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Episode review: Columbo The Most Crucial Game

Columbo Most Crucial Game opening titles

Bad Bobby Culp is back and – joy of joys – he’s badder than ever! In the guise of Paul Hanlon – the bad-ass General Manager of the LA Rockets American football team – he’s as impatient, irascible and irate as we ever see him. Plus he’s even sporting an EVIL MOUSTACHE to accentuate his badness. Have I mentioned yet that he’s BAD?

First airing on 5 November 1972, Culp’s Columbo comeback marked the first time an actor had returned in the role of a killer. Following on from his star turn in Death Lends a Hand in Season 1, this episode was, therefore, hotly anticipated.

But is The Most Crucial Game a Superbowl of an episode, or a tepid mid-table tussle? Let’s don our mauve suits, smooth out our handlebar ‘stashes and send out for Ding-a-Ling ice cream as we find out…


Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Paul Hanlon: Robert Culp
Eric Wagner: Dean Stockwell
Walter Cunnell: Dean Jagger
Shirley Wagner: Susan Howard
Eve Babcock: Valerie Harper
Coach Rizzo: James Gregory
Ralph Dobbs: Val Avery
Directed by: Jeremy Kagan
Written by: John T. Dugan
Score: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis – Columbo The Most Crucial Game

Paul Hanlon is General Manager of the LA Rockets American Football team, as well as the powerhouse behind a number of sporting franchises owned by the Wagner family, now headed up by playboy Eric (Dean Stockwell) following the death of his father.

For reasons known only to him, Hanlon has it in for young Wagner. And, quelle surprise, he has a fiendish plan to rid himself of the whelp, ostensibly so he can rule the sporting empire all by himself.

It’s game day and calling a hungover Wagner from his private box at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the abrasive Hanlon orders him into the pool to get ready for a flight to Montreal that evening. Wagner reluctantly agrees, but we can see he’s fed up of Hanlon’s bully-boy tactics.

Springing into action, Hanlon dons one of the most memorable disguises we ever see in Columbo: a Ding-a-Ling ice-cream man costume, comprising white suit, bow tie and charming hat. He slips unnoticed through the stadium crowds and, commandeering a Ding-a-Ling van, heads off into the leafy suburbs, destination: Wagner HQ.

Most Crucial Game dingaling

Who wouldn’t want to buy an ice cream from this friendly-looking chap?

Stopping midway to call Wagner from a phone box, Hanlon does some more bellowing and establishes his alibi through clever use of a portable radio to give his soon-to-be victim the impression he’s still in his box at the stadium. Leaping back into the van, Hanlon leaves a disappointed young girl in his wake, her baleful cries of “Hey Mister!” falling on deaf ears as he tucks gleefully into a fudgsicle.

Wagner, meanwhile, is clearing his dizzy head with laps in the pool as Hanlon arrives. Ding-a-Ling’s finest grabs a hunk of ice from the van’s freezer and sneaks through the bushes before emerging poolside. A surprised Wagner swims over – only to be brained by the lump of ice. Hanlon leaves him floating face-down in the pool, tosses the ice into the water and beats it. His final act is to wash away traces of his footsteps with the hose before he races back to the stadium and his half-time alibi appointment with the Rockets’ beleaguered Coach Rizzo.

“Wagner swims over – only to be brained by the lump of ice. Hanlon leaves him floating face-down in the pool, tosses the ice into the water and beats it.”

Disappointed to be called into action with the big game unfolding, the police force don’t appear to be giving the Wagner death their full attention: all except for Lieutenant Columbo – once his mind is off the game and on the case. Little things bother him right away and he’s instantly leaping, gazelle-like, to conclusions.

Where are the servants? Why is there so much water around the pool? It’s freshwater, too, not chlorinated, so from a hose not the pool itself. Was an assailant trying to wash away some evidence? He also gets a wet shoe for his troubles after blundering into the pool, silly boy…

Columbo wet shoes Most Crucial Game

You really are a bungling one, Lieutenant…

The doughty Lieutenant heads to the Coliseum to break the bad news to Hanlon in his box. His believable reaction wouldn’t appear to give Columbo much grounds for suspicion, and a subsequent interview with Coach Rizzo suggests a close knit relationship between Hanlon and Wagner.

Yet his suspicions continue to rise. As he visits Wagner HQ, Hanlon is evasive, refusing calls that come in for him, and skedaddling away on a secret errand. Columbo also encounters long-time Wagner family lawyer, Walter Cunnell, and detects a certain frisson between him and Hanlon (i.e. they hate each other’s guts). The wily Lieutenant even notices a distinctive hum coming from the radio. It’s the trigger he needs to conclude the house phones have been bugged. The plot genuinely thickens…

NOTE: This scene also features one of the series’ iconic moments, as WET-SHOED Columbo’s first exchange with Cunnell is to ask him how much he paid for his shoes. An ad lib by Falk, who loved to keep his fellow actors on their toes, this moment never fails to raise a smile.


“What did you pay for those shoes?” A simple line that has achieved LEGENDARY STATUS

Columbo doesn’t just let Hanlon dash off on his secret errand unhindered, though. He tails him to Los Angeles airport, catching Hanlon in a phone booth returning the mystery call he received at the house earlier. Yet more suspicious activity is filed away in the Columbo memory banks.

Swiftly enraged at being tracked, it’s not long before Hanlon looks like getting punchy – especially when Columbo grills him about his alibi. A Ding-a-Ling truck was spotted near the Wagner house, yet they don’t usually service that area. They do operate out of the Rockets stadium, though, so it’s extra important that Hanlon’s alibi be corroborated.

You see, even though Hanlon claims to have called Wagner from his box at the Coliseum, the phone records can’t prove it. Curse the unreliability of phone record-keeping in the early 70s, eh?

Hanlon’s rage level is creeping up towards 11 out of 10. Fortunately his imminent combustion is put on hold by the arrival of Shirley, Eric’s wife who has been in Acapulco at some charity bash. Her grief brings out the softer side in Hanlon, who’s soon cuddling her and cooing as the Lieutenant looks awkwardly on. By now the plot is so thick that it’s resembling a swamp of treacle that has already dragged scores of strong men and luckless ponies to their deaths…

Hanlon Shirley Wagner Columbo Most Crucial Game

Hitman Hanlon becomes Perfect Paul in the presence of the weepy Mrs Wagner

Next up we’re back at the Wagner residence in the dead of night. A shadowy figure breaks and enters and starts monkeying with one of the phones, when Columbo spins around on a chair like a boss and startles the intruder.

It’s Ralph Dobbs, a private investigator who has been hired to remove the phone bugs. Columbo tough-talks the shaken PI and confiscates his licence until he gets the info he needs. He suspects Hanlon was behind it, but it’s Columbo himself who’s surprised when he learns that Walter ‘Cue Ball’ Cunnell was instead responsible.

