Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 5

Episode review: Columbo A Matter of Honor

Columbo A Matter of Honor opening titles

Columbo was enjoying a little sojourn south of the border on 1st February 1976, hanging out with legendary matador Luis Montoya in A Matter of Honor.

Featuring no less a talent than Ricardo Montalban as the villainous bullfighter, how will the Lieutenant fare on foreign soil this time round, four years after the London-sized debacle that was Dagger of the Mind?

Or to put it another way, is this a prize bull of an episode, or a pathetic wannabe matador destined to be gored to death? Let’s wet our muleta, down a bottle of mescal and don our comedy sombreros to find out…

Honor cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Luis Montoya: Ricardo Montalban
Comandante Emilio Sanchez: Pedro Armendariz Jr
Curro Rangel: A. Martinez
Hector Rangel: Robert Carricart
Nina Montoya: Maria Grimm
Miguel Hernandez: Emilio Fernandez
Jaime Delgado: Enrique Lucero
Written by: Brad Ratnitz
Directed by: Ted Post
Score by: Bernardo Segáll
Notable location: Montoya ranch, Hotel Hacienda Vista Hermosa, San Jose, Mexico

Episode synopsis: Columbo A Matter of Honor

Wannabe matador Curro Rangel lies in hospital after being badly gored by prize bull, Marinaro, the previous day. Back at the ranch where it all happened, legendary ex-matador Luis Montoya gives his workforce the day off and approaches Curro’s father, Hector (his long-time assistant), to let him know that he will kill the bull to prevent Curro risking his life against it in the ring again. To do so, he’ll need Hector’s help.

Columbo Luis Montoya A Matter of Honor

Just what is Don Luis Montoya trying to hide?

The relationship between the two is at odds since they dragged Curro (rhymes with ‘burro‘ – coincidence?) out of the bullring the day before. Hector has packed his bags and tells Montoya he’s leaving because ‘everything is different now’. We won’t find out what he means until the end of the episode, but the old boy seems to be bearing a grudge. He does, however, reluctantly agree to assist his boss one last time.

Now in the ring together, Montoya waits until Hector turns away, draws a dart gun and pops a cap, literally, in Hector’s ass. He’s only used a tiny drop of tranquilliser in it, though, leaving Hector woozy and shambling but just about operational. He’d need to be on his A Game for what’s coming though, as Montoya releases Marinaro from his pen. The giant bull makes short work of poor Hector.

Cut to a street scene in a Mexican town. A holidaying Columbo has a low-speed fender bender with a taxi cab causing commotion on the streets. The cabbie pretends to have broken his neck, and the by-standers are howling for Columbo to hand over ‘mucho dinero’ as a result. A bemused Lieutenant can’t believe it. “We were going four miles an hour,” he says in an attempt to defuse the situation.

Fender bender 2

Columbo’s dodgy driving skillz get him into trouble again

The police get involved and before you know it Columbo’s car is impounded and he’s summoned to see Comandante Emilio Sanchez. Columbo fears he’s about to be arrested, but no. Sanchez just wants to meet the famous LA cop who solved the murder on the cruise ship a year before (in Troubled Waters). Columbo was in all the papers, and Sanchez is delighted to make his acquaintance.

As the two talk, Sanchez receives a radio call to check out the death of Rangel at the Montoya ranch. He asks Columbo to join him, and when the Lieutenant demurs hints that he’ll speed up the return of the car if he will help on the case. Needing the car to get back to LA for a family do, Columbo has little choice but to agree.

Montoya gives an icy reception to Columbo, barely acknowledging him until he starts to ask questions about Montoya’s version of events. According to Montoya, Hector was due to drive him to a speaking engagement in San Diego, only to pull out last minute to ‘work on the books’. Looks like he instead chose to face the bull, alone, for the sake of his son.

This confuses Columbo. Why would an employee of Montoya’s decide to try to kill such a valuable asset without permission? Marinaro was worth at least $8000 after all. He gets short shrift. “How can you judge the behaviour of a man who almost lost his only son,” Montoya coolly responds.

Sanchez and Montoya head off to see the body while Columbo looks around. True to form, he uncovers a clue when eyeing Montoya’s 1931 convertible Cadillac. Taking a seat behind the wheel he comments how much of a physical work out it would be to drive a car as large and heavy as this. The needlessly muscular car washer agrees.

Turns out that it requires too much muscle for Montoya since a bull gored his leg years before. Hector always drove it for him. Interesting, then, that Montoya had asked for his other car, a hard-top 1972 Ford LTD, to be washed and waxed the day before so he could drive himself to his speaking engagement.

Columbo Matter of Honor Cadillac

Apparently only gents with Herculean physiques can handle the Cadillac

Rejoining Sanchez and Montoya in the bullring, Columbo eyes the muleta found with Hector’s body. It’s in pristine condition and shows no sign of damage. This surprises Columbo given the gored state of Hector’s corpse. But there’s more, as the detective finds a shard of wood buried in the sand. It’s part of a pick, says Montoya, something used to wound bulls and test the bravery of cows (what?). It’s probably been there a couple of weeks.

Later that day, Columbo is dining with Sanchez and  his wife. Mrs Columbo has been sent off to LA by bus while her husband waits for his car to be returned. Conversation naturally turns towards the death of Hector and Columbo raises the notion that it could have been a homicide with the bull used as a murder weapon. He even suggests that Montoya might have done it, much to the incredulity of Sanchez.

The Mexican officer has fallen for Montoya’s interpretation of events. Hector’s honour demanded he try to kill the bull to protect his son. That’s the matador’s way. But Columbo ain’t convinced. If the car washer was asked to prep the hard-top car for Montoya’s use at noon on the day of Hector’s death, how did Montoya know he’d need it? By his own admission, he was expecting Hector to drive him in the Cadillac until moments before they were due to leave.

