the country life, like the city life, offers its own problems and they soon find they've exchanged the horrors of city life with the horrors of living among a group of weirdo survivalists.
While the idea of the film was very sound, it was far from subtle. Additionally, Richard Benjamin's character really doesn't seem like a real person as he's constantly spouting one-liners--much like having Bob Hope doing a walk-on instead of making him like a real human being. And, as the film progressed I noticed that too many folks were caricatures...not realistic characters. Now this didn't totally ruin the movie, but its broadness limited its effectiveness in entertaining the viewers. Overall, mildly amusing but a film that did not amuse me like it once did. A watchable time-passer but certainly no classic.
FYI--While the film was set in Oregon, it was actually filmed in British Columbia, Canada.
Psychological mumbo-jumbo...and unintentionally hilarious!
I am a trained psychotherapist and used to offer individual and group therapy. I mention this because I do have a legitimate basis for saying that "Bewitched" is filled with psychological mumbo-jumbo! In other words, whether it's an enjoyable film or not, it's nonsense and mixes up two DIFFERENT disorders--Schizophrenia and Multiple Personality Disorder (also called Dissociative Identity Disorder). Many therapists are not sure whether or not MPD is a real psychological disorder...though Schizophrenia IS and would account for the voices the protagonist hears in her head. Too bad the writers of the film didn't understand this difference.
Joan (Phyllis Thaxter) is a young woman with a SERIOUS problem. She hears her own voice, or rather, her own EVIL voice, and it's trying to control her and make her kill! And soon you learn that she does have two distinct personalities--one sweet and the other evil and impolite! The film chronicles her life and ultimate treatment.
Throughout the film, Thaxter's performance is unintentionally funny. Sometimes she just stars towards the camera and makes odd faces ('is she constipated?' was my first thought when she started doing this). Other times she just looked perplexed. At no point did she act as if she was a real honest to goodness person! I also loved when one of her attacks came on and the tiger in the cage instinctively KNEW she was evil and acted accordingly!! I think this movie would have been 100 times better if instead of Thaxter the film had starred Divine...and had deliberately been a camp classic! Instead, it's funny...but for none of the right reasons!
Dangerous Partners (1945)
Edmund Gwenn plays a killer?! Say it isn't so!
"Dangerous Partners" has some very unusual casting, as Edmund Gwenn of all people plays a ruthless murderer!! Say it isn't so...the sweet guy who played Santa in "Miracle on 34th Street" a killer?!
The story begins just after a plane crash. Two rogues find a dead man with four wills in his possession....and the names of four different people on the wills...and each for $1,000,000! Without knowing more, the pair decide to track down these four people and find out if they can squeeze the money out of them.
Someone else is also looking for these four people....and Albert Kingby (Edmund Gwenn) is willing to do anything to get the $1.000,000 in bonds. He first kills the partner...leaving the lady (Signe Hasso). Then, he chases her and her new partner (James Craig) and you wonder WHO he is and WHY is he killing people to get the money. See the film and find out why.
While the relationship between Hasso and Craig is tough to believe in parts, the film still works very well because it's well written and there is a nice payoff at the end. Well worth seeing...tense and exciting throughout.
By the way, some reviews called this a 'B-movie'. While having secondary actors like Hasso and Craig in the leads might make you believe this, at 79 minutes it's much too long to be considered a B....a quickie film designed as a second feature and usually running 50-65 minutes.
The Earl of Chicago (1940)
Can a common mug become a first-class earl?
Silky (Robert Montgomery) is a dim crook who made his fortune selling bootleg liquor. The film begins, inexplicably, with Silky meeting Doc Ramsey (Edward Arnold) as Doc is released from prison. This is confusing because Doc was sent there thanks to Silky....and you'd think they would want nothing to do with each other. However, Silky knows Doc is actually an honest man and trusts that Doc will be an able assistant in his 'business ventures'.
