Title:"Any Old Port in a Storm"
Directed by: Leo Penn
Written by: Stanley Ralph Ross (teleplay), Larry Cohen (story)
Air Date: October 7, 1973
Previous: Lovely but Lethal
Next: Candidate for Crime
Guest Starring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Conway, Julie Harris
"Any Old Port in a Storm" is the second episode of the third season of Columbo.
Vintner and oenophile Adrian Carsini (Donald Pleasence) is about to be named man of the year by his fellow wine enthusiasts. Just before decanting a vintage claret with them, he goes to his office and encounters his half-brother Rick. The two brothers have never seen eye to eye; Adrian views wine as an art, whereas Rick sees it as merely a business and deplores his brother's high-minded amateurism and lack of business sense. He informs Adrian that he is getting married, and that he is going to sell the land on which the vineyard is built. Desperate to prevent this, Adrian knocks him out and drags him to his private wine cellar, where he ties him up and leaves him to die of suffocation and starvation. Meanwhile he and his private secretary Karen (Julie Harris) jet off to New York City for a series of vintage wine auctions. He returns and finds his brother dead, then dresses him in scuba gear and dumps him in the sea.
Rick's fiancee Joyce (Joan Stacey) goes to the police to report him missing. Although there is not yet any sign of a murder, Lieutenant Columbo agrees to look for Rick, who is soon discovered dead in the ocean, apparently the victim of a scuba diving accident. His convertible is found parked by the coast with the top up. Several things bother Columbo: Carsini's stomach was completely empty at the time of his death, suggesting a prolonged fast; the day Rick died (per the medical examiner's report) was rainy, and not ideal for scuba diving; Rick loved his car and would not have left the top down on a rainy day.
Columbo visits the vineyard and interviews people there, including Adrian Carsini and his secretary Karen. Everyone remembers Rick visiting the vineyard on the 16th, just before they left for their trip to New York City. Columbo next interviews Falcon and Stein, the two oenophiles who were visiting Carsini on the day his brother came to the vineyard. They don't recall seeing Rick, but remember that Carsini left the room for a while, and that after he returned, he allowed Falcon to decant the claret instead of doing it himself.
After a crash course on wine, Columbo uses his newfound knowledge to impress Carsini. He prevails on Carsini to give him a look at the wine cellar where his most expensive wines are stored. He asks whether someone could be locked inside, and Carsini insists that this is impossible, because the door can be locked only from the outside. Columbo asks for a demonstration, and Carsini obliges by briefly locking him inside the cellar.
Columbo asks Karen whether she saw Rick leave the winery on the 16th. She replies that she saw him arrive and leave. This contradicts the testimony of the vineyard security guard, but Karen claims the guard is an unreliable drunkard. Columbo immediately calls Carsini and invites him to an expensive restaurant, as a way of expressing his regret for having suspected him.
Before the dinner with Columbo, Carsini asks Karen if she suspects him of murdering Rick, and she claims that she doesn't. At dinner, Columbo orders a bottle of Ferrier port, vintage 1945, an exceptionally rare wine of which Carsini himself owns a single bottle. To Carsini's amazement, the restaurant has a bottle, and it is served to them. Columbo and Karen enjoy their first taste, but Carsini is disgusted. He can tell after one sip that the wine has been stored at too high a temperature, rendering it undrinkable. He makes a scene, and the maitre d' lets them leave without paying. Before parting, Columbo casually informs Carsini of a 109-degree day that occurred during his trip to New York. He also thanks Karen for helping to lay his suspicions to rest.
While driving back to the winery, Carsini asks Karen why she lied to Columbo, and she reveals her romantic feelings toward her employer. She wants to be more than just his secretary, and implies that she is willing to use her knowledge as leverage to force him to marry her.
After Columbo's remark about the 109-degree day, Carsini realizes that all his wine was spoiled by the heat, since he had switched off the ventilation system in order to suffocate his brother. He takes the bottles to the coast and begins throwing them into the sea. He is discovered here by Columbo, who explains how he was sure of Carsini's guilt: while he was briefly locked in Carsini's cellar he pocketed his bottle of Ferrier port. This was the bottle that the wine steward served them at the restaurant, the bottle that Carsini himself deemed dreadful as a result of overheating. Carsini agrees to confess, glad to escape a forced marriage to his secretary. Before booking him, Columbo treats Carsini to a Montefiascone dessert wine, which he deems very suitable for the final course.
Tropes present in this episode include:
- The Alleged Car: A Running Gag for the series regarding Columbo's ancient Peugeot. He parks it at the restaurant, and the valet remarks in surprise that "You don't see these much anymore." After Columbo goes inside the restaurant, the valet tries to park the car—but the engine won't start.
- And Now You Must Marry Me: After she has lied to the police for him, Karen expects Carsini to marry her. The prospect of a forced marriage, along with the loss of his rare wines, is what leads him to confess so readily.
- And Starring: Julie Harris gets the "Special Guest Star" credit.
- Artistic License Law: Columbo undertakes to search for a missing man before there is any sign that he's dead, much less dead by violence. In real life, it's doubtful that a homicide detective would be allowed to spend his time this way.
- Lampshaded as Carsini out and out asks Columbo why he's working this case when it wasn't a clear murder or even a clear suicide. (Columbo's answer: "I just go where they tell me to.")
- Bald of Evil: Creepy bald Donald Pleasence, as usual in almost everything he did that wasn't a Halloween movie.
