Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 2

Episode review: Columbo Dagger of the Mind

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Columbo broke new ground on November 26, 1972. For the first time ever the Lieutenant stepped outside his LA comfort zone and mixed it up with a bunch of Brits on a work visit to Scotland Yard.

Predictably it ends up being a busman’s holiday for Columbo, who’s swiftly thrust into the middle of a murder mystery amid the twin settings of the theatre stage and a colossal country mansion.

Can ‘Leftenant’ Columbo cut the mustard in old London town? Or will this fish out of water be out his depth alongside the pride of Scotland Yard? Let’s stiffen our upper lips, roll out the tweed jackets, and perfect our Cockney accents as we find out…

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Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Nicholas Frame: Richard Basehart
Lillian Stanhope: Honor Blackman
Detective Chief Superintendent Durk: Bernard Fox
Tanner: Wilfrid Hyde-White
Sir Roger Haversham: John Williams
Joe Fenwick: Arthur Malet
Sergeant O’Keefe: John Fraser
Directed by: Richard Quine
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Dagger of the Mind

Basehart Blackman ColumboIt’s dress rehearsal night at The Royal Court Theatre, where husband-and-wife duo Nicholas Frame (Nick) and Lillian (Lilly) Stanhope are hoping to reverse their decline by wowing crowds with their rendition of Macbeth.

Their comeback has been bankrolled by Sir Roger Haversham, who has been coerced into opening his wallet by Lilly’s flirtatious behaviour. In short, Sir Roger believes he’s in with a chance for romance with the leading lady. Or he did – up until today.

Driving to a rainy London, an enraged Sir Roger turns up unannounced in Lilly’s dressing room. An argument breaks out, and Nick enters stage left to see what’s going on. It’s all happening now. Sir Roger bellows that he’s been taken by ‘a ham and a tart’ (ouch!) and a scuffle ensues. Lilly’s pearl necklace is broken and scatters over the floor, and as Nick and Sir Roger wrestle, she grabs a jar of cold cream and flings it toward the feuding fellows.

A one-in-a-million shot, it shivers Sir Roger on the noggin and kills him outright. Self-defence it may have been, but with the curtain about to rise there’s no way the self-obsessed actors are coming clean. They stuff Sir Roger in a trunk and take to the stage.

During an interval, Lilly’s in for a shock. Stage doorman Joe is tinkering with the heater in her dressing room, even wanting the trunk moved at one point. She gets shot of him, and when he’s still hanging around later on Nick pushes some coppers into his hand and tells him to get to the pub, which he does with cringing gratitude.

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Death by cold cream! Could you Adam and Eve it?

Little do the dastardly duo know that Joe has inadvertently wandered off with Sir Roger’s umbrella, leaving his own in the dressing room. As they make an exit with the corpse-filled trunk, Lilly grabs Joe’s umbrella, and they travel back in separate cars to Sir Roger’s country pile after locating his car in a side-street.

With the house silent, they set the scene to make it appear Sir Roger simply fell down some ‘apples and pears’ (stairs to those non-Brits reading) to his doom after a quiet night reading. They stash Sir Roger’s coat, hat and the wrong umbrella is his closet. Dashing off in Nick’s sports car, the crafty couple have every reason to believe they’re home free.

The next morning we’re at Heathrow Airport. Some police officers are awaiting the arrival of a ‘great detective from Los Angeles’. They little suspect it’s the same scruffy American who’s causing trouble to other passengers as he searches for his lost suitcase. Indeed, when he sends one case spilling open they eye him with unfriendly suspiscion – until he’s rescued by Sergeant O’Keefe, who’s tasked with escorting him to Scotland Yard.

After stopping for a photo opportunity at Buckingham Palace, Columbo is delivered to Detective Chief Superintendent Durk – his host for his London jaunt, where he’s come to see the Yard’s cutting-edge policing techniques in action.

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That’s one for the Columbo family album alright!

Before that, though, they have a quick pit-stop at a country manor, where Durk’s wife’s uncle has died overnight. Of course, this is Sir Roger’s home and it’s not long before Columbo is snooping around the crime scene, spotting, among other things, a signed photo of Lilly prominently on display.

Columbo also notices that a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, that the deceased was said to have been reading, has been carelessly set face down. He wonders where Sir Roger’s reading glasses are, although household butler Tanner reveals he always kept them in his breast pocket. The Lieutenant’s still not satisfied, though. Surely they’d have been smashed? Yet there’s no evidence of any such detritus on the stairs.

Back at the theatre, last respects are being paid to Sir Roger, whose open casket is creepily up on stage. With the press present in spades, Lilly makes a ridiculous show of grief in front of the cameras and is comforted by Columbo – who’s in attendance with Durk and his wife. Lilly subsequently overhears the two detectives discussing Sir Roger’s death. His reading glasses weren’t broken after all. Durk (finally getting with the program) admits this is suspicious, so orders an autopsy.

Columbo Superintendent Durk

Chalk and cheese: Columbo and Durk

When Lilly reports this to Nick, the two are in a flap. But cometh the hour, cometh them man: Nick has a cunning plan. Racing out to Haversham’s home (again), they quiz Tanner about a rare Shakespeare book Nick claims to have lent the deceased. Columbo and Durk also show up and let the theatrical duo know that they’re investigating murder after the autopsy confirmed the body was moved post mortem. This actually plays into Nick’s hands, as the missing book is valued between 20,000-30,000 quid. If there had been an intruder, there’s a motive for murder right there!

Columbo isn’t convinced. If someone broke in and killed Sir Roger, why would they only take a single book from a house full of valuables? His mind whirrs further into action when he spies a burly serf about to wash Sir Roger’s car. Indeed he washes it everyday, but Columbo notices rain marks on the bonnet. It didn’t rain where Sir Roger lives, but it did rain in London. Maybe Sir Roger was in town after all…

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The ham and the tart camping it up for Columbo

Back in London, and it’s been a magnificent opening night for Lilly and Nick, who are basking in the praise of well-wishers backstage. Columbo is amongst them, and once he manages to get a word in edgewise he grills them both about what happened the night before. An argument was heard from Lilly’s dressing room. Columbo wonders if Sir Roger had dropped in, but the thespians stick to their story that the argument was simply between the two of them.

