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Episode review: Columbo Identity Crisis

Columbo Identity Crisis opening titles

Columbo colossus Patrick McGoohan was back to leave another indelible mark on the series on November 2, 1975, as the show’s fifth season reached its halfway stage in the shape of Identity Crisis.

And this time McGoohan wasn’t just unleashing his acting chops. He was also entrusted with directorial duties on this complex spy thriller that pitted Lieutenant Columbo against a master operator from the CIA. After a comparatively lacklustre season up to now, can the reassuring presence of McGoohan elevate Identity Crisis to Columbo‘s top table? Or is this convoluted twaddle certain to confuse and enrage? Let’s investigate… Columbo Identity Crisis cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk Nelson Brenner / Steinmetz: Patrick McGoohan AJ Henderson / Geronimo: Leslie Nielsen Lawrence Melville: Otis Young Sergeant Kramer: Bruce Kirby The Director: David White Louie the bar tender: Val Avery Salvatore De Fonte: Vito Scotti Joyce: Barbara Rhoades Written by: Bill Driskill Directed by: Patrick McGoohan Score by: Bernardo Segáll Notable locations: Brenner home, The Enchanted Hill, Beverly Hills; Pike’s Amusement Park (closed in 1979, now shopping district), 95 S Pine Ave, Long Beach;

Episode synopsis: Columbo Identity Crisis

Two CIA operatives exchange a coded telephone conversation before agreeing to meet at a Long Beach amusement park. One, nicknamed Geronimo but masquerading as an AJ Henderson, has been lying low for some years after pretending to be dead at the insistence of the CIA Director. The second, Nelson Brenner, now wants to enlist Geronimo to aid him in his attempts to secure a secret microfilm from a ‘crafty old Buzzard’ – AKA the mysterious Steinmetz.
Columbo Identity Crisis

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In need of cash, Geronimo accepts the offer and heads to seedy adult bar Sinbad’s that night to rendezvous with Steinmetz’s agent, Lawrence Melville. Sneaking off below the nearby pier, the pair discuss a fee of $300k worth of gold for the microfilm trade to take place before Melville amscrays, promising to meet Geronimo the following evening to provide an update. Who should then step out of the shadows but Brenner. Geronimo is confused. “What are you doing down here?” he asks. “Oh, just taking the air,” Brenner warbles before savagely striking his fellow operative on the forehead with a tyre iron. As Geronimo’s crumpled body lies on the sand, Brenner finishes him off with a blow to the back of the head. As Columbo killings go, it’s brutal stuff! Enter Lieutenant Columbo, emerging through a cloud of cigar smoke at the crime scene. Police suspect Geronimo has fallen foul of a violent mugging. The location is known locally as ‘Mugger’s Haven’ after all, plus the victim has been cleaned out of his wallet, cash and ID. All that’s left to help further the investigation was an unopened pack of cigarettes and a book of Sinbad’s matches. Something’s bothering Columbo straight away, though. Why has the victim’s jacket been removed? A mugger wouldn’t need to remove it to get at a wallet. The Lieutenant mentally files this for later consideration and ambles off to find Sergeant Kramer at Sinbad’s. Kramer has been busy. He’s already had some help from bartender Louie, a former cop, who confirms the victim left the bar at 11pm. He also reveals that ‘a young black guy’ got up and followed him out when he left, and agrees to drop round to the station the next day to see if he can be identified in the police files.
Columbo Identity Crisis Bruce Kirby

Sinbad’s Adult Bar… you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…

Early the next morning we find Brenner driving to his office, listening to the morning headlines about China pulling out of the Olympics. He has to dictate a speech for a client, which he pointedly told his secretary he would do the night before and leave for her to transcribe. In order to establish an alibi, he winds his clock back so that the chimes for 11pm will be recorded. But he has to close his blinds to block the morning sun from shining in his eyes, and that, too, is caught on tape. Once done, he resets the clock and beats it before prying eyes can catch him out. Columbo, meanwhile, is hanging with Kramer, who has again been digging up info. Thanks to intel from a bellboy at Geronimo’s hotel, they’ve uncovered his alter ego of AJ Henderson, who it turns out works for an advertising agency. But when the two cops meet the business owner and show him a photo of the dead body he tells them straight: it isn’t AJ Henderson. He’s a much older man. Confusion reigns. It’s not all bad news, though. Kramer also found out that in the hours before his death ‘Henderson’ had requested directions to the amusement park at Long Beach so Columbo heads off to investigate. It’s a fruitful trip. The guy at the shooting gallery remembers him because he and his companion each hit 10 targets out of 10. So who’s the mystery companion, Columbo wonders. He hits the jackpot when he questions the park’s photography team. Busty Joyce, a roaming photographer, takes snaps of randoms all day long and entices them to purchase the prints. After an exhaustive search through the previous day’s snaps, she and Columbo spot ‘Henderson’ in the background of one photo – and the mystery man is there, too. Columbo is able to obtain a blow-up of the snap to help in his pursuit and when a colleague of the real AJ Henderson identifies the man in the photo as ace consultant Nelson Brenner, the policeman and the spy are set on collision course at last. They meet face-to-face at a Commodity Brokers Luncheon (fun times!), when Brenner is watching the speech he wrote be delivered with aplomb by lively Italian Salvatore De Fonte. When Columbo questions Brenner about Henderson he denies all knowledge, but changes his tune when Columbo whips out the photographic evidence. Slipping into deception mode, Brenner claims he was trying to poach Henderson to work for him and convincingly feigns surprise when told that the dead man is not the real AJ.
Columbo Identity Crisis

“You have the wrrrrong rrroom.”

Placated for now, Columbo allows Brenner to  depart and the ace spy heads back to his palatial home to find ‘The Director’ has paid him a personal visit by helicopter. The head honcho is vexed by Geronimo’s death, but doesn’t seem to suspect Brenner’s involvement – and he’s also picked up on Columbo’s interest in the case, urging Brenner to have the detective put under surveillance just in case he finds out more than he should. Brenner agrees, and Columbo is subsequently tailed by two bunglers in an easy-to-spot plumbing van. Bartender Louie, meanwhile, is able to identify Melville from his police record so Columbo pays him a visit and invites him to police HQ the next day to explain why he followed AJ Henderson out of the bar on the night of his killing. The detective then heads off to Brenner’s house where he finds the master spy indulging in a pool party par excellence. Columbo wants to know about Brenner’s alibi. I was dictating a speech, Brenner insists – check with my secretary. Columbo also reveals some particulars of the case. He suspects Henderson was killed by someone he knew because he was hit from the front. The Lieutenant also wonders why Henderson’s jacket was removed.

“Melville complains that ‘some heavy little dude named Columbo’ is putting pressure on him.”

“I cannot figure out why would a mugger take off a victim’s coat unless he was gonna remove something other than cash or credit cards,” he says. “Well, not being a mugger, I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” Brenner replies before expressing his belief that Melville is the man to chase. The spy also gives Columbo a polite warning. “Lieutenant, I think that I should warn you that I am not an unworldly man. I have powerful and important friends – even in the police department. I respectfully request that you do not harass me.” Good luck with that, Nelson! Brenner next arranges a meeting with Melville, but in his alter ego as Steinmetz – an elderly, balding, bearded man with a heavy east European  accent. The two meet on a mountain road, and Melville complains that ‘some heavy little dude named Columbo’ is putting pressure on him. ‘Chill bro’ Steinmetz assures him, busting him a little hard cash to temper his concerns. Now relaxed, Melville takes the cash and agrees to drive Steinmetz’s car to a drop-off point. But just as he disappears into the darkness, the mysterious old man pushes a remote control button and – KABOOM – the car goes up in flames. It’s a bit of a ruse by the crafty old buzzard, though, as he’s only put explosives in the car door, not the engine. Melville survives, but with Henderson’s credit cards found in the car glove box he’s now a prime suspect. He protests his innocence, however, and is able to help a police artist come up with a sketch likeness of Steinmetz from his hospital bed.
Columbo Identity Crisis Steinmetz

Steinmetz – super villain or cuddly grampappy? You decide…

Despite this stitch-up, Columbo doesn’t believe Melville did it. He’s still focused  on Brenner – especially after his secretary admits she can’t absolutely corroborate her boss’s whereabouts at the time of the killing. He said he would return to the office to dictate a speech and she did find the tape the next morning as he promised, but that’s as good as she can manage. Columbo tells Brenner as such when he arrives moments later. “I do feel you’re involved, I have to admit that,” he says. Cue a further warning from Brenner. “Lieutenant, let me assure you that you are delving into areas over which you have no authority. For the last time I ask you, don’t harass me.” And after the detective ambles on his way, Brenner is on the phone to The Director tout de suite. Heading to the park for a hot dog lunch, Columbo is accosted by a team of CIA operatives, who lead him to a meeting with The Director. The top man reiterates the message that Columbo needs to drop his  harassment of Brenner and forget that he ever heard of Steinmetz. “We’ve been after him a lot longer than you have,” he explains. He also confirms to Columbo that all operatives wear a gun. Filling up at a gas station, Columbo is greeted by Brenner and the two have an amiable chat which ends up in Brenner inviting the Lieutenant to his house that afternoon for a cocktail. Columbo accepts and turns up later at the palatial Brenner HQ for a jolly knees up at which he discovers that Brenner had had his house bugged, but has since had them removed. The two  retire to Brenner’s den for a cigar and it’s there that Columbo spots a photo of the spy from the Korean War, when he was an ace fighter pilot. Of note is that Brenner has a noticeably higher hairline. Far from giving up on the chase, Columbo remains hot on the tail of his chief suspect. He secures a copy of the De Fonte speech and then heads to Brenner’s office to listen to the tape itself – and what he finds on it is going to cook Brenner’s goose, especially in conjunction with an artist’s impression of a balding Brenner in Steinmetz mode.

