Candidate for Crime is almost a brilliant Columbo episode, but is let down more than most by the padding required to take it to a 90-minute running time.
Nevertheless, it has a number of terrific scenes and a liberal sprinkling of humour that still ensures it’s a treat to watch time and again. And it must be said that Jackie Cooper is rather excellent as the stereotypically wicked politician, Nelson Hayward, who bumps off his man-ape campaign manager Harry Stone. So plenty to enjoy, but what are Candidate for Crime‘s very best moments? Let’s take a closer look…
5. The inattentive officer
Arriving late at the scene of Harry Stone’s death, Columbo walks in in the midst of a fellow detective’s spiel about what they’ve found. Reprimanded by his superior officer for being late, and told to stay put for an update, the Lieutenant seeks the inside line from a uniformed officer who had been standing by throughout.
“What was he talking about?” Columbo asks. “Who?” is the less-than-satisfactory reply. “That detective who was just here,” continues Columbo. “I don’t know. I wasn’t listening,” his colleague vacantly deadpans back.
A short scene, and one of little consequence to the overall episode, but it’s the sort of aside Columbo as a show does so well, adding both levity and genuine humanity to proceedings. It doesn’t, however, portray the LAPD as the sharpest tools in the box, which conveniently brings us to…
4. Vernon’s boundless bungling
Not a scene as much as a humorous thread, Hayward’s personal police escort Sergeant Vernon endures a saga of woe throughout the episode that really tickles the ribs – or my ribs at least.
First, the affable fella is totally duped by Hayward as the scheming politician sends him off to buy some cigars when he’s duty bound to remain at his post. This lapse allows a disguised Harry Stone to drive away in Hayward’s car, allowing the real Hayward to escape undetected to his rendezvous with murder.
“Sergeant Vernon endures a saga of woe throughout the episode that really tickles the ribs.”
Although he somehow avoids being thrown off the case, Vernon’s travails continue. His next major gaffe is when he picks up Hayward’s gun-laden jacket in the hotel suite, only to hang it up rather than notice the weapon and bust the plotting politician for carrying an undisclosed firearm.
Little wonder, perhaps, that Hayward had the confidence to attempt his audacious final stunt, which included setting off an instantly-findable firecracker on his suite balcony. True to form, when Vernon lollops in and gives the balcony a cursory once over, he completely fails to see the firecracker debris, simply mourning that Hayward’s fictitious assassin ‘must have been a human fly’.
Fortunately for the LAPD, Vernon was subsequently transferred to the Keystone Cops where I’m happy to report he excelled.
3. The birthday surprise
Fresh from the slaying of his brutish campaign manager, Harry Stone, Nelson Hayward returns to his actual home and meets with a shadowy figure in the darkness of the night-time garden, to whom he gives a key.
We then cut inside to Hayward’s wife, Vicki, who is drinking alone (and braless) in the palatial living room. When she slips out to pour herself another enormous scotch, Hayward slips in, dims the lights and hides out of sight. As she nervously re-enters, Hayward sneaks up behind her, arms outstretched. Surely we’re about to witness a second, thrilling murder in the space of moments?
No! In a classic bait-and-switch, Nelson places his hands over Vicki’s eyes and yells ‘surprise’ as the lights go up and the room fills with birthday well-wishers, let in by the shadowy accomplice. Vicki, as well as the viewers, can breathe a big sigh of relief as the tension melts away into joy. It’s very nicely done.
2. Chez Chadwick
In his second of his six guest star appearances, Vito Scotti delights once more in the role of Hayward’s snooty tailor, Mr Chadwick.
Scotti is on vintage form and it’s a blast to watch his reaction to the shabby detective, which is just on the polite side of disdain as he attempts to help Columbo find a jacket for an impending bowling league dinner dance – ultimately being unable to help due to the quick turnaround time required.
The humour of the scene works perfectly, but it also has a pay-off in that Columbo learns just how far in advance Hayward had to order his own replacement jacket for the one Stone was killed in (10 days). While not conclusive, the revelation is a key element in Columbo’s strengthening case against the crooked candidate.
1. Hayward’s bubble bursts
While pretending to make private phone calls in his office at campaign HQ, Hayward fires a silenced gun through his balcony window into a wall behind his desk. He then has the gun smuggled out by unwitting accomplice (and lover) Linda and merrily trots off to vote with Mrs Hayward.
Upon his return, he sidles into his private suits again and sets off a firecracker on the balcony to masquerade as a gunshot. Cue pandemonium as Hayward’s entourage bursts in to find him shaken and claiming to have barely escaped being slain by a gun-wielding thug on his balcony, who has, suspiciously, immediately disappeared without trace.
Columbo enters, stating that the gunman is in the room. In fact it’s Hayward himself, he says. Hayward loses it, challenging the Lieutenant to pluck the bullet from the wall and run it through ballistics to prove it’s a match for the gun that killed Harry. There’s no gun in the room, so that proves Hayward didn’t kill Harry, doesn’t it?
No, sir, says Columbo. You see, he already dug the bullet out of the wall just after Hayward went to vote. He knew Hayward wasn’t making calls from his office because he was monitoring the indicator lights on the phone lines (only in the 70s). And Columbo busts Hayward’s bluster in unforgettable fashion: “I dug this bullet out of that wall three hours before you said that somebody fired it at you three minutes ago [immense pause for effect]. You’re under arrest, sir.”
The masterful take down proves to be one of the most satisfying and memorable Columbo gotchas of all. Indeed, I’d rate this second only to Suitable for Framing in the list of great gotchas. And that’s high praise indeed. Revisit the brilliance below…
And one to forget…
In a new addition to these articles (as suggested by regular reader Peter Q) I’ll also highlight one lowlight or gaffe per episode. Here I consider the thorny issue of phone records, and their inconsistent application.
Columbo admits he checked the phone records of Nelson’s beach house to confirm the call to the police alerting them of the ‘assassination’ of Hayward didn’t come from there. So why didn’t he check the records from Hayward’s regular home, where his prime suspect was known to be at the time the call was made? That could’ve tied up the case there and then.
Use of phone records has been inconsistently applied throughout the series (inconclusive in Most Crucial Game while damning in Double Shock), but inconsistency in the same episode is a bit much. I can’t help but wonder if too many cooks were involved here. Candidate has five credited story contributors and it feels like they may have unwittingly tied each other up in knots – doubtless as a result of having to extend scenes or add new ones at short notice to bump up the episode running time. This example is a pretty major oversight. Bah humbug!
That’s a wrap, gang! As always I’d love to hear your own personal episode highlights from this one, as there were several other scenes close to being included.
And of course, if you want to gen up on this episode in more detail read my full-length review right here!
You can also read up on where the Hayward Case ranks in the list of Columbo’s highest profile arrests here.