Season 1 of Columbo left viewers knocked for six with its heady combo of lovable central character, wicked high society bad guys and sumptuous production values.
Murder by the Book and Death Lends a Hand are two of the best TV episodes ever made. But could the quality be maintained in the Season’s third instalment? We’re turning back the clock to 27 October 1971, when Dead Weight first aired. Does it sink or swim? Let’s find out!
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Major General Martin Hollister: Eddie Albert
Helen Stewart: Suzanne Pleshette
Mrs Walters: Kate Reid
Burt: Timothy Carey
Officer Sanchez: Ron Castro
Colonel Dutton: John Kerr
Harry Barnes: Val Avery
Directed by: Jack Smight
Written by: John T Dugan
Score by: Gil Melle
Columbo Dead Weight – Episode synopsis
While boating with her overbearing mother, troubled divorcee Helen Stewart distantly witnesses Major General Martin Hollister gun down lily-livered Colonel Dutton in cold blood through the window of his dockside mansion.
Helen reports the crime to the police, and Lieutenant Columbo is sent to investigate. There’s a certain level of reluctance, though, because General Hollister is a bona fide war hero, whose exploits with his legendary pearl-handled Colt 45 in Korea helped make him a household name.
Naturally, Hollister is guilty as sin, having dispatched the Colonel with that favourite weapon for fear of his shady business dealings being exposed. Before Columbo arrives on the scene, Dutton’s body has been hidden behind a secret revolving bookcase (yesssss!), and the Lieutenant finds the General doing nothing more sinister than directing the toils of some bungling cadets, who are packing a case with his war memorabilia for a new exhibition in his honour.
After a decent nosy around – where he finds out that the General’s legendary gun was supposedly stolen from him years before, leaving only a duplicate to donate to the exhibition – Columbo seems satisfied that nothing is amiss and leaves the General to prepare for a celebratory dinner.
Alone again, the General finds out the whereabouts of Mrs Stewart through the loose-lipped boat hire owner (Columbo regular Val Avery in his first appearance). He then shows up on her doorstep and invites her to watch the 11 o’clock news that evening in the hope that a report on his exhibition and war heroics will clear his name. So begins a sham romance where Hollister takes advantage of Helen’s low self-esteem to turn her to his way of thinking, and to forget about the crime she witnessed.
Although his plotting works on Helen, it has the opposite affect on Lieutenant Columbo. The detective, who had little reason to suspect Hollister initially, is wary of his motives in taking such an interest in the star witness. Columbo attempts to lead Helen back to her initial suspicions, but her lonely heart is leading her head.
Even the reappearance of the Colonel’s body off the LA coast (Hollister ditched the corpse off his boat after the celebratory dinner) doesn’t sway her. She’s now firmly on the General’s side, leaving Columbo unable to rely on his one key witness, even as he builds the rest of the case. His chances of securing a conviction seem all at sea.
It’s a casual conversation with war veteran – and chilli purveyor – Burt, that gives Columbo the inspiration he needs. Burt just can’t get rid of his old war memorabilia. It’s too important to him. Columbo makes the jump to Hollister’s pearl-handled Colt 45. The General places great importance on his war mementoes. There’s no way he’d let anyone get hold of that gun. Ergo, the so-called duplicate must be the real thing!
Columbo arranges to meet Helen at the Hollister Exhibit, a party which the General predictably gatecrashes. The Lieutenant reveals that he’s already had the ‘duplicate’ gun run through ballistics, and it’s the same one used to shoot Colonel Dutton. The general’s attachment to his beloved gun has been his undoing. Most normal people would have thrown it away after the killing. The General couldn’t bring himself to part with it.
Bested in battle for the first time, Hollister apologies to Helen and submits to the long arm of the law. Columbo, meanwhile, takes Helen’s arm and leads her out of the exhibition to an uncertain future as credits roll…
Dead Weight‘s best moment: face-off at the jetty
A variation on the usual “we both know I did it, but you’ll never prove it, so CLEAR ORF” chit-chat so familiar to keen viewers, Dead Weight features a fine exchange between Hollister and Columbo on the jetty by the General’s house.
Returning from an early morning outing on his boat, The Iron Horseman, Hollister finds Columbo lying in wait for him. On paper he’s just having a jolly fishing jaunt. In reality he wants to unsettle the General with a series of questions. A grizzled war veteran isn’t likely to be spooked by such antics, and so it proves as Hollister dishes out some advice laced with double meaning. “Find a different spot, or use a different bait. Otherwise you’re not going to catch anything, Lieutenant.”
It’s a good example of the episode’s sharp script, and an exchange even the Lieutenant seems to enjoy. To put it in Sherlockian terms, the game is afoot!
My opinion on Dead Weight
In any season of a quality TV show, it’s inevitable that some episodes will stand the test of time less favourably than others. That’s the case with Dead Weight. It’s a perfectly good piece of television, but when compared to some of the other gems Columbo Season 1 threw at us, it struggles to stay afloat.
“Having a witness to the crime adds a delicious twist to proceedings.”
Its chief shortcomings are a comparatively uninteresting adversary (sorry, Eddie Albert fans) and a weak central clue that brings about his downfall. These off-set a fine script and some excellent performances by the supporting cast. Having a witness to the crime also adds a delicious twist to proceedings.
