Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 4

Episode review: Columbo Negative Reaction

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Dick Van Dyke sporting a novelty beard isn’t necessarily the first thought when the words ‘Columbo killer’ are uttered. Nevertheless, the lovable man of comedy was cast as the prime antagonist in Negative Reaction, which aired on 15 October 1974.

Can the laugh-a-minute DVD play against type to convince as murderous photographer Paul Galesko? Or will his inherent harmlessness blunt the episode’s edge? Let’s whip out our ancient cameras and get ready to bellow ‘Were you a witness to what he just did?‘ as we find out…

Negative Reaction cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Paul Galesko: Dick Van Dyke
Galesko’s beard: As himself
Frances Galesko: Antoinette Bower
Alvin Deschler: Don Gordon
Lorna McGrath: Joanna Cameron
Sergeant Hoffman: Michael Strong
Thomas Dolan: Vito Scotti
Sister of Mercy: Joyce Van Patten
Mr Weekly: Larry Storch
Ray: David Sheiner
MacGruder: John Ashton
Written by: Peter S. Fischer
Directed by: Alf Kjellin
Score by: Bernardo Segall

Episode synopsis: Columbo Negative Reaction

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke, bearded) is hard at work in his darkroom, but he ain’t developing pictures! He’s actually putting the final touches to a sham ransom note that claims kidnappers have seized his wife, Frances.

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After years of nagging, Galesko finally sees red *chortle*

Why would he do this, you ask? We soon find out, as Galesko is summoned by the shrill cries of Frances, who is chiding him for messing around when she wants to be driven to Lilleby’s auction house, where she has her eye on a ‘divine’ tea set.

The gin-soaked nag further admonishes her husband when he pleads to be allowed to take her out to see the ‘ranch’ he’s just purchased. Frances isn’t interested in slumming it, but finally agrees after some earnest cringing from her cowed other half.

Her mood doesn’t improve when she sees the state of the ranch. Unable to hide her scorn for the place, she pours forth a torrent of abuse – only silenced when she turns to see Galesko flexing a length of rope with a murderous look on his face. Grappling with Frances, he forces her into a chair and securely ties her into place before taking photos of her on a Polaroid-style camera – a cheap clock placed on the mantelpiece setting the time at 2pm.

Galesko then gives Frances a lecture on how miserable she’s made him over the last few years. And as put-downs go, it’s a pretty juicy one. “I have this dream, Frances. I’m working and there’s a phone call and he says, “Terribly sorry, Mr Galesko, but your wife’s dead. Unfortunate accident’,”  he explains, his tone awfully even.

“And then I always wake up and I want to cry. Because you’re still alive, Frances. And I have nothing to face that day but another 24 hours with a domineering, nagging, suffocating woman who took all the joy out of my life.” He then produces a gun from his briefcase and slays Frances in cold blood. Problem solved!

Galesko then stops in at a gas station to establish his 2pm alibi, ringing his pretty assistant Lorna McGrath and telling her to pack her bags for a photographic trip to the Philippines with him that he claims Frances is completely in favour of! What a vivid imagination these creative types have!

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How many times do I have to tell you Al, NEVER trust a man in backless driving gloves…

From there he’s off to a lakeside rendezvous with treble-denimed, mild-mannered ex-con Alvin Deschler, who has been running a series of odd jobs for Galesko (including purchasing the ranch) for the last 3 weeks following release from prison. Galesko makes Deschler promise to ring him at home from his motel room at 10am the next day. Deschler gleefully accepts, before coming clean that a camera he’d bought at Galesko’s request has been stolen from his motel room. This was the camera Galesko used to photograph Frances at the ranch.

Cut to the next day and a distracted-looking Galesko lets his housekeeper, Mrs Moyland, in and evasively answers her questions as to the whereabouts of Mrs Galesko. As she dithers uncertainly in the background, Galesko fields the pre-planned call from Deschler, arranging to meet him at a junkyard at 5pm before cutting him off and pretending to engage in debate with kidnappers.

He then beats it in an agitated fashion, telling Mrs Moyland to pretend to have heard nothing. But the Irish dame’s curiosity has been piqued. Sidling over to the phone she finds a note written in Galesko’s own hand saying: ‘$20,000 in small bills.’ (click video below for suitable sound effect).

First Galesko jallops off to see his publisher, Ray, to secure a loan to pay the kidnappers. Then he heads to Deschler’s motel and watches the ex-con drive off for their rendezvous. Sneaking into the motel room, Galesko plants a cut-up newspaper, glue and the camera he’d used to photograph Frances at the ranch. Job done, he makes his date with destiny with Deschler at the abandoned junkyard.

Explaining his late arrival a result of the kidnapping panic, Galesko hands the ransom note to Deschler to get his prints on it. “You have any idea who took her?” the luckless sidekick asks. “I’m sorry, Al. It’s going to have to look like you did,” replies Galesko, before drawing a gun and getting his slay on again.

Of course such antics won’t be damning enough, so for good measure Galesko places the gun he used to kill Frances in Deschler’s dead hand and fires it into his own leg at point-blank rage. OOH-YAH! But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, amirite? As he hops painfully back to his car, however, Galesko is stunned to encounter a drunk bum who has been swigging booze with gay abandon in an old wrecked car before being startled by the gunshots, and who sends him off to a nearby gas station to make an emergency call. WHAT. A. DAY.

