7 things you never noticed about the Columbo pilot, ''Prescription: Murder''

Peter Falk does not appear for the first 30 minutes… and was not the first actor to play Columbo.

"Prescription: Murder" premiered on February 20, 1968. After offering the lead role to Bing Crosby (who passed on it so as not to take away from his golfing time) and Lee J. Cobb, creators Richard Levinson and William Link settled on Peter Falk to portray the deceptively brilliant Lt. Columbo. The mystery movie immediately ranked as one of ten most-watched made-for-TV movies in television history. 

Yet, somehow, Columbo would not return to television for three years. In 1971, a second pilot film, "Ransom for a Dead Man," would lead to the regular mystery series on NBC.

Because of the time gap, "Prescription: Murder" had a notably different feel to it, from the decor and costumes to the character traits of Columbo himself. For starters, it's clearly the Sixties, not the Seventies. And Falk plays his iconic role as a far more calculating, dapper detective.

These are not the only things to look out for in this brilliant 90-minute case. Learn more about little details hiding in "Prescription: Murder."

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1. Peter Falk does not appear until 30 minutes into the story.

Who says a hero needs to appear in the first act? Columbo does not stroll into the picture until a half-hour has rolled by. He's got his cigar, but carries his coat over his arm, making him far more sharp-dressed. We'll get more into his fashion sense below.

2. This was not the first time Columbo had appeared on TV.

Fans might be surprised to know that this was not the first time Columbo appeared on TV screens — and that Peter Falk was not the first actor to play the detective. In 1960, Bert Freed, pictured here around the time, played the character in "Enough Rope," an episode of the anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show. And, no, Falk was not the second actor to play Columbo either!

3. This TV movie was an adaptation of a stage play.

Thomas Mitchell next played Columbo in a stage production called Prescription: Murder. The theatrical version of the mystery made its debut in 1962. Mitchell was 70 years old at the time — and passed away later that same year. It would be his last role. The pilot movie was adapted from the play.

4. Columbo's catchphrase was not quite what you remember.

As we mentioned, Falk had not quite yet developed all of his beloved character quirks for Columbo. His catchphrase, however, is there from the beginning… in a way. Fans know and quote the line as "Just one more thing." In fact, that was the title of Falk's autobiography. But in his first appearance, Falk says, "Oh, oh, one more thing before I forget." Eh, semantics.

5. This painting was stolen a few episodes later.

Gene Barry makes for a whipsmart, devilish villain in this film, Dr. Ray Flemming. Pay close attention to the art on the wall in the reception room when Columbo follows Dr. Flemming into his office. You will spot a painting of houses on a hill. That same piece of art appears in the opening scene of "Suitable for Framing," a season-one Columbo episode in 1971. Ross Martin lifts it off the wall.

6. Lt. Columbo had more stylish footwear.

Back to Columbo's notably different sartorial style. Not only is his neat haircut and crisp suit a little surprising compared to the character's iconic frumpy look, Columbo also wears tan Hush Puppies. He's, dare we say, a little preppy?

7. The house in the climax later appeared in a Simpsons episode, too.

At the end of the movie, Columbo gets his man. Of course. The climax takes place in the Stahl House, a modernist masterpiece set in the Hollywood Hills. You are not wrong if the place looks familiar. This architectural marvel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also appears in movies like Galaxy Quest (1999), not to mention Adam-12. It even made an appearance in "Homer the Whopper," the 2009 season debut of The Simpsons, seen here.

 
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Pawpaw2974 3 days ago
this episode was on just last week. honestly I was waiting for Gene Barry to put on his Cain and derby hat and start whistling the BAT MASTERSON tune















Mike 4 days ago
Just looking at that painting that Ross Martin steals in "Suitable For Framing".
Next time you see it, take a good look at the girl who helps Martin steal the stuff.
That's Rosanna Huffman - the real-life wife of Columbo's co-creator Richard Levinson.
AndreaZ 5 days ago
I watched this episode for the very first time a couple of years ago and I can see where Mad Men got some of its inspiration.
Wiseguy 11 days ago
Since Lee J. Cobb died in 1976 and Bing Crosby the following year, both would have died during the original run of Columbo...assuming it would have lasted as long with either actor.
SusanHellige 13 days ago
Cotten and Moorhead was also in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte together
scp 14 days ago
While "Prescription Murder" has some noticeable differences from the series, it does have one of the series's more important pieces, namely, Columbo manipulating the killer into revealing themself.
scp 14 days ago
Barry's character has to be one of the most loathsome killers Columbo dealt with. I've noticed most of my favorite episodes, however, are the ones where the killer is a quasi-sympathetic character, e.g., Ruth Gordon in "Try and Catch Me."

pony scp 13 days ago
Fascinating insight, scp. I'll have to keep that theory in mind while watching episodes in the future to see if the same is true for me.
AndreaZ pony 5 days ago
This is really evident in "Any Old Port in a Storm." And I wanted Rip Torn to get away with the murder not because he was sympathetic, but because he was so funny! He and Falk improved many of their lines and sometimes you can see Rip Torn trying to contain his laughs.
PINKYLEE 14 days ago
One more piece of Peter Falk trivia:

He actually played a criminal on "The Underworld Bank," an episode of The Untouchables in the 1960's.

In 1961 he appeared on another episode of The Untouchables - "The Troubleshooter."
Mike PINKYLEE 4 days ago
In "The Underworld Bank", Peter Falk's co-guest star was - Thomas Mitchell.
Falk and Mitchell also appeared together in Frank Capra's feature "Pocketful Of Miracles".
UTZAAKE 14 days ago
Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Columbo would've been very interesting. Either intense (On the Waterfront, Twelve Angry Men) or go-with-the-flow (the James Coburn Flint movies).
AgingDisgracefully 15 days ago
I remember the Gene Barry character liking himself even more than Amos Burke liked HIMself.
Who would have believed that possible?
FrankCollins 15 days ago
This was the one episode in which Peter Falk played Columbo in the 1960s. He went on to play Columbo in original episodes in the 70s, 80, 90s, and 2000s.
Jeremy 16 days ago
Five through seven, I didn't know. The rest, I already knew.
cperrynaples 17 days ago
Interesting that Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead did the stage play! Bonus Question: What classic film did they appear in 21 years earlier?
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cperrynaples justjeff 15 days ago
I remember Moe on Mike Douglas, his hair was grey but his mind was still sharp!
Lily61 cperrynaples 15 days ago
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
F5Twitster cperrynaples 15 days ago
And Patricia Medina was Mrs Joseph Cotten in real life.
scp cperrynaples 14 days ago
"Citizen Kane," I think. Cotten played Kane's friend and Moorehead played Kane's mother.
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