Title:"Ashes to Ashes"
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Written by: Jeffery Hatcher (writer), Patrick McGoohan (uncredited)
Air Date: October 8, 1998
Previous: A Trace of Murder
Next: Murder With Too Many Notes
Guest Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Sally Kellerman, Rue Mc Clanahan
"Ashes to Ashes" is a 1998 Columbo TV movie.
Eric Prince (Patrick McGoohan) is owner of the Haverland-Prince Funeral Home. Eric receives a call from gossip reporter Verity Chandler (Rue McClanahan), his former lover who requests a private chat. She assures him that his next funeral service will not be interrupted but that they'll both have their own (figurative) funeral service in private. As it turns out, Chandler is going to go public about some skeletons in Prince's closet on the show Hollywood Heartbeat and wants to tell Prince in person to rub it in. Unfortunately for her, she chooses to gloat to him in his morgue where there are no witnesses observing them.
Chandler recaps how Prince, an immigrant from England, tried acting in Hollywood. The acting bug didn't work out for Prince, so he got a job in a Hollywood mortuary. The mortician, Mr. Haverland, took a liking to Prince and Prince became his protegee and business partner. Along the way, Prince took advantage of his job and examined bodies for telltale traces of confidential affairs to sell to Chandler, who also became Prince's lover. Eventually, they broke up. Today, Chandler wants revenge for being dumped unceremoniously, so she boasts that she is revealing how Prince stole a diamond necklace from Dorothea Page's body to buy into a mortuary and finance even more mortuaries. Chandler reveals that she hasn't "told a soul" and will be broadcasting on Sunday at 8:00, headlined "Grisly Undertakings on Sunset Boulevard". Prince, on the spur of the moment, picks up a mortician's tool and, when Verity turns her back, bashes her in the head with it.
Prince loads Chandler's body into his cremation oven, incinerates it, and gives the ashes to the family of a war hero turned actor named Chuck Houston. Prince then drives to Chandler's home, deletes the story about him on her computer, replaces the story with a fake by setting the computer clock back to an earlier time and stages an abduction/robbery to make it appear that Chandler was taken hostage.
When Columbo investigates Chandler's home, it is discovered that Chandler failed to feed her puppies, which doesn't add up because it seems highly unlikely that Chandler would forget after arriving home. Columbo finds it puzzling that effects (from the night before), such as an alcohol glass with evening-shade lipstick, were left out when Chandler was apparently staying home for the night to type a (forged) document and would have no need for cosmetics, suggesting she never actually made it back home the next night. It is also later discovered that Chandler's pager also cut out at a specific time, suggesting it was destroyed.
Fourth and last Columbo episode in which Patrick McGoohan appeared as the killer. In fact it was McGoohan's last on-screen role, period, although he had a couple of voice acting gigs before his death in 2009. His daughter Catherine appears as Eric Prince's assistance, Rita.
- Affably Evil: Prince is charming and witty and continues to have pleasant conversations with Columbo even after dropping the pretense and observing that Columbo thinks he did it.
- Artistic License Chemistry: Diamonds can burn and would burn in the temperatures used in a cremation oven.
- Artistic Licence Law:
- Another case where Columbo is called before a homicide has even been verified. Lampshaded by the sergeant explaining that this is a missing person's case and Columbo is inappropriate for this mystery. As it turns out, the victim is turned into ashes and Columbo never sees the actual body, just confirming that Chuck Houston's remains were in the wrong urn.
- While there may be local laws against spreading ashes over the Hollywood sign, the city would not have jurisdiction to place a pilot's federal license in jeopardy. Also, there was no hazard to people below, so the Feds wouldn't be interested in pursuing this matter.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Though there's no blood shown, Chandler's murder is one of the more brutal. She instantly goes limp like a rag doll when Prince bludgeons her in the head.
- Celebrity Paradox: One of the suggested possibilities for the mysterious note "S.B." is Steven Bochco—who wrote seven episodes of Columbo.
