Swan Song

Episode 22 – Swan Song

The twenty-second episode of Columbo was titled Swan Song and was the seventh episode of the show’s third season. A country music legend plans a plane crash to escape his wife’s cult. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the investigation to see whether Columbo can hit the right notes.

 

 

The major guest star in this episode was a real-life music legend, to an even greater extent than the character he portrayed. Johnny Cash is of course remembered more for his musical success than his acting, but he did play more than two dozen roles in an acting career spanning six decades. He was played by Joaquin Phoenix in the Academy Award winning biopic Walk the Line, released in 2005. Here he plays Tommy Brown, ostensibly a Christian rock star with a longing to be emancipated from his overbearing, blackmailing wife.

 

In support of Cash and Peter Falk were the returning Ida Lupino as Brown’s wife Edna; Bonnie Van Dyke as the second murder victim, Maryann Cobb; John Dehner as air crash investigator Roland Pangbourne; and Bill McKinney as Edna’s brother, Luke Basket.

 

There were entertaining cameos from Vito Scotti as Mr Grindell, the funeral director; Janit Baldwin as a suitably uncomfortable band member named Tina who rejects Brown’s advances after his wife’s death; Douglas Dirkson as excitable aircraft mechanic Jeff; and Lucille Meredith as a seamstress who steals the scene she shares with Falk’s Columbo. John Randolph also appears as a confused Air Force Colonel, providing Columbo with a vital piece of evidence.

 

Director Nicholas Colasanto was credited with the same job in Season 2’s Ètude in Black, though some contend that John Cassavetes and Peter Falk were ultimately responsible for the direction of that episode. There is no such dispute on this occasion. David Rayfiel composed the teleplay from Stanley Ralph Ross‘ story. This was Rayfiel’s only contribution to Columbo, though you will remember that Ross was responsible for the teleplay of Any Old Port in a Storm, earlier in Season 3.

 

We asked listeners during the episode to let us know if they remember whether the appearance of Johnny Cash was a major event when the episode first aired. If you have thoughts on that or on any aspect of Swan Song 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.

 

Swan Song was released in 1974. It is 98 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.

  • Largo

    As Columbo would say, “Ah, just one more thing before I go” — the following will probably stun you or enrage you or both, and some may even call me a hypocrite, but I don’t care because it’s time for Largo to ‘fess up:

    I have a confession to make here and this will come as a complete shock to all of you: I am a Born Again Christian. I’m not making this up and this isn’t a joke at all. I know, I know: a lot of you guys are probably thinking to yourselves, ‘But wasn’t it just the other day that Largo was serving us up all of that cheesecake?’ Yes, I’m guilty as charged for posting all of that cheesecake photography (classic pin-up style or pin-up inspired sexy pictures of women who are usually in swimsuits) on this discussion forum. Like Tommy Brown in “Swan Song,” I lust after women and this is my personal demon that I’m always struggling with every single day. It’s torture being a carnal Christian and I’ll be struggling with this particular sin until the day I die. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s very difficult for me to watch “Swan Song.” But at the same time, this superb Columbo episode is something that I have to watch so as to remind myself of the cold reality of this struggle and that it can be overcome with prayer and supplication.

    Needless to say, there will be no more servings of cheesecake by Largo at the Columbo Podcast Forum (and I apologize for overindulging myself here on this site under the excuse of ‘forum fun and games’). As with Tommy Brown, my guilty conscience just wouldn’t allow me to live with it anymore. And much like Tommy Brown, I’m a Christian that has suffered from backsliding and allowing personal problems to overwhelm me due to focusing on the material world instead of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all of our true riches are in Eternity with Jesus Christ. I’ve got to keep reminding myself that I’m just passing through this fallen world and I must refrain from being truly and totally distracted by all of its worldly trappings. Tommy Brown gets so ensnared by these same worldly trappings that he ends up with real blood on his hands.

    Many years ago when I was watching “Swan Song” on cable television, I was thinking smugly to myself, ‘Yeah, I lust after women like this murderer, but at least I don’t lust after jailbait!’ What foolish pride I had back then! However, it wasn’t too long after this particular viewing that the cold hard reality of the Scriptures began to sink in and sober me up: sin is sin and there is no partiality with the Lord God Almighty. For like Tommy Brown, I was not only guilty of adultery, but also guilty of murder according to Christ’s teachings on the spirit of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22 and Matt. 5:27-28).

