Season 1 Episode 3

Murder by the Book

Aired Unknown Sep 15, 1971 on NBC
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Murder by the Book
Ken Franklin is the untalented writer but skilled PR agent of a mystery book writing team that created detective Mrs. Melville. He kills his partner and the real writer, Jim Ferris, because Ferris is planning on breaking up the team and writing on his own. Franklin uses an elaborate scheme to make it appear as if Ferris were killed by mobsters because his next story, an expose on the Mafia, would incriminate them. Franklin's plan is perfect except that a fan of Mrs. Melville, Lilly La Sanka, saw him.moreless

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  • Jack Cassidy brilliant as always

    He was the best villain and an incredible actor. So much of his work was on Broadway and lost to us. To see him in anything is a joy.
  • By the Book, But Still Entertaining

    Murder by the Book is a somewhat clever crime thriller from legendary director Steven Spielberg. The story follows a famous mystery novelist named Ken Franklin who kills his writing partner Jim Ferris when he threatens to go out on his own, but upon learn that Jim did all of the writing LAPD detective Lt. Columbo starts to suspect Franklin of the murder. Jack Cassidy brings a lot of charisma to his role as Franklin, but he doesn't quite pull off the duality of the character. Still, the plot is thought-out fairly well and has some interesting twists. While it's a bit rushed at times and doesn't do much character development, Murder by the Book is a solid murder mystery.moreless
  • Steel trap encloses around writer.

    Close up shots of smiling Jack Cassidy hilarious; dudes looked like they were going to kiss or something at one point. Classic Columbo stuff happening in this episode. Believable sequence of events. Speilbergesque feel to it all. Intersting camera angles of peoples faces, and general camera angles, too. Very teethy episode. Very ugly woman only drawback. Funny Columbo stuff: especially the part when Columbo keeps following the guy with the "Just one more thing" thing out to his car, and Cassidy snaps "Yeah!?" with the camera leading out in front of them. Something about the moment was genius. Thank you vey much.moreless
  • (spoilers) Noteworthy is the early directorial contribution of 24 year old Steven Spielberg.

    The initial murder set-up is fantastic and Cassidy's performance facilitates an arguable accolade that he was the best Columbo murderer in the series.

    Peter Falk is wonderfully understated in his role as Columbo and the character's inherent traits and oddities, which are underlined by a seeming slowness and absent-mindedness, contrast particularly well with Cassidy's character's extreme smugness: one of their early scenes together where Ken Franklin fabricates a motive for the killing through Jim Ferris's non-existent expo-see of identifying hit-men operating in the underworld exemplifies this very well. Franklin hints to Columbo this potential motive and Columbo (purposely or ignorantly) fails to latch on, forcing Franklin to express his disappointment in a markedly patronising manner and compare him unfavourably with the detective in the books, Mrs. Melville.

    Also, noteworthy is the early directorial contribution of 24 year old Steven Spielberg. Notwithstanding, some elementary inclusions of cameras shadowing the actors and actresses, he adds some stylish and elaborate touches to uphold the general professionalism of the episode. One particularly stark image is of Jim Feriss's dead body lying on the settee, almost dark in the foreground, as Ken Franklin raises a glass to him in the background after he finishes answering a phone call to Ferris's distraught wife. I have no doubt that working to a restrictive 10-14 day schedule, Spieberg's efforts should not be underestimated.moreless

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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (6)

    • Columbo kneels down to get a bowl to grate the cheese for the omelet. However, when he takes the bowl out there is already cheese in it.

    • During the interview, Ken is clutching his hands in front of his face when the camera is on him. When the camera reverses angle and shows Gloria Jr., his hands are on the armrests of his chair.

    • As Ken asks Lilly how much blackmail she wants, the strawberry in her hand goes from intact (when the camera is behind her) to half-eaten (when the camera is facing her), even though she never puts it in her mouth.

    • Early in the episode, Ken points to 14 books and says that together they've done 15 Mrs. Melville books. The 15th is the one that Jim just finished. However, later Ken gives Lilly a copy of Prescription Murder, which is not among the 14 earlier ones. There's no reason for its omission, although there are two copies of Mrs. Melville in London.

    • In the beginning, Ken says that Jim wrote 15 Mrs. Melville novels. However, the shelf he gestures at has 16 books (two on the top with spines not visible). Also, when Ken returns to the office later, the two books on top have disappeared.

