Season 3 Episode 1

Lovely but Lethal

Aired Unknown Sep 23, 1973 on NBC
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Lovely but Lethal

Viveca Scott, the founder of Beauty Mark Cosmetics, is threatened by her rival, David Lang. When he finds out that her revolutionary cream formula actually remove wrinkles, he has the formula pirated and Viveca decides to murder him.

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  • One of the few instances where Columbo tangles with a female killer.

    The guest cast in this one is outstanding - Vera Miles ("Psycho"), genre legend Vincent Price and future "West Wing" president Martin Sheen as the victim. Falk is his usual self, with befuddlement at the fashion industry and his ingratiating questions that waste no time in getting under Miles' skin. We also have a killer like Jack Cassidy in "Murder by the Book" and Hector Elizondo in "A Matter of Immunity" who winds up committing a second crime to cover the first. In this case, Viveca Scott kills her conniving mole in her rival's company.

    The one thing I really love about this episode is that Vera Miles and Columbo really have an adversarial relationship. By the end, she's practically biting at him, and he gives it back to her. When he's describing the poison ivy that has been plaguing him (and gives him the key to the mystery)

    Viveca: Oh, poor man. Still worried about your little itch.

    Columbo: Aren't you worried about yours?

    All in all, a strong start to a very strong season. In my opinion, there's not a weak episode in the bunch of Season 3.moreless
  • Spoilers

    Possibly this is conceived as a large-scale response to Agee's erroneous analysis of Vincent Sherman's Mr. Skeffington: "An endless woman's page dissertation on What To Do When Beauty Fades." Humorously, you could say, Bercovici and Gillis developed this by way of Agee's mistake, in yet another example of fortuitous invention.

    The system of aesthetics proposed is formulated in Mr. Skeffington with this turn of phrase, "a woman is beautiful when she is loved," which Frost reduced to, "we love the things we love for what they are."

    The script builds up a fourfold comedy around a cosmetics manufacturer (Vera Miles), her research staff (Fred Draper, Martin Sheen) and her young assistant (Sian Barbara Allen).

    This is the way the gag works: the older plastic surgeon (Draper) is slipping and his miracle wrinkle cream is a failure. The younger (Sheen) has it, Miles wants it, and Allen blackmails her after the murder.

    Szwarc launches all this with a teaser from Hammer Films: the plastic surgeon as "mad scientist."

    An amusing secondary theme or running gag involving poison ivy turns out to be strictly functional: as Ezra Pound would say, the episode is especially prized because the ending doesn't explain itself, and simply becomes a poetic image (the jar thrown into the sea).

    The title also refers to Lt. Columbo's researches on poisons used in cosmetics (belladonna, aconite). At one point, Vera Miles quotes Psycho: "I couldn't kill a fly."

    Her high-strung character is prone to shriek at Lt. Columbo, "You belong in a museum!" or "I love young men, lots of them... your ancient masculine double standard..." As a consequence, the lieutenant's ministrations are of the subtlest, as when he says nothing about her gloved hand (which covers an incriminating poison ivy itch), but shakes it in both his own before departing.

    Their performances fit hand in glove, and all the cast are prettily placed, with Vincent Price in a fine bit offsetting Miles' mania.

Peter Falk

Peter Falk

Lieutenant Columbo (no first name)

Vera Miles

Vera Miles

Viveca Scott

Guest Star

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen

Karl Lessing

Guest Star

Vincent Price

Vincent Price

David Lang

Guest Star

Fred Draper

Fred Draper

Dr. Murcheson

Recurring Role

Bruce Kirby

Bruce Kirby

Lab Attendant

Recurring Role

John Finnegan

John Finnegan


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

  • QUOTES (5)

    • Columbo: They were written with a black eyebrow pencil. I spotted it right away because that's what my wife always uses when she makes out her grocery list. When she goes into her purse that's the only kind of pencil she can ever find.
      Viveca: Then you're wasting your time here, aren't you, Lieutenant?
      Columbo: What do you mean?
      Viveca: Talking to a redhead. Brunettes use black eyebrow pencil.

    • Sergeant: Hey, Lieutenant! What are you lookin' for?
      Columbo: Salt for my egg. I usually carry a shaker in my pocket.

    • Columbo: Say, Miss Scott? Can I ask you a personal question?
      Scott: Yes.
      Columbo: It's, uh, well, you know it has to do with these pictures. You always wear a beauty mark. Only, this morning you don't have it on.
      Scott: Oh, is that all? It's just one of those things I never do before lunch time, darling. Bye-bye.
      Columbo: No. What I was wondering about was, uh, how do you put those things on? I mean, do you stick 'em on or do you paint 'em on or, uh... (she just stares at him) Well, I can tell you're not interested and your mind's someplace else. Don't worry about it. I'll ask somebody else.
      Scott: Oh, no, Lieutenant. I don't mind telling you. I use an eyebrow pencil, of course. A black one.

    • Columbo: Still trying to figure out where I got my poison ivy.
      Scott: (condescendingly) Poor thing. Still worried about your itch.
      Columbo: Are you worried about yours?

    • Columbo: Where there's a microscope, there's always a slide.

  • NOTES (1)