Silky's life is about to take a huge turn in another direction...and it comes as quite the shock. It seems that Silky is the heir to a title and property in England...though he never knew it since he was raised in an orphanage. Not surprisingly, Silky is quite lost in his new position and Doc is counting on this so he can repay him for his former 'kindness' and plans on relieving Silky of his American holdings while Silky is busy playing an Earl. This is going to come as a shock, as Silky's English estates are not exactly flush with money. What's next? See the film to find out for yourself.
It is quite enjoyable watching Robert Montgomery playing such a coarse and dim-witted criminal...mostly because the role was so unlike most of his others. Unfortunately, this didn't last, as about 3/4 of the way through the film Silky realized what Doc was doing and the film became very, very dark. In fact, I'd give the first 3/4 an 8 (it was really very good) and the last portion a 2....as it was too dark and left me very unsatisfied.
The Split (1968)
A caper film that was very good....though the twist left me a bit cold.
McClain (Jim Brown) is a tough character and expert on robberies. He assembles a group of crooks to work with him to pull a very audacious caper...to rob the LA Rams' box office during the game! Surprisingly, the crime comes off without a hitch*, though later a random variable is thrown into the equation...a random stranger steels the money and now the gang assumes McClain double-crossed them. Can McClain find the money and manage to survive the gang?
This movie was apparently the first rated-R film and compared to later R films, it's pretty tame. I think it received the rating for violence as well as some sexual content (though there is no nudity)....today it would probably be rated PG-13.
So is it any good? Yes but it's a mixed bag. Up through the heist it was excellent. However, the random stranger who steals the money seemed silly and hard to believe....as well as mega-creepy. There also was a sloppy fight scene between Ernest Borgnine and Brown that was poorly shot...due to the poor use of stunt doubles which were just too obvious. Additionally, HOW did Sutherland's character die this fast the way he did?! It made no sense. Overall, however, the good still outweighs the bad, though there are better caper films out there, such as "Rififi", "Grand Slam" and the original "Oceans 11".
Columbo: The Conspirators (1978)
An interesting look into a huge issue from the 1970s.
"The Conspirators" is an episode of "Columbo" that might be confusing to modern audiences who are unaware of the historical context. In the 1970s, it was true that much of the funding for the IRA and other Irish terrorist groups came from folks in the United States. So, seeing the Irish singer/poet Joe Devlin (Clive Revill) on a tour of America to surrupticiously raise funds for weopons isn't farfetched and was a sign of the times.
During the initial portion of the show, Joe Devlin is singing and entertaining folks at parties....and talking about how peace and nonviolence are the solution to the Irish problems. Of course he's a hypocrite, as the funds he's collecting are going to be used to purchase machine guns! But Devlin is also a very paranoid guy and he convinces himself that the arms merchant (Albert Paulsen) is going to cheat him. So, he shoots the man....and eventually Columbo is on the case.
Like so many "Columbo" episodes, this one has Columbo befriending the prime suspect and inviting them to collaborate on the case. What follows is enjoyable, albeit pretty familiar. A nice time capsule onto the 1970s and well worth seeing.
It tries way too hard to be funny....and mostly fails.
"Penelope" is a Natalie Wood film with some redeeming qualities, though mostly it's tiresome and about as subtle as a stripper at a Baptist picnic!
Penelope (Wood) is a screwball who is married to a 5th Avenue banker. Despite them having lots of money, she's a compulsive thief...and the film begins with her robbing her husband's bank! Along with her psychiatrist, they come to realize that she has stolen for years but it's out of control now because she is doing this to get her inattentive husband's attention. So, she then realizes that she should let the husband know....but he and the police don't believe her. This leads to one of the only funny portions of the film...when she is HAPPY to see blackmailers come to threaten to tell her husband she's a thief! What's next? See the film.
"Penelope" is a very uneven movie. Too often, it lacks subtlety and resorts to very cheap laughs (complete with kooky sound effects) instead of intelligent writing. It's not all bad....but mostly bad. I cannot blame the actors...they are pretty good (including Peter Falk in a role much like his later Columbo). No, the writing (and to a lesser extent the direction) that are the problem. Interesting but highly flawed.