Interestingly, Dead Weight was filmed at the height of the tensions between Peter Falk and Universal. The actor felt the studio was trying to renege on an agreement to let him direct an episode and was in combative mood. Determined to win the power play, Falk stormed off set and even got a Doctor’s note to explain his absence. Universal threatened to sue Falk, who returned to the set to find that as much as possible had been filmed in his absence. Word on the street is that the crew even refused to re-shoot scenes with Falk that they had filmed with a stand-in during his absence.
Such a hard-line approach to negotiations paid off for Falk in the long-run, but his antics irked his fellow actors, as Suzanne Pleshette fascinatingly describes below.
The difficulties this scenario posed the cast and crew may be reflected – if only to the discerning viewer – in the lack of rapport between Columbo and the other leads in Dead Weight. For the first time the scenes between detective and suspect don’t sizzle. There’s some decent interplay between Columbo and Hollister, but the chemistry doesn’t match what we’ve seen before – very likely because of Falk’s studio feuding.
This tension infiltrates the Falk/Pleshette scenes, too. The two were great friends before filming the episode but she was not amused by his actions. As a result, they seem oddly at arm’s length from one another throughout. To an extent, that’s down to the Helen Stewart doubting character but the on-set frostiness must surely have contributed.
“What we don’t get here is a killer with the charisma of Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp.”
On the flipside, Falk’s antics seem to have had a positive impact on the chemistry between Albert and Pleshette. Their irritation at the lead man can’t have failed to give them a greater bond as actors. Resultantly, the relationship between their characters seems genuine. Some may disagree but I dare say Hollister, regardless of his initial selfish motives, was genuinely growing fond of Helen and was sorry to bring her pain at the episode’s climax.
Sadly, what we don’t get here is a killer with the charisma of Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp. Following on the heels of Murder by the Book and Death Lends a Hand was always going to be a tall order, but the Hollister portrayal is, well, a little dull. He never convinces as the gung-ho war leader, and the character traits that lead to his downfall – his alleged vanity and ego that prevent him from ridding himself of the murder weapon – rarely come across in his performance (giant portrait on his home wall notwithstanding).
Worse still, Hollister’s nowhere near cold enough. As a man used to maintaining his nerve in the heat of battle, he ought to be icy as the Arctic. We hardly see that. Perhaps Albert was too nice a guy in real life to convince as a stone-cold killer? I can’t help thinking that a really frosty baddie could have provided a more dangerous element and helped elevate the episode a notch or two.
Pleshette, though, is excellent and very much the beating heart of the episode. She puts in one of the series’ best supporting performances and succeeds in making Helen much more interesting than Hollister. Browbeaten and bullied by her gin-soaked mother (Kate Reid on fine form), she’s emotionally fragile and her self-esteem is in dire need of a pick-me-up.
All this makes her falling for the General’s charms, her desperation to be respected and loved, seem believable – even if she did believe she witnessed a killing. There’s no happy ending for Helen and we can only wonder what the future holds in store for her after she witnesses another man in her life let her down.
While the performances are all well and good, it’s the quality of the mystery that separates the great Columbos from the good and unfortunately Dead Weight is a bit of a let-down. The central clue regarding the General’s Colt 45 is poorly conceived and hopelessly executed, leading to a desperately disappointing (not to mention confusing) gotcha scene.
Columbo comments that the pearl-handled gun was not amongst the weapons he spotted in a crate of items at the General’s house bound for the exhibition at the military institute. Hollister spins some yarn about how he was robbed of the gun in the Korean War and that the institute had a duplicate made – but it’s a story that makes no sense at all.
If there was a duplicate made by the institute, why was it in the General’s possession at all? If it wasn’t in his possession, how did he manage to switch the duplicate with the murder weapon after the killing? More tellingly, why claim to have ever lost it in the first place? The only reason Hollister would logically have claimed to have lost the gun was if he knew he was going to use it for a murder at some point in the future and would therefore need a duplicate to be in existence to divert suspicion away from himself.
It’s bewildering stuff that suggests vague writing around an idea that was never fully fleshed out before filming began. The issue is exacerbated by the dodgy police work that goes hand in hand with this case. If there was any suspicion that Hollister might have been involved in a murder, it would have been simple to have every gun at the exhibition immediately tested to see if it had recently been fired. The Colt would have been impounded and as soon as Dutton’s body was found and the bullet matched to the gun, the case would have been over regardless of the nonsense surrounding the duplicate. Grrrrrr…
If it sounds like I hate Dead Weight, fear not! There is a gulf at its heart surrounding the central clue, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The typical Columbo cat-and-mouse act between detective and quarry becomes a three-way game here as both men attempt to ‘woo’ Helen round to their way of thinking – quite literally in Hollister’s case. It’s a new element to the show and it keeps our interest especially when Helen, who was so adamant about what she saw, starts to backtrack as she warms to the General’s intentions.
I’ve alluded to the quality of the script on a couple of occasions already, and there are some real gems tucked away within it that raise a smile. As well as the ‘best moment’ outlined above, there’s a fun scene on board the General’s yacht, as Hollister takes delight in putting his boat through its paces – much to a seasick Columbo’s dismay.
