Columbo: The 1970s Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Fabulous Films
Review written by and copyright: Peter Neal (14th June 2024).
The Film


A scruffy raincoat, a cigar and a mind like a steel trap. Then there’s the catchphrase of “Just one more thing….”. From these elements, one of the most enduring of TV characters was born. Yep, Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) is still very much both in the eye and affections of audiences around the world, with his disarming nature combining with devious methods to catch out criminals, hallmarked by constant talk about his beloved (yet unseen) wife. We all know who he is, and we’ve all seen him on TV. But have you ever seen them look this good?

Most of you will probably be skipping down to the quality report, and why not? If those wanting to refresh their knowledge of the shabby detective - or if you are new to the game -I humbly submit capsule reviews of all 43 episodes from the original 70s series, along with the TV movie Prescription: Murder and the TV pilot Ransom for a Dead Man. Have a flask of coffee ready if you reading through this lot!

Prescription: Murder

Ray Flemming (Gene Barry) and wife Carol (Nina Foch) are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary with friends. A game of Botticelli is interrupted when the good doctor’s bit-on-the-side calls him with a case of the hots. His furious wife starts threatening divorce proceedings, and with a lot to lose, he murders his shrewish wife and stages a break-in at their penthouse apartment. Calling on his mistress to pretend to be the dead wife feigning a bust up before on a trip to Acapulco, marching very publicly marching off the plane before departure. Dumping his “stolen” loot in the waters off of Mexico, Flemming flies back to home to a nasty “surprise” he already knew about , but he doesn’t realise that detective on the case is one with an eye for the most minor of details and discrepancies...

Those watching with little or no knowledge of Columbo won’t be troubled by the different interpretation of the character, but regular fans shouldn’t be put off, as this is terrific stuff. Don’t deny yourself a ripping tête-à-tête between Columbo and Flemming, one which could only have come from a stage-play, where he deconstructs the lieutenant whilst with an undercurrent of gloating. We also have a great villain, where although Flemming is much more thorough in his methods to avoid detection than most who came after him, in the end, it’s his elitism and dismissal of those he considers beneath him which finally catches him out, along with cold outlook on the human race. Gene Barry always came with a reputation (listen to he very opening of the DVD commentary of War of the Worlds for confirmation of that) but it pays off here, as who better to play a heartless bastard than...well, you get the idea.

As for Falk, it's important to keep in mind that this is proto-Columbo, one not above having a drink whilst on duty, feigning that he's been taken of a case whilst still investigating the suspect and screaming at a female suspect to make her crack. He really is a sh*tbag. But the coat, we hear your cry: what about the iconic coat? Well, brace yourselves - Columbo looks rather smart in this one, and only has his famed coat on in a couple of scenes, draping it over his arm a lot of the time, but ditching it altogether later on. This also marks the only occasion where Columbo comes with a briefcase and is properly organised.

This is cracking story and great TV, but Columbo himself is poorly-served. What am I taking about? Well, when Flemming's gorgeous accomplice turns up dead at the story‘s climax, Columbo tries to get him to do the decent thing and confess to his crimes, so as to lighten the weight burdening his soul. With all the faux sincerity of a detective trying to score an easy win, he asks: “…what have you got to look forward to?“ What have you got to look forward to??? It was the late 60s, and he was a rich, single man, so sex, drugs, money and alcohol were pretty good reasons for not confessing his crimes and being executed for murder! It’s like asking: “what have the Romans ever done for us…?”

Ransom for a Dead Man

When high-flying lawyer Leslie Williams (Lee Grant) shoots her husband dead, she hatches an elaborate scheme to feign a kidnapping for the purposes of both covering her tracks and financially ruining her step-daughter. She sets a machine to play a phoney ransom message to muddy the waters, and all is going swimmingly until said step-daughter (Patricia Mattick) turns up with a suspicious mind and an intriguing statement that all was not well in the marriage. Enter the cigar-chomping 'tec….

Grant is excellent, bringing real presence and a dangerous/ruthless edge to what could have been rather a pantomime-like villain. She’s charming, sensual and alarmingly good at playing situations to her advantage, qualities which converge perfectly to her make her the best damn female lawyer in the business. She even takes a bold swipe at her fictional competition as she sneers at Columbo’s vision of the “Perry Mason school of justice”. After a very long movie career, Grant was relegated to various TV series, but her turn here is so damn good that not only did it see her nominated for an Emmy, was probably the catalyst for her extremely profitable series of blockbusters movies in the 70s, where she played a slew of intelligent, bitchy characters in the mould of Leslie Williams, including her Oscar-winning turn in Shampoo. Yes, she is that good in this pilot!

The one problem to be found is that of Patricia Mattick as step-daughter Margaret. Just starting out in a career which both began and ended with the 70s, she kicked off with Clint Eastwood’s The Beguiled before taking in numerous TV guest-appearances, playing either bookish teenagers or angry firebrands. Unfortunately, she seems to overplay it here, with dagger-stares, flaring nostrils and a line in seething which can't fail to annoy anyone watching, making it hard to care about her inner plight. At one point, she even tries to slap Columbo when a clumsy attempt at framing her step-mother goes wrong, further alienating the character from sympathetic viewers! It’s rather tragic that someone whose career died when she became too old to play angry “kids”, Patricia (Pattye) Mattick died in virtual anonymity from cancer at just 52.

But what of Columbo this time around? Played in much more familiar fashion than before, Falk is almost right on the money, although he does smoke bigger and more expensive cigars, along with his voice being initially different and of a lower tone than we’re used to, but it soon evens out to the ashtray-like quality everyone loves. He gets to brilliantly pull rank on a smug agent investigating the kidnapping, where his threats are countered by Colombo pointing out that the suddenly-turned-murder case is now his arena! We get to see him almost lose his lunch when Leslie tries to intimidate him by taking the tatty 'tec up in her private plane, and we even get an early glimpse of Angry Columbo!

This is unmissible stuff, with some excellent directorial touches. Just how fast the series was commissioned is testament to its quality.

Series 1

Murder by the Book

Authors of the hugely successful Mrs Melville crime books Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy) and Jim Ferris (Martin Milner) are ending their writing partnership and washing their hands of the lucrative franchise. Trouble is that Franklin is a tired old hack, merely handling the marketing of the books rather than contributing anything creative towards them. His plan? Make the split seem amicable before killing his partner, blaming it on the mafia and helping himself to the recent insurance policy taken out on him. The only problems? A nosey eyewitness with the hots for Franklin and an equally nosey police detective in a rather scruffy raincoat…

The mighty Cassidy hits the ground running, and there couldn't have been a better villain with which to kick off the series. It's no wonder that he popped up numerous times as a baddie, as he's ridiculously charming and wonderfully magnetic. But with Falk on top form and Cassidy so great, it’s almost easy to forget how good the ill-fated Barbara Colby is as snooping fan-turned-blackmailer Lily La Sanka. Buck-toothed and gangly, she’s simultaneously ditzy and awkward, with glints pure steel whenever Franklin tries his usual guff with her, proving that she’s a calculating woman, smart enough to resist the invitation for a moonlit boat-ride out on a lake with him, and meet a sincerely tragic, violent fate. The problem is that discovers too late that trying to extort money from a killer isn't the most sensible thing in the world. For there, things the heat starts turning up, and even the ice-cool Franklin might melt under the intense glare.

Whilst being one of the ultimate Columbo episodes, it also best displays exactly what the show would be capable of. The story is solid, the characters perfectly drawn and superbly played. Spielberg’s direction is excellent, bringing his (as yet unproven) cinematic prowess to television and making it something to grab the audience rather than letting them passively experience it. TV was awfully prosaic around this time, and there are those of the believe that Spielberg’s work on Columbo forced the industry to take a good look at itself, which lead to more visceral series being put into production. An honourable notion, and a cracking episode, too.

Death Lends a Hand

When wealthy Arthur Kennicut (Ray Milland) hires a detective firm to make sure his younger wife is being faithful, the report of her fidelity leaves him relieved. But investigator Brimmer (Robert Culp) has been holding back some important information: she’s screwing around on him, and Brimmer sets out to blackmail the young bride. But an outburst of rage sends ends in a deadly blow which leaves a strange indentation on the dumped body’s face. Sounds like a case for Columbo!

Much like Jack Cassidy, Culp makes his mark as a Columbo baddie of the highest calibre right from the outset, but in a way so very different from the twinkling smugness of his peer. Culp specialised in playing ruthless businessmen on the show, bringing a quality to his characters which left no doubt that they were successful for reasons other than the ability to make money. But here, his character Brimmer is a cold bastard - so big a bastard that he doesn't even have first name! With this in mind, the scenes between Culp and Falk are great. Both are hiding something beneath the surface, with Columbo’s certainty of his guilt having an easier time of staying hidden. With Culp’s paranoia and sense of the detective’s abilities growing, he even offers him a high-paying job in his company to get him off the trail!

This is damn good Columbo, with excellent performances, an intriguing premise and a satisfying (if a little shaky) denouement. There are some great visual flourishes, which proved to be too expensive to carry through the entire series, and it's a well-made story. But it just wasn’t quite as solid as Murder by the Book, and so this initially-planned opener to the series was shunted into second place, allowing Jack Cassidy to become the 1st villain on the show. It’s just a pity the next one had to be…

Dead Weight

Major General Martin Hollister (Eddie Albert) is none too happy when he's being investigated for shady trading, and shoots dead the only link to the crimes via his beloved pistol. Trouble is, carefree Helen Stewart (Suzanne Pleshette) witnessed the crime from a boat alongside Hollister's house, but when Columbo investigates, but there are no traces of the crime. But among all of Hollister's military paraphernalia about to be donated to a museum, a certain pistol is missing...

With Italian Giallo (detective/mystery) movies being hugely popular at the time, along with Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage raking in the money stateside, it’s little surprise that some of their inherent themes would make it into American product, and Dead Weight is no exception. The very premise of an eyewitness thinking she saw a killing but unsure as to exactly what she saw is classic Giallo, but goes with a fresh angle of the killer himself trying to change her perception of the incident and clear his name. In fact, Hollister even strikes up a relationship with Helen in an attempt to a sway her opinion!

With all of these tantilising elements, the title is almost an apt one - what should have been a fun mystery weighed down by an atmosphere you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s only by digging deeper that you find out the conditions under which it was filmed - namely that Falk had been promised to direct an episode, with Universal seeming to backtrack on the arrangement, and ol’ Pete pulling a sickie and getting his doctor to sign him off of work. His scenes with Pleshette and Albert were done with doubles to finish the episode, with only the threat of being sued bring Falk back to do his close-ups. Albert called Falk “…a real asshole” to his face when he finally returned to the set! Oh, and Falk's old friend Pleshette didn't speak to him for nearly 20 years because of his behaviour.

This is crap Columbo, and it’s not just me: it really is one of the most disliked episodes, and I’ll treat it with the contempt it deserves by simply skipping into the next one, an excellent piece entitled….

Suitable for Framing

Dale Kingston (Ross Martin) almost has it all. He’s suave, sophisticated, educated, and makes a nice living through the irony of critiquing art on the plebian medium of television. The only thing he can’t have is the fabulous art collection his uncle has bought over the years, which Kingston has lusted over whilst curating it. Along with a starry-eyed art student (Rosanna Huffman), he plans to kill Uncle, “steal” his two favourite pieces and blame it on a burglar, along with taking steps to throw off the police. Not so fast, here comes Columbo...

What is there to say about Ross Martin as Dale Kingston? He's a smug, conceited, arrogant, narcissistic prick with a shit-eating grin as wide as his tie. There is no other way to describe him, and is a tribute to Martin’s talents that he was able to become one of the very best Columbo baddies so early on in the run. Everything the character does is driven by ego, along with an utter distain for those around him, and it’s a pleasure to see the little cracks start to appear. The end of his introductory scene where the TV station goes to commercials too late on his live TV show and leaves him grimacing for a “clear” is priceless! Donald Pleasance might have broke new ground in verisimilitude when playing Adrian Carsini two years later, but for a villain you want to see gets his just-desserts, he's in exhaled company!

