Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 4

Episode review: Columbo By Dawn’s Early Light

Dawn opening titles

October 27, 1974 was a BIG day in Columbo circles: it was the day Patrick McGoohan made his series’ debut in By Dawn’s Early Light.

Yes folks, the dear Lieutenant’s 28th outing would pit him against one of the most iconic guest star adversaries in the show’s proud history, all set against the austere backdrop of the Haynes Military Academy. On paper, this is all terribly exciting. But does Early Light live up to the hype? Or to put it another way, is it a full-blooded hero of an episode, or the televisual equivalent of a pathetic Boodle Boy? And are we ready to find out?


Then read on! By Dawn's Early Light cast

Dramatis personae

BOODLE BOY: Robert Clotworthy Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk Colonel Lyle C. Rumford: Patrick McGoohan William Haynes: Tom Simcox Cadet Springer: Mark Wheeler Captain Loomis: Burr DeBenning Sergeant Kramer: Bruce Kirby Cadet Morgan: Bruno Kirby Miss Brady: Madeleine Sherwood Written by: Howard Berk Directed by: Harvey Hart

Episode synopsis: Columbo By Dawn’s Early Light

A lone, sweaty man is hard at toil in the crude kitchenette of a no-frills homestead. The nature of the work? Tampering with explosives! The mystery man tips gunpowder from a 75mm shell and adheres a ring of putty-like substance to the inside of the casing before replacing the projectile’s cover and washing the powder down the sink.
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It’s either a humid morning, or the thrill of kneading plastic explosive before breakfast is just too real!

He dresses in an army uniform and silently slips out into the lightening dawn. He takes the shell and returns it to a locked case in the armoury before strolling out to a vintage French 75mm cannon and surreptitiously pushes a cloth down the barrel. Turning to leave the scene, he stops. His view centres on a jar of CIDER hanging in a dormitory window, which he can just make out through a small gap in the trees. A look of thunder that suggests someone is going to pay flickers over his face as he takes an about turn and strides away. A bugle sounding reveille breaks the silence and a nervous, fresh-faced lad knocks of the door of the army man’s abode. It’s BOODLE BOY MILLER (Woooooooooooooooooooo!), whose poor geometry skillz appear to have landed him the unenviable role of lackey to the cannon-corrupting Colonel Lyle C. Rumford for the rest of the semester. BOODLE BOYAnd while the coffee he’s delivering meet’s Rumford’s approval, the state of his shoes does not. It’s Founder’s Day, you see, the most important date on the calendar of the Haynes Military Academy, and certainly not a day to scrimp on the shoe shine. “How do you explain those shoes, Miller?” the Colonel barks. “Those shoes are a disgrace. Following this morning’s ceremonies you will report to my office for discipline.” The Boodle Boy sags like a limp lettuce and trails away to an uncertain future… The Colonel remains in combative mood after arriving at his office to meet a special guest. That guest of honour at Founder’s Day is none other than William Haynes, grandson of the academy patriarch, who has had a fractious relationship with Rumford since his own days as a ‘poor cadet’ some 20 years prior. Haynes has his heart set on shutting down the academy and replacing it with a co-ed junior college – something that Rumford vehemently objects to. But Haynes’ mind is made up. The academy is failing, despite its proud history. Capacity is 6000 cadets. There are just 1100 enrolled. “The truth is nobody wants to play soldier anymore. The war’s over,” says Haynes.

“The shoe-shamed Boodle Boy sags like a limp lettuce and trails away to an uncertain future.”

“It’s never over, William. There are too many people set on destroying our country,” the Colonel returns, evenly. “And that is why institutions like this academy cannot be allowed to die.” The two trade barbs, with Rumford leaving his office door ajar to allow busybody secretary Miss Brady to overhear. Rumford goads Haynes into presiding over the Founder’s Day ceremony by telling him he’s not welcome and should beat it off campus ASAP. Haynes takes the bait like a trooper. He will not play a background role – he’ll be front and centre and will fire the ceremonial cannon shot to commence the day’s festivities. In seizing the opportunity to hurt Rumford, Haynes has sealed his own fate. We now cut to the pageantry of the day. Cadets dressed like toy soldiers march on parade, brass band tunes a-blaring. The cannon is prepped to fire, rigged shell and all, and Haynes strides out to meet his destiny. One yank of the cord and KABLAMO! William Haynes is splashed all over the parade ground.
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Rumford initially mistakes Columbo for a slack-jawed gawker at the crime scene

Predictably Lieutenant Columbo is amongst the officers sent to investigate. And just as predictably he’s mistaken for a meddling onlooker by Rumford, who asks Sergeant Kramer to remove him from the crime scene. Word on the street is that this was a tragic accident. The old cannon – a relic from the First World War – had simply fired one shot too many. William Haynes was in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more to it than that. It’s only Columbo who’s not buying into the popular viewpoint. He finds a piece of the exploded cannon barrel with a thread attached. Subsequent searching leads him to find an oily rag beneath a patrol car. Looks like it must have come from the cannon. But what can it mean? Columbo makes a beeline for Rumford, who is seated in academy chapel with hundreds of cadets to hear the hastily-arranged prayer service. Columbo shows the rag to Rumford, asking what it might be. A little too quickly Rumford claims not to have the slightest idea. But when he hears that Columbo will take it to the lab he takes a closer look and suggests it could be a rag used to clean the cannon. Of course, were it to be left in the barrel it could have caused an explosion, but the Colonel suggests that’s unlikely to happen at an academy of such standing. Nevertheless, the two head to Rumford’s office to check files to see which of the bungling cadets might be responsible. One lad who isn’t to blame is BOODLE BOY Miller. He’s nervously waiting for the Colonel’s return and when Rumford shows a softer side by patting his shoulder and letting him off, he first flinches like a wimp, then skips off as gleefully as a gambolling puppy. Yes folks, everything’s coming up Milhouse Miller! Although tragically for the viewer, the cleft-chinned cadet figures in the case no further. SAD FACE. A search of the files reveals that one Cadet Springer had been on cannon cleaning detail – and that he’s a poor cadet with a number of demerits on record. The Colonel concedes that if any cadet could have made such a gaffe as to leave a cleaning rag in a cannon, Springer would be that cadet. As Columbo heads off to question the youth, Captain Mainwaring, I mean Loomis bustles in and is given a proper down-dressing by his superior officer, who berates him for allowing hard cider to be brewed under his nose in Pershing Hall and orders him to deliver the culprits. The harassed Loomis scats as sheepishly as the Boodle Boy doubtless expected to just moments earlier. Columbo attempts to make light of the cider infraction. “I guess boys will be boys,” he says with a smile. “Boys will be boys, Lieutenant,” Rumford deadpans back. “But someone’s got to turn them in to men.”
Mainwaring - Loomis

Captain Loomis: heir apparent to the Mainwaring dynasty?

On his way to Pershing Hall, Columbo catches up with his fellow officers, all waiting impatiently to be dismissed. They pass the Lieutenant a blueprint that they recovered from Haynes’ car, which will be an important clue later in the episode. Finding Springer alone in his dormitory room, Columbo hands him the cloth he found, which the cadet instantly identifies as a cleaning rag due to the gun oil on it. Springer repeatedly rejects any insinuation that he might have left the rag in the cannon, and also explains that it’s considered an honour detail to clean the cannon – a concept that puzzles Columbo given that Springer has a track record of underachiving.
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Cadet Springer: acing rag identification tests since 1974

The Colonel explains away this apparent discrepancy over a rudimentary dinner in the mess hall. Sometimes giving an honour detail to a troublesome cadet can buck them up, he says. Columbo, for his part, says that he thinks Springer is holding something back, but that he believes he didn’t leave the rag in the cannon because he identified it so quickly. With his wife visiting her mother in Fresno, Columbo decides to spend the night at the academy to continue his investigations. Woken at 3am with a racing mind, Columbo wanders to a phone booth and rings campus security guard, Officer Corso, who had earlier told him that the fateful cannon explosion had been heard 8 miles away at Westlake. Yet the cannon is fired every day at sundown. So why only this time was it heard from so far away? The shirty officer has no other explanation other than ‘the cannon never exploded before’, which doesn’t satisfy the Lieutenant but there’s no other course of action open to him than to slink back to bed… He gets a rude awakening at reveille the next morning as an energetic young cadet springs into his room, cracks his behind and bellows ‘Up and at ’em trooper!’ While freshening up, the bleary-eyed detective notices some dust on the side of the sink. Looking up to the air vent he can see that’s where the dust was from. In a mere moment, he’s cracked the cider mystery that continues to elude the hapless Loomis. His next meeting with Rumford comes on the parade ground later that morning. He has interesting news: a ballistics investigation has revealed traces of gelignite in the breech of the cannon. The supposed blank shell has been tampered with, and that means murder, pure and simple. But who’s guilty? He doesn’t suspect Springer, so has next to nothing to go on. Dawn 2 The problem of the blueprint is the next thing to vex Columbo. It just doesn’t tally up with the current building layout. Why build a new gym, for example, when there’s a perfectly good one already? It’s at this point that Loomis informs him that Springer has gone AWOL and to put out an APB. Columbo assures him he will, but instead he goes about investigating the crime his way. He’s already figured out that Springer has a girlfriend from the nearby Valley High School after noticing the pledge ring he wore on a chain round his neck. Tracking down Springer’s love interest Susan, Columbo tails her to Springer’s hideaway and overhears the lad’s concerns that he’s been set up. Revealing himself, Columbo asks them to spill the beans. Cut to Rumford’s office. Columbo is with Springer and they drop a proverbial bombshell on the Colonel. Springer couldn’t have left the rag in the cannon. Why? Because he didn’t clean the cannon the night before. Moreover, he was OFF CAMPUS that night. While he won’t say where he was (in Susan’s arms, no doubt), Columbo verifies the alibi. Springer is out of the running for the Academy’s Murder of the Year Award!

