Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)

Starring: Peter Falk (Lt. Columbo), Lee Grant (Leslie Williams), Patricia Mattick (Margaret Williams)

The lieutenant is back! Three years have passed since the young Columbo burst onto the scene in “Prescription: Murder” and although the film was a success, the powers that be still weren’t quite sold on the rumpled guy and ordered a second pilot to see if folks out in TV land still were interested. So strap in and let’s see how this second helping of the raincoat won over the hearts of viewers.

The curtain rises on a sassy redhead, Leslie Williams, who is methodically cutting and pasting old school style.

I love crafting!

I love crafting!

"A little dab'll do ya...."

“A little dab’ll do ya….”

She then listens to a seemingly innocuous voice memo from her husband and then grabs the scissors and starts slicing and splicing the tape like the vixen she is. What is going on?


“Eight tracks are sooooo outdated.”

Splice, Splice Baby

Splice, Splice Baby

Unfortunately, for him, the hubs comes home and the little minx shoots him in cold blood.

Busting a cap...

Busting a cap…

Looks like the maid has her work cut out for her.

Looks like the maid has her work cut out for her.

She throws the body in the trunk, drives miles to nowhere and then kicks his body over a cliff. She then mails the ransom letter she made to herself.

"And this one's for making me wash your underwear all those times!"

“And this one’s for making me wash your underwear all those times!”

I'm my own best pen pal...

I’m my own best pen pal…

With the easy stuff out-of-the-way it’s time to put the wheels in motion! The she-devil returns home and pours herself a congratulatory drink and starts plotting.

The next day we discover that she’s one of them thar fancy lay-dee lawyers who isn’t shy about breaking balls.

I object....to my fabulousness.

I object….to my fabulousness.

During a meeting in her office, she fakes getting a phone call that her husband has been kidnapped. After receiving the self-mailed ransom note, she calls the feds who set up shop in her living room.

We want money for your honey...

We want money for your honey…

Can you hear me now? Good.

Can you hear me now? Good.

In the middle of waiting for the kidnappers to call, in comes our hero to save the day. But why is he here? This isn’t a homicide, it’s a kidnapping. No worries ma’am, he’s just the local police liaison who was in the neighborhood.

"Ehh...just 645 more things ma'am."

“Ehh…just 645 more things ma’am.”

Through the magic of a fancy-pants phone system at her work, she takes the taped message she spliced into a phony ransom phone call with her husband’s voice and programmed the machine (kidnappers) to call her house at a precise time with instructions.

Now THAT'S a smartphone.

Now THAT’S a smartphone.

“They” have devised a very complex plan to collect their ransom in exchange for the husband. The Mrs. is supposed to fly (she’s a pilot too of course) alone to a designated point and drop a big bag o’money out of the plane when she sees a flashing beacon they have set up.

Columbo is starting to smell something rotten.

Something is rotten in the state of California...

What’s that smell?

The Mrs. cleans out all of her husband’s accounts to pay the $300,000 ransom  and even provides her own bag. At the airport getting ready to fly to the drop, she pulls a fast one and puts the real ransom bag with the 300K in a locker and substitutes it with an identical one filled with nothing.

The ol' switcheroo...

The ol’ switcheroo…

The lady takes off with a very nervous Columbo following in a helicopter.

"Thank you for flying Murder Air."

“Thank you for flying Murder Air.”

He flies through the air with the greatest of unease....

He flies through the air with the greatest of unease….

The missus makes the drop with her dummy bag. The feds and Columbo arrive on the ground to get the kidnappers and discover the bag already empty and no kidnappers or the husband in sight! Columbo arrives back at the airport knowing something is amiss in all of this but can’t quite put his finger on it.

Show me the money!

Show me the money!

Leslie arrives back home having executed (heh heh) her plan flawlessly.  She is surprised by her step-daughter, Margaret, who is worried about her missing father and quizzes her. There is clearly no love lost between these two and soon the little lady starts thinking ol’ Leslie is hiding something.

Hello Mommy Dearest.....

Hello Mommy Dearest…..

The next day in court the feds come to deliver the news that her husband has been found dead, upon which Leslie tries for the Best Fainting Performance Oscar upon hearing.

And the Oscar goes to....

And the Oscar goes to….

