Murder, Smoke and Shadows

Episode 47 – Murder, Smoke and Shadows

The forty fifth episode of Columbo was titled Murder, Smoke and Shadows and was the second episode of the show’s eighth season. A hotshot movie director kills his friend to protect a dreadful secret. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the highs and lows of this film lot investigation.



The Columbo revival continues with a return to familiar territory as the lieutenant investigates a Hollywood killing. Fisher Stevens‘ Alex Bradey is a rising star, directing feature films at a young age and building a big reputation. Leonard Fisher (Jeff Perry) threatens that when he appears with a video of his sister’s death, exposing Bradey’s role in the tragedy.


There is strong support in this episode from Nan Martin as Bradey’s veteran secretary Rose Walker and from Molly Hagan who plays the conflicted Ruth Jernigan, an actress whose relationship with Bradey is interrupted when he surreptitiously hires an actor to set her up with a co-star, in order to deliver better performances in his movie. Steven Hill‘s brief appearance as Bradey’s mentor and sponsor Mr Marosco is effective and Al Pugliese puts in a good performance as Phil Crossette – the aforementioned actor at Bradey’s personal disposal.


James Frawley directed for the fourth time, after Try and Catch Me, Make Me a Perfect Murder and How to Dial a Murder, working from Richard Alan Simmons‘ sole Columbo story (though he was involved the show’s production; in the creation of Mrs. Columbo; and was an executive producer on Peter Falk’s earlier series, The Trials of O’Brien).


If you have thoughts on any aspect of Murder, Smoke and Shadows, 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.


Murder, Smoke and Shadows was released in 1989. It is 98 minutes long and originally aired on the ABC network. This episode is not available on Netflix, but can be found on the Season 8 or complete collection DVD box sets from Universal.


The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

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

  • Largo

    Richard Alan Simmons has a beef and what a beef! For some reason, this producer and writer of the Columbo Mystery Movie, “Murder, Smoke and Shadows,” wants to make his Steven Spielberg wannabe character, Alex Bradey, a total @sshat! Maybe this is because Richard Alan Simmons hates Spielberg and how he mistreated Amy Irving or something like that, eh. I really don’t know. However, what I DO know is that I despise this Alex Bradey character so much that I want to punch various inanimate objects whenever I watch this episode — that is, when I’m not too busy hurling said objects at the television screen whenever Bradey is on it. Alex Bradey’s first line is, “If I was any better, I’d be unbearable.” Nope — Alex Bradey is completely unbearable to me from his very first onscreen appearance in this Columbo episode to his very last.

    So I guess it comes as no surprise that I sarcastically refer to this episode as ‘Painfully Spielberg.’ For me, this episode is quite the endurance test to try to get through completely, eh. Director James Frawley can’t save this one at all — even with that out of nowhere, Fellini-like final ‘flourish’ of a brief image of Columbo suddenly switching into a circus ringmaster. I say, ‘No, no, no!’ James “The Muppet Movie” Frawley just doesn’t get it: Columbo is a film director extraordinaire here — not a ringmaster —as he outfoxes the supposed ‘wunderkind’ (HA!) film director, Alex Bradey. However, James Frawley doesn’t make this same mistake in the very next Columbo Mystery Movie — “Sex and the Married Detective” — which, in my very humble opinion, is the only decent Columbo episode of the eighth season. Be seeing you!

    • Peter

      I actually liked this episode, mainly because I found the murderer so repulsive it was easy to root against him. Can you believe Michelle Pfeiffer dated him? No accounting for taste.

      • Largo

        Sorry, Peter, but there isn’t one thing that I enjoy about this episode. In fact, I find “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” to be quite insulting. It’s supposedly about some ‘wunderkind’ director whose forte is special effects, but all we are shown is a totally unrealistic and nonsensical “3D” demonstration, along with a rather shoddy reel of special effects stock footage — with a dash of Battlestar Galatica (1978-79) Cylon fighter ships thrown in because this is Universal Studios. In other words, none of this stuff has anything to do with actual film making — because actual film making is utterly BORING to behold. For me, this whole episode is a complete waste of my time.

        So let’s talk about the very lovely Michelle Pfeiffer. My two favorite Pfeiffer films are Ladyhawke (1985) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989): in the former film, Michelle has never been more lovingly photographed and the latter contains her finest film performance, in my book anyway. About her taste in men: if I recall correctly, Michelle Pfeiffer told her mother at the time that Fisher Stevens made her laugh while all of her previous boyfriends had made her cry. But I totally agree with you that it’s all still very hard to fathom why in the Sam Hill ANY woman would want this guy in her life! :-0

        • Peter

          Does Lee Grant play a cold murderer well because she is good actress or is she a cold person playing herself. Is Fisher Stevens repulsive or just play that role well? My earliest movie that I saw Pfeiffer in was Married to the Mob with our old friend Dean Stockwell. Hilarious movie.

