Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 3

Episode review: Columbo Publish or Perish

Title Screen

The Columbo calendar year of 1974 got off to the most arresting start imaginable in the shape of Publish or Perish.

Not only were the opening credits an extraordinary combination of explosions and freeze frames, but consummate villain Jack Cassidy was back in his second appearance as a killer – this time sporting an evil moustache to accentuate his inherent wickedness.

A publishing backdrop, reassuringly familiar to fans of Murder by the Book, promised to make Publish or Perish a series highlight. But is it a the equivalent of an Allen Mallory best-selling novel, or an amateurish effort set to languish in the bargain bucket? Let’s set our clocks back to 18 January 1974 and find out…

Publish or Perish cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Riley Greenleaf: Jack Cassidy
Allen Mallory: Mickey Spillane
Eddie Kane: John Chandler
Eileen McRae: Mariette Hartley
Jeffrey Neal: Jacques Aubuchon
David Chase: Alan Fudge
Wolpert: Jack Bender
Directed by: Robert Butler
Written by: Peter S. Fischer
Score by: Billy Goldenberg

Episode synopsis: Columbo Publish or Perish

Sleazy publisher Riley Greenleaf is up to no good. He has assassination in mind as he meets ice-cold hitman Eddie Kane at a garbage dump – the assassination, no less, of best-selling novelist Allen Mallory.

Eddie Kane Publish or Perish
Psycho Eddie Kane confesses to fragging a couple of hundred baddies in ‘Nam

Psycho ‘Nam veteran Kane is indulging in his favourite past-time – lobbing homemade explosives around the dump with gay abandon. In between explosions, he and Greenleaf confirm the details of their fiendish plan. At 10.30pm that evening, Kane will slay Mallory in his office with a single shot to the heart. He will leave a door key on the floor and a .38 revolver in the basement car park – taking great care not to smudge Greenleaf’s prints from the gun.

As a crazy sweetener, Greenleaf also agrees to publish Kane’s book How to Blow Up Anything in 10 Easy Steps, much to the lunatic’s delight. The two then part, Greenleaf jimmying the lock of his car door and overtly scratching the paintwork before screeching away. Yes folks, it’s an opening scene packed with detail – and the plot’s only going to get thicker!

We next encounter Greenleaf at a swanky  party thrown by his presumably arch-nemesis publisher, Jeffrey Neal. ‘Big Jeff’ (as no one calls him in the episode) is trying his best to impress ill-fated author Mallory, who has agreed to ditch Greenleaf and jump ship to the Neal Publishing house when his contract expires in three weeks – and he’ll be bringing his as-yet unfinished secret new novel with him. Mallory, you see, has made his name writing sex novels for Greenleaf. He’s hankering to turn his talent to more serious writing.

Perish Mallory
Greenleaf menaces former protege Mallory

Greenleaf, seemingly sh*t-faced, creates a scene. When Mallory confirms he can’t wait to sever ties with his one-time publishing pal, Greenleaf gets nasty. “My dear friend, if you do you will die,” he hisses. And just in case witnesses hadn’t been paying enough attention, he squares up to Neal saying: “He’ll never write for you or anyone else, and I’ll see to it,” before shambling away. A shaken Mallory, meanwhile, heads off to his lonely vigil of dictating the final pages of said new book.

Our story now unfolds via an innovative three-way split-screen editing technique, where Mallory, Greenleaf and the skulking Eddie Kane go about their respective tasks. One moment the focus is on Greenleaf shouting vitriol at a barkeep in some dive in the Valley; the next we’re watching Kane glide ever closer to his unwitting prey.

At the critical moment Mallory hears a noise, spins round in his chair and is confronted by a gun-toting Kane, who fulfils his obligations by firing one shot to the heart. He then drops the key on the carpet, plants the gun in the basement and splits. Greenleaf, meanwhile, is hilariously securing his alibi by deliberately backing into the VW Camper of an elderly couple in the bar car park. He then spends the night in the drunk tank after challenging police officers to a rumble when found illegally parked.

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“‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what’s goin’ on ‘ere, then?”

Back at the Mallory murder scene in the small hours of the night, we find a weary Lieutenant Columbo desperate for a coffee pick-me-up. The investigations are disturbed by the appearance of a young transcription services pick-up boy, Wolpert, who turns up every night at the same time to collect Mallory’s tapes. This will be important later on. The police also uncover the planted murder weapon, which is whisked off to ballistics.

The following morning, brusque lawyer David Chase is demanding Columbo releases his client, Riley Greenleaf, from custody. But Columbo has need of Greenleaf’s input. He plays the Mallory tape, and Greenleaf is easily able to identify the voice, and is making to leave when the gunshot rings out.

Columbo confirms that Mallory was slain the night before, cue a marvelous example of faux grief from Greenleaf who bellows: “But WHO? WHY?” like any grieving BFF should. He can’t confirm where he was at 10.30pm the night before due to his heavy drinking, though. He also can’t identify the door key found at the scene, nor be sure whether the type of pistol he owns is a match for the murder weapon.