It’s only now that Columbo trundles on to the scene, being stopped from entering the junkyard by a uniformed officer who thought the detective was trying to sell his car for scrap! It’s a classic entrance from the crumpled Lieutenant.


Columbo’s old heap just can’t get no rezpek!

Sergeant Hoffman is in charge at the scene and explains to Columbo the particulars of the crime. Columbo is bothered immediately that Galesko would kill Deschler without first finding out where his wife was being detained. The pair then encounter the old bum, Thomas Dolan, who is adamant that he heard what happened and wants to make a statement down town. The other cops don’t take him seriously, but Columbo insists he’s treated with respect and sends him off with an officer to make a statement.

Columbo, meanwhile, heads off to see Galesko at the hospital to gets the photographer’s version of events. They are interrupted by a call from Hoffman, who reports that they’ve searched Deschler’s motel room and found all the incriminating evidence they need to pin the crime on him.

Yet Columbo remains unconvinced. He has a sleepless night and is found bleary-eyed at the office the next morning by Hoffman. After having checked up on Deschler’s background and his recent release from jail after a five-year stretch for extortion, Hoffman couldn’t be more certain that the case is solved. Columbo, however, sounds a note of caution. “Do you see anything in there that says that Deschler was stupid?” he asks Hoffman. “Because if he left that camera and that newspaper and that glue laying around like that, he’s stupid.”

As Columbo plots his next move, Hoffman receives a phone call. It’s the bad news they had been fearing: Frances Galesko has been found dead! (please refer to devilish sound effect above).

The law enforcers encounter a desperate (and limping) Galesko at the ranch, who wails his displeasure before pulling himself together and positively ID’ing the corpse. He avoids being questioned, though, by insisting on accompanying the body away in the ambulance. Columbo does glean some useful facts from realtor Mr McGruder, who confirms that he sold the ranch to Deschler, but that he suspects Deschler was buying for a third party.

McGruder also references that Deschler showed up every morning at his real estate office in a cab. Columbo doesn’t think anything of this now, but it’s a clue that will drive critical thinking later. He also finds a crumpled-up photo of ‘Frannie G’ (as no one calls her in the episode, more’s the pity) in the ranch’s empty fireplace and squirrels it away for future reference.

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A happy snap for the Galesko family album!

Keen to grab some more intel from noble bum Dolan, Columbo heads down town to St Mathew’s Mission to catch him in person. After being mistaken for a homeless derelict himself due to his dishevelled appearance, Columbo is given a bowl of beef stew by an over-eager nun and gets nattering to Dolan.

Although pleasant enough company, Dolan can’t help Columbo with his enquiries about how much of a gap there had been between the shots at the junkyard, as his statement had suggested. Why? Because he was blind drunk when he made the statement and can’t remember anything about the incident now. Columbo’s hit a brick wall.

When in doubt, harass the suspect! It’s a technique that has served Columbo well in the past and something he falls back on again here, visiting Galesko’s studio. After small talk about how his poor photography skillz ruined his nephew’s wedding a few weeks before, he cuts to the chase referencing Dolan’s statement about two gun shots being fired some moments apart.

“After being mistaken for a homeless derelict due to his dishevelled appearance, Columbo is given a bowl of beef stew by an over-eager nun.”

Galesko scorns the idea that the bum’s word can be considered viable evidence, but does offer an explanation. Deschler, he claims, pulled a gun on Galesko, who immediately grabbed for it. In the tussle, Galesko was shot in the leg and Deschler dropped the gun. The two continued to struggle, but Deschler got the upper hand and raced for the gun. At that stage, Galesko pulled his own gun and popped a cap in the aggressor’s heart. It’s not entirely convincing, but plausible enough to placate Columbo for now.

The investigation next takes him to a camera shop where Deschler bought the camera that was used to photograph Frances. The clerk remembers Deschler, and again references that he was travelling in a taxi. This time it strikes a chord with the detective. Why was he always travelling about in cabs instead of renting a car? But what a minute – he had rented a car and was using it on the day he supposedly kidnapped Frances. Things are not adding up…

Columbo’s next move is to gatecrash Frances’s funeral, where he conspicuously snaps photos of the attendees, claiming to be on the look out for Deschler’s accomplice. Galesko is unimpressed by the intrusion, but Columbo has some pertinent questions to ask. The housekeeper had overheard Galesko say he’d meet the kidnapper at 5pm, yet he didn’t arrive at the junkyard until 5.30pm. With his wife’s life at stake, how could this be?

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Being inconspicuous at social gatherings doesn’t appear to be Columbo’s strength

Now ever so slightly ratty, Galesko explains it by stating he in fact was sent to a random payphone booth in West LA at 5pm, and then ordered on to the junkyard from there. Columbo ain’t buying it. Why did Galesko make a note at the time of the phone call saying ‘$20,000 in small bills’, but not make any notes about how to find the location of a random phone booth he’d never been to before?

Rattled but just maintaining his composure, Galesko falls back on the Columbo killer’s staple of not being able to think clearly at a time of crisis. Yes, that old chestnut… The Lieutenant’s heard it all before, mate, and from people who’re currently behind bars!

