Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 3

Episode review: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Mayhem 2

Columbo took a sci-fi twist (of sorts) on 10 February 1974 as the doughty Lieutenant was thrust into a world of supercomputers and robots in his attempts to crack the case in Mind Over Mayhem.

With a support cast boasting Oscar winner Jose Ferrer and silver screen veteran Lew Ayres, a cameo from Forbidden Planet‘s Robby the Robot and a writing credit to the incomparable Steven Bochco, on paper this ought to be a thrilling romp allowing us to set our phasers firmly to ‘fun’.

But is Mind Over Mayhem at TV’s cutting edge, or is it an obsolete dud destined for the scrapheap? Let’s take a look!

Mind Over Mayhem cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Marshall Cahill: Jose Ferrer
Professor Howard Nicholson: Lew Ayres
Neil Cahill: Robert Walker
Margaret Nicholson: Jessica Walter
Steven Spelberg: Lee H. Montgomery
MM7: Robby the Robot
Ross: Lou Wagner
Dog: As himself
Directed by: Alf Kjellin
Written by: Steven Bochco, Dean Hargrove and Roland Kibbee (from a story by Robert Sprecht)
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Cybernetic research institute director – and bona fide genius – Dr Marshall Cahill is presiding over a nuclear war simulation from an isolated computer room awash with blinking lights.

He’s clearly outsmarting the collective IQ in the war room below, reporting that their bungling tactical approach has led to 75% of the western hemisphere’s population being wiped out. Eat defeat, Brainiacs!

Cahill dismisses the oafs upon receiving a note from an underling that fellow genius, Professor Howard Nicholson, wants to see him urgently – and this ain’t no friendly chinwag.

No, old Howard is about to rain on the Cahill family parade BIG TIME! Cahill’s son, Neil, is just about to claim the Scientist of the Year Award for his ground breaking theory of molecular matter. But Howard knows Neil plagiarised the work of the now-dead Carl Finch and claimed the work as his own. Why? To win the affection of his cold-hearted, tyrannical father.

If Neil won’t admit this fraud himself and refuse the award Howard will spill the beans, heaping shame on the Cahill clan. Do we think Marshall will allow that to happen? Not on your nelly! Howard’s obstinance means he’s just signed his own death warrant.

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“Yo Steve, can I borrow your robot for half an hour?”

Cahill swiftly puts a fiendish plan into action. Sending boy genius Steven Spelberg out for an evening at the drive-in with car pool mechanic Merv, Cahill commandeers Spelberg’s super-intelligent robot MM7 to man the war simulator and create his alibi. Then, pinching his assistant’s designated pool car, Cahill heads out to Murderville, population 1.

His target, of course, is that old gadger Howard, who is cooing at his young wife Margaret. A psychologist, she’s heading out to an all-night group therapy marathon, leaving Howard to an evening of pipe smoking and government-approved heroin experimentation in his garage-cum-chemical lab. As you do…

Margaret’s a minimum of 30 years younger than Howard, but the love seems genuine. She pecks him a farewell, assuring him she’d never trade him in for a younger model and promising him a kipper breakfast the next day, which, reading massively between the lines, can only be a euphemism. Kinky devils…

However, I digress…

After she’s beetled off, who should we see lurking in the shadows in the ‘borrowed’ car but Dr Cahill. He boops his car horn a few times, piquing Howard’s curiosity sufficiently for the old rogue to wander out onto his driveway to investigate. It’s the last thing he ever does as Cahill rams into him with the car, smashing the ancient chemist’s fragile form and slaying him outright.

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Pool Car 1 – 0 Elderly Chemist

Cahill then slings Howard over his shoulder and carries him indoors, leaving him as a hot mess on the living room floor. He steals Howard’s watch and wallet (later dissolving them in a vat of acid), and sets up the living room table with two brandy glasses and a burnt match in an ashtray to set a scene of convivial chatting gone awry.

Having also taken Howard’s confidential file on Carl Finch’s research plus a canister of heroin to suggest a crazed addict’s involvement, Cahill busts a groove back to the institute to relieve MM7 from its war room duties and before you can say ‘Bob’s your Uncle’, the killing is all wrapped up in plenty of time for a pre-bed Ovaltine.

Could there be a fly in the ointment, though? Cahill notices that the pool car has a huge, corpse-shaped dent on the hood. Yet the sly rascal covers his tracks by  backing his regular car into it amidst a sea of witnesses. “I just can’t get used to these transmissions,” he whimpers in faux shame. Yes, that’s some nice cover-up work, Marshall.

Lieutenant Columbo is alerted to the crime the following morning from the office of a dog obedience school, where Dog has been expelled for ‘demoralising the other students’. As a result, Columbo is forced to head to the crime scene with the lovable mutt in tow.

Columbo Dog
Seems like Dog’s obedience school days are over FOR-EV-ERRR!

Popular opinion on da street is that old Howard was given a good clubbing in his own living room by assailant unknown, who made off with watch, wallet and heroin. Of course Columbo is soon seeing things his fellow officers have missed. There’s a match in the ashtray that is peculiarly burnt. Howard’s pipe is missing from his rack, but is not in the living room. Where could it be? Columbo even spots scuff marks from polished shoes high up on the living room door. How did they get there?

The newly widowed Margaret (not nearly emotional enough for my liking) answers a few of the Lieutenant’s questions. No, Howard wasn’t expecting visitors that evening. Yes, the living room had been spotlessly clean at 5pm, so the burnt match must have been placed there later. In any case, Howard didn’t use matches to light his pipe – he used a special lighter.

Who should then arrive at the scene but Dr Cahill! He shoos Margaret away and fields Columbo’s next round of questions. Things are bothering Columbo already. If Howard was working in the garage, why did a struggle take place in the lounge? If Howard knew someone well enough to be having a tete-a-tete in the living room, isn’t it odd that that person would dish out a violent death to the old timer? And if the killer was a chum of Howard’s, wouldn’t they have cleared up the drink glasses after the killing to make it look like no one was there?

“Popular opinion on da street is that old Howard was given a good clubbing in his own living room by assailant unknown.”

“It was probably a psychopath,” suggests Cahill unhelpfully, before going on to suggest that Howard was a stubborn old git who irritated lots of people. He then exits stage left to return to the institute.

Left to his own devices, Columbo hits something akin to the jackpot: he finds Howard’s smashed pipe on the driveway. Combined with the shoe polish on the door and it’s starting to look a lot like Howard was killed outside and carried in to the living room. But (to quote Riley Greenleaf) WHO, WHY? He heads off to the institute for answers.

His first target is ‘ace’ mechanic Merv, who is tinkering with Pool Car #6 – AKA the murder weapon. Columbo notices the dent on the hood, which Merv attributes to Dr Cahill backing into it – a fact the Lieutenant mentally squirrels away.

