Columbo: An analysis of “A Trace of Murder” part 4

“That cat could be the only witness to this terrible crime!”,
said Lt. Columbo, “I want that cat.” We resume our analysis of “A Trace of Murder”.  Columbo and Patrick team up to solve the case.

After an officer tells Columbo a saw cat ran out the door, Columbo wants “that cat”.  It is another missing piece that should have been in the home.  Meanwhile, Patrick is can’t find the cigar butt he planted in ashtray.  The theme of missing things resurface.  Lt. Columbo follows up with a story about her wife’s missing earring.  However, Patrick leverages his experience and suggests a resolution, use a vacuum cleaner.   This is a sly technique to boast his credibility as an adversary.

Columbo waits for Tracy Rose the next morning.  She was Howard Selzter business manager.  Her interview with Columbo reiterates the severity of Howard’s lawsuit and Clifford’s character.   In a pretty much an uninteresting scene, we see Columbo enjoying a boiled egg.  His boiled egg makes several appearances and was as popular as his chili.  We take note that his hands are full.  There is nothing missing.  It’s a very subtle clue that we’re out of the conspiracy and into the investigation.  Do you remember when Columbo was handing out bananas at Seltzer’s house?  It’s a signal we’re in the investigation.  Whenever something is missing, it’s part of the conspiracy.  The Seltzer house experiences both.

Lt. Columbo takes his investigation to the Calvert’s residence.  Columbo seems perplexed how proud Clifford was knocking down Howard.  I think this was the moment Columbo began scratching him off the suspect list.  Clifford lists off where he was from work to the wedding and a convenience store in between.  No detail is lost on him.  Clifford then gives a Cuban cigar to the lieutenant.   Columbo won’t be enjoying it as it will be part of his investigation as it was given to him.  The interview takes a turn when Calvert is asked about his .38 revolver.  The revolver is missing.  It’s a crucial part of the conspiracy.  The scene comes to a foreboding end for Calvert who looks for support from Cathleen that is obviously not there.   Columbo takes his investigation back to Howard Seltzer’s house for no other reason to give Sgt. Will grief.  Sgt. Will has no duty but to sit in his chair and wait for the cat to return.  He stands and yells into the trees.  The scene elevates the importance of the cat and bridges the conspiracy and the investigation together!

Columbo pays the Jenkins’ a visit at their opulent home as a crews clean up the mess.  To collaborate Clifford’s alibis, he asks Harriet Jenkins what time Calvert had arrived.  We note that Harriet is unable to since she only paid attention to her daughter during the wedding.   Unlike Clifford, she is unable to match his attention to detail.  As Harriet shows pictures from the wedding, Columbo has keen interest to the one fortuitously showing Cathleen preoccupied with her watch.  Other than telegraphing the audience Cathleen had somewhere to go, remember what Harriet had just said.  While Harriet was too busy thinking about time during an important even, Cathleen was not.  Columbo saw that.  More interested was Columbo in the picture of Calvert and Cathleen dancing.  He asks to borrow (to take) a couple pictures with him to help his investigation.  And it will.   Finally Harriet gives a basket of apples to Columbo.  She all but throws it at him.  It is a clever symbol, a sign to Columbo, the key to the solving the murder case can be found in the wedding.

As Cathleen and Patrick discuss their conspiracy over a phone, Columbo comes walking into the lab and begins tossing apples to the staff.  At first look, the scene is a “little goofy”, but here I’ll describe how brilliant it is!  First, the apples.  Since they were given, it symbolizes part of the investigation.  Columbo, by giving apples away to the entire department, the investigation now has grown in scope to include the department.  It is a most subtle clue that the mystery points to an inside job.  Next, is Patrick’s refusal to take a bite of the fruit.  It not only symbolizes how he isolated from the others but shows the fracture between the two investigators.  Contrast with their conversation how to find an earring lost in a rug.  When Patrick holds up a banana, the symbolism is literal.   While it would have been better had he held an orange, they are as different as apples and bananas.  Patrick eventually takes an apple from Columbo and takes out his handy, Swiss Army knife.  After Columbo and Patrick have different set of opinions about eating apple seeds, Patrick attempts to walk Columbo through the investigation until he confirms Clifford is his leading suspect and the .38 is missing.  The investigation has no other conclusion but to rely on the yet-discovered cat hairs to indict Clifford.

The following scene takes us back to the Seltzer house in an inverted investigation.  Patrick tries to find his planted cigar end.  As missing objects takes us deeper into the mystery, finding them is a step towards conclusion.  It doesn’t take long as the story begins turning the corner.  Sgt. Will has found his cat.  This marks the halfway point in the episode.

This is part four of an analysis of the Columbo episode, “A Trace of Murder” directed by Vincent McEveety.

Go to part 3

Go to part 5

Want to know more about the Cathleen’s newspaper headline?




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