Still, hard evidence is eluding Columbo until he puts two and two together about Deschler’s reliance on cabs. Searching through the dead man’s possessions he discovers that Deschler had a temporary driver’s licence, which was granted to him on the day Frances Galesko went missing. That explains why he was using cabs beforehand. It also raises the question of why Deschler would have planned the kidnapping, which absolutely needed a private vehicle, for a day when he might have flunked his driving test. Astute work, Lieutenant!

“Galesko falls back on the Columbo killer’s staple of not being able to think clearly at a time of crisis. Yes, that old chestnut…”

As a result of his rising suspicions, Columbo hounds Galesko further. At his studio he ‘accidentally’ slips Galesko the crumpled photo of Frances he found in the ranch fireplace. When Columbo wonders aloud why a perfectly good photo was flung away, Galesko is critical of the lighting and composition in a way that only a perfectionist would be. It’s another tiny reason to suspect Galesko.

More follows as Columbo becomes an uninvited guest at a photography exhibition of Galesko’s work that evening. The Lieutenant, you see, has bought one of Galesko’s books: a photographic study of life in San Quentin prison. And guess who appears in 9 of the photos? Big Al Deschler. The two knew each other, in some capacity at least.

Now livid, Galesko lets rip: “You believe that somehow I’m responsible for my wife’s death,” he gnashes. “Oh, don’t deny it, Lieutenant. You’re like a little shaggy-haired terrier that’s got a grip on my trousers, and won’t let go.”

Although Columbo apologises for being a pest and says he won’t bother Galesko anymore, we know that the pieces of the puzzle are coming together nicely in his mind. His situation is improved when a highly strung driving instructor confirms that Deschler did indeed take his driving test on the morning of the kidnapping, and he’ll swear to it in court. It’s the confidence boost the Lieutenant needs to spring his final trap.


Sending Hoffman to summon Galesko to a meeting at police HQ, Columbo outlines his case very directly, accusing the photographer of perjuring his sworn statement that he left his wife at the auction house at around noon on the day of her disappearance. And he can prove it through photographic evidence.

You see, Columbo has created a blown-up image of Frances’s kidnap photo, and the clock on the mantelpiece behind her shows that it’s 10am in the morning – the time Galesko previously claimed to be at home alone with his wife.

The stern detective is therefore ‘surprised’ to see Galesko beaming at him in the face of such damning evidence. “You’re a gem. You’re a little flawed and you’re not too bright, but you’re one of a kind,” laughs Galesko before pointing out that Columbo has inadvertently reversed the print. The clock actually reads 2pm. If Columbo can produce the original print Galesko will prove it.

“You’re a gem. You’re a little flawed and you’re not too bright, but you’re one of a kind!”

Only Columbo can’t do that because he accidentally dropped the original in some hydrochloric acid. It’s gone for good. But he’ll testify that there was no mistake made when creating the image, and invites Hoffman to read Galesko his rights.

Now seriously worried, Galesko makes his fatal error. “You have proof of my innocence despite your clumsiness,” he says, while taking a camera off a shelf behind where Columbo has been sitting and slapping it on the desk. “Look at that negative in the back of the camera, Lieutenant. It proves I’m right,” he says.

But his action only proves one thing: his guilt. “Were you a witness to what he just did?” Columbo repeats to three eye witnesses in the room with them. And then realisation dawns on Galesko. Only the person who took the photo of Frances, who killed Frances, could have recognised the camera the photo was taken on.

As Galesko is led away Columbo reaches for his jacket, but slumps dejectedly on the desk with it only half on as credits roll…

Columbo Negative Reaction ending

An entertaining episode ends on a sombre note

Negative Reaction‘s best moment: livid Larry

Amidst red-hot competition, Columbo’s encounter with Larry Storch’s irate and irritable driving instructor, Mr Weekly, takes top honours because it never fails to delight.

When we meet Weekly, he’s standing furiously at the roadside after a driving test he was overseeing went horribly wrong, leaving the car in need of towing and Weekly in need of a lift back to his office. What he didn’t need was time in the car with Columbo – a man not known for his careful driving or the road worthiness of his vehicle.

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Weekly predictably finds fault with every aspect of the process and when Columbo nearly collides with a car pulling out from a side street, his shattered nerves can take it no longer. “Pull over!” he insists, dabbing his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief and deciding to walk back to the office to avoid spending another second in Columbo’s shabby Peugeot.

Even though the scene does little to push the plot forward it’s a wonderful and well-paced 5 minutes of screen time that I suspect was largely ad-libbed and that gives both stars the chance to flex their comedic muscles. View the scene in all its glory below!

My take on Negative Reaction

Regular readers (my favourite kind!) will be only too aware that I bleat on about how the longer-running 95-minute Columbo episodes are rarely as satisfying as the 75-minute outings. Negative Reaction doesn’t just buck that trend – it takes the entire concept, roughs it up, flings it to the floor and clip-clops its little hooves all over the trembling corpse in a mad dance of triumph.

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Paul Galesko: a bit more menacing than chipper chimney sweep Bert…

Sure, there are some scenes that aren’t technically necessary (including the driving test scene and the interaction with the nun), but they don’t outstay their welcome in a way that often occurs in less well structured episodes. Indeed, some of the incidental scenes really elevate this episode and I can only pay the highest of compliments to writer Peter S. Fischer and Director Alf Kjellin (who also helmed Mind Over Mayhem) for their superior treatment of the tale.

