If you’re a lover of Columbo and you meet a fellow fan, the question of favourite episodes is always a good ice-breaker and guarantees a lively discussion.I hope that an article on the subject could be a good way of encouraging debate amongst readers. There’s every chance you won’t agree with all my choices and, as always with articles of this type, there are some absolutely terrific episodes that haven’t made it on to my list. But I make no apologies for that. Selecting the best Columbo episodes is always going to be subjective. As I said in my ‘Top 10 gotchas’ blog, you’ve got to choose from the heart, not to satisfy public demand. So the choices below are are my favourite episodes simply because they are the ones that I enjoy the most, and the ones that I come back to time and again and again when I need my Columbo fix. Spoiler alert: It won’t surprise most people who know me to learn there are no ‘new’ episodes included within this list. I love Columbo Goes to College and Agenda for Murder from 1990, but I’m a purist at heart and nothing can beat the 70s classics.
10. A Stitch in Crime (1973)Ace surgeon Dr Barry Mayfield has a heart as cold as glacial ice. He not only tries to bump off lovable Grandpa Walton (Will Greer) through use of dissolving suture after heart surgery – he also kills the nurse who figures it out with a tyre iron to the head. Worse follows as he slays a reformed-drug-addict-now-petting-zoo employee in one of the saddest scenarios the entire series serves up. Little wonder, then, that Columbo can’t stand him. The friction between the two makes for delicious viewing – never more so than when the Lieutenant loses his cool when Mayfield laughs off his accusations and slams a pitcher down on his desk in a rare show of genuine emotion. It all helps make Mayfield’s ultimate downfall all the more satisfying.
9. Death Lends a Hand (1971)The first episode of Season 1 to be filmed, Death Lends a Hand was ultimately bumped back from opening the series by the superior Murder by the Book, but it remains one of the show’s strongest chapters. In the role of Investigator Brimmer, Robert Culp brings a barely contained rage to Columbo that makes for compelling viewing. He’s a superb foil to the Lieutenant and a very dangerous foe. In contrast is Ray Milland’s dignified turn as wronged media mogul Arthur Kennicut. He’s rich, powerful and used to having his way, but Milland successfully conveys his vulnerable edge and sadness at the death of his wife (at Brimmer’s furious hands). Throw in Falk’s exquisite performance and you have a Great Triumvirate at the peak of their powers. Notable for a beautifully presented murder scene, which at once shows us everything and nothing, and some innovative editing where the aftermath of the crime is played out in a montage on Brimmer’s glasses, this is a slice of 70s TV at its most absorbing. And in catching his quarry we see Columbo employ a range of tricks and subterfuge that show just what he’s willing to do in the course of duty – a theme that will reappear time and again throughout the series.
8. Try and Catch Me (1978)Ruth Gordon’s charming turn as diminutive mystery writer Abigail Mitchell (the oldest Columbo killer by a stretch) elevates this episode to stellar heights. Many fans rate it amongst their very favourites and I’m no different. The murder itself (Abi traps her supposedly treacherous nephew in an air-tight safe) is first rate, the conclusion is rewarding, but it is the rapport between Abi and the Lieutenant that really makes it sing. In a series of memorable scenes, Columbo gives away more of his real personality than we usually see in a single episode. His monologue to the ladies’ lunch, the exchange with Abi from behind the wheel of her Rolls Royce, and his sympathy with her for the loss of her niece all give good insights into his character and his past. But the real highlight is the moment at the docks when Abi tells Columbo she thinks he’s a very kind man. “Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell. Don’t count on it,” he responds. The message is clear: he may be polite, he may be respectful. But he’s out to get her.
7. A Friend in Deed (1974)A bleak and brooding tale of police corruption, cover-up and murder, A Friend In Deed is an episode apart in many ways. If every episode was as dark and humourless as this, it’s unlikely that Columbo would have been such an enduringly popular show, but as a one-off it packs a real punch. Its great success is the contrast between the two leads: the corrupt and morally bankrupt Commissioner Halperin set against the doughty and dependable Columbo in a battle of wits that will either see one jailed or one out of a job. Boasting one of the best scripts of any episode, some glorious action sequences (Commissioner Halperin jumping out of a helicopter into a swimming pool, anyone?), and fine examples of Columbo’s everyman appeal in his conversations with ex-con Artie Jessup, this is an entirely successful addition to the series.
6. Negative Reaction (1974)Surely the funniest of all episodes, Negative Reaction combines magical comic moments with strong performances across the board – not least from Dick Van Dyke, who plays against type as dastardly photographer-cum-wife-killer Paul Galesko. While Van Dyke plays it straight, there’s humour abound throughout: a nun mistaking Columbo for a hobo and trying to find him a new coat; Columbo asking Galesko for a photo of a cocker spaniel to ease his pining basset hound’s broken heart; and, best of all, Columbo terrorising Larry Storch’s highly strung driving instructor through his lack of attention on the road. It all wraps up with a great gotcha moment and a poignant freeze-frame ending to effectively off-set all the fun. Mighty impressive stuff.
5. Murder by the Book (1971)A typewriter pounds. A Mercedes cruises through the LA streets. A writer in a high-rise is lost in a world of his own invention. As the typewriter continues to pound the car parks in an empty lot, the driver steps out and slips a gun into his jacket. So begins one of the pivotal TV experiences of our time. From those first arresting moments, Murder by the Book grabs the viewer by the throat and never lets go. It’s still a cause of pride and joy for Columbo fans that a young Steven Spielberg was in the director’s chair for this. His touch and flair make this a visually unique outing, but he’s only one reason for its success. Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy establish an on-screen rapport that would enrich the series on three occasions, while Steven Bochco’s script and Blly Goldenberg’s score are world class. In short, it’s an A Grade cast and crew and they all bring their A Game to proceedings. If there is a criticism it’s that the gotcha itself is relatively disappointing compared to all that’s come before it, but that almost doesn’t matter. It may not be my ultimate favourite, but Murder by the Book remains a seminal piece of TV – and is always the episode I recommend newcomers to the series cut their Columbo teeth on. After that, they’ll be hooked for life.
