The shady world of Middle Eastern political skulduggery was front and centre for Columbo fans on October 12, 1975, as A Case of Immunity first aired.
Feauring Hector Elizondo as treacherous diplomat Hassan Salah, Sal Mineo in one of his last screen roles, a double murder and some thrilling action sequences (I know, right?), it features, on paper, more intrigue than you can shake a stick at.
But is A Case of Immunity the televisual equivalent of a VIP invite to a Suari Legation garden party, or more of a night at home reading Arabian Nights? Let’s take a closer look…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Hassan Salah: Hector Elizondo
Rachman Habib: Sal Mineo
The King of Suari: Barry Robins
Youseff Alafa: Andre Lawrence
Police Commissioner: Kenneth Tobey
Zena: Xenia Gratsos
KERMIT Morgan: Dick Dinman
Written by: Lou Shaw (from a story by James Menzies)
Directed by: Ted Post
Score by: Bernardo Segall
Notable location: Suari Legation, Harold Lloyd’s Greenacres Estate, 1740 Green Acres Drive, Beverly Hills, California
Episode synopsis: Columbo A Case of Immunity
Two men in Middle Eastern garb are up to no good. One, the leader, removes documents from a safe and burns them on the office floor before fixing an explosive charge to the safe. The second man, younger and nervous, sprays graffiti on the walls and quietly trashes the joint as his senior conspirator places a call to Security Chief Youseff Alafa elsewhere in the building.
Summoned to the Executive Office, Alafa ditches his fresh coffee and jallops upstairs to see what hap’nin’. As he examines the blown safe, he’s savagely wonked on the back of the swede by the lead man, Hassan Salah, First Secretary of the Suari Legation. Yes folks, just four minutes in and we have a corpse on our hands. That’s quite a frantic opening!
Now the plot thickens – fast! Salah heads off to LAPD headquarters to talk security ahead of the King of Suari’s impending visit, while sidekick Rachman Habib – now sporting ‘Western’ attire – delivers phase two of the plan.
He first rings Salah at police HQ a few minutes before 4pm, pretending to be Alafa, to provide the First Secretary with an airtight alibi in front of police witnesses. Then he creates a small commotion to alert a desk jockey to potential trouble before fleeing in a car, smashing through a gate and nearly ploughing through a band of protesting students. As Columbo action sequences go, it’s quite a belter!
Having been accidentally assigned to the Suari Security Task Force due to a clerical blunder, an irritated Columbo is suddenly thrust into a murder investigation on what is effectively foreign soil at the Suari Legation. And despite the unfamiliar surroundings he’s into the groove straight away, picking up clues beyond the scope of the other officers, who have fallen for Salah’s ‘revolutionary-students-did-it’ stunt.
“As Columbo action sequences go, Habib’s getaway from the Legation is quite a belter!”
First he notices plaster dust atop the body of Alafa and the burnt documents, caused by the safe explosion. Looks like the safe was blown after the papers were set alight and Alafa slain. That’s pretty suspicious, and is a clear indication the killer knew the safe combination. Not only that, if Alafa had been in the office to investigate the explosion why hadn’t he pulled his gun, which was still holstered? It looks much more like Alafa was killed by someone he knew.
The third bothersome incident was the mysteriously jammed rifle of the guard at the gate, who was unable to take a pot-shot at the escaping driver. He’d never had a problem with the weapon before, so naturally this piques Columbo’s curiosity. He also finds out that only two people had access to the Legation gun room: Alafa, and Hassan Salah. First Secretary = FIRST SUSPECT!
Columbo treads warily with Salah and plays his investigation by the book, an initial search through the personnel files identifying Habib as a likely candidate for the crime. His whereabouts at the time of the killing cannot be confirmed and as he’s now ‘on vacation’, supposedly in New York (in reality a bogus hotel booking was made in his name by Salah), Columbo is keen to get hold of him for questioning.
Salah makes sure that won’t ever happen. At a secret rendezvous with Habib, Salah slips him a false passport, airline ticket to Switzerland and $10,000 cash for a job well done. He then BRAINS the youth with a heavy torch and shoves him and his car over a cliff – remembering to place a pair of glasses on Habib’s face first, knowing that Habib requires glasses to drive. The sneaky Salah looks set to be Scot free!
Columbo, however, has other ideas. Down at the morgue, he notices small pieces of glass amongst Habib’s personal effects. They turn out to be contact lenses that Habib had only just started using. Wearing the lenses and eyeglasses at the same time would have rendered him virtually blind, so the detective concludes Habib was murdered and the killer, unaware of the contacts, placed the glasses on him.
Although rattled a fraction, Salah sticks to the ‘radical-students-did-it’ line, suggesting they bumped off the traitor Habib to protect their identities. This could be plausible were it not for the stack of circumstantial evidence Columbo is amassing against the First Secretary.
“Salah is so unhappy with the insinuations that he complains to Columbo’s superiors.”
Salah’s attention is now split as the Suari King arrives on US soil. Columbo manages to muscle in at his welcome reception to introduce himself to the pint-sized Royal. While Salah’s irritation grows, Columbo makes an instant friend in the King who promises to do anything in his power to help with the investigation before being whisked away to hob-nob with visiting dignitaries.
Columbo sticks around, grilling Legation lovely Zena about Habib. He finds out that Habib was definitely in the Legation code room at the time he supposedly booked a hotel in New York, and that there is no outside line in the room. This means someone booked the room for Habib without his knowledge. The plot is now so thick you can stand a ladle upright in it!
Salah shows up and invites Columbo to a private interview. There the detective reveals his new-found knowledge and growing suspicions that a Legation insider (i.e. Salah) was looking to frame Habib. Salah is so unhappy with the insinuations that he complains to Columbo’s superiors (that old chestnut). The State Department subsequently insists that the investigation is dropped and that Columbo pen an apology.
Keen to continue his harassment of the increasingly beleaguered Salah, Columbo does indeed write the letter and delivers it himself – to a VIP-only ambassadorial garden party at the Suari Legation. And that means a second consecutive run-out for the tuxedo after it debuted in Forgotten Lady. Tell you what, eh, you wait 32 episodes for Columbo to wear a tux, then two come along at once…
Salah, now livid, calls Columbo’s presence ‘a diplomatic affront’ and vows to see him bust off the force. The cool detective, however, presents his full case against Salah – even rubbishing his ‘perfect’ alibi.
“At 3:15, you called [Alafa] into the Executive Office and you murdered him. He was dead before you left the Legation.” says Columbo. “At 3:55, you staged a phony telephone conversation with this Habib guy and that provided you with an alibi.” Salah still appears to hold all the cards, though. “You haven’t a single shred of evidence against me,” he hisses, before having armed guards escort Columbo off the premises.
It’s a calmer Salah the following morning as he sees the Suari-bound King on to his jet before returning to the Legation. He even takes a magnanimous approach when Columbo is waiting for him at the front gates, ostensibly to make a real apology to save his job. Unable to resist basking in his superiority, Salah takes the bait.
Once in Salah’s inner sanctum, Columbo congratulates the First Secretary on his ingenuity. “More than anything else, sir, I wanna shake your hand. You’re the best. You beat me,” the Lieutenant concedes.
Puffed up like a pouter pigeon, Salah is happy to commiserate with the luckless Columbo. “This is one murder that must remain one of your failures, but do not despair, Lieutenant,” he coos, swigging herbal tea like a boss. “You have unravelled the puzzle. Accept it, and let it be.”
