Attack of the Giant Leeches

A tale of the Everglades, a general store, the fat proprietor’s young wife, and a good old boy with an eye to her.

The second theme breezes in from Wind Across the Everglades with a game warden and his sweetheart and her father, a professor who sees no problem dropping dynamite into the swamp against the monstrosity.

So there are two man-sized bloodsuckers harvesting captured humans in an underwater cave (the bodies float up later in Dementia 13).

The MacGuffin has to do with Cape Canaveral, the lovely score has its Impressionist side. A Corman production expertly directed by Kowalski.


The Case of the Grumbling Grandfather
Perry Mason

A companion piece to “The Case of the Negligent Nymph”. Three generations of Gideons are menaced by a conniving, murderous secretary. Young David is vamped and framed, Uncle Lucius is swindled and made to appear a suicide, Grandfather J.J. suffers an extortion attempt but sees the culprit apprehended.

“It’s the only time in my life I was ever right about a woman,” he says, amazed. Kowalski has a notable view of the courtroom, foursquare from the left wall.


The Case of the Missing Melody
Perry Mason

Harold Lloyd’s A Jazzed Honeymoon is perhaps betokened in the opening scene of a combo playing at a church wedding, which doesn’t come off. By way of Hitchcock’s tribute in Rich and Strange, his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much is arrived at in a Straussian dialogue of Jazz and the composer’s art.


Fall Guy
The Untouchables

A trio of hoodlums start a racket, National Personnel Services, Inc., hiring out thugs of every stripe. The first caper is a diversion to allow a gangster to move his slot machines out of Ness’s view. The hirelings set fire to a school and a Federal distillery, the mobster’s trucks roll right up the middle in broad daylight.

Ness puts the pressure on, they need a fall guy. Big Joe Hovack is out of Joliet, an old-timer who wonders where it all went. They set him up with a salary and a limousine as president of the firm.

When it all comes down, Hovack holds his wrists out for the handcuffs. “No charge,” says Ness, who earlier describes Hovack as “a canvasback for three rotten lightweights” (Herschel Bernardi, Don Gordon, Robert Emhardt).

A heroic part for Jay C. Flippen as the delusionary kingpin.


The Untouchables

Three beer barons run the Northside, spiking legal near beer for the speakeasies. One sends another to jail and is murdered by the third.

Joe Kulak in New York has an alibi for the jailed baron, sets him up for a takeover of the Northside, imperative three weeks before the election on FDR’s announced intention to repeal the Volstead Act. The instrument of the takeover is the third baron’s son, kept out of the rackets by his father but now working for Kulak.

In the beer war, the father nearly kills his son unknowingly, the son gives his father’s brewery away to Ness, the father delivers the son “on a silver platter”, the son is killed, the father dies in prison.

Leonard Nimoy as a gunman, Mort Mills and John Banner as barons, Robert Loggia and Luther Adler as son and father all vie for acting honors. Collin Wilcox as a bereaved moll foreshadows a very similar role in Columbo: An Exercise in Fatality. Adler develops a very neat characterization with a payoff in the last scene.


Element of Danger
The Untouchables

The centerpiece takes place at a sidewalk cafe, where Ness is offered money and glory to go away, and doesn’t refuse it because he’s filming the conversation. All he asks is the name of the hood who killed a Federal agent investigating the case, and this is recorded as well.

The businessman who makes this offer has brought in 50,000 pounds of opium, enough to make two-and-a-half tons of heroin. The hood is his factotum, a hysterically violent three-time loser.

The company manufactures butane, oxygen and acetylene. It goes up in flames with the opium when the sold-out hood Tommy-guns the businessman and his partners. Ness and the squad end “the greatest narcotics threat in the history of Chicago”.

Kowalski’s spectacular direction bubbles and fizzes right to the explosive finish, and catches every nuance of brilliant performances by Victor Jory and Lee Marvin.


Man in the Middle
The Untouchables

The very touching story of a nightclub owner forced out of the business. He rebuilds when a hood burns his place down for buying hooch from a rival, then it’s burned down by the other one. His wife can’t get a singing job. He keeps two rats as pets in separate cages, each with the name of one of the hoods emblazoned on the bars, and carries out his revenge. “He’s a nothin’,” says the chanteuse, “a total zero.”