4. Double Shock (1973)Columbo threw a curve ball to viewers at the end of Season 2, offering up this magnificent ‘whodunnit’ mystery, with feuding identical twins Dexter and Norman Paris (both played by Martin Landau) both having motives to kill their rich uncle – and both blaming the other for the crime. At times wickedly funny – especially when the ferocious Mrs Peck puts Columbo to the sword – and home to a handful of the most memorable Columbo moments (the famed ad-libbed ‘cookery scene’ chief amongst them), it’s arguably Peter Falk’s single best performance as the Lieutenant. By the end of Season 2 he had absolutely perfected the character and all its nuances. It really shows. As such it’s an episode that gets better with each watch, as the viewer uncovers more and more elements of Falk’s performance to treasure.
3. Publish or Perish (1973)Any episode featuring Jack Cassidy is a thing of joy, but to my mind he was never better than this outing as sleazy publisher Riley Greenleaf. The early scenes, when Greenleaf establishes his alibi with his shambling faux drunk antics are priceless. He brays at a barkeep; magnificently puts down some luckless patrons in the car park; and finally challenges police officers to remove him from his vehicle when he’s illegally parked. Jack must have been having such a blast while filming, and that sense of fun and mischief is absolutely contagious. Aside from Jack’s star turn, this is also one of the series’ most gripping stories. From its explosive start at the junkyard to its tense conclusion, Publish is packed with intrigue, clever touches, a terrific script and a memorable climax. Be warned: there’s a lot packed into the 75-minute running time, so it’s an episode that demands close attention to enjoy to the max. But viewers that give it their all will be rewarded, not least by that most magnificent of Columbo sights: Jack Cassidy in full flight.
2. Suitable for Framing (1971)Featuring the best Columbo ‘gotcha’ moment of all, Suitable for Framing is a truly great piece of TV, which satisfies on every level. Ross Martin is perfect as our chief protagonist, smarmy art critic Dale Kingston. He’s a velvet tuxedo wearer, who laughs uproariously at his own high-brow jokes, kills his own uncle, and is prepared to frame his lovable and dotty Aunt Edna to get his hands on a priceless art collection. Kingston is more condescending and dismissive than the average Columbo killer, so it’s easy for the viewer to loathe him. But at the same time we are shown abundant signs of Columbo’s slyness and mental acuity. He effortlessly arranges to tap Kingston’s phone, pretends to fall asleep at Kingston’s house to unsettle him when he gets home, and, unusually, has a supportive superior officer on hand, backing him to the hilt. A magnificent Billy Goldenberg score, stellar supporting cast (including Don Ameche) and some wonderful location shooting add further gloss. The ‘gloved hand reveal’ at the end is simply the icing on the cake, leaving the viewer on the verge of spontaneous applause as credits roll.
1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977)As a 10-year-old in the late ’80s, Bye-Bye was the first Columbo episode I ever recall watching and enjoying, and it has remained my favourite ever since. A lot of that I attribute to the splendid efforts of Theo Bikel as the pompous, yet ultimately fragile killer Oliver Brandt (read more about that here), while Peter Falk is on sparkling form as Lieutenant Columbo, adding just the right amount of whimsy to his performance as he investigates a murder at a society of geniuses. There are flaws in this episode. For starters, it’s inconceivable that the argument between Brandt and his partner Bertie that preceded the murder wouldn’t have been heard by their fellow Sigma Society members. How did the police not find Brandt’s umbrella in the chimney when investigating the crime? And, really, Brandt is the only viable suspect whose motives are quickly and clearly established. But these shortcomings don’t matter because the episode as a whole is so good and so entertaining. It boasts several of the very best Columbo scenes, including, but not limited to: the Lieutenant’s rib-tickling conversations with the Sigma Society members about their views on the crime; the tense moment in the park where Brandt bins the murder weapon; a surly young waitress (Jamie Lee Curtis in her screen debut) confiscating Columbo’s donut; and Columbo cramping young accountant George’s style at a nightclub. We even see what we’ve been waiting to see since the series debuted: the Lieutenant caught in the rain without his raincoat. It’s magical stuff. As covered in the ‘top 10 gotchas’ article, the denouement is right up there with the series’ finest, too, with simple edits between the two leads’ faces building to a frenzied climax amid lightning and thunder. And it proves to the viewer what we’ve always known deep down: that the humble, dishevelled Lieutenant has one of the great minds of his time. So there we have it. My top 10 in all its glory. I couldn’t find room for such classics as Double Exposure, Troubled Waters, Any Old Port in a Storm, Etude in Black, or Now You See Him – all perennial favourites amongst the fan base – but don’t hold that against me. What do you think are the best Columbo episodes? I’d love to hear about your own favourites, so please leave a comment below, or vote for your single favourite episode in my fan poll. Thanks, as always, for reading, and if you’d care to share this article to stimulate further debate, I’d be delighted.
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I think my tastes run a little differently than the majority. I need either a great performance from the killer or a great gotcha to make it top tier. In particular, I’ve never particularly liked Publish or Perish because a) I’m not as big a fan of Jack Cassidy as many are and b) the gotcha is just not that cleanly delivered. I had to rewatch it three times just to understand what the point it, and if you need to do that it’s a bad gotcha. I’m also not a huge fan of Try and Catch me because I don’t find Abi that sympathetic and the gotcha seems forced. I find Old Fashioned Murder, a thematically similar episode in many ways, more enjoyable because Ruth’s backstory was powerfully heartbreaking.
