Film Review – THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2016)

LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, THE (2016, UK) **
Horror, Thriller
dist. Lionsgate (UK); pr co. New Sparta Films / Number 9 Films; d. Juan Carlos Medina; w. Jane Goldman (based on the novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by Peter Ackroyd); pr. Elizabeth Karlsen, Joanna Laurie, Stephen Woolley; ph. Simon Dennis (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Todd-AO 35 (anamorphic) (source format). 2.35:1); m. Johan Söderqvist; ed. Justin Krish; pd. Grant Montgomery; ad. Nick Wilkinson; rel. 10 September 2016 (Canada), 1 September 2017 (UK), 8 September 2017 (USA – internet); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 109m.
cast: Bill Nighy (John Kildare), Olivia Cooke (Lizzie Cree), Douglas Booth (Dan Leno), Daniel Mays (George Flood), Sam Reid (John Cree), Eddie Marsan (Uncle), María Valverde (Aveline Ortega), Adam Brown (Mr. Gerrard), Morgan Watkins (George Gissing), Damien Thomas (Solomon Weil), Peter Sullivan (Inspector Roberts), Amelia Crouch (Young Lizzie), Mark Tandy (Judge), Siobhán Cullen (Sister Mary), Clive Brunt (Charlie), Louisa-May Parker (Mrs. Gerrard), Nicholas Woodeson (Toby Dosett), Paul Ritter (Augustus Rowley), David Bamber (Mr. Greatorex), Levi Heaton (Sarah Martin).
In Victorian London, a Scotland Yard inspector (Nighy) hunts down the sadistic killer behind a series of gory, Jack the Ripper-Like murders. The story tries to be clever in its use of a non-linear structure, which doesn’t work, and comes across as simultaneously convoluted and obvious. As a result, there is little tension built from Goldman’s smug adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel. Medina adds some interesting directorial flourishes in an attempt to enliven the material and there is plenty of period atmosphere created by Montgomery’s production design and Dennis’ gloomy photography. However, the production fails to fully explore the themes it highlights – notably Nighy’s character’s sexuality, which is often referenced but never delved into further. The performances are okay, but the production’s fluctuating tone is also an issue and there are no standouts amongst the cast. The result will likely disappoint genre fans of both horror and mystery with the production’s desire to impress, through its non-traditional approach to the material, taking precedence over telling a coherent and well-structured story.

TV Review – INNOCENT (SERIES 2) (2021)

INNOCENT (Series 2) (2021, UK) **
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. TXTV; net. ITV – Independent Television (UK); pr. Jeremy Gwilt; d. Tracey Larcombe ; w. Chris Lang (series created by Matthew Arlidge, Chris Lang) ; ph. Ian Moss (Colour. 1.78:1); m. Samuel Sim; ed. Matthew Tabern; pd. Kieran McNulty; ad. Irina Kuksova; b/cast. 17-20 May 2021; r/t. 4 x 45m.

Cast: Katherine Kelly (Sally Wright), Jamie Bamber (Sam Wright), Shaun Dooley (DCI Mike Braithwaite), Priyanga Burford (Karen), Laura Rollins (Paine) Andrew Tiernan (John Taylor), Lucy Black (Maria Taylor), Amy-Leigh Hickman (Bethany), Ellie Rawnsley (Anna Stamp), Nadia Albina (Jenny), Poppy Miller (Supt Denham), Michael Yare (Alf), Michael Stevenson (DC Dave Green).

