Created on August 12th, 2007
Columbo: Swan Song (1971)
Columbo Episode #24
Original Air Date: March 3, 1974
Directed by: Nicholas Colasanto
Created and Produced: by William Levinson and William Link
Written By: Stanley Ralph Ross
Peter Falk as Columbo
Johnny Cash as Tommy Brown (Murderer)
Ida Lupino as Edna Brown (Victim)
Bonnie Van Dyke as Maryann (Victim # 2)
John Dehner as Roland Pangborn (FAA Investigator)
Vito Scotti as Mr Grindell (Mortician)
Bill McKinney as Luke Basket (Edna’s Brother)
Sorrell Booke as JJ Stinger (Bakersfield Concert Promoter)
Janit Baldwin as Tina (Singer)
John Randolph as Air Force Colonel Wayehoff
Lucille Meredith as Lady
Richard Caine as Bennett
Donald Mantooth as Phil
Jefferson Kibbee as Frank
Doug Dirkson as Jeff
Larry Burrell as TV Reporter
Mike Edward Lally as TV Camerman
Tom McFadden as Police Pilot
Harry Harvey, Sr as Manager
Synopsis of Columbo: Swan Song
An Evangelist Singer Tommy Brown (Johnny Cash) with an attraction to young girls is blackmailed by his wife Edna Brown (Ida Lupino) who threatens to turn him over to the police if he doesn’t give all of his income to her crusade to build a $5 million dollar tabernacle. Brown sets up a airplane crash by drugging his two passengers and parachutes to safety as the plane crashes. Columbo gets involved because his brother in law becomes suspicious becase Tommy had given him his guitar to take on the bus. When Columbo finds the pilots seat belt unfastened at the crash scene he becomes suspicious himself. As he investigates, the missing maps in the navigation kit, the missing Thermos, and Tommy’s past experience as a parachute rigger all lead to the discovery of the truth.
Detailed Storyline of Columbo: Swan Song
This episode begins with Tommy Brown (Johnny Cash) and the Crusaders signing their hit song “I Saw The Light” in front of a sold at audience at a theatre in Bakersfield, CA. Tommy’s wife Edna and Mary Ann are part of the Crusade. Edna is blackmailing Tommy and taking all of his money so that Edna can build a $5 million tabernacle. Tommy had had an affair with underage Mary Ann and Edna uses this information to keep Tommy Brown at bay. But Tommy is getting tired of his overbearing wife and wants some of the money.
In the next scene Tommy is listening to an aviation weather report calling for low clouds and fog forming after midnight. Then Tommy prepares Thermos of coffee and drops some sleeping pills into the bottle. Edna and Mary Ann enter the room, and Tommy tries to talk with Edna about his getting half of the proceeds of the concert. Edna won’t budge, points out that the statute of limitations hasn’t run out, and asks Mary Ann how old she was when she went to hotels as Tommy’s daughter, to which she replies “16.”. Edna’s brother Luke enters the room, and tells Edna someone wants to see her. Tommy tells her not to hurry because the weather will be bad until midnight. Luke asks Tommy if he can fly along, and Tommy says “No, take the bus Luke. please take my guitar with you, and put it on the seat next to you.”
At the airport Edna, Tommy and Mary Ann are loading up the aircraft. A ground attendant is there to help load the plane. As they taxi for take off Edna says she’s cold. Tommy says the heater is “busted” and hands here the Thermos of hot coffee. Shortly afterward, as Edna and Mary Ann doze off, Tommy puts on a parachute he had in his map case, tosses out the Thermos and then jumps out of the plane.
As the plane spirals down and crashes, Tommy parachutes into the vicinity and hurts his leg. He hears a pickup truck driving nearby so Tommy has to quickly find a place to hide the parachute. Luckily a hollow log is near by and he stuffs the parachute into the hollow, then rolls the log back over and hobbles over lying down by the wreck just as the folks are pulling up at the crash scene.
The next day at the crash scene, Colombo arrives in his beat up Peugeot. The police tell him the area is closed and only after his shows his badge does he get past the guard. The FAA inspector on scene Mr Pangborn is giving and interview to the local news. Columbo is looking around in the wreckage, and the news cameraman complains about it. So Mr Pangborn approaches Columbo, who explains he’s with the police, homicide actually. Pangborn doesn’t understand why the police are involved since it was total electrical failure. Columbo says he was asked by a family member to look into it.
