Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 4

Episode review: Columbo A Deadly State of Mind

Deadly State opening titles

Following five excellent episodes, Columbo‘s fourth season rounded out on 27 April 1975 in the suave form of A Deadly State of Mind.

Featuring heart-throb George Hamilton as unscrupulous psychiatrist Dr Mark Collier, a double homicide (including one of the most far-fetched in TV history) and the Lieutenant losing his rag, this Peter S. Fischer-penned outing certainly leaves an impression.

But is A Deadly State of Mind actually any good, or does it round out Season 4 like a wet lettuce? Or to put it another way, is it as steely-minded as Dr Mark Collier, or a helpless flounderer like Nadia Donner? Let’s take a look…

Dramatis personae

Columbo Deadly State of Mind cast

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Mark Collier: George Hamilton
Nadia Donner: Lesley Ann Warren
Karl Donner: Stephen Elliott
Dr Anita Borden: Karen Machon
Mr Morris: Fred Draper
Chuck Whelan: Ryan Macdonald
Sergeant Kramer: Bruce Kirby
Written by: Peter S. Fischer
Directed by: Harvey Hart
Score by: Bernardo Segáll

Episode synopsis: Columbo A Deadly State of Mind

A tearful Nadia Donner is recounting a ‘daddy’ moment from her youth, while her psychiatrist, Dr Mark Collier, prompts her with questions. It seems like he’s trying to uncover a traumatic event from Nadia’s past regarding her sister, but the info he’s after remains out of reach in Nadia’s mind. Disappointed, he brings her out of her hypnosis.

This ain’t no regular doctor/patient relationship, though folks. It’s quickly established that Nadia and Dr Collier are lovers, as she invites him to spend ‘quality time’ with her at her swanky beach house as her husband Karl is heading out of town. Collier agrees, and leaves Nadia to rest and recuperate.

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“Where the drugs at, bro?”

In the corridor he meets his subordinate, Dr Anita Borden. She has noticed that some hypnosis-inducing drugs have gone missing from the lab, and hints broadly that she believes Collier is using them on Nadia to deepen her hypnotic state so he can write another book about the secrets of the mind. Collier furiously denies the claim and sends Dr Borden scurrying away to do more testing on lab rats as part of his research project.

Cut to the aforementioned swanky beach house, which Collier screeches up to in his sweet Mercedes, very obviously driving through muddy gutter water in the process. If it’s sweet, sweet love on his mind he’s in for disappointment as Collier encounters not just Nadia, but her livid husband Karl in the sitting room.

Karl, as one might expect, isn’t best pleased to see Collier. He threatens to ruin him and let the world know about the drugs he’s using on Nadia, and the ‘carnal relations’ they’re indulging in on the side. Karl also lets Collier know that he’s not the first lover Nadia has taken, nor even the fifth! “I know my wife – and the trash she’s attracted to,” he says.

Collier, however, refuses to yield. In what seems to be an act of genuine affection, he appears to be willing to risk professional ruin by demanding Nadia leaves with him. It’s then that hell breaks loose. Karl grabs Nadia and delivers a colossal slap to her face. He’s about to repeat the act when Collier grabs a poker and clobbers Karl between the shoulder blades. It’s an act of defence, but Big Karl slumps down, dead as a doornail.

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Karl Donner: one of the series’ least-mourned victims

Nadia is in panic mode, but lighting a calming cigarette Collier maintains his presence of mind and concocts an explanation for Nadia to give the police. She and Karl were at home alone when two men forced their way in seeking jewellery and money. When Karl resisted, he was slain. While this seems pretty thin to me, Collier splits leaving the fragile Nadia to call in the crime to the police as he establishes his alibi back at the research lab.

Speeding up the driveway in his Merc, Collier is forced to veer into the gatepost when a blind man and his dog walk across the top of the drive. The blind man calls out, but Collier backs up and screeches around him to make good his escape. He creates his alibi in suitably charismatic fashion, cosying up to Dr Borden in the lab, apologising for his earlier shirtiness, and planting a smooch on her cherry lips. There’s clearly some history there, folks!

Back at the beach house, the police investigation is underway, with our man Lieutenant Columbo in the thick of it. He quickly begins questioning Nadia, who trots out the pre-arranged spiele, but struggles with the detail (note to murderous duos – perhaps spend more than 30 seconds concocting your tall tales, mmmmkay?). The men had guns, she says. When one of them went upstairs, Karl tried to bash the other with the poker, before he was dispossessed and slain himself.

The men then grabbed some jewellery, ran out of the door and drove away. Nadia heard the car drive away, but – as Columbo is immediately puzzled by – she didn’t hear the car arrive. Things aren’t adding up from the get-go, so Columbo sits down to have a think after Nadia is led away to rest by her doctor.

As he lights a cigar, his eye falls upon a microscopic object on the carpet. While he doesn’t immediately recognise what it is, he pockets it for further examination before joining Sergeant Kramer out on the driveway. The cops have spotted a dent in the gatepost at the top of the drive. Columbo, meanwhile, notices thinner European tire tracks on the drive. He recognises them, of course, because he drives a European car – something that the dim-witted Kramer doesn’t appear to have ever noticed.

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The sofa pattern was suspected of inducing strokes in the infirm

It’s at this time Collier arrives along with Dr Borden, who is evidently the designated driver. Columbo introduces himself and notices Collier lighting a cigarette with a match. This is a fact he squirrels away for later, as the good doctor heads inside to minister to his patient.

The next morning we’re with Collier and Nadia again, this time at her sumptuous apartment. They’re plotting further, but are interrupted by Columbo who is surprised to find Collier making a house call so early in the morning. He double checks some facts with Nadia, but gleans a real nugget when he asks to borrow Collier’s lighter for his cigar. The lighter, you see, has an engraved message from Collier’s sister, and the Dr claims to ‘treasure it’. This will be important later on.

Nadia stumbles her way through some gentle questioning – again highlighting the flaw in Collier’s plan to entrust her with keeping them out of jail. If the men had guns, why didn’t the killer just shoot Karl, the detective asks. Umming and ahhing, Nadia says he’d put the gun in his belt to rifle through some drawers. How come there were no fingerprints on the drawers then, Columbo enquires. There’s more uncertainty from Nadia before she ‘recalls’ the man used a handkerchief to wipe the prints off.

“Collier starts to realise what a fool he’s been to leave his life and freedom in Nadia’s shaking hands.”

Satisfied enough for now, Columbo beetles away leaving a panicky Nadia ready to confess all. Only Collier’s promises to help her through it can quell her rising terror, but we sense the Doctor is starting to realise what a fool he’s been to leave his life and freedom in her shaking hands…

Still, you can’t keep a good man down and Collier is soon back at the lab showing his publisher, Chuck Whelan, around. He freezes, though, when he looks from the window and notices Columbo visibly checking the tires of his Mercedes. We even get an ominous musical cue to highlight the significance of this act. Nice!

Once his car-related snooping is done, Columbo attempts to navigate the bowels of the university to find Collier – at one point even eliciting a ‘comedy female scream’ sound effect after inadvertently entering a wrong door. He eventually finds Dr Borden, who confirms she was with Collier the night before during the time he was informed of the Donner death.

Collier then reappears, and wants to know why Columbo was looking at his tires. The Lieutenant says he simply wanted a good look at the tread – not because he thought Collier’s car was ever at the crime scene. It’s at this point Collier delivers one of the series’ best ever analyses of Columbo. “You know Lieutenant, you’re a marvelously deceptive man. You know, the way you get to the point, without really ever getting to the point. I really believe you think there’s something cock-eyed about Karl Donner’s death.”

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Dr Collier was unimpressed by Columbo’s ‘made you look!’ prank

Coming clean, Columbo admits that he’s having problems with the inconsistencies in Nadia’s story. If the car was right outside the house, why didn’t she see its lights as it drove down? The men allegedly claimed that their car was broken down on the highway. Why would they use that excuse if their car was right outside the front door?

Collier suggests Nadia be submitted to a lie detector test, just to assuage Columbo’s doubts so that he can go about trying to find the actual killers. “Do you think she’ll pass such a test?” Columbo asks. “I’d stake my reputation on it,” Collier cockily replies.

When this suggestion is put to Nadia, however, she’s predictably aghast but Collier calms her nerves. Through hypnosis, he can prep her to breeze through the lie detector test. So drugging her up, he begins the process, but the subject matter he’ll be covering is stunningly different to what he discussed with his patient.

Instead of cementing the particulars of the crime into her subconscious, Collier instead preys on the weaknesses and recollections of her past. She has spoken to him about her love of swimming and diving as a girl, and how it so impressed her daddy. So Collier uses this info to program her to take her own life. How? He’ll call her apartment at 10pm and utter the name ‘Charles Whelan’. Upon hearing this, Nadia will become so hot that the only thing she’ll be able to do is to leap off her balcony into the apartment pool – five storeys below! Yes readers, if audacity has a name it must be Dr Mark Collier

“Columbo admits that he’s having problems with the inconsistencies in Nadia’s story.”

