Columbo went where no man has gone before on 11 February, 1973 by casting Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy in the role of murderous medic Dr Barry Mayfield.
Casting Spock, err… Nimoy seemed an inspired choice on paper. Just think what he could bring to the table: a Vulcan’s cold logic; a Klingon-esque love of killing; a Romulan-infused ruthless ambition. That combo could never be bad, right?
But does A Stitch in Crime hit home with the force of a tire iron to the head, or does it instead bring on a morphine induced-style coma? And am I able to avoid making dozens of Star Trek puns throughout this review? Read on and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Barry Mayfield: Leonard Nimoy
Dr Edmund Heideman: Will Geer
Sharon Martin: Anne Francis
Harry Alexander: Jared Martin
Marcia Dalton: Nita Talbot
Written by: Shirl Hendryx
Directed by: Hy Averback
Score by: Billy Goldenberg
Episode synopsis: Columbo A Stitch in Crime
Brilliant young heart surgeon, Dr Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy), is hungry for success. When his august colleague Dr Edmund Heideman (Will Geer) seeks a longer period of research before unleashing a revolutionary new heart drug, Mayfield’s patience runs out.
He wants recognition – and he wants it now, before someone else beats them to the punch. To do that, he’ll need sole ownership of the research – and that means getting the lovable Heideman out of his hair, permanently.
The opportunity presents itself swiftly, as the elderly surgeon’s heart is in a bad way and he needs a replacement valve, stat. Heideman has complete faith in his young protege, and trusts Mayfield with the job of patching up his dicky ticker. Little does the old boy realise the villainous scheme Mayfield has in mind.
Mayfield, you see, has dyed some dissolving suture black, so that it passes for regular suture in the operating room. What does this mean? Well, when it dissolves in a few days, Dr Heideman’s replacement valve will fail and he’ll perish. It’ll look perfectly natural, but it will leave Mayfield in command of the research project.
Luckily for Heideman, he has a friend in nurse Sharon Martin (Anne Francis in her second Columbo outing). She doesn’t trust Mayfield one iota, and she’s watching the young surgeon like a hawk throughout the operation. And although all seems to go well in theatre, as Sharon cleans up afterwards she notices some leftover suture on the floor. Picking it up, we can immediately see something’s not right with her reaction as she rubs it between her fingers with a puzzled expression. Foul play is clearly in her mind.
She suggests as such to Mayfield as they meet in the lab shortly later. He challenges her to have the suture analysed to prove her suspicions, and she rises to his challenge by booking an appointment at the medical suppliers the following morning. It’s an appointment she’ll never make. As she heads to the hospital car park to head home after a stressful day, Mayfield steps out of the shadows and raises a tire iron. We never see the fatal strike, but it’s game over for Sharon.
Mayfield doesn’t stop there, though. He’s much too clever for that. Instead he takes Sharon’s apartment keys and, waiting for her roomie Marcia to clear out, he breaks in and plants morphine under the kitchen sink before messing up the place to make it look like a drug-addled fiend has marauded through in pursuit of a fix.
Back to the hospital parking lot and a dishevelled Lieutenant Columbo is one of the officers in action. The sleepy detective isn’t at his best after a sleepless night, though, first sprinkling egg-shell over the crime scene, then using the murder weapon itself to crack the egg against. CSI this ain’t…
From here, Columbo heads off to find Dr Mayfield. He locates him in his office, on the phone, receiving the news of Sharon’s demise. Although his voice registers shock, Mayfield had the presence of mind to wind up his desk clock as he speaks.
When Columbo references the incident as an example of Mayfield’s great concentration, the Doctor tries to explain things away. “It was purely reflexive,” he says, but we know that Columbo is already onto his man. After all, he’s seen similar examples from killers in the past – just think of murderous Ken Franklin opening his mail as the corpse of his partner lay on his front lawn…
Columbo’s next interview is with Marcia back at Sharon’s apartment. She’s a bit of a loon, and has nothing useful to tell the Lieutenant. His trip wasn’t wasted, though, as the hidden morphine is uncovered while he’s there – albeit suspiciously with no fingerprints, only glove smudges on the bottles. Why would Sharon wear gloves, Columbo wonders?
Uncovering the drugs, however, gives Columbo reason to pay a house call to Mayfield – and he finds the doctor hosting a lavish pool party, complete with guests galore and enough booze to sate a shipload of thirsty pirates.
During a short interview, Mayfield reveals that Sharon did have access to drugs in the lab. He can’t help Columbo with his next query though. The police found a note in Sharon’s handwriting seeming to set up a meeting with a mystery man called ‘Mac’ the morning after she was killed. Mayfield’s never heard of a ‘Mac’, but knowing he needs to provide the detective with a lead to follow, sets the next part of his plan into action.
Once Columbo has shambled out, Mayfield is straight on the phone to Marcia. The two take a stroll, and the medical man heavy-handedly tries to make the rather slow Marcia remember something, anything, about Sharon’s love life, but she’s too wrapped up in herself to take the bait.He eventually manages to crowbar the name ‘Harry Alexander’ into the conversation and convince Marcia that she was the one who remembered it. The police must be informed, he tells her, because Harry could be an important lead. So he bundles her into her car and takes her straight back to her apartment.
Guess who’s there? You got it… Columbo! He wonders why the doctor was in touch with Marcia, and his suspicions increase when she explains that it was Mayfield who remembered Harry Alexander by name. His case is coming together nicely, although he’s got some way to go to prove anything.