In a parlour gathering, Columbo, Hanlon, Cunnell and Mrs Wagner listen through the hours of taped phone conversations. A cringing Cunnell tells Shirley that he did it for her sake, suspecting Eric of philandering and of Hanlon egging him on. There’s some evidence of this, but Hanlon manages to talk his way out of it, suggesting that the sister of a “chick” Wagner thanked him for lining up for him was merely a new HOUSE MAID. Sounds plausible…

At any rate, Hanlon is still Shirley’s blue-eyed boy while Cunnell is dead to her. And with his alibi substantiated by the taped recordings, it looks like the wicked general manager is going to get away with murder – until Dobbs comes up with new information for Columbo.

Dobbs reveals that the phone bugs were actually first planted by his operative, Eve Babcock, who worked at Wagner HQ for 3 days before being fired by Hanlon. Turns out she’s actually a high-class call girl, who Columbo drops in on and disrupts her evening plans. In a roundabout way she helps Columbo discern that Hanlon knew the phones were being recorded; and therefore knew he could use them to his advantage in establishing alibi.

Finding this all hard to follow? You’re not alone. By now the plot is SO THICK that it’s akin to charging through the mud of Passchendaele in a pea-souper fog with a 30-tonne elephant on your back. And the evidence that Columbo needs still continues to elude him.

He finds it in the strangest place: the travel agency where he’s trying to trip Hanlon up once again by checking to see if he’d really booked flights to Montreal on the day of the murder. He had. But when a cuckoo clock cheeps in the shop, a light bulb goes on in Columbo’s head.

Columbo Most Crucial Game travel agent

Columbo clears up his headaches with the case at the travel agency of all places

Confronting Hanlon in his box once more, the Lieutenant sets out his stall to the fiery moustachio, whose mood goes from livid to worse in a flash. “Columbo, I’m going to throw you out of here on your ear,” he brays, only to be zapped back brilliantly by the detective. “I wouldn’t so that sir. I mean, you’ll miss the best part,” he retorts. “You see, I’m not finished.”

Instead of trying to find something on the tapes that’s out of place, Columbo took an about turn and started listening for things that weren’t there but should have been. Such as the chiming carriage clock in Hanlon’s box.

He plays back the recording of Hanlon’s final call to Wagner – starting it at the exact same time the call was made a week earlier. Right on cue, the clock in the box starts to chime to mark the half-hour. But it’s not on the tape. For once lost for words, the caught-out Hanlon is stunned into silence as credits roll…

Most Crucial Game‘s best moment

The “What did you pay for those shoes?” line is a timeless moment, but the beautifully constructed murder scene manages to eclipse it.

As Hanlon slinks menacingly towards his quarry, we’re treated to Jaws-esque underwater shots of the unsuspecting victim awaiting his grisly fate. Music and picture work in perfect harmony to ramp up the tension ahead of the fatal blow. It’s so well done. Don’t take my word for it, though. View it yourself below.

My thoughts on The Most Crucial Game

I’m in two minds about Most Crucial Game. It has one of the best ensemble casts of the entire series, Robert Culp at his very best, and some gorgeous location shooting at the Wagner residence and at the LA Coliseum.

Watch it as a piece of escapism and it’s a hoot. But my goal is to give a (reasonably) serious critique. Looking at it from that perspective, there are plot holes that take the edge off some terrific entertainment.

It’s a much easier episode to watch than to review. There are so many twists and turns, many of which are seemingly dead ends, that watching it can be a breathless experience. It’s easy to miss supposedly crucial plot points, and so much is packed in that an initial draft of this review ran to more than 5000 words in trying to cover it all!

“Watch it as a piece of escapism and it’s a hoot. But there are plot holes that take the edge off some terrific entertainment.”

However, on to the good stuff: and there’s plenty of it. Central to that is Culp’s antagonistic performance as Paul Hanlon. He’s brilliant! And he seems to be having a ball playing a truly nasty baddie. It’s a different role than Brimmer in Death Lends a Hand – a role in which the character was cool and calm on the surface, but the rage was always just under the surface, ready to rush forth.

In Most Crucial Game, the rage is there all the time. Hanlon’s a brash bully who doesn’t pull any punches. But that’s what’s got him ahead in the ultra-competitive sporting franchise world, so it’s a believable portrayal of a man who’s as cut-throat and ruthless in business as he is in other aspects of his life.

EVIL Paul Hanlon Columbo Most Crucial Game

Evil much, Robert?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be Culp’s single best Columbo performance – a high accolade given how good his other outings are. I might revise that opinion when I get round to Double Exposure, but my enduring take-out from this episode is how much I enjoy watching Culp sneer.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be Culp’s single best Columbo performance – a high accolade given how good his other outings are.”

It’s just a great cast from top to bottom. Oscar winner Dean Jagger pops up as Walter Cunnell. Dean Stockwell, Susan Howard, James Gregory, Valerie Harper and Columbo regular Val Avery all add value to the episode.

There are plenty of other memorable scenes, too. Chief among them is the legendary ‘what did you pay for those shoes?’ exchange between Columbo and Cunnell,  but the Lieutenant’s confrontation with Eve Babcock is also rib-tickling viewing. Seeing Columbo being embarrassed by female co-stars is always rewarding!

Eve Babcock Columbo Most Crucial Game

Don’t be so Cincinnati…

Under the radar, but no less enjoyable, are the scenes where Columbo is interacting mano a mano with private investigator Ralph Dobbs. Such scenes are fascinating as they give us insight into the real Columbo. Set against his usual veneer of confusion, obsequiousness and forgetfulness when confronting the killers, it’s a delicious contrast. Here we witness the man of action, the man in control, the man who bosses situations to get the information he needs. We rarely see this, but it’s always to be treasured.

In terms of cinematography, this episode ranks up with the best. The long-shots of Columbo seeking inspiration at the Coliseum are a joy to behold, and the stunning Wagner residence has the capacity to drop jaws. Like Etude in Black, this wealth of location shooting adds a sense of perspective to the episode. It feels like TV on a grand scale.

Yet despite this, Crucial Game is let down where it matters most: namely the plot holes surrounding the crime itself, and a total lack of Columbo proving anything tangible against Hanlon at episode’s end.

“Columbo, by his own admission, is big on motive. He never gets close to establishing motive for Hanlon.”

Let’s start with the murder. As described above, it’s beautifully shot and a fiendishly clever concept, but it’s nevertheless bungled by the writers. Why? It’s inconceivable that water from the hose would still be around the pool while the ice in the pool has melted.

It appears to have been a red-hot day, with the pool in full sunshine. A spray of water around the pool would surely have evaporated. If it’s too cool for the water to have evaporated, then the ice wouldn’t have melted. It was a big block. So the clue that turns Columbo’s mind to murder is poorly executed and pretty contrived. Plus it leaves us with only a policeman’s hunch that a murder has been committed at all.

But that’s not the biggest problem. Columbo, by his own admission, is big on motive. He never gets close to establishing motive for Hanlon. Indeed the viewer never finds out why Wagner was murdered. That’s poor writing.