Sanchez starts to wake up and smell the coffee. “If there’s a crime here I want to get to the bottom of it,” he says. “Better yet, I want you to get to the bottom of it.” Montoya is such a legend in Mexico that Sanchez wants Columbo to carry the can if the investigation goes awry. We can see that Sanchez is a wily one himself, and an excellent foil to the good Lieutenant.

In search of a motive for the killing, Columbo returns to Montoya HQ, where the matador is welcoming home his daughter. He questions walking stereotype Miguel, the only employee who remained on the ranch at the time of Hector’s death. Columbo learns that Montoya sent Miguel to a pasture far from the bullring, and also armed him with a bottle of mescal. As a result, the old rascal had a pleasant afternoon swigging in the sunshine. Convenient!

Columbo Matter of Honor

Under NO circumstances is Miguel a stereotypical Mexican. Got that?

Columbo tails Miguel to the tack room, where he’s been assigned to clear Hector’s locker. There they find a suitcase of Hector’s that’s already been packed. But who packed it? No one knows. The Lieutenant also learns about picks. They’re big and heavy – not a bit like the shard of wood he found in the bullring. That’s because the wood Columbo has is from a lance, not a pick at all. And lances are used to herd cattle, not kill bulls, so they’re a lot lighter.

This is a key clue for Columbo and gives him further reason to suspect Montoya, who failed to identify the wood as a lance. This is accentuated when he notes that Hector’s lance is missing from its rack. Montoya, new on the scene, says it’s likely lost in a field and downplays its significance, but Columbo’s case is only getting stronger. Further damning evidence lies in Hector’s medical report, where doctors have noted a needle mark on his bum. Columbo recommends Sanchez request an autopsy because of it.

Columbo next goes to visit Curro at hospital, where he’s being fawned over by Montoya’s daughter, Nina. Columbo grills the fluffy haired hopeful about his goring by Marinaro. The lad was knocked out cold, co can’t confirm many details but believes what he’d been told that Montoya distracted the bull while Hector dragged him free.

Columbo A Martinez

Curro Rangel: the wimpiest matador in all of Meheeco

Did Hector have his lance with him? Yes, he was on the way to check out the herd and always had his lance. But why did he use it on the bull if he was the one dragging Curro away? He doesn’t know. He also has no idea why his dad might have packed his belongings. He had no vacation planned. He’d only pack if he was fired or he quit, and those things would never happen. Would they…?

Anyway, Columbo is now staggering under weight of evidence and admits to Sanchez that he has a crazy notion as to why Montoya would murder Hector, but he doesn’t think anyone will believe him. Quite what this notion is remains secret for now as Columbo heads to Montoya’s place (again) to seek final clues.

For one thing, he finds that Montoya has ready access to tranquillisers, so could easily have drugged Hector to make him sluggish enough to be easily slain. Columbo also tricks Montoya into letting him cast an eye over his finance books, which Hector was supposedly working on on the day of his death. He uncovers the clincher: Hector finished work on the books for the month three days before he was killed – and Montoya signed them off.

“If Hector finished the books three days before he was killed, then why didn’t you question him when he said he wanted to stay behind to work on the books?” Columbo asks “You must have known he had no intention of working on the books.”

Columbo A Matter of Honor

Columbo plays Montoya like a fiddle to get a glimpse of his books

Montoya finally loses his cool. “I don’t appreciate this little war of nerves you are conducting, Columbo,” he seethes. “I am Luis Montoya! And you are in my country! If you understood the first thing about bullfighting, you would not question Hector’s death!”

Columbo keeps digging. How can Hector’s packed bags be explained? He was planning to move from his current room into the main house, Montoya responds. Gee isn’t it funny that nobody knew about that, Columbo wonders. Cue another Montoya down-dressing: “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I have tried to be gracious. I have answered all your questions. My courtesy has been rewarded with accusation. I must ask you to leave my house and not return.” So there!

Knowing that he has to return to LA imminently, Columbo looks set to have leave the investigation in Sanchez’s hands. But a visit to the cop’s home creates his lightbulb moment. Sanchez’s children are playing at matador and bull. It’s windy, so they wet the muleta to stop it blowing in the wind – just like a real matador would.

Columbo remembers the weather report for the day of Hector’s death. Heavy winds came up around the ranch at 5pm – around the time Montoya said Hector must have fought Marinaro. An experienced fighter like Hector would therefore have wet the cape to prevent it blowing around and endangering his own life. But there were no watermarks on the cape!

So Columbo sets up his sting operation to outsmart Montoya for good. Drafting in Curro, he gets the young upstart to enter the bullring to kill Marinaro and avenge his father’s death. Montoya enters the ring to talk Curro out of his suicidal mission – only for the whelp to dash away and order the bull pen be opened!

Columbo Luis Montoya

The legend of Montoya dies a feeble death under the gaze of Marinaro

Marinaro thunders out and makes a beeline for Curro, who bolts behind a partition. Montoya, meanwhile, caught out in the middle of the ring, is rooted to the spot with terror – stunning the onlookers, who revere him for his legendary courage and poise. As the angry bull charges towards the frozen Montoya, men leap out to distract the beast with fluttering capes and lure him away to be caged. His life is no longer in jeopardy, but Montoya’s legacy and legend is now in tatters.

Columbo enters the ring to confront Montoya, who is armed with his matador’s sword. It looks for a moment as if he’ll strike Columbo down with it, but instead he folds the muleta and hands it and the sword to the detective as a mark of respect before allowing himself to be driven away by the police.