“I got the feeling that you wouldn’t be so quick to admit all this if you didn’t have diplomatic immunity,” Columbo laments. “Perhaps so, Lieutenant, but the fact is, I do have diplomatic immunity,” beams the smug Salah.
It’s at this time the King stuns Salah by emerging from an adjoining room! He didn’t fly off to Suari at all. At Columbo’s suggestion he pulled a fast one on Salah, leaping off the plane (not literally) and getting a chopper back to the Legation. He’s overheard everything, and vows that Salah will face justice back in Suari.
Fearing for his life, Salah renounces his diplomatic immunity, turns himself over to the Lieutenant and signs a confession to ensure he can’t wriggle out of it later. Conceding defeat with a respectful nod to Columbo, Salah is led away to an uncertain future as credits roll…
Immunity‘s best moment: the garden party showdown
After being ordered to drop his investigation by the State Department, Columbo is given a lifeline after being told to write a letter of apology to Salah. He not only agrees, but says he’ll deliver the letter personally to show how truly sorry he is. Naturally the wily Lieutenant uses this as an opportunity to further harass his suspect, showing up to an invite-only garden party at the Legation.
After a pleasant exchange with the King, Columbo has a chat with Salah in which he accuses the First Secretary of murder. Salah hits back by having the detective forcibly ejected, but not before Columbo has the last laugh. Breaking free of his armed escort, Columbo delivers the ‘apology’ letter to Salah in what is a clear taunt and shows the level of disdain he really holds the killer in. BURN!
My opinion on A Case of Immunity
Like a guilty Suari murderer, I’m quick to confess under pressure – so I must admit that, historically, A Case of Immunity has been an episode I’ve steered clear of. There’s always a better episode on DVD to select, and it’s comparatively rare to see it televised so it’s been some years since I last watched this before digging it out to review.
My chief bugbears have been the relatively simple portrayal of Middle Eastern stereotypes, plus Salah being a lesser light amongst the baddie luminaries of the 1970s. And while those two points remain valid, there’s more to enjoy about Immunity than I remembered – including a rock-solid investigative performance by the good Lieutenant and a cracking turn from Peter Falk.
Kudos, also, to the writers for trying something different by injecting Columbo into the shadowy world of international politics. Although not entirely successful, it’s something new for the series and makes for a unique episode backdrop. And before we fully dissect Immunity, it’s probably worth a quick recap of US / Middle Eastern relations of the mid-70s, which were, to put it succinctly, pretty poor.
The oil crisis of 1973 was a direct result of Syria, Egypt and Jordan retaliating against the US for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War of that same year. Their refusal to supply oil to the US (and other Western nations) saw global prices skyrocket, and contributed to a US recession. US and Soviet tensions also escalated over their contrasting relationships with Syria (sounds familiar?), leaving nuclear war briefly looking like a distinct possibility.
It’s understandable, then, that Columbo writers would be drawn to showcasing a moderate, progressive Middle Eastern leader in the King of Suari as a good guy. Conversely, the arch-villain must be someone with a contrasting viewpoint, and far less open to harmonious relations with the US. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you First Secretary Hassan Salah!
The casting of Hispanic actor Hector Elizondo as an Arab is a sticking point for some viewers. It’s never bothered me in the least – perhaps because I’m not overly familiar with his other roles. Elizondo portrays Salah as believably aloof and cool towards his US counterparts. An intelligent man, calm under pressure but with steely resolve, Salah feels like a dangerous guy to get on the wrong side of. Heck, he kills two people who weren’t on his wrong side, so Allah help those he really has a vendetta against.
I could easily believe that Salah has a string of similar indiscretions and double dealings in his past such is the poise he demonstrates when dispatching his victims here. His freedom to commit unspeakable acts under diplomatic immunity makes him a dangerous foe for Columbo, too.
For starters, the Lieutenant’s job is in real jeopardy. Salah threatens to submit a formal protest to the US government about the detective’s antics, which is certainly upping the ante when it comes to reporting him to his superiors! But more than that, if push came to shove might Columbo’s very life have been in danger at Salah’s hands? I wonder…
“Salah’s freedom to commit unspeakable acts under diplomatic immunity makes him a dangerous foe for Columbo.”
Case in point: when Salah invites Columbo to his office after the detective insinuates he has reason to suspect the First Secretary of murder, Columbo seems to be in two minds. Does he think he’ll be bumped off himself? Maybe. With Salah you can’t rule it out, setting him apart from many killers who have come before him.
On the flip-side, the calm and softly spoken Salah is much harder to dig than flamboyant types like Riley Greenleaf, Dale Kingston and Dexter Paris. As a result, the two leads don’t sizzle on screen the way they do in the very best Columbo episodes, making the confrontation less fun to watch – and less memorable in the long run.
Joining Elizondo as a non-Arab playing an Arab is Sal Mineo, the Italian-American who achieved super-stardom in the 1950s alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Although only 36 years old when this episode was filmed, Mineo’s career was in serious decline so it was good to see him doing a decent job in the role of accessory-to-murder-turned-victim, Rachman Habib.
Mineo ably portrays a nervous young man waaaaaay out of his depth, and our hearts go out to him when he is ruthlessly – but predictably – slain. It’s all the more tragic when we consider that Mineo was himself murdered just months later. He had only three subsequent acting credits to his name after this.
Tragedy also took another cast member at an early age – this time Barry Robins, the Brooklyn-born actor cast as The King. Just 30 at the time of filming, Robins died of AIDS-related illness in 1986. Diminutive and charming, he makes for a likable leadership figure here – although he fails to convince as a man of Middle Eastern descent.
With a less-memorable-than-usual supporting cast, it’s left to Peter Falk to really carry the episode – and he does so in fine style. This is a terrific performance, and one that gives no hint of an actor jaded by the role (as Falk was reported to be). Indeed, Falk’s turn is comparable to anything we’ve seen from him before now, with his direct approach and straight talking something of a throwback to the opening of Season 1.
Similar to Murder by the Book, Death Lends a Hand and Suitable for Framing, Columbo is on to his man in a flash, seeing through the smokescreen of false clues and disinformation, and letting the facts guide his thoughts and actions – however likely they may be to cause a stir and rattle diplomatic skeletons.
He’s as astute as ever, racking up a series of crucial observations and deductions that naturally point his suspicions at Salah. All credit to the writers, the clues come thick and fast and paint a damning case against the First Secretary. Consider: –
- Alafa’s regular 3.15pm coffee not drunk, ergo he was summoned from his office and killed when Salah was still at the Legation
- Alafa brained from behind and hadn’t pulled his gun, so knew his assailant
- Plaster dust on top of Alafa’s body and the pile of burnt paper ashes shows that safe was blown after papers burned and Alafa slain
- Guard’s rifle mysteriously jammed just when it was most needed
- Salah had key to the gun room and knew the safe combination
- Habib was wearing contact lenses and glasses when found dead – ergo someone killed him, then put the glasses on him not realising he wore contacts
- Salah’s car was off-compound on the night of Habib’s killing. The car had clocked up the exact number of miles it took to go from garage to crash site and back
- Habib could not have made his own hotel reservation as he was incommunicado in the Legation code room at the time it was made
It’s a very complete case and it’s perfectly obvious Salah is guilty, so no wonder Columbo didn’t take kindly to State Department ‘ace’ KERMIT Morgan (the last non-frog to ever hold that name on TV) telling him to drop his investigations.
