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Episode review: Columbo Double Exposure

Columbo double exposure opening titles

Columbo’s final outing of 1973 was a real pre-Christmas treat for eager viewers. Airing on 16 December, Robert Culp was back in his third and final appearance as a Columbo killer. At that time, no one else had done it more than once.

So is Double Exposure a suitable send-off for one of Lieutenant Columbo’s most fearsome and enduring adversaries? Let’s slip on our yellowest jackets,  prepare some subliminal cuts and find out!

Columbo Double Exposure cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Bart Keppel: Robert Culp
Vic Norris: Robert Middleton
Mrs Norris: Louise Latham
Roger White: Chuck McCann
Written by: Stephen J. Cannell
Directed by: Richard Quine
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Double Exposure

Dr Bart Keppel is a pioneer in the field of motivational research. His techniques deliver proven sales results and the good doctor’s services are in serious demand – except, it seems, from existing client Vic Norris, the man whose faith in Keppel has helped bankroll his success.

Norris, an irritable, sweaty little man, has had it with Keppel. Why? Because Keppel has stitched him up, photographing the married Norris with a young temptress who was hired by Keppel to ensure want-away clients stay on his books. Norris, reasonably enough, wants out! He tells Keppel that he’s history and hints that he’ll will report him to the District Attorney. Game over for Keppel? Not a bit of it…

The cerebral Doctor has cooked up a plan to rid himself of Norris – and it’s a beauty. First he inserts subliminal cuts of cool drinks into a motivational sales film that he’s due to premiere to Norris and co that evening. He rings Mrs Norris anonymously, telling her he has irrefutable proof of her husband’s philandering, and demands she meet him at some out-of-way location later on. He cranks the temperature up in the auditorium where Norris will watch the film. And finally he feeds Norris a gut-load of salty caviar knowing that it will cause a raging thirst.

Exposure 1

Murder is BAD, but this murder scene is SO cool…

The genius doesn’t end there. Keppel says that he’ll narrate the script for the movie, live, from a curtained stage at the front of the auditorium. In actual fact he’ll let a tape recording of himself do the narrating while he’s out a-killing!

Soon enough, Norris is feeling decidedly uncomfortable. He’s got a sweat on and is looking more irritable than ever. The subliminal cuts have the desired effect and he eventually gallops out to the drink fountain in the lobby to quench that thirst. It’s the last thing he does. Emerging from a side door, Keppel guns down Norris and hastily makes his exit.

The murder weapon is an automatic .45 pistol from Keppel’s own office. He returns it to its case on the wall, but first removes a calibration converter and hides it in a lampshade. It’s devilishly clever, and Keppel is soon back in place in the auditorium, in plain view of the audience as the lights rise at the end of the screening.

“Where is Mr Norris?” Keppel innocently asks other attendees as they depart. They soon find out as they stumble upon Norris’s corpse in the lobby. In his final act of cover-up, Keppel switches on the tape recorder to erase his narration and capture the commotion. It’s been a good day’s work for the arch-villain.

“Emerging from a side door, Keppel guns down Norris and hastily beats a retreat.”

Or has it? Police are soon swarming around the crime scene, Lieutenant Columbo amongst them. He’s famished after missing dinner and after polishing off some canapes, he’s tempted by a fellow officer to try some of the leftover caviar. His ensuing thirst later gives the sharp detective a circumstantial clue.

Encountering Keppel for the first time, Columbo fails to endear himself to the aloof researcher, referring to him as ‘Mr Keppel’, rather than Dr. It’s a mistake he repeats several times, much to Keppel’s annoyance. All this meeting establishes is that the tape recorder in the lobby was left there by Keppel to record audience feedback to the film. This satisfies Columbo – for now.

The Lieutenant’s next stop is the projection room, where he meets Roger White – a big, lovable, open-shirted boob, who provides the now-thirsty detective with a splash of iced tea and some intel on the art of the projectionist. It doesn’t seem important now, but will offer food for thought later on.

Exposure 13

Oh Roger, you big, lovable, open-shirted BOOB, you…

It’s then on to Keppel’s office, where he questions the Doctor about the tape recorder. Keppel claims he turned it on while still in the auditorium as part of his usual post-film routine. He also condescendingly suggests to Columbo that, statistically speaking, Mrs Norris is the most likely murderer – especially if she knew, as he does, that Norris has been having a fling with mystery woman ‘Tanya Baker’. Like in so many past episodes, Columbo’s usual subterfuge has Keppel convinced that he has nothing to worry about.

Someone who is worried is Mrs Norris. Her world has been turned upside down in a single day, first by the revelation that her husband is having an affair, and then by his slaying. Columbo pops in and she comes clean about the phone call she received the night before, and how, at the time of her husband’s death, she was alone at a far-flung location waiting for the caller who never arrived.

It means she has no plausible alibi, but Columbo assures her she’s not a suspect. “If my wife decided to murder me, she could come up with a better alibi than you got,” he says, taking a heap of pressure off the beleaguered widow’s shoulders in the process.

Exposure 7

The stricken Mrs Norris finds reassurance in Columbo

Columbo starts looking into Keppel’s background and is impressed to find out his pedigree as a thought leader in motivational research. After checking out some of Keppel’s books from the library he catches up with the Doc at a supermarket, where he’s at his work monitoring the reactions of supermarket shoppers via CCTV.

Columbo relays that the guns from Keppel’s office have been cleared by ballistics of being the murder weapon. The calibre of the guns is too large. Norris was killed by a .22. Columbo also reveals that he found out from Norris’s secretary that a board meeting that day had been due to kick off with action item ‘Terminate Keppel.’ This might have left a lesser foe flapping, but not the cool and collected Keppel, who suggests that it must have meant ‘terminate our agreement with Keppel until we next need him‘. Whatever you say, Doc…

Columbo does rattle Keppel for the first time – albeit only slightly – when he grills him again about the tape recorder. Turns out the recording started in the lobby, right after Norris’s corpse was discovered. How could Keppel forget that he’d started it there, not in the auditorium as earlier claimed?

