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?
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!
After 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!
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…
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…