Opinion / Top 10

Top 10 best Columbo gotchas

We’ve all been there: leaning forward in our favourite chair, eyes wide, staring at the screen, waiting for that fabulous moment when the killer’s luck runs out and Columbo takes ’em down.

Oh yes, at their very best, the Columbo ‘gotcha’ moment can have the audience fist-pumping and whooping with glee as the killer’s smug veneer crumbles away and the realisation that they’re history kicks in. I’ve put my thinking cap on and listed what I think are the 10 very best denouements. And to make it clear, we’re talking about the actual moment when Columbo gets his man or woman, regardless of what comes before or what happens afterwards. It’s all about the giddy thrill of the reveal. After all, lest we forget, some of the very best episodes have relatively weak reveals, while some lesser episodes are redeemed by the Columbo knock-out blow at the end. If your own favourite isn’t here (and I must warn you that some sensational moments have not made the cut), do let me know what your own faves are and why. Now, here we go…

10. Columbo Goes to College (1990)

Purists may rage that the climax of this far-fetched outing from 1990 is selected ahead of some iconic 70s moments, but a man must write from the heart and select according to conscience, not to seek popular approval. Hence the smack-down of frat brats Justin and Coop sneaks into my top 10. As gotchas go, it’s a bit of a double-whammy. Firstly, Columbo shows the crowd of criminology students how the murder was committed, with a car door remote firing a gun through the air vents on Coop’s rad Hilux hood to shatter a dummy’s head into a million pieces. This elicits not a flicker of a confession from the dastardly duo, of course, and the other dim-witted students seem strangely incapable of deducing that this experiment essentially totally proves they did it! No, it’s not until Columbo reveals that the car Justin and Coop had planted the murder weapon in (to incriminate a hired goon) was really Mrs Columbo’s car that the wily Lieutenant had tricked the boys into using! Only Justin and Coop had information on the car. Only Justin and Coop could be guilty of the crime. Reminiscent of how the Lieutenant snared Commissioner Halperin in 1974’s A Friend in Deed, it’s a delicious conclusion to an episode that really proved to a new, young audience (both in the show and amongst the TV viewership) how sharp and relevant Columbo still was.
Columbo Goes to College

You’re going down, boys, fists bumps or no…

9. Playback (1975)

Gadget lover Harold Van Wick is certain that his manipulation of CCTV footage showing the shooting of his crone-like mother-in-law will  leave him in the clear and free to continue running the family’s electronics empire into the ground. After all, as his flashy digital watch (the Apple Watch of its day) clearly shows, he was eyeing up brunettes at an art show at the supposed time of the crime. Naturally, Columbo’s inquisitive mind (and one good eye) hones in on the only fatal flaw in Harold’s dastardly scheme: his invite to the art show could be seen on the sideboard behind the mother-in-law’s dead body; yet it is gone in the rigged footage used to establish his alibi. Ergo, the shooting occurred before Harold left the building. The beauty of this gotcha is in the contrasting reactions between Harold and his handicapped wife, Elizabeth. Harold’s quivering, barely controlled rage at being foiled is set against the shock and tear-stained face of Elizabeth. It packs an emotional punch few other episodes get close to.
Columbo Playback

There, there, pet, there’s plenty more fish in the sea.

8. Prescription: Murder (1968)

Dr Ray Fleming is so in love with himself and his massive intellect that there’s no room for anyone else. After viciously strangling Mrs Fleming, he stages an elaborate fight on an airplane with his young lover – scorching redhead Joan – disguised as his wife. She flees from the plane before take off, leaving the good Dr to head off to his alibi in Acapulco. Once Columbo is on to them, and knowing Joan is the weak link, Dr Fleming is desperate to see the back of her. Imagine his satisfaction, then, when Columbo calls him to Joan’s house and reveals she’s taken an overdose. Upon seeing a bikini-clad redhead being dragged from a swimming pool and covered with a blanket, seemingly dead as a post, it looks for all the world as if Dr Fleming is home and dry. You got rid of your wife but you’ve lost the girl you loved, so it was all for nothing, chides Columbo. Not so, scoffs the dastardly Doc, unable to resist one last chance to prove his superior mental capacity. Joan was expendable. He’d have found some way to get rid of her. Lo-and-behold the real Joan emerges from a corner where she’d been skulking, listening to every back-stabbing word. The other redhead was a decoy – Columbo having used Dr Fleming’s own modus operandi against him to make him see what he wanted to see. It’s the ultimate table turn, and with a simmering Joan ready to confess, Dr Fleming’s future is suddenly looking a lot less rosy.
Columbo Prescription: Murder

Flaunting aircraft security regulations has never seemed more fun.

