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Esprit D’un Chien Mort

It’s our final 70s Columbo of the podcast! We’re saying farewell to the Lieutenant’s original decade with “Playback,” an episode featuring dazzling futuristic gadgetry, bowl haircuts and Gena Rowlands. Electronics executive Oskar Werner is on the verge of being fired by his mother-in-law. He kills dear old mom, then rigs his home’s elaborate security video setup so no one even discovers the murder, until he’s safely in alibi city, miles away. The gadget-happy killer’s plan even has Columbo stumped for what seems to be longer than usual, in an episode that also feels longer than usual. Dylan Meconis (The Long Con) is here to look through this one, which seemed to stay at a flat level of “just fine,” as well as speculate how a Columbo comic book series might work. In all, a nice edition of the podcast.


  1. Jason Brown Jason Brown

    Ooh, have to disagree with the pod on this one (great pod though it was). I think this is a superb episode, in a superb season (also with Troubled Waters and By Dawns Early Light).

    It’s clear from the off that he uses his wife to access the money and privilege, and has few feelings for her – or anyone, beyond carnal (the young lady at the gallery) or dismissive / above them (everyone else). The line about being subservient to his wife, then demanding she sign the papers – a form of subservience itself – betrays utterly his lack of caring about anyone but himself.

    Much of the plot feels like it’s borrowed from two earlier episodes : Short Fuse (family company, blackmail) and Lady In Waiting (a daughter being assumed-for by others), but far superior, and far more satisfying in my mind. Possibly add a dash of Suitable For Framing, too (the art world setting). Love the foreshadowing early on when he stomps out, clapping his hands, opening an unseen door, but bathing the hall in light.

    Columbo clocks Harold almost immediately; wondering about the camera location, Harold boasting about his inventions in the house, suggesting theories re the mulch…and I think very swiftly Columbo clocks the motive, too, seeing Harolds interactions with others.

    The gotcha’s a great one too (though I can’t argue with the astounding ability to zoom in!)

    Reckon you’ll be done by Christmas?

    • Jon Morris Jon Morris

      “Reckon you’ll be done by Christmas?”

      I feel seen.

      Thinking about it, I’m not sure how we’d get done any sooner though, so … yeah, probably!

      • TJ Meier TJ Meier

        I wanna be the guest on the “Murder is a Parlor Game” —potentially the Mrs. C. swan song. Know it inside and out. All about Donald P in ham-and-cheese mode—on steroids. As the kids say today—H.M.U!

      • Jason Brown Jason Brown

        Ah, I’m really going to miss it when it’s gone. Though we’ll have your Bilko podcast to look forward to…

        I am hoping that when you get to The Last Episode you might do a Frasier & go Ham Radio : do a recital of the show, but let your performances reflect what you think of that great, great episode…

        Speaking of Frasier, as a reboot / restart of that might be coming our way, and there’s been (4?5?) Frasier / Cheers alumni in Columbo over the years, wouldn’t Kelsey Grammar (heck, Frasier himself!) have made a great Columbo villain? Sideshow Bob / Transformers 4 showed Grammar could be a great bad guy.

        • Jon Morris Jon Morris

          He would have been superb. Hyde Pierce also woulda been a fantastic killer, to judge by his performance in The Perfect Host.

          • Allan Mcpherson Allan Mcpherson

            Love The Perfect Host! Funny enough I thought at the time it would have made a great post-Dexter TV concept.

