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.