Indeed, rumour* has it that a deleted scene was filmed featuring a livid Columbo telling Morgan to back off in no uncertain terms, snarling: “You worry about Miss Piggy, Kermy, and leave me to catch a killer.” The scene was cut to avoid Columbo appearing uncharacteristically aggressive, and to spare Muppet fans’ feelings.**
Actually that scene when our mate Kermit tells Columbo to drop his investigation is pretty interesting. When Columbo states “that’s all very well and good, except for one thing. He’s the murderer,” Kermit zaps back with: “It may go against your grain, but we don’t care if Salah is guilty or innocent.” That’s pretty cold, but I suspect not far off what actually happens behind closed doors in diplomatic circles.
There was evidently some behind-the-scenes action taking place between Columbo and the King, too, given how the pocket Royal reappears in the final scene to stun Salah into waiving his diplomatic immunity.
I do have a slight problem with this scene, though. Sure, the surprise makes for good viewing but it’s hardly plausible. How could Columbo have secured a private audience with his Excellency to even suggest the sting when every second of his itinerary would have been micro-managed by Salah!? Phooey!
“Because the King is a personable progressive, it necessarily makes icy traditionalist Salah the baddie.”
The King’s pro-Western sympathies are also a little trite for my liking and oversimplify the complexities of managing international relations. He eschews traditional Suari attire for a military uniform. He favours French cuisine over native dishes and watches US TV shows. He dismisses Salah’s traditionalist stance as insular and obsolete – which is probably what started the plotting against him in the first place.
Mark Dawidziak sums up these shortcomings perfectly in his episode review in The Columbo Phile book, stating: “There’s a painfully offensive message that emerges from this contrast of stereotyped characters: Arabs aren’t such bad guys as long as they’re willing to act more American.” It’s a criticism that’s as relevant now as the day it was written.
Because the King is a personable progressive, it necessarily makes icy traditionalist Salah the baddie. But how bad is he? It’s hard to know. We only ever get hints at a motive for Salah’s double homicide. Normally a lack of clear motive harms a Columbo episode. Here, given the high-stakes political game we find ourselves in the midst of, a little ambiguity seems OK.
Salah seems to be wanting to frame the radical student protesters as a means of discrediting their reformist political stance and hatred of him personally, while safeguarding the traditional Suari way of life that he holds dear. His ultimate goal seems to be to take the throne for himself (“The throne makes the man, not the blood,” he says), although this is very much left open to interpretation.
Of course killing to achieve those ends is wrong, but much must be risked in war and pitching Salah as a noble freedom fighter trying to save his country from a corrupt King would have been a hugely interesting – and brave – take on proceedings, but one I guess the TV audiences of the day weren’t ready for.
There are other weak aspects to the episode, too. For one thing, there’s a lack of interesting female characters – a shame when Columbo has had a tonne of them before now. One could argue it mirrors the male-dominated Middle Eastern world of the day, but why not take a risk and do something different? Zena – the lone female we meet at the Legation – is purely functional, which feels like a missed opportunity.
“What A Case of Immunity does have going for it is a terrific pace and a hugely engaging opening sequence.”
Something else I really noticed on this watch was a sense of familiarity around key plot points. Salah taking his car from the mechanic’s and driving the exact distance to and from the scene of the Habib killing apes Alex Benedict in Etude in Black. Columbo offering his enemy a handshake for supposedly getting the better of him is a straight lift from A Stitch in Crime, while we’ve already had contact lenses as a vital clue in Death Lends a Hand.
The ‘gotcha’, meanwhile, is simply a rehash of Prescription: Murder, with Salah happy to gloat until the King steps out from the next room (a la Joan Hudson) after ear-wigging in. Salah’s lightning-fast decision to renounce his diplomatic immunity and submit to Columbo is all a bit rushed and diminishes the impact of the scene – a pity when the pacing of the episode up to now has been spot-on.
Following on from the straight-faced weightiness of Forgotten Lady, Immunity is another episode that lacks much genuine humour. The gags are largely restricted to Columbo under-appreciating some priceless Suari antique, or ‘hilariously’ treading on Salah’s robes. Sophisticated it ain’t, although the Lieutenant likening one of Mrs Columbo’s farmers’ market finds to a 3rd century Suari urn always raises a chuckle.
What Immunity does have going for it is a terrific pace and a hugely engaging opening sequence, which draws the audience right in. The first murder is in the bank after only four minutes, and Columbo is on screen within another three. The whole episode moves at a clip, never lags, and shows yet again why the shorter 75-minute running time is so right for Columbo. If this had been stretched out for another 15-20 minutes, it would have been ruined completely.
We also see further glimpses of the real Columbo. Note how he swiftly endears himself to the King, to Zena and to the Chinese Ambassadors with his everyman charm. Notice, too, the little flash of anger at the start of the episode after he finds himself attached to the Suari Security Task Force. It’s a very brief scene, but we can see that Columbo is super-pissed off by both his assignment and a broken vending machine. As I’ve said before, scenes like this are GOLD because they help humanise an often unknowable character.
To conclude, Immunity is far from being the best of Columbo, but it’s by no means a bad piece of television. It has its faults, but with writers still finding interesting new angles and characters to introduce, and Falk still as watchable as ever, it’s been an awfully long time since the series delivered a genuine dud.
If only the episode creators had taken a leaf from Hassan Salah’s book and been willing to take a few more risks, A Case of Immunity could have been really special. As it is, it stands out as more of a curio of the 70s’ run and an episode that is respected by many, but revered by few.
Did you know?
World’s most popular actor Jeff Goldblum has an uncredited appearance as one of the Suarian student protestors. He’s easy to miss, and can only be spotted in one scene approximately 56 minutes in where he’s in the throng of protesters being jostled by police officers. See for yourself!
It’s hardly his most iconic screen outing, but I for one find it massively reassuring to know that gorgeous Jeff really was in an episode of the greatest detective show of all.
Read about more lesser-known but high-profile Columbo guest stars right here.
How I rate ’em
Not vintage Columbo, perhaps, but A Case of Immunity actually has a decent mystery at its core and enough good points to warrant a revisit any time it comes on TV. It could have been a whole lot better, though, so slips into the lower echelons of my mid-tier episodes.
Missed any of my other episode reviews? Then catch ’em via the links below.
- Suitable for Framing
- Publish or Perish
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Negative Reaction
- A Friend in Deed
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Double Exposure
- Lady in Waiting
- Troubled Waters
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- Prescription: Murder ——– A-List ends here—
- A Deadly State of Mind
- An Exercise in Fatality
- Swan Song
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Candidate for Crime
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Forgotten Lady
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- A Case of Immunity —– B-List ends here——
- Dead Weight
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal ———— C-List ends here—-
- Short Fuse
- Mind Over Mayhem
- Dagger of the Mind
Please share your own views on this episode in the comments section below. If you’re a bigger fan of it than I am, please outline why. Rather like the late Youseff Alafa, the floor is yours!
As always, I thank you for visiting the site and look forward to seeing you again when the review bandwagon rolls on in the mystifying form of Identity Crisis, featuring guest star extraordinaire Patrick McGoohan. Be seeing you…
I both respect and revere it, precisely _because_ I thought it completely unambiguous. Sallah was out to engineer the assassination of the Boy King of Suari shortly after the latter’s return home! Leaving Sallah free to become the power behind the throne of whoever was next in line of succession. Doubtless, someone just as conservative as Sallah…and relatively easy to manipulate.
