GOTV! Time to vote for your candidate for killer with a mustache in a 90s Columbo who’s tripped up by not finishing a tiny snack. Your clear choice is Patrick McGoohan, in “Agenda for Murder.” McGoohan (who also directs) is Oscar Finch, a criminal defense attorney and political fixer whose ambitions are put in jeopardy when a racketeer threatens to expose some past sins in exchange for a favor. Instead of a favor, the guy gets a faked suicide. Not a good IOU. Anyway, it’s a great chance to see late-era Lt. Columbo go up against one of the best villains from the 70s run. Joining the show are guests Chris Sims (Movie Fighters, War Rocket Ajax, X-Men ’92) and Matt Wilson (Movie Fighters, War Rocket Ajax, Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective).
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Two comments about this episode that you guys didn’t mention:
1. Why did this crime take more than ten minutest to solve? Columbo noted at the outset that the partially eaten cheese was evidence (and, for this reason, only touched the other side). The proverbial “lab boys” would have spotted the bite mark (even before Columbo read “Police Chief” magazine), and determined that it didn’t match the victim. Columbo had access to Finch’s dental records. He didn’t need the chewing gum to place Finch at the scene. In a good Columbo, the “gotcha” isn’t in open view from the beginning. It makes Columbo look less than brilliant for missing it.
2. I find it difficult to believe that Finch, without any forewarning, would concoct such an elaborate plan almost spontaneously. Within minutes of receiving Frank Staplin’s phone call, Finch is tearing off two squares of aluminum foil and putting his multi-step plan into effect. Had he conceived this plan years ago and filed it away, in case one day he needed to murder someone in a hurry? I realize he’s supposed to be brilliant, but that is a bit far-fetched.
I thought we did mention Finch’s ridiculously well-prepared murder plans. In fact, I believe it was Chris who pointed out that there were a LOT more newspaper clippings in his safe, and that it was therefore implied that the guy was planning (and had probably already carried out) more than a few additional murders of his political enemies.
I was referring specifically to the fact that Finch put such an elaborate plan into effect only minutes after Staplin called his house, when before that call, Finch had no reason to murder Staplin. It was the seeming spontaneity of this complex plan that struck me as hard to believe.
Love point 2 and thought the same.
He either had a client that did this (and obviously got off) and so he remembered it as a great idea
Or (more scarily) he has done this many many times before but has never run up against a great detective like Columbo or ate the cheese!
Couple of comments.
1.) I always took the burning of the cigar in the office to be a method of covering up the smell of the burnt gunpowder. To be fair to Finch, if Columbo arrived at the office 10 minutes later, he would not have heard the secretary complain about the odor. So bad luck for Finch.
2.) I like the comment about the request for an autograph. I’ve worked on both congressional and senatorial campaigns. The Congressman’s reaction shows that he’s a bad politician. And he’s a bad politician not because he’s corrupt, but because he’s bad at mastering the skills of being a man of the people. A skilled politician would not only be happy to get an autograph for Mrs. Columbo, he was invite her to the victory party and make sure she was photographed with the Governor and the Congressman. (When I worked on one senatorial campaign, the campaign manager made sure during staff meetings to praise people for their work. He specifically mentioned the intern who followed the the Senator around during a presidential convention. He said she was the first person he ever saw actually get the names right of everyone who was photographed with the Senator. Those pictures are a big deal. They are taken and mailed -then snail mailed, now emailed to the people in questions.
Real politicians know how to work crowds. That’s why I felt Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Whitey Bulger’s brother in Black Mass got it right. I have no idea if he was tipping off his brother, but I appreciated the way they showed the state senator stopping by tables and saying hello to people even when he was just going to get his lunch.
3.) In previous podcasts you’ve mentioned wanting to talk with a professional criminal defense attorney about the legality of Columbo’s moves and the likelihood of his arrests standing up in court and leading to a conviction. I know of such an attorney. And I know that he’s a Columbo fan and is no stranger to the Internet. Contact me.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the comments and insight, Jim! And if you can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear more about your criminal defense attorney pal!
