Lovely but Lethal

Episode 16 – Lovely but Lethal

The sixteenth episode of Columbo was titled Lovely but Lethal and was the first episode of the show’s third season. Espionage and double-dealing in the cosmetics industry lead to a brutal murder as the new season begins dramatically. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the foundation of Columbo’s case and some important concealed evidence.

 

 

The dark underbelly of the high-end cosmetics industry is exposed in Lovely but Lethal as a desperate company boss kills a disloyal employee in a moment of high emotion. Viveca Scott – played here by Vera Miles – is the founder of Beauty Mark Inc. She believes she has the formula to end wrinkles and fine lines, but when her company’s research bears no fruit its prospects look bleak. Slighted employee Karl Lessing, portrayed by the marvelous Martin Sheen, taunts Viveca with the possibility of a genuine formula before making it clear he’ll be selling to a bitter rival. In a moment of anger Scott strikes Lessing down with a microscope.

 

Sheen on redditMartin Sheen reflects on his role in this episode during a Reddit IAmA

 

Lessing isn’t the episode’s only turncoat – Sian Barbara Allen‘s mild-mannered Shirley Blaine is similarly engaged in a form of espionage, funneling secrets to Scott from her employer – Scott’s rival – David Lang (memorably, if briefly, portrayed by horror legend Vincent Price).

 

Columbo is tasked with identifying Lessing’s killer and, despite a number of solid leads, it is the tiniest piece of evidence – fragments of shattered glass – that provide him with the vital clue. There is a memorable turn from Fred Draper as the inebriated and enamoured Dr Murcheson while Gino Conforti, an actor perhaps better known for his voice than his face, is visible in his single scene as a fashion photographer.

 

Writer Jackson Gillis is by now well-known amongst fans of the show, while director Jeannot Szwarc would go on to helm the classic shark sequel Jaws 2 and is currently a director on the hit TV show Bones with Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz.

 

During this episode we didn’t ask any particular questions, but if you have thoughts on any aspect of Lovely but Lethal then please feel free to comment 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.

 

Lovely but Lethal was released in 1973. It is 73 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.

 

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

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

  • Peter

    Sian Barbara Allen was the hottest young actress in the 1970’s, appearing on multiple shows like Columbo and TV movies. Love seeing her as it jogs memories, but honestly always found her odd and never knew what the fuss was all about. She then disappeared off the face of the earth.

    • Peter, if you click the link on her name in the show notes you’ll see what she’s up to nowadays!

      • Peter

        Have seen that link before. Interesting. Thanks guys!

    • Largo

      Exactly, Peter — I could never figure out what all the fuss was about, either. Sorry, but I always considered Sian Barbara Allen as the female Michael J. Pollard: kind of creepy and annoying and please get off of my TV screen! 8-o

      • Peter

        What a great comparison, Largo.

  • Ian Baxter

    Just a passing comment… impressed with your choice of title pictures for each episode, this one with the dart board is great fun. It’s this kind of attention to detail that lifts what is a very well put together podcast. Credit to you, keep up the good work.

    • CarlosMu

      i second that. Same with the audio clips.

    • Thanks. Hopefully people appreciate the links in the show notes too – sometimes there are little gems in there!

      • Largo

        Indeed! I just clicked on the Vera Miles link in your show notes and was confronted with her snarky remarks aimed at Donald Spoto’s second book on Alfred Hitchcock, entitled “The Dark Side of Genius.” Sheesh — does this book bring back memories! I remember discussing Spoto’s book with a few of my film professors when it was first published and they were appalled that I was actually reading it! These film professors dismissed this book out of hand as just idle gossip.

        But what really enraged them was the fact that Donald Spoto dared to suggest that film critics and scholars should dismiss Marnie (1964) from the Hitchcock oeuvre. All of this was supposedly because Tippi Hedren refused Hitchcock’s various advances while he was producing this film and that’s why he lost interest in it and it looks so cheap up on the screen with its poor mattes and blue-screen work, etc. I say it’s a weak film because of the script, but it does have James Bond in it — I, err, I mean it has Sean Connery in it. Hitchcock definitely had issues, but they weren’t really revealed until after Vera Miles’ work with him was long over and Tippi Hedren came onto the scene.

      • Largo

        I also wanted to mention that Jeannot Szwarc was the favorite director of Rod Serling when he was involved in the NBC series Night Gallery — Szwarc directed 19 segments for the show! But he is more famous for the overly sentimental sap-fest film entitled Somewhere In Time (both of my sisters are big fans, as was our mom).

  • Another wonderful podcast. While I don’t think this is one of the best Columbo eps., I really love Vera Miles in this and it’s a personal fave. Your podcast was a great accompaniment.

    • Thanks oxfordsplice, we really appreciate the feedback. Completely agree that Vera Miles was great in this one.

