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Episode review: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

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Strange as it may sound today, chess was BIG NEWS back in March 1973 when The Most Dangerous Match first aired.

Less than a year earlier, the legendary ‘Match of the Century’ between American Bobby Fischer and Russia’s Boris Spassky had gripped the globe, with Fischer’s victory regarded as a crushing defeat for the entire Soviet way of life.

Heavily influenced by this clash, The Most Dangerous Match went a step further, having Laurence Harvey’s Emmett Clayton slay his Russian opponent on the eve of their world title confrontation – almost certainly triggering a nuclear stand-off.

But is the 7th episode of Columbo‘s second season another contender for ‘Match of the Century’, or a damp squib more akin to Garry Kasparov vs Nigel Short? Let’s see…

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Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Emmett Clayton: Laurence Harvey
Tomlin Dudek: Jack Kruschen
Mazoor Beroski: Lloyd Bochner
Linda Robinson: Heidi Bruhl
Dr Benson: Michael Fox
Dog: As himself
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Edward M Abroms
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

Chess Grandmaster Emmett Clayton is not in a good place right now. Waking from a psychedelic chess nightmare in a sheen of sweat, he’s either high on LSD or is having some serious anxiety about an impending chess encounter with Russian legend Tomlin Dudek. We’ll assume it’s the latter…

Clayton, you see, has been lording it over the global chess fraternity for 5 years since ill health forced Dudek into early retirement. However, now his diabetes is under control Dudek has Clayton’s crown firmly in his sights and their impending televised clash is set to be like Fischer vs Spassky all over again.

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So THAT’S why restaurants have chequered tablecloths…

While Clayton is outwardly cool, calm and collected, he’s in inner turmoil. He fears defeat and when an opportunity arises to get a measure of his opponent, mano a mano, Clayton takes it. He trails Dudek to a French restaurant where the Russian heads to sate his desire for garlic snails – food most definitely not on the menu approved by his domineering coach, Mazoor Beroski.

Dudek greets Clayton warmly. He’s actually a very lovely old chap, full of fun and mischief but with a heart of gold. The two even appear to be getting along well until an impromptu chess match kicks off on the chequered table cloth of their booth. Dudek gains the upper hand, causing the irascible Clayton to storm off in a rage.

They sneak back to the hotel via the basement (to avoid Dudek being collared by his coach) and have a further game up in Clayton’s room. The result is the same: a crushing defeat for the American. When Dudek departs, Clayton goes berserk, dashing his hearing aid against the hotel room wall as the prospect of a shameful defeat the next day becomes increasingly likely.

But you don’t get to become a chess Grandmaster without a scheming brain and willingness to take risks. Clayton quickly combines those two traits and comes up with a plan to do away with Dudek for good.

“Clayton goes berserk as the prospect of a shameful defeat the next day becomes increasingly likely.”

Early the next morn, he puts his plans into action. First, he makes an airline reservation and cab booking in Dudek’s name, using a convincing Russian accent, and then rings Dudek and begs for a private meeting. Dudek agrees, and dashes off to the rendezvous – only for the wily Clayton to sneak into Dudek’s hotel room and pack his belongings into a travel bag.

Meeting Dudek downstairs, Clayton tells a sob story about how an affair with a Russian love interest has gotten out of control. He begs Dudek to write a few lines in Russian so that he can ‘copy them out’ in his own hand later. Dudek obliges, penning “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m very ashamed” in Russian. He even kindly offers to postpone the match until Clayton is feeling better. By way of thanks, Clayton shoves the lovable Russkie through the basement doors – and straight into the hotel’s trash compactor!

Emmet Clayton

Certifiable much, Emmett?

When we next encounter Clayton, he’s sitting patiently in front of a live studio audience, eagerly awaiting the chess Clash of the Titans to commence. He’s soon called away by the police, though, as one Lieutenant Columbo seeks assistance with his investigations. The police deduce that Dudek has had cold feet, panicked and tried to flee back to Russia before tragically blundering into the trash compactor.

Dudek’s coach Beroski cannot conceive that his charge would split just prior to confirming his superiority over the American pretender. But when Clayton produces a note in Dudek’s own handwriting, claiming it was pushed under his hotel room door, things look black for the Russian. And what does the note say? “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m very ashamed.”

Clayton makes some empty utterances over what a loss Dudek will be to the world of chess when Columbo checks him. “You’re speaking as if he’s already dead,” says the Lieutenant. In fact the tubby Soviet is clinging on to life in hospital despite massive injuries, giving Clayton one hell of a shock and a major problem still on his hands.

Columbo being Columbo is already noting suspicious activity. Dudek’s shirt smells of garlic – yet there was no garlic on his approved menu. Where did he dine? More pertinently, in packing his bag the denture-wearing Dudek managed to take his valet’s toothbrush instead of his own. Ergo, someone else packed the bag. Ergo, foul play is at hand!

“The tubby Soviet is clinging on to life in hospital despite massive injuries, giving Clayton one hell of a shock.”

Clayton, meanwhile, is snooping around the hospital. He runs into his former fiancee, Linda Robinson, who is now firmly part of Team Dudek, and who arranged the match between the two. He tells her of his meeting with Dudek at the French restaurant; and of how he, Emmett Clayton, won the impromptu match played out on the tablecloth – rocking the Russian’s confidence. He also manages to get a glimpse of Dudek’s prescribed medication list, which Linda has on her. His photographic memory ticks into overdrive.