Sure, we can theorise. Maybe Hanlon wanted the sports empire for himself. Maybe he had the hots for Mrs Wagner. Maybe Eric criticised his ‘stash at a board meeting. Any and all could be a plausible motive. But never knowing, and never proving anything, really harms the episode.

Ultimately all Columbo proves – after a helluva lot of to-ing and fro-ing – is that Hanlon might not have been in the box during his second phone call to Wagner. It casts doubt over his alibi, certainly, but is nowhere near being conclusive. And Hanlon doesn’t seem to be the confessing sort, not on trivia like that. In deed here’s what happened when it went to trial:-

Prosecution lawyer: Mr Hanlon, what possible explanation do you have for the lack of an audibly chiming clock in the background of this conversation with the deceased? (smirks smugly at jury)

Paul Hanlon: (adopts a face like thunder) Well, let me think. I suppose it could have been that the radio was too loud. Or that the clock had stopped. Or that the clock was too far away. Or that police doctored the evidence. Or… (continues listing, ever more impatiently, for approximately 35 minutes)… OR EVEN THAT THE SOUND OF MY BRAYING VOICE DROWNED OUT THE CLOCK? DID YOU EVER STOP TO THINK ABOUT THAT? (gnashes teeth at now-whimpering lawyer)

Prosecution lawyer: (openly crying) No… sob… further questions….blub…your Honour… (is helped back to chair by muscular court attendant).

Judge: Why was my time wasted on this case? Mr Hanlon, you’re free to go. Prosecutor, I’ll see you in my office right away

Anyway, you get the picture. In terms of establishing Hanlon’s guilt, what we’re left with is possible opportunity, but no motive and no weapon. There’s no case to answer here. It’s a hollow ending – especially given how much was shoe-horned in across the whole episode. Arguably they tried to cram too much into this, and that’s a great shame.

Hanlon Columbo Most Crucial Game

Much ado about nothing? Columbo has proved knack-all by the end of the episode

Ultimately, The Most Crucial Game is a more of a half-hearted recommendation than I’d like. Watch this episode purely for entertainment value and it’s a blast, and it’s no surprise to me that it’s highly rated by many. Concentrate too hard on the convoluted plot and the non-existent evidence, though, and it’s easy to find fault.

Still, when Crucial Game hits the heights, they’re very high. And if the key take-out is a Tour de Force performance by Robert Culp, that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Did you know?

Six legendary members of the LA Lakers basketball team appear in this episode having a practice session watched by Columbo and Hanlon. The Super Six of Jim McMillan, Flynn Robinson, Pat Riley, Harold ‘Happy’ Hairston, LeRoy Ellis and Keith Erickson were members of the Lakers team who won the World Championship for the first time earlier that year. Outstanding!

LA Lakers

Clockwise from top left: Flynn Robinson; LeRoy Ellis; Keith Erickson; Jim McMillan; ‘Happy’ Hairston; Pat Riley

How I rate them so far

Out of all the episodes reviewed so far, Crucial Game is the one I’ve found it most difficult to assess. It will never be among my very favourite episodes, but where it ranks amongst the mid-tier outings is a very tough call.

I enjoy it more than classics including Etude in Black, yet it’s strangely less satisfying at the same time. It’s the thrill of Culp’s performance that sees this take 6th place in the current table, but there’s really little to choose between numbers 6-10 at this stage.

If you’ve missed any previous reviews, check out the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Murder by the Book
  3. Death Lends a Hand
  4. Lady in Waiting
  5. Prescription: Murder
  6. The Most Crucial Game
  7. Etude in Black
  8. Greenhouse Jungle
  9. Blueprint for Murder
  10. Ransom for a Dead Man
  11. Dead Weight
  12. Short Fuse

Thanks, as always, for reading. And I’d love to hear your views on Crucial Game – many of which I’d expect to be very positive. Look out for the next review – the London-based Dagger of the Mind – in a few weeks’ time.

Read my views on the top 5 scenes from Most Crucial Game here.

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171 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo The Most Crucial Game

  1. I hope this hasn’t been asked a million times, but I’ve always wondered what was up with the ice cream truck? Wouldn’t it have been less conspicious to go to the house is a common car. Hanlon could use a disguise without the silly truck.

  2. Murder motives
    in business
    relationships can be murky, hard to figure

    Fortunately for Columbo, just as he’s
    wondering aloud what they might it be to
    Paul Hanlon, a tyrannical sports team
    manager, it shows up.

    The murder victim’s wife, whom preoccupied
    with charity work, Hanlon will be able to
    control much more easily than her uncommitted
    heir hubbie.

    The lieutenant then realizes that a bugging
    of both the victim’s home and Hanlon’s office,
    has set up a perfect alibi, the catalyst for the

    An unaccounted for ice cream truck provides
    the means, but Hanlon still has an ironclad
    alibi at a stadium miles away.

    However Columbo dismantles that by finding the
    woman who planted the bugs, paid off to keep
    quiet about Hanlon’s knowing.

    The final ‘death knell’ in Hanlon’s alibi is
    from an anniversary clock, which run for
    more than a year without rewinding. Its chimes
    should be on the recorded phone calls, but

    Rating 9.5/10

  3. Dean Stockwell, who played victim Eric Wagner in The Most Crucial Game, passed away at age 85 on November 7, 2021. He had one of the longest careers in Hollywood, acting in motion pictures and TV shows for 70 years. You can see Dean in one of his most memorable performances in Compulsion (1959), available for free on YouTube:


    The acting in this picture is terrific, and three other actors in it also performed in Columbo episodes: Martin Milner, Bradford Dillman, and Richard Anderson.

  4. The murder was brilliant, the use of ice means there’s no murder weapon and the alibi so solid and it cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn’t in that luxury box at the game.

    Where it all goes wrong is when Columbo stumbled upon Robert Culp on a suspicious public phone in the middle of Los Angeles International Airport. How this happened was completely baffling. I have a hard time finding family members I’m trying to pick up in that airport in 2020, how did Columbo just find Culp right away? This causes Columbo to suspect Culp but how did this even happen in the first place? Did he follow Culp all the way to the airport and Culp never noticed Columbo’s beat up car? And how would Columbo even know to check the public phones first thing? Wouldn’t the first guess be that he’s picking someone up? He doesn’t know about the phone taps until later. It’s also bizarre that Columbo would go from chatting with Culp at the office, then following him dozens of miles to the airport on the pretense of just chatting him again, wouldn’t this just be police harassment? And Culp specially went to the airport to make a call so no one would know about it but he didn’t notice Columbo’s car following him for dozens of miles? I had to re-watch this sequence to make sure I understood what was happening.