The only reason I might give it nine stars instead of a perfect ten? A complete lack of any belly dancers at the diplomatic soiree. I know some of you reading that will immediately say: “Sexist stereotyping!” By today’s standards, maybe. But, I was a high school student at the time this episode was first telecast. So, back then, I was more concerned with aesthetic pleasure than political correctness. 😉
Not on my A-list, but I enjoyed this episode! I was not entirely clear about the motive. I would have liked it with a dramatic motive, central to the plot. Perhaps something involving succession to the throne.
Enjoyable episode! My one quibble, also mentioned by others here, is that it’s not clear why Salah kills Alafa. I get that he wants to frame the student protesters for the murder, and I guess there’s some exposition in there somewhere about Salah being a hard-line traditionalist. But why Alafa? He didn’t seem to be a threat to Salah or his ambitions, and he was well-liked at the legation. Did Salah just want the money from the safe? Isn’t he already wealthy? And if it was just a cash grab, would true-believer Habib have gone along with it?
However I agree with you and the other commenters that the lack of a clear motive doesn’t stop this from being a fun episode.
The word “Suari” seems to be designed to evoke “Saudi”—in fact you’ll notice that one of the protesters is holding a sign that says “Saurians,” as though the occupants of the legation were lizards! My theory is that the writers changed “Saudi” to “Sauri” but then realised the problem and went with “Suari.” Short for “Suari Arabia,” presumably.
Was Zena “purely functional”? I thought she got some nice character development. I particularly liked her scene where she talked about the late Alafa and how he would entertain his coworkers on their coffee breaks. You’re right that there aren’t many female characters. The only other one that comes to mind is the lady from the distinguished Asian couple who tells Columbo that the beverages are non-alcoholic.
Columbo’s battle with the coffee machine (I couldn’t tell what it was vending, so I’ll take your word for it that it was coffee) felt in-character to me, as it was another of his loveable ineptitudes with everyday life, despite being a genius at detective work and an all-around awesome guy.
I *did* know about Jeff Goldblum! When my friend and I were watching this episode the first time, we sat bolt upright and said “Oh my god, is that Jeff Goldblum?!” A quick check of IMDB confirmed it!
Great review as always! 🙂
I thought the funniest moment of Immunity was when Columbo notes to the Asian diplomat that the artifact he earlier confused as a farmers market trinket dates back to the 7th century.
Columbo plays dumb so often that I enjoyed watching him put on intellectual airs for a change.
While you are talking aboit Uneasy Lies the Crown, this opinion: it’s a not-so-bad episode, and the villain is the most villain of all the villains in 69 episodes. And even the “weak” characters (the father, the brother) are “strong”.
(Another very villain villain is Fielding Chase in Butterfly in Shades of Grey.)
Sorry, this had to be a reaction on Mr Steve’s message at April 23, 2019 at 2:23 pm about the coffee-machine in Uneasy Lies the Crown. I didn’t post it the right spot.
I actually liked this one a lot and eagerly saw it again, since I had fond memories of it. With the beer name virus epidemic, I’ve been re-watching the Lieutenant and discovering new depths to him that I never noticed when I was young (saw around t80% of the episodes on TV in the early 2000s).
I’ve always wanted to see what Columbo would do against a cold calculated guy. I missed the surgeon episode way back but this one was closest. And the other killers are mostly idiots. Not recognizing the tools of their trade like the colonel with the rag, not regretting things, telling the lieutenant things opposite to what the others said (and who also even suspected them). Commissaire Maigret said that he thinks all killers are idiots (because they can’t solve their problem except with murder) and I agree, it definitely shows in most of our guys.
The thing about Columbo is you don’t get to be promoted and in charge of investigations unless you have enough social savvy and generally know how things work. Plus he has some massive balls, like you mention his mockingly offering of the apology letter when being kicked out of the party. I like it when this side of him comes to life more than the bumbling act, as it did in the commissioner’s case in “Friend in Deed”. Or when he gets tougher with characters like the golf trainer in “Death Lends a Hand” or even the car salesman in “A Friend in Deed”. Plus in most cases he knows how people work, he appreciates the lady in “The Greenhouse” for not being a hypocrite and knows how to persuade people (the ship captain in the cruise episode, Artie Jessup, the woman’s friend from “Forgotten Lady” etc. High social savvy like I was saying. Really liked how he avoids getting shot by saying “Besides you’re too classy a woman” to the “Lady in Waiting”.
Also here’s a perfect general example from “My Name is Nobody” in the drinking & shooting contest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpS13t-DNBc Except for the slapping exaggeration, I like it when the tough/serious versus bumbling persona is more balanced. I think they perfectly picked Peter Falk because while he is forgetful in real life, he is also likable and somewhat of a tough guy.
the contact lenses thing was BS. Hector would of known about it. A cheap device used in other episodes (like Mickey Spillane changing the lock so Jack Cassidy had an old key)
I don’t see why he’d know about the lenses. Having had only just started wearing them, but clearly chose not to do so in the workplace.
Ongoing bet, spray painted graffiti at beginning is meaningless…
I just watched it. It was better than I expected and I enjoyed. The crime plot was good and it was well-paced.
Even if I liked the episode, the politics were a weak part. Now, I don’t mind portraying a traditionalist party as bad guys. And you can’t honestly call it an Arab stereotype when we see the power of conservative movements in pretty much the entire Arab world. Saudia Arabia has laws more fit for the middle ages both today and when the episode was made. It is like saying it is a stereotype to portray the Soviet government as Communist. And it is not that Suarian culture is dismissed entirely.
Neither is having a pro-Western king very unrealistic, but taking that as making him the good guy in of itself is pretty silly. I though of the Shah of Iran (Middle Eastern even if not Arab.) Pro-Western in many ways, but a terrible dictator.
It is weird that Salah seems to be so powerful in his country. The protesters call him a tyrant and the king seems to suggest he regularly receives advice from him. He is not even an ambassador, for pete’s sake. LA is nice and all, but countries do not send their top-ranking diplomats to live there, much less people who control domestic policy.
That all said, realism and “Columbo” are often two ships that pass in the night. But it works.
It does usually, and I did enjoy the episode, but the oddness of the politics struck me while watching.
Totally agree with the weak politic part.
I dit not connect to the episode for that reason.
Why is Salah living in the US, in LA and not even Washington, if he is part of the government ?
How the murder will benefit him? Students who support the king killing the chief of security in a foreign office will put the king in trouble?
(Now that I mention that, I remember the classified documents that could put the king into troubles but please, this is a kingdom not a democracy)
The king meets Columbo once and they become best friends…
There is a murder and an explosion 2 days before the king arrives and they do not cancel the visit?
Also, what a bad luck for Salah, the day he withdraw money is the day the bank employee starts working… And the night he takes his car is just after they change the oil and noted the milage… And this is the week Habib starts using contact lenses… (spending the day with him, he should have noted)
Oh and Habib leaving the place with a car but no one can tell how the car arrived ?
Plus all the other points already mentionned in the comments regarding actor choice (a blue eyed guy to play an Arab, really?)
Not a bad episode but very weak on many points. Usually I close my eyes on plot weaknesses and just enjoy the show but this time it was too much for me to embrace the story.
A slightly lower-tier episode, but still much better than almost of the garbage on TV, then and now! I thought Elizondo was good, but not great, in his role as the villain. But seeing Columbo in a situation like this was a nice change and he still nailed the guy in the end!
A Puerto Rican-American (Hector) playing a Middle Eastern (or something similar) man and a Jewish-American man (Falk) playing an Italian homicide detective. Had some major cultural and racial appropriation in this one. Glad we are mostly past that era. Beyond that it’s still not the best episode.