With that, my top ten:
1. A Friend in Deed
3. A Stitch in Crime
4. By Dawn’s Early Light
5. Lady in Waiting
6. Any Old Port in a Storm
7. Columbo Goes to College
8. An Exercise in Fatality
9. Candidate for Crime
10. Suitable for Framing
with How to Dial a Murder, A Case of Immunity, and Rest in Peace Mrs. Columbo oh so close.
It doesn’t surprise me that my choice, Any Old Port in a Storm is leading the field. Donald Pleasance had already established his credentials as a cold blooded killer way before he had ever encountered the disheveled detective so he just seems such a natural here. When you consider other ‘repeat’ offenders such as; Patrick MacGoohan, Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy, it’s something of a mysterious and tragic waste that the amiable Lieutenant didn’t get a second or even third chance to lock horns with a man capable of portraying a formidable foe who would give him a run for his money before he earned his gotcha.
This is one of the most underrated performances of Pleasance’s career, playing as a mad vintner who murders his half brother in an effort to protect his vineyard, just as the highbrow world of plush, upmarket wine connoisseurs have decided to make him a doyenne of their select community of the moneyed with decent taste and discernment to go with it.
Pleasance is in his element here, playing his part with the customary air of malevolence and slight touch of dark humour with which he made his name; always icily polite under pressure, even when the woman he has been working with for years, always keeping her close, yet still keeping her just out of reach, senses that he is in trouble and thinks that she has been presented with an opportunity into blackmailing him for his hand (I know that the course of true love ne’er run smooth, but still …).
And yet for all of his callousness, Columbo still evidently feels something for the man, mirroring a comment that he made to Ruth Gordon’s lady novelist character, Abigail Mitchell in, Try and Catch Me when Columbo, after being put on the spot at a promotional lecture/signing had noted to the audience that he often liked the people that he had to arrest, even sometimes seeing admirable traits in the part of the killer’s personality that was there, despite the circumstances that had brought him into their realm.
And yet, with all that being said, there are just so many great episodes; especially from the seventies when the writing was, for the overwhelmingly most part, top notch, that I might revise my opinion upon viewing some of my old favourites again. This would include, but not limited to: Try and Catch Me, The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder, Requiem for a Falling Star, Dagger of the Mind, Murder Under Glass, Suitable for Framing and Swan Song.
Great great site mr. Columbophile- love the fan feedback and top tens plus mini- reviews., Columbo and M*A*S*H* are my two favourite TV shows of all time, and I spend a lot of my online time reading episode reviews from fans, and the site’s author(s). Kudos for treating Columbo ( and Falk) with the huge respect it deserves. Cheers!
Well here goes – I preface by saying I haven’t watched any episodes past 1976:
1)Exercise in Fatality
2) Prescription Murder
3) Swan Song
4) Murder by the Book
5) Negative Reaction
6) Troubled Waters
7) Now you see Him
8) A Friend Indeed
9) The most Crucial Game
10) Requiem for a Falling Star
Very interesting, and appreciated. I’ve always disliked A STITCH IN CIME, however, for one reason. If I’m not mistaken, the basic gimmick is lifted from the Christianna Brand novel GREEN FOR DANGER. This tale is more widely known through its excellent film adaptation by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, starring the peerless Alistair Sim. You may want to check in case I’m misremembering but I believe if you swap out the gas canisters in DANGER for the surgical stitchery in COLUMBO, it’s a pretty direct steal.
It was exceedingly difficult to choose only ten, but I made my top ten based on the episodes I watch most frequently and enjoy the most:
10. How to dial a murder
9. Fade into murder
8. Catch me if you can
7. Now you see him
6. Forgotten lady
5. Negative reaction
4. Suitable for framing
2. A friend in deed
1. Any old port in a storm
Exercise in fatality
By dawn’s early light
Murder under glass
Make me a perfect murder
I know that some of these episodes are not without flaws and for that reason, are likely to appear on someone’s least favorite list…but these are my current favorites, flaws and all.
Thanks for making this list. Your passion for this show and its main character is incredible. Lists like these can be fun and can generate lively debate, and it’s all subjective and not to be taken too seriously. But I’m saddened that my favorite episode didn’t make the cut. Or anyone else’s cut either, it seems. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on “The Forgotten Lady,” with Janet Leigh as the murderer. To me, there’s something about this episode that takes it a notch above most of the rest.
The story itself, a killer who suffers from an illness which renders her incapable of remembering actually committing the crime, which also makes it difficult for Columbo to do his job in bringing her to justice, puts this episode in a unique category. It’s the only episode (so far as I know) where the killer gets away with it, while also making her a sympathetic character that even Columbo can’t bring himself to feel bad in letting her go (seeing as how her illness is terminal).
I also love the quality and subtlety of the acting in this episode where you can see little clues here and there which show that she really can’t remember what happened, struggling to figure it out in her own mind. Also of note is the superb acting of John Payne as her dancing/producing partner. The final scenes where he starts to become convinced that Columbo is right and she actually committed the crime are so well done, as if everyone raised their game a bit to make the ending extremely moving and poignant. Even the way those scenes were filmed, with Columbo in a tuxedo in a darkened screening room, his cigar smoke creating a mist around him that would fit well in any classic film noir. This is no typical Columbo episode and I encourage all who read this to give it another look. Thanks again for creating this list!
Hi Gary, thanks for those positive words about the site! I have reviewed Forgotten Lady so if you do a search for it you’ll be able to see my detailed opinion of it.