Photoshop has  come a loooooooooong way  since 1975…

So what’s the crucial evidence that’s going to bring Brenner’s world crashing down around his ears? Well for one thing the sound of the blind closing is captured on the tape. Columbo believes it was done to block out the morning sun, but Brenner claims it was for privacy. In any case, listen closely, Brenner says! I’ll prove I was here on the night of the killing. And – lo – the sound of 11 chimes on his clock can distinctly be heard. Before Brenner can collapse into smugness, Columbo shoots him down. He can prove Brenner recorded the speech the morning after the killing because of the reference to the Chinese pulling out of the Olympics. The news wasn’t announced until 6.20am on that morning – more than 7 hours after Brenner claimed he’d written his speech. Columbo reveals that he couldn’t give up on the case because of Henderson’s jacket being removed. The jacket would only have been removed to take off his shoulder holster – and only a fellow spy would have known he was wearing one. A wryly amused Brenner laments that he was disturbed from putting the jacket back on the body by a loving couple canoodling under the pier, before credits roll. That’s Mah-Jong, baby!
Columbo Identity Crisis

The ol’ tape recorder gets ’em again!

Identity Crisis‘s best moment: sing-song Brenner

I don’t think there’s a Columbo fan alive who doesn’t absolutely dig the exchange between Brenner and the Lieutenant as their discussion turns to the sort of music that is enjoyed at the Columbo homestead. After Brenner switches from rock to classical in the shape of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, a wiggly-fingered Columbo excitedly exclaims that it’s Mrs Columbo’s favourite piece of music. Cue Brenner’s melodious, soprano-style response of “I kno-oooooo-oooooow.” It’s a testament to McGoohan’s line delivery skillz that he can do so much with so little, but is also indicative of an episode that’s high on eccentricity and packed with fun. Revel in it below…

My take on Identity Crisis

Spies (or “operators” as they’re referred to throughout this episode) were big news in the United States in 1975. The President’s Commission on CIA Activities within the United States was set up under Gerald Ford in January 1975 to investigate the Central Intelligence Agency (and others), who had been accused of a litany of covert, illegal activities during the 1960s in a New York Times report the previous December. So it was against that backdrop that Identity Crisis was conceived. The shadowy world of espionage was a new topic for the series to explore and the production went all out, making a bold and bonkers piece of television that’s nonsensical and gripping in equal measure.
Columbo Identity Crisis Patrick McGoohan

McGoohan put in an A+ performance as Nelson Brenner

Patrick McGoohan was born to play Nelson Brenner. Eccentric by nature, McGoohan was given free rein to mould the character as he saw fit, and he gives us a central protagonist who defies conventional description, combining upper-class erudition and charisma with a chilling psychopathic streak. Like Hassan Salah in the previous episode A Case of Immunity, we have a powerful bad guy who you sense could really do Columbo harm and not bat an eyelid, which makes for a fascinating confrontation. Here, McGoohan became the first actor other than Peter Falk in Blueprint for Murder to act and direct the same episode – and he absolutely excels. In Blueprint, Falk’s performance was subdued, doubtless due to the pressure of his dual responsibilities. McGoohan has no such problems, giving a sparkling performance in front of and behind the camera for which he should earn the highest of praise. Not since Steven Spielberg helmed Murder by the Book have we been drawn into the action by so many close-ups and low POV angles that make the viewer a witness to, or complicit with, the skulduggery unfolding on screen. Of particular note is Columbo’s magnificent introduction to the episode, when his silhouette emerges through a cloud of cigar smoke against a backdrop of flashing police car lights on a beach at the dead of night. This is seriously good stuff and heightens the drama no end.
Columbo Identity Crisis

Columbo makes one hell of a cool entrance in Identity Crisis

Similarly good is the murder itself, an unusually fierce one by Columbo standards, that sees Brenner flip from calm control to bulging-eyed psycho in a heartbeat to club Geronimo to death. It’s Hannibal Lecter-esque, and indeed the manner in which Brenner finishes off Geronimo, swinging his tyre iron at a camera placed at foot level at the unseen victim, was echoed in The Silence of Lambs during Lecter’s escape from police custody. Whether it was an actual influence to Jonathan Demme’s work is unknown, but it’s raw, chilling and extremely powerful. It’s not all as good as this, though, as we see the first baby steps towards some undesirable Columbo character development that will become more prevalent in later episodes and series. A case in point is the distracted and discourteous Columbo who is barely  paying attention to the testimony of barkeep Louie in Sinbad’s bar.

Identity Crisis is a bold and bonkers piece of television that’s nonsensical and gripping in equal measure.”

While being given information that’s potentially pivotal to the investigation, Columbo is more interested in eyeing the belly dancer than giving Louie the attention he deserves. This isn’t the Columbo we know and love, who should be all ears to former cop Louie’s intel, and thanking him sincerely for his astute observations. The ‘out-to-lunch’ facial expressions he makes while sitting at the bar also irk and seem out of character. In the same scene, there’s some drivel about Columbo figuring out the belly dancer is shy through her eyes and actions, followed by him punching a pillar as he celebrates cracking the conundrum. It’s a little oddball and, dare I say it, we’re seeing the seeds of unwanted weirdness in the Lieutenant that will be amped up to 11 in McGoohan’s next directorial assignment, Last Salute to the Commodore. The more affected facial expressions and deliberately slow responses to those around him will also become a more established part of the Columbo character in Seasons 6 and 7.
Columbo Identity Crisis Val Avery

Will you pay attention, Columbo!

Still, these aspects don’t spoil proceedings because it’s obvious that Falk and McGoohan were enjoying working together so much. It shows. When the two are on screen together it’s dynamite. McGoohan, in particular, is on vintage form. His line delivery is always exceptional, but here it’s on another level culminating in two of the most memorable lines of the series in the warbling, high-pitched “I knooo-ooow” (chronicled in more detail above) and the drawn out “Mahhhhh-Joooong.” He also slips in a few “Be seeing yous” in homage to The Prisoner. There’s such fun to be had watching these two revel in each other’s company that the ridiculous and complex plot really becomes secondary. Apt for a spy story, we never get a clear picture of what the hell’s going on in Identity Crisis. Why does Brenner bump off Geronimo? Is it because of his intimation early on that he believes Brenner is a double agent? If so, surely The Director would suspect it too. Also, why does he let Melville live and potentially blow his cover? And what is he trying to achieve with Steinmetz? We never get close to having these questions answered, but, and again similar to the unknown motives of Salah in A Case of Immunity, it doesn’t matter that much and it doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment. What we’re seeing here is another example of what is becoming the theme for Columbo Season 5 in that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

“There’s such fun to be had watching Falk and McGoohan that the ridiculous and complex plot really becomes secondary.”

