The writer of this complicated little masterpiece himself appears as the patsy. The idea is simple enough, and is dropped like a stone in a pond to generate ripple upon ripple of laughter, gently.
Three very hardened performers fill the leads. Joyce Van Patten plays her antitype, a woman of infinite reserve and precisely the sort of thing that is the specialty of Deborah Kerr. Jeannie Berlin plays a slightly recessive sort of tomato, but one without guile. Celeste Holm\'s hilarious set-to with a two-tone part (half hysteric, half woman of the world) is a great stagewarmer.
Robert Douglas\'s direction might seem cold and careless in largely static shots punctuated by a zoom. Yet rather it is the point of this almost Strindbergian chamber play to tell the most intricate and elaborately extended and wonderfully exhaustive joke about Spring and the antiquarian, with the cool wit of a James Joyce epiphanizing his fellow Dubliners.
The essence of it is the winnowing out of the bare crime from the mass of circumstantial evidence. Looked at more closely, Douglas\'s direction is astonishingly devil-may-care in establishing some shots. Never will you see more continuity lapses in the reverse angles of a conversation. Why this should be is a mystery, but it leads to a surprise, the sudden flowering of the niece\'s room in bright colors and modern art (amid the must). The very subtle play is on a Byzantine belt buckle mistaken for a dish of some sort, working its way back among the threads of dubious love affairs and rakish travel plans.
This episode contains the funniest moment in the series. He quizzes a male hairdresser and has a haircut/manicure at the same time. The next 5 minutes are hilarious - it\'s just that Columbo\'s hair is so perfectly groomed, then he can\'t afford to pay the bill and then, when he makes enquiries at a jewellers he keeps glancing in the mirror to admire his hairstyle!