The first hood, “Porker” Davis, has been forced into a partnership by his rival, Joe Bomer, who finds his partner weighting the slot machines and eliminates him. Bomer is continually raided by Ness, finally stops the leak.

In the midst of it all, the chanteuse gets a new dress from Maison Robert. It takes money to be a singer, arrangements, costumes, a certain air must be presented, “who says a mink coat can’t sing?” They live in squalor, the dress is a posh print. “You like it?” “Unzip me.” “Don’t I get anything?” “Maybe.” She wears it to ask Bomer for a job, he gets the idea who’s talking.

Time to leave the country, with a last request to Ness, “take care of her.” Dying, he asks his wife, “they hurt you?” She is holding her arm, “I hurt my funny bone.”

“I owe him,” she had told Bomer at his Hotsy Totsy Club, “you owe him, too. You done enough to him, give him a  break, he’s a little man.” She’s followed to him.

Looking at her husband’s body, after Bomer has fallen three flights in a scuffle with Ness, she says, “I did that. I did it. He didn’t deserve it.” The rats are dead, shot by a furious Bomer (“the rats that chewed him down to nothing”). Ness tells her, “neither did you.”

Harry Kronman’s teleplay is exactly matched by Kowalski’s direction.


The Case Against Eliot Ness
The Untouchables

He is badgered into naming a murderer and slapped with a lawsuit. The case is a clever trick by a pillar of the community out to secure a franchise in the Century of Progress. The proprietors are killed, a mobster takes their place, he exposes the man.

This is all arranged with a fee for assassins and mobster alike. He enters into a confederation with Frank Nitti to clean up the loose ends for Ness, Nitti reserves one as blackmail for equal shares.

The assassin’s erstwhile widow sells him out for cash so they can both flee the country, he dies in a shootout with the squad and is dramatically photographed under the classically upraised knife of a pillar of the community.


The Monkey Wrench
The Untouchables

Nitti moves on Kulak with imported brewmasters, New York replies with the man in the title.

When raided, Nitti kills a brewmaster to avoid detection. The monkey wrench joins in the stream of illegal aliens and achieves a position of trust.

Chippewa Landing is the Michigan point of entry. A mob widow presents a respectable front under duress. She asks what her new boarder wants. “The world, Mrs. Kerner, the world that belongs to Nitti and that fink Kulak, and you’re gonna get it for me.”

She has been speaking to Ness, Hobson says she’s “a fan”. She’s set up as the stooge and bait for an ambush, which she prevents.

A well-thought-out performance by Dolores Dorn sounds each degree of the woman’s character and plight.


The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth
The Wild Wild West

In the hands of Dr. Miguelito Loveless is a Spanish land grant to his mother, half of California is his, he wants a “kingdom of children” there.

The Governor’s office is a study for Lepetomane. Dr. Loveless’s inventions number among them things we know today as radio, penicillin, the automobile and the airplane. Sent to prison, he works on television.

An explosive so powerful that an independent rival has taken it to the government has also been discovered by Loveless, whose extortion plan depends on it.

Robert Drasnin composed the ideal dispositions of Markowitz’s theme that close each act and were used again by Richard Shores in “The Night of the Whirring Death”.


Mission: Impossible

El Presidente lives at the Hotel Nacional, an armed camp that is still a functioning inn with a walk-in safe for valuables where two small nuclear bombs are kept in a sealed container.

What this owes to Thunderball it repays to Fanny and Alexander, but the actual structure is an exquisite calculation of Dr. Strangelove. Rollin has a triple role as Cinnamon’s aged husband in a wheelchair, El Presidente and also Briggs, who plays a Swiss watch merchant (Willy is his manservant) and has the job of eliciting from the real Presidente a three-color code that opens the container without setting off the bombs, which are to be used against the U.S.

Peter Sellers and Buñuel provide further material as mice are released in the hotel lobby (The Mouse That Roared) and Barney as the Exterminador is at first not allowed to move freely in pursuit of them, until the comically puzzled security chief gives permission.

There is even an exact reference to Sellers in Rollin’s difficulty with El Presidente’s television speech, which Barney has to omit (Sellers was supposed to play the B-52 pilot, Maj. “King” Kong, but couldn’t achieve the accent, Terry Southern tells us).