What else is great here? Well, Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes) was enjoying her career much more after coming to the end of a long time blacklisted, and she really shines as the absent-minded aunt to whom the art collection is bequeathed. Future Duke-brother Don Ameche is great here, as is crabby artist Vic Tayback, with Columbo not knowing where to look when he walks in on one of his nude painting sessions. Falk clearly enjoyed working with Sister Act-star to-be Mary Wicks, and we even get future David Lynch star Jack Nance as a gardener!

Add to this another instance of Columbo inappropriately helping himself to food, THREE instances of a car being left in gear, causing it to lurch, and one of the absolute best “gotcha’” moments in the history of the show - the writing of it is flawless, the execution is great, Martin's expression priceless and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bastard.

Lady in Waiting

The Chadwicks are a very wealthy family. Mousy Beth (Susan Clark) has always been repressed by her older brother Bryce, a powerhouse in the family advertising business. She's found love with Peter Hamilton (Leslie Nielson) but Bryce warns him off, threatening to fire him from the company. Tired of being pushed around, Beth stages a burglary, “accidentally” shoots her brother (claiming him to be an intruder) and assumes control of the family business. Things don’t quite go to plan, and Beth has to improvise to ensure the demise of her brother, but when a court rules the death was indeed accidental, something doesn’t sit right with a certain detective in a raincoat....

The centrepiece of the episode is the transformation of Beth Chadwick from repressed frump to glamorous, overconfident winner, and it's captivating one. As she senses the power open to her, it changes her whole personality, reflected through an evolving look and desire to dress in ways denied in the past. By the time she assumes control of the company, she’s a completely different woman, even going so far as to announce her engagement in the boardroom without the nicety of even consulting her lover! Her fashions as often tasteless, as though trying to wear the entire 6os in a couple of outfits, but by final scene, she is genuinely elegant, and poised with a gun. She’s a caterpillar that changes into an African Giant Swallowtail - the most deadly of butterflies, and Clark gives a criminally underrated performance, going from wallflower to Venus Fly-Trap.

Another nod should go in the direction of Leslie Nielson as boyfriend Hamilton, giving a very genuine performance - he's a mile away from that of Airplane" or Frank Drebin, and less starched than his turn in the celebrated Forbidden Planet. Clad in a series of safari-suits, it’s one of the few Columbo characters closely connected to the suspect whom ends up giving the detective just what he needs for an arrest. He‘s the embodiment of charming, and very different to when he turned up again as the victim in Identity Crisis, disproving the rather nasty comment from a Paramount exec when Zucker/Abraham/Zucker wanted him for Airplane!: “Nielson’s the guy you get the night before…”.

There is also a visual flair to the episode for which director Norman Lloyd should be given full credit. Taken under the wing of Alfred Hitchcock when he played the baddie in Hitch's celebrated Saboteur, he worked with him many times after. The scene where Clark imagines how the robbery/murder is going to play out really wouldn’t look out of place in one of his mentor’s films, all watery distortion and dreamy imagery, and his sharp contrast with the reality of the crime is excellent, and really off-foots the audience. A Columbo to cherish.

Short Fuse

Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowell) is a genius, loaded with PhDs and sitting at the top of his late father’s chemical company. His life is devoted to enjoying himself through playing pranks on his employees, along with making the odd bad decision which puts a speed-bump in the corporation’s profile. Trouble is, his uncle (James Gregory) and the rest of the board want force both his resignation from and surrender of the company, threatening to expose his more dubious activities if he doesn’t, bringing shame on his beloved mother (Ida Lupino). Rigging a cigar box with an explosive device, he plots to kill his uncle whilst blaming it on environmental protesters. Columbo smells a lab-rat...

My wife has always said of Short Fuse: “It’s hard to pick a side on this one, isn’t it?" The way McDowell is being blackmailed out of his family’s company (for the sake of a few financial misadventures) is pretty damn despicable, but this is balanced out by just what an obnoxious arsehole the guy really is. This is the man-child who finds it hilarious to spray that “new” chemical invention known as Silly-String into the hair of his secretaries, including one with an afro, purely because he his underlings won't date retaliate. Try getting away with that these days, and they’ll have you on every possible “ism” they can get. But on the other hand, Roger’s uncle is a dick, possessed of pretty loathsome ways, but it’s important to remember that Roger was rigging the explosive with which to kill him BEFORE he knew of the decision to oust him from the company.

But above all, Roger Stanford is an utter tw*t, spoiled rotten over the years and of the belief that the world is there entirely for his amusement. You really can’t blame McDowell, as he’s only playing the material he was given, where there isn’t a trace of genuine charm in his character to be found. Much has been said about the ridiculously tight pants worn by McDowell, and while they are indicative of the fashion back then, you can clearly make out his Rod. As a matter of fact, you are left in no doubt that the rumours about him were true: the Planet of the Apes star was the only chimpanzee in history with a tail! These legendarily tight strides are combined with a shirt complete with ruffled sleeves which looks as though he pilfered from co-star Kim Hunter’s Escape From the Planets of the Apes wardrobe upon leaving to film Short Fuse.

Let’s close things on a positive note, and say that the cable-car finale is one of the best climaxes seen on the show- it’s tense, Columbo gets to feign complete ignorance to perfection and the suspect is absolutely shitting himself as the lieutenant bumbles his way into opening a supposedly explosive cigar box during a perilous cable-car ride! It’s masterfully done, and you just want that little bastard to get what’s coming to him!!

Blueprint for Murder

Bo Williamson (Forrest Tucker) isn't just any old cow-poke - he's an incredibly wealthy one, with a young, attractive bride and a very much ex-wife. It’s an amicable arrangement, but when ambitious architect Elliot Markham (Patrick O'Neal) uses his brides’ naïve nature to agree to a phenomenally expensive vanity project, Bo is furious. How red can the neck of an angry can a redneck get? How far will a narcissistic manipulator go to save face? There’s going to be a showdown, but poor old Bo won't be last man standing!

Given that this episode centres around the possibility that a body has been dumped in the foundation of a building, it takes a lot to avoid summing up the episode as: “Columbo has trouble with piles”, but I won’t. It’s a simple, yet involving, tale of city-building ambition meets redneck stubbornness, where all the money in the world can’t buy sophistication, yet can further the dreams of others. It’s Columbo, so someone it obviously going to get murdered, and it’s Bo. Yep, Markham shoots him in his own expensive car and makes out he’s off on his travels, but both wives (former and current) are convince of foul-play, which puts him in the sights of the man with the cheapest-smelling cigars since the Alligator King…

An element which really lights this entry up is the relationship between the two women in Bo’s life. They could have made ex-wife Goldie a nasty b*tch towards the young, innocent Jennifer, but no - she admits that she likes the girl, and the two have a great rapport when they share the screen, as well as in scenes with Falk. Janis Paige really scores as Goldie, and Pamela Austin is just as good as Jennifer, proving that the tricky balance of naïve and bright can be achieved when played just right. The girls are like lager and cider - fine individually, with each possessing their own form of potency, but a dynamite combination when brought together. Patrick O’Neal is really good as Markham, being an icy-cold bastard with almost no conscience at all about murdering Bo, and giving absolutely nothing away when Columbo is on his tail. Both Falk and O’Neal really play off of each other well, with Columbo really having to work at his quarry (both kinds!) to get anything out of him. The piece where our man in the coat baits the architect by telling Markham that he needs to get “something concrete” on him is brilliant.

This was a good way to end the first series, with a really good comeuppance at the end. Falk did a good job in the director‘s chair, even if the energy dissipates somewhat around the halfway point. This is pretty damn good Columbo.

Season 2

Étude in Black

Brilliant yet temperamental conductor Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes) is having it off with a gorgeous, gifted pianist, and must chose between the life of luxury literally afforded by his marriage to the lovely Janice (Blythe Danner) or great sex whilst scratching for a living. He decides to take out his pianist, inflicting a good bashing until there's a mess all over the floor, before putting his weapon away and concealing his dirty business. But how long before a carelessly left button-hole Carnation puts Columbo onto the scent that his wasn't just a suicide...?

A second season brought some big changes to Columbo, and all for the better. The first series was superb television, but a raft of excellent reviews brought in guest actors whom might not have come along for the ride before. Even John Cassavetes "lowered" himself to the medium of TV for his old friend Peter Falk, and the results here are explosively star-powered by movie-legend gravitas, including a wonderful (and heavily pregnant) Blythe Danner. Dare I even mention the Hollywood legend that is Myrna Loy? Special mention must also go to British actor Don Knight as Mike the garage worker who, in a sea of unlikeable, backstabbing characters, blows most of the others off the screen when it comes to sheer charm in his precious few minutes of screen time, tying with Loy, and that's a hell of a complement. The Manchester mechanic brings humour, warmth and, when looking under the hood of Columbo’s clapped-out heap, the wonderfully blunt line: "Have you ever thought of getting a new car?" when asked what he thinks about it.

Another of the changes certainly wasn't planned from the outset. With the upcoming broadcast of the "prestige" episode Dagger of the Mind, the high-ups wanted to get audiences ready for the format-breaking 90-minute episode by plumping up another one after filming had wrapped, and having John Cassavetes starring in one of them made for the perfect choice. Unwilling to do inconsequential footage, an extended sequence between he and Falk was devised to pad out the running time. If you have ever wondered just why Columbo is obsessed with the value of Cassavettes' house, wonder no longer. Oh, and the same goes for just why Mr C's hair is very different in that scene.

Then we get to one of the absolute staples of Columbo, and all because of cynical network policy. Even though reviews for the first series had been excellent and viewing figures were OK, execs were still nervous about a show where audiences had to actually think whilst watching, rather than the usual moving wallpaper approach. When things got shaky on American television, there were two traditional options on the table for a TV show where higher ratings were needed, being the addition of either a spunky young boy to get the kids watching or bringing in a loveable dog to appeal to pet-lovers. Falk reluctantly agreed to the latter, on the condition that he choose the dog himself. The results worked better than anyone dared hope, as a Bassett Hound perfectly reflected Columbo's spirit-animal - slovenly, deceptively disinterested but a hunting animal nonetheless, and damn good at what they do. And could there have been a better name for him? Nothing cute, just "Dog". In every respect, Dog never feels like a gimmick, and the interaction between Falk and his four-legged friend enhance the character beautifully.

Étude in Black is much loved among Columbo fans, but there's a lack of warmth and a nastier edge to the script. This might be explained that although the director credit reads Nicholas Colasanto ("Coach", from TV’s Cheers) the bulk of the duties were undertaken by Cassavetes himself, along with Falk probably directing his own character. This certainly wouldn't be the first time it's happened, as Sylvester Stallone did the same thing on both "Cobra" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II".

Greenhouse Jungle

Staging a phoney kidnapping, Jarvis Goodland (Ray Milland) conspires with his nephew in order to break a tricky trust-fund and use the cash to buy his money-loving younger relative a happily ever after. Or that was half of the plan. When the cash is paid out, things take a turn for the nasty, and it all develops into a right shit-storm, but who better than a detective in a raincoat brave the fallout...

Finding Columbo among the wealthy is certainly nothing new, but to drop him in the middle of a bunch of people even a rattlesnake would have second thoughts about biting is something else entirely. Heading up the family is the return of Ray Milland, the only man who pronounces the word "nephew" with a 'v' in place the middle letters. Here, he is sporting one of questionable hair-hats, looking as though someone has just dumped a load of shaving cream on his head and briefly styled it. Here, he's a far cry from the concerned husband in Death Lends a Hand, and a truly delicious bastard in every respect. Not wanting to give away any of the surprises, but he will turn on even those closest to him, and for reasons which aren't always clear.

