Columbo’s trip to London for 1972’s Dagger of the Mind is, to put it mildly, something of an acquired taste.
An homage to the British murder mysteries of the early 1900s, Dagger has its admirers. But for many others this is a bewildering, even ludicrous tale of murder and cover-up set against the backdrop of London’s theatrical scene.
I fall firmly into the latter category. Indeed regular readers may be aware that I strongly dislike this episode, branding it as ‘dross’, ‘hammy’, ‘unwatchable’ and ‘tediously drawn out’ in my full-length episode review. Still, even a poor Columbo has redeeming features and even Dagger of the Mind is no exception. So here I put forward my top 5 episode highlights. Read on if you dare!
“Still, even a poor Columbo has redeeming features and even Dagger of the Mind is no exception.”
5. Lily and Nick’s Champagne love-in
Despite putting in performances so wooden that trees felt ashamed by association, Honor Blackman and Richard Baseheart, as murderous theatrical duo Lilian Stanhope and Nicholas Frame, did at least fully commit to the nonsensical story line. And the scene where the happy couple toast their own success in bed over rave newspaper reviews and Champagne is really quite something.
This is self-absorbed, self-congratulatory 70s’ swigging at its best, and the most believable act either of them are involved in throughout the whole episode.
4. A penny on the Governor
Columbo and his opposite number from Scotland Yard, Chief Superintendent Durk, couldn’t be more different. As Durk, Bernard Fox is as stereotypically British as a US TV audience of the day would demand, and his stiff upper lip, clipped delivery and lack of imagination as Durk complement the earthy, open-minded Lieutenant very nicely.
They’re an odd couple alright and predictably don’t see eye-to-eye on the particulars of the case, but their relationship becomes quite endearing – never more so than during a charming exchange at the Houses of Parliament in the latter stages of the episode.
As Big Ben merrily clangs away, a wide-eyed Lieutenant (fresh from gulping a serving of cliche-tastic fish ‘n’ chips) takes much interest. “Boy, that’s terrific. A thing that old, and it’s only a minute slow,” Columbo enthuses, checking the centuries-old timepiece against his cheap wrist watch.
“Really?” responds Durk in that peculiarly deadpan British way of showing disdain/superiority in such a way as to not cause your fellow man any affront at all. “We must put another penny on the Governor.”
So it’s a fun scene for viewers on either side of the Atlantic, and if you haven’t got a clue what Durk means there’s free education available here!
3. The butler didn’t do it
Nick and Lily are for the most part absolute bunglers, but the lynching of Sir Roger’s butler Tanner shows there’s a dark and menacing void at their hearts. After Tanner foists his services on the guilty couple, promising his silence for a regular pay cheque, he gets his just desserts when Nick confronts him at his butler cabin and drags him into the house to be hung from a rafter.
As the piece de resistance, Nick leaves some of Sir Roger’s valuable books under the floorboards to indicate that Tanner had been on the take from his former master, and very likely bumped him off. It would have been enough to convince Durk and co that the butler did indeed do it, but Columbo (of course) doesn’t buy it.
Although the slaying of Tanner happened off-screen, this would have been a brutal and frightening way for the old boy to check out. The episode could have benefited from a bit more of this steeliness and a bit less of the excruciating hamminess.
2. Columbo the tourist
Following straight on from his pick-up at Heathrow Airport, the scenes of Columbo jalloping about old London town are predictably enjoyable. All credit to Peter Falk, who’s portrayal of honest excitement at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap away at the pomp and ceremony of British life feels entirely authentic.
It’s cute, it’s effective and it raises a smile – plus it’s super-cool to see Columbo hanging at Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge et al.
1. The raincoat gets a workout
Columbo sightseeing is a joy to behold, but is trumped by the scene on the dismal, rainy London streets after the play’s opening night.
After a dozen episodes in sun-soaked Cali where there appears to be no danger of him ever needing it, the raincoat finally earns its keep! And if you look closely it actually seems to be pretty good at repelling the teeming rain, crumpled as it is.
This is not only a fun scene, then, but also one with a decent pay-off as Columbo learns that big-chinned theatre maintenance man Joe has suspiciously lost his umbrella after hanging out with Nick at the pub – and that’s the trigger Columbo needs to really formulate his case against the murderous thespians.
“After a dozen episodes in which there appears to be no danger of him ever needing it, the raincoat finally earns its keep.”
So those are my shining beacons of light amongst the murky swill that pervades much of Dagger of the Mind. Let me know your highlights below! And if you’re keen for a more in-depth analysis of Dagger‘s thrilling highs and devastating lows, there are two options:-
- Read Columbophile’s full-length livid critique here
- Read Rich Weill’s much more positive ‘second opinion’ here
Thanks, as always, for visiting the site. May your day be as bright and bubbly as Lily and Nick’s Champagne love-in (minus the interrupting butler).