They stick to it a little too well, though, as Columbo points out. “When my wife and I try to remember what happened yesterday or the day before, well, we don’t agree on anything. And you two, you not only agree, you use almost the exact same words to tell about it. [giant pause for effect] Good night.”

Their night is about to get worse, too. As they leave the theatre they notice the fawning Joe is carrying Sir Roger’s umbrella! In order to get it back, Nick tails Joe into the local boozer, and plies him with drinks in order to get his guard down enough to make off with the jealously-guarded brolly. And just as the heavens open, they’re off in the car to Haversham Manor (a-ruddy-gain) to return the umbrella to its rightful place.

Columbo, meanwhile, is finally getting some use out of his raincoat! He’s on the soaking streets of London, accosting Joe as he comes out of the pub. The detective wonders why Nick has spent his opening night with Joe and company instead of a more slap-up celebration. He wonders even more when Joe reveals his umbrella was stolen in the pub.

“Lilly and Nick demonstrate that cat-burglary is another string to their bows by breaking in to the wax museum.”

With suspicions rising by the minute, Columbo takes a car out to…. you guessed it (yawn)… Sir Roger’s house. Just as nears the driveway, he’s almost run off the road by a speeding sports car going the other way. Although he’s not sure who it is, we know that it’s Nick and Lilly. They’re having to get a wriggle on as their attempt to return the umbrella has been foiled. Why? Because Tanner has told them that the wax museum has taken his hat and umbrella away that same evening for their new exhibition, which will creepily immortalise the freshly-slain Sir Roger in wax.

Unwilling to just give up on the perishing umbrella, Lilly and Nick demonstrate that cat-burglary is another string to their bows by breaking in to the wax museum and finally making the switch. It’s fair to say it’s been one hell of a night for them.

Likewise the good Lieutenant, who has dragged Tanner (who covered for Nick and Lilly) to town and woken Durk in the dead of night to take them to wax museum, too. He wants to check the umbrella out for himself, and is disappointed to find that it’s the real deal when Tanner makes a positive ID. Durk is starting to think the Lieutenant has a screw loose, although Columbo keeps his minuscule hopes of an arrest alive by noticing that the basement window could theoretically have afforded an entrance to burglars.

Dagger champagne

Self-obsessed overload alert!

Come morning, and a giggly Nick and Lilly are in bed enjoying positive reviews in the London papers over Champagne. Naturally they’re surprised when the doorbell rings to reveal Tanner with a bag a croissants.

As he prepares a breakfast for them, Tanner lets them know that he’s looking for a job and that his loyalty is beyond question. It’s a thinly-veiled threat that even the acting hams can’t miss: they look after him, or he’ll blow their cover. With seemingly little choice, they agree, but in reality have no plans to employ the old rascal.

Nick sees to that. As Tanner returns to his luxury bungalow on Sir Roger’s estate later that day, he finds Nick awaiting him. Any pretense of friendship is soon over as Nick bundles the old man into the house and strings him up by his neck to a rafter.

Columbo Tanner

SPOILER ALERT: The butler didn’t do it!

Turns out they’ve really done one over on Tanner. Not content with just getting him out of the way, they hide a selection of rare books under his floorboards. The message to the world is clear: Tanner was stealing from Sir Roger, and was himself the murderer, but guilt has led him to take his own life. It’s a smart but grisly maneuver from Nick and Lilly, who now seem to have finally eradicated the weak link in their chain.

Not so fast, though. The final act, fittingly, has a twist in the tail. Columbo has finally pieced it all together. And in a finale that Sherlock himself would be proud of, he gathers all the key players at the wax museum to set out his case.

“In a finale that Sherlock himself would be proud of, Columbo gathers all the key players at the wax museum.”

As they gather round the waxwork of Sir Roger, Columbo tells them what he thinks happened. The two actors killed Sir Roger in a fight that saw Lilly’s pearl necklace broken and scattered across her dressing room floor. They then moved him to the mansion and set up the scene of an accident.

Then Columbo plays his trump card. He conjectures that pearls from the broken necklace could feasibly have ended up in Sir Roger’s umbrella. As the tension mounts, the museum manager slowly opens the umbrella – and a lone pearl rolls out on to the floor. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Nick is seized by Macbeth-style lunacy and raves crazily in the background. A stunned Lilly comes clean and admits the killing.

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Quite what Durk made of Columbo’s unconventional policing style remains a closely guarded secret

As the guilty duo are carted away, Durk asks Columbo how he knew the pearl would be there. Clearly the Superintendent never tried to catch the attention of the pretty little redhead girl in third grade, says the Lieutenant. Feigning a cough (as he did while explaining the crime), Columbo effortlessly flips the pearl into a goblet being held by a wax figure. He really is a sly one…

Beaming despite missing his flight home, Columbo strides out of the wax museum across the road to the Royal Albert Hall, as credits roll.

Dagger of the Mind‘s best moment

columbo-rainAll the scenes of Columbo sightseeing in London are a joy to behold, as Falk is at his most adorable scampering around with his camera to secure the snaps he’ll want to show Mrs Columbo. But the highlight for me is that scene on the London streets when it’s teeming with rain.

After a dozen episodes in which there appears to be no danger of him ever really needing it, the raincoat finally earns its keep. And if you look closely it actually looks to be pretty good at repelling the rain.

Not only a fun scene, it also has a pay-off as Columbo learns that Joe has lost him umbrella after hanging out with Nick at the pub – and that’s the trigger Columbo needs to really formulate his case against them.

My thoughts on Dagger of the Mind

From the fanfare and pageantry of the opening music as the camera sweeps across London, Dagger of the Mind certainly does a good job at establishing the look and feel of old England.

The twin settings of the theatre and Sir Roger’s country manor feel far removed from the high-living LA backdrop that we’ve become used to, and with Brit actors galore taking prominent roles and putting their clipped accents to excellent use, Dagger swiftly ticks a lot of the boxes that a US audience of the day would have wanted.

Columbo dagger of the mind theatre

Stereotypical London? Check…

There’s more to follow, too. Columbo dashes around some of London’s most recognisable landmarks. The butler, that most British of mystery story ingredients, is here. So too the gloomy weather, the traditional pub, and the tweed suits. All the stereotypical elements we’d expect from a mystery in the mould of Sherlock or Agatha Christie are present and correct.