Matthew Taylor, a 16-year-old school boy was brutally murdered in the quiet Lake District. Five years later the accused is found not guilty and released from prison, but who did kill him? The premise here is to take a wrongly convicted party and make them the centre of a drama in which a new police  investigation uncovers the real perpetrator of the crime.  The format then moves into familiar whodunnit territory, whilst dealing with the personal dramas affecting the wronged party (in this case the excellent Katherine Kelly) and those immediately involved with the scenario. The issue I have with this drama is that the premise is so manufactured it requires a considerable suspension of disbelief to assume the initial investigation was so inept as to have missed the multiple clues presented here to solve the case. This is driven by both the concept’s restrictive boundaries and the lack of skilled writing to extract any believable situations from the idea. The feeling therefore is that the characters have been created to serve the scenario rather than falling naturally into Lang’s  environment. Additionally the direction falls into the trap of many similar crime drama series in recent years by pushing the big melodramatic moments and manipulating the audience through overly manufactured false trails and constant incidental music. It manages to retain some interest through Kelly’s excellent lead performance, which is much more nuanced than the majority of the cast, who appear to have waltzed in off the soap opera conveyer belt. The series plays out over 4 episodes and three hours of screen time and as such it does not feel protracted, but when we do get to the final act and the unveiling of the killer, only those unfamiliar with the genre tropes will be surprised.

TV Review – MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021)

MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021, USA) *****
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. Home Box Office (HBO) / Mayhem Pictures / wiip studios; net. Home Box Office (HBO) (USA), Sky Atlantic (UK); exec pr. Gordon Gray, Brad Ingelsby, Paul Lee, Gavin O’Connor, Mark Roybal, Kate Winslet, Craig Zobel; pr. Karen Wacker; d. Craig Zobel; w. Brad Ingelsby; ph. Ben Richardson (Colour. Video (HDTV). ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), 2.00:1); m. Lele Marchitelli; ed. Amy E. Duddleston, Naomi Sunrise Filoramo; pd. Keith P. Cunningham; ad. Gina B. Cranham, Michael Gowen, Michelle C. Harmon; b/cast. 18 April 2021 – 31 May 2021 (USA), 19 April 2021 – 1 June 2021 (UK); r/t. 403m (7 episodes).

Cast: Kate Winslet (Detective Mare Sheehan), Julianne Nicholson (Lori Ross), Jean Smart (Helen Fahey), Angourie Rice (Siobhan Sheehan), John Douglas Thompson (Chief Carter), Joe Tippett (John Ross), Cameron Mann (Ryan Ross), Jack Mulhern (Dylan Hinchey), Izzy King (Drew Sheehan), Justin Hurtt-Dunkley (Officer Trammel), Sosie Bacon (Carrie Layden), David Denman (Frank Sheehan), Neal Huff (Father Dan Hastings), James McArdle (Deacon Mark Burton), Guy Pearce (Richard Ryan), Ruby Cruz (Jess Riley), Enid Graham (Dawn Bailey), Chinasa Ogbuagu (Beth Hanlon), Kassie Mundhenk (Moira Ross), Mackenzie Lansing (Brianna Delrasso).

Kate Winslet stars as a detective in a small Pennsylvania town who investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart. The result is one of the greatest crime TV series ever, driven by a superb script, expert direction and a lead performance from Winslet that is astonishing in its sincerity. Writer Brad Ingelsby has shown how to pace a mystery over 7 episodes whilst fleshing out fully rounded characters with flaws which show them to be real and believable. Where Ingelsby’s writing impresses most is that it avoids the pitfall of many modern crime dramas by refusing to manufacture melodrama and shock twists for the sake of it and instead relies on story progression through quality writing, strong characterisation and natural dialogue. Everything that happens here feels and looks real and is performed with integrity by a cast at the top of their game. Winslet holds the centre ground as the detective haunted by a tragedy in her family’s recent past and reminders in the disintegration of her best friend’s family as she investigates a murder case and a missing persons case, which may or may not be related. As Winslet unravels the mysteries and deals with ongoing personal dramas, she starts to come to terms with the tragedy that haunts her. The audience is pulled in to her life and feels everything she feels as her relationships with family and friends evolve with her investigation. US reviewers pointed to similarities in approach to TRUE DETECTIVE, and here there are parallels with BBC’s HAPPY VALLEY. MARE OF EASTTOWN surpasses the former and sits comfortably with the latter.