“A man with the name of Columbo, shouldn’t he be more at home on a boat?” asks Hollister. “Must have been another branch of the family,” responds the green-gilled Lieutenant.
Pleshette also delivers one of the best Columbo put-downs of all. Affronted by the Lieutenant disparaging the General’s vanity over the cut of his army uniforms, she hits back. “Some men, Lieutenant, do not want to look like an unmade bed.” How do you like those apples, Columbo?
We get a nice glimpse of Columbo bending the rules to gain a tactical advantage, too. When he’s first called in to investigate, Columbo asks uniformed officer Sanchez to check the General’s yacht for any sign of a body. “But Lieutenant, I don’t have a warrant,” Sanchez replies. “Well, I’ll ask the general for permission,” says Columbo slyly. “If he doesn’t give it, then I’ll get a warrant. In the meantime, check it out.”
It’s a lower-level incident than the evidence planting we saw in Death Lends a Hand but is another clear indicator of Columbo’s willingness to do what it takes to solve a case – even if it potentially leaves him on shaky moral ground. It’s a trait that will remain with him throughout his long TV career.
Elsewhere it’s good without being great. The directing is A-OK, but lacking any particularly memorable set pieces or innovation. There are some lovely highlights on the Gil Melle score (including the main theme, featuring waves and sea gull calls), but other elements were a straight lift from Death Lends a Hand. Like the whole episode, it’s a little hit and miss.
But even if Dead Weight is Columbo not firing on all cyclinders, it still delivers enough goods to keep its head above water. And that’s the power of 70s’ Columbo. Even the lesser episodes are still better than most TV ever made…
Did you know?
Although Columbo’s first name is never revealed in the series, a close up of his name badge in this episode appears to suggest it’s Frank. See for yourself…
In one of the draft scripts of an unnamed Season 1 episode, one writer had given Columbo a first name. Show creators Dick Levinson and Bill Link insisted it was cut out, but if Dead Weight was the episode, it could explain why the name on the badge is what it is. The same badge can be seen in A Matter of Honor in Season 5, and the name ‘Frank Columbo’ also shows up on an evidence bag in 1989’s Grand Deceptions, adding weight to the argument.
However, Falk, Levinson and Link always insisted that Columbo had no known first name, leaving the viewer – as with so many elements of the mysterious Lieutenant’s actual life – to make up their own mind.
How I rate ’em so far
Like a weighed-down corpse, Dead Weight plummets to the bottom of the current standings – more a statement of the stellar quality of all that has preceded it. Read previous reviews by clicking the links below.
Where does Dead Weight rank in your list of favourites? Vote for your number one episode in the Columbo best episode poll here.
I’ll be back with a review of Suitable for Framing in a few weeks’ time. Spoiler alert: it’s one of my ultimate favourite episodes!
Read my thoughts on the 5 best moments from Dead Weight here.
If Helen is anything like Suzanne Pleshette’s character Emily Hartley, then Columbo’s hints about his niece and all her kids are wasted, since Emily didn’t have any. (A pretty rare thing for a wife or husband on a sitcom that lasts six seasons).
Columbo also planted evidence in a way in “Any Old Port in a Storm.”
When did he do that?
This could have been a much better episode had they cast someone else as the General. I love Edie Albert but he just wasn’t convincing in this role.
I am not a huge fan of the episode. It isn’t bad or anything tho.
I am former military so when I watch any TV show that involves the military, my attention is heightened because I know that mistakes will be made.
1) the dress jacket that Columbo sees with a lot of ribbons on it, he says there is a lot of “fruit salad”. Look carefully, it is the same set of ribbons twice.
2) I also get a laugh when Columbo was looking in the crate of donations to the institute. Hollister says “and as you can see, all firing pins are removed”. I am no expert but firing pins cannot be seen without taking the weapon apart. You can’t just look down the barrel.
3) and I am amazed at how Columbo buys the “i was wearing my bathrobe had then tried my uniform on and fell while holding my pistol” story from hollister. Benefit of the doubt is one thing but a story that doesn’t fit is another.
4) i always shrug when the guy running the boat shop just gives out someone’s address like that. I am sure that wasn’t a worry back then.
My “cringe” moment in that scene is Columbo leaning over the uniforms holding that cigar. The folds of the uniforms should be the least of General Hollister’s worries.
A bit of a middling episode in a way. I thought the “romance” which developed between the killer and witness felt genuine and convincing. Not sure this plot point was used again. Bumping off potential witnesses yes, falling in love with them, no.
What I can’t understand is why the general left the bullet in the body. Given that it inextricably tied him to the murder via his iconic weapon (duplicate or not), I’m sure a field general would have no qualms in digging around a dead body to retrieve it.
I’ve noticed there are lots of characters named Frank throughout the series. Maybe to imply Columbo’s first name…
Being a Frank myself, I noticed that as well. Not sure how many times tho. I recently watched criminal minds series, the name Frank shows up there quite often as well.
You can see Mrs Melville books on Eddie Albert’s bookcase
That’s cool! I’ll have to look for that next time I watch that episode
Whatever one thinks of this episode – the intro music by Gil Mellé is incredible!