By the way, if you do see the movie, you might also find it surprising to see Arlene Galonka playing a prostitute. Normally on TV she played sweet roles on wholesome shows like "Mayberry RFD"!!
Columbo: How to Dial a Murder (1978)
Bad dogs....no biscuit!
Dr. Eric Mason (Nicol Williamson) is a guy who is not about to receive an award from the American Humane Association, that's for sure! As part of his VERY elaborate scheme at revenge, he's trained his Dobermans, Laurel & Hardy, to go mad and kill when they hear a trigger word! Well, his scheme DOES work....but what the psychologist didn't know is that Columbo was on the case AND Columbo never seems to lose a case!
This is a very good episode. While farfetched and too complicated, the murder was pretty cool and the plot very good. My only reservation is the character played by Kim Cattrall. Her acting was fine...that wasn't the problem. But her character seemed underwritten--like some editing occurred and much of her role was reduced. This made her being there in the first place confusing.
Columbo: Make Me a Perfect Murder (1978)
Good...but a bit padded.
Kay (Trish Van Devere) is the personal assistant for a network programmer. When she learns he's getting a promotion, she's shocked to learn that he is NOT giving her his old position. So, she's apparently been sleeping with the guy but for nothing! However, she is NOT a woman to be trifled with and she comes up with a plan to murder him and get away with it. Can she do this and still manage to defeat Columbo?!
This is a decent episode (though my wife disliked it quite a bit) but it was heavily padded. For example, in one worthless scene, Columbo is staring at some computerized graphics...and it went on and on and on. Unnecessary and evidence that there just wasn't enough plot. It's a shame they didn't make the show 10-15 minutes shorter....it would have improved it.
By the way, if you DO watch the episode I'd love to know your opinion, as in some ways I think they were vaguely hinting at Kay having a lesbian relationship.
Columbo: Murder Under Glass (1978)
The entire story rests on the wrong fish.
Louis Jourdan plays Paul Gerard, a food critic with a deep secret. Early into the episode, one of his 'clients' threatens to tell the authorities about this secret...and only moments later he's dead. When Columbo gets involved, you learn that the dead man was poisoned...but with what?! Well, if you look back at the beginning of the episode you'll quickly realize that he was possibly killed by Fugu....a blowfish from Japan that, if not properly prepared, is lethal. The problem is that the film you see is NOT Fugu but the Porcupine Fish....somewhat similar but much smaller and with spikes all over it's skin. As a fisherman who's caught many Porcupine Fish AND has been to Japan, this immediately took me out of the experience....and I knew beyond a doubt they didn't have Fugu. Now this is understandable, as I doubt if you can even get this fish in the States....but why show the WRONG fish?! That's just sloppy.
As to the rest of the episode, it's quite enjoyable but suffers from two cliches. First, the old and tired cliche where the man says "I'm going to tell the world" (referring to Gerard's scheme)....you KNOW that the man will be dead any minute! Second, the confrontation scene at the end...the one on one meeting that just defies common sense....as Gerard could have easily killed Columbo to keep the secret (and he almost did). Entertaining but very, very sloppy.
Over the Garden Wall (2014)
There's really nothing like it.
"Over the Garden Wall" is a highly unusual mini-series which was shown on Cartoon Network a few years ago. This story is a highly metaphorical tale about two brothers trapped in an alternate reality....and many of the things that occur throughout the show allude to death and the afterlife. The series was unusual for many reasons, actually. First, Cartoon Network didn't normally show mini-series...and in this case they showed two episodes a night for five days. Second, the show is NOT for young kids, as there is a lot of creepy imagery and subject matter....so it's best for kids 10 and older but more for teens and adults. Third, the quality of the production was amazing....with lovely music and backgrounds.