“Springer couldn’t have left the rag in the cannon. Why? Because he didn’t clean the cannon the night before.”

Springer is confined to quarters and dismissed, but Columbo’s now got the scent and bombards Rumford with questions. It’s starting to look like Rumford was the target of the cannon rigging. Who would do such a thing? A wronged cadet? A love rival? A disgruntled war vet? Rumford rejects all possibilities. So if he wasn’t the target, Columbo thinks aloud, then William Haynes must have been. So who would want to kill him? Their next discussion, later that day, regards the mystery blueprint. Columbo is puzzled why a bathroom on the plan has no urinals if it’s a male-only military academy. As a result, Rumford comes clean about Haynes’ plans to turn the place into a co-ed junior college. However, he says it was nothing but a ‘crackpot scheme’ that the board of trustees is dead against (contrary to what Haynes told us earlier in the episode). Rumford’s immediate focus, however, is on catching the CIDER ROGUES! So in the small hours of the night he orders a snap inspection of Pershing Hall, requiring all the cadets, and a sleepy Lieutenant Columbo, to fall out.
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Columbo is absolutely down with the cider-brewing kids at Pershing Hall

Every room is checked to no avail. Finally Rumford orders Loomis to check the latrine and to investigate the air vent. The cadets are on tenterhooks – but the cider isn’t there! They can’t understand it until Columbo wanders in and takes them into his confidence. He’ll keep quiet about the cider, but he needs to know everything about it. As dawn breaks, Loomis calls Rumford and invites him to the parade ground. It’s about the cider! Meeting at the cannon, Loomis points to the cider hanging in same window where Rumford saw it on the fateful morning. Loomis is sent galloping off to get the second floor to fall out as Columbo makes his way over and finds time to grill Rumford about precisely when he last saw the cider. Night or day? Weekday or weekend? The Colonel is stuttering in his replies, but adopts a masterful tone when the weary cadets are lined up in front of him. When he orders the culprits to identify themselves, though, Columbo steps in. “All cadets remain where you are!” he shouts, much to the ire of the Colonel who isn’t used to having an order countermanded. However, the game’s up. Columbo By Dawn's Early Light Columbo lays down the law. The only person who ever saw the cider hanging in the window was Rumford. The only night it was ever left out to ferment was Saturday night. It was brought in at 6.25am, before reveille, to avoid it being seen, and it would have been too dark to have seen it before 6.15am. The only place on the academy it could have been seen from was the cannon – and that places Rumford at the cannon on the morning William Haynes died. For the embattled Colonel, the war is finally over. He admits the deed, but with no contrition. In his opinion, it had to be done to protect American interests. Columbo allows Rumford one last opportunity to dismiss the cadets before he surrenders to the detective as credits roll…

Early Light‘s best moment: the companiable chat

Dawn 13 I wanted to include Boodle Boy here, but McGoohan’s excellence during his companiable chat with Columbo really warrants the highest praise. One suspects there isn’t a lot of small talk and bonhomie in Rumford’s life, and that’s what makes his honest and friendly exchange with the detective in his palatial office all the more memorable. As well as providing us with insight into Rumford’s absolute commitment to US national interests, we’re also given a hint of the man behind the uniform, the man who would hang up that uniform and tend his roses if wars didn’t need to be fought. It’s a humanising scene for Rumford, strangely sad, and one that I suspect quietly impresses Columbo, who has a soft spot for excellence and dedication in others regardless of their crimes (think Adrian Carsini and Tommy Brown).

“It’s a humanising scene for Rumford, strangely sad, and one that I suspect quietly impresses Columbo.”

Rumford is candid enough to offer the Lieutenant a quality cigar and even becomes the first character (I think) to overtly ask whether Columbo has a first name. “I do,” the detective concedes. “My wife is about the only one that uses it.” A quiet, underplayed scene then, but one which I take considerable pleasure in viewing. McGoohan might have won his subsequent Emmy Award for this scene alone.

My take on By Dawn’s Early Light

Patrick McGoohan casts a large shadow over Columbo. He would ultimately play a Columbo killer more often than any other actor – 4 times – and would also have multiple writing and directing credits to his name over the ensuing quarter of a century.  Amazing, then, that we’re nearly two thirds of the way through the original series’ run by the time he makes his debut here. As a comparison, Robert Culp had wrapped up his trio of murderous appearances a season earlier, while Jack Cassidy already had two killer credits under his belt. Who could have predicted that McGoohan, then, would have such an enduring relationship with the show and with its leading man, Peter Falk?
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It was verily love at first sight for McGoohan and Falk

What’s more remarkable is that this is such an atypical McGoohan performance. He plays it so straight and is so restrained as Colonel Lyle C. Rumford that it could be a different actor entirely than the more eccentric, more ‘McGoohan’ roles he subsequently played in Columbo – notably in the bonkers Identity Crisis a year later, where McGoohan appeared to have a carte blanche to mould his character, and the whole episode (he directed) in his preferred style. It’s a quite marvellous, understated performance by McGoohan as Rumford, who appears to be playing a character a good deal older than his own 45 years at time of filming. He entirely succeeds in giving us a multi-layered character of great depth and intrigue. It would be easy to have made a military academy leader one-dimensional, and with lesser writing and a lesser actor we could have been given a forgettable villain. That’s definitely not the case here. McGoohan would go on to remember his Columbo debut very fondly, saying: “That’s probably my favourite [of the three Columbo episodes he was involved in in the 70s]. It might be my favourite role in the United States. It took a bit of work, but I thought it was excellent. It was on the basis of that experience that I agreed to do the others.”

“It’s a quite marvellous performance by McGoohan, who entirely succeeds in giving us a multi-layered character of great depth and intrigue.”

Let’s examine McGoohan’s Rumford more closely. Firstly, as the authority figure, the military man who makes others dance to the beat of his drum, he’s on the money. Cadet Springer aside, the rest of the Academy respects and fears him in equal measure. He’s a stickler for discipline and God help those who step out of line on his watch, because they’re going to be in for a world of hurt. Then we must consider Rumford’s devious, strategic mind. He’s clearly been planning the downfall of William Haynes for a long time, using Springer’s poor disciplinary record as a vehicle and smokescreen for committing murder. Consider: Springer was placed on cannon cleaning duty 3 weeks before the crime occurred. Rumford was able to plausibly claim that this ‘honour detail’ was given to Springer as a means of boosting his morale, while at the same time being able to perfectly use the cadet’s known foibles to portray him as a highly likely candidate to have caused the cannon explosion through simple carelessness. Sure, it’s pretty unethical for him to use Springer as a fall guy this way, but looking from Rumford’s perspective as a military leader, he’s shrewdly using what resources he has available to him to achieve his vision of victory. And that victory is safeguarding the future of the academy by eliminating Haynes and his co-ed plans, and by association safeguarding the US against foreign aggressors. That’s clever work.
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Ruthless and single-minded, Rumford poses a stern challenge to Columbo

Detractors might say that it’s pretty convenient that Haynes would rise to the bait and seal his own fate by presiding over the ceremonial cannon shot on Founder’s Day. After all, this is a duty that Rumford always carries out, and for the episode to work Haynes had to take the bait. I prefer to look at it from the perspective of Rumford really knowing his enemy (he had, after all, overseen Haynes’ own cadetship years before) and knowing what buttons to push to trigger him into a fatal mistake. That’s all well and good, but McGoohan’s greatest triumph is in making Rumford a strangely sympathetic figure, despite his total lack of contrition for his crime. This is achieved through knowing that Rumford’s motive had national interests at heart, but more powerfully through his interactions with Columbo, which go some way to revealing what type of man he is when not in uniform. During the companiable discussion outlined above, we learn that Rumford isn’t a bloodthirsty tyrant who terrifies weedy recruits for kicks or to boost his ego. He deeply cares about his country and wants to ensure the US Army has the best possible recruits to keep the country safe – ‘no more mama’s boys’, as he himself puts it. This is the life he has chosen, placing US interests above all else, including, it seems, his own.

“McGoohan’s greatest triumph is in making Rumford a strangely sympathetic figure, despite his total lack of contrition.”