    When viewing “Swan Song” in more recent years, I am absolutely stunned that Johnny Cash actually went through and accepted this particular guest-starring role on Columbo. Cash does an admirable job with his part, but he appears to be portraying Tommy Brown as a pseudo-Christian throughout most of the episode. To make matters even worse, Brown is a Gospel singer with a taste for teenage girls: that sequence where Tommy is attempting to use his celebrity to seduce Tina is extremely unsettling (as well as the heinous crime of statutory rape of poor Mary Ann). However, all of this gets even more complicated in that magnificent ending scene between Brown and Columbo: where Tommy Brown agrees that his conscience just wouldn’t let him live with his crime of double-homicide and that he would have eventually confessed. This finale and Columbo’s closing line truly lifts this episode way up into the stratosphere: “Listen — any man that can sing like that can’t be all bad.”

    One hopes that while Tommy Brown is serving his sentence for murder he truly finds Jesus Christ or actually regenerates his Christian faith during this time of trial and tribulation while being incarcerated. My whole family was in a time of trial and tribulation when Christ found me and two of my older siblings. My father was going through such a difficult time at his job that he brought this intense stress home with him one night and he ended up striking my mother in front of the whole family. My older brother, Rick, was getting far too fascinated with the occult and the absolute lie of a thing called ‘white magic;’ and my older sister, Sandy, was being similarly seduced by astrology and tarot cards. It was during the twilight years of the so-called ‘Age of Aquarius’ when the Lord found all three of us. My older brother and sister were both saved with the help of their Evangelical Christian piano teacher, while I was led to Christ with the help of an African exchange student from Kenya named Zizi.

    Zizi was a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist who was not ashamed of the Gospel. And let me tell you — this pint-sized human dynamo sure made my sixth-grade class truly interesting. I was attending an experimental elementary school at this time (which had recently banned the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of Christmas carols) and our little fellowship group sure had those teachers running around in circles. Those teachers tried and tried but they could never shut down our Christian Fellowship group. This was during the autumn of 1971, which was also the time that the Columbo series first premiered on television. I would watch Columbo with my mother every Wednesday evening that it aired on NBC. Christ and Columbo and Largo — with the bond between me and my mother growing even stronger — all in the autumn of 1971. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Be seeing you!

    • I agree, Largo: this must have been a contentious and difficult part for Cash to play. I happen to be a big fan of the man and love his reading of the entire NT. There is really nothing like JC reading those books. In terms of your posting, this is very courageous and honest. If you want to continue the conversation offline, I would be more than happy.

      • Largo

        Just checking in here to say thank you for your very kind words, Kieran. I’ll stop by your website later this weekend and drop you a line there. Be seeing you!

    • Peter

      One of the reasons why I love this site is because the people here are so thoughtful and respectful of each other. Thanks for sharing this Largo. As an aside, I am a faith-seeking Catholic. Haven’t been able to make the leap from agnostic to believer, but I will keep trying.

      • Largo

        Peter, please keep seeking Him and asking Him and He will answer you. That’s not just me talking here, but a promise of Christ’s from the Scriptures!

    • Melanie Beasley

      I loved your comment about being very surprised that Johnny Cash would accept this role as not only a murderer but a statutory rapist. The murder scene is always very hard for me to watch, with the women passing out in the back of the plane. It’s so tragic. It makes me wonder though– Johnny Cash had committed his fair share of sins, including a history of drug abuse and acting badly (trashing hotel rooms and the like). I know he did not write this episode, but I wonder if he was willing to do it, almost as an acknowledgement of his wrongdoings. I wonder if getting pursued and caught by that rumpled angel Columbo was somehow comforting for him– almost like a confession and an absolution. I very much admire Cash for being willing to take the role, and believe Columbo was right– that Brown would have come clean eventually of his own accord.

