Series 8 Episode 2
Murder, Smoke and Shadows

Episode Overview

Series 8

Episode 2

First broadcast: 1989

3 cigars

“This is by no means a bad Columbo. However it's not brilliant Columbo. It's just, well, average.“

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There's nothing a Hollywood studio loves move than a good studio tour. Get the punters in, put them on some sort of open sided van contraption, show them some special effects and watch as they take photographs of the famous people who happen to be wandering around the studio complex.

Leonard Fisher however has other things on his mind than being scared by a giant animatronic shark rising out of a pond, and as the tour bus guide tells everyone to wave at young director Alex Bradey, Fisher leaps out of the back and follows Bradey. Surprisingly the tour guide doesn't even notice.

Bradey's heading to his playroom; a gaudy coloured room with stylish soda dispensers and the ability to make ice cream sundaes on demand. Entering the room, Fisher has other things on his mind than a banana split. He's come all the way from New York State to talk to Bradey. The reason? One of their childhood friends has recently died and on his deathbed the friend gave Perry a roll of 16mm film.

During their high school years the three of them had been filming a movie directed by Bradey which would involve a motorcycle stunt performed by Fisher's sister, Jenny. Reluctant to do the stunt, the whole thing had been called off, but shortly after Jenny was found dead in a motorcycle accident.

A tragic coincidence. Or so Fisher thought until viewing the footage which showed the "accident" happening. Captured on film is the tragic event. Unknown to her brother, Bradey had persuaded Jenny to complete the stunt; a stunt that went horribly wrong.

Armed with this new knowledge, given to him on his friend's deathbed, Fisher confronts his former friend, telling him that he'll make sure the whole world knows what happened.

Bradey instantly tries to claim the footage to be faked, and claims he'll prove it. All he needs is some experts, and he heads out to "arrange" it. What he does arrange however is for Fisher's death. Later that night he takes Fisher off to "meet" the experts, heading via a damp street set that Bradey had ordered to be damped down by the water truck. Luring Fisher in to an alley way, next to an iron gate, Bradey electrocutes him.

Fisher's body is later found by the police; his fingerprints removed as he gripped the iron railings whilst being electrocuted. But a copy of a book about Bradey's movies that was in Fisher's pocket sees Columbo head to the studios to see if Bradey knew anything about it.

The whole thing is initially a mystery, but slowly Columbo goes on the hunt. On the street set he finds the heal of one of Fisher's shoes which had been detached by the power of the electricity. Then he discovers a ticket for the tour being used as a bookmark in Bradey's room - placed there almost absent mindedly by Fisher. Even the taxi driver who dropped Fisher off at the studio is found. And to cap it all Columbo discovers that the water truck had been ordered when rain was due anyway. Why wet the street if rain is on the way?

In an attempt to put Columbo off the scent, Bradey sets up a conversation between two actresses which is set up so Columbo can overhear. In it, one actress tells the other that Fisher was a former lover and came to ask her if she could get some drugs.

But Columbo's not fooled and tells Bradey that it was known that Bradey attempted to bribe his secretary, Rose, to keep quiet. Rose was prepared to testify, but Bradey knows it wouldn't be enough evidence and says so. Columbo then reveals his hand. He had actors of his own and brings a parade of restaurant staff who all happen to be serving police officers who overheard his conversations. The evidence is all there, and there's enough to convict.

Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer

In a way the way Columbo would catch his man is obvious. After all, we're talking about a film director here, so what better way to catch him out than using actors. Even if they are actors who are actually police offices. Or indeed, as it really was, actors playing police officers who were playing actors. Or something.

But is it clever? Has Columbo managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat? Well no, he doesn't seem to have done. All he really does is realise he's been had and uses Bradey's own technique against him. It's not that Columbo really did anything particularly clever; it's more that he wasn't fooled by a flimsy story.

In a way that's what lets this episode down a bit. It's one of those Columbo episodes, thankfully rare, where he just seems to stumble around and pick things up that might be helpful. It certainly doesn't feel like he's done anything truly amazing in order to capture Bradey

Convolutedness of the murder

Whilst Columbo doesn't seem to do anything wonderful in this episode, he does have a nice complicated murder to deal with. Or does he?

