Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 4

Episode review: Columbo Troubled Waters

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When Columbo took to the high seas on 9 February 1975, you better have packed your sense of fun – because this is an adventure like no other for the dear Lieutenant.

With Peter Falk’s BFF Ben Gazzara at the proverbial helm, Robert Vaughn pimpin’ it up as the murderer and Mrs Columbo tantalisingly just around the corner at all times, this has all the ingredients for a very bon voyage.

Sounds good, right? But is Troubled Waters plain sailing all the way, or a star-crossed journey destined for Davy Jones’s locker? I can’t wait to find out…

Troubled Waters cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Hayden Danziger: Robert Vaughn
Rosanna Wells: Poupee Boucar
Lloyd Harrington: Dean Stockwell
Captain Gibbons: Patrick Macnee
Purser Watkins: Bernard Fox
Sylvia Danziger: Jane Greer
Dr Pierce: Robert Douglas
Nurse Melissa: Susan Damante
Written by: William Driskill and Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Ben Gazzara
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Troubled Waters

Amidst all the hoo-hah of a boat ship boarding, one Lieutenant Columbo is dashing around like a man possessed. We soon find out why. He’s not there investigating foul play. Instead he’s desperately seeking Mrs Columbo, who was won the couple a cruise to Mexico in a raffle aboard ye goode shippe Sea Palace.

The Lieutenant is relieved when Captain Gibbons (played by the Britisher-than-thou Patrick Macnee) confirms he has seen the dear lady and that she’s safely stowed away. Captain Gibbons and Purser Watkins are also pleased to note that Columbo has a Lieutenant’s designation (or ‘Leftenant’ in their parlance) – a fact that has a bearing on subsequent, murderous happenings, although they are bemused by his clothing. “Do you expect inclement weather in the Mexican waters?” the skipper asks, pleasantly.

Right behind Columbo in the queue is our chief antagonist Hayden ‘Huggy Bear’ Danziger, and wife Sylvia. They’re essentially the guests of honour. Car sales executive Danziger has a host of car dealers on board as his guests and wants them all to feel the love. As a prior guest on the ship, the crew ensure Danziger his every whim will be catered for. And with that, we’re all at sea!

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The Danzigers came in fancy dress for the Mexican cruise

We’re barely out of port, however, when Danziger starts getting up to mischief. With his sensibly packed key cutting set (apparently any car dealer who’s worth his salt has one on him at all times) and creates a master key, which he’s swiftly using for no good! He breaks into the room of big-haired piano player Lloyd Harrington and plants a receipt for a gun in his safe box.

He then ooches off to the room of sexy singer Rosanna Wells and plants the gun in her wardrobe. As he completes the task she walks in, but is little surprised to find him there. Indeed it appears she was expecting him. It emerges that the pair have been romping since they met on a previous cruise. He’s trying to break it off, but she wants cash to keep her mouth shut, or she’ll blab to Mrs Danziger.

The exchange gets heated. “No smart little broad from Pittsburgh” is going to mess up everything he’s worked 20 years for, he warns her. “This one is,” she replies – before receiving a punch to the face for her troubles. As he leaves, Rosanna’s face has retribution written all over it…

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Hell hath no fury and all that…

To put all this in context, prior to these fisticuffs we’re introduced to cruise ship band members Lloyd and Rosanna, who are former lovers now at loggerheads. Seems as if they had a little triste some time ago but while he’s keen to keep getting jiggy, she’s moved on to Danziger and tells him in no uncertain terms that it’s game over. The hirsute suitor yells angrily at her in the public bar, and stomps away.

Danziger, meanwhile, is putting the next step of his plan into action. Inhaling amyl nitrate crystals from a capsule, he plummets into the ship swimming pool, clutching his chest and squealing for help. By all accounts he’s had a mild heart attack, and must spend a night in the ship’s hospital. Yes folks, we’re off to an extremely action-packed start.

Columbo Troubled Waters

Arrrrgh! MY HEART!

The next 3 hours of the episode intersperse Danziger’s sneaky real-time manoeuvres against the endless backdrop of Rosanna and the band belting out Volare to an audience of enrapt pensioners, which is every bit as glorious and hideous as it sounds and still the chief reason why I’d fight to the death to avoid being taken on a cruise.

Despite being under regular ‘observation’ by ship’s nurse Melissa, Danziger is able to effortlessly obtain a pair of surgical gloves from the dispensary as she reads and smokes cigarettes with her back to the door! It’s the medical equivalent of the bungling security guard watching the ball game as the baddie tiptoes past the surveillance screen he’s not looking at.

Gloves in tow, Danziger slips out of the hospital, grabs a crew uniform and jallops down the crew staircase to Rosanna’s room just before she gets there to change costume ahead of the band’s second set. As she sits down at her dressing table, Danziger emerges from hiding and shoots her dead without a word, muffling the sound of the gun by firing through a feather pillow. He draws a shaky ‘L’ on her mirror with lipstick and races back up the stairs to hospital – stopping only to shed the uniform and stash the gun in a mountain of towels in the laundry.

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That’s one way to put a stop to Volare

He gets back to his hospital just in time for his 11.30pm pulse and blood pressure test, nurse Melissa noting that the rates are sky high once again. The mystified band, meanwhile, can only wonder where their lead singer is as they bust out some gentle crowd pleasers (AgadooItsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, etc etc) and wait for her return.

Cut to Purser Watkins rapping urgently at a cabin door. It’s Columbo’s! The sleepy Lieutenant is informed that the Captain needs him, and his first thought is that Mrs Columbo has been misbehaving. “She likes to have a good time. Sometimes she gets carried away,” he stammers. But what they need him for is his crime-solving skillz, as he’s lead to the cabin of Rosanna Wells to do what he can to assist.

Columbo requests the crime scene is sealed off and photographs taken. Skipper Gibbons, though, is taking umbrage at it all. He can’t have an investigation take place! The passengers are on holiday, for goodness sake! His antics are suggestive of a man with something to hide, although this isn’t an avenue the episode ever goes down.

“Danziger’s been plotting this for a long time, and he doesn’t care if innocent lives are ruined in the process.”

