PT – Columbo – 006 – Short Fuse
Updated: Jan 26
Season 1 of the Predictably Treacherous Posdast continues with another Columbo episode and this time its a stinker. Season one's "Short Fuse"
Roger Stanford is a middling executive at Stanford Chemical, the company that bears his family name. Roger has ambitions of one day taking over the company but his uncle, CEO David Buckner, is trying to organize a merger and push Roger out. Roger kills his uncle and manipulates his aunt Dory to strengthen his position within the company. If Roger can avoid arrest, and the sale of the company falls through, Aunt Dory is sure to give up control, leaving Roger in charge.
Welcome everyone to The Predictably Treacherous podcast. Today's epsiode is "Short Fuse" staring Roddy McDowall and James Gregory. This is episode six of season one. This episode was directed by Edward M. Abrams. The teleplay was by Jackson Gillis and the story was by Lester Pine, Tina Pine and Jackson Gillis. The original air date was January 19th, 1972 and the runtime was 73 minutes. Let's get right to the episode summary Roger Stanford is a middling executive at Stanford Chemical, the company that bears his family name. Roger has ambitions of one day taking over the company but his uncle, CEO David Buckner, is trying to organize a merger and push Roger out. Roger kills his uncle and manipulates his aunt Dory to strengthen his position within the company. If Roger can avoid arrest, and the sale of the company falls through, Aunt Dory is sure to give up control, leaving Roger in charge.
As the scene begins we are in a dark room where a man--in desperate need of a haircut and a proper shirt--looks to be building a bomb out of a cigar box. The man is Roger Stanford. There's some great slow jazz playing. He finishes building the bomb and--in an expression of his satisfaction--he mutters, "better than the Borja" it's worth mentioning...the Borgias were a powerful family from Valencia during the Italian Renaissance. Rivals of the Medici and others. They were renoun for killing their rivals in their pursuit of power. The next scene Roger is driving a three-wheeled golf cart type vehicle on the closed road of the massive Stanford Chemical industrial complex. Now the jazz is more bouncy. He enters an office where several employees are dutifully typing away on their typewriters. Roger meanders around the room watching the employees as they work. He stops behind a female employee and then sprays silly string into her afro. She screams and the other employees get up and run around frantically while Roger sprays them and shouts slogans encouraging them to rise up and protest the sale of their company.
Mr Buckner's secretary comes out of her office looking annoyed. She raises her voice over the chaos to inform Roger that Mr Stanford will see him now. Roger enters her office and it becomes clear that they are in a relationship, allbeit, a casual one. She asks him what he was doing in his dark room and seems concerned that he will be developing some pictures. Roger notices that Mr Buckner's bags are packed and sitting on a chair. He asks what they are doing there as Mr. Buckner doesn't leave until tomorrow. The secretary tells him that he changed his mind and is leaving tonight. She tries to corral Roger into Buckner's office but he points out that the cigars are missing from Buckner's bags and she had better get some from the closet. She turns around and Roger takes a small pocket case of cigars from the jacket pocket of the packed bags and hides it in the tramp stamp of his tight pants. She turns to Roger from the closet and agian tries to get him into see Mr Buckner but Roger is having none of it and begins taking her picture. In Buckner's office, he is lighting a cigar while sitting at his desk. Roger is annoying his uncle by taking pictures. Buckner has a beautiful headshot of himself leaning in from the left with a nice suit and a salesman smile. Buckner's voice is preposterously deep and grainy. He asks Roger to read over a statement that he wants Roger to sign off on. It is a statement to the media that explains that Roger endorses the sale of the company, and he's lost interest in chemicals, and he's moving to Europe. Buckner wants him out. Roger is defiant and Buckner calls Roger spoiled and pampered by his aunt Dory. Then Buckner's "get things done" guy Quincy (part chauffer / part private eye), produces a list of past transgressions that Roger has committed. Buckner tells Roger that he will be going to his cabin tonight and he will be meeting some execs at his cabin tomorrow to finalize paperwork for the sale of the company. He wants Roger to visit his aunt Dory and tell her he is through with Chemicals and is moving to Europe. If he doesn't, Buckner will expose his transgressions. We're told by Buckner that dory will surely cut Roger off. Buckner's got Roger in a tight spot. If he co-operates, he's out, and if not, he's also out. Watch out Buckner, you're asking for it. Roger tells Buckner that he'll sign the statement for the media tonight and he'll talk to his aunt later. He says he knows when he's beaten. He leaves the office and he and the secretary make plans to go out together that evening. Quick note. The secretary is played by Anne Francis--one of my favorites. In addition to this episode, she also makes an appearance in a season 2 Columbo episode with guest villain Leonard Nimoy. It's a real fan favorite.If you want to see more of Anne Francis, especially when she's younger and stunning, check out Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Forbidden Planet (1956), a very influential sci-fi film. And check out 60's detective show Honey West for my favorite version of Francis. Francis in