Overall, a mini-series with tremendous production values and a neat story with highly engaging characters....well worth seeing provided you are NOT a young child.
A rather bland film with some odd notions about God and religion.
"I'd Climb the Highest Mountain" is a film very much unlike any of Susan Hayward's others. Much of the time, she plays strong-willed women--such as vamps or hard as nails business women. But here she plays a preacher's wife in this relatively bland and confusing film.
William Lundigan plays Reverend Thomson and the film begins with him bringing his new wife (Hayward) to his parish in the hills of Georgia, though you might not know it because there are no Georgia accents among the locals. What follows is a very episodic story based on the memoirs of the wife, Mary.
Why wasn't I thrilled with the film? Well, there was a lot of singing (too much for my taste) and the spiritual lessons are strange. For example, there's an Atheist who won't let his kids go to church. Later, the preacher convinces the man's wife to let the kids go on a church picnic...and one of the kids is killed there! Here's the odd part....by the end of the film, the Atheist (Alexander Knox) is pretty jiggy with the preacher and says he'll miss him....though I have no idea why. Another example, Hayward's character telling the audience that she committed the worst sin a woman could make....she neglected her appearance(?!). A lot of other odd and confusing lessons are in the film....ones that will annoy non-believers and believers alike.
Police Story: Spanish Class (1976)
Despite the series being set in Los Angeles, you didn't see that many Hispanic officers or civilians on "Police Story". Well, unlike the rest of the shows, this one is practically ALL Hispanic.
Officer Taylor (Desi Arnaz Jr.) has just transferred to a new part of Los Angeles so that he can learn Spanish and work with Hispanic-Americans. He's partnered with Officer Fernandez (Joe Santos) who seems to know the streets and the language.
This episode is more episodic than most. This is NOT a criticism but a comment about the style. So, instead of focusing on a particular criminal or type of crime, you see a bit of everything--from fights to shootings to drunks. I liked the episode a lot but did find it odd that Arnez played a complete Anglo who knew nothing about the Hispanic population...yet his father, Desi, was Cuban. And, despite the name, Joe Santos is Italian-American! Odd...but still a very good episode.
Police Story: Company Man (1975)
Would this still be the case today? I'm not sure.
Sgt. Hansen (Christopher Connelly) is a good detective. But he has a troubled marriage to say the least. There is no intimacy in his relationship, as his wife rebuffs all advances. After several years of this, it's not surprising that he begins to look for intimacy elsewhere...and he begins a relationship with a school teacher (Janet Margolin). When his wife learns the truth, she goes to her husband's superiors to either get him fired or to force him to stop straying.
There is another plot running throughout the show as well. Hansen and is partner are trying to get the goods on a crook known as 'The Duke' (Bernie Casey). He's apparently an expert car thief and no matter what the cops do, they can't seem to catch him with dirty hands.
Both these plots made me wonder if many of the things in the show would occur today. If a cop is cheating on his wife, would Internal Affairs today get involved? And, the initial traffic stop the cops made with The Duke seemed like the detectives were overstepping their authority. I'd love to know more about these things....and I'd only be guessing to think times have changed.
So is it any good? Yes. While not a topic folks like to talk about, marriages do often fail and cops, due to the nature of their jobs, seem particularly susceptible. Plus, it's interesting to see a case where you can see both sides of the problem, as the wife is indeed very cold and completely asexual...which is not at all healthy. Overall, a very good episode....with an incredibly sad ending.
Far more brutal and frank than I expected...so be forewarned.
During WWII, American film studios made tons of films featuring the enemy as monsters...snarling, drooling, evil monsters. Much of this is understandable....the country was at war. But many of these depictions went way overboard...so much so that the films seem very dated today. "China", unlike some of the more severe depictions of the enemy, is actually a bit more realistic. In fact, it's so realistic in spots that the film is much more brutal and frank than you'd expect from a Post-Code American picture.
