A Trace of Murder

Episode 66 – A Trace of Murder

The sixty fourth episode of Columbo was titled A Trace of Murder and was the second episode of the show’s final season. Columbo is forced to look close to home for a suspect. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at a temperamental double act.

 

 

Star of Sledge Hammer!, David Rasche, teams up with Shera Danese – finally featuring as a killer – as Patrick Kinsley and Cathleen Calvert: a pair looking to frame Calvert’s husband Clifford (Barry Corbin) for the murder of rival Howard Seltzer (Raye Birk) and live off his wealth.

 

A small supporting cast includes Donna Bullock as Seltzer’s attorney Tracy Rose; John Finnegan reprising his role as Barney; and Will Nye as a helpful LAPD officer.

 

Vincent McEveety found himself in the director’s chair yet again, in his final stint, working with a story by Charles Kipps.

 

If you have thoughts on any aspect of A Trace of Murder, please share them below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.

 

The Columbo Podcast is widely available – on iTunes, Stitcher, tunein, Pocket Casts or pretty much wherever you choose to receive and manage your podcasts. If you enjoy the show it would be greatly appreciated if you consider leaving ratings and reviews on these sites – particularly iTunes – as that can make a big difference to growing the podcast’s audience.

 

A Trace of Murder was released in 1997. It is 88 minutes long and originally aired on the ABC network. This episode is not available on Netflix, but can be found on the Season 10 or complete collection DVD box sets from Universal (all remaining episodes are considered ‘Season 10’ in the DVD collection).

 

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast team develops, produces and promotes The Columbo Podcast.

  • Largo

    I had real high hopes for A Trace Of Murder when I saw that a CSI person was going to be involved in committing an actual murder and then setting up to frame it on someone else. But those hopes were quickly dashed when it became readily apparent to me that this Columbo episode was yet another missed opportunity and just one more mundane mess of a mystery movie. This Columbo production fails for two reasons: 1) a sophomoric script and, 2) Shera Danese can’t act.

    If I had been in charge of this production, I would have made sure that the script was a polished gem about Columbo’s toughest adversary: forensics expert and crime scene investigator, Patrick Kinsley. In my version of this script, I would have had Kinsley say and do everything PERFECTLY when he is involved with the crime itself, the crime scene and the frame up, and then the actual homicide investigation. Patrick Kinsley is a true expert, one of the very best CSI guys around and I’d have the script show this abundantly. I’d have Kinsley be one of the new rising stars in the LAPD, seemingly easy going and friendly —but a tad on the arrogant side as he looks down on Columbo.

    The subsequent ‘cat and mouse’ sequences could have been carried through to one or two other crime scenes that Patrick Kinsley is involved with, but not Lieutenant Columbo. Our rumpled homicide detective hero could have barged in on these other crime scenes while he continued to badger Kinsley, and then Columbo could have offered up some quick observations to the investigators in charge to help crack these other cases. This could have not only provided some humor, these type of scenes could have also shown just how great Columbo is in cases where he’s not even directly involved — our Lieutenant hero is superb just on the fly, eh!

    But what trips up the great CSI expert, Patrick Kinsley? What brings Columbo’s toughest adversary (in my idealized script) toppling to the ground? Why none other than Kinsley’s love affair with the most dangerous and highly destructive Shera Danese! Wait — what’s that you say? I said Shera Danese instead of Cathleen Calvert? You say that Shera Danese portrayed a ‘character’ named Cathleen Calvert in A Trace Of Murder? Well, I don’t agree with this assessment at all! Shera Danese can hit her marks and say some lines with a bit of sass and attitude (ranging from 0 to 5 on the indicator dial), but she’s still just playing Shera Danese in my book, eh! Read my lips: Shera Danese cannot act her way out of a paper bag — and, more importantly, she also destroys all men who come in contact with her. Just look at Peter Falk’s career before December 7, 1977 (a date that will live in infamy!), when he got married to Shera Danese, compared to after this particular date! And so poor Patrick Kinsley never stood a chance against Shera Danese playing Cathleen Calvert as Shera Danese! I rest my case. 😉