I sometimes listen to it without watching the episode, and it is sublime … so atmospheric and melancholic and cool at the same time!
I must admit, though: I would rather watch “Dead Weight” many times before almost all post Season 4 episodes, despite its shortcomings. I guess I am very old school when it comes to Columbo episodes …
The opening music really is wonderful.
Just watched this one. I thought it was excellent but not in the Top 10. According to this website’s classification, I would put it in the “B” tier.
Due to the plot, I wouldn’t have been able to tell from the acting that there had been a dispute between Falk and the studio. Those points made, there were flaws in the story and Eddie Albert didn’t provide quite the performance we’ve seen from Culp and Cassidy.
Of the episodes I’ve watched over the past week or two, I’d put this episode on tier with “By Dawn’s Early Light,” slightly above “The Conspirators,” and apart from the excellent scene in the cooking show, well above “Double Shock”.
There would have been blood all over Albert’s house after a fatal shooting. Would have been impossible to get this out so quickly.
Victims didn’t bleed nearly as much in those days as they do now, and they were easily killed by one strike of a relatively small blunt object.
It was also easier to despatch the bad guys by sneaking up on them and giving them a quick karate chop to the back of the neck.
I really can’t grasp the so called “flaw” about the duplicate pistol.
We see around minute 40 (where Columbo is fishing and then inquiring about the pearl-handled revolver) that the General tells him it was lost (stolen) during he was in hospital in Korea. Columbo takes that as granted and asks if the museum has to do its exhibit without the famous gun. At this point, the General hesitates for a moment – seemingly caught – and comes up with the story of the duplicate. (Recall Columbo saying just a minute before that the General has a inborn talent for inventorism!) It seems that at this very moment, Hollister realizes that the made-up theft story
needs another made-up duplicate story for Columbo.
NOW: It comes out *crystal clear* from the end that there has never (!) been a duplicate of the pistol. So the true story went like this (and you can get all of this from the showdown in the museum around minute 67-70):
General Hollister took always very good care of his memorable pearl-handled gun, kept it polished, oiled and loaded (!). At the fateful day, Colonel Dutton became a threat to his false businesses and his enormous reputation. So he used the famous pistol for the murder. (We even see in minute 5-6 how the General takes out something from the box – it must have been the original pearl pistol was already packed into the crate for the museum.)
Now after the murder Hollister has a problem, because ballistic investigations will show that Dutton was killed by this very gun – and surely only the General himself could have given the shot from his own and loved gimmick pistol! So first he tries to get rid of the body of Dutton – unfortunately it came to light again, including the bullet. At this point, any other guy would also now have get rid of the weapon because it would be way too dangerous to keep it.
But not so the General – it meant too much to him, he was too proud of it. So he made up the story about the theft and about the duplicate. This would explain for Columbo why the pistol was not in the box shipping to the museum AND it would also keep police away from investigating the pistol in the museum. Again, there has never been a theft neither a duplicate – Columbo should just believe that the original pistol has not been in the General’s possession for many years, so he could never possibly have made the shot killing Dutton. And of course, neither the duplicate made by the museum would have ever been in Hollister’s possession – which again draws attention away from him/it. Got it? It’s just a story made up by the General for the only sake to diffuse Columbo’s mind away from him and his pistol.
So there is absolutely no need to question the sense of the General making a duplicate of the pistol in advance (foreseeing a murder) or question how Hollister came into possession of the duplicate. Hollister never intended to loose or duplicate the pistol – and indeed never did it!
The only problem I maybe can see is that the police could have very easily uncovered the lie by just asking the museum if there really was a duplicate made. This is IMHO a bit of a slight weakness of the plot – but I wouldn’t call it a flaw. If you call this dodgy police work straight away, you completely forget about the immense reputation of the General, the paperwork needed for inspecting a whole exhibit of weapons, and no proof that there has been a shooting in the General’s house except the withdrawn testimonial of Mrs. Stewart.
Enough for the duplicate confusion. Did I miss something?
Just watched this episode for the first time in years. Fairly entertaining but after following Murder By The Book and Death Lends a Hand, it seems to get lost. Also it looked like Albert was old enough to be Pleshettes father. I checked, he was 65 in this and she was 34. Timothy Carey did a great job as Bert in this.
Yeah, the General would have been suited for Helen’s mother but unfortunately she was an easily manipulated spinster taken in by an ancient fart old enough to be her grandfather.
This is my main complaint about the episode, aside from a somewhat thin mystery and clues. While rewatching this episode again yesterday, I guessed there was a 25-30 year age difference and it looks like I was on the mark, maybe even a little generous! I find this to be hard to overlook, because surely Helen – even in her emotional state – would have considered his age when thinking through the General’s ulterior motives to romance her, which should have caused her to be more skeptical about the whole thing.