Explaining it all to Sanchez, Columbo lets him know that Montoya had frozen just like that on the day Curro was gored. It was Hector who saved Curro, not Montoya, and the matador’s vanity and pride meant he couldn’t allow any man to know of his weakness and live. Columbo also delights Sanchez by revealing that it was his children playing matadors in the garden that essentially cracked the case.

Columbo hands over the muleta and sword to Sanchez and the two men share a warm, congratulatory handshake as credits roll…

End

Put it there, hombre!

A Matter of Honor‘s best moment: the police bromance

It’s not a single scene, but rather an episode-long love-in in which the bonds of respect and friendship between Columbo and Sanchez naturally and enjoyably grow.

Columbo is the more dominant figure throughout, mentoring Sanchez and providing the inspiration and guidance he needs to first accept Montoya’s guilt and then play an active support role in closing the case.

Columbo A Matter of Honor

“I AIN’T QUITTIN’ YOU!”

Instead of a lazy and corrupt stereotype, Sanchez is a good-natured, honest family man, who is keen to do his duty and learn from the best. He’s not unlike Columbo in many ways, and certainly wily enough to keep the Lieutenant around long enough to help him make the arrest that will have the whole of Mexico talking.

It’s an impressive performance from Pedro Armendáriz Jr, who gives us one of the most likable and believable support stars from the entire series. It’s a toss up between him and John Payne’s Ned Diamond from Forgotten Lady for the title of Season 5’s best non-killer guest star. And for once, Columbo interacts with a police counterpart who’s not a bungling oaf. Winning!

My opinion on A Matter of Honor

I’ve said it before and will say it again: Columbo as a show doesn’t fare well when trying to deal with foreign cultures. The cliche-tastic, stiff-upper-lipped Brits in Dagger of the Mind are a case in point. The shady traditionalist Arab baddie in A Case of Immunity is another. So could an episode set in Mexico and focusing on the honour of bullfighting buck the trend? Spoiler alert: No it couldn’t.

Columbo Matter of Honor Miguel

Booze-loving Mexican stereotype? Check…

Awash with Mexican stereotypes (drunks, trumpet bands, fakers and cheats), anachronistic ideals and a primitive clash of cultures, A Matter of Honor feels more like it belongs in the 1920s than an era when man has walked on the moon. Its premise is too far fetched and poorly sketched out for even the late, great Ricardo Montalban to salvage. And that’s such a shame.

Since viewing the Wrath of Khan and Naked Gun in the 1980s I’ve been a big admirer of Montalban. Although galaxies apart in those two examples, one thing you get with him is intelligent, brooding menace and a sense that he would end an enemy’s life for two copper coins without feeling a shred of remorse.

Blessed with those qualities, Montalban should have been one of the series’ best ever killers. And while he’s still good in this, his battle of wills with Columbo never really ignites and his supposedly legendary matador goes out with a whimper in what is one of the 70s series’ most anti-climactic gotchas.

“A Matter of Honor feels more like it belongs in the 1920s than an era when man has walked on the moon.”

I’m aware of just how much pressure TV writers were (and still are) under to produce the goods in a timely manner. The viewer backlash to the final series of Game of Thrones is the most recent high-profile example. When it came to 70s’ Columbo, on many occasions scripts and story lines were still being polished and worked on when filming was already underway – something that drove Peter Falk crazy. Matter of Honor feels like just such an episode. Indeed I’d go so far as to say I think it should have had a major re-write and structural overhaul.

My chief bugbear is the finale. The reveal of Montoya’s frailty and fear is poorly done. I get that it’s supposed to be a jaw-dropping revelation for the on-lookers and audience at home, but my reaction to it has always been (and remains) ‘so  what?’

The problem is that it wasn’t telegraphed. I honestly think that Montoya’s initial lapse on the day Curro was gored should have been shown to the viewer upfront to allow us to make sense of the grudge Hector is holding against him. And these scenes were filmed, because we see them in confused flashback from Curro’s hospital bed at the start.

Columbo Ricardo Montalban

Montalban: let down by the story, LOVED by the wardrobe dept

Instead, it seems like the writers were trying to be too clever and contrive a means for Columbo to live up to his legendary status in Mexico by seeing into the very soul of the killer in a way that no one else could. Unfortunately none of it rings true – and the ridiculous set-piece conclusion, in which Columbo genuinely endangers the life of his chief suspect, has no grounding in reality and isn’t justified by the evidence.

Don’t get me wrong. Columbo is five steps ahead of Sanchez and has amassed enough circumstantial evidence to be confident that Montoya is guilty of murder by bull. But even with a splintered lance, a pin prick in the victim’s bum and holes galore in Montoya’s alibi, the deductive leap Columbo makes to be so certain that Montoya froze in the ring on the day Curro was injured is a massive stretch.

You know what it reminds me of? The flashy reveals made by Sherlock Holmes in such adventures as The Six Napoleons, The Valley of Fear and The Hound of the Baskervilles. A showman, Holmes is so confident in his mental acuity that he refuses to share crucial details of his case until the dramatic reveal. He then explains to gawking onlookers exactly how he reached his conclusions.

That works for Holmes, but it’s not Columbo’s way. And pitching Matter of Honor like this damages it. I watch Columbo to see how he cracks perfect murders based on what I myself see unfold on screen. Hiding Montoya’s critical weakness until the end seems like a bit of a cheat, as if the writers couldn’t find a plausible way of explaining Columbo’s deductive wizardry.

This fault is accentuated by the feebleness of the gotcha scene. Yes, Montoya freezes in the ring with and witnesses see it, but he could always say he was standing still to prevent attracting the bull’s attention because his leg had seized up due to the exertions of saving Curro days earlier. No one could dispute it. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, etc, etc… His honour would remain intact.