Credit, too, to Dick Van Dyke as Paul Galesko. Playing against type, he’s really very good in this, menacing when he needs to be, jovial enough when the going’s good and never threatening to take the edge off his performance with rubber-faced goonery. Indeed, ol’ DVD provides virtually none of the episode’s comic relief, of which there is more than a liberal sprinkling.

The rich vein of comedy that runs through the episode is what helps Negative Reaction stand proudly amongst the series’ finest efforts. Right from Columbo’s entrance, when a fellow officer mistakes him for someone trying to junk his car, the timing of the comic interludes is really first class.

I’ve already lavished praise on the irritable driving instructor scene, which tickles me every time, but we must also never forget what cracking entertainment we’re treated to at St Matthew’s Mission, when Columbo encounters Joyce Van Patten’s loony nun.

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Columbo finds sympathy, beef stew and empty platitudes in abundance at St Matthews Mission

After a sleepless night, Columbo is looking even scruffier than usual and is of course mistaken for a derelict by the nun, who welcomes him warmly, serves him up a dish of beef stew and shakes her head at the state of his appearance. “That coat, that coat, that coat…” she clucks before bustling off to find him a replacement.

She eventually returns with a warmer coat, at which point the Lieutenant has to politely explain that he’s very fond of his coat and has had it for seven years, a fact the nun laments, saying: “Oh you poor man, don’t be ashamed.” When Columbo subsequently reveals he’s from the police and is investigating a case, she looks at him as if he’s a master of disguise. “You mean you’re working undercover?” she asks wide-eyed. “How clever you are, Lieutenant. You know, you fooled even me!” It’s TV gold!

The scene is made better by the presence of series regular Vito Scotti, cast as Thomas Dolan, and on scintillating form. I’d go so far as to say this is Vito’s best Columbo outing, as he gives Dolan an air of pleasant nobility, almost aristocratic, as the Lieutenant attempts unsuccessfully to pick his hungover brain about the events of the day before.

This is what Columbo as a show does so well: bring in a character in a small role but make them terrifically human and interesting in their own right. I’d love to know Dolan’s story. How is this articulate and witty man so down on his luck? All credit to Scotti for doing so much with what could have been a forgettable role. I think I speak for fans everywhere when I scream: I LOVE VITO SCOTTI!

Columbo Vito Scotti Negative Reaction

I friggin’ love Vito and don’t care who knows it!

More fun is to be had during Columbo’s interactions with Galesko, never more so than during the detective’s nonsensical chat about Dog being lovesick after the cocker spaniel next door moved away. “I don’t suppose you have a picture of a cocker spaniel around, do you?” he asks the incredulous photographer, who really doesn’t know what to make of it all – a classic Columbo disarming manoeuvre.

While there are plenty of laughs to be had, Negative Reaction does hard drama just as well. The brutal manhandling of Frances by Galesko prior to her murder was pretty full-on by Columbo standards. Likewise Galesko’s heartless disposal of the affable Deschler, who at the last realised he’d simply been a pawn in a much bigger game. And better still, the conclusion of the episode is gritty, grimy and a rare of example of Columbo playing hardball to close out a case.

Let’s consider the ending in more detail. It’s certainly one of the series’ best ever gotcha moments and is so good because it gives us genuine insight into just what Columbo is willing to do in the line of duty – and how he subsequently feels about having done it. We’ve seen Columbo employ suspect tactics to trick his quarry into giving themselves away in the past – notably in Death Lends a Hand. But on this occasion, forcing Galesko’s hand and cracking the case seems to give him no pleasure. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The conclusion of the episode is gritty, grimy and a rare of example of Columbo playing hardball to close out a case.”

I’ve debated the enigmatic, slump-shouldered freeze-frame ending with fellow fans on social media many times. Just what was going through Columbo’s head? Some say the Lieutenant was simply exhausted after a long, trying case. Others believe the presence of the photo of Frances Galesko was a sobering reminder of the waste of life.

I favour a different interpretation: internal conflict through knowing he’s had to stoop low to conquer. There are a couple of reasons why. After Galesko identifies the incriminating camera, Columbo can barely bring himself to look his adversary in the eye as he explains the significance of Galesko’s misjudgement. He even says “Sorry, sir” just before the aghast Galesko is read his rights and led away.

To me that’s a clear indication that his actions have crossed some sort of self-imposed moral boundary, leaving Columbo empty and jaded despite achieving his ultimate aim: a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory.

The grubby setting of the police ‘dungeon’ also sets this scene apart. We rarely see Columbo in his workplace. Indeed show creators Levinson and Link never liked to show the Lieutenant at the police station, believing it eroded the power of his visits to society’s elite. This has never bothered me in the least, though, as any time we get to see Columbo in his natural environment, freed from the bumbling act he puts on to fool his suspects, is to be treasured.

We even get to see Columbo in the real underbelly of LA society when he’s wandering the downtown LA streets looking for the Mission in his bid to find Dolan, and we can see that he’s equally at home in the presence of prince or pauper, in palace or slum.

Columbo Mike Lally Negative Reaction

This is a bit different to the mansions of Bel Air, innit Pops?

We’ve already covered the fine performances of Van Dyke, Van Patten, Storch and Scotti, but Negative Reaction is another prime example of a strong ensemble cast all bringing their A-Game to proceedings, and helping to believably flesh out their characters.

