An undoubted highlight of Columbo‘s second season, A Stitch in Crime is gripping drama from go to whoa, and an episode that lives in the memory long after our life-saving heart valve sutures have dissolved.
With Leonard Nimoy’s Dr Barry Mayfield jockeying for position with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter for the most terrifying on-screen medical man of all time, we have an antagonist who is both fiendishly clever and extremely dangerous – a heady combo indeed!
There’s a glut of good moments in this one, but what are its absolute stand-out scenes? Here’s what I think…
“A Stitch in Crime lives in the memory long after our life-saving heart valve sutures have dissolved.”
5. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia…
Poor, simple, self-absorbed Marcia Dalton! The room-mate of Sharon Martin thinks she’s in for some rrrrrromance with Dr Mayfield when he invites her out for a seaside stroll to see how she’s coping in the aftermath of her BFF’s grisly demise.
Romance is the last thing on wicked Barry’s mind, though. Instead, he’s taking advantage of Marcia’s air-headedness to plant the idea that Sharon’s former love-interest-cum-drug-addict Harry Alexander is a line of investigation the police need to pursue. He has to work pretty hard to do it, too, because Marcia has to be spoon-fed basic information in order for anything to penetrate her stodgy layer of self-interest.
Done with her, Mayfield drops her like a hot potato and simply offers to take her home rather than out for drinks as Marcia was hoping, her demeanour changing from keen puppy to dejected also-ran in a heartbeat. It’s fine work by actress Nita Talbot.
Although Marcia does report her ‘recollection’ to Columbo shortly afterwards, she makes it perfectly obvious that Mayfield was the brains behind this nugget of info resurfacing – just another reason for the Lieutenant to suspect the ice-cold medic of murder most foul.
4. Is this a wind-up?
Dr Mayfield is ‘informed’ of the death of Sharon Martin via phonecall to his swish office, and while his voice and words suggest dismay, his actions suggest anything but as he deems this an appropriate time to wind his desk clock as the news is delivered.
It’s his first mistake, as he fails to realise that the wily Lieutenant is observing his actions from the office doorway – and duly noting the apparent lack of genuine concern. And why not? The act is reminiscent of Ken Franklin carelessly opening his mail after ringing the police to report a corpse dumped in his front garden in Murder by the Book.
“Most people, they’d be in such a state of shock, they’d never be able to split their concentration like that the way you did setting your clock there,” Columbo says knowingly.
“Well, it, uh, it must’ve been a purely reflexive reaction,” Mayfield feebly responds. “I really don’t remember doing it.” And while Columbo nods along in a friendly fashion, we, the viewer, already know that he’s latched on to his man. The game is afoot!
3. Care-free Columbo at the crime scene
He’s a rascal isn’t he? CSI this ain’t, as a bedraggled and sleepy Columbo creates carnage at the crime scene following the slaying of Sharon Martin.
First he thoughtlessly scatters the shell of a hard-boiled egg all over the place to satisfy his hunger pangs – much to the disgust of his fellow officers. He later compounds this action by cracking a second egg on the murder weapon itself (a car tyre iron) after asking a colleague to hold it still for him.
While these are highly enjoyable moments for the viewer, one can only imagine what the Grissoms and Horatio Caines of the world would make of such flagrant disregard for policing protocols…
2. The dual killings
Admittedly this is a bit of a cheat, but as the proprietor of this blog I’ll give myself a hall pass to include Mayfield’s double homicide as a single point here. All credit to director Hy Averback, whose direction makes both scenes stunners.
Firstly, the killing of Sharon Martin is ultra-stylishly done. As the troubled nurse returns to her car to after the Worst. Day. Ev-errrrrr little does she realise that her fortunes are about to plummet exponentially further. For who should be lurking in the shadows but Mayfield himself – and he’s not there to give her a kiss and a cuddle. Instead, he wordlessly steps into the light and raises a tyre iron as Sharon’s face portrays a rising terror.
Like many memorable Columbo killings, our imaginations are left to fill in the blanks as the camera cuts from Sharon’s stunned face to her handbag and keys falling to the floor. In combination with a nerve-tingling Billy Goldenberg score, this scene is a work of art in its own right.
Marvellous as that is, the killing of Jared Martin’s sad Harry Alexander elicits an even greater audience response. Here’s a guy that’s a reformed drug addict and troubled Vietnam veteran who has struggled to get his life back together and now works in a child’s petting zoo. He had a fling with Sharon, which ended in case he became too dependent on her. This bummed him out, but he was at least dealing with it as best he could.
“Harry Alexander’s cruel and senseless murder is, in my opinion, the single saddest Columbo killing of all.”
The absolute last thing he needed was to be unwittingly entangled in an ambitious sociopath’s murderous games – but that’s exactly what he got, returning to his apartment to be chloroformed and pumped full of drugs by Mayfield, later awakening briefly only to tumble down steps to his death in a narcotic haze.
His cruel and senseless murder is, in my opinion, the single saddest Columbo killing of all (more about that here), while the absolute indifference for human life shown by Mayfield marks him out to be the most despicable Columbo killer of all (more about that here). The most chilling aspect of the killings? The automaton-like silence in which Mayfield went about his gruesome business.
You can view both scenes in one below. Revel in the atmosphere so wonderfully created by direction, editing and music. This really is 70s’ TV at its very best.
1. Columbo rage!
Columbo’s flash of anger at Dr Mayfield’s callous arrogance is not only the highlight of this episode. It’s one of the best, most important, Columbo scenes of all. Why? Because it’s such a rare sight to see the Lieutenant drop the veneer and show us what he really thinks about another character’s actions and personality.
As Mayfield laughs in his face during a showdown in the Doctor’s office, Columbo stuns his adversary by slamming a water pitcher down on his desk – wiping the smirk briefly off Mayfield’s extremely self confident face in the process.
Genuine displays of anger from the Lieutenant are few and far between, which makes them all the more powerful. It marks that the game has changed. From here on out Columbo is out to get the doc, and he’ll take no small amount of pleasure from besting a foe he so clearly loathes. And you know what? We’ll share that pleasure immensely!
View it yourself below. The drama is undeniable.
“Genuine displays of anger from the Lieutenant are few and far between, which makes them all the more powerful.”
That’s all folks – my hot take on the giddy highs of a thrillingly enjoyable Columbo romp. Let me know what you make of my choices, and your own episode highlights below. If you’ve a hankering for a more detailed analysis, check out my full-length review here.
As always please accept my sincere thanks for your time. Together we can keep Columbo‘s legacy alive and well.