Instead we see hints that Rumford is a lonely, isolated man with no love or fun in his life. There’s no Mrs Rumford, nor any suggestion that romance has ever been high on his agenda. He speaks of his rose garden at home that he’d be happy to tend if only there were no more wars to prepare for. It’s really quite sad. And that’s the crux of the Rumford character: he’s driven by discipline and duty. Everything else comes second. In that sense he’s like a more pleasant, nuanced forerunner to Jack Nicholson’s braying Colonol Jessup from A Few Good Men. All credit to writer Howard Berk for giving us a villain the majority of viewers can at least understand, even if they don’t openly like. Columbo’s opinion of Rumford seems to be just what the balanced viewer’s would be. The respect he affords the Colonel at episode’s end, when he allows him to address his cadets one last time is, in its own way, as kind an act as his toast with Adrian Carsini at the conclusion of Any Old Port in a Storm.
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The odd couple: poles apart, but the respect is there between Colonel and Lieutenant

Falk and McGoohan clearly hit it off on set. That much is evident in the later faith Falk placed in McGoohan as a Columbo co-star, writer and director. Both men admired the other’s approach to acting, and even if there’s little actual mirth in their exchanges in By Dawn’s Early Light, the seeds were sown for what would be a long and fruitful relationship. Would Early Light have been so restrained had it not been McGoohan’s debut? We can only speculate, but must give due props to director Harvey Hart, who successfully delivered a Columbo quite like no other. Rather like A Friend in Deed, this is an episode apart in many ways. It’s very quiet, with long interludes of near silence broken by sounds and conversation – particularly at the start when the Colonel is rigging the shell. There’s no musical score at all. Indeed the only music in the episode is that which is provided by the cadets on the drill field. This, combined with the location shooting and lack of humour, gives the episode a very different ‘feel’ to the average Columbo. It’s much more like a standalone movie in fact. This treatment makes sense. After all, war is hell and the spectre of Vietnam hangs over this episode like a pall. As Haynes himself puts it: ‘No one wants to play soldier anymore,’ – a sentiment that ran deep across the nation at the time. As a result, this is a serious representation of serious subject matter and lacks a lot of the little humorous asides that have become a hallmark for the series. There are some cute scenes, though. The wimpy Boodle Boy and zero-authoritaire Captain Loomis raise smiles, while Columbo’s rude awakening when he gets his bum cracked by that young cadet while reveille is still ringing in his ears is a fun moment. There are some nice fish-out-of-water scenes, too, as a baffled Columbo struggles to get a word out of straight-armed cadets running like dorks around campus, and is bewildered by first year cadets eating ‘square meals’ in the mess hall.
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We’re also treated to Bruce Kirby’s first turn as Sergeant Kramer, a workaday detective who here seems rather impatient with Columbo’s methods. Kramer would return in 5 subsequent episodes, making him the series’ single most recurring character aside from Columbo and Dog. Kirby also had the pleasure of sharing screen-time here with his son Bruno (of City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally fame), who starred as cider-brewing conspirator Cadet Morgan. In terms of lighthearted aspects, that’s about all we get. Whether this hurts the episode depends entirely on your point of view. For all its artfulness and weighty drama, just how enjoyable is By Dawn’s Early Light when compared to the very best instalments in the Columbo opus? I find that harder to quantify.

By Dawn’s Early Light is certainly compelling viewing, but it’s very straight-faced.”

I like to refer to Peter Falk’s own comments on what makes for a vintage Columbo. For him, it’s about achieving ‘the perfect balance between being both compelling and amusing’. I concur. Early Light is certainly compelling, but it’s very straight-faced. And because of that, for me at least, it’s less enjoyable to watch than my absolute, dependable favourites. The pace of the episode is also something I can see being an issue for some viewers. It’s a veeeeeeeery slow episode, which never really picks up speed and the co-ed plan blueprint confusion is drawn out rather more than is welcome. However, this pedestrian pace works overall because that’s how it’s written, but it perhaps makes Early Light a little less accessible than a joyous 75-minute romp such as Murder by the Book.
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Extensive location shooting gives By Dawn’s Early Light a different look and feel to most Columbo episodes. Plus, TANKS!

Of course it’s always a treat to watch Columbo unravel a case. Here he’s as shrewd as ever, his detective wiles able to help him immediately discount the obvious suspect (Springer) because of how quickly he identified the cannon rag. Rumford’s failure to do so gives the Lieutenant reason to suspect him further down the line, but the script isn’t so heavy handed that it labours this point. And we again see evidence of Columbo’s everyman charms in how he ingratiates himself with the cadets to crack the mystery and force Rumford’s surrender. In conclusion, By Dawn’s Early Light is something of a strange beast. I respect it for what it is: a wonderfully written, hard-hitting piece of detective drama featuring a riveting turn from McGoohan. But it’s not what I watch and love Columbo for, and it’s rare that I would choose it from the DVD collection with so many other more accessible, lighter options available. Still, let that take nothing away from what is a highly impressive televisual achievement, and one that proved, even after nearly 30 episodes, that Columbo was still as ambitious and deft as it ever had been. Is there a cloud to that silver lining? How long can this quality be maintained?
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Unanswered question: did Columbo ever get that pair of socks?

Did you know?

Patrick McGoohan’s turn as Colonel Rumford was recognised by him winning the Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series Emmy Award in 1975. It was a good night for Columbo and its alumni, too, with Peter Falk winning the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series; Valerie Harper (Most Crucial Game) winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Rhoda; and Jessica Walter (Mind Over Mayhem) scoring the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for the critically acclaimed but unpopular Amy Prentiss. Falk and McGoohan would double up again to win Columbo Emmys in 1990 – McGoohan for his portrayal of Oscar Finch from Agenda for Murder. I can’t find any photographic evidence of McGoohan’s 1975 win, but Peter Falk’s acceptance speech is below.

How I rate ’em

As you’ll have noted from the review, ranking Early Light is a tricky task. It’s terrific drama, but is very different from the average Columbo. As a result, I rank it mid-tier overall because I just don’t enjoy it in the same way I do my absolute favourites. It’s in excellent company, though, and with very little to choose between any of the episodes in my ‘B List’, this still represents a BOODLE-BOY-TASTIC thumbs up. Read any of my other 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. By Dawn’s Early Light
  18. Candidate for Crime
  19. Greenhouse Jungle
  20. Requiem for a Falling Star
  21. Blueprint for Murder
  22. Ransom for a Dead Man —– B-List ends here—
  23. Dead Weight
  24. The Most Dangerous Match
  25. Lovely but Lethal ———— C-List ends here—-
  26. Short Fuse
  27. Mind Over Mayhem
  28. Dagger of the Mind
As always I’d LOVE to hear your views on this episode. If you love it above all things, cast your vote for it in the Columbo favourite episode poll here. Shoot me a comment below, and come back soon for big adventure on the high seas as Columbo goes cruisin’ with Robert Vaughn in Troubled Waters.
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Q.) Who serves the Colonel his coffee on Halloween? A.) The BOO-dle Boy

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167 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo By Dawn’s Early Light

  1. As I mentioned in another comment elsewhere, I have a similar problem with this one as Columbophile does with “Mind Over Mayhem”: visually, it’s just so dull and grey. However, as with all of these, that was just my first impression. I’m looking forward to seeing it again and giving it another chance.

    Also, a 45-year-old Patrick McGoohan with a full head of white hair looks alarmingly like my friend Garth, who is 65 but is ageing extremely well.

    Sometime in the last few years I heard that McGoohan was a bit of a psycho on “The Prisoner”: bullying, egotistical, causing cast members to burn out. I haven’t been able to find much more information but it apparently is talked about on the BluRay special features of “The Prisoner.”

    Since finding that out, I’ve wondered about McGoohan’s frequency of “Columbo” work, in the sense that Peter Falk evidently didn’t have a problem with him, as he invited him back so many times in front of and behind the camera. A few explanations spring to mind.

    One is that when McGoohan was making “The Prisoner,” that was *his* show, which he created, wrote, directed, and starred in, and even had to subsidize out of his own pocket on occasion. That would make anyone emotionally invest heavily in the outcome and get obsessive about the quality. But with “Columbo,” even when sitting in the director’s chair, it wasn’t his baby, so McGoohan may have been able to relax.

    Another possibility is that Falk was a perfectionist himself and so might have been more inclined to forgive McGoohan for extreme and abusive behaviour in the pursuit of excellence. I hope not, though.

    A third possibility, and one I do hope is true, is that Falk was just so mellow and good-natured, like his character Columbo, that he never encountered a problem with McGoohan’s personality, that he emanated good vibes that calmed McGoohan down.

    Fourth, and also something I hope is true, is that McGoohan learned from “The Prisoner,” decided to get over himself, and wasn’t mean to Falk. And if he ever was, I bet Falk could give as good as he got.

    These are all hypothetical, of course.

    Peter Falk was gorgeous in the original series of “Columbo”! That low hairline, that strong chin, and here we see him with his shirt off and look, he’s got muscles! The hotness is the scaffolding that lies underneath the scruffy, low-status disguise that Columbo puts on, which only makes him more loveable. He’s beautiful, he’s brilliant, but he’s also mild-mannered and full of flaws and ineptitudes, all of which makes him relatable and approachable. It’s like he’s Clark Kent, if all Clark Kent did with Superman’s body and brain was be a damn good reporter.