Keppel falls back on the classic Columbo adage: “Men do strange things at times of crisis.” This in itself is contradictory, as Keppel earlier told Columbo that he was cool and calm under pressure. And if there’s one thing the Lieutenant is good at it’s picking up inconsistencies in people’s characters. Safe to say, it’s another reason to suspect the dastardly Doctor.

He’s not alone in his suspicions. Indeed, big lug Roger has already beaten him to it and cracked the case! In a private interview with Keppel, Roger reveals that he has it all figured out. Roger heard the sound of the spliced subliminal cuts going through the projector. Before the cannisters of film were sent down to the vault, Roger checked them and saw the subliminal cuts with his own eyes.

“That big lug Roger has already beaten Columbo to it and cracked the case!”

Still, Roger’s a reasonable chap and if Keppel will fund his real estate dreams through a $50,000 donation, he’ll keep his mouth shut. Keppel icily agrees to deliver the cash to Roger later that evening, and snubs the offer of a handshake as the blackmailing boob guiltily heads on his way.

Strange as it sounds, this development appears to have played in Keppel’s favour. Using a credit card to diddle the lock, he breaks into the Norris household and makes off with a .22 gun (How did he know where it was stashed? Don’t ask…). He uses this to gun down Roger, who’s moonlighting at the Magnolia Theater. Keppel then ambles back to his own HQ to go about his usual business.

Lieutenant Columbo, quelle surprise, is waiting for him. He’s been reading up on Keppel’s use of subliminal cuts and is getting a demonstration on how they actually work. He needs Keppel’s help with his enquiries, of course. Notably whether it would be possible to use subliminal cuts to drive a thirsty person out of a cinema screening to seek water. Keppel has to admit that it’s possible. However, the only version of the film Columbo can lay his hands on has no subliminal cuts. If there ever was a second print of it, it must be long gone by now.

Although seemingly painted into a corner, Columbo doesn’t have to wait long for his next chance to test the Doctor. The Lieutenant receives notification that Roger White has been killed. He invites Keppel along, telling him that he’d ‘make a great detective’. A laughing Keppel accepts Columbo’s challenge. “All right Lieutenant,” he says. “I’ll play.”

At the Magnolia Theater, a fellow officer informs Columbo that the murder weapon was left at the scene. The gun is registered to none other than Vic Norris! It’s music to Keppel’s ears, as he’s able to suggest it shows that Roger and Mrs Norris were in on the act together from the start.

Even better? Based on when the reel of film ran out, police project that Roger was killed between 7.30pm-7.55pm. And during that time, Keppel and Columbo were together. The detective is personally providing Keppel’s alibi. “That’s a tough nut to crack,” concedes Columbo. “That’s not tough,” replies the smug Doctor. “That’s impossible.”

It doesn’t look as if there’ll be much reason for the two to meet again, but Columbo remains undeterred. Gatecrashing Keppel’s round of golf, the Lieutenant goes on the assault and continually puts Keppel off his game through the latest case developments. Columbo even outright accuses Keppel of committing double homicide, not that the Doctor is overly concerned. “As far as I know, a court of law in this country still requires some kind of evidence,” he chides.

“Columbo outright accuses Keppel of committing double homicide, not that the Doctor is overly concerned.”

What Columbo has is circumstancial. But he finally has a brainwave. He grabs a police photographer and heads back to Keppel’s office where he has a range of photos of himself taken in various places, appearing to be earnestly searching for something. What’s his plan? We soon find out.

Dr Keppel is back in business mode, showing the motivational film he made for Norris to a new suitor. Partway through, though, Keppel is starting to get twitchy. He departs the screening in a hurry and races back to his office. He makes a beeline for the lamp and removes the calibration converter – and is promptly disturbed by the flash of a camera bulb!

Columbo and the photographer emerge from their hiding place. The Lieutenant takes the converter from Keppel and fits it into the automatic pistol on the wall. ‘That’s a lovely touch. A converter. I never figured on a converter. And one hidden in a lamp!” he enthuses. “Doc, I woulda sworn you had a gun hidden in here and I was trying to smoke you out – but I never figured on this.”

Realisation hits Keppel like a tidal wave. “A subliminal cut! You used a subliminal cut!” And indeed Columbo did. Several photos of himself snooping around Keppel’s office were spliced into the film that the Doctor has just been viewing. One of Columbo examining the lamp must have been the subconscious cue Keppel needed to betray himself.

Keppel 2

Doctor Keppel was certified insane 10 minutes later…

Columbo couldn’t have solved the case without heavily relying on Keppel’s own technique to draw him out. “If there was a reward, I’d support your claim to it,” the detective tells his outmanoeuvred foe. The irony isn’t lost on Keppel, who is left laughing like a loon as credits roll…

Double Exposure‘s best moment: par for the course?

Exposure 1

There’s a lot of competition in this episode, but my personal highlight plays out on the fairways of the golf club, where Columbo repeatedly puts Keppel off his game with a series of revelations.

Columbo doesn’t just annoy Keppel – he properly rattles him for the first time when he tells him that, despite police statements to the contrary, none of Norris’s entourage can  positively confirm that Keppel was plainly visible at the front of the auditorium when Norris was slain.

“Anyone who plays golf will know that those who break the moral code of the game absolutely cannot be trusted.”

As he chops the ball all over the course, Keppel shows his true colours by openly cheating, flinging his ball out from beside a tree to play it more easily. Anyone who plays golf will know that those who break the game’s moral code absolutely cannot be trusted. For all his sense of superiority, Keppel really is amongst the lowest of the low.

Recovering from his shock, Keppel finally hits a good one up to the green. “For a while there I thought I was going to spoil your game,” says Columbo. “Not a chance Lieutenant,” the now-chipper Keppel clucks as he turns his heel on the detective.

It’s been a high-stakes game between Columbo and Keppel all the way and despite a wobble here it looks like Keppel firmly has the upper hand once again. His downfall, when it comes, will be extra sweet because of it.

My opinion on Columbo Double Exposure

Ah, Robert Culp. He left such an indelible mark on the series it’s hard to accept that here, in only the Lieutenant’s 21st adventure, it’s his curtain call as a Columbo killer.