the lead role as Honey West, runs a private investigation agency and has a pet ocelot. She's foxy and tough...I'll take the Honey West version of Francis, anyday. Now outside Roger is walking to his car and a workman named Fergie is waxing his uncle's limousine. Roger asks Fergie to take a look under the hood of his car. He tells Fergie "he thinks he has a loose plug wire or something". As Fergie is looking under the hood, Roger removes all the loose cigars from the glove compartment in Buckner's car and replaces the cigar box on the passenger seat with the cigar box bomb. He closes the door quietly and sneaks away from the car before Fergie pops his head up. Buckner comes out of the building and gets into the car. He and Quincy drive away. The next scene is Roger in a club with the secretary. It's straight out of Austin Powers. There is a girl in a bikini dancing in a cage on the stage and wacky 70's club music playing. As the music plays the scene switches between Roger and the secretary in the club to Buckner and Quincy in the car, driving up to the cabin in the pouring rain. Quincy opens the cigar box and hands a cigar to Buckner. Roger is checking his watch. The car explodes.
Now Roger is in his car outside his aunt's house. He parks in the garage and walks up the stairs to Quincy's flat over the garage. He has a key and let's himself in. While inside we have a view of outside the door. You can hear the sounds of a typewriter. Then Roger emerges with a typewriter case and takes it to his car. He closes the garage door and goes back up the stairs to Quincy's entrance. He turns off the light inside and is about to close the door when Columbo appears. Columbo says Roger's aunt called the police. They go to the main house.
The next scene is in the main house. Aunt Doris had called the commissioner of police after she got a strange message from Mr Buckner. They go into the other room (the one with the answering machine) to listen to the message. Roger looks concerned. He obviously didn't expect this. The message is hilarious and unbelievable, let's listen to it, [22:48] "there's no answer..." The answering machine is huge, like the size of a mini computer tower on its side and it has a dial and a button. The message seems out of sync. Like there is some kind of a delay between what the operator is saying and when Buckner hears it.I know people in the 70s didn't encounter answering machines often but Buckner OWNES one. He should be familiar with how it works. Buckner and Quincy are having a really distracting side conversation about the missing cigars and then Buckner leaves the most ambiguous message. "Roger has something to tell you...he's come to a decision...it may not be what you had thought...well don't keep it a secret Buckner!" While they are listening to the message Roger is not-so-discretely staring at his watch--not like someone checks their watch for the time, but staring at his watch and making a screwed up face. It looks like he's timing something--which he is. Columbo sends a couple of darting glances his way. He knows. After the message, aunt Dory explains that she called Buckner back on the car phone but there was no answer. Columbo assures her that they have the local Pinewild police looking for Buckner. Meanwhile, Roger is guiding Columbo towards the door. As soon as he and Roger are alone, Columbo asks Roger about his parents. Roger says that they died in a freak explosion--a freak explosion while he was in college. ding! ding! ding! ding! Why would Roger mention this? He continues to explain that he was taken in by aunt Dory and there are no other brothers and sisters. Columbo confirms that aunt Dory is his father's sister and there are no other aunts and uncles. He seems to want to establish that Roger has a line to inherit. Roger makes it clear that if anything happens to Buckner, Dory will inherit.(clean this up and get one clip)Then Columbo asks if Buckner would have wanted to visit anybody discretely on his way to Pinewild. Roger says that's none of his business. Then Columbo is about to leave when he turns abruptly to Roger and asks if his watch is broken. Let's listen to the clip (26:41) I couldn't help notice that you keep looking at it. People do look at their watches...yes, they certainly do" 27:07 He definately knows. Columbo then leaves and aunt Dory asks Roger what he wanted to tell her. He says he is going to begin working in the legal department. Then Dory and Roger stare longingly at the headshot of Buckner. Wonderful headshot. The next scene has columbo in the tram travelling to the top of the mountain. He looks terrified. He doesn't stand near the window or look out of it. The sheriff that is riding with him is explaining how safe it is and how beautiful the view is. Columbo does not appear to appreciate it. At the top he exits tentatively. Why isn't there anyone else on it. Isn't this a tourist attraction? Should there not be a bunch of tourists riding the tram? If not, why was it built? Why is it empty? The scene would be better anyway with a bunch of families crammed on the tram...kids running around shaking the tram. At the top of the mountain they walk down a grass path and get into a jeep to drive to where the car wreck and bodies have been discovered. After his tram trip, Columbo seems relieved, pardoxically, to get into a jeep with no doors, no roof, no windows and no seat belts and go careening down a bumpy hill for 20 minutes. Something that I would certainly find more terrifying than riding on the tram. At the crash site, they are hauling the bodies out of the ravine by crane. The sheriff says the road was slick last night, yet, he and Columbo seem to think that there was an explosion. An exploding gas