7. Now You See Him (1976)

Many a fan’s ultimate favourite, Now You See Him pits Jack Cassidy against Peter Falk for the third and final time in an episode that aired 10 months before Cassidy’s untimely death. Luckily for us, it’s a suitably magnificent send-off with a gotcha moment to cherish. In a case in which establishing motive and opportunity are so difficult (Santini is allegedly locked in a chest, submerged in water at the time of the crime) Columbo has to use the magician’s methods against him to draw him out. Meanwhile, sidekick Sergeant Wilson’s knowledge of type writer carbon ribbons allows them to secure the crucial evidence they need to prove motive: the victim was about to blow Santini’s cover as being a wanted Nazi concentration camp guard by sending a typed letter to the authorities. Cue an unforgettable encounter in the Cabaret of Magic. Using slight-of-hand techniques to produce multiple copies of the incriminating document – despite Santini sending one up in smoke as his final act of defiance – it’s a marvelously showy ending entirely in keeping with the theme of the episode. It also delivered one of the series’ best ever lines, after Santini mourns that he thought he’d get away with a perfect murder. “Perfect murder, sir?” says Columbo. “Oh I’m sorry, there’s no such thing as a perfect murder. That’s just an illusion.”
Columbo Now You See Him

How do you like those apples, Great Santini?

6. Negative Reaction (1974)

It’s not the first time we see Columbo employing suspect tactics to get his man (plant evidence much in Death Lends a Hand, Lieutenant?), but the conclusion to Negative Reaction is so good because it gives us genuine insight into just what Columbo is willing to do in the line of duty – and how he feels about having done it. First, he deliberately develops a reversed version of the key photographic evidence in order to blow chief suspect and ace photographer Paul Galesko’s alibi. He then spins a yarn to Galesko about how he’d accidentally destroyed the original photo by dropping it in acid, forcing the desperate snapper to urge the Lieutenant to look at the original negative within the camera. Acting on impulse, and in front of eye-witnesses, Galesko grabs the incriminating camera that Columbo has cleverly placed in plain view behind him. The trap is sprung. Only the killer could know which camera was used. Galesko, stunned, realises he’s done himself in. Despite ultimately achieving his aims this is a Pyrrhic victory for Columbo, who knows he has has stooped low to conquer. His slump-shouldered reaction at the closing freeze-frame says it all.
Columbo Negative Reaction

Hey, moustached man in the corner, were YOU a witness to what he just did?

5. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977)

There’s a lot to like about this episode. As I’ll doubtless cover in future posts, this is my very favourite episode and it contains probably five of what I consider the 10 best Columbo scenes of all – the gotcha moment high amongst them. There is majesty in the editing of the gotcha sequence. Employing simple cuts between the faces of the two leads, director Sam Wanamaker ramps up the tension and accelerates the confrontation to its conclusion as an increasingly agitated Oliver Brandt is driven to prove his intellectual superiority by showing Columbo exactly how the murder was committed – squibs, marker pen, giant dictionary and all. As his roars of self-satisfied laughter fade into the realisation that he’s sealed his own fate, Brandt visibly deflates and sags into the nearest armchair. Notable not just for its fine staging and the terrific performances from Peter Falk and Theo Bikel, this denouement also features a cracking script, none more so than when Brandt, driven to a frenzy, brays at Columbo: “The man who conceived all this, you make him out to be a BUNGLING ASS!” Solid gold
Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

Lieutenant Columbo – outsmarting geniuses since 1968.

