Season 6 Episode 1

Fade in to Murder

Aired Unknown Oct 10, 1976 on NBC
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Fade in to Murder
An actor who plays a TV detective commits the perfect murder, but finds himself matching wits with real-life detective Columbo.

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  • Capt. James T. Kirk really hams it up here, as TV's Detective Lucerne. He bumps off his former-lover-turned-TV producer (played by Lola Albright), as revenge for blackmail. Columbo's humorous exchanges with his real-life counterpart make this a classic.moreless

    Being a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, I was delighted to see William Shatner play a villain on Columbo, in his Shatneresque, capricious and larger-than-life way. He really outdid himself in this one. No wonder why the venerable Peter Falk drolly says to him halfway through the movie, "Ohh, that's verry good, sir!" From the opening scene of his "TV show" solving of the murder mystery, you can almost smell the cheese wafting at you from the screen, at the sight of Detective Lucerne, in all his pompousness, clad in a silly white wide-brimmed hat, white suit with double-wide 70's collars, framed by a gaudy paisley ascot, and rattling off an equally pompous monologue...getting so mad at the butler/murderer for flubbing his lines ("it'll be a TREASURE to PILL YOU, Mister Lucerne!), that he orders the director to replace him as he leisurely strolls off the set. Yet in reality, his real-life alter-ego Ward Fowler comes off as a meek type, who has grown loathe of the power his producer (and one-time lover) Claire Daly has over him. Unable to bear the humiliation of handing over half of his salary to Claire for her negotiation abilities with the TV network, and in exchange for her keeping some dark secrets about Fowler's past, Fowler turns to murder in the all-too-often used guise of, you guessed it...a fake robbery! Enter Stage Left, our hero, Lt. Columbo. The fun starts here, as we see him make his initial investigation of the crime scene, with a very giddy Walter Koenig as Sgt. Johnson (Hey, Chekov's so happy to be working, he can't help but smile inappropriately as Columbo and Tony the Deli Owner discuss the suspect's below-average height). And here Columbo lays eyes on his first clue--a down feather from a parka stuck to Claire Daly's clothing. Columbo makes his rounds, leading him to the hot set of Ward's TV show. Columbo accidentally knocks over a stepladder, causing a cascade of chaos, mostly consisting of Shatner bellowing and barking orders at the set people ("abusing the help" as they say) and at Columbo..."Would you mind, very much, sir?!" Then Columbo ID's himself, and Fowler immediately turns on the charm ("Never mind the scurry...Lt. Columbo, I'm.....terribly sorry. How can I... help you?). Shatner not only does a terrific job of playing a hammy, ego-crazed villain-of-the-week (note how the walls in his home are plastered with jumbo-sized self-portraits and glamour head shots of himself!), he also does a great job of "faking good" as he tries to humor Columbo to worm his way out of this dirty deed scott-free. It comes across as forced at times, as he gives his phony condolences to Claire's husband, who returns Shatner's handshake with an "I gotta feeling YOU did it" look. Shatner also does a real number on his gopher Mark (who is basically a nice and helpful guy), exploding and shoving him off as he answers Columbo's question of Ward's whereabouts at the time of the murder (For God's sakes, Mark, will you take that soup and get out of here! I can't take any more. GO ON!! GET OUT!! AND STAY OUT!!). Shatner does a hilarious job of abusing the help, frenetically bellowing to his stagehand who says 'Mr. Fowler, we're ready!", "I SAID, I'LL BE THERE!!!" The rest of the show consists of witty dialogue between the "sympathetic murderer" and the police lieutenant, of the more light-hearted and friendly-banter type, with the two counterparts being star-struck with each other. But Columbo is already on to Fowler, picking up more clues as he talks to him and others...Mark's watch losing five minutes, the platform shoes in Fowler's dressing room, the very first Beta VCR with pop-up tape load, Fowler's phony name to cover up the fact that he deserted during the Korean War, Sid Daly's alibi of being with his secretary the night of the murder. In the end, Columbo takes Ward Fowler/aka Det. Lucerne/aka Lt. Lucerne/aka Charles Kipling/aka John Schnelling down by finding that the gun used to kill Claire contained bullets bearing Fowler's prints. Oh that's very good, sir! Some funny parts of this movie are as follows: note how Lucerne's rank changes back and forth from scene to scene (Detective Lucerne, Lieutenant Lucerne, etc)! Shatner grumbling over another mention of Tony (he's the owner of the delicatessen sir!); Shatner's parting line, "you'd do me an enormous favor...if you'd stop calling me 'sir'; Shatner's famous's...own...sentence monologues; Columbo's remark of "ohh that's very good sir" to Shatner's cover stories. And last but not least, Columbo and Shatner fooling around with the video camera. (Oh hello sir! I suppose you come here looking for a confession, well you're not going to get one sir, cause quite frankly, you don't have the facts sir!)moreless
  • I'm not a detective, but I play one on TV...