The audacity goes a step further in that Collier makes the crucial call to Nadia in the presence of Columbo, who drops round to his house that night to ask some questions as the doctor throws a jolly shindig with pals. As Collier fixes him a drink, Columbo fields questions from the party guests. His latest problem he needs to answer is who the smoker at the house that night was. Neither Karl nor Nadia smoked, and the ‘intruders’ were wearing stocking masks, so it can’t have been them.

But how does he know there was a smoker there at all, someone asks. It’s then that Columbo reveals the tiny item he took from the floor of the Donner house on the night of the crime. He’s figured out that it’s the nub of a flint from a lighter that has popped out. And it can’t have been there before because the fatal night was the first time the house was used since Thanksgiving, and the place was professionally cleaned right after that.

Columbo has deduced that whoever was there is now having to light cigarettes with matches, or has a new flint in the lighter. And guess what – when he looks at Collier’s lighter he spots a brand new flint in it. The smug Doctor laughs it off, of course, and as Columbo continues to chat with guests Collier calls Nadia, drops the code word and pretends he’s dialled a wrong number before going on to make an actual call to Chuck Whelan to arrange a meeting the next day. Clever boy!

Nadia, meanwhile, does exactly what the doctor ordered. She’s overcome with a sensation of heat, so throwing off every stitch of clothing she takes a leap off the balcony in a failed attempt to hit the refreshing, cool water below. Yowch!

Columbo Nadia Donner death

Is it a bird? Is it a plane…?

Columbo and Co. are now investigating another death, and this one is also causing the Lieutenant some confusion. Nadia’s apartment door was bolted from the inside, so no one threw her over the balcony. She must have jumped. But why did she take off all her clothes first? And why did she place her valuables in the toe of her shoe, as if she was going swimming? And her phone receiver been found on the coffee table – had she got up in the middle of a conversation and flung herself to a grisly demise?

It’s a puzzle alright, but not an impossible one to crack for a mind as sharp as Columbo’s. He’s read up on Collier’s books on hypnosis techniques and knows the doctor has the skillz required to plant suggestions in the minds of his patients. But could someone be convinced to commit suicide? That he ain’t clear on.

So Columbo lies in wait for Dr Borden in the research facility car park after a sleepless night. He’s dishevelled, impatient and wants answers, so he takes the direct route. “Is it possible to hypnotise Mrs. Donner so that with the use of suggestion you could make her jump over that balcony to her death?” he asks. No, she replies. A person won’t do anything in a hypnotic state that they wouldn’t do normally.

He outlines his case that she appears to have believed she was going swimming, but it’s all too uncertain for Dr Borden to be able to give much help. But what is certain is that amobarbitol and zilothin were found in Nadia’s blood, and they can be used to break down somebody’s will. It’s starting to look a lot like foul play – could Collier have prescribed these drugs for Nadia?

Borden fails to recognise the urgency behind Columbo’s request for details. “You’re just going to have to ask Dr Collier,” she breezes back, but it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. “No, I’m asking you!” the Lieutenant snaps. “I’m asking you about a murder!

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Columbo’s patience wears thin with Dr Borden in thrilling fashion

Whether he gleans any more info out of the shocked doctor is unclear as we next cut to the LA docks, where Collier has just returned from an enjoyable morning with Chuck Whelan on his yacht. Columbo greets him on his return, but the atmosphere soon turns icier as the Lieutenant informs Collier of Nadia’s death and essentially accuses him of killing Karl.

Columbo has good reason to believe Collier was in on it with Nadia, because a police doctor has suggested that the killing of Karl could have happened much earlier that the 7pm time-slot suggested by Nadia – and in that case Collier’s alibi is decidedly dodgy.

“Am I to presume that I’m currently your chief suspect?” Collier asks casually. “I’m not sure that suspect is a strong enough word,” Columbo replies, but it doesn’t shake Collier a jot. “In that case, I should be locked up. Course, I’m not. Therefore, I presume that you have no proof,” he taunts before exiting stage left.

Columbo doesn’t have to wait long for that elusive proof, however. Sergeant Kramer is in touch to inform him that there’s a witness who can attest that a car left the Donner place in a hurry at 5.30pm. The witness can’t ID the car and driver, though, because he’s BLIND, but the wily Lieutenant finds a way to make it count nonetheless.

Summoning Collier to the Donner beach house, Columbo lays it all out. He believes Collier programmed Nadia to take her own life, but he knows he’ll never be able to prove it. He can, however, prove that Collier killed Karl Donner – because he has an eyewitness.

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If his Columbo experience taught Mr Morris anything it was to always pack a bulky sweater and heavy underwear when visiting the mountains in spring

At a signal from Columbo, Mr Morris, the eyewitness, is summoned from the hallway beyond. Morris, wearing sunglasses indoors, treads carefully down some steps, sits on the coach and offers Columbo some matches to light a cigar. Columbo asks him if he’s ever seen anyone in the room before, and Morris answers in the affirmative. He saw a driver screech out of the Donner driveway at 5.30pm on the day of the killing – and the man behind the wheel was Dr Collier.

Rather than alarm the doctor, Collier is emboldened. He thinks he’s got the measure of Columbo alright. “Beautiful, Lieutenant, it’s a gallant effort,” he says, the Smug-O-Meter reading off the scale. “That man couldn’t see me or my car. He didn’t see anything. He’s blind.”

Columbo wonders why Collier would assume Morris was blind, and the smug doctor can’t resist taking the bait. His medical training allows him to spot a blind man a mile off, he says, and he’ll prove it through a little experiment of his own.

Collier steps forward and hands Morris a magazine, inviting him to read a few pages aloud. He then stands back, an avalanche of SMUGNESS, to watch Morris blow his lines. Only he doesn’t. Instead Morris reads an article about the warm clothes required for a trip to the mountains as easily as drawing breath.

Now flustered, Collier snatches the mag back, flips a few pages and demands Morris reads again. Same result. “The man is blind! He’s blind!” crows a now-desperate Collier. Columbo then calls out “Mr Morris!” and an identikit gentleman appears from the hallway, this time being led by a large Alsatian guide dog. And this, Columbo informs Collier, is the man he saw when he left Donner HQ in such a hurry on the night of the killing.

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Could he be any more smug in this scene?

“There is no way in the world that you could have assumed that this man was blind unless you had seen this man that day,” Columbo concludes. “I have an eyewitness, Dr Collier, an eyewitness that will place you at the head of the Donner driveway at 5.30 Monday afternoon. But the eyewitness is not Mr Morris. The eyewitness is you.”

A thoroughly outsmarted Collier can only wilt under Columbo’s steely gaze as credits roll…

Best moment –  the double bluff

The take-down of Dr Collier is easily one of the greatest hits of the entire Columbo opus. Like some of the other very best gotcha moments, notably Suitable for Framing, A Friend in Deed and Candidate for Crime, it’s so good because the reveal is such a stunning revelation to Collier, who until that moment has believed himself to be in total control.

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The killer’s emotional descent from mild irritation and complete self-satisfaction through to panic and despair is wonderfully portrayed by Hamilton, and it’s a scene that just leaves the viewer wanting to jump to their feet and roar their approval. It’s one of the top 5 Columbo gotchas, ergo one of the greatest TV scenes ever recorded!

My take on A Deadly State of Mind

A Deadly State of Mind is one of the first Columbo episodes I ever remember watching, doubtless sometime in the late 80s / early 90s. And I don’t mind admitting I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

While far-fetched, the hypnosis murder has always been one of the most memorable Columbo killings, and George Hamilton is a supremely good baddie – vital ingredients that help this episode stand out from the crowd. But under closer cross-examination, does it still cut the mustard? Well, spoiler alert, yes it does!

“Gorgeous George Hamilton is everything I want in a Columbo killer.”

Fan polls of favourite Columbo episodes are quite unflattering to Deadly State. A poll on the Ultimate Columbo website places it amongst the lowest polling of all episodes – less popular than Strange Bedfellows and A Bird in the Hand, for Pete’s sake! Similarly, at time of writing, the episode ranks only 55th out of 69 in the fans’ favourite episode poll on this very site!

That is damning it with faint praise indeed, because Deadly State has some huge plus points, not least the excellent George Hamilton. Gorgeous George is everything I want in a Columbo killer. Handsome, smooth, charismatic, assured, intelligent and arrogant, he ticks every box there is and I rate him in the top tier of villains.

George Hamilton Columbo

Phwooooar! Gorgeous George Hamilton is an A Grade Columbo villain

Admittedly Oskar Werner – our chief antagonist last time out in Playback – can out-act Hamilton any day of the week, but he’s not nearly as charismatic, and therefore not nearly as memorable a Columbo killer. Indeed, Hamilton is so watchable that a second 70s’ outing would have been welcome, as he was arguably past his prime when he returned in 1991’s Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.