Book Review – ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) by D.L. MARSHALL

ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) ****½
by D.L. Marshall
This paperback edition published by Canelo, 2021, 342pp
© D.L. Marshall, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-80032-275-2

Blurb: FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded. FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island. Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Comment: The debut novel of D.L. Marshall mixes the ingredients of an Alistair MacLean adventure with a locked-room mystery,  a James Bond spy caper and the group paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing (to which the author adds an overt nod on page 83 ). All great influences and all blend together to create a highly enjoyable page-turning thriller. Marshall’s story is told from a first-person perspective by the hero, mercenary spy John Tyler, who is transported onto the titular island under the guise of a technician to repair a faulty protective door unit. The group of scientists working on the island are testing for remnant samples of experiments undertaken secretly during WWII. The death of Tyler’s supposed predecessor is followed by others and the group quickly become distrustful of Tyler and each other, whilst the discovery of a new strain of the deadly anthrax attracts international interest. Marshall takes us through many twists and turns in his mazy plot and the tension builds as the paranoia amongst the group increases. Marshall’s prose style is fluid and engaging. Tyler as a character feels real and human and has depth along with a personal motivation which unfolds throughout the story. Writing the novel in the first-person Marshall succeeds in elevating the “whodunnit” elements of the plot allowing the reader to unravel the mystery along with the protagonist. Marshall keeps a trick or two up his sleeve right up to the story’s protracted denouement, which veers off into more traditional action movie tropes in the final chapters. That said, this remains a hugely impressive and thoroughly enjoyable read that promises great things for the intended series.

Film Review – THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE (1947, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery

dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Mercury Productions; d. Orson Welles; w. Orson Welles (based on the novel “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King); exec pr. Harry Cohn (uncredited); pr. Orson Welles; assoc pr. William Castle, Richard Wilson; ph. Charles Lawton Jr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; md. Morris Stoloff; ed. Viola Lawrence; ad. Sturges Carne, Stephen Goosson; set d. Wilbur Menefee, Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Jean Louis; m/up. Clay Campbell, Robert J. Schiffer, Helen Hunt (all uncredited); sd. Lodge Cunningham (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Lawrence W. Butler (uncredited); rel. 24 December 1947 (France), 7 March 1948 (UK), 14 April 1948 (USA); cert: -/PG; r/t. 87m.

cast: Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Erskine Sanford (Judge), Gus Schilling (Goldie), Carl Frank (District Attorney Galloway), Louis Merrill (Jake Bjornsen), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Harry Shannon (Cab Driver).

Michael O’Hara (Welles), an Irish adventurer, is lured by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), beautiful wife of a crippled but successful lawyer (Sloane), into joining the crew of her husband’s yacht bound for a cruise in the Pacific. Bannister’s partner, Grisby (Anders), joins the party and offers O’Hara five thousand dollars to help him frame a disappearance act intended to look like murder. O’Hara accepts, hoping the money will enable him to get Elsa away from her husband. As you would come to expect from Welles the director, the film is full of technical brilliance and is visually stunning. Of the memorable scenes the funhouse finale is the most iconic and has been copied numerous times since. The performances are excellent with Welles convincingly affecting an Irish accent and Hayworth at her alluring best. Sloane and Arden are both sinister and on the verge of being unhinged. The bizarre story, however, must rely on the film’s technical virtues to paper over its implausibility. The script therefore, despite its adventurous and sometimes witty approach, is the weak link that prevents the film from being an out and out classic. That does not mean there is not much to enjoy in this experimental noir, just do not expect it to hang together as a whole. Welles’ original rough cut of this picture ran 155m.

Book Review – TROUBLED BLOOD (2020) by Robert Galbraith

TROUBLED BLOOD (2018) ****
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2020, 927pp
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7993-2