Nevertheless, Gibbons finally agrees to allow a discreet photographer access to the room, while a seasick Columbo takes himself off to the hospital to seek a remedy for his churning guts. While he’s waiting for the medicine his eye picks up on something out of the ordinary on the floor right outside Danziger’s sickroom. It’s a tiny feather. And while it mightn’t mean anything to him now, it’s ringing enough of an alarm bell for the wily detective to pocket the evidence for later consideration.

The corpse of Rosanna is brought to the hospital, and while the bullet is being dug out, Columbo nips in to see who the patient is in the ward. Before he can get into too much chit-chat with Danziger, Doctor Pierce calls him away. Death was very likely instantaneous, they conclude, which puzzles Columbo. How could she have had time to scrawl an ‘L’ on the mirror?

While Columbo isn’t falling for the obvious, the ship’s crew is. Poor ‘L for Lloyd’ is summoned and his hands checked for gunpowder. There’s none to be found, but he could easily have been wearing gloves. A subsequent search through his room throws up the planted gun receipt, dated two weeks prior. And we can now start seeing the devilish depth of Danziger’s treachery. He’s been plotting this for a long time, and he doesn’t care if innocent lives are ruined in the process.

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Lloyd’s hair-moustache-eyebrows combo give him trouble enough WITHOUT framing him for murder, too…

Of course, no murder weapon has been found yet. But that swiftly changes when an orderly finds it in the pile of laundry. Alas there are no prints on it, but Columbo confirms it’s the murder weapon after a test shot is a match for the bullet taken from Rosanna’s body.

Columbo has called on Danziger for help, given he has a large number of guests on board, and it’s at this stage that our killer falls into that old habit of being rather too forceful in his suggestions. “You’ve got the gun, a bullet, proof of ownership and a young man who felt rejected,” he opines. “It’s obvious the musician shot her.”

Of course, knowing Columbo the way we do, he’s never going to fall for the easy option. He dismisses the gun receipt as credible evidence. Why would Lloyd keep it amongst his other receipts – all of which were retained for tax deduction purposes. And he has every reason to start suspecting Danziger. He’s a previous passenger who knows the ship routine, after all. He’s a long-time car dealer, so would know how to cut a master key to both commit the crime and incriminate poor Lloyd. Plus he’s starting to get waaaaaaay too helpful. But how can Columbo prove anything against the guest of honour?

“Our killer falls into that old habit of being rather too forceful in his suggestions.”

He’s bothered by a number of things, too. Why wouldn’t the killer just fling the gun into the ocean? Lloyd had no powder burns on his hands, so if he fired the fatal shot he must’ve worn gloves. So where are the gloves with powder burns? If the gun was hidden, maybe the gloves were too (although we saw Danziger fling the gloves overboard upon release from hospital).

Continuing his investigations, Columbo discovers that a pair of surgical gloves are missing from the ship’s inventory. Danziger was in the infirmary, so it’s another reason to suspect him. The Lieutenant even goes so far as to ask the ship’s doctor whether it would be possible to simulate a heart attack. The doctor has to admit that inhaling amyl nitrate crystals might do it, so Columbo heads off to the swimming pool.

Checking the filter, what does he find? Two halves of an empty medicine capsule! When the doctor identifies it as amyl nitrate, Danziger is established as chief suspect. Even shirty Captain Gibbons starts to see sense – especially when Columbo refers to Danziger’s pulse rate on the night of the killing, which leapt right up just prior to his 11.30pm check-up. It could mean he’d had to run up the crew staircase to get back in a hurry. The noose is tightening around Danziger’s razor-sharp collared neck!

Columbo Troubled Waters

Danziger falls for Columbo’s trap – hook, line and sinker!

Again confiding in Danziger, a Hawaiian-shirted Columbo explains the significance of the surgical gloves stolen from the hospital. They simply must be hidden somewhere and if they can be found with powder burns on them that could be the clincher required to connect Lloyd with the killing. Danziger takes the bait – and how!

Late that night he steals the ship magician’s .38 revolver, another pair of surgical gloves from the hospital (presumably leading to nurse Melissa’s dismissal for failing to adequately secure precious medical supplies) and sneaks down to the engine rooms, using the drone of machinery to block out the sound of the gunshot. He then tucks the gloves into a fire hose and beats a retreat.

Quite why he’s chosen this course of action is revealed the next morning. As the ship nears port, a final fire drill test is run and before you can say “THAAAAAR SHE BLOOOOOWS!“, the surgical gloves flop out of the hose on to the floor. Now it’s Columbo’s time to shine!

Danziger is called to the bridge where he is greeted by Captain Gibbons and the Lieutenant, who is indulging in some old skool police work as he examines the gloves with a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass. A cocky Danziger believes he’s home and dry. “I’m delighted for you,” he tells the detective. “Now, if you can find powder marks on them you’ve got your final proof, haven’t you? And that will prove that the whole thing was planned.”

“Columbo is indulging in some old skool police work as he examines the gloves with a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass.”

Columbo concedes all these points. He has found powder marks on the gloves, but that’s not what he’s really looking for. What he wants is on the inside of the glove! The latex of the surgical gloves retains finger prints and palm prints. So if Columbo can positively match the prints with someone on the ship, then he has his killer. And it’s at this stage, Danziger starts looking more than a little seasick.

Using graphite shavings from a pencil, Columbo obtains a print from the index finger of a glove. He can see straight away that it’s not a match for Harrington, whose prints he captured earlier. No longer beating around the bush, he takes the direct approach to draw out a confession. “Mr. Danziger would you place the index finger of your right hand in that graphite and I think, maybe, we can wrap this whole thing up very quickly?”

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Up yours, Mr Danziger!

Danziger attempts a feeble excuse but is stopped in his tracks and has to admit defeat. “How did you find out?” he asks dejectedly. Columbo whips the little feather out of his top pocket. It triggered his suspicions because they don’t use feather pillows in the hospital because of allergies. And that means Danziger must have inadvertently picked it up at the crime scene and deposited outside his hospital ward.

