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."
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.