4. Deadly State of Mind (1975)

A hit-and-miss episode in some ways, yet when it most matters Deadly State of Mind delivers a magnificent parting shot that lives long in the memory. When escaping the crime scene after pokering to death his love rival, Dr Marcus Collier almost drives over a blind man and guide dog on their evening stroll. At the end of an episode, the ultra-smug Doc is confronted by a magnificent set-piece, arranged by Columbo, whereby an identikit man claims to be an eye witness who saw Collier making his getaway. Dr Collier makes the fatal mistake of allowing his ego to kick in at the expense of his common sense. Never you mind that this man has walked unaided into the room and completed tasks only a sighted person could do, says the Doc. He’s clearly blind! And he sets to prove as much by making the man read from selected pages of a magazine – which of course the man manages perfectly. Only then does a stunned Collier know he’s been had. This isn’t a blind man at all – but it is the blind man’s brother. And the eye witness who can therefore put Collier at the scene of the crime is none other than Collier himself. Simply sensational stuff.
Columbo Deadly State of Mind

Spot the difference, Columbo style

3. A Friend in Deed (1974)

The great success of A Friend in Deed was the establishment very early on in the episode that Deputy Commissioner Mark Halperin was an officer of the law we could neither like nor trust. He’s the very antithesis of the honest, humble and earthy Lieutenant and it makes his ultimate downfall all the more satisfying. After killing his own wife and covering up for the murder of his neighbour’s wife, Halperin endeavours to lump the blame on jailbird and thief extraordinaire, Artie Jessup. He evens uses information from the case files to plant evidence (jewels) at Jessup’s address. Personally leading the search at Jessup’s apartment, Halperin becomes increasingly rattled as Columbo reveals he knows exactly how the Commissioner’s wife was killed – and accuses him directly of committing the crime. Halperin’s personal crisis appears to have passed when the incriminating jewels are unearthed under a mattress. If the Commissioner killed his wife, how could her jewels be at Jessup’s place? Then comes the coup de grace. This isn’t Jessup’s apartment at all. It’s Columbo’s. Look – here are his shirts. Here’s a picture of his brother-in-law. His pyjamas are in the closet. You see, Columbo changed the address on the case file, and only the Commissioner had seen it. Try as he might, Halperin can’t utter a word in defence when confronted with such damning evidence. His silence, and his grudging acceptance of his fate, makes for extremely satisfying viewing.
Columbo Friend in Deed

No, Commissioner, you just lost YOUR badge, my friend…

2. Candidate for Crime (1973)

Desperate to prove his innocence following the murder of his deeply unfashionable campaign manager, Harry Stone, senatorial hopeful Nelson ‘His Own Man’ Hayward cooks up an ambitious hoax assassination attempt on election day. While pretending to make private phone calls in his office at campaign HQ, he fires a silencer through his balcony window into a wall behind his desk. He then has the gun smuggled out by an unwitting accomplice and merrily trots off to vote with Mrs Hayward. Upon his return, he makes a further claim to be making private calls, setting off a firecracker on the balcony to masquerade as a gunshot. Cue pandemonium as Hayward’s entourage bursts in to find him shaken and claiming to have barely escaped being slain by a gun-wielding thug on his balcony, who has, suspiciously, immediately disappeared without trace. Columbo enters, stating that the gunman is in the room. In fact it’s Hayward himself, he says. Hayward loses it, challenging the Lieutenant to pluck the bullet from the wall and run it through ballistics to prove it’s a match for the gun that killed Harry. There’s no gun in the room, so that proves Hayward didn’t kill Harry, doesn’t it? No, sir, says Columbo. You see, he already dug the bullet out of the wall just after Hayward went to vote. He knew Hayward wasn’t making calls from his office because he was monitoring the indicator lights on the phone lines (only in the 70s). And Columbo’s busts Hayward’s bluster in unforgettable fashion: “I dug this bullet out of that wall three hours before you said that somebody fired it at you three minutes ago [immense pause for effect]. You’re under arrest, sir.” All Hayward can do is close his eyes and say a silent prayer. Another one bites the dust…
Columbo Candidate for Crime

It won’t be so easy for our Nelson to remain ‘His Own Man’ in jail, will it?

