The twenty-second episode of Columbo was titled Swan Song and was the seventh episode of the show’s third season. A country music legend plans a plane crash to escape his wife’s cult. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the investigation to see whether Columbo can hit the right notes.
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The major guest star in this episode was a real-life music legend, to an even greater extent than the character he portrayed. Johnny Cash is of course remembered more for his musical success than his acting, but he did play more than two dozen roles in an acting career spanning six decades. He was played by Joaquin Phoenix in the Academy Award winning biopic Walk the Line, released in 2005. Here he plays Tommy Brown, ostensibly a Christian rock star with a longing to be emancipated from his overbearing, blackmailing wife.
In support of Cash and Peter Falk were the returning Ida Lupino as Brown’s wife Edna; Bonnie Van Dyke as the second murder victim, Maryann Cobb; John Dehner as air crash investigator Roland Pangbourne; and Bill McKinney as Edna’s brother, Luke Basket.
There were entertaining cameos from Vito Scotti as Mr Grindell, the funeral director; Janit Baldwin as a suitably uncomfortable band member named Tina who rejects Brown’s advances after his wife’s death; Douglas Dirkson as excitable aircraft mechanic Jeff; and Lucille Meredith as a seamstress who steals the scene she shares with Falk’s Columbo. John Randolph also appears as a confused Air Force Colonel, providing Columbo with a vital piece of evidence.
Director Nicholas Colasanto was credited with the same job in Season 2’s Ètude in Black, though some contend that John Cassavetes and Peter Falk were ultimately responsible for the direction of that episode. There is no such dispute on this occasion. David Rayfiel composed the teleplay from Stanley Ralph Ross‘ story. This was Rayfiel’s only contribution to Columbo, though you will remember that Ross was responsible for the teleplay of Any Old Port in a Storm, earlier in Season 3.
We asked listeners during the episode to let us know if they remember whether the appearance of Johnny Cash was a major event when the episode first aired. If you have thoughts on that or on any aspect of Swan Song please share them below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.
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Swan Song was released in 1974. It is 98 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.