Columbo Ricardo Montalban A Matter of Honor

Montoya didn’t get the warrior’s ending his character deserved

And even if Montoya did freeze on that first occasion with only Hector to witness it, would a man of his stature allow it to happen again in front of so many others? I don’t buy it. The vain Don Luis Montoya would rather die than show such legacy-tarnishing weakness in public. It doesn’t ring true for who he is – similar to the way Bo Williamson meekly surrenders to Elliott Markham in Blueprint for Murder, when in reality such a character would fight tooth and nail to survive.

Looking at Season 5 as a whole, perhaps the writers justified the move by tying it in with the over-arching theme that there’s more going in each episode than initially meets the eye. Who could have predicted that Montoya would wimp out the way he did? What a stunner! On paper, maybe, but in reality the limp delivery means the gambit didn’t pay off. Ho-hum.

We ought also to discuss the crime itself, and Montoya’s avalanche of errors that made it so easy for Columbo to suspect him. Ordering his ‘other car’ to be prepared so he could drive himself to San Diego when Hector always drives him everywhere was surely the most basic oversight a killer’s made since Dr Cahill pointlessly left a burnt cigar match at the crime scene in Mind Over Mayhem.

“Montoya’s avalanche of errors made it so easy for Columbo to suspect him.”

His carelessness in failing to identify the splintered lance (claiming it to be a pick) – one of the fundamental building blocks of his trade – was also a poor move, and reminiscent of Colonel Rumford’s inability to identify the cannon cleaning rag in By Dawn’s Early Light. Not only that, but his lies about Hector wanting to work on the books were so easily disproved that his cheeks ought to have been stinging with shame. In fact the way Montoya covered his tracks throughout was dismal.

In defence of Montoya (and the writers), much of this can be forgiven because the Don believed that his status, allied with presumed half-hearted police investigations, would cause him no trouble. His word is law, right? And in fairness, who could predict that a holidaying super sleuth would be drafted in to play the key role in solving the mystery?

What this ultimately means is that Montalban never got the killer his stature and abilities deserved. Sure, he has some good lines to deliver as he becomes increasingly weary of Columbo’s insinuations, but the confrontation never sizzles as it ought to. Personally I’d rather have seen Montalban cast as a less stereotypical killer based in LA.

Columbo A Matter of Honor

Although tempted to run Columbo through, Montoya sensibly decided against making a bad situation worse

Still, regular readers will know I’m a lover not a (bull) fighter when it comes to Columbo, so what positives can we take from A Matter of Honor? Well as detailed earlier, the relationship between Sanchez and Columbo is really strong. The way their camaraderie grows feels authentic – it’s very well written and the performances are top rate, making their burgeoning friendship the most compelling aspect of the episode.

Speaking of which, who’s noticed the Columbo character development we’re seeing in Season 5? In Identity Crisis, the Lieutenant was a much more dominant force with his fellow officers than we’ve seen in the past. He took control of the crime scene and was much less meandering than usual in his investigations. That trait is ramped up here as Columbo is the man in charge – even though he’s well outside his area of jurisdiction.

Here he’s a straight-talking mentor to Sanchez. He shares his insights freely (save for the ‘Montoya fear’ stuff) and directs his opposite number to the right courses of action that he’ll need to follow to crack the case. The bumbling cop that even his fellow officers in LA under-appreciate is nowhere to be seen. This Columbo has serious leadership credentials and is a far cry from the lone wolf we see in Seasons 1-4. And actually I don’t mind it at all, as Falk convincingly portrays another aspect of Columbo’s personality.

“This Columbo we see here has serious leadership credentials and is a far cry from the lone wolf we know from Seasons 1-4.”

Columbo is also far more direct with Montoya than he is with the average killer, being absolutely unphased by the matador’s reputation and absolutely unafraid to challenge him on his own turf. This will increasingly become the series norm, and it could well be that the last we’ve seen of the unassuming and seemingly inept Lieutenant was in Case of Immunity two episodes earlier. Time will tell.

Another success in the script is the way Columbo is drawn into the case. Having him investigating a murder while on holiday could have felt rather gratuitous, but I think it was handled well – especially the way Sanchez keeps him keen by promising to speed up the release of his impounded car. And it was nice to hear the events of Troubled Waters being referenced, and that the Lieutenant’s press coverage has made him a bit of a hero to the local law enforcers.

That aside, I’m struggling to come up with too many more positives. The supporting cast is adequate, but beyond the main trio of Falk, Montalban and Armendáriz there’s not much character depth. Even A Martinez (of Longmire and General Hospital fame) as Curro, the wronged party, isn’t at all interesting. And we have yet another episode in which there’s no significant female character. Montoya’s daughter, Nina, has almost no part to play – other than trilling ‘Currrrrrrrrrrrrro‘ over and over at increasing volume. It’s hardly inspiring viewing for the senoritas in the audience.

Columbo Nina Montoya

Nina Montoya excelled at screaming “Currrrrrrro”, but little else

Who knows, maybe this episode resonates more strongly with bullfighting buffs? Frankly, with my own knowledge of the sport being non-existent, I found a lot of the terminology and clues hard to follow – particularly the picks and lances stuff, which became tedious. And would the heavy onus given to honour really have been so prevalent in the 1970s? If you know better than I do about such matters, please sing out in the comments section. Perhaps something’s been lost in translation.

In conclusion, A Matter of Honor could have been an interesting departure had it done a more plausible job of showing Columbo locking horns with (pun intended, I assure you) and getting inside the head of the killer. Instead it’s a misstep with one of the least satisfying pay-offs of the entire series, and an episode that proves – again – that nothing quite beats seeing the Lieutenant fighting crime in his own back yard.