In Forgotten Lady, it was the surprise revelation of Grace Wheeler’s terminal illness. In Immunity it was the ambiguity around Salah’s power play and political machinations. Here it’s high-level espionage – a naturally secretive subject. There’s more at play than we mere mortals can comprehend, so let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Although Falk and McGoohan’s performances stand out, this is yet another example of Columbo going for strength-in-depth with its supporting cast. In his second series’ appearance, Leslie Nielsen is a joy to watch as Geronimo. Sporting one of the most open shirts in TV history as he swans around the Long Beach Amusement Park, he has some cracking lines that hint at his natural comic abilities. “Threeeee yeeeears amigo,” he grumbles when asking why Brenner left it so long to contact him. Then after hitting 10 out of 10 targets at the shooting range, he declines to accept the $20 panda prize, saying: “You can keep mine, buddy. I’m all heart.” It’s one step away from Frank Drebbin! Elsewhere we’re given the very real treat of four of Columbo’s six legendary regular support stars appearing in the same episode: Val Avery as barman Louie; Bruce Kirby as Sergeant Kramer; Vito Scotti as Salvatore De Fonte; and Mike Lally as a taxi driver. All four were close friends of Falk, and their very presence is likely to have helped bring out the best in him. And as fan favourites too, there’s loads for Columbophiles to enjoy here – including some rare spoken lines for Lally. Simply put, everyone’s a winner!
Columbo Barbara Rhoades Identity Crisis

Columbo eyes Joyce’s handiwork with great interest

There’s also a fun role for Barbara Rhoades as amusement park photographer Joyce. Rhoades first appeared as a receptionist in Season 1 outing Lady in Waiting, and her scenes with Columbo here poring through photos of are a hoot. Plus she’s looking H-to-the-O-to-the-T in that halter neck top! Her presence goes someway to making up for a lack of more pivotal female characters in the past two episodes. Finally, Otis Young as Lawrence Melville is that rarest of Columbo supporting characters – a black man in something more than a background role. Aside from this, it’s really only James McEachin who had semi-decent Columbo supporting roles in the 1970s as a black actor (in Etude in Black and Make Me a Perfect Murder) and Young does a fine job in bringing to life the poor stooge to Steinmetz and his struggles to get to grips with his lot in life. Plus the scene where he turns ‘angry black man’ in hospital when instructing the police artist is a cracker! Bravo Otis! Something else that stands out in this episode is its sense of style – particularly that of Nelson Brenner and anything to  do with him. He wears some of the most splendid ensembles of any Columbo killer (ooooh, that white suit jacket and claret turtle neck), his house and garden are fabulous and he drives the most gorgeous Citroen SM, (a French car, like Columbo’s). Forget your Mercs, Jaguars and Rolls Royces – when it comes to Columbo killer cars, Brenner’s is in a world  of its own.
Columbo Identity Crisis Citroen SM

The car’s the star: Brenner’s beautiful Citroen SM

As you can see, there’s a heck of a lot to like about Identity Crisis. But it does have its weaknesses – particularly surrounding the gotcha. In fact the ending to the episode is flatter than anything that comes before it, leaving a vaguely anticlimactic feeling with the viewer as credits roll. For starters, the ‘crucial’ evidence Columbo unveils is stuff we’ve already encountered in the series. The theme of significant sounds caught (or not) on tape (blinds closing, clock chimes) have been used before in Publish or Perish and The Most Crucial Game. And just like in Crucial Game, Columbo has proved virtually nothing against Brenner by the end. Sure, he might not have been dictating the speech when he said he was, but that’s a far cry from proving Brenner was under the pier that night. Similarly, there’s no weapon and no motive. It’s clever police work, certainly, but nothing to worry an ace spy. That dodgy police photo fit of Brenner dressed up as Steinmetz is also unintentionally hilarious, and I would argue proves NOTHING AT ALL! Remove the hair and add a comedy beard and glasses to just about any man and you could have Steinmetz. All Columbo has against Brenner here is that he wears a hairpiece and that ain’t a crime (although arguably it should be  in some cases). If we’re to try to take it more seriously we’d have to conclude that the CIA will never let this get to court anyway, instead either assassinating Brenner or reassigning him to a new life in a new location. His knowledge would be too important to national security interests to let him rot in jail – even if he has been double dealing as Steinmetz. Still, as discussed already, the overarching plot of Identity Crisis isn’t really why we watch. The beauty of this episode is seeing – and hearing – Patrick McGoohan at his delicious, eccentric best. He may have won an Emmy Award for his turn as Colonel Rumford in By Dawn’s Early Light, but I feel sure he got more of a kick from being able to indulge himself a little more here and really commit to – and direct – the nonsense going on around him.
Columbo Identity Crisis

Brenner delivers another juicy tit-bit for Columbo’s notebook

In terms of direction and performances, this is really a first-rate episode – and I can see why Peter Falk was so keen to have McGoohan back to direct in future. The conclusion isn’t the strongest, but that can happen even with the very best episodes, so isn’t an insurmountable obstacle to our enjoyment. No, if there is a bitter aftertaste to Identity Crisis, it has to be that the fun had by the leading men here sowed the seed for them to push the envelope of eccentricity and indulgence many steps further for Last Salute to the Commodore, which followed just three episodes later. Can we ever forgive McGoohan for that one? Let’s wait and see…

Did you know?

Peter Falk rated Identity Crisis amongst  his very favourite Columbo episodes, and particularly relished the interactions between Brenner and the Lieutenant. Falk is quoted as saying: “The scenes between Columbo and the murderer are, in my judgment, among the best we ever did. They have that perfect balance between being both compelling and amusing. And that’s what we always strive for – that’s the trick in those scenes, keep ’em tense and keep ’em funny. And a great deal of credit for that goes to Patrick McGoohan. I’ll always remember how much fun I had playing ’em, and to this day I get a kick out of watching ’em.” IMG_2362 Hard to disagree with that assessment, eh? Read about Peter Falk’s other favourite Columbos here.

How I rate ’em

I’m not quite as effusive as Peter Falk himself. Identity Crisis is a flawed gem, which is hugely entertaining but let down by a weak conclusion. Dare I say it, it’s arguably a bit weird for newcomers, too. It’s highly recommended, though, and slots comfortably into the higher echelons of my ‘B List’. Missed any of my other episode reviews? Then catch ’em via the links below.
  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Publish or Perish
  3. Double Shock
  4. Murder by the Book
  5. Negative Reaction
  6. A Friend in Deed
  7. Death Lends a Hand
  8. A Stitch in Crime
  9. Double Exposure
  10. Lady in Waiting
  11. Troubled Waters
  12. Any Old Port in a Storm
  13. Prescription: Murder —– A-List ends here—
  14. A Deadly State of Mind
  15. An Exercise in Fatality
  16. Identity Crisis
  17. Swan Song
  18. The Most Crucial Game
  19. Etude in Black
  20. By Dawn’s Early Light
  21. Candidate for Crime
  22. Greenhouse Jungle
  23. Playback
  24. Forgotten Lady
  25. Requiem for a Falling Star
  26. Blueprint for Murder
  27. Ransom for a Dead Man 
  28. A Case of Immunity —– B-List ends here——
  29. Dead Weight
  30. The Most Dangerous Match
  31. Lovely but Lethal ———-C-List ends here—-
  32. Short Fuse
  33. Mind Over Mayhem
  34. Dagger of the Mind
So there we have it folks, Identity Crisis laid bare! Please let me know your opinions on this one, and where you rank it in your own personal  standings. I’m now off for a secret rendezvous with Steinmetz, so check back soon for our next episode outing – A Matter of Honor. Be seeing you…
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144 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Identity Crisis

  1. Re: Columbo’s interpretation of what the belly dancer was allegedly saying with her body language. I think he was probably confusing her style with Hawaiian hula dancing…which is definitely a form of corporeal story-telling.

  2. I just re-watched this episode. Its plot is still a confusing mess. On motive, my best guess is that it has something to do with Geronimo resurfacing and wanting his share of the money from a currency scheme that Brenner supposedly had invested for him. As to why Brenner didn’t arrange a more lethal explosion, I assume he wanted Melville alive to tell the police about Steinmetz, and thereby create another red herring.

    I don’t quite follow how Columbo identified Brenner as the second man in the picture. Why would he show the picture to someone at the real A.J. Henderson’s agency? Out of desperation, because he had nowhere else to go? Finding Brenner is brushed over very quickly because there was no logical way for Columbo to accomplish this as fast as he did.

    I did notice one clue opportunity that was inexplicably bypassed. Columbo found both halves of the poker chip on the beach. When he’s in Brenner’s den, he sees the rack of poker chips. If he had palmed a blue one, and if the design had been distinctive, and if it matched the chip from the beach — maybe that could have shored up the ending a little.

    And another thing: if Brenner knew that Mrs. Columbo’s favorite piece of music was Madame Butterfly, from eavesdropping on the Columbo home, what better proof that Mrs. Columbo exists?

  3. Just going to post again as to why the ending is so good.
    The WHOLE of the CIA couldn’t work out who Steinmetz was but our favourite Lieutenant did so in the space of this fantastic episode.
    That’s what sets him apart.

    Is it Colorado’s arrogance that has him and Geronimo sorting out espionage and operator business in a busy amusement arcade?

    I mean of all the places!!! 😂😂😂😂😂

    • No one at the CIA had a witness who could describe Steinmetz. Without that, Columbo would have fared no better.

  4. I absolutely adore Identity Crisis and it’s easily in my TOP 10. There are so many great scenes and it just seems to be one great moment after another!
    The ending is also one of the very, very best.


    Even after being warned off investigating Brenner by what seems THE WHOLE OF THE C.I.A and it’s TOP MAN, Columbo doesn’t want to listen and STILL SOLVES THE MURDER ON THE BEACH!

    That’s what makes the ending one of the best! Everyone expecting that formula of the amazing gotcha at the end, it was NEVER about that.

    It was about Columbo solving the murder case AND discovering the identity crisis of who Steinmetz was!

