First broadcast: 1974
“When Greenleaf's finally arrested it's all just a bit 'meh'. “
Author Allen Mallory, creator of five best selling detective dramas, has been courted to join Jeffrey Neal’s publishing house when his contract with Riley Greenleaf expires in a few weeks time. Allen can’t wait to leave. At a party hosted by Neal, Greenleaf arrives apparently drunk and tells Mallory that if he leaves Greenleaf, he will die. Greenleaf is quietly asked to leave.
It’s true though. Mallory will die. Greenleaf has arranged for Vietnam veteran and explosives fanatic Eddie Kane to kill Mallory in exchange for publishing Kane’s book on explosives. Kane does this by getting into Mallory’s office whilst Mallory is dictating updates to his latest manuscript and the killing shot is recorded on the dictation tape. Finally as he leaves, Kane leaves a copy of the office key supplied by Greenleaf on the floor. Meanwhile Greenleaf is busy establishing his alibi by making a nuisance of himself in a bar on the other side of the premises. This he follows up by deliberately crashing in to a car.
Mallory’s body is later found by the security guard who had been bringing coffee up to the office and the police are called. The mysterious key - quickly established to be a key to the office door - and the gun are swiftly found as is the dictation tape.
Listening to the recording of the death Columbo hears a sound at the end and notices that if the office door is opened the blinds in the window rattle. Meanwhile elsewhere in the city, Greenleaf’s car is found by the Police parked up in the park with Greenleaf sleeping inside and arrested.
At the station Greenleaf is played the recording and asked to identify the voice on the tape and told Allen is dead. Greenleaf proclaims he doesn’t know where he was as he was upset and drunk due to Mallory’s intention to move publisher. The key is shown and Columbo believes it to be Greenleaf’s copy of the office key. He is asked if he owns a gun - he does. The same kind as the murder weapon. His lawyer intervenes and Columbo allows him to leave.
Columbo later establishes that the murder weapon was Greenleaf’s fun and at his home Greenleaf states he doesn’t remember anything but that his gun was missing was his car glove compartment when he looked that morning along with his copy of the key to Mallory’s office. Looking at the car Columbo notices the car lock has been jimmied and whilst he’s there a call comes from Greenleaf’s insurance agents reporting the car crash - thus ensuring Greenleaf’s alibi is firmly established
Still remaining suspicious, Columbo states he is trying to find out who tried to frame Greenleaf, and states that the key they found doesn’t fit the office door as the key was changed 3 weeks before. So how did the murderer get in the office? He didn’t let anyone in - it would be on the tape recorder. How did the murderer get in? There must be another key - the new key. If can find the key, they’ve found the murderer.
At a meeting at Eddie’s house, Eddie and Greenleaf toast their new publishing deal with some poisoned champagne. After Eddie has died, Greenleaf gets to work planting a copy of the new office key on Eddie’s keyring, and uses Eddie’s typewriter to draw up an outline of Malloy’s book. Then using a hand grenade lying around Eddie’s explosives filled house, he blow’s the place up.
As Columbo and other offices investigate they discover Greenleaf’s name in Kane’s address book, and the planted outline of Mallory’s book with Eddie’s name on it. Confronting Greenleaf with this, Greenleaf says that Kane sent the outline nine months before. He knew that Kane wasn’t the person to write it so he offered him some money and gave the outline to Mallory to write. Kane wouldn’t take the money and threatened Greenleaf.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
Columbo has already planted a bit of his trademark entrapment. Meeting Greenleaf at Mallory’s office, Greenleaf is told the key they found at Eddie's fits the office lock like a glove. There’s just one problem. The lock that’s on the door now wasn’t on that night. Columbo got it replaced. Oh and only person who knew that the key they originally found “didn’t fit”...
In some episodes that would be plenty enough to get the murderer marched off to prison. But not in this one as Columbo has a second ace up his sleeve. The synopsis outline found at Kane’s wrote had the “wrong” ending - Columbo had found out the original ending was changed in order to make it more appealing to a film studio. The new ending was the idea of Eileen McRae - Mallory’s agent - and had only been invented the week before. There was just no way that Kane could have written than synopsis nine months earlier, and there was just one person who did and who fitted the bill. Columbo had, once again, got his man.
