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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…

Untitled design (1)

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.

Dangerous 1

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.

Dangerous 11

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.

Dangerous 5

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.

Dangerous 4

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.

Dangerous 8

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.

Dangerous 13


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.

Dangerous 14

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….

How did you like this article?

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

  1. Pingback: 5 best moments from Columbo The Most Dangerous Match | The Columbophile

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  4. You sure didn’t like this one much. I thought it would be more popular. It would make my top 10 comfortably. The chess match is a great metaphor for Columbo in itself and I liked how the murderer was clearly so smart and wasn’t shy about calling out Columbo on his tricks. And making his opponent so warm and friendly was a good choice. And that’s without Dog’s starring role and the superb acting. I knew I’d seen Harvey before. He was in The Manchurian Candidate and playing another tortured soul. Ah well. Life isn’t about agreeing on everything.

    • watched this last Saturday morning in full and I agree not a true classic episode 2 fatal flaws but I actually don’t mind watching it its better than dead weight and green house jungle ,lovely but lethal last salute ,lady in waiting and a few more in my book the end scene is probably the best part. this might just sneak into my top 20 70s episodes but only just.

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  6. I do not know why this episode is scathed that much but to each their own. Granted, I have not seen all Columbo episodes so far but to me it a high ranking favourite and its “Gotcha!”-moment is in my personal top 3 along with “Playback” and “The most crucial game”.

    What also make this episode different is that the culprit is a complete lone wolf and therefore has no one and nothing to hide behind. There is no family, no lover and no enterprise which shield Emit Clayton and which serve as an unintenional distraction against Columbo.Clayton is in my opinion a believable character and it is no surprise that he has no entourage as he is condemned to remain alone due to is obessive overconfidence, which makes him also fracturable. He plays that character so well who is tough and brittle at the same time.

    Greetings from Austria!

    • Excellent view on this episode and it’s culprit you have here. I agree about Clayton and I love the way Columbo gets under his skin, shattering his confidence more and more.

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  11. I have to admit, this is the only Columbo I couldn’t finish watching. I like chess, even played it competitively, and that’s the problem, at least for me. Clayon is so unconvincing as a world chess champion (as are the circumstances surrounding the match) that I can’t take the episode seriously. For that matter, neither is Dudek, nor the match itself. And if you don’t have that, none of the following makes sense.

  12. I am a chess player myself, but I am not a big fan of this episode. I didn’t like the opening dream sequence and no matter how unnerved Columbo has him, a World Championship candidate wouldn’t walk into a Fool’s Mate in a simultaneous exhibition. The game in the restaurant, with the salt shaker being White and the pepper shaker being Black, was based on an actual game. The final combination of the chess game played between Dudek and Clayton in the restaurant and finished in Dudek’s hotel room was actually played in the game Wolthuis-Alexander, Maastricht 1946. Dudek demonstrated the line leading to mate, in the actual game Black resigned after the first move of the combination, Qxb4. Also, Columbo, when reading from Dudek’s notation, says that Black resigned on the 41st move. In the actual game from 1946, the sequence takes place earlier in the game (Black resigned on the 25th move).

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  14. I wouldn’t be as hard on this episode as the author of this piece, but I too felt that the ending was a little too iffy. Of course, that’s true of a lot of “Columbo” episodes, like the one where Ray Milland was the murderer.

    Two things I noticed that the author doesn’t touch on: As another commenter noted above, Emmett Clayton seems to have shown up for the chess championship of the world all by himself. This is pretty ridiculous. It’s even sillier as Dudek does have the standard entourage, with a coach and two assistants.

    The second thing that really jumped out at me was when Clayton gets checkmated by the random dude at the end. The show does not go into it for obvious reasons but the checkmate shown is called the “Fool’s mate”–Wikipedia has an article–because it is the quickest and absolute dumbest way to get yourself checkmated. You have to open by moving your king’s bishop pawn (which most players won’t do), and follow that up by moving your king’s knight pawn to the fourth square (which you’d have to be a gibbering idiot to do). Then you get checkmated when your opponent, after laughing at you, moves his queen to the rook file. That’s what Clayton, the world champion, did: make an error that only a brand-new player just learning the rules would make. I get it that the show is trying to indicate that Clayton is coming apart under pressure, but that was just taking it way way way too far.

    One other thing I thought was curious was having the bit about Dudek’s assistant being Clayton’s ex-wife. It didn’t have anything to do with the story. It wasn’t a bad detail, just a totally random one.

