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 sceneHe’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 killingsAdmittedly 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.
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.
“Harry Alexander’s cruel and senseless murder is, in my opinion, the single saddest Columbo killing of all.”
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.
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.
“Genuine displays of anger from the Lieutenant are few and far between, which makes them all the more powerful.”
The tracking shot that immediately precedes Lt. Columbo’s visit to Dr. Mayfield’s party at his palatial home is one of the best conceived and executed introductions in any Columbo episode. Although it doesn’t qualify as a “best moment,” it would qualify in a “best introduction” category–a category that doesn’t yet exist on this blog, but, perhaps, should exist some day.
In that opening tracking shot, the camera fades into Dr. Mayfield joining others at his party in medium shot, smiling and laughing with his guests. As Dr. Mayfield finishes greeting those guests, saying “Good of you to come–I’ll see you later,” and walks away, the camera tracks and pans right slowly and down to the street in long shot, just as Lt. Columbo’s iconic Peugeot 403 comes into view driving toward the right of the screen.
This shot has substance as well as style because it shows us that Dr. Mayfield is wealthy, important, popular, and lives elegantly high above the crowd, while Lt. Columbo is from the street level and will have to climb a steep hill to reach him. And the timing of the two levels of action, showing these two worlds in a single shot, is accomplished with perfection.
You can enjoy this tracking shot and the scene at Dr. Mayfield’s party here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS_Sq_5O-yg
Those were five best moments. I heard Leonard Nimoy in an interview talk about how funny it was when Columbo cracked an egg on the murder weapon. Though the allergy scene was good too.
Ooooh, where did you see the interview? I’ve never come across Nimoy talking about his Columbo experience before.
I think it was on an interview on PBS. But I will try to locate for you when I can not being on line at home.
Thank you, I’d love to see it!
Thanks for finding it for me. I just found it on you tube today. I wonder if there is a longer interview about Columbo.
Somehow, the link is now missing.
Too much censorship!
Your five are all worthy and there’s no disagreement.
My Honorable Mention would be when Columbo is in the surgery room viewing gallery learning about suture and can’t bring himself to look down at the colon surgery being performed, followed by Columbo in the same gallery staring down at Dr. Mayfield as he operates on Dr. Heideman.
I think this speaks to his focus and determination. He’ll overcome any fear to get the murderer.
That is an excellent combo of scenes and your analysis is spot on. The scene was considered but when the quality’s so high across the board I just couldn’t squeeze it in.
At least there weren’t any Junior mints involved.
I used to like to find the moment when Columbo first began to suspect the perpetrator -most of the time though he just seemed to know but there are some episodes where you can pinpoint the moment he first suspected someone. I truly love Peter Falk.Once maybe twenty years ago or so when the episode with Faye Dunnaway
came out I was mad and upset enough to write and say that Columbo would never act like that-never act unfaithful even in a little way to his wife- I added however that Peter Falk was a genius ( which I believe he is ! ) I unexpectedly got back an autographed picture of the great detective which I treasure !
Columbo losing his cool is an unforgettable moment. I still can’t decide whether he did that to wind the doc up and mess with him, or whether he was just so disgusted with him and angry at himself for not being able to get him to slip up yet, that he lashed out to vent some of his pent up frustration and anger. One of the best episodes for sure.
I think it was well-channeled rage aimed at making the Doctor slip up.
Columbo Slamming the water pitcher on the desk is arguably the most powerful moment in the series except for the end of “Forgotten Lady”.
You’re right, there are several great moments in that episode. The way Marcy helps the lieutenant to stop coughing might be the sixth one. It reminds the omelette-scene in “murder by the book” and several other Columbo-and-women scenes. Columbo is at ease with women, and they are at ease with him.
However, I’m still not convinced the killing of Harry Alexander was a murder. Dr Mayfield didn’t have any interest in Alexander’s dead, but only in his (renewed) drug-addiction. Because Alexander’s dead means extra police-investigations (and a coroner), whereas drugs mean a severe loss of credibility for Alexander.
Being alive and drug-addict, Harry Alexander would have been a perfect suspect for the police and convicted for a jury. Alexander’s dead is a failure for Dr Martin.
I also think it’s Sharon Martin who deserves a place as “Fallen Angel, a victim that breaks the heart”. She’s one of the most valorous people in the 69 episodes.
Finally, while the (attempt to) murder on Dr Edmund Heideman is a very “clever” one, the murder of Sharon Martin and the killing of Harry Alexander are clumsy.
Please read “a failure for Dr Mayfield”, not Martin.
There are other key moments where we see the PERSON whom Columbo is in private, instead of his calculated unctious, simple, star-struck persona he uses on suspects.
Although he explodes, or is very angry at physicians who uses their gifts of trust to kill patients (a separate, most egregious kind of murder), he’s quite startlingly frank with Ruth Gordon and Ross Martin as suspects also!
(I can’t remember the characters names-sorry), and Jack Cassidy’s magician and co-writer roles elicit some fire, too.
I never met a driven perfectionist who was truly easy-going for that matter!
I know this isn’t a huge moment in this episode but I’ve always enjoyed the scene where columbo crashes Mayfield’s party and helps himself to the food and they both sit down while columbo goes to town on his plate. I suppose I just enjoy watching people eat on screen. I try to figure out what’s on his plate. I can’t imagine why he gets an upset stomach though…..