    Then we reach the end where the we find out a clock chime wasn’t on the bugged phone call, supposedly proving he wasn’t in his luxury box at the time of the murder. That would never prove anything in court, especially given how small the clock was and the distance from the clock to the phone, and the fact that the clock might not have hit 2:30 during the call cause not all clocks are exact. The murderer never admits guilt in this episode, it just cuts to credits. With no murder weapon, no motive and no proven means, there’s no chance this could go to court. Columbo’s only hope was to get a confession which he doesn’t get.

  5. Love this site, just found it! My favourite episode, watched dozens of times. Two minor things, whos dog is it that wanders into shot when the private investigator breaks in and has anyone else noticed during a short clip of Culp driving the ding a ling van on way to commit the murder, a car quickly passes between Culps van and the camera vehicle , a car driver smiles and seems to be waving at the camera. Blink and you miss it!

  6. I don’t know if this was brought up before, but why was the ice cream truck sitting at the stadium? Columbo seemed to have spotted it while alone in the stadium, near the end. For that matter, why would Hanson use such an obvious disguise in the first place?

    • I can’t recall but I think either Culp or a real ice cream man was in aisles selling ice cream during the game so maybe there’s a whole fleet of them and the trucks are there to keep the ice cream cool while it’s being sold in the stands by multiple guys. The disguise I thought was clever. As an ice cream man he’s hiding his identity and while riding around in the truck he’s just another guy in an ice cream truck. And when two and two are put together and an ice cream truck is reported near the scene, they’re now looking at ice cream men and not the owner of the team or a vehicle that can be connected to him.

  7. I’ve just finished watching “The Most Crucial Game” and under what I would consider ideal conditions. I have watched it while sitting poolside in my new home in Southern California in the afternoon. The episode was much better than I remembered and, thanks to Peacock TV, I saw in a crystal clear video, like never before. I have read Columbophile’s review and most of the comments here. While agree that the episode is great entertainment, I disagree that the story is flawed, or that a motive is missing (not that a motive is required to prove a murder case). Moreover, the gotcha is one of the best ever conceived and executed in the entire series.

    Before continuing, I’d like to point out that the teleplay writer, John T. Dugan (October 11, 1920 New York City – December 24, 1994 Los Angeles, CA), was a Professor of Drama, having obtained a Master of Fine Arts at Fordham University and a Ph.D. in Drama from the University of Minnesota. He taught drama at Catholic University, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and U.C. Berkeley. John Dugan disproves one of the old funny sayings I grew up with: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

    Now, Columbophile and others holding the view that this story has holes in it are likely surprised to learn about Dugan’s background in drama and that he has been published, performed, and produced in every medium except the novel. His many television plays have received numerous awards and nominations, as have his stage plays. He also served his fellow writers for 28 years on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America Pension Plan.

    I bring all this background up, not only because I think it’s interesting in itself, but because Columbophile and some others here consider the story to be an example of “poor writing.” But is this episode really “poor[ly] writ[en]”? I don’t think so. Columbophile and others assert there’s no motive for the crime; again, not that one is required to prove mens rea (guilty mind) and murder. But as others have pointed out, the motive is there, albeit indirectly established. That is, Paul Hanlon no longer could tolerate being under Eric Wagner’s thumb, and with Eric out of the way, the path was cleared for him to hook up with and ultimately marry Shirley Wagner to fully control the Wagner sports empire. Professor Dugan even suggested that Paul and Shirley might already have been romantically linked for some time, the way she needs to physically hold onto Paul, touches him, and always takes his side even when the facts seem to implicate him in (easily) persuading Eric to cheat on Shirley. It’s an interesting twist on the Oedipal theme in drama where, normally, the “son” character kills the “father” to hook up with the “mother”. Here, however, father-figure Paul kills the “son” Eric to control his kingdom and to win favor with “the queen,” Shirley.

    The other “example” of “poor writing” cited is the murder sequence at the beginning. The writing is supposedly “poor” because the water that Paul sprayed from a hose to cover his shoe tracks “should” have evaporated if the block of ice that Paul used as the murder weapon melted in the pool. But as I sit by my pool in Southern California after a nice swim to watch this episode, everything in the scene is actually presented perfectly.

    The block of ice clearly melted because the pool water was likely heated to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 27 degrees Celsius), assuming the murder took place in the Los Angeles area around October-November. Since money was no object for Eric, the water may have been heated to about 85 degree Fahrenheit (or about 30 degree Celsius). The water sprayed from the hose onto the tiles didn’t evaporate because only the pool water was heated. The hose water would have been cool. And the tiles would have been designed to remain cool in the summer, and would have been even cooler in the afternoon during the October-November time of the year. Under those circumstances, the water on the tiles would have taken hours to evaporate, while the block of ice would have fully dissolved in about an hour in the heated pool.

    So, in my expert opinion, as a Southern California pool owner, the details of the murder are 100% plausible. In fact, if there was any “flaw” here, it was that Columbo was called to the crime scene so early after the murder, which occured at approximately 2:30 pm. Professor Dugan admittedly wrote the episode with such an early discovery precisely so that Columbo would catch the 3:30 – 5:00 pm window before the water sprayed on the tiles could evaporate. But that’s okay, because as we all know, Columbo is almost as lucky as he is smart.

    And, speaking of luck, there’s the wonderfully written gotcha, which Columbo would not have realized without his visit to the travel agency where Hanlon booked his trips and Columbo’s serendipitous timing that allowed him to hear the sound of the cuckoo clock over the sound of the radio playing the football game. The music by Dick DeBenedictis accompanying this gotcha moment is particularly effective in “The Most Crucial Game,” even though I believe it may be “stock” Columbo soundtrack material. Robert Culp’s acting here is terrific, as always, but the finale has no dialogue. The music serves a dual function here. In addition to compensating for the lack of dialogue following the unique sound of the clock’s bell, the music tells us what Culp’s character is thinking in sound form. The music nicely captures his inner turmoil, as the realization that he’s been caught strikes deep.

    So, contrary to Columbophile and some others here, I think the writing for this episode is not only good, but great at times. Professor Dugan produced some fine dramatic writing as well as taught drama exceptionally well for decades and was a scholar in the field. And this ending shows the collaborative art of Columbo at its best. Enjoy it again here:

  8. Isn’t Hanlan’s office phone bugged as well as Wagner’s home phone? so can’t Columbo play the tapes of the office phone and show there was no recording of the incriminating calls? have I missed something? i was sure that was going to be big proof,

    • Hanlon’s black phone
      in his booth, from which
      he calls Eric Wagner, can’t be tapped,
      as it would be inconsistent with Hanlon’s
      later calling Wagner from the road while
      pretending to be in his booth.

      His red booth phone probably isn’t tapped
      either, as it is mainly for calls to his coach.
      during games.

      As his secretary planted the bugs,
      probably only his office phone
      was tapped.

  9. Great review, thank you for sharing! I recently dropped ice cubes in a swimming pool: they were stuck to each other, like a big frozen lump of ice, and it took hours for them to melt! It would have been more realistic for Columbo to spot the ice, maybe after tasting the tap/hose water vs. the pool water and after stepping in the pool. “Wait a minute, what’s that?”