The story is set in China just before the US entered the war in 1941. China, in contrast to the US, had been at war with China for about a decade...with Japan invading eastern China and in many cases eliminating the locals completely. So, when the film show the Japanese army doing ethnic cleansing, it's actually pretty realistic...ugly...but realistic. In addition, rapes and murders of civilians were common...and the film actually manages to show much more than I'd expect. I also mention this because the film CAN be hard to watch in places...especially in the portion where there is a rape and murders of a family. Because of this, it's far better than the average wartime propaganda movie.
Alan Ladd and William Bendix star as Americans who work for an oil company. This work brought them to China...and Ladd's character, in particular, seems more than willing to sell to the Japanese or Chinese. However, through the course of the story, he sees more and more of the Japanese atrocities and eventually joins the resistence wholeheartedly. Along for the ride is a missionary lady (Loretta Young).
A few things about the film could have been better. In particular, the casting was odd. Ladd was fine in his usual grumpy disaffected role, but Young and Bendix were all wrong. Young plays an American born and raised in China...and she seems as Chinese-American as a taco! Bendix isn't as bad, but he's supposed to be from Oregon...but he sure sounds like Brooklyn (though he apparently was from Manhattan).
On the positive side, the film did not shy away from things and was BRUTAL. While the rape was not shown, it was STRONGLY implied and you could hear the screams. As for the killing, much of it was in hand-to-hand combat and was amazingly harsh for 1943. I appreciate that, as too often war films make war seem fun or easy...here, there is great sacrifice and realism as a result. Overall, very well worth watching and one of Ladd's best.
Two Heads on a Pillow (1934)
Almost...and a re-write would have made this an exceptional film.
"Two Heads on a Pillow" is a cheap B-movie. Today, many folks think any low budget film is a B, but the term actually referred to the lesser film shown during a double feature. The A-picture was the larger budgeted and more prestigious film....and always made by an honest to goodness studio. As for the Bs, many were made by so-called "Poverty Row" studios...a term used to refer to outfits that rented out studio space from the big production companies. And, to secrue space, most Bs were made at night when the major studios were finished shooting for the day.
So were Bs bad? Not necessarily. There were some great B films. But the problem was that with low budgets, lesser named actors and filming at night didn't allow much time for re-writes. So, if a script had plot problems, it was often shot anyway...logical or not! This, sadly, is the problem with "Two Heads"...it really needed a re-write and some editing of the script would have made it a lovely movie. Instead, it's got a lot to love....and a lot to hate.
When the story begins, newly married John and Evelyn Smith are having a huge fight...so bad that soon they divorce. Seven years pass and now Evelyn is in John's life again. This is because they are now both lawyers and her client is sueing his! Where does all this go? See the film is you'd like.
The story has a lot of good in it. But too often, the writer seemed to think that folks go from cooing and being in love to practically murdering each other--like this is normal. And, again and again, the Smiths look like they are making up...only to have them screaming at each other over nothing. It really was NOT very good and ruined all the fine moments in the picture. In many ways, it's a lot like the lovely Hepburn/Tracy film "Adam's Rib"....but without the fine writing.
Columbo in a battle of wits with Mr. Smartypants.
The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case" is a very weak installment of "Columbo"...mostly because the resolution to the case is a big disappointment. As is the case with weaker episodes, it relies on the killer being dumb enough to incriminate themselves in order to wrap up the case!
Oliver Brandt (Theodore Bikel) is a member of a Mensa-like club filled with supposed geniuses. One of the other members of the club is his business partner...and this partner has come to realize that Oliver has been embezzling from the company. And, the partner announces to Oliver behind closed doors that he's going to the authorities about this (NOT a sign of great genius to TELL him this as you KNOW he'll soon die). So, Oliver murders his partner and does it in a way that the folks at the smartypants club all are nearby and THINK he's innocent. After all, he IS among the members when shots ring out and the man is discovered dead.
