Extra Information

In their 1981 book, Stay Tuned, Levinson and Link recount their
    sitting down to watch Prescription: Murder to see if they had fixed
    the play's mistakes. The details were soon forgotten. Instead, they
    found themselves enchanted by Peter Falk's wonderfully quirky
    performance. The mystery plot worked fine, yet it was the actor's
    portrayal that made their TV movie something special.
    Twenty years later, Prescription: Murder still holds up very well.
    Barry makes a smooth villain, but it's Falk's Columbo that demands our
    constant attention. Richard Irving's sure direction and Dave Grusin's
    jazzy score give the TV movie a feel that's part Ellery Queen and part
    Conan Doyle.
    "Dick Irving is a very nice man," Dick Levinson said. `'Creatively, all
    the components were there in the play, and he worked at enhancing
    them. Peter didn't tumble to the character at first. He was playing a
    straight cop. When he realized the possibilities and started playing them,
    he went way past our expectations. It s a very stylish film.
    Prescription: Murder, like the second Columbo TV movie, Ransom
    for a Dead Man, is not syndicated with the forty-three Mystery Movie
    episodes, but it does show up regularly on independent TV stations.
    MCA also issued a home video version in 1987. Columbo is billed as
    "TV's favorite detective," and, for once, an advertising puff contains a
    measure of accuracy.
    Levinson was basically correct in saying that all the components
    were in place. There's no car. There's no dog. But Prescription:
    Murder established a formula that would be duplicated again and again, with
    only slight variations.
    You start with the concept that Columbo is an inverted or open
    mystery. In other words, instead of the traditional whodunit, we get to
    see the murder committed. We know who dun it. Columbo is a
    It was a daring idea for television, yet mystery fans can tell you that
    the literary device was being used long before Columbo showed up. R.
    Austin Freeman, author of such books as John Thomdyke's Cases
    (1909), The Eve of Osiris (1911) and The Singing Bone (1912), is
    credited with inventing the inverted mystery. Anthony Berkeley Cox,
    writing under the pseudonym of Francis Ites, used the open mystery in
    the 1931 novel Malice Aforethought.
    The character of Lieutenant Columbo also had definite literary
    "There were two major influences that we're aware of," Levinson
    said. "The humbleness we got from Father Brown. The fawning
    manner we got from Perrovich in Dostoyevsky's Crime and
    Punishment. He's always saying, 'You're so much brighter than I am.
    I'm just a humble civil servant."'
    Most of the other familiar aspects of the Columbo series can be
    found in Prescription: Murder: references to his wife, the delayed
    entrance, talk about his many relatives, the cigar, the seminal Columbo

    "There's one detail that bothers me . . .
    "I seem to be making a pest of myself."
    "Gee, you don't have a pencil, do you? Thanks. You know, my
    wife, she gives me one every morning, and I just can't seem to hold on
    to it. "
    "My sister, she has a living room that's very, very modern."
    "Oh, listen, there's one more thing . . ."
    "Do you know where the one more thing came from?" Levinson
    asked with a grin. "When Bill and I were writing the play, we had a
    scene that was too short, and we had already had Columbo make his
    exit. We were too lazy to retype the scene, so we had him come back
    and say, 'Oh, just one more thing . . .' It was never planned."
    Twenty years after Prescription: Murder aired, Falk still would
    have nothing but praise for Levinson and Link's script. "That was
    absolutely flawless," he said. "I don't remember changing a comma.
    That was a terrific script."
    The major change from the play, of course, was the switch from
    New York to Los Angeles. "And several reviewers pointed out that
    Columbo, especially Falk's Columbo, was obviously a New York
    cop," Levinson said. "But we had switched coasts, so why not
    There was another change that seemed minor at the time. Levinson
    and Link had clothed Columbo in an overcoat. "We had put Mitchell
    in a shabby overcoat that he got cigar ashes all over," Levinson
    pointed out.
    Falk read the script and thought it said raincoat. He brought in a
    beat-up favorite from his own wardrobe. "The raincoat was his idea,"
    Levinson said. "It used to drive people crazy because it made a lot of
    noise and Peter is a natural actor who doesn't like to loop [dub in
    obscured dialogue or rewritten lines]. And he's very good at looping.
    But in the middle of a scene, there'd be this great ruffling noise. It was
    that raincoat. The sound guys would go nuts."
    In fact, Columbo was about the cheapest character Universal ever
    had to costume. The clothes ail belonged to Falk, and he wore the
    same suit, shoes and raincoat for all forty-five Columbo outings.
    "Yeah, it was my raincoat, my brown leather shoes, my suit," Falk
    chuckled. "The suit was one of those cool, baggy summer suits. But
    they only had them in blue and white. I asked them if they could dye
    one of them, and it became that brownish tan. I wore the same suit for
    the whole series."
    Prescription: Murder slipped onto the air with relatively little
    fanfare. Jack Gould, then TV critic for The New York Times, devoted
    his February 20 column to a German-made documentary about
    Hitler, which PBS aired. Still, the ratings were good enough to put
    Prescription Murder among the ten highest-rated TV movies made to that date.

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