Is for it money? How about the family's reputation? Who knows, but it all leads up to a very nice "gotcha", similar to the one found at the end of future episode Candidate for Crime, albeit with a different spin. Falk and Milland are clearly enjoying the experience of working in a greater capacity this time, and it really bolster a pretty solid script, even when it's "borrowing" directly from Dirty Harry - which seems fitting, as one of the movie's stars, Bradford Dillman, plays the Milland's indigent nephew! Keep a close eye on Sgt. Wilson, as I have a funny feeling that the loveable lackey might just turn up again...

The Most Crucial Game

When the expensive star player of an American Football (Dean Stockwell) team isn't pulling his weight, enraged General Manager (Robert Culp) decides enough is enough, and sets about taking his pricey liability off the field - permanently! Covering his tracks with cool precision and a Ding-A-Ling ice-cream vendor disguise, he's pulled of the perfect murder. Cue our man in the raincoat to prove otherwise...

This is essentially a variation of the old "knife of ice" theory, where if you were to have a murder weapon made of ice, theoretically you could stab someone with it, and it would leave no evidence of the crime, any and all fingerprints would disappear when the weapon itself melts. All that remains would be plain old water. But as Columbo notes, not all water is created equal, and it isn't long before he's dogging Culp and the two actors are having a whale of at time whilst at each other's throats. This is the most out-and-out nastiest of Culp's characters, far removed from the anger issues of Investigator Brimmer in Death Lends a Hand, or the cool efficiency of Bart Kepple in the later Double Exposure, making for a really hissable baddie, and a right bastard at that.

Where it falls down is that for its very dense plot (there are LOTS of twists), and accusations being countered at every turn, there are honking-great holes in its initial gambit of ice used for a poolside murder in sunny LA. Not wishing to spoil it, but just think about for a second. See? There you go! It's still really enjoyable stuff, but the story is labyrinthine in construction, taking you down many roads (with a hooker thrown in for good measure, although not standing on the street-corner...), but you wind up right back at the start again when it's all over. Still a very enjoyable journey among nice company, though!

Dagger of the Mind

There's murder most foul when two aging thespians murder the very man bankrolling their impending production of MacBeth, but they didn't count on an American police detective lecturing on crime investigation techniques at Scotland Yard to be on their trail. Exit two hams, pursued by a Columbo...

Columbo crosses the pond in the biggest, most expensive episode yet, one so huge that it was made with for a longer 2-hour timeslot, and sent the rumpled detective into the world of feature-length stories. In spite of all that, Jesus, this is an annoying episode! The shabby detective comes over to the UK on a goodwill lecture tour to show our useless Bobbies how to solve crimes. So far, so patronising enough, but when you have baddies as insufferable as those found here, it makes for a really testing episode. Richard "One man can make a difference, Michael" Basehart and Honor "same performance every time" Blackman play caricatures of British "luvvies", those who live for the stage and exist on their own plane of heightened reality. It speaks volumes that the most engaging actor found in the whole thing is promptly killed by the Shakespearean shits. Yep, former Hitchcock stalwart John Williams is off'd in short order, possibly through the two baddies' jealousy of being upstaged by an actor with genuine charm.

Yes, there are lots of location shots, but the rest can't escape that it was shot in L.A. When quintessential English tax-exile Wilfred Hyde-White turns up, you know that he wasn't anywhere near the UK, being the very same thing which also hamstrung another of the British actors in this episode, specifically that he goes missing whenever location work is required. The hopelessly dated and clichéd characterisation of the British suggests how Hitchcock's Frenzy would have turned out if the cast hadn't have insisted on rewriting the dialogue. Hitch had been away in American for nearly 30 years, and everything had changed in that time, leaving a script populated by characters almost preserved in amber from the 30s, Jurassic Park, style. There are no such interventions here, to the point where every character is either posh or a Cockney, guv. It's fitting that the luvvies are largely caught out by sticking too closely to their own "script", and unable to improvise and play things loosely. Even Peter Falk didn't like this one, which he stated as being "gimmicky", and whilst intended as an episode specifically designed to break new ground and snag untapped viewers, it couldn't have been anything but.

One of the interesting elements is that it draws on the old adage that "there's no fool like an old fool", with the soon-to-be late Mr Roger Havisham devastated that he has been taken in by Blackman, who thought she'd take a shine to him, but only wanted the cash to stage their show. It's not often that heartbreak plays a part in the proceedings of a Columbo story, but this is one of them, and remains among the precious few decent elements to this wretched episode.

On a rather weird note, when first watching Dagger of the Mind, I saw the location shots and said aloud: "That looks like Geoffrey Unworth's work...", which drew a look of utter confusion from my wife. The distinctively soft, dream-like yet colourful photography was unmistakable, looking exactly like his work on Superman: The Movie (and about 70% of Superman II), so it came as no surprise when his name graced the end credits for additional photography. Cue another look of confusion from the wife...

Requiem for a Falling Star

Nora Chandler's star has dimmed, but she still clings to the trappings of her fame, including a very nice bungalow with a lovely fountain in its garden. Having previously ripped off $2m from studio bosses, she's now being blackmailed by a gossip columnist who knows the truth. Blowing up her tormentors' car, she finds to her horror that the wrong person was driving it, but that's just the start of her problems when the past begins to catch up with her...

It's another welcome example of an episode which really pulls the rug out from under audience's feet, as there are very few times where the plan goes wrong and an innocent party cops it instead. It's a tragic moment, given that the victim (no spoilers!) was a rather unmeaning soul. This is a story where all the parts fit together and move in unison like the workings of a Swiss watch. The guest cast is exemplary, including Mel Ferrer as the sleazy rag-writer out of get Chandler, and genre favourite/Joe Dante regular Kevin McCarthy putting in another reliable turn, with this one more noble than usual! And in no way, shape or form will we EVER forget the mind-blowing appearance of legendary costume designer Edith Head, along with her Academy Awards!!

But what of the villainess herself? What should be kept in mind is just how huge a star Anne Baxter was, appearing in the classics such as All About Eve, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Ten Commandments, to name but a few. By this point, she was mired in TV, having been so for the best part of a decade, only doing one more film before her death in 1985. It's important to mention this, as it helps see just why she was cast as Nora Chandler, a previously big star now somewhat down on her luck and clinging to the past. With this in mind, how could she have been anything other than superb? She's so good it's almost enough to forgive her for ruining Vincent Price's time on TV's Batman when someone thought it'd be a great idea to make his Egghead the sidekick to her Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. Requiem For a Falling Star starts with a "gotcha" and ends on maudlin note in such an ideal way that it ended up being hard for the show to top. Combine that with more Hollywood in-jokes than you can shake a megaphone at, and it's required viewing!

A Stitch in Crime

Dr Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy) is out to create a revolutionary new drug, but his superior recommends further testing before publishing the results, pushing things back a year, something the good doctor isn't willing to accept. About to perform a heart-valve operation on his colleague, he plans a murder so fiendish that death will happen days later, and look like natural causes. But it's funny how murder seems to snowball...

Given that my wife is a nut for both Columbo and all things medical, it's no surprise that this is her favourite episode. Well, OK - it ties with another for that honour, but more on that later. This contains the best combination of elements: a great, nasty baddie, an ingenious premise, a straight-arrow performance from Falk and some of the most affecting murders of the innocent seen on the show. In fact, it's so great that an occasional bit of clumsy plotting can be easily forgiven. With a second (and endearing) appearance from Anne Francis, as well the incredibly sultry Nita Talbot, not to mention TV’s War of the Worlds star Jared Martin, who is neck-and-neck with Double Exposure's Roger White as least deserving of a grisly fate.

This contains one of the few times where Columbo loses his cool with a suspect, and really lets his anger out. He's seriously annoyed at Nimoy's coldness in light of what he clearly did, and makes his feelings known - being right up there with his annoyance with Patricia Mattick in Ransom for a Dead Man, or when telling Murder Under Glass' Paul Gerard what he really thinks of him. That Nimoy's Mayfield brings out the best (or beast) in Falk is testament to how great the former Vulcan is in the role. When the pressure is on, the smugness builds, as though a defence mechanism, or a human form of Kolinar, the purging of emotion from his most well-known role. But otherwise, he's so ice cold that Robert Culp could have smacked Dean Stockwell over the head with him! This is definitely in the top 5 (or even 3) of the all-time best Columbo stories!

The Most Dangerous Match

Pride is at stake when two great chess rivals are about to face off against each other, but Emmett Clayton (Lawrence Harvey) is paranoid about possible defeat against Russian champion Tomlin Dudek (Jack Krushen), so much so that he's prepared to go to drastic lengths to prevent his king being toppled alongside his reputation. When a nasty accident happens, it's a tense match of wits with the LAPD, but - as ever - Columbo is always playing two moves ahead...

Yes, it's East Meets West, with reputations at stake as accents are massacred along the way, and almost a nasty accident for poor old Dog! We also get a precursor to the low-key, private fight seen in Any Which Way You Can, but played out with impromptu chess pieces on a restaurant tablecloth rather with bare knuckles in a barn! Falk's former Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination rival Krushen really give life to what could well have been another lugubrious Russian at a time when America hated them, and that's no mean feat. The most outrageous accent (and moustache) surely goes to Lloyd Bochner (father of Die Hard's Hart Bochner) whose soup-strainer and stage-bound Soviet tones can only make you break out in an affectionate smile whenever the prolific actor graces the screen.

And then we get to our baddie. Harvey was always a very prickly person to work with, as many big names had no problem with confirming. Here, those qualities serve him well, creating a sense of the aloof befitting a chess grand-master. It's tragic that Harvey died from stomach cancer only eight months after broadcast, aged just 45, but his physical appearance is rather startling, looking painfully thin and unmistakably ill at time of filming. It's a great performance, and probably better than a script with too many holes in it deserved. But check out the incredible dream sequence which kicks the proceedings off to a start it couldn't possibly follow!

Double Shock

What's more creepy than a toothy grin from Martin Landau? How about TWO of 'em! Yep, the creepiest set of twins since The Shining and Shaun of the Dead are the prime suspects in the murder of their uncle, who has become sick of funding their corrupt, decadent lifestyles. Electrocuted in the bath, but dried, dressed and put on an exercise bike to simulate a heart attack, things certainly aren't as they seem as the twins attempt to frame each other when foul play is suspected. Murder or natural causes? Only Columbo can tell 'em apart...

It's a tale of two Landaus, playing both Dexter and Norman Paris, taking a commendable look at the way two genetically identical individuals can be so very different. One a supposedly respectable banker, the other the star of a TV cooking show, but both sniping at the private, money-burning nature of the other. It's a case filled with lies, deceit and more frantic switching than the classic "cup and ball" magic trick. Not to mention the fearsome Mrs Peck, who is less than happy at Columbo's lack housekeeping appreciation.

With oodles of chemistry between Falk and Landau, it's a real surprise that there wasn't another story pairing the two of them, but with double the Landau here, it's cushions the blow somewhat. Fans love the extended sequence where Columbo is roped into appearing on Dexter's cookery show, with their reactions at the uncertain chaos unfolding around them the stuff of TV gold. In fact, Falk's performance in Double Shock might be the one which you could put a Columbo "virgin" in front of to encapsulate the appeal of the good Lieutenant. It's not an episode praised for showing a glimpse of the steely side to the character, nor is it the mannerism-burdened take wheeled out when Falk was bored - it just shows Columbo at his very best in all areas. Especially interesting is the way the aforementioned enraged housekeeper can instil more fear in the seasoned police detective than the most ruthless of criminals, and Falk plays it beautifully!

On a side note, given that dear old Uncle Clifford was electrocuted though dropping a hand-mixer in his bath, he should be grateful that the voltage killed him before the beaters made a soufflé out of his meat n' two veg! And finally, praise should be given to the split-screen effects - granted, they are VERY limited in number, but impressively done.