ENTERTAINMENT: 5 out of 5
The episode is fairly innovative compared to others, and
thus diverting. General Hollister is in the same position as
Ken Franklin from Murder by the Book in dealing with a
living witness, but reacts differently. He wines and dines
her, changing her testimony, although the damage is still
done. The initial unknown identity of the victim is another
novel element, but it is too easily revealed. In the end, it
is Columbo’s tracking down of the mystery murder weapon
that does Hollister in. Good acting all around from the four
CLUES LEADING COLUMBO TO THE KILLER: 2 out of 2.5
In a sense there is only the eyewitness, whose testimony
is either believed, or it isn’t. However most of the corroborating
evidence comes from Hollister himself, after he is caught in
some pretty stupid fabrications. For instance, his attempt to
explain the eyewitness testimony by saying he was in uniform
and in a bath robe at different times. Deduction of 0.5 for the
obvious inanity of this clue, which attempts to explain the sighting
while refuting it. Also Hollister’s getting the witness to change
her testimony, and dangling his guilt in Columbo’s face, only
serve to provide more clues.
FINAL GOTCHA: 2.0 out of 2.5
While a little confusing, from Hollister’s actions, it is clear
enough that the pistol came from the war chest he was sending
to the institute. It is also apparent that his famous gun was not in there
when Columbo inspects it. Columbo’s gotcha is that he simply disbelieves
the General’s story about it being lost. Hardly ingenious on his part,
an essential element. But he has correctly deduced that the General’s
pride is his downfall. Still, a deduction of 0.5 for Hollister not sticking to
this story, and no matter what his hubris, submitting the incriminating
weapon anyway, against all logic given that the institute never duplicated
FINAL RATING: 9 out of 10
Not a bad episode at all. Just not up there with most of the classic
episodes at 9.5 or better
From the low-rated episodes, this is one of my favourites. Apart from the seaside location, which gives it a refreshing feeling, there’s the wonderful pairing of Albert and Pleshette in a most interesting change of pace plot-wise. This particular aspect makes this entry for me as one can sense the burgeoning of feelings between these two opposite characters: the confident, murderous general and the vulnerable, struggling Helen, superbly played by Pleshette.
I thought the pair’s situation
was quite interesting. I just
never got what Hollister was after, since
Helen was already on record as an eye-
witness. As if he believed he could halt the
murder investigation in its tracks, if he got
her to change her mind. He’s not just proud,
but dense as well.
I love the video with Suzanne Pleshette posted here – a real frank, inside view. Knowing what she reveals, I went back through the episode, and it’s fun to notice where Falk’s double shows up. I think we see his face in one shot on the boat, partly obscured by a pole…And I noticed that in the denouement, Peter Falk and Eddie Albert never appear in a shot together. Their scenes were clearly filmed entirely separately. We only see Columbo the double from behind in shots where they are together. No wonder Eddie Albert was annoyed! And it’s the double who walks Pleshette out of the museum…These are things I never would have noticed without the video…Thanks so much for including it!
David, I caught Dead Weight last night on MeTV and spent the entire time looking for Columbo’s double. I’ve never been a fan of this particular episode so it was more fun trying to spot the Fake Shemp than the storyline itself! And yes, it was quite obvious that it wasn’t Falk when he confronted Eddie Albert in the museum. It was clever the way they edited the scene but even from behind one could tell it really wasn’t our favorite rumpled detective. I wonder where Falk was that day?
Enjoying himself I hope….Did you see the face behind the pole I mentioned? I’m not 100% sure if it’s the double, but it looks only a bit like Falk, as you might expect from a double!
We too watched this just last night. Now we’ll have to go back and look for all of this body double business! Luckily it’s playing for free on IMBD currently. In the US, at least.
Watching “Forgotten Lady” on MeTV and just spotted another Fake Shemp, I mean Fake Columbo. The scene in question is when he literally goes out on a tree limb outside of Janet Leigh’s house. Clearly it’s a stunt double being shot from behind but it what makes it painfully obvious is when he kicks at his dog. The real Columbo wouldn’t have done such a stupid act and it just comes across as incredibly lame.
I haven’t seen that episode yet, but I’ll try to remember to look for that.
i am gonna check that out …….;;;i mean the double stand in
It gets back to what Columbophile
was saying. The lack of chemistry
between Columbo and the leads. Even if you weren’t
aware of the double – I certainly wasn’t – those scenes
were missing a lot, just by not having the real Falk.
Not just because of the tensions between him and the
I was a girl in high school when Dead Weight came out, also in Ransom for a Dead Man. I love these for the reminder of the psychological attitudes of the times, and I have a rueful laugh about the absurdity. Also, it comes home to me how Columbo is putting Pleshette in grave danger by trying to force her to admit to herself that she saw the shooting, while all three are on Hollister’s yacht and she is about to go on an overnight with Hollister–I wondered if he was trying to get her not to go out of worry, or just take advantage of a pressure situation. Either way, it gives me a queasy stomach. Also, Pleshette’s character is a creative sort–they never have it easy.
I have the boxed set, and I often start watching from the beginning and watch “the lab boys” and all the male sergeants begin to include women. One thing I always liked was that there was ethnic and racial integration almost from the beginning. Columbo, in an uncertain world, always relaxes and reassures me that he will bring the culprit to justice, whoever he is. My favorite part of Dead Weight is when Pleshette is talking to Castro, and he says “Do you know who lives in that house??” And she says “Well, no. Why, does it matter?” LOL!