A visit to see Harry sheds some interesting light on proceedings. Harry is a Vietnam vet who seems to have struggled with PTSD, and then drugs. He met Sharon some time ago, and she helped him overcome his drug dependency. A romance blossomed, but she called it off for fear he was becoming too dependent on her. He tells Columbo he hasn’t seen her in 6 months, and the Lieutenant seems to take this at face value.
He reports as much to Mayfield on a return visit to the hospital to try to dig up more info on the mysterious ‘Mac’. Mayfield is sceptical of Columbo so easily dismissing Harry as a suspect and yet again ups his game to focus attention on the reformed drug addict.
This time Mayfield stoops even lower than his murder of Sharon Martin. He breaks into Harry’s apartment and waits behind a door for him to return. He then chloroforms Harry and delivers a massive morphine hit to the unconscious man’s arm. Harry literally didn’t know what hit him. He briefly awakes in a psychedelic haze, but can only plummet down his apartment stairs to what must rank as the cruellest, most unnecessary Columbo killing of all.
For all intents and purposes, Columbo has got it wrong about Harry. Looks like he was Sharon’s killer after all, at least that’s what Mayfield says. But Columbo isn’t convinced. He noticed that Harry was left-handed when he met him. But his fatal dose of morphine was delivered into his left arm. How could a lefty have done that?
“Someone’s going to a lot of trouble to convince me Harry Alexander was the guy,” says Columbo pointedly – a fact not missed by Mayfield. “Lieutenant, what possible reason could I have for killing him?” he asks. “You ask tough questions, doc,” Columbo admits. “So does a jury,” smirks Mayfield in the most blatant admission of guilt since another doctor – Ray Flemming – held a hypothetical conversation about murder with Columbo in 1968’s Prescription: Murder.
It’s not all bad news for Columbo, though. On a visit to the bed-bound Dr Heideman, he cracks the ‘Mac’ mystery. It’s not a man’s name at all – it’s in fact an abbreviation for Marcus and Carlson, the medical supplies company the hospital gets it suture from – both regular and dissolving.
With some hard evidence at last Columbo confronts Mayfield, but the doctor simply laughs in his face. For once, Columbo doesn’t play the fool. Slamming down a pitcher on Mayfield’s desk, he lays down the law. You better hope Heideman doesn’t die, he tells the now straight-faced medic, or there’ll need to be an autopsy and that’ll prove whether dissolving suture was used.
“For once, Columbo doesn’t play the fool. Slamming down a pitcher on Mayfield’s desk, he lays down the law.”
Once again, circumstances are stinging Mayfield into action. And once again he seems to have all the answers. He diddles Heideman’s medicine dosage to bring on an adverse reaction and make it look like the heart valve is failing. He then orders an emergency surgery to repair the valve – and replace the incriminating dissolving suture.
Part-way through the operation and Mayfield is surprised to see an interested observer watching proceedings from the observation deck. It’s Lieutenant Columbo. The usually squeamish detective has put aside his usual misgivings to keep his good eye on the action.
As soon as the operation’s over, Columbo and his cohorts (in surgical scrubs) bust into the theatre – much to Mayfield’s disgust, who pushes Columbo aside as he attempts to exit. But the Lieutenant won’t be denied. The place will be thoroughly searched – as will Mayfield – for any sign of dissolving suture.
Alas for Columbo, the search brings up nothing but regular suture. Mayfield’s in the clear. With a begrudging shake of Mayfield’s hand, Columbo says his farewell. “It goes to show, maybe I’ve been at this job too long. Well doc, now you’re finally rid of me.”
Alone in his office, Mayfield breathes a huge sigh of relief – but it’s short lived as Columbo bursts excitedly back in. He’s finally figured it out, and Mayfield’s flash of temper in the operating theatre was what did it.
Recalling the uncharacteristic shove from the usually ice-cool doctor, Columbo gathers up the scrubs he was wearing earlier. Reaching into the pocket, Columbo draws out a tangle of dissolving suture. “The only thing we didn’t search was me,” he says, a smile of satisfaction on his face, as credits roll…
Stitch in Crime’s best moment
Columbo’s genuine anger at Dr Mayfield’s callous arrogance is not only the highlight of this episode. It’s one of the best, most important, Columbo scenes of all. Why? Because it’s such a rare sight to see the Lieutenant drop the veneer and show us what he really thinks about another character’s actions and personality.
As Mayfield laughs in his face during a showdown in the Doctor’s office, Columbo stuns his adversary by slamming a water pitcher down on his desk – wiping the smirk briefly off Mayfield’s own face in the process.
Genuine displays of rage from the Lieutenant are few and far between, which makes them all the more significant. It marks that the game has changed. From here on out, Columbo is out to get the doc, and he’ll take no small amount of pleasure from besting a foe he so clearly loathes.
View it yourself below. The quality of the clip’s not great, but the drama is undeniable.
My opinion on A Stitch in Crime
As you may have gathered from recent episode reviews, I’ve struggled to shake a niggling feeling that Season 2 hasn’t quite lived up to the hype generated by the unbelievably high standards of Season 1.
Episodes have been perfectly enjoyable with many delicious moments, but there’s not been a new rival to match Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp, or a scream-with-delight denouement such as we saw in Suitable for Framing.
Thankfully those wrongs were righted here in epic fashion. As well as a gripping mystery, we are given the most heartless baddie the series ever sees. Casting Leonard Nimoy as the ambitious Dr Barry Mayfield was a masterstroke. The lack of emotion he was renowned for as Spock is a huge strength here as he delivers a truly chilling performance that redefines just how low a Columbo murderer can go.
