Columbo: Double Exposure (Review)

Columbo Peter FalkYou can’t keep a good crook down. Not content with escaping from prison once and disguising himself with a dodgy moustache as American Football manager Paul Hanlon, private investigator turned murderer Carl Brimmer has done it again. It’s no wonder Columbo is on to him right away, despite his second alter ego Dr Bart Keppel committing what appears to be the perfect crime. Yes, Robert Culp is back to play the murderer again, in his third Columbo appearance.

The Motive

Keppel is a motivational research specialist. In other words he studies people’s shopping habits and uses his observations on their psychology to advise advertising clients. He has been blackmailing his best customer, Vic Norris, having framed him in an indiscretion, something he has apparently done many times before. That might seem like an odd thing to do to your best customer, but there you go. Vic is having none of it, and is threatening to expose Keppel’s crimes. He’s got to go…

The Murder

This is a strong candidate for the cleverest murder we have ever seen. Keppel phones Vic’s wife anonymously and tells her about the affair, asking her to meet him. That gets her out of her house and on her own, so he can attempt to frame her. At a premiere of his motivational sales film, he plies Vic with some very salty caviar, having inserted a subliminal image of a drink into his film. His live narration on stage is a recording. When Vic, inspired by the subliminal image, leaves the theatre, Keppel is ready and waiting to shoot him. He uses his own gun, modified with a calibration converter, which he removes and hides in his office. He has a whole bunch of people who will alibi him because they thought he was on stage the whole time, he has no apparent motive, and he has implicated an obvious suspect. Will this be third time lucky for Paul/Carl/Bart? Does practice make perfect?

The Mistakes

Columbo always seems to be something of an expert in human psychology, and as usual he is quick to spot the murderer’s odd behaviour. He behaved in an inhumanly cool manner, picking up his tape after the murder and returning it to the vault (in reality, he needed to get rid of it and replace it with a splice-free print). He easily explains that away as being an organised, calm individual. Columbo commits that to memory and uses it later against him; Keppel’s tape player was found in the lobby, recording what was going on. The pretext for that was to record a question and answer session (in reality it was recording over his narration), but why would Keppel switch it on after the murder? He says he switched it on in the auditorium, but the recording doesn’t back that up, so he eventually has to revert to that old excuse most of the murderers trot out to explain their odd behaviour: people do illogical things when they have had a shock. As Columbo points out, that is inconsistent with the unmoved, calm person Keppel is supposed to be, as an explanation for getting on with what he had to do with the tape. This is just circumstantial, and Columbo collects plenty of little clues (showing great cunning in establishing with a sneaky collect call that Keppel lied about not knowing the woman Vic was supposedly having an affair with, for example), but nothing sufficient to close the case until the gotcha moment at the end, but he’s too late to prevent…

The Second Murder

It’s the old story. The projectionist has figured out what Keppel did, has the proof that Columbo lacks, and wants money. This is often the point at which the murderer panics and commits a much sloppier second murder, or at the very least a more straightforward one, but in this instance it’s almost as clever as the first, something I don’t think we have ever seen before. Keppel uses it as an opportunity to strengthen the case against the woman he is trying to frame, breaking into Vic’s house and stealing a gun, so the murder weapon will throw suspicion on Vic’s widow. He kills the projectionist and then replaces the first reel for the second himself, setting the time of murder later in the day, by which time Keppel is in the company of Columbo himself. Columbo is Keppel’s alibi!

Columbo

I always look out for the moment when all pretence is dropped. Columbo lets the murderer know he’s on to him, and the murderer basically stops pretending to be innocent and defaults to a position of pointing out to Columbo that he doesn’t have any proof. In this instance that happens on a golf course, after a great war of words with each of them getting one up on each other in turn, amusingly putting Keppel off his stroke. From then on, it’s all about finding the proof that Keppel thinks Columbo can never get. That proof would have surely been his film with the subliminal frame, and that’s long gone…

Just One More Thing

Columbo helps himself to some caviar because he missed dinner. He is hungry and tired, because he has been “working late on that Hayward case”. Astonishingly, that indicates that at least part of this episode takes place concurrently with the previous one, and Columbo is working on both cases at the same time. This man isn’t just good at his job; he’s extraordinary.