Jack Cassidy Publish or Perish
Altogether now: “But WHO, WHY?”

It’s looking grim for Greenleaf, but his smug lawyer shuts down the conversation and whisks his client away before he does anything more to incriminate himself. Columbo, instead, heads off to see Eileen McRae, a cohort of Jeffrey Neal, who was at the publisher’s party the night before and is set to become Mallory’s new agent.

Miss McRae spills the beans about how Mallory was planning to leave Greenleaf in the lurch to join Neal Publising, bringing his new novel with him. Such is the sensitivity surrounding the switch, McRae doesn’t believe Mallory would ever have mentioned the book to the greedy Greenleaf. Indeed, she seems to be the only person Mallory has discussed any part of the plot with, and then only in broad terms.

It’s an intriguing mystery, and will become even more so during Columbo’s next stop: Greenleaf’s palatial home. The publisher is decidedly more sheepish now, apologising for his earlier conduct and presenting an altogether more humble face to the police.

“Despite his lawyer begging him to keep his mouth shut, Greenleaf admits that he must have killed Mallory in a drunken haze.”

Instead of being angry, he seems resigned to his fate when Columbo reveals that the murder weapon is registered to Greenleaf, and that his prints were the only ones found on it. Despite his lawyer begging him to keep his mouth shut, Greenleaf admits that he must have killed Mallory in a drunken haze.

The three men then head outside to inspect Greenleaf’s car. There Columbo discovers that the door lock is broken, and there’s a big scratch on the paintwork. Greenleaf hadn’t even noticed, but then has a lightbulb moment of his own. He kept a spare key to Mallory’s office, as well as his gun, in the glove box. Both are missing. Could someone have stolen them to commit the crime?

These thoughts are put on hold by a phone call from Greenleaf’s insurance agent, which Chase goes to take. In his absence, Columbo asks about the damage to Greenleaf’s rear fender. Again, Greenleaf claims to have no notion of how this occurred. It is then that Chase returns, smugger than ever, to shut down the conversation once more. It turns out that Greenleaf has an alibi that even he doesn’t know about. At 10.30pm the night before, he was involved in a prang in the car park of the dive bar in Encino. It means he can’t have killed Mallory after all.

Publish or Perish
“Thank God that ugly old crone and her weak-willed husband… err I mean THOSE PEOPLE contacted my insurance agent!”

A relieved Greenleaf seems overcome with emotion. “All I can say is thank God those people contacted my insurance agent.” It’s only a tiny slip of the tongue, but Columbo picks up on it. Chase hadn’t mentioned whether there was one or more people involved in the prang, but Greenleaf referred to ‘those people’. Perhaps he’s starting to recall elements of the night before, the detective suggests?

“Perhaps he is. Subconsciously,” replies Chase, as deadpan as you like. “That’s probably it. His subconscious,” replies the Lieutenant. But regular viewers will know that the wily Columbo has filed this little snippet away for future reference.

Still, it looks for all the world as if someone is trying to frame Greenleaf, and that’s the line of investigation Columbo is duty bound to follow. During a brief visit to Greenleaf’s publishing HQ, the Lieutenant seeks info on who might have reason to do such a thing. Greenleaf has no answers, but Columbo leaves a parting thought in his ear: the door key left at the crime scene didn’t fit the lock. Why? Because Mallory had changed the lock 3 weeks earlier.

If this is the case, how did the killer get in to the office? The transcription tape proves that Mallory didn’t stop his work to let anyone in. In an echo of Death Lends a Hand‘s contact lens bait-and-switch, Columbo then slips a sucker punch to Greenleaf: there must be another key. If Columbo can find the person who has that key, he’ll find the killer.

Foolishly thinking this plays into his hands, Greenleaf gets a new key for the office cut and then arranges a rendez-vous with Kane at his suitably weird apartment. The publisher rigs a bottle of Champagne with poison, and suggests they drink a toast to Kane’s impending success as an author. The wild-eyed loon knocks back the good stuff like there’s no tomorrow – which indeed there won’t be, as the poison soon reduces him to a lifeless heap on the floor.

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“Bombs away Eddie!”

Not batting an eyelid, Greenleaf then uses Kane’s typewriter to  poduce a book synopsis entitled Sixty Miles to Saigon (the title of Mallory’s secret book), which he addresses to himself under Kane’s name, backdating it by 9 months. Dropping one copy into a filing cabinet and tucking another in his jacket, Greenleaf merrily departs – having planted the newly cut key in Kane’s jacket. He’s also rigs a little explosion of his own: one which will leave police in no doubt that weirdo Kane has blown himself apart with one of his own devices. Got all that? Good…

Cut to the next day. Columbo is at a posh restaurant for a catch-up with Neal and McRae. Conversations surround the manuscript of Mallory’s book. The plot has been a tightly guarded secret, so much so that only Miss McRae has any real insight on its content. Indeed, she had suggested a crucial change to the conclusion of the book only a week before. Rather than kill of the central character, as Mallory had planned, she suggested a good alternative would be to send him off to a monastery.