Season 3

Lovely But Lethal

Darling of the cosmetics industry Viveca Scott's (Vera Miles) grip on the business is slipping, but a new formula youth-cream is set to iron out her financial wrinkles - but said formula has been stolen by a bash young chemist (Martin Sheen), who plans to sell it to her mortal nemesis - David Lang (Vincent Price!) and his company. When she promptly murders him to have it all to herself, it's not long before blackmail, betrayal and Lt Columbo are in her rear-view, three-way mirror...

What is there to say about an episode where guest-star Vincent Price steals the show in only a couple of scenes? Having the lead actress from Psycho should have made for a great baddie, but the end result is a lacklustre formula which leaves you wondering just what happened and disappears from the mind like vanishing cream. When even Miles' annoying acolyte makes more of a splash than she does, something is rotten in the state of California - although that might be the real reason WHY Viveca Scott felt the urge to bump her off! There was definitely great story to be made about murder, deceit and betrayal in the cosmetics industry (Yardley probably would have killed for the publicity at the time!) but this isn't it. The smoking gun evidence of poison ivy is pretty weak, and certainly wouldn't hold up in court. As for Columbo's obsession about odd-shaped jars, it's just too convenient. There are certainly other holes in the plot, ones which you could drive a beaten-up Peugeot through.

Turning up in a small role is none other that Anne Ramsey, who scared the living shit out of a generation of kid as Mama Fratelli in The Goonies. Here, she's a masseur who could probably get every knotted lump out of a human body merely by glaring at it!

Any Old Port in a Storm

When wine producer and vino snob Adrian Carsini (Donald Pleasance) is about to have his family business sold out from under him by his brother, he murders him in a fit of rage. Tying him up in his wine cellar whilst away on a business trip, he comes back and stages a cave-diving accident to conceal his guilt. With Lt. Columbo on the case, is Carsini's charm offensive enough to help him get away with it, or will the good detective's newfound love of wine make sure that Adrian is well and truly corked...

This one is my personal favourite, if only for the presence of Pleasence. Sure, you had former movie actors on the show, and countless TV stars turning up, but this was a rare instance of an almost god-like character actor being cast, and giving a mesmerising, knowing performance which brings a level of class which was tough for others to follow. At his best both when being sly or completely losing his rag, his character is so well-written that a lesser actor would have gone overboard, or played it much more obviously, but Pleasence is having a ball here. It's well known that Any Old Port in a Storm was a favourite of Falk’s', where he got on phenomenally well with his British co-star, and Pleasance spoke very fondly of the experience, too. All of which permeates the atmosphere and gives us all a ridiculously good time. It's bloody odd that there is very credible rumour that the character was written for Victor Buono, who would have brought a VERY different quality to it! Frequent Columbo guest-star Vito Scotti is a truck-load of fun in his debut here, playing a Maitre d’ who might well be part of a trap to ensnare the villainous vintner, and let's not forget an appearance by Commandant Lassard himself, George Gaynes, as a wine merchant whom educates the detective in the ways of the grape.

We have another of the rare occasions where someone tries to blackmail the killer and doesn't end up on their "to do" list. This time it's Carsini's secretary Karen, who has secretly had the hots for him, and tries to use her sliver of vital evidence to convince the confirmed bachelor to marry her. He would have sooner thrown away his entire vintage wine collection than accept, and anyone who has seen this gem on an episode will know what's coming. As much as I love this story, I'll admit that there are a few really big flaws in the writing, mainly those of "why would he possibly do that" in some of Carsini's actions, as well as buying into certain parts of the trap which eventually ensnares him. But how can you argue with a script where Pleasence gets to wring every last delicious drop from lines like: "No-one really needs a $5000 bottle of wine... I just don't want anybody else to have it", as well as screaming the infamous: "An EXCITING MEAL has been RUINED by the presence of this... this... LIQUID FILTH!"

This is Columbo to savour, so in order to avoid spoiling, so I will leave it here. But to use an appropriate Australian expression, Adrian Carsini's blood's worth bottling!

Candidate for Crime

With the senate firmly in his sights, Nelson Hayward (Jackie Cooper) in within spitting distance of winning the crucial election - but when a business partner threatens to go public about his extra-marital affair, it's time to get his hands dirty and rid himself of the speed bump on the road to victory. Who better than the one man who has possibly chomped more cigars than Hayward himself to investigate the biggest political corruption since Watergate...?

It's politics of a sort so grubby that Columbo is probably glad he's wearing his usual raincoat. Given the time in which it was set, it was a match made in heaven for the writers, and they waste no opportunity to really stick it to the smiling face of those wanting your vote. Not wanting to give away too much, we get some great performances from possibly the most successful child actor ever to graduate to an equally triumphant adult career, along with the peerless work of Joanne Linville as Hayward's wife, an actress I've liked since initially seeing her as a Romulan in the final series of Star Trek. She's great as a conflicted woman who knows what's going on, and really doesn't know which way she CAN turn. Her husband is a ruthless sh*t who has clearly killed their mutual friend, but she still loves him, all the while having to play the perma-smiling wife of a potential senator. It's no wonder she's drinking whiskey like a fish. It's the 70s, so mine's a J&B, love!

This is one of many which could have used some serious pruning, a consequence of expanding out to TV-movie proportions. There is some arse-farting around at a dentists, purely just to pad out the running time, whilst also giving some capering-time to Falk. Other scenes just turn into a Televised version of the "hesitation waltz", such as the interminable one with the poolside broadcast. Making up for such weaknesses, Candidate for Crime contains one of the best "gotchas" of them all, partly due to its ingenuity, but also because the look on Cooper's face is absolutely priceless. The destruction of deep-rooted smugness or self-confidence always factors into the best endings, and this is no exception. The smug git had it coming, and it isn't just that he's going to jail - everything he has every worked for is going up like flash-cotton. Even if he were to miraculously win a resulting court-case, he's finished. Stitch that, Perry White!

Double Exposure

Advertising guru Bart Kepple (Robert Culp) is a sales motivational genius, but mainly bankrolls his operations through blackmail via a willing blonde on his payroll. When his latest victim threatens to turn him in, Kepple devises a brilliant scheme to put his prey directly in the firing line at exactly the right time through use of subliminal film cuts, all the while appearing in front of a crowd for his alibi. When one of his workers cottons onto his plan, things become even messier than even Lt Columbo might be able to handle...

Columbo in the world of advertising? Yep, and the dishevelled 'dick learns more about how to pull the "mind-string" than he ever thought possible! It's not just trying to figure out what would make a man inexplicably thirsty and head off for a drink - only to get shot dead - but why don't the guns freely owned by Kepple match the bullets from the body? It's genius against genius as Columbo hoovers up every scrap of knowledge he's exposed to and turns the tables on his adversary. Aside from a very shaky piece of legality at the end, the writing is really solid - as long as you buy into the theory of subliminal cuts, of course. Throw in the fantastic re-teaming of Culp and Falk, and it's an episode which anyone who's ever seen it will doubtless remember.

Interestingly, it's also one of the few Columbo stories where one of the other characters manages to piece together whodunit before the dishevelled detective himself, but - as expected - it's something they are going to pay the ultimate price for. Besides, trying to blackmail a murderer really isn't the smartest thing in the world. But nor is loveable projectionist Roger White (Chuck McCann) who notices a mistake in Kepple's plan, and sets about offering to keep his mouth shut for the price money to buy a piece of real estate. The result is one of the most cold-blooded killings in the history of the show, with poor Roger the nicest Columbo character ever to meet a sticky end. It almost sours the episode, but the writing - and Culp's performance - keeps you watching in spite of such unfairness.

Publish or Perish

Making a very nice living as a publisher, Riley Greenleaf (Jack Cassidy) is none too pleased when his star writer (Mickey Spillane - yes THAT Mickey Spillane!!) intends to defect to another publishing house with a valuable novel. Furious and vengeful, he sets about closing the book on his treacherous client by hiring a Vietnam veteran turned slightly deranged explosives expert to take him out. All it requires is an airtight alibi and taking the plan a couple of stages further than his accomplice realises. But a footnote to his plans appear in the form of Lt Columbo, who has tangled with murder in the literary world before...

Cassidy is back, and playing another of the delicious villains which made him a fan-favourite, as suave as ever and just as ruthless when it comes to tying up loose ends. Here he is armed with one of the most ingenious, meticulously devised plans in the history of Columbo, including being under arrest at the time of the murder whilst his accomplice is committing it, and framing his assassin whilst incriminating him at the same time. It's brilliant! Just a shame that all it takes to unravel is a clumsy piece of writing where Cassidy lets slip a minor but crucial detail he couldn't possibly have known.

Special mention must go to John Chandler, as Eddie Kane, the volatile 'Nam vet - he's the author of "How To Blow Up Anything in Ten Easy Steps", so you know from the off that he's tuppence short of a shilling! Looking like Frank Gorshin huffing from a brown paper bag, he's too enamoured of Greenleaf to realise he's being made the patsy, with Chandler give a really unsettling performance. With cloak & daggery afoot in the movie-writing industry thrown into the mix, we have another excellent episode, densely plotted but not convoluted, and both leads are on great form. Add to this intoxicating brew the first of two Columbo appearances by the wonderful Mariette Hartley and it's an episode which ticks every single box ever needed!

Mind Over Mayhem

Dr Marshall Cahill (José Ferrer) is a very proud man. Head of a government think-tank swarming with geniuses, and devising computer-simulated war strategies, his son also works among the brains at the institute... but an elderly scientist (Lew Ayres) knows Cahill's son plagiarised the work of a dead physicist. Threatening to expose him as a fraud, Cahill devises a way to eliminate the problem and save his sons' reputation. It's robots, murder and child-geniuses of all ages as the Man in the Mac is brought in separate the ones from the zeros...

God, this episode really is the pits. Just awful. Aside from being an uninteresting story about pride and playing simulated war-games (with no Professor Stephen Falken to be found!), the intense histrionics of Robert Walker, Jr as the younger Cahill really grate, and although we get than he's under intense pressure from a father who only means well, and that he just wants to clear his conscience, it's not enough. The plot is too slender and everything is too confined, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere with all the appeal of being stuck in a lift with a chronic flatulator. You end up asking yourself this: "how could a concoction of Robby the Robot, a child genius named "Stevie Spellberg!" (who created said robot, by the way) José Ferrer and the star of Star Trek episode Charlie X (even older than when he played an adolescent 10 years earlier) have possibly worked?" It doesn't, is the rather simple answer to that one. It's one of the most disliked of the original 70s run among Columbo fans, and it's easy to see why.

Besides, putting Forbidden Planet's iconic Robby the Robot into 70s Columbo was a really stupid move in the first place, not only for the obvious reason that the kind of mechanics and proto-positronic brain needed to create it were decades away and leaves a credibility gap not even Evel Knievel could jump. There's also the equally ludicrous matter of the time distance between Forbidden Planet and Mind Over Mayhem, which would have been the same as putting R2D2 into Columbo's 1997 story A Trace of Murder, which makes it really stupid they'd do it and assume nobody would notice.

Swan Song

Tommy Brown (Johnny Cash) is a music legend, whose fans are legion. His wife is the head of an evangelical organisation, and is ciphering off Tommy's money to fund her crusade, under threat of exposing his indiscretions with a teenage girl from their choir. When she plans to build a colossal church to the tune of $5m from his money, Tommy snaps and plans the demise of both his wife and her star witness via crashing his plane with them aboard. With a broken leg from parachuting to safety, not everyone believes his story, including a certain cigar-chomping detective...