Kowalski’s inspired, controlled, brilliant direction of this initial week on the set is especially remarkable for its dynamism, which sets the tone for the entire series. Wally Cox as a tense safecracker in close-up is sterling. Rollin’s mask of Briggs is a motif cited at the end of Escape from Alcatraz.

The security chief is sent on a wild goose chase for El Presidente’s two personal guards while Cinnamon does a necessitous quick-change in front of the bound and gagged soldiers, and Kowalski cuts to Briggs (eyes only) and El Presidente (also bound and gagged).


A Spool There Was
Mission: Impossible

Elegance, science, violence.

Elegance in the final shots, out of From Russia with Love, of Rollin and Cinnamon escaping on a boat.

Science in the delicately-constructed layout of an Iron Curtain lakeside resort.

Violence in the surrealistic continuity of this pursuit after a wire recording which is tied to stakes supporting vegetation, and then becomes a boy’s fishing line, and finally goes up Rollin’s sleeve, while enemy soldiers shoot down toy balloons.

“The most beautiful mission I’ve ever been on,” Cinnamon exclaims, watching this.


Mission: Impossible

The opening on a rooftop (and Thorpe’s The Scorpio Letters) signals Fuller’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street.

The target is an animal, self-described, on the lam in Latin America beyond the long arm.

Cinnamon emerges in a white fur stole with him, from an elevator, complimenting his choice of restaurant, immediately after Barney has dispatched a henchman into the polar bear pit at the zoo (cf. Kowalski’s joke in the pilot).

The badger game... this heroin smuggler is baited with his own lure, and caught across the border, extraditable.



Death Lends a Hand

One of the most brilliant scripts in this series, a tour de force by Link & Levinson. The head of a private security firm (Robert Culp) uses blackmail to gain more information for more blackmail. His company is trailing the wife (Patricia Crowley) of a newspaper publisher (Ray Milland) who suspects her of infidelity. She refuses to turn over inside information, threatens to tell her husband all about it, and is killed in a heated moment.

Now, the beauty of the construction is revealed in the stratagem of her now-abandoned affair with a golf pro who isn’t “really good at golf.” This blind end prepares Lt. Columbo’s stunning admission that he probably became a police officer to make up for the pranks he played as a kid.

Between Culp’s precise characterization and Milland’s magnificent turn, Kowalski is inspired to film the murder (related to the one in Columbo Likes the Nightlife) most spectacularly in slow motion, with a reaction shot that tells the tale. The script at one point even has the lieutenant slip in a Holmesian précis, and he alternately underplays and overplays his hand preparing the net, which is sprung and tied with a neat joke setting off the overall explanation of Jefferson’s preference for newspapers over governments.


The Woman Hunter

Dina Hunter (Barbara Eden), a newlywed heiress who has killed a man accidentally in a road mishap and is now a neurotic, comes to believe she is in danger from a killer and jewel thief, but she has made the mistake of marrying the wrong man.

New York, Bermuda and Acapulco are the crime scenes. The two men are Stuart Whitman and Robert Vaughn, with Sydney Chaplin as a business associate and Larry Storch a party guest. The plain abstraction gives a sense of earlier style but really supports the complicated dispersion of the theme.


A Million the Hard Way

Taking it all around, on the surface it would appear to be something of a joke episode (like “Project Phoenix”, in a manner of speaking). It takes place in Las Vegas, where a million dollars in cold hard cash disappears right in public view from an airtight display case quicker than a flash. The workings of all this (patiently elaborated by Kowalski) paint, if you will, a better picture, a more substantial setup.

A mechanized operation, aerial shots by day, the Strip by night (where statistics don’t fly), a prodigious deal of work... and for all that, not at all a serious place...


If Max Is So Smart, Why Doesn’t He Tell Us Where He Is?

The prologue shows the crime and is in two parts, announcing the structure. One day the Lyle Pavilion’s medical computer is making diagnoses, the next (its official unveiling) it’s gone.

Banacek and Carlie are in bed, no, it’s a park, the morning after. She gets a call about the disappearance, so does he. There’s a marching band in the park.

The rest takes place at the Pavilion, a hospital financed by wealthy Miss Lyle, director of a dozen corporations and hopelessly hypochondriacal. “Overworked,” Banacek concludes.