    • Funny I watched this episode the other night, and had to find the phone to find out how old Patrick was. To see he was 47 when this episode was made was a surprise, I thought he was in his 60’s.
      One question regarding this episode was the cider issue. Is cider like tea in that some people leave it out in the sun, I guess to be sun brewed????. If that’s the case about the cider is hanging by a rope for a few short minutes when sun comes out till only about 6:15 am, just how much sun warmth brew is that cider getting.

      • As another reader mentioned elsewhere in this comments section, the colonel served in World War II, which Patrick McGoohan (born in 1927, like Peter Falk) would have been too young to do. So McGoohan must be playing a character older than himself. 🙂

        • McGoohan was actually one of those children who were shipped out of the city into the English countryside to protect them from all of the bombings. He was definitely to young to have fought in the war. Although he was born in the USA, he was brought up in England.

          • They’re old enough to have been able to see action during WWII as it was relatively common for 16 and 17 year-olds to enlist, allowed with parental consent or by lying about their age, something not readily verifiable then or bothered to check for anyway. It makes sense though that McGoohan’s character would have already served in a position of authority during the war and would be somewhat older.

            As for cider, it’s alcohol made from fermented apples and allowed to age for a few weeks in a cool dark place. UV from sunlight can interact with compounds and create undesirable smells and tastes in some drinks so it’s best kept to a minimum. Usually if a fermenting jug is hung from a rope in a window overnight, it’s to freeze it to leave the alcohol at the bottom.

  2. The important characters we don’t see in this episode are the other members of hte board of trustees. The will have appoined Haynes as Chair or whatever he is so they will, in all probablity, replace him with someone of like mind. In any case, a chair could not force his opinions thorugh against their wishes. Rumsford pretends otherwise but Columbo knows Rumford is dissembling and says he will check up (though we hear no more about it).

    The point I am making is that the murder is futile and will change nothing – the college would still be mostly empty and presumably leaking money, the trustees still want (and need) female cadets and Rumsford desire to live in the past, no nearer fruition.

    • I thought the same thing, making the rigid and inflexible character McGoohan played seem even more tragic. I did think, however, that he would do well in the prison system.

  3. There is a moment during the friendly discussion that confused me. The colonel is talking and suddenly we cut to Columbia looking shocked, grabbing his forehead, I think, turning and looking away on realization and shaking his head, I think. What did he realize and why?

    • I think it’s from hearing Rumford talking wistfully about his dedication and preparing future soldiers, as if he was duty-bound to see it through. At that point Columbo may have remembered the blueprints he found and realized Haynes was planning to change the school, which would fly right in the face of Rumford’s zealous and idealistic commitment to the school, giving reason to kill him and indicating to Columbo just how far he’d go to protect it. Indeed, Columbo says he has something to show him before he leaves, and he confronts him with the blueprints not long after.

  4. This is one of those episodes in which the murderer will never be convicted because Columbo didn’t prove his case. What did Columbo prove? He proved: 1) Someone left a cleaning rag in the gun, 2) Someone substituted a real charge for a fake one, and 3) Colonel Rumford was standing by the gun between 6:15 and 6:25 am of the day of firing. That’s hardly and open and shut case for anything. Against that lack of evidence, the defensive attorney can point out that Colonel Rumford could not have known for sure that William Haynes would be firing the gun and not Rumford himself. We render a verdict of Not Guilty your honor.

    • Columbo successfully proves motive, method and opportunity, which is all he needs to do as a detective to secure an arrest. As a man of honour (crime notwithstanding) Rumford is likely to plead guilty.

      • I agree he proved it, and a lot of Columbo’s cases lacked smoking gun evidence and were circumstantial. They need only enough to convince a jury of guilt, and given everything including his own behavior I think it was enough. He had access to the locked cannon round which was proven to be tampered with, lied to Columbo about the board supporting him when he was about to be kicked out and Haynes was converting the school, feigning ignorance remembering Springer was assigned to the cannon when he remembered the other instantly, telling Springer well in advance he could be charged with murder (because he was setting him up for it!), and placing himself at the cannon to tamper with it after denying he was there. His story scapegoating Springer fell apart when it came out he wasn’t actually there, which made going so far out of his way in his attempts to frame him as the culprit painfully obvious. An innocent not intent on deflecting blame away from themselves would be open to alternate explanations and help follow other leads, not obstruct them. That’s something that tips Columbo off most of the time.

        Columbo saw right through him coming down so hard on Springer and how he conveniently made sure the person most likely to mess up on paper was on cannon detail. Just like the previous episode Negative Reaction where the killer is relentless blaming the ex-con, many times things are just too perfect and too convenient…..In that one, leaving all the evidence so easily in a seasoned criminal’s room was an immediate red flag as was the room not being either a total mess or completely clean. And as a photographer he just couldn’t help taking multiple ransom photos to get the best one……Similarly, Rumford planned out Springer taking the fall too conveniently to take at face value, especially once it turned out it wasn’t him after all. If he wasn’t so quick to block whatever didn’t fit his narrative and let events unfold more naturally instead of pinning everything on Springer, he might have gotten away with it.

  5. One further observation: When a Columbo was written by someone with more than one episode to his credit, I like to explore if there is any pattern to his stories. This episode was written by Howard Berk, who also wrote “The Conspirators.” Among the 70’s episodes, these two may be the most political. Both Col. Rumford and Joe Devlin were motivated to kill by a love of country. Each considered what he was doing, rightly or wrongly, a matter of national survival. I don’t know much about Mr. Berk, but find this common link too strong to be coincidental.

    • Hi Richard,

      I thought of you when rewatching “Lady in Waiting” last night. Columbo’s case against Beth Chadwick rests largely upon Peter Hamilton’s recollection about the sequence of the shots arriving first, then the alarm. As a prosecutor would you consider this weak? It seems that Columbo’s other pieces – the late-edition newspaper and no grass particles on the carpet – are truly weak on their own. But wouldn’t a defense attorney undoubtedly poke holes in the Hamilton aspect? Couldn’t one defending Beth state that Peter was full of emotion upon his arrival and was distracted by the presence of the gate, and that it’s very possible he erred in recalling the order of sounds, despite his prideful memory?

      • My longstanding issue with “Lady in Waiting” is why this part of Hamilton’s statement wasn’t picked up initially. Along with not testing Gen. Hollister’s guns (“Dead Weight”) and not searching thoroughly Abigail Mitchell’s safe (“Try and Catch Me”), waiting until the end to reveal Hamilton’s earlier written statement (that the shots preceded the alarm) is so inexplicably delayed as to detract enormously from the gotcha. Maybe the episode should have been entitled: “Statement in Waiting.”

        About your question, as I said some years back: “the solution to ‘Lady in Waiting’ depends entirely upon Peter Hamilton’s recollection of which he heard first: gunshots or the alarm. If Hamilton equivocates on the stand, the case is sunk. Of course, had the alarm sounded first, Hamilton would have heard the shots through the alarm (which he didn’t). So it isn’t merely a ‘which came first’ question, which should help the prosecutor’s case. But it’s still what we call a ‘one witness case,’ and those are tough.”


        • Ahhh, thank you. I’m still surprised by how quickly some suspects acquiesce to Columbo’s accusations, or brazenly confess as Justin and Cooper do in “Columbo Goes to College.”

        • Ignoring that part of the statement until the end of the episode is one of the things about Lady in Waiting that makes the whole thing seem like a dramatization, not of an unrealistically brilliant detective conjuring up improbable solutions, but of seriously inept police work. Bryce didn’t leave any footprints outside Beth’s window, his shoes are dry and clean, the glass from the windowpane is scattered between inside and outside, there’s a late edition of the newspaper that only he could have brought into the house, and they have this statement from Peter directly contradicting the core of Beth’s story. Columbo’s failure to arrest her on the spot, let alone to speak up at the coroner’s inquest, would seem to be explicable only as his extreme deference to a rich person.

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  8. This is one of my favorite episodes, mainly because of Patrick McGoohan. Like Jack Nicholson, anything he is in is automatically good.
    And maybe because I was in the military and went through ROTC, but I found the whole idea of Columbo trying to live for a couple of days on a military campus to be hilarious. Pocketing the rolls to eat later… yeah, I did that!
    One more thing… this is the first time I’ve seen the Boodle Boy credited to Robert Clotworthy. Is this the same Robert Clotworthy who narrates a lot of History Channel shows now? Mind… blown!

    • I’m with you on Patrick McGoohan. That’s why I visited this episode as well. He is one of my favorite actors and watching his stuff has gotten me through quarantine LOL. I cannot agree that EVERYTHING he has done is good, however, even if HE is. Have you seen Kings and Desperate Men? 😉 Still, he’s amazing. My absolute favorite is Brand, followed by The Prisoner (of course).

