I’ve said it before and will doubtless say it again, but Lady in Waiting really is the hidden gem of Columbo’s first season.
Despite rubbing shoulders with all-time classic episodes Murder by the Book, Death Lends a Hand and Suitable for Framing, Lady in Waiting stands tall in its own right. It features terrific performances across the board (not least from Susan Clark as the alluring Beth Chadwick), a rich seam of humour and fashions in a league of their own.
But just what are its absolute best moments? Here are my top 5 picks. What are yours?
5. Slap-up lunch at the drive-in
In a bid to get to know him better, Columbo takes Beth’s dependable love interest Peter Hamilton for a ‘slap-up lunch’ – at a drive-in diner!
Peter’s barely-concealed disgust at the quality of the food served is a highlight, while the good Lieutenant is warned by the waitress not to drive away with the tray still stuck to his window, but, quelle surprise, he does precisely that earning a sharp “HEY MISTER!” rebuke for his troubles.
The humour may be predictable but it’s no less enjoyable for all that. And the dinner date also helps Columbo get a measure of Hamilton, who plays the pivotal role in helping crack the case later on. The trust that builds between the two starts right here. As a bonus, the top’s even down on Columbo’s car. Literally everyone’s a winner!
4. The metamorphosis of Beth Chadwick
Beth’s transformation from wouldn’t-say-boo-to-a-goose Plain Jane to sultry minx is one of TV’s great makeovers. The physical metamorphosis takes place immediately after Beth is freed by a coroner’s court as she scores a foxy new haircut and spades of sass to boot. She even slips in the original use of ‘Bye Felicia’ a quarter of a century before Ice Cube used it in 1995 comedy film Friday. Come on Ice Cube, keep up buddy…
Beth Chadwick V2.0 is a whole different animal to her earlier incarnation – and not just in appearance. As the power goes to her head after years of being repressed by the Chadwick males, Beth bosses the company board, dominates her mother and ultimately loses her cool with Columbo.
She even finds a means of combatting the Lieutenant’s inevitable ‘one last question’ in a way few other killers get close to, as shown below. Top marks to Beth!
3. Keeping up with the Chadwicks
During the course of his investigations at Chadwick HQ, Columbo is hilariously mistaken for home help by Beth’s overbearing mother (played delightfully by Jessie Royce Landis, pictured, in one of her last screen roles), who has flown down in the aftermath of the loss of her only son.
“You there, pay the cab and bring my luggage,” she orders Columbo before bustling into the house leaving the flapping Lieutenant to do exactly what he was ordered to do.
After struggling in with the bags and being barked at peevishly by Mrs Chadwick’s horrid little dog, poor Columbo similarly struggles to convince the crone to pay him back the $11 cab fare ($67 in today’s money), a task she clearly considers to be beneath her.
This humour is most welcome as the episode takes a darker turn almost immediately when Mrs Chadwick chooses to viciously strike her daughter rather than comfort her as the family’s dysfunctional elements take centre stage.
2. Columbo plays it cool
By episode’s end, dear Beth is so far off the right path that she pulls a gun on Columbo when he confronts her at her home. The Lieutenant, however, manages to extricate himself from near-certain death through a winning combo of charm and guile.
“There’s no point in that, not with the police officers outside,” Columbo says, as calmly as if he were passing the time of day with a grocery store clerk. “Besides,” he adds. “You’re too classy a woman.”
Won over by his chivalrous words, Beth smiles demurely, hands over the gun and heads off to slip into something less alluring before going downtown. Columbo, meanwhile, steps outside to light his cigar with an unshaking hand. The camera draws back through the dark garden to reveal that there’s not a single other officer in sight after all. That, my friends, is how to stay cool under pressure.
1. The sh*t hits the fan
I can’t actually find an image that suitably conveys it, but Beth’s moment of unadulterated terror as lover Peter rings the front doorbell midway through her post-murder tidy-up work is superbly done.
The sense of panic invoked by the jumping camera work, the screeching music and Clark’s dumbstruck expressions combine like magic. It’s as convincing a display of true alarm as you’ll see on the small screen, and it sets the viewer’s heart thumping with the tension.
“Beth’s moment of unadulterated terror midway through her post-murder tidy-up work is superbly done.”