  15. Hello

    I agree it’s far from a great episode. For me its biggest flaw is that Columbo’s ploy in turning off the compactor, though successful, does not IMO provide evidence that would amount to anything in a court of law. Secondly, the plot aspect of Linda being Clayton’s ex-lover and now part of Dudek’s entourage is ridiculous.

    Aside: I don’t think Dudek was a sympathetic murder victim. Everything to do with the restaurant chess match (including him enticing Clayton there in the first place) was him playing head games. Remember also that he took the first opportunity he could to remind Clayton of the unhappy end of his affair with Linda.

    Love the site
    Alistair W

    • Thanks Alistair, I’m pleased you’ve found the site and hope you’ll be a regular visitor. Interesting perspective on Dudek. You may be right, but I’ve never read the character that way and he seems to be held in such universally high regard that I can’t see that the scriptwriters thought so either. Maybe they were being very subtle. If so, great work on their part because that would be scheming indeed on the lovable Russkie’s part!

  16. As you note, in 1972 Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to become the first (and so far, only) American World Champion. It is difficult to understate how earth-shattering this event was in the context of the Cold War. The Russians, who felt they owned chess, were crushed, and every American knew who Bobby Fischer was and loved him. So, when this episode erred, Americans were probably at their peak as far as chess knowledge and interest. And therein lie so many of the problems I have with this episode.

    Firstly, Landon is clearly based on FIscher, who was (in)famous for his eccentricities. (He might complain about the chess board, the chess pieces, the chairs, the lights, the temperature, etc., and demand they be fixed before he would play.) I think this partly explains the lack of character development. The produces are telling the audience, “Hey, this guy is Bobby Fischer, and you all know what he’s like.” So, we’ve got the bad American versus the super-cuddly Russian.

    I’ll note that the Russians never would have allowed this event in the U.S., firstly because they would consider it too much of a home-field advantage for an American, but more importantly, they’d be afraid of an embarrassing, high-profile defection. We can suspend disbelief to get to Columbo’s jurisdiction, but the Russians sure as hell would have had minders shadowing Dudek, not letting him wander freely around the city unsupervised.

    For those who may not know chess too well, a win is scored one point and a draw is scored a half-point. In top level competition, matches tend to end in draws and white almost always wins more than black. The 1972 Fischer-Spassky match lasted 21 games over 7 weeks; Fischer won 7, Spassky won 3, and 11 were draws. (In fact Fischer lost the first two games played, though the second loss was by forfeit, as Fischer demanded all cameras be removed, but the organizers refused). So, it’s a stretch that one guy is going to freak out over one loss, especially as black, to a top player. But this episode implies that the “match” will be one game, which wouldn’t happen.

    Anyway, great site and reviews. Thanks for letting me ramble.

    • Yes super interesting, and image search shows that the two Columbo leads *look* like Fischer and Spassky, although Spassky was younger than Kruschen. I keep thinking about how well Laurence Harvey was cast, an actor known to play handsome, brooding men (with nightmares ;)), cast him as a troubled brooder (with nightmares).

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  20. I actually like this episode due to the shock of the victim still being alive and the will he/won’t he manage to finish off such a likeable victim. Plus I think a lot of the character of the killer can be explained by the fact that he can’t understand how Dudek can be such a jolly, friendly, laid back kind of guy and be a genius at chess, and he is meticulous, hard working and thinks himself more deserving of genius but will always be second best. It’s this knowledge in my opinion that tips him over the edge. It’s a bit like Salieri’s discovery that Mozart was interested in fart jokes in the film Amadeus.

    • That was one of the better points of the episode it works well as it also did in Prescription murder but on the whole its not a truly great episode.

  21. Your comment of “lego haired” was quite funny. But even more weird is this video that someone made showing Clayton’s dream sequence using Legos.

  22. This one follows A Stitch In Crime with Leonard Nimoy’s superb performance as the cold killer so Laurence Harvey’s Emmett Clayton suffers a bit by following such a good baddy.

    Personally I absolutely loved the nightmare scenes in this and I bet they were great fun to film.

    I doubt a drama would be devised today that hinged on a character being deaf in the way this one did. I have to say that all along I was expecting Emmett Clayton to turn out not to be deaf at all. So I was not expecting the way this ended. I thought it was a fair enough ending actually.

    There were a few classy scenes I thought such as the one where Emmet Clayton is playing a group of chess enthusiasts and Columbo is needling him.

    The really good episodes have very well designed scenes and although this is not up with the best, it is not a bad episode in my humble opinion.