The computer, which is known as Max, is a façade connected by phone to another hospital’s coded diagnosis service, and is insured for a fortune. It folds up neatly into false walls. A tape measure furnishes Banacek with the facts, accompanied by a veiled cadence from Also Sprach Zarathustra (William Sylvester plays a quack, supplying placebos and narcotics as well as another note from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

 “There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘No matter how warm the smile on the face of the sun, the cat still has her kittens under the porch.’”


The Vanishing Chalice

A game of mirrors like The Roaring Twenties or a Borges fiction, a giuoco delle coppie”, as well as a companion piece to “Let’s Hear It for a Living Legend”. The Museum of Fine Arts is a Grecian temple, a rare Greek drinking vessel is put on display and disappears. But there are two, one is a copy, and the original has two provenances, found by a shepherd boy or plundered by Nazis (“You didn’t want to know,” says Banacek to the director).

Jay cannot fathom L. Plotkin’s 1970 abstract, Dog With Bone. “Maybe you’re too close to it,” observes Carlie. After some study, Jay comes up with a Cubist reading, then the museum director arrives with the real painting, switched when the walls were cleaned. “I would rather see the portrait of a dog that I know,” says Dr. Johnson, “than all the allegorical paintings they can shew me in the world.”

The neurotic mobster (John Saxon) who plays suicidal games with his father’s gun, unloaded lest it blow a hole in his art collection, is an æsthete with an Utrillo copied from the Tate, a dead giveaway.

The secret of the form is identified in a gag when Felix dives under a table at his shop to retrieve a jigsaw-puzzle piece, and the lady he’s solving it with bemusedly finds him between her legs.

An angled mirror (hidden behind a No Smoking sign perhaps) obscures the chalice at the opening, giving the curator (Eric Braeden, a well-studied performance) time to destroy it as a fake.

The beautiful development of the mobster’s moll goes from this exchange:

CECE: Why’s it worth so much?
HARRY: You wouldn’t understand.
CECE: You always say that about everything.
HARRY: Well, it’s because there’s only one like it in the world.
CECE: I don’t understand.

to Banacek’s remark at the close, when he gets in his limousine and she is waiting for him, holding out a glass of champagne. “Good thinking, Cece,” he says (“that’s where your brains are,” says Harry to his confederate Sue Ane Langdon, “in the bedroom.”).

“There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘Though the hippopotamus doesn’t have a stinger in its tail, the wise man would rather be stung by the bee.’”

Or, “‘A duck with three wings and a loaf of bread is brother to the turkey.’”


Fly Me—If You Can Find Me

The structure is symbolic and expressive in equal measure, with nothing left over. The crime is a mirror of the 1958 Vietnam operation described, and the entirety is a mirror of the times, with big business on a vengeful rampage against a collapsed society (Felix’s house of cards).

Banacek informs Fowler the industrialist that the Dortmunder he’s been drinking is Münchener. The abandoned Air Force base is a flying school run by a husband and wife, and the latter is having an affair with a mechanic. The abandoned missile pad is already owned by Fowler, who wants the airfield as well.

In “pre-official-war” Vietnam, Fowler was shot down and crippled on a supply run when his partner sold him out to the enemy. All subsequent business ventures by this partner, whose name is Wayne, have been systematically ruined by Fowler in secret, including a charter jet service. It’s to save this last vestige that Wayne has one of his planes make an emergency landing by night on the access road to the missile pad, with the crew given to understand it’s the airfield. When day comes, there is no plane to be seen, and the flight engineer is dead on the tarmac.

Wayne flies the plane to Mexico, and plans to sell it overseas as well as collect the insurance. The interrupted flight is from L.A. to Philadelphia to pick up conventioneers for Miami. The flight engineer cuts two of the engines, and his girlfriend, one of the two stewardesses, is also in on the plot. She distracts Banacek, who observes, “There’s an old Polish proverb that says, “‘A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn.’”

He and Jay are shot at from a Fowler helicopter while inspecting the access road, and hastening away Banacek adds, “There’s an old Polish proverb that says, ‘When the wolf is chasing your sleigh, throw him a raisin cookie, but don’t stop to bake him a cake.’”