    A Trace Of Murder is one frustratingly awful episode when one contemplates where this particular script could have taken us as viewers and fans of Columbo. Besides being a missed opportunity, A Trace Of Murder has that tediously staged case summation between Columbo and Barney & Friends which is the absolute worst final insult. What a pedestrian pile of sour owl poop this whole sequence is in its execution. This is nothing but a product from a bunch of clueless and interfering studio and/or network executives who felt that the audience needed to be spoon fed the solution to this crime. Another insult is the lost opportunity with that fluffy kitty cat. When Columbo first suggested that this very same cat was the only witness to the crime, my heart began to race. I pictured our detective hero eventually using this fluffy kitty cat to help solve the crime: “Look Mr. Kinsley, this sweet little cat doesn’t like you — I wonder WHY?” But it was not to be! ¡Ay caramba! — what a pity! I …. I …. I just can’t take this anymore. Be seeing you! :.(

    • Ian Baxter

      I certainly prefer your version of the script!

      • Largo

        Thank you so much, Ian! Your support is very much appreciated, eh! 🙂

        • That’s usually my line…

          • Largo

            (Pssst. I’m just borrowing your line for a wee bit, eh! Trust me, it’s nothing permanent.) ?

    • Agree your script version would have been a much better episode, Largo, but have to disagree on Shera Danese. I thinks she’s held up pretty well over the course of Columbo. Sure, she’s kind of a one note actor, but the same could be said of Peter Falk. He generally just plays Peter Falk playing whatever character he’s got in whatever film he’s in. Always the same gravelly New York accent, same manner, etc. He’s even usually got the cigar. He’s a fairly one note actor but he plays that note so well we all love seeing him do it. Shera Danese doesn’t play her note as well as he does, but she’s more than adequate in these Columbo episodes. Just my opinion. 🙂

      • Largo

        Oh dear! I see that the most dangerous Shera Danese has caught another man within her web of manipulation and deceit! Quick — I need all the help that I can get to rescue Salty from the terrible grip of the Deadly Danese! I need volunteers from this forum to assist me in retrieving Mister Salty! Now, who’s with me!?! 😉

  • Largo

    “Locate that cat, Officer. That cat could be the only witness to this terrible crime. I want that cat!”

    — Lieutenant Columbo in the episode “A Trace Of Murder”

    When I heard Columbo say those words in that above quote, it was music to my ears. But I also had a feeling of déjà vu: a cat as the only eyewitness to a murder — I’d experienced this scenario before! More specifically, I had seen this played out on a classic episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller television series, which featured a black cat named Baba. The name of this particular episode with Baba the Cat was entitled The Storm, and it was adapted from the short story (of the same name) written by MacIntoch Malmar. The very first television adaptation of The Storm was produced for Studio One In Hollywood on the CBS Network and it aired on Sept. 14, 1953. The version of The Storm that I’ve linked below from YouTube first aired on the NBC Network on Jan. 22, 1962, during the second season of Boris Karloff’s Thriller. I hope that you enjoy it —

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsOEJEE2Ipw

  • Largo

    The actor portraying forensics expert Patrick Kinsley in the Columbo Mystery Movie, A Trace Of Murder, was none other than David Rasche — who is perhaps best known for his work on the television series, Sledge Hammer!. On this comedy series, David Rasche played police inspector Sledge Hammer, who was a right-wing rogue cop with a seriously warped gun fetish. Just think of a nitwit version of Dirty Harry Callahan on steroids that’s played for laughs and you can get an idea of what this series was all about. An even better illustration is this exchange between Detective Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) and Sledge Hammer:

    Dori: “Ever play Trivial Pursuit? That takes brains.”

    Hammer: “Look, I’m in pursuit of one thing, and that’s justice. And that takes bullets.”

    Below you’ll find two videos: the first is the series opening, where Sledge utters his famous catch phrase, and the second is a short documentary where the show’s cast members take a look back at some of their favorite moments from the series. Enjoy!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQl6r0fqRAI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWVzPC-k-cQ

    • Ian Baxter

      Got me wondering if this could be potential podcast material for Jerry and Iain?