As Alvin Deschler, Don Gordon gives us a character we can root for, as he seems so well intentioned it’s impossible to not feel sympathy when he’s slain. However, the clever script gives us reason to question how far along the path to reform this ex-con really is.

The camera shop clerk describes Deschler as a ‘cheap bum’ and references the fact that he bought a $20 camera and asked for a receipt for $100. This isn’t the act of a sweet soul desperate to make his way in the world, it’s the sign of a dishonest crook taking advantage of his fellow man. Again we’re presented with a fully-realised character with depth beyond what we see on screen.

“Negative Reaction is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, which is wonderfully paced and which effortlessly treads the line between darkness and light.”

The same can be said of Antoinette Bower, who, as Frances, is as convincing a fishwife as we see in the series. She makes Galesko’s life a misery – even goading him right up to the moment he pulls the trigger. I’m interested in their relationship, too, as Galesko states that he has been ‘chained to her’ for three years. Have they only been married that long? Or is it only the last three years that have been miserable? I’m left wanting to know more about how their relationship reached the point where Galesko feels that murder is his only option.

Was the delectable Miss Lorna McGrath (played confidently by the stunning Joanna Cameron) the root cause of their unhappiness? Perhaps she came into Galesko’s life three years prior, stoking bitter jealousy in Frances who could see the mutual attraction between the two. Alas, we’ll never know.

Only one thing’s for sure. Lorna is H-to-the-O-to-the-T, and the sort of young lady that could turn many a middle-aged, grey-haired, bearded, loveless photographer’s head. One can only wonder what type of photos Galesko was planning to take on his trip to the Philippines with Miss McGrath. Ones unfit for publication if I’m any judge, the filthy beast!

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Joanna Cameron as Lorna McGrath is the apple of many a Columbo fan’s eye

This all sounds like an absolute love-in, doesn’t it? So are there any weaknesses? Well, sort of, but nothing to seriously dampen enthusiasm. Although I rate Van Dyke’s performance, I can’t help but feel that some of his angry exchanges with Columbo would have had more power if delivered by a more snarling, unsympathetic type like Robert Culp. But that’s a very minor niggle.

Slightly more troubling is the lack of clarity around motive. Is Galesko really so shallow that a bit of nagging and a longing to romp with Miss McGrath would drive him to murder? We’re not given any concrete reasons, so we have to assume that yes, he is! It places him a similar bracket to Tommy Brown from Swan Song, whose only motive in murdering Edna was to get rich and get laid. As inferred earlier, I’d like to know more about what was driving Galesko to commit murder, but I can live without knowing given how ruddy entertaining the whole episode is.

In conclusion, Negative Reaction is a thoroughly enjoyable romp from go to woah, which is wonderfully paced and which effortlessly treads the line between darkness and light, playfulness and pathos. I can pay it fewer higher compliments than that.

Did you know?

Dick Van Dyke and Peter Falk became very good friends off-screen and Van Dyke even had the honour of unveiling Falk’s posthumous Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in July 2013, Lord love ‘im!

Peter Falk Hollywood Walk of Fame

How I rate ’em

A superior outing in every regard, Negative Reaction is definitely at Columbo‘s top table and sits shoulder to shoulder with any of the Lieutenant’s greatest adventures. 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. Negative Reaction
  6. A Friend in Deed
  7. Death Lends a Hand
  8. A Stitch in Crime
  9. Double Exposure
  10. Lady in Waiting
  11. Any Old Port in a Storm
  12. Prescription: Murder ————– A-List ends here——
  13. An Exercise in Fatality
  14. Swan Song
  15. The Most Crucial Game
  16. Etude in Black
  17. Candidate for Crime
  18. Greenhouse Jungle
  19. Requiem for a Falling Star
  20. Blueprint for Murder
  21. Ransom for a Dead Man
  22. Dead Weight
  23. The Most Dangerous Match
  24. Lovely but Lethal ————– B-List ends here————
  25. Short Fuse
  26. Mind Over Mayhem
  27. Dagger of the Mind

How do you rate Negative Reaction? Let me know in the comments section below, and if you hold it dear consider giving it a vote in the Columbo fans’ favourite episode poll.

If you’ve got a hankering to view it now, Negative Reaction is available to watch in full online here (depending on which jurisdiction you’re in, but have a go, eh?).

And of course I’ll be back in a few weeks with a review of By Dawn’s Early Light, notable for being Patrick McGoohan’s introduction to the series. See you then!

Read my episode highlights from Negative Reaction here

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224 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Negative Reaction

  1. I first saw this episode sometime around when it first aired, but not from the beginning. I remember being annoyed by what seemed to me a gaping plot hole (for those who remember “film” photography): since when are negatives kept IN THE CAMERA?

    Having just seen the recent meTV broadcast, I now see that the camera was a Polaroid, and they make a point of showing an additional shot of the victim inside. It’s as if this last of the multiple shots were never pulled out. But then the print would be face-down, pressed against the negative material, not face-up as we see it. Further, the Polaroid processing would not have begun, as it is the act of pulling out the photo (squeezing embedded chemical pods through rollers) that starts this.