tank or possibly a bomb. Now at the funeral, aunt Dory is talking with vice president Everett. She says Buckner had decided to put Roger in the legal department. Everett seems surprised by this. Dory says she's not sure why Buckner never warmed to Roger. Then she clutches that ridiculous headshot of Buckner again. Everett tells aunt Dory that he is going to take care of everything, the press, the business, and Columbo. Dory says she's glad that Everett is next in line and then Everett kisses her hand in a lascivious manner. Now Columbo is wandering around Roger's dark room...snooping. Roger enters the adjacent room with his tripod and camera. He hears a noise and opens the dark room door just as Columbo has found the silly string aerosol can and decided to blast it into his own face. He emerges from the dark room with silly string in his mop top and Roger laughs and takes pictures. Roger starts picking silly string out of Columbo's hair and they begin chatting. Roger mentions that he also experiments in that room and Columbo is lucky he didn't knock over some acid or nitro glycerine. He then continues to mention that he had his PHD in chemistry before he was 21. Why is he bringing these things up? Columbo must be thinking that this guy is either really obtuse or really overconfident. They take a walk through the factory together because apparently Roger has no real job duties or is on a really long lunch. They are pointlessly walking down the winding stairs of some metal framework structure when Columbo asks if its possible to make a trigger device for a bomb that doesn't leave any powder. Roger realizes that Columbo thinks there may have been a bomb in the car and points out that there are many PHDs on the premesis (not just him) that are capable of making a bomb. Or it could have been someone who doesn't work at the company altogether. Columbo retorically asks Roger if he thinks that any of the employees would want Buckner dead. He then tells Roger that they have not been able to substantiate any of the threats, including the stink bomb. Roger says that he received a threatening call personally and Columbo drops the subject. The next scene they question Buckner's secretary, Mrs Bishop, about the cigar boxes. She mentions that the cleaning lady found the cigar case under her desk and that it must have fallen out of his breast coat pocket. Columbo acts a little disappointed and Roger realizes that Columbo had assumed that the killer had been trying to orchastrate that Buckner open a new box of cigars in the car by removing all other cigars. Try not to look directly at the crotch of Roger's pants. The three of them try to establish who had access to the cigar box that would eventually be placed in Buckner's car with the suitcase and top coat and Mrs Bishop mentions that vice-president Everett Logan has a separate supply of cigar boxes as well. Now in Everett's office, Everett says he has four boxes and when he opens his cabinet there are only three. He calls in his secretary, Nancy, to ask her and she has no idea why there is a box missing. On her way out she looks stunned and breaks the forth wall by looking directly into the camera. Usually, Columbo has to play the fool to get the villain to interact with him. That is not the case here. Roger is following Columbo around taking pictures and telling everyone that Columbo thinks there was a bomb in a cigar box. Now Columbo is outside walking back to his car when Roger pulls up in a golf cart and offers him a lift. Columbo shows Roger a memo that they found in Quincy's waste bin in his apartment. It indicates that Logan was using Roger to stir up trouble about the sale of the company in the hopes that he would influence his aunt. Roger acts upset. Columbo mentions that they couldn't find the typewriter in Quincy's apartment. This would be the typewriter that Roger took away earlier when he broke into Quincy's apartment and typed up the memo that he apparently left in the waste basket to be found by Columbo. I really don't understand the next part of the conversation that transpired:Columbo asks Roger if he knew if Quincy had a "hideaway"--perhaps somewhere where he could type up memos? Then Roger says that one time, during a poker game, he saw a piece of paper in Quincy's wallet that said Harry J O'Neill. Huh? What does that mean? Does he mean business card? Did he make a mistake and they weren't able to reshoot the shot so they just went with it?it's just confusing because i'm imagining them playing poker and Quincy flops his wallet open and there's an 8 1/2 x 11 sticking out and right in the middle in 36 point font it reads "Harry J O'Neill"Columbo drives off. Roger gets in his car and as he is about to leave mrs. Bishop comes running out of the building and stops him. She is worried about having to lie about saying she was at the movies, she mentions that she gave Roger access to the confidential personelle files of Everett Logan, and she doesn't want anyone to know that she and Roger are in a relationship. Roger tells her to relax and it will all be over soon. He drives off. Now we are back with Columbo and the sheriff at the crash site. They have obtained proof that the gas tank has exploded but can't prove that there was a bomb and they can't locate the cigar box. Roger's car pulls into a little residential complex. He enters one of the apartments with a key. California's beautiful. Great little apartment...obtrusive kitchen cabinets, like the Seinfeld episode https://youtu.be/zFlBM60x4OI?t=71 There is a picture of Quincy and his lady on the desk so i guess this is Quincy's memo hideaway. Roger places the typewriter on a desk. He sits and waits until he sees cops arrive out front later that night. Then