Could anyone else have taken this car last night and used it for foul play, Columbo wonders? Not a chance, says Merv. His meticulous key guarding and log-keeping skillz mean he’d definitely know if anyone other than the car’s designated user (Cahill’s assistant, Ross) had moved the car so much as an inch. So how come there’s three extra miles on the odometer, Columbo asks when Merv produces the log book? Either someone has moved the car, or Merv is an absolute incompetent. Either possibility seems plausible…

Leaving Dog with Merv (his intellectual equal), Columbo heads off to find Dr Cahill, who is fresh from a furious argument with Neil, who has abandoned the award presentation in the aftermath of Howard’s murder.

Columbo reveals that he found the smashed pipe and that it looks for all the world like a deliberate hit-and-run killing. But the set-up in the living room is most confusing. Could it be a blind to confuse authorities? If so, only someone with a devilishly high intellect could have concocted it. And guess what – we’re in an institute full of geniuses, so the killer could be anyone!

Cahill’s assistant Ross is summoned to be grilled about his pool car’s mystery extra mileage. Ross, clearly a shaved wolfman, is instantly flailing in a panic as he has no decent alibi. But Columbo eliminates the wimp as a suspect. He’s not tall enough, you see, so could never have hoisted Howard high enough off the ground to have caused the scuff marks on the door.

Just 2 months later, assistant Ross was a rabid wolfman: the result of an institute experiment gone horribly wrong

Cahill, now smoking a handsome Cuban cigar, then moves to strike himself off Columbo’s suspect list. Taking the detective to the war simulation control room, Cahill presents his alibi: at the time of Howard’s death, Cahill was in this room overseeing virtual global Armageddon. The folk in the war room will be able to corroborate that the simulation took place, and only Cahill knows how to run that particular program, so he’s certainly in the clear, right?

Columbo seems disappointed. “You know, Doctor, I’ve been running into people by the dozens who couldn’t have murdered Professor Nicholson,” he mourns. ” I wish I could run into one who COULD have.”

His disappointment is soon tempered by a meeting with that resident boy genius Steve, who amazes Columbo by introducing him to lumbering robot MM7. They even shake hands, and Spelberg assures Columbo that the automaton can do ‘almost anything a man can do.’

Rather than immediately disproving the young oik’s theory by challenging the robot to gallop down a staircase, Columbo instead leaves Dog in their custody and starts poring through Howard’s classified files, which have all been returned to the institute from his garage. He finds that the Carl Finch file is missing!

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem
Columbo has no luck getting any information from the secretive Margaret

Margaret walks in, claiming to have been looking for him; a fact Columbo disputes because only the judge who granted his search warrant knew where he was. Ergo Margaret must have been looking for classified information herself! The mysterious dame doesn’t deny it, but claims doctor/patient privilege means she can’t say anything more. She turns tail and departs.

They meet again shortly after, though, as she gatecrashes a discussion between Columbo and young Neil, who is himself a patient of Margaret’s. Neil admits under cross-examination that he’d been to secretly see Margaret the night before just prior to taking his flight to the science jamboree, but he won’t say why.

Neil, naturally, is terrified that Columbo is trying to fit him up for the killing. Spurred on by Margaret, he admits to his father that he plagiarised the theory of molecular matter. Rather than going berserk, Cahill Senior orders Neil to keep this revelation a secret in order to avoid implicating himself in Howard’s murder, and he assures his trembling son that he’ll deal with the Lieutenant himself.

But where is Columbo? He’s hangin’ with young Steve again as the wunderkind is trying to crack the case by entering evidence into his lab’s supercomputer. Sadly, the only feedback the machine has to offer is: Does not compute.

Don’t despair, bruh, Stevie Boy tells Columbo. He’ll program MM7 to continue running evidence through the computer. After all, he can do almost everything a man can do if programmed correctly. And that gives Columbo a flash of inspiration, or, as he memorably puts it: “Something just computed.”

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Dr Cahill excels at shirtily switching off misbehaving robots

Cut to Dr Cahill showing some UN delegates how the war room works. All of a sudden the simulator goes haywire, beeping like crazy and flashing its lights like a downtown disco. Cahill thunders up to the control room in a fit of pique to find MM7 boobing around with the controls as Columbo and Steve look on.

Switching off the robot, a seething Cahill sends Steve away in disgrace before turning on Columbo. When the detective attempts to absolve Spelberg from blame, claiming the idea was all his, Cahill even retorts: “I doubt it, you haven’t got the brains for it!”

But Columbo has brains enough to have proved two things: MM7 can operate the war simulator; and Cahill knows how to operate the robot. That means his alibi ain’t worth a pinch of salt. Still, Cahill isn’t worried. Columbo can’t prove MM7 was at the simulator controls when Howard was killed, and the cops can’t beat a confession out of a robot, can they? “A theory isn’t worth a damn unless it can be proved,” he hisses.

Columbo won’t give in, though. Minutes later he’s on the phone to Neil, wanting to ask him questions about Carl Finch. Dr Cahill, now with Neil, snatches the phone away and threatens to report Columbo to his superiors! Cahill Snr then urges Neil to remain calm and keep quiet until he returns from a trip to Portland the next day, when they’ll find a way to put it all to rights.

This never happens. On his return to LA the next evening, Dr Cahill is accosted by men of the press who reveal that Neil has come clean about plagiarising the theory. Alarmed, Cahill races back to the institute, presumably to give Neil a damn good thrashing.

For a little fella, Neil sure can scream “THAT MAN IS LYING!” at a mighty volume!

Columbo and a gaggle of fellow officers arrive at the same time. Stitching Neil up like a kipper, the Lieutenant arrests him for murder while accusing him of having an affair with Margaret. He had motive, method and opportunity, plus a ‘witness’ who will swear Neil and Madge regularly met at a motel, signing in as man and wife.

“THAT MAN IS LYING!” bellows Neil, to no avail. He’s frogmarched off downtown, leaving Cahill alone in the lab. As the realisation dawns on him of what he’s brought upon his own son, he gives chase – only to find Columbo waiting for him in the deserted corridor outside.

Utterly defeated, Cahill admits his guilt. But Columbo already knows. How? It was all down to the match left in Howard’s ashtray. The Lieutenant knows better than anyone that the match had to have been left by a cigar smoker given how burnt it was. “That first day I couldn’t give a hoot in hell about a thief,” Columbo reveals. “I was looking for a cigar smoker and there you were.”

Assuring Cahill that Neil will be released within an hour, and acknowledging that he believes Cahill acted out of love for his son, Columbo presents the Doctor with a Cuban and the two sit back to enjoy a final, companionable smoke as credits roll…

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Despite being bested, Dr Cahill found solace in the fact that his shoes were by far the shinier

Mind Over Mayhem‘s best moment

It’s an episode low on standout moments, but the best of the bunch must be Columbo’s introduction to MM7. Falk hits just the right level of amazement and bafflement as the colossal android lumbers out of a cupboard to shake hands. It’s also a credit to the writers that they didn’t overplay the novelty of the robot and have it overshadow the whole episode, or do something ridiculous like have it actually solve the crime.

