ALAKAZAM! As if by magic, master villain Jack Cassidy returned to give Columbo‘s fifth season a much-needed boost in the illusion-packed Now You See Him on 29 February 1976.
The presence of Cassidy as The Great Santini, the return of Sergeant Wilson and the unique and mysterious backdrop of the Cabaret of Magic help Now You See Him stand tall in the memory. But is the end result as good as the ingredients itself? Or to put it another way, is this a water tank illusion of an episode, or merely a simple card trick?
Let’s don our most luxurious capes, twirl our moustaches and bust out of some unbreakable handcuffs as we investigate…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
The Great Santini: Jack Cassidy
Sergeant Wilson: Bob Dishy
Jesse Jerome: Nehemiah Persoff
Harry Blandford: Robert Loggia
Della Santini: Cynthia Sikes
Danny Green: Patrick Culliton
Michael Lally: Mike Lally
Thackery (waiter): George Sperdakos
Dog: As himself
Written by: Michael Sloan
Directed by: Harvey Hart
Score by: Bernardo Segall
Notable locations: Cabaret of Magic (Magic Castle, 7001 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles)
Episode synopsis: Columbo Now You See Him
Jesse Jerome, owner of the Cabaret of Magic, has a hold over his star act, the globally renowned Great Santini. Only Jerome knows Santini used to be a Nazi SS guard by the name of Stefan Mueller. And when Santini refuses to play ball with Jerome’s demands for a bigger slice of his earnings, Jerome vows to send proof of Mueller’s identity to the Department of Immigration.
Santini isn’t going to take this threat lying down, so he concocts a brilliant murder scheme and puts it into action during his own live stage show, when he’s supposedly suspended in a locked case inside a glass tank of water.
Actually safely in his dressing room below the stage, having slipped out of the case’s false bottom, the wicked wizard applies a wig and false moustache and dons a waiter’s uniform enabling him to blend in with the throng of kitchen staff above. He also has a small earpiece and microphone enabling him to speak to the waiter who’s brought him his nightly brandy and create the illusion of being in the dressing room when he was really stalking his prey.
A sweaty Jerome is in his upstairs office, counting the nightly takings and swigging Campari. We can see he’s just finished typing his letter to send to the Department of Immigration and is ready to cook Santini’s goose. The ace escape artist has other ideas, though. Picking the supposedly unpickable new lock Jerome just had fitted to his office door, he slips easily inside. Alerted by a slight noise, Jerome comes to check and with one shot from a silenced gun, his career as a professional money grabber is over.
Leaving the gun on the floor and pocketing the incriminating evidence (which he later burns below stage), Santini slips effortlessly back to his dressing room and – lo and behold – is back on stage having amazed the crowd at the conclusion of his water tank escape just as Jerome’s body is found. Now that’s what you call a watertight alibi (chuckles for several minutes at own hilarity).
LAPD’s finest soon gather at the Cabaret of Magic, including one Lieutenant Columbo. He’s not looking quite the same as usual, though, as he’s sporting a new, dark brown raincoat – an unwanted gift from his wife. Upon arriving at the scene, Columbo learns that a Sergeant John J. Wilson is the officer in charge – the same Sergeant Wilson he worked with in Greenhouse Jungle (albeit having changed his first name from Freddie at some point in between).
It doesn’t initially appear that Wilson has learnt much in the intervening years, as it’s Columbo, as usual, who’s noticing things the others aren’t. For one thing, why is Jerome’s lower back so sweaty? And doesn’t the position of the corpse suggest that Jerome was walking towards the door when he was killed? He didn’t open the door, because he’d have been closer to it. Was he surprised by an intruder? The plot thickens when close examination of the door lock reveals scratch marks. It was picked!
Wandering around near the stage downstairs, Columbo is accosted by Santini, who is keen to avoid nosy parkers learning his secrets. He reveals to the detective (far too readily) that the killing must have taken place while he was suspended in the tank of water. He promises to help with any queries the Lieutenant has – but he’ll stop short of spilling the beans on his world-famous illusions.
Columbo is back at the Cabaret of Magic the next day and enjoys the privilege of seeing Santini practising his act up close. He again attempts to find out more about Santini’s whereabouts at the precise time of Jerome’s death, claiming he needs the info to satisfy his superior. Santini doesn’t fall for it. He’ll only reveal his whereabouts if the law absolutely requires it further down the track. But give away his secret to Columbo now? “My dear friend, I’d rather confess to a murder than to do that.”
What the detective does leave with, though, is an invite to watch Santini’s live act that evening and with that in mind he heads straight to the locksmith to make a special request: he needs a set of handcuffs made using the unpickable lock from Jerome’s office door. And he needs it ahead of tonight’s show!
“Columbo plays his own trump card by challenging Santini to break out of his new unbreakable cuffs in front of a live audience.”
We subsequently find out Columbo’s need for urgency. During Santini’s show, the Lieutenant races up on stage to ‘volunteer’ to assist the great magician in his act. And after being dazzled by an array of card tricks, Columbo plays his own trump card by challenging Santini to break out of his new unbreakable cuffs in front of a live audience.
Unable to refuse, Santini does what he does best – and promptly escapes from the cuffs to the delight of the boozy crowd. Columbo winks at him. “I knew you could do it,” he says, a sly smile on his face. He has the proof he needs that Santini could have picked Jerome’s office lock. The magic man is Columbo’s new prime suspect – even more so when he bustles downstairs during Santini’s water tank illusion to find the magician in his dressing room – and expecting the Lieutenant’s visit.
While this proves Santini had the opportunity to kill Jerome, there’s a complication. Santini has a brandy delivered to him at precisely the same time every night. When Columbo finds the waiter, Thackery, who delivered it the night before, the guy states with certainty that Santini was in his dressing room, because he spoke to him and could see him moving around (another illusion, created by a revolving lamp).
He explains that Santini played a mind trick on him, correctly guessing the number he was thinking of. He does admit that he didn’t see Santini with his own eyes but would swear it was his voice he could hear.
Columbo also chats to Harry Blandford (Robert Loggia – wooohooooo!), Jerome’s business partner, who tells him that the kitchen is so hectic every night that he wouldn’t notice if his own “mother came in here and kissed me.” This interests the Lieutenant, as it suggests that Santini could have snuck through the kitchen unheeded on his way to Jerome’s office to commit a killing.
One thing Columbo needs to do is improve his knowledge of illusions, so he visits a magic store and speaks to the sinister-looking owner, who proves to be most helpful. He suggests that it would be perfectly possible to appear to be somewhere you’re not through use of a concealed microphone and speaker. Such know-how is common in the trade and is widely used by the ‘gaff in the head act’ – a mind-reading stunt carried out by two people, one on stage and one roaming the audience (the gaff).
Further strength to Columbo’s suspicions comes when he chats to down-on-his-luck former high wire ace Michael Lally (played by series regular Mike Lally) who has known Santini for years under several different guises. He confirms that Santini used to be the gaff in a head act, so he’d be completely au fait with use of concealed microphones and radio transmitters. By now Columbo has all he needs against Santini – except a motive.
We don’t have to wait long for that. Catching up with Wilson at police HQ, Columbo notices a colleague at the water fountain has a damp lower back – just like Jerome did on the night of his death. Sweaty guy had been sitting in a low-backed chair, so the two detectives head back to the Cabaret of Magic to give Jerome’s office another once over.