  23. I do think this is a rather unsatisfying columbo and poor in comparison to other great 70s episodes mainly its too simple the res too many flaws and claytons my least favourite killer watching a humourless paranoid schizophrenic who is also deaf dosent appeal to me , don’t get me wrong this is A VERY WATCHABLE columbo bu well in the mid iers and far from one of my favouritres.

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  27. i cant understand these Colombo fans thi is like columbophile says lower mid tier yes i agree its better than short fuse and dagger of the mind but its not a classic by any stretch of the imagination the ending is something a 10 year old could understand.

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  29. First, my biggest compliments for this site, im an huge fan of columbo since i was a child and every week i watch an episode.
    I have to say i like very much this episode, and Laurence Harvey is one of my favourite actors, sadly like many of you said, the ending is weakier than the rest of the episode, which is bad, since it is really a great episode to me.
    But i have to say i love the face of Harvey in the ending understanding that he kill a man and that will have to spend the rest of his life in prison for nothing, because he will be exposed to everyone, and his fear to be revelead as weak to the public will be thruth.
    and then columbo almost showing piety for the killer, and that wonderful music, i just love the final seconds of this episode.
    a big hello from Italy.

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  31. Appreciate all the effort you put into this blog. Makes watching Columbo reruns much more pleasurable.

    But the lead up to the murder is ludicrous. No way would the victim/top rated chess grandmaster going into this match be spending so much time alone during the day before and hours before the match. He’d be surrounded by handlers and assistants.

    Plus, the Harvey character can’t seem to keep it together mentally more than a few hours in a row. What kind of clever murderer is he? More like a good candidate for a diminished mental capacity defense.

    When an episode starts off so implausibly, hard for Falk and/or anyone else involved to save the episode.

    Now, Harvey is hanging around the hospital. Be serious. This is getting worse rather than better.

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  33. I liked this episode a lot. I think Clayton’s mental problems match his weird actions (the biggest one being his desire to meet the opponent the night before and ending up playing with him – gosh, who would do that and risk unnecessary stress?!). It’s true they could have shown some explanation for his mental issues, but I liked the idea in general – after watching the perfectly self-controlled Dr. Mayfield it was a relief of sorts to see that the killer was human as well and suffered, too. And there are many best moments there – I’d choose the restaurant chess match, the subsequent match in the room (when Dudek defeats Clayton as if the latter was a beginner) and the simultaneous exhibition during which Columbo actually accuses Clayton in public! And well, I played chess a lot as a child with my dad (before I gradually gave it up), so there is some more sentiment in me for this episode because of it, too. You seem to have a different opinion, but thanks as always for your effort to review it so carefully!

  34. Now, I know this is not the right place to discuss this at all, and it’s a bit premature as you haven’t reviewed up to season 5 yet, but I was wondering what you think about “Last Salute to the Commodore”?

    I’ve been rewatching the series for a few days now, and I got to that episode once again, and I just can’t wrap my head around it… (I’m obviously one of the people who doesn’t like the episode). Is there something I’m missing, or is the episode just that weird?

    I thought that you as an expert would have something to say about that, so I’d like to hear your take on it, if possible.

    • Thanks for your query. And a spoiler alert for future reviews but I HATE Last Salute. It’s far too weird for its own good; the parlour room reveal at the end is stupid and weak; and they did what should be impossible and made Columbo really irritating! Thank goodness they didn’t do any other episodes like it. The only good bit is when he rows away at the end. The rest is utter nonsense, and boring to boot. A waste of Robert Vaughn.

      • I had a feeling you’d feel that way, thanks for the reply! Also it looked to me like Robert Vaughn wasn’t really enjoying the episode either, he seemed really irritated to be there. So I bet he’d agree that it was a waste as well.

      • Another example of how a lame ending entirely ruins an episode. The set-up of “Last Salute” was brilliant: creating the appearance of a standard Columbo open mystery, using the Columbo trope of cutting away from violence to lull the audience into accepting Robert Vaughn’s character as the killer, giving him reasons to act just as Columbo killers always act — only to subvert everything. If only the ending could have been half as brilliant as the set-up.

        • I’d go a step further. The premise is a complete winner, but everything else is a mess. The Columbo characterisation is far too eccentric; the sidekicks are idiots; the support characters are hateful pretty much to a man/woman. It amazes me that Falk rated this episode highly when he spoke of it years later.

      • “Eccentric”? The scene where Columbo has Mac (Dennis Dugan) drive the Peugeot — eccentric? I’m aghast.

      • Just my sarcastic way of saying that we are 100% in agreement on this one. Nevertheless, I do believe that a brilliant endings would have changed our entire perspective on “Last Salute.” Great endings make for great Columbos.