This is one of the most beloved episodes of the show, and there's more to its appeal that just guest-starring a living legend. The story is a good one, and it took a lot of guts to show respected evangelists routinely using blackmail to extort money at the time it was made. Having said that, I suspect the age of Tommy's girl was altered before filmed so as to make it less problematic in certain areas of the world. The attention to detail in all things aviation is presented in way which intrigues rather than bores, and that's no mean feat, as it's central to the plot. The investigation is solid and thorough, affording Falk with some wonderful interaction with a seen-it-all seamstress, where Falk can barely conceal the fun he's having. Cash is every bit the attention-commanding presence you would expect, and given his starring role in 1961's Door-to-Door Maniac (aka 5 Minutes to Live) he was more than capable of playing cold-blooded killers. He's also blessed with a natural charisma which almost makes you want him to beat the murder rap. We also get the second and final appearance of the legendary Ida Lupino, who gets bumped up to bumped-off this time, and there are few more deserving victims than her pious, hypocritical, blackmailing Edna Brown. It's almost as though they had to stick Tommy's young paramour in the plane with her so as to stop audiences from being entirely on his side - even when he's throwing a pool party on the day of his wife's funeral, you still find it hard to dislike the guy!

It's directed by Nicholas Colasanto, better known as Coach from TV’s Cheers, and it looks as though he actually got to make the decisions this time around, with a very different approach from the (supposedly) Cassavetes-led Étude in Black. With music from the Man In Black himself (the wife STILL has "I Saw the Light" as her ringtone!) and some twists which show that Columbo is sometimes happy to lay in wait for his prey to make mistakes leaves this a really good - if very slightly overlong - Columbo story.

A Friend in Deed

It's low deeds in high places as Columbo battles to bring in the Bel-Air burglar, who has now added murder to his list of crimes. But he finds that his badge might be on the line when a senior official's wife is one of the victims, and the good Lieutenant starts asking the wrong questions of the right people...

It's another welcome Columbo format-breaker, as the Cheap Detective in-waiting goes all Strangers on a Train, with two unhappy men helping each other out by killing the respective nagging women blighting their lives, each rigging an alibi for the other and establishing the killings as the work of the "Bel-Air Burglar". Trouble is, one of the men is none other than the Deputy Commissioner (Richard Kiley), and before you can say "Criss-Cross", Columbo is on the case, but up to his neck in trouble when he begins to suspect that his boss might not be as innocent as he makes out.

If you had to pick holes in this breath of fresh air, it's that being the Deputy Commissioner, would you have considered it wise to let the brightest star in the LAPD anywhere near a case in which he was the perpetrator? OK, you can argue that if his crimes managed to make it past the beady eye of Columbo, he was home and hosed, but it's hell of a risk to take, and threatening to take him off the case both makes our detective both angry and even more suspicious. Oh and let's not forget that - as seen in Most Crucial Game - not all water is equal, giving avid viewers a heads-up on a vital clue. But it's great to see Columbo butting heads against authority, with Kiley one of the best - and perfectly low-key - baddies to grace the show. Throw in the genuine sleuthing to uncover clues, it's all adds up to a wonderful curve-ball with which to close out the third series, and a chess-game of detectives which the Italian theatrical posters didn’t fail to run with!

Season 4

An Exercise in Fatality

Milo Janus (Robert Conrad) runs a chain of health spas, as well as charging a high mark-up on the fitness equipment he sells to the chain, exclusivity contracts forcing them to take his gear whilst gouging prices for his own financial benefit. When one of his disgruntled managers intends to put an end to his empire, Janus sets about staging an accident in Gene Stafford's (Phillip Bruns) own gym, along with an elaborate scheme to divert suspicion. But a detective with a cigar habit is about to get right up his nose...

The hash (and glass of wine) slinging Collin Wilcox deserves special mention as bereaved Mrs Stafford, she wrings every little bit of sozzled emotion from her scenes like Max Rockatansky mopping up precious gasoline with a rag. She's just superb! It almost pains me to say that Philip Bruns is wonderfully disgruntled as the soon-to-be deceased Mr Stafford, as I absolutely hated him in Return of the Living Dead Part 2 from a young age, but here he plays it perfectly. Add to this heady brew recurring Rockford Files guest star Gretchen Corbett in a bikini where they clearly ran out of material when making it, and you have a pretty damn memorable cast. There's also a neat way of Janus establishing himself as being elsewhere (although it's another such alibi torpedoed by Columbo's unnatural fascination with technology) but the less said about the r-e-a-l-l-y long sequence of Falk standing around waiting for a sodding computer readout the better. Although with the man himself taking the straight ahead approach the character this time around, it's easy to forgive.

What else is there to say about Robert Conrad? He's sits nicely alongside Leonard Nimoy as the coldest baddie on the show, but whereas Barry Mayfield was conceited and emotionless, Milo Janus is almost animalistic in his savagery. How many other murders in Columbo have been as physically violent, using nothing but brute strength to snap someone's neck with an iron bar? Adding to the animal quality is that Stafford is a rare victim who gets a fluke chance to escape when things don't initially go to plan, leaving Janus to hunt him down like a tiger stalking its prey. This is a ruthless, unprincipled, savage man who lets nothing stand in his way, and that combination makes for a disconcerting villain. By stark contrast to the darkness, the my wife and I both look at Conrad and think: "That's a real man". Conrad encapsulates the very essence of 70s masculinity, possessing the kind of body-shape able to fill out a pair of trousers in a way not seen since Nixon was in office. Not Nixon filling out trousers, obviously, but the era itself. Newbies will be traditionally wondering what to make of the curious jingle playing over the end credits, I guarantee you!

Negative Reaction

Photographer Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke) has a problem, and he's married to it. It's no wonder he's playing around when his wife is as awful, snobbish and unfeeling as she is. But enough is enough, and he devises a plan involving a fake kidnapping, a sizeable ransom, an ex-con and a couple of murders to tie up any loose ends. Yep, guess who isn't having any of it...

Here we find the first of two appearances by the mighty Joyce Van Patten, debuting in single scene as a nun. She's a real tonic, and the interplay between her and Falk the stuff of comedy gold as she mistakes him for a homeless guy in need of a good meal - it's the raincoat! Although most records miss it, their rapport comes through working together before on the 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. But how could they have worked together when Negative Reaction was 1974? Most people are unaware that Mikey & Nicky started shooting in 1973, but the release was delayed for a couple of years, technically making it after the Columbo episode. That movie also starred John Cassavetes, by the way!

If ever there was a guy who would have looked a damn-sight younger without a beard, it's Van Dyke - not sure if he was actively TRYING to look older at this point in his career, or if the alcoholism which gripped him for decades meant he didn't trust himself with a razor anymore. But irrespective of facial furniture, he delivers a really chilling, laser-focused performance, with none of the expected comedy or gurning which hallmarked his career. His character is so methodical in his crimes, and his relationship with is wife so cold that you wonder why he didn't go on to do more straight stuff than he did - typecasting aside, of course.

I'm not going to leave this rundown of the episode without mentioning the appearance of one of my favourite character actors: Don Gordon. Putting in another flawless turn, here he's Alvin Dreshler, the ex-con set up to take the fall before copping a bullet to allow Galesko get away scot-free. Or so it was planned, of course. He's been in more things you've seen than you realise, and is a welcome sight here.

Oh, and once again, Columbo develops ('arf) an unnatural interest in technology, and it pays off in spades.

By Dawn's Early Light

With Vietnam souring the American palate for war, plans are being drawn up to turn the noble Haynes Military Academy into a co-ed collage. Col. Lyle C. Rumford (Patrick McGoohan) will not let that happen under his watch, and sets about arranging an ordinance accident to take out the owner of the grounds before he goes public with his plans. Cue our man in the crappy old Peugeot...

We have here the eternal problem of when you set some variety of mystery thriller within an American military setting, particularly the army, where the whole point is to eliminate the individual and turn them all into a whole. It can be fatiguing/confusing to keep up with which shaven-headed youth is which, the lack of individuality making them all run together, like coloured socks in a white-wash. This is avoided to a degree here, but you still have to keep track of them using a bit more concentration than otherwise.

It's well-written, but rather soulless, but that's another element which might fit into the above. The most important thing here is that it bought the mighty McGoohan into the Columbo world, and he's right up there with the best of 'em. Here, he's a cold, ruthless well-oiled machine, but delivering a performance which any other actor would have paid for full blood 'n thunder. Here, Rumford is just a military man trying to do the right thing for what he truly believes in, but he knows that both eggs and laws have to be broken to achieve his noble aims. McGoohan alone makes it worth watching, be of no doubt about that one.

Troubled Waters

It's a death on the ocean waves as Columbo and his wife go on cruise, but their timing couldn't have been worse. There's murder ahoy when a philandering husband (Robert Vaughn, in his first of two appearances) eliminates the resident singer on the ship for threatening tell his wife of their affair. Faking a heart attack at the time of the murder before framing another member of the crew (Dean Stockwell), it's up to Columbo to find his sea-legs, fathom out the killer and get everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion...

What we have here is possibly the quintessential Columbo, and certainly one of the most enjoyable. The shabby 'tec is both a fish-out-of-water and all at sea (to torture two puns at once) and he has to rely on others around him whilst getting his head around a completely new environment. Shot on a ship whilst actually at sea among real passengers and directed by his good friend Ben Gazzara, Falk really is having a good time, filtering down into the finished episode. The British is cast depicted less stereotypically than they were in Dagger of the Mind, and it's nice to see Columbo becoming increasingly familiar within an entirely new environment, which also extends to his interactions with the crew, each becoming less aloof and awkward as the investigation continues. There are a few plot points which might not hold up under scrutiny, but the general change of setting and a very relaxed Falk papers over them quite nicely.

And what a cast! Robert Vaughn (who you can tell is enjoying Falk's company, obviously earning a return visit) is great as the scheming car-salesman turned murderer. Also back, presumably to apologise for going a bit OTT in Dagger of the Mind, is Bernard Fox as Purser Watkins, and his previous work with Falk really pays off here. Want more? Dean Stockwell! Patrick Macnee! What about the fabulously-endowed Poupée Bo(u)car?? Maybe The Thing's Peter Maloney?? How about confirmation that Mrs Columbo actually exists, and isn't just a device he uses to endear himself to his suspects! It's all here, and a ton of fun, in spite of Ms Boucar’s infamous rendition of "Volare” going on way too long…


Technology guru Harold Van Wick has rigged his entire house with all manner of gadgets to help his wheelchair-bound wife live her life. But he's also rigging something else - with his company's profits taking a tumble and his nagging mother-in-law flexing her financial muscles to oust him as president, he plots her demise via Westrex, lies and videotape. He has the perfect alibi through catching the supposed random murder on CCTV. Can Columbo make his way through the yards of two-inch tape to bring the soulless Van Wick to justice?

There is a lot to admire in this story, with the wonderfully Teutonic performance from Oskar Werner top of the list - you can call on every Germanic cliché you like, and they'd still be both applicable and complimentary. He's cold and efficient, cheating on his wife and killing her mother whilst probably pondering the future of 8-track tapes at the same time! Speaking of the tech, its as though a writer from 2024 decided to try and retro-fit modern technology into a 70s setting, and it says a lot that much of what looked advanced and OTT back then now seems really ahead of its time and even current - much in the way that critics scoffed at Class of 1984's use of metal-detectors security guards in schools, now sadly the norm these days. On the downside, we have Columbo wandering around an art gallery, with an excess of capering firmly at the heart of the scene, both proving he's a pleb and that creatives behind the show really dislike modern art!

Like fellow baddie John Cassavetes, Columbo marked the only time a Werner ventured into television, and although his alcoholism killed both his career and himself, it doesn't impede his performance as the cold-hearted Van Wick. With Cassavetes firmly in mind, his wife, Gena Rowlands, plays Werner's Missus, and it's much more than just a case of cronyism, as she brings a quality to a female supporting role which proved hard to match throughout the run of the show. She lights up the screen whenever she's on, and is a joy to watch. As philandering a shite as Van Wick is, you have to admire his taste women, as this might be the only episode of Columbo to feature someone from the Carry On films, with Trisha Noble turning up to dip Van Wicks...wick! She sure came a long way from wearing a gymslip and being leered at by Sid James in a muddy field in Carry on Camping! She went even further out a few decades later, playing Natalie Portman's mother in the Star Wars prequels.