Murderer makes a street wet. Murderer takes person to be murdered on to wet street. And gets him to hold on to an iron gate whilst electrocuting him.

It's a clever murder. Human reflexes really would mean you'd grip a railing even tighter when being electrocuted. But it's not very convoluted. No. Actually it's strangely simple. Which, for a later episode where the murders seem to get more and more over the top, is actually a nice thing.

Quite how Bradey came up with this plan in a mere few hours though, really is an entirely different matter.

How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?

Bradey here follows the pretty standard type for a Columbo villain. Be all chummy to begin with, then get slowly but surely more frustrated as Columbo wears you down. And in the end, get a bit angry.

Hmm. Really. It feels like there should be more to be said here, but there isn't. It is all that simple.

The smug-richness factor

As we haven't mentioned it already, Bradey's young. He's a young, know-it-all. In fact I'd go as far as to say he's a young know-it-all git. He's risen up the ranks to become a very young director and has clearly been treated like some sort of wonder-person. Frankly he thinks the sun shines out of his backside.

So this is where this episode scores highly. A smug, self-satisfied murderer who thinks he knows it all. Not likeable at all, in any way. No sir, not at all.

Whilst not the smuggest killer to ever feature (he probably works out as about 7 out of 10 on the smug-o-meter) he's certainly one where you're celebrating when he got caught out.

Quality of sub-plot

Like most episodes of series 8 there's next to nothing in the line of a sub-plot. No comedy routines around raincoats or anything. Not even any confusion about a tie. Seems the best we can come up with is that Columbo likes ice cream sodas, preferably chocolate.

Mentions of Mrs Columbo

Famous film director? Come on, Mrs Columbo's bound to be a big fan!

Or so you'd think. Surprisingly the ever-unseen Mrs C doesn't feature once in this episode. This seems rather strange to me in many respects; it's simply not often that the writers of Columbo don't delight in giving Columbo's wife a mention.

Of course I could have missed it. Maybe it was so fleeting that it just passed me by. And it's true that, for this review, I did watch the episode just hours after having had a wisdom tooth extracted. It's possible therefore that I wasn't entirely paying attention. But I doubt it.

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

With an episode mostly based around a film set, Columbo gets to learn a lot about directing and making films. Cue lectures on lighting, damping down streets with water trucks, and that weather forecasts are very helpful when you're filming a movie.

All this does lead to some nice moments exploring the magic of cinema, although it's hardly new-fangled. Whilst Bradey as a director is very interested in new special effects, including 3D holograms, such things are usually shown on screen when Columbo is off screen.

Was anyone given sedatives?

No, but I'd taken an Ibuprofen tablet due to the wisdom tooth extraction. Does that count?

Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes

Nope, Columbo's not suddenly waving a gun or smoking a pipe. His cigar smoking is a bit less than normal, although this is true of many later episodes and is probably more a reflection on the changing times than anything else.

You won't notice much off or jarring her.

Appearances by the Regular Cast

Many Columbo episodes feature an assorted ensemble of actors who appear in a variety of roles. But none of them feature in this episode.


This is by no means a bad Columbo. It's a fine way to spend two hours if you're in the mood to relax with the master detective. However it's not brilliant Columbo. It's just, well, average.

Compare and contrast with the previous episode, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine where the humour and intelligence in the episode just came together brilliantly. Episode 2 in contrast is not in the same league.

Perhaps it's because most of the episode concentrates on Bradey, so much so that Columbo himself almost seems to be a bit of a bit player at points. The legendary humour seems rather sedate, whilst Columbo seems more to simply stumble upon things that would help him, rather than detecting anything.

Now lets be fair. I could be just nit-picking a little here, and hey, an average Columbo is still far superior to most other television. And if this was the only episode of Columbo you'd ever seen, you'd be very happy. But when you've watched more you know that there are better out there.

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Posted on 8 November 2013 at 9:29 PM

Mrs. Columbo gets a mention when Peter Falk is on the waterbed in Brady's bungalow. He says specifically that Mrs. Columbo wanted a waterbed and wonders "what she had in mind." Yuck.

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