“Casting Leonard Nimoy as the ambitious Dr Barry Mayfield was a masterstroke. He’s the most heartless baddie the series ever sees.”
Nimoy is easily one of the best 4-5 Columbo killers of all. Corrupted by ambition, his Dr Mayfield is completely ruthless and remorseless. Remember that his killing of Sharon Martin wasn’t premeditated – it was driven by necessity, yet he dispatches her with the cold indifference of a hired hitman. There’s something of the Hannibal Lecter about his sense of calm when committing unspeakable acts, and I can imagine his heart race never getting above 85 bpm even when delivering the fatal blow.
It helps that the supporting cast that acted as foils for his dastardliness were just as well cast. Will Geer is better known as Grandpa Walton, and a more lovable counterweight to Mayfield is hard to imagine. It sends a very clear message to the viewer: if this guy’s willing to kill Grandpa Walton, just what will he stop at?
The braining of Sharon proves he doesn’t, but it’s the killing of Jared Martin’s troubled Harry Alexander that elicits an even bigger sympathetic audience response.
Here’s a guy that’s a reformed drug addict and troubled Vietnam veteran who has struggled to get his life back together and now works in a child’s petting zoo. He had a fling with Sharon, which ended in case he became too dependent on her. This bummed him out, but he was at least dealing with it as best he could. His cruel and senseless murder is, in my opinion, the single saddest Columbo killing of all (more about that here).
Mayfield is such a bastard. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say he’s the hardest-hearted Columbo killer of all – amidst some stiff competition! And that makes his clashes with Columbo utterly compelling. It’s right up there with the Lieutenant’s showdowns with Ken Franklin, Dale Kingston and Investigator Brimmer – but perhaps is most similar to his head-to-head with Dr Ray Flemming in Prescription: Murder. Both are medical men. Both are coolly detached, while making it abundantly clear they think they’re smart enough to get away with murder. And Columbo has no love for either one of them.
The script allows the two leads to make the most of the confrontation. They get a lot of screen-time together and Columbo doesn’t have a whole lot of dead ends to chase. He’s onto his man from the get-go, which allows for sumptuous exchanges between them – none better than the ‘rage’ scene discussed above, which includes Mayfield’s memorable taunt: “Lieutenant Columbo, you’re remarkable. You have intelligence. You have perception. You have great tenacity. You’ve got everything except proof.”
It all adds up to an immense feeling of satisfaction when Columbo finally gets his man. The gotcha moment isn’t as good as, say, Suitable for Framing, but it’s good enough to deliver at least a small injection of euphoria.
Like Nimoy, Falk’s performance is a sensation. As referenced in my review of Greenhouse Jungle, he’d really perfected the role by Season 2 and he’s at his most enjoyable to watch. The script allows for Falk to display his great comic abilities (notably using the murder weapon to crack his boiled egg on), but also enables Falk to show off the Lieutenant’s steelier qualities, too.
For an actor, being able to show off a variety of facets of the character must have been most appealing. Falk appears to have enjoyed every second, and I rate this up there with Greenhouse and Double Shock as one of his greatest ever Columbo performances.
All props, then, to writer Shirl Hendryx and director Hy Averback for such a gripping piece of TV. This was Hendryx’s only writing credit for the show, which seems a pity given how strong the script and story was.
“I rate this up there with Greenhouse Jungle and Double Shock as one of Falk’s greatest ever Columbo performances.”
Averback, meanwhile, delivers some extremely stylish visuals – none more so than the killing of Sharon Martin. Mayfield silently stepping out from the shadows is a glorious moment. Averback had been behind the camera for another of the series’ very best episodes – Suitable for Framing in Season 1 – and certainly seemed to have a knack of getting the best out of his cast.
As if that’s not enough, Billy Goldenberg supplied another cracking score. Every element that matters works in this episode. No wonder it’s so strong. The clip below shows the episode’s two murders set against Goldenberg’s chilling musical arrangements. I insist you take a look…
So much of A Stitch in Crime is so good. But is there anything that doesn’t work? Sort of… For one thing, I don’t really buy into the confusion surrounding the ‘Mac’ note. It was written in block capitals and in a sector so rife with acronyms it would be more natural to assume it’s initials than a man’s name, in this humble correspondent’s opinion at least.
There’s also the ending itself, and how Mayfield manages to hide the suture on Columbo in that heat-of-the-moment shove. To me, it’s not quite as amazing a way out as I’d like – although I have to admit I can’t come up with a better way myself. Mayfield is so cerebral that I almost feel he should come up with a more intelligent mechanism than a push-and-plant act of desperation. Of course, one could argue that it was a stroke of genius to come up with that escape attempt under so much pressure, so maybe it’s just me?
That aside this is a near faultless addition to the series and far-and-away the standout episode of Season 2 up to now. May it live long and prosper in our hearts.
How I rate ’em
Season 2 has been a slow burner up to now, but Stitch in Crime represents Columbo cooking with gas. Nimoy’s utter fiendishness helps elevate this episode to near stratospheric levels. It’s the highlight of Season 2 so far by a mile, and proudly sits shoulder to shoulder with the heavyweights from Season 1.
Read my other reviews by clicking on the links below.
