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…
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
It’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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
All 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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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!
- Suitable for Framing
- Murder by the Book
- Death Lends a Hand
- Lady in Waiting
- Prescription: Murder
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- Dead Weight
- Short Fuse
- 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.
I just watched this episode on TV last night, and I’m completely with you. Basehart and Blackman are so completely wooden, they have no chemistry at all with the good Lieutenant. They more like if they’d belong to a satyrical British crime show rather than a Columbo episode. They’re miles below a Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp calibre baddie. This takes away all the enjoyment from this episode. Boring killers, boring mystery.
Also, it’s interesting to note how different the cinematography is in the scenes shot in London and the scenes shot in LA and Hollywood. Famed British DoP Geoffrey Unsworth used his trademark style of soft filters and looming lights (see: Superman: The Movie) in the former, while his American colleague, regular Columbo cinematographer Harry Wolf used the usual, simplier approach he did for the rest of the series.
I may have mentioned this before, but I do not think that it is Basehart and Blackman who are wooden, but rather the characters that they are playing. The guest stars are very good actors playing very bad actors, who carry their stage personas over into their overly theatrical behaviour offstage. I remember some years ago reading a criticism of Richard Briars and Felicity Kendall in the Good Life, which asserted that Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith had to put up with their co-stars childish sense of humour. But it was Tom and Barbara Good who were childish, not Briers and Kendall, who were only following the script. I think the same thing applies here with Basehart and Blackman.
Having re-watched this entry recently, I concur with your spot-on assessment of Nick and Lilly’s characters. They’ve totally imersed themselves in their stage personas, coming to us as a murderous, albeit silly couple.
Thank you Hugo! Yes, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Nick and Lilly (and therefore Basehart and Blackman) are actually rather good, but they have no idea how to behave like normal people when not on stage.
And I have said before, this can be regarded as Columbo’s comedy episode. This is borne out by the presence of Wilfred Hyde-White and Richard Pearson, who appeared in many British comedies.
Dear Chris, thank you for the kind reply. Taken as a whole this entry is average, although not as bad as our host rated it. While I totally concede its blatant stereotypes may grate on an English audience, Blackman and Basehart seem to have a firm grasp of their character’s quirky, faux-larger-than-life nature.
Hi Hugo. You’re welcome. I take your point about DOTM being an “average” episode, but as to stereotypes, I am English and have lived in England all my life, and I love this episode!
Yes, Basehart and Blackman knew exactly what they were doing, and I’m also impressed that they have genuine British actors in the cast.
Apart from enjoying the story, it means a lot to me that some of it was filmed on location in London, so I have been able to visit some of the sites.
Dear Chris, I think the stereotypes issue is, after all, just a matter of perspective. While some may find them amusing, as I, for the most part, do, others may regard them as annoying and, taken to extremes, even distasteful. Nevertheless, this is one of those episodes whose key aspect is having Columbo in a different milieu. As such, everything else, including the crime, becomes “secondary”.
Good point Hugo. The main point of this episode is that it’s the first time we see Columbo outside of Los Angeles and with no powers of arrest. I’m just glad that it was set entirely in my home country.
When this episode airs on the Hallmark network here in America, they CUT OUT the pearl flicking scene at the wax museum. Heathens!
WHY? Heathens indeed. I hear regular complaints that the montage scene on Robert Culp’s glasses is regularly cut from Death Lends a Hand, as is the killing of Harry Alexander from Stitxh in Crime – both wonderful scenes.
I remember watching episodes of “Barnaby Jones” on late night TV about 20 years ago, and the local station often cut the part at the end in which Barnaby has a one last conversation with his client, listens very respectfully, and maybe offers just a bit of low-key advice. I’ve heard this part called “the denouement.” And they cut it, and this after padding the hour-long show to about 70 minutes with extra commercials!
They make more money that way! By butchering the episodes in syndication they can fit more ads in.
There should be a law against it!
There should indeed. It’s why everyone should just buy the DVD set and enjoy it as it was meant to be seen.
Do they cut out the pub scene with Nick stealing the umbrella from Joe? Cause I don’t remember that scene at all..
“Dagger Of The Mind” has always been in my top 3 Columbo’s, right after “Suitable For Framing” (best story) and “Murder Under Glass” (best villain) as it is so much fun.
Columbo always had room for humour, and this was as close to a comedy episode as the series ever got, which works well because of the very different English setting.
