Suitable for Framing is a very suitable title for this episode, because it is framed by two of the greatest scenes of any Columbo episode. The denouement in particular is quite possibly Columbo’s greatest moment, but the picture framed here has some odd brush strokes that slightly detract from the beauty of the piece. Let’s cast our critic’s eye over it.
Dale Kingston is an art critic, whose uncle owns one of the greatest collections of art in the world. By rights he should inherit, but his uncle has cut him out of his will in favour of his ex-wife, who was exasperated by his hoarder mentality and wants to see the paintings appreciated by the public. Uncle Rudy has come round to Aunt Edna’s way of thinking, and the works of art will be hers post-mortem to dispose of for the good of society. Dale’s solution to the problem is to kill his uncle, and frame his aunt for the murder. If convicted, she will not be able to inherit.
… committed within seconds of the episode opening. We start with some beautiful piano music, played by Uncle Rudy. His nephew appears to be appreciating the music, and then suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots him… and then the music’s not so nice.
Unusually for a Columbo episode, the murderer has an accomplice. Inexplicably, one of his art students has fallen in love with him, despite the fact that he looks like a potato that has been baked for too long. I don’t think it’s about money either. The poor girl seems to be genuinely in love with him, but she’s the one person who knows his secret, so…
The Second Murder
Unlike the first murder, this one lacks the intricate covering of tracks and the framing of the first. Dale simply meets up with her in a remote location and kills her with a rock. Nasty. And here, I think is where the episode drops the ball. We’ve seen this before: the sloppy second murder. But the problem here is that it ends up having virtually no bearing on the case. Other than identifying the victim as an art student, Columbo fails to link the two of them together, which would have been very strong evidence. It seems to me that should be a relatively simple matter for the brilliant Lieutenant. This is a relationship that was established long enough and strong enough to allow Dale to manipulate Tracy into being his accomplice. I mean, that’s not something you generally talk about on the first date. Somebody must have witnessed him romancing her, at some stage. That’s all ignored and I think the writer probably hoped we would forget about it. In the end it’s nothing more than an entertaining plot beat, but it does feel like the easy route for Columbo has been ignored in favour of doing something much more elegant.
Dale does a clever job, but his alibi is just too good and his framing too weak. He makes sure everyone is well aware of what time he’s at the art viewing (while the body is being kept warm with an electric blanket), by pretending there’s something wrong with his watch, which looks fishy from the outset. As Columbo points out, genuine alibis are rarely that watertight:
“In most cases people don’t remember what time it is.”
Columbo easily picks it all to pieces. The murder is framed to look like a burglary, but doesn’t fit the profile (genuine burglars go through windows because it’s easier, the alarm didn’t go off, and the door lock was impossible to crack from the outside). Dale was at an event he would never normally attend, wasting his time on art that isn’t very good, just so he has an alibi, and then Columbo traps him into criticising a piece of art from the actual exhibit. But the big, big mistake is when Dale gets frustrated with Columbo and tells him to take a key to his apartment so he can drop by any time, and hilariously Columbo calls his bluff and takes it, so he can pop round and borrow some books! While Columbo’s in the flat, apparently snoozing, or so Dale thinks when he finds him, he’s up to something…
It’s a lot of fun seeing Columbo flustered by the naked model, and later getting frustrated while Edna talks him through the family album. Once again, the kindness he shows the innocent victim who is caught up in all this is lovely to watch. Never for one second does he give Edna any reason to think that he suspects her, much to Dale’s frustration. It’s a joy to watch.
The final seconds of this episode more than make up for the writer glossing over the second murder. It’s quite possibly the most satisfying capture of a murderer in any crime drama ever made. The looks on the faces of Peter Falk and Ross Martin sell the moment beautifully. Suitable for framing? Absolutely. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Columbo: Lady in Waiting