    Something that the whole of the CIA couldn’t do!!!!

    That’s what makes this Columbo ending a delight. ⭐️

  5. “Why does Brenner bump off Geronimo?” There’s a brief mention that Brenner embezzled some CIA money and doesn’t want to share it with Geronimo. Blink and you miss it, though. Beyond that it gets a little more complicated than I can follow.

    Joyce is great and I like the coziness and atmosphere of the photo booth where she and Columbo pore over the snapshots.

    Brenner’s Citroen is indeed sweet.

    “Either assassinating Brenner or reassigning him to a new life in a new location. His knowledge would be too important to national security interests”—maybe retire him to a quaint seaside village for ex-agents? 🙂

  6. Wonderful review, many thanks. You point out a few things I missed. So nice to see Columbo fans online who take the time to talk details.

    As for the ending to Identity Crisis, my take is that it intentionally satisfies us that Columbo always gets his man, though in this case no punishment awaits the murderer since his position with the CIA outweighs Columbo and his entire police force. So the electric and almost reflective chemistry between the two men culminate in a scene where these great minds toast to the Sherlock Holmes mystery being solved.
    However, the hints of small satisfaction Columbo receives for his efforts here are in the references to Brenner’s fabulous life with lavish home, power, foreign languages etc. that don’t make him happy. He’s bored and uninspired… that’s his sentence.

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  8. Love all the Prisoner references, from the “Be seeing yous” to the coat Mcgoohan is wearing in the beginning and the picture badge/button Columbo get to wear (the Prisoner Free for all episode). Love it.

    • Yes definitely a few Prisoner references. Another great series. No. 6 also went to an amusement park.
      Be seeing you

  9. Watched Identity Crisis 2 weeks Ago it is one of My very Favorites , It Does It Every time for me , it is Jam packed with good stuff Spies , CIA operators A seedy bar , Pikes Amusement park in the Californian sunshine is very memorable as is the CIA intervention , theres also a Helicopter , Vito scotti, leslie Nielsen and a great cast but mc goohan delivers the lines so well , Some people dont rate this one too highly because of the ending which is similar to that of The Most crucial game however this is a better outing for me I always enjoy it and Identity Crisis is slips into my top 10 overall .

  10. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  11. Observations: Funny, the two little boys who speed walk up next to McGoohan & Nielsen then look into the camera at the carnival.

    What amazing luck and detective work to find the one taxi driver out of all the taxi drivers in L.A. to find the one who drove Nielsen from the hotel to the carnival (/sarcasm).

    If you planned to kill your partner/friend wouldn’t you want to keep a low profile at the carnival? Not chat-up people, hit all the ducks in the shooting gallery, give out free stuffed toys, and be happy someone took your photo (even if u pay for the negative)? Not do things to make people remember you. I would think you might want to keep it all on the quiet. I would do a Sonny Corleone and smash the ladies camera then throw money at her as I walk away. *haha*

    If I (and maybe most) were at some amusement place sitting eating lunch and a strange man sat at our table wearing a trench coat on a warm summer day and struck up a conversation with my kids — I would be like, “please, do not talk to my children.” Or at least we would get up and leave… without showing us some ID, to me that’s the uniform a weirdo or sexual deviant. *haha, pt.2″

    This is one of my favorite episodes.

    • Haha–I had the same thoughts about that scene, especially Columbo telling the little girl how “pretty” she is! But those were more innocent times, I guess, and we didn’t suspect every stranger of being a child molester!

  12. This episode starts well but runs too long, and the climax seems weak. The Columbo/suspect dialogue that Falk liked so much got pretty tedious by the end.

  13. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Fade in to Murder | The Columbophile

  14. Pingback: Summing up Columbo’s fifth season | The Columbophile

  15. Pingback: Columbo episode review: Last Salute to the Commodore | The Columbophile

  16. Thanks for this website. This post to notify that it is probably a Mac Goohan identité crisis too : references to The Prisoner (“be seeing you”) and Danger Man (see the elizabethan portrait of Mac Goohan on the left side or the wall,at the opposite of the famous photo (Drake, the spy ?). Too many spies for one episode : was the comedian prisoner of this kind of character ?

  17. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Now You See Him | The Columbophile

  18. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Matter of Honor | The Columbophile

  19. Another funny moment which I never picked up on until recently is one of my all time favorite scenes The CIA intervention at the park , when columbo is buying a Hot Dog at the stall The Fat guy running the stall who seems to know columbo on a local level asks wheres Dog today columbo replies hes swimming and the fat guy says I didn’t know they had a pool down there ill have to try it some morning and columbo says Its Not a Lake just a regular size swimming pool , The conversation then continues with the small children about Dog , Identity Crisis is full of these Vintage Moments even if there only small but For me They Make it into a Very Memorable episode and although It may Not Have a Clear moment and the Very best conclusion, its a Columbo I always Enjoy watching and Comfortably makes My Top 10 all time episodes List .

    • I misspelt Motive I said Not have a Clear Moment , I meant to say Motive , On the subject You Have to Observe the Opening meeting between Henderson and Brenner very closely to establish the reasoning for his murder which to be Honest I am still not 100 % Certain of but I dont think this damages an episode Much this was similar in A case of Immunity

  20. This is how I rate season 5

    1 ) Identity Crisis

    2 ) Now you see him

    3) A case of Immunity

    4) Forgotten Lady
    5) A Matter of Honor
    6) last salute to the Commodore

  21. yes I remember that Wrong room scene it was the start of the Rapport between Brenner and columbo and again More Vintage Mc goohan , I think if Anyone else had played Brenner it wouldn’t have been as Enjoyable also the same goes for Agenda for murder a few years later , Identity crisis is definetley a top tier columbo ..

  22. “You have the wrong room, sir,” is one of the best “meet the killer” scenes. Brenner knows he’s caught in the first instant, and he keeps trying to pull the curtain over it. And I like the look he gives after checking out the Lieutenant’s badge. Very crafty, very Number 6.

  23. Hello robkney , as i said previously The similarity between the conclusion of Identity crisis and the most crucial Game . they both only provide possible opportunity but in TMCG columbo has zilch on Hanlon to back up the missing chimes on the Tapes .
    Also It Has a Mammoth flaw in that at the murder scene Columbo finds fresh water on the Decking of the pool used by the hose pipe on What seems to be a scorching Hot summers day it would have only taken about 5 to ten minutes at most to evaporate assuming that columbo wouldn’t have arrived much ;later than this also he sits in his car for about another 5 minutes listening to the game on top of that ,( read columbophiles full episode review to see what i am on about ) No murder weapon was found as it was a block of ice that melted into nothing and onlty a sighting of a mysterious Ice Cream Van by a junior that afternoon , So no evidence there , Whereas in The whole there is More of a case to back the Tape up in Identity Crisis also Identity crisis is a much better episode on the whole than the Most crucial Game despite Culps performance .

  24. Totally agree with you about the episode strengths and lacks. The ending is clever but disappointing, proving virtually nothing, and the lack of motive is a big minus for an otherwise enjoying and funny episode.

    • The ending is rather flat but if you include The jacket being removed to remove the shoulder holster to conceal the fact Geronimo was a secret agent , The Photo Taken at the arcade a few hours before the murder , The Fake Steinmetz business , The sound of the blinds closing at night on the 3rd floor and if you throw in the referred to lovers on the beach who Brenner said disturbed him from putting the jacket back on which also may have been the people who alerted the cops although this was never stated make it plausible or at least acceptable , The ending is very similar to that of The most crucial game but Identity Crisis is stronger as is The episode for reasons I will Explain when I come Back shortly.

  25. Dear Colombophile, great review and I’d almost forgotten how much I like this episode. When Columbo first appears and takes control of the murder scene, I’ve replayed that scene many times because it shows his leadership abilities – he’s overtly yet calmly in charge when dealing with other cops and subordinates, but acts humble and self effacing, even dim, when dealing with suspect.
    ALSO – I agree about the more ponderous traits that began to show up – as you put it, “The more affected facial expressions and deliberately slow responses to those around him will also become a more established part of the Columbo character in Seasons 6 and 7.” There is indeed some of that starting in this episode, and I do not like how it developed in the later seasons. That’s a big reason I didn’t follow the show after its original series.

    • Yes I like Identity crisis a lot it squeezes in to my top 10 , I think its one of the episodes thats underrated by a lot of people because they consider the ending to be weak but its a carbon copy of the most crucial games ending which I think is a poorer ending because in Identity Crisis columbo has the Jacket removal , The photograph taken at the arcade , the faked Steinmetz stuff and also to not seen but mentioned witnesses at the beach all giving the ending plenty of back up but in the most crucial game columbo has nothing except the missing clock chimes , i consider the most crucial game to be a mid tier episode and Identity Crisis a Top tier a lot of the reasoning is Mcgoohan is excellent in this and it also has some Funny moments .

      • Mr Steve, yes, Columbo had plenty of plausible evidence against the killer,and there were quite a few humorous moments including whatever faux foreign language McGoohan was supposedly speaking to his butlers when Columbo came to return the gas money. He’s so versatile an actor that he pulled off the role beautifully. After Jack Cassidy (especially “Now you See Him”), McGoohan is my favorite repeat villain.

        • Yes Mc goohan is My favorite colimbo Killer he is funnier than Cassidy and culp and anybody else but not so much By Dawns Early light but it is still a good episode

  26. Just watched this recently. The setup was good and I enjoyed watching Columbo tangle with the CIA, but as stated in the review, the payoff was very weak. None of the plot threads really got resolved, like what exactly was Brenner’s motive (I get that ‘Henderson’ wanted his share of the money they stole, but in that case why did Brenner contact him first, rather than the other way round? Henderson even complained about how it took him so long!) What was the point of the whole business with Steinmetz – was Brenner really a double agent, or was he using a false identity for some other mysterious purpose? So many unanswered questions.

    I have to admit I was genuinely surprised when Melville survived. I assume Brenner’s intent was to divert suspicion onto ‘Steinmetz’, who of course didn’t exist – but ultimately he just ended up making things worse for himself. Not an uncommon plot for a ‘Columbo’ episode, but you’d think a secret agent would be a bit more circumspect.

    • The Motive is very unclear In Identity Crisis as it was also in a Case of immunity , I think it was to do with a previous assignment they had worked on a few months before that there was money still owed for and Geronimo had so to speak come back from the dead to try and retrieve it, but you will have to read the episode synopsis by columbophile to be more certain , I Dont think an unclear motive damages an episode and I really enjoy Identity crisis i think it is one of the Best .

      • My Dad often said this as well when watching Identity Crisis , I thought it was just due to the age factor 1975 – 1998 is 23 years difference but columbophile almost confirms it was done deliberately thanmks , however i am not a fan of Ashes t o ashes ( new episode bearing in mind ) For me Identity crisis was mc goohans best outing.

      • If only they’d thrown viewers a bone and called the Prince character “Stone” or “Rockham” or “Mason” or something like that.

  27. No mention of the great scene at the gas station? Definitely one of the funniest in the whole episode, mainly thanks to McGoohan corpsing when Falk leans into his car and tells him he’s got to get back to the station: “Those guys are always bugging me – you know what I mean.” Clearly a reference to the suits at Universal with whom Falk was always battling – a situation that McGoohan could definitely empathise with, having gone through the same thing countless times in the sixties.

    • Yes I enjoy the scene at the Gas station , its very memorable and funny , also is the scene at the Park/ steam Locomotive fair where columbo is pulled aside by the CIA dudes , I Am surprised columbophile didn’t Mention these Highlights.

      • I don’t really rate the gas station scene. It’s reasonably entertaining, but serves little purpose and was clearly one of those scenes added to pad the episode out to the longer running time.

        • Yes its not columbo gold and was certainly padding all this fuss over the 10 dollar bill , but perhaps columbo was using it as an opportunity to maybe make Brenner underestimate Him and a way of getting into Brenner’s mansion to prowl around and look at pictures and so on as Brenner says In Fact I was thinking of taking the rest of the afternoon off why dont you join me at my house for a drink,.

  28. All Columbos are entertaining for me, but I found this one of the weaker written ones. The gotcha was very tenuous. Couldn’t Brenner just say he had sources close to Mao, which of course he couldn’t reveal for national security reasons, and so knew the Olympic withdrawal was coming down. He didn’t know the exact timing but put a reference in the speech which would be crossed off if China for any reason waited. As for removing the coat and the gun, wouldn’t stealing a gun be possibly in a mugger’s interest? I also don’t think the two lovers on the beach could identify Brenner. If they could put Brenner at the scene of the crime with eyewitness testimony, why would Columbo need to rely on guesswork about blinds closing or a reference in a speech in confronting Brenner?
    I found the confused plotting and opaque motives par for the course for this sort of deep state paranoia and fun enough, even if we never find out why anyone is doing what they are doing.
    So on balance a lesser Columbo, despite a lively cast.

    • I found the jacket stuff unconvincing–why couldn’t Henderson have just taken off his jacket himself, carrying it over his arm, before he was attacked? It seems odd that Columbo would focus on that as an important detail.

  29. I see someone below pointed out the motive: Nielsen and McGoohan had embezzled a big chunk of money in South America and Nielsen wanted his cut.

    I too thought the gotcha was pretty weak, thought that McGoohan could have just said his CIA contacts told him the Chinese were pulling out of the Olympics. Still not as bad as the two weakest gotchas I remember: “Forgotten Lady” and “The Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case”.

    Really looking forward to The Columbophile’s review of “Last Salute to the Commodore”. It was an interesting idea to tweak the formula but the execution was just a mess.

    Is Barbara Rhoades our sexiest “Columbo” guest star?

    • I dont think the gotcha is all that weak , If someone creates an Alibi like that and there is no way in the world you could have known it happened yet , also it made no sense to being in the building at night and then close the blinds and The jacket being removed must also be considered , I can think of many columbos that have weaker gotchas Lovely but lethal Dead weight and although I love the Jack Cassidy episodes they had weak gotchas particularly Murder by the book and in now you see him columbo really only came up with a motive for the great santini , I rate Identity Crisis very highly in the columbo world .

      • I agree with other commenters that Brenner–who claimed to know people “all over the world” and as a CIA agent–could have received inside information about China, or at least said that he had. Also I could see him closing the blinds at night; his own reflection in the darkened windows could have been distracting. Overall, I didn’t find this episode as good as many of the ones preceding it were.

    • “Is Barbara Rhoades our sexiest “Columbo” guest star?”
      My vote would be on Nurse Melissa in “Troubled Waters”. She has the loveliest smile. I’d fake a heart attack to see it.

  30. As a semi retired college professor, I occasionally find myself with extra time on my hands on rainy days. There has been a lot of talk on here about creating fan rankings. It occurred to me that we have just such a ranking on IMDB.com Just for fun, I entered the relevant data for the seven NBC Columbo seasons into an Excel spreadsheet, converted it into rankings, then compared the results to the episodes reviewed and ranked thus far by Columbophile.

    For those who don’t know, each registered IMDB user gives a rating for individual episodes on a scale from 1 to 10 and IMDB reports the average to one decimal place. It is very hard to get an average rating over 8 because there are always some people who cannot stand the show and bring the average down. (I’m looking at you, Brother-In Law Dave!)

    For the 34 episodes reviewed thus far the high IMDB score is 8,2 (Any Old Port in a Storm, of course). The low is 6.9 (Dead Weight). The number of voters for each episode range from 1280 (A Deadly State of Mind) to 2999 (Murder by the Book).

    Like Columbophile, I broke the list into 13 A episodes, 15 B episodes, 3 C’s and 3 losers, I lucked out in that I was able to make my breaks at the same points as Columbophile despite the frequent ties in the coarse-grained IMDB data.

    Columbophile ranks Identity Crisis at 16. The IMDB score for the episode is 7.5, tied at rank 22 with Most Crucial Game. Both put in the B group.

    For those who care, the detailed rankings differ substantially from Columbophile’s but the broad rankings are similar: Columbophile’s A list is very similar to the IMDB A list, So is the B list and so are the sub-B groups. The nine category exceptions are:

    Columbophile B –> IMDB A:
    Swan Song (IMDB 3), *Forgotten Lady (IMDB 4T), By Dawn’s Early Light (8T)

    Columbophile A –> IMDB B
    Double Shock (14T), Publish or Perish (14T)

    Columbophile C –> IMDB B
    *Most Dangerous Match (24T)

    Columbophile A –> IMDB C
    Lady in Waiting (29T)—Wow! What were they thinking?

    Columbophile C –> Dregs
    Dead Weight (34)

    Columbophile Dregs –> IMDB C
    Short Fuse (29T)

    The average IMDB score for the 34 episodes is 7.55, The median is 7.6 (8 episodes tied at rank 14). The * next to a title indicates an episode for which I personally think the IMDB voters got it right (as to category change, not specific ranking). That would lead to 14 episodes in the modified Columbophile A group.and only 2 in the C group. I can live with this.

    I’ve looked at the 7 NBC seasons, so far. The season-long IMDB averages are

    Season 1: 7.43 (starting with Murder By the BooK)
    Season 2: 7.45
    Season 3: 7.69
    Season 4: 7.68
    Season 5: 7.33
    Season 6: 7.33
    Season 7: 7.70

    This confirms the general impression that seasons 3 and 4 were particularly good, but look at season 7. Really??