While this might sound to us like the lamest story edit in history, there’s method behind the madness. Given Mallory’s sky-high profile, Universal Pictures had purchased the rights to the novel intending to use it as a Rock Hudson vehicle. As Neal explains: “For $100,000, you don’t kill off Rock Hudson.”

At that point Columbo is called away as word of Eddie Kane’s death reaches him. At the crime scene, he predictably finds both the book synopsis addressed to Greenleaf, and the key to Mallory’s office. All the pieces are falling into place.

Interrupting Greenleaf as he giggles through a (presumed) porn film in his private cinema screen, Columbo confronts the publisher about this new evidence. It’s clear Greenleaf knew Kane, so how does he explain having been sent the manuscript 9 months earlier?

Publish 2
Greenleaf was unamused at having his private porn film screening interrupted…

The complexity and depth of Greenleaf’s scheming is highlighted here. He claims to have received the synopsis as dated, but realised that Kane was far too cuckoo to actually write it. Instead, he claims, he passed the idea on to Mallory. Naturally Kane was furious, and vowed revenge. Who knew he’d actually live up to his threats?

Seemingly painted into a corner, Columbo seeks Miss McRae’s advice on the manuscript. “It’s as if Alan dictated it himself,” she says after reading. And that throwaway comment sets off a trillion watt light in Columbo’s head.

Summoning Greenleaf to Mallory’s office, Columbo prepares to spring his trap. First off, he addresses the enduring problem of the key. They found a key in Kane’s pocket, and guess what? It fits the lock of the office door! Case closed then, says Greenleaf. That proves that Kane did it.

No sir, replies the Lieutenant. Because the lock on the door was changed again the day after the crime at Columbo’s insistence. There’s no way Kane could have had a copy of that key. And wasn’t Greenleaf the only person that knew about the importance of finding a key to fit the lock?

Greenleaf is swiftly losing his cool. Who cares about these little details? Surely all that matters is that Kane killed Mallory. He storms away, only be stoped in his tracks as Columbo yells: “Mr Wolpert!” down the corridor after him.

Greenleaf freezes, and the young transcription service lad emerges from a side door. Greenleaf denies knowing the lad, but Columbo calls him a liar outright. He’s been looking into Wolpert’s bank account, you see, and has seen some significant sums have been transferred in. Turns out that Wolpert has been slipping an extra tape of the transcripts to Greenleaf, who therefore knows every word of the secret book. Wolpert agrees that he’ll help police with their enquiries, and Columbo sends him home.

Columbo Publish or Perish Wolpert
Wolpert’s damning evidence will do in for Riley Greenleaf

A seething Greenleaf isn’t about to give in, though. There’s still nothing to prove that he killed Mallory. That’s when Columbo delivers the sucker punch. “For $100,000, you don’t kill off Rock Hudson.”

Close scrutiny of Kane’s supposed book synopsis had revealed the book ended with the chief protagonist heading off to begin life in a monastery. It was the very ending Miss McRae had suggested to Mallory just a week before.

“How could Eddie Kane have written an ending 9 months ago that was only written last week?” Columbo asks. Greenleaf can only look away from Columbo’s steely gaze as credits roll…

Publish or Perish‘s best moment: Riley on the rampage

Drunk Jack Cassidy

Interspersed over a period of 14 minutes, Riley Greenleaf’s faux drunk shenanigans as he aims to both incriminate and exonerate himself from the killing of Allen Mallory is some of the most enjoyable television ever recorded. Lurching from shambling aggression, outright rudeness and wicked fun, this is Jack Cassidy doing what he does best.

“Madame, in your condition I should call a plastic surgeon!”

Among the highlights of his drunken spree are him tossing money at a barkeep and suggesting he buys himself a personality. Better is to follow as he accosts lily-livered ‘Ralphie’ in the bar car park and delivers a glorious riposte to the nagging wife: “Madame, in your condition I should call a plastic surgeon!”

The joy of these scenes is that Cassidy delivers the lines with a mischevious smile on his face throughout. He’s clearly having a blast filming these scenes, and that sense of fun is absolutely contagious.

Read about the top 5 scenes from Publish or Perish here.

My opinion on Publish or Perish

An explosive episode – literally – from the opening credits to the last moments, Publish or Perish is a thrilling roller-coaster ride of an episode that gets better with every viewing. But be warned – it requires close attention throughout.

Mallory and co
Complex plotting and intriguing inter-character relations are at the heart of Publish or Perish

This is a complex crime. Following all the aspects of the key, the fingerprints on the gun and Greenleaf’s drunken alibi is tricky enough. Add to that the layers of intrigue that are revealed as the episode goes on (including the office lock changes, plot update to Mallory’s book and Greenleaf intercepting the transcription tapes) and you have a very tangled web.