Any old port has hands down always been my favorite. The villain carscinni and columbos interactions together are a staple of the series. Carscinni is your classic columbo murderer, smart, sucessfull and charming and has all the answers trying to throw the lt. off track.
I can agree with most others on this list, but id like to throw in a few newer episodes to the list and why i picked them
1: Any old port in a storm-
I Love the interactions between the Lt. and the murderer. They seem like they would be very close friends after meeting one another (if the villain wasnt a murderer). The ending/ gotcha moment is also one of the best and was especially gratifying and a very very well thought out reveal and plot.
2: Prescription: Murder-
This has the be on every columbo fans top 10 list. The pilot for the series give everyone a feel for our disscheveled detective we all know and love. Need i say more?
3: Murder: A self portrait-
Kicking off season 9 with a devilish slimey portrait painter who shows no respect for women unless their clothes are off; and even then doesnt give them much. The dream scenes are very well put together and give the show a newer modern feel to it while still staying humble to the shows roots. Also, the portrait at the end is f***ing great!!!
*ps anyone kno how i can get my hands on a copy of that painting??
A rare sighting to see the Lt. Without his signature outfit & rain coat. This episode is filled with tons of rare columbo moments. We see the Lt. Out of uniform, we see him pull a gun on someone, we see him having an actual physical altercation, and we see him being attacked and knocked unconscious by a villain. This would have gotten a much higher rating if the story was put together better without so many loose ends that dont seem to get tied unless you watch it twice to know what to look for
5: Ashes to ashes-
Good ol’ pat gooey is back as mr bad guy Once again, and like always he does not dissapoint.
Once again our macho men won’t admire a great actress and murderess like Ruth Gordon. Notice how all the women put “Try and Catch Me” in their top ten, like the astute Columbophile and me.
Except the several men, myself included, who actually have that episode on their list, as can be viewed below. Your comment seems to me to be judgmental, condescending, pandering and incredibly incorrect at the same time. Quite a haul for one short post..
Yeah, his comment was really juvenile and can be translated as “You don’t like my favorite episode as much as I do so I’m going to rashly judge you and insult you” (rolling my eyes).
I’m a fan of “Try and Catch Me” too. The only reason it didn’t make my list of favorites (cited below) is because I was working my way through the entire series this year (69 installments) and only have like seven to go, “Try and Catch Me” being one of them. So it might yet make my top 10-15. We’ll see.
1. Prescription: Murder
2. Now You See Him
3. Columbo Goes to College
4. Negative Reaction
5. Swan Song
6. By Dawn’s Early Light
7. Troubled Waters
8. A Stitch in Crime
9. Murder by the Book
10. Columbo Cries Wolf
Any Old Port in the Storm
A Friend in Deed
The Most Dangerous Match
Death Lends a Hand
Naming a Top 30 would be pretty easy, a Top 20 more difficult, but a Top 10 has to leave out a few great ones. But I CAN name the very best. By a whisker over half-a-dozen others, taking everything into account, it’s “A Friend in Deed”. 1) Mark Halperin isn’t just a powerful man, he’s Columbo’s boss. No other killer could have FIRED Columbo. 2) The mood is somber, not childish or playful (like many second-generation eps). Some people like a lot of silliness in Columbo; I do not. 3) Halperin isn’t just a killer; he forces his (best?) friend to be a co-conspirator. Extra point there for fiendishness. 4) Val Avery as Artie Jessup has the best supporting-character role bar none. He’s worth an episode all by himself. 5) The ep has one of the best scenes in the entire series when C. goes to Halperin’s house and confronts him with the “time-of-death” problem. 6) It’s directed masterfully by Ben Gazzara. Most people fall all over themselves praising Spielberg (because he became famous) and his episode is a good one, but it’s not his directing that makes it great. A few times you can see extra lighting focusing on the characters. It’s a minor but annoying thing. 7) The GOTCHA. It’s air-tight, iron-clad – whatever Ward Fowler would say – and NO villain was ever taken more by surprise than Mark Halperin was. I could go on, but…I won’t. Again, there are many great episodes and many great killers. “A Friend…” has tough competition. But by a razor-thin margin, it is the best of a great bunch.
I absolutely agree with you. This is my number one choice as well, for every reason you list.
For my part, I think the best ones so far are (in no particular order, I just got to Playback):
Death Lends a Hand
Suitable for Framing
A Stitch in Crime
Any Old Port
A Friend in Deed
Exercise in Fatality
Perhaps Negative Reaction
I get why episodes like Murder By the Book and Publish or Perish are popular, but to be honest, I am not that fond of them. Visually they are on a high artistic level especially the first one, but my main issue is the killer types. While Jack Cassidy is doing a great job, I’m not sure if Ken Franklin or Mr. Greanleaf really represent people I would expect to meet in real life (unlike f.e. Dr. Mayfield or Milo Janus). Their roles work on screen though.
I too, am a fan of most Columbo’s.
I was watching since they came out on Sunday Night Mystery TV (McCloud – MM & Wife) with my mom.
I tend to like the first 7 season’s but there are quite a few from 89-03 that have good episodes (or at least great moments with great “characters”)
My top 10 Episodes are:
1. Murder By The Book
2. Any Old Port In A Storm
3. Publish or Perish
4. Prescription Murder
5. Now You See Him
6. Death Lends A Hand
7. Negative Reaction
8. Try & Catch Me
9. The Most Crucial Game
10. A Stitch In Crime
Top 10 Villains:
1. Riley Greenleaf: Jack Cassidy
2. Ken Franklin: Jack Cassidy
3. Investigator Brimmer: Robert Culp
4. The Great Santini: Jack Cassidy
5. Nelson Brenner / Steinmetz: Patrick McGoohan
6. Adrian Carsini: Donald Pleasence
7. Ward Fowler: William Shatner
8. Abigail Mitchell: Ruth Gordon
9. Hugh Creighton: Dabney Coleman
10. Oscar Finch: Patrick McGoohan
some great choices I agree that even though some of the newer episodes weren’t as good they still had some great moments.