- Suitable for Framing
- Murder by the Book
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Lady in Waiting
- Prescription: Murder
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- Dead Weight
- Short Fuse
- Dagger of the Mind
As ever, do let me know your thoughts on this one. And, as always, thanks so much for reading. It’s very much appreciated – and always shall be.
Tune in again soon for Season 2’s penultimate episode – the chess-licious Most Dangerous Match, starring the easily-enraged Laurence Harvey.
What I love about this episode is how the person that the murderer planned to kill stayed alive through the whole thing.
Maybe I’m going mad, but when Columbo enters Nita Talbot’s apartment to talk with her after she’s met the doctor, is that a production camera we see on the left of the screen?
Aneta Corsault later played a nurse on the comedy series House Calls, which ran two and a half years on CBS (1979-82). It was also a Universal series.
I don’t think Harry Alexander was killed. Colombo would have mentioned his death when he slammed down the coffee pot. Dr Mayfield just wanted to incriminate him.
I could be wrong but i think all Columbo really proved was that Mayfield tried to kill Heiderman but not that he committed those two other murders.Yes Columbo probably could prove that Mayfield had motive and opportunity to kill Sharon Martin but is that enough to get a conviction.So i’m wondering if the D.A, would only charge Mayfield with attempted murder because that might be better case to win than trying to charge him with murder unless Columbo is able to get Mayfield to confess to those murders
I’m so very fond of Spock that it was painful to watch Leonard Nimoy be actively evil here. And yet Nimoy and Falk are so good that I had to watch until the end.
I wasn’t sure there would still be anybody talking about this old show all these years later, and I was delighted to find your review. Thanks for doing this!
It’s probably in Top 5 overall episodes, though if we go to an imaginary court session after the ending, it’s one of the weakest evidence-wise episode – it boils down to Columbo vs doctor word whether he put a suture in Lt.’s pocket or not.
Yeah, the whole “The evidence was in my pocket all along!” gag would never fly in court.
It would be fairly easy to prove that dissolving suture came out of Dr. Heideman. Where would Columbo had gotten suture that Heideman’s DNA (if not blood) all over it?
The whole suture business in the ending is also plot-holey in another aspect. The dissolving suture was supposed to dissolve in a matter of days and there’s definitely been days that this investigation lasted. Then it was likely already not whole and people in the operation would probably see that the valve isn’t firmly attached to its place.
The suture wasn’t supposed to dissolve in days, it was stated that it would dissolve in weeks, but because of the pressure it’s under due to being on a valve or somesuch it would break in days.
Exactly how I feel !
The official search came up with nothing , the defence would argue an embarrassed Colombo could have came up with this suture to save face !
I’ve always thought a good 80% of the cases would either be dismissed or end with a verdict of not guilty. Conveying the complicated and often convoluted details of the evidence to a jury would be next to impossible in many cases (not necessarily this one).
It would have made for an interesting concurrently run sequel series, though – “Columbo: The Trials.”
No, not necessarily here (as I argued in https://columbophile.com/2022/12/11/what-happens-when-columbos-cases-go-to-court-part-ii/). There’s a very compelling narrative flow between the attempt to murder Dr. Heideman and the murders of Sharon Martin and Harry Alexander that could be laid out before a jury in a clear and most persuasive way.
I didn’t read through every comment, so maybe this has already been pointed out.
At 7:31 I’m saying to myself, “That shot’s from The Six Million Dollar Man intro!”, so I YouTube it, and sure enough, it’s the identical footage. A little research revealed that this Columbo episode was made at around the same time as the first Six Million Dollar Man episode/movie in late ’72/early ’73. Seems like the footage was originally for Columbo, and maybe SMDM used it out of convenience, but who knows?
I noticed a few shout-outs below to the nurse….Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), who was just as “charming” as she was in the Andy Griffith show. She was, however, watchful and she seemed to be suspicious of Dr. Mayfield as he doctored the medicine. I found it quite odd that a tray of medicines was just left sitting on a counter, virtually unattended. I don’t think medical practices were that much different 50 years ago.
Helen Crump may have been the most tightly wound character in all of television up to that point. When you’re too uptight for Mayberry, there are issues under foot.
I’ve always wondered if the “MAC” element of this episode was a nod to Sherlock Holmes. In the story “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” there is a business card left by Milverton signed with his initials: “CAM”. Seems like it might have inspired the MAC initials. I’ve tried to search on the matter, but never found anything. Just curious
I agree this episode cracks the A list, largely on the basis of having one highly memorable scene and no glaring plot holes, but I don’t expect it to stay on my personal top 10 by journey’s end. The superb acting and plausible motive/scheme give Stitch a high floor, but the dearth of humor and twists cap its ceiling as well.
Best of Season 2 thus far.
This episode “A Stitch In Crime” was, in my opinion, one of the very best that I’ve seen of all of Columbo’s cases. The plot was extremely well written, and I thought that the acting (especially Peter Falk, Leonard Nimoy, and Will Geer) was exceptional. As the end of the episode approached, I couldn’t help but watch the clock. There didn’t seem to be enough time remaining for Columbo would find proof of Dr. Mayfield’s guilt after the search of the operating room turned up no traces of the dissolvable sutures from the original heart valve surgery. The final 30 seconds of the episode were brilliant, when Columbo rushes back into Mayfield’s office with the proof he needed.