“Publish or Perish is a thrilling roller-coaster ride of an episode that gets better with every viewing.”

Publish or Perish is a faster-paced Columbo than we’re used to – particularly at a stage in the series’ development where the more ponderous 90-minute episodes were padded out mercilessly, slowing the pacing (Any Old Port in a Storm and Candidate for Crime chief examples). Here, if the viewer lets their attention wander they may well lose a thread and find it hard to pick up again.

Some critics, including the legendary Mark Dawidziak, author of Columbo Bible The Columbo Phile, have suggested that Publish could have benefitted from the longer running time. I respectfully disagree. It’s an intricate plot, but the pacing is terrific. An extra 15 minutes would have hurt it, and the storytellers got creative when they needed to to shoehorn it all in.

Case in point: as the tension rises and the storyline switches from Greenleaf out drinking to assassin Kane and victim Mallory hard at work, the editors adopted innovative split-screen techniques allowing each perspective to be advanced in real-time alongside the others. It’s brilliantly done – as good as the iconic montage effect on Robert Culp’s glasses in Death Lends a Hand.

So, yes, it’s complex but is handled extremely well. Just don’t switch off, because you will miss something important – probably related to one of the central clues about keys that don’t fit in locks, or later do when they shouldn’t. If that sounds confusing, it is, making the lead up to the ‘gotcha’ moment less accessible than in some other episodes.

“To my mind Publish or Perish is Jack’s Cassidy’s finest Columbo hour. He’s at his very, very best here.”

Those factors could be one reason why Publish is generally regarded as the least of Jack Cassidy’s three Columbo outings. And in fairness the competition is red-hot, with Season 1’s Murder by the Book a seminal piece of TV by anyone’s reckoning, and Now You See Him from Season 5 a firm favourite due to the enduring appeal of the magic act theme.

But to my mind Publish is Jack’s finest Columbo hour. Not only does it deliver a fascinating murder mystery, it’s also extremely droll, satirical, sharply scripted and allows Jack to have a whole heap of fun.

Perish 9
Could Jack BE having any more fun than he is here?

As referenced above in the ‘Best moment’ section, you just know that Jack was having a ball throughout. I really think he’s at his very, very best here. Every scene he’s in is SOLID GOLD, and it really makes the heart sing to see him tackling the role with such gusto.

As a result all the other stars, including Peter Falk, take something of a back seat. It doesn’t hurt the episode, though. In fact this is one of the best ensemble performances of any episode. Everyone adds value and does their bit to elevate proceedings.

Kane’s cuddly puppy mode

Take John Chandler as Eddie Kane. He’s superbly cast as the loony Vietnam veteran, whose demeanour switches from ice cold killer to cuddly puppy in the opening moments when Greenleaf confirms he wants to publish his book on bombs. This guy’s got a serious screw loose.

Alan Fudge (in the first of three Columbo outings) is excellent as Greenleaf’s condescending lawyer David Chase, while young Wolpert’s palpable sense of fear at being implicated in a murder is well portrayed by Jack Bender – better known for his directorial efforts on shows including Lost, Alias and The Sopranos.

In the role of Jeffrey Neal, Jacques Aubuchon offers us a pleasant slice of upper class affability. Neal’s relationship with Mariette Hartley’s Eileen McRae is an interesting aside. Was he wanting to wine, dine, 69 her? Or were they simply good friends? Greenleaf describes McRae as a ‘concubine’ early in the episode, so there’s more going on than meets the eye. It all adds to the plausibility of the story, giving depth to the characters.

Publish or Perish Mariette Hartley
Just what is the story with these two? And just how does she justify the red stetson in a high-class eaterie?

Finally, in a very nice touch, real-life mystery writer Mickey Spillane was cast as Allen Mallory. His shocked expression when confronted with certain death really tugs at the heart strings, providing an emotional punch to off-set all the fun.

And this episode really is fun with a capital F. Quite aside from Jack chewing up the scenery, there are a lot of laughs to be had. The episode takes a satirical swipe at the sleazy world of sex publications, highlighted with Columbo wondering what type of book the cover shoot he’s interrupted is for.  “Anthropology,” is Greenleaf’s poker-faced response.

The joke’s on Columbo several times at the flashy restaurant, too. First the snooty valet ignores the Lieutenant to oil up to a higher-value customer, not even giving him a coupon. “Listen mister, I’ll remember your car,” he says.

Inside, after ordering a chilli and an ice tea, Columbo is stung by the high price of the bill – $6 (equivalent to $30 today). “Excuse me, uh, no, I think there’s a mistake,” he tells an officious waiter. “I had the chili and the iced tea.” The waiter adjusts the bill, realising his mistake. But the price goes up to $6.75. “I forgot to add the ice tea,” the waiter explains.

