COLUMBO – PRESCRIPTION: MURDER

Dirk Benedict stars as the deceptive detective in the dirty raincoat at the New Theatre, Cardiff.
Prescription: Murder was the first Lieutenant Columbo case ever written; it was originally a stage play before becoming the pilot episode for the television series. Psychiatrist Roy Fleming is in trouble with his wife after answering the call of a female patient on their wedding anniversary – the patient turns out to be his young bit-on-the-side; an actress named Susan Hudson. Roy’s marriage had been sour for some time so he plans to kill off his trouble and strife, ‘She just won’t come around to my way of thinking,’ he explains to his mistress.

Randy old Roy does away with Mrs. Fleming at their swanky apartment – using the standard strangulation method – and recruits leggy Susan – dress as his wife – to act out a domestic between the two of them at the airport, resulting in her storming off and leaving Roy to travel alone. Mrs. Fleming would later be found dead at the apartment, presumably killed by an opportunist burglar. It would have worked had Roy managed to kill her properly! He soon returns from his trip to Acapulco.  The body of his wife is missing and a scruffy looking detective in a dirty raincoat is snooping around the place. The Detective fills him in on the events. It turns out that his wife was merely comatosed.  She did wake up for a brief time and spent most of it repeating his name before popping her clogs for good, this time.

The chess game commences as the seeds of doubt are planted and Columbo uses psychological games to try and pin the murder on Fleming. Grating away, he lures Roy into a false sense of security by leading him to believe that he, the disarming detective, is just a washed-up cop without a clue. In one scene Columbo visits Roy and proposes that he consults him on a weekly basis because he, ‘seems to rub people up the wrong way and tends to forget things easily’. The shrink suggests that things are often forgotten for a reason, to which the Lieutenant replies ‘Oh, I hope not, sir! I left my wife behind at the bowling alley last week!’ Columbo finally manoeuvres his suspect into admission with the reluctant cooperation of Susan, who overhears Roy explaining to Columbo that he feels nothing for her. Check, and mate to Lieutenant Columbo.

It was 50 minutes in to the show before Dirk Benedict entered stage-left to a warm reception, and  it was a further 30 minutes before he delivered the classic line ‘just one more thing…’ It was apparent from the first word that Benedict had nailed the character; articulation, body language and facial expressions were as close to Peter Falk as they could have been. Dirk is looking good for his age, too – my girlfriend was forced to ponder the dilemma of finding a near geriatric attractive – not unlike my morally unsound crush on Jessica Rabbit (she’d never leave Roger).

I don’t go to stage plays very often, but then, we don’t get many cult icons in town very often – particularly ones portraying my favourite TV detectives. Unlike the silver screen, the theatre still remains loyal to the originals – I shudder to think what Columbo would look like if Guy Ritchie ever got his hands on it. I’m considering swapping my cinema tickets for theatre tickets more often – the result is more gratifying. There was one more thing, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it was.
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