          • Largo

            All I can say about Lee Grant is that every film that I’ve seen her in she seemed to be doing the same old cold, unsympathetic thing. With Fisher Stevens, I just feel like punching him in the face whenever I see him onscreen. But if you get far more mileage out of their respective performances, that’s just fine with me, eh! No problemo. 🙂

            The earliest Michelle Pfeiffer film that I saw was Grease 2. It was playing on a double-bill with Dragonslayer at our local drive-in theater. This wasn’t as exciting as seeing John Carpenter’s The Thing at this same drive-in during a thunderstorm. That was quite the experience, eh! 🙂

          • Peter

            I have same reaction to Fisher Stevens. Heaven help him if he runs into the both of us in a blind alley! The Thing was a great movie. Saw it multiple times while I was in college in the 80’s. Do you recall a movie starring the Kung-Fu guy about a prehistoric monster that nested in the Chrysler building terrorizing Manhatten? The monster was supposed to be Quetzacoatl. Another quintessential 80’s movie I saw multiple times. I think Michael Moriarty was in it.

          • Largo

            That would be the film Q (1982), which was written and directed by Larry Cohen.

          • Peter

            That’s it! Largo, you are better than IMDB

          • Fisher Stevens kind of reminded me of a young Michael Douglas. Anyone else see that?

          • Peter

            I think Douglas was more virile. Stevens seems too nebbish.

          • Yeah, the missus and I both thought he looked like a young Michael Douglas.

        • I love the way you seamlessly switched to Michelle Pfeiffer!

    • Obviously I respectfully disagree, but each to their own. 🙂

  • Johnny

    Having technical trouble with the new episode. Might have to work on a Thursday afternoon, shocker.

  • Roberto

    Here are some trivia questions about Gerry & Iain’s “Columbo Podcast” covering the NBC series and the two pilots (the “good old days”). The questions are intended to be fun, ranging from easy to hard, and from the ridiculous to the sublime. Have fun!

    1. In what country do Gerry and Iain live?

    2. What Columbo guest star died the day after the podcast was released covering the episode in which they starred?

    3. In an early podcast Gerry asked a highly-controversial Columbo trivia question. What was controversial about it?

    4. What food-related term did Columbo use to refer to the accoutrements of a murderer’s clothing that Iain had never heard used in that way?

    5. In one podcast the hosts ask about the meaning of the opening line of a Columbo episode. What were the episode and opening line?

    6. In a Season Five podcast, what term used frequently in the episode did Gerry refuse to use throughout the podcast?

    7. In the podcast for “Double Exposure”, what ending staple of the podcast was first introduced?

    8. What episode did Gerry say divides Columbo fans into those that dislike the episode and those that hate it?

    9. In the Columbo Podcast universe, May 28 will always be known as what?

    10. In the podcast covering “Identity Crisis”, why does Iain initially not like the guest star murderer?

    11. What UK star did Gerry say that Jack Cassidy was the American version of?

    12. What Columbo clip do the hosts use when they are dissatisfied with an episode’s gotcha scene?

    13. Which scene in “Double Exposure” is Gerry’s all-time favorite Columbo scene even though it is a very short scene?

    14. At the party in “Deadly State Of Mind”, what drink did Columbo ask for that Iain had never heard of?

    15. In the podcast for “Suitable For Framing” what audio staple of the podcast was first introduced?

    16. What character did Iain peg as the podcast’s standard for bad acting?

    17. In which popular Columbo episode did the hosts call the murder plot the most extravagant, riskiest, and most bizarre?

    18. The podcast for “A Stitch In Crime” was the only one in which what opening staple of the podcast was almost overlooked?

    19. What colors of suit jackets did pun-loving Iain say that Vito Scotti showed Columbo at the tailor shop in “Candidate For Crime”?

    20. Which annoying scene in “An Exercise In Fatality” did Gerry say was the single-most padded Columbo scene ever?

    21. Which fan-favorite Columbo episode did Iain not like largely due to its subject matter?

    22. During the podcast covering “A Matter Of Honor”, Gerry said the listeners of which podcast would get annoyed at his mention of Ewoks and Jedis?