As always, no review is complete without looking at the flipside of what didn’t work so well. And in Publish or Perish, the convoluted plot takes as well as gives, with the central and oft-referred to OFFICE DOOR KEY clue never fully realised.

Perish 1
Falk and Cassidy: TV gold since 1971

Greenleaf’s clever plotting has managed to secure him an iron-clad alibi. His deft use and disposal of Eddie Kane is essential to his claims that a wronged Kane was out for revenge against he and Mallory. Columbo’s excellent police work ultimately has Greenleaf cornered, but it ends up not being because of the key – bizarre when the dashed key has been referenced about a thousand times throughout the episode!

The key should be the thing that hangs him. After all, only Greenleaf knew that when Columbo found a key to fit the lock, he’d find the killer. The insinuation, therefore, can only be that Greenleaf planted the key on Kane, as they certainly knew each other. Yet when Columbo references the key at the episode’s conclusion, it simply peters out, Greenleaf agreeing that it’s suspicious without it seeming crucial.

Only the incongruity with the backdated manuscript featuring Miss McRae’s ending is really damning. That combined with the other circumstantial evidence might well be enough to convict, but I feel like this evidence is really delivered to the viewer in the wrong order.

“Publish or Perish isn’t perfect, but it does boast that most wondrous thing: Jack Cassidy in full flight.”

Still, while the ending isn’t ideal it doesn’t damn the whole piece. Many of the best Columbo episodes have relatively weak conclusions. Conversely, some poorer ones have sensational gotchas. The viewer must weigh up how much the plot holes get in the way of their enjoyment. When it comes to Publish or Perish, the ride to get here is such a blast that its shortcomings can largely be forgiven.

So there we have it. Publish or Perish isn’t perfect, but pay it close attention and the rewards are there for all to see – not least that most wondrous sight of Jack Cassidy in full flight.

Did you know?


Contrary to what we’re shown in the episode, Chasen’s Restaurant, where Columbo met with Miss McRae and Jeffrey Neal, is famed for its chilli!

The restaurant was a well-known hang-out for the great and the good of Hollywood and its chilli was such a hit that no less a star than Elizabeth Taylor reportedly had 10 quarts of it shipped out to Rome to see her through the filming of Cleopatra.

Someone should tell this waiter about the restaurant’s fine chilli heritage, eh?

How I rate ’em

Jack Cassidy’s tour de force performance makes Publish or Perish so enjoyable that it achieves that most difficult of tasks and even outshines Murder by the Book, slipping into a rostrum position!

Nearly a third of the way through the Columbo catalog and Suitable for Framing stays out in front, largely due to the strength of its gotcha moment. Will it ever be toppled? Stay tuned! And you can read any of my past episode reviews via the links below.

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

This episode splits opinion, so do let me know how you rate it in the comments section below! Thanks a million for reading, and I’ll be back soon with the next chronological Columbo outing – the robot-tastic Mind Over Mayhem.

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Come back soon – or this crone will be sent to get ya!
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146 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Publish or Perish

  1. I loved Publish or Perish and JC’s acting in it, but I cannot rate it in the top 10 because to me the whole key business is too much of a gaping hole in the plot. The idea that “how did he get in” would be given such importance, when any kid can guess that perhaps the door was unlocked, is too obvious to ignore. And then to add on 3 layers of lock changes to deal with this “problem”, rather than simply saying “prove that the door was locked” just weakened the mystery significantly. Still, I’d rate it about 15th.

  2. It’s a good, gripping episode, that keeps you seated from the get go. Columbo is on top form in this one. I still have few problems with the plot:
    1) The motive for killing is unrealistic – no way a man like Riley, opportunistic businessman would kill someone just because he’s signing for another publisher – in other words, he has nothing to gain, only to risk his freedom. It would be much more logical if he’s killed Jeffrey Neal, his rival publisher.
    2) I know it’s not a staple of Columbo shows, but it bothers me that Lt. is throughout all episodes dismissing people who might be heavily involved in the incident, and quickly jumps to the one and only one person – the killer. For example, the young guy who came at the murder scene to collect the tape, wouldn’t he be an ideal person to be heavily questioned at that time? But Columbo just says to let him go
    3) Riley went over the top with planting evidences against himself. Even if we can agree that it was all clever and fine until he killed Eddie, why on Earth would he want police to tie him to Eddie and make up the story about Eddie approaching him earlier. It just rises suspicion. Planting key was enough, and he could just stop then. The police would have nothing to go on, and would most probably list this one as Eddie’s doing.

    • This is from memory, but I think that Riley has some sort of insurance policy on Allan Mallory, which is no longer valid when their contract expires and Mallory has already signed a new contract with another publisher.

      Riley wants to draw attention to himself at first, as he knows he would be the first person the police would suspect, then he gives them a perfect alibi and a perfect patsy, the man who actually committed the murder for him.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, Riley has spent years reading the “garbage” that his company publishes, and may well be subconsciously acting out one of his own over-plotted schemes.