  • I actually watched this a couple of weeks ago – having seen it a few years ago – and, although I am a huge fan of the man called Cash, I wasn’t really that impressed with the episode, as it almost seemed at times like a kind of promo rather than a bona-fida episode. Of course, that’s only my perception.

    I have read numerous books on Cash, including autobiographies and he really was a mess at times, but one of his most enduring features was his humanity. One of my favourite stories is how he wanted to get past his ostrich – Waldo – on his way to his recording shed. Waldo wasn’t going to move, so JC picked up a stick to persuade him. Waldo then launched himself in the air and swooped down on JC, opening up his side with a huge gash in the process. JC was then admitted to hospital and the staff were somewhat perplexed at the lack of healing, until they found that he had a load of valium pills stashed near the wound. The pills had seeped into his bloodstream.

    In terms of the plot, it was pretty good, although nothing special. It’s important to remember that JC, like Elvis, always wanted to be a credible actor and in this episode there are flashes of brilliance, particularly with his facial expressions, and ultimately he is so relaxed that it’s almost like he’s not even acting, which is why this may be his greatest ever performance on film. As usual, Vito Scotti was used to great effect too. All in all not a world-shaker for me, but still very enjoyable.

    From a religious point of view, this episode for me highlighted the way that Christianity has become a lucrative industry and this has always sickened me. Maybe that’s why JC took the part – maybe it sickened him too.

    In terms of IMDB rating, this has a respectable score of 8.0. Whether that’s due to the writing/direction or whether that’s due to the global affection for JC remains to be seen. For my part, I love to see or hear JC so it’s always a pleasure.

    PS Ida Lupino was great. Being a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (as played by Basil Rathbone) I loved her in ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ from 1939. Obviously she played a real battle-axe here and to great effect. It was also great to see John Randolph, who I only saw in ‘Seconds’ the other day. A great actor.

    • Largo

      What sickens you about the fallen, apostate “organized” churches of the world sickens me as well, Kieran. I’m sure that you’d be right along side me emulating Jesus Christ as we both would be turning over the ‘money changer’s tables’ in various houses of prayer. Churches are not only supposed to function as houses of prayer, but they are also “hospitals for sinners” — and definitely NOT to be utilized as money-making machines. Amen!

      • Whatt Nowe

        ‘Money changers’? Seriously? Anti-semite.

  • Greetings from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Thanks for doing this podcast. I just discovered it, and have so far listened to this episode and your very first one. I intend to catch up over this spring and summer.

    You asked what KP stood for. It is Kitchen Police or Kitchen Patrol, and the stereotypical act of someone assigned to “KP duty” was peeling potatoes. Any show or film from the 50s or 60s set on a military base seemed to feature the roguish protagonist being threatened with KP duty for a month even he didn’t straighten up. As a fan of the Phil Silvers show, like yourself, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of Bilko’s gang wasn’t threatened with KP duty every episode.

    Columbo is implying he was a bit of a rogue or maybe just rather hopeless in the army, so was being sent to KP duty for punishment a lot. Another example of him trying to disarm his adversary (figuratively), and perhaps encourage him to underestimate him.

    I was about 10 when this show first aired, and probably didn’t see it myself until the late 70s or early 80s, perhaps when CBS showed it in syndication on their Late Night Mystery Movie. Certainly, Johnny Cash was still pretty big at the time. In fact, I remember him getting his own weekly music show around this time, suggesting that the networks considered him “bankable.” The show didn’t last long (maybe only one season), but I am sure he would have been a ratings attraction for the middle-aged demographic at the time.

    I agree with your assessment that the show has its moments, but that it feels slow, like they padded it to fill the 2-hour timeslot rather than the usual 90-minute slot other episodes got. I, too, feel ready to scream, the next time I hear that song.

    Must quibble with your use of the word “cult” for Ida Lupino and her flock. There is no way that this is a cult. They are quite clearly just an evangelical Christian sect, very representative of the “tent show revival meetings” that I am sure still tour all around the States (Elmer Gantry would be a critical depiction of these things, or Justified, Season 4). I always got the impression they were perhaps a Mormon sect, but that’s because they are building a “tabernacle” and were strictly against drugs (although not coffee, so probably not Mormon). Really just nondescript evangelicals, so as to avoid any offense.