1. Suitable for Framing (1971)

Magnificent in its simplicity, the take-down of smarmy art critic Dale Kingston remains a joy to behold – whether at the first viewing or the 101st. Keen to see his crazy Aunt Edna take the rap for the murder of his uncle Rudy, Kingston has planted some stolen Degas pastels in her linen closet, which the police duly find. Things look bad for Edna, but Columbo – late on the scene after seemingly being dismissed from the case – orders that the artworks be dusted for prints as he accuses Kingston of slaying his uncle. Knowing his own prints are all over the works, ol’ Dale remains cool as a cucumber. But no, it’s Columbo’s prints they’re looking for after he got his mitts on them when reaching into an art folder earlier in the episode. And when there’s a positive ID on Columbo’s prints being on the paintings, Kingston is running short on options. Entrapment, he claims with desperation. Columbo must have touched the paintings just now while he wasn’t looking! Cue the legendary ‘gloved hand reveal’. Watch closely and you can see Kingston’s lip quiver in panic when the Lieutenant’s hands come out of the raincoat pockets. It’s a brilliant performance from Ross Martin, who was superb throughout in making Kingston a killer you could love to loathe. I defy anyone to watch this scene without wanting to leap on to their feet and roar with approval. Could this be the single best TV moment of all time? I’ve yet to see a better one…
Columbo Suitable for Framing

Oh excuse me Dale Kingston, famous art critic, did I break your concentration?

So there we are. I’d love to know what you make of my top 10 Columbo gotchas. Do let me know in the comments section below. Apologies to the Double Exposure fans out there, who may be up in arms that the episode isn’t featured. It was a tough decision, believe me… There will be plenty more ‘Top 10’ type articles to come later on, and if there’s any particular subject you’re keen to have me cover, just leave a comment below. Thanks for reading. And if you’ve enjoyed this, I’d love you to share it.

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120 thoughts on “Top 10 best Columbo gotchas

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Playback | The Columbophile

  2. i love the emotional ending in playback and the episode on the whole , not sure i would have now you see him in my top 10 gotchas , i could think of a few others i could replace it with , as columbo uses motive moreover to arrest santini

  3. How about a new blog entry listing your top 10 “new” episodes (ABC run)?
    My favourite new episodes are Agenda For Murder, Columbo Goes to College, Rest in Peace Mrs. Columbo, Columbo Cries Wolf and Ashes to Ashes. And Murder is Malibu is so bad it is unintentionally funny to watch Andrew Stevens – he faints! he has a trunk full of flowers! he seduces every woman in the episode! you just can’t stop watching this train wreck of an episode.

    • Murder In Malibu…such a good plot…such bad acting. Columbophile, it might be interesting to write a blog post on how you’d re-cast some episodes. John Gavin (mentioned by a commenter) could have played the part that Andrew Stevens played. Or perhaps Joe Penny.

  4. Great blog – really enjoy it – as far as gotchas go , I think some of the new episodes have some classic endings – like ” Grand Deceptions ” and ” Death Hits the Jackpot ” plus “Ashes to Ashes” – who doesn’t like a monkey and a funeral urn ? …

  5. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Negative Reaction | The Columbophile

  6. great gotchas my favourite being negative reaction and playback but swansong, double exposure and blueprint for murder were also caught red handed , by dawns early light was also a great ending.

  7. Although you included one new episode, and I understand that you’re ‘prejudiced’ against them, I don’t see how you can’t include the ‘eponymous’ gotcha ending in Columbo Cries Wolf, when Columbo texts ‘GOTCHA’ to the murder victim’s bracelet.

  8. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Friend in Deed | The columbophile

  9. Thank you so much for this list, and I agree with most of the episodes. You already mentioned Double Exposure, the way Columbo catches the killer using his own subliminal cuts. For me that’s definitely top 10. But the outsider everyone seems to miss is The Conspirators. I love the part of the whiskey bottle next to the body because of the line: “may every man be paid in full”. When Columbo realises that pun by the Irish poet, he catches him with the cut of the ring: ‘ till here and no further…”

  10. It’s so very true: Not only makes the gotcha of “Suitable for Framing” this episode my favourite “Columbo” of all time, it also ranks as probably the greatest moment ever to be seen on TV.
    The gotcha from “Columbo Cries Wolf” seems to be missing in the list, instead the gotcha from “Bye Bye Sky High” could be switched, because Oliver Brandt could still leave the room claiming there’s no proof, because no witnesses saw him incriminating himself (as it was done far wiser in “Negative Reaction”, “A Deadly State of Mind” or “Double Exposure”) – but how could I complain after fully agreeing on your number one choice?