I only had three small problems with the script that I found hard to believe, and I’m curious if anyone else noticed these facts or wondered about them:
1). The first issue occurs when Columbo angrily slams the pot on Mayfield’s desk and warns him that an autopsy will be conducted if Dr. Hidemann dies (which will uncover the fact that his sutures were dissolvable, and this caused his death). Shouldn’t Mayfield have taken this fact into account? Even if Mayfield weren’t under suspicion for deliberately using these dissolvable sutures and attempting to murder Hidemann, he HAD to have known that an autopsy WOULD be undertaken and this fact would be obvious when no permanent sutures would be present in Hidemann’s body. Some might say that Mayfield could simply claim that he had no idea that the sutures were the wrong kind and be absolved of any suspicions of wrongdoing. I personally feel, though, that if a nurse (Nurse Martin) realized from touching these sutures that they were the wrong type, this would make Mayfield’s claim of not innocence highly unbelievable. Wouldn’t an expert surgeon be expected to know the difference between dissolvable and permanent sutures by their feel, as well?
2). I also find it hard to believe that, with as many people closely watching Mayfield re-operate on Hidemann, Mayfield was STILL able to hide the faulty sutures after removing them. I think that even Jack Cassidy’s magician character “the Great Santini” would be hard-pressed to pull off such a disappearing act with his hands, with a room full of people watching him (especially the anesthesiologist, who Columbo had clued in beforehand and asked to watch Mayfield extra carefully to ensure that nothing fishy was done with the dissolvable sutures). And wouldn’t the warrant that Columbo gotten before he stormed into the operating room have specifically required Mayfield to hand over the sutures he’d removed, for analysis?
3). Finally, if Mayfield stuck these old sutures into Columbo’s medical outer garment pocket when he shoved him, within a minute of finishing up the operation, wouldn’t the sutures still be a bloody mess and quite difficult to hide so easily?
These questions don’t detract from my enjoyment of this episode. I loved the scene where Columbo angrily explodes at Mayfield – it is great to see his true anger and emotions come out when dealing with such a vile villain as Mayfield. And I found the casting of Leonard Nimoy to be a masterstroke; Nimoy plays the part of the villain so well. I also loved Will Geer, who is everything that Nimoy is not – honest, kind, sincere, and lovable.
Altogether, I thought this episode deserves a very high ranking amongst the very best of Columbo’s cases.
Columbo practically has got Dr. Mayfield nailed for sure from the moment he accuses him and orders him to take care of Dr. Heideman (let’s spell him so as Columbophile spells him that way). All Dr. Mayfield can do from there is either run or save what can be saved, although rationally nothing can be saved, because the damning evidence (the wrong suture) hasn’t dissolved yet and if it were about to dissolve, the evidence would be equally damning. So we have to wonder what Mayfield expects from reoperating Heideman: Both missing wrong suture and removed wrong suture would be enough to convict Mayfield for attempted murder, because as Mayfield himself says to Columbo: a good surgeon like him wouldn’t use dissolving suture by mistake. So we have to admire Mayfield for how brave and superior he manages to put his intention to get fully rid of the wrong suture into action, even avoiding in Santini style the medical spectators to notice where he lets the suture disappear. Mayfield must think: No suture = no proof = I am on the safe side. And he lets Columbo think up to episode’s end that this time the invincible cop won’t win. And then nonetheless a mind-struck Columbo wins in such a classy way by figuring out where the evidence has to be hidden and presenting it. If only Mayfield had used these crucial seconds to remove the suture from the final hiding place instead of proudly and relieved celebrating himself!
A top ten entry in my book, too.
Columbo probably had found (and officially documented, with several of his on-hand colleagues as witnesses) the incriminating suture a bit earlier, and merely pretended to present it as “I just-now found this!” to Mr. Spock to really rub it in. That gave Spock 20 seconds to relish in the euphoria that he was home-free and not going to prison, making the reality all that more painful for him, and therefore all the more satisfying for the lieutenant.
Very enjoyable episode, Nimoy plays a great villain. Ending felt a little flat and I’m a bit concerned at what Columbo managed to pin on the doctor; at worst, it appears to be a single count of attempted murder on the old man. I don’t think Columbo found any evidence connecting the doctor to the nurse’s murder?
Well as much as it being one of my all time favorite shows (probably second only to The Twilight Zone), one thing I always thought was that mony of the killers would ultimately get off in the end because it would be extremely difficult for a jury to follow much of the minutiae of of the most elaborately planned murders.
Mony Mony of the killers would get off.
I agree with other comments here about Nita Talbot. I think she’s terrific in this,and was pleased to discover that she’s still with us, aged 90. I also like Columbo’s remark about her character, Marcia : “I think she knows less than she’s saying.”
There was a Capuchin Monkey in a Cage in the Lab called Mac I believe:
When I was a boy in the 1970s, I used to watch every Columbo episode with my mom. My late aunt lived next store and watched religiously as well. We’d get together the next day and compare notes. This was her absolutely favorite episode because of the sheer villainy of Dr. Mayfield and the moment where Columbo slams down the water pitcher. She did not waver from her opinion until the day she died in2003. It is a marvelous episode and is my top 5. Out of curiosity, is Dr. Mayfield the only Columbo villain who killed two people while also attempting to kill a 3rd?
At least within the original run this is the only time. The next closest would be Dale Kingston, who premeditated two murders and attempted to frame a third person.
That’s a very cool story! It’s in my top 5 as well. That’s a good question about the number of murders. Didn’t Jack Cassidy take out a couple of people in one of his episodes? I don’t think he went for three, though.