    The statutory rape thing may have been inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis, a contemporary of Johnny Cash (they may even have been on the same label, Sun Records, I think), who also had a cousin who was a big evangelical preacher of this time, Jimmy Swaggart, who would go on to have his own sex scandal in the 80s or 90s, if I recall.

    Lots of love for Ida Lupino, by the way. Fond memories of her Warner Brothers movies from the 40s. High Sierra with Bogie is a classic, and she is excellent in They Drive By Night which also features Bogie in a supporting role.

    I also am looking forward to the next episode, one of my favourite Columbo episodes.

  • Greetings from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Thanks for doing this podcast. I just discovered it, and have so far listened to this episode and your very first one. I intend to catch up over this spring and summer.

    You asked what KP stood for. It is Kitchen Police or Kitchen Patrol, and the stereotypical act of someone assigned to “KP duty” was peeling potatoes. Any show or film from the 50s or 60s set on a military base seemed to feature the protagonist being threatened with KP duty for a month if he didn’t straighten up. As a fan of the Phil Silvers show, like yourself, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of Bilko’s gang wasn’t threatened with KP duty every episode.

    Columbo is implying he was a bit of a rogue or maybe just rather hopeless in the army, so was being sent to KP duty for punishment a lot. Another example of him trying to disarm his adversary (figuratively), and perhaps encourage him to underestimate him.

    I was about 10 when this show first aired, and probably didn’t see it myself until the late 70s or early 80s, perhaps when CBS showed it in syndication on their Late Night Mystery Movie. Certainly, Johnny Cash was still pretty big at the time. In fact, I remember him getting his own weekly music show around this time, suggesting that the networks considered him “bankable.” The show didn’t last long (maybe only one season), but I am sure he would have been a ratings attraction for the middle-aged demographic at the time.

    I think the role fits the persona he adopted. He was the Man in Black, after all, and it was a common misconception that he had actually been to prison, (probably because of his live album from Fulsom Prison, and the subject matter of many of his songs), and I think this was an image that he exploited. That man is charming, but dangerous.

    I agree with your assessment that the show has its moments, but that it feels slow, like they padded it to fill the 2-hour timeslot rather than the usual 90-minute slot other episodes got. I, too, feel ready to scream, the next time I hear that song.

    Must quibble with your use of the word “cult” for Ida Lupino and her flock. There is no way that this is a cult. They are quite clearly just an evangelical Christian sect, very representative of the “tent show revival meetings” that I am sure still tour all around the States (Elmer Gantry would be a critical depiction of these things, or Justified, Season 4). I always got the impression they were perhaps a Mormon sect, but that’s because they are building a “tabernacle” and were strictly against drugs (although not coffee, so probably not Mormon). Really just nondescript evangelicals, so as to avoid any offense.

    The statutory rape thing may have been inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis, a contemporary of Johnny Cash (they may even have been on the same label, Sun Records, I think), who also had a cousin who was a big evangelical preacher of this time, Jimmy Swaggart, who would go on to have his own sex scandal in the 80s or 90s, if I recall.

    Lots of love for Ida Lupino, by the way. Fond memories of her Warner Brothers movies from the 40s. High Sierra with Bogie is a classic, and she is excellent in They Drive By Night which also features Bogie in a supporting role.

    I also am looking forward to the next episode, one of my favourite Columbo episodes.

    • Thanks for the contribution GS. I can understand your quibble with my use of ‘cult’. We didn’t get to see a whole lot of the religious side of the group in the episode, so my concerns were more with the way Brown’s assets were being controlled and the refusal to let him walk away through blackmail, regardless of the group’s particular beliefs.

      I suppose another reading of that would be that it was a personal issue between Tommy and Edna and not related to the religious group at all. Apologies if I caused any offence!

      • Ian Baxter

        Good point, and I finally know what KP means, thank you!

