Murder in Malibu

Episode 55 – Murder in Malibu

The fifty third episode of Columbo was titled Murder in Malibu and was the sixth and final episode of the show’s ninth season. A successful author first agrees to marry her young partner, then appears to withdraw that agreement. In response he resorts to murder. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at an unusually weak motive and an uninspiring killer.

 

 

Wayne Jennings (Andrew Stevens) is the secret young lover of novelist Theresa Goren (Janet Margolin). Despite his regular philandering, he wishes their relationship to become public and for her to agree to marry him. When an epiphany (live on late night TV) hits Goren, she announces her relationship with Jennings and her intention to marry him, but in a call that evening appears to recant her declaration, telling Jennings that she hates him. In response he drives to her home and appears to shoot her dead.

 

The dynamic force in this episode is Goren’s sister and agent Jess McCurdy (Brenda Vaccaro) who knows Jennings is trying to deceive the police. Jennings, meanwhile, is able to split his time between his accountant, Helen Ashcroft (Laurie Walters); Mrs Rocca (Sondra Currie), a film producer’s wife; and even Jess’ housekeeper Rosa (Yolanda Lloyd).  Floyd Levine‘s Lieutenant Schultz assists Columbo in his investigations.

 

Walter Grauman directed his only Columbo episode and is perhaps better remembered for his fifty three stints behind the camera on Murder, She Wrote. Writer Jackson Gillis returns for the first time since Last Salute to the Commodore and it seems the lessons of that outing have not been fully understood. He has one more opportunity for redemption coming up in Season 11!

 

If you have thoughts on any aspect of Murder in Malibu, 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 in Malibu was released in 1990. 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 9 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.

  • Roberto

    Great podcast, terrible episode. You two have skewered the episode so well that I have little to add. I completely agree that the story was weak, the plot was weak, the motive was weak. The acting performances were weak. The crime and the detection were okay. Nothing else really made sense.

    Columbo seemed old and disinterested (excepting his fascination with women’s underwear). The chemistry between Columbo and the villain(s) was tepid. The sister was the most interesting character but even she was unpleasant and ridiculous at the end.

    All in all, “Murder in Malibu” was awful to watch, especially as a Columbo episode/movie. Without meaning to be unkind, this would have made a semi-decent Murder She Wrote episode.

    • The sister was the most interesting, even if she was a bit of a one-note tune. I guess we did get to see her be a wee bit vulnerable a couple of times. She was definitely the character with the most energy onscreen. And Columbo did seem tired and not quite there through most of it. Sigh.

    • Thanks Roberto. Glad to do our part to keep spirits up for everyone who watched the episode!

  • Ian Baxter

    For a fleeting couple of moments, when Columbo first appears, I thought this episode still had a chance. Allas those brief hopes came to nothing. I found the whole thing just felt like a hammed up day time soap opera.

    The absurdly selfish and repulsive, badly acted (yes, I’ve seen your show notes! *shudder*), womanising killer is unbelievable! What the heck was his motivation? He kills a woman for rejecting him whilst he cheats on her? He builds a playboy lifestyle upon his ability to charm the ladies yet kills a woman in her sleep without trying to talk to her? I did not warm to him, I did not hate him, I just could not care less what happened to him.

    Surely the director and writer are guilty of disrespecting the character of Columbo as they allow him to rifle a pants drawer only because they are going to talk about pants later on. I wish Peter Falk had used some of reputed fight to resist such dumbing down of a great character. How did they ever approve this as a solid ‘Columbo’ premiss/plot?

    No one, not a single one, from the supporting cast managed to rise above the rest. I did not like the sister and her confused, loud, but emotionally frail character who folds in the arms of the muppet and withholds key information and emotion in a case involving her murdered sister, that previously she went to great lengths to protect. I had more interest and sympathy for what ever that was in the coroners jar!