Falk never has Columbo forget life as a middle class descendent of poor immigrants!
My grandfather and grandmother on one side were immigrants from Eastern Europe and my grandfather never tired of asking what so and so paid for shoes or cars or suits!
poir men are thrilled to live an hour or two in a rich man’s shoes.
Because he’s eating like a gavone!!
I do like that scene, too! Columbo looks so dishevelled in it that it’s extra fun.
“Columbo Rage” is certainly the most startling, most memorable moment of the episode. I have no doubt that Columbo’s dislike of the doc is real (you could put Columbo killers into two classes – those the detective feels empathy with and those he doesn’t and Nimoy heads the class in the latter category), but I’ve never been able to decide whether Nimoy’s smugness actually got Columbo’s goat or whether the show of anger was a calculated display. The more I watch it the more I lean toward the second view.
I think Columbo was genuinely angry, but he used it to his advantage by letting Mayfield know that he suspects him of trying to kill Heidemann, which forces Mayfield’s hand into removing the dissolving suture. So I think a bit of both – angry and clever calculation combined. Clever Lieutenant!
Meaning what? That Columbo feels empathy for Mayfield or that Mayfield’s smugness got under Columbo’s skin?
I’m always interested in these top 5 lists you do, even if I can always guess your favorite moment based on the episode title itself. But maybe that’s just proof that they are the best moments since even I can see them coming?
I would’ve personally put the gotcha moment on a list of my own, if I had one. I know that you weren’t too fond of it, having read your review, but I think it was pretty genius. The first time I saw the episode, I thought for sure that Mayfield was gonna get got in that operation room, then and there, so I was very puzzled when he didn’t.
I didn’t catch it. The cops on the scene didn’t catch it. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that done in fiction before, which might explain why I found it so amazing… But maybe it’s just me.
I think lots of people love the gotcha, so you’re not alone. I’m just not one of them. It’s good but not mind blowing for me.
I’m a bit curious as to why you don’t like it. I’ve got no problem with you disagreeing with me or anything, I just want to look at it from a different perspective. I see in your review you said that you didn’t think Mayfield’s trick measured up to his intelligence, so I know that part. Is there more to it?
That about sums it up. It’s not quite cerebral enough for my liking, although hard to know what else he could have done.
I suppose it’s a matter of taste, then. I’d argue that it was somewhat intelligent of Mayfield; he came up with his maneuver on the spot, under pressure and he banked on nobody rummaging through Columbo’s pockets as he wasn’t the center of attention.
However I’d say that it didn’t fit his personality. Now I haven’t seen the episode in a short while, but I don’t remember Mayfield being a particularly angry person, so when he stormed off, it wasn’t exactly like him. Maybe that’s how Columbo figured his scheme out?
But on the other hand, Mayfield was hounded by the Lieutenant for a long time, so maybe it wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary for him to finally snap like that? So he acted it out as a natural reaction that the cops wouldn’t find suspicious?
I’m overthinking this, aren’t I. Just throwing ideas around.
Yes, Mayfield losing his cool and shoving Columbo was so out of character that The Lieutenant ultimately figured out it was done to hide the sutures.
I suppose that does seem more likelier than what I came up with. I should probably give it another watch to be more on track. Anyway, thanks for discussing this with me (or at least reading my rambles)! It’s always such a delight (and rare in my experience) to see a creator interact with their audience. Plus, I rarely get to talk about Columbo with anyone, since no one I know shares my interest in the series…
I hear ya! I too enjoy interacting with fellow fans online because hardly anyone I know in real life is a fan!
Here is the relevant closing dialogue, which I found with a keyword search of ‘Columbo Stitch in Crime transcript’, although it doesn’t say who says what,
You know, in a way I have to congratulate you.
Up until now, you really had me going.
I mean, here you are, you’re a surgeon, a man that’s gotta be cool.
Even when you’re angry, you’re controlled.
You never lose yourself.
That’s why it struck me funny when you blew up in the operating room and you grabbed me and pushed me.
You know there was only one thing we didn’t search.
You know what it was? It was me.
I should’ve known to re-watch the episode first before posting my thoughts. That transcript shoots down most of my assumptions and now that the dialogue’s mentioned, I do recall Columbo saying that.
He could of locked the door as soon as he got into his office and then disposed of the evidence
But the evidence was in Columbo’s scrubs, which he was still wearing when he came into Mayfield’s office. After he took them off and left, he returned to the office so quickly that the wicked doctor didn’t really have time to do anything.
He could of locked the door…ample time
He could have locked the door, but that would be evidence of guilt, just as flight is.
Locking a door is evidence of guilt!?!?! Yea…..I don’t think that would ever hold up in a court of law…
yews I agree not the greatest ending
when I see Nimoy, I can’t ever help but see Spock…..and it’s sort of a creepy chill to imagine Spock as Mayfield. Spock, undeniably the more human of the two. And *that* is fascinating!
You are right! Mayfield is as inhuman as they come.
I think that the ‘gotcha’, where Mayfield thinks that he’s got away with it, but then Columbo comes back in, taking the dissolving suture out of his pocket, where Mayfield put it, has got to make the top 5, but I certainly agree with you on the top moment.