In the sixth and final part of analysis of “A Trace of Murder”,
co-conspirators, Patrick and Cathleen, need to get through the final interview with Lt. Columbo. If they succeed, they’ll free to spend Clifford’s money.
As the episode goes into its third act, Patrick and Cathleen have a secret meeting at night. Cathleen is belligerent she has to speak to that “dopey detective”. Patrick is confident but Cathleen wishes more had been done to frame Clifford. The disagreement, like the apple and banana scene, indicates growing separation between the two. The next day, Patrick, Columbo, and Cathleen sit for coffee in a restaurant. Every table in the restaurant is taken. Nearly every inch of space is cluttered with something. Either its an interesting and painstaking set design or another example of “filled spaces”. It’s becoming clear that it symbolizes the conspiracy has no room to move. Cathleen rightfully protests being without a lawyer or her husband present, Columbo goes ahead with accusatory questions anyhow. While Columbo continues to grill Cathleen on the missing gun, Patrick makes a faux-pas. He puts the sugar substitute in front of Cathleen. Columbo stops the interview, walks out in a stupor. When he recovers, he ends the interview and walks out the restaurant wanting someone to take his glass. The “taking” is another sign of a conspiracy and it happens before Columbo’s eyes. Patrick telegraphs Cathleen’s preferences to sit in front of the car. Columbo is stunned and the whole case becomes crystal clear. He understands Patrick and Cathleen know each other.
The episode picks up its paces as it poses the grand jury indictment as a countdown. Columbo interrupts negotiations between the Clifford and his attorney with a counselor from the DA office. The most interesting part of the scene is the preposterous number of pencils in front of the counselor. With her fingers fanning, it looks like a spiked fence between her and the audience. The background is full and cluttered. This is a symbol she is incorruptible but will offer no help. Later, Columbo visits Clifford at his home. While I think the indoor behind Clifford in the foyer was there only for framing reasons, it does set up the viewer to study what’s behind him. In Clifford’s office, Columbo discusses Clifford’s choice of cutting cigar ends. The camera is angled slightly lower in this scene than the first with Clifford in his office. This signifies greater empathy the viewer has with Clifford not to mention the interesting angel wing making him look divine.
The next morning, Columbo shocks Patrick with news that the grand jury had been postponed. Patrick is flabbergasted how his perfect plan and faltered. Columbo shows Patrick the photos that would clear Clifford while convincing Patrick to hand over his pocket knife. Columbo goes across the street to speak with Cathleen. Columbo had requested her to speak with the DA. He makes up a false story and lies. Columbo puts the pocket knife in a bag and tells Cathleen the knife was found in Seltzer’s backyard and it was Patrick who spotted a fiber from Cathleen’s car. He convinces her that Patrick will set her up. Cathleen will be duped into testifying against Patrick. Meanwhile, Columbo lets Patrick know that Clifford uses a wedge cutter and he could prove Patrick’s knife was used to cut the cigar end and planted in Seltzer’s house. The look on Patrick’s face is the polar opposite early in the episodes. He is lucid, sober, and in deep manure!
This is this the sixth and final part of an analysis of the Columbo episode, “A Trace of Murder” directed by Vincent McEveety.