I am now in possession of the first season of the Columbo television movies. Last night I viewed the pilot for the first time. Very interesting. Peter Falk’s Columbo is a little different in this version and so is the obligatory villain played by Gene Barry.
Barry is a psychiatrist who crafts the perfect murder of his wife who is threatening to ruin his medical practice with a scandalous divorce. His execution is picture perfect. Enough issues to keep Columbo on his tail, but no proof, not even circumstantial evidence. The scenes where Columbo and the murderous psychiatrist engage in conversational duels are outstanding, particularly when they begin to speak more frankly.
At one point, the two speak of a hypothetical murderer and Columbo asks the psychiatrist to construct a profile. They both know he will be speaking of himself. He states that the murderer is highly intelligent, a professional man, patient, strong nervous system, etc. Columbo interjects: “But wouldn’t someone who takes a human life in cold blood be insane?” “No,” the psychiatrist answers, “Morals are all relative and murder is simply one option among many. An intelligent man would use it if need be.” Paraphrasing a bit here. This is the great part. Columbo says, “Well, that’s interesting. I guess a fellow like that would figure he’s very hard to catch, but there’s a problem. The murderer gets one chance to commit the crime. One chance to learn. But a man like me sees a hundred crimes like this in a year. It’s my business.” Finally, the psychiatrist begins to pale a bit as he realizes he may be outgunned.
The Columbo of the pilot is a little bit different from the detective of the long-running series. He is younger, better groomed, and angrier, much angrier. Any fan of the series needs to see this episode, which is surely the least-aired of the bunch.