That said, Hamilton’s excellence can’t disguise a huge gulf in the heart of Peter S. Fischer’s otherwise splendid mystery – that of Collier’s outrageous faith in the bag of nerves that was Nadia Donner. By his own admission, Collier knows everything about Nadia through their hypnotherapy sessions. Yet he didn’t seem to know her well enough to realise that asking her to spin a cock-and-bull yarn to police officers, while under extreme pressure, was a bad idea.

Put simply, Nadia is far too emotionally fragile to be relied on at the best of times – let alone at a time of crisis. No wonder Columbo saw through her story in a heartbeat. Even a first-day rookie wouldn’t have swallowed the tosh Nadia was ladling out, so it doesn’t say much for Collier’s judgement that he would entrust her with such a weight of responsibility knowing that any wrong move could spell disaster for them both.

We can only assume that Collier’s decision to appoint Nadia as the mouth piece for his half-baked explanation for Karl’s death was due to that old Columbo chestnut of people making strange decisions while under duress. It’s not a flaw fatal enough to scupper the entire episode, but Collier’s credibility is certainly diminished through it.

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I wouldn’t trust Nadia Donner to open a packet of crisps without bungling it, so why does Collier entrust her with his freedom?

He evidently suffers from another Columbo killer foible – pride in his own reputation. Collier has a book he wants to publish, but it’s not going well. He cares about how he is perceived in the field of psychiatric research and this ruthlessly ambitious streak is what ultimately leads him to making the bad decisions that will bring about his downfall. We’ve seen it before (Barry Mayfield) and we’ll see it again (Kay Freestone). Won’t these arrogant killers ever learn?

Collier’s decisions exacerbate a bad situation. If he and Nadia had come clean about the killing of Karl, it’s likely that they could have avoided jail time. Collier’s book deal would be gone, though, and being romantically linked to his patient would jeopardise his professional future. I can see why he’d want to protect that, but boy he made a mess of the cover-up plan.

Careful scrutiny of the episode reveals further plot holes that tighter storytelling could have addressed, too. Namely the standards of police procedural work, with even the good Lieutenant falling short of his usual standards on some occasions.

“Careful scrutiny of the episode reveals further plot holes that tighter storytelling could have addressed.”

Consider: the police have noticed the dent on the gatepost at the head of the Donner driveway. They’ve also noticed the thin tire treads of a European car on the driveway. Yet when Columbo later examines Collier’s tires, he fails to take the obvious step of also checking the fender, which must have been marked in some way due to the gatepost collision. The case could have effectively been closed right there!

And how about the failure to trace Collier’s phone call from his home to Nadia Donner’s prior to her balcony plunge? Phone records are inconsistently used in Columbo, but surely a man with Columbo’s pedigree would have checked to see whether Collier had actually rung Nadia’s home rather than merely surmising it.

Of course I get it, tying up the case in those ways would have been far less satisfying for the viewer. But my point is more that these plot holes could have been addressed easily and succinctly in the script without bogging the episode down in minutiae.

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Check the fender while you’re there, Lieutenant!

The first clue that Columbo finds at the crime scene is also a bit of a dud, in this correspondent’s opinion at least. Echoing the feather-in-the-hospital find in Troubled Waters, the Lieutenant somehow hones in on a microscopic lighter flint nub on the carpet and that leads his thought process (eventually) to concluding that there was definitely a third party in the house aside from the Donners and the supposed felons – and that that person was Dr Collier.

A dozen or more officers have tramped through the place, so for Columbo to first see the nub and then deduce it must be pivotal to the case is a bit of a stretch. As was the case in Troubled Waters this clue’s a bit too convenient for my liking, but at least the script doesn’t make the mistake of making more of this find than is necessary and having it as the single most damning piece of evidence that puts Columbo on to his man.

For Columbo’s investigations in A Deadly State of Mind really do present him with a smorgasbord of reasons to suspect the dastardly doc, well beyond the lighter flint. Detractors of this episode (my own dear dad amongst them) bleat on about the ludicrousness of Columbo ever reasoning that Nadia was hypnotised to kill herself, but it’s really not a big leap when you examine the evidence.

“Columbo raging at Dr Borden is secretly one of the best scenes of the entire 70s’ run.”

Columbo has read up on Collier’s books about hypnosis. He has found drugs in Nadia’s bloodstream known to be able to break a subject’s will, and the way she removed and folded her clothes, and hid valuables in the toe of her shoe all point to someone who believed they were going swimming. It’s a natural step, then, to deduce that Collier had been able to plant just such a suggestion in her mind.

The concept of the second killing itself is massively far-fetched, though, and one that requires a heavy suspension of disbelief to accept. Those that simply accept it for what it is – an audacious act of mental manipulation by a master in his field – are likely to gain the most pleasure from this episode. I liken it to the subliminal cuts killing in Double Exposure – a preposterous crime that made for brilliant viewing!

Speaking of brilliant viewing, how good was the flash of Columbo rage we saw when the weary Lieutenant cut through the crap to scold Dr Borden for her casual attitude to his questions? As with all examples of Columbo unleashing his fury, I love this scene! It’s only very brief, but it has great power because it shows us a hint of the real Columbo – the one that is usually hidden behind a veil of obsequiousness and absent-mindedness.

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This version of Columbo is not to be trifled with…

Here, after investigating the gruesome Nadia Donner killing and going a night without sleep, Columbo is in absolutely no mood to be trifled with and when Dr Borden treats him like an office junior she gets the roasting she deserves. I rate this scene second only to the gotcha in the whole episode. It’s the Columbo rage moment that most fans forget, but to me is secretly one of the best scenes of the entire 70s’ run.

As is typical with 70s’ Columbo outings, everyone in the cast does a good job. Falk lives up to the usual standards we expect of him, Hamilton is ace as discussed earlier, and the female foils don’t put a foot wrong. Lesley Ann Warren, in particular, convincingly portrays the nervous fragility of Nadia Donner. Nadia is actually rather an annoying character (frankly I was pleased when she was bumped off), but one can’t blame Warren for that, as she delivers the character the script puts forward.

As an aside, am I the only viewer that would love to know more about Nadia’s backstory? She appears to have daddy issues and a great jealousy of her sister. I wonder if she actually caused the death of her sister in her early years, has locked the memories away and it is those dark secrets that Collier is so desperate to uncover. Certainly it’s an intriguing mystery within the mystery.

Deadly State gives us a barnstorming finale to what has been a staggeringly good season of television.”

I also wonder if anyone has noticed that Columbo really doesn’t seem to like rogue medical men? He hated Dr Mayfield in Stitch in Crime and took a grim pleasure in bringing down Dr Flemming in Prescription: Murder. The same goes for Dr Collier here. Columbo gains a good deal of pleasure in ‘taking out the trash’ at episode’s end, and he seems to reserve a special dislike for those who fall from their duties of preserving life.

As a final observation, much as I enjoy Deadly State, there’s little overt humour in it, and regular readers will know that I do like my Columbo episodes to mix lashings of comedic action in amongst the unfolding drama. Negative Reaction, Double Shock and Publish or Perish are perhaps the best examples of this.

There’s not much mirth in this outing compared to those, although Chuck Whelan’s robust response of “Sorry, I don’t have a Willie!” while referencing the name of one of Dr Borden’s lab rats raises unintentional titters – for the low-brow British viewers at least! Despite that, Deadly State works well because I never feel it takes itself too seriously, with Hamilton especially smirking his way throughout and clearly enjoying the opportunity to playfully taunt Columbo as he goes.

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Collier clearly enjoyed taunting Columbo as their relationship soured

Director Harvey Hart has a strong Columbo pedigree, with By Dawn’s Early Light, Forgotten Lady and Now You See Him also under his belt, so if you’re one of those who haven’t previously held Deadly State of Mind in the highest regard, perhaps now’s the time to give it a second chance.

In my opinion, this episode gives us a barnstorming finale to what has been a staggeringly good season of television. There’s not one weak episode in the Season 4 line-up and Deadly State holds its own against any of the others that have come before it. I enjoy it a great deal and suspect I always shall, although I feel its conclusion marks something of a high water mark for the series.

After four stellar seasons, can the sky-high standards be maintained so consistently in future, or have we hit ‘peak Columbo‘? From my perspective, I rather believe it’s the latter. Columbo was never this good again on a series-by-series basis.

That’s why A Deadly State of Mind remains an episode to be treasured as an indication of the series’ refusal to lower its standards, while remaining as fresh as ever – more than 7 years after Falk first pulled on the fabled raincoat.

Did you know?

Deadly novel

A Deadly State of Mind was one of several 70s’ episodes to be novelised in the 1970s, along with Murder by the Book, Any Old Port in a Storm and By Dawn’s Early Light.

Penned by Lee Hays, the tie-in novels represent excellent reading for nostalgic fans and provide a richer narrative and additional scenes not televised. As such, they’re well worth digging up. Check out Amazon and eBay for the best options, although be warned, they don’t always come cheap.

Still, for the fan who eats, breathes and sleeps Columbo, these books are a sound investment that help take classic outings to a whole new level.

