Starring: Peter Falk (Lt. Columbo), Gene Barry (Dr. Ray Flemming ), Katherine Justice (Joan Hudson), William Windom (Burt Gordon), Nina Foch (Carol Flemming)
Tilt your seats back and relax as we travel back to 1968 Los Angeles and see our sleuth on his first case. This was the pilot that introduced the world to a very young Lt. Columbo. Airing in 1968, it would be another three years before it began airing on TV. Although the “aw shucks” demeanor, the rumpled raincoat and smelly cigar are there THIS Columbo is a bit rougher than what most people know the lieutenant as.
The curtain opens on a glamorous penthouse party for the 10th anniversary of psychiatrist Dr. Ray Flemming and his wife Carol.
In the middle of the festivities the good doc gets a phone call from his actress
mistress patient and heads off to meet her…much to the disdain of Carol who knows wassup.
Doc Ray and
the actress mistress Joan talk about their upcoming devious plan to bump Carol off, take her money and run away together because that ALWAYS works.
When the doc arrives home past midnight he finds Carol in no mood. So much in no mood that she is wearing sunglasses in bed and that must mean something.
But cheer up Carol, it’s all good because, SURPRISE!, he tells her he was just meeting with a friend of his to ask him about Acapulco because he’s taking Carol away on a second honeymoon there tomorrow! How could she ever have doubted him?!
The next day Joan and the doc go over their evil plan. The doc is going to kill Carol before they are supposed to leave for Acapulco, and Joan is then going to dress like Carol in one of her blue dresses and impersonate her.
The big day arrives and sure enough, the doc actually goes though with it! He strangles poor Carol and smashes the terrace glass door to make it look like a robbery. He ransacks the place and packs all the loot into a suitcase to take to Acapulco.
Joan shows up and it’s off to the airport! He checks the luggage and is 13 lbs overweight which he puts on his credit card. They check in to the flight and stage a big fake fight with Joan (Carol) storming off the plane to give them an alibi of Carol being alive and her and the doc being together. How could he kill her when he’s on a plane? Pretty sneaky Doc!
Having played her role in the charade, Joan changes clothes and heads back to the penthouse where she shoves Carol’s blue dress in the dry cleaning bag that’s waiting to be picked up and heads home to wait for her man to come back. The doc has a swell time in Acapulco going deep sea fishing and throwing all of the fake stolen goods off the boat into the ocean.
The doc arrives back home tan and well rested. He opens the door to the penthouse and sees a chalk outline on the floor and the terrace door boarded up.
ENTER COLUMBO. Look how dreamy he is!! Even the doc is startled by how handsome the lieutenant is and asks what’s going on. Columbo tells him there was a break in and someone TRIED to murder the doc’s wife. She’s still alive! At the hospital!
They arrive at the hospital and find that Carol has just died. Her last words were the doc’s name, “Raaayyyyyy.”
The next day Columbo meets up with the doc and questions him why his luggage was 13 lbs overweight going to Acapulco but only 4 lbs overweight coming back? The doc says he brought some medical journals to read while down there and left them there. Ok. Sounds reasonable. Then Columbo asks what this wife was wearing. A blue dress with brass buttons and blue gloves. Hmmm, says the Lt. The po-po didn’t find a blue dress or gloves in the apartment when they searched it and makes a date to stop by later and search again.
On the way out Columbo passes by Joan who is on her way in to see her
sugar daddy doctor and because he’s Columbo, knows she’s involved somehow.
Joan goes in to tell the doc she forgot to put the gloves back in the apartment when she dropped off the dress. She’ll stop by later to drop them off so Columbo can find them.
Ray and Joan meet up at the penthouse before Columbo is supposed to show up but he arrives early and forces Joan into hiding. The doc gives him the gloves and says they were just overlooked and at that moment the dry cleaners show up with the missing blue dress. The doc is in the clear!
Columbo ain’t buyin’ the doc’s BS. He knows what he knows and so he sets up some loser to make phony confession to try and trick the doc into giving away something. It doesn’t work so Columbo gets down to brass tacks. He tells the doc he thinks he knows what happened. Right down to the doc throwing stuff overboard in Acapulco which accounts for the missing luggage weight. Ray is tired of being accused dammit, and gets Columbo taken off the case.
Columbo don’t play that. So then he shows up at the doc’s office and says that now that he’s off the case, he can be the doc’s patient because he doesn’t know why he bothers people so much.
After some flirting, drinking and psychotherapy, the doc says that even if he did kill his wife, Columbo could never prove it. There’s no stopping Columbo now. He’s on the hunt! He goes to the movie set Joan is working on and says he’s on to her and will ride her until she breaks down and confesses.
Columbo’s men begin following her and park outside her house. Frantic she calls Ray and tells them Columbo is onto them but he tells her to chill. The next day the doc finds out there’s been an accident at Joan’s house. He rushes there to find Columbo waiting and sees Joan’s lifeless body being lifted onto a gurney.
Columbo tells him Joan was so stressed she OD’d on barbituates and that the doc is home free since now no one can tie him to his wife’s murder. The doc reveals he was never worried about Joan anyway and that he would’ve arranged an accident to take care of her. But surprise! Joan is alive!
Columbo totally played the doc by staging Joan’s death with an actress to lure the doc into confessing.
The film ends with the doc enjoying one last smoke of freedom while Joan spills her guts to Columbo about what went down.
Stay tuned for “Ransom for a Dead Man,” the first movie that began the regular Columbo TV series… coming soon!