Mrs Columbo: Murder is a Parlor Game

Mrs Columbo Opening Titles LogoMrs Columbo is still hanging on the coat-tails of the parent show, but unlike the first episode this one could easily have worked as an actual Columbo episode, with minimal rewriting, so let’s return to a review format that regular readers of the blog will find familiar, and start by looking at…

The Motive

For the second week in a row, we have a returning actor from the world of Columbo as the villain. Donald Pleasence plays Ian A. Morly (the “A” is important), a retired detective who has written a book about seven of his cases where the murderer got away with it, and he also spends his retirement teaching women the art of self-defence. One of the crimes mentioned in his book was actually committed by Morly, and somebody else was framed and then disappeared, presumed drowned. Now the innocent suspect in that case, a man who calls himself Carmichael, has read the book and decides to take his revenge on Morly.

The Murder

This one is more a case of self-defence. Morly distracts Carmichael with his mace spray, they wrestle, the gun goes off twice, and Carmichael is the one who ends up shot. So why does Morly try to cover it up? Presumably it’s because of that original murder, and he doesn’t want to open that can of worms. As he later says, the first killing was “ill-conceived”, and the second “inadvertent”.

The Mistakes

Morly tries to cover his tracks, but for an ex-detective he doesn’t do a very good job of it. He makes a phone call pretending to be a suicidal Carmichael, swaps over some paintings to hide the first bullet hole in the wall, throws one of his shoes on the fire to cover the smell of the mace, and leaves the other one under a chair. It’s all a bit haphazard, and he even accidentally leaves his mace spray behind while he’s moving the paintings. These are all relatively easy clues for Kate to unravel, and she immediately spots the bullet hole and the moved paintings. Morly’s suggestion that the first shot was experimental so the suicidal Carmichael could experience what it felt and sounded like to fire the gun is clearly straw-clutching. As for the mace spray, Kate saw Morly use that at one of his self-defence classes, and a telltale shadow on a painting leads her to where it was lost by Morly.

Mrs Columbo

As I suspected, Kate’s journalism is going to be the excuse for involving her in the murder cases. Perhaps less expected is the role her daughter is apparently going to play in these stories, at least on the evidence of this one. She turns out to be a very useful sounding board for Kate, solving the mystery of the burnt shoe for her mother:

“I think he just wanted to make a bad smell.”

With two exceptionally clever parents, it’s no surprise Jenny is turning out to be such a huge help to her mother.

Mrs Columbo Murder Is a Parlor Game Jenny Lili Haydn Mrs Columbo Murder Is a Parlor Game Kate Mulgrew

Just One More Thing

Carmichael’s copy of the book is eventually tracked down, and it’s perhaps a clue too far, because he has written “I AM THE MURDERER” under the relevant chapter on the contents page. Kate figures out that actually says “I A M THE MURDERER”, the “I A M” standing for Ian A. Morly, which seems to be hugely contrived, and the confusion only works because it was written all in capital letters and slightly awkward English. In reality, surely it would say, “The Murderer is IAM”, or something of that nature.

The Verdict

Two episodes in, and I’m still baffled why this is not a popular show, unless it simply is a problem of Columbo fans getting their knickers in a twist about a spin-off treading on the toes of the parent series. Kate Mulgrew is once again excellent and a lot of story is packed into just 45 minutes. I am not entirely sure it is a wise strategy to echo the plot beats of the parent series so strongly, and the first episode was definitely superior, setting out its own stall as an exciting thriller rather than Columbo stories with somebody different. Having said that, this is very much in the spirit of Columbo, with Kate and the murderer developing a lot of respect for each other, and that works well. In fact, her admiration for Morly and understanding of his character allows her to confront him on her own in the end, having taken the precaution of informing the police first about her findings.

“In the circumstances Mrs Columbo, don’t you feel the slightest bit of trepidation?”
“Oh no, I think you’re a very nice man.”

Some of the best Columbo episodes leave us feeling like we actually quite liked the murderer, and the Lieutenant always tried to see the best in everyone he met, so it’s good to see that philosophy carried over to the spin-off show, and it makes a lot of sense. Although we never see Columbo and his wife on screen together, it’s not difficult to see how this marriage could work very well as a meeting of minds. Morly describes his opponent as “a remarkable woman”. With the straightforward logic of her daughter to help her as well, it looks like Mrs C is going to be the equal of her husband.   RP

PS. A quick note about how to watch this episode.  The only way to watch the complete series of Mrs Columbo is to get the French DVD release.  However, this episode, along with two others, can be found as bonus features on the Columbo complete DVD box set.  The picture quality is very different.  The transfers on the French DVDs are soft and lacking detail, whereas the transfers on the Columbo DVDs are much sharper, but with a lot of grain and noise.  Neither are ideal, but I would say the Columbo DVDs are the better option where possible.  Of course, for the other 10 episodes you won’t have a choice!

Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: A Riddle for Puppets

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Spinoffs, Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mrs Columbo: Murder is a Parlor Game

  1. scifimike70 says:

    It’s curious how some episodes that might have worked, and even been considered, for the parent series can end up serving the spinoff instead. The specific differences for the spinoff would prove challenging as imaginably for Deep Space 9 and Torchwood. But Mrs. Columbo is spared that and can remind us that sometimes spinoffs don’t have to be all that different. She doesn’t have to be a gender-flip of Columbo in the sense that she’s original in her own right. But she has clearly in her love for her husband learned from him enough to be worthy of her own sleuthing adventures. In the spirits of what makes a fictional sleuth’s universe so appealing, and from what little that I had seen of Mrs. Columbo, it’s nice to acquaint ourselves with her even better on the Junkyard. Thank you very much, RP.

    Liked by 2 people

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