    23. When Alex Benedict put on white gloves before murdering Jennifer Welles, Iain laughingly said that he knew Benedict was about to do one of two things. One was commit murder. What was the other?

    24. Absent an official theme song, what do the hosts call the “soundtrack to Season One”?

    25. “Columbo would be demoted after this episode” was one of the nicest things Gerry said in the entire podcast covering which Columbo episode?

    • Margaret Williams

      Roberto —
      There was an error in Question # 16, so I went ahead and corrected it for you:

      16. What character did Iain peg unfairly as the podcast’s standard for bad acting?

      You’re welcome. 🙂

    • Gerry and I were trying to answer these earlier and did much worse that we would have hoped!! Great idea, thanks Roberto; and good luck to those trying to answer!

      • Largo

        This is most discouraging news! If the Columbo Podcast Team is stumped by the majority of these questions — as am I — what’s the point of me going any further with them? Sad face! :.(

    • Ian Baxter

      Great work Roberto, will have a go at answering these… Mrs Baxter most impressed at the inclusion of No.9.

      • Largo

        Ian! Dude, you should have marked your post with a spoiler alert. Just sayin’, eh! 😉

      • Largo

        Thanks, Ian. Disaster averted! 😉

  • Apologies for the missing clips in today’s episode. We’ll have a new version up tonight!

    • Working on this now. Will update once new version is available.

      • Ian Baxter

        I know there was a bit of hassle with those missing clips… but I do like the change to the way you’re using them with the seamless run in. Your efforts are appreciated and well done for keeping a high standard with the podcast.

        • Thanks Ian. We appreciate the support, as always.

          • I listened to the podcast this morning and even with the five very pregnant pauses, it was an excellent precis. What was the problem? At first I thought it was missing clips, but then on the 4th and 5th one, when the audio came back one of you was halfway through a sentence, so I’m guessing it was something more.

          • Think it was just the clips. If you delete and download again you’ll know for sure!

  • Red Hobbes

    I never really cared for this episode. Everything seemed off to me, somehow. Lenny’s motives are sketchy, and as Gerry & Iain mentioned Buddy was a bit of a selfish idiot too. There definitely seemed like there’s an axe being ground in this episode.

    The notion that Lenny kept the fact that Alex was responsible for his sister’s death to himself is a bit of a stretch. When Buddy showed him the evidence, the reaction should’ve been: talk it over with a lawyer or a good friend of his first. Even with the evidence, Alex is a hugely popular director. You don’t accuse him face to face, even with evidence, without a lawyer.

    Fisher Stevens plays a pompous jerk quite well in every role I’ve ever seen him in, which means that’s what he has to be. The very notion that Michelle Pfeiffer was dating him just baffles the heck out of me. Maybe she liked short windbags?

    Another great podcast guys, but we’re into the dregs of the series now. Too few diamonds, too much rough.

    • Thanks RH. Obviously I’ve not watched any of the episodes to come, but I’m promised one or two little diamonds!

      • Largo

        And one of those “little diamonds” stars Faye Dunaway! 🙂

    • Largo

      Right on, Red! For me, this whole episode asks far too much by way of the suspension of disbelief in just about every department. In my not so humble opinion, Fisher Stevens is an annoying, self-absorbed and smarmy rat-bastard of an actor and I find his presence upon my television screen to be quite intolerable. I have only seen this episode three times: when it first premiered on the ABC Network, when I first watched my Season 8 DVD box set, and last weekend in preparation for this week’s Columbo Podcast. I don’t plan on ever watching this episode again. In fact, when this first premiered, I actually stopped my concurrent video taping (does everyone remember the quaint old days of VHS?) of this episode even before Columbo had arrived upon the scene. That’s just how much I despised “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” back then — and I still do to this very day, eh.

      • Ian Baxter

        I had an old VHS tape with our wedding on it, wanted to transfer it to DVD so gave it to a friend. He rang me the next day to say that all he could find on the tape was old episodes of Columbo and did Mrs B know I’d recorded over the wedding!! Turned out I gave him the wrong cassette, marriage saved 🙂

        • Largo

          Great story, Ian! It involved the Columbo series with the added suspense of a potentially irate wife, along with a dash of good ol’ VHS nostalgia! 🙂

  • Ian Baxter

    Thanks again for a another good podcast and a special credit to Iain for his original take on the Fence and Ringmaster scenes being a possible insight into Bradey’s imagination. A tempting idea which I don’t quite buy… but an improvement on Gerry’s previous suggestion that little furry animals could be responsible for planting evidence! 🙂

    P.S. anyone know who played the part of Jenny Fisher?