I loved this episode and its hammed up, nostalgic blast from a long-gone British past. My favourite bits were those with the theatre doorman, handiman, Arthur Malet as Fenwick. IMO probably one of the more memorable short performances on film. He was cheeky, fake-coy, gullible, a hint of irritability, and deferential, “that’s so gracious of you”, when getting extra drinks. The way he hung to his umbrella was brilliant.
The “American invasion”….why was Columbo invited in the first place?
I find it hard to believe that no one ever mentions Miss Dudley in this episode. She was extremely voluptuous. Basehart and Blackman were fantastic as theater thespians (who always overact in the theater and in real life), though Basehart’s reaction to Miss Dudley’s “talents” are well deserved.
This episode has always been highly underrated, which I never have understood. The only parts I didn’t like were Wilfred Hyde-Whites’ scenes. He must have had a great manager as he pimped this guy out all over cheap US television sitcoms in the ’70’s & ’80’s.
I can never get enough of John Williams, especially his television commercial in the 1970’s that started with: “I’m sure you recognize this lovely melody as ‘Stranger in Paradise, but did you know that the original theme was from the Polovetzian Dance Number Two by Borodin?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIMFhPyNKDs)
True British haughty-ness at its’ grandest!
I’ve warmed up to “Dagger…” in small, consistent increments. That said, we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum as the only scenes I truly enjoy are the scenes with Hyde-White. All the rest is histrionics and grainy tourism footage culminating with the flimsiest “gotcha” in the series (IMO).
I don’t even remember ‘Miss Dudley’s’ role in this at all…
I like this episode. The scenes in London with Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) were hilarious. The episode deliberately playing on stereotypes and hamminess.
I wonder if it was really raining or if it was like the movie ” Husbands” by John Cassavetes. Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes got soaked running through fake rain. I guess it doesn’t always rain in London.
Here’s a nice 10-minute extract from “Dagger of the Mind.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFp8tbDZ3RY
And I don’t think that Richard Basehart’s acting is weak in this episode. Rather, his performance was intentionally hammy. I grew up watching him in the TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of Sea,” and I thought he was a terrific actor. His performance in Fellini’s “La Strada,” along with the great performances of co-stars Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife), was unforgettable. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq4FPEzHkQA
PS–For an interesting bit of trivia, Peter Falk, three Columbo villains, and a Columbo director are buried in Westwood Village Cemetary in Los Angeles: John Cassavetes, Richard Basehart, Louis Jourdan, and Hy Averbach. Whenever I travel, I often visit cemeteries. It’s a matter of honor and respect. But Westwood is the only cemetery that I’ve visited that also makes me laugh. Legendary stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield is buried there. His epitaph says: “There Goes The Neighborhood.”
There is a great promo on METV that can be viewed on youtube….iconic actors(some
are previous villains) try to do a Columbo impression.
Dagger of the Mind is definitely at least a mid-tier Columbo. Great cast and definitely entertaining.
This episode gets an undeserved bad rap. Stereotypical? All stereotypes are based in fact, but none of these British stereotypes are negative in the least. To see Honor Blackman while still delicious looking, and a fantastically insane Richard Basehart, with British icons John Williams, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Bernard Fox, and using great location shots, makes this a classic in my book. So what if they “ham” it up? Every single dreadful “theater” production in history has been pure ham, and all of these actors spent time on ‘stage’ in their careers, even our beloved one eyed detective. A real example of a negative stereotype would be walking down a no-go zone and being decapitated for letting one’s ankle show. Now that’s a more current realistic London-istan and overall European stereotype of the last decade or so, as they readily destroy their unique cultures with Saracen-infected inferno, but we know the regressive EU and globally monopolized press will never let that occur….but I digress.
In my opinion, there were only 2 – defective Columbo episodes of the 1970’s. First, “Last Salute the Commodore”, due to its’ length (Directed by Patrick McGoohan), and the very worst of all of the 69 episodes; the dreadful “The Conspirators”, due to everything about the episode (I loathe poets, especially of the IRA variety). This one was directed by the Communist father of Sean Penn, Leo……though he did direct the classic “Any Old Port in a Storm”, and the less than stellar “Columbo Goes to the Guillotine”.