Did you know?

Columbo JapanColumbo investigated crimes on the high seas (Troubled Waters), in London (Dagger of the Mind) and here in Mexico – but if the network had had its way the good Lieutenant would also have had a Japanese passport stamp in order to cash in on his popularity in the far east.

Quite what the concepts were to make this happen are unknown, but the idea was flouted sometime in the early 70s. It was, however, quashed by Peter Falk himself who had been unhappy at the ‘gimmicky’ nature of Dagger of the Mind and wanted to avoid a repeat performance. It’s probably just as well…

How I rate ’em

A Matter of Honor is one of the least inspiring 70s episodes. I place it even below Short Fuse, due to that one’s superior gotcha. However, it’s certainly not the worst. While it’s nestling pretty low right now, if you’re a fan of it please take heart and be reassured that even below-average Columbo is still very much worth watching when compared to almost all other TV ever made.

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. A Matter of Honor
  34. Mind Over Mayhem
  35. Dagger of the Mind

That’s a wrap, muchachos. I’m going to have a lie down in the southern pasture with a bottle of mescal. Remember to let me know your views on A Matter of Honor below. Am I being too hard on it? Or have I hit the bullseye (pun, again, intentional)?

Season 5 heads to safer territory in our next outing – the truly magical Now You See Him, starring Jack Cassidy. You won’t want to miss it! Until then, adios


For details on the locations used in this episode, visit the Ultimate Columbo Locations Map!

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Columbo Matter of Honor

Columbo’s bid to bring Marinaro home as a companion for Dog sadly never got past border control

 

 

48 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo A Matter of Honor

  1. It seems to me that the motive of a given murder is in direct proportion to how weak/compelling an episode is. In this episode, the motive is a man’s honor. Sorry, guys, that’s not an interesting enough reason. In Short Fuse, Uncle DL is going to squeal on weirdo Roger, so he’s gotta die. Again, meh. Conversely, when the motive is revenge on a rival, spouse or other family member…now that’s when I pop the corn and shut off my phone! It’s why the kinds of shows like Dateline and 48 hours are so popular. In the U.S. there are channels devoted to these real life crimes.
    To me, what makes a good Columbo recipe is; Peter Falk, an intriguing crime, a deliciously diabolical bad guy, dripping with evil narcissism who can match wits and exchange veiled barbs with Columbo, a “gotcha” ending, and, of course, the delightful distraction of comedic extras (Vito Scotti, Larry Storch, Richard Stahl, Nina Talbot, Joyce Van Patton, etc. So, I guess as long as Peter Falk is in the show, I’ll watch it. The rest is gravy.

  2. Sounds like you haven’t seen many Westerns – unlike Columbo – or you wouldn’t be so upset over stereotypes, which leads to some serious 20/20 hindsight SJWism “When MAN walked on the moon” is a howler, at the time, Mexico didn’t even know how to build a car! This was also long before “identity” roles that have ruined modern movies. They didn’t need token females or blacks or homosexuals to soothe fragile snowflake egos, if they needlessly had to involve a love affair or female Mexican police woman, it would have made this episode EVEN LONGER, and God knows how much you hate that 😉

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  5. And one other thing troubled me, just as an outsider. The first question I would have asked is why an old man like Hector would even fight a bull. If he wanted to protect his son, why not just shoot the bull with a rifle. Bullfighting when pushing 60 doesn’t seem like something any prudent man would do. Now there might be reasonable rebuttals, given a different culture, but I thought Columbo should have raised this issue being he was an outsider like myself.

  6. Thinking on this episode, it still seems to me that most are downplaying too much the impact of Hector saying Montoya was brave in the original incident. That has to totally undercut the fear motive argument. Who else was there?
    Hector’s motivation for leaving also seems opaque to me. Keeping the fact of Montoya’s freezing a secret until the ending didn’t allow any exploration of what Hector was really thinking, and so it becomes fill in the blank guesswork.
    There was an easier way out for Montoya. Why not wait until everyone is gone and then kill the bull in the ring. Montoya could tranquilize it and then kill it matador style with a sword. Who would know? There would be no autopsy on a bull. His stated reason would be to make certain the bull wasn’t around for Curro to challenge when he got back on his feet. The upside is this isn’t even a crime.
    I admit I don’t know anything really about the macho pride of this culture, and some who do know more than I find Montoya’s motivation plausible. Okay. Granting that, I can understand that killing a bull without giving it a fighting chance might be viewed as dishonorable, but for an outsider it is still difficult to understand why this wouldn’t be preferable to the cold-blooded murder of an old friend.

    • I’ve never considered that, but you’re right. Killing Marinaro in front of no witnesses would have worked well. He could then have buried the hatchet with Hector, retain his honour and all could be best pals again!

    • I don’t think you understand what’s going on, when did Hector say Montoya was brave? The reason Hector was leaving, was because he SEEN Montoya’s fear, and Montoya couldn’t have another man knowing that, what in the world of Haystack Colhoun was have killing been the point of killing the bull, this is about Hector, not the bull!

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

  8. I watched the episode again, and while I still have lots of issues with it, I think the review is a little harsh in labeling Columbo’s conclusion that Montoya froze facing the bull a “deductive leap.” First, the importance to Montoya of his reputation for unwavering courage in the bullring is brought up throughout the episode:

    Sanchez: “[Y]ou don’t understand the temperament of a matador. You see, they must be proud, brave, they must have honor. It’s called ‘puro honor.’ Without it, you’re nothing.”

    On Montoya’s choice of car for his trip to San Diego: “Is Montoya a vain man?” “Oh, yes.” “Is he concerned with his public image?” “Absolutely.”

