The penultimate thriller in the Columbo series, Murder with Too Many Notes is a suspenseful mystery that has a comedic edge. The story follows award winning music conductor Findlay Crawford who kills his understudy after he threatened to expose Crawford's plagiarism; but Crawford's plan runs afoul when Lt. Columbo notices some things that don't add up. Billy Connolly gives a wonderful performance and makes for an intriguing villain for Columbo to match wits with. And while Peter Falk looks a little worn, he's able to incorporate that into his character and gives Lt. Columbo a new energy. Well-crafted and entertaining, Murder with Too Many Notes is an impressive crime drama.
There are few Columbo episodes wholly devoid of merit and this penultimate entry is entertaining, even if Peter Falk increasingly looks haggard and weary. The plotline and method of murder is ingenious and interesting but some of the overt self-parody of the later episodes grates a bit: the conclusion with the "nick nack paddywack" Columbo motif is ladled on with too much of a trowel.
The central fault, for me, is Billy Conolly: He is a famous personaity but in a Columbo episode you can really see what difference having someone who is not a "top drawer" actor makes. Conolly's villain is very two-dimensional and the usual "cat and mouse" game is robbed of its' usual power, by the flatness of his performance. At no point do you feel that Columbo is really getting to him as he unpeels the modus operandi, which is the central pleasure of Columbo. As a result there is no real spark between the two central protagonists and there are two many twee setpieces which aren't really pushing the story forward or developing any interesting characterization. Worth a watch - but ultimately - one of the poorer entries, chiefly on account of a second rate "villain of the week",
The contributions of Patrick McGoohan to this long-running series were numerous, both as actor and director, but how valuable to the show was he, really? This is the worst-ever episode, and its only competitor for that dubious honour is another segment McGoohan directed, the much earlier "Last Salute To The Commodore". Here, McGoohan also has a writing credit, so there isn't really anyone else to blame, except maybe Peter Falk himself. It's truly painful to admit that Falk here gives a really terrible performance under his old chum's guidance. Columbo makes an utter imbecile of himself, and in a way that would get him a room in the old folks' home rather than a commendation from the police commissioner. The modest ingenuity of the plot is lost in a welter of ridiculous - and also demeaning - jokes, and the incidental details (such as the villain's description of how film music works) aren't at all accurate. Columbo - looking truly ancient, incidentally - should have retired well before this humiliation.
By the time they got around to doing this episode, everyone, including the extras where on auto-pilot. Whenever a show uses the back-lot for a story, it's usually because they don't want to, or can't, spend any money on sets. In this case, I think they were just milking the series for one more show on the cheap. Billy Connolly does a good job as the killer, and he has a chance to show off his musical side, but it's wasted on a so-so script. Peter Falk is just plain phoning it in. Don't get me wrong, I love the series, just not this episode.
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