The Verdict

OK, there are problems with this. The reason for the original blackmail is hard to fathom, considering Vic was already Keppel’s best customer. The subliminal stuff is all nonsense. It almost certainly doesn’t work in reality and there was never a law passed against it in the USA, as Keppel claims. Vic could have walked out to get a drink at any point after eating that salty caviar. Keppel couldn’t have controlled the timing of that with a single frame of a picture of a drink. Columbo’s subliminal images at the end also would not have worked, so you have to suspend disbelief a little more than usual for a Columbo episode. Perhaps at the time the viewers would have been taken in a bit more by all that stuff, so I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that it’s a fault with the writing.

The episode packs a bit too much into the shorter running time. This really needed to be one of those 90 minute episodes. Both murders were extremely clever and complex, and I had to keep pausing and going back a bit to watch some scenes twice, just to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the details. The longer running time would have allowed the story to breathe a little better, and I’m starting to come to the conclusion that it is generally a better format for these stories. This one felt rushed. You also have to suspend disbelief for the ending, with Keppel not noticing Columbo very obviously hiding in his room, and having failed to dispose of the calibration converter since the murder, which seems very odd to say the least, but it still stands as a really fun gotcha moment, with Culp playing it at the end as Keppel apparently descending into insanity. As he laughs at Columbo’s ingenuity, there’s madness behind those eyes. After losing three times to the same detective, I’m not surprised. Maybe Hanlon/Brimmer/Keppel will stay in prison where he belongs this time, but I wouldn’t like to bet on it.  RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Columbo: Publish or Perish

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Reviews, Television and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Columbo: Double Exposure (Review)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    This is Robert Culp’s best in Columbo. It’s good to see Arlene Martel again too and Chuck McCann, an actor I remember from assorted roles, gives a particularly memorable performance as the 2nd murder victim. I also remember this one as my first education on subliminal imagery in films. It can now be popular for meditation videos with affirmation words (audio or visually written) and things like that. The need to suspend disbelief on how it works for how Columbo traps the culprit may certainly be easy to recognize. We may nevertheless appreciate it as one of Columbo’s poetic justice victories. Thanks again, RP, for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      I had to read our whole write up to understand why epaddon said what he said, when I realized it was YOU who said it was good to see Arlene Martel again. If Martel was not in the episode, how did you see her?
      I’m not even watching these with Rog, but I’m damned curious because I actually really liked Martel as an actress. How did you manage to see her if all her scenes were cut?? ML

      Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        It may have been a confusion with one of the other Columbo episodes she guest starred in. Maybe from when I was reading her IMDb resume and saw her name still listed for this one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DrAcrossthePond says:

        That’s why it’s dangerous to base reviews on things you’re not directly watching. I don’t agree with doing that. It’s one thing to use it to supply details but that should be after you watch the thing. I just did a review for a Sherlock crossover referring to two books I’d read years ago so I went very vague on comments barring overall impression because otherwise I’m just regurgitating what someone else thinks. What’s the point? ML

        Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        I certainly remember watching Double Exposure, but that was a long while back. It’s strange how you can watch something again after so long and realize how differently you may have remembered it over time as opposed to actuality.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DrAcrossthePond says:

        I experience that when I remember something as being great and rewatch only to find out it’s rubbish. A real let down!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        That’s occasionally happened to me too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. epaddon says:

    Actually Arlene Martel doesn’t appear in the episode because despite her credit, her scene was cut. The episode was filmed as a two hour “Columbo” and then for some reason was cut back to 90 minutes. This meant we lost Martel’s scene which took place before the final cut of the episode begins when she and Kepple are planning things (notice how the episode really seems to begin with a “joined in progress” feel). Also lost in the cutting was a scene that clears up the plotline involving Kepple’s attempt to frame Mrs. Norris. I really don’t understand why the decision was made to cut the episode back because the episode I felt needed these scenes (by contrast, “Candidate For Crime” the previous episode aired at two hours and has a lot of unnecessary bloating like the scene where Columbo talks to tailor Vito Scotti that drags endlessly because Columbo won’t come to the point and goes through the rigmarole of getting a fitting he doesn’t need)

    Liked by 2 people

    • scifimike70 says:

      I think that A Friend In Deed was the Columbo where I remembered Arlene Martel from that I confused Double Exposure with. I wish that her deleted scene from Double Exposure could be available on YouTube because I’d like to see it.

      Liked by 2 people

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