How I rate ’em

A thoroughly enjoyable romp, I have no hesitation in recommending A Deadly State of Mind. It’s not quite top, top tier Columbo but is very close and an episode I can watch time and again and still find plenty to enjoy.

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. A Deadly State of Mind
  15. An Exercise in Fatality
  16. Swan Song
  17. The Most Crucial Game
  18. Etude in Black
  19. By Dawn’s Early Light
  20. Candidate for Crime
  21. Greenhouse Jungle
  22. Playback
  23. Requiem for a Falling Star
  24. Blueprint for Murder
  25. Ransom for a Dead Man —– B-List ends here—
  26. Dead Weight
  27. The Most Dangerous Match
  28. Lovely but Lethal ———— C-List ends here—-
  29. Short Fuse
  30. Mind Over Mayhem
  31. Dagger of the Mind

That concludes our journey through Columbo‘s epic fourth season. Our next episode review will be Forgotten Lady, the tear-jerking Janet Leigh vehicle that Peter Falk himself rated as one of his very favourite episodes. Don’t miss it!


A big thanks, as always, for your visit to the site. Hit me up with your thoughts on A Deadly State of Mind in the comments section below.

BUY THE WHOLE COLUMBO SERIES ON DVD HERE!

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Dr Collier took the secret of his beautifully manicured hair and hands to the grave

 

137 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo A Deadly State of Mind

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Matter of Honor | The Columbophile

  2. If you have a “Top 5 worst Columbo hair episodes” selection, this episode is in the running for #1. That mop is all over the place…..Ahhh the 70’s!

  3. Two things that bothered me:

    1) The first murder was accidental, not premeditated. Collier actually comes off as gallant when he rises to her defense, and unless it’s Ruth Gordon, I’d rather not sympathize with a Columbo villain.
    2) The closeup of the tires going through water was clumsy foreshadowing not worthy of Columbo.

  4. No one, including me, has mentioned the debut of Priscilla Barnes as a nurse in this episode, following a chance meeting with Peter Falk. Now I have to go back and find her…

    • Found her, as Columbo is following the hospital’s colored lines she carries a chart down the hallway toward the elevator, answering him with three lines. Just a throwaway bit.

  5. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Identity Crisis | The Columbophile

  6. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Case of Immunity | The Columbophile

  7. This was a very entertaining episode. George Hamilton has just the right amount of smarminess.

    I do have two problems with the story.

    (1) It seems really poor police work that Columbo freely tells the doctor’s guests all the details of the crime when it’s an ongoing investigation.

    (2) I assume that Dr. Collier could have easily overheard Sgt. Kramer telling Columbo that their witness was blind. That could have accounted for him thinking Columbo was trying to pull a fast one on him when he (Columbo) trotted out his witness.

    But I understand it’s TV, and you only have so much time to get through the storyline.

        • So then I guess almost every episode bothers you, because things like that are in a lot of episodes. Let it go, let it flow….just enjoy Columbo and his cast of villains and don’t question what didn’t he do that or that doesn’t make sense. Just a thought

            • Well within his rights?!?? Didn’t realize we were in a court of law! Lol…I’ll repeat my point, if one brings up why didn’t he do that or that wouldn’t be cause for an arrest etc..then why even watch Columbo. You could say that about every episode! It gets repetitive to bring it up constantly. One could say on every episode, why doesn’t he ask for a lawyer? But we don’t, cause that’s the show, that’s Columbo.

              • I think debating the merits of each episode with fellow fans – including the bits we enjoy less, or aspects that could have been improved – is all part of the fun.

              • Hi John, We’re all fans of the show, or at least most of us are. But the points JWF makes are what is great about this blog, and what should be great about many things online — different views and plenty of opinions. The thing I like about this blog is it’s ability, from Columbophile to the opinions posted, to make me see aspects of episodes I might have missed.

                The good thing about Columbophile is no one gets shouted or cowed down because of their opinions. I actually thought about it, particularly JWF’s first item, and agreed with it and thought it interesting that it had slipped my attention when watching this episode who knows how many times. That was very un-Columbo-like. But it doesn’t ruin the episode or make me think differently of the show or detective for me.It just makes me see it in a new light.

                • I am a Columbo fan since I was 9 years old watching it with my parents. I’ve been on this website for a few years now. I enjoy the first 7 years, really haven’t liked the later years. It’s not my intention to cause disharmony here, I apologize if that’s how it’s taken. You know how I feel and everybody is different. I just not a fan of coulda, woulda, shoulda…when it comes to this classic show.
                  Respectfully….JLC

                  • Hi John, I am much the same way in that I first was fascinated by the series when I was watching as a kid with my mom.

                    No worries and no disharmony. Just if someone writes something I disagree with, I guess I tend to either reply with my different thoughts or shrug and move on.

                    I enjoy your posts, but I also enjoy seeing some with different views or even getting my own “gotcha” moment in the form of “Wow, I must’ve missed that.”

    • I imagine Columbo was trying to unsettle his chief suspect by speaking about the case with the guests, and I think Collier was too far away to hear the revelation about the blind man (although he could have heard Kramer bellowing “We have a witness!”).

  8. Hi, there fellow Columboian kids…

    I think the thing (or “joke”) with Kramer not noticing that Columbo drives a European car is that in America, at that time, one expects a European car to be an expensive car, a flashy luxurious one. Not a narrow peugeot.

  9. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Forgotten Lady | The Columbophile

  10. This is an enjoyable episode, but just a bit too contrived for my liking. Finding the tiny flint in the deep rug just by glancing down would be hard to swallow even if we didn’t know Peter Falk had a glass eye (I’m not sure if Columbo does). As for the hypnotic suicide, why didn’t Collier just suggest Nadia would be safer out at the beach house, then programme her to take a dip in the ocean? It would look more like an accident.

    PS – Just had a quick look for those Columbo books on Aamazon – £50+ eek!

  11. would really like to see the next review as there has been a massive gap since last one posted November 18th 2018 and it is now February the 9th that equates to a gap 2 full months and a half and 9 days of February which is a third of a month , I think that this is far too long to wait for an episode review , which is what we feel is best about columbophile but have slipped behind and would appreciate it if we could get cracking with the reviews even if it means keeping them shorter .

    • Hi Steve, I’m separated from my Columbo DVDs until the end of the month (and have been since January), so until I get them back it’s a non-starter, unless I can find the full episode online. Reviews will pick up pace from then, but I can’t say for sure now when Forgotten Lady will be posted.

  12. This is an episode I enjoy , but i have too many issues with it and that nadia Donner turns me completely off . there are some interesting clues here and a great script with a good performance by George Hamilton and a memorable ending .
    still having said all this ill be frank and say even though columbo rates this one i dont .
    its just not one of my favorites and even to this point i wouldn’t rate it so highly , swan song is a much better episode and like i said playback is also better in my opinion . i actually enjoy Hamilton other episode be it from the new batch caution! murder can be hazardous to your health a little bit more than this and a deadly state would not make my overall top 10 perhaps not even my overall top 20.

  13. Happy new year columbophile 1975 was a great year for columbo and we would love too crack open forgotton lady which was a good episode although not one of my favourites ,same also a case of immunity not top tier or a personal favorite but still a decent episode and very watchable , what would be nice is to get into 1976 which has its gems , Identity crisis , the bye bye sky high iq murder , not too anxious about old fashioned murder , a matter of honor and last salute , but it would be great if we could get 1975 completed within the next few weeks.

  14. Pingback: 2018: the Columbo year in review | The Columbophile

  15. For us Fred Draper fans, this might be his strangest appearance: mechanically reciting random sentences from magazines. For us, truly, it is the most beautiful of sports. His utter coolness, standing there next to his twin, reflects a great personal magnetism, as if he were an obscure spiritualist icon, a professor of the arcane, long since transfigured to the next plane. I’d like that face on a t-shirt. I’d make up some name for him and tell people he lived in the 40s. Or stencil it onto buildings and bus shelters all over town. There’s just something solid, bizarre and obscure about it.

  16. The part where the Lt is checking his tires– he brushes off his hands, stands up and emits one contented puff of smoke. It’s one of those moments.

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

  18. I watched a deadly state in full last Saturday morning enjoyed the start , then it dips for me in the middle a little bit mainly because i cant stand Nadia Donners character but gets very good at the end , however a deadly state of mind wouldnt trouble my top 10 . forgotten lady is next up for review and im not a big fan of it im expecting columbophile to rate it lower than a deadly State of mind .

  19. “Admittedly Oskar Werner – our chief antagonist last time out in Playback – can out-act Hamilton any day of the week, but he’s not nearly as charismatic, and therefore not nearly as memorable a Columbo killer.”
    I am actually going to disagree with this (not that Werner couldn’t out-act George, but the charisma part). I actually think Werner’s character’s lack of charisma makes him memorable. Almost all the 70s villains had some sort of charisma, but Werner’s dry, efficient German-ness makes him memorable to me because he is opposite of type.
    When mentally going through Columbo villains, I always remember Werner (and the ending of Playback has something to do with that, I’m sure), but I tend to forget Hamilton.
    Sill, loved the reviews of both.