    • To answer you second point, in this case I think that Columbo is immediately suspicious of Greenleaf because his alibi is just oh so convenient and melodramatic, and because he (Riley, not Jack Cassidy) is not a very good actor.

      Columbo does investigate the young man from the manuscript service, and he is indeed up to something that could lose him his job, but as the boy says, he’s nothing to do with any murder.

  3. I am not sure the whole key plot makes any sense whatsoever. All I can see is a load of questions:

    * Why does Greenleaf want Kane to leave a key there in the first place? Greenleaf has his alibi, he should be in the clear, just so long as Kane doesn’t give the game away.
    * When it transpires that the key left is no good, why is Greenleaf fussed. OK, Colombo cons him, but what is the Lieut really saying? That the killer turns up with two keys, opens the door with key number 2 and leaves key number 1 on the floor for no reason whatsoever? Palpable nonsense. The only solution is the real one, the killer turns up with the wrong key but gets in some other way. Why did Greenleaf just not wait for this obvious fact to become clear to everyone?
    * Where does Greenleaf magic up key number 3 from (or key number 1 come to that)? If it was that easy, no-one would bother fitting locks. If he has used some kind of genius locksmith, that guy is now privy to his secrets.Should he be killed too?
    * When Greenleaf has done away with Kane, why not remove anything that connects him with Kane and get the hell out. As I have said above, he has his alibi, if Kane is not suspected of being connected, it is case game set and match to Greenleaf. Instead, Greenleaf goes out his way to point out the very connections he should hide, and hands the match to the good Lieutenant on a plate.

    • Hi John. Greenleaf was the obvious suspect in Alan Mallory’s murder, and wanted to make it look like somebody knew that and framed him. It might be true that his plan was over-plotted, but he had probably read a great deal of his own bad fiction and remembered some of it “subconsciously”.

      I don’t have a good answer to the key conundrum (maybe he was a locksmith before he became a publisher?) but I think we have to assume that Columbo’s writers were at least as clever as we are, if not more so.

      That said, I still don’t understand the significance of the big reveal at the end of “Murder With Too Many Notes”. No spoilers, but that is my personal “So what?” Columbo moment.

      • “Maybe he was a locksmith before he became a publisher – but I think we have to assume that Columbo’s writers were at least as clever as we are, if not more so. ”

        Given the fact that this is fiction and that you seeking to defend the scriptwriters, I think you have to look at what they tell us, and not add to it by inventing further fictions. They don’t say Greenleaf was a locksmith, 99.9% of people aren’t, so he wasn’t.

        I think if the entire key thing had been dropped, the episode would have worked better, with just a few tweaks.

        • Hi John. Sorry, when I wrote my remark about Greenleaf maybe being a locksmith in a former career, I should have added for the benefit of new readers.

          • Hi John. Sorry, when I wrote my remark about Greenleaf maybe being a locksmith in a former career, I should have added “Ba-dum-dum! Tcha!” for the benefit of new readers.

            (That’l teach me to use put around my sound effects. Wrong sort of cymbals).

    • Hi John. As you may have gathered by now, I was only joking when I said that Riley Greenleaf might have been a locksmith before he became a publisher. And besides, we hear him making a phone call asking for the 3rd key to be made.

      But the 1st key is easy! That was Riley’s own key to the original lock on the door. There were two keys to that lock, the landlord gave one to Allen Mallory and the other to Riley Greenleaf. That much at least is all perfectly above board.

      I do take your point about how difficult it would be for Riley’s “I’ll make it worth his while” locksmith to make a duplicate key without any access to an existing key, and for all this to be done without anyone else in the office building noticing.

      All I can offer here is further speculation. As we don’t see anyone else in connection with the other offices, maybe Allen’s office was the only one in use in that part of the building at that time? Nobody seems to have been bothered by Columbo’s locksmith changing the entire lock the day after the murder. (I know, I know, the writer doesn’t tell us any of this, I’m just speculating).

      And given that the whole key thing was an elaborate trap set by Columbo, the police might have been well aware of Riley’s locksmith arriving and somehow magically making a duplicate key, but turned a glass eye.

      And you are quite right, whoever it was that Riley called, and whoever it was that made the duplicate key, would be well aware of what Riley had done, after the fact in Mallory’s case and before the fact in Eddie Kane’s.