As he transcribes the medication list in a quiet corner he’s interrupted by Columbo, who offers to treat him to an ice-cream. Clayton’s not keen to play games so departs, but Columbo gallops after him to return the pen he’d left behind. The detective then inveigles Clayton into his car to take him back to the hotel – only to actually stop at the French restaurant the chess aces visited the night before.

The proprietor of course recognises Clayton, but he can’t recall who won the chess match they played – only dimly remembering that Dudek made the first move. Clayton calmly claims victory again but is given a massive scare moments later as Columbo receives a medical phonecall, repeating the message received so Clayton can hear it.

“He’ll make a full recovery!” the relieved Lieutenant says, turning to head out. Clayton’s blood freezes in his veins before Columbo reveals he’s talking not about Dudek, but his dog, who’s recovering from an operation. Clayton lives to fight another day.

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This photo features 90 different shades of brown…

That day arrives with more suspicions pointed at him by Columbo. He’s found Dudek’s chess diary, which faithfully records every match he plays. The match at the restaurant states that black resigned. But the restaurant proprietor said that Dudek started, which means he was playing as white. Clayton must have lost? The angry chess ace refutes the allegation. It’s stalemate for now.

But Clayton now makes a strong play to save his own skin. Having memorised Dudek’s medicinal needs, he slips into the Russian’s hotel room (again), and fools with the bottles in his medical cabinet. Linda comes into pick up the meds for Dudek’s next round of injections – and before you can say ‘Knight to King’s Bishop 3‘, Dudek is finally a dead man.

Columbo has a mountain of circumstancial evidence against Clayton. An interview with Linda reveals that Clayton did get a look at the meds list at the hospital. The ink from Clayton’s pen is the same type of ink that wrote the note in Dudek’s handwriting. But Columbo needs hard proof, which remains elusive – until Dog gives him a helping paw.

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Dog solves the case…

The rascally pooch is on the scene as Columbo inspects the trash compactor again, and causes a scene as he gallops up the steps towards the mouth of the compactor where Dudek met his demise.

A workman grabs Dog before his suicidal urges cause a calamity, but a fellow worker tells Columbo he needn’t have worried anyway. If anything goes into the machine while it’s operating, there’s an automatic cut-off! It goes back on at the touch of a button, but the cut-off is the reason Dudek wasn’t instantly slain – and it’s the clue Columbo needs to round out his case.

Confronting Clayton at a round-robin live chess clash against a dozen or more plucky contenders, Columbo rocks the Grandmaster’s concentration as he outlines his case in a very public setting. Clayton takes the bait. “Do you think that the finest chess player in the world would make even half the mistakes you ascribe to me?” he seethes at Columbo – precisely as a Lego-haired amateur opponent symbolically check-mates him!

As Clayton bawls for proof, Columbo ushers him down to the basement. The whirring trash compactor is giving Clayton’s hearing aid trouble, so he switches it off, but the two men continue to shout to make each other out over the din of the machine.

That’s until Columbo gives the signal, and a fellow officer switches it off entirely. Maintaining the masquerade in a now eerie silence, Columbo continues to shout at the top of his lungs to get his message across. “It would be easier if I did not have to shout, but this damn machine…” he bellows.

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Ay, ay, calm down, calm down…

“Well then turn the damn thing off!” screams Clayton – and Columbo finally has him. Showing Clayton the machine workings, the detective explains: “I’m sorry, Mr Clayton, but along with all the other trivial evidence that we’ve talked about, the murderer in this case just had to be a deaf man.” Clayton can only sink his head in the defeat he’d done so much to avoid, as credits roll…

Most Dangerous Match‘s best moment

In an episode low on stand-out scenes, the screaming psychedelia of the opening sequence really stands out. It’s bonkers and brilliant in equal measure, and for a modern audience might seem ridiculous, but take it for what it is (a slice of kitsch 70s’ TV par excellence) and it’s one hell of a viewing experience. Just don’t watch it while under the influence of narcotics…

Psychedelic chess 2

The opening sequence actually has to be seen to be believed

My opinion on The Most Dangerous Match

Set against the Cold War backdrop, and pitting a half-mad fiend against a chap even more lovable than your Grandpa, The Most Dangerous Match ought to be pure fun from start to finish. Yet this is an episode where the on-screen action doesn’t match the premise. In fact I’ll put it right out there: I don’t enjoy this episode on any great level.

There are several reasons, but first and foremost is the character of Emmett Clayton. Cool and cerebral, he should have been a brilliant foe and a real test for Columbo. Instead he’s a mentally unstable shambles. And that, for me at least, takes away a lot of the enjoyment.

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Emmett Clayton: borderline insane?

Clayton is just too troubled to be a classic Columbo killer. The guy appears to be completely isolated from his fellow man and have a raft of serious anxiety issues. He needs help – not to be put on a stage in front of millions of viewers on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

And it’s a shame, because with more subtle treatment Clayton could have been a sensational baddie. I like the premise that he’s a fallible man masquerading behind a masterful countenance. That would humanise him and make his clash with Columbo – a masterful mind hiding behind a fallible countenance – all the more engaging. But having Clayton treading the tightrope of mania throughout denies us what could have been an encounter for the ages.

It raises serious questions as to why Clayton would agree to the match against Dudek in the first place. Dudek’s reputation precedes him. Clayton couldn’t just assume he’d win against so mighty an opponent, and his chess nightmare over the opening credits gives a reasonable insight into his state of mind in the build-up. He’s a nervous wreck!

I feel like we need to know more about this man to understand him. As it is, he has little charm or charisma, just a brooding intensity. If only the relationship between Linda Robinson and Emmett had been fleshed out a bit. As his former fiancee, she should have some decent insights to deliver to the viewer. Yet all we get is a throwaway line early on about how despicable she finds him. But why? We just don’t know.