- Chekhov's Gun: Chuck Houston's grenade wounds from World War II eventually work against Prince due to him switching Houston's body with Chandler's.
- Chronically Killed Actor: In-Universe, Chuck Houston is said to have been shot on screen 178 times.
- Clock Tampering: Lampshaded by Columbo when he investigates Chandler's computer and notes how anyone can tamper with the computer's time.
- Complexity Addiction: Downplayed, Prince's murder scheme is mostly sound, but he over complicates the cremations and Columbo notices anomalies, such as weight mismatches from Prince switching around the bodies. This comes back to bite Prince at the end when Columbo finds grenade shards in the wrong urn.
- Failed a Spot Check: Prince got sloppy with the ashes of Chuck Houston and added his grenade shards along with his ashes into an urn meant for another person. This leads to his downfall at the end.
- Furnace Body Disposal: Easy to execute given that Prince owns funeral homes. Even easier to execute since Chandler waited for him in his morgue.
- Graceful Loser: Prince chuckles, compliments Columbo on his skill, and goes quietly at the end with no complaint.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?: Verity does this to herself, volunteering to Eric that "I haven't told a soul" because she wants the broadcast on Sunday to be a surprise to everyone else and the reason she's telling him is because she wants to make sure that he watches her show. Eric bashes her skull in right after this.
- Idiot Ball: Chandler had to gloat in the one place where Prince could easily hide and destroy bodies. Bonus points for boasting about not informing anyone else of the Sunday broadcast.
- Lady Drunk: Liz Houston is drunk a lot. She's drunk when Eric Prince stops by after the funeral. She's so drunk when Columbo comes to talk to her that she's visibly wobbling and sloshing liquor out of her glass.
- Limey Goes to Hollywood: Prince was born in England, and came to Hollywood hoping to catch his big break in acting, before he ended up going to work as a mortician.
- Never Found the Body: Prince attempts this by cremating Chandler's body, but mixing up the ashes between urns ends up being his undoing due to many inconsistencies from switching around body ashes.
- Not Good with Rejection: Chandler is upset over being dumped and threatens to expose Prince for grand theft.
- Paparazzi: Sheik Yarami, who currently owns the Dorothea Page mansion, does not like people photographing his mansion, hence why his guards are initially rough with Columbo when he goes to investigate why Chandler photographed the mansion.
- Robbing the Dead: Prince looted at least one corpse before the casket even hit the dirt.
- Stock Sound Effects: Viewers who played Myst may recognize the samples for the cremation oven starting up. It's the sample from the Myst island generator starting up. The oven even has a Doom door variant installed on it.
- Too Clever by Half: Prince, given he knew about Houston's history, should have considered that the grenade shards from Houston's body would have been suspicious ending up in someone else's urn. If Prince had taken the time to later separate the metal from the ashes, he would have at least bought some extra time before getting caught. He also takes the trouble to concoct a phony story on Chandler's computer and forge the time stamp rather than simply deleting the original, but Columbo notes that anyone can forge the time, making it meaningless. Not to mention, the phony kidnapping scene raised more questions than answers like why Chandler would arrive home and forget to feed her puppies, and why Chandler would put on her evening lipstick if she was home for the night. Additionally, the lip print on her alcohol glass from the night before doesn't fit with her supposedly arriving home to rest the next evening. Alternatively, if Prince simply crammed Verity and Chuck Houston into the same coffin, burned them both, and did nothing else, he would almost definitely get away with it, and simply need to dispose of the extra ashes.
- Unexpectedly Dark Episode: Naturally due to the subject matter of a Mortician who take advantage of their equipment to commit murder. Eric Prince Lampshades the mood to Columbo by discussing the need to have a good sense of humor in his business, and even answering Columbo's inquiries about funeral plans for him and Mrs. Columbo. Even the music during the murder is of a more dismal key than usual.
- Utility Weapon: The steel rod used for the murder is normally used for extracting the gasses from bodies. It just so happened to be handy when Prince needed a weapon.