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MM7 was obsolete 5 minutes after this episode ended when man invented the pocket calculator

Network plans for a spin-off series with MM7 as a crime-fighting LAPD robot amazingly never made it off the ground – a tragedy that still casts a long shadow over global TV history to this day.*

My opinion on Mind Over Mayhem

From its opening scenes of supercomputers ablaze with flashing lights and a big-screen war simulation complete with flashy graphics, Mind Over Mayhem thrusts us into a near sci-fi world that seems a million miles away from the locations usually reserved for Lieutenant Columbo.

At one point this may have looked cutting edge. To the modern audience, though, it all seems amazingly dated. Indeed, given that the laptop or mobile device you’re reading this on is more powerful than all the computers and robots in the cybernetic research institute put together, this is a hard episode to now take seriously.

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem
Cutting edge tech of the 70s has aged SO BADLY!

That might not matter if this was a typically excellent Columbo, with its usual perfect mix of intrigue, humour, well-written characters, a brilliant clue and fine chemistry between leads. Sadly Mind Over Mayhem boasts none of the above. In fact I’m going to set my stall out early and say that this is easily one of the poorest Columbo outings of the entire 70s’ run.

It falls short in many areas, so I’ll get the lesser ones out of the way first. To start with, this looks and feels cheap. It’s predominantly set in a research lab, so there are plenty of grey corridors and featureless rooms. This denies the viewer the very real pleasure of seeing Columbo poking his nose into the homes and lifestyles of LA’s filthy rich.

“Mind Over Mayhem is easily one of the poorest Columbo outings of the 70s.”

It’s also deeply unstylish compared to the norm. The crazy 70s’ fashions are part of what makes watching Columbo such a pleasure today. Here it’s much more subdued, with lab coats and grey suits much more in evidence. Zzzzz…

Much more damning than all this, though, are the weirdly written characters. Margaret Nicholson, in particular, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. She professes to love her husband, but shows no sadness at his loss. Instead she stolidly refuses to answer Columbo’s questions about who might have reason to kill her husband, citing doctor/patient privilege.

Cold fish: Margaret Nicholson

The patient in question is Neil, but the two have a very odd relationship. Is he dependent on her, as result of unrequited love and years of bullying by his father? Does she have feelings for Neil at all? Have they been leaping into bed behind Howard’s back, or is it strictly professional?

There’s certainly more going on than meets the eye, and quite what we’re supposed to make of it all is baffling. More likely than not, Margaret’s dark edge was added in as a feeble attempt to make her seem aloof and mysterious enough to add a layer of complexity to Columbo’s investigations that the episode otherwise lacks.

Her role ultimately poses more questions than answers, leaving the viewer scratching their head trying to figure out what the hell she’s playing at with Neil when she should be mourning her husband who, lest we forget, she found dead only that morning!

Indeed the average viewer would be more moved at Howard’s death than his widow seems to be. Because although Howard is made out to be something of a crotchety old meddler, his death comes close to wrenching the heart strings when you consider what must be running through his head in his final moments. As he shambled out onto the driveway in response to the car horn honking, he can only have assumed it was Margaret bearing down on him – very sad thoughts to carry to the grave.

That moment aside, it’s hard to feel much emotional attachment to this episode and its characters. Neil manages to evoke our sympathy, and Robert Walker does a decent job of portraying his sad desperation to finally please his father, but once the episode’s over he doesn’t linger long in the memory like some of the truly great supporting characters.

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“Time for a haircut, Neil.” “Why, Cueball? Jealous?”

Far more disappointing is the great Jose Ferrer’s portrayal of Dr Marshall Cahill. The Oscar-winning actor is hardly at his best here. His character is supposedly a genius but does knack-all to support that premise, and offers little beyond growing irritation to spice up his relationship with Columbo. Above all he seems like a mean-spirited nag and is no fun to watch. In fact he’s one of the most lifeless adversaries Columbo takes on in these early seasons.

It’s left to Falk (typically good), Dog (who outshines most of his human counterparts), and young Spelberg (named in homage to Steven Spielberg, the ‘boy genius’ director at the helm for Murder by the Book) to inject the energy and fun into this drab affair.

When they’re all together is when the episode is as its most watchable, with man and boy swiftly building rapport as they bond over dogs and robots. Spelberg even raises some smiles as he shamefully admits that his biological father is ‘a barber in San Jose‘, and that he built his first robot – a Mickey Mouse robot – at the age of three and created a further six before his ninth birthday. Good effort, son!

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At the age of 8, Steve Spelberg is a 7-robot veteran

Quite what led Spelberg to begin his life anew at the institute is a puzzle never solved, but he certainly seems to have more smarts than anyone else there – including Dr Cahill, who makes such a mess of the crime that he deserves everything that’s coming to him.

For it is the crime itself, and the subsequent evidence that is left at the scene, that damns this episode the most. To put it bluntly: Cahill totally bungled it. His course of action was entirely illogical for a so-called genius.

“It is the crime itself, and the subsequent evidence that is left at the scene, that damns this episode the most.”

Sure, do a hit and run, steal the watch, wallet, heroin and classified file – but then get the hell out of Dodge! Returning Howard to the living room and setting up a cosy scene to suggest pals have been  chatting over brandy makes no sense at all. It can only have been written that way as a means of justifying Cahill’s lighting of a cigar, therefore leaving the ‘pop’ clue of the burnt match in the ashtray for Columbo to find. But there was absolutely no logical reason for Cahill to do this.

If he hadn’t left the match there, could Columbo have cracked the case? Certainly it would have been a whole lot harder. And it’s this aspect of the episode that is most disappointing to me. The clue had too much influence over the telling of the story, ultimately resulting in one of the biggest Columbo duds to date.

Not that Peter Falk seems to share my concerns. According to Mark Dawidziak’s 1989 book The Columbo Phile, this was one of Falk’s most cherished clues. To me it shows that a decent clue doth not a classic episode make. It surprises and disappoints to know that Steven Bochco has his name attached to this swill.

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Falk plays hardball throughout but is let down by a lame story that even he struggles to salvage

If anything, the clue restricted the potential of the episode because the backdrop of the cybernetics institute could have offered us something really different. How about somehow using all of that AI to actually cause the death of Howard? Could MM7 have been programmed to pull a trigger, or squeeze the life out of a man, before returning to his cupboard? That could have been a delicious twist, and posed some interesting morality questions about man using machinery to play God. The possibilities offered up by the futuristic setting were barely scratched.

Still, and despite all the nonsense, the episode still manages to round out on a poignant note. In killing to protect his son, and in admitting his guilt to free his son, Dr Cahill was, at last, acting out of love.

Can we consider this the first step on the path to redemption for Cahill after years of dominating and browbeating his son? I rather hope so. And that may ultimately be the episode’s biggest success: leaving the reflective viewer with a sense of sadness and deeper questions to ponder well beyond the closing credits.

Did you know?


Robby the Robot set a world record in November 2017, becoming the most expensive movie prop ever sold at auction at a cost of $5.3 million! Rumour has it that his starring role in Columbo added $2 million to the price tag…

Remarkably, Peter Falk’s iconic raincoat and shoes (that he wore throughout the 70s run – including in Mind Over Mayhem) failed to sell at the same auction after having been expected to fetch between $80,000-$120,000.

