Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 5

Columbo episode review: Last Salute to the Commodore

Last Salute to the Commodore opening titles

May 2nd, 1976 looked for all the world like it would be the end of an era. With Peter Falk out of contract, Last Salute to the Commodore threatened to be Lieutenant Columbo’s farewell voyage.

To give viewers an unforgettable experience, the usual format was ditched in favour of a genuine whodunnit, while Patrick McGoohan was drafted in as director to add some eccentricity to proceedings after excelling at the helm in Identity Crisis just three episodes earlier.

Certainly they succeeded in creating a truly unique and unforgettable Columbo episode. Whether it’s any good or not is subject to fierce debate, with a high percentage of viewers loathing, rather than loving, the high-jinks on display.

So is Last Salute a bon voyage to Columbo‘s fifth season, or is it dredging untold depths? And more importantly, can I avoid having a rage-fuelled aneurysm while watching? Before we find out, I urge you to take a deep breath and grab a life jacket. You’re gonna need ’em…

Last Salute to the Commodore cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Charles Clay: Robert Vaughn
Joanna Clay: Diane Baker
Swanny Swanson: Fred Draper
Commodore Otis Swanson: John Dehner
Kittering: Wilfrid Hyde-White
Wayne Taylor: Joshua Bryant
Lisa King: Susan Foster
Sergeant Kramer: Bruce Kirby
Theodore ‘Mac’ Albinsky: Dennis Dugan
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Score by: Bernardo Segáll

Episode synopsis – Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore

World-renowned naval architect and sailor Commodore Otis Swanson has a face like a wet weekend as he scowls through his birthday shindig at a lavish yacht club.

The miserable mariner is sick of the spongers and ne’er do wells that surround him – including useless nephew Swanny, alcoholic daughter Joanna and meddling son-in-law Charles, who is transforming the Commodore’s beloved, boutique boat-building business into a faceless corporation.

Columbo Commodore Otis Swanson
Yo Otis – are we having fun yet?

The Commodore is planning to sweep the rug out from under them all by selling his business, so after the furious sailor poops the party and storms home early big Charles promises wife Joanna that he’ll make a last-ditch bid to talk some sense into the old boy later on that evening.

When we next see Charlie, though, he ain’t talking. Instead he’s wiping prints of a nautical belaying pin that appears to have been used to cudgel the Commodore to death, off-screen, in his own home. He also finds and pockets a ladies’ brooch – one that he recognises as belonging to Joanna.

Charles is interrupted mid clean-up by a ring at the door. It’s boatyard manager Wayne Taylor, who is delivering an updated self-steering mechanism for the Commodore’s yawl. Cool as you like, Charles pretends that the Commodore is chatting on the phone in the next room and that he’ll see Wayne at the yard the next day. The two men then leave the Commodore’s home together and drive away.

Charles’s toils aren’t over, though. He dons scuba gear and returns to the Commodore’s house from his own yacht – underwater, natch, to avoid being seen. He then slips into Otis’s sailor suit and takes the yawl for a spin – making sure he’s seen by the Coast Guard – before ditching the body in the water and scuba-ing back to safety. What a night’s work!

The Commodore’s boat – sans Commodore – is discovered the next morning, so one Lieutenant Columbo is sent to the Clay homestead seeking information. A hideously hungover Joanna can’t remember even leaving the yacht club, so Charles agrees to assist with enquiries – ‘hilariously’ being squeezed into Columbo’s car with the Lieutenant, Sergeant Kramer and new kid on the LAPD block, Sergeant Theodore ‘Mac’ Albinsky.

Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore
Robert Vaughn’s agent was mysteriously axed from his 1976 Christmas card list

They motley crew stop off at the harbour to view the Commodore’s yawl, Charles helpfully explaining the finer points of boats and sails to the clueless detectives. Young bucks from the Coast Guard also rock up to show logbooks that detail the Commodore being seen to leave port at 3am that morning. He was a great sailor and the boat’s in great shape, so his loss remains a mystery.

Next stop is the boatyard, where (after an endless and shouty conversation with the foreman) Columbo discovers that the Commodore stopped by there the day before to pick up some stencils and black marine paint. What for? We’ll have to wait an age to find out.

A conversation with the Commodore’s ancient nephew ‘Swanny’ (was the Commodore, like, 100 years old?) subsequently reveals details of old Otis’s will. Joanna will inherit almost everything with the odd pittance thrown to others, including Swanny himself.