    • I may have phrased my thoughts poorly, but the idea I was shooting for was that they were a manifestation of his mental state at that moment. I.e. coming unhinged.

      • Largo

        This is a perfectly valid interpretation, Iain. Since director James “The Muppet Movie” Frawley doesn’t anchor this sequence one way or another, the viewer is given the option of reading this particular sequence whichever way they want, eh. If James Frawley and Fisher Stevens had both done a better job of giving the viewer a visual clue or two on Alex Bradey’s actual mental state, this finale could have been far more interesting. However, Alex Bradey does have a thing for sledgehammers and then using them to smash the face of a corpse. Isn’t it comforting to know that Alex chose to do this on the dead body of a close personal friend? EEGAH!!! :-O

        • Indeed. I found that aspect particularly distasteful and indicative of true psychopathic behaviour.

        • Ian Baxter

          Exactly, would the real Bradey please stand up…

          Spoilt young man who plays with trains and ice cream sodas while manipulating the lives of those around him as if they were players in his show. He kills to protect this luxury life.


          Cold hearted BLEEP who finds entertainment in the intimidation, control and power he has over others. He kills because he can; finding violence, death and brutality a thrill and a choice preferable to any one of a number of alternatives.

      • Iain; just wondering whether you subscribe to the Austria (i.e. Freud) or Swiss (i.e. Jung) school of Psychology.

        • Margaret Williams

          You’re way behind the times, Kieran! There’s a new school of psychology out there: the one headed by Dr. Guntram Shatterhand. He’s done wonders for me!

        • Margaret Williams

          Kieran, I’m very happy to say that you have an open invitation from Dr. Guntram Shatterhand to come and visit him at his Piz Gloria Research Institute. Dr. Shatterhand may also want to give you a guided tour of his fantastic botanical garden. This botanical garden is kept inside of a rather cavernous conservatory and is quite exotic. But please don’t be alarmed at the fact that Dr. Shatterhand wears samurai armor whenever he takes a walk through his garden. It’s just that Dr. Shatterhand can be a tad eccentric at times. Toodles! 🙂

      • Ian Baxter

        No, I think you put your thoughts across well, I just think you’re giving the director more credit than he’s due. I suspect the scenes were added to entertain, not to reveal the mental state of the killer.

      • I’d never thought of that being what they were going for. There are so many other revival moments with a fanciful vein, though, that I kind of doubt it was just this director’s thing. The idea does make the ending of this particular episode a tiny bit more palatable.

  • I have to say that I loved this episode. Like Gerry, it could be down to the fact that it was very movie industry centric. The only annoyance for me was the sequence when the camera flipped constantly between Bradey facing Columbo then having a side profile of him. His glasses were on his head in the side profile shots, but on his face in the forward facing shots. That was sloppy. With that said though, I would put this in my top 10, maybe even higher.

  • Sirappleby

    Still with you boys, a Glasgow lad listening all the way over in China! I am dual following as I try to catch up with a new and old episode each week. I liked this one, fond memories of it growing up especially as I was born just as the original runs ended.

    That made me think, apologies if you have already discussed this, it’s different surely watching now as Jerry is than say me or Iain as fans. There’s something about catching these at or now long after the air dates, they are much easier to appreciate. Unpacking the episodes in this way is enjoyable but maybe we miss something too!

    • Good point Sirappleby. Unfortunately that’s not a problem we can solve, but it’s good to get people’s contemporary reactions on here if they remember them!

  • CarlosMu

    I noticed some interesting echoes of older episodes, some of which were mentioned in the podcast:

    –killer gets comeuppance in a limo — Make me a perfect murder
    –Columbo examines victim’s shoe and identifies its country of origin — Try and catch me
    –Killer’s secretary blackmails killer and gets a cruise — Try and catch me
    –male killer with a pageboy haircut — Playback

    • Love the haircut connection. Shows that some things never go out of (or maybe into) fashion!

  • starfloater

    The podcast is organized and humorous. It is also insightful and enjoyable to listen to. I can’t thank the guys enough for actually staying with a great format and going scene by scene in each episode. Not enough podcasts or blogs come close to how well done this podcast is. I like both Gerry and Iain. I think I relate more to Iain’s opinions sometimes since he seems more open minded and a bit more aware of women and minorities struggles. I am both of these so I like it that he sometimes points out certain politically incorrect actions. He is also a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars and that is a major plus!:) I hope after the Columbo podcasts Gerry and Iain continue with another series.

