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.
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 pause-like-every-word...is...it'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!)
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