    On Montoya’s legendary status in Mexico: “He’s known throughout the country as the bravest of the brave, and this man likes the glory that surrounds him.”

    Even his possible loss of courage is mentioned. After Montoya describes his “last fight”: “Well, that must’ve taken a lot of courage, sir.” “Well, it would be a difficult thing to do now, with this leg.”

    And Columbo foreshadows his conclusion with: “I’ll tell you the truth, I got a crazy notion I know why Rangel was killed. … Trouble is, I don’t think anybody’s gonna believe me.” Why not? Because everyone in Mexico accepts that Montoya remains the “bravest of the brave.”

    Then there’s the evidence of the splintered lance in the practice ring. We’re told that a lance is used in the field, not in the bullring. (“No one uses a lance in the ring.”) And we know Hector was carrying it on the day Curro fought the bull — but never would have brought it into the ring if, in fact, Montoya was diverting the bull while Hector dragged Curro out. He only would have brought it in if his role and Montoya’s were reversed. So something must have prevented Montoya from facing the bull himself.

    Nor do I think the script was suggesting that Columbo was “seeing into the very soul of the killer in a way that no one else could.” If anything, it was suggesting that Columbo, because he was not blinded by the local aura surrounding a matador, was willing to see what the others simply (and perhaps irrationally) refused to believe.

    Finally, Montoya’s freezing in the ring at the episode’s end, in my view, cannot be so easily explained away as the review suggests (“he could always say he was standing still to prevent attracting the bull’s attention”). Even after the bull has been diverted out of the ring, Montoya remains frozen. He’s almost catatonic as the two men try to lead him from the ring. Obviously, this was no strategic ruse.

    I agree 100% that even this is not proof of murder — and am equally amazed that Montoya would submit to arrest on this basis. Perhaps he was surrendering less to a murder charge and more to the loss of his legendary status.

  9. I agree that this was one of the weaker episodes. The motive for murder was pretty weak, the whole gotcha was pretty weak, the ranch hand deciding he had to quit and leave because Ricardo Montalban flinched was just silly. I’d rank this with “A Case of Immunity” as one of the weaker episodes.

    • A case of immunity is far from a top tier columbo , but its twice as enjoyable as this episode , Murder under glass , Old fashioned murder, Dagger of the mind , requiem for a Falling star and mind over mayhem and of course last salute to the commodore I consider the weakest of the 70s .

  10. I find this perhaps the poorest written of any episode. It is entertaining for me because of the cast and the colorful Mexican setting. Aside-I had no problem with Emilio Fernandez’s character. Seemed realistic for an old ranch hand to drink on down time.
    One big issue for me would be how Montoya could calibrate exactly that the drug would render Hector woozy enough to be lurching helplessly about, but not in enough control to simply drop to the ground and play dead. Off what they said about bulls (and I have no personal knowledge), the bull would probably have then left him alone.
    And Montoya’s motive was certainly a stretch. The opening scene showed a hired hand telling Montoya “Hector told us what you did. It was very brave.” which indicates Hector was not going to expose his old friend. So why the murder? Does it make that much difference if one person who won’t talk knows?
    And then they top it off by never proving a murder. Was any evidence given which put Montoya at the scene? A needle prick might raise suspicions but is not proof of anything. Montoya “freezing” at the climax could be explained away by him as just not wanting to kill a valuable bull, and so electing not to move until the bull was diverted. But anyway, freezing then didn’t prove he froze earlier. Why would be the proof that he behaved bravely when another person’s life was in danger? Well, Hector’s statement. How would Columbo’s speculation stand up against testimony from the hired hands that Hector himself told a different story.
    So an interesting watch due to Montalban and the others, but a flop script.

  11. I can’t entirely agree that until this season Columbo was not a ‘dominant force with his fellow officers.’ I particularly remember Season 2’s ‘The Most Crucial Game’. When Columbo arrives at Eric Wagner’s house he fires off a stream of orders: “I want photographs, prints, the works. The decking, all round here. What’s your name? I’ll leave you in charge of that.” And you can damn well bet all that stuff would have to be on Columbo’s desk first thing the next morning or there would be trouble, Sunday or not.

    I think your dismissal of Montoya’s motive is also a bit mistaken. I’ve lived in Portugal for nearly 15 years. I know it’s not Spain or Mexico but believe me, keeping your dignity, outward appearances and personal reputation are deeply important here. It’s what the ancient Romans called ‘gravitas’ and ‘dignitas’. I can quite believe why Montoya had to prevent Hector from leaving him after so many years – people would be bound to wonder why, and the truth would have come out.

  12. Its been a long time since I watched a matter of honor in Full, I have watched the ending on You tube 4 or 5 times , If I was to watch it again which seems something I never willingly do I think it might be better than from what I recall , but while I enjoyed the review I Just cant say the same for the episode , sorry I just dont enjoy this episode, me and my dad love columbo but often have avoided this one , some of the clues I cant understand , the chemistry of the murderer and lack of humor and i cant truthfully say its a great ending sorry I just dont like this one ,however I would rate it ahead of Last salute to the commodore and Dagger of the mind , that is all I say on it , Looking forward to a much more enjoyable outing ( for me anyhow ) in next review Now you see him .

  13. Another fantastic analysis by Columbophile, of a somewhat mediocre episode. Kudos, again!

    I adore stories that highlight ethnic or gender related stereotypical behavior. The “mucho dinero” scene was priceless, when the occupants of the car he hit saw that Columbo was a “gringo”, while they acted like they had whiplash or even broken necks. The local caballeros’ penchant for guzzling free Mezcal was also spot on.