The one chair that fits the bill is a leather chair near the typewriter. There had been reading glasses on Jerome’s desk, suggesting he could have been typing, but there was no paper in the typewriter, nor any typed documents to be found. Closer inspection of the typewriter itself yields the key clue. It’s a very modern machine (as Wilson is happy to demonstrate), in which a golf ball-like device revolves and punches individual letters out of a disposable carbon ribbon. Everything that has been typed on the machine can be read back on the carbon ribbon.
Later that night, Columbo and Wilson put their sting operation into play. Tricking Santini into heading up to Jerome’s office, they use radio equipment to suggest they’re inside and on the cusp of proving the magician’s guilt. Taking flight downstairs, Santini is confronted by Columbo and Wilson who reveal that their voice-throwing trick was a copy of the one Santini himself used when killing Jerome and chatting to the waiter.
Better yet, they have established a motive for the crime. Jerome’s letter to the Department of Immigration, identifying Santini as ex-Nazi Stefan Mueller, is in Columbo’s hand. Taking the letter, Santini works his magic and – FOOM – it’s sent up in smoke before anyone can stop him.
Columbo, however, was well prepared for just such an act of sabotage. Performing some sleight of hand of his own, he produces another copy of the letter from a pocket. Then another. And another. Wilson does the same. The quarterback is toast!
“And I thought I’d performed the perfect murder,” whispers the dumb-struck Santini. “Perfect murder, sir?” Columbo responds. “Oh, I’m sorry there is no such thing as a perfect murder. That’s just an illusion.” Santini takes one last look around the Cabaret of Magic before police escort him off the premises, as credits roll…
Now You See Him‘s best bit: where the magic happens
The entire scene of Columbo volunteering to assist Santini during his live act is TV gold. So determined is he to get on stage and test the magician’s lock-picking skills that Columbo virtually storms the stage, giving Santini no option but to accept his presence – a decision that plays a big part in sealing his own fate.
The array of card tricks Santini plays on Columbo is delightful in itself, but the piece de resistance is the tense build-up (complete with cliche-licious drum roll) to Santini escaping from the unbreakable handcuffs. As the camera draws in on Columbo’s face the jollity has gone, replaced by a grim and intense satisfaction as his hunch that Santini could have picked the lock on Jerome’s office door is proved right.
It all ends with a sly wink from detective to magician and the simple line: “I knew you could do it.” From this point on, you just know there’s no way Santini’s going to elude the detective’s clutches – whether he’s a master of escapology or not.
My views on Now You See Him
If ever a Columbo episode was bound to live long in the memory, it was destined to be Now You See Him. The magical setting, the fun of the tricks and illusions, the great humour throughout, the return of Sergeant Wilson, a Dog cameo, a speaking part for Mike Lally and the series’ swan song for Jack Cassidy, Now You See Him ticks so many boxes that your pen will run dry long before the end.
But there’s more to the success of this episode than merely the feel-good factor, for this is a terrifically plotted, scripted, directed, acted and paced episode that’s as good to watch the 100th time round as it is the first.
Yet at its heart there is true darkness, with The Great Santini desperate to hide his shadowy past as Nazi SS Guard Stefan Mueller and – just as heinously – Jesse Jerome profiting from this through extortion. It’s interesting that Jewish actor Nehemiah Persoff was cast as the ghastly Jerome, the suggestion being that Jerome himself may be a Jew protecting a Nazi for financial gain – an unconscionable act by anyone’s reckoning.
That the episode manages to tread the line so effectively between darkness and light is to the eternal credit of writer Michael Sloan, story consultants Peter S Fischer and William Driskill, director Harvey Hart (here helming his fourth and final Columbo) and a magnificent ensemble cast, who all rise to the occasion.
Jack Cassidy plays the role of Santini with suitable gusto. He’s more reserved than raging force of energy Riley Greenleaf in Publish or Perish, less mischievous than Ken Franklin in Murder by the Book, but the trademark winning smile, the nonchalance and the underlying icy interior that Cassidy does so well are all present and correct. In short, everything he does screams charisma.
“Now You See Him ticks so many boxes that your pen will run dry long before the end.”
Cassidy deserves plaudits for his sleight of hand skillz, too. He really does a very commendable job at performing the tricks and illusions. Detractors of this episode grumble that the nature of the tricks Santini displays (card tricks, hankies from pockets, doves out of thin air etc) are a bit entry level for such a globally renowned magician. I beg to differ. I think it’d be absolutely terrific, akin to watching a master like Houdini up close and personal showcasing the building blocks of his trade. Kudos to real-life TV illusionist Mark Wilson, whom I believe showed Cassidy the ropes and was on set to oversee the quality of the tricks was suitably high.
Cassidy and Peter Falk have incredible rapport, so it’s little surprise to find Falk on sizzling form, too. The presence of Cassidy always seems to give him a little extra, so perhaps it’s no coincidence that he puts in his most watchable performance of the season here. Of particular note is the extended scene where Columbo assists Santini on stage – a scene I imagine was largely ad libbed. From his eager volunteering and his genuine excitement at being on stage to the knowing wink after Santini breaks out of the specially prepared cuffs, we’re watching two masters at work here and it’s so enjoyable.
Columbo’s interactions with Sergeant Wilson are also supremely entertaining. Bob Dishy was a great pal of Falk’s and the two are having a great time during the ample screen time they share. Three years on from his debut in Greenhouse Jungle, we can see that Wilson hasn’t progressed as far as we might have hoped. He’s a diligent officer but lacks a spark of brilliance.
Despite his assertion that “I’ve gained a lot of experience since our last case”, poor Wilson is leagues behind the good Lieutenant. Columbo immediately dismisses the Sergeant’s suggestion that cabaret singer Danny Green is a viable suspect. He’s looking for someone who can pick an unpickable lock, which naturally makes the magician the chief suspect. This reality has eluded the hapless Wilson, who has discounted Santini because he naively believes he really was suspended in a tank of water at the time of Jerome’s death. Oh, Wilson…
Still, although Wilson may not himself be luminous, he is a conductor of light. Little wonder that Santini refers to him as ‘Dr Watson’ at one stage. Indeed, it’s Wilson’s knowledge and appreciation of Jerome’s state-of-the-art typewriter and its carbon ribbon that ultimately solves the case.
Not that Wilson realises his contribution. After bolting out ‘Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party’ on the ‘beautiful machine’, Wilson is up on his feet and ready to get back to work. Only Columbo sees the significance of the typed words being immortalised on the disposable ribbon, but he couldn’t have done it without his lovable sidekick.
So, yes, I adore Wilson! And I do find it a bit of a shame that we never encounter him again. I think one more appearance in the 70s’ series would have been fitting without over-egging the pudding. Or better yet, how about having him return in the 80s/90s a couple of times as a Captain to show his career progression? That would have been such a treat for long-time fans that I’m rather sad that it never happened. Still, I digress…
In Cassidy and Dishy, we have two actors that Falk loved being around, and who helped him deliver outstanding and rib-tickling performances. A third person who fits into that category is perennial series extra, Mike Lally – a man Falk loved having on set.
Beloved by serious fans, Lally racked up at least 23 appearances in the 70s – usually as a background extra with very few spoken lines. Here we’re treated to an extended scene of Lally (playing a former high wire act going by the name of Michael Lally) conversing with Columbo at his run-down apartment – and it’s terrific.
Lally knows Santini from decades before when they trod the circuit together. He’s able to provide useful information about Santini’s changing accents and identities, although he doesn’t know anything about his original identity. He’s helpful to a point, but the beauty of the scene really lies in what it shows us about the real Columbo.