  11. I agree that the best gotcha moment is Suitable For Framing.

    I also agree that Now You See Him should be on the list of gotcha moments. But I think that there is a moment in Now You See Him that is even more of a gotcha than the ending, in some ways. When Columbo goes up on stage during Santini’s show, Santini initially makes him look like an idiot, with cards appearing from inside Columbo’s coat. But then Columbo challenges Santini to get out of a pair of handcuffs that (unknown to Santini) have the same type of lock as the lock that Santini picked to commit the murder. When Santini opens the lock, Columbo looks at him, says “I knew you could do it”, and winks at him knowingly, to Santini’s dismay. In some ways, that knowing wink is a great gotcha moment.

  12. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Double Exposure | The columbophile

  13. Pingback: 5 best moments in Suitable for Framing | The columbophile

  14. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Candidate for Crime | The columbophile

  15. I’m a big fan of the ending of ‘How to Dial a Murder’ – the pacing leading up to the ‘gotcha’ is excellent and the double meaning of the dialogue as Columbo plays pool while explaining how he cracked the case (e.g. you play a first rate game Lieutenant) is fun too.

  16. The George Hamilton episode is my favorite. Watch his expression change from smug to disbelief when the blind witness’s brother reads the magazine.

  17. i think my favourite is Candidate for crime, maybe the most suspenful one, and that ending with columbo saying some little chilling words: you are under arrest sir, hayward closing his eyes, undestanding is over, his wife crying and that beautiful background music as the credits rolls.
    But i want to add on ending gotcha which i love very much, the one from AGENDA FOR Murder, with Columbo giving one of the strongests evidence ever in the series, which will bring Mcgoohan into the gas chamber in a few of seconds, love it !

  18. A fun list to read. I especially agree with #4 and #6. Since part of the appeal of the show is watching smug people underestimate Columbo’s ability, there’s something highly enjoyable about watching their downfall come from their pent-up frustration over dealing with an idiot. (This is why Blueprint for Murder is probably my favourite that didn’t make your list.)

    I would say when it comes to my least favourite gotchas, they would be ones employed in episodes like Death Lends A Hand and Uneasy Lies the Crown. While most Columbo episodes require a suspension of disbelief, all I can think of is how easy it would be for the killer’s lawyer to get the case thrown out when all they have is a confession made because of fake evidence the detective planted.

    • I would have thought the same about the planted evidence in Death Lends a Hand, but a former US Prosecutor who regularly reads this site says that’s not the case. He wrote a very informative article for the site about what might happen when Columbo’s cases go to court, which I highly recommend.

  19. Robert Conrad gotcha in An Exercise in Fatality would make my top ten list. “You tried to create the perfect alibi but it’s your perfect alibi that’s gonna hang ya”. That’s what I call poetic justice.

    • I must admit, I was disappointed with “An Exercise in Fatality.” It didn’t really feel like there was enough to prove Milo Janus’ guilt. Good cast, good energy, but missed the mark for me. Still, I’m eager to read the full Columbophile review.

  20. Excellent list–thank you. Well thought out. All of Columbo’s gotcha moments are praiseworthy…I especially like how he reels in Ruth Gordon in “Try and Catch Me”. That was brilliant how he pieces it all together from the clues left by the murder victim–that Columbo makes her read aloud at the end! Love your blog.

  21. Watched A Friend In Deed recently and I absolutely love the gotcha in this episode. As a side note the actor who plays Hugh Caldwell appeared in the very first episode of Cheers. Got the Cheers box set for Christmas and thought he looked familiar.

  22. I have to agree with most of them, but I didn’t really like the one of ‘Negative Reaction’: is it possible that a clever person as Paul Galesko, who planned such a complicated murder, eventually falls into such an easy trap?

    Thanks for the amazing blog!