    Most people brought up during the classic Columbo-era remember Ricardo Montalban as the curiously non-stereotypically named “Mr. Roarke” from the truly dreadful “Fantasy Island” television series (where aging, washed up actors found a second chance for face time on Friday nights)…..as well as those glorious car commercials for the Chrysler Cordoba, most notably his warm regard for the fine “Corinthian leather” that graced the car’s interior…pronounced “Ko-reen-thee-uhn leah-thorr”. Classic!

    Nowadays Columbo would never have made it out of Old Mexico (…you mean there’s a “New” Mexico?). The cartels/gangs that inhabit that 3rd world haven would have disemboweled and dismembered him immediately after robbing him post-fender bender, and under no circumstances would he ever have made it to a corrupt, rich land owner like Sr. Montoya’s ranch alive. No, indeed. It would have been adios, Columbo!

  14. I would suggest that people are not naturally predisposed to murder, and the traditional Columbo “cream of the crop” killer would be inclined to self sabotage. This concept would allow the producers all kinds of leeway in closing the case.

    Please let me mention that Columbo is playing every morning in the United States on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and they have cycled to the beginning today. This might draw people to the Columbophile, and the investment in early season reviews should pay off.

  15. A word about the old vaquero with the mescal, Emilio Fernandez. Known to Sam Peckinpah fans as General Mapache in The Wild Bunch. An prolific filmmaker, director, writer and actor, regarded as “Mexico’s John Huston.” He also used to claim he was the original model of the Oscar statue, having originally come to Hollywood in the 1920’s as a bodybuilder.

  16. Your, opinion of “ Matter if Honour “ on Colombo Series, is outlandish!
    I find this “ out of the USA, to be most interesting in many ways.
    Colombo used his same spiel in his episodes to make certain that the true killer will indeed show himself at the end; in which the conclusion of Matter of Honour “ was performed !
    With gaiety, and in a bit of a “ fender bender”; there upon meeting the Chief of Police as Colombo shows his LAPD Badge .. All is now on better terms.
    Then, as he is being taken to his Hotel, a call on the Police Radio comes in & Colombo comes along to view the tragedy.
    This is when “ The Great Colombo “ comes into play !
    Par excellence, indeed.
    I don’t quite think you truly appreciate the curiosity of Colombo. My Opinion !

    • Artrestore9:

      I very much agree with you. I thought the mystery of the murder and the clues uncovered by Columbo were superb. I like a good mystery presentation as opposed to a great “gotcha.”

      I also don’t understand how a movie buff of the intelligence of the writer of Columbophile could miss the presence of Emilio Fernandez.

      But the again I disagree with Columbophile on Blueprint for Murder, Identity Crisis, and By Dawn’s Early Light also.

      I am more attracted to the mystery and the unraveling of it than the final scene.

      • I am not, and do not claim to be, a movie buff, so am unfamiliar with Emilio’s work. I, too, like to see a mystery unravelled well, but Columbo deducing Montoya froze in the ring isn’t an example of him unpicking the evidence – it’s a massive leap, and none of the evidence he’s amassed warrants him reaching that conclusion.

      • Because Columbo is an inverted mystery, there is never a “mystery of the murder.” Likewise, because Columbo is all about how the murderer gets caught, the “gotcha” will always have principal importance. The amassing of clues prior to the “gotcha” is interesting and leads to some terrific exchanges between Columbo and the murderer, but these clues are never of primary interest — because these clues can always be explained away (some more easily than others). What makes the “gotcha” special is that it can’t be explained away. It defies an innocent explanation. Hence, it traps the murderer conclusively.

        Granted, some Columbo “gotchas” are better than others. But to discount the importance of the “gotcha” is to reject the essential structure of almost every Columbo.

  17. I’m intrigued by your observation about the feel of the writing. Brad Radnitz joins the list of Columbo writers with one script to his credit. That’s always a warning sign (although there are some notable exceptions). Was a Mexican bullfighting story Brad’s idea? Did he have a special affinity for this subject matter? Or was this something that, as the saying goes, “seemed like a good idea at the time”? I’d be more forgiving if the episode’s creator was writing about a world he knew well.

    And why was Hector so unforgiving of Montoya’s sudden fright? Montoya didn’t cause Curro’s injury; Montoya froze trying to rescue him. Is this a reason for Hector to pack up and leave? The shattered stereotype of the fearless matador seems as much Hector’s meshugas as it was Montoya’s.

    Finally, are certain cars really harder on the legs than others? Is it power brakes versus pneumatic brakes? It’s all very vague here. They should have made it clear that Montoya’s left leg was the one injured, and that the Ford had an automatic transmission. No left leg needed. That would have made more sense.

  18. I agree that this is one of the worst endings in all of Columbo, but surprisingly, not for the reasons you suggest. Given all the circumstantial evidence Columbo had amassed that Montoya killed Hector, and having it come on the heels of Curro’s wounding, I don’t think it was such a stretch for Columbo to reach the conclusion he reached, once he learned about the whole “matter of honor” with bullfighters. I also don’t think it is a stretch to think it would happen again, because I believe they mention in the episode that he froze because of his leg injury and the realization that he no longer was qualified to fight and escape a bull’s wrath. Who the audience was mattered little, as this was a physical reality-based fear, not a psychological one.

    What makes the ending ridiculous to me is Montoya’s reaction. Number one, how could Montoya be such a genius as to figure out instantaneously what Columbo was trying to prove with this incident and how it was supposed to prove that he killed Hector. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that he would meekly show Columbo respect and walk to the arrest car. Not only did he read Columbo’s mind, but even before he explained his “proof” to Sanchez, let alone proved his case in court, this life-long heroic fighter would just give up and admit his guilt, without even attempting to argue his innocence and that all this proves nothing? THAT is nonsensical to me. Having a gotcha ending that has to be explained for 5 minutes, and having the murderer admit and give up before the police explanation against him was even laid out is beyond preposterous to me.