Lally is clearly down on his luck. He lives in a dive and has to share toilets and showers with other tenants. All he owns in the apartment is his TV and the hotplate. His final years on this earth look bleak and lonely – a far cry from the life in the spotlight he once knew. Yet Columbo makes him feel like the place he’s in is a palace, not a slum, sharing a beer with Lally and displaying his rare gift of being able to connect with and put at ease people from all walks of life. It’s superb stuff.
Also worthy of praise is the episode’s on-going gag about Columbo’s hated new coat, which is a stroke of genius. From the moment of his introduction in it, when a fellow officer says he looks different and Columbo replies “I’ve had a haircut”, the coat is used as a device to tickle the audience – and it really works.
We’re so used to seeing him in the crumpled, beige mac that it’s almost an affront to see him smartly attired in a stiff and starchy new garment. Columbo seems to think so, too. “The coat! I CAN’T THINK IN THE COAT!” he seethes early on, tearing it off, before doing his best to lose it throughout the episode – even telling Dog to look the other way if someone tries to lift it through the open window of his car.
Falk himself was a big fan of the coat joke, telling Mark Dawidziak in The Columbo Phile book that: “The new coat made him very uncomfortable and self-conscious. It was a brilliant idea.” It’s part of the reason why Falk rated Now You See Him as one of his very favourite episodes.
The gotcha itself is another hugely memorable aspect of the entertainment, and one that the majority of fans rate extremely highly. I’m one of them, although it’s a bit ‘showy’ by Columbo standards. For the majority of the 70s’ series, the earthy Lieutenant didn’t need to indulge in unnecessary theatrics to prove a point. Such antics were mostly (although not exclusively – see Case of Immunity and A Matter of Honor) reserved for the comeback episodes of the 80s and 90s.
Still, the magic setting is so infectious that who could blame the writers for letting the Lieutenant exhibit a little showboating of his own to let Santini see that he’s not the only one capable of pulling the wool over people’s eyes? Not me…
Elsewhere, special mention goes to Nehemiah Persoff for giving us a truly odious and unsympathetic victim in Jesse Jerome. I’m not one to root for former SS guards, but Jerome certainly deserved his comeuppance. In a small role, Robert Loggia also brings the surly impatience required of him as the Cabaret’s junior partner Harry Blandford. Loggia has a menace to him that could have made him an interesting murderer for the series, although he’s perhaps a bit earthy to offer a really good contrast to Falk in the way Cassidy does.
Still, and rather like Santini’s failed attempt at murder, Now You See Him isn’t perfect. For all the intrigue of the illusory world we’re cast into, there’s little mystery about the culprit. As soon as Columbo learns the office door lock was picked, Santini is his only viable suspect. Even without the Immigration Department letter, the Lieutenant is able to prove method and opportunity, so Santini wasn’t nearly as clever as he thought he was.
In both of Cassidy’s other outings (Publish or Perish, Murder by the Book) there’s much more room to doubt his guilt, which makes Columbo’s unravelling of the crimes and chasing down of his quarry more of a challenge. However, Now You See Him has a better pay-off than both those earlier episodes, so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.
I also feel that the writers missed a fine opportunity to inject some genuine emotion into the finale, which could have effectively ended the episode on a heart-wrenching note akin to that seen in Season 4’s Playback.
Santini’s own daughter, Della, is an integral part of his act – yet their on-screen relationship is seriously under-cooked. One must assume that she has unconditional love for her father and is young enough to know nothing about his life as a Nazi. Having her present at the gotcha, and witnessing everything she knows fade away in front of her eyes, just like one of Santini’s illusions, could have been extremely powerful.
Given the darkness of Santini’s past and his motive for killing, I think such an ending would have been appropriate to add some gravitas and sobriety to the levity of the gotcha scene.
Della’s small role also plays into an unwelcome theme of Season 5 of there being few strong, memorable female characters. Grace Wheeler from Forgotten Lady aside, there hasn’t been a pivotal female character to speak of. Aside from her bewitching good looks, Della Santini joins that unenviable list when she could have been a really interesting addition to the series. C’est la vie.
Still, when an episode’s this good and this entertaining, it’s hard to hold too much against its creators. While I personally rate this as the least of Cassidy’s three episodes, that’s simply because I nominally prefer Publish or Perish and Murder by the Book to it, rather than it having any glaring faults of its own. It’s Season 5’s standout episode by a country mile and right up there with the series’ very best outings. I don’t even need to complain about its longer running time, due to its sensational pacing. That really is magic!
Did you know?
We’ll never know if Jack Cassidy would have reappeared for one more outing as a Columbo killer in seasons 6 or 7 due to his death 10 months after Now You See Him aired.
The details of his death in a house fire, which he appears to have unwittingly started in a drunken slumber, make for grim reading and represent a truly tragic way for Cassidy to exit stage left. He had just five more acting credits to his name after this appearance – four of which came posthumously.
Now You See Him is a suitable send-off for one of Columbo‘s most admired and beloved guest stars, and the one who set the benchmark against which all other killers are compared.
How I rate ’em
A hugely enjoyable romp, Now You See Him is fabulous entertainment. It has so many memorable aspects that it’s easy to see why it ranks so highly with series’ aficianados and newcomers alike. As is the case with all Jack Cassidy episodes, I love it and could happily watch it any day of the week. While some readers may be disappointed to see it outside my top 5, the margins between every episode in the current top 10 are wafer thin, so rest assured I rate it extremely highly.
Feel the need to revisit previous episode reviews? Then click on the links below.
- Suitable for Framing
- Publish or Perish
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Negative Reaction
- A Friend in Deed
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Now You See Him
- Double Exposure
- Lady in Waiting
- Troubled Waters
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- Prescription: Murder
- A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
- An Exercise in Fatality
- Identity Crisis
- Swan Song
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Candidate for Crime
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Forgotten Lady
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- A Case of Immunity
- Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal
- Short Fuse ———-D-List starts here—-
- A Matter of Honor
- Mind Over Mayhem
- Dagger of the Mind
Thanks for reading, and do let me know your thoughts on this episode in the comments section. The rollercoaster ride of episode reviews continues very soon with Season 5 finale Last Salute to the Commodore. Does this represent a thrilling high or a devastating low? My friends, all will soon be revealed.
“Now You See Him is a suitable send-off for one of Columbo‘s most admired and beloved guest stars.”
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the magic of this episode (pardon for the pun) is that we have 2 howdunit running at the same time, the magic world and the murder mystery, which are both all about HOW DONE IT. It couldn’t go wrong. I must say that the clues and tracks were very interesting and thorough and Columbo trying to figure them were very intersting too (how the body fell dead and why, and the picklock trick to trick the perpetrator)
Now You See Him is one of my favorites to watch. The only fault I can think of is what was pointed out in the article- it was a fairly easy case to solve. Cassidy is brilliant. Miss him so much.
My previous comment didn’t go through, was in answer to someone, so doing a test to see if there’s a problem.
Just watched this one last night. I rather enjoyed Cassidy as a magician. He seemed to have command of the audience and his magic.
What really struck me about this episode is once Cassidy realizes that he is caught and arrest is unavoidable, he does a very quick glance of the room where he was so famous as if to say “I will really miss all this” then he walks toward the arresting officer.
It was really heartbreaking to see a talented character lose it all.
I recently watched this on Cozi TV. Perhaps important scenes were cut? But I noticed what appear to be story problems.