Danziger is escorted off to the police launch, but the fun’s not quite over. The episode ends as it begins with Columbo desperately seeking Mrs Columbo to depart the ship, this time to a jaunty and stereotype-tastic Mexican trumpet ditty. Purser Watkins points her out, just about to hop onto a launch for shore.

“Do I still have time to catch that ship?” asks the Lieutenant, after an episode of being ear-bashed for referring to the cruise ship as a boat. “Yes you can,” he’s told. “And Lieutenant? That’s a boat.” The puzzled Lieutenant finally computes. “Ah, to Hell with it,” he grins as credits roll…

Troubled Waters’ best/worst moment: Volaaaaaaaaare


I’ve made light of it in the summary above, because the thought of actually being in a cruise ship audience being subjected to Volare is my idea of hell. However, ask a fan their main recollection of Troubled Waters and Poupee Boucar’s interminable rendition of Volare is always right up there.

As referenced earlier, this is wonderful and terrible at the same time, featuring a show-stopping turn from Boucar in front of an audience who are absolutely lapping it up. It epitomises the cruise ship experience of the 70s (I’m guessing), but is also effectively set against the scheming Danziger’s break-out from the hospital and his date with destiny with the singer when her song is finally done.

My thoughts on Troubled Waters

An absolute blast from start to finish, it’s easy to see why Troubled Waters resonates so strongly with viewers, and has routinely been in and around the fans’ top 10 Columbo episodes each year since I started a poll in 2015.

The cruise ship setting is unique, memorable and entertaining, we’re tantalised by Mrs Columbo’s proximity (surely we’ll see her at last!) and we’re treated to one of the series’ best ever killer guest stars in Robert Vaughn.

Vaughn is a great place to start our analysis. He makes an immediate impact as the dastardly Danziger – not least because of his extraordinary attire. Is this what auto executives routinely wore at their leisure in the mid-70s? If so, please someone invent a time machine and whip me back there, because he absolutely rocks the ‘pimp chic’ look like no other actor could.

columbo fashion robert vaughan

Careful you don’t cut yourself on those collars, Mr Danziger!

When we first meet Danziger he’s wearing a brilliant white lounge suit, a dark crimson shirt with some of the widest, sharpest collars ever produced and a devil-may-care cravat around his neck. This guy knows how to live! His subsequent wardrobe changes are equally outstanding giving us a killer who might well top the Columbo fashion standings, certainly giving Nora Chandler and Viveca Scott a good run for their money.

Vaughn wonderfully fits the Columbo villain archetype with elegance, charm and arrogance in abundance. It’s as if he was borne to it, and his wordless dispatching of troublesome lover Rosanna Wells is as ice cool as the series gets. I could watch Vaughn all day long, and he’s so good in this that it’s a borderline crime that he never played a Columbo killer again (instead being wasted in the BILGE that was Last Salute to the Commodore a year later).

“Robert Vaughn wonderfully fits the Columbo villain archetype with elegance, charm and arrogance in abundance.”

He and Falk seemed to really hit it off and their interactions are amongst the series’ most enjoyable. We’re taken right back to the Columbo basics here: the Lieutenant latches on to his suspect straight away, brings them into his circle of trust, elicits their opinions and help throughout – and finally pulls the rug out from underneath them just as they think their innocence is assured. While the denouement doesn’t match that of Suitable for Framing, the table-turning gotcha is conceptually similar to the take down of Dale Kingston.

The crime itself is also reminiscent of  Framing in its depth and complexity. Danziger has taken time to craft a marvellously devious plan to incriminate Lloyd Harrington and establish his own alibi, involving the pre-purchase of a revolver in a location he knew Harrington to be; faking a heart attack; and sufficiently memorising a ship’s layout to commit the crime unnoticed. In the end it’s only a combination of Columbo’s blind luck and inspiration that does in for him.

And if I’m being ultra-critical of this episode (and that’s the point of these reviews), it’s the blind luck aspect of the crime solving that is a little hard to bear. A seasick Columbo spotting the feather outside Danziger’s hospital room is a bit of an easy way out. There are plenty of reasons to ultimately suspect Danziger, but they all stem from the pesky feather.

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A tad far-fetched? The tiny feather that caught Columbo’s eye

A similarly implausible device is used in A Deadly State of Mind later in this series when the Lieutenant spots the tiny spent lighter flint on the carpet, which triggers his suspicions of Dr Collier. I’m not a mystery writer, so don’t have a better suggestion off the top of my head as to how these situations could have been better resolved, but I just find it all a bit too convenient.

Danziger’s superhuman knowledge of the bowels of the cruise ship is also pushing credibility just a shade. He’s referenced as a past guest, so it’s OK to assume some level of understanding of ship layout and crew movements, but he knows it so well that he might have designed the ship and created the staff rota himself! It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the episode, but is again just slightly too convenient for my liking.

“Danziger’s superhuman knowledge of the bowels of the cruise ship is pushing credibility just a shade.”

As is so often the case with a good Columbo episode, plot holes can be be forgiven to a certain extent if the viewer simply buys into the fun – and that’s where Troubled Waters makes it easy for the viewer. Because the episode was filmed on a real cruise to Mexico, the cast and crew mingling with actual guests, everyone seems to be having a right old time.

Peter Falk’s great mate Ben Gazzara directed this episode and his presence doubtless helped keep his leading man in good humour throughout. It can’t have been an easy job at times for Gazzara, with a mass of extras to manage as well as an at-times stormy voyage that caused seasickness amongst the film crew. The wind whipping across the decks played havoc, too, with basically everyone in the main cast suffering from BAD HAIR DAYS at some point during the shoot.

Columbo Troubled Waters falk and vaughn

HAIR-RAISING times on the high seas

Still, if this dampened enthusiasm aboard ship it absolutely doesn’t show in the final product, because this is a total hoot. Note the lovely, natural interactions Columbo has with fellow guests while searching the pool filter. It’s quite charming to see. Also note the rapturous looks of the audience enjoying the century-long version of Volare. The guests must have been dining out on the experience for decades to come!