    • Oh…I don’t ever forget Hamilton, but your dead on about Werner. Different type of character villians for sure, one not really seen in the golden years (71-78). Good Job!

  20. “And how about the failure to trace Collier’s phone call from his home to Nadia Donner’s prior to her balcony plunge? Phone records are inconsistently used in Columbo, but surely a man with Columbo’s pedigree would have checked to see whether Collier had actually rung Nadia’s home rather than merely surmising it.”

    As far as I could tell, the only way the series makes sense is if local phone calls back then didn’t leave records but long-distance ones did.

    Because, otherwise, what, Robert Culp just *says* he placed a call from his office at the stadium in one episode, and Robert Conrad just *says* he got a call from a health club in another; and Columbo hunts for contrary evidence, instead of just checking? Nicol Williamson calls his own home in the middle of a physical, and Columbo shows off the *indirect* evidence of medical-chart information instead of the direct evidence of phone records? Ray Milland thinks nothing of playing kidnapper by calling in a ransom demand with his own phone; and he’s *right*, because Columbo never goes for the phone but looks for completely different evidence in that same room?

    I don’t see how any of that makes sense; unless it means that local calls didn’t register the way long-distance ones did, in which case all of it makes sense.

    • The issue there is that phone records showed that Norman and Dexter Paris called each other more than 20 times in the weeks in the build up to the killing of their uncle in Double Shock, so the records can and are used in the show.

      • Again, if one Paris brother happens to be on the other side of an arbitrary dividing line from the other, then, sure, phone records can ensue. Just figure that’s the case whenever a Columbo episode *does* make mention of phone records: that some calls get made from a different area and are registered, even though some calls get made from the same area and come and go without so much as a long-distance fee.

          • It definetly doesn’t spoil the show…as far as stimulating debate, can’t say I agree. Debating these issues that are in almost every columbo episode is repetitive. To me it’s not “stimulating” every coulda woulda shoulda over and over…and basically having the same response for every issue in every episode. Talking about acting, villians, character interactions….that’s stimulating debate!

    • I’m so tired of this, people nitpicking these issues. You could literally do it to all Columbo episodes! Just sit back, watch, enjoy the brilliance of Peter Falk and his cast of villians. Forget about “record of a phone call to so and so” and things of that nature. Please…I’m begging you.

  21. The good doctor would have been better off saying her went to Nadia’s house for therapy, was confronted by a jealous husband (unreasonably jealous! There was nothing improper going on!), and stepped in to protect Nadia–it’s fairly close to the truth. Might have been some undesirable publicity, but he might have been able to keep his freedom, job, and book deal.

    • I don’t think it would have worked, because he hits him from behind. I think there would have been a lot of suspicion, perhaps a manslaughter or second-degree murder trial, maybe worse if Columbo was on the case. That would have ruined him, and I believe he would have lost his job and book deal..

  22. one more comment before I hang up I generally tend to agree with columbophiles ratings and enjoy the same episode’s and dislike certain episodes such as last salute and undercover and dagger of the mind and dead weight, but I just don’t know how lady in waiting is surviving in 10th place that is beyond me as I consider it a comparatively poorer episode, swansong I think is a lot better than deadly state , playback is 3 times better than greenhouse jungle and how requiem for a falling star is ahead of blueprint for murder is a mystery to me , otherwise everything else is fine.

  23. Is columbophile aware that on you tube there is columbo 7 great endings and they are How to dial a murder , a friend in deed , Negative reaction , a deadly state of mind , double exposure I forget momentarily what the other 2 episodes are but Iam sure they were from the 70s run .

  24. I agree with a lot of comments that the hypnosis murder goes a bit far , columbos burst of rage ,is not as memorable as in a stitch in crime , again I am not a huge fan of this episode and I like Lisa chambers balcony leap more than Nadia donners , however it is good ending and tat makes it a good episode but I enjoy playback more overall which also has a good conclusion.

  25. Good review columbophile longer than usual , then there was 2 murders , coincidentally a deadly state is on ITV 3 this Sunday and ill watch it if I can, but ill be honest , im not madly in love with this episode and ill say straight up it would struggle to make my top 20 if it gets there at all. I am not saying its poor quite the opposite its a very strong episode but I have too many problems with it , same ones mentioned in the review , firstly it seems it was a manslaughter and I think great columbos are built on a well planned pre meditated for example try and catch me , prescription murder , playback swansong negative reaction and the majority of them . secondly the hypnotic murder of miss doner was a clever idea but could not be proven just went too far for me. 3rdly I just about allowed columbo seeing the feather in troubled waters but not the tiny piece of flint and all the other little indescreciancies and to finish it off the lack of humour , I feel you need to be a top 20 columbo and this doesn’t have it so id have put this maybe 20 -25th, I still do enjoy it however.

  26. I thought this was a very strong episode. The hypno-murder was ridiculous but you don’t watch “Columbo” for verisimilitude–anyone who does would start noticing how Columbo virtually never makes a case that would stand up in court.

    Lesley Ann Warren is just lovely. Her character makes sense as well; she comes off as exactly the jittery, nervous trophy wife, the type who would first go to a hypnotherapist and then start having an affair with that therapist.

    The “gotcha” worked for me. I am interested to see how Columbophile reviews “Forgotten Lady”, which overall is one of the best “Columbo” episodes ever but has a gotcha that makes absolutely no sense at all.

  27. CP, I know you’ve listed this as having one of your favorite gotchas but I have to be honest in saying it’s never worked for me. I think there’s a good idea in there somewhere, but they just didn’t know how to execute it. Here’s how I see the ending. Collier is called to the beach house for Columbo’s trap. The blind man’s brother comes into the room claiming to be a witness and pretending to be blind. I admit he’s not falling over Ottomans or anything so obvious, but he’s moving pretty oddly and wearing dark glasses and awkwardly pretending to light a cigar. I see no reason why even an innocent person wouldn’t wonder if the guy had difficulty in seeing. Next, the brother starts to lie about being a witness to things he never saw. Collier knows the guy is lying – again whether he’s innocent or not! If he’s guilty he knows the guy is blind so he couldn’t have seen anything, but if he’s innocent then he knows the guy is lying because he was nowhere near the crime scene. Either way, it would be a completely natural reaction on the part of Collier to say something like “This is some kind of trap. This guy is lying. I don’t even think he can see at all.” And then the brother comes out and he is blind while the brother pretending to be isn’t and that means – what? His brother was pretending to be blind and I said I thought he might be blind and his brother actually is so that means I was at the crime scene? I don’t see how Collier would have any trouble at all convincing a jury that what he said doesn’t mean anything at all. His lawyer just says something to the effect: “My client went to this trap. Someone came out to lie about seeing my client and pretend to be blind and my client said he thought the guy couldn’t see. Then the liar’s brother came out and he is blind so he really didn’t see anything and this makes my client guilty – how exactly?” And just as a final note, Columbo’s got the same problem here that he had with the “self-incrimination” in Double Exposure. The only witnesses to what Collier said and did are Columbo, his subordinates and a guy who was lying on purpose. Oh, and maybe the blind guy heard something from the back room but he sure didn’t see anything (yet again!).

    To be fair, I do like this episode overall. I like Hamilton and I even like his return episode for the dreaded “new Columbo”. I’ve just never thought this gotcha was anywhere incriminating enough to prove to a jury that Collier was guilty. I hesitate to recommend it, but maybe there’s fodder there for another top 5 or top 10 list – “Top 5 gotchas least likely to result in a criminal conviction.”.

    • It’s an excellent point, and one the writer clearly anticipated. That’s why Columbo first locks Collier into his conclusion that the first Mr. Morris is blind up (“What, makes you think he was blind, sir?”), prompting Collier to respond: “I do have a little medical training. You can tell by looking at him. The cast in his eyes the way he moves…” This statement makes it more difficult for Collier later to say that his “medical training” deceived him. [Can someone fake the “cast in his eyes”?]

      As I recall, we confronted a similar issue in “An Exercise in Fatality”: how do we know Gene Stafford always tied his shoes the same way? That script dealt with the problem in a similar way, by having Milo Janus first admit that “somebody else put on Stafford’s gym shoes.” [Had Janus said instead, “Gene tied his shoes lots of different ways,” Columbo’s solution would have had a gaping hole.]

      Interestingly, Peter S. Fischer wrote both episodes.

      • I think I’m in agreement with you about what the writer was intending. We (and the jury I guess) are supposed to see Collier’s insistence that the man is blind to be so unwarranted given the circumstances that the only reason he would make such a big deal of it would be if he were in fact aware that a blind man was near the crime scene. For this to work at all though, the brother has to come out and pretend to be just blind enough that an innocent person would wonder about it but not really say anything. Since the only witnesses to the performance were Columbo, Collier and other cops though there’s just no way a jury would ever know how precise the performance was. Collier could just claim that the brother was so over-the-top that the thought that he was blind popped into his head immediately. Not only that, but the guy’s brother himself was blind so he would obviously know how to fake being blind in a great deal of detail. Collier was even onto something with “the cast in the eyes” I think. I saw this recently and if I remember correctly, the guy did seem to stare off into space in odd directions a time or two while talking to people – something a blind person would probably tend to do. Collier again could claim the brother faked this tell-tale sign and fooled him and that’s why he was so convinced he was blind.