    Interestingly, the IMDB rating for the series as a whole is 8.2. This is a completely separate poll with 23,657 voters as of 5/9/19 (American-style dating). It appears that those who bother to rate the individual episodes are strict graders. Most likely they are aficionados comparing one episode against another, while the series voters are a broader group comparing it against the general TV dreck. For comparison with other legendary shows, The Dick van Dyke Show has an IMDB score of 8.3; All in the Family, 8.3; The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 8.2; Boston Legal 8.4; The Big Bang Theory, 8.2, Star Trek 8.3; South Park, 8.7; The Apprentice, 5.1.

    • Wow, thank your for your impressive research. Very interesting to see how overall opinions differ… but in the end no so much. The main difference between imdb and this website is of course that this is a place where almost exclusively Columbo fans are dwelling, and imdb is visited by all kinds.
      And the Columbo fans alone disagree plenty on the quality of the different episodes as it is. For example, contrary to many other opinions, I’m not that surprised at the high rating of season 7. Episodes like Murder under Glass and The Conspirators are very much underrated by the average Columbo fan, in my opinion. Indeed, for me Try and Catch Me is the weakest episode of Season 7 and that’s saying something (!) so I’m not in the least surprised by the high rating at imdb.
      Anyway, I find this very interesting, and thank you again for the great work. If you happen to have some time on your hands the coming months, I’d love to see you do the same for the 90’s episodes… if you feel like it of course.
      Best regards, David

      • I simply cannot agree , I think Try and catch me is arguably the greatest or most memorable columbo ever made and I just do not enjoy Murder under glass or The conspirators on any level .

      • I am not that surprised. Every season has one or two weak episodes. The only two that IMHO lack any really weak ones are seasons 3 and 7. Actually, season 3 starts off with the rather weak “Lovely but Lethal,” but then reels off six episodes that rank from really good to sensational. Season 7 has 5 episodes, which rank from very solid (Murder Under Glass, Dial a Murder) to first-rate (Make Me a Perfect Murder) to Superb (Conspirators) to top-3-all-time (Try and Catch Me).

    • This is excellent research, thanks very much for your elbow work here! Also very interesting to see where my own personal rankings fit in against the general populous.

      I too am surprised that Season 7 ranks so highly, because I’d only consider Try & Catch Me to be a truly great episode from that whole series with several other solid, but not legendary, episodes alongside it.

      • I might just call make me a perfect murder legendary because of the actual murder scene and the Background music which was excellent and Kay freestones memorable and good looking character , the rest are solid at best , My least 2 favorites from season 7 are The conspirators and murder under glass.

        • Make me a perfect murder and Try and catch me are great, like all episodes of season 7, but The Conspirators is my favourite.

  31. It’s just delightful to see the writers have so much fun at the CIA’s expense: note *both* operatives embezzle, self-deal, run profitable scams, *and* are traitorous (suspicions of double-agenting apparently count for little against big cash payouts). And then the Director seems like a such good egg, such a pleasant fellow – until he orders something blatantly illegal! *Everybody* from the CIA is a criminal and habitually, casually so! The writers must have had many a chuckle as they ticked off misdeeds: “cruzeiros schemes … embezzling … fraud … extortion … domestic spying…”

  32. I do not think it is such a weak gotcha as The evidence of the Jacket being removed was damning as was The sound of the blind closing also the photo taken at the Arcade shows he c was with Geronimo earlier , plus the 2 lovers on the beach could identify Brenner and i am sure he was Fed up of columbos harassment by the end .
    I Very much enjoyed the review my only 2 criticisms are I thought columbo could have found a better best moment than this one as the episode is full of funny moments here and there maybe the scene at the petrol station or the Chinese re entering the games ironic joke they share at the end I could go on , my second criticism is it should be rated a little higher because Identity crisis is 3 times better than A Deadly state of Mind and leagues better than A deadly state of mind but rating episodes is always going to be subjective , great review once again columbophile .

  33. Hello Columbophile , I Have looked forward to Identity Crisis Review for so long a bit like a child counting down to Christmas Day but it is great to see The reviews have picked up pace.
    Once again great review and I finally have some Idea into the Motive which me and my Dad have been trying to work out for Years . I Dont think the unclear motive damages this episode As it is so enjoyable on the whole , there was an unclear motive in A case of immunity as well which also didn’t do it Much harm but I think the difference is that on the Whole Identity crisis Patrick mc goohan and the plot and Stellar cast on the whole is far more Enjoyable and just a better episode.
    Identity Crisis comfortably makes My Top 20 probably even my Top 10 , A lot of people might not agree here with me but I rate this as Mcgoohans finest outing , second Agenda for murder 3rd By dawns early light 4th Ashes to ashes which i do not like .
    Identity crisis has so much to recommend it , a lot of people dont rate it very highly because of the loopy plot , but for me this only makes it better and unique it Can feel a bit drawn out at times but its a great blend of , funny scenes, great acting twists and turns and lets not forget one of Falks favorites. i expected columbophile to rate it in the higher echelons .

    • Since “Identity Crisis” involves the CIA, maybe these plot holes are an example of what Alfred Hitchcock called the “MacGuffin.” According to Hitchcock: “The MacGuffin is the thing that the spies are after but the audience don’t care.”

  34. Sorry for the length, but I love to worship at this site. This episode fulfills many mandates of my checklist for classic-era Columbo:

    1) McGoohan (one of my “Big 4”, along with Cassidy, Culp, Hamilton) as murderer AND Director, though this is my least favorite McGoohan character, but the Direction is remarkable, camera angles and all.
    2) Val Avery appearance.
    3) At least one “hottie” (the voluptuous Barbara Rhoades and the enchanting belly dancer that make Columbo forget why he’s at the bar)
    4) Bruce Kirby appearance.
    5) Vito Scotti appearance. (though much too short)
    6) Surprise list (to me) of guest stars: Leslie Nelson (comedic/leading man legend), Paul Gleason (Trading Places, The Breakfast club bad guy), David White (Larry Tate from Bewitched), Otis Young (The Last Detail, The Clones, The Outcasts), and William Mims (Wagon Train, Twilight Zone)
    7) Mike Lally appearance (as a cabbie with Kirby as his passenger)

    It loses a few points for McGoohan’s “hamminess” as Brenner and his altar/alter (sp) ego, Steinmetz (over the top Russian accent). It starts with Brenner giving the little girl at the arcade the giant panda (like creepy Uncle Joe B.), and then his weird, musical-like screech of “Geronimo” under the boardwalk, then the corny speech he dictates on the tape recorder, whatever Asian dialect he spouts off at his villa, and the unbelievable plot line of his affiliation with the CIA and the underworld, though that’s probably not far off base from the multi-sided nature of today’s D.C. bureaucrats. It’s definitely a watchable episode, but does seem to drag on a bit in my opinion, though not as long as the dreaded Commodore ending.

    Columbo’s fascination with the belly dancer is classic, just like his similar response to the exotic dance class in “Try and Catch Me”, which showcased a much younger, delectable, nubile Mariette Hartley and the rest of the dance class….but I digress.

    To me, sometimes Columbo comes off as a downright perv….with the jacket, the facial expressions…..and those “chats” with prepubescent teens (Etude in Black and Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case) would probably get him hauled downtown for questioning nowadays. Not trying to be negative, just an observation. Can you imagine being a parent, taking your young child to the park, leaving for a minute to get him an ice cream, then returning to find someone looking like Columbo pushing said child on the swing set and chatting with them (in Death Lends a Hand)? I digress yet again…I guess the times were more innocent then.

    We all know him and love him, but the average John Doe would probably avoid Columbo like the plague if he were to encounter him in public. He reminds me of the denizens that roamed the Bowery area in NYC in the mid 1970’s, when New York was a dreadful locale with XXX movies and “Adult” bookstores on every corner of town.

    IMDB.com has great reviews, synopsis, trivia, quotable quotes, etc. on this and every episode. One of the sections I check out are the filming “goofs”, which are very detailed observances of inconsistencies from fellow obsessives of attention to detail. The one I didn’t see called out was when Leslie Nielsen was leaving the bar (Sinbads), and he stops at the cigarette machine. He has a quarter in his hand from the remainder of the cash for the drink he’s just bought and gulped down. He starts to insert the quarter, but doesn’t, then pushes his brand button repeatedly, which obviously doesn’t fall to the bottom for dispensing. He beats the machine several times, then asks Val Avery for his lost 60 cents. I think this is so he can walk back to the bar, to signal Otis Young’s character that he is the point of contact for the blue poker chip verification. But I don’t understand if this is meant to show that Leslie Nielsen’s character is just cheap and dishonest? Maybe the episode I watched was edited, but little things like this gnaw at me. Anal retentive I know, but it’s one of those “loose ends” that bother me, just like they bother Columbo.

    One more goof. Why would an experienced operative like Brenner/Steinmetz wire Melville’s car to not totally take him out? He survives, and is well enough to have the police artist drawn the incredible, but somewhat cartoonish pic of Steinmetz (who is cartoonish himself).

