Hell With Babe Ruth
A catatonic Black Dragon escapes from a mental hospital twenty-eight years late for his mission to destroy the oil tanks at Pearl Harbor.
He mistakes his Yankee daughter for his Japanese wife, wears ninja garb to purloin U.S. Army dynamite. The poetic character of his meditations heightens the resemblance to Siegel’s Telefon.
Mark Lenard is the agent atop the oil early on the morning of December 7th, 1969. Will Kuluva is a colleague from the original cadre, so embarrassed by the belated adventure that it kills him.
Anthony Lawrence’s teleplay explains that the title is the slogan uttered by Japanese pilots as they bombed Pearl Harbor, the Black Dragon has it in his repertoire as well.
The Concrete Corral
Murder Arena I
McCloud is assigned to shepherd the cowboys at a visiting rodeo. They’re old friends, and one of them is killed by a jealous rival over a woman, it appears.
The two parts are connected not as a sequential structure but as an Elizabethan mirror, the one about the blind sex murderer and the fellow who couldn’t tell a lady’s mind. A simple case of misunderstanding, like the one in Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, when the title character beseeches her father with the words, “stand up for me,” and he bravely rises to his feet at the dinner table.
Blue Roberts is a man of bravado who nonetheless can’t impress his wife, or so he thinks. There is a question about his affair with Billy’s mistress Iris. Billy, who isn’t a model of fidelity either, roughs him up at a New York bar, and Iris tells Goose the rodeo clown she’d like to see him dead.
Billy’s found dead in his hotel room, and Blue is sought by McCloud, who finds him hiding in a freight train down at the yard. Now, Blue’s protesting his innocence all along, so the great revelation comes to Goose in a subsequent conversation with Iris, who tells him he’d mistaken her meaning, it wasn’t Billy she wanted dead but cruel and heartless Blue, and anyway...
All this is expressed with a look and a word.
Étude in Black
analysis of Citizen Kane centering on Susan Alexander Kane, or, if you
prefer, a satire on what is called classical music, in which the sexy pianist
is a scheming horror (with a cockatoo named Chopin), the musicians are crazy
mixed-up kids, and the chairman of the board has all of them tied to her
apron-strings. There is a notable long take with a variable zoom on Lt. Columbo
and Benedict in a discussion about furniture and property taxes, anticipated by
an unusual up-angle long shot of the lieutenant approaching the door, the whole
thing oddly adumbrating Big Trouble.
The lieutenant’s hound is christened Fido by his culture-minded vet, who works late to watch the concerts on TV, because his wife doesn’t like them. Benedict’s auto mechanic pooh-poohs the rarity Lt. Columbo drives because, he says, “there are limits.”
The murdered mistress gives a subtitle: Faithfully Yours. The main gag is of unusual brilliance and audacity even for Columbo (he himself is described in this scene as both “cocky” and “audacious”, but later as a “genius”), having the pianist’s portable typewriter placed atop a grand piano onstage at Hollywood Bowl during the midday rehearsal period, to discuss whether or not her suicide note was forged. The question hinges on the ability to replace a typewritten letter exactly on the roller so as to match the typing with precision.
The secondary theme of a trumpeter who sidelines in a jazz band is piquant and recalls the old Copland controversy as well.
Cassavetes’ baton technique is authentic and original, a slashing fist-grip in the storm of Beethoven’s Pastoral (varied slightly for the modern documentary score he synchs), something more gracious for Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
No less, one should think, than four Perry Mason cases are fictionalized for the murder, which has a lecherous gospel singer (Johnny Cash) drug his blackmailing evangelist partner (Ida Lupino) and jump out of their private plane with a parachute of his own devising.
The depth of the casting is most remarkable, even for Columbo, which sometimes anchors an effect by seeming to overcast for the part. John Dehner as Pangborn, the air crash investigator, stands like a mountain while clouds of delicate comedy rain about his summit. An Air Force colonel who remembers the singer as a washed-out cadet (but from which war?) is paraded by John Randolph. Vito Scotti mounts an impressive display as the funeral home proprietor (this scene is filmed at the same location which served as the magic cabaret in “Now You See Him”). Sorrell Booke as the singer’s manager is all rosy round shades and bow tie.
The director’s name is rearranged to form the name of an arranger, Solacanto, which Lt. Columbo interprets as Sillacante.
It often happens that the Lieutenant will discern the culprit at once and devote himself to an elaborate unmasking, but in this case he has only a scent of a whiff to warn him, and his “routine questions” for once serve him in that capacity.
The actual trap shows the extraordinary skill deployed, after the manner of Wong and Poirot, by the man from Homicide.