  • Peter

    This is one of my favorite episodes. I think there are so many priceless scenes such as the crash site scene, and the characters are so well-played. I also must disagree with you on the John Randolph scene which I thought was charming. I also thought it ironic that Johnny Brown was done in by two borderline demented people in regards to the parachute. What I loved in this episode is how eccentric so many of the characters are. Also thought Columbo’s facial expression when finding out about the squirrel chili was priceless.
    I think Jonny Brown was one of the most sympathetic murderers of all, and that the writers had to give him a major flaw in order to avoid making him too sympathetic.
    The I Saw The Light theme drove me nuts as well, but to me it was directed at Columbo, who took awhile to see the light that Johnny committed the murder.
    In terms of inappropriate comedy, just wait until you see the Commodore episode.

    • Good points, Peter, even though it was Tommy – not Johnny. Maybe JC acted this so well you almost believed it was him. 😉

      I, too, enjoyed Columbo’s facial expression re: the squirrel chilli, but don’t knock it ’til you try it, eh?!

      And yes – the ‘I Saw The Light’ tune was rather irritating although… there is a nicer version with JC, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Check it out:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on0gN_UC5C8

      • Peter

        Oops! Yes, Tommy, not Johnny.

  • Johnny

    “Columbo’s a liar” – Iain’s starting to get it!

  • Ian Baxter

    Well this is definitely one my favourite episodes. I’m a convert 😉

    Peter Falk and Johnny Cash succeed, in my humble opinion, giving us a sympathetic murderer with some good chemistry and entertainment between them. Many other episodes have tried to go down this road, but this is one of the few where it has worked well. Peter Falk is at his best. There is intelligence, persistence, humour and compassion as he plays the ultimate spectator to the murderer’s show.

    Once Cash gets through the opening song sequence, which feels a little awkwardly put together, he handles the character of Brown with ease. Our sympathies are won over as we see the henpecked, blackmailed, deprived and flawed murderer unfold before us. Admittedly, the exception to this is the awful piano stool squirming scene where he attempts to seduce Tina!

    We are also truly spoilt with a wide array of talented supporting cast. Take your pick from the “sanctimonious hypocrite of a bible-spouting blackmailer”, the country and western loving airplane mechanic, the zany music producer with hypnotic eyes, the hilarious hard selling funeral director, the drawl fist-swinging cowboy, the seamstress worried about the vice squad (who I recon has Falk corpsing), the
    cooped up crazy air force colonel, or the little bit too serious Mr Pangborn.

    A favourite scenes has to be the garden party. We have great singing from Cash (‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’), who is surrounded by his band and bikini clad groupies. Meanwhile Columbo, the spectator once
    more, discovers some tasty Chilli in a silver server that contains a mystery ingredient! Columbo witnesses some fiery accusations and a punch, all followed by a very engaging opening round of questioning from the disarming detective.

    Swan Song is hugely enjoyable; it is a showcase episode that contains all the fantastic elements that have worked so well together in helping Columbo stay head and shoulders above the rest. It is surely down to Falk’s Columbo. He has timeless qualities and values that are attractive to young and old alike; we warm to him and root for him. In his brilliant pursuit of justice he remains charming, endearing, trustworthy, and immensely entertaining.

    Really enjoyed the podcast, already some very personal and interesting comments. I wonder if Gerry and Iain envisioned where this project would lead them? There are often two conversational taboo subjects: death and religion. We are dealing with death every week in Columbo land, and I find it impressive that we can engage with religion. In fact the podcast could perhaps have drawn out more of Cash’s own engagement with gospel music and faith. I’d also be interested to know more of how much these religious crusades were a part of US 70’s culture, my instinct is that were an acceptable expression of evangelicalism rather than cult.

    I did smile at your dislike of the overly used ‘I saw the Light’. I’m a big fan of gospel music and music is an important part of my faith; I wish they had showcased some better examples. Wow, I’ve written way more than I normally would… congratulations if you made it through to the end. Keep up the good work guys.

    • Yes, little buddy – these religious crusades were a part of US 70s culture. Think Billy Graham, who was a close friend of JC, who actually attended the rallies himself. Interestingly, JC, with BG’s encouragement, earned a theology degree and became an ordained minister. Although he never marshalled a congregation, he did preside over one of his daughter’s weddings.

      I too am a major fan of Gospel music – it’s just so tremendously uplifting. I particularly like Elvis’s renditions of staples such as ‘I’m Gonna Walk Them Golden Stairs’; also JC himself and especially Roy Orbison, not to mention those wonderful Gospel choirs.