All credit to Gazzara, who delivered an episode poles apart from his first Columbo effort, A Friend in Deed, the dark and humourless tale of police corruption that rounded out Season 3. That he could apply his hand so easily to the light and cheery Troubled Waters shows terrific versatility.

The script certainly gave its stars every chance to have a good time. Highlights include the game of quoits between Columbo and Danziger that resulted in the Lieutenant flinging his ring overboard; his shedding of his regular work clothes in favour of a muted Hawaiian shirt; the crew’s irritation that Columbo kept calling the ship a boat; and his concerns that Mrs Columbo’s apparently wild antics were going to land him in trouble.

Having Mrs Columbo there but just out of sight was a good move, finally proving beyond doubt that she is a real person (unless the crew were all suffering from mass hallucinations) and keeping the audience guessing right until the end about whether we’d finally catch a glimpse of her. Of course we don’t, which was the right decision, but drawing out the suspense is just another element of what this such a memorable adventure.

Truth be told, the calibre of the supporting cast was such that we didn’t need Mrs Columbo anyway. Alongside Vaughn was Patrick Macnee as the quintessentially British Captain Gibbons, and Bernard Fox as Purser Watkins making his second Columbo appearance after starring as Chief Superintendent Durk in Dagger of the Mind.


Macnee and Fox make for the most British of guest stars

Dean Stockwell also made his second series’ appearance after being the murder victim in Most Crucial Game, while Poupee Boucar (or Poopy Pantz as my children refer to her as) gave as good as she got as Danziger’s wronged lover Rosanna in a small role.

We even have former silver screen beauty Jane Greer as Danziger’s older wife, Sylvia. She had one memorable conversation with Columbo that hinted at her passion for her younger husband and the fact that she wears the trousers in the relationship, but it was really an under-cooked role. Her character was a strong and interesting one that warranted further exploration. It’s a shame the episode didn’t go there.

It’s also a shame that the episode wasn’t slightly bolder when considering suspects other than Harrington and Danziger. Columbo indicates strongly that he believes a member of the crew could have committed the crime, something Captain Gibbons vehemently disagrees with – a little too vehemently to my mind.

“The actual gotcha, while clever, is a bit of an anticlimax, with Danziger simply quietly admitting he did it without any fuss.”

Initially obstructive of the Lieutenant’s investigation, and showing a surly demeanour about the on-going ship/boat gag, Gibbons would have been my first suspect. I would have enjoyed at least a hint of an investigation into his whereabouts at the time of the killing, but alas we are denied what could have been a really interesting confrontation. It doesn’t help, either, that the actual gotcha, while clever, is a bit of an anticlimax, with Danziger simply quietly admitting he did it without any fuss.

A final key takeout from Troubled Waters was Columbo reverting to old skool policing techniques to investigate the case in the absence of crime scene investigators and more modern crime solving paraphernalia. The sight of him using pencil graphite to capture finger prints and examining clues through a giant magnifying glass is a pleasant nod to simpler times, and also more overtly Sherlockian than we usually see.

Lest we forget, murder always followed Holmes wherever he was, too, and, like Columbo, he was always up to the task. It’s a good reminder of how similarly shrewd and resourceful the two detectives are, despite contrasting characters and eras.

Columbo Troubled Waters

Back to basics: Columbo employs traditional detecting techniques to crack the case

In summing up, Troubled Waters is Columbo escapism in its purist form. It’s not perfect, but it has enough memorable ingredients to place it near the summit of most fans’ favourites list.

Columbo as a series doesn’t travel well (think Dagger of the Mind and Matter of Honor), but Troubled Waters makes a virtue of its unique, nautical setting to deliver a very different viewing experience. While it lacks a bit of the thrill of the chase with Columbo so firmly attached to Danziger throughout, it makes up for this with a big heart, big smiles and even bigger hair. It’s a boat ship load of fun on the high seas and is highly recommended.

Did you know?

The actual ship from Troubled Waters was named the Ocean Dream, and was launched in 1972. It also appeared in The Love Boat (why not the Love Ship?) and Herbie Goes Bananas. However, it’s currently at the bottom of Davy Jones’s Locker off the coast of Thailand after capsizing and sinking in 2016. Rumour has it that Volare is still being sung, though…

How I rate ’em

Enjoyable as it is, Troubled Waters falls just outside my current top 10. It has many elements that help it stand out, but the quality of the mystery itself isn’t quite top tier. Still, this is one I’d always watch with gusto if I saw it on TV as it’s so enjoyable.

Missed any of my other episode reviews? Then view them 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. Troubled Waters
  12. Any Old Port in a Storm
  13. Prescription: Murder ——– A-List ends here—
  14. An Exercise in Fatality
  15. Swan Song
  16. The Most Crucial Game
  17. Etude in Black
  18. By Dawn’s Early Light
  19. Candidate for Crime
  20. Greenhouse Jungle
  21. Requiem for a Falling Star
  22. Blueprint for Murder
  23. Ransom for a Dead Man —– B-List ends here—
  24. Dead Weight
  25. The Most Dangerous Match
  26. Lovely but Lethal ———— C-List ends here—-
  27. Short Fuse
  28. Mind Over Mayhem
  29. Dagger of the Mind

Check back in again soon when I get round to reviewing the gadget-laden 30th Columbo outing, Playback. And do let me know your thoughts on Troubled Waters below.

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Troubled 15

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188 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Troubled Waters

  1. A very underrated episode, given the especially clever alibi. However, the villain oversells Lloyd Harrington as the supposed murderer and that leads to his downfall. The debonair and swanky Robert Vaughn plays the “too-clever-for-you” character really well. He should’ve been on more episodes!

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  4. the funniest thing: I’ve been watch The Dick Van Dyke Show on youtube, and some Columbo actors are appearing there; for example, Bernard Fox plays an adult ed writing teacher who is madly in love with Laura.

    • Robert Vaughn once appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show as an old beau of Laura’s who had become very wealthy, bringing out the green monster in Rob. The episode is called “It’s a shame she married me.”

      • I saw that episode. What a suave guy he was!! I found it interesting to see the actors being picked up for other roles on the same show.