Hi BEUFF I like your top 10 episodes mine are
1) Try and catch me 1977
2) Swan Song 1974
3) Negative Reaction
4) Identity Crisis
5) The sky Bye- bye sky High IQ Murder 1977
6) Make Me a perfect Murder
7) Troubled Waters
8 ) Now you see Him
9) Death hits the Jackpot
10 ) Double Exposure
Narrowly missing out are some of yours Prescription murder , Death lends a hand , A stitch in crime and some of my own the likes of playback , By Dawns Early light , publish or perish , agenda for murder and publish or perish.
I like all the Columbo episodes even the ones that aren’t so great are still worth watching. I love this website ….. keep up the good work.
Hi. Love this website. I have a question about why A Matter of Honor is disliked by many fans. I find this a watchable episode and love Ricardo Montalban as the villain.
I did too. And he looked darn good in his toreador outfit.
Y’all need to give the latter-day series (1989-2003) some lovin’ as it shows a more aged Columbo during his last decade in the force. He’s more disheveled and his quirks are naturally more prominent.
There are several quality episodes in the revival series: “Columbo Goes to College,” “Columbo Cries Wolf,” “Uneasy Lies the Crown,” “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” “Agenda for Murder,” Columbo Likes the Nightlife,” “Death Hits the Jackpot,” “Murder with Too Many Notes,”… I could go on and on.
I have been watching the 90s episodes and am amazed how many guest stars were also on Murder, She Wrote around the same time. The actor (James Sartorius?) who plays the murdered professor in “Columbo Goes to College” pops up three or four time in MSW. I wonder why Columbo and Jessica Fletcher never teamed up; although Columbo’s rumpled style might have driven the nattily dressed Mainer nuts.
What I love about the show is that each episode is a historical document. Los Angeles seems so calm in retrospect. The clothes, the weird interior design, and the deliciously primitive technology. How I miss those rotary phones, the perfect murder weapon. Try striking someone down with your iphone.
After all the dismissal of the later run I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying them. Those 90s outfits! Simpler times……
Thanks for the input Roswell. I grow weary of the whining of the snobby “purists.” The latter-day run gives us 24 MORE episodes of Columbo to enjoy with an older, wiser, more disheveled detective and longer runtimes, which provides lots of insights or amusement (and sometimes filler). Sure, some are clunkers, but anyone who says the 70’s run didn’t have its share of dubious segments is delusional. Besides, even the clunkers have elements to appreciate.
If i were to suggest a Columbo to someone who has never seen the show, it would be any Culp or Cassidy episodes. So many great choices though so……
1. Double Exposure
2. Any Old Port
3. Murder By The Book
4. A Stitch In Crime
5. Swan Song
6. A Friend In Deed
7. Death Lends A Hand
8. Now You See Him
9. Suitable For Framing
10.Blueprint For Murder
I have Double Exposure on top too by a wafer thin margin. The sheer enjoyment of how Columbo constantly irritates and harasses the arrogant character played so superbly by Robert Culp is a joy to watch.
Just found your site …. really enjoyed it . I have always been a big fan of Columbo . I remember watching it when it was the Saturday or Sunday night movie . It brings back great childhood memories . Thank you for putting this site up . It is a hard job to pick a favorite I have watched them all many times and even the ones that are not my favorites I enjoy . Now You See Him is probably my favorite .
I think my favorite well ….. hard to pick but “Troubled Waters” is right up there for me
I am a big fan of the bye bye murder but I place try and catch me higher because of the 2 flaws at the start where as columbophuile feels the overall quality of the episode overrides these bloopers , I prefer try and catch me and negative reaction as its almost perfect also I cannot forgive drawing a line halfway on a dictionary recreating the sound of the body falling and it being left on the floor , Oliver Brandt might aswell have just left a note saying columbo I murdered bertie and signed it.
what does surprise me a little bit is the lack of identity crisis isn’t on many peoples list , I watched it again last Sunday and its a real blockbuster , Patrick mcgoohan is brilliant, it has a lot of twists and turns and memorable scenes such bas the amusement park the CIA following columbo and side-tracking him at the railway centre , the scene at nelsons Brenner’s house where they both take an afternoon off and also has its funny scenes as well , the petrol station , the ironic Chinese pulling out of the Olympics and re entering , vito scotti who plays nelsons secretary also is good , always a favourite of mine , it is a little drawn out is my only criticism what is your take on this columbophile.
i find it easier to list my least favorite of the 70s run than the best so heres a rough quide to the poorest of the 70s
1) a matter of honor
2) dagger of the mind
4)murder under glass
6)lovely but lethal
7)old fashioned murder
9)requiem for a falling star
10) the conspirators
mind over mayhem and a case of immunity narrowly miss out
Again, the accent is on the negative. What is important to know is what your values are and to be able to rationally validate them. Only knowing what you do not value is to make ‘evil’ metaphysically superior.
Scroll a bit downwards, and you will see that Mr Steve also posted his favourite 10 Columbo episodes.
In that case, he contradicted himself.
Wow my bottom 10 of the 70’s would almost mirror these 10…. though i do enjoy Dead Weight, Murder Under Glass, and Lovely But Lethal, not because they were great, just because they are still enjoyable.
