Series 2 Episode 1
Etude In Black

Episode Overview

Series 2

Episode 1

First broadcast: 1972

3 cigars

“A good all round Columbo. Nothing to fancy, just pure detecting.“

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Famous conductor Alex Benedict leaves his car at the mechanics and is driven by his wife to the Hollywood Bowl. Once there he slips away, steals his car back from the now closed mechanic and drives to the house of Jennifer Welles, a pianist in his orchestra.

Jennifer has given Alex an ultimatum - come clean to his wife about their affair, or she'll go public on the matter - risking Alex's job.

Alex knocks her out and places her body in the kitchen, turning the gas on in the oven and leaving a pre-typed suicide note in the typewriter and takes the phone off the hook before heading off to the opening night of the orchestra's new season.

Back at the Bowl, Alex is notified that his pianist has not turned up. The police are called, and the concert goes on.

Meanwhile Columbo is at the doctors getting a shot for a new arrival. A dog. The concert is on the television when Columbo receives a phone call. There's a death to investigate...

Whilst on stage, Alex realises his buttonhole flower had dropped off whilst he was at Jennifer. After the concert he rushes over there and fakes a scene whereby he pretends to knock it off whilst taking off his raincoat, thus enabling him to scoop up the errant flower.

Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer

The first problem is getting everyone to stop thinking it was suicide, but realistically that doesn't take too long. He gets confused that she didn't leave her pet parrot with someone, and allowed it to die with her.

Later on he then finds out that the car in the garage has mysteriously gained nine miles on the clock, and the paper in the typewriter isn't lined up enough.

Going after Alex, he tracks down the young girl who lives next door who proclaims she saw someone in a tuxedo leaving the house on the day of the murderer. However a spanner is thrown in the works when she fingers fellow orchestra member, Paul Rifkin. Paul was madly in love with Jennifer, and admits he'd been to the house but no one had answered the door.

But it's whilst back at the vet that Columbo gets a huge clue. On the TV, the concert is being re-run. Where Alex is notably flowerless...

Confronted by the videotaped footage of the concert, Alex proclaims he doesn't remember picking up a flower. To which Columbo shows him news footage leaving Jennifer's house taken on the night after the murder was discovered, which naturally shows him with a flower.

Alex attempts to claim he put the flower on after the concert and that his wife saw it. But why would he do that?

Upset by his obvious misdemeanour's, his wife doesn't provide the backup he needs. The mighty conductor is taken down town.

Convolutedness of the murder

It's a simple one other than the fact that Alex has to leave his car at the mechanic in order to make it look like he has no car. Other than that, it's all pretty straightforward,

How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?

Columbo spends much of the early part of the episode randomly appearing wherever Alex is with highly flimsy excuses, like, err, getting Alex's autograph and admiring Alex's house and car.

With few questions to ask, it's no surprise that Alex gets highly annoyed, especially when Columbo puts the accusation in that Alex is the murderor.

The smug-richness factor

Hmm. Difficult to rate as Alex isn't particularly smug - just more on the creepy side. But we're not rating creepyness. Still you're always happy to see him taken away at the end.

Quality of sub-plot

Dog arrives! That's a high quality sub plot if ever you see one.

Mentions of Mrs Columbo

Quite a few, as Mrs Columbo is naturally a big fan of music. So if I was to ask, is Mrs Columbo a big fan of the murderer, well you'd know the answer. Of course she is. Hey, the Columbos even own a few of his records!

What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?

Looking after a dog!

Was anyone given sedatives?

No, but Alex Benedict's wife Janice does take a pill.

Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes

No. It's all rather above board - normal Columbo.

Appearances by the Regular Cast

None I'm afraid - there wasn't much of that kind of thing that happened in series 2.


On the face of it, there's plenty of things to like about this episode, however when you analyse it, there's a few niggles. It's perhaps a bit too simple, and Columbo has next to nothing to go on bar a dead parrot and the fact that there's no real motive for suicide. But nor can be found a motive for murder. Indeed it's only right at the end that he actually gets a motive given to him.

That's not to say it's not a good episode - it is. It's It's not over the top - just simple, basic detective drama. Columbo spends most of the episode working on a hunch with little to go on, yet still gets his man in a subtle and clever way. Observation and persistence gets him the murderer in the end.

However for most people, it will be the first appearance of Dog - who spends most of the episode unnamed, and unflinching at needles being stuck in him - that will be the reason that they're really watching.

Your View


Posted on 6 November 2011 at 4:39 AM

Terrific episode. Became the godfather of the "Matlock" pilot, and I did not realize until years later that Alex Benedict is supposed to be loosely based on Leonard Bernstein. Note a cameo appearance by future "Karate Kid" movie star Pat Morita.


Posted on 13 December 2012 at 2:45 AM

'It's perhaps a bit too simple, and Columbo has next to nothing to go on bar a dead parrot and the fact that there's no real motive for suicide.'

The pivot of the whole episode is the rose that AB leaves behind at the scene. When he goes back to pick it up, Columbo says 'found something sir?' even though AB has made a sham show of taking his jacket off violently to pretend he has knocked it off. The implication is that the eagle eye of Columbo has already noticed the fact that there was a rose lying near the piano. From that point on Columbo knows he killed her, and this follows the formula of many of the early Columbo's - something happens which makes Columbo sure who the killer is early in the episode, and then the fcous is on how Columbo breaks the murderer down.


Posted on 23 April 2013 at 9:41 AM

This ranks in my top five favorite episodes. Besides great directing and camera work (the flower reflecting in Benedict's sunglasses; the picture freezing when Benedict discovers the flower is missing while we hear the dying bird at the crime scene cawing wildly), the episode has one of the best casts in the series.

John Cassavetes is a subtle, believable murderer (unlike, say, Jack Cassidy in "Murder by the book", or Ray Milland in "Greenhouse Jungle", who are so snotty and condescending it borders on caricature), who is able to create great drama and tension by acting like a quite ordinary guy. The scene where he's suppressing nervous, hysterical laughter while Columbo is zeroing in on the whole car mileage discrepancy is funny, tense, and extraordinarily human all at the same time. Other cast members, like Blythe Danner, are equally nuanced. Indeed, this episode exemplifies what the show prided itself on most: underplayed, probing conversation in one room being as dynamic as, say, an international manhunt with gun-fights and suggestive dialog as exposition.

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