      • I enjoyed him in “Scanners” (1981) as Dr. Ruth (yes that was really the character’s name!) and in “Columbo’s” sister series “Murder, She Wrote” as Canadian lawyer Oliver Quayle. The only thing I can recall not liking him in was “Braveheart” (1995) as King Edward, and that wasn’t really his fault; the character was just so evil that it spilled over into my impression of McGoohan. Which means it was good acting I guess! 🙂

  9. By dawns Early light one of those well put together episodes 2 slight flaws
    1 , Cider ferments at room temperature so there would be no real need to hang the jar out of the window at night risking being seen , maybe to speed up the process but i read on another blog that it was done this way to give columbo a method of solving the crime

    2 Colnel rumford is often depicted wearing his hat indoors this is a breach of rules and is only allowed under special circumstances and given how strictness is what this episode is centered on

    however these are very minor and it dosent damage it but as god as this is it wouldn’t make my overall top 10 .

  10. I Watched By dawns Early light in full last Sunday and while it is a Very Good episode with great performances and an excellent script, I found it Very Drawn out , agonizingly slow at times even to the point where I would use the word Boring. It also is one of the most humorless episodes which is understandable given its setting the only real funny moment was when Rumford said to coulmbo i suppose you could call that a uniform , in conclusion By dawns early light would never make my top 10 and might just only scrape into my top 20 overall rankings .

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  15. Good, very moving, gripping episode. It feels like some American war-like movies. And it’s obvious title-link with the napalm. I really appreciated the Murderer’s “garden moment”. The plot actually seemed like some real novel put on screen. Quite special epsiode.

    • I have one problem with Dawn’s early light. Why would the cadets choose to hang the cider bottle in front of a window? Surely there were better places to hide it. And why did Columbo take an unwarranted interest in the cider. There was no reason for Columbo to suspect a connection between the cider and a murder. I understand it’s all a writer’s contrivance to make an interesting story and it succeeds, but it defies logic.

      • They say it was hung in the window so the night air would assist in the fermentation process. I don’t know much about brewing cider, but it sounded plausible enough to me.

        • There is No real need to hang a cider jar out the window as it will ferment at room temperature , this been written as a way colombo could solve the case But it dosent damage the episode in the slightest..

      • The quantity of cider in that jar was pathetic, it was about a thimble each for the cadets – and if they were that keen, why didn’t they just buy some and smuggle it in?

        • I don’t think they were doing it for the alcohol. I think it was a small rebelious act right under the nose of their tormentor.

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  17. its a good Colombo and again emphasises how good Colombo was and it shows how good Colombo was I am similar to colombophile as I don’t enjoy it the same as I do other Colombo’s it might just sneak into my top 20 just. i keep forgetting about fade in to murder as it is very lower mid tier never liked murder under glass or the conspirators , on the other hand ,make me a perfect murder is one of my favourite episodes , try and catch me is my absolute favourite , the sky high bye IQ murder negative reaction , troubled waters and identity crisis and double shock are all up there. and when I compare by dawns early light to these I can understand columbophiles reasoning.

  18. when are we going to get troubled waters review , cant wait then we can do playback these were 2 of the best episodes if not in the top 10 certainly in the top 20, by dawns early light was good but these next 2 are better , were all very anxious for the next 2 reviews .

  19. i do like by dawns early light , and it certainly in my top 20 however i prefer identity crisis even though it was a weird episode im not saying identity crisis is my favorite Colombo i just prefer Mc goohan in it and they both have similar endings and there both feel a bit lengthy but i still think overall identity crisis is better and more enjoyable.

  20. try and catch me is 10 times better than by dawns early light , but i still enjoy it a bit long and drawn out the other army themed episode grand deceptions was 10 times worse than this , playback wasn’t a bad episode , i prefer it than by dawns early light as i do troubled waters, never particularly liked a candidate for crime except for the ending , double exposure was better also make me a perfect murder is one of my favorites along with negative reaction , double shock and the bye bye sky high IQ murder

  21. I understand your reservations about tis episode, but I can’t fathom placing it on the B list. Certainly as good as all the ones you have up there, and better than some — Lady in Waiting in particular.

  22. Just now watching the scene in the dining hall. Poor Loomis. Rumford’s barking at him in front of the cadets, and the poor guy’s too dispirited to even salute. This soldier game is so done for him.

    • Rumford barks that way because Columbo has just brought up the point that Springer identified the gun rag–the detective’s subtle way of saying he now suspects the commandant. In his own, not-so-subtle way, Rumford was creating a short-lived distraction.

  23. Hooray for Madeleine Sherwood, as a perfect example of the Administrative Lady of the early 70’s. Anyone who went to high school in that era would recognize Miss Brady for her determined and polite response to that annoying man with his smelly cigars, coming in and upsetting the well-ordered world of the academy.

    I’ve always wondered about the Lt’s reaction to Col Rumford’s revelation about the roses. It really seems to give him a flash, but nothing comes of it. Maybe part of the situation with that scene had something to do with using fertilizer as an explosive? And they dropped the idea? I dunno.

    • OLD 55, I’ve also been trying to figure out Columbo’s Aha moment during the cigar and white roses scene. It’s not resolved which makes no sense.

      Madeleine Thornton-Sherwood was perfect as Miss Brady. Loved how loyal she was to Rumford; it showed in her shocked facial expression when Haynes was calling Rumford, ‘really sick.’ during their showdown in his office.

      • aha moment explained: As soon as Rumford revealed that the only thing waiting for him outside of the academy was tending to a bed of roses (no family, no friends..), Columbo realized this guy had nothing to really lose if he got caught murdering and everythng to gain by keeping the academy going, if he didn’t get caught. Bit of a stretch I know, but until I hear something better..

  24. watched try and catch me last sunday , its an absolute classic i always enjoy the charm it has and its memorable ending ,also quite funny its top of myrankings

  25. It’s abundantly clear that we’re all going to have a dandy time when the formal review of “Last Salute to the Commodore” actually arrives. Yes, there’s a lot of unnecessary silliness in this episode, and an absolutely dreadful final clue (“The Commodore’s watch.”). But the illusion created at the beginning that this was just another inverted Columbo mystery, with Robert Vaughn’s Charles Clay the murderer, was very well done. And Clay’s death, smashing this illusion, was a terrific twist (akin to the reveal in “Double Shock” that Dexter Paris may not have been the murderer after all). If only Jackson Gillis could have scripted a second half equal to the first. In my book, “Last Salute to the Commodore” is an “ah, what might have been” Columbo.

  26. Of course it’s non-objective! ANY appraisal of TV – or Mozart, ice cream, etc. – is subjective! Indeed, there may be some who don’t like “Commodore” because it deviates from the norm by being a who-dunnit, but in fact, that deviation worked fine with me. As for your take that I’m not a true fan of “Columbo” because I find fault with an episode and don’t care for it the way I do the other 44 from 1968-1978 is utterly absurd. To that end, because you opined that you consider The Beatles drivel when compared to Mozart, your logic would lead me to believe that you’re not a true fan of music. Complete nonsense.

    • Thank heaven we have Columbophile!
      The man ( I presume?) is gracious enough to. Keep this fabulous column going, opens the floor to voting, gathers rare interviews and he has to be a statistician and syntactical polemicist too?
      GET BACK TO COLUMBO and enjoy this excellent column people!

      • I don’t think we’ve gotten away from Columbo, we just disagree. Columbophile never responded to my statement that I was unable to vote for my favorite episode.

          • I need some instruction on how to take a screenshot, and where it is saved, so that I could send it to you

            • If you have ‘Snipping Tool’ on your computer (a search should reveal) you just drag a box around the area of the screen in question and can then either copy and paste into email body or Save As an image file and attach to email.

              • Although I used a different method, you should see that I sent you an e-mail with the screenshot.

      • Haaaaaa, no. This was an inadvertent “post” when it was meant to be a reply to a nonsensical thread I was regrettably dragged into. I stand with you that Columbophile is a treasure!

        • Do you mean the nonsensical thread that Last Salute to the Commodore is a dreadful episode?! You must be lacking in free will as voluntary activity on your part is being ‘dragged’.

            • I’d like to urge all visitors to remain as respectful as possible with each other at all times. I’ve had people emailing me expressing their sadness and disappointment at the negativity in the comments to this post, which saddens me greatly as I write this as a means of joyful expression and want others to enjoy their time on the site, too.

              The Columbo online community is ever impressive in how kind, funny, knowledgeable and respectful the individuals are, so please keep that in mind. It’s fine to disagree with others, but it can be done without aggro. I would HATE to have to have all comments pre-moderated, because that would be a disincentive for fans to share their thoughts / opinions (and also a big job for me!).

              Thanks all!

              • It IS joyful to me to read each and every one of your reviews, Columbophile! Of course we are all not going to agree on every point or the rankings…But, you write very well, with good humor, and in the spirit of sharing the enthusiasm, brilliance, and fun of our beloved show and TV character. THANK YOU!

