Season 3 Episode 1

Lovely but Lethal

Aired Unknown Sep 23, 1973 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (2)

Write A Review
out of 10
56 votes
  • 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.
  • 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.