So there we have it, my lambs, my top 5 scenes from Lady in Waiting – an episode I rate extremely highly. If you’ve a hankering for a more in-depth analysis, read the whole review of Lady in Waiting here.
Please let me know your personal episode highlights below – and thanks, as always, for dropping by! Your dedication to the Columbo cause will never be taken for granted.
One of my personal fave highlights is Marcia Wallace (Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons) as the loopy inquest spectator
I have a belated announcement. Norman Lloyd, who directed “Lady in Waiting” and was one of the legends from the entertainment world, passed away in his sleep at the age of 106 on May 11, 2021. Lloyd worked with and was friends with many other legends from the entertainment world, including Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Houseman, and Alfred Hitchcock. He also worked with Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel in the TV series St. Elsewhere and with Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.” Lloyd was a busy performer to the end, appearing in film panels and festivals, in student films, and in his own one-man show at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. What a wonderful life!
I think all these fillers are neccessery to conceal how flawed the whole concept of the story is. As it turns out this criminal act has one witness (Nielsen), who is an earwitness. So what happens on court? We are not informed about that for a good reason. (We can listen to the strange prediction of a sibyl instead). Because the only question the district attorney can put to the single witness of the case is: What did you hear and in what order? If his answer is: first the shot and then the burgler alarm, then the case is solved on the spot. The other possibility is that he bears false witness. But then why would he change his mind and why should anyone believe him now? And if this circumstance (the order of the sound effects) for reasons totally unpenetrable isn’t covered on court, how do it come that Columbo doesn’t address it either, right at the start? The film contain nice Columboesque elements but the story just doesn’t make any sense.
Agreed. The “gotcha”, which implies that Peter has agreed to change his story in order to send the woman he loves to jail (possibly for the rest of her life) after being nudged by a police officer, is appalling. I don’t see how it will have any credibility in the real world. Perhaps Richard Weill can give us the benefit of his expertise as a former prosecutor. And also regarding how Columbo, without a single other officer around, is allowed to enter not only the Chadwick home but Beth’s bedroom. I somehow doubt the front door was left open. I don’t even remember if he had a warrant. WTF????
When Beth asks Columbo how he got in, he said he had a duplicate key made after talking with her locksmith. Also you don’t need a warrant if you’re there to arrest her. It’s an arrest, not a search. Of course he could have an arrest warrant with him as the episode doesn’t make it clear. The bad thing about the arrest is there is no backup.
Another top moment is when she actually shoots her domineering pig of a brother, with him having had just enough time to see she is about to.
“Lady in Waiting” is a bottom-tier Columbo, as far as I am concerned. These “5 best moments” help explain why. “The metamorphosis of Beth Chadwick” rings entirely hollow for me. If she ordered the fancy blue sports car while Bryce was alive, why not get her hair done and buy some new clothes? She seemed familiar enough with the staff at Eugenes’ salon. She seemed perfectly at home in an upscale clothing store. She dated (and, according to her mother, had had relationships before). Why look the mouse? Was she planning her appearance at the inquest months ahead? Was it because she was too shy to buy a new dress and have her hair styled? To me, she seemed fairly assertive over breakfast with Bryce in the garden. And people don’t change their basic personality in an instant. The “metamorphosis” is a contrived story device which only screams to Columbo: “Look how much I’m benefiting from my brother’s death!”
And I also don’t believe for a second that Mrs. Chadwick (Jessie Royce Landis) mistook the ill-kempt Columbo for a member of the all-very-neatly-attired household staff. Had she done so, she would also have berated him for his wrinkled coat and unshined shoes.
“Lady in Waiting” is one of the few 90-minute (with commercials) Columbos that needed filler, and this scene was just that. [It’s also the only Columbo I remember where we’re first shown the imagined murder plan, because the actual plan plays out so differently.]
As for “Columbo plays it cool,” how incompetent of Columbo to break into the house of an armed suspect — which is exactly what he did — with no backup present. Instead of portraying Columbo as “cool under pressure,” this moment (if interpreted as CP does here) makes him look rather the foolish cop.
I rewatched this episode recently because the positive comments of so many made me think I had missed something. I hadn’t. For me, this episode will always remain at the bottom of the Season 1 barrel, fighting it out with “Dead Weight” for last place. [“Short Fuse” has a final scene that automatically earns it higher marks.]