I haven’t watched it for AGES but wasn’t Irving Krutch guilty of four murders in ‘Undercover’? I could easily be wrong…
As I see it, the first two dead bodies in “Undercover” killed each other and were not victims of Irving Krutch. He only killed Mo Weinberg and Geraldine Ferguson after that. But perhaps I never understood “Undercover” as it was intended by the author – then Irving Krutch would indeed take the golden medal “Most lethal Columbo culprit”. I am patiently waiting for your “Undercover” review, hoping to solve this mystery.
Also used to watch Columbo with my mom and brothers back then when it was part of the Sunday Night Mystery Movie series.. my mom’s favorite show was Star Trek so I guess for her this was the first return of Spock after Trek ended… In all his icy, brilliant glory!
Agree that he was the perfect villain that we all loved to hate, and I’ve never forgotten the classic moment that Columbo pulls the dissolving sutures from the operating gown. It was just as fun to watch about 15 minutes ago as it was when I was 12. Maybe even more. Bravo Columbo!
Well one thing that makes it completely unique is that it’s the only episode in which the killer “undoes” a murder.
The only other classic episode I can think of with three attempted murders is How To Dial A Murder. Dr. Mason sets his friend up to be killed by the dogs, he seems within seconds of strangling Joanne… saved only by Columbo’s interruption, and then of course he sics the dogs on Columbo at the end after the Lt. laid out his case. Throw in the very real likelihood that Dr. Mason also murdered his wife at some point in the past, and he’s the only Columbo villain with four known kills or attempts.
Something I have never been sure of, is does Columbo gets Harry Alexander killed by not believing that he killed Sharon? I know it might look that way, but . . .
Just how far ahead has Barry Mayfield planned? Knowing that Sharon was not very fond of him, he may have allowed for the possibility of her noticing the doctored suture, and had her murder already planned, just in case. Whenever her murder was planned, did he also include the murder of Harry Alexander? After all, Harry would always deny Sharon’s murder and the only sure way to convince the cops that he had done it was if he died from a possibly suicidal overdose. (Does Mayfield also know that Harry does not have a cast iron alibi for the time of Sharon’s murder?).
Mayfield takes the trouble to plant the drugs in Sharon’s apartment, suggesting a desperate addict had killed her, and then of course mentions Harry’s name to the nice but ditzy roommate. Was Mayfield intending just to frame Harry, but as Columbo didn’t buy it, he had to hastily improvise another murder? Or having a good idea of what Harry would most likely tell Columbo, he was going to kill Harry later anyway? Was Harry’s murder inevitable? Could Columbo have prevented it? Did he underestimate that a man ruthless enough to kill a nurse and to try to kill Grandpa Walton would not hesitate to kill someone else?
Until recently, I was never sure if Harry was actually dead, as all Columbo says is that they found the drugs in the middle of his apartment, nothing about him either being dead, or recovering in hospital. I assume the idea was for Harry to be found dead from an overdose in his apartment, and the tumble down the stairs was just a bonus. And along with there being no other needle marks (and why would a left handed man inject himself in his left arm?) does Mayfield give himself away as a doctor by habitually swabbing Harry’s arm before he gives him the injection? Would an addict bother?
In any event, I like this brief scene with Barry and Harry, as I fondly remember Jared Martin in the short lived 1970’s sci-fi series “Fantastic Journey” in which he played Varian, a man with strange powers from the 23rd century . . .
You’re right: Columbo handled Harry with incompetence, and got him killed!!
Falk injects so many little “Columboisms” in this. Even if it had been mentioned in the script, I can’t help but feel he expanded on Columbo’s exhaustion (and frustrating hunt for a cup of coffee) in the first act, and then his making and eating the plate of food at Mayfield’s party, with impromptu bits, making those scenes really delightful to watch.
The only thing that could have made it any better would have been in Columbo looked at the spread of sumptuous food at Mayfield’s table and then asked, “Do you have any chili?” 🙂
Obviously “MAC” refers to Columbo’s taste in clothes 🙂
What Columbo should have done is have Mayfield arrested on suspicion after the stormy interview. Then Mayfield would know the game was up as Heideman would soon die and all would be revealed. Then Columbo would have two tracks to work –
(1) Get Mayfield to ‘fess up, to try and limit the charge to attempted murder or,
(2) Even if Mayfield dug his heals in, Columbo coud try to persuade people that Heideman be opening up by another surgeon to see what damage Mayfield had done. Then he would have the evidence to hand, with an impeccable trail as to where it came from. I did wonder if Columbo could get a search warrant for Heideman’s insides, but that is probably far-fetched.
You make a strange suggestion what “Columbo should have done”.
Why on earth would Columbo let Heideman die when just as well he could rescue his life?
You misunderstand me. I am saying that Columbo should use all his power and influence to get someone to operate on Heideman (while he is still alive, obviously) to correct Mayfield’s defective work. As it is, he is relying on Mayfield to do something himself – give that Mayfiled is clearly a psychopath, not something he should be doing.
Oh, I see. Sorry. But how should anyone except Dr. Mayfield convince Dr. Heideman to accept another operation because his life is in danger? Dr. Heideman was always fond of his colleague, wasn’t even listening to Sharon Martin’s warnings. I can’t see why he would believe Columbo one word, if he said “I think, Dr. Mayfield tried to kill you, Sir, please let us have a second look inside your heart.”
Heideman is highly intelligent, he may look like someone’s cuddly uncle, but to have got as far as he has, he must be capable of rational analysis. He knows Mayfield is ambitious and cold, but puts up with him because he is good at his job. Tell Heideman that Mayfield has been arrested and Columbo will have free reign to make him (Heideman) see reason – I am sure Heideman doesn’t want to die and what has he to lose by submitting to another op?
