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Retro : Mystery Home Theater : VIDEO SETS FROM 'COLUMBO,' 'ROCKFORD' AND 'MAGNUM' PACK A WHODUNIT WALLOP

July 31, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everybody loves a good mystery these days.

But there's a lot to be said for good old-fashioned mysteries too. MCA/Universal Home Video has uncovered six each from three TV detective series: Columbo, The Rockford Files and Magnum, P.I. And for those couch potatoes who love to watch a horror story unfold, MCA/Universal has dusted off six bone-chilling episodes of the '60s anthology series Thriller.

The videos, priced $15 each for the detective series and $13 for "Thriller," hit the stores Wednesday.

It was 27 years ago that Peter Falk made his debut as the raincoat-wearing, cigar-smoking Los Angeles detective known as Lieutenant Columbo, the lead character in the acclaimed NBC movie "Prescription Murder." In Columbo's very first case, penned by creators Richard Levinson and William Link, he matches wits with a psychiatrist (Gene Barry) who murdered his wife (Nina Foch).

The "Columbo Series" also features "Murder by the Book" (1971), written by Steven Bochco and directed by Steven Spielberg; "Lovely but Lethal" (1973), with Vera Miles, Martin Sheen and Vincent Price; "Try and Catch Me" (1977), with Ruth Gordon as a writer who kills the nephew she holds responsible for her beloved niece's death; "Suitable for Framing" (1971), starring Ross Martin, Don Ameche and Kim Hunter; and "A Stitch in Crime" (1972), with Leonard Nimoy as a murderous heart surgeon.

After struggling for years in Hollywood, Tom Selleck became a bona fide star due to the 1980-88 CBS series "Magnum, P.I." And for good reason. Selleck brought loads of charm to the role of Thomas Magnum, the former Vietnam War vet who turned to sleuthing while based on a private estate in Hawaii.

The "Magnum, P.I. Series" includes the show's 1980 pilot, "don't eat the snow in hawaii," in which one of Magnum's best friends dies under mysterious circumstances. In 1986's "Novel Connection," Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) of "Murder, She Wrote" fame helps solve a mystery with Magnum's help; "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" (1980) finds the macho bachelor reluctantly accepting five little girls as clients; "A Sense of Debt" (1983) features a pre-"Beverly Hills, 90210" Shannen Doherty as the daughter of a down-on-his-luck boxer; and in "Murder 101" (1984), Magnum teaches a university class.

The breezy 1974-80 NBC series "The Rockford Files" brought James Garner back to series TV. (It was recently announced Garner would be doing a series of CBS movies reprising his role as the laid-back Los Angeles private eye, Jim Rockford.)

The "Rockford Files Series" features "backlash of the hunter," the original 1974 two-part pilot with guest star Lindsay Wagner. Also included in the series is "Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs" (1979), in which Rockford becomes involved with a wealthy socialite (Lauren Bacall); "The No-Cut Contract" (1975) features Rob Reiner as a crooked small-time pro quarterback; "The Big Ripoff" (1974) stars Jill Clayburgh as a model who may be involved in a murder; "Nice Guys Finish Dead" (1979) features a pre-"Magnum" Tom Selleck as the perfect private eye Lance White; and "The Kirkoff Case" (1974) guest-stars James Woods as the seedy heir to a family fortune.

"Thriller," which aired on NBC from 1960 to 1962, was hosted by horror film great Boris Karloff ("Frankenstein"). He also was a frequent guest star on the anthology that featured stories of everyday people caught up in terrifying situations.

The six episodes available on video feature Karloff, as well as many other familiar TV faces: William Shatner and Natalie Schafer star in "The Grim Reaper" (1961), a tale about a painting that depicts death and haunts an eccentric woman's estate. Karloff and Dick York star in "The Incredible Doktor Markesan" (1962), about two newlyweds who take up residence in the decrepit mansion of their evil uncle.

"The Terror in Teakwood" (1961), directed by actor Paul Henreid ("Casablanca"), is about a woman who faces death in the dark. Karloff and Audrey Dalton headline "The Prediction" (1960), about a nightclub mentalist who tries to protect his assistant and her boyfriend from dark powers. Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston star in "Masquerade" (1961), a comedic story about a couple who seek shelter on a stormy night in a scary house. Finally, there's Karloff, Patricia Medina and Sidney Blackmer in "The Premature Burial" (1961), based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

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