Released in March 1971, Ransom for a Dead Man was a big-budget spectacular, with its magnificent production values, dramatic score and stellar cast making it ‘Event Television’ in the truest sense.
True to form, it features a number of highly memorable moments as Columbo goes head-to-head with one of his most challenging opponents, Leslie Williamson (Lee Grant). But just what are the very best moments? My thoughts are below…
5. The lemon-shaped soap conundrum
In a classic Columbo meandering move, he immediately identifies himself to Agent Carlson and Leslie as someone they don’t need to take seriously. How? By mumbling about how the lemon-shaped soaps in Leslie’s soap dish get wet and stick together. When he questions Leslie about it, she snaps back: “It’s a problem!” But while the intellectual pair mentally dismiss Columbo, the wily Lieutenant is already formulating his case against her.
4. Margaret’s breakfast viewing
Hats off to the production team for this under-the-radar gem. Margaret is chomping down on brekky following her return home from Switzerland. Her choice of breakfast TV viewing is the 1944 hit motion picture Double Indemnity. Don’t know what it’s about? A wife who plans to murder her husband and live off the ill-gotten gains of a fraudulently taken-out life insurance policy. It’s not quite the same plot as the episode unfolding before our eyes, but is a very nice touch!
3. The sucker punch
Following an encounter at the diner, Columbo is clearly on Margaret’s side and working to bring about Leslie’s downfall. But when the feisty teen attempts to clumsily frame Leslie with no evidence, the two allies briefly go to war.
When Columbo takes Margaret to task about her antics in front of Leslie, Margaret loses the plot and lashes out at the detective, who catches her arm just as the blow’s about to land. “Young lady, don’t you ever do that again,” he says, before she tearfully races away.
Leslie thanks Columbo, but her gratitude is short lived. “Oh, it was the only thing I could do,” he says. “I mean I just can’t have you accused of murder on the wrong evidence…”
2. Columbo caught short
Columbo and Margaret’s plotting eventually yields results as Leslie agrees to pay Margaret a lump sum to keep her quiet and get her out of the country.
After Leslie and Margaret say a frosty farewell at the airport lounge, Columbo springs the trap. He greets Leslie and the two share a consolatory drink – at which point Columbo reveals he has the briefcase of ransom money and that it’s game over for Leslie.
As she’s taken downtown, a waitress hands Columbo the bill. Despite having $25,000 in cash on the table in front of him, he doesn’t have a dollar of his own to cover the drinks.
1. The quiet f*** you to Agent Carlson
Another under-the-radar moment, but the scene in the courtroom following the revelation that Leslie’s husband’s body has been found where the Lieutenant asserts his authority over the smarmy Agent Carlson is a moment to treasure.
When Columbo starts discussing all the things that bother him about Leslie’s reaction, Carlson gets snooty. “Let’s understand this one thing,” he bleats. “If you start harassing this woman I’m going to take it upstairs.”
Cue a magnificent Columbo comeback: “Um, just one minute, Mr. Carlson. It’s like this. This is not just a kidnapping. This is a murder now and I kinda figure that’s my department. I’ll see ya around.”
The message is clear: Columbo may be small. He may be scruffy. But he will not be pushed around. This is a theme that will be revisited time and again in the series long run, but it was never more effectively done than here.
“The message is clear: Columbo may be small. He may be scruffy. But he will not be pushed around.”
If you enjoyed that, you might enjoy my full-length review of Ransom for a Dead Man here.
Are your favourite Ransom moments featured above? If not, let me know in the comments section below.
What was the box with flashing lights that Leslie Williams took out of the ransom bag and tossed out the plane window shortly before she dropped the white bag out ?
It was the police tracking device.
I would have chosen the
best moment as the giddy
plane ride. Notice that Leslie was already clued
in to Columbo’s fear of flying over the radio during
the drop off to the kidnappers. No doubt, she amps
up the stunt flying, at the same time apologizing to
Columbo for making him even more uncomfortable.
Did anyone on Columbophile ever figure out what
the lieutenant was up to when he was looking
for his pen on the dark porch? How would he lose
a pen there anyway?
That would have ruined the
lieutenant’s credibility in court,
leading the jury to discount Leslie’s act as
This was a reply to
the post about how Columbo could have
taken the money from the suitcase to
settle the bill at the airport lounge.
Wow. $1.10 for a root beer and a sherry.
How times have changed.
Hello, everyone! Next Sunday 3/1 will be the 50th anniversary of the original airing of Ransom for a Dead Man- March 1st, 1971- time flies! Remember watching it for the first time as a teenager like in 1986….I was 2 when it premiered…..of course now that I’m older (much older) I treasure it more. I don’t think any of the networks- MeTV, Sundance, COZI Tv are showing it- they should. 📺 I own the DVD- so I’ll be watching it. It’s available for free on IMDB- just create an account- it’s free, and on Peacock….. By the way I have added several pictures to the Ransom episode on IMDB …. mostly of Patricia Mattick, of course…..
Be well, be safe,
Ed the librarian 👋
I saw it on MeTV a few months ago. They seem to keep recycling the same episodes, so they may show it again.
It’s timeless…. my favorite….👍
Couldn’t agree more with your best moment. It might only be a few seconds of dialogue but the way Columbo puts Carlson in his place is just so perfectly done.
My favorite part was when Leslie rattled off Columbo’s tricks and idiosyncrasies. She really got him down like no other!