“It seems like the Commodore was clonked on the noggin by the mizzen boom and pitched into the sea.”

Swanny drops Columbo and co off at Charles’ giant yacht, where the Lieutenant intrudes on young naval architect Lisa King’s transcendental meditation session before hearing from the Coast Guard the supposed particulars of the Commodore’s demise. It seems like the ancient mariner was clonked on the noggin by the mizzen boom and pitched into the sea – a rather ignominious end for such a master sailor, a bit like Boba Fett being sent screaming girlishly into the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi.

There’s still no obvious suspect for the police, but the viewer is starting to doubt whether Charlie is actually guilty. After receiving a call at home that the Commodore’s body has been found, Charlie shows Joanna the brooch he found at the murder scene. She was so drunk she can’t remember where she was. Could Joanna be the killer instead? Sure looks that way!

Charles goes to identify the corpse and Columbo tells him that the police are now pretty certain that Otis was murdered. An autopsy has shown too much (or too little) water in his lungs, so he must have been killed before being dumped in the drink.

Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore
I’d rather be dashed over the swede with a belaying pin than EVER watch this scene again

Columbo suspects Charles, but his alibi is strong enough – for now. Security guards saw Charles leaving the island where the Commodore lives and not returning before the Commodore was seen departing on his yacht. The only way to get back to the house without being seen by the guards would have been to boat or swim back – but he’d have almost certainly been spotted in the busy channel. It’s a tough one to ponder.

With this on their minds, Columbo, Kramer and Mac attempt to solve the mystery of the Commodore’s stencilled letters. They appear to spell the word ‘SAILS’, and the suggestion is that Otis was going to use them to stencil a locker. Sounds plausible, but there’s also a stencil of a dot (a full stop for the Brits, or period to US readers), which doesn’t make much sense. The proverbial plot thickens…

Still, they get a break when an underwater boat maintenance man noisily surfaces nearby. He’s wearing scuba gear, giving Columbo a lightbulb moment. So later that night, the scuba guy assists the detective by taking an underwater trek from Charlie’s yacht to the Commodore’s home. He gets there in good time, proving that Charlie could have made it back unnoticed to the scene of the crime.

The next morning finds the police trio back at the Commodore’s house, where they discover a lipstick and a smashed pocket watch hidden under the sofa. Upon examining the pocket watch, they note that it stopped working at 12.42am, just four minutes before Charles was logged off the island by the security detail.

The eagle-eyed Columbo also notices one of the belaying pins is dust free, while the others all have dust on them. The murder weapon? Could be. He has now established potential weapon and opportunity. Lipstick aside, it looks like Charles is his man.

But wait! The game is about to change – and how! Charlie shows up dead in his own home, and Joanna is nowhere to be found. Columbo tracks her down to the yacht club, where’s she’s in a drunken haze and nodding over the piano being jauntily played by a neckerchiefed Swanny.

Columbo Diane Baker
Joanna took the news of Charlie’s death completely in her stride

She takes the news badly, and when questioned about her whereabouts on the night of the Commodore’s murder, she is vague on the details. She thinks she went to see the Commodore at his house, but can’t be sure. Swanny then chimes in. Yes, he dropped her off there in his boat just before midnight before he returned to the club to ‘sing with the boys’.

Joanna can’t remember anything else about the night, but was later informed by a friend who lives on the island that they found her drunkenly asleep on a chair outside their house at 4am and dutifully delivered her home. It’s a flimsy alibi. Joanna could certainly have murdered her father.

Columbo is having a mental block until a meeting with Mac on a bridge overlooking the docks strikes a chord. He spots a boat going by the name of MOLLY J. This revelation (while baffling both to Mac and the viewer) gives the Lieutenant the impetus he needs to set up a parlour room reveal at the Commodore’s house, with key players Joanna, Swanny, Kittering, Wayne and Lisa all on the guest list.

This meeting opens with a little trick. Columbo has Swanny dress up in the Commodore’s outfit as he arrives by boat. Looking out over the water through a telescope, Joanna is distressed to see ‘Daddy’ riding in to the meeting. Rather than strangling Columbo once Swanny makes his entrance, she instead laughs like a loon. It’s crazy stuff. Columbo has proved his point, though. On the night of the Commodore’s death, anyone could have passed themselves off as him to fool witnesses.

Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore
Fear not viewers, the end is mercifully within sight!

Given how diluted and confusing the plot has been up to now, Mac and Kramer handily summarise the key information for the attendees and viewers. The police have deduced that Charles, believing Joanna had killed the Commodore, disposed of the body to ensure his wife (and he by association) remained chief beneficiary in the will.

They’ve also cracked the ‘SAILS’ stencil mystery. In a revelation that shocks the room, Columbo explains that they were intended to spell the name LISA S. Why? Because the Commodore and young Lisa were to be secretly wed and he was going to name his new yawl after her!

Surely this makes Lisa a key suspect as a money-grabbing young seductress? Not so. Lisa explains that she only agreed to marry old Otis if he promised not to leave her any money in his will. And she also confirms that her deceased fiance planned to sell the boat yard and give all his money to charity, leaving the rest of them high and dry.

With livelihoods and inheritances at stake, everyone in the room except Lisa has a motive for homicide. But how can Columbo smoke out the guilty party? Well, he reverts to suitably eccentric means to do so.

Cupping his hands around an unseen item, the detective holds it up to the ears of each suspect and says: “The Commodore’s watch.” Swanny says “Tisn’t.” Wayne and Kittering don’t give a damn. Swaying Joanna feebly utters “Daddy’s watch.” What is this all supposed to mean?

Columbo finally gets to the point. The watch was deliberately smashed by the Commodore’s killer to establish an alibi. The only person in the room who bothered to reveal their whereabouts at the time of the murder was Swanny, who told Columbo he was singing at the yacht club just after midnight. The broken watch was a blind.

Columbo Swanny Swanson
Chill out, Swanny. There’s not the slightest chance any of this will hold up in court!

Swanny has a motive, too. If he could make police think Joanna was guilty, he would inherit the Commodore’s fortune. When Charlie messed up this plan, he too was dispatched to fuel further suspicions of Joanna.

But how does Columbo really know Swanny did it? Because when the watch was held to his ear only Swanny denied it was the Commodore’s watch, and only the murderer could have known that the watch had been broken. Check mate, Swanny!

Basking in their success, the three police musketeers head outside to the Commodore’s back lawn. Lighting up a cigar, Columbo hops into a small boat and row off into the distance to meet Mrs Columbo at the yacht club, as credits roll…

Last Salute‘s best moment – heading off into the sunset?

Last Salute to the Commodore Patrick McGoohan

Beautifully filmed and scored, Columbo’s farewell in Last Salute would have graced any episode. With word on the street being that this would be the Lieutenant’s last ever outing we are treated to a suitably poignant goodbye scene, which gives me goosebumps every time.

If the whole episode had matched the tone of this scene, Last Salute could have been a belter. Oh for what might have been…

My opinion on Last Salute

WARNING: If you’re a happy-go-lucky type who loves every Columbo episode and can’t stand to see any aspect of the show savaged do not read any further. Instead, visit this safe page of images of Columbo and Dog for a heart-warming boost.

Still here? Good. Now let’s bravely forge on…


Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore
Uber-eccentric Columbo irritates from his first seconds on screen

Columbo as a show so rarely disappoints that when standards do dip the disappointment is all the more keenly felt. Never was this more apparent than in Last Salute to the Commodore.

Previous series have yielded the odd flop. Think of Short Fuse, Mind Over Mayhem and Dagger of the Mind. Yet these are merely lesser lights by Columbo standards – I’d still watch ’em over most other TV ever made (well, maybe not Dagger, but you catch my drift). Last Salute is a different kettle of fish. To put it bluntly, this is a disastrous outing, which isn’t just bad by Columbo standards – it’s simply a bad piece of television.

It’s no coincidence that this is the episode that splits opinion more than any other, with negative feedback usually outweighing positive by a nautical mile. And while there are fans of this episode – including Peter Falk himself and series creator William Link – I am 20,000 leagues from being one of them.

Still, before I embark with Ahab-esque zeal on my quest to ensure unsuspecting viewers know exactly what this episode holds in store for them, it’s highly pertinent to explore the background to Last Salute, which goes some way to explaining why it turned out the way it did.

“To put it bluntly, this is a disastrous outing, which isn’t just bad by Columbo standards – it’s a bad piece of TV.”