Injecting the earthy Lieutenant Columbo into this environment should be a blast. There’s certainly fun to be had as he struggles to comprehend what the country cop and Tanner the butler are telling him when he meets them at Sir Roger’s home. Little wonder, too, when lines like this are dished up: “Just took ‘is Lordship off, they did, to have ‘im properly coffined for public mourning.” Yes folks, Columbo is a loooooong way from home, in more ways than one.

“As a Brit myself, much of what I see here grates terribly. The stereotypes are too cliched.”

But aspects of this episode that might have delighted a US audience of the 1970s haven’t stood the test of time. And as a Brit myself, much of what I see here grates terribly. The characterisations are too cliched. And the acting from the murderous leading pair is just too hammy to bear – even if you take into consideration the theatrical setting. I get that this is a homage and not to be taken too seriously, but even so I feel like the joke’s on me.

Columbo Dagger of the Mind Lillian Stanhope Nicholas Frame

Blackman and Basehart border on unwatchable at times

On occasion this feels like we’re watching a Hammer horror film. There’s kitsch value in that but, really, as a viewer I feel patronised by the clumsy stereotypes on display. Nothing feels genuine, which is criticism I could also label at other Columbo outings with a foot in other cultures: namely A Matter of Honor and A Case of Immunity.

A saving grace of even mediocre Columbo episodes is the enjoyment one can glean from watching the Lieutenant mentally tussle with his adversaries. There’s very little of that here. Part of the problem is that Richard Basehart and Honor Blackman are so wooden as Nick and Lilly. They’re almost unwatchable at times and there’s precious little chemistry between the two and Falk.

Despite the show’s longer running time (approx 95 minutes as opposed to the ‘standard’ 75 minutes), Columbo and the killers spend comparatively little time locking horns. There’s a nice scene when Columbo grills them after their opening night success, but in terms of rapport and intrigue there’s nothing here that holds a candle to the sparring off against Cassidy, Culp et al that we’ve seen before.

I have a problem with the longer running time of this episode, too (as I do with the majority of the ‘longer’ episodes). It means this dross is drawn out far longer than is required. It doesn’t help that we’re taken to Sir Roger’s house so often – 7 times if my calculations are correct. Frankly I was bored well before the denouement. I suspect I wouldn’t be alone.

“Most of the time Nick and Lilly are too silly to be taken seriously.”

The finale isn’t entirely satisfying, either. Columbo has made a lot of assumptions in this episode, not all of which seem entirely justifiable – particularly his hunch that Nick and Lilly might have broken into the wax museum to tamper with the umbrellas. His resultant planting of the pearl in the umbrella may have been enough to extract a confession from the emotional stage stars, but it’s a bit too cute for me.

We’ve seen Columbo bend the rules to get his man before. Death Lends a Hand is the standout example. The difference here is that Columbo admits to the stunt. In Death Lends a Hand, we’re pretty sure he planted the contact lens and put Brimmer’s car out of commission, but we’re ultimately kept guessing. The Lieutenant’s aura of mystique is preserved. There’s a class distinction between the two episodes, and for all its uppity Britishness, Dagger is the poor relative by a country mile.

Columbo Dagger denouement

A thrilling conclusion? The jury’s out…

Still, as I perennially come back to when critiquing Columbo, nothing’s all bad. The same is true here. The second murder of the untrustworthy Tanner is a highlight. Although we don’t see it, the murder must have been gruesome and a terrifying way for the old guy to check out. I’d have liked more of this dark edge to come through. Most of the time Nick and Lilly are too silly to be taken seriously. Tanner’s grisly demise shows they’re actually pretty hardcore.

“Peter Falk himself didn’t like this episode, feeling it was too gimmicky. I’m firmly with him.”

Dagger also further explores the notion that Columbo is held in high regard by the LAPD, as he’s been chosen for the honour of visiting Scotland Yard. He’s even described as ‘a great detective’ by the officers expecting him at Heathrow.

This idea was first raised a couple of episodes earlier, when Sergeant Wilson described Columbo as ‘fast becoming a legend in the department’ in Greenhouse Jungle. This is a natural extension of that heightening profile – even if he remains ever so humble.

Personally I think it’s rewarding to see Columbo earning recognition of this type. After all, this is the cop who brought down a best-selling mystery writer, a revered war hero and a highfalutin concert maestro in the space of a few months. He deserves the plaudits. Conversely, I always find it irritating when other officers don’t show Columbo the respect he’s due, and show impatience with his methods. Don’t they know who he is?

Columbo Dagger Mind watch

Keep up won’t you, Big Ben?

As referenced earlier, the scenes of Columbo jalloping around London, camera in hand, help enhance the spectacle. It leads to a magic moment as Columbo and Durk stop to admire the Houses of Parliament.

“Is that Big Ben?” asks the wide-eyed Lieutenant. “Yes it is,” Durk assures him. Then, eyeing his own cheap timepiece, Columbo responds: “Well, look at that, a big clock like that and it´s only a minute slow.”

So while there are smiles to be had while watching Dagger of the Mind, they’re too few and far between to raise this above the mundane. Peter Falk himself didn’t like the episode, feeling it was too gimmicky. I’m firmly with him.

Some say a change is as good as a holiday. When it comes to Columbo, Dagger of the Mind proves that he’s at his most watchable in his own backyard. A homage to the Victorian mysteries of yore it may be, but as a piece of television this is about as unconvincing as Columbo gets.

Did you know?

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Yo Durk, say cheese…

Only the location shots of Columbo sightseeing and the interior shots at Durk’s gentleman’s club were actually recorded on location in the UK. Everything else was filmed either at Universal Studios in LA or at Greystone Mansions in Beverley Hills – the location of Sir Roger Haversham’s palatial dwelling.

Although he’s as British as The Queen herself, the scenes involving Wilfrid Hyde-White had to be shot in Cali, as he was a tax exile and owed thousands of pounds to the UK Inland Revenue! The sly old dog…

Both Hyde-White and Bernard Fox would return in future, nautical-themed episodes: Hyde-White in Last Salute to the Commodore, and Fox in Troubled Waters.

