First broadcast: 1990
“It's not the worst episode of Columbo ever. But it certainly isn't near the best either.“
Serial playboy and womanizer Wayne Jennings surprises his girlfriend, author Teresa Goren at a signing for her latest romantic novel which also sees her return to LA after several weeks on the road.
As they head back to Teresa's house, she attempts to arrange a holiday for the pair of them but Wayne proclaims he needs to be at a celebrity tennis tournament in Palm Springs instead.
Knowing his womanizing activities Teresa is suspicious about his desire to hit the road just as she returns but in the hot tub at her house he proposes. She proclaims she needs time to think it over...
The next day Wayne rushes off to Palm Springs and Teresa heads to the TV studio for an interview where she is asked by one of the audience why she has never married. Another audience member proclaims she saw Teresa with Wayne at the book signing and Teresa sheepishly reveals she's going to marry Wayne. Meanwhile Teresa's agent and sister Jess, watches from her office in an annoyed mood.
That night, whilst sharing a bed with another woman in Palm Springs, Wayne gets a phone call in bed from Teresa proclaiming she hates him and will never marry her. Leaving the house, he rushes to his car and drives back to Los Angeles as fast as his sportscar will let him.
In the early hours he phones Helen - another woman of his and also his accountant and insurance broker, and then the next thing we see is him stood in Teresa's house firing a gun. Teresa is lying on the floor next to the safe and very dead. Wayne drives away.
At 7:15 he orders breakfast at a dinner and arranges with Teresa's secretary to surprise Teresa at her house. The secretary arrives at the house, finds Teresa's body and calls the police.
It's quickly established that jewelry and a small fun are missing from the scene and the detective on scene when Columbo arrives believes its a simple case of robbery - that Ms Goren had heard a noise, taken her gun and found a thief.
Columbo on the other hand is not hugely convinced. Whilst a pro could easily crack the elderly safe, the glass in the French Window has been clumsily broken. He's also surprised none of the antiques were missing.
Whilst trying to find out if anyone in the neighbourhood saw anything, Columbo finds out that the cable TV repair team were in the area first thing who proclaimed that they saw no one that morning, but they did see a birdwatcher the previous day.
The birdwatcher turns out to be a private detective hired by Jess to keep an eye on Wayne, and who promptly reveals Wayne's red car was seen heading away from the house around 7. Very quickly Wayne admits to shooting Teresa with her gun, but just as he's being arrested the autopsy results arrive - Teresa wasn't killed by her gun at all, but by an earlier shot with a different gun. Wayne faints.
After much wandering around and detecting, Columbo finds Jess's house which is a few miles down the beech from Teresa and he visits. After much cajoling, mentioning of phone records and such things, he gets Jess to admit she made the phone call to Wayne. She'd had a late conversation with Teresa but despite deciding she'd call it off, Teresa wouldn't make the phone call.
Whilst there Columbo gets a phone call to say a gun has been found and he goes off to investigate - it turns out to be the murder weapon, found on the beech near a path to Teresa's house. After he leaves, Wayne arrives and talks to Jess. After an argument, he proclaims he wants her and they end up in what can only be described as a heavy embrace. They decide to get away from it all together and go shopping for some new clothes for Jess.
It's in a store in Beverly Hills that Columbo finds them and tells them that he knows for sure that Teresa wasn't killed by a thief but someone that knew her.
Wayne killed her. He originally intended to drive back to Palm Springs but the cable company truck would have seen him. So instead he shot the body again and drove off, knowing he could admit to that but that he'd be cleared of murder.
The body was probably dressed and was dressed by someone who knew Teresa's habits and clothing choices. And it couldn't possibly have been a woman.
He shows Jess a picture of Teresa's body, pointing out a speck on the right speck. That speck is the clothes label. Jess studies it closely, realises Wayne killed her sister and it takes several police officers to pull her off him before he's lead to the cells.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
Yeah. After all that it comes down to a clothes label on a pair of knickers.
Basically Columbo worked all this out after spending half the episode looking at pictures of the deceased, at her underwear and so on. If it was anyone else, such actions would be seen as rather worrying... In fact in Columbo it's rather perturbing...
He basically gets Wayne based on the fact that Teresa's knickers are on the wrong way round because the label is on the right not the left. Clearly she wouldn't have put them on like that, and Jess wouldn't have made that mistake either. So it's Wayne.
Still once he's used this bizarre fact (hey I bet many women wouldn't even know what side knicker labels are normally on...) put two and two together, well he's got his murderer.