“Cool and cerebral, Clayton should have been a brilliant foe and a real test for Columbo. Instead he’s a mentally unstable shambles.”

There was certainly time to give us a little character background and development, too, because despite this being a ‘shorter episode’ at 75 mins, at times it struggles to pace itself. Scenes at the hospital seem drawn out; likewise Columbo’s interview of Clayton at the French restaurant. It felt more like a padded 90-minute episode at times – highly unusual for the series.

Sadly, dear reader, my beefs don’t end there. For this episode also features a crime and a central clue that fail to convince. Let’s talk about that, shall we? Firstly the physical act of Clayton shoving Dudek into the trash compactor.

Eagle-eyed viewers can’t fail to notice there is a country mile between the basement doors and the mouth of the trash compactor. Dudek is also rather a heavy chap. Clayton might be able to count on a bit of an adrenaline boost as he delivered the fatal push, but for Dudek to end up in the jaws of the machine represents a formidable effort for a string-bean like Clayton. The only explanation? Dudek ‘did a Nordberg’ once he passed through the swinging doors…

On a more serious note, how about that denouement, with Columbo trapping his man with the old ‘switch-off-the-machine-to-trick-the-deaf-man’ gag? Certainly, it’s clever on paper. But it doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny. Why? Because it’s a nonsense that a deaf man would fail to notice the lack of vibrations once the machine had been turned off. He was right beside it, after all. And that, in my opinion, is such a fatal flaw that I’m never quite able to get past it.

“It’s a nonsense that a deaf man would fail to notice the lack of vibrations once the machine had been turned off.”

It raises the question of the writing: was the plan all along simply to concoct a clever way of catching a deaf murderer? Sure looks that way, and as a result the whole premise of The Most Dangerous Match feels contrived and unsatisfying.

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And yet for all the above critique, this is by no means a dreadful piece of television. For one thing,  Jack Kruschen gives us a hugely likable victim in Tomlin Dudek. Indeed I rate him in the top 3 most sympathetic Columbo victims of all. Kruschen’s Dudek is warm, funny, confident, charming and caring. He’s everything Clayton isn’t, which makes his downfall all the more gut-wrenching.

We also get another heart-warming cameo, this time from ‘Dog’ who’s back where we first encountered him in Etude in Black – at the vet’s. I’m pretty hard-boiled when it comes to cuddly TV canines, but even I can’t resist how genuine the relationship between Columbo and his slovenly basset hound has quickly become. The two have actual on-screen chemistry. No wonder Dog’s such a crowd-pleaser!

But, as I alluded to earlier, there are comparatively few really memorable moments in this episode. Columbo rattling Clayton in the very public live chess arena features some decent exchanges, but if anything it just underlines how fragile the Grandmaster’s state of mind really is. He lets the Lieutenant check-mate him far too easily and by episode’s end he’s long been a spent force.

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A litany of hair crimes have been immortalised in this candid snap

The same, sadly, can be said for Laurence Harvey in real life. After enjoying international movie stardom in the late 1950s and ’60s (including a Best Actor Academy Award nomination in 1960) , his career by this stage was winding down. He would die from stomach cancer only nine months after The Most Dangerous Match aired, aged just 45.

Like his chess-playing on-screen alias here, Harvey was something of an enigma in real life. Said to be reviled by many and loved by few, we can only hope that the tragic figure we saw in Emmett Clayton didn’t too closely mirror the actor himself as the curtain fell on his stellar career.

Did you know?

When Peter Falk was up for his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1961 for his turn as Abe Reles in Murder Inc. he was up against none other than Tomlin Dudek (aka Jack Kruschen), who was nominated for his role as Dr Dreyfuss in The Apartment. Both the future Columbo stars would go home empty-handed though, as Peter Ustinov scooped the statuette for his sensational work on Spartacus.

Laurence Harvey, meanwhile, earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1960 for his role as social climber Joe Lampton in Room at the Top. To round it off, Heidi Bruhl represented Germany in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest. What a diversely talented quartet!

Read more Columbo Oscars facts here.


Best Supporting Actor Oscars contenders in 1961: Falk and Kruschen

How I rate ’em

As you’ll have gathered from the above, I don’t rate The Most Dangerous Match too highly in the Columbo pantheons of greatness. However, while it’s lurking down with the likes of Short Fuse and Dagger of the Mind right now, it is considerably better than those two feeble episodes.

I think of it as a lower mid-tier episode – the sort I’d be perfectly happy to watch if I encountered it on TV, but wouldn’t often actively choose it from my DVD collection. Kapisch? It won’t always be languishing near the bottom of the list, that’s for sure.

Read my other reviews by clicking on the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Murder by the Book
  3. Death Lends a Hand
  4. A Stitch in Crime
  5. Lady in Waiting
  6. Prescription: Murder
  7. The Most Crucial Game
  8. Etude in Black
  9. Greenhouse Jungle
  10. Requiem for a Falling Star
  11. Blueprint for Murder
  12. Ransom for a Dead Man
  13. Dead Weight
  14. The Most Dangerous Match
  15. Short Fuse
  16. Dagger of the Mind

Disagree with my views? Then by all means let me know your thoughts below. I know several knowledgeable Columbo fans who really love this episode, so I’m prepared to believe I’ll be jeered and booed for my opinions.

And what’s next? Season 2’s thrilling finale Double Shock, featuring Martin Landau x 2 and Columbo’s most fearsome ever opponent: Mrs Peck! See you then. And thanks, as ever, for taking the time to visit the site.