How I rate them so far!

Remember that time I panned Short Fuse, claiming it was the first ‘poor’ episode of the lost up until that point? Well all I can say is: come back Roddy and your tight trousers – all’s forgiven!

I’d watch Short Fuse a dozen times before selecting Dagger of the Mind again. This is a very silly episode, which is both hammily acted and tediously drawn out. It may not ultimately be the worst of the 70s’ run, but I’d expect it to be ‘bringing up the rear’ for a long time yet.

Check out my other episode reviews via 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
  13. Dagger of the Mind

I thank you kindly if you’ve taken the time to read this article, and would love to hear your own thoughts on this one in the comments section below. I wonder if there’s a nationalistic split, with Brits loathing it, but others finding more to enjoy. Either way, let me know!

Next up on our voyage through all Columbo episodes is Requiem For a Falling Star, starring Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter. A return to form for Season 2? Let’s wait and see…

Read a very different perspective on Dagger of the Mind in a ‘second opinion’ review here.

Read my top 5 episode highlights from Dagger of the Mind here.


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163 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Dagger of the Mind

  1. The ending of this episode is really ridiculous, in my opinion.

    1. Do they really expect us to believe that from the time Sir Roger was killed, all the way up to when his statue is displayed at the end, his umbrella NEVER was opened a the pea fall out?. That’s IMPOSSIBLE.

    2. In order for Columbo to set up his trap, he first would have to inspect the umbrella to make sure the pea was there, otherwise the entire trick would be all for nothing.

    Mr. Frame and his wife should have just kept quiet. I seriously think there is no way they would have been convicted of the murder just based on whether or not there was a pea in the man’s umbrella. The pea could have been placed there by anybody.

     
    • People are far too hard on this episode. I think it’s enjoyable, one of my favorites. Probably because I remember it from Thanksgiving weekend 1972, and FINALLY being allowed at age 10, to stay up and watch Columbo. No, the episode isn’t as thoroughly great as Port in a Storm or some others but I can never get enough of it. As for Nicky and Lillian, they should have kept quiet, and ignored that he had the wrong umbrella. Probably they should have told the truth, that it was an accident, but then you’d have no show.

       
    • OK, first of all, it’s not a “pea” it’s a fake pearl of the same type as in Lillian Stanhope’s necklace, the same type as was at the crime scene.

      Second, why is it impossible for the umbrella not to have been opened? For a long time it is in the possession of Joe the stagehand, who picked it up by mistake thinking it was his. Joe would only open “his” umbrella if it was raining, and he doesn’t get caught in the rain until after Nick steals the umbrella in the pub. Meanwhile, Joe’s umbrella has been at Sir Roger’s home and then at the London Wax Museum. Nobody had any reason to open it as they were not using it to protect themselves from rain, and it’s considered unlucky to open an umbrella indoors. The same goes for Sir Roger’s umbrella once the Stanhope’s exchange it for Joe’s.

      Thirdly, why would Columbo need to inspect Sir Roger’s umbrella first? Although it’s unlikely, it is possible that one of the fake pearls from the broken necklace could have fallen into the umbrella at the crime scene. Columbo can’t be sure of this of course, so he uses his childhood trick to flick another pearl across the room to make sure that at least one pearl falls out of the umbrella. The worst that can happen is that more than one pearl falls out (which would also be the best that could happen).

      Even though the evidence is “planted”, what really matters is Nick and Lillie’s reaction to it. The first murder was indeed an accident, but the second murder was deliberate and pre-planned, and the pearl on the carpet is all that’s needed to cause Nick to have a nervous breakdown and Lillie to start singing like a canary.

       
    • Jon, It’s just occurred to me that you missed Columbo’s explanation to Durk of how he flicked the pearl across the room into the otherwise empty umbrella. He demonstrates this by flicking another pearl into the goblet that’s part of the MacBeth exhibit.

      And of course by “the Stanhope’s” I meant Nicholas Frame and Lillian Stanhope.

       
  2. Maybe I have been lucky in my life, but I cannot remember worse acting – particularly Blackman. It is painful. Basehart maybe plays an unhinged character ultimately falling into madness, I can accept that, but she is simply an awful and ridiculous actress. Hope she was better in other works? The whole episode reminds me of Mike Myers more than anything else. Quite fun, in a way.

     
    • With respect, you’ve missed the point. It is Lillian Stanhope who is “an awful and ridiculous actress”. Honor Blackman was an excellent actress. (As I’ve said elsewhere on this thread, “Lilly” is very good as Lady Macbeth). It’s like the character of Joey in Friends being an incompetent actor, who was very well played by Matt LeBlanc. If we just regard this as the comedy episode of Columbo, it works rather well.

       
    • Lilian and Nick are to be seen as well past their prime, West End types who had to connive their way into the gig by “working” Sir Roger. The drift I pick up is that they were once great theater talents who while past the prime, still have an audience and are known and respected.

       
      • Yes, it is Lilian Stanhope who is an awful and ridiculous actress, not the actress who is playing her. I once read a comment about the BBC sitcom “The Good Life” and how the actors playing the Ledbetter’s must have suffered putting up with the childish behaviour of the actors playing the Goods. I replied by explaining that it was the Goods who had a childish sense of humour, not the excellent actors that played them. An even better example is the US sitcom Friends, where people tended to assume that Matt LeBlanc was a dumb actor, because he played the part of a dumb actor on the show so well.

         
  3. Being quite a departure from the usual Columbo stories it’s difficult to compare Dagger of the Mind to the other episodes. I would have to agree that I would place it low on my rankings but I get a weird sort of enjoyment from watching this. Maybe it’s the London setting or the totally over the top performances but I kind of enjoy how corny it can sometimes be. It certainly doesn’t reach the level of the classic Columbo episodes but if I just go with the flow I can find plenty to like here guv’ner.

     
    • I think the only episodes we can compare this to on an equal basis are the two other “fish out of water” stories, Troubled Waters and the “sequel” A Matter of Honor.

      In both of these episodes Columbo is on vacation, but the authorities ask for his help. The captain, the purser and the doctor on the cruise ship are British, but I don’t think there is any criticism of them being caricatures (although Durk and the purser are both played by Edward Fox).