  2. Lisa Lisa

    Hi – loved the podcast, but disagree with the overall feelings about this episode. I was born in 1963, so being a kid and watching it live in 1975, the digital watch and technology (despite the lack of reality) was amazing at that time. And when Columbo clapped and the only thing we could see in that room was the freaky clown, I thought that was the scariest thing anywhere! And lastly, seeing the Six Million Dollar Man’s mother be so bitchy was very dramatic. I have found when I have those deep feelings about an episode that I first watched in childhood, that it is hard to see the limitations when I re-watch as an adult. Your differing views almost makes me want to stop listening to the upcoming podcasts. I kid…I will be there for every last one, and whatever else you have coming up. Thanks again – Lisa

  3. Lisa Stein Lisa Stein

    I enjoyed the podcast, but I disagree with the overall feeling about it. I have always loved it. I saw it live in 1975 as a kid, and the video tech and digital watch was very exciting at that time. Also, seeing the Six Million Dollar’s Man mother be so nasty was quite dramatic. Lastly, when Columbo clapped and that scary-ass clown was seen, it scared the crap out of me. I have found that when I have strong feelings about an episode from childhood, it is harder to see the actual limitations as an adult. Thanks again for all you do. Lisa

  4. Lisa Stein Lisa Stein

    Sorry double post. Took a while to show up.

  5. Jon Morris Jon Morris

    I TOLD y’all this was going to be a controversial one.

    • Jon Morris Jon Morris

      I told you on RTJ one … I told you on RTJ two …

    • Not for me. I left my comments on the preview page. I agree with most of what you said about this episode, except that I didn’t care for Oskar Werner’s performance as much as RJ did. And while I liked Gena Rowlands as a strong individual in a wheelchair, there’s never any real tension between her and her husband over his infidelities. Unlike, say, Blythe Danner in Etude in Black, she never seems to suspect him. Maybe that’s a symptom of her self-confidence, though. She’s secure enough with herself and her condition that it never occurs to her he’d get his jollies elsewhere.

    • Victor Jones Victor Jones

      You weren’t kidding. Even disregarding some sound-quality issues, this particular episode of the podcast was a little annoying. Dylan’s contempt for the episode wasn’t much above that of the Conan O’Brien writer who hated “Now You See Him” your first time through. How does seven or eight years qualify as “just coming off”? By ’75, Rowlands would have had several of her husband’s movies under her belt since the end of Peyton Place. And I would have been more interested in hearing why any of you thought this episode won an Emmy if it was so bad than the Columbo-comic idea. As for your slow clap rating being more entertaining than watching “Playback”—no, it wasn’t. It’s still probably among my top 10 Columbo episodes.

      • Jon Morris Jon Morris

        Hey Victor? I’d actually like to hear more about what you appreciate about the episode than what we got ‘wrong.’ You have a point of view — obviously something of a passionate one — so please share it. That’s precisely what this podcast is really about, sharing our opinions and memories of a show — a show which represented moments in time and setting, and said something of our culture and identity, really — which provides us all with a common experience…

        I mean, this earlier comment is great, it speaks to your tremendous volume of experiences with film and television: “I’d rank “Playback” among my top 10 Columbo episodes. I think I have a soft spot for episodes of shows with atypically dark cinematography (Wild Wild West’s “Night of the Simian Terror” and “Night of the Undead,” Star Trek’s “The Doomsday Machine,” the first half of Miami Vice Season 3). Maybe it’s an offshoot of my love of film noir. And seeing Charlie Chaplin try to kill Martha Raye in Monsieur Verdoux gave me a new perspective on this episode.”

        I don’t know how to respond to the post all the way up above. If I went complaint-by-complaint, it would boil down to “You’re wrong, that’s cheap, you’re being pedantic, tastes change, fuck you.” How fun. We’re both delighted now, I can tell.

        Your earlier post? That we can talk about. There’s things to discuss. There’s potential for wonderful tangents. Any conversation growing from that earlier post will enhance EVERYONE’S knowledge of film and television, give them better understanding of differing views, and just better the community all told.

        We’re just about done here, and we still gotta deal with “You’re not doing the podcast the way I want! Your opinions are wrong!” etc etc. You’ve been around long enough to know better than that, man. We bring up content from the message board and the Twitter account, we fold other people’s comments, opinions and knowledge into the greater discussion of the show. We’re happy to do that whenever an idea strikes us powerfully enough. But, the fuck are we gonna do with a raft of complaints?