    As a borderline old guy now, I found much to enjoy in the episode, but am still puzzling this (full disclosure: I am a former pro photographer, and yeah I have a pedantic side.) It still seems contrived and implausible, and this should have also been evident to most of those on the set.

  2. God, I love the show Columbo and I love this website! This review had me laughing so hard! I enjoyed this episode very much. I agree – the scenes where the nun at the shelter mistakes Columbo for another homeless soul was so well-acted and so funny. And Larry Storch was brilliant as the anal-retentive driving examiner. The conclusion, where Columbo tricks Galeski into incriminating himself was outstanding. The ONLY flaw that I see in this brilliantly-written plot is the fact that Galesko is planning on taking his beautiful young assistant to the Philippines, and she is getting her passport the day of Galesko’s wives murder, or maybe one day later. Wouldn’t that raise a few eyebrows for impropriety? Again, that’s the only beef I have with this well-acted and we’ll-written episode. Bravo, LT Columbo!

  3. I have to say I was convinced MacGruder, the one whose actor is John Ashton, used the same actor as Dr. Eric Mason in the killer dogs episode, but I checked and I saw it’s Nicol Williamson who has that role, so the actors must look quite similar to make me think it was the same for both characters!

  4. I never understood the setup with the clock. A clock in a picture does not prove that the picture was taken at the time the clock is showing. The clock simply could be wrong. As a matter of fact it shows 2(pm presumably) when it was taken at 12:45pm. So I don’t understand why the killer put it to 2 and why Columbo shows it at 10. In either case it proves nothing at all.

    • Well, Galesko was establishing an alibi by ultimately being someplace else at 2:00 when the murder was assumably taking place. The reversal to 10:00 was simply part of the ruse by Columbo to force Galesko to incriminate himself by seeking out the camera used at the scene of the crime.

  5. One of my very favourite episodes and yes, it’s one of those rare instances where you don’t notice the extended running time. There’s always something going on.

    The first time I watched Double Negative and Columbo is about to reveal the blown up photograph at the end – I thought I had guessed the gotcha. I fully expected the picture to be a blown-up image of his wife’s eye, with Galesko reflected in it as he took the photograph. Conclusive proof!

    All these years later, I’m still not sure if that’s a better ending or not…

    • I like the idea of this alternate ending, but I am afraid, by 1974, cameras that can take such HD photographies were not available. In the wife’s eye, a reflection of Paul from that distance would cause a black spot on the photo and would remain a black spot even in the biggest blow-up. Some say, they have a similar technical problem with the ending of “Playback”: They cannot believe that a blow-up of a white spot on the screen would show the written name on the invitation.

  6. I watched the episode lately, like many others and I think Galesko is not AS shallow as it appears.
    I believe it is heavily hinted that his wife may be the reason he is in an artistic slump. He is a commended photographer that withers away doing family pictures and there has to be a reason for it – I think in some way shape or form his wife is the one that has been holding him back, probably because his photography work of the past included a lot of traveling, like spending months in St.Quentin. It is clear from her reaction to the farm that his wife does not like his “silly little ideas” and treats them with disaproval and even worse, derision.
    Considering this, he is anything but shallow in his motives; it’s not simply because of a nagging wife and a quick romp with his assistant, but also to regain some of his former artistic freedom and glory, he does say he wants that “impossible comeback” and for an artist I can only imagine how it was eating him to be chained to a wife that wouldn’t allow him to express himself.

    • Maybe so, but why didn’t he just divorce her? My thought was that she was the one with money, but that was never brought up in the episode. It could be true, though. I’m not sure any photographer makes the kind of money he seemed to have.

      • It would make sense if Frances had the money, but Mr. Galesko never acts like it. When he announces that he wants to buy the ranch, she scoffs at the idea, but never objects with a “well not with MY money!” or anything like that. My non-canonical guess is that Mr. Galesko feels that a divorce would simply be too expensive and time consuming. He doesn’t want to split his fortune, but more than that, he really REALLY hates that woman. He doesn’t want her away, he wants her GONE.

        As he says “I have this dream, Frances. I’m working, and there’s a phone call, and he says, “Terribly sorry, Mr. Galesko, but… your wife’s dead. Unfortunate accident,” and then I always wake up, and I want to cry. Because you’re still alive, Frances, and I have nothing to face that day, but another 24 hours with a domineering, nagging, suffocating woman who took all the joy out of my life.”

        That’s cold! Anyway, if that’s the case, I think it might be one of the few murders in the series that was committed out of pure hate. Not money, not to cover something else up, not jealousy.

      • I think, Frances is the type of wife that would refuse to get divorced only to tease the husband. If Paul had told her “I’ve decided to divorce you!”, she would reply “That would suit you, but I won’t let you go, what d’ya say now, huh?” The next best solution would be the one we see in the episode.

  7. The brilliance of the gotcha in this episode comes from how Columbo sets it up to look like his error; he expects Galesko’s reaction to be quick, arrogant and stupid. Give him another chance to take a whack at your intelligence, and he’ll forget what he’s not supposed to recognize. It’s like Suitable for Framing, but even more insightful of the killer’s faults.

  8. One thing I thought they could have done with the photo of the wife was to use the shadows, much like they’re used on a sundial, to establish that the time was really 10, not 2pm. A great episode, we were laughing so much during the nun scene.