Read my take on the top 5 moments from Most Dangerous Match here.

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Etude in Black Dog

No YOU hang up first….

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168 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

  1. When Columbo was driving Clayton to the chess/oyster restaurant, they pass a Gulf gas station with prices of .27 and .29 posted! It was just before the oil crisis of 1973.

    I’m not sure why, but I really didn’t like the Clayton/Harvey character. He was my least favorite murderer up to this point. There was something about him that I found VERY annoying.

  2. 1) In this episode, Columbo would happily eat escargot, but in a later episode (Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo), he is quizzical when Dr Steadman is eating them in a restaurant. “What are they, snails?”

    2) Why would Dudek slip a note written in a foreign language under Clayton’s hotel door when his English was fluent?

      • We know *why* he wrote the note but, absent the knowledge of Clayton’s trickery, why would investigators think that Dudek wrote a note to Clayton in a language Clayton couldn’t read? Clayton should have left the note in Dudek’s room to make it appear it was left for Dudek’s coach or Anton the valet.

  3. A genius and world-class master of strategy would never have risked decades in prison without thoroughly testing the trash compactor. That’s the most glaring of numerous problems with this mediocre episode.

    • Prisons around the world are full of “geniuses”. Or is it only ‘dumb’ people that are in jail.

      A desperate, flawed man would have taken the risk and this is why it’s one of my favourite episodes.

      Too many view Columbo murderers as if they are expert assassins. They’re not. And the beauty of Columbo is he shows that crime doesn’t pay, because when amateurs try and do a professional job, they fall short.

        • Appreciated. I just find it a little bit like smarty pants hindsighting, when some pick holes in everything the killer did.

          Yes, some are very poor killers. But Columbo points them out anyway!! i.e. the terrible (for me) ‘How To Dial A Murder’, which surely features the most intelligent and terrible killer ever. This makes Columbo’s taunting of his errors even more delicious. i.e. they are all flawed in some ways.

  4. Being a chess fan, I certainly liked this episode, and, contrary to the view of the blog post, I found Laurence Harvey’s Emmett Clayton, on the whole, to be a very intriguing, self-assured and classical Colombosque adversary. I very much enjoyed the cat and mouse interplay between him and the detective. However, I agree with the post that Clayton’s displays of mental and emotional imbalance were a serious weakness. I found the displays to be over the top, exaggerated and unnecessary. While it is certainly conceivable that a mad genius could have such temperamental fits, that would mean that Harvey just did not play it well and was too, like I said, over-the-top and cartoonish about it. That been said, the rest of his acting – the calm and composed aspect of his acting – was pretty good and very enjoyable to watch as a villain. It even had a deliciously, though strangely, comical aspect to it due largely to the persistent bugging of Columbo.

    The ‘gotcha’ in this episode, as well as the so-called ‘evidences’, is one of the most ridiculous of the Columbo series. Let’s leave aside the fact that the killer was only hearing-impaired and not completely deaf. And let’s leave aside the realistic fact that he, as a deaf man, would have felt the vibrations of the loud machine. Even if those were not the case, how does Clayton not hearing the machine go off prove anything? After all, it was already a known fact that he was a deaf man. And, by the way, how the hell does Columbo know that Clayton would conveniently pull his hearing aid off so that he would be able to do that ridiculous stunt? The whole gotcha scene in that machine room was just downright silly.

    Furthermore, even Columbo knew that his ‘gotcha’ was weak and that was why he had to say “along with all the other trivial evidence.” So what exactly are these ‘other trivial evidence’ he was referring to? Let’s look at them:

    The toothbrush thing might have made sense as reason for suspecting foul play IF we were dealing with a victim who had been composed and unhurried at the time of his packing his things. BUT in this case, we are dealing with a victim who was clearly neither of those things. He had apparently been agitated, distraught and hurried when he packed. Is it inconceivable that a distraught and possibly absent-minded old man who is in a hurry would grab the wrong toothbrush by mistake? The fact that the characters completely ignored this glaring fact is one of the convenient absurdities of the episode.

    Then there is the issue of the pen and the paper. The ink that Dudek used to write the note looked similar to the one of Clayton’s pen. And the paper did not belong to any booklet that was in Dudek’s room. While these details might be cause for thought, they are far too trivial to serve even as circumstantial evidence of anything. Furthermore, it was unrealistic that, Clayton being a smart man, would continue to use the very same pen that he gave Dudek to write the note instead of disposing of it immediately, as well as anything other thing that he may have written with it.

    What else? The stuff about the waiter saying that Dudek moved an object on the table first, and therefore Dudek, according to Columbo, must have played white? That’s just the waiter’s opinion. Clayton may have already placed something first and the waiter just hadn’t seen it. In any case, how does that prove anything?

    What other so-called ‘trivial evidence’ was there? Columbo saying to Clayton during the chess exhibition that he was demonstrating his powerful memory and therefore his ability to memorize a page of written medication with a single glance? That part was just laughable non-sequitur. Furthermore, it shows Columbo’s ignorance about chess. And even if it could somehow be proved that Clayton had a photographic memory, it still does not mean that he memorized the medications especially since Linda claimed that he gave the paper right back to her and there was no evidence that the medications were responsible for Dudek’s death.

    Which brings us to the biggest thing we are conveniently forgetting here: which is that Columbo cannot even show that a murder was even committed in the first place!!! How is he going to get an arrest warrant, much less take the case to court, if he cannot even show that anyone had actually been murdered?? And that is what makes Columbo’s final words so ridiculous when he said “along with all the other trivial evidence, the murderer in this case had to be a deaf man.”