The intention was for Last Salute to be the last ever Columbo – or at least the last serialised episode. Peter Falk’s contract for the show was up in 1976 and his big focus was making movies after being buoyed by the critical success of A Woman Under the Influence (which he made alongside BFFs John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands amid his Columbo commitments), as well as his role in comedy Murder By Death alongside silver screen legends David Niven, Maggie Smith, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

He still had love for the good Lieutenant, though, and in this fascinating article in the Ontario Daily Report from July 1976 Falk discusses how he wanted to make one really good episode of Columbo each year amidst his burgeoning movie schedule.

As a result of Last Salute supposedly being the last Columbo, the decision was made to mix up the formula – doubtless in order to ensure a memorable send-off for everyone’s favourite shabby sleuth. So Patrick McGoohan was brought in to direct after impressing Falk with his approach behind the camera in Identity Crisis. The two had had a hoot shooting that episode, and McGoohan was keen to push the Lieutenant’s boundaries in his farewell outing.

Some of the more eccentric mannerisms Falk and McGoohan introduced to the Columbo character in that episode are therefore dialled up to 11 here – and it hurts. Take a look at the short scene below as an example. Note the ponderous delivery, affected facial expressions and exaggerated mannerisms. It’s Columbo, Jim, but not as we know it…

A young sidekick (Dennis Dugan’s ‘Mac’) was also added in last minute as a novelty alongside series regular Sergeant Kramer. But of course, the biggest departure from the norm was the format. Last Salute was the series’ first true whodunnit, which ended with a parlour room reveal aping the grandest traditions of the mystery genre. There’s merit in that concept, and on paper all this doesn’t sound too bad. But in reality, it’s a fiasco.

Knowing that I hate this episode, I was watching the clock with a keen eye as the episode unfolded to record unwelcome landmarks that may be of interest to readers keen to compare notes:-

  • I reach annoyance point after only 20 seconds due to that berk Swanny singing while he pilots ye goode shippe Titanic down the channel.
  • I’m offended before we reach the 15-minute mark when Columbo makes his infuriating, mumbling entrance at the Clays’ front door. Whatever he’s  been smoking, it ain’t cigars…
  • I’m ready to turn off in rage 31 minutes in when the Lieutenant has to scream at the boatyard foreman over the noise of drills and buzz saws to make himself heard.
  • I’M QUITE WILLING TO KILL COLUMBO MYSELF in the 35th minute when he cosies up to young Lisa as she attempts to meditate beside Charlie’s palatial yacht.
  • I’ve lost the will to live by the 51st minute when the police start arsing about with the stencilled letters. Here endeth the clock watching.
Last Salute to the Commodore yoga
Ugh, make it stop!

That’s just the crust, though. The filling of this festering pie is just as  unappetising and is riddled with the unwelcome ingredients of tedium, goofiness and over-indulgence. But its cardinal sin? Between them, Falk and McGoohan make Columbo an annoyance – not just to the suspects, but to the viewer.

Yes readers, the Lieutenant of Last Salute is an irritating nuisance. He shouts all the time and creepily invades people’s personal space. He lacks his usual courtesy and warmth. He’s more whimsical, distracted and aloof than we’ve ever seen him and he seems to continually be in a state of mild amusement – as  if he’s stoned. His mannerisms are overblown and theatrical. In short, he’s an oddball – and McGoohan’s indelible fingerprints are all over it.

Of course it takes two to tango, and Falk must shoulder his share of the blame. After 36 outings in the crumpled mac he was doubtless glad of the chance to mix things up and push Columbo in new directions, but I daresay his friendship with McGoohan clouded his judgment and took his good eye off the ball, because allowing the Lieutenant to evolve into the infuriating weirdo he is in Last Salute is a betrayal of the Columbo we know and love.

The only comparable example I can think of is how Indiana Jones was portrayed as an unfunny, pedantic fool in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. How Harrison Ford stood for it I’ll never know.

‘Offbeat’ is probably the best way of describing this episode and the Columbo characterisation in one word and I would argue that McGoohan and Falk were being hugely overindulgent here. When he helmed Identity Crisis, McGoohan had such an insane story line to work with that he was able to satisfy his penchant for the offbeat without sacrificing everything else. Here, the audience isn’t in on the joke as its central star and director serve up a madcap imitation of what Columbo should be.

On your feet, idiot!

