A complete hoot from start to finish, Double Shock is, in my opinion, the standout episode from Columbo‘s second season, featuring what could be Peter Falk’s single best performance in the crumpled raincoat.
With the cast headlined by the late, great Martin Landau as duplicitous twins Dexter and Norman Paris, Double Shock had it all: pathos, great humour, fully developed secondary characters, plus an actual whodunnit element that kept viewers guessing (to an extent) until the final scene.
There are a stack of standout moments, but just what are its very, very best scenes? My thoughts are right here…
“A complete blast from start to finish, Double Shock is, in my opinion, the standout episode from Columbo’s second season.”
5. The disturbing state of Clifford Paris
When the flighty Lisa Chambers (Julie Newmar) arrives at Paris HQ to pick up her husband-to-be Clifford (the pair are due to wed the next day), we’re first entertained by her effortless skirting around Mrs Peck – and the obvious disdain the older lady holds her in.
Lisa’s good mood evaporates fast, though, when she can’t locate Clifford upstairs – even after peeping into the bathroom where we know he’s just been slain. She perks up again when she deduces he must be in the basement home gym, perhaps enjoying a ride on the new electric bicycle she bought him.
She’s half right. Clifford is in the gym. He is on the bike. But as his slumped corpse lolls hideously about on the still-moving bike, the viewer receives a shock nearly as stark as Lisa’s. It’s a dark and disturbing visual that is all the more powerful set against the episode’s array of comic interludes.
4. Unleashing the Peck rage
Oh dear, Columbo’s introduction to crotchety Mrs Peck really couldn’t have gone worse, could it? As the sleepy detective attempts to take in the crime scene, he absent-mindedly dabs his cigar ash on the floor of the gym. BIG MISTAKE. In a flash, Peckosaurus Rex is on to him, snarling “You must belong in some pigsty. Do you do that in your own home?”
As Columbo attempts to right the wrong, he earns further rebukes by rubbing the ash into the clean carpet, and then breaking Mr Clifford’s favourite pitcher – each time to an increasingly shrill Peck soundtrack. “Get him out of here! GET HIM OUT!” she brays as the desperate Lieutenant finally beats a retreat.
So not only a very comical scene, the stall has been set out early that Columbo has a major task on his hands to win hearts and minds in the Paris household – and until he can do so cracking the case will be extra difficult. As for Mrs Peck? She’s immediately established as the most fearsome Columbo adversary we’ve seen to date. No mean feat when we’ve already met the likes of Paul Hanlon, Barry Mayfield, Jarvis Goodland and Investigator Brimmer…
3. The Hathaway double cross
Family lawyer Mike Hathaway is as unscrupulous as they come, effectively turning a blind eye to the Paris twins’ murder of his BFF in order to keep his grubby mitts on a share of the profits from Clifford’s estate.
He gets his comeuppance (of sorts) when the brothers stitch him up royally after knowing he’s arranged to head to Lisa’s apartment to obtain her copy of Clifford’s will, which was changed late on to leave everything to her, cutting the feuding twins out completely.
After finding the apartment empty and pocketing the will, Hathaway is disturbed by police sirens. Looking out over Lisa’s balcony what should he see but the spreadeagled corpse of the young woman on the road below. Taking flight in panic, Hathaway is nabbed by officers as he attempts to escape via the lifts.
This is a great moment because it shows us what Dexter and Norman are truly capable of – without showing us anything at all. The murder of Lisa Chambers is a heinous, shocking crime and one I’m pleased the producers didn’t force viewers to watch. But make no mistakes, she died a terrifying death at the hands of two greedy brothers she barely knew, and the horror of her final moments effectively casts another shadow over the light-hearted aspects of this excellently paced adventure.
2. The temporary truce over milk and health cookies
After earning another roasting from the livid housekeeper after dabbing cigar ash into an antique silver platter (“Bum! You’re a BUM!”) Columbo has to pluck up no small amount of courage to bury the hatchet with Mrs Peck.
Finding her alone in her kitchen, his humble apology to her for his untidiness and his entreaty to her to treat him more fairly is probably the most challenging moment we’ve seen him face up to now. Talking down a gun-wielding Beth Chadwick in Lady in Waiting was child’s play by comparison!
This is wonderful because we see a side of the real Columbo here: a hurt and humiliated human being having to admit his shortcomings to win over a major obstacle in him getting the job done. It works – temporarily at least – as Mrs Peck concedes: “Lieutenant, I know that you’re a very hardworking officer and I would like to offer you a plate of Mr Paris’s favourite health cookies and a glass of milk.”
How Falk subsequently delivered the “Thank you. I’m extremely fond of health cookies,” line so earnestly while keeping a straight face is a testament to his acting abilities. What a shame, then, that he undid all his good work minutes later after breaking the Peck Machine’s TV set when attempting to fix it. Oh, Lieutenant! The Lord giveth and he taketh away…
1. Live cooking at its best
Ask just about any Columbo purist to name their top moments from the entire series and it’s a safe bet that the legendary cookery scene from Double Shock will be right up there.
Weighing in at a little under 8 minutes, the scene was almost entirely ad-libbed by Peter Falk and Martin Landau and it’s an absolute gem. Called up on stage to be a reluctant assistant to Dexter, Columbo is initially abashed and stunned, and barely able to string a coherent sentence together – much to the delight of the live studio audience. Yet he warms to the task, making a few wisecracks and milking the audience applause as his confidence grows.
The nature of the scene made it perfect for ad libbing, and Falk, in particular, absolutely nails it. He’s as warm and charming as we ever see him – just look at his face light up as he and Landau revel in playing off one another. This sense of fun is genuine and contagious. I, for one, find it impossible not to smile along. This is Columbo at his most adorable.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and that’s exactly what this scene is. I’d even go as far as to say it’s probably the single best non-gotcha Columbo moment of them all. Quite a claim, I know, but I stand by it.
“This is probably the single best non-gotcha Columbo moment of them all.”
That’s all for today, folks. As always I’d welcome your feedback on your own personal episode highlight, and any scene/s you feel might have warranted a mention that I’ve overlooked.
If you’re hankering for more detailed analysis of this episode (which is a big personal favourite of mine), read my full review right here!
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to run. I have a batch of Mr Paris’s favourite health cookies in the oven right now, and I’d so hate to burn them! See you very soon…