Blurb: Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

First thing is to address the elephant in the room. This book is by some significant distance the longest crime novel I have ever read. At 927 pages it is a monster akin to all those fantasy concept books that I could never get through. Rowling seems to be taking the same route with her Strike novels that she took with the Harry Potter series, each one being longer than the last. Could the story have been told in a shorter page count? The answer is both yes and no. The fifth book in the series takes place over thirteen months and crams an awful lot in. The main focus is the cold case of the disappearance of Dr Margot Bamborough back in 1974. Was she killed by serial killer Dennis Creed, or had she run away and started a new life somewhere? Hired by Margot’s daughter, Strike and Robin work through the police case files and re-interview key witnesses and suspects. Alongside this the agency is working on other cases with their extended team including the Scot Barclay and the slimy new member Morris – the latter of whom develops a fixation on Robin. Alongside this Strike is dealing with the gradual death from cancer of his aunt Joan – his surrogate mother and his estranged father’s attempts to reconnect. Alongside this, his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte, has been committed to rehab due to her suicidal tendencies. Alongside this, Robin is in the late stages of her bitter divorce from Matthew. Get the picture? There’s an awful lot going on. To Rowling’s credit, her writing is so strong that the book remains a page-turner throughout its epic length. You definitely won’t get through it in two or three sittings. You will have to live with it for a while. Somehow that feels appropriate. There are many twists and turns along the way and the characters continue to develop – notably the relationship between Strike and Robin. There are ups and downs and plenty of dramatic tension. The mystery elements are immensely satisfying with Rowling juggling the complexities and intricacies with extreme skill. The clues are there for those clever enough to see them – I wasn’t. The book is highly enjoyable and not as heavy-going as the page count suggests, but don’t read it lying in bed at night, because if you start to doze you may accidentally knock yourself unconscious.

TV Review – CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976)

CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976, USA) ***
Crime, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Roy Huggins-Public Arts Productions / Universal Television; d. Don Medford; w. Stephen J. Cannell (based on a story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell); exec pr. Jo Swerling Jr.; pr. Roy Huggins; assoc pr. Dorothy J. Bailey; ph. Ric Waite (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Nelson Riddle; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Edwin F. England, Ronald LaVine, Larry Lester; ad. John W. Corso; set d. Jerry Adams; cos. Charles Waldo; sd. John K. Kean (Mono); rel. 3 February 1976 (USA – TV), April 1977 (UK); cert: -/PG; r/t. 3 x 47mm.

cast: Wayne Rogers (Jake Axminster), Elaine Joyce (Marsha), Philip Sterling (Michael Brimm), Clifton James (Lt. Murray Quint), Diane Ladd (Laura Taylor), Meredith Baxter (Mary Kingston (as Meredith Baxter Birney)), Laurence Luckinbill (Noel Crossman Jr.), Stephen Elliott (Harold Delaney), Jack Kruschen (Harry Kahn), Dorothy Malone (Dawn Archer), Lloyd Nolan (Gen. Smedley Butler), Robert Sampson (Wayne Fisher), G.D. Spradlin (Gen. Winfield), Laurence Hugo (Alex Sebastian), Steve Kanaly (Parker), Martin Kove (Stan), Pepper Martin (Reggie), Rod McCary (George Donaldson), Paul Jenkins (Terry), Ross Bickell (Murdock).

Jake Axminster (Rogers) is a hard-boiled, wise-cracking private eye in 1934 Los Angeles. Mary Kingston (Baxter) hires him to prove her innocence because she is being framed for murdering her boyfriend, and the police are seeking her whereabouts. Jake hides her in a beach house and begins his investigation. He discovers that Mary and her boyfriend witnessed a Alex Sebastian’s (Hugo) murder at a party on the previous night, and she fled but her boyfriend was captured and killed. Sebastien was a reporter who was about to publish a story of some importance, concerning the date of November thirteenth. Following in the wake of CHINATOWN (1974) this was a valiant attempt by Universal to capture the same blend of period atmosphere, themes of corruption and a Chandler-esque mystery. The result is a mixed bag with the positives being the period detail in the production design and some smart dialogue. On the minus side are the unimaginative and sometimes flat direction and a disappointing denouement. Rogers essays James Garner in his interpretation of the down-at-heel private eye but he lacks Garner’s charm. Nevertheless, his enthusiastic performance occasionally hits home. A strong support cast is on hand, notably the excellent Joyce as Rogers’ secretary who combines her work with running the phone lines for the city’s hookers. Joyce has a natural comic flair which elevates the material when she is on screen. James is the corrupt cop who beats on his prisoners and Baxter has fun as the fugitive starlet. The script, by veterans Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, could have been sharpened further, but the production was a hasty one with the series being a mid-season replacement. The promise on show here would occasionally surface over the series’ next ten episodes before it was cancelled due to low ratings just as it was building a head of steam. Whilst this three-part story served to introduce the series to its US audience, it was edited to 103 minutes and released in cinemas in the UK, Europe, Australia, Central and South America. The film was based on a notorious 1933 American conspiracy known as the Business Plot, which involved wealthy businessmen trying to bring down United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a coup.