Besides, what's there to dislike about an episode where you get an appearance from Herbert Jefferson, Jr, later to find fame as Boomer on Battlestar Galactica? No, the real one, not that other one…

A Deadly State of Mind

Dr Mark Collier (George Hamilton) has been sleeping with his star patient (Lesley Ann Warren) whilst stealing hypnotic drugs to use on her so as to provide material for another book of his. When a colleague notices the theft, the pressure is already on, but when his patient's husband finds out about the affair, a moment's madness leaves a body to explain away through a supposed burglary, and the burden of an unbalanced woman who might not be able to keep her mouth shut...

A major credibility gap in the story yawns open when Columbo manages to spot a used flint from a lighter on a shag pile rug. And keep in mind that this is a 70s rug, so anything below the ankle will be submerged by the pile. It goes beyond mere "Columbo Luck" (TM) and into the realms of his remaining eye functioning with superhuman sharpness by way of compensation. But this can be forgiven for an otherwise excellent story, one where putting your trust in someone mentally unstable, no matter how you think you know both them and how they'll react, is a huge risk which can end up costing you dearly. Hamilton is on top form, and possibly even better than he was when he returned 16 years later. He cool, arrogant and self-assured, and that's a winning combination proven a few times before on the show - and provide the most satisfying of "gotchas", with A Deadly State of Mind no exception. It's a beaut!

When watching this episode, I always find myself musing to the wife: "there probably isn't a calculator powerful enough to work out exactly how much arse George Hamilton got in the 70s". In spite of her reply usually being "I can't see it, myself", and thinking that she must be certifiably insane, the smooth, dark handsome features of the 70s' coolest Dracula were absolutely perfect to be a Columbo baddie. Here, he is partnered by some of the sharpest threads ever to be worn during the show, with at least one leather jacket I'm still jealous of! It's almost as though he wouldn't have had to hypnotise women to throw themselves off of a tall building - he's just have to flash those pearly whites of his smouldering smile and merely ask them to take the plunge!

Season 5

Forgotten Lady

When faded musical star Grace Wheeler (Janet Leigh) gets an opportunity for a comeback, her aged husband (Sam Jaffe) refuses to pony up the money with which to finance it. Angered and betrayed, she stages a phoney suicide, with her alibi that she was elsewhere watching one of her old movies at the time. But when a coffee-starved Lt Columbo arrives on the scene, neither the need for a caffeine injection nor even being star-struck by Grace will stop him from noticing the cracks in her story. But even then, all really isn't what it seems...

Leigh looks scarily thin in this, and it's almost distracting when you can't separate her the perfectly healthy actress who seared her face into memories in Psycho only 15 years earlier. The weight-loss only serves to make her look much older than her 48 years, but it's something which really pays off later in the story. She's a driven woman who seems utterly ruthless about killing her husband, before quickly not having a care in the world about it when grasping the comeback opportunity before her. Those playing her entourage are every bit as good as Leigh, the whole ensemble painting a portrait of her character in many different shades. What else is there to say about someone who gleefully sits through her old films as though she's still a huge start just awaiting her rightful comeback?

This was another of the few format-breakers to grace the show, and there's no way I'd want to reveal the ending here, but suffice to say it's one of the most downbeat ones in the entire run. With this in mind, it's better to not mention too much, but don't forget to look out for Columbo's awkward interaction with a dance class!

A Case of Immunity

Everybody's favourite one-eyed detective is back on foreign soil once again, but right in the heart of Los Angeles. When a break-in at the Suari Legation results in death, Columbo is accidentally assigned to the Suari Security Task Force to protect he the oncoming arrival of the Suari king. When First Secretary Salah (Hector Elizondo) catches the detective's attention, it's not long before Columbo's career is on the line when someone doesn't want him examining the supposed "break-in" too closely.

It's a tale of ambition, corruption and hiding behind diplomatic immunity. Bent on destabilising the power base of the King, a phoney break-in is staged to look like the work of those damn student radicals who were always sticking their noses into things during the 70s. The real purpose of this "simple burglary" was to kill a popular figure among the Legation and show that the Kings' power is slipping, with Salah waiting to set into the breach once things are suitably shaky. But when Columbo starts asking too many questions, he's taken off the case and forced to make a personal, hand-written apology, but being the wily detective we know and love, he's got something special up the sleeve of that crumpled raincoat of his.

This is another instance where Falk plays it straight, a few moments of bumbling comic relief accepted, and given the nature of the story, it couldn't have been done any other way. We even see the good 'tec lose his temper a couple of times, both in the face of bureaucracy and the face of a vending machine which refuses to give him his precious coffee. When getting too close, Salah complains to Columbo's superiors, who are less-than-thrilled at the prospect of creating an international incident, but as others have found to their cost, it's not wise to try and have Columbo taken off the case, as it only makes him more determined to get his man! For all the good work it does, A Case of Immunity has attracted notoriety for its depiction of its Middle Eastern characters, but it's not as crass as you'd expect. Yes, Salah is depicted as a duplicitous sh*t, but there have been far less dimensional characters to populate the "Baddie" role on the show. Some criticise how the King is more of an optimistic Western creation, one who inherently takes a more progressive stance to his country purely just to get TV audiences on his side. Back when it was originally screened, the US was still gripped by the stock market crash from the previous two years, a result of the Arab states' embargo for siding against them in the Yom Kippur War of 73, so sensitivity in depictions of Middle Eastern characters probably wasn't high on the list of priorities at the time. But is it offensive today? It's for the individual to judge.

Identity Crisis

When a secret agent (Leslie Nielson) is murdered in a robbery-gone-wrong just before rendezvousing with a fellow covert operative (Patrick McGoohan), Columbo finds that there is much more to this than meets the eye...

Columbo enters the murky world of espionage, and he's surrounded by subterfuge and shadows, an environment where he has little authority, and knows he might well be out of his depth. Who doesn't love spy stories which centre around the use of microfilms? But on top of that, we also get Leslie Nielson in his serious days (no, I'm not going to say it...) and we also get the most fabulously-endowed woman to ever to appear in Columbo. This honour goes to Barbara Rhodes as Joyce, the pier photographer who snaps a photograph which becomes vital to solving the case.

It's McGoohan goodness once again, and this time, he's having a right old romp almost sending up his roles in Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) and, more significantly, The Prisoner. Yep, there are some really cool nods to the later, including the use of Number 6's signature: "Be seeing you" line! His scenes with Falk are among the very best the show ever committed to film, and with McGoohan debuting as director this time out, it was in his best interests to do the best job as possible to make him look as good both onscreen and off. As any enthusiast knows, this certainly wasn't the last time he directed, but after his next effort (the loathsome Last Salute to the Commodore) it was certainly on course to have been! But just try to ignore what came after and bask in the top-drawer entertainment to be found here.

A Matter of Honour

When out on holiday south of the border, Lt Columbo finds himself in a fender-bender, but when a kindly police official (Pedro Armendáriz, Jr) bails him out, he is recruited to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of a worker at the estate of legendary bullfighter Luis Montoya (Ricardo Montalban). With a dead prize bull, and injured matador, a shard of broken wood and a tiny hole on the corpse, can Columbo piece it all together, let alone come out on top against a man whose word is god...

The elements for a wonderful Latino-themed episode are all there, but something clearly went wrong during assembly. Consider the premise: Columbo smells a right load of bullocks when Montoya claims that the deceased was trying to avenge his hospitalised son's honour, and wonders just why he gave his entire staff the day off to set about killing the extremely valuable prize bull. This seems fine enough, but it's not the strongest entry in the Columbo canon, as the theme of saving one's ego-driven honour really doesn't seem to be a big enough driving force for the plot, and the reveal itself is pretty week - what could have been a pretty nifty "gotcha" moment is almost comical through Montalban's curious choice in how to play it, with normally reliable director Ted Post (Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) not helping at all in how he stages it.

This is another of the three stories which found Columbo a stranger in a strange land, but with more casual xenophobia than before. It infers that Mexican police are routinely corrupt, as their very businesslike siding with an "injured" cabbie and subsequent impounding of the Lieutenant's car more than hints at. The general image of drunken Mexicans dressed in denim dungarees relies on old stereotypes which were pretty crusty at time of filming, and look even worse today. On a positive note, that which leads Columbo to the proverbial smoking gun is purely Mexican in its origins, which makes up a little for some of the other problems.

We are treated to another great performance by Falk, with none of the bumbling persona to be found. He is matched by the wonderful Pedro Armendáriz, Jr, as Comandante Sanchez, who has a deep fascination and respect for the good Lieutenant. The pair have wonderful chemistry, and Armendáriz alone saves the story from being wall-to-wall stereotypes, highlighted by his no-nonsense professionalism and willingness to take advice from the other side of the border. It's then we get to the mighty Montalban, who gives his usual captivating performance, but with an arrogance which chips away at his colossal reserves of charm, but this is by design. He is so arrogant that he thinks the can fool a gringo police detective and throw him off the scent by claiming a crucial piece of evidence isn't what Columbo thinks it is. Not best Columbo, the guest cast is exemplary.

Now You See Him

When the shady past of famed magician The Great Santini (aka former SS officer Stefan Mueller, aka Jack Cassidy!) is threatened with exposure by the owner of a magician's club, it's going to take more than a magic wand to make him disappear, but the Great Santini is more than up to the task. Before you can say "abra- cadaver", the threat has been eliminated, and the master of illusion has an alibi which is so watertight that not even Houdini could escape from it. But, as if by magic, and in a puff of cigar smoke, Lt Columbo appears...

Here we go again with another thumping-good Columbo, complete with murder, dazzling magic, dazzling women in dazzling outfits and Jack Cassidy's dazzling white teeth! We also get return of the under-appreciated Bob Dishy as Sgt. Wilson, off the case since The Greenhouse Jungle, and seems to have changed his first name since then! And what about Robert Loggia? It's a comparatively small role for someone that cool, but it's impossible to take your eyes off of him once he's trading dialogue with Falk.

A personal favourite of Falk’s', it features another dependable turn from our beloved Mr Cassidy. He's clearly relishing the theatrical nature of the character, and his copious scenes with Falk are an absolute delight. This would be fitting, as it marked the final outing with Cassidy - he burned to death in a house-fire later that year after getting pissed-up and smoking whilst in a stupor. He may have had a LOT of personal problems (wandering around naked and stating "I am Christ" might qualify as one of them, but he was a consummate actor and one of the two most prolific and dependable thespians ever to grace the show.

This isn't good Columbo, it's GREAT Columbo. Nay, quintessential Columbo! If anyone needs a point of reference as to which one this is, should it be a while since they've seen Now You See Him, it's the one where Columbo has a new coat - a horrible brown affair which not even Paddington would wipe his arse on. Still, the colour would perfectly hide the stains if he did.

Last Salute to the Commodore

Naval architect Commodore Otis Swanson (John Dehner) is sick of his parasitic family living the high life off of his company's profits, and plans to pull the plug by selling the business. When he turns up dead before being able to make the sale, there's a list of suspects as long as your yard-arm, and it's up to Columbo to sort the flotsam from the jetsam....

There's a very old joke about Columbo which has been kicking around for years before the last decade saw its renaissance, and that was that there wasn't much point watching the show, because you always know who did it. A crap gag, I'm sure you'll agree. But as fantastically poor as this episode is, it is the one and only time where it's a genuine murder-mystery, taking its cue from classic Agatha Christie, even to the point of gathering all the suspects in the drawing-room to reveal exactly whodunit! But given how poor the proceedings are, perhaps this really should be looked upon as a "whythehelldunnit", as you really have to wonder just how this got through quality control. Perhaps that it was possibly to be Falk's final story might be part of it, in an attempt to scuttle the show upon leaving.