Despite all this, I LOVE IT! I suppose enjoyment isn’t always bound by logic (and I’m saying this as someone who actively points out inconsistencies and weaknesses in episodes on this site), but by how much the episode failings bother the viewer. In the case of Lady in Waiting I just go with it. Same for Bye-Bye Sky High, my numero uno, which has plot holes galore.
There’s a deeper story about Beth Chadwick that the viewer doesn’t see. Who is the real Beth? The one at ease in the beauty parlour, or the frailer creature beloved by Peter? Does she even know? How much of a double life did she lead before we encounter her. She intrigues me and always has. Viva Beth Chadwick and VIVA LADY IN WAITING!
I agree with you on “Bye, Bye” (Mark Dawidziak be damned) because Oliver Brandt was clever, recognized and respected the intelligence of others, but could not abide pseudo-cleverness (an entirely credible character trait that Columbo exploited to cause Brandt’s undoing). The murder plot in “Bye, Bye” was also 100% consistent with Brandt’s character (not to mention great fun to see played out).
All Columbos require a certain measure of the willing suspension of disbelief. In “Lady in Waiting,” unfortunately, the rope suspending my disbelief snapped about 40 minutes in, dropping my disbelief all over the Chadwick’s freshly-mowed lawn and covering me with grass clippings.
A sight we’d all very much enjoy seeing I suspect!
Because Beth is crazy, that’s why. She is not just consumed with getting out from under her brother’s rule. She wants to take over the whole shebang-her way. This seems like something she thought of doing for a while. Beth just can’t pull it off. She was thinking of shooting Columbo -is that rational?
I love the transformation scene, it’s a real blast from the past-the brightly colored salon, the flip haircut,great clothes. It was hilarious that she was being pampered by her own glam squad with her brother barely cold.
I love the taxi scene. Shoutout to the pup! It seems to establish the ‘rich old lady’ character; at the time she doesn’t seem distraught, just bitchy. I see where Beth gets it. Maybe she’s just mean..maybe they both are.
The funny scenes never bother me; they help make Columbo what it is.
I love Eddie Albert, Roddy Mcdowell, Dead Weight and Short Fuse. And I am not ashamed!
I can appreciate both Richard’s and Columbophile’s points of view on this episode. Nonetheless, I believe that “Lady in Waiting” could have been one of the best Columbo episodes ever. But, alas, at the time it was written, Jupiter and Venus were simply not in good aspect with Pluto.
There’s a great moment where we think she’s forgotten an incriminating front door key and this will lead to her downfall – only for her to then remember and move it
Similar to Ken Franklin seemingly leaving his lighter on Jim’s desk in Murder by the Book!
One of my favorite episodes. I’ve watched it so much that my kids refer to this as the “brother, sister episode”. I feel sorry for Beth but can’t help wonder that if she decided not to kill her brother how would her life had turned out. Would Peter had quit the company for Beth sake? Wouldn’t she have been able to get out from under her brother by marrying Peter? Peter claims he was prepared to quit. If only she let things play out it could’ve been a better turn out. And that would’ve shut Bryce up once and for all. But we’ll never know….
Another excellent list. I would add a minor moment. Beth showed she had a pretty good fastball when she tossed the light bulb.
Maybe because the servants polished it…
I so agree – a fine, nuanced episode with lots of humor & grit. I was touched by Leslie Neilsen’s role as a true gent who would be be a catch for anyone. He held his own with Beth & deserved so much better.
Nielsen is excellent in this. It’s one of his best ever non-comedy support roles.
I prefer him in identity crisis anyday with mcgoohan and the whole spy stuff then I also i rate identity crisis a lot higher than lady in waiting which i think is very average
I love this episode so much. Her transformation is epic, she really goes to town! Just her hair alone is excellent. The top image you have used here would be a great painting, so many shots in this ep would lend themselves brilliantly to be painted. Love her style… Apart from that dodgy outfit that she wears in the boardroom. I’m not surprised you highlighted it as a major fashion faux pas.
I love Beth’s boardroom outfit! She’s the only woman on earth who makes that look work. I note that your show has been extended, so perhaps just enough time to unveil a Beth Chadwick work of art to round it out in style?
I love the hat. Fred should have asked her if she’d consulted Snap and Crackle on these decisions.