he makes a deliberate noise so that the cops know he's inside. He runs outside and attempts a fake escape attempt and allows himself to be caught. The next scene Roger and the cops are at aunt Doris' house and Roger is refusing to tell Doris why he was there. Columbo arrives. Doris tells Columbo that she found a memo from Quincy to Buckner in one of Buckner's suit pockets. The memo contained some very damaging information about Everett Logan. She believes that Buckner was using Quincy to investigate his executives.Another detective arrives with information that they obtained from Quincy's hideaway. They found several dossiers on company executives and Quincy's bank account showed a large deposit. The detective remarks that Quincy must have been trying to blackmail his own boss and he shows Columbo a picture that Roger was trying to abscond with. Doris grabs the picture from the detective and sees that it's Mrs Bishop and Buckner together. Presumably Roger has done some photoshop magic on the pictures he took of mrs Bishop and placed her with Buckner. Roger freaks out at Columbo for allowing Doris to see the pictures, the very thing he was trying to avoid happening by breaking into Quincy's hideaway. Doris then requests that the pictures be burned and Columbo and the detectives get out. Apparently she can do that. Before Columbo leaves he hears Roger and Doris talking. Roger says that he has known about their affair for years and that he asked Buckner to stop. Doris realizes that this is why Buckner hated Roger. Roger secretly smiles as he hugs Doris.
And we're back. Let's recap what's happened thus far. Stanford Chemical is about to be sold to a large conglomerate. The sale would be great for the bottom line but will eliminate Rogers chances of one day running the company that bears his family name. Roger plans and executes the murder of chief executive and uncle David Buckner and, in the process, creates false evidence of corporate shenanigans and marital affairs. This has a multi-pronged effect of putting the sale of the company in jeopardy and elevating Roger in the eyes of his aunt Doris. If Roger can avoid arrest, and the sale of the company falls through, Doris is sure to give up control, leaving Roger in charge.
We now see Roger arrive at the office with a suit on and being driven by a chauffeur in a limo. He walks through the office confidently, ignoring the staff's greetings. Mrs Bishop is at her desk upset. She has been given a pink slip. Roger tells her that personelle screwed up and she's not fired. Aunt Doris remembered that Mrs Bishop's mother wanted to live in Arizona and she thought Mrs Bishop might be happier there too. I don't really understand this. That's not really an explanation. I think Roger just isn't able to confront mrs Bishop and tell her that he doesn't want a relationship. Maybe he thinks that if he puts her off for long enough she'll give up. Presumably he also doesn't want her to know that he faked amorous pictures of her and Buckner and start a chain of events leading to his whole plan unraveling. After all, Mrs Bishop may be able to identify the pictures as the ones Roger took of her and she can definitely verify that she gave Roger access to personelle files which he could have used to create the evidence purportedly to be from Quincy. Roger has been sloppy here. Logan and Bishop have been fired but not removed from the situation. If either of them speak with aunt Dory, Rogers lies could be exposed. Roger enters his new office which was Buckner's old office. He tells the workers to leave then he does a customary spin around in his new desk chair and puts his feet up.Columbo and Logan arrive, Logan has just been fired and seems to think that Roger may have had something to do about it. Columbo says the PineWild sheriff's office found something important. He invites Roger along. Roger initially declines but then accepts after Logan mentions that Doris should be up at the cabin and he wants to talk with her. They arrive at the base of the tram. The sheriff gives columbo a bag with some evidence that they found and Roger, Logan and Columbo rush onto the tram and it rises up the mountain. Finally some tourists are exiting the tram. On the tram, Colmubo opens the bag and it's the cigar box and it's charred but intact. Roger looks concerned. Logan says this means that Buckner wasn't murdered. Columbo says that it must have been the gas tank after all and that they need to tell Doris immediately. The set up is on. Logan says now that Buckner's death was an accident, he is anxious to speak with Dory and find out why he was let go. Columbo tells him about the reports that Quincy wrote (Roger faked) that falsely claim that Logan met with the competition, sold a patent to a friend cheaply, etc. Logan denounces them as lies. This is Roger's sloppiness coming back to haunt him. Roger wants to get his hands on the cigar box since he thinks that if they open it it will explode and he will be on a tram so there is no where to run. Columbo opens the box and Roger checks his watch and Columbo begins telling Roger about the theory he had about how Roger could have faked Quincy's reports, created the bomb, faked the pictures of Mrs Bishop and Buckner, and stolen Logan's cigar box and opened Quincy's bank account. Everett slowly begins to understand that Roger really did do it. Roger grows progressively more panicked and begins yelling that they have to get rid of the box. He opens the tram door to try to throw the cigar box out but it spills on the floor. Logan asks Columbo where he DID get the box and Columbo says from Logan's secretary.Roger then realizes that this was a setup, and that he is caught and he begins laughing hysterically.