    Maybe it’s all the McCurdy/McKirdy mentions, but have you guys seen ‘Scot Squad’? I’m reminded of when Beattie has to investigate the stolen panties and I’d recommend it as good therapy after this utter utter rubbish 🙂

    Great podcast though, good summary Iain, and Gerry’s description of the McCurdy/Jennings kiss had us in stitches! 🙂

  • Wow. I played Stevens’ and Hamill’s auditions one after the other. Thought maybe it was the norm to sound disinterested and speak in a monotone. But Hamill’s was a whole different experience. Brilliant find for a show note. Also enjoyed Ms. Margolin’s link. But man, you made me work for the one on Levine. Half way through page two: “…and, by the way, this guy’s dad’s name was…” Slim pickings for Lieutenant Schultz.

  • Yep, definitely below par.

    Jennings MUST have had some kind of mind-control superpower, ’cause he was anything but convincing anytime he opened his mouth. Yikes.

    I read a book years ago, about a guy who was given (among other things) the power to manipulate people’s minds, by aliens no less, which he then used almost exclusively to seduce women. Now I’m thinking Wayne Jennings WAS that man.

    And… how about that TV interview scene? The missus and I actually paused the DVD to discuss all the negative female stereotypes being thrown at us. Wow.

    And… Columbo telling the victim’s surviving loved ones that he’ll work extra hard on solving this case, or his wife might not ever let him back into the house again. Time for a sensitivity training refresher, Lieutenant.

    And… Columbo must have had therapy or something, ’cause he is definitely no longer afraid of heights.

    And… sadly, I think the word “panties” probably is the norm for women’s underwear here in the states. At least, it’s the term I hear most often that women of various ages use. I personally try to avoid using it because it sounds silly and juvenile to me.

    I will say that I thought the scene where Columbo gets Jess to confess she made the phone call was done reasonably well. It was the only scene of the episode that I had a little buy-in with.

    Once again, great job with the podcast, guys. You even make the Columbo stinkers entertaining.

    • Red Hobbes

      Jennings probably died before he made it to trial, sexual tyrannosaurus or not. STDs would be a karmic resolution of his story, but maybe that’s my wishful thinking on such a terrible episode.

  • Got to thinking about that book I mentioned, and finally it’s name popped into memory. It can be yours for the asking at Amazon.

    It was actually kind of a cool premise, in spite of the cheesy extremely soft-core 1960s sexiness. These aliens kidnapped this mealy little guy and promised him anything he wanted in return for letting them wire into his brain and follow his existence as a way to learn about humanity. He says he wants the body of an Adonis, and to be able to control people’s minds.

    The aliens gladly do this for him and then tell him they’ll have to erase his memory of them so they get an unbiased “recording” from his brain. Oh, and every 30 days he’ll have an uncontrollable urge to return to their hidden ship so they can download that month’s brain dump.

    So he goes back to his life with all these above and beyond abilities and uses them to create his dream-life, but because he keeps blacking out and disappearing for nearly a week every 30 days as he goes back to the aliens, his life pretty much goes to crap in spite of him living his dreams.

    Okay. Too much on something not even remotely Columbo related. Just the way my mind works sometimes….

    • “cheesy extremely soft-core 1960s sexiness”

      You make it sound so appealing!!

      • Heh. Well, I think I read it in my early twenties, so the cover and general sexiness were probably at least part of it’s appeal, at the time. But ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve been enamored with superheroes and the like, especially superhuman strength.

        The aliens in this book “reassembled” the guy’s body so that it functioned at “peak human ability,” so he was strong, bones healed in hours, etc. (Think: Captain America.) So that aspect was the real draw for me, even WITH those naked women on the cover. (Frank Frazetta did the cover, I think. DOn’t know if you’re familiar with him. Fantastic artist.)

        It was actually a pretty good little morality play: regular joe thinks his life sucks, has all his dreams come true, then realizes his regular life was better than he’d thought.

        • Largo

          “Frank Frazetta … Fantastic artist.”