    I disagree about the lack of motive. There was one: Shirley and Paul were lovers. Paul is highly competitive, ambitious, greedy, and unethical. By killing the young Wagner he inherits the whole business empire and gets to keep the girl too.

    Walter (the old lawyer) suspects that something is off, that maybe Hanlon is manipulating both Wagners, so he has the two phones bugged. Walter knows that Hanlon is unethical and that he may be plotting something sinister.

    The gotcha scene wasn’t too bad. The taped phone call had the radio in the background, and the game narration happened to be exactly at 2:30 (huge coincidence, I know). Paul could have come up with some explanation like “I stopped the clock on purpose b/c I needed to concentrate on the game.” But like many people caught in a lie, he couldn’t think of a convincing explanation right away. That’s what doomed him! Of course, given time to think and brainstorm with his lawyer, he could come up with dozens of perfectly plausible explanations. But he needed one right then, on the spot.

  10. I just saw a rebroadcast of this, and yes Culp is always great.

    My problem with this episode (and forgive me if I’m repeating someone – I searched and don’t think so) is the absurd timeline of the murder.

    Hanlon starts the episode at the LA Coliseum near the beginning of the game. He changes into the ice cream uniform, gets into the ice cream truck, gets out of the stadium parking lot, navigates the surface streets around the Coliseum and USC, and presumably hits the 10 and 101 for the drive to what appears to be the Hollywood Hills, then more surface streets, arriving at half-time (elapsed time approximate an hour-and-a-half for a football game). He commits the murder. Then he retraces his travel – surface streets, multiple freeways, surface streets, stadium parking lot, skybox – say, another hour and forty-five minutes.

    Meanwhile the body is discovered some time after half-time. Columbo is called in. He goes from wherever it is he lives (I doubt the HH) and takes surface streets, freeways, surface streets to the murder scene. He pokes around and tastes the water and then is off to duplicate Hanlon’s journey – again it’s surface streets, freeways, surface streets, stadium traffic (against early-bird fans exiting the stadium, mind you), skybox – all within that same hour-forty-five.

    Now maybe traffic in LA wasn’t as bad in 1972 as it is today, but that is a damn tight timeline. Maybe Hanlon could have pulled off his part – MAYBE – but Columbo’s movements – all taking place in less than a half of a football game – are ludicrous.

    Everything else is enjoyable. Falk and Culp are always great, and it’s awesome to see Suzanne Pleshette. But to anyone who’s spent a day in LA the travel times are other-worldy.

    • I think that a work of fiction should be self contained. Meaning, that a viewer should not be required to know LA to follow the plot and assess its realism or lack thereof. In the fictitious world of this episode, the stadium was about 15-20 minutes away (via ice cream truck) from the Wagner’s residence.

      What I find unrealistic is that the Ding-a-ling truck would be unsecured, especially with merchandise in the back, and with the key in the ignition.

    • Los Angeles traffic in the 1970s was nothing like the traffic congestion today. Plus, on Sunday afternoon, the traffic would have been especially light then in LA. Context and timing are everything. Although the timeline in “the Most Crucial Game” may be “tight,” it was not implausible.

  11. opening scene from a blimp? over the Coliseum. The stadium seems to be set up for a ROCK concert!! Which one I wonder?

    • I did some research. Although IMDb says the footage is from a 1967 football game there could be other shots. This aired in November ‘72. That month there was a concert with Stevie Winder, Bee Gees and Chuck Berry. But that could’ve been too close to get the footage in the show. The only thing else I could find was that summer an event called Wattstax was there which was a black Woodstock, as they say. I couldn’t find any concerts pre 72.

    • Well after doing some more research, the first shot of the episode from over the stadium, I’m thinking it’s not a concert. It doesn’t line up with the Wattstax images I saw on the trailer. The opening Columbo shot has diamonds in the end zones which I’m finding are old timey end zone markers for football. So it could’ve been a college game which might draw a smaller crowd so those temporary stands were used at the end zone instead of filling the entire stadium. In any event, it’s not from the 1967 game as those images show a fully packed stadium with no temporary seats and no diamonds in the end zones.

  12. How come no one has mentioned the following? If both Hanlon and Wagners phones were tapped, couldn’t they have just listened to the Hanlon’s phone and found out he never made a second call to Wagner?

  13. One interesting mistake is the PI breaking into Eric’s place. When he opens the door, he’s not wearing gloves. When I saw that I assumed he was not a PI. In the very next scene he enters and smashes into some art thing – and is wearing gloves.

    • What a wonderful observation!
      By the way, I was wondering what the heck of metallic things he smashed in were.
      Are they art object?
      I thought they were related to recreational games, but I haven’t seen them in any stores.
      Does anybody have any idea?

  14. notwithstanding the always enjoyable acting performance of Culp, this episode is very weak.
    1-No real motivation for the murder
    2-why Columbo suspect very fast Hanlon ? The victim is rich, which mean he knew a lot of people. He have family, business partners, friends, girlfriends, etc…

    The gotcha is not so bad, but still, why did Hanlon killed Dean???

    • (ps : I really, really LOVED the acting of Culp here. His eternal “tension”, the way he plays when he realize he is done is very good.)

      • 1. There was a motive: Shirley and Paul were lovers. Paul is highly competitive and greed, by killing the young Wagner he inherits the whole business empire and gets to keep the girl too.
        2. The clock was being fixed? Then Paul would need to say whom. Perhaps better to say “I turned the clock off, or stopped its mechanism because I needed to concentrate on the game.”

  15. I remember the first time I watched this a few years ago. When I first saw Culp, I thought Brimmer from Death Lends a Hand got out of jail and is now a working for the football team! I like this episode. I look past the water from the hose but I really don’t like the missing clock chimes. In fact anytime in a Columbo episode where time is involved I find it a stretch. Back then the times of different clocks never matched up. Some people ran their clock slow, some ran them fast. Hanlon’s clock conceivably could’ve been running slow and it could’ve chimed a few seconds after the phone call he made.

    • Indeed. There are a tonne of ways the clock could have chimed on cue the second time but not on the recorded conversation. Maybe a cleaner noticed it was running slow sometime after the first game and set it right so that it chimed exactly on the hour the next week. It’s very flimsy evidence.

      • Sorry, Garret and Columbophile, but the clock appears to be an earlier version of the 23cm Gold Anniversary Clock with white dial and Westminster chime By Haller, which sells for about $300 today. Haller’s robust, patented quartz rotating pendulum movement without a pendulum spring is recognised worldwide, and is known as indestructible, problem-free, accurate, precise, and reliable. Moreover, the prosecution had anticipated the defense’s potential argument and identified all individuals that could have had access to the clock during the relevant time period. Only one housekeeper had access to Hanlon’s stadium office and she signed a sworn affidavit that she never touched the clock, other than to dust it. In fact, the housekeeper stated that Hanlon specifically told her to never touch his personal possessions, such as his prized trophies and his anniversary clock, and she followed his orders strictly, as she knew that Hanlon could be quite nasty about such things. Although Hanlon had the best criminal lawyers defending him, his legal team exhausted all potential exculpatory possibilities and ultimately struck a plea bargain, recognising that Hanlon was, indeed, Culpable.