There is no question that it's generally looked upon as probably the worst of the 70s run, with a bunch of utterly unlikeable characters acting in ways which you'd generally expect from the over-privileged fast-set. This kind of critique of high society was meat and drink to the Italian "Giallo" murder/mystery films of the time, but it really doesn't translate too well to American television. Falk had had enough by this point, and he spends his time shouting at everybody and over-gesticulating in a manner generally reserved for sending messages with a flag in each hand. The final shot for this episode, and this series, was of Falk heading out to see on a rowboat, literally sailing off for pastures new. Some suspect that this was included by Falk as his epitaph, but others read it as a power-play to up his salary for the prospective 6th season , something which had really gotten up the nose of executives. The one strike of brilliance Last Salute to the Commodore offers is that it pulls the rug out from under the audiences' noses - the person you are SURE did it is promptly off'd, and leaves them second-guessing themselves! Aside from that, it's bloody awful. Peter Falk actually LIKED this one - but that probably had something to do with an increased fee for returning for the next season...

Season 6

Fade Into Murder

Ward Fowler (William Shatner) is the hottest property on TV, playing suave detective Lieutenant Lucerene to huge viewing figures and exorbitant paychecks. All is fine until a studio executive (Lola Albright) plans to blackmail him for being a deserter from the Korean war. Knowing a thing or two about murder plots, he plans to kill the meddling exec though the ingenious use of drugs, a wrist-watch and a video-taped ball game. Looks like Columbo is about to develop another sudden interest in technology...

Marking Columbo's first attack of the Shats, eliminating any cling-ons when he returned for another attempt 20 years later, this is a tale of two iconic and temperamental TV stars, thrown together with explosive results. The chemistry between Falk and Shat is undeniable, playing off of each other perfectly, and clearly enjoying working on the project. So much so, that during the goofing around during an important (and clearly improvisational) scene where Shat films Columbo with one of those newfangled video cameras, the two of them are having so much fun that you hear - for the only time ever on screen - Shats' genuine laugh. It's the very same one which heard a number of times on various Star Trek outtakes, being a less-than-manly high-pitched giggle rather than the stage laugh he uses whilst on camera. The writers didn't miss the opportunity to satirise the pair, either, as it takes swipes at Falk’s' outrageous paycheck (almost $1.5m per episode in today's money) among others, and there are numerous digs at Shat (wearing lifts in his shoes, being easy to spot when trying to be somebody else, etc) and let's not forget that the detective smirking away at the comment how the perpetrator of the murder was only average height is played by Star Trek's Walter Koenig, who probably hated him the most out of his fellow cast members!

Apart from some classic Shat-isms, we get the first appearance of Falk's lover Shera Danese, long before she became a thorn in the production's side. The central plot contrivance here is solid, although one which wouldn't have taken long to become old hat, as video recorders started popping up in homes throughout the western world in fairly short order. Old-time cowboy actor Bert Remsen brings a touch of class as the dupe in Fowler's scheme, and you really feel sorry for him when he's slipped a Mickey which sends him the recovering alcoholic cow-poke figuratively falling off the wagon. The conclusion, though, sees Fowler slipping into madness, conversing with Lt Lucerene as if he's suffering from Split Personality Disorder. Is it ego? Is it genuine insanity? Is he building up his inevitable defence in court? Who knows, but even the Mightily Shat is only just able to get away with such a conceit. In the end, it's a sort of "state of the nation" Columbo, and an enjoyable diversion.

Old Fashioned Murder

When the family museum is threatened with closure and its contents sold off to fund a very comfortable retirement for her siblings, Ruth Lytton (Joyce Van Patten) takes matters into her own hands to keep it in the family, and get revenge on her bother (Tim O' Connor) for daring to sell of their heritage. But when duping a security guard to help on a supposed robbery to claim on the insurance, things spiral out of control and into a sea of murder and frame-ups. Enter you-know-who...

This is another of the Columbo stories where you have to try and keep up with everything, as it all comes thicker and faster than a milkshake at a drive-through. The crowning glory of the crime is to frame Ruth's flaky niece Janie (Jeanie Berlin) so that she takes the fall and the museum stays open. To be perfectly honest, the whole thing is a bit of a mess, with clumsy plotting and mostly uninteresting characters. Van Patten does what she can with the low-key role, but as smart and cultured as Ruth Lytton is, she's just not that engaging here. Tim O'Connor is hit by the same problem, and it was a couple of years later before he found stable employment standing next to a dwarf robot whose helmet ('arf) was the exact same shape as someone's bell-end. Many Columbo fans might not think too highly of Janie, but she's pretty likeable once she's not trying to chew her fingers off in fright. She inadvertently proves her innocence thanks to Columbo setting a neat little test for her, making for the best scene in the entire show.

If there's major problem, it's the casting of the villain. As great an actress as Van Pattern was, there is the Herculean hurdle to overcome that she was far too young for the role. The title alone revolves around her character being old-fashioned, suggesting someone at least in her 60s, but Van Pattern was barely 40 at the time. Couple this with her youthful niece being 26, and it has a credibility gap which wearing granny-glasses and formal clothes isn't going to paper over, no matter how many times you have her referred to as "old fashioned" as psychological enforcement. But you do have to wonder if the hinted at detail that Janie is, in fact, Ruth’s daughter was fully intended, and left for audiences to make up their own minds. It certainly perks up a rather dull affair, which relies far too much on comedy techniques which were looking suitably old-fashioned when television initially started to take off.

The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q Case

Egocentric genius Oliver Brandt (Ted Bikel) has been funding the indulgent lifestyle a man of his intellect believes he and his wife are entitled to, much to the annoyance of business partner Bertie (Sorrell Booke), who threatens to blow the whilstle on his fellow genius. Coming up with a plan so brilliant that it will even fool the other members of the Sigma Society genius' club, and if it can get past them, what chance does a detective from the LAPD stand...?

Looked upon as one of the very best Columbo stories, its plot is virtually water-tight and relies very little on "Columbo-Luck" (TM). We have a much less bumbling version of the good Lieutenant, and all the better for it, with this new approach to the character backed up by a scene where we finally learn some details about Columbo and his past. The murder itself is almost water-tight (aside from the bit about not finding the umbrella up the chimney) and it's a pleasure to watch the incredibly smug Brandt have that looked wiped clean off his face in the finale, and in the most satisfying way possible. All performances are excellent, and supporting a brilliant Bickle is the second (and slightly less weird) appearance by Boss Hogg himself (Sorrell Booke) as the ill-fated Bertie. Let's not overlook the eternal British crumpet that is Samantha Eggar, playing the trophy-wife so very unaware that her love of the finer things in life is driving her husband to extremes. But Columbo's rather creepy interactions with a 14 year old member of the society probably SHOULD be overlooked these days.

Chalk up another victim caught out by Columbo's curious fascination with new technology, as the Brandt family's programmable record-player catches the Lieutenants' eye at their home, putting him onto how his quarry might have carried out the heinous crime. Oh, and not forgetting an early screen appearance from Jamie Lee Curtis as a hash-slinging waitress! It's pure gold, and there is so much to enjoy here, as well as possibly the last time that the show was operating at absolute capacity - yes, that includes the series when Columbo returned at the end of the 80s!

Season 7

Try and Catch Me

Successful author Abigail Mitchell (Ruth Gordon) has it in her head that her niece was murdered, and not just the tragic victim of a boating accident, as the poor girl's husband claims. Unable to accept his version of events, she arranges to meet the bereaved widower just before a trip to New York, sealing him in a huge, inescapable vault just as she leaves, making it look like an accident. Will Columbo get all of the tumblers to fall into place, or will the diminutive, superannuated authoress charm the Lieutenant away from the truth...

This is one where the clues are a little too obvious to take as long to unravel as they do, with the "smoking gun" evidence creating in the mind an image of the writers patting themselves on the back for coming up with it, even though it's pretty flimsy and reliant on visuals. However, special mention must go to Mariette Hartley, making her second and most substantial contribution to the show as Abby's secretary. Here she has the distinction of joining a very exclusive club of those who try to blackmail the killer and lives to tell the tale. Those after more Hartley would be well advised to check out the feature-length episode of The Incredible Hulk entitled "Married", which puts her at the epicentre of its heartbreaking finale. But what of Try and Catch Me? In spite of comings as short as Gordon's stature, it's a fun ride, and gives many people who only knew her from either Harold & Maude, Rosemary's Baby or when stuck next to an Orang-utan a chance to see her in true dastardly form. There are a couple of BIG missteps in the script, but the interplay between Falk and Gordon makes you forget about them. The trump card from the outset is a bold one - that we have no idea if her niece was murdered or not, and might just be the conclusion of a woman too bull-headed to see otherwise.

On a slightly frivolous note, there's the most hilarious use of stock footage to be found here, one which must've made Ed Wood jealous if he saw it - the episode was broadcast just over a year before Wood died, so it's entirely possible he did! Abby flies out to New York via stock-footage of a commercial jet, followed by library footage of the Big Apple, accompanied by a voiceover from Hartley telling her to come back. Cue the stock-shot of a plane flying in the opposite direction! This is right up there with Plan 9 From Outer Space's "To the piercing eye of radar and the speeding jet fighters...".

Murder Under Glass

The word of food critic Paul Gerard (Louis Jourdan) carries a lot of weight, where a bad review can damn a restaurant into oblivion - and he knows it, blackmailing numerous eateries into channelling money into a shell company in exchange for not ruining their businesses. But when one proprietor has had enough and plans to go public, an exotic poison puts paid to the threat, but leaves a fishy smell strong enough to bring in Columbo in search of the truth and yet another free meal...

The other of the wife's joint-favourite episodes, if only for the delicious way Jordan purrs the words "Fugu Fish", but there is a lot more to like aside from enunciation. There's the very nice touch that one of the few witnesses is Mario, the nephew of the deceased, who is fresh off the boat and only speaks Italian, giving Falk a rare opportunity to converse in his mother language, and the chance to really dramatic with it! Speaking of such things, when he went Hollywood, Jourdan gained a reputation for - shall we politely say - "big performances". This made him a wonderful Bond-baddie in Octopussy, but was to his detriment when appearing in a detective show, serving to hang a neon-sign over his head reading "I did it!!". When Falk (who was already playing the 'tec as a broad caricature by this point) appears with Jourdan for the heated climax, there are so many arms flying around it looks like a Village People-themed dance-off.

Future Falk wife Shera Danese turns up for a second role, here actually bringing an element of charm to Eve Plummer, Gerard’s squeeze and cheerfully loveable simpleton. Her roles in the show became increasingly sour ones, culminating in playing the villainess in A Trace of Murder, and caused all kinds of havoc behind the scenes as the show went on. In spite of Murder Under Glass' many flaws (and you can tell that the show was close the end, given how HUGELY Falk plays every little scene, especially when scaring the living sh*t out of poor old Mario by accusing him of murder before trying to clam down again - gaslighting, writ large! ) there is still a lot to like. The way the deceased's fellow restaurateurs give Columbo a good feed in gratitude of investigating their friend's death is charming, and help to reign in Falk's OTT performance a bit. We also get legendary Japanese actor Mako (who was doing the US TV rounds at that time, even turning up in The Incredible Hulk) snagging the opener to one of the greatest lines in Columbo history with the words: "Do you have 'hot suspect'?" Falk’s reply is just gold, but I'll let you find it out for yourself, if you haven't seen it already. Directed by THE Jonathan Demme, it could have been an absolute belter if the two leads had been brought to heel, along with fixing of a couple of bits of dubious writing. Still a lot of fun!

