Press "Enter" to skip to content

Murder is Bad, but Suicide is Sadder

Episode Card_S01E03 (Ep 3)

Mallory Ortberg ( joins Jon and RJ to discuss “Etude in Black,” which features John Cassavetes as an orchestra conductor who murders his mistress/concert pianist. It’s up to Columbo to unravel how and why the maestro staged the woman’s death as an apparent suicide. Also involved- his long-suffering wife, Blythe Danner; her very, very wealthy mother, Myrna Loy; a precocious neighbor kid; and a drunk, hothead trumpeter.

Also discussed (among other things):

– Mallory’s wonderful essay, The Case For Making Columbo America’s Doctor Who.

– That time Cassavetes, Falk and Ben Gazarra went on The Dick Cavett show in 1970 and were kind of drunk jerks.


  1. Mandi Mandi

    Since you mention how he ‘casually’ brings up how much things cost, have you seen when Peter Falk roasted Frank Sinatra on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts as Columbo?

  2. Jon Morris Jon Morris

    Ah! A fantastic find, I’mo put that up on the Tumblr! Thanks Mandi!

    • Mandi Mandi

      There used to be a longer version that showed the whole thing, where he would repeatedly almost leave the podium. It’s one of those things that keeps disappearing.

  3. SaintFu SaintFu

    Thanks for linking to Mallory’s great essay. Of all her possible future Columbos, the one I will have in my head forever is Danny Trejo. Casting Danny Trejo wouldn’t just upset the social apple cart. It would punch the apple seller in the face and set fire to the orchard.

  4. Great episode, of the podcast and the show. Keep it up please!

    • RJ RJ


    • Jon Morris Jon Morris

      Will do!

  5. Carlos Carlos

    An interesting exception to Alex being a total jerk is when he asks the security guard, Carlos, about his sick kid. You wouldn’t expect him to care about that.

    These podcasts are great, the only suggestion I would make is to make them much longer. Each episode deserves at least four hours to cover everything.

    • RJ RJ

      That’s very kind of you, but even I get sick of hearing myself after an hour.

  6. Ant Ant

    Hi. Just discovered this podcast via @glinner on Twitter, and I’m going through your episodes in order. Great show!

    I just wanted to say re Etude In Black that one of the things that jumped out at me was Cassavetes’s line “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a nap”! Desperate/lame excuse to get away from Columbo, or what?!

    • Joe Joe

      I used to know a musician who always took an afternoon nap before an evening performance, so I wasn’t bothered by that. Speaking of the music, though, I think it’s strange that the concert the night of the murder begins with Beethoven and ends with Mozart — it would always certainly be the other way around. I always thought it was strange that when Alex conducts Beethoven’s Sixth, he begins in the middle of the third movement. And at the end, before the gotcha, he’s rehearsing Eine Kleiner Nachtmusik – a piece those musicians should be able to play in their sleep.

  7. Aspasia Aspasia

    To reiterate: Cassavetes is god. He can murder a mistress if he wants to. If Cassavetes did it, it must be ok.

  8. Ted Ted

    I really enjoyed the podcast but I think you were too easy on the plot. Not only does it hinge on nobody seeing him when he goes between the Hollywood Bowl, the garage, and her house but the thing with the flower is also ridiculous. He could have just dropped his coat and picked up the flower and stuck it in his pocket. That way he’s never wearing it and it’s not suspicious. He had no need to confess. I’m pretty sure there was no physical evidence and there was a decent suspect in hot headed trumpet beatnik what’s his name. Oscar Finch would have gotten him off in a walk! Cassavettes (awesome!!!) does get annoyed with Columbo but he doesn’t go over his head. I wonder if that’s a trope they don’t use until later — telling the brass that Columbo is harassing them. And I think you were collectively wrong on a plot point — she did threaten to go public with their affair. And it’s Eva Gabor, not Zsa Zsa on Green Acres. Keep up the great work!

    • markolazic markolazic

      but those bozos never even touched the plot because they were in the clouds with their precious LA and holywood like any of us give a fuck about their personal life

  9. Joe Joe

    “geniuses wouldn’t move around that much. They would make subtle movements.” — Any of you guys ever see Bernstein conduct?

  10. markolazic markolazic

    I just listened to Etude in black podcast and honestly you guys are demented old men (including that anoying woman)
    Im a guy from eastern europe and i really dont give a flying fuck about your knowledge and trivia about LA and old hollywood and rest of it, i am just interested in the episoode you are supposed to be reviewing and that means THE FUCKING CLUES!!! And the plot and everything that concerns the episode and not talk about random stuff all the time

    So you can stick you leisure, nonchalant review up your assess !!

  11. Joe Joe

    Notes from a musician friend about Cassavetes’ conducting:

    … what this ‘conductor’ is doing is merely waving his arms (stiffly, as you pointed out). Nothing he does has any relationship to the music being played. What makes it even more unwatchable is that the the segment of Beethoven Sym 6, the ‘storm’ – the interlude between movement 3 and the final movement – is in 4/4 time but this TV conductor is conducting in 3/4 time. It’s very hard to watch that shit! And it could have been prevented by a few simple coaching sessions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *