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5 best moments from Columbo The Most Dangerous Match


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Calm down, lad, calm down!

The cut-throat world of championship chess was firmly in the spotlight in Columbo Season 2 spectacular The Most Dangerous Match, which featured Laurence Harvey as borderline insane Grand Master Emmett Clayton.

The deaf chess ace was a very different type of Columbo baddie, being both unstable and deeply insecure behind a veneer of cerebral confidence. This makes his confrontation with the outwardly bumbling but inwardly razor sharp Lieutenant a potential cracker – on paper at least.

And while regular readers will know that I don’t rate Dangerous Match amongst Columbo‘s finest outings, it still has plenty to recommend it. So without further ado, here are my top 5 episode highlights….

“The deaf chess ace was a very different type of Columbo baddie, being both unstable and deeply insecure behind a veneer of cerebral confidence.”

5. Did I break your concentration?

Columbo Most Dangerous Match chess

Clayton’s chess foe set a world record for thickest ever televised hair

Confronting Clayton at a live, round-robin chess clash against a dozen or more plucky contenders, Columbo rocks the Grandmaster’s concentration as he outlines his case against him in a very public setting. Clayton takes the bait – angrily. “Do you think that the finest chess player in the world would make even half the mistakes you ascribe to me?” he seethes at Columbo – precisely as a Lego-haired amateur opponent symbolically check-mates him! Nice…

4. Dudek lives!

Columbo Most Dangerous Match Jack Kruschen as Tomlin DudekAfter Tomlin Dudek’s mangled body is found in the hotel trash compactor, old Emmett makes some empty utterances over what a loss the tubby Soviet will be to the world of chess when ‘informed’ of the tragedy.

It’s at this stage Columbo checks him. “You’re speaking as if he’s already dead,” says the Lieutenant – when in fact the chubby-chinned chess ace is clinging on to life in hospital despite massive injuries. The revelation is as stunning for Clayton as it is for the viewer, giving him one hell of a shock and a major problem still on his hands to avoid being busted.

3. Dog cracks the case!

Columbo Most Dangerous Match Dog

Good old Dog! Usually merely entertaining window dressing, the adorable pup makes a tangible contribution to cracking the case here. The rascally pooch is on the scene as Columbo inspects the trash compactor near the episode finale, and causes a panic as he gallops up the steps towards the mouth of the compactor where Dudek met his demise.

A workman grabs Dog before his suicidal urges cause a calamity, but a fellow worker tells Columbo he needn’t have worried anyway. If anything goes into the machine while it’s operating, there’s an automatic cut-off! It goes back on at the touch of a button, but the cut-off is the reason Dudek wasn’t instantly slain – and it’s the clue Columbo needs to  deduce that only a deaf man wouldn’t have noticed the machinery cutting out.

(NB – Dudek’s near-fatal injuries make a mockery of the workmen’s devil-may-care attitudes, but that’s a story for another day)

2. The restaurant showdown


Effectively staged, the impromptu encounter between the two rivals at the French restaurant is far more appetising than a plateful of garlic snails.

A strong insight into the mental condition of both men, Dudek’s besting of his American opponent is the tonne weight that crushes the camel’s back, leaving the desperately insecure Clayton believing his only way of saving himself from abject humiliation is murder most foul.

Just as well the restaurant had chess-friendly, stereotype-tastic chequered tablecloths, eh? Or else this episode could have panned out waaaaaaaaaaaaay differently…

1. It’s chess, Jim, but not as we know it…

Columbo Most Dangerous Match chess nightmare

The stuff of nightmares indeed!

In an episode admittedly low on stand-out scenes, the screaming psychedelia of the opening chess nightmare sequence is really quite something. It’s bonkers and brilliant in equal measure and for a modern audience might seem ridiculous, but take it for what it is (a slice of kitsch 70s’ TV par excellence) and it’s one hell of a viewing experience. Just don’t watch it while under the influence of narcotics or you, too, will wake up, howling, in a cold sweat just like our mate Emmett!

“The screaming psychedelia of the opening chess nightmare sequence is bonkers and brilliant in equal measure.”

Do let me know what you make of my selections, and hit me up with your own episode highlights in the comments section below. You’ll notice the episode gotcha is conspicuous by its absence. Why? Because it’s a load of tosh! Read my full episode review to find out why...

Thanks as always for reading. Please view the below image with caution to avoid unnecessary nightmares…




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48 thoughts on “5 best moments from Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

  1. If you are familiar with the UK TV series ‘The Avengers’ from the 1960’s/70’s, the intro scene of the dream-like chess match is very familiar.
    The Avengers often featured similar weird dream-like sequences ending in a bizarre death that Mr Steed and Mrs Peel would proceed to solve over the episode.

  2. My favorite moment not mentioned yet is when Columbo is holding Dog and he is shown that the compactor/grinder has a kill-switch automatic cut-off feature. Falk plays the next few seconds brilliantly as you see the light-bulb coming on in his facial expressions and then kisses Dog on the side of his head in gratitude. I assume Falk ad-libbed this piece of business.

  3. Did you just make a Star Trek reference in a Columbo episode?! Now I will always remember the moment I fell hopelessly in love with you, in a platonic way, of course.

  4. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match | The Columbophile

  5. Even though the most dangerous match is far from a top tier episode I would much rather it than the green house jungle any day .

  6. A very enjoyable episode. I love the dream sequence at the beginning. Dudek seems like a kind man; it is a shame Clayton kills him after Dudek encourages him and writes a note for him. He is definitely a sympathetic victim. Clayton wears his 70 era wardrobe and shaggy ‘do well and pulls off Crazy Arrogant admirably.
    Columbo needs to keep a better eye on Dog!

  7. Episodes such as Try and catch me , the bye bye and make a perfect murder are so good and have so many memorable scenes you could change the heading to 10 best moments ill pick my favorite 1 from each try and catch me dont count on it scene by the marina is about my favorite in the whole series , colombo almost catching Oliver Brandt red handed in the park trying to dispose of the gun in a dustbin whilst carrying an umbrella on a hot summers afternoon, and in make me a perfect murder i like the music while the murder happens but this is not a single moment so it would have to be asking Kay to walk in the same as the murder and then explaining that Mr Mc Andrews knew his killer and explaining to Kay why , she now knows what shes up against.

  8. When Jackson Gillis created the Emmett Clayton character, he was no doubt aware that quite a few great chess players were mentally ill. For example, Paul Morphy became paranoid and died in his bath surrounded by women’s shoes. Akiba Rubinstein suffered from anthropophobia (fear of people) and later from schizophrenia. William Steinitz died in an insane asylum. Alexander Alekhine was an alcoholic who would pee in his pants in the middle of a game. Then, there’s the “American” Bobby Fischer. Although Fischer hadn’t yet become a certified crackpot at the time when Jackson wrote “The Most Dangerous Match,” after the simultaneous 911 attacks took place in America, Fischer cheered and celebrated the acts of terrorism by drinking some champagne.

  9. This is one of my favourite episodes and Laurence Harvey plays Clayton very well. He does not over do the signs of insanity and the deep insecurity that is causing it.

  10. Never understood how columbophile could rank this lower than around half the episodes above it (I mean come on ‘A deadly state of mind’ anywhere near the Top 40!!! Hamilton’s “Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health” is even better than that)

    But then again never understood how any of the Jack Cassidy episodes are rated in the Top 30, all those endings are far more dissapointng than this one

    This episode works best, as do all the greatest Columbo ones, because the villain is a multi dimensional person we can relate to.

    A great episode, with one of my favourite endings.

    • I thought the Jack Cassidy episodes were the best. He’s such a self-serving, intelligent jerk who knows some bumbling city cop could never catch him.

    • I couldnt agree more ,I dont rate the most dangerous matchbut it is better than some of the episodes above it , and i dont know why colombophile rates a deadly state as i dont like it all that much bar the ending and yes the jack Cassidy episodes had comparatively weak endings and are overrated but to be fair the ending to the most dangerous match is flawed as is the murder and is not a great ending.

      • Yes, I think the ending is supremely flawed – to the point that I am disturbed. But before I go further, please explain your reasons for believing it is flawed.

  11. This is actually one of my very favorite episodes. I think the two best moments are the restaurant encounter and the simultaneous exhibition, but there are many more, like “Dudek Lives”, all the scenes with the Russian coach, writing the fake letter, Clayton going insane after losing in the restaurant, Clayton sneaking in to tamper with the drugs… The opening sequence is all right, but not the best to me. And the villain’s instability doesn’t bother me – on the contrary, it creates more tension and at least partially reflects the behind-the-mask problems of chess masters and other geniuses (Mr. Weil has already pointed this out below).

    • I couldnt agree more ,I dont rate the most dangerous match but it is better than some of the episodes above it , and i dont know why colombophile rates a deadly state as i dont like it all that much bar the ending and yes the jack Cassidy episodes had comparatively weak endings and are overrated but to be fair the ending to the most dangerous match is flawed as is the murder and is not a great ending.

    • My favorite moment was when Lloyd Bochner as the coach was speaking Russian on the phone and ended a sentence with “Duddy Kravitz”–a sublime in-joke.

  12. I wonder how much of the mental instability in Emmett Clayton’s character was influenced by the signs of mental instability that Bobby Fischer already was manifesting by 1973 (although I’m not sure how much of this was public knowledge at the time). Fischer was the classic chess genius with more than a few pawns loose. In an era where he was the game’s dominant figure, it would have been surprising to see a chess champion portrayed with a rock-solid mental foundation.

  13. I’d think most Columbo fans would agree that the trippy chess nightmare sequence is one of the top scenes or moments of “The Most Dangerous Match” if not the number one spot. The scene perfectly encapsulates Clayton’s mentally unstable character and his sense of dread. And you’re not going to get much argument about the restaurant encounter between Clayton and Dudek as a best moment either.

    However, I have my own best scene from the episode that’s not on this list. It’s the scene where Clayton implores Dudek to write the “I’m very ashamed” letter that Clayton intends to use out of context. The reason I like this scene is that it requires the Clayton character to “act” as an upset “young person” involved in a troubling “love affair” in order to fool Dudek into writing the letter in Russian in his own hand. But the “acting” by the Clayton character actually works here.

    Now, in the typical Columbo episode, the murderer is ordinarily not a persuasive “actor” at all. Most, for example, have great difficulty feigning grief when they learn the “bad news” of the death of someone they knew because, after all, they aren’t professional actors when they’re in character. But in this scene with Clayton, the character CAN “act” and fools most of the people he comes in contact with, except, of course, Columbo. But the reason he’s capable of “acting” and appears persuasive isn’t because the Clayton character is a good “actor,” but rather, because he’s able to channel the same inner torment that he’s been experiencing from the start and that compelled him to attempt to commit murder in the first place. Kudos to Laurence Harvey and Jack Kruschen for making this scene work.

    • Granted, it’s not an everyday occurrence, but I wouldn’t call this such a rarity. In the episodes CP has reviewed thus far, we have Ken Franklin manipulating Jim Ferris into making the phone call that established Franklin’s alibi (“Murder by the Book”); Jarvis Goodland conning nephew Tony into furthering his plan (“Greenhouse Jungle”); Paul Hanlon getting Eric Wagner into the pool (“Most Crucial Game”); and Nelson Hayward convincing Harry Stone to wear his clothes (“Candidate for Crime”). Then there’s both Milo Janus (“Exercise in Fatality”) and Paul Galesko (“Negative Reaction”) acting over the phone in front of witnesses (not to mention Galesko’s manipulation of both Alvin Deschler and wife Frances). But the Columbo villain acting Oscar clearly must go to Riley Greenleaf (“Publish or Perish”) for his drunken romp and morning-after amnesia.

      • Getting character B to do something that character A wants in the examples you cite, and many others that I could add, such as Ruth Lytton (Joyce Van Patten) in “Old Fashioned Murder,” didn’t require genuine acting or significant qualities of acting, and were simply manipulations where B was sufficiently motivated by the bait character A presented to B. Convincing Dudek that Clayton was having a serious relationship problem with a nonexistent young Russian woman, on the other hand, and then getting him to write down some words that could later be twisted to Clayton’s purposes required much more, and appealed to Dudek’s soft qualities. So even if you want to call this just a character manipulation, it involves much more subtle psychological interplay than, say, persuading Jim Ferris to play adult hooky.

        • Similarly, Riley Greenleaf’s drunken romp and feigned amnesia in “Publish or Perish” wasn’t particularly demanding, especially since the character Greenleaf like to drink and was, in effect, simply playing himself. Moreover, in his drunken persona, he wasn’t trying to get some other character to do something they might not do otherwise.

          For another example of the kind of convincing “acting” by the characters in a murder mystery playing in character that I’m talking about, see the short film “The Motive” by Rose Simon Kohn from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I won’t tell you more in case you don’t know or remember this episode, but here’s a link to it:

  14. I particularly like your singling out the fact that, in “Most Dangerous Match,” Dog “makes a tangible contribution to cracking the case.” In a sense, Dog does that twice here. His operation allowed Columbo to take a phone call from the vet and state aloud, “He’ll make a full recovery!” thereby testing Clayton’s reaction.

    This started me thinking about Dog’s role in other episodes. It might be worth further examination.

  15. About #5: Not only is Clayton getting checkmated, it’s also the “Fool’s Mate”, the checkmate with the fewest possible moves. No chess grandmaster (or even just an experienced player) would ever fall for this kind of trap, no matter the situation. You’d have to deliberately play along as white. But since chess is represented pretty accurately in this episode, I bet this has been done for symbolic reasons, marking Clayton as a fool.

    • I have pointed that out too, and in my micro-story, based on this episode, I also had Clayton unable to solve a composed mate in three moves problem, further confirming how rattled he was.