        I know I’m probably over-analyzing here, but this gotcha in particular has always bothered me. It’s funny that you mention Exercise in Fatality because that one actually has my all time favorite gotcha. I’d even argue in that case they over-egged the pudding so to speak and the shoelace thing was good enough in itself even without the rest of Janus’ testimony. Janus could have tried at trial to say “Gene was a noted lace-tying enthusiast who always experimented with different ways to put on his gym shoes.” but I can’t see that being the basis of a jury’s reasonable doubt given all the other evidence.

      • It’s almost like certain people don’t like Columbo, the way your disecting and critizing every point….”can you fake a cast in his eyes” and “all Janus had to say was he tied his shoes different ways”……really!?!?! STOP!!! PLEASE!!!

        • Quite the opposite, John. One of the things that makes Columbo so great is the care with which most scripts address the proverbial “loose ends.” Columbo writers deserve credit for how they accomplished this. Perhaps, if more people paid attention to these kinds of details, shows of this quality wouldn’t be such a rarity.

          • Again I disagree…I’ve been watching Columbo since it started. I was 9 yrs old, remember watching Sunday Nights with my parents, hoping it was Columbo and not Mcloud! Ha ha. It’s a great show due to Peter Falk, his sidekicks and the cast of villians. Storytelling/Scripts were good, kept you attentive throughout. But, there are many instances where one could say “all greenleaf, bremer, janus had to say or do was etc” but I for one look past that, and just enjoy the show in itself, still after watching same episodes for past 47 yrs (I’m 56). Talking about characters, villians, certain gotcha moments, stories, praising Val Avery!! I love all that. It’s the coulda woulda shoulda that gets to me. Just my observation. But like watching Columbo over and over…I’ll continue reading these comments. I’ll just skip over those, like I fast forward past the singing of Volare!!!

      • In “Exercise in Fatality” Columbo shows that Stafford did not tie his sneakers because his dress shoes are tied and tied in a different manner than the sneakers. Further, tying shoes like the sneakers were tied would be abnormal given his dominant hand.

  28. Disagree that there is a clear downturn after this season. To me, season three was the best overall, with 3 absolute classics (Port in Storm, Publish or Perish, Friend in Deed), 4 extremely strong episodes (Swan Song, Mind over Mayhem, Candidate for Crime, Double Exposure), and one solid episode (Lovely but Lethal). All the others pretty much have some really good ones and some so-so episodes – and that goes for both the seasons before and after. Perhaps there is a slight dip in overall percentage of really good ones in seasons 5-7, but certainly not a discernible downward trend in the style or quality of Falk’s acting.

    As for this episode, I pretty much agree with your review (which, like all the others, I loved reading). To me, the weaknesses are the annoying Warren character, the outlandish 2nd murder plot, and worst of all, the ridiculous notion of giving a loony tunes patient a 30-second primer on how to describe the murder and relying on that for your defense. Finally, I was never a big fan of Hamilton, and I am not a big fan of his character here. As I have noted in other responses, to me the great villains are either the complex characters who evoke conflicted emotions (Swan Song, Conspirators), or the evil and cleverly malicious villains whom you can’t wait to see nailed at the end (Friend in Deed, Publish or Perish). Hamilton is smug and cool, but he is not sly and smooth, nor conflicted. And those heavy layers of makeup that he always loaded on his face made it impossible for him to act with his face, i.e., use a raised eyebrow, a twitch of the nose or a semi-sneer to indicate important reactions and emotions without uttering a sound, as was common in every film of Cassidy and McGoohan. But despite all its faults, it is still a very enjoyable episode to me, especially with the incomparable ending that I could see over and over again.

  29. Thanks for such a riveting review, Columbophile. These reviews really get the juices flowing to see the episodes again.

    This is an episode I WISH I could look at again but keep skipping over due to the Nadia Bonner character. She’s hard to watch in the same way as the daughter in Last Salute and Margaret in Ransom For A Dead Man. If it wasn’t for such a protracted portrayal of her character in the episode, I’d have watched this again more than twice already. On the other hand, fast-forward controls are a handy tool.

    George Hamilton plays a fine villain, it’s a pity he didn’t return for more episodes.

    That’s a good point about checking the fender for damage, didn’t think of that! And yes, the stand-out scene with Dr. Borden is a highlight.

    Looking forward to the next review. 🙂

  30. As always, great review Columbophile. I think all actors involved did a great job; enjoy George Hamilton in everything I’ve seen him in. I appreciate you mentioned his beautiful hands, something I always notice about him. As for Leslie, she does a great job with the drugged, unhinged and evidently abused Nadia Donner. Plus she is gorgeous.
    Was this review funny? I’m not sure that’s a strong enough word.

  31. I enjoyed this excellent review and analysis of “A Deadly State of Mind,” one of my favorite episodes. My only disagreement with the review is one of its conclusions that “[t]he concept of the second killing itself [of Nadia Donner] is massively far-fetched [and] requires a heavy suspension of disbelief to accept.” Unfortunately, the evidence demonstrates such mind-programmed dirty deeds are not only conceivable, but have actually been perpetrated.

    Keep in mind that the script’s author was Peter S. Fischer, who has written consistently first-rate episodes for the series. I believe that the method for Nadia Donner’s murder was inspired by the disclosures in the early 1970s of the CIA’s mind-control experiments that have been ongoing since the early 1950s. The CIA’s program came to be called MKULTRA.

    The specific story that may have captured M. Fischer’s fertile imagination was the death of a CIA employee named Frank Olson, who plunged to his death from the window of a 13th-story New York City hotel room in November 1953. This event resurfaced in the news in the 1970s in connection with disclosures of various CIA mind-control experiments, and the Olson family’s lawsuit against the US Government. (The US Government agreed to settle the case for $750,000 in 1975.) The true circumstances of Olson’s death are still unknown because the CIA destroyed many of its MKULTRA records, but The Rockefeller Commission report on the CIA in 1975 acknowledged the CIA’s drug studies and mind-control experiments.

    Richard Condon’s novel, “The Manchurian Candidate,” and the subsequent 1962 movie directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, James Gregory, and Henry Silva, was, in fact, based on the CIA’s MKULTRA program, where the objective was to create a programmed assassin. (Note that three of those stars, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and James Gregory, have each appeared in Columbo episodes.) Here is part of the masterly conceived and directed brainwashing scene early in the film, in which the head of the mind-control program explains that it’s a myth that person cannot be made to do something contrary to his or her inner nature.

    And I’ll close with some scenes from the two Columbo episodes that feature George Hamilton. According to director John Milius, Hamilton told him that “I’ll be remembered as a third-rate actor when in fact, I’m a first-rate con man.” I don’t know about the “con man” part, but I think that he was actually a fine actor.

  32. “Deadly State of Mind” uses a mystery-telling technique we see repeatedly in Columbo. The plot form has three key elements: (1) an initial crime for which our villain’s culpability is ambiguous; (2) a second crime in which the villain commits an unambiguously intentional, often gratuitously cruel, murder; and (3) Columbo nailing the villain for his or her role in the first death only. DSOM clearly fits this pattern. As Columbophile’s review says: “If [Collier] and Nadia had come clean about the killing of Karl, it’s likely that they could have avoided jail time.” In contrast, nothing mitigates the malicious, premeditated nature of Collier’s cold-blooded murder of Nadia. And yet it is the Karl Donner killing, not the Nadia murder, that is the sole subject of Columbo’s (concededly excellent) gotcha.

    From a storytelling standpoint, this formula accomplishes two things: First, the second murder eliminates all sympathy for the villain, sympathy you may have had were he being pursued only because his guilty conscience prompted him to cover up unduly an act that may, in fact, be some combination of an accident or act of self-defense. Second, the wanton cruelty of the second murder is so excessive that the audience delights in the irony that the villain is nailed for something he might have gotten away with otherwise.

    Looking just at Seasons 2 and 3, I count five prior occasions in which Columbo writers employed this formula.

    In “Dagger of the Mind,” Nick and Lillian killed Sir Roger when Lillian threw a jar of cold cream at him. It was hardly a murder. Nick hanging Tanner, the butler, certainly was murder (and must have been a gruesome one at that). Yet Columbo nails them for Sir Roger’s death only.

    In “Requiem for a Falling Star,” Columbo proves only that Nora Chandler, years ago, buried Al Cumberland under the back fountain (after “we had a hell of a fight. We argued, fought, and I I struck him with a bottle”). Nora’s subsequent vicious immolation of Jean Davis remains officially unsolved.

    In “Lovely but Lethal,” Karl Lessing’s taunting of Viveca Scott clearly provoked her attack with a microscope. At best, it was manslaughter, not murder. However, Viveca drugging Shirley Blane and sending her off in a car to her death is no manslaughter. But it’s the Lessing death only that Columbo proves.