How I rate ’em

As you’ll have gathered from the above I’m so little enamoured with Mind Over Mayhem, that it plunges right down towards the murky depths of the list, where I anticipate it may stay until we start dredging through some of the dross served up in the ’80s and ’90s comeback episodes.

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. Mind Over Mayhem
  23. Dagger of the Mind

Better luck next time, eh? And next time will be Swan Song, starring perennial crowd pleaser Johnny Cash. It’s many a fan’s absolute favourite, so check back in soon! Until then, keep outta trouble!

Did you view Mind Over Mayhem when it originally aired in 1974? Did it ever appear to be cutting edge? Let me know in the comments below!

*This is absolute fiction.

Read my top 5 highlights from Mind Over Mayhem here

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Steve – if your dad’s a barber in San Jose couldn’t you have asked him for a short back and sides before filming?
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142 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

  1. Hmmm…as a retired chemist, I found the can of heroin implausible. The DEA was founded in 1973, this episode was broadcast in 1974. By then, heroin was a Schedule 1 drug, and no one would be allowed to have a Schedule 1 drug, in a can no less, outside of a very secure facility with tracking and tracing of said drug. Unless, of course, that person was smuggling heroin, or purifying it from raw materials…..possible I guess. The DEA should have swarmed that house looking for any further illicit drugs there. The widow would probably have been arrested and charged with a federal crime, because she seemed to know about it. However, I DID love the scenes with Dog, his best performance, in my opinion. I agree that this episode is one of the worst of the bunch. I like the cast, overall, but the script is weak. The staging of the murder scene is inexplicable (why not just leave the body in the driveway?). And, of course, the cutesy play of names, Steven Spelberg, and Marshall Cahill (remember John Wayne’s Cahill, US Marshall?). I may be alone in this, but I find cute to be irritating and distracting.

    • I have two theories as to what
      happened to the scientific
      consultants for this episode, as the science and tech is
      all so obviously bogus.

      One is there weren’t any, as they had to pay for Ferrer’s
      huge salary somehow.

      Two is that the consultants all came down with Mad Cow

  2. I share similar feelings about this one. It’s enjoyable to a point, but but Cahill’s machinations are extremely sloppy.
    Also, Columbo’s methods in obtaining confessions have been talked about elsewhere, and generally, I defend his use of lying to trip up the suspects. Here, however, he formally arrests and processes a completely innocent person in order to put the squeeze on Cahill. That just struck me a lawsuit waiting to happen! (at least by today’s standards) Had to have been quite traumatizing for the young Cahill, and I imagine some line must’ve been crossed here.

    • I’ll allow some leeway in the sloppy crime because it had to be thrown together on the fly. If I found out at lunch I had to kill a specific person by the next morning, my plan would likely be hole-ridden. A fatal mistake by the writers to set this premise in a world of geniuses. The murder’s innate stupidity is made that much more conspicuous.

      I do agree on the frame-up gotcha being too unscrupulous for Lt. Columbo. Cahill could later argue that he falsely confessed to save his son from the gallows, essentially that his confession was improperly coerced and therefore inadmissible.

      But, whatever. Mayhem had too many shortcomings to sweat over any particular one.

    • I felt really bad for poor Neil. He didn’t deserve to be dragged off like that accused of murder. Columbo said he’d be released “in an hour.” I think the cops should have told him as soon as they got into the car that he wasn’t really being arrested.

  3. I am in the minority who enjoyed this episode. I agree that the crime itself didn’t make much sense. I just can’t see thinking you could run a guy over with a car and then pass it off as a beating in his living room. And why light up a cigar? On the positive side, I was intrigued by the relationships between the characters, especially how Margaret fits in. My reaction is that the motel business at the end was true and Neil and Margaret were having an affair. Neil vehemently denied it, but it could be a case of the gentleman doth protest too much. Marshall obviously believed it. He had been cool and collected about Columbo going on fishing expeditions, but suddenly panics and confesses without even waiting for the “evidence” to be scrutinized. Why? The simple answer is he knows it is true. I noticed Marshall never directly advised Neil to break off with Margaret, which I think he would do if it were merely a professional relationship. But he knew it was much more than that. And why exactly was Margaret going to the files? This makes sense only if she were going to cover for Neil. And as has been pointed out, Marshall knew that Margaret knew about Carl Finch before the murder, so apparently he was certain she wouldn’t squeal on Neil or push him into confessing to the plagiarism . She does so only later when such a confession removes or at least attenuates Neil’s motive for the murder.
    And I find it very hard to believe the motel guy at the end was just an actor. It is also interesting how Margaret cringes away from Marshall the morning after the murder, but still allows him to play the concerned friend. All very interesting for me. All these things are more intriguing when the writers are not too heavy-handed about characterization.
    Just as an old geezer myself, don’t overlook that for an old men a marriage relationship might bring other benefits than what young folks in their hormonal prime get out of them. Elderly millionaires don’t have young wives because the women expect hot times in the old bed tonight. Margaret and Howard got along and she took care of his needs. He was wise enough to get what he could out of the marriage without demanding more than he could reasonably expect.

    • I too like this episode, although I came around to it slowly. There was no relationship between Neil and Margaret. Columbo even apologizes to Dr. Cahill about “the frame-up of your son.” Neil’s “That’s a lie!” is true emotion. If we WERE to believe that there was an affair, we’d see not only much clearer plot avenues, but in particular with the scene where Margaret and Neil are alone together in his apartment.

      • Timothy–you make some good points. About Neil’s emotional denial. I don’t find that convincing. His father knows Neil better than anyone and he obviously didn’t believe him and calls him a fool after he hears about the motel. I also thought it odd that when Columbo asked Neil about whether Margaret’s marriage was happy, Neil answered. So their relationship was certainly not confined to a doctor-patient one. I would have no idea if any of the physicians I visit have a happy marriage. Who discusses that with his doctor? I read Columbo’s reaction to this reply as revealing skepticism. Neil was obviously interested in deflecting suspicion away from a possible affair. Very interested. Perhaps too interested.
        I found the fact that Margaret came to Neil’s apartment more important than that the two to them didn’t discuss a possible affair. I find such a visit odd in a doctor-patient relationship.
        Your best point is that Columbo does refer to framing Neil. But does he mean he fabricated evidence, or only used evidence he discovered to go after a man he knew was innocent. I don’t think Columbo would totally fabricate evidence, up to and including hiring an actor. I will point out though that even if he faked this evidence as you believe, he may have faked evidence about an affair that was actually real, knowing that Marshall would know the gist of it was true. Anyway, I enjoyed this episode exactly because of these opaque character touches which made me think..

