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E. Hornaday | Lawrenceville, NJ United States | 02/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This latest boxed set of excellent DVD releases of the classic Columbo TV detective series represent the first of the later produced feature-lenghth episodes that were aired.
Universal, which owns Columbo, has called this set "Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection 1989." Included are all of the episodes that fans consider comprise Season Eight, along with the first episode of Season Nine, which ultimately had six episodes. Those episodes apparently are going to be released in the next boxed set of these later movies.
In addition to the episodes in 1990, the franchise churned out 13 more terrific episodes between 1991 and 2003 featuring the rumpled (and ultimately attractively graying) Peter Falk in the title role, which has truly and deservedly become an iconic TV character. Hopefully, the entire Columbo catalog will be released on DVD.
This boxed set includes a cornucopia of great stories and stellar acting, a trademark of the series. The last episode included is my favorite episode of the entire series. This three-disc set includes:
Disc 1: "Columbo goes to the Guillotine," which aired Feb. 9, 1989. Lt. Columbo delves into the world of magic, ESP and slight of hand as he investigates the death of a magician, Matt Dyson, who appears to have been beheaded by his own invention, a trick guillotine. There appears to be a tie to a prodigal psychic supported by a government founded institute on parapsychology. Primary Guest Star Anthony Andrews as Eliot Blake.
"Murder, Smoke, And Shadows," which aired Feb. 27, 1989. An egocentric film director resorts to his mastery of special effects to murder a vengeful friend who discovers the director's role in the movie-stunt death of the friend's sister years before. Filmed on University Studio's backlots. Primary Guest Star is Fisher Stevens as Alex Brady.
Disc 2: "Sex and The Married Detective," which aired April 3, 1989. A radio personality billed as "The Sex Therapist of the Airwaves" finds she must counsel herself when her personal assistant ends up in bed with her business manager/lover. The scorned lady murders the cheating beau and tries to pin the blame on her assistant. Lt. Columbo smells a beautiful rat. Primary Guest Star Lindsay Crouse as Dr. Joan Allenby.
"Grand Deceptions," which aired June 1989. A man heads a private military think tank, First Foundation for American Thought, for for would-be soldiers. The foundation is owned by a wheel-chair-bound General, who has become suspicious because a large amount of money seems to be siphoned off into to a "Special Project Fund" that he knows nothing about. The General tell a close college to investigate, but instead of reporting the fraud he discovers, the "friend" decides to blackmail the foundation operator. Primary Guest Stars Robert Foxworth as Frank Braile and Stephen Elliott as General Padget.
Disc 3: "Murder: A Self Portrait," which aired Nov. 25, 1989. A famous artist, lives very unconventionally with his wife and a beautiful live-in model at his beach house/studio. The artist's ex-wife lives in the beach house next door. Together, these women comprise Max's private little harem. He loves them all in different ways, but, more importantly, he likes to control them. In fact, Max derives a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that they all fight for his attention and are reliant upon him financially, emotionally and sexually. The competitive jealousy between the women reaches a crescendo at the dinner table one night when he asks each of them what they think of the other. Their answers prove the intense rivalry between the women, and one of them winds up murdered. Primary Guest Stars Patrick Bauchau as Artist Max Barsini, Fionnula Flanagan as Louise Barsini and Shera Danese as Vanessa Barsini.
Patrick Bauchau is a familiar face on TV, having guest starred on numerous shows, and had been a regular on the cult classic The Pretender as Sidney. In an interview, Bauchau has called his role as Max Barsini his favorite in his long and successful career in the US and Europe. It is also my favorite Columbo episode ever produced. The cast is amazing and the story so compelling that it will stay with you long after the well-deserved credits have rolled.
Shera Danese is Peter Falk's wife, and appeared in five other Columbo episodes during the run of the series.
Fans should continue to thank Universal for releasing these episodes on DVD, helping new generations of viewers discover why is series was such a TV landmark."