An Exercise in Fatality

The structure is not unlike “Now You See Him”. Milo Janus Inc. is a chain of spas supplied by various subsidiaries with gym equipment, office furniture etc. at “twice retail” to build the fortune of Janus himself (Robert Conrad), who funnels the money overseas via Bolingbroke Travel Corp., another holding in Britain. A franchisee, Gene (Philip Bruns), confronts him and is told, “My markup is very small. But I have to maintain quality. That’s what gives me control.” Janus continues, “When I grow, you grow.” Gene says, “Bull.” Gene worked with military procurement at his former job. “I can smell flim-flam right down to the paper clips you make me buy.” He threatens a class action lawsuit by the investors, as well as SEC action.

Janus professes to be unconcerned. He tells his right-hand man, Buddy (Pat Harrington, Jr.), “In eight months I’ll be at my villa overlooking the Adriatic with two million in Swiss francs to keep me warm.” Nonetheless, he carefully plans to murder Gene by crushing his windpipe and disguising it as the result of a weightlifting accident.

Lt. Columbo arrives at 6:30 AM and is told the bare facts but can’t really consider them until he’s had his coffee, which he’s brought in a Thermos (in a brown paper bag). He takes a call from his wife (“Who the hell’s calling me at this hour?”) in Gene’s office, where he notices a stain on the rug (spilled coffee from the death struggle). Mrs. Columbo has invited guests for dinner, what should they have? The lieutenant sees empty containers of Chinese food in the wastebasket, recommends that.

He goes to Janus’s home and is met by the company secretary (Gretchen Corbett in a bikini). Mrs. Columbo was saved from depression by watching Janus’s TV show. She exercised and forgot to eat, and anyway, observes the lieutenant, who wants to eat the soybeans and wheat germ she started buying? Janus works out on Malibu Beach (Jim Rockford’s stretch of beach), swimming and push-ups, then running along the sand and up to his house, with Lt. Columbo panting along. A dip in the deep blue pool and a rat-a-tat with the punching bag complete the morning routine, while the lieutenant asks questions and furtively searches for a place to empty the sand from his shoes, one of which has a shoelace that breaks in his hand. Janus serves breakfast, a handful of pills and a glass of orange liquid that is carrot juice. “That’s breakfast, huh?” says the lieutenant, who anyway has heard Janus’s defense of Buddy, an ex-con for investor fraud who is “as honest as I am.”

Lt. Columbo interviews the widow (Collin Wilcox Paxton), who gives him a lead on one Louis (or Lewis, she doesn’t know which) Lacey. As he gets off the elevator at Tricon (where Gene worked before meeting Janus through Buddy), a security guard stops him for having a cigar. “It’s not lit,” says the lieutenant. “Company policy,” says the guard, “no smoking in the building.” Lt. Columbo deposits his cigar in an ashtray, and walks over to the Personnel Counter. Standing before a bank of computers is a woman dispatching applicants hither and thither, including the lieutenant, who identifies himself as a police officer. “Why didn’t you say so,” she briskly responds, and directs him to the Security hiring office. No, he wants to find Mr. Lacey. She enters the name into the computer, which does nothing and then starts typing out a long data sheet. “I just want to know where he works,” says the lieutenant. More typing. “You think we could just do it on the phone?” he asks. “I’m sorry, Sir,” she explains, “a phone call would be much too complicated.” Still typing. Finally, it stops. The lieutenant says, “I think it’s over.” What does the computer say? Numerical jargon meaning “he’s been terminated.” Is there a home phone number? “Sir,” he is told, this Tricon computer is a “total spectrum” system. Is there a pay phone? Yes. The lieutenant walks a few feet and places the call. Lacey answers the phone, the lieutenant starts to question him and is cut off by the rest of the answering machine message. At the tone he speaks slowly and carefully, as though he were talking to an imbecile, and sounding like one himself (the woman behind the counter gives him a look). Done at last, the lieutenant crosses back to the elevator. The doors close behind him, then re-open as he walks back into the room, looks around, retraces his steps and at the last moment snatches his cigar from the ashtray before regaining the elevator, while the guard shakes his head.

Lacey (Darrell Zwerling) is an expert on corporate law who has done the investigative work for Gene. His considered opinion is that Janus is “technically within the law.” The company even records all calls to protect against lawsuits, and that’s what gives Janus the idea for a perfect alibi.