Sure,we’ll welcome him back 17 years later as the angry father to upstart Justin in Columbo Goes to College, but it’s a looooong hiatus for someone who was absolutely at the top of their game here, and someone who brought so much to the show.


No one does simmering menace better than Robert Culp

I personally prefer Jack Cassidy and consider him the ultimate Columbo killer. But Culp is hot on his heels, and for many fans holds the number one spot. His sense of explosive temper allied with a cold intellect makes him a truly dangerous adversary.

Although he’s much more in control of his rage here than we see in Death Lends a Hand and The Most Crucial Game, Culp is arguably at his most menacing in Double Exposure. It’s a magnificent performance and a perfect role for Culp.

“If ever an episode can be said to be playing cat-and-mouse games, it’s this one.”

Indeed, episode writer Stephen J. Cannell, who wrote the script on spec during the writers’ strike of 1973, envisaged Culp in the role as he wrote it. His dreams quite literally came true. The writers’ strike gave Columbo producers an almighty headache, but the quality of Cannell’s story was just the tonic. And although he wouldn’t contribute another Columbo script, Cannell made a big impact as the creator or co-creator of such legendary shows as The Rockford Files, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street.

Columbo fans have every reason to be grateful to Cannell, as his script delivers some  sensational interplay between the two leads. If ever an episode can be said to be playing cat-and-mouse games it’s this one. Although Keppel initially underestimates the bumbling detective (who doesn’t?), he later realises he has to be on the top of his mental game to stay ahead – a challenge he clearly relishes. It’s the best example of the ‘we both know I did it but you’ll never prove it’ interplay since Prescription: Murder.

Exposure 6

Columbo vs Keppel is an encounter for the ages

Columbo is struggling to establish the upper hand throughout. Each time he appears to have done so, Keppel outdoes him again. The golf course scenes are a prime example. Perhaps even more telling are the interactions following Roger White’s death. Columbo invites Keppel along to seek his ‘help’. We know and Keppel knows that Columbo is trying to catch him out. “I’ll play,” he says with a smirk a mile wide.

More fun follows. Columbo doesn’t tell Keppel where the murder took place. So when the Doctor agrees to drive them both to the crime scene, he sits waiting at the foot of the car park ramp. “Right or left? You didn’t tell me where the murder was committed, Lieutenant, so I couldn’t possibly know how to get there, could I?”

When Columbo indicates right, Keppel says: “Nice try, though,” to which a wry Columbo responds: “Can’t win ’em all.” This is a battle of wits that both are taking pleasure from. It’s so enjoyable to watch.

“The central battle is so much the focus of the episode that there’s almost no room for anyone else. But when Columbo vs Keppel is so engaging it doesn’t much matter.”

This central battle is so much the focus of the episode that there’s almost no room for anyone else. Arlene Martel was cast as Tanya Baker, but her part was cut completely (although her name remains in the credits). We see enough of Vic Norris to dislike him, but it’s a small role for Robert Middleton. Likewise the talented Louise Latham as Mrs Norris. She’s relegated to a bit-part when her role could have been easily have been expanded. But when Columbo vs Keppel is so engaging it doesn’t much matter.

Columbo Double Exposure Robert Culp

Would you blackmail a face like this?

Only Chuck McCann as Roger White gets a reasonably meaty secondary role. And he’s good in this. His affable nature shines through, likewise the inner turmoil he’s going through when blackmailing Keppel. One senses that this is the most courageous thing Roger has ever done. One of the most foolish, too.

It suits the plot, of course, for Roger to meet the ick. And it’s no surprise that Keppel would double-cross him. Lesson to would-be blackmailers of murderous motivational researchers: let them know that if anything happens to you, their crime will be exposed regardless. Silly, guileless Roger…

So, we’ve established that the acting is all good. Another element that really satisfies is this episode’s sense of style. Culp is cool as in this. From his killer pinstripe suit, to his contemporary golf course gear that would still look fresh today, Doctor Keppel has a winning look for every occasion.

Special praise must be lavished on the legendary YELLOW JACKET Keppel sports in the supermarket scenes. This guy cannot put a fashion foot wrong! I have serious jacket envy every time that sequence comes on.

Columbo Double Exposure Robert Culp yellow jacket

Sit sexily amongst pumpkins much, Dr Keppel?

That sense of style is matched by the direction. The murder scene itself is delightfully done with a breathless pace and Culp looking movie-star cool when pulling the trigger. It’s excellent work from Director Richard Quine, who’s at the helm of his third Columbo episode after previously heading up Requiem for a Falling Star and Dagger of the Mind. This is his finest Columbo hour by a distance.

It helps that this is a 75-minute episode. The pacing issues that blighted the longer Candidate for Crime and, to a lesser extent, Any Old Port in a Storm are absent. Double Exposure packs plenty in and never drags its heels. This is the way to tell a Columbo story.

Finally, what of the plot? Well, it does have some detractors who bemoan the implausibility of the subliminal cut method, and how it works so perfectly to place Vic Norris in Keppel’s gunsights as if this sort of skulduggery is an everyday occurrence.

It’s certainly far-fetched. However, it’s played so straight, and Keppel’s global expertise in the technique so clearly established, that I find it’s easy to accept it for what it is and just go with it. If you can do that, you’ll likely have no problems at all with this episode.

It’s not entirely free of faults, mind you. Personally I’d have preferred a clearer motive for Keppel. If the guy’s as hot a shot as he’s made out to be it makes no sense to be putting his best client in a compromising situation and then trying to blackmail him.

“Personally I’d have preferred a clearer motive for Keppel. It makes no sense to be putting his best client in a compromising situation.”

Is Keppel so desperate for Norris’s money that he’d stoop so low? Seems unlikely. Is he trying out a revolutionary, new high-stakes piece of research on Norris, loosely dubbed ‘the treat ’em mean keep ’em keen’ gambit? Maybe. There’s more going on than we know, and it’s frustrating not to have more insight on Keppel’s motivations here. C’est la vie.

I’ve taken some heat before for not including the ‘gotcha’ moment in Double Exposure in my top 10 Columbo gotchas (read ’em all here). So I thought I’d clarify my stance here. How Columbo outsmarts his man is brilliant. Keppel’s realisation that he’s been done in by use of subliminal cuts is masterful. But the actual moment when Columbo catches him out lets it down. ‘Why?‘ I hear you scream, desperate for justification. Well, it’s because Columbo and the photographer are so badly hidden.

