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After a 10-year break from the role that made him a TV superstar, Peter Falk returned as rumpled LAPD homicide detective Lt. Columbo in 1989, appearing in feature-length episodes of The ABC Mystery Movie. The first five of those TV movies are collected here as the Mystery Movie Collection 1989 comprising what is essentially the long-delayed "eighth season" (and part of the ninth) of Columbo, the popular series that made its debut on NBC in 1971. Now signed to ABC with a lucrative new contract, Falk returned to his iconic role as if he'd never left, still wearing the same worn-out overcoat, still driving the same old 1959 Peugeot rust-bucket (with his lazy Bassett Hound "Dog" in the passenger seat), still making frequent references to the never-seen "Mrs. Columbo," and still annoying nervous murder suspects with his politely cunning approach to solving homicides in Los Angeles. As created by TV mystery masters Richard Levinson and William Link, the Columbo series was nothing if not formulaic, but the fun of watching these 93-minute TV movies comes from seeing how that formula still works like a charm: The first half-hour shows how the killers commit and conceal their crimes (Columbo is a police procedural, not a whodunit), and the remaining hour shows Columbo grilling his suspects, slowly turning up the heat until the killer's goose is summarily cooked. With his trademark line "Just one more thing...," Falk fits his role like an old shoe, and the show's writers played on the character's beloved status by milking humor from Columbo's well-established mannerisms, such as leaving the room after gently probing suspects for telling clues, then returning (after a pregnant pause) to deliver "one more thing "--his crime-solving coup de grace (aptly referred to by Rockford Files creator Stephen J. Cannell as Columbo's trademark "dart to the heart.") The Mystery Movie Collection emphasizes a colorfully Southern Californian element of crime and eccentricity, from the beheading of a magician in "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" (with Anthony Andrews hamming it up as the killer) to the malicious misdeeds of "Murder, Smoke and Shadows," in which Spielbergian movie-mogul wunderkind (Fisher Stevens) stages an electrocution murder on the backlot of Universal Studios. "Sex and the Married Detective" is a lightly comedic film noir send-up, in which a sex therapy radio-host (Lindsay Crouse) invents a sexy alter ego to eliminate her cheating lover. In "Grand Deceptions," Robert Foxworth's misdeeds on a military training base aren't clever enough to fool Columbo, and in "Murder: A Self Portrait," Patrick Bachau plays a selfish lothario with three lovers (wife, ex-wife, and girlfriend) who decides that three's a crowd and his ex (Fionnula Flanagan) has got to go! Clever enough to hold anyone's attention, these murders are smartly conceived and entertainingly solved, and the performances and direction are uniformly strong. But the obvious appeal of Columbo is Columbo himself, and with Falk in the role he was born to play (even though it was originally offered to Bing Crosby!), the character remained so popular that he appeared in 19 more TV movies between 1990 and 2003. The Mystery Movie Collection includes one DVD bonus feature: a 30-minute tribute to "America's Top Sleuths," as chosen in a 2007 online survey by viewers of the newly-launched Sleuth TV network. Columbo ranks #2 (out of 10), a close runner-up to Tom Selleck's Magnum P.I.

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MC33272 Columbo Mystery Movie Collection DVD (1989) $19.98 $17.99