    • 1) Greenleaf wanted it to look like “the real killer” was framing Greenleaf, by leaving Greenleaf’s key at the scene of the crime.
      2) Greenleaf panicked. Like many Columbo villains, he became overcommitted to the story he was telling Columbo. And the story was that the killer had a key, so he felt he needed to give the killer a key that fit the lock. Sure, it’s a bad idea. Greenleaf ought to have realized that Kane got in _somehow_ without the correct key and just left it at that. But he was caught up in the process of selling the Lieutenant on a specific theory of the crime.
      3) Presumably he got a locksmith to get a key for the new lock. It’s really not that hard to do. ” If it was that easy, no-one would bother fitting locks.” The existence of locksmiths doesn’t make using their services a sensible idea as part of a criminal scheme in general. Breaking and entering is a lot cheaper. And locksmiths likely notice if keys they’ve just fitted correspond to places that have been burgled.
      In this case, Greenleaf was a work colleague of the deceased. I mean, sure, _getting_ the key was unnecessary and a bad idea. But it wasn’t an implausible idea.
      4) Again, as often happens in Columbo episodes, Greenleaf overcommits his ego to trying to sell a version of the crime to Columbo. Many of the baddies in Columbo murder mysteries would get away with it if they simply shut up and did not do anything to self-incriminate after the fact.

      • Well said. Yes, Columbo gives ’em enough rope to hang themselves. It’s the whole premise of the series.

  4. How do Chasen’s produce a bowl of Chilli within 2 minutes when it is not even on the menu? Are we to supposes they keep dozens of dishes on the go in case some crackpot turns up and asks for them? Or do we think they just risked their reputation by just opening a tin? And why doesn’t Columbo take advantage of their extensive menu? We know from other episodes that he is not above enjoying real food.

    The restaurant looks pretty ghastly mind, not surprised they really did do chilli.

  5. Columbo’s capsule recollection of “Candidate for Crime” was a nice…and rare…nod to the show’s continuity. But since it presumably happened just a few months before the events of this episode, wouldn’t Greenleaf have known the details without Columbo having to go into such specifics? I imagine it was in all the papers.

    And this is the first time I’ve ever seen film footage of the interior of the historic Chasen’s. And it looks a little…dumpy…doesn’t it? :O

    • Perhaps the explanation in Publish Or Perish is that Riley Greenleaf was out of the country at the time and missed the newspaper coverage?

      There is a similar situation in Columbo Goes to College where Rowe Sr and Rowe Jr should know who Columbo is after the events of Agenda For Murder and Columbo Cries Wolf.

      “Simpson, eh? I’ll remember that name.”

      • I would think every one of Columbo’s suspects would know who he is by this time in the show! He must get headlines for all his catches! Maybe these smart people don’t bother to read the newspaper.

        • Good point Elaine. Columbo’s villains are so high profile that he and Dog should be treated like the Batman & Robin of Los Angeles.

          • I kind of suspect that Columbo went to great lengths to keep his name out of the newspapers, making sure his successes were simply credited to the LAPD Homicide Division. That way, he maintained his anonymity, and preserved his greatest asset…that suspects considered him nothing more than a bumbling fool. 🙂

            • Thanks Gene. That is a rational explanation for Columbo’s anonymity within the context of the show. So, he isn’t “Batman” after all, he’s more like Bruce Wayne.

  6. Rich Mean White Guy suddenly and magically, for no plausible reason, becomes Rich Crazy-Psycho Violent Pure-Evil White Guy. In other words, this is a Columbo episode.

    • It might not have been all that sudden. Riley Greenleaf seems like a pretty rotten person from the get go, and for all we know this isn’t his first rodeo.

  7. This is a minor point. But when Greenleaf asks Kane how he got into Mallory’s office to commit the murder, Kane tells him “the door was open.”

    But a few scenes later, when Columbo says “the door was open” to Greenleaf, Greenleaf seems genuinely surprised. Why is he surprised? He already knew that.

    • Because Greenleaf can’t exactly admit to Columbo that he already knew the door was open, can he? He seems surprised because he’s trying to seem surprised (and doing a good job), not because he’s genuinely surprised.

  8. episode sucks except for cassidy. No One can come up the with logical answer-the door was unlocked or open? Even more disturbing- Cassidy would of listened to his lawyer and not said a word (knowing he had an airtight alibi)

    • ” Cassidy would of listened to his lawyer and not said a word (knowing he had an airtight alibi)”

      There goes every episode of Columbo, ever.

      The basic m.o. of the series is that the killers always talk too much. They’re arrogant and think they are much smarter than Columbo.

      • Yes, Columbo pretends to be not too smart and gives the killers enough rope to hang themselves. With a few exceptions, most episodes of Columbo are reworkings of Prescription Murder.

  9. I’ll never understand why Jack Cassidy wasn’t a major star. He was such a good actor but always a guest. Remember him as Ted Baxter’s brother on MTM? Wonderful.

    • Look him up on imdb and you’ll learn that he was a major star in his day recognized for being multitalented on stage and screen and across genres. His accidental death at the age of 49 was a blow to his movie acting career that was on the verge of taking off.

  10. How did Greenleaf get a key cut for the new lock ? Wouldn’t he need a key for the locksmith to copy – or could a locksmith visit the lock and create a key ? (is that possible ?)

    • It has to be possible. Imagine you forget or lose your house key. How else would the locksmith that you call for help create a new key, if the lonesome lock is all he has to work with?