    • Trivia: On the way to Ken's cabin, Jim comments that he has the feeling of having done this before, even though he's never been to Ken's cabin. This line becomes explicable at the end, when we find that he had written down Ken's murder plot idea.

  • QUOTES (12)

    • Columbo: I'll tell you what the secret is to a good omelet. No eggs, just milk.

    • Columbo: And those were mysteries, too, weren't they, huh?
      Joanna: Um-hmm.
      Columbo: They're tricky, I'll tell you that. I could never figure those things out.

    • Franklin: All right, now what are you doing here?
      Columbo: I'm waiting for you. I happened to be in the neighborhood...
      Franklin: You're always in the neighborhood!

    • Franklin: I must say, I don't envy you.
      Columbo: I don't envy myself.

    • Columbo: Hey, I'm sorry. I'm making a pest of myself.
      Ken Franklin: Naw!
      Columbo: Yes, yes, I am! I know, it's because I keep asking these questions, but I'll tell ya, I can't help myself. It's a habit.

    • Franklin: Now, wait a minute. You, you look like you're troubled. Is there some reason for your question?
      Columbo: Uh, it's your mail.
      Franklin: My mail?
      Columbo: Isn't it funny how people are different? Now, me, if I found my partner dead I'd never think of opening my letters.
      Franklin: But I-I-I just did it to distract myself. I mean you gotta remember one thing. That's a great shock.
      Columbo: Oh, that's understandable. And bills are distracting.

    • Columbo: I don't understand.
      Franklin: Well, that's painfully obvious. One of these men had Jim killed.
      Columbo: Really? Why?
      Franklin: Tell me something--how long have you been a lieutenant, Lieutenant? Mrs. Melville would have put that together like that. (snaps his fingers)
      Columbo: Look, I, I wanna take all the help I can get.

    • Franklin: I'll tell you something, Lieutenant. See, if Mrs. Melville were on this case, oh, she'd be leaps and bounds ahead of you by now.
      Columbo: Is that the lady in the books?

    • Columbo: So you don't think I'm going to be able to find a cabin to rent, huh?
      Franklin: Best bet is to go down and check with some of the local real estate people.
      Columbo: Uh huh. Because I think it would be fun to be neighbors for a couple of weeks.
      Franklin: (laughs) Yeah.

    • Franklin: That's a provocative statement. Can you prove that?
      Columbo: Yes. Not with the witness, 'cause you killed the witness. But I got another way to prove it.
      Franklin: Will you enlighten me? I must say, I enjoy watching a man raise without any cards in his hand.

    • Columbo: You know what, Ken? I'm gonna tell you the truth. For awhile there I never thought I was gonna get you. Believe me, you had me going in such circles. I couldn't figure it out. Suddenly, I thought of something-- how clever that first murder was--the phone gimmick, working in late in the office. Brilliant!
      Franklin: Are you awarding gold medals today?
      Columbo: Yes! For the first one, not for the second one. That was sloppy. Mrs. Melville, she'd have been very disappointed.

    • Franklin: You want to know the irony of all this? That is my idea. The only really good one I ever had. I must have told it to Jim over five years ago. Who ever thought that idiot would write it down?

  • NOTES (7)

    • Marcia Wallace is credited, but all of her scenes were deleted and she doesn't appear in the final episode as aired.

    • This episode was directed by Steven Spielberg. In a later episode, "Mind Over Mayhem", a young whiz-kid character was named "Steven Spelberg," a reference to the (then) young director.

    • When Jack Cassidy was getting ready to play a scene as mystery-writer Ken Franklin, he would ask, "Who am I playing in this scene, Levinson or Link?" This was a reference to Richard Levinson and William Link, the creators and producers of Columbo.

    • This episode was originally filmed after "Death Lends a Hand," but the producers thought it was a stronger story and decided to lead with it for Columbo's first appearance as a new series.

    • Along with Patrick McGoohan (4 episodes), Robert Culp (4), William Shatner (2) and George Hamilton (2), Jack Cassidy (3) is one of only five actors to play more than one murderer on the series.

    • 90 minutes long.

    • In 1997 this episode was rated #16 in TV Guide & Nick at Nite's poll of the Top 100 TV Episodes of all time.


    • Book
      Ken gives Lily a copy of a Mrs. Melville book. The title is Prescription: Murder, which is the title of the original Columbo play and pilot.