And there you have it. Not the greatest episode but it definately had some fun moments. A lot of star power in a poor episode, so let's talk about some of the actors.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roddy_McDowall- born 1928 and died in 1998 at 70 years old lung cancer- only columbo episode- Known for Planet of the Apes (1968). Two other films that he appeared in with other columbo villains, Cleopatra (1963) as Octavian, also has Columbo villain Martin Landau, and The Longest Day (1962), a small role, also had Eddie Albert, a recent Columbo villain.He was laughable as package pants Roger. Roger was poor on the execution. His juvenille antics (following Columbo around) nearly derailed his covering up of his crimes and were most annoying. The way he set up Mrs Bishop and Logan was flawed and sure to be found out. Terrible villain.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_Lupino- born 1918 and died in 1995 of stroke while getting treatment for colon cancer.- other columbo episode "Swan Song" (1974) with Johnny Cash- they drive by night (1940), high sierra (1941), Food of the Gods (1976) - go see that oneTwilight Zone episode, Honey West with Anne Francis- she and her husband formed a production company (The Filmakers) to film socially conscious low budget movies. She became one of the first prominent female directors, check out The Hitch-Hiker (1953), she also directed a Twilight Zone episode "The Masks" (1964) and a Honey West episode "How Brillig, O, Beamish Boy" (1966)- she has an interesting story - check out the "You Must Remember This" podcast which has a great episode on Ida Lupino
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Gregory_(actor)- born 1911 and died in 2002 at age 90 of natural causes. Natural causes, I never liked that term, meaningless. Here's what wikipedia has to say about "death by natural causes" - A death by natural causes, as recorded by coroners and on death certificates and associated documents, is the end result of an illness or an internal malfunction of the body not directly caused by external forces.Sounds to me like a catch all for "we're not sure but something went wrong with the body and it doesn't appear to be murder or some other outside cause". That's fair enough. I mean, he's 90, there were probably several issues with his body that could have lead to his death.- slew of acting credits, Nightfall (1957), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Clambake (1967) an Elvis movie, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) which only had Roddy McDowall in archive footage.I think Buckner was done well. He was smart and aggressive. He knew that he wanted to neutralize Roger so that he didn't interfere with the sale of the company so he set Quincy to get some dirt on Roger. Where Buckner went wrong was to not realize that Roger was a crazy sociopath that may or may not have killed his parents and couldn't be trusted to be a cooperative blackmailie.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Francis- Born in 1930 and died in 2011 at age 80 pancreatic cancer. This is a sneaky death by cancer episode.- columbo appearances "Short Fuse" (1972) and "A Stitch in Crime" (1973) which took it's name from a Honey West (1965) episode.- movie roles Blackboard Jungle (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956)- TV roles The Twilight Zone episodes "The After Hours" (1960) and "Jess-Belle" (1963) and her own series Honey West (1965).- two women in this episode that were groundbreaking Ida Lupino for her directing and
Anne Francis for her starring in her own series.
Next week on The Predictably Treacherous podcast we have the final episode of season 1, "Blueprint for Murder", starring Patrick O'Neal. Here is a brief summary
Elliott Markham is an architect and he's building his greatest project, Williamson City, using the money of globe-trotting oil man Beau Williamson. When Beau returns from Europe, he puts the brakes on the project and calls Markham a con-man. Markham sees Beau as a Philistine and in order to continue his project, Markham kills beau and hides the body, making it seem that Beau has disappeared to Europe.
Tune in next week.