It's a classic case of Columbo helping the murderer dig his own grave, knowing as ever that some murderers just have to tie up every loose end for the police. All Columbo needed to do was pass the shovel. That said, if Mallory's agent hadn't mentioned her role in changing the ending of the book, well maybe Columbo wouldn't have had enough to get his man.
Convolutedness of the murder
The first murder itself was amazingly simple, but the lengths gone to to establish alibis... Well now that scores highly on the convoluted-o-meter! This was a man so determined not to get court that he went into the situation with a whole bar full of alibis that he didn't even need to use.
But the second murder - that of Kane - was pretty screwed up. Poisoned champagne? A hand grenade? A whole B-plot about Kane trying to sell a novel idea? Watching it you wonder if killing Kane was all part of the plan or if it was a rushed addition as it lacks much of the finesse of the murder of Mallory, and is certainly over-complicated.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Greenleaf seems a very calm man throughout, so it's almost a surprise when he finally blows almost without provocation right near the end (the provocation being Columbo inviting him over to Mallory's office.) It's an outburst that almost seems out of character - like someone decided "hey this guy's just too nice!" right near the end. Still maybe he just has a bad temper problem - after all he does set out to kill his star author for having the audacity of changing publisher...
The smug-richness factor
There's a few rich people in this episode but even Greenleaf is nowhere near being annoyingly smug. The most smug person boils down to the bit part that is Greenleaf's lawyer and he plays it more as slightly smarmy than smug. Disappointing in that respect.
Quality of sub-plot
As ever with many of the early episodes, there's so much going on that there's next to no time for a sub-plot. We do get a comedy routine where Columbo learns that not every restaurant serves chilli and when they do they might charge $6 for it (which was no doubt expensive for chilli in 1974) however it's very brief.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
What could you have in this episode? "Say my wife, she's a big fan of your publishing company. Buys all the books you print"? Nah, not going to happen. It should be of no surprise that Mrs Columbo doesn't even get a look in in this particular one. She may well be a big fan of Allen Mallory, but we'll never know.
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
There's nothing new really for Columbo to learn here. It's all rather basic and above board. Sorry.
Was anyone given sedatives?
You know when I first started thinking about common elements of Columbo episodes, sedatives seemed to be there all the time. I mean if you were to write a drinking game, someone being given some sleeping pills would be a sure fire inclusion! It just seemed to happen all the time! But when you actually start looking for them... So no. No one was given any. Although Columbo did have some coffee. It's a stimulant I know but hey that's better than nothing.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Rather surprisingly for an early episode, Columbo barely touches a cigar - maybe the director was on a health kick. Never mind cos Columbo does at least have chilli. But without his beloved saltine crackers. I'd rather have rice myself.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
Three actors have played Columbo murderers three or more times and Jack Cassidy was one of them, playing Riley Greenleaf in this episode. He also killed people in series 1 and series 5.
Whilst an enjoying romp, there's a lot going on in this episode especially given the fact that earlier seasons were designed to fit in a 90 minute block in the schedules, and at times it feels a little rushed - no more so than at the end where the murderer just seems to explode abruptly as if the writers realised they had only minutes to wrap everything up. Indeed we barely get to see a surprised look on Greenleaf's face as Columbo arrests him before the frame freezes and the title rolls.
There are some classic Columbo bits in here - not least Columbo basically entrapping the murderer by planting false information - however there are also some elements missing though. It seems hard to feel, well, anything for the murderer - not compassion, not annoyance. He just seems a bit annoying and that's about it. When he's finally caught it's all just a bit "meh".
All in all it's an enjoyable watch, but one of the greats it isn't.
And before we go, lets muse on the accuracy of the episode name - Publish or Perish. Well that's a bit of a perspective thing isn't it? For if Mallory had published with Greenleaf, he wouldn't have perished! But maybe that's being just a bit too pedantic...