At this stage I ought to reiterate that it’s not the premise itself that hampers Last Salute. I have no issue with the series throwing us a whodunnit after 30+ stupendous ‘how-will-he-catch-ems’. The writers and producers have earned the right to surprise us.

Story writer Jackson Gillis was one of Columbo‘s most important contributors over many years, having been involved in classics such as Suitable for  Framing, Double Shock, Troubled Waters and Requiem for a Falling Star. The basic premise of  his story – man is slain, we think we know who did it until they too show up dead, then Columbo reveals all in a thrilling denouement – is sound. It could have been a solid entry to the series, but under McGoohan’s guidance the telling of the tale is an absolute shipwreck.

To start with, Last Salute is excruciatingly drawn out – far, far more than can be justified. Watching it is an absolute chore. I often crow about longer Columbo episodes being filled with padding, and the subsequent damage caused to the story, but this is on a whole different stratosphere. Minutes at a time are wasted with people saying nothing, or repeating the words of others, or talking about frigging boats, or even lying down on the job.

“The mystery culminates in what can only be described as the least satisfying parlour room reveal of all time.”

The camera lingers on this non-action for what seems like eons. A good example is the throat-slitting tedium of the police crew trying to rearrange the Commodore’s stencilled letters to spell something other than the word ‘SAILS’ – including toying with the word ‘ASSLI’. As a single scene it’s an embarrassment, but in reality every single thing that could be drawn out in this episode is drawn out. Enduring it is agony.

It also makes it hard to follow what’s going on, akin, if  you like, to trying to navigate a ship by starlight in a dense fog. If this was the first Columbo episode you ever watched I imagine you’d abandon this proverbial ship long before the episode’s denouement – and that would be no bad thing because the gotcha scene is one of the entire series’ biggest missteps.

A sparkling gotcha goes a long way to papering over the cracks of even lesser Columbo outings. Short Fuse is a very silly episode but has a cracking gotcha. Playback is an average adventure boosted by an emotionally charged conclusion. For the whodunnit experiment to work, Last Salute had to wow us with a riveting finale. Instead it ends with what can only be described as the least satisfying parlour room reveal of all time. Agatha Christie died only two months before this aired. She must have actually been spinning in her grave.

Columbo Last Salute Fred Draper
Say ’tisn’t’ again! SAY ‘TISN’T’ AGAIN! I dare you, I double dare you…”

Rather than gripping intrigue, we have 20 minutes of meandering chat from Columbo and his bungling sidekicks, and a medley of couldn’t-care-less-about characters reacting to the Lieutenant holding cupped hands to their ears and stating: “The Commodore’s watch.” The guilty party – our mate Swanny – identifies himself by saying ‘Tisn’t.’

And that’s it.

I’m sure this absurdity tickled McGoohan immensely but after wading through 90 minutes of bilge up to this point, for most viewers it’s a bewildering anticlimax – made more so by the fact the scene promptly cuts to Columbo and his fellow officers outside in the sunshine.

There’s no arrest shown, no reaction from the other suspects, and no further reference to the bonkers solving of the case. Mac and Kramer ought to be screaming: “What the hell just happened in there?” Instead we get silly smiles, and small talk about Mac’s new raincoat and Columbo being back on the cigars. On more than one occasion it has left this correspondent completely baffled, wondering if I’ve missed something.

Certainly Swanny needn’t worry about being locked up, so flimsy is the evidence. If anything, the case would more likely result in Columbo being bust back down to Sergeant for sullying the LAPD’s good name.

Last Salute fails on many levels besides this, too. Columbo’s stupid assistants add nothing and succeed only in making the LAPD look like cretins. I’m guessing they were supposed to add comic relief, but by gum they’re tedious. The running joke about whether ‘Mac’ has any Scotch or Irish heritage is staggeringly unfunny. I have to ask: who was this for? The viewers at home, or the back-slapping cronies Falk and McGoohan?

In fact the humour misses the mark throughout. I love a Columbo to be laced with some really good chuckles. That’s why Double Shock, Negative Reaction and Publish or Perish rank so highly with me. Last Salute thinks it’s funny, but the ‘gags’ on display here are, without exception, painful.

Report him to his superiors, Charlie! That’s harassment!

