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Recap / Columbo S 03 E 07

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Episode: Season 3, Episode 7
Title:"Swan Song"
Directed by: Nicholas Colasanto
Written by: David Rayfiel (teleplay), Stanley Ralph Ross (story)
Air Date: March 3, 1974
Previous: Mind Over Mayhem
Next: A Friend in Deed
Guest Starring: Johnny Cash, Ida Lupino
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"Swan Song" is the seventh episode of the third season of Columbo.

Tommy Brown (Johnny Cash) is a very popular country gospel singer. As the episode opens he is giving a concert, with his wife Edna (Ida Lupino) singing in the backing choir. Theirs is not a happy marriage. Edna, a religious crusader, liberated Tommy from a prison work farm and set him off on a country music career. However, Edna basically treats Tommy as a slave, taking all the proceeds of his music career for her religious crusades, including a grand new Baptist temple that she's building. Tommy doesn't even own a car. The reason Edna feels free to do this is that she knows for a fact that Tommy once committed statutory rape by having relations with a 16-year-old girl. That girl, Maryann, is part of the backing choir along with Edna, and she is perfectly willing to go to the cops if Edna tells her to. Edna is using Maryann as blackmail to make Tommy toe the line. And Tommy can't even enjoy the sex and drugs part of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, because fundamentalist Edna is watching him like a hawk.

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Tommy resolves to free himself by committing murder. His very risky scheme involves luring both Edna and Maryann onboard the private propeller plane that Tommy himself will fly from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, the site of their next show. He slips barbituates in coffee to both the women. Then, after they're out cold, he takes a parachute hidden in his navigation box and leaps from the plane. All kinds of things could go wrong with this plot, including parachuting from a low altitude, but none of them do. Edna and Maryann are killed when the plane crashes. Tommy breaks his leg upon hitting the ground, which only makes his story more plausible. He hides the chute under a dead tree and manages to make it to the road, where he claims he was thrown clear of the plane upon the crash. The federal investigators buy this but the LAPD's representative, Lt. Columbo, doesn't. Edna's brother insists that Tommy killed her, and Columbo starts noticing inconsistencies, like how there are no ashes from the navigation papers that should have been in the box.

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Second appearance of Ida Lupino on Columbo. Directed by Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach on Cheers.


Tropes:

  • Adam Westing: "Tommy Brown" is basically just Johnny Cash. He dresses all in black, he sings country/western and gospel, he has a similar name, he was in prison (the real Johnny Cash never actually served time in prison but it was part of his image). The real Johnny Cash even served in the Air Force just like Tommy.
  • Artistic License – Law: One of many examples of Columbo investigating a case where the LAPD has no jurisdiction. Crimes committed aboard aircraft in flight are federal crimes. (And even if they weren't, the crime wasn't committed in the city of Los Angeles.)
  • Asshole Victim: Edna is a vicious shrew and control freak who has enslaved Tommy.
  • Blackmail: How Edna keeps Tommy in line, by threatening to turn him in for statutory rape. She neglects to consider that he might decide to kill both her and the victim, Maryann.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: How Columbo gets Tommy. He pretends that he's going to send out squadrons of Boy Scouts to find the incriminating thermos, which really could be anywhere around that mountain. Tommy then goes back to the spot where he landed, digs up his hidden parachute to get rid of it—and finds Columbo waiting for him.
  • Fanservice Extra: All the hot bikini-clad ladies at Tommy's party.
  • Hiding Behind Religion: Edna portrays herself as The Fundamentalist, but she isn't above blackmail, theft and extortion and justifies it as all being in the service of her faith.
    Tommy: You're a sanctimonious hypocrite of a Bible-spouting blackmailer and I've given you your last chance to be fair!
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Columbo eats some of the chili being served at Tommy's party. He enjoys it. He's then appalled to find out it was made with squirrel meat.
  • Jail Bait: How Edna got leverage over Tommy: his weakness for Jail Bait. After he kills her he starts creeping on another backup singer who looks like she might be jail bait herself.
  • Lennon Specs: The record producer is marked off as being a hip record producer type of guy by wearing Lennon Specs with truly gigantic frames, as big as saucers.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Tommy's very risky plot, arranging a crash of his own plane that he parachutes out of. Edna and Maryann are killed, and Tommy is lucky in a sense when he breaks his leg on the landing, which adds credibility to his story of being thrown clear of the plane.
  • Pool Scene: Columbo visits Tommy Brown to question him regarding the death of his wife. He finds him holding a party in his backyard with several bikini clad young ladies lounging round the pool as he plays his guitar and sings.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Tommy drugs Edna and Maryann prior to bailing out of the plane.
  • Stock Footage: Some very noticeable stock footage of a real Johnny Cash concert audience is spliced into the show.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Tommy kills his shrew of a wife and the young woman who was helping her blackmail him. After Columbo finally nails him, Tommy even expresses relief that he's been caught, and admits that he would eventually have given himself up.
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