Make Me a Perfect Murder

Kay Freestone (Trish Van Devere) is a TV executive on verge of getting what everything she wants, but when she flies straight into the glass ceiling, she has murder on her mind. Her lover has been promoted and plans to leave her on the wrong side of the country, but she will be revenged, and cooks up the perfect murder, not caring who she dupes to get what she wants. But a certain shabby detective is on the case, intending to make a newsflash of his own...

Van Devere's Kay Freestone was very much ahead of her time, being a woman excelling in a high-pressure job in a man's world. She's intelligent and capable, but it's only when she's unable to control the most unpredictable element of all - the human frailties of those around her - than she starts to lose her grip. The murder she plans is the most meticulous and arguably most exciting of the whole run of Columbo, and such a perfect combination of writing and performance. While she's a winner for her drive and determination, the most likeable character is that of projectionist Walter, played by James McEachen, who brings some heart to the role, which is lacking from most others populating a story set in the cutthroat world of television. That he's used as the dupe for Van Devere's plan just makes her an even more heartless cow than she was already! Still, he has better luck here than he did later on, when he became one of the main cast of the 80s/90s Perry Mason TV movies - he played the senior detective who always had his years of experience proved wrong in court week after week. He had popped up in Étude in Black, but only very briefly, so it's great to see him get some real screen-time here.

It's rightly agreed that the tension during the meticulously-planned murder shows the rest how it should be done, as though saving everything learned from rest of the run and applying it at the very end. It's a quite brilliant piece of dramatic writing, and competes with anything made for television since. For this, you can almost forgive Columbo playing around at an editing desk for a couple of minutes, with a gleeful look of happiness usually found on toddlers playing with their own faeces. Oh, and the whole thing about the victim knowing his killer through not having his glasses on is pretty shaky, not to mention the neon-sign clue carelessly left by an otherwise meticulous woman. These are flaws in one of the last decent stories from the 70s series, and Falk really underplays things, to both his credit and the benefit of the episode.

But lets leave things with another of the many positives to be found - how about an appearance by the deeply cool H.B. Haggarty, who some might remember as "Tiger-Man" on TV's Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, here playing a masseur, and it's a bit of a toss-up as to which Columbo therapist was the intimidating: former pro-ball player and professional wrestler Haggarty or Anne Ramsey from Lovely But Lethal!

How to Dial a Murder

Dr Eric Mason (Nicol Williamson) is a top-flight behavioural psychologist whose wife was killed in a tragic car accident not long ago. Or was it an accident? Nope - she was having an affair with one of his colleagues, and after biding his time to cover any possible link, he plans the death of her secret lover through the ingenious of Pavlovian technique and two very well trained dogs...

This episode really isn't thought of that highly, and it's easy to see why. It's all rather awkward, dry and has stars actors who were only doing it for the money, leading to a very unsatisfying end product. That Mason is a movie buff sounds like a contrivance, and with "Rosebud" being the word to trigger the dogs to kill the intended target, everything seems like the tail wagging the dog - pun intended. Adding to the list of problems is that we've already seen a suspect who is supposedly under medical supervision for heart problems at the time of a murder - and Robert Vaughn was caught out by a spike in his cardiac readings, too. The huge gaps in logic and stupid decisions made by a supposedly intelligent guy (again!) are infuriating.

It also contains what might be the biggest piece of "Columbo Luck" (TM) found in the 70s series, one where his eagle-eye (singular) is able to pick out a small, almost insignificant clue among the dirt and dust of an abandoned western movie location. For an intelligent man, Mason makes some significant mistakes, including some which will have you slapping your forehead with frustration - how many times can a guy with a doctorate hoist himself by his own petard? One thing I noticed whilst trying to forget the gaping holes in logic was how the antagonist's name sounds awfully like "Manson", which is nothing on its own, but when you factor in how he planned out murder at an abandoned western ranch, then it gains a little credence. Not much, but a little. Among all this, you do get a pre-fame Kim Cattrall, though. A good test of bad Columbo is when you put the two leads together and they have the kind of spark associated with reading the small-print on their phone contract. If this is the case, you have an episode which doesn't work. And this one never would have.

The Conspirators

Former Irish terrorist turned people's poet, writer and benevolent fundraiser Joe Devlin (Clive Revel) is busy drumming up cash for the widows an orphans back in Ireland, where The Troubles have taken their toll. In reality, he's using the money to buy arms for the cause, but when his usual weapons-dealer gets greedy, the merchant of death dies by the sword and Devlin is on the lookout for a new supplier. Columbo is assigned to the case, and given the nature of the deceased's business, he'll be checking all clues twice, so as to be sure, to be sure...

Now, this is a really inflammatory episode, no matter how much you try and isolate it. Made in the late 70s when certain acts of terrorism in the UK were commonplace and Northern Ireland was a hotbed of violence, it might not have been a great choice to have as the backdrop to a fun detective show. You could certainly argue that Devlin's smug downplaying of his previous terror-related convictions is all part of the front to distract from his activities, but when you've been in London when a such an incident has brought the city to a chaotic standstill, you tend to have a different perspective on things. That it goes out of its way to state that all those contributing money to Devlin's "orphans" fund are apparently unaware it's being used to buy arms for the IRA seems tacked on, as though someone pointed out it might not be a terribly good thing to be show wealthy Irish-Americans funding terrorism. In fact, one of the plot points centres on the writing of "Sinn Fein" on a book at a Joe Deviln signing session, being so obscure that it's used as a code-word. Now, this might have been something of a revelation to American audiences, but in other parts of the world, it was always linked with terrorism, and not a surprise at all, more an element of everyday life.

Anyone who knows a decent amount about Columbo will be aware that the script of this episode was adapted from one intended as a pilot to a completely different show, but when more Columbo was needed, it was given a makeover. As crass as its handling of politics is, there are bits to make you tear your hair out. Devlin's choice to leave a honking-great clue at the scene of the crime beggars belief, as does his decision to return there whilst the police are investigating it! Devlin taking the lieutenant for a drink at his regular tavern only for the barmaid to pull out a bottle of the incriminating whiskey right under Columbo's nose is beyond stupid! As with most episodes, there is always something to like, and the chemistry between Falk and Revel is one to cherish, as they drink, swap limericks and try to get one over each other at every turn. Oh, and how about the wonderful LQ Jones as the most likeable arms dealer since Tony Stark?

It's one which grows on you with each viewing, but far from a great way to end the original run. With that in mind, how does 70s Columbo look now that we've finally got the entire run?


Framed at their the original 4:3 presentations in 1080p, the resolution is so good you can clearly read the “Exit Only” sign above the door of the parking garage Cassidy drives INTO during Murder by the Book! Ransom for a Dead Man is just as nice, having the characteristics of a really nice theatrical print rather than that of television. The high resolution also picks out microphone-boom shadows with ruthless efficiency. When Columbo goes to cook whilst comforting a victim, it was the first time (and this is with many viewings…) that we noticed just how much smoke was rising in the background when the pots are left unattended during a long-shot. It’s also the first time we spotted that Columbo’s famous raincoat has - in fact - white stitching. Best of all is that you can REALLY see that the ID card Markham hands over to the police near the end of Blueprint for Murder is actually Columbo’s LAPD identification! The only downside is that some episodes suffer a little from unstable blacks, flickering into blue at some points during much darker scenes, almost making you wonder if police-cars were pulling up with their light going. This is piddley stuff, though, as the generally look pretty damn terrific - suck on that, Japanese 1080i releases!

The FF's come from the same recent 4K remasters as the US Kino editions, which is no bad thing at all! A direct comparison between a previous HD release of the Episode Short Fuse and Fabulous Films' updated edition yields results even Mr Magoo couldn't fail to notice, as the old transfer, whilst still very much HD, looks flat and lifeless next to the 4K-based one. We now get a level of contrast completely absent before, and you can almost hear the collective spectral sigh of cinematographers past as their work is finally appreciated. There is now depth and dimension to the image, along with much more vibrant colour. The daytime exteriors of Forgotten Lady are almost jaw-dropping, with the flowers in Janet Leigh's garden as individually distinctive as they are vibrant. As with the HD remasters of Star Trek, you forget just how crucial the cinematography is to a television show, a medium never generally associated with excellence in this field. The Missus pointed out the glow of Falk's cigar in the darkness of Janet Leigh's screening room on Forgotten Lady, something she's never noticed before - the almost eerie red light is damn near hypnotic on the new 4K transfer.

When watching Swan Song, it blows any previous presentation out of the water, no question. From comparing the new 4K transfer to its Publish or Perish stablemate, you can see that some titles in this set are in better shape than others. Swan Song is a pretty clean transfer, with not much in the way of damage, but some, like Publish or Perish, has instability and specking right through it. You can now easily see the disparity in the quality of footage between one shot and the reverse in the same scene. In Swan Song, during a piece where Columbo is asking Brown some questions as he's laying on his sofa, the shots of Cash are in great shape, and look terrific. But the reverse of Falk is much rougher, compounded by an optical zoom they do (and hold) for the last 1/4 of the extended sequence. These new 4K remasters really expose every optical zoom done in at the editing stage, and this was used quite a bit on Columbo. Again, this is all piddly stuff, as they generally look superb.

One curiosity comes in the form of the Falk-directed Blueprint for Murder, which has a rougher appearance than pretty much all of the others. It looks a darker, a little more worn, possessed of a different level contrast to the others, and almost as though large portions were taken from another source. It might be that the fledgling director decided to shoot wide and make choices in the editing room rather than expending time on the day. It’s certainly grittier in appearance, but nothing to have you switching off.

As with the Kino set, there seems to be no undue tinkering to freshen up or modernise their appearance, to the point where occasionally, some blacks appear slightly lighter than the dead-space outside of the 4:3 viewing area. I'd rather that than swallowing detail through the usual cheats to make black-levels appear "inkier". Corners could have been cut in a bid to reduce production costs through cramming more episodes on a disc, but nope! There's room to breathe, and no compromises to the encoding. The bit-rate averages between 25-35mps, and haven't seen anything indicative of bad compression. The cross-hatch pattern on Robert Culp's very 70s suit in Death Lends a Hand passes with an appropriate clean bill of health, as does some of the fashions worn by Ray Milland in the very same episode.

If there is one curious thing, that some of the framing seems to be a little more generous than before. An early scene between Falk and Louis Jordan in Murder Under Glass sees the boom briefly dipping into shot, something I hadn't noticed through numerous screenings in the past!


There’s not much to report here, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks are all mostly faithful to their original stems, but given the boost of clarity via HD audio. I say "mostly", as when watching both Blueprint for Murder and Death Lends a Hand, the volume needed an upwards adjustment to hear the dialogue. Not that it could be considered faulty, but once at a comfortable level, the music came in much louder and nearly served as an enema! This is only one that I noticed it on, so god knows what caused it. In spite of this isolated bit of weirdness, Columbo has never sounded better. In fact, I’ve noticed/appreciated the incidental music more on these viewings than ever before. OK, the rule is that you shouldn’t notice incidental music until it’s required to draw attention to itself, but it integrated more forcefully this time around, and must be because of the increased fidelity. Subtitles are provided for all episodes this time around, too!


Sadly, none to be found here. OK, those on the American release were limited (through right issues) to essentially music/effects tracks for all episodes, and the original, shorter edit of Étude in Black. It’s not the greatest loss in the world.


Well, here it is, the entire 70s run of the legendary Columbo finally hits Blu-ray in the UK, courtesy of Fabulous Films. It was the show, along with The Rockford Files, which aspired to raise the level of quality of American television during the 70s, and its significance is still being felt today, with many shows demonstrating their unwillingness to appeal to the lowest common denominator. We’ve all waited patently these six years, but now - finally - we get the lot, along with significant upgrades from the single-season brought out last time. We now the show was always supposed to be seen, as the quality far bests those used for all other releases, not to mention copies played on TV. They look absolutely gorgeous, and befitting of a show which just keeps finding new fans looking for quality entertainment.

Amazon UK link

Fabulous Films store link


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