  9. Dick Van Dyke seems to slip in what I think is a quick comical “good riddance“ expression as he sees the old biddy Mrs Chatworth to the door. Otherwise, yes, it’s great to see him play a villain for once.

    Vito Scotti is wonderful as the wino, and it says something about Columbo’s humanity that he treats the “wino” with respect as he does with anyone else. He does the same throughout the series. Perhaps that’s because in his line of work he sees so-called “good people,” who have wealth and power, committing brutal murders.

    One moment I thought was interesting, DVD says he would offer Columbo a drink but he says he’s “not a drinker.” Earlier that year he starred in a TV movie about an alcoholic. When it was released he revealed that he was an alcoholic himself, one of the first celebrities to go public about it and because so was widely reported. Sadly, that had hindered his career had been after his first classic sitcom ended in 1966. I’m glad to say as of this writing he’s still with us at age 94, and he’s delighted when fans come up to him in public places.

    With regards to Ms Cameron. I believe I was 13 when I saw this back in 1974. Sigh. Yeah, me too.

  10. I don’t advocate murder or violence…but what a bitch! I Frances might be the least sympathetic victim in the whole series. A real harpy, right till her demise. I’m not saying she deserved it, but she was certainly asking for it.

  11. If you’ve unhappily married for three years, saying that “the last three years” have been the worst years of the marriage would be a pretty funny way to say the whole marriage was unhappy.

    “How long have you been having problems in your marriage?” “Three years.” “And how long have you been married?” “Three years.” That sort of thing. 🙂

  12. Galesko has much simpler ways of proving the photo is reversed. For one, there were two photos, one that was sent, one that was discarded in the fire grate – he can ask for that one to be dug out. For another, they can go back to the ranch and show that the room is the wrong way around. Galesko can say say he notices htis because he is used to observing detaisl of this nature. Diving for the camera is a highly unlikely course of action.

    • Painted into the corner, feeling uncomfortably there, and never expecting that Columbo could have installed a clever trap, Galesko sees the quickest way out of the corner in doing what he does. Every other escape would have taken more time and more pain.

      • Personally, I think that Galesko’s reaction was so unlikely that Columbo wouldn’t have bothered with the set-up. After all, Galesko had no need to panic, he had all the time in the world to prove the photo a reversal.

        He was capable of thinking on his feet as he showed thoughout the espisode – eg his invention about having to go to a telephone box prior to the trip to the junkyard. in ths case though, he doesn’t even have to think up a lie, just point out the facts.

      • I have just thought, Galesko could still have explained his dive for the camera – he could have said he knew a polaroid was involved as it was apparent from the one lef in the grate that it was developed on the spot and none of the other camerashad that facility. Also, he may well have known just from handling it that it that it was a polaroid.

        • Columbo did brilliantly unsettle Galesko’s mind throughout the investigation. Columbo has every reason to expect no laid back, easy minded reaction after his premeditated foolish scenery, implying that without any discussion Galesko would have lost the battle (“Sorry about me destroying the original, but this is the photo, and you’re under arrest, Sir!”)
          A furious character like Galesko wouldn’t calm down in such an offence.
          Indeed, Galesko could still rescue himself by referring to his professional knowledge about cameras, but perplexed as he is at that moment, he doesn’t think of this option. Every dog has its day. Catching the killer with his own weapon is the best way to end a Columbo episode. Every other solution would have taken the power out of the gotcha.

    • I think the point was, that in making the blow up, the picture had to first be turned into a new negative, which would have been a reverse of the original negative. Columbo learned that at the camera shop and was aware that DVD would be aware of it as well.

  13. While I really like this episode (I saw it years ago, and the only thing I remembered was that wonderful final scene), the scene with Larry Storcg bugs me.

    Both he and Falk are great, but I cannot help but think the scene ruins the character of Columbo.

    Since Storch is in no way a suspect, Columbo should not be “in character,” which is how I really think of him. Columbo is a character, a police detective, and played by Peter Falk. BUT . . . Columbo ALSO plays a character, a bumbling fool, which he certainly is not. He plays this role to allow him to continue his investigation, and to make his suspect overconfident. But he is NOT a bumbling fool.

    But if we watch Columbo in the Larry Storch scene, he IS a bumbler. Why is he playing that?

    But if he isn’t playing his Columbo “persona,” then this is really him, an he’s a bit of an idiot.

    See the problem?

    (I’d be happy to be disabused of this notion, really.)

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if driving with an examiner as your passenger would cause anyone to become self-conscious and make more mistakes. On top of that, even competent drivers regularly make lots of little mistakes, the kind that only an examiner would notice and point out. Most of us wouldn’t pass our driving exams on the first try if we had to take them again first thing tomorrow morning, and yet we still get from A to B every day without killing ourselves.

      Columbo probably drives as well as the average driver in LA, but when you have an examiner scrutinising you and barking instructions at you, your driving suddenly gets a lot worse!

      I can also dig this scene as a critique of all the times on TV when the characters are driving but not really looking where they’re going. It stresses me out because most of the time it just means that they’re not really driving, it’s being simulated…but every once in a while the fact that they’re not looking is deliberate, so that they can have an accident, such as running someone over. You never know for sure if you can relax and trust that this is not going to happen. So I, like the examiner, find myself saying “Watch the road!!!” to the TV. 🙂

  14. Having watched this great episode at least a half-dozen times over the decades, this was the one (along with ‘A Friend in Deed’ and ‘Candidate for Crime’) that really got me into this iconic series and ranks easily in my all-time Top 10.