      Do Mexican fans of Columbo object to any of the characters or settings in A Matter of Honor? As far as I know, this too was filmed on location, and all of the Mexican characters were played by Hispanic actors. And Colombophile has praised this episode for the police chief being depicted as a fellow professional, rather than a clichéd corrupt Mexican cop. (I think I read something years ago about Speedy Gonzales being banned from US TV because Mexican viewers might object to him, but it turned out they liked him as it was so rare to see a heroic Mexican on TV).

       
      • I liked Troubled Waters a lot. Robert Vaughn was a great villain and because it’s so appalling, Poupee Bouquet’s rendition of “Volare” is one of the great Columbo moments. It’s so cheesy and captures the 1970’s cruise ship culture perfectly. I think “Volare” should have been in the top 10 scenes list.

         
        • I have always assumed that Poupee Bouquet’s song was performed as part of the real ship’s cabaret, and that the audience were the actual ship’s passengers? If so, then I think this was the only scene in all of Columbo that was “real”, i.e. filmed as live? (There are the scenes of Tommy Brown with his audience, but that’s just some old Johnny Cash footage).

           
          • Now that I come to think of it, the scenes in this episode with Peter Falk talking to people in London included what I assume were real tourists and a real policeman and beefeater?

             
          • As I understand it, everything was filmed “real” on that cruise, so it was a bonus for the passengers. In watching the episode, you can pick up passenger reactions of being a bit “starstruck.” That particular ship, the “Sun Princess” was part of the Princess cruise fleet, which are smaller ships than most lines. Much more intimate so it was really hard to avoid the starstruck passenger I’m sure. Which adds to the charm.

             
  4. You’re not alone. I love it. Fun to see actors backstage. And these are terrific actors. Never understood the animosity towards the episode.

     
    • It was very common among police at the time to plant evidence. And, Columbo had done it before. He put the potato in the exhaust pipe of Robert Culp’s car to set him up.

       
      • The potato isn’t quite “evidence”, but it does lead Robert Culp to look for the contact lens, which, like Lady Macbeth’s pearl, could have been real evidence, but is actually a plant. (In fact, at least TWO pearls could have fallen out of the umbrella).

        Like the frame ups in a few episodes, nothing that Columbo plants is intended to be presented as evidence in court, but rather to trick the killer into giving themselves away.

        As Columbo says in Death Lends A Hand, it doesn’t matter if the contact lens is real evidence or not, what matters is Brimmer’s actions in looking for it and concealing it.
        In Dagger of the Mind, the real evidence is Nick and Lilly’s reactions to the pearl.

        Columbo has no official status in London. He’s just lending Scotland Yard a hand and noticing things that the they miss. Then he creates a situation that leads to a confession, all of which is much like what Sherlock Holmes might have done.

         
        • True it’s not evidence but it does show Columbo isn’t above bending the rules and has flexible integrity I guess. This episode generally gets negative reviews here. I really like it.
          I love that it’s England and I remember when it first aired, I was 10 years old and felt so adult getting to stay up late and watch Columbo with the adults.

           
  5. I do like the episode. It may be quite campy, but that only adds to the charm for me. I could imagine being a bit irritated by it as a Brit. Maybe it helps to have more distance from the subject matter. It also helps to remember that the entire series is based upon an over-the-top portrayal of the 1% and their associates in various settings. If you think of England as being another character in this episode, then I’d say it fits with the rest of the series quite nicely.

     
  6. I like the idea of taking Columbo out of his usual element and seeing how he adapts to his new surroundings, although the notion of the LAPD paying to send anyone (other than, perhaps, the Chief of Police, who could use a nice vacation) on a junket to London in order to study techniques at New Scotland Yard is a stretch of credulity.

    I did appreciate the fact that he didn’t instantly peg Nick and Lilly as the murderers, but rapidly settled on them by picking up on a string of subtle clues. I liked Durk’s mention of Sherlock Holmes, because at his best, Columbo is the most Sherlockian of TV detectives, and he most definitely proved that in this one, even if the episode itself was lacking.

     
    • I think there may have been an exchange programme between Scotland Yard and the LAPD, so that while Columbo was in London, Inspector Corner of the Yard was saying “You’re nicked” to wealthy celebrities in Los Angeles. This theory is based entirely on a short lived US sitcom called “Hart of the Yard” starring Ron Moody, The LAPD (or possibly the NYPD) are thrilled to exchange incompetent detective Al Swink for a real Scotland Yard detective, only to find that the Yard were only too pleased to get shot of the accident prone Inspector Hart.

       
    • I don’t understand why so many people think this episode is lacking. The environment is great, the premise is terrific and while it’s not the equal of the most top tier episodes, it’s certainly not unwatchable as so many seem to feel.

       
  7. Having left school and moved to London in 1969, I frequently enjoyed late night walks from my Pimlico bedsit to Chelsea and back home along the Thames embankment. One such evening I was passing the Royal Court and saw filming equipment being packed away. “ What were we filming? Columbo”, I was told. No need to be sarcastic, I thought as I continued on my way..

     
    • Nice anecdote. I’ve often thought that some British viewers must have got a shock when they saw themselves (or a friend or relative) on Columbo! Come to think of it, there were probably tourists from all over the world outside Buckingham Palace and at the Tower of London who saw themselves later on TV. I assume that Peter Falk improvised the scenes with the beefeater, the policeman and the lady tourist who took his picture.
      Whatever people make of Dagger of the Mind (and I love it) it’s terrific that they filmed so much of it on location instead of relying on stock footage and the Universal backlot.

       
      • I love this episode. I know “Columbophile” rates it low, but I really enjoy everything about it. My favorite part is when Columbo is racing around with his camera, ever the exuberant tourist. Whether it’s staged or real, I absolutely enjoy it.

         
  8. Oh, and just one more thing. The actors use the name Macbeth, which according to theater superstition is bad luck so it’s referred to as “the Scottish play.” That would be too obscure to use in the show but I wonder how the actors felt about it. One thing is certain, it was bad luck for Sir Roger, Tanner and the murderers.