Compare “Dagger Of the Mind” to the 3-part “Londinium Larcenies” story in the 1960’s Batman TV series. This is another favourite episode of another series I love, with the Dynamic Duo helping “venerable Ireland Yard” with a tricky case.
Needless to say, there was no location filming done for this story, and the entire Batman series is slyly comedic, but “Dagger Of The Mind” is just as much fun, while still keeping one foot in reality.
Which brings me to the performances of Richard Basehart and Honor Blackman, both of whom are fine actors. They are not giving “hammy” or “wooden” performances as such, rather they are playing a pair of hammy, wooden actors who would not have needed to con Sir Roger in the first place if they had been any good. Like the actors playing villains on Batman, they can go over the top, as it is wholly appropriate to the characters and the story.
As an Englishman, I am thrilled not only that there was a story set in England, but also that they did go to the trouble of doing some location filming in London. This means that I have been able to visit locations where a Columbo episode was filmed, without having to fly over to Los Angeles.
And I don’t mind the “Lor, luv a duck guvnor” dialogue in the least, as Columbo is an entertaining work of fiction, not a documentary. How true to life are the other episodes? Even in its darkest moments, Columbo was never meant to be as grim and gritty as any typical episode of the more down to Earth Kojak was.
And if nothing else, “Dagger Of The Mind” provides us with little bit of welcome continuity years later in the episode “Columbo Cries Wolf”. Columbo is investigating the apparent disappearance of a woman who boarded a flight from Los Angeles to London and mentions contacting his friend, Inspector Durk of Scotland Yard . . .
Agreed. Maybe it’s because I’m English but I really like this episode. I like the actors and the locations, both of which make me feel nostalgic but neither of which feel steriotyped.
Worst episode for me is a matter of honour. And strangely i quite like mind over mayhem which columbophile ranks even lower.
I agree with you on this one, and with Peter Falk too it seems…thanks for that tidbit. I found Honor Blackman’s screeching shrillness irritating and Richard Basehart’s poor attempt at a British accent detracting, but found it merely borderline unwatchable rather than full-on unwatchable. And as someone above commented, it was not murder but accidental homicide, possibly self defense, and at most involuntary manslaughter. Then they had to go and kill the blackmailing butler.
You recounted Dirk and Columbo’s Big Ben sequence, but you left off Durk’s punch line. Easily one of the best throwaway lines of the series!
I too want to thank you for all the hard work on this blog.
You don’t have to be British to be alienated by the cliched characterizations here. Basehart and Blackman were simply dreadful. The only saving grace was Wilfred Hyde White, whose stylishness managed to rise above the tawdry script.
terrible episode silly boring watchable at best , i think short fuse was a shambolic episode but a lot more enjoyable than this. as for last salute to the commodore i dontt know which is worse aqt least last salut s ending is slightly decent.
I’ve watched four episodes of Columbo since the Christmas day and this is the first that has been poor. I probably watched Columbo first as a teenager in the 70s here in the UK. I can’t remember any specific episodes and although I know the overall form each episode is like a new experience for me. I started watching series 2 actually, I don’t know why, but the first three episodes have been really good.
This one suffers from a number of problems. There is the overly clichéd English people which others have commented on. In this episode they overplay the humour in Columbo’s character and I think this is a bad idea. If they overplay the Columbo character it weakens it. I think that section at the start in the airport is just boring really. The shots of Columbo walking around London look really grey and don’t feel part of the story. This one is not very well edited or directed and that contrasts quite a lot with the first three episodes of the second series which are very well put together. I think Bernard Fox is really terrible as Det. Chief Supt. William Durk, it is such a poor performance it really stands out. There are problems with the sound as well in some scenes. It is poorly recorded due to inappropriate deployment of the microphones. I recognise this as I work as an independent video producer myself although it is a very small business. The editing in this episode is in places rather clanky and some of the direction is really very odd.
Overall a lot went wrong in this episode. However, as I say, it is a contrast with the others I’ve seen which are really very well made indeed.
I think this blog is an excellent resource and it is greatly enhancing my enjoyment of watching these Colombo TV shows.
Just watched the episode again. It is somehow one of the rather boring episodes I can watch over and over.
Here in Germans daily TV, the seasons are not in order. They always play “Etude in Black” the day before “Dagger of the Mind”. Therefore it become obvious to me, that the Wax Museum and the Jazz Bar where Columbo interviews the trumpeter of Alex Benedict were filmed inside the same location. Did you recognized the red lighted glass ceiling over the stairs down to museum storage/jazz bar?
