In part 5 of our analysis of “A Trace of Murder”,
we get repeated themes of taking and filling spaces. The conspiracy is running out of steam and Columbo begins to spend more energy defending the suspect. We also learn the price of a protein bar in 1997 was $1.29.
When the cat is released inside the Seltzer’s house, it runs off clawing at a door*. When Columbo opens the door to see what’s on the other side, Patrick discovers the lost cigar end. Playing dumb, he let Columbo put “two-and-two” together pinning the murder on a cigar smoker, like Clifford. Returning to re-interview Clifford, Columbo takes, borrows, steals Clifford’s left over cigar from the tray. Outside, he carefully inspects the end and how it was cut. By his gestures we figure he has his doubts. Columbo walks back into Clifford’s office asking about where he bought his cough drops. Clifford’s reply was very detailed. Columbo returns to Patrick’s lab where Patrick tells him there is enough evidence with the cigar end to issue a search warrant. As the police rummage through Calvert’s clothes, Cathleen acts distressed. Listen how Columbo mocks Cathleen by asking if she knew what socks and underwear Calvert was wearing during the wedding. Unlike Calvert, she offers Columbo no help solving the mystery and no help defending her husband.
*If the cat put it there, who closed the door? Didn’t the police check every room in the house?
Columbo eventually discovers the Clifford’s suit from the wedding. Cathleen makes a very animated gesture, “Don’t take that suit! That’s my husband’s favorite suit!” On the surface, its seems natural that law enforcement takes things during a search warrant. But what’s with Cathleen’s emphasis? “Taking” is a pattern, connecting the dots of Clifford’s downfall. It starts with the taking of his cigar, car, and finally his suit. A suit covered with cat hair. The following scene is something out of the ordinary in Columbo. A meeting with the suspect, his lawyer, Columbo, and a forensics examiner. Let’s first run what they do before discussing what the scene means. For the first time, we see Patrick and Cathleen together putting up an act as if their strangers. It’s pretty anti-climatic. I would have expected a panicked scene how the two never planned of being seen together and how they need to avoid tipping off they know each other. Instead, what we get other than comedic relief from Clifford’s line is another opportunity for Columbo to take what’s left of Calvert’s cigar from the ashtray. But what can we take away from the scene’s importance? We begin looking at the stacks of magazines laid out taking space at one end of the table Next, we see how Patrick’s suitcase occupies a lot of real estate. Like the Clifford’s dining room, there is nothing missing here. It is first clue during Patrick and Cathleen’s plot that their conspiracy will fail.
If you’re not yet convinced on the idea of “filling spaces”, wait until Columbo steps out of the elevator. The elevator cart is cramped. It is a message and an idea that follows him during his investigation. It’s a cloud of inspiration that takes form of an epiphany. Columbo examines Clifford’s notched cigar end and begins to pull the clues apart. Columbo visits Patrick at the crime lab. There, Patrick shares that it was animal hair on Clifford’s suit, but won’t yet say it’s definitely cat hair. Patrick then shares he found carpet fibers, but won’t say it’s definitely from Seltzer’s house. Columbo is frustrated with Patrick’s “diligence”. But what they are really having is another difference of opinion. Like the apples and bananas scene, this demonstrates divergence between the two. Columbo concedes he must wait and rummages through the things seized from the Calvert house including Clifford’s car. Columbo has his eye on Clifford’s receipt.
If you’re still not convinced, wait for the next scene at the mini-mart. The investigation digs deeper exonerating Clifford. The mini-mart is deliberately packed. Every space is filled with a goods, shelving, signs, and patrons. Even the extra clumsily holds two bags of groceries. I’ve never seen a convenience store this popular! Every angle shows activity or clutter. It’s entire Walmart crammed inside complete with pastries and hats. This is where the conspiracy dies. The scene ends with Columbo having an agitated discussion with the cashier whether or not a protein bar is worth $1.29. It’s a microcosm of another divergence. But Columbo finds agreement and decides to purchase a dozen protein bars.
Columbo returns to Patrick’s lab. Unlike the prior three scenes, the lab is nearly empty and dark. It’s a symbol of Patrick’s pending downfall and isolation. Patrick greets Columbo with news that would indict Clifford. But Columbo brings his own evidence that Clifford could not have been the murderer. He shows Patrick video footage of Clifford at the mini mart that all but exonerates him. Patrick tries, woefully, to discredit the video. He’s almost speechless how hard Columbo is defending Clifford. Patrick also makes a mistake crediting his knowledge in forensic psychology and tries once again to help implicate Clifford. Columbo dismisses Patrick’s “shaky” theory. Columbo wonders who else with access to the missing gun, Patrick tries to protect Cathleen. But Columbo is suspicious of her and set up an interview between he and Cathleen. In a last second decision, he decides to invite Patrick because of his said knowledge in forensic psychology. The stakes have been raised and Patrick and Cathleen cannot afford a mistake.
“You and me, together, Pat. Three eyes are better than one.” – Lt. Columbo.
This is part five of an analysis of the Columbo episode, “A Trace of Murder” directed by Vincent McEveety.