    Uh…what ‘murderer’ is he talking about???

    How is there a ‘murderer’ if there hasn’t even been a murder???

    All in all, it was an enjoyable episode, though with some unfortunate flaws and a pretty ridiculous ending.

    • Lt. questioned Clayton about the first player movement, when he found the book of the Russian chess champion stating that black resigned. Clayton played pepper his first move, which to Lt. seem like he was black. Clayton lied about this when confronted. The murderer had to be death to not return back to turn on the machine. The motive was still the biggest part here for Clayton to be the murderer.

  5. There’s a plot hole a mile wide here. Hospitals don’t give patients drugs from outside the hospital. They’ll ask for a list of drugs the patient is taking and then only drugs from the hospital pharmacy will be administered. You can’t bring in some random bottle and tell the hospital to give it to somebody.

    • Thats a massive flaw also which i always struggle with as no drugs from the outside a general hospital could be administered i think
      This was added to
      make an interesting twist for back in the day viewers it dosent really convince me and i also have a problem with the motive i know absolutley zero about chess and im sure pros take it very seriously but planning and executing murder over a game of chess dosent make a good overall motive for me and better epusiodes have better motives
      On most blogs and review posts this episode is well liked but i think its a rather unsatisfying outing and also any machine that has a cut off system is always clearly labelled , i mean why did they have to wait for dogs suicide urges to find that out , this i just cant get over.

  6. I’m working through the show from the start and have just finished this episode
    It’s not a slight against the episode, but this really drove home more than any previous episode that, had Columbo not revealed to the perpetrator that their initial murder attempt had failed, no one would have died. I kinda want to go back and see if this applies to previous episodes as well now.

  7. Just an aside I didn’t think of earlier, but I use an extra toothbrush to clean the whiskers out of my electric razor. (Don’t jump to a conclusion. It is not the one I use to brush my teeth.) I assume there could other uses people might find for a toothbrush. A good lawyer should raise such possibilities in a courtroom.

  8. One of my favorite episodes. One of those where the murderer evoked my sympathy almost as much as the victim did. For me, Clayton’s instability wasn’t a flaw in the script, it just made him different from all those cold-blooded antagonists. His fear of defeat on the verge of obsession is visibly painful, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. However, it’s also one of the episodes with the least convincing evidences. What does Columbo have against Clayton? A toothbrush, a waiter’s words, a mere suggestion that Clayton could have fooled with Dudek’s medicines, and the fact that the trash compactor wasn’t restarted after Dudek fell into it. It may look like a witty “gotcha” on the screen, but I doubt it would look sound in court.

  9. I really couldn’t figure out what Clayton was doing to Dudek’s medication in the bathroom that eventually aided in killing Dudek. Any ideas?

  10. Columbo’s final line proves the OPPOSITE of what Columbo claims. It shows that Dudek stumbled into it accidentally while alone, because a murderer would’ve restarted the compactor.

  11. I agree this was not a great one, but I loved the part where he got a call about his dog and so was able to see Clayton distressed since he would have thought it was about Dudek. Found it funny and wondered if Columbo had planned it.

  12. This will probably seem trivial, but what bothers me most is the hearing aid. I’m pretty certain that far more discreet ones were in use by that time.

    • There was an episode of Fawlty Towers around the same time as this featuring a woman with the same type of hearing aid. That may have been as good as they got back then.

  13. Its interesting that on paper Larry Harvey has almost all the attributes to be a Columbo foil but here he overplays it and becomes almost wearisome; much too troubled here; a good Columbo baddie needs to be a bit more sure of himself. The lank haired worrier was a disappointment to be sure, in a more traditional role (70,s cheesy ladies man in silk polo necks) he might have shone. Perhaps he was unused to being second fiddle on a TV drama coming from being a fairly biggish movie item and this weighed him down.
    On another point, I wonder who noticed when Lloyd Bochner (Beroski) was on the telephone speaking in half made-up semi Russian-Gobbldygook he spat out “Duddy Kravitz!”. I always wondered about this reference. ‘The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz” based on the Mordecai Richler book was set in Canada and was released in 1974 starring Richard Dreyfuss. Was Bochner, as a Canadian angling for the part at the time and lost out? Who knows?!

  14. As you will see from my handle, I’m a chess fan and, as a huge Columbo fan, I really enjoy this episode. However, there are things in the script relating to chess that really annoy me, and would have been very easy to fix. “Games” are repeatedly called “matches” by Clayton. Grr! But the worst is when he is checkmated in the simultaneous display near the end. The position is known as “Fool’s mate”, when White has opened by advancing both his King’s Bishop pawn and his King’s Knight pawn two squares. No one who plays chess at all would do that. I know, of course, that Clayton is distracted and unsettled by Columbo, but the most mediocre chess-player, let alone a Grandmaster, would never open a game like that, no matter how distracted or upset (or drunk). It’s about as plausible as a golfer taking out the 1-wood to play a greenside bunker shot! Even Grandmasters can make egregious mistakes, of course, but not that. Dudek’s defeat of Clayton in the hotel-room game at the start was good (and was, I think, based on the end of an actual grandmaster game). They could have used another famous grandmaster game for the simultaneous display loss. In the 1956 Candidates’ Tournament, Petrosian had outplayed Bronstein so completely that the latter was reduced to moving a Knight rather aimlessly back and forth. But on one move it attacked Petrosian’s Queen and, absorbed in his plans, Petrosian did not notice it, lost his Queen and immediately resigned. That would have been a far more plausible way for Clayton to be defeated in that scene.