      • After seeing Robert Vaughn’s masterful performance in Troubled Waters, it was almost painful to see him in Last Salute To The Commodore. Then again, compared to some of the later Columbo’s from 1989-2003, Last Salute seems almost brilliant and enjoyable to watch.

      • its good to know you hate last salute it is a dreadful episode Robert Vaughn was so much better in troubled waters as was the episode ,

      • Columbophile, you said:

        COLUMBOPHILE says:
        June 24, 2017 at 4:26 am
        Thanks for your query. And a spoiler alert for future reviews but I HATE Last Salute. It’s far too weird for its own good; the parlour room reveal at the end is stupid and weak; and they did what should be impossible and made Columbo really irritating! Thank goodness they didn’t do any other episodes like it. The only good bit is when he rows away at the end. The rest is utter nonsense, and boring to boot. A waste of Robert Vaughn.

        I love this condensed review! 😀 😀

    • I have watched Last Salute To The Commodore several times, and there are only 2 good things about it: 1) The coastal/harbor scenery. 2) Susan Foster- Also beautiful in Billy Jack and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

  35. Aw, I think you were a little harsh on this one. The nightmare scene, the restaurant game scene, the multi-game chess scene, and Jack Kruschen’s overall performance manage to make this a most worthwhile and enjoyable episode. And, as was stated above, the unstable character of Clayton might very well be quite accurate.

    At any rate, thank you for this excellent blog on one of the finest television shows ever created.

    • Thanks for your comment. It wouldn’t do for us all to like the same aspects of all the same episodes. I know that many rate this highly, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

      • im of the same good episode enough in its own rite but it dosent do it for me either, bit like fade in to murder and the greenhouse jungle

  36. Actually one of my favourite Columbo’s and if anyone’s going to pick holes in this ending then they may as well do it for all

    And the cool but crumbling wreck if a person that our killer is, adds to the intrigue. We know how vulnerable he is from the first minute and realise that this will continually undermine him as he tries to overcome it, with a stiff haughty arrogance. The multi chess matches has to be one of the best scenes ever, that isn’t an ending, as Columbo deliciously turns the screw

    A great film, one of which I often find myself watching over and over, if its on TV

    • “if anyone’s going to pick holes in this ending then they may as well do it for all”

      I believe we do. Not to be picky, but because the quality of a Columbo ending has a disproportionate effect on the excellence of the episode. Make one list of great Columbo endings and a second list of great Columbos. The two lists won’t be very different.

    • Thanks for your comment, and to echo Richard’s words I often do pick holes in the endings in these reviews if I feel it’s warranted. I’m a huge Columbo lover, but the blog would make for a boring read if it was a 100% love-in! But even the weaker episodes are massively more enjoyable than most TV ever made.

    • I don’t dislike this episode by any means and the ending is quite enjoyable but what columbophile means he doesn’t enjoy it like the very good 70s episodes and im the same its just not on there level.

  37. I am no expert in waste disposal grinding machines, but it seems to me that a safety device might shut off the hopper rotary blades without necessarily stopping the entire system. In other words, even if the input to the machine was temporarily disabled, vibrations might still continue in emergency situation that a deaf man might have difficulty in telling apart from a fully functioning machine.

    • You might be right, but judging how marked the background silence was once the machine was turned off, and how close they were from it, I feel sure it would be easily noticeable.

      • I do like this episode but the Murder just lets it down . Did dudek trip over his untied shoelaces then stand on a banana skin before falling into the grinder , sorry it s a very un convincing one for me as there seems to be a massive distance between the Doors and the machine , the ending dosent convince too well either still very watchable though .

  38. I very much agree with your comments about this one being a lower mid-tier episode. It had lots of potential which never fully materialised.
    I did hear someone say this is the only episode where the murder victim dies in Columbo’s presence. I’m not sure if that is true or not?
    I also read somewhere the final 2 episodes of series 2 were originally shown in the wrong order. Again, I’m not sure if this is true or not. But if you look closely at the on-screen titles, The Most Dangerous Match has a copyright of 1973 where as Double Shock has a copyright of 1972. Maybe the same thing happened as series 1 where the stronger episode of the final 2 was saved and shown last, to end to the series on a high.

    • interesting theory but I don’t think you could consider Double Shock a particular high. Overall season 2 is turning out to be at best a mixed bag isn’t it, even the better episodes aren’t quite living up to their promise – I’ve a feeling season 3 will put things back on track!