    William Shatner makes his first appearance as a "Columbo" killer in a case that pits the lieutenant against a fictional counterpart. The killer's plan in this one is ingenious, really, and it's a good mark for the writers to incorporate recent and new technological innovations into their stories. Of course, Columbo doesn't need to figure out how Ward Fowler rigged up his primitive VCR to make an alibi. He can smell a rat before it even gets to that point. The interplay between Peter Falk and Shatner is great, and it's funny to see Columbo really get under Fowler's skin. Even Fowler calls him on it when he says, "why don't we stop pretending that I'm brilliant and you're stupid" or something to that effect. Though it gets a little hokey with Shatner referring to himself in the third person (though, Shatner and hokey kind of go hand-in-hand) it is a strong outing with a neat denouement and a "star struck" performance from Falk.moreless
  • Spoilers

    If you can compare the formal method of Perry Mason to a sonnet, "Fade in to Murder" is as simple as a musical phrase. Lt. Columbo's suspect is America's favorite television detective, Detective Lucerne. The actor playing him is a Korean War deserter who has been paying blackmail to the show's producer, and finally kills her. Lt. and Mrs. Columbo are great fans of the show, and incredibly the lieutenant holds conversations with Detective Lucerne as an equal, as a colleague. Everything said by Detective Lucerne is good analysis and exactly reflects the mind of Lt. Columbo, so that he very eerily seems to be talking with himself, with his ideal persona, and when he tries on Detective Lucerne's snazzy hat and elevator shoes in the actor's dressing room, there's a certain shiver (or as film critics say, a frisson) in the back-and-forth of the imagery, and this is as much what is expressed as anything else.

    The studio locale is utilized for comic interiors (the lieutenant stumbling through a hot set) and poetic exteriors: on the shore of the Universal lake, the director hurriedly lays out his shooting schedule as the mechanical shark raging in the background stimulates Lt. Columbo's curiosity.


Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (8)

    • As Fowler and Claire walk together through the studio near the beginning, a woman with two bags--one on her left shoulder and one in her right hand--and another woman with a bag on her left shoulder are in the background on their left. Fowler and Claire come to a halt and the two women are twenty feet. The camera cuts to a reverse shot and the women have instantly passed them. The woman with the two bags is now holding them both in her left hand.

    • When Fowler steals his clothes from the wardrobe department, he puts them into a black garbage bag. However, as he walks out the door, the bag is now light gray.

    • Fowler and Mark are supposedly watching a live baseball game in LA on TV. Although it's night and they're in LA themselves, the game on the TV is set in broad daylight.

    • Why is Sgt. Johnston grinning like a loon when Columbo questions the deli owner? Walter Koenig seems to be extremely happy to be working, but it seems kinda inappropriate for the character.

    • During one of the conversations between Columbo and Fowler, they sit on a hot set, i.e. a area that´s all set-up for filming. But both move things around, which would cause all kinds of continuity errors.

    • During one scene, Columbo comes running up dockside and watches Bruce the Shark come bursting out of the water, before turning to speak with Sid Daley. You can clearly see a small circle chalked on the back of his raincoat. In the very next scene, the coat is clean, and Columbo has Ward Fowler chalk the circle on his raincoat to demonstrate that the bullet hole in Claire's dress had been made while she was holding her hands in the air.