Solid presentation of a solid revival
Harley P. Payette | Phillipsburg, New Jersey United States | 05/05/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The original Columbo television program that kicked off in 1971 (following two pilots of which the original aired in 1967) and ran until 1977 was arguably the greatest detective series in the history of television and one of the best dramatic series period. It was a rare cop show that celebrated intellect over brawn and the rare intellectual show that managed to convey its intelligence without being pretensious or self-satisfied. It was also often very funny and sometimes even grandly moving. Those virtues can almost exclusively be attributed to Peter Falk's multi-textured acting and the commitment of creator/producers Richard Levinson and William Link. Levinson and Link treated every episode of Columbo as a mini-movie that just happened to feature the same lead character. There was nothing second rate about the original Columbo; it had the best writers and directors including a young Steven Spielberg and guest stars. The cast always featured name performers as the villains and often in minor roles. What other TV show would toss off Myrna Loy and Vincent Price as bit players? It also maintained a level of excellence by only putting a few quality shows each season on the air.
Many of these virtues were retained when Columbo returned the air in 1989. Eventually, the show would become the best and most successful revival of a dormant television character in tv history. (The Star Trek franchise notwithstanding as it was more sequel than revival.) That may sound like dubious praise but it was an always intriguing show that stood on its own even if it never quite touched those glorious '70s episodes.
These episodes, the first back on the air after the hiatus, show the series took a little time to get back to speed. The producers made a few mistakes about the show when they got back on the air. First, they appeared to have thought that Peter Falk, Columbo and a mystery were enough to make the formula work. That wasn't the case. One of the big draws of the old show was that Columbo would square off against an icon or at least an extremely popular character every episode- Janet Leigh, Jose Ferrer, Leonard Nimoy, Dick Van Dyke, William Shatner, John Cassevettes, TV jack of all trades Robert Culp etc. etc. They were actors and personalities to match Peter Falk and that tension is missing here. The closest thing to an icon here is Robert Foxworth. Fisher Stevens, Academy Award Nominee Lindsey Crouse and Anthony Andrews are all fine actors but they lack lived in feel that the old stars had and are really not a match for Falk's Columbo. One of the fatal flaws of Crouse's episode "Sex and the Married Detective" is that we don't have enough scenes of just Falk and Crouse going back and forth. Later seasons would correct this bringing in stars like Faye Dunaway or Rip Torn from time to time.
The second mistake the producers made was overestimating the role of humor in the show. The original was, indeed, quite funny with Columbo and his foes often as absurd as they were compelling. However, humor on the original show was there mostly to leaven the tension. Many episodes like "By Dawn's Early Light" with Patrick McGoohan were elegaic and almost tragic. The Columbo character had a tough, serious side that often bubbled over. The implicit message that we was working to win justice for the victims was pervasive. It kept the show from being just another Miss Marple or "Murder She Wrote." Here the tendency is to go for the cute joke rather than tension. It was a flaw that remained with the revival to some extent through its entire run. It kept it from achieving the heights of the '70s show because it did become just an excellent mystery show rather than an exquisite character study with mystery and humor elements.
The other big flaw in this season was the writing. The writing on nearly all these episodes is rather lazy. The crimes are relatively unsophisticated and easy to solve compared to the old show and Columbo's detection techniques are as often simple minded as they are brilliant. In "Grand Deceptions", the Foxworth episode, Columbo actually goes into Foxworth's medicine cabinet and steals a tootbrush to get the evidence he needs. The original Columbo would never be so crude.
Still, even at half-power Falk as Columbo is priceless. He's a little more broad than he was in the 1970s but he still conveys that essential shrewdness and determination. And though I disagree with the overemphasis humor, you do laugh and enjoy yourself during these episodes.
Universal's presentation is their usual mixed bag. The three discs are packaged, like many series these days, in a two fold box with the final two discs on top of another. It makes it tough to pick out the bottom disc but I suspect it cuts the price. The picture and sound are superb although there are some (deliberately?) grainy passages in indoor night scenes. Universal has once again failed to provide chapter menus which is a major flaw as the Columbos are movie length. There are chapter breaks but you have to play the movie and hit your skip to find them. There is also no information provided about the shows- original airdates, history on the discs or boxes.
The only extra is a 30 minute documentary from the Sleuth channel counting down TV and movies' top sleuths. You've seen dozens of shows like this on VH1 and other stations with talking heads praising/mocking a show in between clips. Not surprisingly Universal owned characters dominate the list. I thought #1 was a travesty but what can you do?