  5. This review is the funniest thing I have ever read. I had to stop two separate times to wipe away the tears and catch my breath. Thank you!

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  7. Another awesome review! Just watched this one on MeTV, and waited (impatiently) until after to read your review. I’ll add my two cents (or two pence for you, Columbophile)…

    “Poopy Pantz”… oh my god, I laughed so hard at that!

    I echo the previous comment about the engine room, it would be completely off-limits. I was in the Navy, and so when we took our cruise I specifically asked if I could get a tour of the engine room, and was told very politely but firmly “NO!” Of course, Danzinger has a master key, but how would he know where to go?

    Which leads to another point… when we was wandering around in the bowels of this ship, he encountered no one. A cruise ship has a fairly simple diesel engine setup and is not as fully manned as a warship, but they do have an engine room staff and people doing maintenance. In fact, Danzinger seems to have tremendous luck being completely isolated in his dastardly deeds. He goes to lift the magician’s pistol and the place is completely empty? What?? Sorry, but you can’t go anywhere on a cruise ship and not run into people.

    The serendipity of the feather did not bother me. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky AND good.

    The glove thing did not bother me either. If Danzinger did not consider that they’d count them the first time, why would he think of it the second time? I think at that point he was getting desperate to give Columbo something that would pin it firmly on Harrington, and didn’t think much further than that.

    This is one of my top episodes, always enjoyable to watch.

    • I am one of the “Feather People” who don’t see how Columbo could plausibly ascribe the feather to Mr. Dansinger with such confidence. (He apparently does not even consider any other suspects.)

      However, you make a good point. Columbo is most definitely not Sherlock Holmes. He solves crimes as much by instinct as by deduction–maybe more.

      It’s still a great episode no matter where you stand (or step) on the feather.

  8. I haven’t seen anyone mention what, to me, is a massive problem with the entrapment at the end. Haven’t seen it in a while, but I remember the issue is that a pair of gloves is missing from the infirmary & Columbo lures Vaughn into stealing another one & framing lloyd. But that makes no sense becuase then there will be another pair of gloves missing, so Vaughn is just hoping they wouldn’t count again? Makes zero sense to me.

    • In former times I also had my problems with this point, but meanwhile I tell myself: Hayden must have figured out that by the time the gloves will be found, the ship will have almost reached Mexico and the passengers including the murderer would have to be released, so counting the gloves again and finding out in a rush that another pair was missing wouldn’t give Columbo another hint, but would not help him nail the real killer.

    • I think the gloves are in the story so Columbo can get Danziger’s fingerprints. He takes such delight in turning the gloves from a phonied-up piece of incriminatory garbage, to Danziger’s link with the murder. Big as life. The last thing Danziger expected was this obtuse boob, seeing through his little improvisation– and it turned out the boob was playing him like a fiddle. It’s a great gotcha.

    • Moreover, Danzinger (Vaughn) is clearly shown stuffing the gloves into the fire hose with his bare hands. Why weren’t his prints all over the outside of the gloves as well?

    • Why is that a problem? He knows they will see it missing but figures they will attribute it to Harrington, as Columbo specifically suggested to him they would.

  9. These Columbo re-runs are ruthlessly edited so more commercials can be inserted, and sometimes vital information is taken out. The last time I saw this episode, the funny bit where the crewmember wakes up Columbo and he apologizes for his wife’s earlier behavior was not in it. A real shame because references to Mrs. Columbo are precious, especially funny ones.

    In the episode with Janet Leigh where she kills her husband, the part where she climbs a tree to enter his bedroom window was cut out. She was just suddenly in his bedroom. Come on!

    • In Germany, where I come from, “Forgotten Lady” was never shown in full length. 47 seconds have always been cut out: After the door bell rings in the end, Columbo offers Ned Diamond a cigar in the next sequence, but his entry we didn’t see. Also on our DVD, these 47 seconds keep missing.

    • They should pass legislation to prevent editing TV shows down to fit in more ads. At the very least you would think the show business guilds and unions would agree. When you don’t get to see the full credits to a movie because they’ve been sped up and squished into the bottom third of the screen, doesn’t that violate some rule or other?

  10. The problem I have with the feather is how could it have stayed on a part of his body up all those decks? And I assumed he would have changed from his uniform back into his PJs in the same room that he did before committing the crime so woudln’t the feather have fallen off in there? Just curious. Otherwise it’s a fun episode.

    • And they don’t mention the possibility it was tracked in by someone else who’d been at the crime scene (I’m looking at you, Lieutenant). One thing about the feather, though- Columbo solves the case immediately (a rarity, even for him) and can spend the rest of the cruise in a leisurely game of cat & mouse with poor Mr Danzinger. I just now realized the way he set it up, the gloves also clear Harrington; he gets Danzinger to blow up his own story.

    • That’s exactly what has been damaging the episode for me for years, and still is. After changing clothes after the murder, the feather could only have stuck to Hayden’s hair, but still the coincidence would remain, that the feather dropped off just where Columbo could find it.

      • I don’t think it’s rare for a feather to stick to someone’s hair and only fall off a while later. As for someone else having brought it there, this was merely 20 minutes after the murder. No one had entered the room except for 3 people and Columbo was the first of them to have gone to the hospital. As for it having come from him, there was no mountain of feathers in the room. Indeed (as CP forgot to mention), Columbo took notice when he saw a single feather at the scene of the murder, so the chance that he would pick one up and then carry it till the hospital and lose it there, was far less than it happening to a murderer, whom I’m sure Columbo instantly figured had shot her through a pillow to muffle the gun shot, and thus would very reasonably have a couple of feathers attach to him.

  11. Watching it right now. It gets a lot of its charm from the way Columbo’s forced descent into informality, isolated on a cruise ship, exposes more of his basic ability. He puts on a Hawaiian shirt, and takes the crime apart like he’s teaching Investigations 101. I like him best when he’s just a cop on a case, and he’s a one-man crime lab in this one.