Is this clever? Is this just an insane attention to detail? How on earth does he know? Well apparently Mrs Columbo told him the labels are always on the left. Is this really the kind of conversations they have in the evening? "Oh hello dear. Say, do you know what side underwear labels are on?"
No. It's not the cleverest way to get a murderer. It's just using a slightly obscure fact that probably won't even come up in a pub quiz...
Convolutedness of the murder
Wow. When you actually start to analyse this episode well the convolutedness rating frankly goes through the roof! It's insane. A body shot twice with two different guns? A murderer who seems to be bonking every woman in a hundred mile radius? Some cable guys in a cherry picker? Alibis and phone calls made from all over the place? It's frankly headache inducing, especially when the murderer seems to spend half his time driving too and from the house.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
In contrast, the "how annoyed" rating is almost zero. Well frankly Wayne think's he's got himself off the hook and spends most of his time being nice to Columbo. Meanwhile Jess gets annoyed a lot which makes you think she might be the murderer - cos hey, you don't even know who the murderer is for half the episode! - but it turns out she's innocent after all.
The smug-richness factor
Everyone's rich. No one seems smug. But hey our murderer certainly is smarmy. I mean merely an hour after killing his fiancée he's back trying to pull waitresses in a diner.
Quality of sub-plot
Frankly there isn't time for a sub-plot. This episode is all over the place. There are - in fact - so many irrelevant twists and turns that if I'd included them in this review it would be three times as big.
If we've got anything like a sub-plot it's that Columbo has some boiled eggs and keeps needing to get rid of the shells. But that only really happens at the beginning of the episode and lets be honest, the quandary of egg shell disposal doesn't really make a sub-plot.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
You should have guessed this one straight away. Murdered person is an author? Why of course Mrs C is a big fan! But she's dead so Columbo can't sell her every five minutes.
Instead Columbo's Wife gets merely a bit part. Besides (presumably) boiling the eggs for him, her notable inclusion in the episode is because she's had this frankly odd conversation with her husband about labels on women's underwear.
I know he loves her very much but really, they might like to work on their subjects of conversation... I know they're middle aged, but still...
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Depressingly all I can offer is that he learns that answerphones can record the time of a message. And that men can faint...
Was anyone given sedatives?
No but a man faints. Yes, you heard that right - a man... faints! Maybe they'd snook in some pills to his drink or something...
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Well Columbo doesn't even mention cigars yet alone smoke them...
And that's apart it. Unless you count the fact that you don't even see the murder take place and spend half the episode not being entirely sure who murdered Teresa as a deviation from the norm.
Oh you do?
Oh well in that case, what I just said then...
Appearances by the Regular Cast
None. El zilcho. Nothing. There's a role that looks like it was originally destined to be played by Bruce Kirby who generally plays Columbo's right hand sergeant when he needs one but maybe he wasn't available or something.
Sometimes time and mood affects the way you see things. See I seem to remember being a bit agog when I first saw this episode. Wow. Such twists! Such turns!
But watching it again for this review just seemed to be a frankly unsatisfying experience.
Maybe it's the fact that I was watching it with an analyst's hat on. Maybe it was because I had a cold and my head felt like cotton wool. But it just seemed all all over the place.
Columbo spends most of the episode driving around checking up on things but frankly finds very little. He manages to verify lots of things happen the way he thinks they happen - mainly by badgering Jess and Wayne - but little more. The rest of the time he spends looking at a picture of a dead woman in a bra and knickers and wandering what's wrong with it.
I guess the point someone is trying to make is that it's the attention to detail that he has that ensures he gets his murderer in the end. After all how many detectives - male or female - would have noticed a label sticking out on some underwear? And frankly it's only because Wayne didn't notice it that Columbo got his man because if that label had been tucked away, no one would actually have noticed the underwear was on the wrong way round.
Yes that's right. Wayne doesn't actually do anything sloppy; he doesn't do anything particular to give himself away. He actually - by accident - comes up with a perfect way to acquit him. If only he'd tucked that label in.
That's it. A clothes label and a frankly odd conversation between a wife and a husband. That's what this episode hinges on. And the rest of the time the writers have put in about 200 different pointless twists and turns to get us there.
No, the more and more I think about it the more this episode just feels unsatisfying. The stuff about the viewer not knowing who the murderer is for about an hour, well that I can live with, but the rest, well it just seems so flimsy. Indeed even the episode title seems flimsy. Murder in Malibu? Is that the best they could come up with? Not even something like "A Poisoned Pen of the Heart"? Or "Smug Womanizer Does It Again"? But no. Murder in Malibu. A dull statement of fact - little more.
It's not the worst episode of Columbo ever. But it certainly isn't near the best either.