    • When Columbo talks to Sid at the Jaws dock, Sid's hair is blown out of place in a few shots but combed perfectly in others.

    • When Fowler draws the chalk circle on Columbo's back, his left hand is higher. When the camera cuts to a reverse angle, the left hand has instantly dropped several inches.

  • QUOTES (6)

    • Columbo: Tony, sir, he's the one who runs the delicatessen...
      Fowler: I swear, if you tell me that one more time I'm going to kill myself.

    • Columbo: The parka and the ski mask, that's where they both came from.
      Fowler: And the gun?
      Columbo: Oh, come on, sir. You're putting me on. You know that guns don't come from the wardrobe department.
      Fowler: Of course. How stupid of me.
      Columbo: Nope, that's the props department, sir, not the wardrobe department. How does a smart man like Lt. Lucerne make a mistake like that?
      Fowler: Because you're not talking to Lt. Lucerne at the moment, are you, Lieutenant? You're talking to Ward Fowler.
      Columbo: Well, what's the difference, sir?
      Fowler: The difference is Ward Fowler's under suspicion of murder. And a man under that kind of threat is apt to make mistakes, he's apt to get rattled.
      Columbo: Well, whoever said anything about Ward Fowler being under suspicion of murder?
      Fowler: Lt. Lucerne did.
      Columbo: He did?

    • (Talking to the actor who plays a TV detective)
      Columbo: Brilliant, sir! I'm very impressed! No wonder you solve more crimes than I do, sir.

    • Ward Fowler: You think she was murdered, don't you?
      Columbo: I, I beg your pardon, sir?
      Fowler: You heard me.
      Columbo: Yes sir, I did. Uh, I mean, yes, I do think it was a premeditated killing, sir. I mean I think the robbery was staged to cover up the murder. Um, (acts incredulous) How did you know, sir?
      Fowler: Why else would you be here?
      Columbo: It could be just a routine check, sir.
      Fowler: No, Lieutenant. They don't send a police detective stumbling around, asking silly, fake, innocent questions on a routine check. I know that from my show.
      Columbo: Silly, fake, innocent questions, like what, sir?

    • Columbo: There were no prints on the gun because you wiped the gun clean, sir. But there is a reason the lab report took so long. You remembered to clean the gun, but you didn't remember to do the same thing with the bullets.
      Fowler: Damn! I had to forget something. That's always how the third act ends.

    • Columbo: He didn't mean any harm. Forgive me for saying so. I sometimes have a silly effect on people, you know what I mean? Just being a police lieutenant, you know. At least I hope that's why.

  • NOTES (8)

    • This is the first of six appearances by Shera Danese in the Columbo series, she played Molly in this movie. All six are unrelated characters, even though Shera is Peter Falk's (Columbo) real-life wife. The other five Columbo movies are "Murder Under Glass," "Murder, A Self Portrait," "Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star," "Undercover," and "A Trace of Murder."

    • This is one of very few Columbo episodes that can be said to "date". At the time, video recorders were a rarity, affordable only by the very wealthy. Nowadays no one would dream of attempting to create an alibi in such a manner.

    • When Columbo visits Ward Fowler in his trailer while on location, the house where they're shooting should be familiar to fans of the 1980 film "9 to 5". It was used as the home of "sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot" boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman).

    • Although the interior decor is altered slightly, the house used for Ward Fowler's home is the same one used for villain Patrick McGoohan in last season's "Identity Crisis".

    • Along with Patrick McGoohan, Robert Culp, Jack Cassidy and George Hamilton, William Shatner is one of only five actors to play more than one murderer on the series.

    • 90 minutes long.

    • The opening scene where Claire meets with the studio execs and demands a bigger salary for TV detective Lucerne deliberately meant to echo similar conversations and the general situation between actor Peter Falk and the NBC studio execs at the time. He kept asking for the money and they eventually ended up giving in because Columbo was such a hit.

    • William Shatner and Walter Koenig are both stars from Star Trek, although they never meet on-screen here.