  12. About it pushing credibility that Danziger should have a thorough knowledge of the bowels of the ship: wasn’t it mentioned that Rosanna stayed in her cabin for most of a prior cruise with a cold or some other ailment? Presumably she was canoodling with our villain then. If so, he took that route many times.

  13. I watched troubled waters last Sunday and it is a gem , a very enjoyable script. a well planned out murder and plenty of color and humor to add . Robert Vaughn excellent in this . The conclusion might not be quite 5 star but troubled waters is very enjoyable and always a pleasure to watch , far more enjoyable than by dawns early light and easily makes my top 10 .

  14. Thanks for this wonderful website columbophile !
    Just a little remark : I dont think that Columbo is seasick (he never is in the rest of the episode), it is the sight of blood that makes him nauseous.

      • Correct. Plus, by now it has already become established that Columbo suffers from extreme motion sickness – be it on planes (Ransom for a Dead Man), cable cars (Short Fuse), or ships (here, Dead Weight).

  15. In case anyone is wondering about the difference between a ‘ship’ and a ‘boat’: you can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat. Simple.

    • A neat distinction. So a submarine is called a “boat” because it can theoretically be put on an aircraft carrier. (Question: Has it ever happened with a full-size sub? I bet no.) More to the point, a modern US guided missile destroyer (a “ship”) is about 510 feet long. The Russian Typhoon class submarine (a “boat”) is 575 feet long.

      Like Columbo, I still get confused. To hell with it!

  16. Definitely in my top 10. Robert Vaughn is excellent and his take down is quality. My biggest problem with the episode though is that Columbo gets onto the murderer early due to him finding a feather which implicated someone on the medical bay. So, why isn’t the nurse chief suspect ?? There was no reason to suspect the patient any more than the nurse ?
    Thoughts …

    • And since Columbo did not know how or when the feather actually found its way to the infirmary, it may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder. It could have come in on the clothes of any visitor, including Danzinger’s wife, who would surely have visited him after his “attack”.

      That raises another possibility. While the nurse (or the doctor) had no obvious motive, the wife should have become a suspect once Columbo found out that Danziger had an illicit relationship with the victim.


      • OMG. I forgot to mention that the wife was played by noir femme fatale Jane Greer. That alone should have made her the prime suspect. Columbo loves old movies.

      • I’m surprised neither CP nor any commenter noted that Columbo first found a feather in the murder room and pocketed it; thus, when he found a similar feather in the hospital, he immediately saw Danziger as a prime suspect.

  17. Does anyone know the name of the song playing in the background when Rosanna arrives on the ship? It’s the one playing when Lloyd and she are arguing in the dining area and it cuts off in the scene of Hayden throwing away the key wrench.

  18. This is a fun Columbo episode, not a top ten for me but easy to watch. Falk and Vaughn were good together and I really liked the other actors in this episode. It’s funny to compare that cruise ship to the floating cities of today.

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

  20. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Deadly State of Mind | The Columbophile

  21. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Playback | The Columbophile

  22. here’s a suggestion for columbophile , why not try something musical ,for example 5 best musical scenes in columbo , mine would be 1) music played during murder scene during make me perfect murder 2) opening music from prescription murder 3) I saw the light Johnny cash in swansong 4) where have all the flowers gone sang at Freddie’s wake in death hits the jackpot 5) the saints go marching on in agenda for murder but certainly not volare being sang in troubled waters , something along theses lines , but were anxious for playback review as its a classic columbo and there’s still a lot of good 70s episodes 3 years worth in fact .

    • I love the suspenseful, winding, spooky music that plays at the beginning of both “The Most Dangerous Match” and “Double Shock.” It gets stuck in my head on a loop and I love it! Dick De Benedictis is credited as composer for both of those episodes, as well as preceding episodes “Étude in Black,” “The Most Dangerous Match,” and “Dagger of the Mind,” so maybe if I search “SoundtracksArchives” on YouTube it would be one of those episodes. 🙂

  23. watched dagger of the mind this morning , and its easily my least favourite of the 70s along with a matter of honour.

  24. great review once more , playback up next , it will be interesting to see which is rated higher out of the 2 as I think there both strong episodes me myself would slightly prefer playback mainly because Columbo is in his natural surroundings and also I just love the emotional closing scene in playback, when Elizabeth enters the studio room and Harold breaks down in some sort of epileptic fit before walking out saying that wont be necessary meaning no handcuffs columbo looks at Elizabeth and she weeps to the backdrop of the fine music , very moving.

  25. quick fire trivia columbophile , Is troubled waters the only episode that (doesn’t) include the car , raincoat and his dog all at once? it has to be in the case of the car as they are at sea throughout and it is a cruise ship not a ferry with a car deck. if there is what episode as far as I can remember in a matter of honour his car broke down at the start but we see it.

    • How about ‘Phile’s favorite, “Dagger of the Mind”? Certainly, “Prescription Murder” had neither Dog nor Peugeot. In fact, I don’t think it even had the coat. Columbo was fairly natty in the first pilot. The rumpled rain coat appeared in the second pilot, “Ransom for a Dead Man”, Dog didn’t appear until the second season (“Etude in Black”, the 9th Columbo outing, including the two pilots).

      I don’t really remember because I hardly ever watch them, but I doubt that all three appear in the two 87th-Precinct unColumbo’s: “No Time to Die” and “Undercover”.

      • I was wrong about no raincoat in Prescription Murder. See the following article:


        This is an intriguing site with interesting, albeit haphazardly edited, articles about Columbo. Despite what Falk had maintained, the rather dashing coat in Prescription Murder is almost certainly different from the rumpled mess of a garment introduced in “Ransom”. Apparently Falk stopped wearing his own coat in the 1980’s ABC run. A custom duplicate was made and then appropriately stressed by the wardrobe department.

  26. My otherwise perfect girlfriend loves to tease me on my fondness for 1970s movies and television. About 30 seconds into “Volare” she looked up from her laptop and said, “Where’s that tidal wave from The Poseidon Adventure when you really need it?”