     
  9. I’m wondering if your reaction to the stereotyped characters is because most of the British supporting cast is made up of expat actors who lived and worked in LA. That would keep the production of most of it in LA within the usual budget. Filming in the UK would have been very expensive, so what location shoots to establish the London setting were done with as few of the cast as necessary. Wilfred Hyde-White, as you say, a tax exile but Bernard Fox, John Williams and Arthur Malet would be familiar faces to American audiences, and familiar with their characterizations of the British in the early 70s. We wouldn’t get much British TV for a few more years, we first saw Monty Python and I, Claudius in the mid-70s, when our public TV system was forced by budget cuts to buy shows rather than produce them.

    The story just doesn’t grab me like most other episodes. There isn’t the carefully planned murder that Columbo unravels from a seeming insignificant detail the killer overlooked. But I like seeing London from that period, and even a poor Columbo is better than no Columbo at all.

     
  10. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of this mess of an episode. Too long, not enough sparring, and boring. Your criticism of the protagonists is spot on.

     
    • Yes, the idea of Shakespeare/Sherlock Columbo is a good one — ST:TNG frequently stole this bit to allow Data and Picard chances to vamp a bit — but this episode is just too boring. Funny moments whenever Durk displays his cluelessness, but even those exchanges ground down the pacing.

      The second murder really annoyed me. We have seen entire episodes where killers take great pains to mock a suicide yet get busted making the smallest mistake. Here, the butler gets gruesomely whacked after minimal planning and no one even investigates it.

      The whole blackmail angle seems to have been done to stretch the running time. Far more sensible would be the butler simply confirming to a dogged Columbo that the visiting acting couple had inquired about Sir Roger’s hat and umbrella.

       
      • Yes, but the butler gets whacked in England, so it would not be the usual LAPD investigation. The point is that the Yard are lucky that Columbo happened to be visiting London at the time these two murders happened.

         
        • Good lord, ain’t that the truth. lol

          Not being British, I didn’t find the stereotypes so much insulting as just not funny — though I agree 70s America may have, my parents eat up this style of Masterpiece Theatre caricature — but the portrayal of Scotland Yard is rather dubious. Are you saying servants are routinely murdered with impunity over there? 😉

           
          • In fiction, yes, but not with impunity. That’s why we have Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. And I love the cor blimey guvnor English stereotypes in American movies and TV shows. We always depict Americans (usually played by British actors) in loud shirts or jackets and with a camera around their neck. It’s all in fun and no offense was ever intended.

             
  11. I was pleasantly surprised by this episode, possible because I was expecting it to be dreadful.

    The one character who really irritated me was Joe Fenwick. I thought Arthur Malet’s acting was really bad.

     
    • I too enjoyed this episode. I liked the over the top acting, and death by a jar of cold cream, it must have been a full jar! Things probably would have turned out differently, they/she didn’t mean to kill John Williams.
      Am I mistaken that this was the only episode in the series that this murder wasn’t planned?, that it really was an accident! But when he killed the butler, that kind of took away that first murder/accident. Did enjoy when the butler was pushed in his home, being told get in there!. Seeing Dr. Bombay is always a plus.

       
      • It wasn’t the only accidental killing that wasn’t premeditated. Brimmer killed Lenore Kennicut by striking her in the heat of the moment. Likewise, Mark Collier didn’t intend to kill Karl Donner when he clubbed him with a poker in A Deadly State of Mind – he was trying to prevent Nadia being attacked. Although it doesn’t take place on-screen, the death of Janice Caldwell in A Friend in Deed also appeared to have been a tragic accident.

         
    • I’m revisiting this review, as I’ve got a bit more to say. I remember this episode as a kid and thinking the London locale was so unique. That was in the days when everyone in the world hadn’t traveled virtually everywhere in the world so the atmosphere really pays off for me. The idea that America’s master sleuth is in the land of Holmes, the ultimate master sleuth is a great payoff. I do get your criticisms but it’s an extremely enjoyable episode to watch, over the top or not. Very watchable. the only 2 I really don’t like are the “Commodore” and the bullfighting episode. Most of the others are terrific, Dagger is near the top of my list.

       
  12. My understanding is that murder by hanging is very rare, I would certainly have thought so anyway – so hard to achieve, especially when it’s one on one. No wonder they didn’t show it happening.

     
  13. Just watched the daggwr episode in 2020. It was so americanised it was a joke. Big Ben dudnt sound right. Cars with white wall tyres, talking aboy receiving cables and telegrams, open caskets. Even the door bells didnt sound English. Totally crap and an insult to the English!

     
    • The depiction of England may not have been accurate, but Columbo is an entertainment, not a documentary. How accurate were the American set episodes? I doubt if 1970’s Los Angeles was really full of good looking, wealthy celebrities topping each other. And nobody ever knows who Columbo is, despite his solving dozens of high profile cases!

       
    • Couldn’t agree more. I’m English and nearly always find that Hollywood doesn’t do ‘English and England’ well. The males generally sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins’ and the women like Hepburn in ‘My Fair Lady’. As to this episode of the eponymous Columbo … it’s a shocker. I’ve had a love affair from afar with Honor Blackman (RIP) since I was young and watched her on the ‘Avengers’ – I do hope she was playing this tongue-in-cheek. Basehart has always been a hammy actor in my view, so his portrayal in this episode was just par for his particular course. Another low point was the very unconvincing portrayal by Arthur Malet (not a bad English theatre actor at all) as the stage door guy. Even his accent was shocking and his acting hammy – and he’s English. Best on ground in this one was Hyde-White as the irrepressible butler. Not one of the best episodes by a long stretch.

      And don’t even get me started on the pitifully embarrassing ‘The Conspirators’ … that’s for another time …

      Oldspook

       
      • Lt Columbo gets on a plane in the Columbo universe version of Los Angeles and lands at the version of London that exists in the Columbo universe. Dagger of the Mind is to be commended for having several scenes filmed at genuine London locations (rather than filming the whole thing on the Universal back lot) but it’s an episode of Columbo, not a documentary called “Peter Falk visits London”.

        It’s just the way that London/England/Britain were typically depicted in American TV shows from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Think about how British TV at this time depicted America and Americans.
        (RIP Honor Blackman).

         
      • They balanced some of the filming between London and LA which helped out Wilfrid Hyde-White who was in tax exile at the time.