- Berserk Button: What drives Carsini over the edge is when his brother mocks him about how he's going to sell the vineyard to the Marino Brothers, a mass market wine company.
- Blackmail: After Karen lies for Adrian, she attempts to blackmail him into marriage. For once a blackmailer survives on this show!
- Chair Reveal: How Rick surprises his brother in his office.
- Commonality Connection: Adrian and Columbo initially bond over their Italian heritage, with Columbo making him laugh, and then as Columbo takes an interest in and educates himself about wine Adrian is more than happy to help him develop as a fellow connoisseur. They seem to get along better than Adrian does with his fellow wine fans. Columbo, however, always keeps his eye on the prize throughout.
- Cool Car: A plot point. Columbo puzzles over why Rick, who supposedly went scuba diving, left the top down on his super-fancy convertible on a rainy day.
- Doing It for the Art: Adrian loves wine so much willing to bankrupt the vineyard in order to produce wine so high in quality that few can afford to buy it. Later, after he realizes he's ruined his valuable stocks, he starts throwing them out, even though he may be one of the only people in the world who'd notice a difference in flavor.
- Graceful Loser: Adrian chuckles, compliments Columbo on his cleverness, and remarks that he's relieved now that he doesn't have to marry Karen.
- Ignored Enamored Underling: Karen had worked for Adrian for twelve years without revealing her feelings, but when she lies for him, he asks her why and she tells him she loves him. He's uncertain of his feelings for her in return, but he knows that he doesn't like someone having a hold on him. And then she tries to force him to marry her and he certainly knows how to feel about that.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Adrian's brother may have been a jerk, but he's right about Adrian's poor business sense.
- Life's Work Ruined: Adrian murders Rick by leaving him bound in his wine vault and turning off the air conditioner so he suffocates. However, while he is away, there is an unexpectedly hot day that raises the temperature in the uncooled vault to the point where the wine oxidizes, destroying his priceless collection.
- Lonely at the Top: As the episode goes on, it becomes clear that Adrian's talent for wine has isolated him from others, even his fellow connoisseurs, to the point that when he recognizes Columbo's intellect and developing regard for wine, he seems grateful to have a friend.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Adrian's plan to fake a scuba diving accident for Rick. It's ruined when the coroner reports that Rick hadn't eaten for two days (he was actually dying a horrible slow death in the vault), and Columbo notes that the car had no rain damage despite the top being down (Adrian hid it inside the winery).
- Match Cut: From Adrian smashing a bottle of wine to waves crashing against rocks on the coast.
- Money Dumb: Adrian inherited a great deal of money from his father, but he's lost most of it because of his taste in wine. Not only is he so intent on pursuing quality over quantity that the business is going under, he's willing to spend thousands of dollars on wine that's too expensive to drink just for the thrill of owning it.
- Mundane Solution: Both Adrian and Columbo do this at separate occasions when guessing the type of wine they're tasting: Adrian places his guess down to the exact year and brand and when everyone is amazed by his accuracy, he tells them that he just sneaked a peek at the label when everyone else was too busy to notice, and Columbo narrows his guess down to 2 types of red wine, something that would be impressive for a complete amateur like he is, if he didn't already know that the Carsini wineyard only produces 3 types of red wine and it's not the type he tasted earlier.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rick plans to sell the vineyard to the Merino Brothers, known for making cheap but profitable wine. This is a clear allusion to Ernest and Julio Gallo, founders of a massive winery in southern California that was one of the first to market to the masses.
- Oh, Crap!: When Columbo talks about how the week previous (when Adrian had tied his brother up in the wine cellar and turned off the A/C so he'd suffocate) there was a day when the temperature unexpectedly shot to 109F, Adrian's eyes go wide for a moment as he realizes the implications for his wine collection.
- Phenotype Stereotype: Averted. Rick (full name Enrico Giuseppe Carsini) is of Italian ancestry, but doesn't look it, according to Columbo. His fiancée explains that the family comes from Milan.
- Quantity vs. Quality: Out of over a hundred varieties of wine, Carsini Wineries only produces six, according to Adrian's exacting tastes (no champagne, for example). This makes excellent wine, but the lack of diversity (and the cost of those six) end up making the winery unprofitable.
- Sinister Suffocation: Adrian kills his brother by locking him in a wine cellar and leaving him there to suffocate. He doesn't realize that by doing this he'll destroy his stores of wine.
- Sommelier Speak: After a session with a French wine merchant, Columbo learns to deploy impressive-sounding oenological terms.
- Super Senses: Adrian's rarified sense of taste is something of a plot point.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Despite being rather arrogant, Adrian has a genuine passion for fine wines and in an offhand comment it is mentioned that he pays the highest wages of any vineyard in that part of California. He also enjoys helping Columbo cultivate a taste for fine wine in the same episode. Columbo likes him so much that, after arresting him, he pulls over to the side of the road so they can share one last bottle of wine before he hauls him off to be booked.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Even after Carsini has admitted to murder and has even stated that he feels no remorse, Columbo feels bad enough for him to treat him to a bottle of port.
- Too Clever by Half: Adrian probably would've gotten away with his murder if he simply buried Rick in the woods or something rather than concocting the scuba diving ruse.
- Wine Is Classy: The whole basis of Carsini's character. He views wine as Serious Business. Also his motive for murder, as Rick is going to sell the vineyard to a mass marketing company, which offends Adrian the wine snob.