James Frawley, an appreciation

Peter Falk in a surrealistic moment in the Columbo episode Murder, a Self Portrait, directed by James Frawley.

James Frawley (1936-2019) was never a star but was a working actor. When he switched to directing, he found his true calling.

Frawley appeared in some Spy-fi. Hhe wasn’t the main villain but usually a secondary one. But he made an impact, nevertheless.

One example was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Guioco Piano Affair, written by Alan Caillou and directed by Richard Donner. Frawley plays a South American police lieutenant who has been assigned to assist agent Napoleon Solo.

Frawley’s character pulls a double cross because he has been bribed by the villains. But the policeman doesn’t realize he himself has been double crossed. Solo (Robert Vaughn) overcomes Frawley’s character and gets both men to safety.

Nevertheless, Frawley’s character tries to double cross Solo *a second time.* Solo, this time  is more than ready. He whistles and the military of the unnamed South American nation take the conspirators into custody. It’s a very satisfying ending.

“You see,” Solo says. “I didn’t trust you.”

As a director, Frawley had an even bigger impact. He worked on comedy series, including The Monkees, where he helmed 28 episodes and won an Emmy. Yet, Frawley could direct drama.

One of his best dramatic efforts came with the Columbo episode Murder, a Self Portrait.

Famous artist Max Barsini (Patrick Bauchau) lives with his second wife and a model. They’re next door to Barsini’s first wife. The artist kills his first wife because he’s still afraid, years after the fact, he’ll spill the beans on a killing he did.

The late first wife had a relationship with a psychologist. While under his care, the former Mrs. Barsini described reoccurring dreams. As staged by Frawley, Max is in the middle of painting Lt. Columbo while the audience can hear a recording of the murder victim describing the dreams.

The dream sequences were filmed in black-and-white, adding to the surrealism. In the end, the recordings provide Columbo with the clues he needs to crack the case.

Frawley as a director was late coming to Columbo. He worked on the show during the 1976-77 season (the final NBC season) and the first year Columbo was on ABC (1989). But he still made his mark.

In the 21st century, Frawley isn’t that well known. But for those who saw his work as an actor and director, he’ll be remembered.

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