  27. Like so many who have preceded me here, I too tend to disagree with Columbophile and place this episode among the very best of the best. Identity Crisis is way over the top, and the CIA part is so overplayed that it takes too much away from the Columbo aspects of Columbo. Yes, this lacks humor, but I think that was intentional, as the entire mood from start to finish was placed in context of where this was filmed and the importance of this context to the murder and the murderer. Indeed, there are numerous funny scenes that could easily have been played up, but clearly were not because of the desire to maintain the mood of reverence and respect. Other than lacking humor, this has all the great Columbo aspects that I have listed elsewhere: a) a super murder plot; b) extraordinary detective work; c) an incomparably good actor; d) great chemistry between Columbo and his counterpart; e) great gotcha moment at end; f) a complex psychological aspect regarding the murder, where you almost feel bad for Rumford when he gets nailed. Finally, as a bonus, it has an incredibly moving coda, as Columbo grants the last wish of the destroyed and disgraced Rumford, allowing him one last moment to command his troops.

    As for this being slow, not in my book. The detective work moves along at a fast pace, as new clues keep on being discovered, and the pieces of the puzzle keep rolling into place. Moreover, the scenes between Falk and McGoohan are so riveting, with each actor implying so much with a half smile or the twitch of an eyelash, that it left me glued to the scene throughout even without any music or humor. Finally, there are so many intelligent clues hidden throughout that help clue you in to the murder plot, such as the details from Haynes’s youth (noted already by RichardWeill) that let Rumford know that Haynes would do the opposite of what he suggested and predictably choose to shoot the cannon. I also think Rumford’s sweat at the beginning is meant to show that despite the calmness and seeming ease with which he commits murder and justifies it based on his right wing beliefs of duty to nation, he knows that he is preparing the murder of a fellow American and it is not easy for him to do so.

  28. Thank you for your article on this superb episode which is also my personal favorite. Patrick McGoohan wrote the ‘cigar and white roses’ scene. Falk wrote in his memoirs that McGoohan had written this scene and asked him to give the green light to shoot it, with the assurance from McGoohan that if Falk didn’t like it, he could cut it out. Falk clearly approved of the scene and recognized how pivotal it was to fleshing out the complexity and depth of the Colonel and his camaraderie with Columbo.

    I’d like to add an interesting tidbit. Falk had to talk McGoohan into fill out the paperwork to receive a Emmy nomination for Best Performance By A Supporting Actor, which turned into his first Emmy win for Columbo. McGoohan was a class act, a magnificent, multi-talented artist and great friends with Falk for over 30 years,.

      • I recall an interview or profile about McGoohan from the time, where it was noted he had won the Emmy. He said he couldn’t make the ceremony as he was working. But since he never attended such ceremonials I would guess this was just a polite excuse. I think that it was further remarked that Falk collected the statuette on his behalf.

  29. This is one of my very favorite episodes – top ten for sure and maybe even top five (and the only one with McGoohan that I really like)! I do not mind the slow pace or lack of humor at all. To the contrary, I savor that episode with its pace and atmosphere. If no fun is such a flaw, then why is the terribly dark A Friend In Deed ranked so high, one could ask? Sure, to each their own; I’m just a little surprised with the ranking. Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed review and analysis, though. I enjoyed reading it.

  30. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Negative Reaction | The Columbophile

  31. BTW—-WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REVIEW BYE BYE SKY HIGH IQ CASE?—–please review the favorite of mine and many friends and patients?!!

    • mr columbophile is reviewing them in the order of the date they were released i believe the bye bye was 1976 and he is still in 1974 episodes

  32. This is a much lauded episode and Falk’s favorite, I believe Columbophile has himself suggested.
    I have a certain reticence when I see it because McGoohan is so very talented that he provokes extreme sorrow in me.
    Yes, I know, he’s a great actor and that’s what he’s hired for! For years it also seemed that Columbo’s behavior was not nearly so sympathetic as he was with Donald Pleasance in “Port in Any Storm” out of deference to McGoohan’s professionalism.
    I suppose that was because he used a cadet as a possible fall guy you suppose?

    • It seemed to me that Rumford’s denigration of Columbo being a slob gave Columbo pause during their little conversation in Rumford’s office.

  33. One of my favorite things about this episode is how annoyed Bruce Kirby is in his short appearance. They don’t often show how annoying it must be to work with that genius who’s always wandering off. The cops frequently get irritated but not quite to Sgt. Kramer heights. Interestingly, he’s also in McGoohan’s next episode, Identity Crisis, and also really annoyed at Columbo.

    This was always one of my favorites. The whole setting, with Columbo doing the unusual thing by sleeping there, getting progressively more disheveled while everyone else is military-precision neat. It’s fun to watch. And he gets a chase scene–following a school bus! I love the conversation he has with the girl’s school student who can’t quite believe he’s a cop, but tells him where her friend is anyway.

    I think there was a small mistake in the episode but I didn’t get to go back and double check. Columbo asks Rumford if it’s possible for someone to have gone into his quarters to get the key to the weapons shed and Rumford says that his door was locked until he let his boodle boy in with his coffee, but as I remember it, the boodle boy knocks on his door and Rumford just tells him to come in and the boy just opens the door himself. So, not locked.

    The difference between McGoohan in this and in Identity Crisis is just astonishing. I prefer his uptight but melancholy commandant more than his off the wall spy. He’s so contained and precise, but you can feel the sadness in him. Excellent performance.

    • Yes… Patrick McGoohan must have really liked the character of George Kramer. Sgt Kramer appeared in 6 of the 69 episodes, and 4 of 6 (67%) of his appearances either starred and/or were directed by Patrick McGoohan

      By Dawn’s Early Light – 1974 – McGoohan starred
      A Deadly State of Mind – 1975 – no involvement
      Identity Crisis – 1975 – McGoohan starred and directed
      Last Salute to the Commodore – 1976 – McGoohan directed
      Columbo Cries Wolf – 1990 – no involvement
      Agenda for Murder – 1990 – McGoohan starred and directed

      I agree… his performance in By Dawn’s Early Light was excellent.

      • Nice, I’d never noticed the link between Bruce Kirby (or sergeant Kramer) and Patrick McGoohan before. Thanks!

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  35. I’ll just say that I love this episode and leave it at that. Well, and to say that it’s well-called, CP, that you find the conversation between Rumford and Columbo to be *the* grand moment. The episode, imho, would have been nothing without that scene. (pssst: CP: Valerie Harper’s series was “Rhoda” not “Rhonda”)

  36. I agree with Patrick McGoohan, IMHO this is his very best. Hitchcock liked to have deep characters in understated roles, and this is certainly such a performance. McGoohan’s performance is very contrary; a verbose commandant of a military academy, while the inner man is quiet and sedate. And while many others are driven by their internal reasons, you can argue (as you did so well) that he truly felt the closing of his academy could be considered a threat to national security.

    While considered slow-pace, you could also think of this as a very cerebral episode, with twists that took Columbo to be at his best to put them all together. Plus, I’m always a fan when you have great conversations between characters; I think it’s one of Columbo’s unsung gems (ex; with Kay Freestone in her old home, Oliver Brandt and the railroad trains, Abigail Mitchell on the boardwalk, Nora Chandler finally telling the truth, and of course, Adrian Carsini). His conversation with Col. Lyle C. Rumford, where McGoohan allows you a peek behind the curtain, gives you a rounded, deep, character; and yes, while he may be sad in our eyes, you feel he’s proud of his life and has no regrets.

  37. I agree with much of what you wrote. This is a great understated performance from McGoohan, easily his best in a Columbo, but perhaps not the best McGoohan episode.
    But what I really like is that you opted for the chat as the best moment of the show. That’s something I always come back to in By Dawn’s Early Light. McGoohan’s Rumford becomes one of the most humanized characters, maybe just behind Ruth Gordon’s in Try and Catch Me and, depending your POV, Carsini in Port. It’s not that he’s a soldier, but in a way he seems to be concerned that, when his career is finished, he’s not going to enjoy his lot in life.
    To me, that chat is also the reason for his murdering Haynes. The sooner the academy closes, the sooner Rumford will be alone with his roses. The sooner he goes into an empty retirement, with no love and no one to care for him. McGoohan’s character is probably one that would not mind dying at his post, in this case the academy.
    I enjoy this episode but Identity Crisis is a tick better for me. McGoohan is a little less restrained in that episode and it seems like it almost could be a companion piece to The Prisoner, the late highly offbeat 1960s McGoohan series.
    Still, high marks for this. I always loved it when Columbo threw a curveball. This is one.

  38. “By Dawn’s Early Light” is in my Top Five. Falk & McGoohan have such fabulous chemistry. I love how McGoohan says the word cider. I think he enjoyed saying it more than drinking it. Some prefer “Identity Crisis” which has its moments with its homage to “The Prisoner”. But “By Dawn’s Early Light” better stands the test of time.

  39. My least favorite of the McGoohan quartet and always relieved when it’s over, such strict discipline! Filmed at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where Youngstown’s Paul Maguire played in the late 50s, often plugging his alma mater as an NFL broadcaster in later years. Established in 1842 as one of six United States senior military colleges and still going strong today.

  40. “By Dawn’s Early Light” is a high A-List Columbo in my book.