Film Review – BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

BREAKHEART PASS (1975, USA) ***
Mystery, Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Gershwin-Kastner Productions; d. Tom Gries; w. Alistair MacLean (based on the novel by Alistair MacLean); exec pr. Elliott Kastner; pr. Jerry Gershwin; ph. Lucien Ballard (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Byron ‘Buzz’ Brandt; ad. Tambi Larsen; set d. Darrell Silvera; cos. Tom Dawson, Paula Lynn Kaatz; m/up. Phil Rhodes, Alma Johnson, Evelyn Preece, Vivienne Walker; sd. Gene S. Cantamessa, Frank E. Warner (Mono); sfx. Gerald Endler, A.D. Flowers, Logan Frazee; vfx. Bill Hansard, Don Hansard, William Suhr; st. Yakima Canutt; rel. 25 December 1975 (Finland), February 1976 (UK), 10 March 1976 (USA); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 95m.

cast: Charles Bronson (Deakin), Ben Johnson (Marshal Pearce), Richard Crenna (Gov. Richard Fairchild), Jill Ireland (Marica), Charles Durning (O’Brien), Ed Lauter (Maj. Claremont), Bill McKinney (Rev. Peabody), David Huddleston (Dr. Molyneux), Roy Jenson (Chris Banion), Rayford Barnes (Sgt. Bellew), Scott Newman (Rafferty), Robert Tessier (Levi Calhoun), Joe Kapp (Henry), Archie Moore (Carlos), Sally Kirkland (Jane-Marie), Sally Kemp (Prostitute), Eddie Little Sky (White Hand), Keith McConnell (Gabriel), John Mitchum (Red Beard), Read Morgan (Capt. Oakland).

When diphtheria breaks out at Fort Humboldt, a train is dispatched with medical supplies and relief troops. Also on board are Utah’s governor (Crenna), his mistress (Ireland), a marshal (Johnson) and his prisoner, outlaw John Deakin (Bronson). As the train passes through the mountains, soldiers go missing, telegraph lines are cut, and it is discovered that there is no epidemic. There is a conspiracy afoot, and it is up to Deakin, who is actually a federal agent, to expose it. A mix of traditional Western with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and Alistair MacLean’s “nothing is quite what it seems” school of fiction, this is an entertaining and well shot mystery. The confinement of the train setting adds challenges to the narrative as the narrow corridors make it difficult to buy into the skullduggery. However, a game cast is on hand to make the most of the material and the winter location photography adds a bleakness that is in sync with the material. The shootout finale does seem like a concession to Western fans, but the mystery elements work reasonably well. Although set in Nevada, the film was shot in Idaho.

TV Movie Review – McCLOUD: ENCOUNTER WITH ARIES (1971)