Columbo continues to look around. Pangborn is fairly sure that it was simple pilot error, as Tommy wasn’t instrument rate and he flew into minimal weather and without instruments. When Pangborn interviewed Tommy Brown at the hospital, Tommy said he knew the weather was bad, but he had flown the same trip numerous times and thought he could sneak through. But he lost orientation, climbed too steeply, and got the plane in a stall and crashed.
Columbo finds the rear seatbelts fastened and the front seatbelt open. He finds that puzzling. He also finds the pilots mapcase empty with no ashes or maps around. Pangborn offers Columbo a job as an investigator, which he turns down saying “My ears pop in an elevator. As a matter of fact, I don’t like being this tall.”
At the funeral home, the mortician Mr Grindell greets Columbo and tells him the service has already started. The mortician tries to get Columbo to buy a funeral plan since the police are always so nice to “put their life in harms way for others.” Columbo says “We don’t like to think about it.” To which the mortician says “But when you need a funeral, it’s not really the time to do anything about it.” Columbo keeps trying to shake him off but the mortician persists and gets a funeral plan guide. Columbo says “My wife does all of the shopping.” So the mortician says, “Then can we make an appointment.” Columbo says “I couldn’t talk with my wife about that. It would upset her, she cries easily, even cries when she looses at bowling.” Luckily, Luke walks out of the funeral home and rescues Columbo from Mr Grindell.
Luke is sure that Tommy killed Edna because she had something on him. He insists that Columbo visit Tommy’s house and confront him. Columbo says that “today isn’t probably the right day.” To which Luke says you need to see what Tommy Brown is like. So they both head to Tommy’s house.
At Tommy’s rental house, Tommy and friends are having a wake for Edna. Tommy is singing and playing the guitar for his friends. Columbo sees chili on the table and Luke tells him to help himself. Columbo says that is good, Tommy says “it’s a special recipe made with squirrel meat, it’s good ain’t it.”
Tommy asks Luke why he didn’t ride back from the funeral home with him, and Luke accuses Tommy of killing Edna. Tommy looses his cool and fires Luke. Then asks Columbo who he his, to which Columbo says a “detective from homicide.”. Tommy really looses his cool now, and Columbo suggests they go inside.
Inside the house Columbo smooth talks Tommy into answering a couple questions. Tommy agrees. The first question is “Why wasn’t your seat belt fastened?” Tommy explains he had to unbuckle the belt to reach a flashlight. Columbo then asks why there were no ashes in the navigation kit. Tommy says that when the lights went out, the defroster stopped working, he had to open a window and the maps were sucked out. Columbo notes this down as “Big Suction.”
Columbo say he was done asking questions, and Tommy picks up the guitar and starts playing a song. Columbo asks him about the guitar and why he didn’t take in on the plane, to which Tommy explains that taking it on an un-pressurized airplane would damage it so he asked Luke to take it with him on the bus. Columbo says “I’m glad you told me that because that’s what got your brother-in-law suspicious. Luke said that was the first time you did that.” The scene ends with Tommy looking worried.
Columbo arrives at the Bakersfield Airport via a small plane and it a little shaken from the flight. Columbo finds the ground assistant and asks him some questions. He says he saw them off, helped with the luggage, and pulled the chocks out. Columbo asks if he noticed anything unusual about the luggage, and he replies no. He does mention the navigation kit and the Thermos bottle. Columbo notes the Thermos bottle and departs.
Tommy is sitting at the piano with one of the girls, Tina, in the group. Tommy is sitting close and puts his arm around her, she’s obviously uncomfortable. Columbo rings the doorbell, and Tommy says come in. Tina gets up when Tommy says “Lt Columbo”, and leaves as soon as she can. Tommy hints around about Columbo chasing his tail. Columbo asks Tommy what was in the Thermos. Tommy says coffee, and what does that matter. Columbo says it wasn’t at the crash scene and it’s a loose end he has to tie up before he can close the case. Tommy suggests that the Thermos burned up in the plane crash. Columbo says the folks at the lab said that wouldn’t happen. Tommy says what if it were thrown clear. Columbo feigns believing that and starts to depart. He stops and says “Where did you lean how to fly?” Tommy said “over twenty years ago in the Air Force. I washed out of the cadets, but I got a civilian pilots license when I got out.” Columbo asks him “What’s you do in the Air Force after you washed out?” Tommy dodges this question and says “You know the service. What ever was bad.” The phone rings and Tommy answers it. Columbo leaves. The call is about stopping the building of the tabenacle. Columbo says “Excuse me sir” and actually was still in the room and overhears the call. When Tommy hangs up, he sees Columbo who says he had another question. He asks Tommy if he called in for weather, and Tommy says yes. Columbo says the weather would have been clear if he left earlier. Tommy says he had to hang out with the crowd in Bakersfield. Columbo says “ But your brother in law said you took a nap after that.”. Tommy says he always takes a nap after a concert. Tommy then says “I guess you overheard me on the phone.” Columbo says “Yes, but I already knew you were stopping the project. I talked to the architects this morning.”