    First, it stars Patrick McGoohan the actor, not Patrick McGoohan the overactor. If you want overacting, watch “Identity Crisis,” “Agenda for Murder,” or “Ashes to Ashes.” I’ll take “By Dawn’s Early Light” any day of the week.

    Second, Lyle Rumford is perhaps the most selfless of all Columbo murderers. Personal gain plays virtually no part in the murder of William Haynes. Dr. Cahill (“Mind Over Mayhem”) killed to protect his son; Abigail Mitchell (“Try and Catch Me”) killed to avenge her niece’s death; but Rumford killed to protect an institution he considered essential to his country’s future security.

    Third, the script brilliantly buries key plot points deep in the background of its characters. It’s a wonderful moment when we find out that Rumford lured Haynes to his death by exploiting something immutable in Haynes’ character that Rumford had identified (and recorded) when Haynes was age 16: “This is a very obstinate young man, strong-willed and opinionated. It’s as if he goes out of his way to take a contrary position. Tell him that snow is white, and he’ll say that it’s black. In this sense, his reactions are very predictable.”

    And finally, the key to the solution to “By Dawn’s Early Light” is baked just as deeply into the character of Lyle Rumford: his inability to overlook a cadet’s breach of discipline. He just couldn’t ignore that cider hanging in the window. It wasn’t in his character to ignore it. Even though he saw the cider only while setting up the Haynes murder, he couldn’t turn a blind eye. And his single-mindedness in this regard did him in.

    Few Columbos weave their solutions as thoroughly into their stories as “By Dawn’s Early Light.” It’s not just the cider; it’s Rumsford’s obsession with the cider, which is inseparable from the core of his character.

    This is a terrific Columbo. If I wanted laughs, I’d watch M*A*S*H reruns.

    • I totally agree… this is a brilliant episode and easily ranks in my top 10. I was quite surprised Columbophile ranked it that low, especially as his review seemed so positive with the lack of humour seemingly the only negative point. I consider this episode superior to An Exercise in Fatality, Swan Song, Lady in Waiting, etc. Maybe if you review the episode as well, he may adjust his rankings? haha

      It may be a slower paced, more cerebral, less humourous episode, but those are not negative points as it is still very enjoyable to watch and I still watch it repeatedly. Falk and McGoohan are definitely at the top of their game.

      • Thanks, Erik, but my goal was not to pressure CP to change his rankings.

        Of course, if any Columbophile participants wish to show their support for my view by buying a copy of my book We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon (see CP’s July 25th post), I won’t try to stop them.

        • This episode was my introduction to “Columbo” in 1990 and it resides firmly in my top ten.
          I agree with and appreciate your points and observations except for Rumford’s motivation. While I imagine that on some level the notion of something vast such as national security played a part in his scheme, I think the main factors were purely self-centered. This is a man whose bond to Haynes is intrinsic with his persona. Using terms that would resonate with this man’s psyche, to surrender the academy to his nemesis William Haynes would be a staggering defeat. This is more than a man being fired. He’s losing the very thing he holds dear – and essential – and as such he’s losing his identity. It isn’t just Haynes who is purging Rumford, it’s the members of the board as well, all coming to the same conclusion that Rumford is not only expendable, but a failure.

        • Richard, I can definitely recommend that book – the play itself is very good and even more interesting is the story of how you wrote it and got it staged.

          • Paul, thank you very much for the recommendation. If the spirit moves you, by all means feel free to post a review on the book’s Amazon page.

      • I rate these episodes based on how much I enjoy them overall on a range of factors. Humour isn’t the be all and end all, but Falk does humour so well and so naturally that episodes that have more lighter elements, that allow Falk to play to those strengths, really appeal to me. There are elements of Early Light that are superior to many episodes I rate above it, but it’s placed where it is based on overall enjoyment.

        Compare it to art or music, perhaps, to see where I’m coming from. I can appreciate that Mozart or Bach are superior in many ways to The Beatles or Oasis (Britpop era Brit, here), but do I ‘enjoy’ the classical music as much? No. Maybe that makes me a heathen, but we’re all wired differently. Same for Early Light. It has so many good aspects, but do I enjoy watching this as much as I enjoy Robert Culp snarling through Most Crucial Game (an episode I am aware that has many flaws)? No.

        In all honesty, Early Light is the most difficult episode so far to rank because it’s so good on so many levels. I almost feel it deserves to stand separately from the rest of the episodes because it feels so different from the norm.

        As for re-ranking? I may rejig the order somewhat when I get to the end of all 69 episodes (in 2025 at this rate!), so we’ll have to wait and see! Early Light will be much nearer the top than the bottom of the standings when they’ve all been reviewed, that’s for sure.

        • Another fantastic piece and I loved your singling out the Boodle Boy throughout, which ranks alongside your contempt for Tony Goodland and disdain for Sgt. Grover as most amusing subjective side notes to date. You even inspired me to research Robert Clotworthy’s filmography and I was pleasantly surprised to learn he’s been working steadily ever since “Early Light.” Since much of his work has been voiceovers I’d like to think he did so with unkempt hair and scuffed shoes.
          I agree with your notion of re-ranking episodes. So many in that meaty area of #20-#40 are separated by hairs (cannon threads?) and can be easily repositioned. Even the so-called dregs residing at the bottom can change. In the 45 episodes between 1968-1978 I’ve long had “Short Fuse” residing at #44 – “Last Salute to the Commodore” is firmly cemented at #45 – but in recent months I’ve bumped “Short Fuse,” “Forgotten Lady” and “Dead Weight” up a notch and cast “How to Dial a Murder” in the #44 spot.

          • If there is one thing regarding which IMHO there should not be any disagreement among Columbo fans, it is to place the utterly dreadful “Last Salute to the Commodore” as the absolute worst. With a dreadful murder plot, mediocre detective work, pitiful acting and utterly humorless, it is utterly embarrassing to the great Columbo series. The other weak ones all have something interesting or worth watching. Indeed, Commodore almost takes the cake even among the much weaker later Columbo series, although there I can put 2 others into the mix for the worst episode award.

            • I disagree, and I don’t understand why this seems to be such a hated episode. My best guess is that it doesn’t appeal to the simplistic minds of Columbo fans because it doesn’t show the murders.

              • As this is universally loathed, you’re essentially lumping in virtually all Columbo enthusiasts into a category of being simplistic. That, in itself, is simplistic logic.

                  • Haaa. No, perhaps not universally. But it’s the clear least-favorite of the ones from 1968-1978 among fans. I’m a snob and have little use for those from 1989-2003, having only seen about six or seven, so I have little doubt that there are horrendous episodes in that era that are lesser creatures than “Commodore”. But again, to denigrate the acumen of so many fans because they dare disagree with you – thank the sweet, gooey Lord I can appreciate you favoring Mozart over the Beatles – is narrow thinking. You’ll find that under the wide tent of Columbo enthusiasts that there are a range of tastes. Columbophile’s all-time favorite episode is “Bye-Bye Sky-High…” which doesn’t even crack my Top 35. Using your logic, I can deem fellow fans xenophobic because three of the least-favorites are the foreign-themed “Dagger of the Mind”, “Matter of Honor” and “Case of Immunity”.

                    • You say that it is the clear least favorite, but aside from the fact that that would be irrelevant, it is also just hearsay.. Since I don’t see anything wrong with the episode, but you go to the extreme in saying that it is terrible, I’d have to say that you are being non-objective. Since even the worst of the new Columbo episodes, I still wouldn’t rate as below average, but you’d rate this episode, which I’d consider to be above average, as terrible, again, I’d say that you are being non-objective, and that you can’t really call yourself a fan of Columbo. Since the primary thing that sets that episode as unique from the others is the aforementioned fact that it does not show the murders, I think that it is a fair inference to say that that is a primary reason for it to be hated. Since that fact no longer spoon feeds everything to the viewer, I think that that is also capable of being interpreted as being a reason why it would be hated. If you are insulted by that, that is your problem. Since The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case is my second favorite episode, and since, by your own admission, you’ve only seen a few of the new episodes, you are rating that episode as one of the worst. If our disagreements were just a matter of details, that could be called just a matter of taste. But with that big of a difference, something else has to be involved.

            • It is truly dreadful, even with appearances by alums Bruce Kirby, Robert Vaughn, Wilfrid Hyde-White and John Dehner. Ironically, while you cite it being humorless, one of the things I find most annoying ARE the feeble, forced attempts at humor: Dennis Dugan learning to drive Columbo’s car on the driveway, the interplay about Dugan being called “Mac”, the meditation scene, etc. The reveal with the watch at the end is satisfying in its way, but the rest…feh.

              • Of course it’s non-objective! ANY appraisal of TV – or Mozart, ice cream, etc. – is subjective! Indeed, there may be some who don’t like “Commodore” because it deviates from the norm by being a who-dunnit, but in fact, that deviation worked fine with me. As for your take that I’m not a true fan of “Columbo” because I find fault with an episode and don’t care for it the way I do the other 44 from 1968-1978 is utterly absurd. To that end, because you opined that you consider The Beatles drivel when compared to Mozart, your logic would lead me to believe that you’re not a true fan of music. Complete nonsense.