I remember watching “Dagger of the Mind” as a toddler during its’ inaugural airing and remembering how great and exciting it was at the time, though in retrospect, maybe not as stellar as I remembered it as a lad. The build-up and commercials for it at the time were wonderful. Nevertheless, it’s in my top 20, and head and shoulders above “The Conspirators” and the equally dreadful “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, both at their respective ends of the each Columbo era.
Richard Basehart’s character, actor Nicholas Frame, obviously had a reputation for hamming it up on stage; Sir Roger (John Williams) describes him as a “ham.” Under those circumstances, “hamminess” is completely in character.
I personally like “The Conspirators” episode myself, but I just wonder why you referred to Leo Penn as a Communist surely you mean he was blacklisted in the 1950’s along with Lee Grant, Eddie Albert, will Greer, Kim Hunter etc. (all were Columbo guest stars).
If anyone is interested in the topic Robert Vaughn (man from U.N.C.L.E., Columbo, etc.) write a book for his thesis called “Only Victims” a very good book.
Oops sorry under wrong comment, the stuff about the blacklist.
I also really like “Conspirators” (though I mistakenly thought it had James Whitmore in it!). Fascinating that Vaughn was a PhD and wrote what sounds like a very interesting book. (btw, Penn, Falk and Whitmore acted together in “The Law and Mr. Jones”)
For those who are interested, Sean Penn wrote a nice piece about his dad’s politics in THR https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sean-penn-his-blacklisted-dad-391957
Leo Penn was definitely a Marxist and Socialist/Communist sympathizer, while his son is much closer to the current “for thee, not me” version of Hollywood “Leftist/Progressive” supporters that have permeated the “arts”, politics, and cultural norms in the west since the end of WWII. This doesn’t take away from their talent, just shines a spotlight on their subversive views they held and still hold with an iron fist.
The semantics of the descriptive term “Communists” being watered down and substituted with “Leftists”, “Progressives” or the modern day “Democrats” (and establishment “Republicans”) in the US merely disguise what is at the root of this thought process and philosophical viewpoint. Even Lenin admitted that the end goal of Socialism is Communism. If it looks, walks, talks, and acts like a duck….it’s a duck, no matter what you label the duck.
If Senator McCarthy had correctly labeled these subversive Hollywood Actors, Screenwriters, Producers, as “Marxists”, instead of “Communists”, history would have looked differently upon the Senator from Wisconsin. They didn’t deny being Commies, they just used their own pre-Saul Alinsky approach of demonizing the accusers and projecting their own sins on others, calling it a “witch hunt”, though they were in effect, the “witches”.
Research Cultural Marxism, The Frankfurt School, Cloward-Piven Strategy, Kalergi Plan, and a fantastic book “Hollywood Traitors”, by Allen H. Riskind (son of Marx Brothers screenwriter Morrie Ryskind). They all point to the slow train approach of degradation of culture that now permeates Western civilization under the guise of misnomered philanthropic descriptors as “Progressivism” and “Collectivism”, which are all part of the “Globalism” movement in a nutshell (all Luciferian in nature).
Back to Columbo, “The Conspirators” was just plain awful, with Clive Revill’s fake Irish brogue, chanting inane ‘poetry’, affecting one like fingernails on a blackboard. Talk about stereotypes, with his constant droning on obsessions with ‘romantic’ poetry and whiskey. I expected to see him morph into a leprechaun and assume the Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot stance while guzzling himself into a stupor. Clive Revill (a native New Zealand Accountant and fine actor, who is still alive today) did not have his finest hour playing Joe Devlin, in the least.
Sorry about the political/sociological digression, but Hollyweird is full of…..it…and them. Civil discussion on these topics should be applauded, not silenced like the mainstream media is doing today. Cheers to all.
Whether you’re sorry or not, the bit about Clive Revill WAS the digression. Your rant/screed was the main thrust, and on Breitbart or the National Review it would be welcome. Politics permeates and oozes from every corner of the internet. Columbophile has created a pleasant, comforting respite from the 24/7 assault of political bashing from both sides by centering the focus on Columbo, a benign entity…even it if was birthed by the cursed hordes in Hollyweird.
Now, that all said, you did inspire me to research the Cloward-Piven Strategy and the Kalergi Plan. Onwards.
For me the thing that stands out are the white-walled tires on the Rolls!
They are so out of place for a British car of the 70s.
It seems to me such an American look, and of course the whole thing was filmed in LA/California, barring the “Columbo in London” bits.
Such an odd thing, I know, but there you go!
They had a British version of the Jag and an American one, so poor continuity skills. They should have easily known that white-walked tyres would be a big giveaway on filming location, even on a British car.
Right there with the alternating red-and-white helicopters in “A Friend in Deed.”
The engineered “gotcha” should be on the list. Columbo reveals another talent, as it is a heck of a “marble” shot with the fake pearl.