In any case, there is my point 1 – Mayfield’s rational course of action is to confess quickly, make sure Heidemand is saved and avoid the murder charge. His chances of getting off free would be zero once he was in custody.
When Sharon talks critically about Mayfield (“I’m sure, he read your telegram”), Heideman reacts upset: How can Sharon dare to call the great Mayfield a selfish opportunist? Imagine his reaction if Sharon (or even anyone less familiar to Mayfield like Columbo) had told Heideman: “I’m sure, he wanted to kill you!”
So unlike you, I don’t think that Heideman knows enough about the real character of Mayfield.
No operation is without danger. Heideman himself says, he would only let a highly qualified surgeon like Dr. Mayfield open him, so Heideman doesn’t take interventions to his heart as easy as you suggest.
Still, if Mayfield confessed to the attempted murder in order to reduce his punishment, then how would he cover up the completed killings of Sharon Martin and Harry Alexander, which are obviously connected to his murder attempt?
Such a solid episode, a top ten Columbo for sure and that says a lot. Nimoy and Falk were great together and the other actors were superb as well. One of the gold standard type episodes.
I’m wondering if maybe Heiderman respects Mayfield because he’s a doctor and not for the person he is.For example maybe Heiderman thinks Mayfield does his job as a doctor it doesn’t matter how he acts in terms of been ambitious or whatever.
Great episode but I doubt another surgeon would be willing to perform a second heart surgery so soon after the first as it would put the patient at increased risk. It wouldn’t involve a simple look, the heart itself would have to be reopened to inspect the valve and suture. Nothing short of of an admission of guilt would initiate this and the cold Mayfield is unlikely to do so.
What do masks have to do with fascism? Am I missing something here?
Dumbtarded sheep possess no Agency and secretly want to be herded-up and oppressed, so don’t bother explaining. Nothing will, or can, ever land.
I know, fellow, and I don’t grant dumbtarded sheep to enjoy freedom anyway, therefore it’s alright with me. Every sheep needs to ruin its life self-reliantly. Thanks for making my day.
Enjoyed the Lieutenant breaking the shell of his hard-boiled egg on the murder weapon.
One of the most unrealistic moments in any Columbo.
I’m very glad to see this has been brought up. My intent to visit this episode’s thread was to comment about the egg and the tire iron.
Enjoyable episode but I could not really buy into the episode’s overarching premise that a person (Nimoy) who chose the medical field as a profession, and who was currently working to save people’s lives with new transplant procedures, could actually be a cold-blooded, ruthless killer at heart. I didn’t get past that. But yeah, great acting and otherwise fun to watch.
Transplant procedures are not necessarily an act of humanity if there is a big deal of money involved.
This episode blew me away when I first saw it, for Nimoy’s coolly smug performance and its deeply sympathetic secondary characters*, but most of all for the plot: A time delayed murder which the hero not only averts, but does so by pointing out the flaw in the plan to the murderer, forcing him to undo his actions!
I think that’s why the thread reveal at the end feels weak, because the real gotcha moment comes earlier when Columbo points out to Mayfield that the absence of any thread will prove his theory. Mayfield’s self-erasing evidence will condemn him by its absence rather than its presence.
Which brings me to another thing I love about this episode. We know that Columbo’s goofy affability is to some degree a front that he puts forth because it provokes the responses he wants from suspects, so when he seems to lose his temper with the unflappable Mayfield are we seeing the real man, or just another mask – the mask that the situation requires. When he seems to lose his cool and ‘inadvertently’ reveal that he has a plan to prove Mayfield guilty he provokes Mayfield into the course of action that leas to his downfall, with Columbo waiting to swoop in. I have to wonder if Columbo was all set to arrange that operating room warrant the moment Mayfield takes Heideman back into surgery.
Actually, the one and only characteritic of Columbo that I sometimes have an issue with, is that he appears more about winning the game than he is about putting a murderer behind bars.
In certain episodes, he has too much respect for the killer, and in the case of women, charms them – even during the moments at the very end AFTER he’s revealed them. So I always appreciated those rare moments when he got serious/angry and wished they were less scarce. It would show that brilliant sleuthing wasn’t the only thing that motivated him.
Columbo’s job is to gather the evidence and try to make the best case he can for the D.A..Also i think Columbo respects the ways the murderers come up with to kill people and maybe to Columbo it is a game of sorts because in a way he might have to think like a criminal at times.Also maybe Columbo acts different with female killers than male killers because he might think if he charms them a little it might keep them off-balance.Plus i think some female killers try to charm Columbo.
Altough I always feel sick when I’m in a hospital, this is a very pretty episode. There’s plenty of small humour in it. The cleaning-woman, the medical supply manager, a.s.o. But the “roomie” Marcia Dalton is the very best. Almost every word she says and every movement she makes is a grain of humour. See the way she has a quick look in the mirror when she follows Columbo to the bathroom. Nita Talbot is a great actress.
I have a feeling the 1993 film version of “The Fugitive” borrowed heavily from this story line.
The doc was stupid not to think of a way to dispose of the *blood-soaked* dissolving sutures. He would not have needed to be a sleight-of-hand artist to have simply hidden the sutures under a nearby organ, where they would have harmlessly dissolved away! But, you say, wasn’t he being closely watched by another surgeon? To which I say: Then how did he secrete the stitches away in the first place? Why wouldn’t the observing doctor have insisted on taking the old sutures as soon as they were removed?