All the 70s were enjoyable to a degree but there is huge contrast s in scripts , performances setting and humour and i can say the only 2 episodes i dislike were a matter of honor and last salute to the commodore . dagger of the mind was definitely silly and short fuse columbophile calls poor , where as i regard it as far from a classic
columbo didnt travel well , mexico in a matter of honor and london in dagger of the mind London were 2 lowet ranked in the 70s . however troubled waters was an exception set on a cruise ship was a gem and a very enjoyable episode.
but there s no mistaking that columbo is most at home when hes dealing with the well to do in the los angeles suburbs.
“Last Salute”, without a doubt. Pompous, irritating Lt. Columbo. Should never have been made, less watched.
I know I’m in the minority, but “The Conspirators” is one of my absolute favorites.
I appreciate your enthusiasm and desire to keep the Columbo series alive to fans! I’m a devotee of the original series (not the revived series from the 80s-90s), having loved the series since watching on broadcast Tv when it was originally aired.
So it saddens me to say that I’m afraid your number one episode (bye bye sky high etc, a completely corny title) is, unfortunately, my second-worst episode, surpassed in awfulness only by Last Salute to the Commodore (the absolute worst one, nearly unwatchable) and a bit more awful than the one with the restaurant critic villain (some good scenes, interesting method of killing, but the villain is wooden and Columbo’s attempts at Italian were surprisingly terrible. Falk clearly had no ear for foreign languages.) Columbo became too ponderous, sage-like and obviously clever in many episodes of the last season of the original series.
I still love him, however. Even the dud episodes (in my opinion) are far better than most shows of that time and miles above today’s shows.
I completely disagree with all three of your opinions. Like Columbophile, I think that The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case is one of the best episodes. I disagree with him and you that Last Salute to the Commodore is a terrible episode and I think that Murder Under Glass is a good episode. As I’ve said before, I think that anyone who expresses such extreme opinions is not displaying the correct degree of objectivity but is allowing some subjective factor to distort their view of reality. If you didn’t just express negative views of specific episodes but at least said what your favorite episodes were and why, that would at least be a more balanced approach.
Gary lad, take it easy boy. It’s a television show. You like or love a given episode, someone else doesn’t. But I do completely disagree with your complete disagreement, both objectively and subjectively, yet without the extremity of opinion, lack of contact with reality, or distortion of mental process reflected in your comment. Cheers though!
Do you also completely disagree with my opinion that this website is a good thing for keeping Columbo alive?
I have so many “favorite episodes” from the original series, it’s hard to say which single one is the best in my view. I already said I’m a Columbo devotee and love the series, or weren’t you reading carefully? Not positive enough for you? You must be pretty young to be so triggered by a “negative” comment. Learn tolerance for other’s opinions without insulting or attacking.
I am not a lad, I am not a boy, I am not young; I started watching Columbo in junior high school. Nor am I ‘triggered’, intolerant, insulting or attacking; you are projecting. If you can be specific about your three least favorite episodes but not about your favorite episodes, then I am just saying that you emphasize the negative over the positive.
Gentle reminder to all visitors to the site to please treat their fellows respectfully at all times. We’re Columbo fans, after all.
I am not being disrespectful, engaging in ad hominem attacks, I am disagreeing and expressing an opinion in a calm and objective manner. As I’ve said before, I don’t think that a true Columbo fan would say that any episode is terrible. There are episodes that I don’t think are very good, but certainly not terrible. That’s what I mean about expressing extreme opinions not showing objectivity. If you just want your or others’ opinions rubber stamped, you might as well just look in the mirror or disband the website or comments.
I am a real and true Columbo fan. And sometimes I disagree with others when they don’t like my some of my favourite episodes. But there is nothing wrong with that, because we are all different people with different tastes. And, being a real and true Columbo fan, I still think some episodes were actually terrible (for me Undercover, No time to die and most of Strange Bedfellows), because they digressed from and even damaged, in different ways, aspects of the show that I love about Columbo. So it’s because, not despite me being such a fan, that I can express some negativity as well. Objectively or subjectively, I think that shouldn’t matter at all.
There is a big difference between terrible and not very good. If it was terrible, I wouldn’t even watch it.
I understand the criticisms of “Strange Bedfellows” (the George Wendt episode), but most of these criticisms can easily be explained:
Some pan the episode on the grounds that Columbo has spoken Italian in a few previous segments (e.g. “Murder Under Glass” and “Death Hits the Jackpot”) and yet the Lieutenant claims to not know the language here, which is inconsistent. A likely explanation is that Columbo makes up a new backstory depending on the people and situation with which he’s dealing. In short, his immediate mission determines his backstory.
Another criticism is that it’s wrong for Columbo to align himself with organized crime and engage in entrapment. Yet this is indirectly addressed in the episode, although you might have to read between the lines a bit: Columbo KNOWS who the real murderer is; and apparently so does the Don. They both want justice and the Don grants Columbo the grace to acquire it legally before he does anything, which Columbo can’t do without proper evidence and a confession. So they team-up to get it one way or another. In other words, justice is Columbo’s prime objective, not being 100% legally correct. Justice is more important than rigid legal correctness.
As for entrapment, Columbo is known for resorting to these kinds of (unrealistic) shenanigans to break his opponent and obtain justice, as witnessed throughout the series (e.g. “Prescription: Murder,” “Butterfly and Shades of Grey” and “Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo).
Some segments are dogs, for sure, even if they follow the formula while the ones that deviate can understandably be criticized for not following the formula, but they should at least be commended for trying something different and, besides, they provide a more fuller picture of our beloved rumpled detective. That said, most of my least favorite segments are the ones that stray from the formula (e.g. “No Time to Die”), yet some that do are quite commendable (e.g. “Columbo Cries Wolf”).
here is my top 10
1- try and catch me
2- negative reaction
3- the bye bye sky high IQ murder
4- identity crisis
5- troubled waters
6- prescription murder
8- a stitch in crime
9- make me a perfect murder
10 – swansong
Fielding Chase demands equal time.