    Travel Town, where Columbo meets David White on the train, is still there, right off Ventura Hwy. I visited there a few years ago. Notice that Columbo sits down and starts talking with the 2 young girls, calling them “pretty”, etc. I guess their guardian didn’t seem to mind. Call me jaded, but I would probably be arrested for striking an LAPD Lieutenant if those were my kids (why do Brits pronounce it as Leftenant?).

    I give the ep a 7.5 overall, which is strong for a negative-ninny misanthrope like me.

    I wish I could write concise, detailed reviews like the Columbophile, but my A.D.D. and O.C.D. lean more toward gibberish. Keep up the great work. This site is a wonderful, exquisite, comprehensive destination for Columbo fanatics, with exhaustive research behind it. Bravo.

    • Nice points. I’ve often wondered about about the scene where Henderson only pretends to put a coin into the machine. I say Henderson, not Nielsen, because I think the character cheats on purpose here. I’ve got no evidence to back it up, but I feel the Henderson character would enjoy playing tricks on people like that, even small ones like this one, showing his selfconfidence. It makes him feel he can get away with anything, and the other way around: it’s him that’s making the rules, not them.
      As for the socalled “pervy” aspects of the Columbo character in the examples you mention: Columbo doesn’t feel or seem like pervy man to me, even in those scenes. He’s kind to the kids in his own way, and I think you’re right, that this episode was filmed in a different era, and it would be allright back then, to tell a girl she’s pretty without someone thinking anything of it. In Bye Bye Sky High it’s the response of the girl that’s creepy for me (‘this is the first time someone likes me for my body,’ she exclaims happily), not so much the compliment Columbo pays her, which seems innocent enough (again, in a different era). But I agree that nowadays the rules have changed, and probably rightly so.

    • I agree with Ulster fan on his six highlighted views maybe except the first one mc goohan being his least favorite charachter in this , He might have been slightly more charismatic in agenda for murder which I love but I like mcgoohan is better in this than as he is in by dawns early light which is NOT one my true favorites , I also agree Vito scottis role was too short , could have done with a couple of more scenes with him in it , I agree with the other six points a swell great to see Val Avery and Bruce Kirby appearing and that was a nice touch with the belly dancer at Sinbads which was something that was mimicked in Try and Catch me which is my absolute favorite.

      • Sorry I dragged on so long with my thoughts. My (lack of) writing skills make my prose as boring as the book of Leviticus, along with bad grammar. Vito Scotti’s role here was over the top Italian, even speaking with Columbo in their ‘old country’ tongue. Columbo alluded to his ancestors hailing from Southern Italia, (probably Naples/Sorrento or every Sicily) in the Any Old Port episode (saying how the dead Carsini’s blonde hair/blue eyes were more of a trait of Northern Italians).

        Toward the end of Identity Crisis, when Columbo is closing in on the weak gotcha, and Brenner starts talking stereotypical Italian, that probably ticked Columbo off. Brenner/Steinmetz’s ethnic dialects on this episode left much room to be desired. I’ve been watching McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” series lately. He was quite a character. Brilliant, with an underlying simmering evil below the surface of his condescending haughtiness.

        I meant no offense toward Columbo’s physical appearance. It’s why we love him as the underdog, with his never judge a book by its cover persona that always gets the best of those who consider him inferior. Just saying in the “real world”, seeing a guy that looks like him hanging around a children’s park would set off serious bells and whistles! (Stranger) Danger, Will Robinson!

    • Why do we Brits say ‘leftenant’? Well, you asked for it. The word originated in the Latin ‘locum teneris’ meaning to take the place of someone else. Centuries later in Old French it became something like ‘luef tenente’. Over time, as Norman French (brought in with the Norman Conquest) and Germanic Anglo-Saxon developed into what we would now recognise (not ‘recognize’) as English it became the word we use today. Obviously our cousins across the pond adopted the more straightforward, phonetic pronunciation.

      • Thanks for the clarification. It reminds me of the difference between aluminum vs. aluminium.

      • Great to know the answer to that! Thanks for providing it.

        Canada uses the “leftenant” pronounciation too, as I learned when I said “lew-tenant governor” in social studies class in high school and my teacher was offended and corrected me. (In Canada the lieutenant governor is the Queen’s representative.)

    • Re. the Nielsen / Henderson not putting money in the cigarette machine, I see this as purely a pre-arranged action to let Steinmetz’s contact (who he doesn’t know yet) know that he’s the guy to follow. I don’t think we’re meant to assume he’s cheap or dishonest here.

      • Clickety click as was mentioned at the start was the code sound used by Henderson at the cigarette machine to let Melville know who he was as they never met before ,and weren’t supposed to know each other It took me a few years to finally work it out.

  35. 300,000 cruzeiros (Brazilian currency) was the primary reason for the murder, Nelson claimed he was broke and had no intention of paying back the money. I rather enjoyed the gotcha, not so much the audible but the visual, since the removal of the victim’s shoulder holster proved that the killer would have known he was a double agent.

  36. This episode contains a minor element of historic interest, other than the Chinese boycott to the Olympics. Unless I am mistaken, it contains the only Columbo reference to quadraphonic sound, which was a decade-long fad. It eventually resulted in the arrival of digital, multi-channel sound technologies, such as Dolby Pro-logic II (which is basically the same as QS, one of the embodiments of quadraphonic sound on vinyl records) then Dolby Digital and DTS, which are still with us in movies and in several interesting quadraphonic or 5.1 musical recordings.

      • Really? I’ve always thought he pronounced it right: “It’s quadraphonic!”. I’ll have to listen to it again.

        • You are correct. He definitely says it’s “quadraphonic”, meaning state of the art for the early 70’s (I think John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ album was released in a quadraphonic version). With vinyl LP’s and cassettes making a comeback, when will we give the 8-track cartridge another try?

          • Q8 cartridges were prone to mechanical failure, much more so than Q4 open-reel tapes or DY/EV-4/SQ/QS matrix records. In addition, early CD-4 discrete records were very fragile, so it is doubtful anything analogue and discrete will make a comeback. If it did, you would need vintage gear to play it. We might get lucky with matrix records, as there is an Australian company (Involve Audio) that currently makes state-of-the-art analogue matrix decoders. In any case, things have been in place for quite some time now to play many modern digital versions (mostly as optical media) on modern hardware (mostly Home Theatres). Dutton Vocalion are making excellent quadraphonic releases in the UK of select old media in SACD. Other digital options are DVDA, BDA, DTS and DSD.

      • No, he definitely says “quadrophonic”. It’s the DVD subtitle track that erroneously says “hydrophonic”.

  37. I do enjoy Patrick McGoohan’s line delivery in this episode, especially the way he exclaims “Steinmetz!” in the closing scene where Columbo’s showing him the picture(s). (I forgot how it exactly went, but I remember the line…)

    I’m also really fond of Joyce and her costume design. It’s not often a minor character is able to steal my full attention from the Lieutenant or the main baddie, but it happens here.

    • I agree I Rate Identity crisis Highly, a lot of the reason being the interactions aand chemistry between columbo and Brenner , Mc goohan delivers his lines very well , Geeeronimmooo at the murder scene , Steinmetz at he the finale and The petrol garage scene which continued up at Brenners mansion and so on .
      Great chemistry between columbo and murderer elevates a columbo to a great level
      which Try And catch me is a good example ( columbo and Abigail Mitchell ) there are also other examples including another of Mcgoohans Agenda for murder which had that Joke scene and anothe load of great columbo to murderer scenes , Patrick Mc goohan was a great assett to the series also in By dawns early light .Although I am not a fan of Ashes to Ashes which was his other episode , IDentity Crisis may not have the greatest ending but thers enough Good chemistry , Humor and the plot is Good enough to make it one of my Favorite columbos.

      • Oh yeah, I almost forgot the “Geronimoo!” call from the beginning, it’s another good one as well. I do agree that McGoohan was a very important actor for this series, as By Dawn’s Early Light is among my favorite episodes. I think I like his performance here more though, it’s a bit more interesting to watch Columbo try to deal with him.

        • I love the Geronimo call as well ,its one of my favorite moments , Identity Crisis is Jam packed with these little moments which contributes it to being a top tier columbo and Mcgoohan suited this role perfectly .

  38. It seems the American version of the T-33 jet trainer wasn’t the Silverstar but the “Shooting Star”. The Silverstar was the Canadian model, although a “T-33A Silverstar” was manufactured in America and lent to Canada among other places. But “Silverstar” rolls off the McGoohan toungue better than Shooting Star, so no doubt a change had to be made.

    Or, as Brenner would say, “T………[oh no he’s staring intently at the picture]…………….Thirty-three……………………………………………………………………………[goddamit he’s scrutinizing my hairline]…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..[It’s over, I’m toast]…………………..Sil-ver-star.”

