Murder by Natural Causes

Last night, as I couldn’t sleep, I decided to see whether or not I could find an episode of Columbo that I’d never seen before streaming on the internet. And I found one that looked promising on YouTube titled “Murder by Natural Causes,” starring Hal Holbrook and Katharine Ross, which I promptly started watching. And it was good. But there was something weird about it. The formula felt just a little off. By the twenty minute mark, there still wasn’t a murder, and, an hour in, there was still no Peter Falk in his rumpled trench coat. And, while it had the pacing and the feel of an episode of Columbo, it wasn’t really all that clear as to who was going to be killing who, although the plot was clearly moving in the direction of homicide. Somehow, though, I still expected that, at some point, Peter Falk would make an appearance. “This must have just been an experiment on the part of the writers and producers,” I thought, “to play with the formula.” And I remained optimistic. About an hour and ten minutes in, though, I started to have doubts, and decided to do a little research. And it was at that point that I discovered that it wasn’t an episode of Columbo at all, but a made-for-TV movie written by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link in 1979. At any rate, I eventually got over feeling like a fool for not catching on sooner, and continued watching it. And it was really, really good. I don’t want to say much more, as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, but, if, like me, you’re a fan of what Levinson and Link did with Columbo, and you’re looking for a bit of an escape from the world of shit that we’re all living in at the moment, I think you might enjoy it… Here it is.

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  1. Posted July 3, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and just get through the talkshow scene at the beginning. It gets better after that. I promise. [I hated the guy playing the talkshow host.]

  2. Posted July 3, 2018 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    OK, I looked up the guy who played the talkshow host. His name was William J. Fiore. Here’s his writeup from IMDB.

    Bill Fiore did commercials for Right Guard deodorant in the 1970’s. His character would open the bathroom cabinet and his neighbor (Chuck McCann) would open the other side of the cabinet at the same time and say to Bill “Hi,Guy!”. They would have an exchange about the deodorant and the Bill would yell for his wife, screaming “Mona!!!”.

    Wait… this is interesting… his first acting credit is a movie that’s been on my “must see” list for the past several years – the Burt Lancaster movie The Swimmer… Now I feel like it’s imperative that I see it. Maybe I’ll rent it tonight.

  3. iRobert
    Posted July 3, 2018 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve become a big fan of death by natural causes. I’m really rooting for them these days, as I’m sure a lot of people are. Natural causes! Come on natural causes!

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    For some strange reason, we watched ‘The Swimmer’ in my 6th grade class one year. I have no idea why. It was not really appropriate. And I grew up in a very conservative and working class area with zero shared experience with the world shown in the film. It’s a deeply strange film, but much media in 1976 was deeply strange, especially to a child. Around that time I took to riding my pony from the farm through neighboring farms and then though the very new suburbs to my best friends house. I always thought I was like Burt Lancaster when I did that. The Cheever story on which The Swimmer is based is very good as well.

  5. iRobert
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I wish you could share spoilers, because I sure as hell ain’t gonna watch this shit.

    I do so appreciate that you chose to post this thread which brings up the topic of natural causes though. Until you did, I was mulling strategies over and over in my mind on how I might bring the subject up without just sounding really random and crazy. I feel like seeing if I can start a fundraising effort to get a grand monument commissioned dedicated to natural causes, and have it placed prominently on the national mall in Washington, DC.

    Sad is a romantic. It believes true love and devotion reside in the big white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a love story for the ages. Demented creep meets girl, buys girl off with promised material wealth, uses girl up, dumps girl for younger girl who seeks material wealth, younger girl ages a little, gets used up, gets dumped for hotter girl raised in Soviet intelligence environment, demented creep has ages to be even more grotesque and repulsive in every way, girl places her bets he’ll keel before long, grotesque creep fucks lots of prostitutes, porn stars, and grabs a lot of married pussy, girl reminds herself she should only have to hold on a little bit longer, girl joins nation in silent wait for natural causes to do their magic and save the day. It’s a beautiful story.

  6. Tommy
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    By the hour mark you should have known that you weren’t watching a 1 hour tv show (about 42 minutes without commercials). Well deserved break from the madness Mark. Take the rest of the week off. Happy 4th.

  7. Sad
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I am a romantic and an optimist. I know that love is everywhere.

    I heard this week about how Obama is dealing with Trump. Smart man.

    He’s not hoping he dies ( that would just mean Pence).

    I hope you all get to relax and celebrate our freedoms with the ones you love.

    I know I will.

    Happy Fourth of July.

  8. iRobert
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Sad is a regular Yankee Doodle love guru! Whoodathunk? Bless us each and every one.