Their ‘cover’ is a spindly pot plant that they appear to be beside, not behind. It grants them no cover at all! There’s no way an alert Keppel wouldn’t have noticed them as soon as he entered the room. It bugs me because it would have been very easy to have them more effectively hidden. Bah humbug!

Columbo Dr Bart Keppell Double Exposure

“A potted plant! You hid beside a potted plant!”

Still, as I hope you can tell, it doesn’t sufficiently upset me to mark the overall episode down. This is a magnificent addition to the Columbo canon, full of class, confidence and fun. It’s the highlight of Season 3 so far, and easily one of the most enjoyable Columbo episodes of all.

Did you know?

Candidate for Crime Nelson Hayward

Hayward keeps turning up like a bad penny!

Double Exposure marks the first time that Columbo refers to a previous case. When he arrives at the crime scene, the Lieutenant is desperately seeking sustenance having missed dinner because he was ‘working late on the Hayward case’ – a referral to the previous episode, Candidate for Crime.

The Hayward case clearly means a lot to Columbo as he references it again in the very next episode, Publish or Perish.

How I rate ’em

Double Exposure is a hugely enjoyable romp that rises above the far-fetched nature of the killing due to the riveting confrontation between Columbo and Keppel. It’s right up there with the best of ’em. Read any of my past episode reviews via the links below!

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Double Shock
  3. Murder by the Book
  4. Death Lends a Hand
  5. A Stitch in Crime
  6. Double Exposure
  7. Lady in Waiting
  8. Any Old Port in a Storm
  9. Prescription: Murder
  10. The Most Crucial Game
  11. Etude in Black
  12. Candidate for Crime
  13. Greenhouse Jungle
  14. Requiem for a Falling Star
  15. Blueprint for Murder
  16. Ransom for a Dead Man
  17. Dead Weight
  18. The Most Dangerous Match
  19. Lovely but Lethal
  20. Short Fuse
  21. Dagger of the Mind

As always, your thoughts on this review and this episode as a whole will be most welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on our next instalment, Publish or Perish, in the coming weeks. And you know what that means, don’t you? YES! Big Jack Cassidy is back. And if anyone can help us overcome the bitter pill of Robert Culp’s 17-year Columbo hiatus, it’s Jack!

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Robert Culp yellow jacket

I’ll tell you what, sir, if you give me the jacket I’ll let you go free…

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154 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Double Exposure

  1. I like Arlene Martel’s appearances in Greenhouse Jungle and A Friend in Deed, so it is disappointing that she does not actually appear in this episode, despite her name being in the end credits (and therefore in the Columbo File book). As CP has explained, her role as Tanya Baker was cut, but does anyone know if her scene on the phone with Columbo was ever filmed? (Columbo just tells Keppel about it when he drops by the golf course). I did hope that Arlene might have made a “subliminal cut” appearance of sorts as the bikini clad model seen briefly in Keppel’s presentation, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a different girl, although perhaps she is meant to be Tanya?

  2. I think any Columbo episode with Robert Culp is going to be good viewing, even if there are a few too many padding problems, due to the 90 minute format. I had never seen this episode before, somehow I missed it when I went through Netflix’s collection, but I now have the complete DVD set with every episode. There is one part of the padding I like, and that it’s more opportunity to see some really great cars in the background. I also notice how LA is still so smog-covered when you see long shots of the city, for example at the gold course.

    I have to say, though, that I had a hard time sustaining my suspension of disbelief. Being a media scholar, it’s well-known that subliminal messages are a myth. In fact, my doctoral advisor did a study way back when that showed it was all hooey. But hey, in Star Trek everybody speaks English all over the galaxy, it’s still an entertaining even though it’s based on a faulty premise. Like the old saying, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And this is a story well-told because it’s a variation on the Columbo finding out how it was done in that he realizes he can’t get Keppel to crack, but he can beat him at his own game, which is a great reveal.

    • Well said, for some reason this is my favorite episode probably because it was the first one i saw when is was young and got me hooked on this fantastic series. Funny you mention the subliminal messages, because also hooey is the calibration converter for handguns…..it is not real. Like you said though is is a TV show so it doesn’t really matter. One thing that was real though was that groovy yellow jacket!

    • During an education to become an expert, one only learns what he is supposed to know to fit within the common narrative. Experts are often people who know less about a subject than a layman. For example: Ask a bank employee how the money system works – he didn’t even learn it, because if he knew, it would hurt his attitude towards his work.

      Subliminal messages do work in reality.
      “At the University of Utrecht in 2006, a team of experimental social psychologists, Johan Karremans, Jasper Claus and Wolfgang Stroebe, did manage to make subliminal advertising itself work – in strict laboratory conditions, provided a series of limiting factors are in place.”

    • I can buy that subliminal messages work in the Columbo universe (same universe where cheap disguises work, evidence is mishandled, and gunshots are instantly fatal and relatively mess-free) but it does bother me a bit that the subliminal cut works so selectively. Even if the victim was the only one who ate salty caviar, what’s to stop anyone else from getting a sip of water? Since they were all seeing the same subliminal imagery and all were in a hot theater. Or perhaps the would-be victim would tell one of his lackeys to fetch him a drink. Or he merely takes off his jacket. And so on.

      A lot is riding on those subliminal cuts!

  3. Good episode! I like the jaunty background music for the filmstrip Dr. Keppel shows.

    Something I just realised: the model he uses to blackmail his clients is named “Tanya Baker” and I knew that sounded familiar, and now I remember why: that was the name of the second female sidekick to the A-Team in “The A-Team,” which of course was created by…Stephen J. Cannell!

    Speaking of names, did they ever say what Mrs. Norris’s first name was? I recently re-watched “A Trace of Murder” and when Patrick Kinsley lies his way into the home of Howard Seltzer on the pretext of phoning to check on his pregnant wife, he makes up the name “Veronica Norris” for his fictional wife. I could see “Vic & Veronica” being the names of the Norrises.