    • OK, yes, by all means, let chess players talk about this episode. All in all it’s not too bad, I found more things to criticize in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit”. The game in the hotel room is based on W.J. Wolthuis against CHOD Alexander, Maastricht 1946. Alexander resigned at Qb4:!, it is quite condescending by Dudek to show Clayton the whole combination, but the audience needs to know, so that’s OK. I will not contest the simul play criticism. But let’s make clear that it is highly unlikely that chess world cup match opponents would play private games against each other the night before the start of the tournament. Now the true, cold-blooded chess aficionado would certainly muse whether Clayton would lose his world chess champion title for his deeds. Or would one in any other sports?

  15. For me, Laurence Harvey plays Clayton as too stridently one-note. He needs a dose of oily charm to add dimension to his self-professed brilliance.

    And given the chess theme of the story, I’d have liked to have seen the script unfold more like a chess game itself, with Columbo and Clayton dueling cerebrally, until at last the detective boxes the grandmaster in and checkmates him. Instead, there were too many coincidences and lucky breaks falling Columbo’s way, rather than the solve being fully the result of his intelligence. And the ultimate reveal, as you’ve pointed out, is fairly weak.

  16. There is a moment when Dudek’s physician is trying to tell Columbo why they share a bathroom: he says “You see, I am Mr Dudek’s physical trainer..”, and then he is cut off by Dudek’s coach. Was the implication there that Dudek and his physician were lovers?

        • I like that theory! But I think it’s really just that Mazoor Berozski was an impatient, bossy jerk who wanted to get on with the interview and get Columbo out of there as fast as possible. So he interrupted his subordinate when he thought that the discussion was in danger of getting bogged down in a tangent. 🙂

          • Why is Columbo not driving the Peugeot in this episode?! That’s my burning question, and the car he IS driving is in the dodgy dark grey shade that appeared in later episodes rather than earlier… what’s going on ?!

  17. The trash compactor’s automatic cut-off feature confuses me. If it shuts down any time something falls into it, how do you use it at all? It would shut down when actual trash is put into it, wouldn’t it? Maybe they meant that once it starts compacting, anything falling into the chute would activate the cut-off, so you have to fill up the compactor but keep the chute empty before you switch it on. If so, they didn’t explain that clearly.

    Plus, if Dog had fallen in there, he’d presumably be at least as chopped up as Dudek! So I’m glad they caught Dog before he fell in.

    Agreed, Dudek is super-lovable. He even tries to make his opponent feel better! We should all strive to be more like the Dudek.

    Were Dudek and his group actually from Russia or just an unnamed vaguely Eastern European country? I can’t remember if the dialogue actually says one way or the other. Clayton tells Dudek he was involved with a girl “from your country” and asks him to write a note “in your language” without specifying what nationality that is (IIRC).

    It sounds like when Beroski is speaking on the phone in…whatever language that was, at one point he says “Duddy Kravitz,” as in “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” a novel written by my countryman, Mordecai Richler. Neat little Easter egg for Canadians.

    Despite its flaws this episode gets thumbs up from me. Lovable victim, interesting premise, and once again a food scene that makes me hungry (though I would never eat escargot!).

    • You’re right – I don’t believe it is ever confirmed that Dudek is specifically Russian. I’m sure we’re meant to believe so, but who knows…?

      • The name Dudek is a very common Polish name, that’s why I’ve always assumed him to be from Poland. That would also fit in with my theory that Tomlin Dudek was based on Bogdan Sliwa and the match to be played between Dudek and Clayton a reference to the Immortal Losing Game between Sliwa and Bronstein in 1957. That game became famous for Bronstein, from a totally lost position, setting a series of elaborate traps for his opponent. Without succes however, and Sliwa won.
        Obviously Clayton failed in setting his trap as well. He did not kill his opponent in his first attempt, and eventually lost – both the demonstration chess match and his match with Columbo. So despite any attempts Clayton would make, he could never win.
        Having said that, I’m sure Dudek’s nationality has been left vague deliberately.

      • As a Russian I must say that Tomlin Dudek and Mazoor Beroski are not Russian names. To a Russian ear they sound more like Polish. And whatever real or made up language the members of the delegation are speaking it is not Russian.

        • That’s a good spot – I never noticed the flags before. It’s not definitely the Soviet flag as far as I can see, though, as there appears to be some sort of black symbol on it. It’s certainly not the Polish flag.

          • Maybe it was one of those satellite republics the Soviet Union had in its day, or a fictional “-istan.” My friends and I have been watching the old “Mission: Impossible” series on MeTV and every other episode takes place in a fictional Eastern European country that implies the Cold War without using a real location. One neat feature of this is the made-up languages they use on the signage in these fictional countries.

            • Ah, Columbo and Mission Impossible…
              I have a box with all the Columbo-episodes, and HAD one with all the Mission Impossible ones (they are very, very numerous…).
              I say I HAD, cause I gave it to a friend who has a holiday house where there is no internet, and cause finally the episodes annoyed me.
              I had very good souvenirs having seen them when I was young. That, and the excellent experience with the Columbo-box, inspired me to buy the complete M.I.-box.
              However, it’s always pretty to see – what was her name? yes: Barbara Bain, as Cinnamon Carter -, and to hear the famous score, but the episodes themselves are outdated. Always the same history, in a cardboard-scenary, with east-european bad guys, and much too perfect heroes. And there is always a moment where we think their perfect plan is not that perfect…
              Looking at Mission Impossible became an impossible misson for me.
              Yes there are some years between M.I. and Columbo, what can explain, but there is an enormous quality-gap between the former and the latter. The comparison shows the exceptional quality of Columbo

              • Growing up in the 1980s I was a fan of the 1988 “Mission: Impossible” series with Peter Graves returning, Phil Morris (son of Greg Morris, as the son of Barney Collier), and my favourite of the new cast, Thaao Penghlis. I hope to see the whole series again someday.

