An analysis of Make Me a Perfect Murder, a Columbo episode
A most brilliant Columbo episode, filled with themes and sub-conscious symbolism. Clues are left throughout the mystery and reveal themselves in the end. In this article we begin breaking down the episode, scene by scene. This is our analysis of “Make Me a Perfect Murder”.
As the opening titles roll, we see and hear Lt. Columbo sing. He quickly breaks into one song to another. They are “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Yankee Doodle”, and “Oh My Darling, Clementine”. The first is a song about preparing for death. The next is considered patriotic, albeit a superficial one, with delusions of grandeur. Finally, his last is parody about a woman’s demise. We’ll learn that singing to one’s self is a repeated theme as well as Lt. Columbo’s choice in lyrics is surprisingly clairvoyant.
While driving down an ambiguous street in Los Angeles, it is unclear where Lt. Columbo is headed. If we pay attention, the camera is aimed at him traveling from our left to our right. Or put in another way, from West to East. We will also see things are literally falling apart in his hands. His rear view mirror has fallen off and Columbo is swerving his car erratically. This will become a metaphor for another character in the episode, Kay Freestone, who has not yet been introduced.
Columbo’s antics does not go unnoticed. We hear a police radio broadcast explaining what is happening live. Broadcasting media is another theme that will be repeated. For now all attention is on Columbo before his car comes to an abrupt, yet predictable end. While the opening 1:40 comes across as slightly comical and offbeat, it is an allegory about overcoming crisis and physical or emotional injury.
The episode cuts to a fictional film “The Professional”. The tone changes with somber music synchronized to a rough and overtly unfinished work presently showing a mysterious man playing with a firearm. With overtones of duress, his image is trapped inside a vehicle. His only salvation is the weapon in his hands. What is also interesting is the fact the depicted film does not fill the entire space. It is purposely dwarfed inside an imaginary window. We, the audience, are looking inside one window inside another inside another. In addition to the absence of the film’s context, it is purposely kept at distance from us. An important foreshadowing of what will come.
We are introduced to Kay Freestone who is clearly in charge of sound editing in a room full of men. Pay attention to what she commands. The music is “too big”, and all she wants to hear is the pulse track. She is all about removing or deleting content. When Kay asks for gratuitous approval from the producer, the producer replies, “Everything is okay with me, I’m just the producer.” At first we think he’s easy going and non-confrontational but in fact his follow up line is his ploy to regain control over his project. He asks Kay to “get out of the grease pit” and let him finish the work. In fact, he needs to remind her and everyone in the room who should be in charge.
Kay smiles away such a suggestion. Inside however, she is annoyed and vents her frustration/anger by giving one of the technicians an unexpected massage. She immediately begins resolving this “dispute” physically. She is showing she is capable of laying her hands on anyone. Kay demands control over a fictional world and can take control of the real one just as easily without question. Or so she thinks! How’s that for a massage?
We conclude part one at 2:48.
This is the first part of the series, an analysis of “Make Me a Perfect Murder” directed by James Frawley.