    • Thank you for those kind words! And while it’s a bit of an easy out for the writers of Negative Reaction, that sort of thing does happen every day where people show themselves up unwittingly before they realise what they’re saying. They’re usually school children admittedly, but it still does the trick for me.

    • The gotcha in Exercise in Fatality is, indeed, a very good one. I recall seeing a Forensic Files episode (a series based on real cases) where the killer had put the victim’s shoes on the wrong feet, providing investigators with a far more obvious mistake than the much subtler one in the Exercise in Fatality episode.

      I’ve also read a news story that immediately brought the Exercise in Fatality episode to mind. In June 2016, John Ashe, the former head of the UN General Assembly, who was facing criminal charges in a federal bribery case, died of asphyxiation after dropping a barbell on his neck, exactly in the manner staged by Robert Conrad’s character in that episode. Here’s the link to the story:

      Of course, as this was a real life case, and actual Columbos in the real world are rare, the police immediately ruled Ashe’s death an “accident.” However, being the long-time Columboligist, Columbophile, and avid detective story reader that I am, I would have looked deeper than the police did in the Ashe case. Ashe’s bribers, for example, would have plenty of reason to want to see Ashe dead. But that’s me.

      • Peter Falk agrees that An Exercise in Fatality has a terrific clue–a key component of the gotcha scene–though I distinguish between clues and the larger gotcha scenes, which incorporates the clues, and are the subject of our host’s fine article. (The clue is the key incriminating piece of evidence itself, while the gotcha in the Columbo series is the way that Columbo ultimately traps the murderer and reveals the clue, pulling everything together.) During the making of this episode, he stopped by The Tonight Show to chat briefly with Johnny Carson about it. In this clip, he explains why he found the clue to be so special. It’s something most all of us do without thinking about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SC4Ae6FuWM

  23. I was getting more and more tense, scrolling down the list and seeing you left out my all time favorite, the only one I wanted to see included for sure! I can’t believe you’d leave it out! There’s no way, unless…. It’s number 1! NICE REVEAL!

      • A terrific list of gotchas.

        The are several things happening in the gotcha scene in Suitable For Framing that make it so effective and a prime candidate for the top spot. As our host points out, not only is the idea itself underlying the gotcha well conceived and executed, but Ross Martin’s performance makes the climax so satisfying, as he goes through several emotional changes in rapid succession.

        Many people may not know that before this episode was filmed, Martin was best known as the exceptionally likable character Artemis Gordon where he co-starred with Robert Conrad (another Columbo series murderer) in a popular TV series, The Wild Wild West. So Martin was going into the Suitable For Framing role with all this goodwill, yet, here, he plays a totally contemptible, egocentric character and is very convincing playing Kingston.

        Additionally, you have an extremely nervous Edna Matthews, played wonderfully by Kim Hunter, and very concerned attorney, Frank Simpson, played by the great Don Ameche, who fears that the evidence against Edna may prove too strong for Columbo to discredit, adding to the tension of the scene.

        Finally, you have the always superb Peter Falk. Who can forget that special, magical shrug and his subtle facial reaction when he removes his hands from his pockets? This is one of the scenes that encapsulates one of the things that we love so much about Columbo. Despite his extraordinary investigative skills, he’s not arrogant or egotistical. Far from it. As he closes in for the “kill” and executes it, there is no, “Now, I’ve gotcha, you SOB” in his character. In his facial reaction, Falk conveys a sense of compassion for the murderer he has checkmated, as though to say, “Sorry I have to do this to you, but I’m just doing my job.”

        Of course, none of this would be possible without writer Jackson Gillis, one of the best in the series, who first honed his craft writing episodes of Superman in the 1950s, starring George Reeves, Jack Larson, Noel Neill, and John Hamilton.

        All of these things come together under veteran Hy Averback’s expert direction for a totally satisfying and enduring gotcha.

  24. One of my favorites is Columbo cries wolf, when he typed in the word ‘Gotcha’ in Deirdre Hall’s beeper. Double Exposure, when Columbo nabs Robert Culps’ character by using his own method of subliminal cuts against him.

