Monday, June 27, 2011

Columbo: Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Columbo: Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health; Crime, USA, 1991; Daryl Duke, S: Peter Falk, George Hamilton, Peter Haskell

Wade Anders is a popular host of a crime TV show. Budd, who was originally suppose to get the position of the host, finds out Wade made a porn when he was young and thus decides to blackmail him into leaving from the show. However, Wade observes Budd is an avid smoker so he secretly replaces his cigarette with one where he inserted drops of deadly nicotine sulfate. When Budd takes one, he dies in his home and Wade even mockingly prints a manuscript, titled "Escape to Death", and places it under his corpse. Inspector Columbo is brought on the case and realizes Wade has a strong alibi. Still, he nails him when he discovers scratches of Budd's dog on his car, indicating he was at his place.

Since it is dealing with murder through cigarettes, the 57th episode of "Columbo" was conveniently humorously titled "Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health" and despite following standard rules it turned into an engaging, fresh and clever little crime flick. Peter Falk is again charming as the title character who turns into a leech if he has to when questioning the suspects about every little detail, yet the real surprise is brilliant George Hamilton as the villain Wade: the sole sequence where he inventively puts drops of the deadly nicotine sulfate into a cigarette to eliminate his rival, returns it back into the box and lights other cigarettes to burn by themselves on an ashtray in order to have them as a spare, is truly clever piece of writing, both in concept and execution. Another novelty is that he isn't so hostile towards Columbo, but actually pretends to be helping him, which makes him not your run-of-the-mill bad guy. The ending is rather unconvincing - for such a detailed scheme, would Wade not have noticed such an obvious detail that incriminates him? - yet by that time the story already offered an intriguing crime.


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