Friday, May 16, 2014

Columbo: Double Exposure (1973)

      Columbo: Double Exposure (1973) [D: Richard Quine. Peter Falk, Robert Culp, et. Al] A motivational researcher, Dr Keppel, murders Norris, one of his clients, who’s about to fire him. He uses a subliminal cue, a single frame spliced into the draft  promotional movie, plus elevated heating, to trigger thirst, and runs a cassette tape, which enables him to shoot the victim at the drinking fountain while supposedly reading the script. He’s over-confident, of course, commits a second murder, and finally is trapped by Columbo’s use of subliminal stimuli.
      The story is nicely conceived puzzle, with enough character development to make us suspend disbelief of its more far-fetched notions, such as the precision of subliminal stimuli. The Columbo series enjoyed a deserved success, in large part because of Falk’s conception of the character. Columbo pretends to be puzzled, confused, and not very bright, which disarms the perpetrators. The narrative focus is on how Columbo solves the puzzle. The scripts are always well done, with good parts for the secondary characters, straightforward visual story telling, but occasionally intrusive music signalling some evil deed about to transpire.
     Like US movies generally, there is a surprisingly naive sense of evil. Evil spreads its effects like a stain and causes grief well beyond its immediate victims, but there’s almost zero awareness of that here. The victim’s wife is set up for a poor alibi, Dr Keppel’s projectionist is too willing to profit from Keppel’s crime, Norris’s business colleagues seem unaffected by his absence. Minor additions to the script or the acting would have added the hints of depth and wider context that would make this an outstanding series. As it is, it’s very good, and forty years later it still wears well. **½

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