  25. Pingback: Columbo episode review: Suitable for Framing | The columbophile

  26. just watched suitable for framing again. One of my favorites. Culp and Cassidy are my favorite villains but one of my favorite episodes involves a sympathetic killer Donald Pleasance in “Any old port in a storm”

  27. I agree with many of your selections, particularly “Suitable for Framing,” “A Friend in Deed,” and “Deadly State of Mind.” But I would have included “Murder by the Book” and “The Greenhouse Jungle” on this list. In both cases, the solutions were incredibly well baked into the story. There was an “Of course!” quality to both endings. Neither was something Columbo arranged, but something Columbo unearthed (literally, in the latter episode). I would also nominate “Troubled Waters” for its nice twist on the using-gloves-to-avoid-fingerprints mystery cliche. Finally, I would have given “Forgotten Lady” an honorable mention. It has a superb ending, although not a classic “gotcha” as the murderer is virtually a bystander.

    • After posting the comment above, I read the Columbophile’s review of “Murder by the Book.” It says: “The gotcha, in particular, is weak compared to all that comes before. … I don’t think we’re rewarded with a perfect clue here. I say so what if Jim wrote the original murder plot down? As smooth an operator as Ken Franklin could come up with a plausible explanation for that in a heartbeat.” I respectfully disagree. I see no way for Franklin to explain that “the plot [he] you used to kill [Jim]” was written down by the victim “practically word for word.” Who else “Drives B to a remote house and has him call wife in city, tell her he’s working late at the office … Bang, bang”? In addition, Columbo’s juxtaposition of this “brilliant” plot versus the second “sloppy” murder, and Columbo’s “key,” that Ferris, not Franklin, was the real mystery writer, all dovetail together perfectly. It leaves Ken with only one rebuttal — that Jim wrote down Ken’s idea. Not exactly a way out.

      Finally, how many people notice how Jim’s prior knowledge of the murder plot is foreshadowed in one of the episode’s earliest scenes? When Jim and Ken arrive at Ken’s “remote house” where he’s supposed to “call wife in city” and “tell her he’s working late at the office,” Jim says: “You ever get the feeling of deja vu? … You know, like you’ve done something before, but you know you haven’t? … I’m getting it right now. Isn’t that strange? I’ve never been here in my life.” What a great touch! A brilliant Columbo plot and ending.

      • The deja vu scene is a really good one. Perhaps too subtle for most viewers to pick up on. But I still think Ken could talk his way out of that one. He could spin a yarn about how at a dinner party/soiree/party years before, early in their career, some keen friends/fans/writers were suggesting plotlines and, now that Ken thinks about it harder, yes, that one does seem to be one of them, etc, etc. But he can’t remember who, and there were loads of literary types there. Could be one of them… etc. Without a confession I’d back Ken to walk away Scott free, the irresistible rogue.

      • “Murder by the Book” is a terrific episode, but its gotcha scene doesn’t have all of the elements featured as strongly as other Columbo episodes. (See my list of “required” elements in another post on this thread.) This was Steven Ronald Bochco’s first attempt at mystery writing–if we can include Columbo in that broader genre. So Steve was really just learning the ropes in this extraordinary first Columbo script for him. He learned a lot from writing this episode, and, of course, he went on to become one of TV’s greatest writers. Here’s an interesting video clip of Steve talking about “Murder by the Book:”

  28. Pingback: Columbo episode review: Murder by the Book | The columbophile

  29. All great but disappointed not to see Short Fuse with Roddy McDowells manic performance in the cable car while our hero coolly lights up a cigar

  30. While Playback is a great episode, the gotcha has a major problem in the ludicrously good quality of the recorded image. Even today I doubt there are many CCTV systems that would be close to capable of getting a capture of the invite that would be in any way readable. I know the guy is meant to be a smart inventor but…..

    Well done with the blog, I always enjoy reading about Columbo.

    • Thanks Ian. Perhaps the electronics company was so advanced that they invented HD, decades before anyone else. Only logical explanation. Even Bladerunner would have enjoyed that definition!