Watched a case of immunity in full 2 weeks ago , I used to think this was a poorer columbo but now i have re watched in full a couple of times it seems to be better than I remembered it to be , It has some very interesting clues and some exciting moments and a half decent ending not very funny really but funnier than dead weight
In conclusion Not one of the very best but has more satisfying clues Than The most dangerous match and I prefer it than TMDM and lady in waiting and the greenhouse Jungle .
Meh. It was okay. Not my favorite, but I’d never change the channel if I came across it. There was no real intrigue, except for…why did Columbo think it was okay to pick up a spoon from a pan on the stove and attempt to eat from it?! Man, I cringed. Also, f
or a guy who doesn’t like to bother people, I found this out of character. No little comedic moments, except for Jeff Goldblum’s muttonchops. I was happy to see that Columbo finally found a nice, reasonably priced pair of shoes. That’s been bothering me since The Most Crucial Game.
I enjoyed this episode especially because of the attention to detail. In the kitchen scene Columbo is offered a “Kursi” by Salah, Arabic for chair. There are a lot of small examples like this in the show.
A little Bit more genuine Humour and a Better or more memorable ending could have elevated A case of immunity to a higher level but as it is its Not a poor episode by any means , I think it falls into the liked but not Loved category for most columbo Fans .
I find it quite interesting/sad that 2 Columbo victims were murdered in real life and some suspect that one olumbo murderer murdered in real life.
I’m up for scurrilous gossip right now. Which murderer?????
1974 and 1975 were very strong years for columbo some top episodes came out such as swan song , Negative reaction , Identity Crisis and Troubled waters etc came out and even lesser episodes such as Forgotten lady , playback and a case of immunity were still very decent and cracking pieces of television .
columbophile has reviewed 33 of the 45 original episodes and its really starting to take shape . Its been a while since we have had a big hitter , I mean an episode that has gone shot right up the charts , I am sure The Bye – Bye sky high IQ murder , Identity Crisis now you see him & Try and catch me will be right up there.
Dagger of the mind still rots at bottom but maybe Last salute might be the one to knock it off its miserable spot , we will wait and see but in the meantime I would like to rank season 5 in my own opinion best/no 1 Identity Crisis 2) Now you see him 3) A case of immunity 4) forgotten lady 5) a matter of honor 6/worst Last salute to the commodore.
I watched last salute last Sunday and it is certainly the stinker from season 5 maybe even from the whole of the 70s run.
I heard– maybe Columbophile knows something– that Mr Falk was engaging in some guerilla job-screwing vs Universal Studios. It wasn’t certain there would be another season (according to this theory), and his preoccupied reading in Commodore was him paying back the aggravation.
Another possibility is Patrick McGoohan’s direction; Columbo’s opening moments in Identity Crisis have the same sense of cluelessness. (“She’s shy!” Yeah? And?) Maybe they decided to do an entire episode in that oblique kind of way.
Att one of conception of Last Salute, there was a belief it would be the last episode as (I believe) Falk was playing his usual hardball with the studio about renegotiations. As a result, they decided to make Last Salute ‘different’, i.e. a whodunnit, to give the audience a memorable finale. But as for Falk’s performance? Yes, I suspect largely down to McGoohan’s direction pushing the character in eccentric new directions. As you mention, they did experiment with this in Identity Crisis and Falk must have been happy enough with the results to go several steps further with Last Salute.
Of course, at some point they evidently agreed a sixth season with Falk, hence the ‘not quitting yet’ final scene – the best part of a bad episode.
It seems They tried something different , and it didn’t work out which sometimes happens in all walks of life and certainly was the case with last salute , when columbopjile says the best part of a bad episode I assume you mean last salute hopefully not identity crisis which is one of my true favorites and also an episode that is underrated and under looked by a lot of columbo fans , Identity crisis has for me the most unclear motive and can be a little drawn out but there are memorable scenes and great plot and clues, a handful of funny moments and for me mcgoohan was vintage in this , as for last salute i watched it last Sunday and its a complete mess and i dont enjoy it at all bar the last 5 or 10 minutes , the scene with columbo rowing off in the boat to meet his wife was nice .
Every other early sequence episode has some interesting features. I don’t even think any other episode even comes close to Commodore in utter miserableness: dreadful murder plot, meek detective work, numerous boring and purposeless scenes, horrible acting, utter lack of humor, no interesting setting or scenery, no musical accompaniment, no suspense, not even a single interesting subplot or secondary character, and an absolutely lousy ending. Did I miss any other awful aspect?
Yes, that Robert Vaughn, Wilfred Hyde-White and John Dehner – all better utilized in previous episodes – were wasted here.
The script was so dreadful that I doubt even Cary Grant or Paul Newman could make this material interesting via their acting.
The very last scene , where columbo asks sergeant Kramer for a lighter, says goodbye to macky and sails off in to the sunset in a rowing boat , the sergeant asks where are you going? columbo replies im off to meet my wife at the yacht club was accompanied by music , this was the only nice bit from a terrible episode and i couldn’t agree more Robert Vaughn was wasted and some other actors . it is weird hard to follow very boring and only slightly improves towards the end .
I used to regard a matter of Honor as the worst episode from the 70 s run along with Dagger of the mind but ion reflection I have to give bottom spot to last Salute .
I don’t understand the comment that Barry Robins, the actor playing the King, was unconvincing as someone of Middle Eastern descent. I think the actor resembled King Hussein of Jordan very much, both in appearance, height, and in being portrayed as progressive in his mindset. I think this is very much what casting and the writers had in mind when developing the character of the King for this episode.
A decent enough episode without being one of columbos finest mainly due to the explosive start , great pacing , the getaway scene with the car speeding through the gates and the guard firing or misfiring in this case and the early murder apparently only 4 minutes in ( is that officially the earliest murder columbophile ? please respond )
However I am sure it WONT trouble to many fans leader board be it top 10 or even top 20 , it isnt in mine , but i do like this enough and i wouldn’t call this a poor episode like you can about short fuse, dead weight , mind over mayhem or last salute.
one of my favorites up next for review Identity crisis which I enjoy much more.
Hi Steve, no, this isn’t the quickest murder. That one goes to Suitable for Framing, within the first minute. Hugh Caldwell’s wife is already dead at the start of Friend in Deed, but I don’t count that one.
Thank you columbophile I remember now , it was an explosive start in suitable for framing , it also had the music to go with it , and i wont count in a friend in deed either as she was already dead before e the start .
If I can pipe in again about the political and administrative bodies and their power relations, Columbo’s job was never in jeopardy. Rather, being the supremely skilled judge of character he is, he pretended it was to gain the final interview, knowing Salah could never overcome his habit of interpersonal decorum nor resist a final sham show of kindness and grace (and indeed Salah was surely capable of genuine kindness toward a subject without threat – and by now we know he believed the Columbo threat had evaporated). The State Department was completely within its rights to order the cops away from the legation [someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the legation is legally foreign territory (right?) and not part of the state of California for purposes of criminal jurisdiction]. Further, California couldn’t prosecute without the immunity waiver, so they’d gain nothing from pursuing or further publicizing the case. Which is to say, Kermit’s asking Columbo to knock it off wasn’t unreasonable or improper. But beyond the sensible and proper step they actually took, State has neither carrot nor stick it can use to arrange a firing of a local law enforcement person. Also, we saw how dismissive Columbo’s boss was of State’s concerns, so it is unlikely he would can Columbo out of some weird and misplaced patriotic feeling or identification with the agents of national foreign policy. Columbo’s job was safe, but Salah didn’t know that, and Columbo’s plea touched the softer side of his sordid heart.