    In “A Friend in Deed,” Marks Halperin didn’t kill Hugh Caldwell’s wife; he only helped Caldwell cover up the crime. Halperin did cruelly murder his own wife — but only gets nailed for planting Janice Caldwell’s jewels under what he thought was Artie Jessup’s mattress.

    Even “A Stitch in Crime” effectively uses this plot. After all, Columbo only nails Barry Mayfield for what he initially tried to do to Dr. Heideman. Yet this isn’t a murder; Heideman remains very much alive when the final credits roll. Mayfield’s subsequent intentional murder of Nurse Sharon, and his incredibly cruel killing of Harry Alexander, are not part of Columbo’s solution.

    The recurrence of this plot formula doesn’t bother me. It’s an excellent storytelling device. But it is worth pointing out.

    • Nice point. Didn’t realize there were that many. One episode in which they simply leave it with the initial accidental killing is “Death Lends a Hand,” where he presumably does not plead to a totally accidental death and instead elaborately covers it up because his extortion plot would come to light.

      • Lenore Kennicut’s death was not an accident. Brimmer struck her violently. Nothing Lenore said or did mitigates his act. Even if he didn’t intend to kill her, he did intend to injure her severely. That’s still a homicide, and I find nothing sympathetic about it.

        • If he didn’t intend to kill her, it is an ‘accident’, in that sense. He merely hit her with his fist, backhanded, her hitting her head on the glass table was unforeseen, although one could certainly argue that he had ‘malice aforethought’. But one thing that is being overlooked is the fact that she was trespassing on to his property, a crime. How did she think that that was going to turn out when she said no to his blackmail attempt? It is the equivalent of going in to the lion’s den, contributory negligence. On TV or real life, it is practically a given that dealing with a blackmailer instead of going to the police is not going to work out well.

        • Richard, I think that whether or not Lenore Kennicutt was killed as a result of an accident is still debatable. Brimmer certainly seemed to think it was an accident when he finally admitted to his involvement at the episode’s conclusion: “It was an accident, Arthur. It wasn’t premeditated. I hardly knew your wife. I didn’t want to hurt either one of you. It happened.”

          We can all agree that Brimmer certainly committed the unlawful act of battery when he used force against Lenore (willfully or in anger) by striking her across the face with the back of his hand.

          But the proximate cause of her death was the “unforeseen” or “unforeseeable” collision of Lenore’s head with the frame and glass of the coffee table. Since an accident would be an unforeseen, unexpected event, and an occurrence by chance, rather than design, it would seem that Brimmer should, at best, be accused of involuntary manslaughter, based on Brimmer’s “recklessness.” But if Lenore’s head had not “accidentally” collided with the table, she would have landed on the plush carpet and she would not have died. Or so the defense would argue.

          • Yes, there are cases where death is unforeseeable from one person striking another. However, viciously striking a much weaker person with extreme force, and with a plate glass table right behind her, is not such a case. Of course, it was foreseeable that she would be thrown backwards through the glass with lethal consequences. It may not be murder, but neither is it anything “involuntary.”

            • Richard, we’ll have to agree to disagree on how on the legal consequences for Inspector Brimmer. Although California may have unique provisions, in such jurisdictions as Detroit, Michigan, if a defendant such as Bassel Saad, for example, could plead “involuntary manslaughter,” then Brimmer should be able to do the same in LA.

              In 2015, Saad, a “recreational soccer player,” pleaded guilty to punching a referee in the face with one blow that resulted in the referee’s death. A number of players testified in court last year that Saad had been issued a yellow card, or an official warning, following a foul in the first half of the match, and John Bieniewicz, the referee, was about to issue him a second yellow card for being verbally abusive. That’s when Saad punched Mr. Bieniewicz in the head, the players said.

              According to defense lawyer Cyril Hall, “This was something less than an attempt to kill … Mr. Saad, he got up that day, and he determined that he was going to play soccer. He didn’t determine that he was going to kill someone on that particular day.” Hall added his client is “very, very remorseful.” Saad will be eligible for parole after eight years. The maximum punishment is 15 years in prison, and he also could be deported according to the original news reports.

              In Brimmer’s case, he struck Lenore with the back of his hand, but he did not punch the victim in the head with full force as Saad did in this Michigan case. And, in any event, Brimmer’s back-handed blow didn’t directly cause Lenore’s death. In contrast, Saad’s punch did directly cause the referee’s death.

              I’m certainly not arguing that Saad taking an involuntary manslaughter charge was justice or that justice for Brimmer would be the same. The law is what it is. As the fictional lawyer, Frank Galvin, put in David Mamet’s classic “The Verdict,” “The weak, the weak have got to have somebody to fight for them. Isn’t that the truth? [] That’s why the court exists. The court doesn’t exist to give them justice, eh? But to give them a chance at justice.”

              • Never judge the legal consequences of an act by the crime to which a defendant pleaded guilty. A guilty plea is a bargain between the defendant and the prosecutor and court, and generally results in a conviction for a crime below what a trial could have produced. Nor are the statements of defense counsel the final word on their client’s full legal culpability.

                Furthermore, just because someone does not “attempt to kill” does not mean he is only guilty of assault. There is a lot of legal terrain between assault and intentional murder. While intent would be an issue in Brimmer’s case, there is no question that he caused Lenore’s death.

              • It appears to me some comments posted we are reading way too much into things. There are a number of Columbo’s were its seems highly implausible on this or that. You got to let it go, and just enjoy Peter Falk and his cast of villains. It’s a TV show….not real life.

                • John, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation. Brimmer’s life was at stake in “Death Lends A Hand,” and we cannot simply “let it go” when justice must be properly served. Furthermore, there are a whole bunch of other people involved in this case whose livelihoods could be threatened that I don’t think you’ve even considered. For example, if Brimmer goes to jail for an extended period, what happens to Brimmer & Associates? Does it shut down? Will it be bought out? Think of all those lawsuits from the people that Brimmer has investigated. And what will happen to Brimmer’s staff after the news breaks that Brimmer & Associates have been snooping on all kinds of prominent people to gather evidence that Brimmer used to leverage his business? And what about the career of the golfing pro Ken Archer after news of his affair top Lenore leaks out? He may have great difficulty finding work again. And what about Leo Gentry’s career? Think about his wife and their young boy. What will become of them? Will Leo’s child just have to tell everyone that Daddy “went away?” All of these very real consequences have to be considered.

    • Richard, your analysis of this particular form of Columbo storytelling seems sound, but I’d add that it’s a subcategory of one of the more basic unwritten laws of a Columbo story construction. And that “law” is that if the murderer commits a second murder, either as part of the original first crime (i.e., actual or planned murder) or to attempt to cover up loose ends or silence someone, Columbo solves the first crime, and not necessarily the second murder. Looking at this broader storytelling construction, in addition to the episodes you cite, we can add “Murder by the Book,” “Suitable for Framing,” “Double Shock,” “Double Exposure,” “Publish or Perish,” and “Negative Reaction” from the first four seasons.

      • You are correct, James. I focus on this one specific plot line because of how the second crime affects your perception of the villain, how it strips away any semblance of audience sympathy that he or she was a victim of unfortunate circumstances. [“Requiem for a Falling Star” is a bit different here, because you see the gruesome murder before you learn of the earlier crime.] Indeed, without the second, premeditated crime, I don’t believe the audience would root for Columbo to catch the villain as strongly as it does.

        In your other examples, the villain was a loathsome, cold-blooded killer from the start. Some clearly intended the second murder all along (“Suitable for Framing”; “Negative Reaction”). And in “Murder by the Book,” without the second murder, one wonders if Columbo ever would have solved the first (“Then I got it. The first one, the clever one, that wasn’t yours. The second one, the sloppy one, that was yours. But not the first.” “And whose idea was that then?” “Your partner’s. Hadda be. And his wife told me how conscientious he was. You know, the way he used to write down his ideas on every odd scrap of paper, backs of matches.”).

  33. I always enjoy your reviews whether I agree with them or not. You are very thorough and fair with your comments. I always can’t wait for the next one. Keep up the good work my friend!!

  34. You raise an excellent observation about Dr. Flemming in “Prescription: Murder” though most of his anger in that episode is directed at Joan Hudson. Columbo seems to display his anger in hospital settings. He blew up at Dr. Mayfield in his office at the hospital, at Milo Janus inside a hospital waiting room and at Dr. Borden on the medical campus. His anger at Mayfield and Janus is motivated by the well being of Dr. Hidemann and Ruth Stafford who are convalescing. In the case of Dr. Borden, as you noted, we are only a few hours removed from Nadia’s death, a sleepless Columbo and a patronizing physician.

    On another note, had there been a ColumboCon, “A Deadly State of Mind” would have been an ideal episode to feature at the convention as both George Hamilton and Lesley Ann Warren are still with us.

  35. Great analogy as always. I agree with the “peak Columbo” theory here, and I offer one facet of why the next years seem to be a step down from the previous four; the genuine Columbo is seen less and less.