  • CarlosMu

    I still don’t completely understand the story. It reminds me of Short Fuse, where the corporate intrigue was too complicated and not explained enough. For me, anyway.
    Some of the dialogue just didn’t make sense. When Shirley smokes the poisoned cigarette and makes a face, Viveca says “tastes terrible doesn’t it, with all the cigarettes you smoke”. How does that make sense? Why would a cigarette taste bad to someone that smokes cigarettes? And then she says, “we’ll have to get you the cure.” But just a moment ago they were just bonding over the fact that they both were smokers. But maybe I’m missing something.
    But there are great moments too, like Columbo’s rambling about poison ivy. “Sargent Keiser — German guy…” I love that.

    • Completely agree about the plot. Like you say, still a few highlights to pick out though.

  • Kieran Wright

    Looking forward to listening to your podcast over the weekend. I actually watched this episode yesterday and that Vera Miles was really something in her day, appearing in some memorable films such as ‘The Searchers’ with ‘Duke’ Wayne and ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. I agree with CarlosMu that some of the dialogue wasn’t well conceived, but ultimately it wasn’t without its merits. Always a pleasure to see Vincent Price – for me he was more than a little wasted in this episode. I would like to have seen him as a central character in a future episode, although sadly I know that never happened. Martin Sheen’s performance was understated but perfect for what was needed. All in all quite a routine episode really. Looking forward to the show notes now!

    • Thanks Kieran, hope you enjoy the podcast – be sure to let us know.

      Agreed that Martin Sheen did the job just right.

  • Ian Baxter

    I like this episode, very entertaining; and I don’t really share your frustrations with the demand for proof.

    I’m just happy to go with the psychological factor; someone who has committed two murders, the first unpremeditated, is surely going to be on the edge and ready to crack under the pressure.

    The poison ivy, octagonal mark, and make-up pencil give Columbo enough to go on and he gets the confession he needs.

    That said, I love your observations in the podcast, glad I’m not the only one who thought the fat camp resembled a ninja bad guy fortress.

    Delighted to see the brother in law has come back to save the day, especially after you gave him such a hard time in Requiem for a Falling Star! 🙂

    • Largo

      Well, I’m convinced that it actually is some kind of Ninja Bad Guy Fortress! Viveca Scott is really The Spider Lady! Dah dah dah daaaaaaah!

      • saltyessentials

        Ah, this serial was fun. Haven’t seen it in several years and, from what I remember, Kirk Alyn’s Superman came across a bit bland. Still holds a place in my superhero-loving heart, though.

  • Kieran Wright

    Hi guys. I listened to your podcast this morning whilst waking up. I have to say I love the rapport between you and the informal style of critique. It’s actually like having two old friends there with you which overall creates for a very pleasant experience. There were some good laugh out loud moments including the comment about the ‘exploding cigarette Tom and Jerry style’. As hoped for, I also enjoyed the show notes section and the reveal that the director for this episode also directed ‘Santa Claus the Movie’. Here’s one for you guys though – a certain David Huddleston who played Santa Claus in that movie himself starred in an episode of Columbo called ‘Columbo Cries Wolf’ in 1990. Sure is a small world, as a certain detective was wont to say. Here’s another one for you – Henry Mancini was the composer for the Santa Claus movie, as well as for 23 episodes of Columbo between 1971 and 1976, including ‘Lovely But Lethal’. I’m now looking forward to hearing your critique of ‘Any Old Port In a Storm’, which I watched last night for the second time in a few months.

    • Ian Baxter

      Totally agree Kieran, and great stats. Will also be watching ‘Any Old Port in a Storm this weekend’!

  • Richard Hinton

    Hi all,
    Sorry for my lack of comment recently but rest assured I’m still hooked on the podcast. I genuinely look forward to Thursdays and firing up the latest one.
    Lovely But Lethal is an episode I’ve chosen to host on a live Tweetalong in May. I agree with the comments regarding its failings but as an episode to chat along to, it’s perfect – There’s just LOADS of opportunities to comment on stars, fashions, plot lines, references to other films (Enter The Dragon looms large) and trying to resist scratching while watching!

    I enjoyed this podcast, as usual, but I just hope Iain (& Gerry) isn’t focussing on the legal loopholes and can enjoy the way Columbo, with all his tropes, unravels his confusion and out-thinks the murderer … or maybe I’M focussing on the legal comments! (As already mentioned, the Tom & Jerry comment was superb).

    • Hi Richard. I’m not all that concerned with legal loopholes – when we do verdicts, etc it’s just for fun – and I agree the process is the key aspect. Where I sometimes have an issue is when that process either doesn’t make sense (eg most dangerous game) or is obscured from viewers to a degree (felt there was a little of that this week).

      Looking forward to what I’m told are a great set of episodes coming up now!

      • Richard Hinton

        Good point, Dangerous Match was a biggun of a “hang on, that doesn’t make sense” moment. I guess, over the years, I’ve forgiven (& forgotten) these moments … That’s why there’s a newbie watching 🙂

        Yes, there’s some top notch episodes coming up, really looking forward to the podcasts.

  • Richard Hinton

    By the way, I just realised today (22nd March) that I can listen to the podcast through my AppleTV gizmo (see photo)

    • On the big screen at last!

      • Ian Baxter

        Have you guys thought about filming a podcast? Maybe a one off at the end of the project?