Thanks, I love your site.
I just started watching Columbo, and I really liked this episode! Eddie Albert was excellent IMO. Great music, too courtesy of the awesome Gil Melle. I love the interplay between Falk and the other actors in this series so far.
I’m in the minority here but I like it, too. Suzanne is very touching in portraying a lonely woman being rushed by an important man.
Can someone help me with a small detail. Early on, Eddie Albert leaves his home in a big boat of a car. It’s night and we see it has THREE tail lights arranged horizontally across the rear of the car. This is unusual and I have been searching online to no avail. Anyone know the make and model of this car?
According to IMCDb, it’s a 1971 Ford LTD. Good looking car, it stood out to me too when I was watching! https://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_66104-Ford-LTD-1971.html
What you meant, Alfrede, was, “….the reminder of the psychological attitudes of the times, as ceaselessly portrayed by the corrupt, opportunistic, and intentionally-harmful and -destructive (even way back then) media and Hollywood studios.”
Not one of my favourites (though I could watch Ms Pleshette all day) but I adore the music, particularly the theme that runs under the opening credits.
Yes, the tune with the seagulls’ cries worked into it is a beauty!
And where was the blood on the wrapped body? Where were the blood spatters in the General’s living room? Blood from a close-up fatal shot would have been everywhere!
There never seems to be any blood after these murders.
Hollister had lots of time to clean up
the mess. The police waited hours
for Columbo to show up, before he was able
to inspect the crime scene.
Speaking of which, the swivelling section of
wall, on which the corpse was hung, was a bit
much. What reason would the General have had
to build such an addition?
How could there not be a pool of blood and a bullet hole in the door when Columbo arrives at General Hollister’s home? From that point on I was turned off.
Our reviewer is too tough on this episode, I think:)
Dead Weight was compelling for me; and the gradual turning of the lovely Pleshette character from eye-witness into a General Hollister ally was a nice touch.
But that pearl-handled gun is a better ‘gotcha clue’ than our reviewer appreciates.
It really goes to the core of Hollister’s vanity and hubris that his signature flashy pistol would re-appear in the exhibition – even if he’d understandably kept the murder weapon out of sight in the few days following the murder.
And that red herring about it being a replica?
While of course it is eventually unconvincing to us, it was a jolly good reply from the general on the spur of the moment. It did actually explain why the famous “gimmick” of his public image – as he calls it – was nowhere to be seen in Columbo’s visits to the luxury home (which itself rather resembled an exhibition). As a duplicate – and let’s go with the idea for a moment – it would have been of much less interest to him than it might be to others.
And that would explain (rather elegantly, in fact) why Columbo could expect to see the cowboy gun at the exhibit… and also why he needn’t bother with checking it out, as it was never worthy of being close-at-hand or loaded in Hollister’s mansion.
As a ‘gotcha clue’ maybe it only fails in the complexity *we* face in appreciating it?
It was very interesting to hear of the tensions on the set, but in my humble opinion professionalism triumphed, and overall the episode eventuated as quite a strong one!
I believe the lack of blood in all early Columbos was a standards and practices rule that helped the writers and producers. They weren’t making a police procedural, they were filming Columbos relationship with the killer. Just one more thing, there is no moral ambiguity in Death Lends a Hand. Tricking or lying to a suspect to get a confession is standard operating procedure. Planting evidence and lying in court is a crime. Love Columbophile!
In my eyes, it tarnishes Peter Falk’s reputation to learn that he placed his ego above producing the best possible episode, and that he cared so little for his co-stars that he literally walked out on them. Eddie Albert was right, and I’m glad that he told Peter what he thought of him.
Business is business
Unfortunately, you never hear about the dirty things studios do to actors. Peter Falk using leverage to get paid his fair value was publicized. Look into James Garner’s fights on Rockford Files to get treated fairly. If the other actors on Dead Weight chose mgmt’s side, so what.
The flawless in this episode are likely because of the troubled production, with Peter Falk not showing up for work as part of his dispute with Universal and not getting along with the other principal actors. TV episodes have a very tight shooting schedule compared to theatrical releases, often as short as six days for an hour-long show at that time.
I don’t know Columbo’s production schedule but as a “TV movie” to run 90 minutes including commercials would be around 18-20 days.That’s still a very tight schedule, shooting about 5 minutes of footage for use in the final product. (Films shoot 1 minute a day). So if there’s any kind of problem between actors, director, studio, etc., as there was here, it’s going to show on the screen.
Interesting fact about Eddie Albert playing a war hero: he was a decorated veteran of the invasion of Tarawa in WWII, as a landing ship commander he was awarded a Bronze Star for saving some 70 Marines under heavy fire. His handling of that yacht is genuine.
In the last season or two of “The A-Team,” George Peppard became so difficult to work with that the other cast members didn’t want to be in the same room with him. So wherever possible the scenes with Hannibal were filmed separately from the scenes with the rest of the A-Team. As you watch the later episodes it’s fun to try to spot where Peppard was filmed alone but made to appear as if he was with the group. For example, in theory, the entire A-Team is in the van, but you only see Hannibal in close-ups, never in a group shot with the rest of the team.
