Old Fashioned Murder

Episode 38 – Old Fashioned Murder

The thirty seventh episode of Columbo was titled Old Fashioned Murder and was the second episode of the show’s sixth season. Faced with the loss of her life’s work, a museum curator turns on those closest to her. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the impact of an emotional story.

 

 

There was a familiar face opposite Columbo in this episode as Joyce Van Patten returned to the show after a small role in Season Four’s Negative Reaction. Playing Ruth Lytton, curator of the family museum, she turns to murder after her brother Edward (Tim O’Connor) suggests that the financially prudent course of action is to sell the museum and its contents. Caught up in her plot is Milton Shaeffer, a security guard played by the episode’s writer Peter S. Feibleman.

 

Oscar winner Celeste Holm as Lytton’s sister, Mrs. Brandt, offers a melodramatic distraction, while Jeannie Berlin‘s Janie Brant is the victim of Ruth’s attempted framing, despite an apparently close relationship between the two women. Jess Osuna appears as Tim Shaeffer – brother of Milton and having an extra-marital affair with Janie – while Jon Miller also appears as the creatively-named Sergeant Miller.

 

As noted, Peter S. Feibleman wrote the teleplay from a story by Lawrence Vail. Vail, in turn, appears to have been a pseudonym for Peter S. Fischer. Director Robert Douglas helmed his only Columbo episode, but viewers may have recognised his name from an acting turn in Troubled Waters where he played Dr. Pierce.

 

If you have thoughts on the Feibleman/Fischer/Vail myster or any other aspect of Old Fashioned 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.

 

Old Fashioned Murder was released in 1976. 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 the show’s seasons released by Universal.

 

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

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

  • Ian Baxter

    I know there is quite a bit of ambiguity about this episode but for me this is about Columbo up against an evil serial killer who has set herself up in her lair, the museum. There is no happy children’s activity corner in this museum!

    She has killed once, years ago, and now kills again and again. Columbo’s reserve and caution is for me an awareness that he is up against evil disguised as a seemingly harmless curate. All the makings of a creepy horror movie.

    No sympathy for Ruth from me. The problems she had in the past are no excuse for what she does. The ending is a bit disappointing as it appears Columbo tries to protect the family and compromises on the full disclosure of Ruth’s true nature. I’d have liked to have seen a proper unveiling and exposure of the evil side, rather than Columbo showing a sympathetic arm.

    Good podcast again, very enjoyably (although I’m only 30 min in at the moment – but, what could go wrong from here? You’ve already mentioned Margaret!)

    • Thanks Ian, glad you enjoyed it!

      I think the earlier murder and this one are two very different types of crime, but they do show a capacity to kill that marks Ruth out.

    • No sympathy from me, either.

      She shares qualities with Any Old Port in a Storm’s Adrian Carsini, in that they are both people whose identities are tied up in family businesses. They both feel like the business is all they have in life, that it defines them and if it goes away, they go away. Big motivations to keep the business afloat, in both cases. But Carsini struck me as a good man who struck out in anger and then couldn’t see anything to do but cover it up.

      This lady is cold, from start to finish.

      • Ian Baxter

        Totally agree, Carsini was provoked and was then relieved when it was all over. Ruth shows no remorse, and little care for those closest to her. How can she be framing her niece in one scene and then supposedly protecting her in another?

        The most sympathetic murder is yet to appear, in my opinion. I guess that’s for another week. Don’t want to spoil anything for Iain.

  • Still in the midst of the podcast, but I’ll jump in now. This is a mediocre Columbo episode, for me. I liked Van Patten’s performance, and Falk’s, of course. But the show seemed to be filled up with poorly acted bit parts–some of the other cops, etc. Had an uneven feel to it.

    Kept waiting for Twiki to show up every time Edward was on screen….

    • Largo

      Golly, I was hoping Wilma Deering would show up and save the day! 😉

  • Largo

    There’s nothing old fashioned about the Columbo Mystery Movie “Old Fashioned Murder.” It’s just plain old boring. Even Margaret Williams agrees that this episode is: “BORING!!!”

    • Ian Baxter

      I will be most disappointed if there is not a picture of Margaret in the podcast studio keeping an eye on the team!

      • Largo

        I’m terribly sorry, Ian — but I’m afraid that Margaret is currently only keeping her eyes on her old television set and watching some classic film noir.

  • Roberto

    A quick pop-in before I listen to Iain and Gerry.

    While “Old Fashioned Murder” is not a great Columbo episode, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the writing was very good (Feibleman), the back story and entire plot were especially good, with only a few plot holes or forced clues. I guess I enjoyed the Southern writing style though to modern eyes and ears it can be a challenge.

