Uh, excuse me, Judge Cobbs? Judge Maurice Cobbs? I'm just making some routine inquiries about this DVD collection. It'll only take a few minutes.
Our reviews of Columbo: The Complete Second Season (published May 25th, 2005), Columbo: The Complete Third Season (published October 10th, 2005), Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection (1989) (published May 9th, 2007), and Columbo: The Complete Series (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.
"You're a bag of tricks, Columbo, right down to that prop cigar you use…You're an intelligent man, Columbo, but you hide it. You pretend you're something you're not. Why, because of your appearance you think you can't get by on looks or polish, so you turn a defect into a virtue. You take people by surprise. They underestimate you. And that's where you trip them up."—Dr. Ray Flemming (Gene Barry), Prescription: Murder
Wow. Hey, is that…Oh, I'm sorry, I know you're a busy person, and I don't mean to waste your time, but I was wondering…You see, I've always loved Columbo, and this is the whole first season on DVD, isn't it? Except—well, you see, it's probably nothing, but you realize that Columbo didn't really have a first season. That is, what I mean to say is, first there were two television movies featuring Peter Falk (The Princess Bride) as the detective, and then it became part of the rotation on The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, along with shows like McCloud and MacMillan and Wife. But, uh, you probably already knew that, didn't you? I'm sorry. Now, let's see here…
Facts of the Case
Lt. Columbo, the diminutive detective who looks like an unmade bed, remains one of the most popular television characters of all time. This five-disc collection features the first seven made-for-TV movies, with Peter Falk matching wits against luminary guest stars such as Ray Milland, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Culp, and Suzanne Pleshette. The Columbo mysteries aren't whodunnits; you know who the murderer is within the first ten minutes of the show. The suspense here is in how Columbo will catch the murderer—almost always a very clever, very highly respected, and seemingly untouchable member of society.
First of all, let me say that this is really a very nice set. It looks beautiful—and I don't just mean the package design. The episodes are all very crisp, very sharp, with no sound problems at all. Considering the age and nature of the source material, Universal has done an excellent job transferring these episodes to DVD. Very nice.
You know, the missus always likes those shows where the cops come in with car chases and guns blazing; you know the type. Baretta, Starsky and Hutch, that sort of thing. Me, I never went for all that. Upsets my stomach. But you see, Columbo was never about that stuff. As a matter of fact, I don't think I ever even saw Columbo carry a gun, let alone shoot anybody. Columbo was an intellectual detective—don't let that rumpled suit, wonky eye, and cheap, stinky cigar fool you. It might just be a gut feeling, a tiny detail that just doesn't fit with the larger picture, some odd statement or action that put Columbo on the trail; he had an eye for detail, a mind like a steel trap, and the rabid persistence of a bulldog once he locked on to a suspect. And many a clever murderer has taken Columbo at face value, seriously underestimating him, until that moment when he springs the trap and gets his man. Because, you see, the thing is, Columbo always acts so befuddled. He kills you with kindness. He infuriates you with his obsequiousness. He nags you with a thousand little questions and observations. And he always asks you where you got your shoes. Columbo may not look like it, but he's a master predator.
But, uh, where was I? Oh yeah, the DVD collection. Of course you know that a lot of famous people guest-starred on Columbo, but did you know that a lot of soon-to-be famous people worked behind the camera? For instance, Steven Bochco (who would go on to bring us shows like Doogie Howser, M.D., L.A. Law, Hill St. Blues…and Cop Rock) wrote the scripts for three of the movies in this set: Murder by the Book, Lady in Waiting, and Blueprint for Murder. In fact, Murder by the Book was directed by a young fellow named Steven Spielberg. Maybe you've heard of him? My wife knows all the stars, all the directors, she likes to keep up with that sort of thing, but I can never keep all the names straight.
So anyway, like I was saying, there are a lot of really engaging puzzlers in this collection:
• Prescription: Murder
• Ransom for a Dead Man
• Murder By the Book
• Death Lends a Hand
• Dead Weight
• Suitable for Framing
• Lady in Waiting
• Short Fuse
• Blueprint for Murder
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While there's a lot to love about this beautifully done DVD set, there are certain things, uh, that is, certain details that just don't seem to make sense. You see, what I don't understand is, why aren't there any special features? Now, I know that television stock doesn't always hold up, so I can understand why there wouldn't be any deleted scenes or blooper reels or that sort of thing—but not having any interview material with Peter Falk, or at least character creators Richard Levinson and William Link, is absolutely inexcusable.
Oh, and another thing—where are the making-of-type documentaries? That's the real mystery that needs to be figured out here. It might have been nice to include something on the background and history of the character; I personally would have loved to have seen the Chevy Mystery Show episode that introduced the character to television, with Bert Freed playing the part. You see; little things, but they add up. Why are there no commentaries? No episode descriptions or cast listings? No production photos? No fun little featurettes? Not even a collectible booklet? Considering the incredible, enduring popularity of this show, it seems a little unusual that the DVD is so barren of special feature material. Let's hope that when Universal brings us Columbo: The Complete Second Season, they have combed their vaults—and their address books—so that they can bring us some grade-A extras.
Despite the glaring omission of any special features whatsoever, this is still a must-have collection for any mystery fan. Highly recommended.
Not guilty. I hope I haven't wasted any of your time. I know you're a busy person. Oh, and uh, one more thing…Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? How much did you pay for those shoes?
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Scales of Justice
• IMDb: Prescription: Murder
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