      • Largo

        Indeed it is, Ian! Sledge Hammer! only lasted two seasons for a total of 41 episodes. I’d say that the potential for a future Gerry and Iain Sledge Hammer! podcast is very high, eh! 🙂

        • They’ll be too busy doing Twin Peaks…

          • Margaret Williams

            Oh no! Please don’t let it be that scary Twin Peaks show! I’d like Gerry and Iain to cover a series that is far less disturbing. That Bob dude …. EEK!!!!

          • You know, you have a look of a young log lady. She was called Margaret too… different surname though: hers was Lanterman.

      • Possibly. Although I (Gerry) may like to be involved too!

        • Largo

          Indubitably! If I recall correctly, Gerry, you’re a big fan of this show. 🙂

          • A very big fan. Iain, on the other hand, has never watched it.

          • Ian Baxter

            A podcast where one is a big fan and the other has never seen it… now what does that remind me of? 🙂 Could work!

          • Largo

            Splendid, splendid. I wasn’t exactly a fan of the Sledge Hammer! series, but I did see a handful of episodes from the first season. I distinctly remember seeing the advertisements for the series premiere episode: the ABC Network ran quick shots of various Hammer mayhem while Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer song played on the soundtrack. This got my attention! And how could I forget that first season finale episode, eh? KAPOW!!!!

        • Ian Baxter

          Oops, sorry 🙂

        • Jurassic_Sparks

          If there is one thing in this universe that might just have the potential to be a better thing for mankind than the Columbo Podcast, it’s a Sledge Hammer podcast!

          I was feeling a little apprehensive as we approach the end of the run, wondering what/if podcast you would be doing next, but now, I won’t be able to rest until this happens 🙂

          Trust me. I know what I’m doing!

      • The missus and I are still hoping for a Jonathan Creek retrospective….

        • Ian Baxter

          Indeed!

  • Ian Baxter

    Good podcast, thanks again. Found the episode disappointing, no subtlety and no gotcha. it just all felt a bit dumbed down and patronising.

    • Largo

      I agree – this episode was far too patronizing. But at least the Columbo producers could afford to hire a cat who was allowed to be onscreen for more than just a second! ????

  • Roberto

    Just a quick pop-in before I listen to the boys’ podcast.

    I agree 100% with Largo on this one. I re-watched this one with my daughter the other night (prep work for the podcast). She opined that there were only two things wrong with “A Trace of Murder”. The script was ridiculous (and would have been better had Patrick been a much better villain rather than a bumbler) and Ms. Danese.

    Now to the Podcast!

  • Roberto

    Very enjoyable Podcast gents. You did a great job skewering this episode but also balancing your criticism with praise. It was not great by any means but it had its moments (not the ending of course) and strengths (Barry Corbin and David Rasche among them). For sure you will have a difference of opinion on SD, especially among Columbo philes.

    • Thanks Roberto. When I listened back I realised we were much less kind to the episode than I’d remembered!

  • Ian Baxter

    Just to add that this episode was noted as marking the 25th Anniversary of Columbo on network TV.

    • Largo

      Blast! Some anniversary episode, eh! Well, at least we got a kitty cat in a significant supporting role with this one — that’s a plus. The only other positive thing that I can say about A Trace Of Murder is that it’s the last Columbo episode that has Shera Danese in a costarring role.

  • Red Hobbes

    This episode wasn’t terrible, I took the flimsy plot between Pat and Catherine as basically two clever people being too clever for their own good. This is shown to great effect when Pat got greedy and went back to the crime scene to plant the cigar butt. The plot they had concocted would’ve worked with Pat’s involvement on the CSI team, sure Columbo had problems with the case, but there wasn’t any other real suspects with motives in the case. But it would’ve been enough to convict on. But, like I say, Pat got too clever and greedy and it derailed the plan.