    Your “certified insane 10 minutes later” caption is dead-on. I think what the director and Robert Culp were going for was that Keppel is one of those villains who’s a good sport and can admire his clever opponent. But that smile is unintentionally terrifying. 🙂

    • Follow-up: I just watched an episode of “Adam-12” written by Stephen J. Cannell and in it there’s a character named Tawnia Baker! (That’s the spelling in the credits.) I guess it’s either a name or a person that has meaning to Cannell, similar to Gene Roddenberry’s Noonian Soong or Donald Bellisario’s Jim Bonig.

  4. This is a GREAT episode. The rhythm (or speed) is high, the plots are strong, the characters and the actors excellent, the discussions between them intense. And it treats scientific and psycho-social (or philosophical) issues. I like it. Dr. Keppel thought the perfect crime, and the way he behaves towards Columbo is great art. Every minute, every second is a joy to be seen. (And I like to “hate” that kind of people.)

    • Lol. I came for the reviews but stayed for the photo captions. You’re hilarious, CP. I’ve gone back and forth between Culp and Cassidy as my all-time favorite Columbo guest killer. I’m going to call it a tie and leave it at that.

  5. Far and wide one of THE best episodes…how Culp is caught in his own web is truly a masterminded job for a plot and twist.

  6. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo How to Dial a Murder | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  7. I find it strange that Dr Keppel tells Columbo he is married. We never see his wife, Columbo doesn’t talk to her and he doesn’t go to Keppel’s home.

  8. It’s a shame we didn’t get Robert Culp more often. He played villains so awesomely. If Jack Cassidy was King Of The Bad Guys, Culp was at least the Grand Duke!

    • I give the edge to Culp, simply because, while Cassidy was GREAT in every role, he was still Cassidy. There wasn’t a huge difference in performance from Ken Franklin to The Great Santini, for example.

      Culp made an effort to differentiate his appearance in all three performances, even if they were simple things, such as glasses vs. a mustache, and clean shaven, but also, he differentiated his performance. Brimmer is mostly cool with rare flashes of intense rage. Hanlon is ready to explode at any given moment, and Keppel, my favorite of his performances, doesn’t explode at all. He gets a bit pissy with Columbo on the golf course, but soon regains complete control.

      And the cat and mouse interplay between Columbo and Keppel absolutely is the best in the series, just edging out Columbo and Flemming in Prescription Murder. I’ve watched this episode countless times, and can watch it countless more.

      • I agree with you to an extent. Culp revealed broader range over his three roles than Cassidy, and like you, I favor Dr. Keppel most of Culp’s performances. (In fact, his role as Justin’s father in “Columbo Goes to College” is yet another persona, as if you took Keppel’s sense of superiority and blended it with Hanlon’s temper and exasperated nature.) But I think there is a noticeable difference between Ken Franklin and Santini. Franklin is all slick polish and ebullience, where Santini is guarded and reserved. Franklin believes he’s smarter than he truly is, while being rather incompetent, while Santini happens to be as smart and clever as Franklin only imagines himself to be. Riley Greenleaf falls nicely between these two roles: affable and charming like Franklin, but smarter and more clever, albeit not as sharp as Santini.

        • Green leaf has a more overt temper, too, whereas Santini is pretty much always in control of his emotions and Franklin is a little snarky and more condescending than the others. Cassidy is my personal fave because he’s more fun to watch, and I think he has more subtlety and range than most folk give him credit for.

          • Indeed. I was splitting hairs with the cream of cream, as Mike Lally said of Santini. I think Culp showed a little more range in his roles but Cassidy is my favorite guest actor.

        • It’s always a joy to see Culp and Falk acting together – like two great musicians riffing . (I suspect there was also quite a lot of ad libbing.) Keppel was a truly masterful creation, which I never tire of watching.

  9. Wait Cannell SCABBED the writers strike? I hope he had the good sense to argue
    subliminal cuts made him do it!

  10. One major oversight: Keppel planned the murder well before Norris threatened to go to the DA that night.

    • But it appears that the two have conversed about this topic before now, because Keppell tells Norris he hasn’t decided whether he’s going to hand over the negatives of Vic and Tanya yet. Perhaps they’ve been playing cat and mouse for a while, same way Columbo and Keppell play it throughout the episode.

  11. I liked the episode but I really could not go over the bad gotcha moment and the final proof: calibration converter .

    First, there is simply zero reason why Keppel kept the calibration converter there and didn’t dispose of it. He had plenty of time. He could have throw it away at any time. In one episode someone kept the prized murder gun …but in this case it was disposable calibration converter. He probably even anticipated that at some point they will search his office..and he still kept it there? This plot blunder was a deal breaker for me.

    And second thing is, how did Columbo guess that he might have kept the murder weapon in his office? Why would he even keep it there in that room. And this is already after police searched that place.

    • I totally understand what you are saying. But there are numerous Columbo episodes that you can say…”why didn’t he do….” you either enjoy Columbo and his cast of charecters and villains for what it is, or you don’t watch because of those obvious questions. But please don’t put out those “why didn’t he….”

      • I think there are some episodes where it’s easier than others to suspend disbelief and just go with it, regardless of plot holes. Double Exposure is one of those episodes to me. There are so many far-fetched elements but it’s just so darn entertaining and Culp is so good that I can let ‘em slide. For lesser episodes, plot holes may niggle more because there’s less to enjoy elsewhere.

    • Actually, I think Double Exposure is one of the early episodes which has a very authentic feel to it (like Exercise in Fatality, which curiously doesn’t appear in this website’s top list !).
      Like Raymond Chandler, plotlines and denouements are the least important elements of classic Columbo. We are really captivated by the great dialogue, superb acting and understated and timeless style of these episodes, which can be regarded as the high water mark of television crime drama.

    • Always has been my favorite episode. The scene where Columbo chases him down, irritating him in the golf cart is wonderful. I never get tired of watching this one.

    • That bothered me too, and I don’t think it’s wrong to ask these things. “Columbo” is a show that should reward you for thinking about it, not punish you. (And normally it does reward you.) Adam Garlinger had a reasonable explanation, in one of the other comments.