Can’t wait for your thoughts on “Last Salute To The Commodore” nearly every Columbo fan I have talked to hates it, yet it has always been a fav of mine.
I was asleep by the end, so the gotcha was wasted on me…
They tried to introduce a character trait, Columbo’s queasiness at the sight of blood. I think it was dropped after this episode. Interesting attempt to flesh out the character with some contradictions, but it didn’t really make sense for a homicide detective, and I appreciate his cool professionalism without it.
There are other occasions when his squeamishness is apparent: A Stitch in Crime, when he can’t look at the operation; and Negative Reaction, when he’s troubled by Galesko’s leg wound at the hospital.
Oh right, I forgot about those. Thinking more of how he examined AJ Henderson’s head injury without flinching, in Identity Crisis. (Love the way he first appears out of the fog in that one.)
Not “Henderson”– Geroni-mo! (spoken in a high silly Patrick McGoohan-voice.)
and his queasiness with needles in Etude in Black, not comfortable in a full bathtub much less an ocean in Exercise in Fatlity! Lol.
As the principal defender of this episode, let me add another “best moment”: the airport scene, where Columbo is mistaken for a “light-fingered bloke” trying to steal luggage. And then there are the episode’s two best lines: “If you’d taken that part in the Agatha Christie play like I told you to, you would know these things”; and how the butler “was properly disturbed finding the master expired, and before breakfast and all.”
for some reason i’m so amused by 2 other scenes at the airport: when the Lt. is identified as their distinguished guest, the remark “him? blimey!” and when Columbo is asked if the lady whose luggage He toppled over is giving him trouble-the quick look on her face is priceless!
It’s one of my favorites but I realize tastes vary. My favorite scene is at Durk’s club where Diver the medical examiner ruins Columbo’s appetite. It kills me that he doesn’t get the chance to sample what’s available on that serving tray. And Richard Pearson was perfect as Diver.
What I didn’t like: not enough Jon Fraser as O’Keefe. But with Durk there as well it would not leave enough of the showcase for Columbo.
That was 6th on my list!
this is one of my favorite episodes; not because I think it’s good/great Columbo (certainly not). It is to Columbo what disco is to music…..a big, shiny , off-the-rails (hot)mess of a thing that is utterly enjoyable (at least to me).
(Ellen’s “squirmy foolishness” is very well-taken, however. It is very squirmy. And foolish)
I love, love, LOVE Nick’s break-down at the end.
The only thing(s) that would have made me love it more would have been the presence of Shatner & Montalban. Imagine Macbeth (in this case, the Bane of Dramatis) just *killing* it with those three. *That* would have put an extra penny on the Ham Governor.
In your opinion…was the episode doomed by the writers, by the actors, or was it a matter of collusion?
Thanks, Jan. Good question! 🙂 I think all the actors involved were talented & on board, but the collision of styles (hammy English, polite gritty New Yawk Columbo) played awkward at times. It also felt out of context – Columbo in England or on a cruise ship (“Troubled Waters”) or in “Agatha Christie on Acid” mode (“Last Salute to the Commodore”) – it runs a risk of not being what we tend to enjoy in our beloved Columbo episodes…
you know, Ellen….I think that may be exactly why i love it so much (other than just loving hearing Shakespeare, no matter what)….in a world of perfect Columbo-ness, it was a definite weirdness. It’s the Ugly Duckling of Columbo…..it never had time to realize its swan-ish potential…..
I think the story is such utter nonsense that the actors are largely blameless. Even though I’ve slammed Blackman and Baseheart for wooden or hammy performances, they only did what was asked of them. I think TV in the 70s dealt very largely in stereotypes (much more so than today), so if a US show has a British outing it would have to conform to a lot of cliches expected by the audience. Dagger fulfils that handsomely, infuriating as it is to watch. Interestingly the episodes of Friends when Ross got married in Britain were similarly agonising more than 20 years later, so Columbo is in good company!
I really have to agree with you (although, as a Yank, of course I did not know at the time that anything was cliched….and offensive). Makes me wonder, then, if the same is true in the UK: is the way American life is presented cliched and false? (American life, these days, of course, thought by many of us to be, at the very least, a horrid caricature anyway)…..
Your dislike of “Dagger of the Mind” absolutely delights me! I don’t quite share your view, but it is certainly a lesser episode with squirmy foolishness abounding…
‘Squirmy foolishness’ is a brilliant way to describe it! Wish I’d thought of that myself…
My pleasure! 🙂 The squirm factor gets (much) higher in the latter-day Columbos, so this was a relative rarity.