        • That’s fair and thoughtful, but “Columbo” never indulges in nuance and subtlety, which is why those who think Edmund was innocent in “Try and Catch Me” drive me up a wall. Columbo fabricated a ruse in “A Friend in Deed” by leasing an apartment, filling it with his own possessions and using an “actor” in Artie Jessup to nab Halperin. This is well in his wheelhouse of behavior. There was never a whiff of anything hinting at an affair between Neil and Margaret. If there had been, it’d have been used in the storyline. Again, the show never deals with ambiguity or nuance. Also, it’d be very risky for Columbo to frame Neil Cahill with using something factual such as a proven affair in order to get Dr. Cahill. Columbo could get away with framing Neil because Columbo is assured of his innocence in all respects.

          • Timothy–I don’t see what Columbo did in “A Friend in Deed” as fabricating evidence. He just rented a room. He put it down as Artie Jessup’s residence on a report, but that is hardly evidence of murder. A better example would be the Dick Van Dyke photographer case with the reversed photograph. But I don’t think Columbo ever went so far as to hire an actor to produce phony testimony. We agree on this being a more interesting episode than generally held, but I don’t think this “frame” would have worked if Columbo didn’t know that there was enough substance to it for Marshall to take it seriously. Anyway, thanks for the replies.

            • I left out one point I want to make. For me, Neil and Margaret actually being lovers clears up a lot of motivations, and critically Marshall’s at the climax, which otherwise are murky. Just my personal reaction.

              • Just a question which occurred to me watching this. Why the two drinks and all the rest at the murder scene? My theory is Marshall was framing Howard as using his legal access to heroin to supplement his income on the side. The supposed killer would then have been the pusher who was his partner. Anyone have a reaction to this idea? It does offer an explanation for what Marshall was doing at the murder scene.

            • Creating a ruse is not necessarily fabricating evidence. Nonetheless Columbo has created ruses time and again, going back to “actors” such as the “dead” Joan Hudson being retrieved from the pool in “Prescription Murder.” Speaking of again… “Columbo” does not deal with subtlety and nuance. Everything is explained with nothing left to decipher. With your theory of a romance between Neil and Margaret, it’d have to be pronounced and a plot point. If it was as substantial a concept as you want, it’d have to be there for a reason for us all to discover and digest and have a distinction of being integral to the story. It’d be like positing that Oliver Brandt detests meat in “Bye-Bye…” because we only see him eating ice cream in the episode. Back to “Mind Over Mayhem,” perhaps we can massage my theory that Murph the mechanic is actually a former child genius who is trying to lead a simple life, and THAT’S why he’s so reticent to take Steve Spellberg to the movies, because with one-on-one interaction Steve will detect Murph’s extraordinary gifts.

        • I don’t believe Neill and Margaret were having an affair. I see him as much too needy for there to have been anything sexual between them; however, that same neediness would make for a great mother/son relationship. He needed someone kind to confide in. She needed someone to to mother, but not a sexual relationship. That is just a picture that makes my skin crawl. I like this episode. I like that the boys name is homeage to Steven Speilberg. Not the best of the series but far from the worst.

          • What is the evidence for an affair? Several little things which are hard to explain. Neil answering Columbo’s question about whether Margaret’s marriage was happy. Seems beyond a patient-doctor relationship. Neil calling Dr. Nicholson Margaret. When the female accomplice in Prescription Murder referred to Dr. Fleming as Ray, Columbo jumped all over it. And what about Margaret walking into Neil’s apartment without knocking? Doing that seems to me unusual in any casual male-female relationship, and most certainly one that is professional.
            Most important of course is that Marshall utterly believes Neil and Margaret are having an affair. The ruse wouldn’t work without his buying into this completely. After all, why would Marshall think car 9 could be subbed for car 6 as the murder weapon without any visible dent damage? So the motel stuff must have been critical. Marshall seems a restrained, cool guy. Why the panic?
            I also wonder if Margaret didn’t catch on to Marshall being the probable murderer and so push Neil into his confession of the plagiarism in order to remove him as the primary suspect. Why commit a murder to keep a secret that you then reveal?
            Anyway, an episode which is a lot of fun to analyze. And I not convinced all Columbo writers follow the same pattern all the time without variation.
            One thing which still bothers me about this episode. I am not that sharp or fast, but I finally got that lighting up the cigar was part of the plan to frame Howard as knowing his killer with the two possibly being into some sort of heroin dealing. But why not carry the body into the lab rather than the house? Wouldn’t that have made more sense?

            • I don’t buy the affair concept, but a good point about Margaret maybe pushing Neil into the confession. And I agree that it would have made more sense to move the body into the garage, since that’s where the heroin was. A burglar/drug addict who knew there was heroin on the premises would also have known that it was most likely in the lab, not the house.

      • I also think that it would’ve been revealed to the viewers if Margaret and Neil were having an affair.

    • Very interesting take! If Margaret and Neil were indeed having an affair, that just might make a lot of the events / the writing seem actually clever, rather than weak and nonsensical.

  4. Normally a Columbo episode is like a maze, this one was like a maze with arrows.

    Starting with the finding the single match in the large ash tray:

    1] The pipes just happened to have designated days of the week

    2] Columbo then happens to find the missing pipe, then immediately after the car with the dent.

    3] The cars just happen to have their mileages recorded.

    4] The room just happened to be cleaned spotlessly, so the match had to belong to the killer.

    5] The victim happened to use a special cigar lighter, so the match wasn’t his.

    6] The killer happened to wave a cigar in Columbo’s face.

    7] The file cabinet just happened to have a master index.

    8] The victim happened to smoke a rare kind of tobacco that could be traced.

    9] Columbo just happens to see the robot operating the computer.

    10] Cahill happens to confess his guilt, despite the absurd set-up.

    One felt Columbo’s dog could have solved this one. It was just like watching Columbo and the characters react to the obvious “trail of breadcrumbs” that were left along the way by the script writer.

    But there were some very funny moments: Columbo’s dog demoralized the other dogs at the kennel and Columbo using the tape recorder to remember and ask his questions were classics!

    • “Normally a Columbo episode is like a maze, this one was like a maze with arrows.”

      Like the building in “A Deadly State of Mind”! 🙂

  5. So I just watched this episode again on MeTV, and yes, all of your criticisms are valid, and the murder scene was very clumsily set up, but… I could listen to Jose Ferrer narrate a textbook on differential calculus, and not get tired of it. Guy has a voice for radio.

  6. Maybe Dr Marshall Cahill’s strategy was very, very, very clever: the crime is that lousy and clumsy (a car accident!) no one can believe it has been thought by the director of a renowned think tank. It’s to stupid for an intelligent man like him.
    (Think about the Purloined Letter by Adgar Allan Poe) 🙂

    About the “gotcha”. Columbo did the same thing, but more stylish, years later, in “It’s All in the Game”.