  16. I laughed out loud at Columbo’s “Ah look, he did it again!” line as Hanlon turned the radio off towards the end. Don’t know why I found it so funny XD

  17. Wow, a lot to absorb with this one. I enjoyed many of the fan comments. I agree plot fell short but several scenes really killed (haha).

    1. While the plot was convoluted I found the story oddly easy to follow. Never felt lost despite not being given a clear motive or adequate explanation of the lawyer’s objective for planting bugs. (He was, uh, trying to prove to Mrs. Wagner that Hanlon was ‘forcing’ Mr. Wagner to cheat on her by introducing him to women? How was this info going to be useful when Eric was still alive?) Whatever, we can accept something is afoot. But it’s hard to accept Hanlon needed more control over the sports empire than he already had. The coach says he’s one of the best GMs; even if Eric was tiring of Hanlon’s attitude, he probably wouldn’t fire him, just go the hands off sports owner route. And Columbo initially suspecting Hanlon from his not at all unusual radio turn down/turn off reaction is a big stretch. I re-watched that scene and Columbo doesn’t even acknowledge the clock chiming with a look. So everything starts from a weak set-up.

    2. The other possible motive of Hanlon desiring Mrs. Wagner may be real but is painfully handled. The best protection Hanlon has against Columbo is lack of obvious motive, yet in the airport scene he goes out of his way to yak about how she’s all class and out of Eric’s league. Why on earth would you spoonfeed the investigating detective your secret attraction toward the victim’s wife when no one suspects you? A separate scene of Hanlon expressing his feelings to a third party would have been better.

    3. The ice block is a super clever murder weapon. I get CP et al questioning the deck evaporation, but I’ll chalk that up to the food delivery guy discovering the body shortly after the kill and police arriving quickly. I’m willing to accept the ice melted faster.

    4. Culp is dynamic — and looks a bit like Robert Redford — but I prefer his acting in Death Lends a Hand, in which he ran hot/simmering instead of hot/hotter. I appreciate that layer of vulnerability in an otherwise psycho. I haven’t yet seen Double Exposure but look forward to contrasting it.

    5. The last scene is awesome … but. LOVED Columbo talking ostensibly to himself (but also to Hanlon) about how Hanlon turned the radio off again once flustered even after being warned that was his giveaway. LOVED how he corrected Hanlon’s fake binocular aiming. The whole crescendo lines up perfectly and I am straight up DYING to find out what the gotcha is. Then the clock chimes, Culp’s stunned silence is perfectly executed and, mmmm, I feel a letdown.

    At this point the episode collapses under the weight of its many up-to-then-overlookable weaknesses. Columbo has been given solid help from the PI and Eve Babcock but is STILL relying on flimsy evidence after 90 minutes. This episode is begging for a home run reveal and settles for a bunt single.

    As one poster noted, I actually WELCOME the hook of negative evidence, i.e. a missing sound. But the writers ignored a far more logical angle. Crowd noise. Crowd noise doesn’t come through as loudly on radio as it should on a phone call from a suite at the stadium. If Hanlon’s phone call from the street would have coincided with a home team touchdown, the crowd erupting would have been absent from the recording. And since it’s been established Columbo is an emotionally invested fan, he could believably register something is amiss on the recording. This also dovetails with Columbo gleaning inspiration from sitting in the empty stadium. They could’ve even showed him looking at a suite with open windows to drive home the light bulb.

    In an episode centered around a live sporting event, I am severely disappointed this element was not incorporated. Oh what might’ve been.

  18. This has always been one of my favorite episodes. The only complaint i have that, after Columbo played the tape and showed Hanlon there was no clock chime on it, why couldn’t Hanlon have told Columbo that the clock wasn’t working that day? Maybe the battery went out or it had become unplugged for some reason. Hanlon might not have noticed it untill after the phone call was made to Eric. The are plenty of ways around this, only it appeared that Hanlon decided he was caught. I guess this is where you have to realize its just a tV show.

  19. My wife and I are rewatching Columbo from the beginning and, though enjoyable and watchable, this is the first episode that left me somewhat annoyed because it could have been so much more. The word I’d describe it with is “tenuous”.

    We’re not even given a slightest hint of a motive – Wagner is just brutally murdered for no apparent reason, reducing Hanlon to little more than a psychopath. Columbo’s clues and how he gets them are also very weak. Why would he taste the water? How did he know there was a clock chime in Hanlon’s office? Even if Columbo DID prove Hanlon wasn’t in the office when he made the phonecall, it doesn’t place him at the scene of the crime by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even sure why Columbo felt the need to suspect Hanlon, other than the fact the plot demanded it.

    A pretty poor showing, but with some lovely scenary and fine acting to enjoy along the way.

    • The motive was money. Eric’s wife had feelings for and trusted Hanlon. With Eric out of the way, he could have married Eric’s wife, which means he would have inherited all the money and the sports empire, not to mention Eric’s wife.

      • That scenario is only hinted at, though. The way Hanlon embraces her at the airport could have been just in comfort for her loss of her husband. It’s true that they appear kind of nooky nooky later on, but there isn’t any real evidence to show that anything was going on between them. If Hanlon had kissed her and she responded, it would be different.

      • I think the motive
        is just the free hand
        Hanlon would gain in running
        the sports empire. Mrs. Wagner
        is more easily manipulated, and
        would be too busy with her charities
        to care how Hanlon ran it.

        This way, his high-paid job is secure,
        and not at the mercy of a hedonist
        owner who is so reluctant to follow
        his father’s ambitions.

    • “Why would he taste the water?” – I bet Columbo finds a lot of unpleasant surprises when he walks around tasting wet spots.

    • I think I’m with you on this one Tom. It’s being shown tonight on “MeTV” in America, and I immediately found myself unfamiliar with it, which tells me a lot, especially when I am a big fan of Dean Stockwell. Maybe its too hard to follow, or maybe there’s no “hook” to attract me. I will complete this viewing and give it another after considering Columbophile’s always enlightening observations…..agree about the scenery and acting–usual strengths from the earlier episodes; at least the acting…and often the setting, even if not scenic.

  20. I am a Columbo fan since the original series and I’m loving watching all the episodes again (on IMDB free with ads). I still find Columbo about the only thing I want to watch. Thanks so much for your analysis and insights.
    I really enjoyed this episode, but I’m wondering why, if Hanlon’s phone was bugged and he knew about, how come he didn’t realise that his call from the phone booth would be missing from the recording. And why didn’t Columbo figure this out and check the tapes from his office too.
    Loved the scene where Columbo asks about the lawyer’s shoes and fun to know it was ad-libbed.
    Keep up the good work.