    Okay, not that I have finished raving about this podcast I would like to point out a disappointment I had with their review on this particular episode “Murder, Smoke and Shadows”. There are a few episodes of Columbo that I love. My top one is “The Bye-By Sky High IQ Murder Case”. Next one, “Try and Catch Me”. Most of the time I like episodes that show more of an inside look into Columbo thoughts on murder or about his life that seem to be true. However, the “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” which doesn’t give insight into his life or thoughts is one of my favorites because it was a bit out of the ordinary. Familiar actors and actresses that I still see today were in this episode. The whole drama of revealing the people in the restaurant and the motive of the murder was fun. The ending was lively and unusual, that doesn’t make it terrible. I mean, why not have an ending scene like a final curtain of a play in a Columbo episode? It made it fun to watch.

    Gerry and Iain totally disappointed me because they ripped up this episode making it seem like one of the worst episodes of Columbo, They seem to be pointing out any peculiar aspect of the episode as being weird or just not “columboish”. Now mind you, I respect them, but it seems to be that they do this a lot. Anything that is not in the “Columbo Formula” has a negative tone with them. “Oh well, I don’t know why he is acting like a fool in this episode” or “I don’t know why he is putting on a silly hat just because he is in a magician shop” or “I don’t know why they have the last scene with him pretending to be in some kind of play like a final curtain call.” Why can’t he have different personalities in episodes? Why can’t they do something out of the ordinary sometimes with the conclusion of an episode? I believe this is the only episode that they go totally away from their “columbo formula” when revealing the “Gotcha”. I am not saying it had to make total sense but it was unique and enjoyable to me. The intros, the music, the bowing at the end…it was fun and nice to see that it doesn’t always have to be “this is the proof and this is what you did wrong” format. I am not saying it wasn’t weird but it isn’t like there is another episode with an ending like this one.

    Gerry and Iain made me dispirited.I know I have to get over it but I kind of look forward to their reviews and mostly liked what they had to say. Now, when I try an watch this episode all I can think is “Oh well, it’s crap now because they don’t like it.” I know I am taking it too personal and I am trying to get over. I am not going to stop listening to them.

    I am done venting. Thank you for reading or just skipping this post and letting me vent. I usually don’t comment but I actually had to get my thoughts out about this review.

    Please excuse any grammar mistakes.

    • Thanks for commenting starfloater. I’m sorry you were upset by our thoughts on ‘Murder, Smoke & Shadows’, but hopefully you will enjoy future episodes with us.

      It is a very subjective thing to look at a TV show and pass comment and we know for a fact that our opinions are not ever going to represent all of our listeners. All we can do is be honest with how we see a show and comment on it as fairly as possible.

      I (Iain) found your thoughts on this one very interesting. One of the great things about a forum like this is that it allows people with different opinions to share them and participate in discussion. I’m very fond of saying it would be a dull world if we all agreed on everything!

      Just because we (or even on of us) don’t enjoy a particular episode doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just our thoughts. Particularly in my case, I’m only watching these episodes for the first time and only seeing them once, so there may well be things that appeal on a second or third viewing. If you enjoy something, enjoy it and don’t worry about what we think!

      Thank you very much for your kind comments about the podcast and for your support. We appreciate both.

      • starfloater

        Thank you for responding Iain. Your words made me feel better, I appreciate that:) I like you and Gerry so much I talk about your podcast to my friends and coworkers. I think my boyfriend is a bit jealous because I refer to the two of you as my “Scottish boys”, lol. You guys have a great podcast, I re-listen to your podcast all the time:)

        • Thanks starfloater. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcasts and we really appreciate your support!

          • DaveW

            Sorry fort the late reply but just catching up on this very fun podcast but when listening was I the only one who when Ally Sheedy was mentioned shouted in my mind “…who was in Short Circuit with Fisher Stevens!” ??

          • Sorry we didn’t catch that on the show! Good spot.

  • Dudley Manlove

    The worst Columbo episode from the 70’s is still better than the best Columbo episode from the 80’s and beyond. Just terribly lazy writing that is so full of plot holes and a reliance on pure chance that it stretches belief.

    • That’s not an uncommon view, though I’d personally take episodes like It’s All in the Game and Agenda for Murder over Last Salute to the Commodore!

      • Dudley Manlove

        I haven’t seen those yet and I will keep it mind. On a different note, I would like to chime in with the rest of your listeners and commend you on your excellent podcasts. I appreciate the effort put into each one and the production quality is very professional. My only regret is that I am going through the collection too quickly. First rate job on each one!