One minor flaw at the beginning of this excellent review, the doomed security chief being killed after spotting the explosives attached to the safe, not ‘as he examines the blown safe.’ Of course the explosives were not set to go off until 4PM, roughly 45 minutes following his death. So easy to make mistakes with minutia, but I must say that I really liked Hector Elizondo’s cool under duress, a fine choice for this villain, so I would rate this one a tad higher.
Good pick up, thanks. I shall amend.
A solid and different type of Columbo…..always fun to watch.
As a former prosecutor, I have commented in the past (and been asked to comment) about some of the legal aspects of various Columbo episodes. I think I have been fairly clear that legal anomalies do not cause me undue concern; some of my favorite Columbos require the willing suspension of disbelief — legally speaking.
That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that “A Case of Immunity” has a legal hole wider than the hole in the fence Rachman Habib caused by driving through the security gate.
According to the U.S. State Department: “Diplomatic and consular immunity are not intended to benefit the individual; they are intended to benefit the mission of the foreign government or international organization. Thus an individual does not ‘own’ his or her immunity and it may be waived, in whole or in part, by the mission member’s government.” https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/150546.pdf (page 21)
In other words, Hassan Salah had no power to waive his diplomatic immunity. Only the Suari government (in a traditional monarchy, the King) could waive it — an unlikely prospect here.
Still, it makes for a good story.
The King says flat out said that he’d go with whatever Columbo accepts. Salah renounces his immunity and states his willingness to sign a confession. There is no objection at all from the King so that was, for all intents and purposes, the mission or the member’s government (the King) waiving the immunity and allowing Salah to turn himself over to Columbo’s authority. Perhaps the government of Suari did the paperwork they had to to do to make the waiver official, but that does not make for compelling TV.
You are correct. I was focusing on Salah’s statement: “I hereby renounce my diplomatic immunity.” That statement is a legal nullity.
By the way, what happens after Salah makes this statement raises even more legal problems. Police do not write out confessions in advance. A confession should be the defendant’s own words. Police don’t let defendants sign confessions they neither made nor read. And a confession made under the threat of “barbarism” is not voluntary. Of course, were Salah charged, plead guilty, and never thereafter challenge his conviction, these issues would never surface. But this is not how police are supposed to operate.
That must be why they added the part where the King says that if Salah somehow does manage to escape his punishment in America, he will be tracked down by the Suarians. Otherwise, Salah could try to claim his confession was made under duress and therefore doesn’t count.
A similar thing happens in “Strange Bedfellows” where Graham McVeigh not only has to confess (again, under duress) but also promise not to later renounce his confession. Of course, he could cheat and renounce it anyway, but like Salah, he knows that people scarier than Columbo are watching to see what he will do, and if he gets off, he’s toast! His only hope is to do the time.
A case of immunity is certainly better than those rated under it , but its also better than a couple above it , ransom for a dead man i not sure , i might like a case of immunity better and I hate requiem for a falling star i think its one of the most boring and forgettable episodes of the 7os run , and i not a fan of the green house jungle either. however it just shows the quality of the 70s run that a decent / average columbo such as a case of immunity can be as low as this but im sure when all episodes are reviewed it wiil be more in the top half than the bottom.
gain it is left to me to present a counter case, albeit delayed due to all the extra work cleaning and preparing for Passover this week. As usual, your review is incredibly complete, fun to read, and extremely well and interestingly written. Where I disagree with you is on the relative weights, both positive and negative, that you assign to different aspects of the episode. With my rating points, this one ends up at the very top of the B list, just below the truly great episodes. I find most of your criticisms to be either peripheral or altogether unjustified. For example, while political considerations might get some people upset, does that really affect the movie? Moreover, why should Arabs be upset? After all, they portray an Arab leader as open-minded, highly decent and gracious, and willing to adapt to the modern world. Is it any wonder that the old bureaucrats would have a problem with this and seek to thwart it? (Plus, as another commentator suggested already, everything about the king would have fit the late, great King Hussein of Jordan to a tee.)
You criticize the gotcha, but I think it is one of the very best Columbo gotchas. Unrealistic? Why? Looking back, they left a clear clue to it, as the obviously impressed king tells Columbo to “call on me if I may be of any service to you.” How did he have access to the king? Well, first of all, when he came to the reception knowing he would be thrown out, he was hosted by Zena, who earlier had brought him food on His Majesty’s direct orders, and who indicated her liking for the murder victim. Would it be so hard for Columbo to convince her to slip the king a note with his number, since he knows who the murderer is but needs the king’s help? He could also have simply used an outside diplomatic source, by convincing them the king would be eternally grateful to the US once he proves the treasonous Salah was the murderer.
As for Elizondo, I think he actually does a highly commendable job. He cannot be over-the-top like Cassidy, for he is a Middle Eastern security chief rather than a Hollywood writer or magician. Moreover, rather than him being a sizzling foil, Columbo uses the quiet professional relationship that he must accord him diplomatically, to brilliantly outsmart him every step of the way. At first, he collects evidence from Salah by addressing him with innocent professional courtesy until he springs the insinuation of guilt out of the blue. He then gets to tell him that he knows he’s the murderer and precisely how he did it, only to laugh in his face with the prepared “apology.” Finally, he baits him twice in the closing scene – first by getting him to admit his guilt and use of immunity thru feeding his great ego, and then in getting Salah to propose and beg for a confession, only to pull out a ready-to -sign confession that he had prepared from the get-go. Even the incredibly conceited and arrogant Salah must show his admiration for Columbo’s brilliant strategy by bowing before him at the end.
And though the murders seem sloppy, some of the best clues were unpredictable. It was not Salah’s fault that he did not think of contact lenses, or that Alafa would leave a full cup of coffee on his desk. And while he may have given more thought to other aspects, it is quite reasonable for a top official in a foreign compound to assume that the local police will show their respect and never investigate as well as they would in a local case. Didn’t a “brilliant” Saudi Arabian prince not do just that in a recent, real-life case?
I also think they made it amply clear why Salah committed the murder. A young, popular king is seeking to change the country’s conservative nature, and youthful protesters are supporting this movement against the entrenched bureaucratic power holders. So Salah tries to kill two birds with one stone by pinning the murder on these “reckless revolutionaries,” and then persuading the rest of the old bureaucrats to protect their base of power by supporting him in overthrowing the king, since “we all have some of the father in us, and it is the throne, not the blood, that makes a king.”
The criticisms I agree with are the lack of good humor (the excessively repetitive examples of Columbo ripping clothes or breaking dishes are as unfunny as they were in the Double Shock episode). The use of similar gotcha endings and similar clues to previous movies is a recurring defect in the series, though it is sufficiently frequent so that you do not see it coming.
So what we are left with? A well-plotted double murder that Columbo brilliantly deciphers despite all the things standing in his way, a complex international scene that makes Columbo’s every step uncertain, out of place, and diplomatically complicated, a brilliant gotcha ending, and the full package of Columbo tricks – from reverent respect, to sly accusations, to outright taunting, to pitiful begging, to jealous buttering up, to by-the-book policeman rules, and finally to “I gotcha, now sign on the dotted lines!” What about that is not first rate, other than that there are about 12-15 even greater episodes in this incomparable series?
Oh, and if they really ever considered that Kermit line, no wonder it was shot down. No matter how frustrated Columbo might be, his decency, humility and respect for tradition would never allow him to make such a statement, as funny as it admittedly sounds.