I tried emailing you guys. No luck. But Jon, for Columbo legal analysis, try Bob Ingersoll. He writes “The Law is a Ass” for Comicmix.com. He has a Columbo column on worldcomics.com. It was posted on March 3, 2003. It is a reprint from a column printed May 19, 1989, in Comics Buyers Guide. He writes about how Columbo takes down Fisher Stevens, mostly legally.
I am sure you can contact him via Comicmix.com. Let me know how it works out.
It’s kind of an old-timey upper-crusty British thing to ask what o’clock it is. Weirdly, I just recently wrote a silly-ass Englishman character in a Depression-era musical I’m writing, and at one point he asks “what the devil o’clock is it?”
Was saying “Jesus” a big no-no in the 80s? Columbo can’t even bring himself to say it, he can only say “that word”.
I think, maybe, Columbo is just too polite to use certain profanity (hell and damn being noted exceptions). I think it’s been established that he was Catholic, so perhaps it’s a holdover from his youth …
Great podcast. Love the Bert Buchman references. I remember how surprised I was to see Louis Zorich as the constable from Fiddler on the Roof. Also – agree – the beginning of this episode with Finch getting the gun powder ready really reminded me of McGoohan at the start of Last Salute to the Commander. Thanks, Lisa
I’ve been thinking, too, that McGoohan’s character here seems very much like a cross between his role in Last Salute and his role in Identity Crisis, half stalwart and respectable and half chirpily disingenuous …
McGohan wasn’t in Last Salute. He only directed it. You mean Dawn’s Early Light?
Nice work, as always.
I concur that the writing was not stellar, and probably was saved by interventions by Falk and McGoohan. The direction was quite good; of all the ’90s episodes I’ve seen, this one feels the most like a ’70s one. Presumably this is because McGoohan hadn’t updated his directorial style to match whatever was in vogue at the time.
Can I just say that Columbo regularly makes me cringe with his cavalier attitude toward gathering forensic evidence? Have standards really changed that much from the ’70s to now? (Probably.)
Given Columbo’s past depictions with dropping egg shells all over a crime scene, I was literally agog when he handled the gun and the fax paper with appropriate care. Maybe that’s how a few of his bigger fish got away …
The Hallmark Channrl is running 90s episodes at 7:00 CDT every weekday morning.
They CUT OUT the entire “you call that a lining?” scene so a person watching it for the first time wouldn’t be privy to that evidence “bothering” Columbo. Plus they’d miss put on a great bit. Sacrilege!
To anyone who doesn’t like this episode, Oscar Finch asked me to let you know that your opinion is nothing but a load of unsubstantiated, circumstantial poppycock!
For a great early role by Arthur Hill, check out his professor in “The Man Who Found the Money”, an episode from the 1960’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. He goes out to Vegas to gamble a little, then comes across a money clip with $92,000 that’s in the casino parking lot. He’s a honest sort, so he tells the police, who in turn inform the owner. As is typical in Hitchcock, his honesty comes back to bite him…hard!
Great podcast and a great episode of Columbo just so many well shot scenes that I can understand you could not get through them all. But some of my favourites that didn’t get a mention was
1. The tight scene on Columbo and the cob under the desk examining the gun. It’s just so comical how close they both are. It reminded me of the scene in the museum when the dead body is found in the telephone booth and all the cops have to pile in
2. When Columbo shows Oscar Finch his problem with the gun by reconstructing it in his office. McGoohan face looking at Columbo while Columbo is looking down is one of anger, worry, contempt and approval – chef kissing fingers noise.
3. At the end of the joke scene when Oscar Finch just speeds off! Brilliant way to end the scene and shows Finches annoyance. I even thought Columbo may have got a cop to pull him over just to play with him
4. The last scene in the conference room when Columbo arrests Oscar and starts cross examining him. Finch stands up at the podium like he is in court as that is where his power lies and that is where he is the most comfortable. Very well played