The sixteenth episode of Columbo was titled Lovely but Lethal and was the first episode of the show’s third season. Espionage and double-dealing in the cosmetics industry lead to a brutal murder as the new season begins dramatically. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the foundation of Columbo’s case and some important concealed evidence.
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The dark underbelly of the high-end cosmetics industry is exposed in Lovely but Lethal as a desperate company boss kills a disloyal employee in a moment of high emotion. Viveca Scott – played here by Vera Miles – is the founder of Beauty Mark Inc. She believes she has the formula to end wrinkles and fine lines, but when her company’s research bears no fruit its prospects look bleak. Slighted employee Karl Lessing, portrayed by the marvelous Martin Sheen, taunts Viveca with the possibility of a genuine formula before making it clear he’ll be selling to a bitter rival. In a moment of anger Scott strikes Lessing down with a microscope.
Martin Sheen reflects on his role in this episode during a Reddit IAmA
Lessing isn’t the episode’s only turncoat – Sian Barbara Allen‘s mild-mannered Shirley Blaine is similarly engaged in a form of espionage, funneling secrets to Scott from her employer – Scott’s rival – David Lang (memorably, if briefly, portrayed by horror legend Vincent Price).
Columbo is tasked with identifying Lessing’s killer and, despite a number of solid leads, it is the tiniest piece of evidence – fragments of shattered glass – that provide him with the vital clue. There is a memorable turn from Fred Draper as the inebriated and enamoured Dr Murcheson while Gino Conforti, an actor perhaps better known for his voice than his face, is visible in his single scene as a fashion photographer.
Writer Jackson Gillis is by now well-known amongst fans of the show, while director Jeannot Szwarc would go on to helm the classic shark sequel Jaws 2 and is currently a director on the hit TV show Bones with Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz.
During this episode we didn’t ask any particular questions, but if you have thoughts on any aspect of Lovely but Lethal then please feel free to comment below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.
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Lovely but Lethal was released in 1973. It is 73 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.