That’s funny because Chase was such a hilarious character. Butterfly In Shades Of Grey is probably my favorite of the later years episodes and i actually like it better than Shatners Fade In To Murder 70’s episode.
I dont particularly like butterfly in shades of grey as i enjoy the 70s episodes best , but yes shatners character is better than in fade in to murder which to be honest was a bit of dud from the 70s .
Yeah his character in Fade In To Murder just wasn’t that great…Fielding Chase though was a hilarious character….i agree on the 70’s episodes, my top 20 are all from the 70s.
Trying to do this is absolutely brutal … and fun. So much to choose from, but here goes:
1. Death Lends a Hand — You feel Columbo is almost toying with Robert Culp, slowly pushing him. Great how Culp starts the episode with the air of superiority and then it gradually evaporates. You see different aspects of Columbo, playing the clown, playing the aggressor, flattering, using. And the glasses montage is one of the best things I saw on TV when I was young. Ray Milland, too, is at the top of his game.
2. Now You See Him — Like many on here, impacted by one of the first Columbo episodes I watched and remembered (original airing). Any episode with Jack Cassidy is going to be good TV, but he to me is at his smarmiest in this one. I also have a soft spot for the murder sequence in this one, loving the way he uses his magic act as the cover.
3. Suitable for Framing — Many, not all, of the criminals look down upon Columbo at the start. But Ross Martin’s contempt is some of the best in the series. He is at his condescending best here, only one-upped by the look on his face in the final scene.
4. Make Me a Perfect Murder — Another that I remember watching when it first aired. One of the best scenes was when Columbo and Trish Van Der Vere’s character are in the elevator and she sees the silhouette of the gun. So much tension.
5. Stitch in Crime — So much for the emotionless Spock. Leonard Nimoy is, as far as I can remember, the easiest villain to dislike, even more than Robert Conrad. Cold and heartless. The way he gets his comeuppance is almost … almost … up there with Ross Martin. A couple of twists where the intended original victims lives and where both the villain and Columbo blow their fuses (though with Columbo, it’s hard to tell if he really did or if he planned it). One of the murderers that Columbo seems to genuinely not only dislike — but outright loath — makes this even better.
6. The Conspirators — “We will go this far and no farther.” Clive Revil is one of the few likable murderers in the series. He doesn’t talk down to Columbo and lays the Irish blarney on thick. In the end, when he thinks he will be cornered as the murderer, he still believes the shipment will get through and his mission still will be accomplished, which would satisfy him. Even when Columbo triumphs, Revil is good-natured about his defeat, and Columbo doesn’t mind sharing a final drink with him.
7. Murder By the Book — OK, guilty. I absolutely LOVE Jack Cassidy as a villain. So he makes my list twice. There are so many good reasons to love this episode that already have been mentioned, but I will say while Cassidy plays the smarmy villain well in Now You See Him, he is at his best all around in this episode. Great honesty from Columbo, too, as at the end he admits that he was worried he would never catch Cassidy.
8. Try and Catch Me — A terribly bittersweet episode. Ruth Gordon is, like Clive Revil in the same season, a likable killer. Even worse, she portrays a sympathetic character and had a good reason (likely) to do what she did. The banter between her and Columbo is outstanding, with the tough ending where she tells him that if he had been the one to investigate her niece’s death, this likely would never have happened. Crushing, even though Columbo gets his murderer.
9. How to Dial a Murder — So you can see that Columbo’s final season had an impact on me. While I know this one is not on many lists, I love it. Nicol Williamson is a solid villain and one of the rare ones that does not get his own hands dirty. Also overlooked is that he is one of the few to actually try and off Columbo (again, not getting his hands dirty). Animal lovers triumph and, this will sound strange, but for someone who grew up in the 70s, the quick cuts and scenes with Columbo and the dog trainer are quintessential 70s TV from the music and the feel. A lot of reasons why it has a spot on my list.
10. Etude in Black — This was difficult, as I really considered a Patrick McGoohan spot on my list. But I love the interplay between John Cassavetes and Columbo and even between Cassavetes and Blythe Danner. Columbo seems to admire Cassavetes’ character’s talent and the admiration is reciprocated (though not always appreciated). I think, because Cassavetes was so good behind the camera as well, he plays this role to the hilt. As someone who could easily do a Top 10 list of McGoohan’s Prisoner episodes or tell you which order I believe they should be aired, it’s high praise that he beats him for the last spot (Identity Crisis would be the one) in my Top 10.
I do understand the poll love for Any Port … though it would probably be 12-15 for me. As for the love for Bye-Bye Sky High IQ, Bikel is great, the plot sound, the final scene is great, but it just misses the Top 11 for me.
Just found the site. It’s outstanding. Look forward to more.
Excellent summaries, thanks very much for such a thorough post. Some cracking choices on that list, too.
Sorry turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated. But thank you! I have a good idea where I will be spending some time online.
I am happy to see someone else praise “The Conspirators.” This is very high on my list. It’s one of the few in which the killer is devoted to something beyond himself–even it is terrorism. I love the banter and exchange of limericks between him and Columbo. And the ending is first rate, with the killer being sure that his mission will succeed with the boat’s departure, only to be crushed to see the Coast Guard boats intercepting it. And the final toast between him and Columbo is first rate. I truly believe the two of them could have been great friends under other circumstances.
Absolutely spot on for the No 1….. The Bye-Bye sky high IQ murder case. For me Peter Falk and Theo Bikel give compelling performances……..and talking of endings, this has to be the finest of them all too.