  27. One of my absolute favorite Columbos ever, however I am biased…I was a huge fan of Robert Vaughn and loved his performance in The Young Philadelphians.
    I agree with the too long version of Volare…never liked this song. But, I digress. I’m in agreement with a previous comment that Danzigers wife was never allowed visitation nor shown as distraught at her husbands heart attack. This along with Prescription Murder portrays both villains as too condescending but are amongst my favorites along with Any Old Port in a Storm. My DVR is filled with 20 Columbo episodes. Keep your reviews coming …

  28. This is one of my favorites! I like the fact that we get to see some of Columbo’s “behind the scenes” sleuthing and his playing-stupid act dropped for once. Those rare glimpses are some of my favorite moments in the show. Here it’s when he sees the feather and decides to investigate; we see him pause, check the corridor to make sure he won’t be interrupted, and then amble through the door with a “Oh sorry, wrong room.” Yeah, right.

  29. This is actually one of my favorite episodes! It has virtually no weaknesses to me. I’m with you on Robert Vaughn’s great performance – and clothing! Regarding “Volare”, I can endure that easily because it’s nicely combined with the murder scene. However, I don’t feel very sorry neither for the victim nor for the killer being caught – their shady business/conduct has led them to all this. It is Mrs. Danziger that I really like in this episode and wish she had had more of screen time. It seems she knows many intriguing facts and is a down-to-earth woman who knows both her limitations (the age) and her power. She’s on screen for a short time, though, so what is basically best about this episode is enjoying Columbo working despite the difficulties (the cruise, the opposing captain etc.) and the nautical setting which I love. I love seaside so much! Thank you for the detailed review!

  30. mr columbophile ratings list really taking shape now and it would look similar to mine at this point and i am so glad you have placed it higher than any old port in a storm because i am not a big fan of this episode even though a lot of people put it top but i just dont, much prefer troubled waters and its on a similar level to playback which is also one of my favourites the only criticism i have is that lady in waiting is above it as i dont see anything magnificent about it, lady in waiting wouldn’t make my top 20 , not damning it at the same time.

  31. i have looked forward to this review for ages and ITS GREAT, im in two minds about this one , ill agree not perfect but great watch. i had this down as a poorer episode until one Sunday last winter i watched it in full and really enjoyed it , not sure does it make my top 10 or not Robert Vaughn , great, much much better than the other fish out of water episodes , dagger of the mind and that Mexican bullfight episode which i consider the worst of the 70,s run.

  32. Excellent review and you’ve covered a lot of the interesting aspects of the episode, though I’m not as allergic to the version of Volare repeated in the episode as you are, as I think it helps to capture the 1970s cruise ambience.

    Speaking of Volare, a song closely identified with Dean Martin, in case anyone was wondering what Mrs. Columbo actually looks like, you can see her in this episode from the Dean Martin show:


    PS: The actress playing “Columbo’s” wife is the terrific Shirley Jones, star of so many great film versions of Broadway musicals, who, at the time of this clip, was, in real life, married to legendary Columbo villain Jack Cassidy.

    • Thanks for the clip. Falk couldn’t keep from laughing. As far as Mrs. Columbo, she was about as far from the real thing (based on Columbo’s descriptions of her and his phone conversations with her) as one can be.

  33. Another wonderful, laugh-out-loud review.
    I agree with your cruise-ship sentiments, and while enduring “Volare” among the transfixed blue-hairs is certainly in a level of Hell, being in the sardine-can pool where Columbo fished out the capsules is for me the first level.

  34. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, except for one huge factor: the villain. This episode is indeed loaded with action, has great detective work, and the scenery and secondary actors are very good. However, while you love Vaughn as a villain, I despise him. The truly great villains – such as Pleasance, Cassidy, Van Dyke and McGoohan – had both multiple shades to their character, and the ability to indicate reactions with little more than a raised eyebrow or a half-sneer. Vaughn, to me, is a bore. His face is almost identical throughout, he can neither express humor nor rage nor slyness, his voice is monotonous at all times, and he has nothing likable about him to make you kind of feel for him despite his despicable character. In my opinion he just sticks out like a sore thumb throughout the episode.

    • I totally get where your coming from. My thought was he is laid back, calculating…and a snob! That’s why I said I would’ve liked to see him in another episode. To see him in another light possibly. But I did think for this episode he “fit the bill” as how he played the role. No way does he come close to the “master villains!”

      • We do see him in one other episode, though not as the killer (though we think he is, at first): “Last Salute to the Commodore.” Did you find his performance in that to be more varied than in this episode?

        Sometimes the handsomest actors are accused of only having one facial expression or tone of voice…they said that about Roger Moore and George Clooney, too. I guess the trick is to use them in the right role. I loved Robert Vaughn in the later episodes of “The A-Team” (created by former “Columbo” scribe Stephen J. Cannell!); I don’t suppose he was given much acting range as General Stockwell…maybe in the episode where guest-star David McCallum tortured him.

        Come to think of it, I have seen him in other things where he has a much wider range of expression, but those were comedies, and kind of painful, like the movie “SOB” (1981). Not Robert Vaughn’s fault though!

        Here’s an eccentric line delivery of his that I like:

  35. I love the “old” Columbo episodes, very nostalgic for me, love reading your reviews. Did you notice how names of characters are often recycled? Jenifer Welles, same last name as Roseanna, was the murder victim in Etude in Black. There are other repeats as well.

  36. Brilliant episode, a contender for the most purely enjoyable and certainly in the top 10 even when all the flaws are factored in.
    What is all this fuss and feathers (excuse the pun) about ‘Volare’?

    • Not to be TOO pedantic, the actual title of the accursed song is “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu”… something about a blue painted sky. All anyone can remember, however, is the first word of the annoying refrain which means “To Fly” or, more loosely, “Let’s Fly”–presumably into that damn sky. This song usually leaves me with one of the worst earworms I’ve ever had. Even just thinking about the song brings it on.

  37. I’m pretty much in full agreement with your assessment of the episode. There is one detail that bothers me, nothing important mind you, but Danziger would never have been able to down the engine room. Any area below the water line is off limits to anyone but authorized crew, but it’s a minor thing. Why the ragging on “Volare”? It was a popular lounge act song at that time.