The episode is supposed to be a battle of wits between the brilliant Oliver and Columbo. The problem is that Oliver seems pretty stupid and incriminating himself at the end is just dumb...too dumb to be realistic or satisfying to watch. And, the cliche of having the murder victim announce he's going to the police--very silly and improbable. Overall, very weak and forgettable.
Father Figures (2017)
Watch it for the strange supporting characters they meet along the way.
"Father Figure" is a highly unusual movie because I wasn't too fond of the plot of the film....but I loved the quirky characters so much that the plot itself didn't really matter so much. Sure, it is ridiculous in spots...but overall it's well worth seeing.
When the story begins, two twins, Peter and Kyle (Ed Helms and Owen Wilson), are visiting with their mother (Glenn Close). The generally uptight Peter asks his mother about their father...a man he and Kyle never knew. She makes up a lie and tells them it's Terry Bradshaw! Soon, they go on a road trip and meet Terry. Bradshaw is thrilled to learn he has two sons...but eventually realizes he cannot be the boys' dad. He gives them a clue which takes them to a very unsavory guy (J.K. Simmons) and so on....as the boys go through clus after clue and think four different guys are their dad! Where will this all end?
I loved the supporting characters in this one. In addition to Bradshaw and Simmons, Katt Williams was fantastic...perhaps the best of the supporting folks. And, there were a few other great cameos that make it very enjoyable. On the negative side, the film is quite crude and sexual (though I do think the R rating is too severe--perhaps it should have been PG-13) and things work out too perfectly too many times for the film to have a lot of real depth. But, on balance, the good far outweighs the bad and I'd like to see more from these folks.
Columbo: Old Fashioned Murder (1976)
A bit weak.
Joyce Van Patten stars as Ruth Lytton, an older single lady whose life revolves around her running the family museum. However, when she learns that her brother is planning on selling the place, she decides they'll keep it open....even if it means killing him and another person in order to make the brother's death look like a robbery gone bad.
This is a decent episode up until the ending. While there is some evidence that Ruth did the double murder, it's not clear....yet she confesses to it. Weak...very weak.
Los Espookys (2019)
The perfect show for someone who wants something different....and doesn't mind really, really weird!
I would love to know more about "Los Espookys"---how they came up with the idea, where it was filmed and why they chose to make it in Spanish. Regardless, I really did enjoy it and am looking forward to seeing season two on Netflix!
It's very difficult to describe this show as well as why I enjoyed it. Suffice to say that I love TV shows that are weird, quirky and unusual....and this one certainly fits the bill. It's the story of a group of four odd Hispanic folks who have a business, Los Spookys. Their goal is to use scary gimmicks, makeup and props to make a living. Now you'd THINK this would involve making movies or throwing parties, but they often use their skills for the most bizarre and funny clients--such as a priest who wants to fake an exorcism in order to show up a flashy young priest as well as creating a Loch Ness Monster/Sasquatch type creature to bring a seaside town tourism! Add to that some of the quirkiest characters and situations and you've got the makings for weird...big time!
The show is well written, clever and well worth seeing. My concern, however, is that many folks will refuse to watch any show with subtitles...and it's a shame as you are bound to laugh and enjoy it if you give it a chance.
Born to Gamble (1935)
A disjoint but somewhat entertaining morality tale.
"Born to Gamble" is a very low budgeted B-movie from tiny Liberty Pictures, a 'Poverty Row' studio that filmed at the RKO lot at night. Many of the so-called 'Povery Row' studios filmed at night because they didn't actually own studio space but instead rented sound stages at the major studios--filming when the majors sent everyone home for the night. Not surprisingly, cheapness seems to be pretty obvious with this one...but there ARE bits and pieces which are pretty good.
H.B. Warner plays Carter Mathews, a rich industrialist whose family has been torn apart by gambling. How do we know this? Because Carter tells all his friends at the club all about his family nightmare--starting with his father-in-law and with the gambling bug somehow jumping onto Carter's three sons. Because of the type story it is, the film is quite episodic and all point to the evils of gambling and the virtues of hard work.