    The interaction between Columbo and Ruth Lytton was okay, nothing scintillating. Celeste Holm was fun to watch. The overall acting in this episode was mediocre (shall we call it “wooden”), including that of Jennie Berlin (Janie Brandt).

    Anyway, I am a sucker for a well-written sob story, and Ruth Lytton wins the prize this week. I find her very interesting and a great Columbo villain.

    As per usual, I will undoubtedly post more after I listen to Iain and Gerry’s views.

  • Largo

    When the Columbo Mystery Movie “Old Fashioned Murder” premiered on NBC back on November 28, 1976, the entire Largo Clan was gathered around our Sylvania ‘Super-set’ television to watch it. But, one by one, a member of the Largo family started to wander off in pursuit of more enthralling enterprises. I believe I remember my father saying something about having to go and watch some paint dry in his workroom. One older brother went to clean out our cat’s litter box and another went back to his room to sort his stamp collection. One sister started to organize recipe cards in the kitchen and another went upstairs to wash her hair. Then my little brother suddenly sprang up and ran to the playroom and break out his Tiddly Winks game. That left me and my mother and the family pet to tough it out and finish this latest installment of Columbo. We all made it to the episode’s conclusion, but just barely. However, in the end even the Largo family cat agreed that “Old Fashioned Murder” was …………

    • Well you might change your tune when there’s a knock on the door and Ruth Lytton is standing there.

      PS Dogs rule.

      • Largo

        Well, I have an extra layer of security at my place: my youthful ward, Margaret Williams. And Margaret is angry and she’s packing heat!

        P. S. — Cats rule and dogs drool! >^..^< meow

        • That may be the case but Ruth Lytton is actually an indestructible android who is capable of melting your brain with an icy scare. She could also home in on the gun and heat it up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

          • Largo

            Bah! If the famous Richard Hinton were still here on the forum, he would remind you about my primary level of security: my very powerful defense droid, Battleposter!

    • Adrian Bailey

      This episode does start off surprisingly badly – it’s like it’s being made in slow motion.

  • Roberto

    Another great podcast Iain and Gerry! You know it is a great podcast when Gerry has a laughing spell and Iain refers to Margaret Williams as the standard for bad acting.

    Sounds like you two enjoyed Old Fashioned Murder much more than the viewers who have posted in this forum so far (save me). I think the trick is to consider this episode something like a Tennessee Williams mystery.

    Random comments regarding points brought up in the podcast:

    (1) The guard did indeed mention that he was calling from a phone booth when he called his brother around 9:05 pm. I presume the guard knew that his brother did not pick up his phone in the evenings (letting it go to the answering machine) as he was not rattled by that and seemed to have had his spiel prepared.

    However, I imagine that Ruth Lytton’s plan was to have the brothers actually talk to each other on the phone so that the doctor could swear to the time of the call (and, presumably, the death). Note that modern, digital answering machines record the time of the incoming call, but I believe old-fashioned (ha) analog answering machines did not.

    No, wait a minute. If the brothers actually talked to each other and the doctor heard the gunshot, he would have called the police and maybe mentioned that his brother worked at the Lytton Museum and he possibly could have been calling from there. In that case the police would have gone to the museum and saw nothing (other than Edward working late) which would have ruined Ruth’s entire plan.

    So, are we supposed to believe that Ruth Lytton knew that Dr. Schaeffer let his phone calls go to an answering machine? What if the answering machine was full? What if Dr. Schaeffer answered the phone?? Seems very improbable that Ruth would have planned it this way and, at the very least, very chancy to use Gerry’s line.

    (2) Phyllis’s name was mentioned a couple of times in the episode. Dr. Schaeffer told Columbo that his wife reads the newspaper society pages in which Phyllis Lytton Brandt is frequently mentioned. Then when Columbo is at the Lytton home for the first time and Mrs. Brandt enters the room, Ruth says “Come in Phyllis, this is Lieutenant Columbo of Homicide” which (of course) causes Phyllis to faint.

    (3) I believe that Peter. S. Feibleman is a real person, a Southern author and not a good actor. Peter S. Fischer, as far as I know, is not from the South. And I would bet anything that this episode was written by a Southerner.

    (4) The family secret about Peter Brandt and Phyllis Lytton eloping at the time he was engaged to Ruth and when Phyllis was three months pregnant simply means that Phyllis and Peter slept together while he was engaged to Ruth. This humiliated Ruth and made her hate Peter something fierce (I think she forgave her sister). Of course, Janie is a constant reminder of the humiliation.