Columbo examines the crime scene, but doesn’t resume and complete his examination until much later in the movie.
There seems to be no good reason for this, other than it would wrap up the story in a matter of minutes.
Specifically his assessment of the victim’s activity at the desk doesn’t occur until near the end of the movie. That would’ve quickly led to the typewriter and to the ribbon.
Also, Columbo puts undue time and effort into investigating Santini’s real name. That would only make sense if the ribbon contents were found *before* Columbo started digging deeply into Santini’s past.
Even more implausible is that Columbo kept investigating Santini’s identity after seeing the latter’s passport. At that point, Columbo’s persistence seems unjustified, unless there was strong reason to believe Santini had faked his identity.
My guess is that the original story and rewrites couldn’t quite fix these issues, so the production team just left this in as best a state as they could.
That’s a very interesting observation. While I can’t say if anything was or wasn’t cut, or that it was edited out of order (relative to the script), which happens sometimes, it does seem a little illogical that Columbo spends so much time trying to figure out who Santini really is, when that’s completely tangential to who actually committed the murder, as far as anyone knows at that point. My guess is that the writers intended for this to be one of Columbo’s famous hunches: he saw a “tamperproof” lock that had seemingly been compromised and there was only one person with the expertise to work that kind of lock. (Realistically, the daughter could likely have the same skill, but her on-stage alibi was even stronger) And thus Columbo suspected Santini from the get-go.
Why did it take Columbo and Wilson so long to return to the crime scene? I haven’t the slightest clue. But, had they discovered the ribbon cartridge earlier, the mystery would have been over before it began apart from the relatively easily solvable problem of Santini sounding like he’s in his dressing room but actually upstairs.
“My guess is that the original story and rewrites couldn’t quite fix these issues, so the production team just left this in as best a state as they could.”
I think you just described about 90% of television.
I’m not at all surprised Columbo wanted to find out the real identity of someone calling himself “The Great Santini.” Obviously, that wasn’t his real name. And as soon as Columbo realized that the killer had picked a sophisticated lock, Santini became his number one suspect. Finding out more about him would have been standard procedure.
As for returning to the crime scene, I think that was presented quite logically. Columbo notices the sweat on the back of the detective’s shirt at headquarters and realizes that Jerome, like the cop, must have been sitting in a short-backed leather chair. Then, one thing leads to another. [The final episode establishes this deductive chain much more incrementally and clearly that Michael Sloan’s original script (entitled “Quicker Than the Eye”). In the original script, Columbo spots the detective’s back and says to Wilson: “You remember Jerome’s body — how it was all sweaty on the back — ?” That’s it.]
To be sure, an initial, modern forensic crime scene analysis would undoubtedly have been much more thorough. But the same could also be said for the search of Abigail Mitchell’s safe in “Try and Catch Me.”
Scott, I also have Cozi and they are notorious for their edits of the series they air, including Columbo. They are just as bad as TV Land! I’ll still watch if the episode really interests me but with all the cuts they do, it really spoils the original intention of the show.
Falk is good in the handcuff scene, but Cassidy’s silent acknowledgment(s) that he’s been caught but will have to go on and pick the lock anyway is/are pretty compelling too.
Cassidy in the executioner’s mask is one of the more frightening/uncanny moments in Columbo for me. Not an atmosphere the show dealt in often. It may just be unsettling for the same reason that it’s a little spooky to see him fooling around with fire.
Scriptwriter Michael Sloan joined Glen Larson Productions the following season and became a producer and multi-episode scriptwriter of McCloud. One of that series’ last episodes was an above-average Sloan script called “London Bridges,” which also guest-starred Jack Cassidy; it aired three months after Cassidy’s death. The episode also featured Richard Sanders (later WKRP in Cincinnati’s Les Nessman), in his first TV role, as a ruthless Irish terrorist. Sanders called his experience “seventh heaven.”
Something that bothers me that I don’t think has been discussed.
Santini takes the letter Jesse Jerome was typing out of the typewriter and puts it in his waiter’s coat. After the show ends, he burns it in a sink in his dressing room. But somebody enters the room and Santini hastily turns on the sink faucet to extinguish the fire–leaving the half-burned paper in the sink. Ought not the people coming into the room be able to smell the paper and possibly even see the smoke? Not to mention the paper itself if they get close enough.
At the end, when Columbo gives Santini the first copy of the letter, Santini incinerates the paper on the spot. HUH? The only way he could get anywhere close to doing that would be if Columbo copied the letter onto magicians’ flash paper. Talk about Santini taking a sucker bet!
To the second point, correct. Only flash paper does that, which is not the typical medium for typed letters. Nonetheless, I think this is just a little trick for the pre-internet audience, most of whom probably didn’t realize what flash paper really was in 1976. Not to mention Santini would need a concealed means of ignition. Sly devil!
As for the smoke smell, we know Santini smokes. I am just old enough to remember when people could smoke pretty much anywhere (My friend who was born in 1965 has a picture of him after his birth in the hospital, surrounded by several family members, three of whom have cigarettes…right next to a newborn, in a hospital…it’s nuts.) and while burning paper doesn’t smell quite like a burning cigar, it could cover up the smell pretty well, especially if Santini smokes in the dressing room often.
As for someone seeing the smoke, I guess that’s just a risk Santini was willing to take. Playing the fan-fiction writer, I would say that since no one knows about the existence of the letter and it was assumed Santini had a perfect alibi up till then, a burned document could have easily been dismissed as a receipt, bank statement, even a drawing or explanation of a magic trick that Santini wanted to keep confidential in absence of a paper shredder.
If no one believed Jerome typed a letter, it wouldn’t seem all that suspicious.
In my youth, I was deeply involved in the art of magic and conjuring and was a regular customer and student of a great stage magician named Lee Gray. And I also became good enough to be paid for performing at parties. One of Lee’s signature magic tricks was that somewhere in his routine, and after speaking with the audience, he’d put his hands into the pockets of his tuxedo pants and he’d turn around in a circle on stage. When he completed the circle, facing the audience, with his hands never leaving his pockets, a lit cigarette was dangling from his lips and he inhaled and exhaled the smoke.
At any rate, even back in those days, it’s conceivable that a highly experienced magician like Santini would carry around sheets of flash paper and may even have obtained or created an easily hidden device that could ignite the flash paper. Of course, Santini would also have needed to substitute the flash paper for the document that Columbo gave him; but that sort of substitution could be accomplished in any number of ways, including a simple pull gimmick that was commonly used by magicians long before this episode was made.
Today, of course, you can buy a ready-made thumb or finger tip gimmick that has a battery-operated igniting function specifically made to light flash paper. It costs around $20.
Quite right. I forgot probably the most fundamental rule of magic: When does A not behave like A? When A has secretly been replaced by a seemingly identical B.
Or in TV…clever editing and camera tricks.
He lit a cigarette to disguise the smell of burning paper.
Well done, gentlemen.
But my nose can tell burning paper from burning tobacco.
I can’t remember seeing if Santini stood in such a way that the others in the room could not see the sink and the half-burned paper.
Aces to Kevin. I had heard about flash paper in a 1967 episode of Dragnet. I just thought Santini couldn’t possibly know the fake letter WAS written on flash paper.
Neat trick to burn it up, but it just has no logic.