        • Since Columbophile and/or Facebook still haven’t posted any of the stories, here goes:
          The Indian Problem
          Columbo had developed an interest in composed chess problems, after looking at Gary’s Gems at chessproblem.net. He knew that he already had Emmett Clayton rattled, in his investigation of the murder of Tomlin Dudek, as Clayton had unbelievably walked into a Fool’s Mate, checkmate in two moves, at a simultaneous exhibition. But Columbo wanted further confirmation, and so he challenged Clayton to try to solve The Indian Problem, a mate in three moves, which was the first problem to show the Indian theme, in which an interference move releases Black from stalemate, which was composed by Henry Augustus Loveday in 1845. After about five minutes, Clayton said, “There is no way that White can avoid stalemating Black.”, and he angrily knocked the pieces and the board off the table, while quoting United States Civil War Union General, Philip Sheridan, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” It was shortly after that that Columbo staged the scene at the trash compactor, which provided the final piece of the puzzle.

          • Nicely done and thank you for posting! You show great knowledge of the game and I like your placing the whole episode into the modern internet era.

          • All the competition entries have been published on the ColumboTV Facebook group page. The top entries will be published on this blog in January – perhaps as soon as next weekend, while all the entries will be available to download as a PDF.

    • I was just going to mention the Fool’s Mate, glad someone else did. That part of the episode is quite silly. Only the rankest beginner falls for that mate.

  16. For me the best moment from that episode will always be the restaurant showdown (despite any chessual inaccuracies, I’m not expert enough to let them bother me). I love the rivalry shown here, combined with the shared love for the game. It’s wonderful and full of tension.
    After that one I’d pick the scene at the hospital where Clayton so casually takes the medicine list from Linda’s hands, glancing at it for just a sec before handing it back. That scene always gives me the shivers. I remember it so distinctly from the first time I saw this episode, immediately realising what Clayton was going to do next,

    • reading your comment, David, reminds me that Havey’s villain is very reminiscent (to me) of Leonard Nimoy’s villain. Almost like they could be evil, sociopathic twins! (if only Harvey and Nimoy, in a diabolical mash-up, could have sparred off on a little 3-D chess…….)

      • Nice observation, I agree they are very much alike. Though Clayton is the more insecure and emotional and (consequently) the more desperate one in his actions, he appears just as calm and coldhearthed as dr Mayfield when he executes his plans.

        • fascinating characters…..almost makes me wish I might be an actor, experiencing all these different planes of existence. Right now, I’m thinking how interesting it might have been to play the unemotional Mr. Spock *and* the (also) unemotional Mayfield….two people ‘tagged’ in the same manner but as different as ever they might be.

  17. This episode also has a nice glitch, when Clayton goes into Dudek’s empty hotel suite and walks past a room with someone sitting in it. “Hi, Mr Clayton! The drugs are in the bathroom!” (It’s at 56 minutes.)

    I like the moment when Columbo catches him writing in the hospital and walks over like a big, friendly dog.

  18. Clayton is not engaged in a ’round robin’; that would be if every competitor was playing against every other one. He was giving a simultaneous exhibition (simul) in which he alone plays multiple opponents at the same time. The ‘psychedelic’ opening would be one of my least favorite things about that episode.

  19. I can only say that I adore this episode, but then, I’m the person who also adores “Dagger of the Mind”. I have two Columbo Files of my own, compartmentalized neatly….the “this is just silly, but toooo much fun” and the “this is serious as merde and entirely another level of fun”. (and then there’s the third level, reserved for some of the not-so-special ‘specials’…..like one of Dante’s infernious (look i created a word!) circles, this level is one best not plumbed too closely). In any case, your picks are wonderful!

  20. Hello columbophile , i also dont place the most dangerous match anywhere near my top 10 but i still enjoy it more than episodes such as lovely but lethal ,, short fuse , dead weight , murder under glass and requiem for a falling star.

    the 5 best moments in this are not very memorable without sounding too critical they wouldnt be even close to 5 best moments from try and catch me , the bye bye or make me a perfect murder ..

    • I doubt that any of the top 5 here other than the chess nightmare would make my own list of 100 greatest Columbo scenes, although I think the scenes highlighted here are perfectly serviceable. There’s nothing to compare with the very best episodes, though.

      • I don’t particularly enjoy the opening scene from the most dangerous match its a bit weird and un columbolike for me. suitable for framing has a memorable opening scene with that weird sound and dale wrecking the house and stealing paintings , perhaps columbophile has a favourite opening scene or scenes.
        perhaps columboophile might do a post like that in the future. most episodes have a mellow start but there was a few explosive starts like publish or perish , suitable for framing and perhaps double exposure which starts with Doctor Keppel firing a revolver in a firing range at the start.


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