I have no qualms with no’s 3 and 5-10, each of which is an absolute gem. But Double Shock doesn’t even come close for me, because Martin Landau is just average as the killer, too much attention goes to the perfect twin identification and battles, and the detective work and ending are only so-so. Not bad, but nowhere near the top. Suitable for Framing is held back by an average Ross Martin (no subtlety or nuance whatsoever), and poor acting by his cohort and his aunt. And while a great gotcha ending, the best has got to be in A Friend in Need, both for its utter shock and unexpectedness, and the satisfaction both from Columbo and Val Avery against the commissioner. As for your No. 1, as I already noted in my comment regarding the fan favorites list, it is definitely one of the greatest endings, Bikel is superb, and the direction and music is great, but not much happens for most of the show to keep you glued to the screen. Thanks for this very interesting Columbo site, which I just discovered, and for pointing out the new YouTube site, which will hopefully upload the rest and not be removed for violating any rights.
I’ll respectfully disagree on Ross Martin, but I’m in absolute agreement with your number one episode. I think Richard Kiley is the ultimate challenge for Columbo; he’s practically his boss. Yes, it’s a dark episode, but then again, the stakes in this one for Columbo are the highest than any case he’s been in before or since. As an inspector he has the law on his side; here, the power is reversed. Kiley has the authority to wipe out Columbo’s career in a moment’s notice if he stumbles. It takes the ultimate setup, with witnesses, to pull this off. I’m also very fond of Val Avery in this episode. Once again, a study in power; Artie Jessup is a nothing, he’s not even a con anymore, and “owned” by his wife. Yet Columbo treats him with the ultimate in respect, even to the point of getting his help to pull off the setup. I can’t wait till you come around and review this one!
I’m a big Columbo fan from Denmark…I just voted for my favourite – The most crucial game – which does not seem to among the most popular. I must say I have seen this episode so many times, and I love it. Culp is so brilliant, and the way he is broken down by Columbo is perfect. I do agree the above episodes are among the best. I also have one episode I consider being the worst, namely – The most dangerous match…
I like Death Lends a Hand. Columbo gathered all the information and evidence to solve the crime at hise first meeting with Brimmer and Kennicut. Ring, golf clubs, investigative private matter, rust on chrome. Culp and Milland are two of my favorite Columbo actors.
While looking for something else, I happened to find this:
I LOVE Columbo, and I am thrilled to find others who do as well, but I found “bye bye sky high” to be absolute rubbish. I have watched it half a dozen times to see if I’ve perhaps misjudged it and every time I walk away thinking, why do people like this episode so much? (No offense to anyone who does like it: Different strokes for different folks, I say!)
OK! So now I’m gonna do MY top ten list:
1. A friend indeed
2. Candidate for crime
3. How to dial murder
4. Murder under glass
5. Try and catch me
6. Exercise in fatality
7. Blueprint for murder
8. Murder by the book
9. Suitable for framing
10. Any old port in a storm
I also like a few of the “newer” episodes, “sex and the married detective” and “Murder, a self portrait”. The rest are mostly rubbish. They just aren’t the same as classic Columbo.
Could you maybe tell me why you like “Bye bye sky high” episode so much? Maybe I am just not getting something that I should be. Because seems like a bunch of folks like it!
I would say that the best episodes of Columbo are the ones that offer him the most competition, just as the best sports competitions are between evenly-matched teams. In Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case, it is intelligence vs. intelligence, if you consider passing Mensa type tests as a measure of intelligence. It is one of my favorite episodes, and to say that it is ‘rubbish’ is not very specific. I do like all of your top ten episodes, with the exception of Exercise in Fatality, which I rate as one of the worst from the original series. I would agree with the two episodes that you cited from the newer episodes as being among the better, but I would include a few more, and again I would say that ‘rubbish’ is too extreme in evaluating the rest.
I Agree also I dont rate An exercise in fatality a lot I actually think its one of the poorest of the 70s its one that gets high praise by a lot of people it has a good ending but on the whole its not a great one .
As for The bye bye sky high IQ murder it s one of the Very best .
Hi Charlotte, welcome to the site and thanks for commenting. Lots of quality in your top 10, too.
As for Bye-Bye, I’ll save my full love for the episode until I review it on here, but to summarise, I love the confrontation between Columbo and Oliver Brandt from a high IQ perspective; I think the gotcha moment is marvellous and wonderfully edited; Theo Bikel is awesome as Brandt; and it’s got 5-6 of what I consider to be the best-ever Columbo scenes packed into one episode; and has great humour throughout, giving Falk a chance to flex his excellent comedy timing. SO MUCH TO LIKE! I never tire of it, and I’ve noticed that a number of people I converse on Columbo with on a regular basis also rate this one very highly. In case you haven’t yet seen it, you can vote for your favourite Columbo episode on a poll on this site: https://columbophile.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/whats-your-ultimate-favourite-columbo-episode/
Bye-Bye Sky High currently sitting 2nd in the overall standings!
Hello Charlotte , Its a shame you dont like The Bye – Bye as it is one of the best , I dont quite rate it as highly as columbophile does but its still one of the best , I Rate Try and catch me which is my absolute favorite Negative reaction , Swan Song and Identity Crisis higher .
A lot of your top 10 episodes wouldn’t Trouble my top 10 in particular Murder Under Glass which is one of the poorest from the 70s run , Also Candidate for crime and an exercise in fatality I am not a big fan of , also any old port in a storm I dont particularly enjoy either , I do however like all the others especially suitable for framing .
As for the new one s Agenda for murder , Death hits the Jackpot and columbo goes to college and how anyone likes Murder a Self portrait I do not know as it was Dross.