Despite it boasting a high-calibre cast including Suzanne Pleschette and Eddie Albert, Dead Weight, the third episode of Columbo‘s first season, never quite caught imaginations in the same way as Murder by the Book and Death Lends a Hand.
However, as with all episodes Dead Weight has plenty of memorable moments that make it rewarding viewing. Here I chronicle my favourite 5 scenes. Do let me know if yours make the cut!
5. The bickering boaters
Helen Stewart clashes with her mother – in more ways than one. As well as the hideous clashing outfits they sport, Mrs Stewart Senior is an over-bearing, mean-spirited crone, who seems to take grim pleasure in putting her daughter down.
As the episode opens, this colourful pair are bickering on the water as they ‘enjoy’ a small boat trip. As they pass General Hollister’s home Helen sees one man shoot another man in a uniform, but her scoffing mother doesn’t take her seriously. Luckily for us, it’s her mother’s negative attitude that sufficiently galls Helen into making a fuss and calling the police. It’s a strong, entertaining start.
4. Columbo all at sea
Columbo clearly needs to work on his sea legs as General Hollister takes delight in putting his luxury yacht, The Iron Horseman, through its paces – much to a seasick Columbo’s dismay.
“A man with the name of Columbo, shouldn’t he be more at home on a boat?” asks Hollister. “Must have been another branch of the family,” responds the green-gilled Lieutenant, who is later comforted by Helen Stewart, who the General is picking up to continue his watery wooing.
3. The ‘unmade bed’
Not many characters have the chutzpah to openly critique Columbo’s appearance, but Helen Stewart does just that at the Hollister exhibition.
Taking umbrage at Columbo insinuating the General’s vanity over the fine cut of his uniforms, Helen casts an eye over him and retorts: “Lieutenant, some men do not wish to look like an unmade bed.” Cue a self-deprecating smile from Columbo, and a cursory straightening of his tie.
2. The hidden corpse
Given that we witness the killing of cowardly Colonel Dutton distantly through Helen Stewart’s eyes, until we actually see the body for ourselves there seems to be at least the tiniest chance that Helen got it wrong.
We know better, of course, but we only know for certain when General Hollister reveals the corpse to the audience in dramatic, horror-movie style. Pressing a secret button on his desk causes a wall panel to revolve, revealing the rather gruesome sight of a bound and plastic-wrapped Dutton hanging hideously from a hook.
As far as Columbo goes, this is one of the most unsettling sights we ever see. Small wonder, perhaps, that the slain Colonel is only on screen for a few seconds.
1. Gone fishing
A variation on the usual “we both know I did it, but you’ll never prove it, so FAAAARK ORF” chit-chat so familiar to keen viewers, Dead Weight features a fine exchange between Hollister and Columbo on the jetty by the General’s house.
Returning from an early morning outing on his yacht, Hollister finds Columbo lying in wait for him. On paper he’s just having a jolly fishing jaunt. In reality he wants to unsettle the General by encroaching on his territory and asking a series of telling questions. A grizzled war veteran isn’t likely to be spooked by such antics and so it proves as Hollister dishes out some advice laced with double meaning. “Find a different spot, or use a different bait. Otherwise you’re not going to catch anything, Lieutenant.”
It’s a good example of the episode’s sharp script, and a loaded exchange even the Lieutenant seems to enjoy. To put it in Sherlockian terms, the game is afoot!
“Find a different spot, or use a different bait. Otherwise you’re not going to catch anything, Lieutenant.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to take a look at my more detailed review of Dead Weight here.
Thanks for reading! And do share this article with your Columbo connections online if you get a chance.