A renowned food writer has been cooking the books – and will kill to keep his secret – in Columbo: Murder Under Glass.
Food critic Paul Gerard (Louis Jourdan) has been squeezing cash from local restaurant owners in exchange for glowing reviews. Now one of them, Vittorio, is threatening to go public about the sting.
Paul goes to his restaurant to confront him, but walks out after a blazing row. Not long afterwards, the police summon him back to the premises: Vittorio is dead. He’s been poisoned.
When Lieutenant Columbo learns the poison was in the wine, Paul Gerard becomes his “hot suspect”. The killer question is: how did Paul get the poison in Vittorio’s glass if he wasn’t even there at the time?
Murder Under Glass: the spoiler
Murder Under Glass shows us exactly how Paul means to kill Vittorio, but masks how he pulls it off.
As Paul explains on his cookery show, fugu is a risky fish to eat. If not properly prepared, it can be more poisonous than cyanide.
Paul uses his skills to extract the powerful Pufferfish neurotoxin – but the episode then distracts us with a couple of red herrings:
- Waiter Mario’s performance of fetching a bottle of Margaux suggests Paul has rigged the wine cellar
- Later it looks as though the gas cartridge in a bottle opener may have been tampered with.
In fact, Paul injects poison into the shaft of an identical bottle opener, then switches it with Vittorio’s during dinner that evening.
Returning to switch them back is his mistake. Columbo sees chef Albert put a full cartridge into the bottle opener, only to find it’s empty just a short while later.
Not only, but also:
- Columbo finds cheques made out to a bogus restaurant association in Vittorio’s drawer. The association is a front for Paul’s blackmail scheme
- The association has a secret savings account, but bogus account holder “Irene DeMilo” has recently rinsed it … including $3,000 in travellers cheques
- Columbo already knows Paul’s assistant Eve (Shera Danese – a future Mrs Falk) is going travelling. Tricking her into admitting her secret identity is child’s play.
- Paul serves fugu at a dinner Columbo gatecrashes. The lieutenant immediately connects it as the murder weapon.
When Columbo uncovers the bank fraud, he has clear evidence of motive. He then recreates Vittorio’s murder by cooking for Paul – while Paul tries to recreate the murder by switching bottle openers again.
However, Columbo switches wine glasses, saving his neck and getting proof Paul is the killer at the same time. Salut!
Just one more thing…
Murder Under Glass director Jonathan Demme went on to direct The Silence of the Lambs.
Columbo’s killers are almost always motivated by greed: money, power, or having their cake and eating it. Paul Gerard is a celebrity food writer with his own TV and radio shows – but he wants more. That’s why he’s advertising “Box Snax”. Assistant Eve even makes a pointed remark about getting the ad company cheque asap.
In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg, because Paul’s been getting thousands of dollars in restaurant kickbacks too. Paul secures Eve’s help by implying they might have a full-blown affair later. How charming.
So, how quickly does it take for Columbo to suspect Paul? All of two minutes. At their first meeting the night of the murder, Columbo really labours a couple of points:
- How Vittorio was killed
- How long it took Paul to get to the restaurant
- If there’s anything Paul could have forgotten to mention.
At their final cook-off, Columbo explains why this matters. The police told Paul Vittorio was poisoned during their dinner, yet he came straight to the restaurant without worrying about getting himself checked. Why? Because he already knew the poison couldn’t touch him.
For all their pally chats, Columbo admits he doesn’t much like Paul. Paul says the same (and wryly wishes the homicide detective had been a chef).
This is all rather fitting if you remember they’re recreating the night of the murder – and that extends to Paul’s phoney friendship with dead chef Vittorio Rossi.
Also of note
- If the bottle opener rig sounds confusing, we’re not talking a manual corkscrew. It’s a gas-powered gizmo that pops corks with minimal effort.
- We often see Columbo munching sad looking pocket snacks, but in Murder Under Glass, he feasts on haute cuisine from restaurant owners who want him to catch the killer.
- Columbo drops his customary barb early on: “Sorry, Mr Gerard, but I can’t let you get away with it”. Of course, he means a recipe for sauce …
- Columbo’s fortune cookie reads: “Cheer up. There is more than one fish in the sea”. In the next scene, he eats fugu – and figures out the case.
- Paul manipulates Eve into doing his dirty work at the bank. He later promises an affair and a trip to Europe to get her out of the way, presumably realising she’s a liability.
- When Columbo turns up at the house and asks if he can speak to Paul, Eve says she’s not sure. His deadpan reply – “Is it a big place?” – is up there with the show’s best retorts.
Murder Under Glass (1978), directed by Jonathan Demme