    • Keppel made an obvious blunder by tape recording the lobby AFTER the murder. What were his intentions?

      • He knew he had to record over the narration already on the tape, but knowing he had to do this makes his decision to only start recording over it in the lobby once the body had been discovered seem extremely foolish.

        • A missed opportunity to make an inside joke: As Keppel alias Culp is supposed to remember his fatal faults from his previous murder in “The Most Crucial Game”, supposed to know how much a tape recording can mean to Columbo, I do not think it’s foolish to erase the proof by recording the tape over. Keppel could have told Columbo “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to catch the people’s reactions for you, lieutenant, maybe you are interested in listening to them, maybe they tell you something and help you solve your case against me once again.” 🙂

  12. I loved this episode but I am sorry I loathed the reveal. It was just a shade over my tolerance to suspend my disbelief.

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  17. I enjoy double exposure more than candidate for crime but candidates ending is more memorable but u are right columbophile double exposure is a better episode and now the rating list is taking shape

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  19. Passionate style of writing + funny comments on the photos. I couldn’t have done it better. But just like Columbo I can detect one inconsistency in your detailed speech: You write “Columbo does rattle Keppel for the first time – albeit only slightly – when he grills him again about the tape recorder.” Excuse me, Sir, but Columbo slightly rattles the murderer for the first time already in his office when he asks Keppel whether anybody else except Mr Norris left the auditorium. Keppel at this point already underestimates Columbo and with self-confidence he replies “No!”, which turns out to be a rash answer and Keppel corrects himself after Columbo digs deeper: “But you said you didn’t see Mr Norris leave the room, so how could you know if nobody else did?” Keppel then needs a moment of silence to recognize Columbo’s intelligence and replies “Well, you’re right, I just assumed it.” That’s when the first warning signal is captured.
    Robert Culp is brilliant in “Double Exposure” (my third highest ranked episode) from the early moment on when he speaks with a different voice to Mrs Norris on the phone. You really cannot possibly identify Culp there!

    • Well I can’t get everything right! But I agree that Keppell’s response to the question about Norris’s entourage leaving the auditorium is WEAK! A better answer would have been: ‘Everyone else who was part of Mr Norris’s group was still in the screening room when lights went up, etc. etc.” The dross he serves up about no one daring to leave without his permission wouldn’t fool anyone. Was he rattled at that stage? Open to interpretation, I’d say. Perhaps he was a step away from being rattled there!

    • Looking closely at Keppel during that phone call to Mrs.Norris one can see how frustrated he becomes when she continually refuses to believe her husband is two-timing. It’s like Dr. Keppel is saying “How much longer do I have to continue this charade!!??? You can just see itin his expression. Such a great episode

  20. Robert Culp was definitely the greatest Columbo guest star , and that includes Jack Cassidy. Double Exposure is subtle and stylish and can be watched time and again on different levels.
    A word of criticism for the rankings table : Where is Exercise in Fatality ? (Possibly the most realistic of all the great early Columbos.) By contrast, Double Shock is not only implausible, but really not that good by the high standards of the early episodes.

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  24. Absolutely love your “Sit sexily amongst pumpkins much, Dr Keppel?” caption. Made me laugh as much as this episode does – I remember the first time I saw it I was absolutely mesmerized by Robert Culp’s performance and his interaction with Falk.
    I would have loved to find Keppel amongst the pumpkins anytime while shopping. Even if I only managed to stutter one or two words to him, hahaha. Oh well, as Columbo said, “can’t win them all”.
    Congrats for this great review! 🙂

  25. You forgot to point out a fairly young, albeit still balding, George Wyner as the film editor that shows Columbo about subliminal edits. He is most likely remembered by all as Colonel Sandurz from Spaceballs.

  26. I agree about the weakness of Keppel’s motive, and of the badly-hidden Columbo at the ‘gotcha’ moment. But I too think it’s a terrific episode. For me it’s the chat between Columbo and the Chuck McCann character that puts it in the top ten.

    A teensy additional flaw might be that given the timing of the shooting (and the centrality to the plot of how the murderer could know Norris would leave the screening), should the police not consider the possibility that Norris’s murder was accidental? Perhaps it was mistaken identity; or perhaps when he stepped out to drink the water he saw something he should not have. I’d have liked the screenwriter to have Columbo consider it and find reasons why it could not be.

    Also: I’ve watched a lot of television in the last 45 years, this is the only time I’ve heard of a calibration converter. Have there been any other movies or shows where one was referenced?

    • What never ceases to fray a little bit my nerves about Columbo is how extremely clever baddies make ridiculous mistakes. Here, Keppel turns on the tape recorder too late. Why not starting it from the projection room? Anyway, why using it at all? He could have just slipped the cassette into his pocket and dispose of it later. Nobody would have had any reason to search his pockets right there and then. He even might have left the whole damned thing backstage. There was no reason why the cops would search the backstage table. And nothing is more natural than a speaker recording himself in practice, just to see how the narration goes, so even erasing the recording was unnecessary…. Keppel does too many strange things with that recorder, only to draw the Columbo´s attention to it.

      Another very annoying thing is: why not take the calibre converter away the day after the murder? Why leave it in the office for so long? What if somebody (the cleaning lady, for instance) found it by chance? It´s really a VERY stupid move, as was not fearing that the expert projection operator might hear the clicking noises of the spliced bits as they passed in front of the lens. Similarly idiotic was believing Roger wouldn´t notice that precisely the lobby´s monitor was the only one not working. Such a howler would immediately call everybody´s attention. What´s more: Keppel did not disable the monitor or remove some vital component from it. He just loosened the signal-feeding wire on its back. The operator would notice the monitor was not working and fix it at the drop of a hat!

      Finally, a recurring theme in Columbo´s episodes: important twists of luck or fate. Precisely as Keppel was tampering with the monitor, Roger steps in, arriving long ahead of of his scheduled time, only to make Keppel rush things and call even more of the operator´s attention. Well, maybe we´re just asking for too much. It´s only an entertaining series from the early ´70´s. I´m sure nobody expected it to become such a cult classic back in the day….

      • It’s a TV show….there’d be no Columbo if murderers made no mistakes….just sit, watch, and enjoy.