Funny enough, I know exactly what Dragnet episode you are referring to, wherein the illegal bookie’s notes are kept on easily destroyed flash paper should a raid occur. (I don’t think I watch any television that isn’t at least 20 years old)
But now that you mention it, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe flash paper was more common in the 60’s and 70’s than I assume. I read somewhere flash paper, or more commonly Nitrocellulose, was used in early photography and I know early film stock was made with the same stuff (hence partly why so many early films are now lost, they were lost to many fires over the years) but maybe the paper itself was in semi-regular (non-magician) use for some reason.
Sadly, my time machine isn’t working right now so I can’t investigate. But did Columbo and presumably Wilson as well type the message on flash paper in the hopes that Santini would attempt to destroy it? (Maybe flash paper feels or smells different, I don’t know) That seems a stretch.
So I maintain that, as I said before, it was just a little trick on the audience, that Santini has the ability to quickly (and magically) destroy a letter.
Farewell to Nehemiah Persoff, who played Jesse Jerome in “Now You See Him,” and who passed away at age 102 (August 2, 1919 – April 5, 2022). I last wrote to him in July 2022 to wish him a happy birthday and thanked him for all the wonderful work he’s done over the years.
He appeared in more than 200 television series, films, and theatre productions and also performed as a voice artist in a career spanning 55 years. He began his acting career in 1948 and studied acting at the Actor’s Studio along with Martin Balsam, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Cloris Leachman and James Whitmore.
Here’s a video of some of Nehemiah’s memories:
Wonderful share, James. Thank you!
Wow my wife and I were just watching a 1959 Twilight Zone episode and right away i recognized Mr. Persoff from Columbo (like i always do). I IMDB’d him and saw that he had just recently died at the age of 102. Of course i had to check this episodes posts and found this. Amazing dude, RIP.
The Great Santini loaded the bullets into the gun with his bare hands in the opening scene. Shouldn’t the lab have found some fingerprints on the bullets? We know they check for that given that Columbo caught the killer in another episode that way.
I guess the real reason is that they hadn’t used the fingers-prints-on-bullets truck yet (Fade in to Murder broadcast later that year) so they hadn’t come up with that particular gotcha yet. In the original script for Fade into Murder, Columbo even admitted that taking prints of bullets was generally too hard for police to do, but they changed it prior to filming.
Or — they knew that “Fade In to Murder” was coming and didn’t want to repeat the same gotcha here (particularly when a much better one was available).
If Santini had done one thing, he might have been able to walk. If he’d just convinced Jerome that he’d give him the expected money AFTER the show, it might have saved him.
Jerome writes the letter because Santini stands him up. If he was expecting the money after, he might not have written it. It wouldn’t have been on the typewriter ribbon to find.
Granted, that might have backfired, as the incriminating letter might not have been on Jerome’s desk to find and destroy, but we don’t know. What we do know is that standing Jerome up certainly cooked Santini’s goose.
There’s just one thing that makes me squirm in annoyance in this episode: Santini burning the letter at the end. No, it can’t be done with just any piece of paper; it’s a flash paper trick.
Otherwise, the episode is flawless, and the tricks are essentially true. (And, of course, even with the flash paper goof at the end, it’s still one of the top TV and film takes on magic. This “Now You See Me” is a trillion times better than the unwatchable, hideous idiocy that stole its name a few years ago – an imbecilic Hollywood flick named “Now You See Me”, which featured no actual magic tricks whatsoever, and which sadly even had a sequel in 2018 or so).
By the way, if you want a delightful and *very* realistic magic film, watch the wonderful comedy “Burt Wonderstone”. (It happens to be Teller’s favorite magic film; Penn’s is “Houdini”).
I’m sure that you are right about the flash paper, but I don’t think it was a “goof”. As this episode gives away some magic tricks, maybe they wanted to let Santini perform one last unexplained trick, such as with the playing cards and the thimbles in his act.
Of course they were prepared tricks, but as Columbo and Wilson have multiple copies, as well as the original plastic ribbon, perhaps Lt Columbo was toying with Santini by giving him a letter printed on what the magician would know was flash paper.
A very good, entertaining episode.
In Nehemiah Persoff you get proof of the old saying “There are no small parts, only small actors”. In a few minutes of screen time we know everything about Jesse Jerome as a chiselling blackmailer, and he’s sweaty which seems to make things worse. As Thayer David says in the magic shop: “Dear Jesse. To know him was to detest him.”
Which brings me to another little gem of a perfomance in Thayer D. Why didn’t he get a mention in your review? He gives a great demonstration of a magic trick, and his rather cynical exposition on mind reading helps Columbo on his way. I’ve had quite a regard for this actor since “Journey to the Center[sic] of the Earth” in 1959.
By the way, who was the prospective “travelling companion” (heh-heh!) Santini was chatting up in the restaurant to replace Della? He had excellent taste in women, if not in politics.
I think the scene in the magic shop is the only time in the entire series that Columbo shows anything approaching genuine fear.
Thayer David was an excellent character actor. He spent several years on “Dark Shadows” playing a diverse number of characters and was always marvelous. He’s another one who was gone too soon. I wish he’d had more chance to show his talent and become better known. If you’ve never seen DS, I understand the whole series is available on Tubi.
Note on Thayer David:
In what proved to be the last year of his life, Thayer David had two very interesting roles:
– In “Washington: Behind Closed Doors” (from John Ehrlichman’s Nixon a clef, he played ‘Elmer Morse’, the cognate of J. Edgar Hoover.
– Close on this role, David had the starring role in the “Nero Wolfe” pilot film, which didn’t air until after his death.
The interesting part: the pilot was based on “The Doorbell Rang”, Rex Stout’s attack on J. Edgar Hoover.
Coincidence? You decide …
Nehemiah Persoff, quite amazingly, is still alive as far as I know. He is more than 100 years old.
Yes he is. He’s 102. Married his wife in 1951 and looks like she passed last year. 70 years married.
Rating this episode, I was
happy to find that it holds
up to its reputation. With only one minor fault.
Entertainment: 5/5 + bonus of 0.5 = 5.5
Authenticity to the setting and plot details are
very important, as Columbo is mainly a true-to-life
mystery series. The cabaret setting here, including
the backstage, kitchen and basement, the magic tricks
and their performance, are all uber authentic and
believable. The magic is entertaining, despite being
small stage,and not Vegas act calibre. Bonus-worthy.
Clues Leading Columbo to the Killer: 2.5/2.5 = 2.5
There’s much more than just the unpickable lock. The
easy trick to keep the waiter from entering, Santini’s
beginnings as a stage mentalist, his ability to mimic
almost any voice, including the victim’s, the too-busy
Final Gotcha: 2.5/2.5 – penalty of 0.5 = 2.0
The gotcha is Santini’s destroying what he may believe
is the only other copy of his victim’s incriminating letter.
However, it depends upon the rather special typewriter
with its single-use ribbon. Not really viewer-deducible back
then, and even more obscure now. The gotcha is the main
mystery in Columbo. So the viewer needs to be able in
principle to predict it. A minor deduction here is fair.
Final rating: 10/10
Before I say goodbye
to this excellent episode,
I want to answer those sharp-eyed viewers
who’ve pointed out that you can see the
letters that Jerome is typing coming out
clearly on the ribbon.
In that case, then there would still be a deduction
from my mark for the gotcha due to the missing
surprise element. That is, the gotcha must be
deducible, but not easily. So my overall rating stands.
Forgive me if it was already mentioned… do you know who the lounge singer was in this episode? (Season 5,episode 5) It looks & sounds like William Shatner to me, but I can’t find anything!!