  39. OK. My usual gripe: What the hell is Columbo doing investigating a murder in Long Beach?

    I do agree that McGoohan is more interesting than Falk in this episode…and will be again in Ashes To Ashes. It’s definitely a B episode, maybe a few notches lower than you placed it.

    I disagree about Neilsen/Drebbin and the bear. It would be too delicious for Police Squad writers to ignore. Frank Drebbin would have taken the bear which would somehow have wrestled him to the ground requiring our hero to shoot the poor prop. “Well…”

  40. I agree with every element of this review. Where I differ is with the respective weight given to each of these elements, and thus to the final tally. I always give principal weight to the story and script elements, including the “gotcha,” and (as Columbophile correctly identifies) these are exceptionally weak here. In my view, the script is a confusing mess. So “Identity Crisis,” for me, will always be a third-tier episode.

    But I was particularly interested in Columbophile’s keen observation that in “Identity Crisis”: “we’re seeing the seeds of unwanted weirdness in the Lieutenant that will … become a more established part of the Columbo character” in the future. This prompts me to repeat something I’ve said before, here or elsewhere:

    In a 2002 interview (http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/steven-bochco#), Steven Bochco quotes Richard Levinson giving him the following warning when Bochco was writing scripts for early Columbos:

    “Peter Falk is Columbo. You don’t have to write all of that stuff, ’cause that’s Peter. You don’t have to write Peter, ’cause Peter is Peter. If you write that stuff, and then Peter does what you’re writing on top of being Peter, it’s over the top. So you want to really underwrite this character, because Peter is so quirky and so imaginative with all that stuff.”

    By the latter seasons, Link, Levinson, and Bochco no longer were supervising the writing, and perhaps this admonition was lost as well.

    • That advice given to Bochco is so right! It’s natural that writers would want to leave their imprint on the show and character but I do wish all had heeded those sage words.

    • I agree with both the great quote, and with your point about the weighting of the factors. Let Columbo be Columbo and it is super. Here, the whole CIA premise overtook the show. It’s interesting and fun, but at the end it overwhelms the strengths of Columbo. For me, this is less successful than McGoohan’s By Dawn’s Early Light and Agenda for Murder, and even Ashes to Ashes outdoes it in some ways, because those used the Columbo script and made it great with McGoohan as the murderer.

      • What distinguishes “By Dawn’s Early Light,” one of the best Columbos in my view, is the fact that this was the only Columbo where McGoohan acted but did not also direct. When he directed, I’m fairly sure he fiddled with the script. Some of the worst Columbo endings resulted: “Last Salute to the Commodore” is one example (“Commodore’s watch?”); “Murder with Too Many Notes” may be even worse. “Identity Crisis” has a better ending than those, but still among the poorer ones.

  41. ‘some drivel about Columbo figuring out the belly dancer is shy’
    Really? I know it’s one of those scenes almost all Columbo fans agree on is a bad one, but you’re missing something important. In a good story no line is ever put in just for the hell of it and neither is that the case here.
    Columbo can’t keep his attention to the barkeeper’s testimony, because he’s fascinated by the belly dancer’s act. But why, he can’t figure out why. Then he knows: she’s capable of doing her act by pretending she’s something she isn’t: bold, daring, provocative even. It takes guts to dance like that, daring to be that attractive and vulnerable at the same time. But in reality she’s shy. It’s in her eyes.
    This is all a reference to Nelson Brenner, who will pretend to be someone he clearly isn’t from the moment he first meets Columbo. He lies, and covers up, and then there’s his act as Steinmetz as well. But Nelson has a problem too, as he will admit to Columbo later on. A man like him surely must be a proud and happy for all the things he has done in life. But no, in reality he is a sad and bored man. ‘I find it dull,’ he will tell Columbo towards the end. He has to project an image of succes and happiness, while life is a continuing bore for him. So the only way he could do everything he has done is by pretending. Like the seemingly extravert belly dancer who is actually shy.
    And that’s why that scene is so important.

    • Your analysis is excellent, but I don’t think anyone would miss this scene, or Columbo’s vagueness and inattentiveness to the case, if it wasn’t included. It was clearly padded out to help meet the running time, which usually irks me, but the characterisation is so non-Columbo like that I just can’t get on with it. It could have had a pay-off if Columbo had used this belly dancer epiphany to recognise that Brenner does what he does because he finds life ‘dull’, but he doesn’t, so it’s all largely redundant and annoying to me. I’d rather have had more quality interactions between Peter Falk and Val Avery, who had some great scenes together in Most Crucial Game and A Friend in Deed.

      • Thanks so much for responding. I see where you’re coming from and on more screen time for Val Avery and Peter Falk together I can only add yes please! However, to clarify (I love discussing this because we’re talking about story telling here), I think Columbo visibly or audibly using the belly dancer epiphany to gain some insight in Brenner’s ways would actually have diminished the scene. That’s not what it’s there for. (Neither to just meet the running time. As you pointed out yourself, there could have been more dialogue between Avery and Falk for example, but clearly the editors couldn’t fit in more). A story uses props and people for atmosphere and in a good story, like this one, they all have some meaning or link to what happened or will happen. Only towards the end, or maybe even the second time you’re watching the episode the scene will gain meaning for the viewer and add to the overall impression of what we’ve just seen.
        Not wanting to make this about me, but in a detective story I once wrote the detective’s secretary finds an object in a room and she doesn’t know what it is. It has got three holes in it. I put in the object to refer to the number of deaths that have actually been murders, but as a reader you probably won’t spot that until the end of the novel. But it adds to the story as a whole, as well as saying something about the character, because she doesn’t know what to make of the object.
        Besides, I just rewatched the scene twice and while Columbo isn’t his eager and polite usual self, I don’t think he’s that unattentive or impolite, just distracted. It doesn’t bother me, but of course that’s just a matter of taste. And finally; sure, nobody would have missed the scene if they hadn’t put it in, because you can’t miss something that has never been. But now that they did I’m glad they did.
        Apologies for the length of the post by the way. And I’m sure you’ll recognise that I’m not attacking your views here, just seeing things differently. In an ideal world we could be having this conversation somewhere over a pint of ale and a bowl of chili.

    • David, excellent insight and analysis and the bar/belly dancer scene does indeed work, it doesn’t come across as mere inattention to business while perving. I like the scene.

  42. You never fail to disappoint.

    I was reading the review, agreeing with everything you said about the quality of the episode all the while thinking, “but the gotcha was terrible.” Sure enough, you finally got to that point and noted that of all of the “gotchas” this is among the weakest. I’ve said many times before that the investigations don’t end with the arrest, they are only the beginning so let’s not assume the murderers would get off. But in the case of Mr. Brenner, a first year law school student could have got him released from custody and charges dropped for lack of evidence.

    There is just one other thing. The scene near the end in Mr. DeFonte’s office was a bit superfluous. It was as if it was just there so Vito Scotti could have more to do. It’s a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.

    Oh, and like I would have said no if Joyce wanted to take my picture and sell it to me.

  43. Great episode! I loved whenever Patrick McGoohan was played against Falk. It was a perfect duo because the chemistry between the men were so wonderfully displayed on camera. You could feel the fun they had playing off each other. Also good to see a brotha whenever you can so that’s a bonus lol

    • yes i love Mc goohans episodes they had such good chemistry paticulary Agenda for Murder and Identity Crisis, By dawns Early light was much more straight laced but he gave an Ace performance which I believe he received an Emmy for but I am not a Fan of Ashes to Ashes ..

  44. I love this episode. It is in my top ten. You can tell Patrick Mcgoohan’s directing was influenced by Orson Welles. I love the scene where Columbo is distracted by the belĺy dancer. It was hilarious. But then Last Salute to the Commodore was my fav. episode. You could tell how how much they liked working together. Both were perfectionists. Well thought out review though.

    • Thanks Anne! You may want to steer clear of my Last Salute review in a few weeks because it doesn’t seem that we’ll see eye-to-eye on it!

      • Yes its true we disagree, but thats part of liking the show is being able to agree to disagree.

          • Hear hear Columbophile. Which reminds me I forgot to tell you you did an excellent job again on this review, when I jumped in to disagree with you on the belly dancer scene. So here it is, better late than never I hope.

            • I dont think the belly dancer scene was wasteful , I think it was a Nice way to set the tone for the episode and also it was sort of mimicked in Try and catch me 3 years Later.

            • Thanks David! Took me a long time to get round to responding to a lot of the comments on this one, but certainly no hard feelings over the belly dancing disagreement. I will just never be a fan of it.

      • Last salute to the commodore for me is just about the worst from the seventies run , so i am with columbophile on this one.

        • I guess I just like episodes that are zany. The zanier the better, and very Orson Welles like. Also a bit of the Marx Brothers.

  45. Great episode…I actually watched this very episode last night on YouTube! I really enjoy all…some are a bit corny…but as soon as Columbo comes to the scene, you forget all about that and focus on him.

  46. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Case of Immunity | The Columbophile

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