    To me the best scene of Columbo are when we see the real interacting with others. For the villains, he hides himself just below the surface until he’s ready to act. A great example is Suitable For Framing, where carefully holds back until he’s ready to reveal his full intent. For the innocent, however, Columbo shows his real self. One of my favorite all time scenes is his interaction with Artie Jessup in A Friend in Deed. Instead of muscling Artie, he talks to him openly, insuring to him he’s not a subject of interest, and genuinely asking him for his help. When he showed anger with Dr. Mayfield or Dr. Collier it was raw and unfiltered. It gave us a glimpse of the real person, a man who patient with those that needed his help and those he needed help from, and furious at those to were cruel or who betrayed the public trust. He was the film noir version of the Knight errant, given the power to dispense justice and he did so with justice.

    It seemed like after season 4 Columbo started to be more coy, less Columbo and more acting like Columbo. There were glimpses here and there which made for the best Columbo (talking with Oliver Brandt about how his work ethic made him a better detective) but they were fewer and fewer. The worst to me was Last Salute for the Commodore. I got tired of the “Mac” thing after the first time he said it.

    The years have added to a mythic quality around Columbo. For those that enjoyed his combination of kindness and grittiness, that’s what makes the later years so frustrating. From the tuba playing on, we were seeing not our best friend, but our friend acting like our best friend. In essence, they were a victim of their own success; they made a character so unique, so brilliant, that a retreat to the normal was a crying shame.

    • Excellent review and comments. I hear what your sayin about after season 4, but I still enjoy him. I’m of the ilk anything after season 7 is useless.

  36. Great review, you left nothing out this time.

    The final scene with Dr. Borden is excellent. As you noted, Columbo drops The Act, and shows who he really is. I would only add that the “Oh crap, this guy isn’t messing around” look on Dr. Borden’s face when he blows up at her is priceless. Between Dr. Borden and Milo Janus at the beginning of the season, that’s twice he’s lost his temper in one season. Not even a Mexican cruise in between could take off the stress and get his patience with people back.

    The fact that Collier had to go through great pains to cover up what would have been an involuntary manslaughter case bothers me. Had he just called the police, came up with another reason for him to have been at the house, and confessed that a fight broke out (say over, Collier drugging up Nadia) and he struck Karl no one goes to prison. Often, the killers in the series take a bad situation and make it infinitely worse and Collier does this is spades down to killing Nadia which would only bring more attention to himself.

    Speaking of Nadia, if there’s a bigger basket case in the history of the series I’d like to see her. As far as I can tell she can barely function in society.

    • Great analogy. You also add the one quality that would make a sympathetic character less sympathetic; the need to drag an innocent victim down with them. From Dr. Mayfield to Dr. Collier, they’re willing to kill an innocent person in order to cover up their previous crime.

  37. This episode is reminiscent of a much better episode of the original Hawaii Five-0, A Bullet for McGarrett, starring Eric Braeden as the psychology professor/hypnotist. The episode also includes a swimming pool as a hypnotized student shoots a diver when he jumps off the diving board. The villainous Wo Fat is behind everything, and later, he asks the professor to hypnotize an undercover policewoman, to kill McGarrett; the attempt is unsuccessful, of course!

  38. I remember one CSI episode (Miami or NY or sth., I can’t quite recall the type) which was literaly a not at this very Coloumbo episode. Exactly the same sub-murder: kind of hypnosis to make the victim jumb out the window to the swimming-pool and the suicide was in fact by accident (from the point of view of the deceased). Actually it seemed like a remake of Columbo in the CSI series newer reality. Anyone recalls?

  39. A pretty good ( and yes sadly under-rated ) episode where the flaws and unlikely things (such as why did it take so long for the blind witness to come forward?) are redeemed by the fantastic payoff and wonderful repeat viewability.

    While almost all of ‘classic’ Columbo episodes can be watched many times some are even more so than others and this is definitely one of them.

  40. Thanks so much, as always, for your reviews and observations, I love coming here to read what fellow fans have to say! I am curious about one thing regarding this episode. I always felt that Peter Falk was not his usual self: I don’t mean from an acting perspective, but he seems as if he may have been sick or had something weighing heavily on his mind, as if he wasn’t in it one hundred percent. I always pick up on a subtle undercurrent of something here. I think this was close to the time that he began having marital difficulties that would lead to his divorce from Alyce, and he wasn’t in total focus. Don’t know, is it just me? Anyway, thanks again for all you do!

  41. I love this episode! Like you, it’s one of the first I ever saw, probably in its first run. I was a kid, and I remember being totally creeped out by hypnotized Nadia walking zombie-like to answer the phone when Collier called her. I still think hypnosis is creepy. I also had the novelization, and was delighted to see it mentioned in your review. I’m now going to try to track down some of the others! As an aside, I think Karen Machon did an excellent job as Dr. Borden. I find her so likable and fun to watch in this small role that I wish she’d had a bigger one in another episode. I really enjoy her. All in all, this ep is one of my favorites (despite its shortcomings), and I thank you for your generous review!

  42. Hilarious & astute review, as always! I, a lifelong New Yorker, giggled inwardly at the “Sorry, I don’t have a Willie” remark as well. Deliberate? I’ve gotta think so! Many thanks for this vibrant piece & I have got to locate those novelizations. I always loved those, especially the cheesy ones from other movies & TV shows. Bravo!

  43. Thank you very much for your excellent article. I enjoy.
    However, I’m surprised not to find “The Most Crucial Game” between the best gotcha-moments you mention, because it really is one of them. See Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp) when he hears the bells.
    Two weak points however, on this episode.
    1st: Other evils in Columbo often have some “sympathetic” dimension (I mean: one can understand them), but dr Collier hasn’t any (he’s just evil), and I don’t know why. Is it the actor, may be, because Wade Anders (“Caution…”) hasn’t either?
    2nd: The clever murder in “A Deadly…” is the second one (the first is a clumsy accident with a bad “alibi”), but Columbo’s gotcha (which is very, very smart, I agree) is about the first. It’s the inverse situation of “Murder by the book”, “Suitable for Framing” or “A Stitch in Crime”… where the second murder is clumsy, but where Columbo resolves the first and clever murder (or tentative of murder, in “a Stitch”).

  44. It’s not my intention to review the review(er) here, but can I just say that, as much as I enjoy all your reviews, this one is arguably your best one. I love it, so full of love for the show and very sharp too: I hadn’t thought of checking the fender, for instance. And I totally agree with your view on George Hamilton’s excellent performance, and about the ‘rage scene’ as well, it’s as impressive as the one in ‘A stitch in crime’. For me this has always been an underestimated episode.
    So thanks again for the great work, and no need to shorten your articles at all.
    P.S. Inspired by your praise on Mark Dawidziak’s book The Columbo Phile, I’ve finally decided to purchase a copy. Can’t wait to have it delivered!

      • If this is not the place to write this, my apologies, but just wanted to let you know that I finished reading the amazing Columbophile by Mark Dawidziak. It’s everything I hoped it would be, so thank you for recommending it. I did think it ironic that your precious favourite, The bye bye sky high IQ murder case, doesn’t get off very favourably, well, for a Columbo episode.
        Anyway, thanks again! I’m certain it will continue to be of value. And now it’s time to try and write something for the micro-story competiton. The book has inspired me.

        • Hi David, this is as good a place as any to write this. Thanks for sharing your views. I’m very pleased you enjoyed the back. I return to it again and again, as I’m sure you will. Yes, I’ve always found it a bit of a stunner that Mr Dawidziak dislikes Bye-Bye but rates three of my least faves, Dagger of the Mind, Mind Over Mayhem and Last Salute much more highly! I’d love him to revisit the episodes and see what he thinks of them now that another 30 years is under the bridge.

          • It’s been a long time since I read the book, but I’d agree with him on the three episodes, but disagree on Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case.

    • I disagree, I think her acting is very good. It’s her character that I think is horrendous, she gets on my nerves every single moment she’s on the screen, and that takes some terrific acting.

      • Your right, she gets on your nerves every single moment on the screen, but it’s her acting making you feel that way. Poor performance for a known actor at the time and for years to come.

        • It’s a combination of the two. I think Warren knew it was a ridiculous part. She tried to “sell” it by going over the top. She not the first halfway decent actor to fail at this in a Columbo episode. (Contrast Ray Milland’s horrendous overacting in the Greenhouse Jungle and with Rip Torn’s masterful scenery chewing in Death Hits the Jackpot.) Warren’s character, as written, is a huge flaw that keeps the episode out of the top half of the 70’s series in my book.

  45. I have not seen this episode so far but I certainly will do it soon because of your recommendation. The longer than average length of the review (at least it appears to me that it is longer) implies that you really enjoyed reviewing this episode because you really enjoyed this episode. 😉

    Greetings from Austria

    • You’re right, the review is pretty long this time. I like to keep them a bit shorter, but couldn’t find any more cuts to easily make. When you finally get round to viewing please let us all know what you thought of it.

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

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