    • The inexplicable surrender is all too frequent. Is it supposed to convince the audience that a tepid “Gotcha” is much more clever than it appears? “Well, if it was good enough for the killer, who am I to complain?” I don’t fault the script if the killer fails to invoke a remote flaw in Columbo’s solution (that took us several viewings to notice). But sometimes the hole is gaping, and the murderer submits (or, worse still, confesses) nonetheless.

      The one that comes to mind immediately is “Murder with Too Many Notes.” The Gotcha-less Columbo.

  19. Read the review , I haven’t watched it in full for about 15 years ( probably because I just dont like this episode ) but i remember the majority of it , relieved to see it right down there because this is for me the most boring and unenjoyable episodes of the seventies , i would even place it lower than the awful mind over mayhem , whether or not its worse than Dagger i will have to sleep on it , I Know next to nothing about bullfighting or never been to mexico so maybe that could be some of the reason , I just dont think the nature of a matter of honor suits most people certainly , certainly not me .

  20. No mention of Jorge Rivero (RIO LOBO) as the muscular car washer, thrown away on one scene. I agree it’s never been a favorite but like “A Case of Immunity” I found it far more agreeable this time. Yes, if Hector was supposed to drive the convertible in the afternoon then why did Montoya order the hardtop in the morning? This item never came up in the climax, and despite the wordless exchange between killer and cop I still enjoyed it.

    • I think the likes of Old Fashioned Murder and Dead Weight are more tedious, but given the bullfighting backdrop you’d think this would be a bit more exciting, certainly.

      • Yes. Old Fashioned was also quite dull, but for some reason i (kind of) liked Dead Weight. I don’t know if it’s the super corny dinner date scene or the fact Eddie Albert was on the fantastic Green Acres series. Anyway great job on this website.

        • For the record I should add that I don’t dislike Dead Weight, but it’s rather pedestrian by Columbo standards with no really exciting or memorable moments. Pleshette was excellent, though.

          • Old fashioned Murder Is Very Dull and boring , I dont Dislike dead weight, but I place very low in the 70s , Given choice i would still watch either episode ahead of A matter of Honor as for dagger of the mind I dont know it such a silly episode its hard to compare it with other poor episodes. I liked the review , I know mind over mayhem was poor and I IDont rate it by any means but I would prefer to a matter of honor . were anticipating Next review Now you See him with Jack cassidy to Fair much better .

  21. What has been lost in time, IMO, is that the NBC Mystery Movie series was originally a five year commitment. Although I have no knowledge about McCloud, I have read that Rock Hudson wasn’t thrilled about continuing beyond season 5, and Universal was running a hard line regarding renewal payments. This is part of why Susan Saint James, John Shuck and Nancy Walker left, and season 6 was titled “McMillan”.

    The effect on Columbo season 5 was, again IMO, the Columbo “brain trust” becoming more self indulgent on their “final season”. This let them make sure they got a paid for Mexican vacation, and made episodes that they wanted to make. If you picture “Last Salute To The Commodore” as a series finale, then that helps explain the Ten Little Indians conclusion, the This Old Man musical overload, and Columbo rowing across the harbor at the conclusion.

    • I think you’re right. Season 5 was initially intended to be the Columbo finale, with him rowing off into the ‘sunset’ at the end. Sometime before Last Salute was filmed they evidently secured Peter for a sixth season, so could alter the script to include the ‘not quitting yet’ dialogue. I’ve heard that there was much speculation in the press that this would be the end, with Falk’s agent even saying that the star was definitely quitting. I’m guessing a hefty pay rise convinced him otherwise!

  22. This is another one of the Columbo must be psychic episodes. There was no reason for him to suspect anything was fishy. In the well written episodes there was usually a huge red flag at the murder scene.

  23. Very enjoyable review. However, your opinion regarding the cliche-tastic emulation are, well, cliche-tastic. Anyone who has been involved in Latin American culture, I.e they’ve engaged the locals outside of Sandals Resorts or Princess Cruise Lines, what easily recognized why stereotypes and cliches exist– they portray a reality even if that reality is a bit hyperbolized. Sorry, a matter of Honor doesn’t fit the stereotypes of your liberal, history-rewriting textbooks.

    • I haven’t read any liberal, history-rewriting textbooks. The cliches here are as heavy-handed as the British ones in Dagger of the Mind. Hyperbolised or not, they still grate with me.

  24. Superb analysis, thank you Columbophile. It’s no coincidence that this episode is ranked lowly by many Columbo fans, the many reasons for which you outline in detail here. The ‘deductive leap’ you reference is a case in point. Yes, Columbo is perceptive and has the measure of his quarry time and again, but there’s nothing in Montoya’s actions that would suggest for a moment that he’d freeze in fear in the ring and no evidence to suggest so either, other than a hunch, so it’s deeply unsatisfying. Like you, I’d have rather seen the amazing talent of Montalban put to better, less clichéd, use. A missed opportunity.

  25. Thank you Columbophile,for your eloborate review again. As always I read it with great interest. This time however I disagree with you on so many points that it will take almost an entirely new review to point them all out. When I have some more time I’ll try to elaborate. No offense, because you know how much I appreciate your work (!) but for me you’re doing this episode a great injustice. Hopefully to be continued.

  26. I would have it above Short Fuse and Lovely But Lethal, but I agree with most aspects of your review. This could have been a decent episode but the conclusion is terrible. … Also, hate to play the role of grammar guy, but it’s unfazed. Unphased would be more like not going through a phase.

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