  • Peter

    FWIW, the early 70’s had many “greatest hits of…” advertised on television, with many different genres of music. Cash’s greatest hits albumin was part of that litany of commercials. Our “own” John Williams (Sir Roger Haversham) was narrator for a classical music collection.

  • Roberto

    Not a great Columbo episode, but quite fun nonetheless.

  • Roberto

    Oh, and I should say thanks to the Podcast team and all the posters here too. The Podcasts are super and this chat is great too. Long time listener, first time poster.

    • Peter

      Welcome aboard! I do happen to think it a great episode. Where do you think it comes up short?

  • Ian Baxter

    In the absence of a webcam I’m guessing… but I really hope you guys got dressed up for the podcast! Please tell me Iain came dressed in black with a guitar on his back (ready to sing-a-long with Cash), whilst Gerry is sat in a white choir robe and wig 🙂

    • As a penance for the comment on ‘an overweight, middle-aged singer’, I think Gerry and Iain should meet up with me so that I can produce them in an updated version of ‘I Saw The Light’.

  • Guys, just finished listening to your podcast. Very well done, as usual. In terms of JC’s star rating and whether he was as popular, I would say that, looking at the history, it was shortly after this point that his star started to wane, with John going through a pretty fallow period of songwriting. In fact, for those in the know, 1969 through 1972 were JC’s best years and it’s sobering to consider that, between 1972 and 1976, not one single or album made it into the pop charts, although he scored a number one in the country charts in 1976 with ‘One Piece At A Time’. With all that said, it would be another 11 years until he got dropped by Columbia. In terms of whether John’s appearance on Columbo was a big deal at the time, I think it probably was, since Cash was – and remains – a household name. For me, this episode captures Cash’s finest performance as an actor on film, and for that, I’m grateful, even though I do get frustrated with the ‘I Saw The Light’ song. This is an episode I love to watch again and again. I especially like the ‘little buddy’ references – in fact that’s what made me remember this episode from years ago.

    I have to say that, as a Cash fan, the comment about ‘an overweight, middle-aged singer’ was a bit of a cheap shot and perhaps unwittingly (I hope) contributes to the whole ageist society problem, although in the context of the comment, I know you were questioning about how young women would be attracted to such a figure. Then again, that’s a particular beef of myself and my band, which is why we produced an album called ‘Age Is Just A Number’. Enough of that though, as I’m not here to plug albums. For me, JC actually looked in pretty good shape during this period – in fact he looked to be almost in his prime. See shot below:

    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/swan-song-episode-7-pictured-johnny-cash-as-tommy-brown-ida-news-photo/483637873

    Bye for now, little buddies.

  • Nelson Heyward

    I think this is a great episode definitely one of my top five, loved Falk’s usual great performance, Johnny Cash was brilliant as was Lupino and like all thought Pangbourne was great. I disagree with Ian and Jerry on the scene where Columbo visits the old Major I enjoyed it very much and sometimes amusing.

    One thing in this ep that confuses me and maybe its just me, when Tommy comes off the phone and columbo is standing there and he says did you overhear the phonecall and columbo says no no but I knew you stopped project/tabernacle, if he didnt over hear the call how did he know what it was about also then says good to hear Browns reasons again he never heard phone call so wouldn’t have heard them and in any case he didn’t give reasons.

    Yet another great podcast guys keep up the quality work, I look forward to A Friend in Deed though Swan Song is a far better episode.

    • Peter

      I thought the same thing in reference to the phone call

  • Ian Baxter

    Well… I just have to tell you what happened to me outside church today.

    Approached by two men who had clearly been enjoying a few drinks. They asked me what was going on inside and then stated they knew exactly what happened in a church… and they started singing a rather enthusiastic version ‘I saw the Light'(I kid you not)! 🙂

    I resisted asking them if they were called Gerry and Iain, or if they had been listening to that latest podcast.

    Life is full of surprises and bizarre coincidences 🙂

  • Maddie

    A Friend in Deed is also in my top ten. I love the gotcha moment in this episode. Richard Kiley is wonderfully arrogant. And I love Artie Jessup!