          I heartily agree with you, Salty! Two of my high school pals, Tom and Kent, would occasionally get into friendly arguments about who was the very best science-fiction and fantasy artist: Frank Frazetta or Kelly Freas. My personal vote is for Franzetta! For those of you who are not familiar with Frank Frazetta, here are just a few examples of his work —

  • Red Hobbes

    And we’re in the dregs. Last week’s episode wasn’t bad, wasn’t great but I’ll post more about that one in the appropriate place. This one however… wow… just wow.

    First off this was one of those episodes that’s like a Moebius strip: it goes nowhere, it just goes around and around. Everything is just horrible. The gigolo seemed to be
    involved with EVERYONE!! I found myself wondering if the victim died of a
    gunshot wound or an STD.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that this episode was essentially pieced together from scraps of discarded or rejected scripts, all written by the same guy, Jackson Giles or he pieced them together. It’s the only explanation. That or demonic possession.

    Great podcast in any case guys. Looking ahead, I see there are a couple gems. Especially the next one. I was pleasantly surprised.

  • CarlosMu

    this isn’t the first time the podcast has called out Columbo for the improper disposal of eggshells. Way back in episode one, Columbo is making the victim’s wife an omelet and he asks for a bowl to put the shells in. Gerry was justifiably outraged by this. Just the same as in this current episode, the egg shells should go into the trash, not into a bowl.

    I remember Brenda Vaccaro from commercials she did a long long time ago for tampons, where she speaks into the camera and gasps loudly for air between every sentence. My sister and I were greatly amused by this and I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else, but her name and face and voice are very familiar just from those commercials.

    I lay more of the blame for this awful episode on Andrew Stevens than you did. But there is plenty of blame to go around. The whole thing just seemed cheap. I imagine the better episodes may have gone through multiple drafts of the script, and they did more takes, etc., and with this one they didn’t bother with any of that work, or they didn’t have the money for it. Anyway that’s how it comes across.

    • Ian Baxter

      There does seem to be a recurring egg theme…
      Making the omelette in ‘Murder by the Book’
      Searching for salt (for the egg) in ‘Lovely but Lethal’
      Breaking an egg on the murder weapon in ‘Stitch in Crime’
      Breaking numerous eggs on a TV show in ‘Double Shock’
      Struggling to lose the egg shells in ‘Murder in Malibu’
      ‘It’s all in the Game’ also has an egg moment (but we’ve not reached that yet)…
      There must be more, but that’s the best I can do off the top of my head.

      • Eggcellent work Ian. I (Gerry) have never considered this theme before.

        • C’mon, nobody else went here with a remark like that? My mind had no choice but to go there….

        • C’mon, nobody else went Batman ’66 with a remark like that? My mind had no choice….

          • Largo

            Oh – the pain, the pain! 😉

        • Ian Baxter

          Just been listening to the podcast for ‘Columbo Trace of Murder’… more egg moments with Columbo producing his own salt cellar!

      • If you grabbed all that off the top of your head, you are a Columbo aficionado indeed!

        • Ian Baxter

          Hmmmm… maybe I need to get out more 🙂

          • Largo

            Indeed – I know I need to get out more, that’s for sure! 🙂

          • Get yourself a dog!

    • Very well remembered Carlos. If there is one thing that I (Gerry l) cannot abide, it is the incorrect disposal of egg shells!

    • Largo

      “I remember Brenda Vaccaro from commercials she did a long long time ago for tampons, where she speaks into the camera and gasps loudly for air between every sentence.”