Suzanne Pleshette’s story about the director telling Peter Falk, “Sorry, we finished it without you. We’re not doing it again” reminds me of what happened to Suzanne Somers when she began to exercise more clout than her “Three’s Company” coworkers could put up with. They reduced her role in the show to short phone calls at the end of the episodes and filmed it separately, not with the whole cast.
The network also declared the Chrissy snort-laugh to be their intellectual property. Thank goodness they didn’t do that to Peter Falk with his Columbo mannerisms.
I can understand Falk using the only leverage he had to get the network to honour its promises to him. I can also understand how it hurt his costars. The postmortem on this should be to figure out what could have been done differently, for future reference. Should he have gotten the cast and crew together before his stunt and checked with all of them to make sure it wasn’t going to cause huge problems for them? Or would they have then been obligated to say in their depositions that they knew he was doing this on purpose?
Suzanne Somers just got too big for her own britches. It was pretty pathetic how her character basically fell apart on Three’s Company and she later blamed the fiasco on her husband Alan Hamel. But this was actually quite common in Hollywood, remember when Redd Foxx disappeared from Sanford and Son and was replaced by Grady for a few episodes?
Interesting insights there about Peppers and Somers, dude. Thanks!
As much as I hated seeing Chrissy go, at least we eventually got Terry!!
Peppers??! I wrote Peppard! Stupid auto-correct, lol.
Back to back columbo episodes have been shown in the UK every sunday on 5 USA in the UK for a good few months now, Dead Weight being one of them. However I notice they always cut the scene where Hollister retrieves the body of his victim from behind a wall panel which if you were a new audience would have to assume he is disposing of the body when he takes the boat out. Perhaps its a bit too graphic for a Sunday afternoon – fair enough – but then along comes Columbo Cries Wolf and ‘gotcha’. Just saying 🙂
I am glad some one else picked up on this scene being cut , I also watched it on 5USA a previous sunday despite it being one of my least favourite episodes , ( I actually consider it a bit of a comparative dud ) but that body behind the wall is one of the better moments .
I’ve just watched another showing on 5USA and the missing body had me puzzled until your explanation.
Its fun to see your favorite shows streamed or on DVD and see those moments/scenes you began you to think you might have imagined!
Suzanne Pleshette started off very strong. She knew what she saw, and she was not going to be deterred from being certain what she saw.
When Eddie Albert showed up at her door, she ought to have called Columbo AT ONCE, but somehow, did not.
After this, I found it hard to take her seriously. I just could not believe her biological clock was distracting her so much that she could tell herself this man is a murderer, and that she had seen him do it with her own eyes.
The bit about the duplicate gun seems so unnecessary to me. I saw where one comment is to explain how he could part with the memento; it was not the original.
Okay. So wouldn’t the General have told the museum that they couldn’t have it? It wasn’t in the box Columbo inspected, and the Gen. implies that a copy has already been sent to the exhibit, or has been made by the museum.
But . . . how did the General know to have this conversation with the museum before the murder took place? It was completely unplanned (I thought, anyway). So I see it as a huge flaw in the story.
It was interesting to see the info you had about the conflict between Falk and Universal. The interview with Pleshette was especially interesting!
You are right. But the biggest problem with this episode is the total lack of the victim’s blood all over the General’s living room. You hit a man with one fatal pistol shot at close range and there would be blood everywhere. And human blood does not clean up very well. Yet moments later when the cop shows up, there is no sign of any blood.
I watched dead weight yesterday and i dont rate this episode at all much , the lack of blood is one problem , also you dont even see the shooting , this also happened in blueprint for murder but blueprint is oceans better than this , Cp rates Mrs stewarts character very much , nice looking decent acting but thats about it , also you wouldn’t be able to see a shooting from the distance they were at on the boat , helens mother character is very irritating general holister is very dull t,he scene on the yacht is ok not great , the central clue is weak and i dont find the yarn at the jetty about finding a different spot to fish in or using a different bait in the least bit funny , I like a matter of honor better than this which i usent to rate highly but watched it in full last week and quite liked it , this im afraid is one of the forgettable ones of the seventies along with Old fashioned murder wich is even more flat .
My biggest problem with this episode is; There is no way she could have seen anything in the Colonel’s house from that far out in the bay. That being said I love all Columbo episodes.
I agree, it’s a pretty shaky premise. I’m sure they included the scene when the General asks Helen Stewart to look at his house windows from his boat when the sun’s shining on them to address that very viewer concern.
Thank you! It made no sense, and that was the what the whole case was riding on. Even if she could see him by the window, she’d never have been able to see someone across the room from him, especially when you also consider the room is above the level of the water.
I tend to agree with that. Watching it, I was trying to figure out how she could have seen it and been so sure. In the boat, they were below the level of the house to begin with. She might have been able to see Hollister if he was close enough to the window, but hardly the victim across the room. Even so, I did enjoy this episode.
It wasn’t just her biological clock, it was also her achingly low self esteem. Everyone around her had treated her so terrible all her life, she was ripe for someone manipulative to take advantage of her.
Yesterday night, I viewed an umptieth time “Dead Weight”. And the days before I viewed, an umptieth time too, “Dead Lends a Hand”, “Murder by the Book” and “Ransom for a Dead Man”. (I also viewed “Prescription: Murder”, but that’s more a stage-play than a movie).
