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.
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.
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.
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