The Columbo series is rebooted with the mystery thriller Ransom for a Dead Man. Lt. Columbo is brought in to assist with the kidnapping case of a high profile lawyer, but when he turns up dead Columbo suspects that the wife has staged the whole thing. Lee Grant does a magnificent job at crafting a villain that's able to hold her own with Columbo and parry his joists. And, Peter Falk revamps the Columbo character as a clever, amiable, and unassuming detective that never shows all of his cards. The storytelling is also much improved, focusing on the investigation instead of the crime. Ransom for a Dead Man marks the rebirth of the Columbo series, and delivers a smart and engaging crime drama.
"Lt Columbo has dropped his pen"...lol Starts out with an overbusy director hamming it up every which way. Once Columbo shows up though, things start to cook along as usual. There is one more painfully Marnie-esque moment later on (with goofy flashbacks and an imposed red stain). For the most part though it's pretty entertaining, although it's pretty hard to root for Margaret as the "good guy." By the end the Lee Grant character seems pretty sympathetic...which I suppose was the idea all along.
Apparently Colombo had at least two or three pilot episodes. They all are great and this one is no exception. In fact this one is better than the first one. It has Lee Grant as the murderer and she and Peter Falk seem to have a great time playing off of each other. This episode is an actor's and a fan's dream. Lee Grant sets up the kidnapping of her husband and everything goes as planned except the murder victim has a really annoying young adult daughter. She seems to be an amateur Colombo who enjoys tormenting the murderer as much as he does. You can't even feel that bad when Lee Grant gets captured because they've had so much fun along the way. They are wonderful together and the episode contains some very droll humor. I can't recommend an episode more except there are more coming up! Just wonderful!
Leslie Williams is a very clever lawyer and has just become an equally clever murderer. Shooting her husband and dumping his body, Leslie uses a tape recorder and some threatening letters to make it appear that her husband has been kidnapped. Naturally she contacts the police and drops off the money only for her husband to be found dead with the police all lamenting their failed attempt to get him back alive. However the liaison with the local police (Lieutenant Columbo) has one or two things that just don't ring true and suspects something other than a simple kidnapping.
A distinct improvement on PRESCRIPTION: MURDER, especially in the visual field: this was actually released in cinemas in Britain, in 1973, and it's easy to see why. Despite some gimmicky camera effects, dating the show as the product of the early 70's , the style of the visuals, particularly the opening murder scene, and the atmospheric music lend the TV production an enjoyable air of assured professionalism more associated with the big screen. (Especially, one might add, with Hitchcock, whom Levinson and Link had previously written for.) Lee Grant is a simply superb adversary, coldly beautiful and never once descending to the "chink-in-the-armour" factor that let down some of the later COLUMBO murderesses. Falk looks no different in this second pilot (in effect a special, anticipating the series' current status) than he would in the series, and has also raised his voice above the near monotone employed in PRESCRIPTION: MURDER, although his loss of temper with Grant's obnoxious stepdaughter is quite unlike the easy-going Lieutenant we all know.
This show was a black widow story in which the wife kills the husband. They were lawyers together, and she used him for money. Sounds a lot more like a soap opera than a crime drama. Columbo appears, promptly loses his pen, and a star is born. Peter Falk made this series great. What would have been forgotten as a run of the mill crime show becomes a classic worth watching over and over.
This particuler episode has a few weaknesses. There are some goofy camara tricks and editing that don't really make sense these days. The "thinking" murderer comes up with a great plan to kill her husband, but has no contingency plan for handling her step-daughter. That she is ensnared so easily by this young girl seems unlikely. Still the star of the show is the slightly confused,unpressed, and slow moving detective. It is always a pleasure to watch a pro in action - even when the action is a little subpar.
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