Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm

Everyone I know who loves Columbo loves the down and dirty killers, the killers with hearts as hard as concrete. The types of killers portrayed by Leonard Nimoy or Ross Martin to name two memorable murderers. This fan enjoys hating those too, but I adore the few who break the Lieutenant’s heart as he goes about doing his job. Ruth Gordon portrays one of those and another is played by Donald Pleasence in Any Old Port in a Storm from Columbo Season 3 directed by Leo Penn.

Donald Pleasence and Peter Falk

This Columbo outing is my choice for this year’s Favorite TV Show Episode hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. There are many reasons why. Let’s start at the beginning.

Adrian Carsini (Pleasence) is a man of exemplary taste. He likes the high life and expensive things, which is particularly true of wine. Unfortunately, Adrian has not the means or emotional maturity for his chosen passion. The latter is evident in the fact that wine is the only thing he loves. What is Adrian supposed to do then when that love and the excellence he demands in that world are threatened, which is exactly what happens when Adrian’s younger half-brother Rick (Gary Conway) stops by Carsini Winery one day.

Rick Carsini is about to get married. The ex-playboy is serious this time and shows up to see Adrian to let him know he is selling the land where the Winery sits. Adrian knows wine but has no business sense and when their father died he left Adrian money, which he squandered, but he left Rick the Winery. This means Adrian is left without inclination or means. Desperate upon hearing Rick’s intention, Adrian hits Rick over the head and drags him to the wine cellar turning down the temperature leaving Rick to die of suffocation without a stick of food or ounce of water.

Adrian leaves for New York to attend a wine auction with his devoted secretary Karen (Julie Harris). Upon his return Adrian disposes of Rick’s body by dressing him in scuba gear and throwing him in the ocean trying to make it look like an accident. Naturally it takes no time at all for Lieutenant Columbo to suspect foul play.

Why is Columbo suspicious? Well, Rick’s expensive convertible was left by the coast with the top down. In humorous scenes Columbo goes out of his way to find out if it had rained since Rick’s demise. That causes two issues: why would an experienced sportsman go scuba diving in the rain; and why would he leave his snazzy convertible with the top down. Columbo further complicates things for the murderer when the medical examiner tells the Lt. that the deceased had not eaten anything for a couple of days prior to the time of death. Well, with his usual frumpy appearance and keen curiosity, Columbo ends up in the office of Adrian Carsini.

Adrian Carsini and Lt. Columbo enjoying some wine

Columbo is always all in when it comes to an investigation. To prove that Adrian Carsini killed his brother, for instance, Columbo takes lessons in wine tasting. To Adrian’s delight Columbo becomes an amateur expert in wines. This results in Carsini and Columbo forging a friendly relationship. They admire each other. So much so that the two, along with Karen, go out to dinner. And that’s when the superb Gotcha! Goes into play.

At dinner – Adrian not appreciating a valuable wine gone sour

It turns out that wine oxidizes if it is subjected to heat or a rapid change in temperature such as, for instance, if someone turns off the cooling system in a cellar to ensure another person suffocates. So Columbo sneaks into the wine cellar and grabs one of Carsini’s most expensive wines. At dinner, with the always enjoyable Vito Scotti as maître’d, Columbo asks for that expensive wine. The restaurant is in cahoots with the Lieutenant. Carsini tastes the wine and looses his cool. How dare they serve such a superb vintage in such a manner?! His outrage proves the wine is oxidized and strengthens the case against the wine connoisseur. There’s only one thing left to wait for once Columbo makes it a point to mention the heat index during the week when Adrian was in New York.

Knowing that Carsini realizes his precious wine has gone bad, Columbo lies in wait at the shore where the man will surely go to dump every precious bottle. Carsini does not disappoint and is forced to confess – although without remorse. Still, the Lieutenant feels for the man who has lost everything he holds dear. The two share a dessert wine and Columbo shows his regret for having to do what he must do.

A final toast

In a Tonight Show interview the week before Any Old Port in a Storm originally aired in October 1973, Peter Falk described how special he thought this episode was. In particular, he praised the acting talents of Donald Pleasence whose character forced Columbo into an emotional decision. Indeed, the scenes between Pleasence and Falk are of the highest caliber and range from funny to deeply touching. Pleasence manages the awkward humor of a one-track wine nerd and anger reactions that surprise.

Donald Pleasence’s well-realized Adrian is a perfect match for the Lieutenant. They come from separate worlds, but they both have impeccable standards. Those scenes between those two actors are what make this a standout episode in the Columbo canon.

Any Old Port in a Storm has much more to offer than the bromance between the relationship that develops between the greatest detective on TV and a memorable murderer. One unique moment in this episode is the introduction of the Lieutenant. We don’t see him at the crime scene, as is usual. Instead, he’s in his office at the police station where Rick’s fiancé is looking to file a missing person’s report. Columbo directs her to the proper person, but makes a note of the missing man’s name, which he recognizes when he is called to the scene of the crime later.

Julie Harris is terrific as the long-suffering Karen. All points to the fact that she’s in love with Adrian to no effect. But she suspects and later knows he killed his brother and does not hesitate to tell him the night of the dinner. Karen would be happy to keep her knowledge of his crime to herself if he agrees to marry her. Adrian wants nothing to do with it or her and tells Columbo in the end that he’d rather go to prison than spend his life with her.

Despite the fact that Adrian Carsini ends up a sympathetic character, which again is kudos the how Donald Pleasence plays him, his actions are quite sinister. The way he treats Karen, and that final insult are outright mean and, if I may say, his murder is particularly evil. Adrian’s brother Rick suffers for at least a full two days in that cellar before he finally dies all the while Adrian is in New York enjoying his world of wine.


Finally, it is worth commenting once again about Lieutenant Columbo’s exceptional talent for zeroing in on the smallest variation in people’s behavior. In Any Old Port in the Storm it is the fact that Columbo is told in passing that Adrian let another wine expert decant one of his special wines. Few would pay any attention to that but during their first meeting, Adrian Carsini tells Columbo that he would never let anyone decant one of his wines. Columbo quickly focuses on the fact that one needs a steady hand to decant fine wine. Lieutenant Columbo never ceases to impress me.

One more thing. Any Old Port in a Storm is the first episode in which Columbo whistles “This Old Man,” which he does while making a phone call at the winery. The children’s song pops up in a few Columbo episodes, usually (I believe) when the Lieutenant first learns who the murderer is. It always makes me smile as does the customary insult aimed at Columbo’s decrepit Peugeot.


Be sure to visit A Shroud of Thoughts and the Favorite TV Show Blogathon. There is lots of joy and memories present. You may find more murder too.

3 thoughts

  1. I just discovered Columbo during the Covid shutdown — I haven’t seen many, but I enjoyed all of the ones I saw. I especially liked seeing classic film stars in the guest roles. With Julie Harris and a character named Karen, you know I’ll have to check out this one!

  2. I still watch Columbo on the channels that have weekly marathons. This series featured some of the best actors in the business. I loved Peter Falk… a great and underrated actor.

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