All in all this is decent product. Columbo diehards will need to own this. But more casual admirers may want to save their money for future editions or seasons from the 1970s show."
Second Generation Columbo -- Five 1989 TV Films
- Durrkk | Ohio/PA border USA | 05/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Columbo began in 1968 with the TV film "Prescription: Murder" followed by 44 episodes aired between 1971-78. More than a decade later Peter Falk returned as Det. Columbo in what has come to be known as the "second generation" Columbo series. Five episodes aired in 1989, six in 1990 and thirteen more between 1991-2003. Hence, the first generation had 45 installments and the second generation 24, for a total of 69 Columbo segments.
This 3-Disc DVD collection features the five 1989 Columbo TV films, all 94 minutes in length:
(1.) "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" (Original Airdate: Feb. 6, 1989). A magician/paranormal critic is beheaded by his own guillotine. The murderer is a vengeful psychic. This one is highlighted by the super-sharp Karen Austin, who played John Candy's wife in "Summer Rental" (1985). (You might not think she's anything very breath-taking at first, but wait til the scene where she lets her hair down).
(2.) "Murder, Smoke and Shadows" (Original Airdate: Feb. 27, 1989). A young, talented film director electrocutes a former friend who has evidence that could ruin his lucrative career. Fisher Stevens effectively plays the Spielberg-like filmmaker.
(3.) "Sex and the Married Detective" (Original Airdate: April 3, 1989). Lindsay Crouse plays a sex therapist/radio show host who murders her cheating lover by masquerading as a mysterious "lady in black" high-class hooker.
(4.) "Grand Deceptions" (Original Airdate: May 1, 1989). Robert Foxworth runs a military think tank and commits fraud against the wheelchair-bound owner, an elderly famous general. He's also having a long-running affair with the general's much-younger wife. Foxworth murders an investigator (commissioned by the general) who's tries to blackmail him and makes his death appear to be a military-games accident.
(5.) "Murder, A Self Portrait" (Original Airdate: Nov. 25, 1989). A successful artist enjoys life living luxuriously on the California shore with no less than three women: his ex-wife, played by Fionnula Flanagan, his present wife, played by Shera Danese, and his young model, played by Isabel Lorca. The three women -- a redhead, brunette and blonde respectively -- are all incredibly beautiful in their own unique way and age-bracket. The man obviously wants his cake and eat it too! He is so insanely jealous he murders his ex-wife when she announces that she's finally cutting all ties with him to pursue a relationship with her psychologist. Shera Danese is, incidentally, Peter Falk's lifelong wife, whom he married Dec. 7, 1977. She appeared in a total of six Columbo episodes, including two in the initial series, one of which was a prominent role in "Murder Under Glass" from 1978.
BONUS MATERIAL is limited to a piece on "America's Top Sleuths" -- a countdown of the most popular sleuths in TV and film.
COMMENTARY: I'm truly happy that these "second generation" episodes are finally coming out on DVD. I can only remember seeing a couple of them: "Grand Deceptions," which is on this collection, and "Columbo Goes to College," a 1990 segment which I've seen a couple of times. Many say that this more recent series is "sub-standard," but I just don't see this, at least with the ones I've seen -- which consists of the five episodes featured in this collection and "Columbo Goes to college." As far as I'm concerned, the stories, writing, actors, locations and sets are just as good as the earlier series. Some argue that the actors are no-names. Is Robert Foxworth a no-name? I think he's excellent (see him in the 1979 nature-runs-amok flick "Prophecy"). Is Karen Austin a no-name? I think not. Perhaps there are not as many major-league guests, but so what? There's certainly no significant drop in quality. Really, the only difference is that Falk is a bit older; but that just makes him appear even more disheveled, which naturally prompts the murderer to underestimate him to an even greater degree. The only criticism I can muster is that some of the stories may seem a bit padded at 94 minutes. I'm of the belief that Columbo works best at the shorter running time of 73 minutes (although there are exceptions), but this is a minor cavil. Besides, it somehow doesn't make sense to complain about MORE material.
