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Recap / Columbo S 03 E 01

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Episode: Season 3, Episode 1
Title:"Lovely but Lethal"
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: Jackson Gillis (teleplay), Myrna Bercovici (story)
Air Date: September 23, 1973
Previous: Double Shock
Next: Any Old Port in the Storm
Guest Starring: Vera Miles, Vincent Price, Martin Sheen, Bruce Kirby

"Lovely but Lethal" is the first episode of the third season of Columbo.

Viveca Scott (Vera Miles) is the owner of Beauty Mark, a high-end cosmetics company. Beauty Mark has been struggling; sales are down, and Viveca is trying to fend off a takeover from corporate rival David Lang (Vincent Price). Viveca is pinning her hopes on a new wrinkle removal cream that her company has developed. But when she finds out that her chemist, Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen), is going to betray her and sell the compound to Lang, she beats him to death with his microscope. Viveca attempts to throw suspicion on Lang, but certain clues, like a scribbled note written in eyebrow pencil, point Lt. Columbo her way. There's also the matter of Shirley, Viveca's spy inside Lang's company, who knows a lot of secrets and also guesses what really happened to Karl.



  • Accidental Murder: Viveca doesn't set out to kill Karl, but does so in a rage when he plans to sell his formula to her rival.
  • The Alcoholic: Murchison, who shakes too badly to take a skin sample and has to return to his office to down some whiskey. Viveca says the only place he works is the bar. Later he's at her fat farm trying to get sober.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Hints of an attraction Shirley has for Viveca, like when they meet in secret and Shirley takes Viveca's hand and says "We haven't been seen together."
  • And Starring: Vincent Price gets the "Special Guest Star" credit.
  • Bludgeoned to Death: Viveca kills Karl by clobbering his head with his microscope.
  • Bullying a Dragon/Blackmail Backfire: Shirley rather stupidly threatens to tell what she knows unless Viveca makes her an executive. Instead, Viveca kills her.
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  • Chalk Outline: Relatively rare for Columbo, but in this episode we do see a chalk outline showing where Karl used to be.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Columbo and Viveca can both be seen scratching their hands repeatedly. This is how Columbo gets her—they both were exposed to poison ivy on the slide Karl was studying right before he was killed.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Karl, who it seems was one of Viveca's old conqests, has her picture affixed to a dartboard at his apartment.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Karl, who makes fun of Dr. Murchison's bumbling in the lab by saying "Just think of how many years Dr. Frankenstein must have spent on his research."
  • Impairment Shot: For Shirley, as the poison takes effect.
  • The Mole: Shirley, Lang's secretary, is a spy for Viveca.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: Columbo reveals that his brother-in-law inspired him to come up with the solution which implicated Viveca in Karl's murder. As the police are taking her away, she coldly asks him to send his in-law a message: "Something appropriate".
  • Public Exposure: Lt. Columbo is embarrassed when he and Viveca wander into a group of nude sunbathers at Viveca's fat farm.
  • Really Gets Around: Viveca, who after Columbo starts questioning her personal life spits back "I like young men, Lieutenant. Lots of them."
  • Revealing Injury: Viveca is constantly scratching her hands—she has poison ivy. So does Columbo. And while poison ivy is not native to Southern California, Karl had some on the slide he was working with, on the microscope that Viveca bashed in his head with.
  • Tainted Tobacco: Shirley implies that she knows that Viveca is responsible for Karl's death and tries to blackmail her for silence; Viveca invites her out to her complex that afternoon to talk things over. At her complex, which serves as a spa and home to a weight loss program, Viveca poisons a number of cigarettes. When Viveca and Shirley meet, Viveca slips the poisoned cigarettes into Shirley's bag without her noticing. Shirley smokes one of the poisoned cigarettes and succumbs to the toxin while driving away: crashing her car and killing her instantly.
  • Technicolor Science: The typical flasks and beakers filled with colored liquids at Karl's house.
  • Undisclosed Funds: Viveca writes an offer to Karl on the back of a magazine and hands it to him. He laughs at it, so she writes a second offer on the magazine. The magazine later becomes an important clue (it arrived that day, so the figures must have been written not long before he died).
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: "Girl Dies In Automobile Crash" is pushing it.