Is it any good? Mostly no because the message is obvious and heavyhanded. Plus, with a running time of only about an hour, the film is rushed and unconvincing. Too bad, as Warner and Onslow Stevens are both quite good and there are some very good moments in the film. Worth seeing as a flawed time-passer and not much more.
Columbo: Fade in to Murder (1976)
Imagine...William Shatner playing a self-absorbed crime fighter.
Ward Fowler (William Shatner) is a successful television detective. However, his producer is taking advantage of him, as she knows he has a shady past and she threatens to expose him unless he gives her half his income. Not surprisingly, Ward is not pleased with this arrangement and it becomes the motive for his killing her. Using props from the studio, he stages a phony robbery and kills the woman.
When Lieutenant Columbo arrives on the scene, Ward behaves as if he, too, is a crime fighter. Again and again, this arrogant actor tells Columbo how to handle the case and time and again Columbo defers to the actor--pretending to be in awe of Fowler's detecting skills. Not surprisingly, Columbo gives the guy enough rope that eventually he does, figuratively, hang himself.
This was a very enjoyable installment of the series. Shatner was quite good as the egomaniac and the interplay between him and Peter Falk (Columbo) was quite enjoyable and clever. Overall, a very good episode with a well-conceived crime and investigation.
It tries very, very hard to be quirky and funny...and fails miserably in the process.
There is much to hate about this episode of "Columbo" and from the reviews on IMDB, I noticed that most folks strongly disliked this particular installment. Oddly, a tiny number gave it a 10 and loved it. As for me, I strongly disliked the show....and consider it the worst I've seen so far (and I've seen all the episodes up until this one).
The Commodore (John Dehner) is a rich guy who owns a boat building empire. Despite his wealth, however, he's not a happy man and can't stand his family. After telling them all off, he (not surprisingly for a detective show) is killed. It is made to look like a boating accident. The main suspect, however, cannot be the murderer, as soon he, too, is killed. So who done it?
I am not sure if the script called for it or the director (Patrick McGoohan) insisted on all the 'funny' and quirky touches in the episode....which turns out to be a big mistake. Much of this was unfunny and actually annoying, such as the car scene where everyone is squeezing into Columbo's car, the telephone bit and yelling over the equipment at the dock. It's supposed to be cute and funny but comes off as forced and as if the show was being made by folks who were not acquainted with "Columbo". As for guest star Robert Vaugn, he just looked lost or possibly annoyed among all this monkey business. The same could be said of Dennis Dugan....who was cast as a young detective hanging out with Columbo but who was thoroughly wasted. Add to this that the unraveling of the mystery is essentially like an old B-mystery where everyone sits in a room until one of the possible suspects accidentally betrays themselves! Overall, not much to recommend this terrible episode...as it's badly written, sloppily directed and, most importantly, dopey and unsatisfying.
Columbo: Now You See Him (1976)
One of the very best episodes....and quite enjoyable, too.
The story in "Now You See Him" is one of the best of all the "Columbo" episodes. It is quite enjoyable to watch...and extremely well thought out and intelligently written.
When the story begins, you learn that the great illusionist, The Great Santini* (Jack Cassidy), has something to hide...and he's being blackmailed because of it. His boss (Nehemiah Persoff) knows that Santini was actually an SS soldier who worked in a death camp during WWII. To rid himself of this threat, Santini uses his knowledge of magic and deception to make it appear as if he could never have done the murder as he was in a different part of the nightclub at the time of the killing. It's up to Columbo to match wits with Santini and best him at his own game.
The writing was just exquisite in this one and the story very exciting. It's a shame that Cassidy died later the same year he made this guest appearance, as he was always wonderful on the show. Also interesting is seeing Sgt. Wilson on the show, as he played Wilson in an earlier episode ("Greenhouse Jungle")...though his first name, oddly, changed.
*Not to be confused with the character played by Robert Duvall so expertly in 1979.