        • Maybe, but it’s just so disappointing that the writers (and producers and directors, I guess) were so incompetent. It’s a shame that one can’t watch all of this great acting and ALSO be thinking, “What a damn fine script!”.

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  29. Re: the YouTube Robert Culp clip posted above – Sorry i wasn’t able to click reply to your comment for some reason.

    YES! It is exactly that clip you described and YES he was wearing his Brimmer esque glasses! Three Culp characters in one! Brilliant!

    As side note – I’m loving this site and all that you have been posting. I’ve grown up watching this show. This episode in particular I recall as the first one I saw and also being the most fond of. Your observations are pretty much the same as mine (Great description of big old lovable boob Roger! Bless his endearingly giant tight lipped grin!)

    I got the DVD box set last Christmas and have been watching in order up to this point. Looking forward to the rest of your episode reviews. Keep up the good work mate 🙂

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  31. Just discovered this blog. It’s great, thanks for writing it. I’ve been a Columbo fan since about 1990 when the BBC were in the habit of showing Columbo episodes in the afternoon. I think Double Exposure was the first Columbo I ever watched in about 1990 when I was 10 years old, (with my younger brother who would have been about 8). We’ve both always loved it, especially the stuff about subliminal cuts, which we found fascinating at that age for some reason. BBC TV in Britain always seemed to be showing both this episode and the first Robert Culp episode “Death Lends A Hand” with its iconic “glasses” sequence. (They weren’t in the habit of cutting it out at that time). I must have seen those two episodes about 3 or 4 times before I saw most of the others. The BBC must have been big fans of Robert Culp or something, although they never seemed to show the second Culp episode where he plays the baseball boss or whatever it was.

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  33. In lauding Stephen Cannell’s later TV programs, you forgot THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. Cannell was once more able to write for Culp. Frequently.

  34. I agree very good episode, Culp s best I do prefer it than the most crucial game its an episode that is quite complex , has a lot involed in it good clues not too clear on the motive but as much as I like this episode it doesn’t quite get into my top 10 ,because it doesn’t have the charm like episodes such as try and catch me , negative reaction double exposure and suitable for framing.

  35. Great review but I am always unsure of the tape recorder aspect in this one. Why did Keppel turn it on when he got to the lobby? Why tape all the commotion in the lobby..was it just to tape over his narration? Why not just hide the tape? All suggestions welcome!

    • I think he had to turn it on because it was something he always did after a showing, and if he hid the tape this time, someone might have wondered why he wasn’t recording the after-show discussions as normal.

      I think that was his normal routine, to start the tape as soon as he got into the lobby, but of course that’s why Columbo was suspicious – why start the tape after the discovery of the body when there obviously wouldn’t be any discussions about the showing? So this is where his plan had a flaw – the only way to avoid questions about the tape would have been to start recording before he entered the lobby. But he never thought to do that…

      • That jacket made an earlier appearance on ‘What’s My Line’ circa 1972. With Mr Culp rocking his ‘Most Crucial Game’ handlebar ‘tache into the mix! G’wan boy!

        • I can’t make that link work, but is this the same clip where he’s wearing the Brimmer-esque glasses too? It was as if he was trying to merge all three of his Columbo appearances into one!

          • Great clip.

            I’m new to this page and I think you’re brilliant sir.

            My father got me into Columbo in the 1990’s when I was a kid. We routinly watch them all back to this day, hence why I comment now. I just got done with this episode.

  36. Nice recap and review. The nastiest Columbo villains to me are the ones that kill an innocent (other than maybe a little blackmail). I always felt sorry for poor lug Roger and his dream house.

  37. Another fine post about prolific Columbo villain Robert Culp. I think he looks like an excited kid at the ‘gotcha’ (Smile full of awe, you used subliminal cuts!) I can’t narrow my Columbo list to a top ten, maybe top 20. I love them all, there are only a few I love less..usually not the same ones others have picked. This weekend I saw Robert Culp in a ‘Murder She Wrote’. Wouldn’t you just know, he was the murderer. For a funny older Culp see him as Debra’s dad in Everybody Loves Raymond.
    Glad to hear Jack is back. He is my favorite male villain, against stiff competition. Catch him being spectacularly funny in the two ‘Bewitched’ episodes he was in. “That man doesn’t need a dr, he needs a tailor!”
    Sadly, his son David is hospitalized in serious condition.
    As an aside, I do love me some Dick Van Dyke, and Leonard Nimoy was fantastic as the Dr coldly disposing of anyone who got in the way of his…medical patent/discovery. And that laugh-who knew Spock could laugh like that?

  38. Now that I’ve seen all the 70’s episodes, I must say this is one of my favorites! Keppel is a fantastic adversary. I’ll make my top ten list when I’ve finished watching the new ones, too. Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Culp as Rowe, yay! And yes, I enjoy your captions as well, Columbophile. Thanks for the review.

      • Gee, I watched Double Exposure yesterday for the second time! The first half during breakfast (“I’ll just watch the beginning as long as I’m eating”) and the rest during the lunch (“It’s so great, I must finish it!”). I work from home, so it was possible, but I had to work until later hours afterwards. Coming back to this review finally made me do it. The second viewing was marvellous – like savoring a favorite meal. I noticed many small, delighful things I hadn’t seen that clearly before. You should know that I rarely watch movies for the second time – a definite exception is the entire “Lord of the Rings” series by Peter Jackson and co, which I absolutely adore. This shows how good the old Columbo is if it can do the same to me. Oh dear, I respect Cassidy and everyone else, but to me, Culp rules!

  39. I hesitate to mention it, but there’s a plot flaw in this episode. When Roger White is murdered, Columbo is told: “According to the manager, White must have put [the second] reel on at seven-thirty, and it ran out at five to eight.” Because there was no nickel under the No. 2 projector, Columbo says to Kepple: “Mr. White did not change the second reel. You did.” That puts Kepple in the projection booth of the Magnolia Theatre at 7:30PM, to start the second reel. However, Columbo also tells Kepple: “I was only with you from seven-thirty on.” Both things cannot be true.

