Short Fuse was the episode Columbo‘s first season didn’t need. Rushed through to satisfy the demands of the studio, it rather wasted an excellent premise with a half-baked plot that was, at times, tricky to unravel.
But as I’ve said time and again, even weaker Columbo episodes have much to recommend them and enough memorable moments to reward the keen viewer. With that in mind, my top 5 highlights from Short Fuse are chronicled below.
5. Don’t call me Junior!
After bumping off his company-running Uncle, Roger has finally got what he wants: full control of the family chemical empire, and all that comes with it – namely a HUGE OFFICE, with a desk the size of a football pitch.
Keen to show everyone who’s boss, the former office prankster demands that staff who used to affectionately call him ‘Junior’ now respect his authoritah by deferentially referring to him as Mr Stanford. The joke’s on Roger, though. As he pretends to be busy reading papers at his desk, we can see that this is a dreadful result, both for him and the company.
If someone doesn’t put a stop to it, bored Roger will doubtless run the company into the ground within months. Thank goodness, then, that Columbo puts everyone out of their misery shortly afterwards.
4. The ‘silly string incident’ of 1972
While snooping around Roger’s workshop / darkroom, Columbo encounters a mystery aerosol can that piques his interest. And even though he’s at a potentially deadly chemical plant, the curious Lieutenant thinks nothing of pointing the nozzle at his own face and giving a good squeeze.
We don’t immediately see what happens, but when Roger finds the shambling Lieutenant some moments later, he roars with laughter as the sneaky detective has managed to cover his hair with bright pink silly string.
It’s a cute scene, and Roddy’s genuine reaction of mirth makes it a great moment.
3. Take nothing less than second best
Columbo’s first meeting with Roger (and Aunt Doris, played by Ida Lupino) features a rib-tickling exchange which is one of the most delightful of the whole of Season 1.
“Well, my wife, she says I’m second best but, uh, she claims there are 80 fellas tied for first.”
Doris seems sceptical about Columbo’s credentials upon meeting him, after being assured that the LAPD had sent their ‘best man’ to investigate the disappearance of Uncle D. Cue a beautiful response from the Lieutenant: “Well, my wife, she says I’m second best but, uh, she claims there are 80 fellas tied for first.” Cute!
2. Curtains for Uncle David
After tiring of what he considers his Uncle’s rough and dismissive treatment of him, Roger gets even as well as getting mad. Using his extraordinary brain power for EVIL, he rigs a bomb in a cigar case and deftly manipulates matters to ensure the booby-trapped box will be opened as Uncle D’s car traverses a twisty mountain road. BOOM! So long Uncle! KER-BLAM! See you later, sinister chauffeur Quincy!
“Roger establishes his alibi by necking with company secretary Betty Bishop at a discotheque, like a pair of teenagers in love.”
The ludicrous premise somehow works on screen due to its exciting presentation. In a scene reminiscent of a Hammer Horror film, Uncle D and Quincy battle sky-splitting lightning and driving rain as the car creeps up the mountain pass to explosive oblivion.
Roger, meanwhile, is establishing his alibi by necking with company secretary Betty Bishop at a discotheque, like a pair of teenagers in love. This is unashamedly played out against a funky little Gil Melle jazz number, the canoodling action being intercut at one stage with a female Star Trek reject frenetically cage dancing. Ahhhh, the 70s…
1. The cliff-hanging conclusion
Short Fuse is far from being a top-shelf Columbo episode, but its tense finale at least rounds things out in memorable fashion.
The wily Lieutenant finds a way to unravel the mystery via a splendid set-piece in the claustrophobic confines of a mountain cable car, with Roger and just-sacked company Vice Pesident Everett Logan his companions.
Pretending that the rigged, explosive cigar box has been found unopened at the crash site, a jovial Lieutenant cracks it open to divvy out the goodies. Roger, who’s been slowly losing his cool since the box was revealed, now blows his top completely. He believes the box will explode in 60 seconds, catapulting them into fiery oblivion.
As the time ticks down, Roger starts bellowing at the Lieutenant and striding round the cable car like a man possessed. At the last moment he flings open the cable car doors and makes a grab for the box, scattering cigars all over the floor as he scrabbles desperately for the rigged one. When there is no kaboom, Roger finally realises he’s been had.
“Short Fuse is far from being a top-shelf Columbo episode, but its tense finale at least rounds things out in memorable fashion.”
Regular readers of this blog may remember that I referenced Roddy’s wardrobe (notably the skintight blue trousers) as the episode highlight in my full-length review. I was, of course, being facetious!
Still, I’d be delighted to hear your own personal highlights, so please shoot me a comment below! And thanks a million for visiting!
I just watched this episode again. I kept seeing a short preview of it with William Windom and had to watch it. I love Windom in most everything I’ve ever seen him in. It’s so sad that most of the good actors are gone and the rest are so old it won’t be long before they’re all dead. I love that we can watch them over and over in these wonderful old shows. Of course, I’m old too, so I can watch and remember really great television and don’t have to watch the garbage they’re putting out now.
According to Bill Windom who played Logan he HATED doing the tram scene. He said if he knew before he would never have taken the role. He was petrified when they had to ride with the tram door open. At one point he had to run the camera while inside the tram with Falk and McDowell.
Good intel! Where did you find that info?
Bill Windom said this in an interview. He hated heights but was a decorated paratrooper.
I recently rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with my daughter. The Good Lt was a brave man indeed. I thought of him the entire trip. Frankly, a stud for his time. God Save The Good Lt.
I always laugh when Columbo finds “Jrs” uncles pic face down on the desk, and the Lt with his dry sarcasm, “guess this fell over”. Like he knows then who the prime suspect is.
again ill agree not a classic , far from it and that richaard is a turn off it is a bit of a pedigree chum episode , but the end scene is good enough espeically where roddy puts the gold chain around columbos neck and the episode end s with the fit of laughing that lasts all through the end credits.
I liked the episode because of Junior’s crazy antics throughout the episode which made the whole show lighter. Also, the Uncle seems to have been a crooked fellow himself, so no love loss there.
I have a different opinion on #2, the car crash, which I see as a low point of the episode. My brother and I watched the episode very recently and found that driving/crash scene to be terrible. First, the car seemed to be driving in residential road regions when all the time they are supposed to be on a winding mountain road next to a cliff edge. The scenes alternate between light and dark times of day and they don’t uniformly look like evening/night. Worst, I think there were three scenes where they showed the exact same clip of lightning. The studio should have paid out a few extra dollars to have 3 different clips of lightning rather than just one used three times.
You’re spot on because this is the era when Falk was battling with the studio over releasing the purse strings on a proven hit show.
Thank you Columbophile–we enjoyed “5 best moments from Columbo Short Fuse”. Not a big fan of this episode, though there are parts I like. Haaaa–love the photo at the end and your comment:
“Maybe you can help me. I’m having a hard time figuring out which of you is the worst dressed…”
“Where is the kaboom?? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!!” – Marvin The Martian
Roger invented the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?
He is a genius!
This episode stood out to me as one of the least likely to result in a conviction.
I don’t know about that. Roddy’s actions were pretty damning, although he’d likely get off on an insanity plea. It’s a much stronger case than, say, Greenhouse Jungle or Most Crucial Game.
To get off on an insanity plea the defense has to demonstrate the accused did not know right from wrong, which would never fly in Roger’s case.
For a second or two I actually thought Roger might jump out of that cable car to avoid being tried for murder.