First broadcast: 1990
“This is a fine episode, however you can't help but feel that it could just have been a little better.“
Dentist and serial gamber Wesley Corman has a problem. His father in law, Horace Sherwin, has informed him that Corman's wife, Lydia, intends to file for divorce; that Corman's extensive debts to Sherwin will need to be repaid; and that Corman has a week to take his dental practise out of Sherwin's surgery.
About to be ruined, Corman hatches a plan to save himself.
Several years before, and on her wedding night, Lydia's first husband died of heart failure, not helped when Lydia attempted to give him some of her own heart medicine. Corman rushes home, steals some of her heart medicine, and takes it back to the surgery. Grinding it up, he inserts it into the crown, covered with a time release gel, of one of his patients - movie star Adam Evans, who is also secretly Lydia's lover.
Later that evening, Corman heads back to the house and then out to his poker game, knowing that Lydia will invite Evans to the house. Evans duly arrives, and has a heart attack whilst with Lydia. Lydia hits the 911 button on her phone - which Corman has changed to be that of the number of John Valentine, where the poker game is being held.
Corman and Lydia's brother David (who is also playing) rush back to the house, and a plan is hatched. Knowing the police will suspect Lydia given her history, they will put him in his car and push it down a nearby hill. His father in law naturally is grateful for the help and whilst he and David are moving the body, Corman then slips a matchbook with his name on it into Evans's car and residue of heart medication into a margarita glass and blender - in order to help frame Lydia.
The next day the car is found by the police and Columbo is called, who instantly spots that the car is in neutral and can't help but wonder why someone without any history of heart problems has died of heart failure. Finding the planted matchbook, he arrives at Wesley and Lydia's house and starts digging...
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
The autopsy naturally shows that Evans has been poisoned by a fatal dose of heart medication, digitalis - the same drug which Lydia takes, and who has three pills missing.
However Columbo quickly works out that there's a lot amiss about the murder. If the digitalis had been in the glass, Evans would have died straight away. If he did, the body had to have been moved and planted in the car. If the body was planted in the car, Lydia would have struggled to do it alone.
Oh and he's had a problem with his laundry which has blue blotches all over it...
Ultimately, it's all a bit of a mess of contradictory facts, nonsensical scenarios and a batch of celebrities playing poker.
In the end it's a visit to Barney's Beanery that helps point the way. Barney has a cold and has some multi-vitamins which release different things at different times. Consulting with Sherwin, Columbo discovers that someone could use a time release gel in teeth...
There's just one problem. How to prove that it did happen. The digitalis and gel in the teeth would have dissolved leaving no presence.
Columbo eventually resorts to some trickery. Exhuming Evans's body, he proclaims that he found that digitalis would turn porcelain crowns blue. With Sherwin about to pull the crown out, Corwin admits defeat.
Of course digitalis doesn't turn porcelain teeth blue. However something like common and garden laundry bluing would But then if you didn't know any chemistry, well you'd never know
Yes it's a classic Columbo frame up. If it hadn't been for a bit of deception, Columbo would never have got his man. The question is, do these things ever get challenged at court? Well I guess we'll never know But the fact is, without that framing, all Columbo had was circumstantial evidence, and once more he needed the murderor to shoot themselves in the foot. And the murderor naturally obliged.
Convolutedness of the murder
On the convolutedness scale, we're talking particularly convoluted. Well that was usually the case with the later episodes anyway. That's not to say it's not a clever murder - it certainly is. It takes a special kind of person to come up with a scheme of implanting poison into the crown of a tooth doesn't it?
This is also a hastily arranged murder, which makes such scheming even more impressive. Either that or Corwin had been hatching a plan like this for months, just waiting for the time he might need it. Either way, it's rather special.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Oh we do like it when Columbo winds up the murderor something rotten. So sadly it didn't happen in this one. Corwin never seems to get annoyed; barely frustrated. Slightly baffled yes, but that's about as far as it goes. What a shame.
The smug-richness factor
Corwin's a dentist. Dentists can be rich. But rarely famous and therefore not so much smug. In fact if it wasn't for the sheer evilness of the murder method, it would be difficult to really hate this guy.
Quality of sub-plot
Ah, here we get so random it's unbelievable. Blue splotches on Columbo's clothes caused by old fashioned clothes washing stuff called laundry bluing. Apparently it's a household product that can be used to improve the appearance of clothes - especially white fabircs. Brits might be better aquainted with it under the name "Dolly Blue".
Yes, Columbo has some splotches on his shirt - major league sub-plot we know. But hey, how often do the sub-plots end up coming into play to help capture the murderor? Aha Yes, it's a cross-over sub-plot and that's why we like it!
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Hello! Killed man is a movie star! Hey, at very least Mrs Columbo is going to have watched one of the films!
That said, the episode isn't exactly full of Mrs Columbo references - it's a couple and that's about all.
Was anyone given sedatives?
It's a later episode when people are given drugs! Okay, so they're given some drugs by their dentist whilst there is dental drilling.
Okay, in the classic style of hysterical woman needing to be put to sleep, no one is given any. However it's close enough for us!
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Well it has to be dental stuff doesn't it?
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Okay, this is a minor thing but it's annoying. Just how many different locations have they used for "Barney's Beanery"? I mean, this one was mysteriously outdoors and there was a sign in the background proclaiming "Don's Specials". I mean, who on earth is Don?
Actually we have to say here, is this actually Barney's Beanery at all? Never once is the café refered to as Barney's Beanery, although the implication is there earlier in the episode when Columbo arranges to meet with Corwin (Corwin doesn't know Barney's and they end up in some strange 1980s night club instead.)
Oh and the chilli server (played for the first time by John Finnegan) isn't actually called Barney but Fred so goodness knows what's going on. Frankly the continuity on this bloomin' chilli restaurant is appalling But hey, he's got a cold and he's serving in a restaurant. Doesn't say much about the food hygiene either...
Appearances by the Regular Cast
That'll be the inevitable John Finnegan as Barney. Sorry Fred. Or is his real name Fred Barney? Oh I don’t know.
Series 9 consistently provided some very good episodes and this one is no exception - I mean, it was written by one of the creators of NYPD Blue and Doogie Howser, M.D. after all. . That said, there's a few little things that don't quite gel enough. You want to hate murderor Wesley Corwin more than you do - despite him coming up with a frankly evil way to kill someone. Meanwhile his wife Lydia seems a triffle one-dimensional doing little more than "ill and confused".
And then there's the celebrity filled poker game whose players include an impressionist whose antics you suspect would eventually wear very thin. Imagine playing poker on a regular basis with Jon Culshaw doing his Tom Baker and George Bush impressions every hand to see how that might work. You'd probably want to kill him.
Oh maybe we're scrabbling around a bit too much but this is a fine episode, however you can't help but feel that it could just have been a little better.