        • We haven’t really thought about it. To be honest, we’ve got plenty of work to do improving the audio for now. Who knows what the future holds though!

          • Largo

            The audio is just fine in my book. The only exception is that “Heard Yet?” media chick at the end of every podcast. Could you replace her with Vera Miles, perhaps?
            😉

          • You don’t like the Heard Yet lady??? I’d try Vera, but I’m led to believe she’s retired!

          • Largo

            Well, actually I think the Heard Yet Lady is appropriately exuberant and so she can stay since she sounds just fine here. Of course, Vera Miles could record a new track for these podcasts if you approach her about it in just the right way. You don’t want to piss her off, ya know! 😉

          • Good point. We’d probably need a referral of some sort!!

      • Largo

        That Richard Hinton — what a show-off with his big fancy screen, eh! 😉

    • Largo

      That Richard Hinton — what a show-off with his big fancy screen, eh! 😉

  • Largo

    “Lovely But Lethal” is a very weak Columbo episode and it’s a shame that this was chosen as the third season premiere. However, it stars Vera Miles who portrays an excellent murderess in her Viveca Scott role. Another bright spot in the cast is the great Vincent Price as Scott’s business rival, David Lang. But then one wonders why the Columbo producers never provided all of us fans with a Columbo Mystery Movie that starred Vincent Price as the murderer. And it is with this particular thought that I begin to ‘check out’ from this rather limp episode and I start resorting all of my vacation slides.

    Thank you for another wonderful podcast! And a special thank you** for describing the Hitchcock connection involving Vera Miles. Vertigo is one of my top favorite films of all time and I’m forever grateful that Vera Miles didn’t get the dual part of Madeleine Elster / Judy Barton and that Kim Novak did. I really think that Vera Miles wouldn’t have been able to pull this role off and here Kim Novak gives the performance of a lifetime. Yeah — I’m a tad indifferent when it comes to Vera Miles’ performances overall. Even though Vera Miles does a fine job in “Lovely But Lethal,” if I were producing this Columbo episode, I still would have gone the extra length and hired Kim Novak for the Viveca Scott role.

    And now it is time for a bit of a Largo rant and some Largo boasting: please do not go into any remakes of classic films, especially if it involves — gadzooks! — that Hilton woman!!! I’ve seen the original House Of Wax (1953) on the big silver screen in 3D! You simply haven’t lived if you haven’t had this experience. You also haven’t lived if you haven’t seen the original Batman (1966) film on the big silver screen like I have, eh — or The Wizard of Oz (1939), too! I’ve also seen all of the classic James Bond (1962-2002) films on the big silver screen. So what do you think of them apples, huh? 😉

    ** I’d like to give a special thank you for the mention at the end of your podcast, but I’m afraid Richard Hinton will start trolling me!

    • There’s nothing quite like seeing a movie on the big screen, right? That’s an interesting idea about Kim Novak as well!

      • Largo

        I heartily agree: seeing films on the big silver screen is very special! Sorry about being a film snob and a braggart there, but I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to see so many of these classic films at various revival theaters throughout the years.

        Vera Miles was splendid in “Lovely But Lethal” — I was being a bit snarky about casting Kim Novak as Viveca Scott. Either actress would have been excellent in this role. I just figured that if the ABC Network could get Kim Novak out of retirement to do a cheesy made-for-TV movie about the Bermuda Triangle — Satan’s Triangle (1975) — the Columbo producers could at least hire her for a murderess role or two.

        But back to Vera Miles — her work in Hitchcock’s Psycho is superb and it’s her best work for this director by far. And this reminds me that I got to see this at a revival where 99.9% of the teenage audience had no idea what they were in for with this film. This is truly the best way to experience Psycho : with hundreds of screaming teenage girls in the theater.

  • saltyessentials

    Loved Columbo’s reaction to the nude sunbathers–the naked female form really IS his kryptonite. LOL

    I noticed he seemed fairly uncomfortable in The Most Crucial Game’s men’s locker room, so maybe it’s not just the ladies that cause discomfort.

  • Cory Chase

    Hello… yeah, this post is over two years old and I am very late to the game. However, as this is a weak episode there was one thing that I really liked about this episode, that also upset me at the same time. At the end of the episode, the audience pieces together that the vial that Viveca tosses into the ocean is the real Miracle cream. And, even if it was evidence against her (circumstantial, at best), her company could have still thrived and survived during her time in jail (if she was ever convicted). The audience is not spoon fed this realization and I like that. Television today would require someone to come out and explain that to the viewers.

    Now, the vial itself is a point of contention with me. Columbo infers that he must have gotten the poison ivy from the same source as Viveca did in Lessing’s home. However, she had the bloody vial and there was no way that Columbo contracted poison ivy from the vial. So why she ever thought that the cream had poison ivy in it still amazes me.

    Otherwise, I am still a fan and even the weakest episode fares better than most of what is produced today. Brilliant job on this podcast. I love the insight and trivia. It often feels like a university level course for anyone unfamiliar with the show. Thank you again! Cheers!