  7. Pingback: 5 best moments from Columbo Mind Over Mayhem | THE COLUMBOPHILE

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  10. Pingback: Season 4: have we reached ‘peak Columbo’? | The Columbophile

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  13. It’s a strange episode. I don’t quite like close camera work (when people are seen as the chest and above, like in elderly lady’s TV in The Double Shock). Robot idea was too far fetched but I can buy it as a metaphore. Indeed today it’d be easy to programme on, with no mechanicaly movin robot but via, whatever it is, processors or chips or sth. and thus idea is plausable. I LOVE the Columbo’s having wrong guy scene. He’s quite charming playing the bad cop. Nothing I’d ever predict! Even when the Oldie had warned his son before; I just thought the son had too little faith in Columbo’s morals, poor boy, and I’m (as a viewer) far smarter. Match was also wonderfully played. I value this little things (so that you could have guessed since the beginning of the book/movie) in ‘standard’ criminal stories. Yet I’ve knew Columbo knows since he played with the dictaphone. “So not to forget”, clearly humorous!

  14. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Troubled Waters | The Columbophile

  15. poor episode I agree i wouldn’t mind watching it if it was convenient and id rather it than lovely but lethal and requiem any day of the week im anticipating that dagger of the mind will come off bottom spot only by one of these 3 episodes last salute to the commodore , a matter of honour and old fashioned murder , they are quite a way off yet in your future review’s.

  16. Um….why did Professor Nicholson have all these “controlled substances” in his combo workshop/chemistry lab/garage that opens right onto a pipe-strewn public street,and a garage door that opens with, I guess, the same kind of cheap “clacker” that got Robby the robot moving??? Even in 1974 suburban L.A. you’d need a special license and zoning for this cheesy, tree-house-adjacent toxic waste, littered lab, complete with a watch and wallet-eating acid vat. Did Columbo have that analyzed? Also I could swear I heard Merv the mechanic refer to Boy-genius Spelberg as David, before Columbo meets “Steven,” and Robby? Overall an episode with a lot of almost Academy Award-winning-incest-connected actors, wasted with a poor episode, but decent dialogue. I, also understand the entire dog-obedience school-expulsion scene is often cut for (insert extra laxitive commercial, here) TV showing. If Cahill is sooo smart, he claims to have known Einstein! why was the murder he orchestrated so sloppy? The one BIG plus here, was NOT having Ferrer/Cahill make one of those hammy, fake threat, phoney-voice phone calls (forced on Robert Culp and Ray Milland in prior-episodes) to Mrs. Nicholson, before offing the old Prof.

  17. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo By Dawn’s Early Light | The Columbophile

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  19. This review was highly entertaining and so funny! It makes up for what the entire episode lacks.

    I don’t quite understand the need to smoke in the middle of a murder. And, wouldn’t it have struck the doctor that he didn’t even put the victim’s prints on one of the glasses?

    A couple of your rib-tickling quotes:
    The car had a “corpse-shaped dent” – funny description!!
    “It’s also a credit to the writers that they didn’t overplay the novelty of the robot and have it … do something ridiculous like have it actually solve the crime.”

    It’s good to know that as unenjoyable as a Columbo episode might be, there’s a review to make up for it.

    • Your comments have pleased me greatly, thank you very much. I enjoyed writing this one, because I could poke a bit of fun at proceedings. Nice to know others can share in that fun!

  20. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo An Exercise in Fatality | The columbophile

  21. I’m sorry to be nitpicky but the drug is spelled “Heroin”. “Heroine” with an E means a female hero.

  22. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Friend in Deed | The columbophile

  23. I agree the episode is a dud, but I’d like to add one more reason to think so (that I’m surprised has not been mentioned previously). Columbo finally gets his man by… framing his son? That’s low. Come on Lieutenant, we expect better from you.

    The episode does however contain one of my favourite mini-dialogues of the series. Everything said between Columbo and Dr. Cahill after Cahill realizes Columbo knows it was the computer and not Cahill directing the war games is priceless. Columbo’s rejoinder that “You just saved a lot of time there, doctor”, and Cahill’s counter to the effect of you can’t take the computer to a back room and beat a confession out of it, or get it to turn state’s evidence, is spoken word gold.

  24. I enjoy your reviews. I just like the show so much, that I never think of an episode as really awful- but I do think of some as not too good. The bit with this dog in the beginning was cute- I always loved stuff with his Basset Hound. I liked seeing Robbie the Robot pop up- it was always fun seeing Robbie pop up places. But overall, it just felt this episode was rather lackluster- and for me, this episode was definitely “not great”.

  25. I watch a Columbo episode every week and repeat it until the next week. I came to your website and I just happened to be on this episode now. I agree this is one of the more lackluster episodes up to this point and maybe even overall.

    Too many plot points don’t make any sense as you masterfully pointed out already in fantastic form.

    I will say, repeating episodes for a week straight allows me to really appreciate each episode and it helps me determine which ones I love and which ones I just really like. My way of knowing is at the end of the weekend on Sunday when it is the last day for that Columbo, I either am bummed I have to move on to the next one or I am excited to see the next one. Obviously if I am bummed it means I loved that particular episode.

    By the way, I used to detest Dagger of the Mind. Absolutely hated it. But after my week of repeat viewings, it grew on me! I actually think it is miles better than this episode. And probably rank it above Short Fuse as well.

    Looking forward to your next review!!!! Keep up the outstanding work. I love your site.

    Oh and Last Salute to the Commodore – I don’t get all the hate. Hahaha I actually really enjoy that one! Maybe because it did try something different? Not sure. I know it is regarded as one of the worst episodes from the original Columbo run; I think on IMDb it gets the lowest or 2nd lowest rating out of all 46 episodes.

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment and for sharing your approach to watching Columbo! I don’t think I would have the staying power to watch Mayhem or Dagger for a week myself, though!

      Re. Last Salute, I don’t mind that they tried something different. I just think the execution is so bad that the differences become part of the problem. It could have worked if less weird, but I find it almost unwatchable. The review, when I get to it, should make for interesting reading!

      • I Cant stand last salute , it puts me too sleep, its weird , drawn out complicated and i even prefer dagger of the mind.

        • I just don’t find “Last Salute” as horrible, so much as different. I have criticized it on this site, but every so often, I welcome it for a change. Similarly, I’m watching “Mind Over Mayhem” now and enjoy the first 1/2 hour very much, but I suppose that’s true of most Columbos. Jessica Walters hasn’t even appeared yet! But I think it will be a solid B-.

  26. The clue about the burned match which Peter Falk considered outstanding (as Mark Davidziak says in his “Columbo Phile”) doesn’t convince me. Not necessarily it had been used to light a cigar; it also could have been used to burn evidence or it simply was watched burning down because fire looks so beautiful.
    Dr. Cahill really could have waited and seen whether Columbo would succeed with his faked evidence. No need to give himself away without hesitation and confess to the murder, just because his crime turned out to be useless (because his son confessed to the plagiarism).

    This blog revisits Columbo’s cases in much more detail than Mark Dawidziak’s Columbo Bible. It’s only natural that I can’t fully agree on the personal ranking order. The series consists of too many ingenious episodes for every fan to accept the other fan’s ranking, but I am very glad to see two rather weak ones on its bottom and two really strong and often underestimated ones on its top. It’s interesting that so many years after Columbo had ceased to exist this blog brings him back to life. In former times I could look forward to the next new episode; now I can look forward to the next new review and leave my comments.