         
  14. I think it’s ironic that one of the worst episodes of “Columbo” shares the same title as one of the better episodes of “Star Trek.” I couldn’t get past that aside from a few set pieces actually filmed in England, it was painfully obvious most of the episode was filmed in California. How else did PALM TREES grow outside a butler’s residence in England?

     
  15. This is the first review I’ve read that I strongly disagree with…and I agree with almost all the other reviews I’ve read! I think your British background makes you look down your nose at this episode, like Sup’t Durk initially looks down at Columbo. But there’s so much to like here: Columbo walking the same streets as Sherlock Holmes; Scotland Yard, a 20th Century Inspector Lestrade, Richard Basehart, scenes from Macbeth in a Shakespearean theater, the fantastic country manor, old books, Colonel Pickering from “My Fair Lady,” the denouement at the wax museum. C’mon!

     
      • Yeah, but you can’t go by Falk, he actually loved Last Salute to the Commodore, the worst of the 1970s catalog.

         
        • I love Dagger of the Mind! It’s my favorite. And I know I’m very alone out there. I can’t get enough of it.

           
          • I’m British and I love Dagger of the Mind! It’s in my top 3 Columbo’s. It doesn’t treat the British any worse than other American shows up until the time it was made, but has the advantage of genuine location filming in the UK. It’s just too bad that the whole episode wasn’t made on location (probably not possible) as it is all set in England.

            Would fans who dislike this episode have preferred it to be made in the style of British cop shows like The Sweeney, with lines like “Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked!” or
            “Who taught you how to drive, Evel Knievel?”. Or would they have preferred it not to be made at all? At least it’s not set in a boatyard.

            It’s actually a lot like a Steed & Mrs Peel episode of The Avengers. Very British, but made with the American market in mind.

             
  16. The scene of the mourners paying their respects is the one that grates with me most. As a Brit I know this kind of thing would never have happened here, especially in the 70’s. Open caskets are almost non existent in the UK as are the pressed steel double lidded caskets such as the one used in the film. In the UK most of us go to our maker in the classic 6 sided coffin with the lid screwed firmly shut, embalming is hardly ever done here, and the coffin makes it’s brief appearance at the church and then off to the cemetery or crem, its also rare in the UK for mourners to attend the burial. They could have had Columbo attending a funeral at a parish church, much more realistic!
    I suspect this scene was shot in the US along with all the theatre interior scenes, as it isn’t the interior of the Royal Court they are using.

    The scenes at Haversham’s house, also filmed in the USA are also jarring, because, although the house is built in a mock victorian mansion style, to British eyes it is clearly somewhere overseas.

    Not a great episode, but bad Columbo is still better than most shows.

     
  17. This is actually one of my favorite episodes. and here’s a funny thing: I’ve been watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on youtube, Bernard Fox had some roles on that show, and so did Arthur Malet, the doorman on this Columbo episode! The two of them were in Season 4 Episode 26 “Never Bathe on Saturday”. Bernard Fox is the house detective in a hotel, and Arthur Malet plays a 75 year old engineer who rescues Laura from a bathtub!

     
  18. I always assumed this was *intended* to be an over-the-top, slapstick, comedic episode. That the 2 villains were *meant* to be hammy. That the episode was supposed to be a parody of an Agatha Christie mystery. In that light, I found this episode amusing. The one thing that troubled me and dimmed the fun for me, was Columbo planting fake evidence. It seemed pretty clear to me that if the villains had not panicked and confessed, he would have allowed them to be arrested on the planted fake evidence because he was just so sure he was right. That really put me off an otherwise comedic episode. Columbo indulges way too often in the corrupt cop trick of planting false evidence — we’re supposed to believe he’ll admit to that off screen.

     
    • Given your comments, you might like to read my alternate review of “Dagger of the Mind” (https://columbophile.com/2017/03/19/columbo-dagger-of-the-mind-a-second-opinion/), as well as my take on the “planting fake evidence” issue (https://columbophile.com/2017/05/17/what-happens-when-columbos-cases-go-to-court/).

      There is a huge distinction between staging something to see how a suspect reacts, which Columbo does frequently (beyond the bead in “Dagger of the Mind,” there is the phony suicide in “Prescription: Murder,” the contact lens in “Death Lends a Hand,” the cigar box in “Short Fuse,” the reversed photo in “Negative Reaction,” the son’s arrest in “Mind Over Mayhem,” the Shriner’s ring in “Requiem for a Falling Star,” the phony police file in “A Friend in Deed,” the phony witness in “Deadly State of Mind”), and basing an arrest on false evidence. The latter is not something Columbo does.

       
    • It’s a favourite trick of Columbo’s, and yet ironically the one time the villain thought to accuse Columbo of lying, in “Suitable for Framing,” it turned out Columbo could prove it!

       
    • When “Dagger” aired, it was Thanksgiving weekend of 1972, and at that point in time, not many of us Americans had been to London, so I don’t think they were being hammy or jokey at all. It was a chance to expand the Columbo universe and “glam” it up somewhat. No one in my family had ever left the country, us Indiana/Alaska hillbillies had been to Canada, so seeing London was pretty exotic and different and exciting for us. I was only 10 and knew how great Columbo was by then. Staging Columbo in London was a great idea for me anyway.

       
  19. I very much agree with you. I can see how this hasn’t aged well at all. All the moments when Columbo can’t understand what the Brits are saying are very cringey. I also dislike the limited interaction between Columbo and Nick and Lily. I think their screen time isn’t unearned.

    I’m not thrilled with Columbo planting the evidence in this scenario either. There just doesn’t seem to be enough for him to go on to assume this man was murdered. I think if he spent more time with the murders or if they have left more of a trail it would have been justified. I think that the reading glasses and book were enough to suspect murder but not to lead him so specifically to Nick and Lily.

    I do love the contrast between the British stiff upper lip treatment of Columbo’s antics as opposed to his normal reception in LA. You know they’re annoyed but their annoyance is portrayed so differently from that of most others. Brits, I’m curious if this was one aspect of the episode that fell into cringe territory for you.

     
  20. Pingback: The 10 least satisfying Columbo ‘gotchas’ of the 70s | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  21. I think one of the most charming features of this episode is the copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that Sir Roger was supposedly reading before his fatal fall, which has “FIRST EDITION” embossed on the front cover. Rather like finding a piece of Roman ceramic with “50BC” stamped on it.

