Columbo Likes the Nightlife

As in the case study of inspiration, “An Exercise in Fatality”, the Lieutenant is offered a continuous stream of clues, this time by computer, beeper, phone records, etc. It’s the Information Age, after all, things come handily to him, though still he must begin with rudimentary police work even a sergeant finds distasteful: sniffing a corpse’s breath, fishing for toenails in a toilet bowl, etc.

The formula is a rare example of the “detached-center” maze, like Rudolph Maté’s D.O.A., with two separate and independent streams of evidence. Again, a National Inquisitor reporter’s snoop-shots provide a clue.

The direction is characterized by nimble use of the Steadicam navigating crowd scenes and molten color fields (an adept development of film school lighting in the nightclub sequences), and a dramatic use of underlighting or “hidden” lighting in the canyon home of Vanessa Farrow (Jennifer Sky), an out-of-work sitcom actress. Her lover, Justin Price (Matthew Rhys) is a close-cropped Brit with a hint of Gothic mascara, who parlays his warehouse rave-ups into a 60’s revival club complete with koi tanks in the dance floor and projection screens on the walls (and a stiff cover charge), all by accepting an investment from the son of a big New York crime boss (Carmine Giovinazzo). This young man on the move confronts his ex-wife Vanessa in her home and falls on the glass coffee table to his death. Price disposes of the body, kills the Inquisitor’s man (a fake suicide), and has his opening night. The mob sends out a messenger to enquire about the case.

Reiner hits the fast-forward button at a crucial juncture in a very tricky visual coup. Much of the dramatic interest is in the revealed characters of the principals alive or dead, the canyon neighbor (John Finnegan), and especially the blatant game of wits between Lt. Columbo and Price, who isn’t quite as dumb as he looks. The suicide is painless, but the detached center requires some very fancy footwork to overcome, yet so much information lies under the fingertips of the Lieutenant it’s like having seven-league boots, after all.

A remarkable shot in a clothing shop tracks left across a row of pink flashing lights along the top of the screen, which taper up at the end and are then echoed by a similar set of yellow lights in the background, and behind all this are the storefront windows tinted azure (two-thirds from the left) and violet, through which the street can be discerned.

A brief scene is laid in a “retro” diner with an homage to Warhol (Cow Wallpaper), plaid upholstery, etc.