          • As Clayton is waiting for Dudek to start the match, the names above the large chess board on the wall say “CLAYTON AMERICA” and “DUDEK BALKANS”. So he’s clearly meant to be from South Eastern Europe, though they didn’t want to specify a real country. The flag is very similar to the Albanian one, though I don’t think the black symbol is the eagle on their flag. As a bit of a pariah state at the time (relations with the Soviets had long since deteriorated) hinting at Albania may have been the safest bet!

    • I’ve re-watched the episode since I left this comment, and they did actually explain the trash compactor. I just wasn’t paying close enough attention before. And it’s like I guessed: first you fill it up, then you turn it on, and *then* if anything falls into it, it shuts off.

    • Escargot is delicious when prepared properly. You should give it try. It isn’t any stranger than eating squid or oysters; they are all molluscs.

  18. Columbe doesn’t actually prove that Dudek was murdered – only perhaps, that if he was, it might well have been done by someone who is deaf – which, incidentally, doesn’t apply to Clayton as he uses an aid to amplify noise so that his below-par hearing can pick it up clearly.

  19. The note didn’t make any sense to me.
    Why would Dudek write a note in a foreign language to Clayton and why would Clayton write a note in a foreign language to the woman he was having an affair with?

      • I watched this last sunday on 5 USA and as I remember Clayton says shes from your country write something in your own language .

      • If the woman was Russian then the note was in Cyrillic, meaning that Clayton had zero chance of copying it “in his own hand.” All the names are silly and non-existent, but to the extent that they could be actual names, “Dudek” has a Czech ending and Czech is written in Latin letters, although this still makes zero sense as the woman certainly knows that Clayton doesn’t speak her language so a note in anything but English would be bizarre..

  20. As a diabetic myself, i’ve never understood why he shouldn’t be eating garlic snails. I’d imagine both snails and garlic are close to zero carbs, The fat & cholesterol content are probably fairly high, but no more so than about a million other foods. The fat will come from the butter or oil, not the actual garlic. So anything with butter or oil will have a similar fat content. Carbs are the biggest problem for diabetics anyway. Most fat just passes through the body naturally. All diabetics who are dependent on insulin, inject an amount related to the amount of carbs eaten. Fat is completely disregarded, because largely it has no effect on blood glucose. The only proviso being, the more fat you have on your body, the less well insulin works. But even then, most studies find that excess carbs are what causes weight gain, not fat. Obviously activity levels are hugely important too. Athletes burn off carbs, chess players are unlikely to. He’s better off eating garlic snails, than anything based on bread, pasta, potato or rice.

    • You’re right, and I think that’s why Dudek felt fairly safe eating it, as he told Clayton. It’s just that his coach and doctor want to control his diet so tightly that even something not directly affecting his blood sugar would still get him in trouble.

    • Also, while chess itself is a sedentary activity, some chess players (such as the aforementioned Fischer) believe that staying physically fit also sharpens the mind. Dudek’s team may have subscribed to that philosophy.

  21. Why was he wearing one old-fashioned hearing aid if deaf in both ears? And he could obviously “hear” with the aid, so why not sense such a loud noise as a screaming trash compactor? Or did Harvey rush away as soon as he pushed the Russian?

    I thought Harvey at some point was going to get chess move signals through his hearing piece, like honest mentalists and fake preachers sometimes employ. I wonder if that idea was the germ that started the idea for the story?

    • I have a few problems with this episode first one being I know next to nothing about chess except its a Board Game and would like somebody to explain to me why you would need to hire a physical coach ? by the way that Russian coaches characters/ actor if he wasn’t Russian they put on such fake Russian accents its almost tear jerking in the scene in theHotel about the garlic and dentures and wrong toothbrush I find a bit drawn out and off putting not a scene to treasure
      my real problem is why didn’t columbo just enquirer into the safety Device shutoff switch first it was obvious and also it would have been clearly marked on the equipment for health and safety standards , why was it left to dog who never moves to suddenly decide to run up a flight of stairs to crack it .
      also it would be near impossible to get drugs into a general hospital from the outside to be fatally administered and the end gotcha simply dosent quite satisfy me on the whole not even an overall top 30 episode .

    • You are right, hearing aids enhance hearing, rather tlike spectacles enhance sight. If someone is stone deaf, then a hearing aid is of no use.

  22. Been awhile since I’ve seen this one, but I’m making my way through your reviews, because they’re awesome!… As to why Clayton would agree to play against Dudek, he (Clayton) was presumably the reigning champion, he has to take on all comers. It would be like Mike Tyson refusing to fight Buster Douglas… oh, wait…
    I really don’t DISLIKE very many Columbo episodes, this one is certainly watchable. I remember being fascinated by how Clayton memorized Dudek’s medication list in one glance, then wrote it down later.
    But I agree with the many comments that the Clayton character could have been so much better. Do you think it was poorly written, or did Laurence Harvey just overdo the “unstable genius about to crack” side of it? As a counterpoint, in the much-maligned “Dagger of the Mind”, I thought Richard Basehart did a great job playing the “unstable actor about to crack”, completely losing it in the end, with Macbeth as an ironic backdrop.