But let’s go with the gambit the show employed: Nimoy palmed the stitches out and they were in his hand, unbeknownst to everyone. What to do at that point? A smart doc would have anticipated that and put them into his pocket, which had a slit so he could insert them directly into his underpants, where they would have been discreetly hidden…amongst his pubes!
Hi, just found your site, it’s excellent, and very funny. It occurred to me that when Nimoy put his hands behind his head while stretching after the second operation, it was to conceal the suture, especially as he makes the same gesture after the first operation. Coincidence or red herring?
Obvious red herring.
Yes, it was a red herring. He was trying, I think, to throw Columbo off the scent by making the focus on him hiding them somewhere. Perhaps in that lush rug he was sporting…
Just now watching this episode on dailymotion.com and I had never before realized how great Nita Talbot (Nurse Marcia Dalton) was in this one. The way she explains to Columbo how Nurse Martin (Francis) became a nurse due to her humanitarian/philanthropic ways, but she (Dalton) she chose her profession since she was attracted to “middle to upper middle class people” (an unapologetic golddigger), but she could only find older men, since she worked for a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. She had a refreshingly honest attitude.
Her few minutes in this episode I put close to some of Vito Scotty’s parts. Wonderful. I believe Ms. Talbot is still alive, and at one time was married to Don Gordon, poor Al(vin) Deshler from Negative Reaction. (6 degrees of Columbo separation). She was very sexy in the 60’s and ’70’s, and also had roles on Hogan’s Heroes and Batman, among many others, and lit up the screen during her appearances.
By the way, Dailymotion.com has every Columbo episode, usually split in 2, filmed backwards, and occasionally runs local commercials or these weird silent screenshots for the Globalist UNESCO organization. I’ve also found all 3 seasons of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery on dailymotion.com. Cheers, and thanks again for the great website.
I’m glad you mention Nita Talbot here, a very fine comic actress – and a good looker which doesn’t hurt (can you still say that nowadays?). I think her appearance here stands alongside Mary Wickes in ‘Suitable for Framing’. The only thing that nags me about this episode is the ‘MAC’ business – surely you would write ‘M & C’ or something, not use an ‘a’ for ‘and’?
Love Nita Talbot. She was a fixture on 60’s TV.
Just watched it again today on COSI.
Thoroughly enjoyed Nita Talbot!
Also, I don’t think anyone has mentioned the appearance of instantly recognizable (to me at, least) Aneta “Helen Crump” Corsaut as the nurse caring for Will Geer.
I had a little “fanboy crush” on her back in the day (along with Miss Talbot, of course!).
She totally looked like a Dude in this episode, dude!
Clarification: Nita was the one who totally looked like a Dude in this episode, not adorable Helen Crump!!
I was amused that after being Mayberry’s most terminally uptight resident, she became the most uptight nurse in the hospital.
Wouldn’t the sutures be a little bloody if taken out of the doctor’s body though?
Columbo had already figured it out when he get angry!
In fact, his only chance to save Dr. Heideman was to tell Mayfield his suspicions and put him on guard. In the scene in the elevator, Columbo had said, with his heart condition, if he died, people would assume it was just a heart attack.
In the office, Mayfield does his pretend laughing. Columbo goes with his anger. He slams the water pitcher and says, “I believe you killed Sharon Martin. And I believe you’re trying to kill Dr. Heideman.”
Mayfield says, “Lt. Columbo, you’re remarkable. . . . You’ve got everything except proof.”
Columbo ignores the specific content of what Mayfield just said, and instead says, “I want you to take good care of Dr. Heideman, because if he dies, we’re going to have to have an autopsy, aren’t we? I mean, we’re going to have to know whether a heart attack killed him, or whether it was just dissolving suture.”
And angry or not angry, Columbo pretty much has to say something like this to have any kind of reasonable chance of saving Dr. Heideman.
this is second best so far
all he had to do was lock the door….
I wonder how casting hit upon Nimoy to play the diabolical medical man?
Could it be they recalled the most demonic of all nonhuman TOS villains, Henoch from Return to Tomorrow?
Henoch manipulating a nurse into furthering his dastardly scheme…
Henoch futzing with medical potions…
Henoch eliminating foes…
Sweating, medically distressed Heineman…. homage to sweating, medically distressed Sargon?
The derisive laugh that Columbo is not having… homage to Henoch’s habit of showing scornful amusement?
I put in a bunch of links to images, but they don’t show and without them the comment makes no sense! Columbophile I suggest you delete this comment while I figure out how to make my point without images.
I was actually wondering if Nimoy’s single raised eyebrow as the last gesture we see from him is an homage to Spock. Unless that’s ust an inherent characteristic of Nimoy’s? Since this the only time I’ve seen him outside of ST, I have no way of knowing.
Help me out comrades…..where did Columbo get the suture?
It was in the pocket of his scrubs.
When Nimoy grabbed Columbo in the operating room to push him out of the way he dropped the suture in Columbo’s scrubs.
When Mayfield bumps Columbo in the operating room there is no pocket on Columbo’s scrubs.
When Columbo finds the sutures, viola! There’s a pocket!
I’ll have to check that out. I didn’t notice that before, so thanks!
He does have the pocket and you can see Nimoy’s hand go into it as he moves by. Nimoy’s back is to us, but the hand in the pocket is perfectly clear.