Columbo’s spidey sense is tingling and he’s concerned that she didn’t ask how he was killed or where he was found. The fed tells him to back off but now since it’s a MURDER and not just a kidnapping that’s the Lieutenant’s area now and he ain’t going NOWHERE!

At the funeral, Columbo is startled when Margaret slaps Leslie and accuses her of wanting this all along.  Columbo sidles up to the poor little thing and tells her she’s not alone and to contact him if she needs anything.

She'll slap a bitch.

I’ll slap a bitch!

"I like your style kid."

“I like your style kid.”

When the ladies get back home, Leslie informs Margaret that she had to wipe out her trust fund to pay the ransom and that her allowance is going to be reduced as well. Leslie is all like, you need to get a J.O.B. girl.

"Sorry kid, the money's gone. Like your old man."

“Sorry kid, the money’s gone. Like your old man.”

The next day Columbo turns up at Leslie’s office and before does a little sexist bantering with her male secretary (“I don’t know how you do it.” “Do what?” “Work for a woman.”). What’s up with THAT Columbo? Leslie arrives and while chatting with the minx, Columbo spots her fancy-pants answering machine and the wheels start churning wondering why the kidnappers would take the money but leave the bag. He also questions the angle of the bullet hole noting that it would be made by someone sitting down and that bothers him.

Well looky what we have here....

Well looky what we have here….

The missus wants to put Columbo’s mind at ease and takes the Lieutenant on a nice little ride in the sky. He questions her on her husband’s possible enemies and affairs but she assures him that neither could be the case and that he man was on the up and up.

"I thought these were the friendly skies?"

“I thought these were the friendly skies?”

Columbo heads to Barney’s Beanery to get back on terra firma where he orders his usual chili from Bert.

"You know what I like Bert."

“You know what I like Bert.”

Margaret shows up and tells him her suspicions of her step-mother. She says Leslie used her father for his name and connections since he was on the State Supreme Court. Leslie was tired of the marriage but still wanted the stature and the money.

Can't a man eat in peace?

Can’t a man eat in peace?

Margaret calls him to the house one day and tells him she found the key to her father’s car (that he was supposedly kidnapped from.)

He figures out that she was trying to forge evidence against her step-ma and she pulls out her signature move and tries to slap him. But Columbo don’t play that.

Oh no she DI-IN'T!!!

Oh no she DI-IN’T!!!

The missus is astounded that Margaret did that but Columbo assures her that he couldn’t bear to convict her of murder on the wrong evidence. BURN!!!!

The next day Columbo does the ol’ trick phone trick to let the missus know that he is on to her FOR REAL.  He got a fancy pants machine, timer, tape, etc…and figured it all out. He knows the husband could have been dead before the phone call and that a tape of his voice was spliced.

"I see what you did there."

“I see what you did there.”

The missus calls Columbo out and says she sees through his aw-shucks bumbling manner. She reminds him she is a lay-dee lawyer and says “what might have,” “could have” is all ridiculous and hearsay.  He don’t care. She goin’ DOWN somehow.

 The missus arrives home and comes to find Margaret with a cap gun shooting at her in the manner of what Leslie did to her daddy.

"Payback's a bitch. Now so am I."

“Payback’s a bitch. Now so am I.”

She taunts her through the house with ransom notes stuck on the mirror.

"Hey! Easy with the 'old bag' stuff, alright? Geeze!

“Hey! Easy with the ‘old bag’ stuff, alright? Geeze!

The missus gives up and says she’ll reinstate the kid’s trust fund if she’s on the next plane out. She takes Margaret to the airport the next day and puts her on a plane with her (supposedly gone) trust fund funds.

"It's been real."

“It’s been real.”

As she is leaving she bumps into the Lieutenant who just happens to be at the airport. They go to have a drink to talk about the case and Columbo reveals that she was set up by Margaret who could not be bought. BUSTED!!!

"Kids these days. What are ya gonna do?"

“Kids these days. What are ya gonna do?”

The feds take her away andColumbo is left alone and vindicated once again.

"Hmmm, wonder if there's enough for a new raincoat?"

“Hmmm, wonder if there’s enough for a new raincoat?”

Stay tuned for the next episode “Murder by the Book” directed by a young Steven Spielberg and starring a dastardly Jack Cassidy as Columbo’s foe!