  • Emrys

    Great episode. Not one of my solid gold favourites… but great episode. I find myself disagreeing with the majority of ‘flaws’ you two unearthed. But, as I’ve said before, I’m such a fan that maybe I now overlook things that I’d punish as a first time viewer. As it is, I find myself shaking my head at some of the problems you have with the plot. Ha ha! Anyway, I can’t add anything more profound… Largo has stolen the show on this one!

    • Largo

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Emrys! It’s great to see you here on the forum once again. Please chime in more often — I’ve missed you, eh! 🙂

  • alonghowl

    Greetings from Sydney, Australia!

    I’ve been listening to the podcast now for sometime and have
    been thoroughly enjoying it.

    I have recently started watching all the Columbo episodes
    chronically on DVD and have just caught up with the episodes being reviewed by
    Gerry and Iain. Previously, I had seen a few episodes here and there but felt
    it was time to knuckle down and watch the entire series.

    Like so many before me, I’ve become hooked to the show.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to take the time to introduce myself
    and will chime in from time to time when I’m able to.

  • saltyessentials

    Only 7 episodes behind–soon I’ll be a full fledged member of the group!

    Interesting thing my wife noticed as we were watching the backyard party/pool scene: I’d just made a wry remark about all the women being dressed in bikinis while the men were in pants and long sleeved shirts–typical Hollywood. A moment later, Tommy rather forcefully asked Columbo why he was being visited by a homicide detective. My wife said “Look, you could see his breath when he exhaled, there. It must have been really cold that day.” A quick rewind confirmed it.

    I did a quick bit of research: Apparently, you’re likely to see your breath at temperatures around or under 45 F, depending on pressure and humidity. This show aired in early March, so was filmed (maybe) in February. The average L.A. low temp in February is around 50 F. If that particular scene was shot in early morning and the temp was a few degrees below the monthly average, it would account for seeing water vapor on exhalation. If so, those poor women in the scene get double sympathy–not only were they being objectified, they were awfully uncomfortable in the process! 45 or 50 degrees is hardly enjoyable swimsuit weather.

    Neither one of us noticed any additional instances of visible breath in this or the episode’s other outdoor scenes, but we weren’t really keeping track. And I’m not up for a re-watch this soon, to do a “visible breath search.” I’d need a few months to get that song out of my head before giving it a go. (Afraid I agree with those who found the song grating, even though I’m a fan of the old gospel standards, and Johnny Cash in general.)

    At any rate, we wondered why no one else in the scene had visible breath. I think, at borderline temperatures–when it’s chilly but not terribly cold–you’re more likely to see your breath on a really forceful exhalation, and Cash was the only one who did that in this scene. I’ve also heard (not sure how true it is) that actors are or were sometimes told to hold an ice cube in their mouth just before rolling film in these cases, spitting it out just before their shot, to lower the temp inside their mouths and thus have less visible vapor on exhale. If that’s the case, maybe Falk and the others were all walking around with mouths full of ice, and Cash missed out on the one shot.

    Who knows. It was an interesting catch by the missus, though. She’s got quite an eye for detail. I assume, these days, no one messes about with ice cubes–unwanted visible breath just gets digitally edited out post production.

    Oh, and Sorrell Booke. Hah! We watched his scene and thought “what an odd looking little fellow.” And I wished aloud for a shirt like his. We both thought he looked familiar, but couldn’t place him. Boss Hogg!

    • Glad to hear you’re catching up, salty! Love the thoughts on breath and the idea of the ice cubes in particular. It’s a comical image!!

  • saltyessentials

    Heh. My wife remembers she and her friends referring to their “Daisy Dukes” during their teen years in Texas. Apparently the show was iconic enough there, this became the informal name for a pair of “short shorts.”

  • saltyessentials

    Oh. In response to Gerry and Iain’s asking how and where people listen to the podcast–I get it piecemeal. 30 minutes each weekday on the treadmill, and another hour on each of my three days-a-week work commute. And the occasional living room listen, with the missus, using the TV and Roku.

    • Does that not mean you’re out of sync with one another when you get to listen together?