      • Yes but the call should also have been on Hanlon’s office phone recording if made from his office, which it wasn’t

        • Thank is the exact same thing I thought as soon as the bug was found and made a lot more sense to me then the clock chime being missing!

      • But how can you bug a pay phone?! Or why? And how would Hanlon know it was that particular phone booth that was bugged?

        • The call went to the bugged phone at Wagner’s house, so was re order there. It didn’t matter where Hanlon called from, it would’ve been recorded all the same.

          • Of course, I didn’t think of that. Actually, I didn’t realize it was Wagner’s house that was bugged, I thought I read somewhere in another comment that it was Hanlon’s office that was bugged. This episode was way too confusing for my liking. And to have Hanlon dress up as an ice cream vendor and drive that silly truck to the scene of the crime was ridiculous. He couldn’t sneaked out of the stadium and had another car to drive, since this was obviously a premeditated murder.

            • But he needed the big block of ice and needed it not to melt by the time he got there. Besides, the ice cream truck part was funny.

      • It also proves
        what a weak
        alibi Hanlon’s calls were, since
        none of his calls to Wagner were
        recorded from his location.

        Husbands will sometimes use
        the same ploy, but with office noises
        in the background, to cheat on their

  21. Just occured to me that the subplot with Dobbs’ failed intrusion in Hanlon’s office to retrieve the microphones and him later giving Clumbo the goods on his employer is awfully reminiscent of Watergate. The episode aired just a couple of days before ’72 election (actual Watergate break-in was in mid-June). Is it just a crazy case of life imitating fiction, or is it possible (though I guess unlikely) that the authors did have the scandal in mind?

  22. Thank you for pointing out that Culp has no motive for killing Stockwell! I rewatched this episode a couple of times over the last few days thinking that I had missed something, but I hadn’t! Major plot hole! I don’t ever remember an episode where there wasn’t a clear motive. Other than that Culp’s 70s pornstache totally rocks!!!

    • There are also no clear motives for Leslie Williams in Ransom for a Dead Man, Nelson Brenner in Identity Crisis or Hassan Salah in Case of Immunity. Double Exposure motive also rather patchy. Kepple kills Norris to prevent him reporting him to the DA for blackmail. But why was he blackmailing in the first place?

    • Hanlon had as many reasons for killing his boss as Columbo had for tasting the water by the pool and concluding that, not being chlorinated, must have come from the hose! But we didn´t really care about the plot holes back in the ’70’s, and TV was all the more enjoyable because of that….

  23. I heard an interview with William Katt, who worked with Culp for several years on The Greatest American Hero. The interviewer asked what it was like to work with Culp, whom he said seemed like a dynamic, generous person. Katt seemed hesitant to answer, saying, “ummm…..hmmm, that’s an interesting way to describe him.”

    Of course, I don’t know what Culp was actually like, but something tells me there’s a good chunk of his personality in this performance!

  24. Another plot hole..unless I missed the explanation. How come the ice-cream van was so easily borrowed ?

    • Well, as the general manager of the team for a number of years, Hanlon probably knew the routine of the stadium on any given day. Plus, I’m sure he could get the schedule of any department he wanted.

  25. I love the layers of Columbo we see here. His usual bumbling demeanour disappears when he takes charge of the crime scene. Then later the cat-and-mouse game with the PI who knows he’s doomed from the moment Columbo mentions he’s “not worried”. And then my favourite: a flustered Miss Babcock, who he treats with the respect and kindness he’s reserved for the minor criminals and downtrodden. While I agree that this is not the strongest episode, it is a pleasure to watch Falk show is all the nuances of his detective.

  26. For me, the biggest disappointment was that they never mentioned the blunt force trauma on victim’s head which would be easy to notice and obvious cause of death in autopsy. The victim was struck in the head with a block of ice. This is never brought up during the entire episode. Instead, they talk about possibility of accidental death. My other problem was with the lack of sound of clock alarm. What if the clock was broken and fixed later? That could explain the lack of clock alarm during phone call. But of course the lack of motive is the most obvious plot problem. Despite all these flaws, I still think this is a very enjoyable episode with some great acting, especially from Robert Culp

  27. A very enjoyable episode to watch, but you’re spot on about the plot holes, as well as the clear lack of motive for the murder.

    This episode is also an instance of something that would recur over the years, and which always makes me squirm a bit…that is, Columbo somehow mystically discerning who the murderer is, based on no evidence whatsoever. He seemed to peg Hanlon as the killer very nearly from the start, although there had been nothing so much as hinting that he could be the guilty party. Eric Wagner was building a sports franchise empire…surely that alone might have stirred homicidal inclinations from certain rivals, or even organized crime. But Columbo never so much as gives lip service to the possibility, and instead zeroes in on Hanlon.

    I realize it probably just became easy for the writers to have Columbo latch on to the killer right from jump, but come on…even Sherlock Holmes needed some scrap of information before he could discern who the guilty party was. Happily, many other times the screenwriters made the effort to have the killer make the tiniest of mistakes, and that would be what puts Columbo on their trail, which is much more satisfying to me.

    And Culp was fantastic in this. If he wasn’t nominated for an Emmy for this performance, shame on the Television Academy.

  28. I agree that the crucial facts and proof of culpability (see what I did there?) here are very weak. I was very much let down by the plot in this episode.

  29. I have a questiion, after columbo arrives at the poolside, he talks to an officer, that I swear is played by Dnayy Trejo, can anyone confirm this.

    • I think it is implied that she is an immigrant who changed her name – either officially or at least in her daily life – to a more Anglicized name, like so many do.
      Also, if she is an escort, Eve Babcock works as an alias like for an actress.
      It matters because when Babcock calls Hanlon at the house when Columbo is there and he refuses to take her call, she gives her real name to the secretary.
      So Columbo hears the Hungarian accent and puts two and two together with the Hungarian name of the woman who tried to call Hanlon and whose call Hanlon refused to take only to mysteriously call someone from the airport shortly thereafter.

      As weak as the central mystery in this episode is, that part made some sense.

      • I’m amazed that Columbo (among so many other amazing things he does) recognizes Eve’s accent as Hungarian. I was wondering why Harper seemed to trip over a few words at that point–didn’t realize it was an accent! And being used to hearing Eva Gabor’s accent on Green Acres, it didn’t sound anything like that.

    • The actress does an excellent job with the accent. I lived in Hungary for a while, and when I heard the scene I thought, ‘oh, that might be a faint Hungarian accent, and the actress is from there.’ Bot no, it’s just Valerie Harper getting it just right.

      • Columbo hints to
        Hanlon that her
        name was Hungarian, as that was what
        she used when pretending to be a secretary.

        Clearly, Eve Babcock was what she
        went by as an escort. She might’ve
        used her Hungarian name and accent
        to keep anyone from finding out her
        true occupation.