  9. Sad
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I am Large…..

  10. Iron Lung 2
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Phuuuuuck so huge whitepeoplekillthemselvesmakeroomforBLMpreggerHondurans


    420kuchobamaconspiracy where’sthe dog? I don’t hear the baby.

  11. Jean Henry
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    iRobert– Natural causes would make Trump a martyr. And then we’d get Pence. I don’t wish for anyone’s death. Period. Much better to take Trump down with indictments. I hope it comes to that. I’m waiting for the perp walk. I dream about it sometimes.

    Obama is a politician and still holds a cultural leadership position that he takes very seriously. The rest of us are not burdened by such responsibility and can speak our free minds. I’m sure he would like to do that and does so in private.

    Have a great 4th of July. I’m also an optimist and a romantic; that’s why I’m frequently disappointed. I take no pride in either of those natures. Nor do I begrudge others theirs. It is what it is. We are what we are. Studies show depressed people are more often right about their perception of themselves and others. I feel confident cynics are as well. Everyone has value.

    Maybe we should exclude autocratic narcissists in that assessment however. At least so long as they hold power and so warrant our intense scrutiny.

  12. Posted July 4, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    It’s been a while since I watched an episode of Columbo on television, but I believe their run times, with commercials, were 90 minutes. I just looked it up, and, according to the internet, Columbo run-times spanned from 73 to 98 minutes, with most of them being 73, which would mean that they aired in 90 minute slots. So, yeah, it wasn’t so totally embarrassing that I went an hour before thinking that something was up. If you watch, I think you’ll see what I mean.

  13. Posted July 4, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    And I didn’t watch The Swimmer last night. I fell asleep instead.

    Thanks for sharing the story, Jean. I like the idea of you traveling, like Burt Lancaster, only on horseback, through the backyards of your neighbors, to your friend’s house.

    In the movie, for those of you aren’t familiar with it, the protagonist, Burt Lancaster, decides to travel home from a party by swimming through the backyard pools that can be found across his community.

  14. iRobert
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I watched the movie you linked, Murder by Natural Causes. It wasn’t bad. I’m sentimental about those 1970s murder movies too, and they always had good acting performances. It was fun to see Katharine Ross playing such a sociopath. I wish we had more beautiful, homicidal, women in our world. Things would be a lot more interesting. I’ve only had a few girlfriends who were borderline. They were great – Never a dull moment with them.

  15. Posted July 4, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I’m happy to hear that someone took my advice and watched. It’s rare that I take a chance on something that I’d never heard of before, and discover it to be really good. It has me wondering about other early Richard Levinson and William Link scripts.

  16. Posted July 4, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    And, yes, Katherine Ross was great. Interesting to think of this character as a grown up version of the young woman she played in The Graduate.

  17. iRobert
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    That’s what I was fantasizing – that Katharine Ross’s character had already murdered her previous husband, that goon who banged her mom, played by Dustin Hoffman, and then snagged herself this Hal Holbrook character. I often imagine prequels where Dustin Hofmann gets murdered viciously. Anyway, thanks for the movie recommendation.

    Have you ever met a homicidal maniac in person, Mark? I don’t know if I’ve ever asked you that. Did I ever tell you about my experience meeting serial killer Leslie Allen Williams? It was just after closing tine at a gas station in Redford, before Williams had been caught.

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I have never personally met a homicidal maniac, but, in my Great Grandmother’s oral history, she said her father, somewhere in Idaho, gave a ride on his wagon to Charles Boles, aka Black Bart the imfamous poet robber. He thought the man was odd but survived unharmed. He found out later who it was. She was the most reliable narrator in a family of unreliable narrators, so take it all with a grain of salt.

    And iRobert, I want to hear that story.

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted July 4, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Kim and I rode through the McDonald’s drive thru and worked her paper route on horseback as well. We were in the local paper for it. Infamous early for subversive tendencies.

  20. iRobert
    Posted July 15, 2018 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    My brief but horrifying interaction with serial killer Leslie Allen Williams would take some time for me to write out in the detail the story deserves. I searched to see if I had written it all out before at sometime and saved it to a memory drive, but have found nothing. The task of writing out the full story will just have to be added to my ‘to do’ list, for the time being, unfortunately.

  21. HuntingViolets
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Levinson and Link did a few mystery movies that weren’t Columbos. I saw “Murder by Natural Causes” when it originally aired and loved it. To the poster who said it was too long to be a Columbo episode because that would have been 42 minutes: Columbo episodes were TV movies, not weekly episodes. They are between 70 and 98 minutes long, and MBNC is about 95 minutes long.

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