There are other siblings in other episode pairs. For example the red flask which was thrown out of the plane by Johnny Cash in “Swan Song”. It appeared for a longer time in “Publish or Perish” on a table in a police office.
Another British Columbo fan who finds this outing an embarrassment. Why do the Yanks think we’re all “Toodle-pip, old boy” toffs or “Cor blimey, guv’nor” Cockneys? It pains me to know the actor playing Joe was actually English. “El Alamein, that’s where I copped my bit” oh,dear…
The scene I do enjoy is Columbo trying to eat at Durk’s club while a pathologist (Richard Pearson in a nice cameo rôle) flourishes post-mortem photo’s of Sir Roger at him and describes the fatal wound with great relish. (Columbo also gets to tuck in to some good old fish and chips!)
In a few years British TV would launch a cult police series of its own in ‘The Sweeney’, where Scotland Yard detectives were as far from Durk and O’Keefe as you could get. To see Columbo paired with Regan and Carter would have been amazing: “There’s just one more thing, sir… er… you’re nicked!”
Hi there – my first post on this brilliant website. Thank you so much for all the fantastic Columbo reviews and information. Recently, I have enjoyed reading your own Top 10 episodes list, and the Top 10 as voted for by fans. Really interesting. Thank you. You do Columbo proud!
Just thought I would add a comment here. I have a been a British Columbo fan for many years. I have always had spells when I have watched Columbo. For a long time, I have always felt that there was an episode in which Columbo solved a case because he flicked something into an upturned umbrella. That was kind of all I could remember, although perhaps I might also have remembered a kind of museum setting. I recently found out that this did indeed happen, and that it happened in Dagger Of The Mind.
So, I watched it a few weeks ago. And yes, it is not the greatest episode ever made! We are in Stereotype City, with, as others have said, hammed-up acting and silliness. I also noticed that the mansion was not in England – you could tell by the look of it, and also by the bird song in the background! And the Scotland Yard Jaguar had white walled (is that how you say it?) tyres.
However, I do believe this is the first episode of Columbo I have a memory of seeing. I remember, as a youngster, being impressed by the clever trick of flicking the pearl (I think I remembered it as being a pea!) into the umbrella. It always stuck with me, and because I hadn’t seen it since, I began to wonder over the years if it actually ever had happened in Columbo. So, I was chuffed to find out that it really had happened. I think I might have watched it on my mum and dad’s’ portable black and white TV many years ago.
Therefore, even though it is low down in the episode ratings, Dagger Of The Mind will always be a special episode of Columbo for me, because it has this great sentimental value of being my first ever episode. For all its faults, I will always be a fan of this episode.
And isn’t that one of the great things about our love of Columbo? As fans, we will always have different reasons for liking (or disliking) different episodes.
Anyway, I have waffled for far too long! Keep up the great work on your fantastic site. As fans, we really appreciate and enjoy it.
Hello, welcome to the site and thanks for your comment! You are dead right about all the different reasons people have for liking / disliking particular episodes. And I also think that the episode that first draws us into the show will always have a special place in our hearts. It’s the same for me with Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case. It’s the first episode I remember watching and enjoying and it’s my favourite to this day, even if I recognise it has several plot holes.
I do hope you continue to enjoy the site!
Thank you very much. You have a great site and I will be a regular visitor! I am working my way through the box set at the moment and have just finished Season 1. Looking forward to Bye-Bye Sky High – definitely remember seeing it at least once but not for several years. All the best, Richard
The only think I dont like about this episode is the injustice. It was obviously an accidental death but the two are treated Macbeth actors are treated like murderers. It just didn’t fit the story.
If they hadn’t behaved so stupidly they could have avoided the rap. They placed ego ahead of logic and remorse and deserved everything they got in my opinion.
Yes but then they murdered the frail old blackmailing butler after he considerately brought them breakfast and almost convinced everyone that he was the guilty one…even Dr. Bombay. Love you Dr Bombay, emergency, come right away!
Also, they were so giddy and remorseless as they read their reviews in bed…..what heathens!
I’m also a Brit and think this episode is a shocker! A homage it may be, but that doesn’t stop it from sucking!
Agree totally with the review. Just an awful episode. As stated, no rapport between the perpetrators and Columbo and also the ending is especially. Have only watched this twice while I’ve watched others many times.