  30. I don’t think the plot holes are quite as big as Columbophile thinks. While the good Lieutenant never tells Hanlan why he killed Eric Wagner, but it isn’t that hard to read between the lines. In the last conversations he had with Hanlon before the murder, it’s clear that Eric is getting tired of being bullied by Hanlon and giving him carte blanche. He even says “One of these days, I ought to fire you.” Hanlon clearly thinks his widow would be a lot more pliable. Worst case scenario, she’ll entrust him with business and sports decisions and best case might be that she becomes his wife! The lawyer says that the reason he bugged the office was to prove how Hanlon was trying to control both Eric and his wife.

    As far as the water goes, I’m willing to guess that maybe Hanlon used too much hose water to wash out his footprints, and there were still enough damp traces left for Columbo to realize that too much traces of water were left merely to be done by splashing—somebody must have used the hose. Also, maybe Hanlon didn’t put the hose back carefully enough for Columbo to wonder who used the hose if there were no servants around.

    Finally, at the precise moment that the cookoo clock goes off at the end, Hanlon isn’t speaking—we’re hearing the voice of Eric Wagner instead. A good lawyer might get Hanlon off, but I think Columbo may have enough to cook his goose—especially if this gets his lady friend to spill the beans.

    • You make a great point about the motive. I agree and thought it was understood. Didn’t feel it needed to be spelled out. My main problem was the scene at the pool with the fresh water as Columbophile points out, plus the gotcha moment that revolves around the lack of a clock chime.

      • Yes, the gotcha moment is very weak in comparison to other episodes. There are several reasons the clock might not have been heard. Would not hold up in court as useful evidence. But of course that’s not what the show is all about anyway.

      • It’s not strong enough. Hanlon’s alibi could be that he WAS in the suite and the clock wasn’t working properly.

  31. Interesting how at the airport we see a Boeing B52 extend its landing gear, then land. As the B52 is a bomber, why is it landing at a civilian airport!

    • My twocents: producers wanted a take of a large aircraft deploying the undercarriage, for effect; found no stock footage of such a scene with a civilian plane, and used any old one they could lay their hands on, hoping viewers would not be able to tell the difference. It´s 1972, after all, people were less sophisticated then, the take lasts three seconds and nobody had video recorders. The second anyone smelled anything fishy, the scene would be over with no possibility of freezing or going back.

        • You would if you were an aeroplane freak! Most people are not, and just don´t care. And you don´t notice what you don´t care about. That´s what the producers counted on……

          • I am, an aviation fan and have actually stood underneath a de commisiioned B-52 bomber in an airfield and have noticed that it wasnt a civillian plain landing in TMCG , but thats only minor the water not having dried up and the conclusion are the biggest flaws in general, The most crucial game is an Okay and very watchable episode but just not a truly great one, As far as culps episodes go for me

            1st – Double Exposure
            2nd – Death Lends a Hand
            3rd The Most Crucial Game .

          • The landing gear and that plane had literally zero point zero zero zero to do with the plot. You bringing it up couldn’t be more irrelevant. Therefore you sort of scolding the producers about it couldn’t be more ridiculous. Isn’t that correct?

    • My only guess
      is that the private
      flight Hanlon scheduled to bring
      Mrs. Wagner home sooner was
      aboard a military transport.

      I would think though, a small
      private jet would make more

  32. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Murder Under Glass | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  33. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  34. I hate to see a clever mystery idea, large or small, go to waste. “The Most Crucial Game” has one, and it goes unacknowledged. Look above, where the review mentions how Hanlon “slips unnoticed through the stadium crowds” in his vendor garb. Why does Hanlon go “unnoticed”? Because the national anthem is playing. The anthem starts just before Hanlon leaves his office and ends after he arrives at the Ding-a-Ling ice cream truck parked by the “Vendors Only” entrance. Did Hanlon plan it this way? What a propitious time to sneak out, while everyone is facing in one direction and otherwise engaged.

    It’s too bad that this little nugget couldn’t have been exploited more completely. A murder committed out in the open, but unnoticed because everyone was standing and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”? [“The Most Crucial Game” was written by John T. Dugan, who also wrote “Dead Weight.” If only the national anthem had been playing when General Hollister shot Colonel Dutton. Helen Stewart might have been looking in the other direction.] But it’s hard to reuse a clever idea that Columbo already has used, albeit as a throwaway.

    • Dead Weight is a poorly written episode by any standard. That might explain this and the inclusion of a “discreet” ice cream truck.

  35. The Los Angeles Rockets are obviously supposed to be a stand-in for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, who plays in the L.A. Coliseum at the time.

    Well, 6 1/2 years after the original airing of this 1972 episode–about the owner of a Los Angeles football team drowning–Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the L.A. Rams, died in April 1979.

    Rosenbloom drowned.

    I find that remarkably eerie.

    Despite the plot holes, this ranks in the upper echelon of Columbo episodes for me–although I am a huge fan of all three Robert Culp installments.

  36. I just found your incredible site. I am a long
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  37. I don’t pick up on plot holes easily, but I was trying to figure out how Eric could fall backwards into the pool when he got hit, and still end up floating face down? (Maybe the water pressure turned him over.)

    To be off-topic for a mo, though: it’s interesting that The Most Crucial Game was the next episode after The Greenhouse Jungle. Reason: both Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman, respectively, played in the 1956 film COMPULSION. Just a bit of trivia I wanted to share. 😉

  38. Hi Columbophile. I’ve just recently discovered Columbo for the first time and I am really enjoying the show. It’s wonderful! The writing, cinematography, music and acting are all top notch. I also enjoy reading your reviews and do so voraciously after watching each episode – I find them to be insightful, funny and well-written. You clearly put a great deal of time into them and are evidently a massive Columbo fan, which really shines through. Your ‘best episodes’ list is also interesting and it’s good to see that, despite obviously being a massive fan, you aren’t afraid to go against the grain of popular opinion occasionally such as in your review of Etude in Black, which, as you point out, is a fan favourite but middling in your opinion. My personal favourites at the moment are The Greenhouse Jungle (I know it is only mid-tier for you), mainly because I liked the dynamic between Wilson and Columbo, Murder by the Book (Cassidy is a great antagonist!), and Death Lends a Hand, though I like them all of them so far. I still have a lot more episodes to watch yet as I’m only on season 2 at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more and will continue to read your reviews.

  39. Is there something in Hanlon’s ear, when he’s driving to kill Eric? You can really see it at 9:46. Maybe those 70’s sideburns were put on with spirit-gum.

    • Very clever, and excellent writing.

      Still, talking about a murder trial. Nowhere near enough evidence to convict Hanlon.

      Means–ice cream truck
      Motive–not clearly established, but possibly inheritance through wife
      Opportunity–very small window of time as evidenced by Hanlon coming through door shortly after coach enters booth and still various reasons why clock wasn’t heard. Can’t put someone in prison for years because the sound of a clock wasn’t heard on the other end of a phone. Never happen.


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