    I had no problem with the gotcha either, because Columbo took the adage he used in many episodes, “never believe what a cop tells ya,” and broke the case. Unethical it may be, but Columbo was also racing the clock. When he discovered Pat and Catherine’s relationship that essentially would’ve destroyed the case, and the credibility of the LAPD crime lab. So, that motivation is what led him to those late night meetings. Again, I think it’s justified.

    If I’ve parroted anybody’s points, please forgive me, I’m shooting from the hip here, lol.

    Another great podcast guys, we’re entering the homestretch here… Unfortunate, but true. You guys deserve all the kudos, plaudits, and congrats possible for the work you’ve done. Top notch all the way.

  • Largo

    ATTENTION FELLOW COLUMBO FANS — PLEASE JOIN OUR SKYPE CHAT :

    “Life, the Universe and Columbo” ** 🙂

    — On Saturday, March 19th, 2016 at 8pm GMT time / 2pm Central time / 3pm Eastern time / 12pm Pacific time —

    Ian Baxter and Largo are planning on co-hosting a Skype chat session with as many of the Columbo Podcast Forum folks that want to join in! So please mark your calendars and download the free Skype application and establish your free Skype account, if you haven’t already done so. Then please send your Skype contact info to:

    emilio.largo6583@gmail.com

    Thank you!!!

    ** Yeah, it’s a tad pretentious, but in a good way. In short, we’ll talk about all things Columbo!

    • What a fantastic idea. Who knows – this could turn into a ColumboFest! Maybe have the first small gathering in Iain or Gerry’s house, inviting one of the perpetrators round as the special guest. I wonder how much it would cost to get Martin Landau or Faye Dunaway…

      Iain and Gerry: the milky bars are on you. :p

      • Largo

        Indeed! I can just picture a certain scenario in my mind’s eye involving a Gerry and Faye Dunaway confrontation:

        Gerry: “Yes, you heard my podcast comments correctly, Faye: I just didn’t believe a woman like you could turn heads at Barney’s Beanery in that It’s All in the Game Columbo episode!”

        Faye Dunaway: “How dare you! What insolence! I’ll show you what for, sonny!” [Faye breaks out a wire hanger] “Now come here and take your medicine!” [Faye begins to chase Gerry around the room]

        And Iain starts to take wagers from the other guests in the room! 😉

  • I liked this. Not a lot, but I liked it.

    The podcast was good also, but lacking in the usual humour. There’s nothing quite like two scotsman splitting their sides.

  • I heartily agree with Gerry and Iain this week (usually do). The missus and I watched the episode and several times commented to each other on the ridiculousness of the lines being delivered. Seems to me it was a case of some talented actors and a fairly talented director doing the best they could with a godawful script. Oy vey, some of those exchanges were tough to listen to. I’m blaming this one entirely on the writer.

    If I’d only watched the first scene in the ballroom and had to give my opinion on how the episode was going to measure up strictly from that, It would have had high marks. But things steadily went downhill the longer it played. By the time we got to Barney’s Beanery at the end… I was grateful to turn it off.

    Think I’m going to have to go back and watch some of my 70s Columbo favorites when this is all over, restore my faith. 🙂

    • Roberto

      I agree salty. The plot per se wasn’t bad and even could be considered good and interesting. However the staging and the dialog was brutal for most scenes.

      I second the idea of restoring my faith in Columbo by watching an original series episode tonight. I think I’ll go for “Catch Me If You Can”, one of my personal favorites.

    • Ian Baxter

      Agree, watched ‘Murder by the Book’ last weekend, a real joy after some of these recent episodes!

  • Largo

    It’s time to celebrate cats, since there’s a kitty cat in this particular Columbo episode, eh! I’ll start with some of the most well known B. Kliban cat artwork. Here goes —

    • Largo

      And here’s just a few more B. Kliban Cats for your enjoyment —

      • Ian Baxter

        Cat-tastic! 🙂

        • Largo

          Indeed it is, Ian! And artist, Sandra Boynton, would agree with you, too!

  • Largo

    Cats and books! What a wonderful combination!