That was a great
A few highlights:
COLUMBO: …it just shows your husband could have been
dead at the time of the phone call. That his voice could
have come from carefully edited tapes from your office.
LESLIE: You know Columbo. You’re almost likeable in a
shabby sort of way. Maybe it’s the way you come slouching
in here with your shopworn back of tricks…
COLUMBO: Me? Tricks?
LESLIE: …the humility, the seeming absentmindedness,
the homey anecdotes about the family, the wife, you know
LESLIE: Yeah, Lieutenant Columbo, fumbling and stumbling
along. But it’s always the jugular that he’s after. And I imagine
that more often than not he’s successful.
COLUMBO: I appreciate that complement Mrs. Williams. And
I particularly appreciate it coming from you.
LESLIE: …you’re playing a weak hand Lieutenant. Either
arrest me, or (pointing) get out of here.
COLUMBO: (pauses) I’m going to have to tell you the truth.
The department took me off the case…
Greetings, happy Saturday to all! Tomorrow Sunday 7/19 @ 8 pm EST on METV-go back to 1971 with Columbo’s Ransom for a Dead Man. (Originally aired on 3/1/1971) The 2nd pilot that convinced the NBC network to launch the series in the fall of 1971. Starring legendary actors Peter Falk, Lee Grant and a lovely newcomer, 19 year old Patricia “Pattye” Colleen Mattick. 👍
Ed from Florida 👋
“I mean I just can’t have you accused of murder on no evidence…”
We just watched “Ransom for a Dead Man” last night. The quote is incorrect. Columbo actually says “I just can’t have you accused of murder on the wrong evidence” which is a lot more threatening.
Hey, didn’t see his car in this episode at all. Maybe in the shop?
Does anyone know if Lee Grant was wearing a wig?
They hadn’t chosen the car at this stage! And I do think Lee was wearing a wig, although I’ve never read anything confirming that.
One of the stranger things about this episode is Lesley’s, the murdering wife’s, wardrobe. She has this enormous mop of hair, then wears these baggy outfits that drive me crazy. Does anyone in Southern California need ten fur coats? In almost every episode she is wearing a different, massive fur. Lesley Williamson deserves to get arrested if for nothing else than the outfit she wears in the final scene~baggy blouse and pants, and that ridiculous fur! She looked like a bag lady, and must be suffering from anemia.
Her outfits were completely appropriate, well fitting suits for work and comfortable and relaxed for at home. In 1971 these styles were popular and Quiana knit fabric was so comfortable you could live in it. It was used to make dresses, tops, pants, and evening wear.
I loved the orange dress she wore near the end of the episode. And I remember Quiana, it was so soft.
Regarding number 3, I’ve come to think that by this point Margaret and Columbo are in it together… It seems to me this exchange helped bring Margaret and Leslie’s later showdown to fruition.
They were definitely in on it together at this stage, but the attempted strike to Columbo’s face seems to have been unplanned in the heat of the moment.
I disagree that it was
staged. But I do think,
as a result of this incident, Margaret agrees to help
Columbo provoke Leslie into giving up some of the
ransom money, by her appearing to know too much
about how Leslie pulled it off. Sometime before the next
scene, where Columbo lies to Leslie about his having
been taken off the case.
Incidentally, the gotcha of this episode somewhat
mimics the one from Prescription: Murder years before.
In both, the killer is caught by thinking they have an
accomplice, who turns out to be working for police.
I saw it live, as it were, when it aired for the first time in 1971. I was all of ten years old, and had only seen Peter Falk before in The Great Race and It’s a Mad (x4) World, both favorites. So began a fascination with this actor that continues to this day, almost 47 years later.
Favorite “Ransom for a Dead Man” moment: he and Leslie at airport table, he says, “Mrs. Williamson you have no conscious. That limits your imagination. It never occurred to you that most people would never take money to cover up a murder.” And her look is priceless.
conscience. It’s a noun.
Conscious means being
awake and aware.
For me the best is Columbo’s cocked head when encountering and listening to the murderess for the first time. Like he’s got torticollis or something. You can virtually see the cerebral neurones going into overdrive on top of his wry neck.
I’m a bit surprised that Columbo’s plane ride didn’t crack the top five.
Good point! Columbo’s fear of heights would come back again in “Short Fuse”.
Certainly a cracking scene (as is Lesley calling out Columbo’s ‘shopworn tricks’) but these 5 are my fave 5 regardless.
His fear of heights also came up in Swan Song.
I use his line “I don’t even like being this tall” often. It always works.
I found the whole plane scene completely unrealistic. My favorite part of the episode, other than the classic movie shown on the TV, were the two female leads. Both gorgeous, I couldn’t stop watching 🙂
Thanks a million for writing. long live columbophile. every post’s a treasure. smart funny enjoyable wonderful tribute to wonderful series
Comments like this delight me! Thanks a million!
A great review. Number 2 was always my favorite; there’s Columbo with 25,000 in front of him and he doesn’t conceive of taking a couple of dollars to pay for the drinks!
He was so honest he probably couldn’t conceive of using money that wasn’t his!
My brother and I are working out way through the series again in order. Recently, we saw this episode and had to rewind the Agent Carlson scene about 5 times. We had forgotten the scene and were overjoyed to have found it again. We think it ranks among the top 10 moments of all Columbos, not quite as high as the gray gloves in the raincoat pockets but certainly great to see Columbo give a little attitude back… respectful with the “Mr. Carlson” but a little Italian salute with the “I’ll see ya around”. Perfect!!!