Wednesday, June 16, 2010

COLUMBO: ETUDE IN BLACK (1972) -
Nicholas Colasanto


Since I've been watching a lot of old Columbo episodes on Netflix lately, I figured it would be appropriate to give the John Cassavetes episode a try. Though Cassavetes isn't technically credited with directing this one ("Coach" from Cheers is!), I read somewhere that the helming duties kind of dissolved into a three-way tag team between Cassavetes, Falk and Colasanto. Good enough for me.

Cassavetes plays a married orchestra conductor conducting an affair on the side with a hot piano prodigy who's threatening to make a stink if he doesn't divorce his rich wife (a young, fetching Blythe Danner). His plan to take the pianist out and make it look like a suicide is more far-fetched and chance-dependent than the average Columbo culprit's, but that's due more to the script by writer Steven Bochco than any fault of Cassavetes. Acting-wise, Cassavetes bulls through the plot holes admirably, chain-smoking and bossing people around and reluctantly accommodating Columbo's myriad probing "just one more things" until he finally loses his cool.

Pretty standard Columbo suspect stuff. To be honest, I was a little disappointed there wasn't more obvious improv or off-the-cuff interplay between Falk and Cassavetes, given their longtime friendship. Instead, we get a young Pat Morita as "the House Boy." As for the direction, it's '70s TV drama standard with little trace of the Cassavetes style. There is one great optical zoom into a plot-pertinent corsage though and maybe the worst optical insert of a "reflection" of the same corsage on Cassavetes' sunglasses, giving the shades the appearance two little TV screens.

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