    (5) Regarding the gaffe of turning off the lights, couldn’t Ruth have simply said that she turned off the lights after she and Janie discovered the bodies the following day? After all, the police arrived after Ruth and Janie were in the museum. Maybe I am missing something obvious here.

    • Thanks Roberto. Like we said on the show, I think there’s more to this one than some think!

  • Peter

    I actually enjoyed the episode and did not find it boring. I thought Ruth Lytton was a good villain with some complexity to her. I thought the Academy Award winner ironically gave a somewhat weak performance.I also thought Tim O’Connor was great as the brother.

  • Thanks for the amazing show note about Celeste Holm. Incidentally, guys, you missed a trick / Columbo connection. the inimitable Ms Holm also starred in ‘Champagne For Caesar’, which also starred Vincent Price.

    I enjoyed your podcast which I found to be well balanced and generally in favour of the episode, and especially appreciative of the comedic touches. For my own part, I found this to be an enjoyable episode. Ruth Lytton – played exceptionally well by Joyce Van Patten – is a strong character, very much in control of her emotions and resigned to any consequences which her actions may bring. The actions she carried out were all pre-meditated and from that point of view, there is no wiggle room. That said, Columbo acts in an uncharacteristically underhand fashion in hooking his fish. Maybe an element of his character from a certain unmentionable episode has crept back in. Let’s hope not.

    As for Phyllis, she is played very tongue in cheek by Celeste Holm and there is strong support from Jeannie Berlin as Janie Brant. I have to disagree with some of the comments about the acting in general, which I felt was fine.

    Your synopsis of this being ‘middle tier’ is just about right in my book, although I do take my hat off to Joyce Van Patten for her performance. She actually reminded me of Ingrid Bergman, both in looks and traits.

    Finally, I have to admit that I dozed off for the last 30 minutes of the podcast, although I was sufficiently interested to rewind it and re-listen (in case my sub-conscious mind had missed anything!)

    • Thanks Kieran. To be honest, there are some nights in the studio when I could easily doze off for the last half hour too. Been a muggy summer!

  • Largo

    “It’s a belt buckle!”

    “It’s an ashtray!”

    “It’s a belt buckle!”

    “It’s an ashtray!”

    “It’s a belt buckle!”

    “It’s an ashtray!”

    “Hey, maybe it’s both! There’s so much more here than meets the eye within this particular episode — a tale that has many more layers than one might at first realize. But what does the kitty say?”

  • dylanw23

    A very small note: Ruth would not have been executed, for a number of reasons. The main reason is that from 1972 to 1978, California did not have the death penalty. Also, it is a sad fact of legal life in the US that people who receive death sentences are people who rely on public defenders at trial. If you can afford your own attorney, you’re almost certainly not getting executed.

    • “from 1972 to 1978, California did not have the death penalty”

      A more civilised time!

      Appreciate the info, thanks Dylan.

    • Amore HL

      Your statement about PDs is patently untrue. Just for one, ask Scott Peterson. Besides, it’s all moot. Nobody in California, regardless of their attorney, is getting executed. The “sad fact of legal life in the US” is that evil killers on this over-populated planet are not killed when they should be.

  • Nelson Heyward

    If anyone in the UK fancies watching it, it is that 630 on five USA which is very convenient

  • Largo

    Well, once again I am forced to give this week’s Columbo Podcast a “Margaret Williams Stare-Down.” Did you really feel that you had to take another swipe at Margaret? Why won’t you two blokes leave this poor schoolgirl alone, eh!?! Both of you dudes need to stop picking on Margaret and just let this one go! Speaking of which: Gerry, most of us fans that label William Shatner’s acting as hammy in “Fade In To Murder” actually do get that there is some built-in meta hamminess in the Ward Fowler / Lucerne characters in this Columbo Mystery Movie. However, many of us feel that William Shatner’s overall performance here is encrusted with Shatner slumming type hamminess like so many barnacles on a ship. We understand perfectly well what’s going on within this episode, but we still don’t enjoy certain aspects and thus, it informs our particular criticisms of same.

    Several of us Columbo fans simply don’t feel that “Fade In To Murder” and the performance of its guest star are quite as clever as others believe them to be and we’ll never buy into this because of our subjectivity. Using absolutes and sweeping generalities while defending your own opinions can come across as insulting to your audience, for it can seem to appear to be like you’re trying to tell them that their own opinion is wrong and that their subjectivity is a non-factor. Everyone has their own take on “Fade In To Murder” and you’re just going to have to accept that fact and deal with it. Aye, Gerry — ya mustn’t forget the subjectivity of others and that some folk aren’t going to see eye to eye with you from time to time. But there’s no hard feelings here at all and I’ll buy us a round of Scotch and we’ll celebrate good times! What do ya say to that, lad?