  • Susan Bell

    Sorry to only come across your podcast just now; you reviewed this episode last year. But as it is one of my favorite Columbo episodes, I felt I had to give my comment.
    When I first saw “Swan Song,” I was a young teen, just starting to get into music. When Columbo revealed that he detected a difference in the arrangement of “I Saw the Light,” I was mightily impressed with his musical ear — I certainly didn’t pay close attention to the voicing of the song, but I was amazed that Columbo could.

    Fast forward two decades, and I am now a music teacher, married to another music teacher. I was excited to show this wonderful Johnny Cash appearance (and demonstrate the musical aptitude of Columbo) to my spouse. But I was now dumbfounded — Columbo got it wrong!
    He had said to Cash’s character that Maryann had been a soprano (a high voice), and that after her death the arrangement had to be reworked to accommodate Tina, a contralto (lower voice). The ubiquitous song could be heard in both forms, repeatedly in the original version, and, during the reveal, in its new arrangement. But the second, newer arrangement can be heard displaying an annoyingly high, prominent female voice — is that supposed to be Tina??
    But Tina is the contralto, she should sound lower, not higher!

    Which means that the scriptwriter reversed terms for the voice parts. Or, more likely, the music director felt that the audience wouldn’t be able to perceive the change from a higher voice version to a lower one, and substituted the loud high soprano. The high voice comes leaping out of the texture, so that the audience would hear what Columbo was talking about. Even if he did get the two terms mixed up.

    Would it take a week to re-arrange the song? Possibly, since there were no computer software music programs as we have now. Everything would have to be revoiced and written out by hand (not necessarily for a soloist, but a choir would need all its parts to be rearranged). A busy arranger might not get to it right away.

    Incidentally, the choice of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” was probably inspired less by NBC having the rights to it, than by what the overtones of the song and its author bring to the story. Hank wrote and recorded many hymns and gospel songs, which somewhat belied his boozin’, honky-tonkin’ ways. He died of a drug overdose with his son in the car beside him. To this day, “I Saw the Light” is shunned by mainstream religious circles. Giving this song to Tommy as a theme song is another way to foreshadow the not-so-Christian moral intent of his character.

    Johnny Cash many have already peaked as a performer by the time of this episode’s airing, but he was a beloved star with a strong following, whose own variety tv show had concluded only a couple of years earlier. I know I had looked forward to his appearance back in 1974. Country music had a longer shelf life than pop/rock, I guess.

    • Hi Susan, glad to have you on board. Thanks for your input on this – the change in the song was obviously a key point!

      Great to see your thoughts on the song and on the performers. This is definitely one of the best-remembered episodes of Columbo.

  • John Simpson

    In spite of an earlier post KP or Kitchen Police wasn’t always a punishment although it became stereotyped as such by a succession of war movies. Back in the day it was a regular work detail that soldiers would be assigned to and had to be fulfilled whether someone was being punished or not.

    It’s also not an ironic take on Military Police. In military parlance “police” can mean to clean up or restore something to order. https://books.google.com/books?id=bh09AAAAYAAJ&dq=kitchen%20police&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q=kitchen%20police&f=false
    Although people on KP would peel potatoes they would more often than not be mopping the floor as well as scrubbing pots and pans.

    Also, to the Podcast team, Tommy wasn’t in a Parachute Regiment. In the Air Force there are parachute riggers to pack and repair parachutes for pilots, aircrews and Pararescue personnel.

    • Apologies for the delay in approving your previous post!

      Great trivia, thanks!

  • resedaman

    The FAA inspector was named Pangborn. Clyde Edward Pangborn was the first aviaotr to fly across the pacific ocean. Fun “Easter egg”

    • Ian Baxter

      Love it, I really hope they knew what they were doing when they chose that name

  • Jasperoo

    Just watched this for the (don’t-know-how-many) time and spotted a lovely moment in the scene where Columbo plants the idea of the mountain search for the Thermos flask. Johnny Cash starts strumming casually on his guitar – just playing for the fun of it. Peter Falk listens and the look on his face shows that he knows Tommy isn’t really a bad guy at heart, as he will say at the climax of the episode.

    I also love the way Tommy calls Columbo “li’l buddy”!