Leo, I was on the verge on replying elaborately to this excellent and thorough review, again, by our revered Columbophile, but then I read your comment and realised it’s no use: you said about all I had to say and I completely agree with your views here. Looking at the list of episodes I would have ranked A Case of Immunity higher as well, but looking at the episodes the first 27, at least, are all great episodes, which says so much about the whole Columbo series.
I agree with you on the gotcha as well, I think it was very cleverly done. Just the tiniest thing bothers me about it: did the king really have to do a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of the scene? That gesture seems so inappropriate: the whole affair seems to me to have been too dramatic and impactful for the feeling of triumph that’s expressed.
Thank you however for your elaborate post and of course a huge thank you as well to Columbophile for the great work as usual.
I get where you’re coming from with the thumbs-up gesture. It’s peculiarly lame coming from a Royal, and really doesn’t fit in with the scene at all. I left it out of the review for that reason. More interesting is Columbo’s reaction, which is reminiscent of the flatness he showed after besting Paul Galesko in Negative Reaction. He seems to take little satisfaction in his ‘victory’ here – perhaps suggesting he was unhappy at having to use underhand tactics to close the case?
Exactly, it suits neither the king nor the scene. Columbo’s reaction is interesting indeed. He lives for catching killers, but he prefers catching them on solid evidence, or even better, a straight forward confession. I love the endings of Swan Song (as does Columbo I’m sure) and of Any Old Port in a Storm, where Columbo asks Carsini: Do I get a confession? And Carsini concedes. I think that if it were up to Columbo, every one of his cases would end like that. In A Case of Immunity, as in Negative Reaction, his look says: I hate to have to do it this way, using this complicated charade and all, but you brought it all on yourself.
Great point. I absolutely agree. He’ll take it over the guy going free, but it is not his preferred method. And thanks for your graciously laudatory remarks regarding my “review.” To me, the brilliance of the good Columbo writing (which covers the overwhelming majority of the episodes), is the vagueness they leave in the murderers’ motives, the morality and or justification in the various methods used by Columbo to solve the crime, and his true feelings towards the killer and various other characters. Allowing the viewer to reach a range of assessments is part of what makes it so interesting, especially on the second, third and fourth viewing, when the actual outcomes are already known.
LOL racist Hollywood can’t bring itself to cast a single actor of Arab descent as a character of Arab descent. And I haven’t even gotten to the story and the inevitable condescension and stereotypes. Looking forward to Mineo’s and Elizondo’s performances though. It’s not their fault they were cast!
Omar Sharif must have been busy filming “Funny Lady.”
In point of fact, Peter Falk and Omar Sharif actually were good friends. The were one half of a regular foursome who played pool together at the Daisy, a private club on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The other members were writer Harlan Ellison and Hall of Fame baseball manager Leo Durocher. Ellison tells the story of the foursome (including how Falk would remove his glass eye and spin it on the pool table) here: https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/harlan-ellison?clip=27176#interview-clips
Wow, that is something I did not know. It sounds like an interesting group. Now I wish Falk had gotten Ellison to write a Columbo episode. After all, he did pen THE finest Star Trek script ever.
And the amazing Hector Elizondo is still working! He stars on American sitcom Last Man Standing. Thanks Hector for many years of diverse characters!
He makes a great villain and I always enjoy this episode. Thanks for the blog, Columbophile
Very funny watching later episodes of Monk, in which Elizondo is the calm, affable Dr. Bell.
I also quite like this episode it is slightly underrated in my opinion .
it is not an episode that is aired as much as others and its certainly not in my top 20 overall but its still a good outing . Etude in black is slightly overrated as columbophile himself will agree to and i can think of a few less enjoyable 70s episodes that are yet to be reviewed , a matter of honor , old fashioned murder , fade in to murder Last salute , and one of my least favorite The conspirators , I would choose a case of immunity any day ahead of those just mentioned .
I thought it was a great episode. Great acting, very well paced, and the gotcha scene was priceless. The look on Salah’s face when he realizes that the King overheard his whole conversation is very memorable.
It’s interesting that you suggest Columbo was annoyed by his assignment surrounding the King’s security and it’s exacerbated by the coffee-machine snafu. I have always disliked that scene because Columbo so uncharacteristically consumed with shallow annoyance, to the point that he’d ignore his boss, always struck me as a false note. This is not unlike the off-note opening to “Make Me a Perfect Murder” when he fiddles with his rear-view mirror while ignoring traffic.
Bill Zuckert was Columbo’s best boss. He got to play Father in Murder in Malibu. And a prolific actor, averaging 4 to 5 appearances a year over a half-century career. Very much a background, authority person.
I think Zena was far more than “functional”. She establishes a nice rapport with Columbo, says the staff very much “loved” Alafa fondly remembering their coffee breaks and was the one who disclosed the King’s affinity for French food in a somewhat embarrassed but humorous whisper.
One more note. Future Hill Street Blues cast member Bruce Weitz appears as one of the chefs who discusses the King’s asparagus dish.
@42:00 before Salah rushes Columbo out of the room, the KING says “Lieutenant, please call on me if I may be of any service to you”. I see no reason why Columbo could not have called him and set the trap up.
An FYI if you didn’t notice it, the music in the back ground when Columbo meets the king is heard again during the dancers sequence in “Identity Crisis”.
Did I mention it would be nice to know who that dancer is? Not in the credits anywhere .
Writer’s intuition tells me that this was one of those stories written backwards. Someone got the idea to do a story about a murderer with diplomatic immunity. That much is right there in the title: “A Case of Immunity.” It’s a fair bet they started with this premise: the only way to “get” a murderer with diplomatic immunity is to convince him to renounce his immunity; and the only reason he’d do that is if the justice he faces back home is far, far worse than the justice he faces here. So we work backwards from this premise. Where is justice more swift and primitive than in the U.S.? In 1975, there were headlines about the public beheading of a Saudi prince, convicted of murder by a secret religious court. What murderer wouldn’t renounce his diplomatic immunity to avoid that? And only someone more powerful than he could make the threat of home-country justice real — and probably because our murderer, assuming he was fully protected, said something he shouldn’t have said.
Now let’s create a crime that fits this solution.
Interesting theory. Plausible.
I’m pretty much in agreement with your assessment of the episode, with (as always) a few quibbles.
I actually think Hector Elizondo’s character is an asset: cool, sinister, snide, duplicitous and (over)confident. I have always liked him as an actor. He may not be as familiar as other Columbo villains because a significant fraction of his work is as a voice artist in animated movies and TV series. I, too, don’t mind that he is not Arab. Anthony Quinn made an entire career playing anyone even a tad swarthy (and often joked about it).
While Syria, Egypt and Jordan were combatants in the “Yom Kippur War”, Syria and Egypt are now and were then very minor players among world oil producers. Jordan had virtually no conventional oil reserves whatsoever in the 1970’s, though it has since discovered significant deposits of provable oil shale. It was the Gulf states, bankrolling the combatants, who precipitated the 1973 Oil Crisis. (Interesting question: Was Suari supposed to be a part of of the 1973-1974 oil embargo? The only middle eastern countries that the US gave a damn about at the time were those with significant armies or those with lotsa oil. Despite what another commentator has said, I always assumed that Suari was part of the latter group.)
I might note that the weak gotcha of this outing was recycled nearly verbatim in Strange Bedfellows with “Mafia justice” substituted for “Suari justice”. In that episode, Columbo’s life, not just his job, was (unconvincingly) in jeopardy.