At Colonel Wayehoff’s office, Colombo is asking the Colonel about Tommy Brown. Columbo says he’s a singer, and the Colonel says “as long as he’s not a pilot.” Columbo asked the Colonel what Tommy Brown did for him. The Colonel says “Tommy was a parachute rigger.” Columbo now knows for sure that Tommy did it. Columbo asks the Colonel if he could use the phone and orders an autopsy of Edna Brown, and Mary Ann Cobbs.
Columbo shows up at the recording studio where Tommy and Tina are recording an album. Columbo notices that the music is different sounding. Tommy says he knows Columbo has ordered “the bodies dug up.” Columbo says that the autopsies showed nothing unusual except for the barbiturates. Tommy says they took airsickness pills. Columbo says “But these were sleeping pills.” Tommy says “sleeping pills act like air sickness pills sometimes”. Columbo asks for a copy of the concert recording from last night.
Columbo shows up at the company that makes the silk robes for The Lost Souls Crusade. After asking a few questions and looking around, the seamstress opens a cabinet, which is empty and says she’s short 45 square yards of silk.
Columbo and Mr Pangbourn are in a hanger where a gentlemen is folding up a parachute. The present the rigger with the navigation case, and the parachute fits. Pangbourn is doubtful, Colombo asks about the Thermos bottle. Pangbourn says they never found it.
Columbo is back at Tommy Brown’s house playing the two different tapes he has of Tommy signing “I saw the Light”. One with Edna, and the other recorded the night before. Columbo says he noticed the arrangement had changed. Columbo says he asked the arranger why he changed it, he says “Mary Ann is a soprano, and Tina is a tenor.” Columbo says he asked the arrange how long it takes to change things and was told 2 weeks. To which Tommy Brown says “And you wonder how I knew two weeks before Mary Ann died that I need to replace her.” Columbo says “That’s right.” Tommy replies that he was going to replace Mary Ann in the band.
Columbo makes a phone call about having boy scouts help search the mountain for the Thermos. Columbo said they needed to find that Thermos because the amount of barbiturates in the coffee were almost a lethal does and someone could have been trying to put him out at the control and kill him. Columbo says that “Whoever spiked that coffee may have left their fingerprints on the Thermos.” Columbo tell Tommy he putting a police guard on him. Tommy thanks Lt Columbo for thinking of him and says he won’t be needing in because he’s going on a concert tour for several months starting tonight. Columbo doesn’t believe Tommy will go on a trip knowing they’ll be searching the mountains tomorrow.
Tommy drives to the airport in his Cadillac and Columbo follows him in a patrol car. Tommy Brown is at the ticket counter, and sees Columbo walk into the airport. The two talk cordailly, and Tommy walks through the metal detector to go to his gate. The alarm sounds, so Tommy empties his pockets and walks through again. This time, no alarm sounds. As Tommy limps toward the gate and out of sight, Lt. Columbo runs through security, flashes his badge and watches Tommy board the plane.
As the patrolman, opens the police callbox to call in, Columbo sees the patrolman’s keys hanging there and slaps his forehead.
Tommy Brown arrives at the plane crash scene after dark, finds the parachute, and as he walks back to the car Columbo turns on the headlights of Tommy’s Cadillac. Tommy is caught and Columbo relieves him of the parachute. Columbo said he’d given him 2 hours to get to San Francisco and 2 hours to get back. The patrolman had dropped him off there and he sat on a rock waiting for Tommy to come back. He knew he was coming back since he had the keys for the rental car on him when he went through security at the airport.