If you’re referring to the guy who wore the blue suit while crooning, the character was Danny Green and the actor was Patrick Culliton.
I love William Shatner, but there is no way that he could have played a lounge singer.
Speaking of the character of Danny Green, I have never quite understood why he aids with, and witnesses, Columbo arresting Santini at the end.
I’m sure that he is a nice guy, and would want to help with capturing a war criminal, but how will this affect his chances with Santini’s beautiful daughter Della, who Danny hopes to marry?
His relationship with his father-in law would be worse than the one in “Uneasy Lies The Crown”.
Knowing the truth, would he really feel comfortable with having Santini around? Imagine in a few years “Kids, I want you to meet your Grandpa, he’s a magician. Also, he was in the SS. If you’re good, he’ll pull money from your ears! Oh, and if anyone called ‘Mossad’ stops by, tell them Gramps is dead.”
Poor daughter though. “I wish I had a great, heroic family war story, but my dad built planes in Ohio during the war. What about you, Della?”
Hi Kevin. Thanks for your reply. I’m not saying that Danny would want Gramps Santini around, or that he would not want to know the truth about him. It just puzzles me that Columbo stages the “voice throwing” stunt (not) in Jerome’s office with Danny, instead of with Wilson, and that Columbo has Danny there on the stage, witnessing Santini’s spectacular comeuppance. (It’s not as if Santini tried to frame Danny).
My guess would be that Danny is actually meant to be there as a way of reassuring Santini, in a “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of Della” kind of way. As I have said elsewhere, Santini’s only redeeming quality is that he loves his daughter, and is very protective of her. He must have already decided to let Danny marry her, as he is actively trying to recruit Della’s replacement, which would not be without it’s advantages.
I will venture that
the police allow him
there so that he can later break the news to
Della. To soften the emotional impact of finding
out who her father was, and that he is the
I don’t usually agree with you, but I think that’s a very good answer to my original question. Columbo knows that Della is innocent, and wants to spare her as much pain as possible. Thanks.
We are watching this one now on MeTV and spent some internet time looking up the locations of the shoot. The interiors are the famed Magic Castle private club which has a VERY strict dress code. My theory – which the husband is not convinced of – is that the new raincoat bit was conceived as a way for Falk to respect the club’s dress code.
Hi Lora. That is a very good theory about the new coat, and it might well be true.
I am sure that you have done some research on this, but apart from when he goes in through the front door, the only time we see Columbo in his new coat inside the Cabaret of Magic is when he and Wilson are in the office area where the murder took place.
My guess is that this is actually a studio set, and that only the scenes where Santini performs his act are in the actual Magic Castle. (I’m guessing that the dressing room and kitchen are also studio).
For the most part, whenever we see Columbo there he is without his famous shabby raincoat (which, under normal circumstances and during a performance he might have left in the cloakroom anyway) but he is still in his usual suit, which might just pass the Magic Castle dress code? Perhaps the dress code only applies when a show is being staged?
He does put the old coat back on for the last 15 minutes of the story, and is wearing it in the performance area when he produces copies of the incriminating letter, but there is no show on at the time.
They had to do a “new coat” subplot at some point, so this might have given them the opportunity.
What about Mike Lally’s ramshackle apartment? It still looked quite cozy! With his nice bed, TV and hot plate, he was all set. And even Columbo felt comfortable enough to have a nice cold beer!
“Never bet against Santini: he’s the cream of cream.”
I don’t see any mention of “Miss McCarthy” in the credits and synopses. She was seemingly being asked to be the Great Santini’s new assistant in a restaurant scene, of course being interrupted by Columbo. She looked familiar to me and I wonder if anyone has found out her identity.
A very attractive lady. But quite often in Columbo (or TV in general) not everyone got an on screen credit, even if they had a speaking part.
I recently saw a 1959 Twilight Zone called “And When The Sky Was Opened”, where the actresses playing the nurse and the wife got an on screen credit, but not the very shapely young lady in the barroom scene in the middle of the episode. (It was easy to find this out on the internet, her name was Gloria Pall).
She’s played by
It should be worth mentioning that Henry Mancini, who scored the episode, used a couple bars of his theme from Charade in the last moments of the episode.
Well, the episode itself was scored by Bernardo Segall, one of his 10 Columbo scores. “Charade” was written by Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer, here crooned by the Cabaret of Magic’s singer, and no doubt chosen for its theme of illusion and role-playing. But you’re right, notes of the song are also heard as The Great Santini is being led away after being exposed by Columbo (“Oh, I’m sorry, there is no such thing as a perfect murder…that’s just an illusion”). A nice touch.
“Now You See Him” just aired tonight on MeTV. I hadn’t noticed this the first time I watched this episode, but tonight when I saw it for the second time something really caught my attention. I’m curious if Columbophile or any viewers have noticed, In the first minute or so of this episode, where they are showing the entryway of the Carbaret of Magic club, just before they show Jack Cassidy’s smiling photo with the Great Santini label, they show a bird painted onto a piece of glass, and the bird looks amazingly similar to the partridge shown in the opening of the 70s sitcom The Partridge Family, which starred Shirley Jones (Cassidy’s second wife) as well as Jack Cassidy’s son David Cassidy, from his first marriage. From what I’ve read about Jack Cassidy, he was not the best father figure for David, and many speculate that he was very jealous of the acting and singing success that his son David enjoyed. I can’t think of a reason why this partridge image appears. Does anyone have any info about whether this was a coincidence or if was intentional?
Could this be one of the
doves that he and Della
use in many of their tricks?
Love this episode, and I think that Peter Falk’s look and comment to Cassidy after the villain picks the lock on stage is one of the entire series top 10 moments.
However, did Santini really expect to get away with things at the end of the episode? He sizzles the letter in front of several cops and other witnesses. Did he not think Columbo made copies? I’m sure they had some type of copy machines back then.
Also, when Wilson types on the typewriter, would he win the award for world’s fastest type or what? Record-setting!
I had that damn “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” line stuck in my head for weeks after it randomly popped in my head. I couldn’t shake it. Where had I heard it? I looked it up, and it turns out that it’s a sentence that was frequently used in typing courses. I don’t know if that’s common knowledge but I had no idea. Then it hit me: “Sgt. Wilson’s typing!”
In any case, yeah it was a bit of a long shot when it comes to Santini destroying evidence in front of several cops. But the part that gets me is the terrible “I’m thinking of a number” mentalist trick. WHO ON EARTH IS FOOLED BY THAT? The waiter who delivered Santini’s drink swears that one day he will fool the master, implying they have done this trick together several times. And it STILL never occurs to him that maybe, just maybe, the items are prearranged.
Nonetheless, it really is a great gotcha.
Love your site. Unfortunately I have to tell you that none of the scenes in this episode were actually shot at the Magic Castle which looks nothing like the “Cabaret of Magic”. It seems to have become Columbo myth that the Castle was used for this episode.
The outlandish new coat Columbo’s wife bought him reminds me a lot of that usher suit in ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ Makes me wonder if they got that idea from this Columbo episode.
Cassidy and McGoohan were the absolute best. You can tell Falk really relished working with them and they were perfect foils for Columbo. Their mannerisms and their way of speaking provided the perfect yin to the rumpled yang of Falk’s Columbo. They were able to highlight the class differences and prejudices so smartly with their clipped accents and haughty manner.
A great episode, but the opening scene made me laugh. A silencer on a revolver? You would think such a smart show would avoid such a dumb mistake – then again, I seem to remember this same thing in a lot of 70s tv shows.