Otherwise, you’ve placed A Case of Immunity about right, a B-minus effort. I’d put it ahead of Greenhouse Jungle and Playback in your list of reviewed episodes. I’d even put it ahead of Swan Song, but I’m probably in the minority on that one. However, truth be told, there’s really not all that much difference among episodes in the OK-But-Not-Great cohort.
P.S. I’m interested in seeing where you place A Matter Of Honor relative to this episode. It should be coming up shortly.
Forgot to mention that Sal Mineo’s murder WAS solved. Lionel Ray Williams went down for the murder about three years after it occurred. He was sentenced to 53 years in prison for this and other assaults and was paroled sometimes in the 1990’s.
A fictionalized police report of the investigation was written by famed crime author James Patterson, working from original sources. His version was published in the Hollywood Reporter last year:
Warning: The language is very, very graphic.
Misremembered. It was James Ellroy, not James Patterson.
I’ve recently watched all of the season 5 episodes in quick succession. It’s fair to say that this season has a very different ‘flavour’ to the previous 4.
A Case of Immunity is a good episode with an unusual setting for Columbo to find himself in. It’s great seeing Columbo in a potentially risky situation, attempting to solve to case and as mentioned, it’s always ‘gold’ seeing Columbo getting frustrated with his peers at HQ.
Not an essential watch but a worthy Columbo outing.
I pretty much agree with your assessment of the episode. One thing, though, is you sort of riff on the king’s character with the Western-style sympathies and the military uniform. I always thought the king was based loosely on Hussein of Jordan, who was young back then, during that time was often in military uniform, had Western sympathies, traveled to the West and later on married a Western woman. That episode came a little after Hussein had a well-publicized visit throughout the States and was driving race cars and having all sorts of fun (apparently).
As for your unfamiliarity of Elizondo’s work, he has the run the gamut of roles from an almost over-the-top psycho hijacker in the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three to the fastidious hotel worker in Pretty Woman and almost anything in between. I liked him in this role, though I would have liked to have seen more Arab actors cast in this episode.
Mineo had been struggling to get good roles around this time, playing even a minor “ape” role in one of the Planet of the Apes follow-ups. His role easily could have gone to a young actor of Middle East descent. The same goes for Robins’ role.
I also like Salah’s character because he is a change of pace, more slyly observant, from some of the more outrageous and colorful characters. All Columbo’s cases won’t have colorful villains though they do make for good characters.
Overall, though, even though I’ve been a big fan of Elizondo’s since playing Mr. Grey on Pelham One, Two, Three, the episode is a little flat. Some of the sequences with Mineo don’t work for me and the ending, while a nice Gotcha, just seems a little far-fetched. They needed some sort of sequence where the king is suspicious of Salah’s treatment of Columbo or where the king sidles up to Columbo by himself and chats, sort of a “Here’s my number in the States in case you find something about the murder” thing, just to give credence to the ending.
Agree about Hussein similarity, and having him take it up with the Lt.
Yes, ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3’ (the *original*) is a classic and Hector Elizondo is excellent as an ex-gangster so psychotic he was thrown out of the Mafia.
Another day, another excellent review. I thought Elizondo was excellent as Salah and I liked how that character interacted with Columbo. They can’t all be Ken Franklins and different types of characters create different challenges for the Lt. Salah is a pretty incompetent killer. If you thought Dr. Mason (“How To Dial”) “left enough clues to sink a ship”, Salah left enough sink a fleet. Columbo figured this sloppy murder out pretty quickly. It was an easy case in that regard.
The two things about this episode that bother me are first, lack of clear motive. You surmise that Salah killed Alafa so the students would look bad, but that’s a guess. There’s clearly a lot more going on that we don’t know. As a result, Alafa is just some guy who quickly gets killed, I have no feelings one way or the other towards him. Zena seems to have liked him, but that’s all we have. Dale Kingston’s uncle was killed off pretty quickly too, but as the episode unravels we have clear reasons why Kingston killed him. Not so here, it’s all a guess.
Second is the ending. I think this is otherwise good episode until the very end when the King waltzes in. This was set up, how? At least in Joan Hudson’s case we can clearly see why she caved in and went along with Columbo, we can also figure out when she did. In this case, no. Columbo has only brief interactions with the King and there is no plausible time when this gotcha scheme was cooked up.
If you’re willing to look past some deficiencies this is a very enjoyable episode. It’s not an all time classic, but even a so so Columbo is superior to the best of most other shows.
This episode is somehow cringeworthy, maybe due to its setting.
Although Columbo starts here we precise and nice to watch detective work,
it is ruined by the awful Gotcha.
wonderfully, in about 5 minutes this episode airs here in the US…..i have just about enough time to read your review so that i can enjoy it with your thoughts/comments fresh in my mind.
Good afternoon columbophile or maybe middle of the night if your in the land down under , read the review good as usual and very thorough also good to see the reviews picking up pace after the winter slump .
A case of immunity is certainly not a top episode by any means and it wouldn’t be one i would choose if given a choice from the 70s run but it is not a bad episode by any stretch . does lack a bit of humor not one of the best endings but it has a cracking clues , an electric start and is paced very well and is not dreary in the least ( which i cant honestly say about forgotten lady ) its around the same rating as i expected columbophile to rate it maybe one or 2 places higher but its certainly better than the episodes ranked below it at this stage .
Hi Is there any chance of you setting up a PayPal option on your “Buy Columbo a coffee” page. Glady buy the Lieutenant one if you did.
I’m not sure! I’ll have a look into it, thank you.
There was a coffee machine incident in other episodes , i think candidate for crime was one and i think there was one where columbo said the coffee was horrible it might have been double shock maybe columbophile remembers .,
Do you mean Columbo’s entrance in ” Murder by the Book”?: “That’s the trouble with these buildings. The fountains never work. Then you have to use the coffee machine. And then you lose your dime and the coffee’s lousy.”
That as well , but im almost certain there was another episode where at the crime scene columbo is drinking coffee as he has had a late night and comments either this coffee is cold / horrible , i think it might have been double shock but not sure .
It was in “Publish or Perish” that he requests a cup of the cold coffee and he says, “Oh, that’s brutal” after trying it.
Thank you for clearing that up , I remember it now it was publish or perish .
Also in swan song in the plane Edna says Tommy this is the most horrible coffee i have ever tasted beside from being full of barbiturates.
His co-workers in that “Publish or Perish” scene even warn him that the coffee is bad, but he really needs his coffee and he says “I’ll drink anything!” So he can’t be surprised 🙂
Indeed. After all, if he can handle a hard-boiled egg with traces of Sharon Martin’s flesh and blood, he can handle cold coffee.
The 90’s episode Uneasy lies the crown features a scene by a broken coffee machine (“It took my quarter!”) where Columbo tells his colleque that he knows who the murderer is.
There was quite a dew episodes that involved either coffee or a coffee vending machine .
there were a few episodes that involved either coffee or a coffee vending machine.
I watched uneasy lies the crown on Sunday and i saw the coffee machine scene its the funniest scene , first the sergeant complains he lost his quarter then columbophile puts in a quarter and nothing happens . Then e columbo starts fiddling about whilst the sergeant reads about the murder case from the local newspaper and Says to columbo ive a question for you lieutenant , why dont you arrest this woman ? columbo replies because she didn’t do it thats why , is that a good enough answer ? as the colleague walks off 2 coffees pour out of the machine and on to the floor its really good. Uneasy lies the crown wasn’t one of the best comeback episodes but its still decent and very watchable and a lot better than the likes of strange bedfellows , murder a self portrait , no time to die , murder with too many notes and undercover.