    Margaret: (annoyed) “Who are you talking to, Largo!?!”
    Largo: “Oh, I didn’t know you were home, sweetie. I was just sounding out my forum post — that’s all.”
    Margaret: (acidly sarcastic) “Well, Gerry and Iain can’t hear you —they’re both way over in Scotland.”
    Largo: “I know that, dear. But like I said — just sounding things out before I post on the Columbo Podcast Forum.”
    Margaret: “And your Scottish brogue is perfectly dreadful!”
    Largo: “True. I guess I’ll have to edit that a little in my forum post.”
    Margaret: “Why do you even bother with that stupid forum?”
    Largo: “It’s not stupid, honey. I think that the forum is a whole lot of fun.”
    Margaret: “Well, I think it’s a colossal waste of time. Besides, they all hate me on that stinking forum.”
    Largo: “They don’t hate you there, dear. They just …”
    Margaret: “They think I’m a joke. I despise that forum!”
    Largo: “But I always defend and protect you on the forum, don’t I?”
    Margaret: “I don’t need your protection! You’re not my father!”
    Largo: “That’s true, but I’m your guardian and you’re my ward.”
    Margaret: “No — more like I’m Robin to your failed Batman.”
    Largo: “Hey, that would’ve worked! We could’ve been a dynamic crimefighting duo if you hadn’t stopped with the training.”
    Margaret: “Don’t be ridiculous!”
    Largo: (shaking his head) “And if you had just shown more patience with the grappling hook exercises …”
    Margaret: “Stop it! I’m not a part of your silly delusions!”
    Largo: “You are a part of my world. I was there for you when no one else was and …”
    Margaret: “No! Stop it! Stop it! You’re tearing me apart!!!”
    Largo: “Please calm down, darling.”
    Margaret: “It’s all because of you and that stupid forum! Why did you ever tell me about that wretched place. It’s all your fault, Largo!”
    Largo: “Honey, please just calm down now.”
    Margaret: “Don’t you ‘Honey’ me! This is all your fault! You and that awful Columbo Podcast Forum! They all made me hate myself. Well, I like myself now. I like myself just fine!” [she draws out a revolver and aims it at Largo]
    Largo: “Wha — now put the gun down, Margaret. That’s not the answer. Please put the gun down and let’s calmly talk this over.”
    Margaret: “I don’t need you. I never needed you.”
    Battleposter: “Warning! Warning! Danger, master! Danger!”
    Largo: “Protection Protocol Delta!”
    Margaret: (interrupting) “Emergency cancellation Archimedes!”
    Battleposter: [the defense droid comes to a complete stop and powers down]
    Largo: (hoarsely under his breath) “Oh, crap.”
    Margaret: “I’ve got to stop these voices in my head … all of these voices that sound just like you! Largo must die!!!” [she fires the gun at Largo]
    Revolver: “BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!”
    Largo: [he crashes to the floor with a loud thud]

    • Ian Baxter

      Biting the hand that feeds you! With Margaret on the loose and Largo lying under the electric blanket I suggest Gerry and Iain lock the studio door! I wonder if the young girl in next weeks episode is going to be compared to Margaret? 😉

  • Harry Seaward

    Sorry to chime in more than a year if you publish this podcast, but I just watch this episode and noticed something interesting I thought you might be able to explain. [Spoiler alert!] In the third act Calombo reveals that the gold buckle must have still been in the museum because it was recorded in inventory on tape by the brother. This seems necessary to me because I remember, the first act, the police Photographer taking pictures of the crime scene took a photograph of the display case which contained the belt buckle. When I went back to rewatch this scene, I noticed he did Indeed to take a photograph of the display case that would have shown the buckle still in the case. And in fact, if you watch the scene carefully you can see that, when he asked Lt. Coumbo if he could move so he could continue photographing, what he actually said was that he wanted to get a picture of the “artifacts.” However it appears to have been redubbed to say “articles.”

    If I had to guess, I would say that when they filmed this episode they had planned on using the photographs taken at the crime scene to prove that the buckle was still in place prior to the murder. But later for some reason they used the tape recording as proof (and dubbed the audio to hide the fact). Although I can’t for th life of me figure out why the change? I know that when they produced these shows they often shot extra scenes that could be included to make the show the right length depending on how many ads were sold, but this change seems to be more plot-related than for timing. Just wondering if you had any thoughts.