    On the other hand, I find no flaw in the fact that police never found the calibration converter hidden in the office lamp upon their initial investigation. Nothing in the episode suggests that police searched — or had probable cause to search — Kepple’s private office. Columbo was told initially: “Everyone’s been searched. We’re going through the building now looking for the murder weapon.” But other than eating the food in his office, Kepple’s office was left alone. Kepple gave police permission to examine his gun collection, but his permission stopped there.

    One final thing: Did anyone notice the actor playing the Detective Sergeant at the scene of the Norris murder? I recognized his voice immediately: Harry Hickox, who played Charlie Cowell, the anvil salesman, in “The Music Man.” (“Takes a real salesman, I can tell you that. Anvils have a limited appeal, you know.”) It was his only Columbo appearance.

    • Now that you mention it, yes, I recognize Harry Hickox, the anvil salesman, in “The Music Man”! I thought he looked familiar. Thank you!

    • Yes, I wondered about that too (the Magnolia projection booth timing).

      Fun fact: Chuck McCann starred in a 1970s movie called “The Projectionist” as a movie projectionist with a rich fantasy life. Hands down, its best scene is when his mean boss, played by Rodney Dangerfield, is chewing out the whole staff. Dangerfield can be pretty intimidating when he wants to be! (He’s really scary in the movie “Natural Born Killers”!)

    • In reality, a fired gun has gunshot residue on it, and most certainly a distinctive odor.
      Maybe Columbo is just toying with his prey, since an analysis would certainly demonstrate the gun had been recently fired, but was the wrong calibre. By the way, where did the bullet casing go?

  40. Excellent review–thank you Columbophile. I always enjoy your synopsis and opinion, and accompanying photos with captions*, it’s like watching it again with a fellow fan. Love your site.

    * “Sit sexily amongst pumpkins much, Dr Keppel?”
    “A potted plant! You hid beside a potted plant!”
    “I’ll tell you what, sir, if you give me the jacket I’ll let you go free…”

  41. Ah this was on last night, one of the best. Love the prank call to Vic Norris’ wife and that voice. I had dinner plans with my daughter so I couldn’t finish the episode, which would have been the 20th time I’ve seen.

    • I hate what he did to Mrs. Norris, a woman who was apparently happy in her marriage. First she learns that her husband was cheating on her, then she learns that he’s been killed. It’s apparent that Keppel was looking to frame her for the murder, but how sad that her grief was added to by the knowledge that he was philandering.

  42. Basically agree with your review – full of plot holes but we forgive it because the performances and interaction of Falk/Culp are so good.
    Just one last question – why didn’t Keppel retrieve and discard the converter earlier when it was safer for him to do so – surely he hadn’t forgotten he’d hidden it in the lampshade until the subliminal cut jogged his memory?

    • His bravado and sureness that he’d get away with the crime. Remember, no one would have been able to find what looks to be a part of a lamp, hidden in a lamp, unless the person was able to trick Kepple into looking, using subliminal video.

      Kepple was an accomplished professional on top of his profession.

      • It can’t be a coincidence that this brainy murderer’s name is an endearment of “head” in Yiddish.

        I agree that this episode, even with its plot holes, is a standout for the writing and acting. Thanks for the review and the killer captions. Columbo is a balm during lockdown, and this site helps a lot.

        • I’m surprised I didn’t think of the Keppel meaning, given that Yiddish was my first language with my parents and I’m a fluent speaker.. But now that you noted it, I’d be willing to bet that some witty guy indeed did that intentionally. Come to think of it, given Falk’s Eastern European parents and his spending a ton of time in the Borscht Belt early on, it could very well have been his own idea.

  43. I disagree on your opinion of the ending, odds are really high that the converter/gun would be hidden near the desk, knowing that Keppel would most likely head straight for the weapon, along with the door opening to the left adding to the cover of the palm plant, it’s a good hiding spot.

    IMO, the best inter-play is in the car as they leave to go to the murder at the theater:

    Keppel: Which way?
    Columbo: Beg your pardon?
    Keppel: Right or left? You didn’t tell me where the murder was committed lieutenant, so I couldn’t possibly know how to get there, could I?
    Columbo: Turn right.
    Keppel: Nice try though.
    Columbo: Can’t win ’em all.

    You can see the fun they are having in the duel.

    • Yes! Throughout, Falk and Culp showed that they were having a blast. Culp couldn’t help grinning – and occasionally giggling! – as he played off Falk. So much fun to watch,

      • I read somewhere that Peter Falk would often ad lib to draw unexpected reactions from the guest star actors. Perhaps that was what Culp was grinning at ?
        Episodes like Double Exposure and Death Lends a Hand can be watched over and over. How many films can you say that about ?

    • I think that, rather than attempting to hide behind the plant, Lt Columbo and Milt may have been ensconced in the hallway. When Dr Keppel’s left the screening room, they entered the office through the door labeled “Private” which connected directly to the hallway and was located to the right of the plant.

  44. Nice post. Double Exposure is one of my fave 10 and easily Culp’s finest moment,though he is effective in Death Lends a Hand and College. Anither great scene is Keppel’s crew tracking our favorite detective as he moves through the market and then discovers the camera. Can’t add much to the discussion-you covered most. Will say for me the “gotcha” moment is probably top 5 as it incorporates information transmitted and acts as a natural extension. An excellent episode, IMO much better than A Stitch in Crime.

    • Agreed. The first half of Double Exposure risks veering into joyless territory with dry characters, questionable motives and overly technical plotting, but the second half wisely leans into the many fun scenes with Culp and Falk, propelling it well above A Stitch in Time in my eyes.

      It was nice to see Culp play it cool for a change, though I liked him best in Death Lends a Hand when he was allowed to let the rage fly on occasion. Still, overall, I’d rank both eps neck and neck.

      • Robert Culp manages to avoid that the beginning of the episode might point into a joyless direction, because his way of imitating someone who is supposed to be a completely different character than him (when Keppel makes the phony phone call to Mrs Norris) is pure joy!

        The cat-and-mouse dialogues between Columbo and his counterpart also are a one of a kind delight. “Double Exposure” delivers the funniest we-both-know-who-the-killer-is interactions since “Prescription: Murder”.

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