      Before killing Eddie Kane, Greenleaf phones somebody, obviously a good friend of his, who regularly helps him out when he needs keys to certain office doors. This person creates the new key which Greenleaf then places on Kane’s keychain.

      • If you lost your house key I reckon a locksmith would change your lock rather than reverse engineer a key from it. Maybe not, but to do that it would surely require time physically manipulating the lock. And this particular lock is part of an active murder scene. (Do we know if the offices are shared or wholly owned by Greenleaf ? If the latter it would make the job easier for him, but if so surely he would have known Columbo changed the lock ?)

        • Let me quote Columbo in “Troubled Waters”:
          “My brother in law has an auto repair shop. They bring in those wrecks. A lot of times they don’t have keys. He makes the key. He’s got a tool: a Curtis clipper.”
          So it is possible for a locksmith to create a second key without having the original key and without changing the lock.

          Greenleaf’s friend creates the key a day or two days after Columbo’s investigation at the crime scene. At that time there is no need for further police investigation in this particular office.
          And Columbo wisely keeps it a secret that he had changed the lock, so Greenleaf traps himself by placing a key at Kane’s keychain which Kane couldn’t possibly have used in the night of the murder.

          • The Curtis clipper creates a key based on the VIN. Each vehicle has a code and the clipper creates a key using that code. It doesn’t read the shape of the key from the lock.

            Generally speaking, locksmiths replace entire lock assemblies if a key is lost. They don’t use the lock itself to infer the shape of a key. I suppose that might be possible, but it’s much simpler to replace the lock.

            I had a cat sitter do this when I was away. (A dubious decision on her part.)

        • It can be done by a technique called ‘impressioning’ but it is a specialist and laborious job and ideally would be performed in a workshop. It would definitely involve a specialist locksmith and a lot of time. Meanwhile, other residents of the block would see the locksmith at work and would be curious as to what exactly was going on, Utterly implausible.

    • This is the biggest flaw in the episode. Even if it were practical to “clone” a lock and make a key from it (the article that Columbophile linked below doesn’t make it sound easy), to send your favorite locksmith to a murder scene to do it and get the key made by “this afternoon,” and not expect the locksmith or someone at the building to question it, strains credibility. As a poster mentioned, if Greenleaf rented the office or owned the building, maybe he could get away with it. (Are we supposed to assume that by his having a key to give to Eddie in the first place?) I also don’t care for the idea of Greenleaf calmly typing up a synopsis of the book after murdering Kane. Then when that’s done, he uses Kane’s manuscript, apparently, to find a method to blow Eddie up, which he does in a timed explosion after his getaway…Well, Jack Cassidy always seems like a Renaissance man!
      This episode is elaborately plotted, but not more credible for all that. That’s why it’s not a favorite of mine, despite Jack Cassidy’s stellar work.

    • You are right, it is a gaping plot hole. Of course, a murder suspect cannot just get someone to roll up and get a key cut for the door of the crime scene. You can tell it is an impossibility because the script does not address how it was done; they are just hoping viewers can’t be bothered to ask.

  11. It’s funny that in two of his three episodes Jack Cassidy kills writers, and in the third one the victim is shot while typing… Maybe Jack had some grudge against writers))

    • Nice catch. This could also explain Jack Cassidy’s early death: Obviously Jack detested writing and reading, so he didn’t pay attention to the remark “Caution: Cigarette smoking might be hazardous to your health” on the pack of the very cigarette that caused the fire in which he burnt.

        • This is just because I can never forgive Jack Cassidy his carelessness after he was so reliable for causing corpses on the show in a smart way. I would have liked to see more returning guest appearances of him and am angry with him being so lethally stupid. This is also why when it comes to choosing the number one actor of first class Columbo villains, I never name Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp instead.

  12. In publish or perish I don’t really get how Greenleaf’s lawyer didn’t already know he was involved in a car “accident” since he was the one who bailed Greenleaf out of the drunk tank? Surely the police would have told him that, or didn’t they know? Instead Greenleaf’s lawyer only finds out about the accident from a phone call from his car insurance company. Also I agree that the key should have been the evidence that caught Greenleaf, not knowing the plot of an unpublished book.

    • …and the key alone would not stand up in court, because Columbo cannot prove that it was really only Greenleaf whom he told about his urge to find the person who has a key to the new lock. Greenleaf could easily claim that Columbo had told other suspects about the key’s significance.

      • Right. Cassidy treats the key evidence exactly as it deserves to be treated — “interesting but not my problem.” The manuscript evidence is not only damning, it shows clearly what his motive is. With the writer out of the way, Cassidy can publish the novel and claim it was under contract to him all along.

  13. I don’t have the patience to scroll through every comment, so I apologise in advance if this is a duplication: Eddie Kane’s book is called ‘How to blow up anything in ten easy LESSONS’, not ‘steps’. I’ll just get my anorak…


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