We saw Dirk Benedict in a production of the very first episode of Columbo in a theatre in Worthing! I thought, no many times, are we going to see A-Teams Face/Battlestar Galactica Starbuck on a stage in Sussex England? Then i thought, how many times am i going to see a Columbo episode on stage in England? And you know what? He did a pretty good impression of Peter Falk’s Columbo! Loved Columbo! Weren’t to keen on some of the later ones! Some were good though! My favourites was the episodes with Louise Jordan, the murderous Food Critic/Chef and Donald Pleasants Wine expert! Get to see two sides of Columbo! Louis Jordan’s last scene contempt for Columbo and Columbo’s fitting reply! And Columbo’s sympathetic attitude towards Donald Pleasant’s personal torture of destroying valuable wine!
It was shown that Columbo was thought of highly in his department even before Greenhouse Jungle in Short Fuse, when she asked to send me your best man (although Columbo said his wife said he was second and there were many tied for first).
I think everyone’s being a little hard on this episode ( and I’m as British as Wilfred ). For all its faults it is a fun episode, perhaps not meant to be taken too seriously and I give it credit for some scenes actually filmed on location in London – most American TV shows when set abroad just have the cheap stock footage (and the infamous ‘London, England’ or ‘Paris, France’ caption) and unconvincing fakery. Look at any Murder She Wrote episodes set in England by way of contrast.
Maybe they could have made this episode more authentic by casting Dick Van Dyke in it instead of the later Negative Reaction?
Dick Van Dyke was superb in the superior Negative reaction, i wouldn’t rather have him in this episode and miss out on his Paul Galesko.
Of course he could have been in both episodes – a repeat offender like Cassidy, Culp and MacGoohan. And he wouldn’t necessarily have been the murderer in Dagger of the Mind – maybe a regular cockney policeman?
The butler should have done it. Tanner was the only character with the combination of deviousness and style worthy of Columbo. Although the show is beyond saving. The only surprise for me was to see Geoffrey Unsworth credited with the cinematography. His career was variable, but is the man who shot 2001 and Cabaret responsible for THIS? It looks more like Columbo filmed it with his little camera.
The servant can NEVER do it. That is Columbo 101
It’s a shame this episode is such a stinker. As a fellow brit I so wanted this episode to be a good one. I have a feeling it will remain at the bottom of your rankings at least until series 5, maybe even longer. It is sadly deserving of such a low position and I agree with your comments about it.
I do think part of the blame must lie with the writer Jackson Gillis. He was also responsible for writing Short Fuse, Last Salute to the Commodore, A Bird in the Hand and Murder in Malibu amongst others. Yes he did a great job with his first Columbo contribution on Suitable for Framing. But after then he never wrote an episode anywhere near as good. Even Lovely But Lethal, Requiem for a Falling Star and The Most Dangerous Match could, in my opinion, only be described as average at best.
I love the cast of Dagger of the Mind. It’s a treat to see Honor Blackman and Wilfrid Hyde White. But they are wasted in this. The script and the story let them down. I am not surprised Peter Falk was not keen on it. A huge disappointment!
Its one of my least favourite episodes and one i tend to skip when i am going through my boxset. As bad as some of the revival episodes are i think i prefer most of those to this episode! What surprised me is that when i finally got around to reading ”the Columbo phile’ book the writer praised this episode highly, i thought he must be having a laugh!
I thought the same about the Columbo Phile book review! He’s usually on the money, but not here!
For me it has always been a toss up between Dagger of the Mind and Last Salute to the Commodore as the worst of the 70’s Columbo’s. I think Last Salute is slightly worse simply due to the utterly boring nature of it. Taken as a light farce Dagger of the Mind is at least fun but the hammy acting and stereotypes do stick out like sore thumbs. I’ve never much cared for it as it feels like it comes from completely different universe as any of the others of that era.
I’m with you. Last Salute is worse than this. I’m looking forward to reviewing it, actually, as it’s so poor it ought to be a fun write-up if nothing else!
Why was Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp always being arrested! Good episodes though!
A fine chance to watch great actors havin’ good time on location. It looks like “Prisoner of Zenda” spoof in The Great Races to me.
As a fellow brit, I can never watch the whole episode and that’s probably my loss. But it just grates and I can’t get past the hammy acting and stereotypes. It’s my least favourite episode
I feel your pain, Rebecca!