BOTTOM LINE: This collection is a must for all Columbo fans. You can't go wrong. I should add, in light of the criticisms and uncertainty expressed in some reviews here, that my discs all play perfectly well.
As of this writing, there remains 19 episodes of the second generation to be released on DVD. They'll likely release a 1990 six-film collection and then divide the remaining 13 episodes in two other releases."
Columbo fans should snatch these up while they can!
Reginald D. Garrard | Camilla, GA USA | 08/04/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Columbo "purists" have a slight disdain for the 80's revival of the series for many reasons: lack of BIG guest stars, the two-hour running time, and a slight change in the Falk character. However, these five installments from the first season of the "resurrection" have their moments.
Fortunately, the lesser of the episodes kicks off first, "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine," a rather lackluster entry with a ho-hum performance from guest star Anthony Andrews. This one is saved only by the appearance of the always-dependable Anthony Zerbe as Andrews' antagonist and murder victim.
That leaves the remaining four episodes to save the set. "Murder, Smoke, and Shadows" makes great use of the Universal lot (where "Columbo" is filmed) and has a sly tongue-in-cheek flavor as it deftly has a murderer that bears a striking similarity to the studio's wunderkind, a guy by the name of Spielberg.
"Sex and the Married Detective" features Lindsay Crouse as a sex therapist that uses some of her own techniques to dispose of an unfaithful lover. Composer Patrick Williams offers up a brilliant and rather sexy score.
"Grand Deceptions," with its military setting, is somewhat reminiscent of the 70's episode "By Dawn's Early Light" starring Emmy-winner Patrick McGoohan. Robert Foxworth is no McGoohan but affords himself well as a murderous army colonel.
And the most artistic of the bunch, appropriately, is "Murder: A Self-Portrait" with Patick Bauchau as a painter that murders his ex-wife to protect himself from a secret that she holds. The installment features Shera Danese, the real-life wife of star Falk, as the present wife and also has Vito Scotti, a frequent guest performer on "Columbo." Patrick Williams provides another wonderful musical accompaniment and there is intriguing Dali-esque camerawork for three different dream sequences.
The episodes originally aired on ABC and the color is not as sharp as the earlier episodes, aired on NBC.
The bonus extra is a Sleuth TV documentary on television's greatest detectives. Unfortunately, the list of the top ten is rather biased, considering that most are from Universal productions, the company that backs the television network and "Columbo.""
Columbo: the Parodies--Plus One
Carolyn Paetow | Proctorville, OH United States | 08/05/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The original Columbo series was about a brilliant detective with amazing powers of intuition and deductive reasoning. He exaggerated his unpolished demeanor in order to bamboozle arrogant suspects and place rattled witnesses at ease. His sloppy attire and beaten-up old auto put overconfident murderers off guard. More than one character thought he was undercover. And, in a way, he was. In these 1989 episodes (excepting Grand Deception with Robert Foxworth) he comes off as more of a buffoon than a savvy pretender. In the 70's series, he methodically went about his work, needling and wheedling, at times employing rhetorical roughness, occasionally losing his finely tuned temper. In most of the programs in this set, however, it's as though the writers have taken his fake veneer and presented it as the real Columbo. He pointlessly plays the tuba and marches with a group of children. He runs slapstickishly through an office building, overturning trash cans, yelling at a cleaning lady who obviously understands no English and bellows back at him in Russian. He stages theatrical stunts to deliver the coup de grace to arrestees. Much of these antics were probably plot devices to beat in time for these movie-length special episodes, but their inclusion cheapens the Columbo character and causes pathetic digressions in the storyline. In fact, watching Columbo act like a clown for no good reason can be downright disconcerting! The original series had star-quality actors and snappy pacing. After the initiation of the crime, the emphasis was on Columbo. In this set, he's often like a bumbling old hobo who stumbles into the action and almost accidentally solves the murders. Some of the villains make such stupid blunders that the original Columbo could have nailed them halfway through the programs--which he of course would have had the episodes been made to fill a one-hour time slot. Like television in general, these late 80's shows exhibit the profound decline in quality that has resulted in the cultural wasteland of the present day."