There’s another silenced revolver used in The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case in Season 6.
And yet another in Candidate for Crime!
Sorry to be thick, but why wouldn’t a silencer work on a revolver? I am assuming that they are intended for automatics? A silencer must fit the barrel of a revolver, but are you saying that it would have no effect? I assume in these TV shows that no blanks were used, the actors just pulled the trigger and a “PHHT” sound effect was dubbed on?
Apparently, the gaps between cylinder and barrel in a revolver allow gas — and therefore noise — to escape regardless of a silencer placed at the barrel’s end. So silencers don’t work on them, with the rare exceptions of specially designed revolvers and bullets, which to my knowledge may not have even existed in the 70s.
Many thanks. A technical, but simple explanation. I guess they must fit revolver barrels, otherwise Jack Cassidy would have had to pick the silencer up off the floor and hold it in place.
They definitely help.
See my post below.
I’m sure the silencer
still muffles most of
the sound of the shock wave the bullet
makes from breaking the sound barrier.
To dampen the noise of the charge,
some revolvers allow you to move the
barrel closer to the muzzle. “Yeah, I left
it noisy”, says one capo to Michael in
The sound of a sonic boom from a bullet is tiny compared the explosion of gunpowder within the gun. It is this, and the escape of gases, that is responsible for the noise, and that’s why silencers/suppressors are essentially pointless on a revolver.
Sonic booms from planes are large and loud because planes are large and displace a lot of air. Bullets displace hardly any air, so at most it’s like a whip cracking.
Near to the gun, you will still hear
the blast in any case, whether the
gun is automatic or not. The silencer only lowers
the noise by 30 or 40 db from 130 to 180 db for
a typical handgun.
Yes, the silencer in Now You See Him, wouldn’t have much
effect. But even with an automatic, everyone there should
have heard the shot anyway.
But outside, far away from the blast, when mostly the sonic
crack from the whizzing bullet would be heard, the effect
of a muzzle velocity reducing silencer, should be similar
for the two gun types. So they’re not entirely pointless
First, I absolutely agree that even with an automatic, everybody would have heard the Great Santini’s shot.
Even if I agreed that suppressors reduce muzzle velocity (I don’t) Santini was using a Colt Detective Special. The vast majority of the .38 ammo this fires is subsonic anyway, so wouldn’t produce a ballistic crack. There is higher velocity .38 ammo (P+) but it was not supposed to be used in that gun and at most it’s transsonic. Much easier to use the correct ammo and not need a suppressor even if it did reduce the velocity.
Since finding Columbophile I find myself watching episodes more critically or at least, I look for little details. This episode: love Jack Cassidy, love the gotcha. But the little detail – what was with the kitchen and wait staff? They appeared to have one staff per customer? I know they needed the kitchen crowd to disguise Santini walking through. Maybe it’s Covid-19 makes me think it was way overcrowded.
I so much agree with you! It makes rewatching these shows more interesting having read these reviews and the comments.
When Columbo came to watch the show he was seated in another room so I expect the restaurant was larger than what we see.
I think it was mentioned that there were 156 diners in the restaurant. So, yes, way too much staff.
Just watching this on 5USA now. At the very beginning, there is a scene where George the stage manager innocently asks Santini if he could make Jerome disappear. This is a nice, friendly moment, but is it intended to foreshadow that Santini will do just that?
I’m starting to think that any Columbo that doesn’t actually have a murder in the opening credits has a jokey indication of who the victim will be, and that it’s only taken me best part of 50 years to notice this!
I don’t know about your question, because I can’t remember if there are other episodes where someone makes a similar hint as this, but since this is the only comment about making people disappear that I found on the whole thread, I noticed another moment towards the end, when columbo goes meet santini and that other girl to whom santini is asking to come with him and he is surprised to see columbo in the restaurant and the girl asks if he can’t make columbo disappear as well, and santini answers he could but in this case it’d be difficult!
This tells to me that maybe that girl knew about the murder (as in knowing santini made gerome disappear) and that he was maybe planning to murder columbo as well as a backup plan, this is obviously in the italian version, so don’t know if it’s also in other versions, as there’s some things that are simply different in other language versions.
Many thanks for your blog – it is one of the reasons I am now watching Columbo episodes one by one, and will jump to your blog with delight after watching them.
Your writing is elegant, witty, and full of love for humanity and its tribulations.
A comment about this episode: Jerome the sweaty greedy ugly maybe-Jew is probably the most despicable of all Columbo victims, and it is a paradox that the value of his life (if such a thing existed) would be far lower than his killer’s – a smart proud magician bringing pleasure to so many people, whose only crime is apparently to have been a « nazi » when he was 21 y.o. just like so many Europeans of the time 😉
For me he stands with Abigail Mitchell on the podium of killers I’d like to see get away with only a few years in jail…
Jack Cassidy’s character would have joined the S.S..You are not drafted. He wasn’t a nice guy.
And YOU know who are the « nice guys », right 🙂
Sorry, but your seeing nothing wrong with joining the SS, and somehow making the “greedy, ugly” Jerome a “maybe-Jew” even though there is no mention or even hint of this, has a bad smell.
I know I wasn’t expecting to see an anti-semitic Nazi apologist pretending not to know what the SS is in the Columbo comments.
He would not be wanted
if he had not committed
any war crimes. Joining the SS was not a war crime in
Frankly, I don’t think there’s any love lost between Santini and his daughter, hence why we didn’t need to see her at the end.
Not sure if aired in the USA but today on British television, there’s a scene where Columbo gate crashes Santini having a meal with a gorgeous girl and planning to replace his daughter with the new femme as his magicians assistant.
Santini claiming she would be an entertaining travelling companion. ⭐️
When I originally saw this episode I could have sworn there was a scene where Columbo pointed out the scratch marks on the handcuffs were identical to the ones on Jerome’s door, but this scene seems to be absent from the DVD version. Is this a false memory or did this actually happen?
I’ve never seen such a scene on my DVDs. The only telling scratch marks I can recall were the ones on the whisky bottles in The Conspirators.
Murder Hazardous Health, George Hamilton’s character has dog scratch marks on his car door identical to the ones on Columbo’s car door.
I just saw a Forensic Files episode, the Letter, that focuses on a real murder in which a typewriter ribbon was used for evidence.
Was it the same type of ribbon?
I’m not sure, but the typewritten words of an anonymous letter were found on it. The letter had been written to frame someone else but helped convict the letter writer, Kaitlyn Conley of murder.
I like that typewriter knowledge contributed to solving the crime in this episode, similar to the way that keen typography observation mattered in “Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.” That’s the kind of police work I can identify with! I might not be great at the shooting range but I’d be the fastest typist on the force!
The one time when the reading-the-ribbon trick won’t work is when the same ribbon has been run through the typewriter several times. From what I remember of typewriters, you could get several passes out of one disposable ribbon before it finally ran out of ink, as different letters would use up different parts of it at different rates. If the ribbon is new and still on its first pass, Wilson can read what’s been typed on it. If the ribbon is on its second or later cycle, there would be too many characters on top of other characters.
While singing the beautiful machine’s praises, Wilson should have mentioned that by changing the “golf ball,” you can change the typeface! The ball in this episode is labelled “Orator,” which is an all-capitals typeface, so named because the capitals are supposed to be easier to read when speaking from notes. An odd choice for correspondence. No wonder nobody liked Jerome!
