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Review: Columbo - Prescription: Murder (The Complete Series, 1968)

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Review: Columbo - Prescription: Murder (1968)
FILE PHOTO: Peter Falk - 1973.JPG © Public Domain

The TV movie series, Lieutenant Columbo (1968-2003) is so attractive to any audience seeking any intelligence in content and a likable character – grassroots, humble, and witty - often crashes with high-class society elitists. That’s Columbo, not the inferior Japanese copy, Ninzaburou Furuhata. The major difference between Columbo and Furuhata is that the former strictly conforms to the sole creative considerations as a howcatchem – the opposite of a Hitchcock-Polanski whodunit - while the latter is just part of the pan-talent-agency advertising of the whole public sphere, thus even almost every news in that TV system is infested with a talent ad. Furthermore, aesthetically, it is disadvantaged to have the elitist, Furuhata, explain his inner thoughts directly to the audience at every key plot point. Thus, it makes the latter dull and unlikable. I put emphasis on the paramount importance of enjoying the original work.

Another reason for Columbo to attract people of today is due to its intellectualism, in contrast to growing anti-intellectualism in art in general. In other words, this is a death of craft skills. Moreover, it’s necessarily backed by pervasive public opinion manipulation – so-called social engineering – based on various radicalization of the mass on the internet via troll farms, stealth marketing, and bots. The big advertising agencies are responsible for the decadence. This is why viewing Colombo today is comfortable viewing for me.

Besides this, every episode of Columbo is a feature film. The length ranged from 70 to 98 min. while every Furuhata episode just averages 45 min. And only lasted between 1994 and 2006.

"Prescription: Murder" (1968), the pilot movie, the first installment, exceeds Hitchcock's suspense movies. It’s a revolution in the narrative from the traditional whodunit to howcatchem. Yet the major reason for the success is the great performance of Peter Falk, undoubtedly. A good drama is always remembered as a good character.

Columbo detects a suspect at first sight because of their inconsistencies and illogicality in reaction to a murder, even though there is not any proof. The key detail always gives a clue. And then, he sets up a suspect for self-incrimination or confession at the end. However, the paternalism is mitigated by improvisations and the growing friendship or kinship between Columbo and the suspect in question. The latter is also a clear difference from Hitchcock stuff. In the development, the relation between the protagonist and antagonist goes through a kind of intimacy via relentless questions and interactions in the process of investigation. This ambiguity is attractive and a sign of a classical work.

In "Prescription: Murder" (1968), Dr. Ray Flemming, a psychiatrist, strangles his rich wife Carol, and he arranges his alibi - a Mexico trip – with help from his lover, actor, patient, Joan Hudson. Columbo comes in and notices Ray as a suspect because he doesn’t call his wife in a hurry – after the murder attempt, Ray and Joan (disguised as Carol) want a staged failed second honeymoon on board - when he returns from Mexico and enters the crime scene as if he knows everything. And the off-screen testimony of a flight attendant on the fake Carol with Carol’s signature dress and gloves is also a critical detail to lead to the end. Another intellectual detail is the overweight charge for the suitcase of Dr. Ray Flemming at the airport when he is on a trip. And the decreased weight of 9 pounds from the initial entry to Mexico also indicates his criminal traits, as a prime suspect is always a close person socially or physically to the victim in any case and inevitable of being cleared up. The general procedure is simultaneously proceeded professionally. Hence, when a fake convict appears, it’s easily exposed as Carol was strangled from the back not front, in contrast to the fake conviction. However, these details are still not evidence. Thus, Columbo has to trap the suspect through his weakest link, Joan. Their staged suicide of Joan successfully leads to Ray’s confession of using Joan for making his alibi without true love. In the end, Joan’s statement is adequate to prove the crime in the law system.

The entire structure is that the high-profile antagonist commits a murder. Columbo comes in to start the investigation, develops a certain intimacy with a suspect, then, he still lacks evidence at some point even though there are a lot of suspicious and critical details accumulated to indicate the suspect. Finally, he traps a suspect in the environs to have the suspect self-incriminate or confess the crime.

Drama in any medium of art can only deal with a moral aspect. Columbo is full of intellectual wits and a morally acceptable dénouement in less disorder of today.


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