                • If it’s all subjective, then your opinion that Columbo is great, even though you think that a given episode is terrible, is of no more value than someone saying that Captain Kangaroo is the greatest TV show of all-time. Since I never said that the Beatles are drivel, you’re putting words in my mouth that I never said. Of course, if I preferred Mozart to the Beatles, that might be an indication that I am a true fan of music.

                  • But Kevin, it’s ALL subjective. I was using your Mozart-Beatles opinion to exemplify that. You’re asserting that somehow you’re utilizing an objective criteria to assess a TV episode when ultimately it comes down to nothing more than opinions. You like “Commodore” and that’s great. I actually liked the reveal with the watch and the who-dunnit nature, contrary to your opinion that I couldn’t possibly be a an of the show if I dared not appreciate an episode that you liked. But to reason, dismissively, that many fans on IMDB and Columbophile and Columbo TV is simply because it deviates from the norm is insulting. It’d be like saying that one who doesn’t appreciate The Jupiter Symphony is because it is longer than a three-minute radio single and therefore not a fan of classical music. It’s a dramatic overreach.

                    • My apologies, Gary Kevin Ware. Gary, this is about a beloved TV show. You’re treating it as if it’s a court case where your life hangs in the balance. This is supposed to be FUN.

                    • You and the other person are the ones who said that that episode was ‘dreadful’ and I disagreed, so who is most standing up for Columbo?

                    • You mentioned an episode that is in your personal Top 5. Ergo, you employ personal rankings and if you don’t have 64 tied for 6th, there’s going to be a scale where one resides at #69. Hence, your least favorite. Does that mean that you don’t like Columbo?

                    • I thought you were through! I’ve already answered your question but you were obviously not paying attention. Since I would rate my least favorite episode as no worse than average, that is different from you, since you said that that episode was ‘dreadful’, you would presumably give it the equivalent of an ‘F’, and other episodes would probably also get an ‘F’ or ‘D’.

                    • Again with Ayn Rand as the arbiter of your thinking? I’m simply applying the dictionary definition of subjective: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. And with that, I’m through hashing this out with you, Gary.

        • Yes, I see where you are coming from. Kale and cabbage may have the best nutritional profiles out there with all the vitamins and minerals, but I’d happily choose a chocolate hot fudge sundae any day! haha Episodes like Negative Reaction, Any Old Port in a Storm, Now You See Him, etc are very entertaining and I can your point that they can be more fun to watch then By Dawn’s Early Light.

          Thanks for all the episode reviews.. much appreciated! .. they are very detailed and enjoyable to read and I always look forward to them. I like all the humour you add to them as well (Everything’s coming up Millhouse haha). I am quite curious how you would rank Agenda for Murder as I love that episode very much, though I think I will be waiting in suspense for another year or so as that episode was not released until 1990.

          Looking forward to the next blog entry! Troubled Waters is a fun episode .. my guess is you will rank it as #12 just ahead of Prescription Murder. We shall see in a few weeks time 🙂

          • I’ll take Mozart, Bach, kale and cabbage over the Beatles and chocolate hot fudge sundaes. I’ll also take serious shows that don’t laugh at their ‘hero’.

  41. “By Dawn’s Early Light” is certainly a different sort of Columbo episode, with a unique look and feel. But the script, the acting, and the direction make this one a winner. And the way that Patrick McGoohan plays the Colonel Rumford character (as well as the way he’s written) makes the character the most sympathetic murderer in the entire series.

    Part of my sympathy for Col. Rumford has to do with my sympathy for the cause of maintaining such traditional, military education institutions. It’s as though he’s sacrificing himself for what he believes is a greater cause, and not so much a personal motive. He presents a compelling case for the need for such institutions. That is encapsulated in the following excerpt from a terrific scene that Columbophile aptly calls a “best moment.”

    Rumford: Do you have a first name?
    Columbo: I do. My wife is about the only one that uses it.
    Rumford: We have similar jobs in a way. I wear a uniform, you wear a —- I suppose you could call that a uniform. —- I used to tell my cadets, you know, all the time, sometimes it’s harder to be a slob than to be neat and tidy and clean. It’s the wars, you see, the wars of nations. When that stops, hang up the uniform. I’ll hang up my uniform. I’ll go and take care of my backyard. I got some roses. White roses. And I suppose that when people stop abusing each other you’ll hang up your uniform.

    There are today some top quality high school military educational institutions in the U.S. still in existence. One is the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and its alumni includes Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkoff, Jr. and famed writer J.D. Salinger. Another is the New York Military Academy, which was attended by a lot of well-known people from many walks of life. Among the many great artists who went there are Les Brown, Stephen Sondheim, Johnny Mandel, and Francis Ford Coppola. Famed mobster John Gotti also attended briefly, though it’s hard to imagine him staying very long there, as he was probably the least disciplined mobster in New York’s history. Then, of course, there’s President Donald J. Trump, who graduated from the school. Ironically, in recent years, enrollments in the New York Military Academy have declined, similar to the fate of the school in the Columbo episode, but the school was rescued by some investors from China.

    Finally, for some interesting trivia, I’d like mention that Bruno Kirby, who played Cadet Morgan in this episode, took on this role shortly after he finished playing one of his great roles in Coppola’s “The Godfather: Part II,” as the young Peter Clemenza. Sadly, this wonderful and versatile actor died young many years ago.

  42. I think you’re giving Rumsford too much credit here; framing a boy–even if he is a bit of a tick–is cold. Also, it’s been long since I’ve seen this episode–is this the one where Columbo catches the murderer cleaning up a bit of mud?

  43. Patrick mcgoohan very good in this , but i prefer him in identity crisis , and i think identity crisis was better overall , both very good stories , troubled waters next up i m sure you’ll rate it higher than this as its more colorful and funny

  44. i am of the same opinion as mr columbophile might have placed it 12 or 13th however , yes very good , little bit humorlesss at times lengthy and i wouldnt call it an absolute favourite but still a very good columbo it is different ,dont know how you can place an exercise in fatality higher and etude in black .

  45. I’d rank this one higher than you did, but it’s ok to respectfully disagree.

    Rumford wasn’t as forward thinking as one may think. Let’s say he was able to pin the murder on Springer. Who assigned him the duty of cleaning the cannon? That’s right, Rumford who was fully aware of Springer’s past and present. Springer would be a minor, Rumord isn’t. Had Springer successfully been prosecuted for the murder, Rumford could be sued in a civil trial for negligence. In short, his legal troubles would not end with the conviction of Springer.

    There’s also some details that bothers me, Rumford served in “the war”. Which one? Further, how could he have been commandant years ago when the younger Haynes was a student and somehow rise to the rank of full Colonel? You may say he was motivated by his sense of duty and commitment to national security, I’d say he was a little nuts.

    These issues aside, I think this is a brilliant episode. Yeah, it’s a little out of the box for Columbo but that’s ok. McGoohan’s performance and the whole script (minor problems aside) are as good as it gets.

    • David Levin, I researched Rumford service ribbons and badges. Here is what they mean:

      Colonel Lyle C. Rumford is a veteran of World War II (American and European Campaigns), the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He was personally awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, and was honored for his Distinguished Service. His Combat Infantryman Badge denotes three separate awards, one for each conflict, in which the Colonel directly fought on the battleground. He wears a Presidential Unit Citation above his right breast pocket; the shoulder patch on his right arm denotes former service with the First Infantry Division, the patch on his left shoulder identifies him as currently on active duty with the Sixth US Army.

      • I appreciate your research.

        If he’s 45 as McGoohan was he’d be too young to have served in WWII, but Korea and Vietnam are well within the realm of reality. The question still remains then how he could have been the commandant of the Academy when young Haynes was there. Let’s say Haynes was in his mid 30s, that means he was there twenty years previous in between Korea and Vietnam. Was Rumford working at Haynes in between wars waiting to be recalled? I’m also not 100% sure he can be on active duty and work for Haynes at the same time.

        • David, I think Rumford was meant to be in his 50s, hence the white hair, so he could have served in WWII.

          • The character could very well be in his 50s, no argument there. There are the issues, thought, but that’s nit picking. It’s one of my favorite episodes.

  46. Certainly McGoohan’s best performance, but I find “Identity Crisis” more watchable. Think you’ve pegged it; a very different Columbo that stands alone and like “A Friend in Deed” feels like a movie. Unlike “Friend”, which was highly entertaining, “Early Light” not one of my favorites.

    • I prefer him in Identity crisis as well and the episode itself , But by Dawns early light is still a very good episode .

  47. This is my second favorite McGoohan episode; a very enjoyable Columbo.
    As for the list above, I think all these are great Columbos and worthy of an A rating-with my least favorite on this particular list “Candidate for Crime” still ranking a solid B plus.

  48. Thank you, thoroughly enjoyed the article. “Acing rag identification tests sine 1974”. Hilarious.
    I watched it one day years ago and realized young Bruno was in this. McGoohan made such a good villian- great performance. The unique setting and location shots add to it as well.


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