The difference between “Dead Weight” and the others is immeasurable. Not only the plot is poorer and the actors are flatter (unless Suzanne Pleshette as Helen Stewart), but there is not any beauty in the way it’s filmed. Although “Dead Weight” plays in a site or a landscape with great opportunities (a small harbour on the sea), the whole episode is filmed in a dull way (no beautiful light, small and short perspectives, no rhythm). Compare to the wide and beautiful land- and townscapes in “Murder by the Book” and “Ransom for a Dead Man” (or, which I didn’t mention above, “Short Fuse”). Same observation for the inside-takes: compare the garage of “Dead Lends a Hand” or the shop of Lily La Sanka (“Murder by the Book”) with the restaurant or home-scenes in “Dead Weight”. And, above all things, compare the murder-scenes, especially of “Ransom” and “Dead Lends a Hand” (great art!) with the one in “Dead Weight”. If the episode is a meal, maybe it’s nourishing, but it has no taste.
Some more specific points: (1) What’s the sense of the short outside scene with the young people near the swimming pool (24:09)? (2) Why does Major General Hollister park Colonel Dutton’s car in a card-board street (31:35)? (3) The scene of the discovery of the colonel’s dead body is spoiled (52:22); the scream should be heard while Hollister and Stewart are kissing (because the discovery of the body is the beginning of the end of their “happiness”), and the image of the body and the boat only being shown after that (but maybe there were some ads between these two scenes, and the boats were shown meaning the movie restarted after that).
And last, but may be not least: this third regular episode (or fourth or fifth if we count the “pilots”) already repeats what we’ve seen in the former ones: Columbo is not at his ease in a plane / in a boat; the rich murderer seduces the female witness (who is poor and a little bit silly); the dead body is dumped into the water (however: the first with the intention to be found, the second to stay hidden). [But I agree that repetition sometimes is a style characteristic of the feuilleton. For instance Dr Ray Flemming forgets the handkerchief on the telephone, but comes back, in “Prescription”; Leslie Williams forgets the briefcase, but comes back, in “Ransom”; and Ken Franklin forgets the lighter (the second time, after having messed up the office), but comes back, in “Murder by the Book”.]
General Hollister’s house is almost the same site as Commodore Sawnson’s one. There must be a curse that rests upon it.
Wow, tough crowd here.
This one has Suzanne Pleshette in it; therefore it is, by definition, great.
A bit simplistic, but that’s my opinion and I’m stuck with it.
Suzanne Pleshette reminds us of Elizabeth Taylor here. No lavender eyes but comparable smile and voice.
I bought a DVD collection of the first four seasons a few months ago. Actually just started watching them pretty recently, in order. This is definitely my least favorite of the first five movies. There’s no way that she could have seen the murder happen through the window, from presumably at least a couple hundred yards away, not to mention probably ten feet below the level of the window.
One thing I liked was the very end when he mentions his niece and she asks if he really has a niece. There are times in the movies when he tells stories such as the one of his niece and you wonder whether he’s telling the truth or just making up a story to get a reaction. Clearly she was wondering the same.
We just watched this again last night. It’s never been a favourite of mine and there seems general agreement here that it’s a weak episode for the classic years. My big problem is the weapon: in ‘Ransom for a Dead Man’ Lesley Williams deliberately uses a .22 to avoid bullet damage at the murder scene; Hollister uses a big .45 on a man backed up a against a wooden door and there’s not a bullet hole or wood splinter to be found.
Suzanne Pleshette is excellent at conveying Helen’s self-doubt and, frankly, weakness as a personality. The scene where she tries to justify her appalling sculptures as ‘looking for an inner meaning’ is really very sad. She is perfectly complemented by Kate Reid as her less-than-supportive mother. Hopefully Columbo’s pep talk about his niece with the six children will help turn her life around.
I like to think Hollister really did take an interest in Helen – he seems genuinely taken with her at first sight – but ultimately he is just as manipulative as everyone else she seems to get involved with. Hollister’s motive also seems weak – scams in military contracting are Standard Operating Procedure, surely? – but then his ego would not let his reputation be tarnished, and he would see the easiest solution as eliminating weakest link Colonel Dutton. Ultimately, though, Eddie Albert does come across as too charming (genuinely charming, not the Robert Culp kind) to be really villainous.
This isn’t really one of my favorite episodes either, though some of the cast was likable. But it really is hard to picture Eddie Albert as a bad guy. In the 1956 film “Attack” he managed to be pretty obnoxious, but it’s still hard to look at him without seeing that sweet guy in Green Acres. And indeed Hollister doesn’t match the villainy of Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp’s characters; in fact, it’s easy to see why Helen would be attracted to him despite the age gap. Maybe to get away from that witch of a mother she lived with.
‘Sweet Guy’ Eddie Albert won the Bronze Star for heroism at the Battle of Tarawa in World War II.
If anyone thinks Eddie Albert seems plausible as an impulsive cold blooded killer, as he is in this episode, you need to hear him sing “September Song” probably on UTube Verdict: INNOCENT!! Case closed. (- :