     
  22. Well, it certainly was different. Do we know why it was decided to set this in London, other than perhaps as a gimmick? Interesting that this was one I have absolutely no memory of, and I thought I saw them all as a young girl. Basehart and Blackman definitely camping it up in spots, but that was directorial. I can certainly see why a Brit may find it insulting; it definitely strikes me as a California TV show take on Brits; lots of broad strokes and cliches. But I also think it was insulting to actors! Not the best one, but it’s impossible for a TV show to strike gold every time; even one as good as Columbo.

     
    • I think they simply went to London to cash in on the show’s burgeoning popularity in the UK. There was a plan to take him to Japan for the same reason but it never got off the ground.

       
    • i think my main gripe with this episode is that if they wanted to do an episode in London they should have done it properly and filmed the whole episode there. Yes you get the footage of London,throughout the episode,but then you get the bits that was obviously filmed in California and it looks ridiculous. They should have at least done it properly

       
    • I think the premise of this episode is that Nick and Lilly are bad actors, otherwise they would not have needed to con Sir Roger into backing their production of Macbeth. The irony is that while Richard Basehart is deliberately “hammy” as Nick’s version of Macbeth, Honor Blackman is actually quite good as Lilly’s version of Lady Macbeth. In other words, Lilly (and I do mean Lilly) is a better actor on stage than off.

       
      • I think it’s more that Nick and Lilly are way past their prime actors and conning Sir Roger somehow gets them back in the game, so to speak. I always felt they were presented as one time stars, not bad actors at all, just down on their luck.

         
  23. I agree with your summation of this saga. Blackman and Basehart played it almost comically. They would have been great casting additions to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as baddies.
    “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” After that drawn out dirge of an episode, I thought it was tomorrow and I was as mad as Nicky.

     
  24. I can pretty much agree with you on this one. While I can’t say I hate this episode, it’s definitely not among my Top Ten. Though I did like the part where Baseheart loses it. XD I felt kind of sorry for Tanner (and Hyde-White and Bernard Fox were probably the best actors in this whole episode, besides Falk). In spite of his sad attempt at blackmailing, he had seemed like a pretty nice guy and didn’t deserve what happened to him. That’s when Nick and Lilly reached the point of no return: the first time it was an accident, this time it was cold-out murder.

    The scene in the club was a bit amusing; poor Columbo’s trying to eat his meal but the pathologist is grossing him out with the autopsy report!

     
  25. I quite enjoyed it for what it was, though I agree it’s one of the weaker episodes and is not of the same calibre as typical Columbo. Also seems quite incongruous compared to other episodes in the way it deviated from formula. It was very hammy at times and probably more of an American depiction of Britishness, but harmless fun all the same. The hysterical laughter from Basehart was creepy, though!

     
  26. Probably my least favorite episode of the original run. To my mind, it was a real missed opportunity.

     
  27. While I agree it was a poorer outing I really liked Columbo catching them on the non-discrepancy of the co-murderers stories being too perfect.

     
  28. As I watch “Dagger”, I find myself disagreeing (for the first time) with the wonderful and always perceptive observations of Columbophile. Perhaps because I am an American, I find the overacting of Basehart and Blackman a scream, (along with the accompanying whimsical harpsichord music.) A real plus for this very different episode.

     
      • I think it’s so strange for Brits not to like this episode as much as non-Brits. I can’t believe that kind of sensitivity. Yes, the joke is on you, but can’t you take a joke? The Brits I know certainly can and they love this episode, because they like to be taken on like this. It’s just having fun with stereotypes, not just the British stereotype, but also the stereotypical and classical world of Theatre. I think it’s all very funny and well done, with Peter Falk in excellent form. Sure, not perfect but if the main reason for not liking Dagger of the Mind is that you feel offended by it as a Brit, I really don’t get it.

         
        • Maybe it’s a question of being accurately parodied versus being misrepresented. This is also an issue for Canada—on the one hand we’d like to think we have a sense of humour about ourselves, and on the other hand we bristle at being misunderstood. 🙂

           
          • Look at the way that Americans were depicted on British TV at the time “Dagger of the Mind” was made. Essentially good natured, but loud mouthed and loud jacketed, with sunglasses, cigars and no sense of irony. American TV depicted the English as essentially good natured, but either as posh or cockney, slightly behind the times and bemused by Americans. It’s just TV shorthand.

             
  29. Aside from the music being a little too “Murder She Wrote-ish”, I enjoyed this episode. I like the premise of the bumbling American cop teaching the Yard a thing or two. As for the two lead performances….you must know it was tongue in cheek?? The scripted stereotype of two narcissistic actors. You either got the gag, or you didn’t. I thought Arthur Malet’s performance really added a lot!

     
      • That’s understandable, considering it was a script written in Hollywood….. for British to act out…… filmed in L.A….. then shown, back in Great Britain. (Those were some very beautiful iconic British actors you let us borrow) What made me smile, was that even when Nicholas and Lillian left the theater, they seemed to relate to each other as though they were always on stage doing Shakespeare. Very clever! But, humor is very subjective. I’m not very objective, because I was somewhat “starstruck” by Basehart and Blackman.

         
  30. The staircase (maybe the whole set) in the Wax museum, leading to the basement, was used before : in the jazz bar where the ‘Paul Rifkin’ character is rehearsing with his saxophone

     
  31. The only bit that stuck in my British craw was that they kept referring to ‘The Wax Museum’ when in reality they would have said ‘Madame Toussaud’s’.

     
    • Maybe they weren’t given permission to use the name in the show. That’s the only thing I can think of why they wouldn’t call it by it’s correct name.

       
      • The building they use as the wax museum isnt actually Madame Tussauds, it’s the Royal Music College. Madame Tussauds is a couple of miles away

         
  32. Feb 10th 2019 12.30pm
    Just finished watching DAGGER OF THE MIND , I’m a Brit too , but what the hell it’s Columbo , I remember watching the Mystery Movies as a kid, and Columbo I really liked , the others were good as well , it’s just the way Peter played his part , it really did get you into believing he was a one of a kind detective. Basehart and blackman were not at their best , but as I said , it’s Columbo that’s good enough for me .

     

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