        • Victor Jones Victor Jones

          The best part of the podcast was yours and Dylan’s admission that there elements you liked that you wished could have been in “better” episodes. There’s your concession. I usually like the tangents, but the self-congratulation on how much more interesting your tangent on a Columbo comic was than the episode itself was a bit much, especially in an episode that only 57 minutes long. I feel like I’m getting more insight into “Playback” from this forum than from the discussion you had (e.g.,, the reveal of the clown wouldn’t have been as effective in a Columbo that was lit as brightly as a typical Columbo episode). I think I may have posted this sentiment somewhere else before, but Oskar Werner succeeded where Charlie Chaplin failed.

          • Jon Morris Jon Morris

            “I feel like I’m getting more insight into “Playback” from this forum than from the discussion you had”

            You’re MEANT to gain additional insight from the comments, Victor. It’s why we have a comment board.

            “but the self-congratulation on how much more interesting your tangent on a Columbo comic was than the episode itself was a bit much”

            Let it go. It’s a weird-ass hill to die on.

  6. TJ Meier TJ Meier

    Yes! A couple more Mrs. Columbos to look forward to! (Oddly, not sarcasm).

    The problem with Jon’s Columbo-as-antibody theory for this show is…who the hell is the protagonist? The hero? Villains everywhere, but what’s the overall story arch? A lectcherous technology geek bankrupting a company? A boozehound matriarch? A hapless son-in-waiting? An inaffectual damsel? Doing what? I’m just trying to think of the show’s raison d’etre before Columbo comes in and blows it up. And the more I think of it, the more it sounds like Dallas. Any ideas?

    • Jon Morris Jon Morris

      Well, Dylan reminded us that Rowlands had just finished a run on Peyton Place, so a soap opera is possible. I wasn’t particularly sold on this instance of the antibody theory, and I’m gonna go on the record and suggest that, no, this was not an antibody-adjacent story. Just like we had the appearance of a ‘poor bastard’ but never actually got a ‘poor bastard,’ this one might have had the appearance of an antibody story but I wouldn’t suggest it was, in the end …

      • Jason Brown Jason Brown

        That’s the comic that needs to happen : the Columbo anti-body comic!

  7. Allan Mcpherson Allan Mcpherson

    Batman and Columbo? Not so much, but Elongated Man? Sign me up!

  8. Allan Mcpherson Allan Mcpherson

    Also, say what you will about this episode, but Werner would have to be the head of The Columbo Revenge Squad.

    • Jason Brown Jason Brown

      Yeah, but a Columbo Revenge Squad would be doomed by all the egotistical in-fighting, one-upmanship and attempts to kill each other.

      It’d make a cracking sitcom, though, as another effort to off Columbo fails with hilarious consequences…

  9. The time has come for a list of the top Columbo sharpshooters. Killers on this show routinely dispatch their victims, instantly, with a single shot from a small-bore pistol at a distance of several yards, often from across a room — something that’s almost impossible to do.

    If we limit ourselves to the ’70s episodes, the winner, in my judgment, is Joyce van Patten in “Old-Fashioned Murder,” who kills two men with two shots and no apparent experience at a firing range. Second prize goes to Jackie Cooper, who picks off his victim in a darkened garage, over the hood of a car.

    Runners up:

    Lee Grant
    Robert Culp (in two episodes)
    Jack Cassidy (also in two episodes)
    Ross Martin
    Eddie Albert (though the death of his victim is not shown, I’m betting he dies instantly)
    Susan Clark (not only kills her brother with a single shot, but drags the body across the room without leaving a drop of blood)
    Ray Milland
    Dick van Dyke (honorable mention for coolest move, since he fires after twirling around)
    Robert Vaughn
    Oskar Werner
    William Shatner (the only trained marksman in the lot)
    Theodore Bikel (loses points for firing more than once)
    Trish Van Devere
    Clive Revill

  10. Being a gadget person, I had a special place in my heart for Oskar’s character. I just placed a bunch of electronic death traps for the mice in my house (they’re mousetraps that I bought), and I totally feel like a gadgety murderer right now. I am fully expecting a mouse-Columbo to come knocking at my door.

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