      • I agree series 2 is a mixed bag and on the whole not as good as series 1 or series 3. But for me Double Shock is one of the highlights of series 2 due to Peter Falk’s performance, the added twist of twins which I think works well, and the relationship between Columbo and Mrs Peck. I consider it a far superior episode to The Most Dangerous Match.

        • I’m with Andy. Double Shock is an absolute gem. Quite possibly Falk’s best ever performance and it’s so much fun to view, particularly the confrontations with Mrs Peck and the glorious cookery scene. Best episode of Season 2, for, and one of the top 5 episodes in total. I do concur that Season 2 is a weaker Season than 1 and 3, but I’d also say it’s weaker than Season 4, which is really strong across the board.

  39. One thing to remember is that while the killer may not have made the most challenging opponent for Columbo, there are many, many examples of top-level chess players being mentally or emotionally unstable. The character might not have been likable or imposing, but it sure rang true to life as a chess player.

  40. Even if “the plan all along [was] simply to concoct a clever way of catching a deaf murderer,” Jackson Gillis should have been able to concoct a better “gotcha” than the one he used here. He must have recognized the logical flaw you quite correctly identified. Furthermore, Clayton wasn’t deaf; a hearing aid presupposes the ability to hear. Such a person generally can distinguish between loud noise and silence.

  41. Just one small detail, it’s not important mind you, but I’ll put it out there. When I was a freshman in college I took an acting class for the fun of it, just to satisfy some credit hours. The teacher was a visiting lecturer named Mathias Reitz who played Dudek’s “coach” Anton. I didn’t care much for Reitz, we didn’t see eye to eye. As for the episode, I don’t think it’s as bad you say it is, it has its moments. Clayton could have been a better killer, there’s some details you mentioned that bother me, but the job Jack Kruschen does as Tomlin Dudek saves it.

  42. I’ve never particularly liked this episode and i think its down to the guest killer, he is just plain unlikable. As already mentioned he has no charisma in the part and the whole episode feels like a bit of a chore to sit through.

    What was most interesting for me is that there is a scene where Emmett breaks into Dudek;s apartment and you can see someone sitting in the lounge, presumably a member of the crew who ended up on camera by mistake,

  43. I agree. It SHOULD be a top 10 episode but falls flat. All the ingredients are there, but the recipe doesn’t come together as it were. Clayton’s lack of composure doesn’t bother me too much since he’s on edge right from the beginning. He hasn’t had an opportunity to relax and regain his mental calm. Even then though, this one leaves me a bit cold.

  44. I think the script carefully avoids explicitly referring to the victim and his entourage as Russian. Obviously an Eastern bloc country, and assumed by the viewer to be Russia because we’re talking chess here, but it’s always left vague. The fake note is referred to as being in “your language”, not Russian.

    At least this was what the people I watched the episode with said after we’d watched it and I couldn’t think of an instance to prove them wrong.

    • American tv series were often coy abut calling a spade a spade in the 70s and 80s, in particular they had an aversion to naming specific foreign countries – maybe they were hedging their bets against a future time when they hope to sell the show to those countries?

      As for the episode, a fair to middling one. I agree it would have been better if Clayton had been more in control of himself instead of being so mentally unstable. Strangely this episode ends up having a very likable victim and sort of sympathetic murderer which may detract from the drama?

    • It was a weird television tradition to never refer to Russia or the Soviet Union by name – Mission: Impossible, Get Smart and The Avengers were similarly coy about “the other side” – but it wasn’t just TV. Comic books of the time would come up with new names for organized crime (“the Maggia”) or the devil (never the *real* devil, it was some low-rent demon called “Satannish” or the like). The past is like another planet sometimes.

    • Well, well. I’ve never even noticed that they don’t mention Russia! Did Clayton not request an airline ticket back to Moscow for Dudek when making the phony reservation for him? I’d have to revisit that scene to be sure.

      • Clayton makes a request for a ticket to Mexico, not Moscow.

        Although, FWIW, my DVD set had the subtitle “(speaking Russian)” when the coach is talking to his superiors on the phone.

      • Just watched this one – Clayton asks for a reservation to ‘Mexico city’ in the ep :o)
        Have to agree with you on this one, the ep had so much potential to be a thrilling cerebral chess-match of a murder, with a Grandmaster as Columbo’s opponent who could carefully plot the ‘perfect murder’… If Clayton was one of Columbo’s smug villains it would have made a perfect cat-and-mouse ep, but the gotcha was completely unconvincing and Clayton was far too neurotic to be that entertaining. Columbo of course should have played a game of chess with him throughout the ep – ending in checkmate (to Columbo of course) at the end!

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