  27. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Swan Song | The columbophile

  28. I will say that, if Mind Over Mayhem and Dagger Of The Mind are examples of Columbo at its worst, what a flipping excellent show. Because those “terrible” episodes are still actually fun and entertaining, if not optimum.

  29. i dont agree entirely this review first of all yes it is far from a great columbo and it is dreary paticuarley the murderer the central clues are sloppy and a shambles lack of humor except one or two scenes with the robot and boy genius.
    also what murderer would be so careless as to leave 2 scuff marks halfway up the door and not wipe them off even a donkey would haven’t made that mistake.
    but i still wouldn’t put it as low as 22 yes its better than dagger of the mind but surely its better than short fuse which was nonsense bar the ending , lovely but lethal which was rubbish and as bad as any etude in black which was overrated ,dead weight which was hopeless its on a bout the same level as the most dangerous match and greenhouse jungle for me also requiem was also slightly worse so not a 100 % fair review for me.

    • I rate Short Fuse nominally ahead of this because it’s much more fun (despite being poor overall), the crime is clever and effectively portrayed and the ending is excellent. Lovely but Lethal is above it because Viveca Scott was an excellent villain and Vincent Price was a joy to watch, albeit it in a small role. Dead Weight is plodding but features a more gripping head to head. Etude is over-rated but is leagues above Mayhem in my opinion.

      • yes on second thoughts the ending of short fuse probably elevates it higher mind over mayhem, but surely columbophile will put a matter of honour and last salute lower and I would watch mind over mayhem any day

  30. I wholeheartedly agree that Mind Over Mayhem is a complete mess. How you still rank Dagger of the Mind below it is anyone’s guess.

    First, the crime makes no sense. Nicholson clearly tells Cahill: “I’ve asked my wife to persuade Neil to confess his plagiarism to the National Science Organization and to decline the award at the luncheon in San Francisco tomorrow.” So Cahill knows that Margaret knows about the plagiarism — and not from a doctor-patient confidence. Why does Cahill think that killing Nicholson alone will keep Neil’s secret from getting out?

    Second, the episode takes a great clue — the cigar match — and wastes it by using it (as you so correctly observe) in such a inexplicable way. Did Dr. Cahill drop the match for a reason? I cannot fathom one. Or is he simply careless? That’s not how he is portrayed.

    Third, the episode goes techno-goofy. Suddenly Columbo abandons his notebook for a mini-cassette recorder? Why, because he’s surrounded by machines? And did Steve Spelberg invent his own Bat-computer (into which you can “feed evidence” and pop out the solution to the crime)?

    Finally, this is the second episode which the killer tries to blame a crime on a drug addict stealing heroin from a container labelled only with its chemical formula. (A Stitch in Crime was the first,) So Mayhem also loses points for lack of originality.

    • The abilities of computers in this episode are unrealistic for the time, but this was an era when computers were unknown to most of the public and hence TV and movie writers could get away with giving them unbelievable, even magical abilities. Today everyone uses computers and is harder to fool, but in 1974, “home computers” were something only a handful of hobbyists had, and they had to assemble them on their own! So you could pretty much get away with anything in TV and movies.

      And then you have futuristic science fiction computers. In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the Enterprise’s main computer can sift through massive amounts of data instantly, but can’t solve the mystery for you—yet the Holodeck, which is run by the computer, *can* create characters which are capable of intuition and lateral thinking!

  31. While not the best Columbo, this episode still has many entertaining moments. I enjoy this much more than ‘The Conspirators’, ‘Candidate for a Crime’ or ‘Etude in Black.'(love Blythe in that one, though) While you were a little harsh in your review, all the great elements you mentioned from the episode adds up to a very rewatchable Columbo.
    I was ten when this aired; I can’t remember watching when it first came out. While the computer is outdated, the robot most certainly is not. I have seen one very much like it in a factory recently-more advanced, yes, but clearly a robot cousin.
    I think of Margaret as being detached/professional rather than dark, but I can’t argue with her being a cold fish here. I think the Neil was just a patient, face it, he’s no Clint Eastwood. She does’t want none of that.
    I don’t know what ‘dad’ was trying to prove with his staging. He must be one of those genius people with little common sense.
    I think he was given the role of dour disapproving dad and that’s the way he played it.

    Lee Montgomery as the kid did a great job, in my opinion. catch him in ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ -the movie.
    Thanks for the review! They’re always fun to read.

    ps Ross looks like he could be related to Shirley Blaine from Lovely but Lethal.

  32. I agree, this is not a great episode. I think Robert Walker’s acting was over the top histrionics, and I don’t know how Jessica Walters got paid for this for the amount of effort she put in to her character. However, the moment when Columbo gets mad at Margaret and says she’s a very bad liar is to me the best moment of the episode. I can also see why Lee Montgomery (the Spelberg boy as Cahill calls him) had a short acting career.

    And just what is a new theory of molecular matter, anyway?

    • I thought Lee Montgomery played the part well. The scenes between him, the dog and Columbo were amusing. It gave the show some light entertainment.

      Also, he didn’t have a short career. He acted for nearly 20 years until he decided to retire in 1988…his first role being in 1971.
      He had guest roles in many many tv shows during the 1970s.

      It might not be the best episode, and there were plot holes, but it’s not the worst. Even the robot was smarter than the murderer. Trying to cover up the corpse dent on the car by backing in it was pretty dumb. Would make a person immediately suspicious.

  33. I just saw this episode last night and agree it is in the lower tier of episodes in the original Columbo series. There is one interesting footnote however. If you don’t blink you will see M*A*S*H’s William Christopher who trades in Father Mulcahy’s collar for a lab coat as one of the scientists in the war room. Sadly he does not have any dialogue. If he had then there might have been more jocularity in this episode.

  34. Thank you–we thoroughly enjoyed your review, Columbophile. We were laughing outloud. As always, your photo captions were hilarious:

    “Pool Car 1 – 0 Elderly Chemist”;
    “Just 2 months later, assistant Ross was a rabid wolfman: the result of an institute experiment gone horribly wrong”;
    “Time for a haircut, Neil.” “Why, Cueball? Jealous?”

    All excellent points. #37 on my all-time favorites list. Jose Ferrer is wonderful. “Father loves his son”. My friend was stand-in and photo-double for his son Miguel filming his last episode of NCIS: Los Angeles one year ago.

    • As always, I’m delighted to hear the captions hit the spot! I enjoyed this write up more than I enjoyed watching the episode. I’m not familiar with Ferrer Jnr’s work but another reader tells me he was in a Star Trek film, too.

        • …“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984) [sorry, I hit the wrong key and the comment posted before I was finished writing it! ☺]

      • It’s interesting that you mention the dull greyness of the Institute in this episode, because that’s what makes “By Dawn’s Early Light” less enjoyable for me than it seems to be for most of the fans here. (Well, that, and the fact that a 40-something Patrick McGoohan with silky white hair looks eerily similar to a friend of mine, and it’s distracting.) “By Dawn’s Early Light” is visually depressing to me.