The widow confronts Janus with Lacey’s findings. There is Green Eagle Manufacturers, who make the gym equipment used in the spas. There is MJ Manufacturers, “a broken-down pill factory” selling nostrums “at six times the cost.” Janus sneers and invites her home. She drapes her glass of wine over his face.

She wakes up in the hospital after taking pills. “I knew he was cheating Gene. I told him. He just laughed at me. I guess I had too much to drink. I couldn’t sleep. I kept seeing his face laughing and laughing.”

Kowalski is inspired by Peter S. Fischer’s script (story by Larry Cohen) to his best work, which at this stage is just noticeably beyond the unit’s capabilities. A good example is a two-shot of the widow and Lacey that pans over as she reaches across to pick up a plate of sandwiches, hears the name Milo Janus, and has a flicker of recognition all in one motion as the camera immediately pans back and dollies in.

The script transcends itself in a continuous stream of inspiration coming to Lt. Columbo from his wife’s phone call, his broken shoelace, the answering machine, etc., all of which piece by piece clue him in to the facts of the case (Marlowe meeting Poirot in this case), just before the Milo Janus TV jingle is sung over the end credits.



The gadgets worked on by wastrel Oskar Werner are revealed by transmutation in the second art gallery scene. Patricia Barry shows Lt. Columbo a blobby figure à la Arp called Esprit d’un Chien Mort, and a tinselly, skitterish mobile called Parking Lot, then he asks her what this other thing is called. “That? That, sir, is the ventilator for the air conditioning.”

All of this exactly conveys the feeling of a bad art show (there were Emmy nominations for art direction and set decoration) or literary magazine, namely the void of its emptiness and the admiration instilled by anything really invented, like the subtle gag that has Werner covering his tracks by tape replay, but overlooking his invite to the opening.

His peculiar penchant at Midas Electronics, Inc. is for the home gadgets he ensconces his wheelchair-bound wife (Gena Rowlands) among: doors that open when you clap your hands (he wears a newly-invented digital watch), and a closed-circuit television system to monitor the living area. This is how the murder is committed, by feeding a tape loop to the security guard in his gatehouse, and showing him the actual murder by tape delay. Isn’t the guard an eyewitness? “Not exactly,” answers Lt. Columbo, “he saw it on a monitor, he wasn’t in the room.”


Fade in to Murder

If you can compare the formal method of Perry Mason to a sonnet, “Fade in to Murder” is as simple as a musical phrase. Lt. Columbo’s suspect is America’s favorite television detective, Detective Lucerne. The actor playing him is a Korean War deserter who has been paying blackmail to the show’s producer, and finally kills her. Lt. and Mrs. Columbo are great fans of the show, and incredibly the lieutenant holds conversations with Detective Lucerne as an equal, as a colleague. Everything said by Detective Lucerne is good analysis and exactly reflects the mind of Lt. Columbo, so that he very eerily seems to be talking with himself, with his ideal persona, and when he tries on Detective Lucerne’s snazzy hat and elevator shoes in the actor’s dressing room, there’s a certain shiver (or as film critics say, a frisson) in the back-and-forth of the imagery, and this is as much what is expressed as anything else.

The studio locale is utilized for comic interiors (the lieutenant stumbling through a hot set) and poetic exteriors, on the shore of the Universal lake, the director hurriedly lays out his shooting schedule as the mechanical shark raging in the background stimulates Lt. Columbo’s curiosity.


All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Die
Diagnosis Murder

The script is a marvel, the perfect occasion for Kowalski to show the perfection of technique he has attained.

A Jewish wedding, the groom steps on the glass and it explodes, killing him (actually it’s a light bulb under the cloth, supplied by the lady rabbi and evidently tampered with to produce a shaped charge which injures no-one else).

The bride and groom were partners in a fashion house. He slept with all the models and supplied them with drugs from a mobster whose daughter is one of them. Her lover’s plan to turn State’s evidence decides her.

A bomber once forced to infiltrate a radical group is her ex-husband. Her father tries to implicate himself with his father’s Medal for the Defense of Leningrad dropped at the scene of the crime, belatedly.

The killer is exposed at a fashion show emceed by Dr. Sloan.