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.
I like this episode , the hostility between Columbo and the Murderer is more intense than usual , I think because Suzanne Pleshette is being manipulated by the General.
The way I judge an episode of Columbo , is by how memorable it is . This is one I remember more than a lot of the others.
Eddie Albert ( a real life war hero ) is really good at playing a despicable military type in this. He also played a cowardly Lieutenant whose actions endangered his soldiers their lives in an intense war movie called “Attack”
Re the funny clothes , believe it or not people my parents age wore those outfits in the 70’s , you can still see them in charity shops today !
The episode where we find out Columbo’s name is Frank! Visible when he first shows his badge to the general at the door.
Yes, those outfits from the opening boat scene were rather ghastly! But Suzanne Pleshette more than makes up for it with that gorgeous caftan she wears in the following scenes. I was 18 in 1971, and I still remember how much I wanted a caftan like that!
Belonged to the Lido Sail Club for many years. Sailed past this property several times a week.! Love this episode as it brings back great memories sailing in and out of Newport!
I’ve always loved this episode, and the one with Johnny Cash. Wish there was a still picture available of Suzanne Pleshette in that gorgeous caftan she wore in the episode!
My favourite moment is the first shot in the scene where Hollister visits Helen at the Zoo. The guys feeding the Llama simply have to be a reference to the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album cover!
Just rewatched it on DVD. One of my faves. Eddie Albert gets my vote for sexiest murderer. Great actor. Plays a madman on Dr Newman to perfection. And Suzanne Pleshette is adorable.
Well done columbophile , every episode has its merits but this episode just bores the pants off me so well done for coming up with 5 best moments , but the thing is there still not really very memorable though , I consider Dead weight one of the poorest ever episodes only last salute and A matter of Honor might be lower than this on a seventies list.
Though i like Eddy Albert this one is definitely not one of my favorites. Of the exceptionally good 1st season this is one is the only one i’ve only watch once or twice. Of course it is Columbo and i love it but this one less than the others. There is another one for which i feel a bit the same it’s “last salute to the commodore”.
Narrowing it down to five couldn’t have been easy. A fun post for a fun episode!
I couldnt think of any memorable moments in this which is where this episode really fails , also the Ending is dire and weak , This episode is a plodder as columbophile will tell you , Take Negative Reaction for Example one of the best Ever and Funniest columo episodes IE the Nun scene in the homeless shelter , the reckless driving scene with the instructor , the cocker spaniel moment, put together with a memorable gotcha ,
Also Try and catch me also one of the best ,has many memorable scenes plus many other episodes
so I just dont know how you can call this Forgettable episode Fun .
Time and time again, “Dead Weight” does not quite get the credit it deserves.Despite tension behind the scenes during its creation, Eddie Albert is a classic “Columbo” villain. He, Peter Falk, a wonderful music score, and expert Jack Smight direction blend well for one of the finest outings of the series. Suzanne Pleshette is quite convincing portraying a very rare character of the series who witnesses a murder. “Dead Weight” is number 5 on my list of the 69 episodes and is bested only by “Short Fuse” among those wonderful seven 1971-72 season cases. Understandably most episodes would not have any living witnesses to the crime, though there are several aspects which make this one desirably and deliciously prototypical of the years to come for our beloved character.
Helen Stewart’s good looks and character are about the only decent aspect in this very poor episode , I never thought iIwould come across some one who would put dead weight and short fuse in there overall top 5 dead weight wouldnt make my top 40 nor would short fuse which is only slightly better due to its more memorable ending here is my overall top 5 Try and Catch me , Negative Reaction , Swan Song ,Identity Crisis , The bye bye sky high IQ murder ,
I have always enjoyed the episode. It has an interesting story attached to it and that is what matters most to me
Great stuff as usual.
Definitely agree with the body scene, most unsettling. It’s just so unexpected it gives you a bit of a jolt.
Think everybody agrees this isn’t the greatest episode but the body scene is certainly one that stands out in the series as a whole.
I wonder if they got feedback that they’d overstepped the mark with its ghoulishness given that they never did anything similar again?
That’s not impossible. Remember how they toned down Columbo’s character after Prescription Murder.
They did seem to be taking a few more risks in that first series. Lots of experimental types of filmmaking. But you’re right we never saw anything quite as sinister as this again.
Never again? How relieving (I’ve just watched “Now You See Him”). When the body scene came, I felt uneasy at the moment and all the time afterwards, right until falling asleep in bed that night. That’s no achievement for filmmakers of course, because I can’t watch violent, obscene or disgusting scenes in movies. Thus, I thought it was only me who was unsettled by the body scene. It’s good to know that other people feel the same, even though no guts are being ripped there. By the way, have you noticed that the General had a drink before pressing the button as well as his facial expression as he looked at the corpse? I think it says that even he felt uneasy when he had to face what he had done. And I agree with David Sherman – this is a good episode.
You are doing a wonderful job writing this blog and it is definitely a treat for all the Columbophiles.
Speaking of corpse scenes, in fact, didn’t they do something similar in ‘Columbo cries wolf’ later in the 1990s?
The best moment came when Helen starts to question what she saw. I don’t recall the exact quote, but Columbo says the only person question her is herself. In other words he was saying, “I believe in you. You need to believe in yourself.”
While this isn’t one of the greatest episodes, it’s one of my favorites because it’s like comfort food. A great cast, boats, marina, the sea, all personal comfort elements.
I also like it because most would have fallen for the allure of Albert’s stature and what he’d accomplished.
Best part, gotta love a beautiful woman in a bandana.