  23. I love reading your reviews/synopses/musings. They are always dead on. I didn’t think it was possible, but you’ve made me enjoy my favorite show even more! That being said, I’m not crazy about this episode. One of the many things I love about the show is the interplay between Columbo and the killer. Ironically, it’s like a chess match. However, here, Columbo’s opponent is woefully inadequate due to the fact that he’s a loon! This guy is unhinged.

  24. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Harvey’s role in The Manchurian Candidate. Also a cerebral role, involving brain washing,and Pavlovian programming. ( Hmmm, reminds me of another episode… think DOGS) .
    uh, just one more thing, thanks for the background on Harvey. So many of them went young. Like Cassidy. Very tragic.

  25. Great review. I also didn’t like this episode too much. But I’ve come to change my mind. I like it. Can you imagine the cost, creativity, and time involved in shooting that dream sequence? It just evinces the quality of the late night movies of the era. Columbo specifically. Thanks for the historical context. Your Lego haired comment was hilarious. So was 90 shades of brown. One of the great enjoyments for me watching Columbo is looking at the sets. The color coordinating is exquisite. It seems the art director chooses a color theme for each guest star. Yes, often times the murder scenes are contrived and unrealistic but for me it’s not about the murder itself, but watching him solve it. Everyone’s favorite episodes will differ. We pick our episodes for different reasons. For me it’s the acting, the people,places,women, cars,houses,locations,production values, and guest stars. The plot,and plausibility take a backseat to the lush time period back drops. For me it’s the swank 70’s style. The hair, the clothes and the interiors. Thanks for your web site. I enjoy it. Your writing is witty and interesting. Thanks for the time you put into this great old show.

    • I agree completely with what you say here, and this is why I love watching this episode so much – any Columbo with hospitals and hotels as main sets just looks so calming due to those lovely pastel shades. And this episode has both settings in one!
      The “90 shades of brown” comment is genius, everyone in this episode seems to wear combinations of brown or beige and the hotel lift lobbies in particular are beautifully beige.
      I also really love the location and interior of Lisa Chambers’ apartment in Double Shock, the soft greens and yellows. It makes me wish I could go back to live in the 70s and is one of the main reasons Columbo is such comforting viewing and perfect for those cold Sunday afternoons. It’s all part of the experience.

      • It’s interesting what you both say. I’ll pay more attention to it. Columbophile learned me to LISTEN to the Columbo-episodes (I’m glad he did), and I always liked to LOOK at the camera-positions (for instance: the murder in “Ransom”) and at the pace of the takes.
        But I still discover new qualities. One example (a detail): the position of Greenleaf’s car in the opening scene of Publish or Perish.
        There are very different ways to appreciate the Columbo episodes. Television as an Art.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I was a teen in the garish 70’s and I consider Columbo “comfort” TV. Love those glorious mansions and huge gas guzzling cars!

  26. This was an enjoyable episode, whatever its flaws . Perhaps it might have taken more than a difference in toothbrushes to hint at other than natural causes for poor Dudek. My mom had dentures and used a special toothbrush as well, but finding a regular toothbrush in Dudek’s kit could still have been an easy thing to shrug off.

    Clayton’s chess nightmare reminds me a little of John Ballantyne’s “Salvador Dali” dream in the 1945 movie SPELLBOUND. He certainly seems a tormented soul at first, but Dudek really was a sweet old man and didn’t deserve what happened to him at all. So I don’t feel especially sorry for Clayton once Columbo starts bugging him to death.

    • Very hard to shrug off that it was someone else’s toothbrush! But what about the tiny, crappy hotel rooms given our chess stars! What’s up with that?

      • Actually, it’s very easy to shrug off given that Dudek was supposedly in a very agitated and disoriented state, which is something that you are apparently forgetting.

    • Actually, it’s very easy to shrug off given that Dudek was supposedly in a very agitated and disoriented state, which is something that you are apparently forgetting.

  27. I enjoyed this episode because of the excellent acting and I thought interesting characterization of Emmett Clayton. But I found it one of the weakest written of any Columbo episodes. I watched it twice but never saw any compelling evidence given by Columbo or the police that there had even been a murder. The “gotcha” only proved that Clayton was hard of hearing. Dudek was an old man with advanced diabetes and a serious heart condition, shown by his taking drugs like digoxin, digitalis, and lasix. Suffering a dizzy spell and accidentally falling into the trash disposal would be quite possible. The disposal would then have shut itself off. No need for a deaf murderer to be about. As for his actual death at the hospital, given his illnesses, and the trauma he had gone though, even if his condition at first was stable, I doubt if a sudden fatal heart attack would have been that unexpected. So nothing was proven. The wrong toothbrush being packed is not going to send a guy to the gas chamber.

    • The recorded chess game the night before and the waiter’s seeming recall that the Russian made the first move with the “white” salt shaker were the key clues. What luck that the victim recorded that game before he expired!

    • You are absolutely spot on. It was a very enjoyable episode and fun to watch, but the so-called ‘gotcha’ in this case was utterly ridiculous and laughable.

  28. The Russian Grand Master was not at all like a typical Russian GM we have experienced. In fact Lawrence having originated from East Europe could have been better, maybe as a nasty arrogant version. As to Lawrence’s unstable behaviour well being hearing challenged can affect your personality. And as to him not hearing that the machine had been turned off yes indeed the vibration would have given it away, what you lose in one sense you gain in others, but further he was not ‘deaf’ more hearing impaired since he was wearing only one aid.


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