McCloud : Encounter with Aries (1971) - Russ Mayberry | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovieMcCLOUD: ENCOUNTER WITH ARIES (TV) (1971, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery
Network: NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY (NBC) (USA); production company: UNIVERSAL TELEVISION; director: RUSS MAYBERRY; writer: PETER ALLAN FIELDS; producer: DEAN HARGROVE; associate producer: PETER ALLAN FIELDS; director of photography: WILLIAM MARGULIES (Technicolor | 35mm | Spherical | 1.37:1); music: DICK DEBENEDICTIS; film editor: BYRON ‘BUZZ’ BRANDT; art director: WILLIAM H. TUNTKE; set decorator: JOSEPH J. STONE; costumes: GRADY HUNT; sound: EDWIN S. HALL (Mono); broadcast date: 22 SEPTEMBER 1971 (USA); BBFC cert: PG; running time: 76 MINS.
Cast: DENNIS WEAVER (Sam McCloud), J.D. CANNON (Peter B. Clifford), SEBASTIAN CABOT (Sidney Cantrell), PETER HASKELL (Richard Stevens), SUSAN STRASBERG (Lorraine), LOUISE LATHAM (Emily Cantrell), ALAN OPPENHEIMER (Mervin Simmons), TERRY CARTER (Det. Joe Broadhurst), ROBERT HOGAN (Detective Finnegan), JILL JARESS (Gloria), BOOTH COLMAN (Hines), WOODROW PARFREY (Elmer), ELISHA COOK JR. (Mr. Rafer), FORREST LEWIS (Old Man), FRED HOLLIDAY (Intern), ELIZABETH LANE (Nurse), ATHENA LORDE (Floor Nurse), NANCY JERIS (Marie), JAMES GAVIN (Policeman).
The kidnapping of a woman (Latham) who is married to a wealthy astrologer (Cabot) — and the appearance of her kidnapper (Haskell), who claims she is being held in a room with a ticking time bomb — spur the woman’s husband to bash in the kidnapper’s head with a vase. This leaves McCloud (Weaver) with a limited time to determine where the woman is and who is really behind the kidnapping. This was the first episode following the transition of McCloud from its one-hour slot as part of the Four-in-One wheel to a regular rotation as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series. The story is a strong one with elements of mystery and humour. By now the role of McCloud fits the charming Weaver as well as his cowboy boots and his sparring with Cannon is always a joy to watch. A good script by Fields, tight direction from Mayberry and the casting of Cabot as the astrologer also help make this an above average mystery movie.

TV Movie Review – COLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (1973)

Adrian CarsiniCOLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (TV) (1973, USA) ****
Crime, Drama, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC); pr co. Universal Television; d. Leo Penn; w. Stanley Ralph Ross (based on a story by Larry Cohen); pr. Robert F. O’Neill; ph. Harry L. Wolf (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Dick DeBenedictis; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Larry Lester, Buddy Small; ad. Archie J. Bacon; set d. John M. Dwyer; cos. Grady Hunt; sd. David H. Moriarty (Mono); rel. 7 October 1973 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Peter Falk (Columbo), Donald Pleasence (Adrian Carsini), Joyce Jillson (Joan Stacey), Gary Conway (Enrico Guiseppe Carsini), Dana Elcar (Falcon), Julie Harris (Karen Fielding), Vito Scotti (Maitre d’), Robert Donner (The Drunk), Robert Ellenstein (Stein), Robert Walden (Billy Fine), Regis Cordic (Lewis), Reid Smith (Andy Stevens), John McCann (Officer), George Gaynes (Frenchman), Monte Landis (Steward), Walker Edmiston (Auctioneer), Pamela Campbell (Cassie Marlowe).

Adrian Carsini (Pleasence) runs a California winery owned by his younger half-brother (Conway) who reveals he’s about to sell it. This enrages the older wine connoisseur who knocks the young playboy out cold and ties him up in the wine cellar. Soon Carsini has committed a murder and makes it look like a scuba diving accident. The rumpled Lt. Columbo (Falk) is on the case and is willing to harass everyone – even Carsini’s cold but devoted secretary (Harris) – until he’s discovered the truth. One of the most entertaining of the Columbo mystery movies and one of the few where the rumpled detective has a liking for the killer. The winery setting and Pleasence’s delightfully snobbish performance give this episode a playfully novel feel. Whilst the murder is hardly perfect, the way Falk unravels the case is sublime. The finale in the expensive restaurant and on the cliffs overlooking the sea are neatly staged and the final scene where the detective and the murderer share a last bottle is nicely played. The production values are standard for 1970s TV, but the light, humorous touch and the lead performances make this well worth a look.