A Black Mass in San Francisco

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From season six, it’s “The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case,” in which Columbo has to solve a murder committed at a club for some of the world’s foremost minds that isn’t Mensa. Comedian and podcaster Richard Massara (facebook.com/comedyrich) joins us from the UK to talk about the episode, as well as why the heck Columbo never left their TV sets over the years. Also- Jamie Lee Curtis? Quincy? Jon’s I.Q. at age 11?

17 comments on “A Black Mass in San Francisco

  1. I’m sorry I missed the original call for other perfect “Columbo” villains, but I wanted to suggest a couple of ’70s icons who probably would’ve been best suited for the ’90s era show: Claudine Longet and Robert Blake.

    1. Ah, there was a gag I wanted to pull where my list of possible Columbo murderers would have been a list of actual and accused celebrity murderers (Blake, O J Simpson, Claudine Longet, Phil Spector, etc …) but we didn’t get to it…

  2. I think “still a target” in this sense means that she still gets taken advantage of by men (despite being so fully actualized); she still falls for the wrong kind of guy, IOW.

    1. I think that’s probably it, either she’s a “target” for men or a “target” for negative energy in general. You can’t go wrong presuming high levels of wackadoo from the self-help culture of California in the 70s, whatever the case …

      1. Or just generally makes bad choices and gets taken advantage of for them. I suppose it doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with men. I’m currently writing a musical comedy about misogyny (!!) so I may have forgotten to turn my filters off before I posted that.

  3. Great podcast, this episode is a great one to talk about.

    I’m glad your guest mentioned that cop whistling, I loved that. There are some things in Columbo that are funny and I can’t figure out why, that’s one of them, there are a lot of them in “Last Salute to the Commodore” too.

    That whole scene with Oliver in the room after the murder is fantastic. I actually think Columbo was onto Oliver before he even makes an appearance. Remember, he had already asked to have Oliver sent up to the room, he had already singled him out.

    And one thing that wasn’t mentioned was Columbo’s first appearance, one of his best in any episode. The door opens, there’s a cloud of cigar smoke with Columbo barely visible, and Oliver gives out a little gasp.

    1. Thanks!

      And yeah, I was wondering that, too. It’s always kind of fun to try and figure out exactly when Columbo has the chump pegged.

  4. Just a note from the “horror guy” : Oliver ‘ s wife was played by Samantha Eggers, who has a fairly solid b movie cv. Probably most notably for the Canadian 80s shockers Curtains and The Brood. She also was the lead in The Collector, not mention the the film about an evil sorcerer who could control animals (Dr. Doolittle).

    General comment, of all of the sympathetic killers on Columbo, Donald Pleasance and Ruth Gordon almost always are brought up. For good reason, too. Yet both of these committed murder by slowly suffocating their incapacitated victims in airtight vaults. Hard to think of a more miserable way to go. ..

    1. I recently watched the Ruth Gordon one for the first time and yeah- that really struck me. Just the horrific way in which she kills the guy. And really? I didn’t find her super-sympathetic. Kind of cold, calculating and evil.

      1. I agree, while the victim was a jerk, it was a pretty sadistic way to kill a guy. Sometimes I think Ruth Gordon is considered so sympathetic because Columbo lays it on thick about how likable she is. Personally, I see that as a bit of a gambit on his part. She clearly sees herself as just, and Columbo feeds into it to soften her up.

    2. Samantha Eggar starred in Cary Grant’s final film, Walk Don’t Run and Doctor Doolittle so she had a good foothold in A-list Hollywood. It’s a measure of how badly her career had tanked that she had such a small role, I think.

  5. Aside from the title, this was a pretty good Columbo episode. They did play it a little broad at times, such as Bikel complaining about Bertie’s taste in music, when apparently what he likes is that creepy piece he plays while setting up the murder. Oh, and the disco scene was pretty campy as well. But, as you said, it grows on you.

    The podcast episode was very good — lots of laughs. And I was pleased to hear that you agreed about Gary Cole.

  6. Just in case anyone is trying to make sense of all those ’70s buzzwords in Suzy’s rant:

    She’s tried Esalen. The Esalen Institute, founded in 1962, is “a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food.” Its appeal results in part from its location in the gorgeous Big Sur area in California.

    Primal Scream. Arthur Janov created “primal therapy,” which claims to resolve repressed pain by re-experiencing painful incidents and expressing the resulting pain during therapy. The therapy influenced the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, as well as the band Tears for Fears.

    Pyramid power is a pseudoscience which is supposed to solve people’s problems through the mystical forces generated by pyramid shapes. It started in the 1930s (??!), but its greatest vogue was in the 1970s.

    Synanon started as a drug rehab program, expanded into an alternative community and a self-declared church, and eventually collapsed in 1991 because of involvement in violence, attempted murder, “financial misdeeds, destruction of evidence and terrorism.”

    A Black Mass is allegedly a Satanic ritual that inverts the traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church. Until recently, it seems to have been largely imaginary; even now, followers of the Church of Satan generally disavow it.

    The 1970s fascination with open marriage eventually waned, but polyamory remains a topic of considerable interest and discussion today.

    Werner Erhard’s Erhard Seminars Training, or est, was offered from 1971 to 1984, until it was supplanted by a different program called “The Forum.” est tried to create transformations in its subjects’ lives, in part by encouraging complete integrity in all endeavors.

    TA is short for Transactional Analysis, a psychological theory and therapy that focuses on interpersonal interactions (or “transactions”). It’s far too complex to summarize here. Well-known books about TA are Games People Play (Eric Berne, 1964)and I’m OK, You’re OK (Thomas A. Harris, 1969).

    Transcendental Meditation, or TM, was popularized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who made quite a few unsubstantiated claims about its effects on health and consciousness. It’s not clear that TM has effects that differ from any other form of Eastern meditation, other than emptying one’s wallet.

    I’m OK, You’re OK: see Transactional Analysis.

  7. Another great episode guys – thanks for this whole podcast!

    I feel compelled to post about this one because I think you guys missed something in the episode. I had to watch it again to be sure because I was positive that the whole “I took your umbrella by accident” thing was a ruse (lie) presented by Columbo to Brandt to mess with him. Columbo and the cops searched the chimney when they searched the room – he tells Danziger that when Danziger was giving his weird “Bertie committed suicide” theory that relied on the gun being on an elastic band that pulled it up the chimney. Columbo says that they searched the chimney because there was soot on the floor. My assumption was that they found the umbrella and swapped it out – along with the gun – for a decoy so that Columbo could draw the killer out.

    (Also I’m pretty sure the running theme of the episode was mocking Mensa members. The idea being that these guys are geniuses because they scored high on an IQ test but since they’re not actually using that intelligence they’re not really all that smart in practice beyond being able to solve clever puzzles. My take was that Brandt’s scheme was ridiculously stupid not because the writers were trying to portray him as a clever genius and failing at it, but because they were trying to portray him as someone who was overly obsessed with looking smart but who really wasn’t all that smart in practice.)

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