      You and me both, Carlos! Here is one of those ads along with the SCTV parody with Andrea Martin —

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCwqyO4hPQo

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwiqdN3b9L4

      • CarlosMu

        that’s awsome you made my day Largo! I emailed them to my sister and I guarantee they will make her day too. 🙂

        • Largo

          I’m very glad to hear that, Carlos, and you are most welcome! 🙂

    • Largo

      I remember first seeing Brenda Vaccaro in an excellent episode of The Fugitive entitled “See Hollywood And Die.” It’s about a couple of thugs that carjack Joanne Spencer (Brenda Vaccaro) when she stops at a gas station at the worst possible moment: as it’s being held up by said thugs. Fortunately, Richard Kimble (David Janssen) is along for the ride and eventually saves the day! “See Hollywood And Die” was written by George Eckstein and directed by Andrew McCullough and it first aired on the ABC Network on November 5, 1963.

  • Personally I thought the egg was great in this, although its acting may have come across as a little hard-boiled to some. Still, once it came out of it’s shell its performance warmed up considerably, probably because it got passed around a few times.

    Seriously, this may be regarded as one of the lower tier episodes but still was entertaining in its own way. I have just got back from a very wet walk with my dog, Ghillie, and have to say that the podcast was one of the most entertaining I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. Indeed, if anyone else had been insane enough to be out in this weather, they would have heard me laughing out loud several times over the course of an hour and a half. Good work, chaps. 🙂

  • Ian Baxter

    Oh dear… used the ‘Power of Wayne Jennings’ phrase in a conversation with friends who have not listened to the podcast… it took way to much explaining 🙂

  • Largo

    I apologize for being so late to this particular podcast party, eh! I just wanted to say that I finally got around to listening to your Murder In Malibu podcast and I enjoyed it immensely. This episode is truly baffling and is one hot mess, so I was delighted in your detailed analyses of the myriad of narrative problems that plagues this particular Columbo episode. Just file this one under “What in the Sam Hill Were They Thinking???” and then under the subheading ‘How Did This Crap Even Make The Airwaves?’ Be that as it may, Gerry and Iain, I’m going to file your podcast here under “Absolutely Superb” and give it five stars ***** out of five stars! YES!!!

    The lovely Janet Margolin (may she rest in peace) starred in the very creepy and unusual independent film David And Lisa (1962). This is the film where she first got noticed and it kickstarted her acting career. I saw this film on television in the mid-Sixties and I’ll never forget David’s (Keir Dullea) ‘face of the big clock’ nightmare. I distinctly remember turning around toward my father with a rather shocked expression on my face right after this dream sequence had ended. When my dad saw my reaction to this particular film sequence, he immediately deescalated my horror by smiling warmly at me and then saying, “David is such a fine young man, isn’t he?” Needless to say, I got a serious case of the giggles. Potential childhood trauma quickly averted, so ‘Yay!’ to Dad!!!

    Janet Margolin also starred in the film, Last Embrace (1979), costarring Roy Scheider, and it was directed by Jonathan Demme. Unfortunately, Demme was attempting to emulate Alfred Hitchcock here, but with very little success due to a tepid script. Oh well — as Janet Leigh once said at the AFI salute to Alfred Hitchcock: “Hitchcock is THE Master.” So Jonathan Demme shouldn’t have even tried to copy ol’ Hitch. Be seeing you! 🙂

  • nivipa

    I wanted to clarify the two “ring” comments that you made. Well, one comment, and one question. I’ve been fortunate enough to have only seen the episode the one time that I watched it ahead of your podcast, and it has long since been returned to the library, but I’ll trust my memory on this.

    The first time that a ring is mentioned, when his CPA is ready to give the one that Wayne gave to her back, he rather cruelly says something along the lines of, “That’s okay – you may want to wear it if you ever want to check into a hotel with a man again.” Basically, if there were still any sort of law about an unmarried couple checking into a hotel (which I think was the case in the US, though a few decades before), they would have had to pretend to be married. Rather a disgusting thing to say to her, in my opinion. But, of course, he didn’t really shine much brighter after that.

    As for engagement rings and wedding rings, you are quite right: the engagement ring will typically be rather ostentatious, and the wedding band rather plain. That is also true in the US, though YMMV depending on income and personal preferences.