    This episode also proves once and for all that there is in fact a Mrs. Columbo. It’s not a relative he made up on the spot (like Ralph for instance) as part of his act to throw suspects off their game.

    One more thing, I wouldn’t have minded getting Montezuma’s Revenge if it meant hanging with Nurse Melissa.

  38. I love this episode and happen to have it on my DVR right now (I keep about 20 Columbo episodes to act as electronic Ambien for when I wake up in the middle of the night. Works like a charm. Puts me to sleep in 20 minutes.)

    As a chemist, one thing bugs me. The ship’s doctor suggests that Danziger’s symptoms could be induced by inhaling “amyl nitrATE”, and Columbo repeats this several times throughout the episode. I even went through the recording to make sure the doctor actually said those words. (No offense, Columbophile.)

    Amyl “nitrate”? Nope. Not possible. Amyl nitrate has no significant physiological effect. The drug he is thinking of is amyl nitrITE. (Hey, Madden. What’s one stinking oxygen atom among friends? Actually, a whole lot.) Alkyl nitrites (of which iso-amyl nitrite is the most commonly available) are vasodilators. They lower the blood pressure drastically and usually cause the heart rate to increase in an attempt to maintain oxygen supply to the brain and other organs. Overuse can cause one to blackout.

    Medically, these “poppers” are used to treat angina. Less commonly, they are use to treat cyanide poisoning because they compete successfully with hemoglobin for the cyanide ion, freeing it up for it’s proper physiological role of carrying oxygen to cells. Nowadays, iso-amyl nitrite is frequently used in sexual encounters because it also relaxes smooth muscles. Interested readers can Google or even just imagine why using so-called “poppers” might be considered a desirable thing in such situations.

    It is a very common mistake to misidentify amyl nitrite as “amyl nitrate”–even among frequent users–so I have no problem with Columbo and the crew doing so. People are just used to hearing the “ate” ending on chemical names. It is true that some ship’s doctors are not at the top of their profession. Still, not even a ship’s doctor would ever mistake an important physiologically active drug with a largely inert industrial chemical.

    (Most doctors on cruise ships are not even traditional members of the crew. They usually take no salary from the cruise line. They are vendors, just like the jewelers, the fashion shopkeepers, and the hairdressers on the shopping deck. They rent the medical suite from the cruise line and pay their bills by charging passengers for their services–mostly pushing Dramamine or more expensive anti-nausea treatments, but sometimes dealing with real medical emergencies. However, they do have one perk that other vendors do not. Ship’s doctors traditionally wear a uniform and host a table at dinner as a senior “officer”. In fact, being seated the the ship’s doctor’s table is quite an honor, second only to sitting at the captain’s table and about equal to dining with the first officer. How do I know all this? My ex-wife, a physician herself, used to “keep company” with a ship’s doctor.)

    BTW: Amyl nitrATE does have at least one important commercial use. It is an additive in diesel fuel used to promote smoother ignition.

    • I also use “Columbo” (and other favourite TV shows and movies) to help me sleep! I’m glad to see others do too. I find the 1970s episodes are a more soothing audio experience. 🙂

    • “Still, not even a ship’s doctor would ever mistake an important physiologically active drug with a largely inert industrial chemical.”

      Maybe the powers-that-be at the network don’t want to tip off any ne’re-do-wells watching this episode that they can spike a drink using the potentially lethal nitrite, instead of the harmless nitrate. Which is a good idea.

  39. Thanks for taking us through this old favorite once again! Robert Vaughn was one of my favorite guest stars because of this episode. I loved seeing Columbo in a completely different setting, and after “Volare,” could have saved Danziger a lot of trouble by killing that chick myself. Ugh!!!

  40. I woke up to this side-splitting & astute review & my day is off to a good start! Thanks so much. All points well taken on this one. & it puts me in mind of what someone said on an IMDB.com comment when someone asked why Vaughan felt the compelled to off the sexy singer: she sang “Volare” one too many times! 😀

  41. Volare….Help! I must admit, I fast forward a little bit so I don’t have to listen to that! Robert Vaughn fits the bill, I too would of liked to see him as a villain in another episode. Question: Sylvia Danziger (Jane Greer), if I’m not mistaken, please correct me if I’m wrong, never visits her husband in hospital room after having a heart attack?

    • Sylvia could have visited at any time during the entire day he was there. We only see a few minutes of the several hours he was there.

      • That’s obvious, but to me when watching it, it is such an omission and obvious question, that the scene is a little flawed without showing her there at some point, even if was for a minute. All my Columbo compatriots have yelled at the TV…where’s the wife? She doesn’t visit!?!

        • They certainly have an odd relationship. Perhaps she wasn’t shown visiting for practical reasons: maybe Jane Greer was only available during the cruise, not the studio work?

  42. Indeed Troubled Waters is like the story’s cruise — first class entertainment, to the point I am more forgiving about finding feathers. Police investigators have to find clues sometimes.
    Robert Vaughn as the murderer is a masterpiece in itself and I second your comment – it is a shame he wasn’t a murderer again in another Columbo movie. It makes Troubled Waters even more unique. I found the Volare scene – as it combines Liza Minnelli-like singing and preparation of a crime – very fun.
    I, too, look forward to the review of “Last Salute to the Commodore”. I did a fan edit of that one for it seemed to me that it had enough qualities to be salvaged.
    Thank you for your review – great reading as usual, or perhaps even more than usual as it transpires the sense of fun present in Troubles Waters!

  43. First comment! Neat!

    I didn’t have a problem with the feather. There has to be *something* to point Columbo away from the obvious suspect, after all.

    Jane Greer was in “Out of the Past”, with Robert Mitchum, one of the very best film noirs of all time. I do enjoy every instance of an actor or actress from Hollywood’s classic era turning up on “Columbo”–Greer, Myrna Loy, Ida Lupino, Lew Ayres, Ray Milland.

    Have to admit I spent every second that Poupee Boucar was onscreen, staring at her cleavage. It could have been 90 minutes of “Volare” and I would have enjoyed it with that actress in that outfit.

    Looking forward to the review of “Last Salute to the Commodore”…


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