        I plan to re-watch the whole series, though, and really try to forget my first impressions and look for things to celebrate about each episode.

        This is subjective, but I don’t get the sense that Margaret was unfaithful to Dr. Nicholson, for example with Neil. Also, I like Jessica Walter, so I want to give her character the benefit of the doubt! 🙂

        Hey, speaking of “Star Trek,” Robert Walker (Neil) was Charlie X in the original series!

      • Miguel Ferrer played the no-nonsense FBI agent sent to “check” on Dale Cooper in “Twin Peaks.”

  35. I agree with Columbophile that this was a poor episode–plodding, spending way too much time admiring the gee-whiz robot and supposed geniuses (though Steven’s reaction at being sent to the movies was a nice, realistic touch). Jose Ferrer’s performance was flat. I enjoyed Dagger of the Mind way more, actually!

  36. Totally agree with your review, and the fact Jose Ferrer was a dud as the villain… no great cat and mouse game like you see with Patrick McGoohan, Jack Cassidy…. or even with Ian Buchanan). I can watch most Columbo episodes multiple times (Troubled Waters, By Dawn’s Early Light, Agenda for Murder, Negative Reaction, etc), but after seeing this episode once I realized it is one of the few that I don’t really have any desire to watch again. I think even Murder in Malibu was more entertaining as even though it’s a terrible episode, that Andrew “I have a trunk filled with flowers” Stevens is unintentionally hilarious as he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag… like watching a train wreck.

  37. Saw every Columbo on the 1st run, was 6 when it premiered. In 1974 computers of any kind were not common. Aside from Star Trek, Space 1999 and Dr Who they weren’t shown much. Yes. it is dated but it’s also accurate, computers were room sized and tape driven. You also have to remember that the computers that were used on board the Apollo space ships were less powerful than cell phones.

    • So then I guess I can strategically employ this Android to get me through the atmosphere, past the Van Allens, to and on the moon, then off again and back.

    • Lol. Last salute to the commodore is my least favorite of all columbos. I’ve probably only watched it twice. It’s horrible!. Can’t wait to see what everyone else thinks of it.

      • I’m a snob and don’t consider any of the episodes beyond 1978 when discussing “Columbo.” That said, “Commodore” is so dreadful that I’d rather watch “Columbo Goes to College” or “Agenda for Murder” than endure “Commodore” if given a choice. The only one of the 45 episodes between 1968-78 that I simply dislike.

        • I could not agree more Tim! Falk was either tired or decided to let the supporting actors have their day in the sun–to say the least it was awkward, not counting persecuting an alcoholic for counterpoint in Commodore.
          My own nomination for “TV Listings Building to Excitement/Then Bad Disappointment” is Forgotten Lady. I detest overriding circumstances like “dreams within dreams” or ” coma lives” . As a kid, I even remember asking my mom if all the Wizard of Oz ended up amounting to was a simple bad dream!
          Would a detective with Columbo’s sense of honor EVER unilaterally have let Janet Leigh’s dementia go unrecorded?!

      • I agree that “College” and “Agenda” are superior within the 1989-2003 episodes and are entertaining. But the second era of “Columbo” episodes are akin to your favorite band reuniting ten years later with one or two new sidemen to produce albums that sound somewhat similar to the earlier records but are middling-at-best efforts.

        Side note: I discovered “Columbo” in 1990 with the syndicated airings of “Most Crucial Game” and “By Dawn’s Early Light” and was forever hooked. My third “Columbo” was the original broadcast in December 1990 of “Columbo Goes to College.”

  38. I agree. It’s ridiculous to think that a man of Cahil’s intelligence would not know that the victim’s injuries would point to being struck by a car, or that the damage to the vehicle would show evidence of this. The big can of heroin on the shelf is unbelievable too.

  39. Yes, saw the original telecast on the NBC Mystery Theater when I was 14. Very much enjoy your reviews. Thank you.

  40. This episode is ok. Not a favorite but certainly not the worst. The one thing that did bother me, just like in the review, was why did Cahill bother to carry Nicholson in the house and pour the drinks and show signs of a struggle and then leave a match?!?. Made no sense. Leave as little clues as possible. It also bothered me that Cahill would think a druggie or robber would know the chemical sign for heroin that was in the jar in the garage. Cahill wasn’t too bright to think that through.

  41. I agree with this assessment. I find this a difficult episode to endure. It’s just … hokey. I am a fan of most of the actors in this episode, but they were not given a strong story to play. As far as Robbie … he just doesn’t realistically fit in Columbo’s Case Files, in my view.

  42. I couldn’t disagree more. Cahill was brilliant at not using technology that would have pointed directly at the institute. Margret was Neil’s counselor and also knew who had murdered her husband as was shown in the basement file scene, yet as his counselor cannot reveal that. As Waverboy said,. the interplay between Steven Spelberg and Columbo was great fun, same with the mechanic and Dog. Nothing about any technology will age well, it’s the nature of the game. Colombo’s Peugeot is just as dated as the technology here is dated. This review seemed overly harsh and a bit mean spirited to me.

    Hilarious lines:
    After Dog is “removed” from school: “I’m sorry. he demoralizes the other students”
    Columbo plays tape recording “Bad Dog! Bad Dog! – oh this is embarrassing”

    • Columbophile is a great observer JPS, but I must agree that I enjoyed this episode more than many other Columbos. It seemed to bother him that Jessica Walter didn’t display her emotion over losing her husband, but I found that intriguing about her character. I did see tears in her eyes. Kind of neat that people see things differently.

    • Some people hate the episode; some people couldn’t disagree more. It’s exactly like they said on The Breakfast Club: we see what we want to see.

  43. There’s no question that this is a pretty disappointing outing for all the reasons you bring up. The thing that’s always bothered me about this scheme of Cahill’s is how unlikely it seems that you could pass off a hit-and-run as a burglary. I’m certainly no pathologist, but was the LA medical examiner supposed to be telling Columbo “The deceased’s skull is shattered. Practically every bone in his body is broken. His spleen has literally exploded. Sure looks like a junkie with a sock full of quarters alright.”. Quincy that guy was not! And what makes it particularly disappointing is that you’re willing to suspend disbelief when you watch it for the first time because all of the business with odometers and Cahill backing into the car seems like it’s set up to be a big part of the “pop”. It’s pretty much all been dropped by the end of the episode though.

    • The LA coroner back then was an infamously-corrupt spook, and The Institute *was* a government think-tank. Probably covert ops. I’m surprised that Columbo was allowed to solve the case.

  44. Wow. I guess I tend to be more forgiving of the lesser episodes. No, this wasn’t a top-grade episode, but it was still a lot of fun. Goofy and cheesy? Absolutely, but I love dated ’50s sci-fi films, and I’m a big Robby fan, so I was delighted to see him put in an appearance. And Columbo and the kid have great chemistry. I enjoy this episode on a different level than the “genuinely good” episodes.

  45. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Publish or Perish | The columbophile

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