  31. Pingback: The Columbo killers we love to hate | The columbophile

  32. Love your list. I agree with many of them, especially A Friend in Deed. It brings up a topic about Columbo and marriage. In just about every episode, Columbo mentions a Mrs. Columbo. Although, like a lot of us, I’ve seen every episode multiple times. But I can’t remember the first time Mrs. Columbo is mentioned. So, my thing is, in AFID, that looks like most definitely a bachelor pad if you will. So, was he married after that episode, or was that a complete set up, meaning it was Columbo’s apt. just for the sake of catching the cop or was it really his lived in apt. sans wife? I’ve always wondered about that.

    • Hi Tara, thanks for the comment. Mrs C is mentioned in Prescription Murder, so she’s been there from the start, although I do believe the cast and crew may have been open to the idea that she didn’t really exist, and Columbo just dropped her into conversation as and when it suited the moment. By Season 2 it was clear she was real.

      My take on Friend in Deed is that Columbo rented the place and kitted it out with his stuff purely to catch his man. I imagine it was back on the rental market immediately afterwards! I’m sure he had a much nicer place with Mrs Columbo (although probably untidy).

      • You’re welcome!

        Okay, that definitely makes sense for him to rent that purely for catching the commissioner or was he a police chief. I can’t remember. lol

        I can see him leaving his socks and coat and other things lying around the house. 😄

  33. Pingback: My top 10 favourite Columbo episodes | The columbophile

  34. Pingback: My top 10 favourite Columbo episodes | The columbophile

  35. Thanks for writing this blog. I have been re-watching episodes on Netflex. I am now on season 5. My favorite is the one with Martin Landau. Columbo’s humble and apologetic speech to the housekeeper is my very favorite scene of all the episodes.

    • Hi Molly. Thanks for your comment. The Martin Landau epsidoe is one of my very favourite episodes, too. In fact I’ll be covering my top episodes in the next post. Columbo’s relationship with the furious housekeeper is really wonderful to watch, and the ‘health cookies’ scene is priceless!

  36. Pingback: Which Columbo case would have caused the biggest stir? | The columbophile

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  38. Thanks for sharing. I totally remember the episode with Jack Cassidy. It’s one of my favorites. I was thinking of one of the episodes with Patrick McGoohan, perhaps “Before Dawn’s Early Light.” But I don’t remember the ending. Or the episode with Julie Harris who works at a winery…. and maybe Donald Pleasance…that was a good one too. Oh, they’re all good. I met Peter Falk, long before Columbo. He was a favorite.

    • The Donald Pleasence episode is ‘Any Old Port in a Storm’. A very good one. And you’re thinking of ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’ with McGoohan. I never got the chance to meet Peter, sadly. Would’ve loved the opportunity. I hear he was a lovely man.

      • Yes, Peter Falk was not only a great actor but was a wonderful person and he had a great sense of humor. You can see that in the following fun clip, where a Columbo impressionist “gets” him with a gotcha:

  39. Thank you for sharing your “Gotchas” project. Excellent choices! Well summarized. Am looking forward to more. My favorite is “He doesn’t live here…I live here….” Is there a source that lists each episode’s writers? Would like to silently acknowledge them for their ingenious plots, twists and triumphs.

    • Thanks for those kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I guess IMDB would be the quickest way to find out writers. Or you could buy Mark Dawidziak’s excellent ‘The Columbo Phile’ book, if you can find a second hand copy online.

  40. 10, 6,5,3 & 1 are genuine classics. Jack Cassidy is one of my favorite ‘Columbo’ actors but my favorite of his is Publish or Perish which I would have at No 2. Always loved Columbo so keep up the good work 🙂

    • Publish or Perish is my favourite Jack Cassidy episode, too. I couldn’t find a way to squeeze the gotcha in, but it’s in my overall top 3 episodes. Love it!

  41. What his list showed me this time about these endings is how often a “Gotcha!” involves contrast/red herring/switcheroo — i.e., *not* this but *that* (person, clothing, bullet, etc.). Which realization itself reminded me how wonderful, nay necessary, it is to see endings, and the rest of the episode, again and again and again.

  42. Have to agree with your #1 here. Of the shows on this list we’ve covered on the Columbo Podcast so far I think we’d share your view that these are standout denouements!

    Best of luck with the blog, looking forward to more great content as you get going with it.


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