Santini joins Ward Fowler and Tommy Brown in the category of performers who are having their wages garnished by their blackmailers.
No such thing as a perfect murder? In “The Most Dangerous Match,” Columbo says “It could have been a perfect murder!”
I remember that the first time I saw this episode I didn’t like Columbo’s new coat any more than he did, but now I forget what it looked like. I can’t quite tell from the screenshot above, but I might have been too hard on it. “Shockwaves”: LOL 🙂
In a 1964 episode of Perry Mason, the “golf ball” turns out to be a key clue. Perry brings two typewriters into a courtroom and challenges a police lieutenant to type out identical messages on each of them. When the lieutenant does so, Perry pulls the golf ball (which he calls “the element”) out of the second typewriter and tells the court that, by sleight of hand, he installed it in *each* typewriter without the lieutenant noticing. The murderer had done the same thing, in order to convince the cops that a note was written on the defendant’s typewriter, whereas the murderer had written the note elsewhere and planted the element for the cops to find.
Yes, the Perry Mason series had some very good writers and the regular cast members, Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, and Ray Collins were first-rate.
But unlike Perry Mason, the actors playing the murderers in Columbo were first-class as rule, consistently turning in compelling and convincing performances.
Now, compare actors playing the heavies in Columbo to this murderer in a Perry Mason episode. He makes Andrew Stephens look like Marlon Brando.
Incredible. Watching this I kept thinking, the actor on the witness stand is not good but not laughably bad. Then abruptly, whoa, there it is. LOL
Sure, that bit of “dramatic acting” is a hoot. But a hallmark of Perry Mason throughout the series was for the murderer to crack (usually due to a guilty conscience) and confess right there in the courtroom. The director told those guest actors to be bad in order to satisfy the audience.
Perry Mason had great production values for its time, but they generally did 30 shows a year on a six-day schedule. Try giving a good performance under those conditions.
That’s an interesting take on the “Mason moment” when a confession is elicited from the real murderer (who never happens to be Perry’s client). There’s a funny spoof on the “Mason moment” in an early Woody Allen picture, Bananas. This clip is about 6 minutes long with a bunch of gags in a legal context. If you want to jump to the “Mason moment” spoof, it starts at about 5:00, after the Court ordered Woody gagged: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3mk9sp0oE
I really enjoyed this episode, but I agree with the naysayers on the skills of the “Great” Santini. Everyone seems to marvel at his skills, one character even describing him as “the cream of the cream”. Huh? Thimble tricks, gag-handkerchiefs, and spilling loose change “out of nowhere” and all the rest. One would find better magic at an 8 year old’s birthday party. And the “I’m going to guess your number” mentalist trick, which seems to so captivate the waiter and Sgt. Wilson wouldn’t fool a child.
The other thing that makes me laugh is Santini’s ability to speak in various accents and he demonstrates this skill to Columbo, who is impressed (or at least amused). We are then treated to the worst British accent since “Bert” from Mary Poppins. And Santini’s German accent (supposedly his native tongue) doesn’t sound worthy of a third-rate bit actor on and episode of Hogan’s Heroes.
And yet, it’s a great episode. Tons of fun, with a great and playful gotcha.
“globally renowned magician” Is Santini globally renowned? He has been on television, but I did not get the sense he is world-famous. Should he not be performing in larger venues if he is world-famous?
Columbo is very happy to see Sergeant Wilson. It is amusing that he is so excited, he must work with people he met before all the time. It is also amusing that they changed his name, because they make a big thing of his first name.
When I was a kid during the 70’s I got a small taste of Jack Cassidy somewhere in some role.
He gave me the creeps… cruel-cold eyes or some such thing. They never smiled when he smiled which I found to be somewhat malevolent. Whether that was just an acting trick or not I’ll never know, but it did prejudice me against him.
I never watched a Columbo episode in my entire life up until this year and I’m almost 56 years old. I’ve been binge watching Columbo since January of this year after having stumbled upon one in the break room at work. I have Amazon Prime, viewing in succession, no skipping ahead.
Although I saw Jack Cassidy’s prior episodes and found them compelling, I had an episode list and wasn’t looking forward to watching this one, since it had Jack Cassidy.
I tell you what, although the guy still creeps me out I found this episode, up to this point, to have been my favorite. The chemistry between Falk and Cassidy really worked for me. Perhaps it was the contrast between the warmth of Falk and the coldness I perceive in Cassidy that grabbed me I don’t know, but something about this episode is magic (no pun intended).
Oddly enough, the episode that I watched directly after this one “Last Salute to the Commodore” became my newest favorite. I know that this website rates the Commodore as the worst of the worst, but it grabbed me due to its’ oddness and not following the standard Columbo cut and paste mold.
Perhaps it is my affinity for comparing and contrasting things (due to my job/life experience) that both episodes stick out to me… the coldness of Cassidy… the warmth of Falk… and with the Commodore, the almost slapstick approach the director takes as compared to the more serious tones in all prior Columbo episode.
Regardless of all that I find it to be great fun.
Even though he’s been the hero of “Terminator” and a heroic role in “Aliens,” my mother feels the same way about Michael Biehn as you do from that first experience watching Cassidy.
She saw Biehn in a TV movie where he was a husband gaslighting his wife to drive her insane, and he was very sinister (as Biehn is good at being in the right villain role. He excels as a good and bad guy)
Anyway, that movie is the main thing she remembers him in. We watched Terminator when I visited the folks a few years ago, and I still remember her comment when he came on screen.
“Oh that’s that guy who tried to drive his wife crazy. He’s evil.”
I saw the 1940s version of To Be or Not to Be and the Nazi was dramatically cornered in a theater at his end. The takedown of Santini was cleverly similar enough to make me think it was a director’s smiling nod to that film. Haven’t seen the newer version yet.
Watched this the other day and it isn’t as good as I remembered. Jack Cassidy seems kind of listless when compared to his other Columbo performances. And the annoying eccentricities that Falk displayed in the 80s/90s run are already on full display here. I find his interplay with Wilson really corny and over the top.
Gosh Fang, I have watched this many times, as well as all the classic and newer Columbos and feel the opposite about this one. (I was attributing it to one less cocktail this time.) But yes, I used to find it somewhat annoying too. I do see a rather calm underplayed Santini, but I think it works fine among all the other things happening, such as the involvement of the returning young detective. Falk is definitely high energy working with Cassidy, who seems kind of creepy, and well cast as a man with a bad secret. I now think its an awesome episode ,. Just had to say it,. As I said, I never cared too much for this one, now for some reason I’m looking forward to another viewing. Who knows why. I would like to see you post a favorite episode of yours….
As Ken Franklin and Riley Greenleaf, Jack Cassidy was playing similar characters: likable rogues, party animals, etc. But as Santini, Jack Cassidy is playing a character who, by the nature of his profession, has to remain calm and keep his nerve.
He wants to project an image of calm and respectability at all times, as he has a terrible secret that he will kill to protect. He starts the episode as being well liked by the people who work at the Cabaret of Magic, but by the end the cold contempt of Harry Blandford is evident.
And unlike Franklin and Greenleaf, Santini is a family man, his redeeming quality being that he loves his daughter and wants to protect her from being identified as the daughter of a Nazi.
Just watched this one again for the first time in awhile. The thing I noticed is Cassidy does not look good at all. His eyes are glassy the entire show. Obviously it was known he had a drinking problem. And so much repetition from the earlier appearances – such as the reference to a “professional killing.”