  15. Thoroughly enjoyable episode.Some bits were predicatble such as Columbo assumed to be a wino and his car mistaken as for going in for scrap.Columbo’s battered old banger is a bit wearsome.The gag might have been amusing at first but to draw it out for so many years just gets boring.And the suspect getting impatient with the leuitenant during a murder investigation and telling him he has just 5 minutes as he is very busy,does’nt stack up.

    • One of my favorite episodes. Out of curiosity I wonder why the actress that played the wife had a stunt double, when DVD is struggling and tying up his wife, we don’t see her face, you notice that her hair color and length is lighter and longer.

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  17. The bit where he keeps pressing the “thingies” under where the receiver goes on the telephone always reminds me of the Miami Twice episode of Only Fools and Horses, and vice versa. “The lines dead…well do that (repeatedly presses the thingies on the phone)…why? ’cause that’s what they do in American films!”. If only i knew what those “thingies” were actually called! Columbo was (and still is) hugely popular in the UK, i wonder if the writers main inspiration for that scene was this episode of Columbo. I’m sure they do “do that in (old) American films”, but it’s a near certainty that he saw that Columbo episode growing up.

    One of those episodes where i imagine pretty much everybody has it in their top 20, but not many would have it at number one. It’s worth the admission money for the homeless shelter scenes alone. The “gotcha” moment is also one of my favourites. In my head i can hear Dick van Dyke doing a Homer Simpson style “D’oh!” when he realises he’s been “done up like a kipper, guv’nor!”

    • That thingie is called the telephone hook, or switchhook, sir. Gone are the days of the landline. But back in their day, you would pick up the receiver, or the thing you hold up to your head to talk to and listen. When you first picked it up, if you were making a call, you would get a dial tone, which was just a steady low sounding tone. If you didn’t make a call fast enough, say…after a minute, it would time out and then you would hear a series of quick buzzing sounds. They sounded a bit like the violin playing during the shower scene from Psycho. If you still didn’t make a call, the line would be dead. After which, if anyone tried to call you, they would hear a different series of steady toned beeps, indicating that the line was either in use, or the phone was “Off the hook.” Ah, you see now, sir?

      Now, say if you were receiving a call, like if your dog ‘Dog’ was at the vet, when you pick up, you would say “Hello” and the vet would say hello, and then you would talk about ‘Dog’, or your cousin’s crazy antics with bocci balls at a recent wedding. But if your wife was in the other room of your small apartment, and you didn’t want to interact with her, after the vet hung up, you put your finger over the hook, and presto, the phone is “hung up” and the receiver is silent. Then you can pretend to talk to your vet, or the person holding your wife ransom, until the cows come home. Of course, if a phone call comes in as you’re doing so, the gig is up.

      • 😀 “This ties up all the loose ends that were bothering me. Thank you very much, sir, and it’s such a tragedy that this detailed technological expert knowledge should no longer be useful nowadays!”

      • Also, in TV and movies at least, repeatedly pressing that thing connects you to an operator, who can diagnose the problem and try to reconnect you. I haven’t dared to try this in real life because I don’t want to get in trouble and/or be billed for wasting the operator’s time! 🙂

  18. Galesko mentioned taking pictures in the studio for three years. Maybe his wife made him stop gallivanting around the world taking pictures and that’s why he had to tell her to so he’ll go back to doing what he loved.

  19. My second fave overall episode to “Friend in Deed”. The gotcha is a close second to “Framing”. Any time there’s an accomplice, the murder is even more difficult to prove. And just like “Framing”, he knocks off the accomplice. A very difficult murder to solve and an utterly classic episode. And who can forget Lorna? Second best Columbo girl to Trisha Noble, perhaps?

  20. Watched Negative Reaction Yesterday , Very good episode I always enjoy this one , Great Clues so , A double murder a Fake Kidnapping , plenty funny scenes a Great performance from dick van dyke and a Great gotcha to round it all off on the whole a top episode and is placed very
    highly in my overall table and always will be a top 5 for me and hopefully many other peoples .

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  22. Joanna Cameron also had a turn as the mighty Isis on the eponymous kids’ show. Thus she is not only the apple of many male Columbo fans’ eyes, she fueled many prepubescent boys’ fantasies… or so I’ve heard.)

  23. Great episode. DVP was a great comedy actor in his day, but also a very good and under-rated serious actor. One minor flaw or thing I noticed. When he ties up his wife on the chair, he does this extremely fast. Not only does he tie her up quickly, but also very easily … and with intricate knots. How he ties her up and with such knots and she seemingly cannot fight him off is not possible. Maybe they have had him knock her out first with some sleeping pills in her drink or something. I’m a semi-strong guy and I know I couldn’t tie someone up like that without getting into a big fight with scratches and defensive wounds and I still might lose the battle. Outside of that, the episode is a usual Columbo winner.

    • Yeah. I had the same reaction. She was very passive in that scene, though Galesko seemed to be the wimp in the marriage.

      • I saw that scene more like his wife thought he was messing around, playing some silly game, so she didn’t struggle while he was tying her up and so she was relaxed about him doing and it was only later when he produced the gun she knew something was awry!


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