Columbo cuddling up to Charlie in the front seat of the Peugeot may have been vaguely entertaining, but to then have the detective massage Charlie’s thigh as he wraps him up in a phone cord aboard the yacht is really overdoing it. The Lieutenant’s yoga ineptitude similarly fails to raise a smile, as does his awful screaming match with foreman Fred at the boatyard.

If you enjoy these scenes, good luck to you. As I watch them unfold, I can assure you that my face is every bit as irate as the titular Commodore’s was at his birthday bash in the episode’s opening minutes.

Another pet peeve is the sheer number of characters in this episode – far more than it needs. Many are largely irrelevant, including some of the supposed key suspects. Lawyer Kittering and boatyard manager Wayne Taylor are really surplus to requirements. We never sense they’re involved in the crime and they’re so underdeveloped that in the gotcha scene they’re simply there to make up the numbers. Likewise the Commodore’s wife-to-be, Lisa King. She’s just a girl in the background throughout rather than the pivotal figure to the investigation she really ought to have been.

Exacerbating this is the fact that here’s no one to care about in this episode. As well as loving Columbo, we can usually sympathise with the villain, the victim or some of the support characters. Not here. Everyone is miserable and hateful. They also act weirdly around each other. Remember the scene when Swanny comforts a drunken Joanna after the death of Charles is revealed by creepily placing his hand on the side of her face? Even Columbo seems disturbed by it. I had to run and have a wash after viewing…

“Just one more question, sir. What the HELL are you doing?”

Because of all this it’s impossible to give a damn about the personal battles of any of our chief antagonists. Lisa describes the Commodore as ‘the most beautiful man who ever lived’. If so, why didn’t we see some of that so we could care a fig about the miserable codger’s fate? It’s terribly frustrating.

And how about having Fred Draper as the murderer? He’s been a bit-part player in so many Columbo episodes that I’m sure McGoohan and co thought it would be a delicious and unexpected curve-ball to have him cast as the killer. Who’d suspect old Fred, eh? Again, there’s merit in the idea, but again they botched it. Swanny is too much of a nothing character to draw any sort of emotional reaction when his guilt is finally (and nominally) revealed.

A further beef with Last Salute is the reminiscent nature of several key aspects. The young yoga-loving stunner marrying the elderly soulmate is a riff of Double Shock‘s (a Gillis-penned story) relationship between Lisa Chambers and victim Clifford – both of whom were far more effectively sketched out. A would-be will beneficiary stitching another to secure an inheritance is straight out of Gillis’s Suitable for Framing.

“Frankly the episode would’ve been more entertaining if they’d all gone on a boat trip together and it had sunk with the loss of all hands.”

Then there’s the broken watch clue that was prominently used in Candidate for Crime. And there’s also a hark back to Requiem for a Falling Star (another Gillis story), which referenced Nora Chandler disguising herself as her husband and heading out to sea to fool witnesses. Trying to disguise these familiar beats may have been another reason why Last Salute was so slathered in nonsense.

So does anyone come out of this mess with credit? Well, Diane Baker puts in a believably desperate turn as sad alcoholic Joanna (the latest in a long line of boozy Columbo housewives), but that doesn’t make her character likable or enjoyable to watch. Most viewers will  find her turn highly annoying, but I actually know people who are like that when drunk and can tell you it’s no bad acting performance.

Robert Vaughn is blameless as Charles Clay but looks bemused throughout – and no wonder. He was magnificent in Troubled Waters and warranted a second outing as a killer. He’s wasted in this swill.

Baker and Vaughn somehow emerged from this debacle with their heads above water

Finally, Last Salute irks because of the shadow it cast over the rest of the 70s’ episodes. Shades of the rage-inducing Columbo characterisation we see here remain – albeit mercifully toned down – until the curtain fell on the Lieutenant’s first run in 1978. I’ll be paying close attention to this in future reviews.

Still, as a long-term lover of this show there are positives to take, even from this baloney – chiefly the episode’s great twist, when prime suspect Charlie turns up dead an hour in. Although we didn’t see Charlie strike down the Commodore, surely every first-time viewer never doubts he’s the killer. It’s Robert Vaughn, after all! His death is a genuine stunner. All credit to the writers – now this really is a mystery.

Elsewhere Bernardo Segall’s jaunty score (his 9th of 10 Columbo outings) is excellent, and the cinematography can’t be faulted. The location shooting, showcasing deep blue water and light blue skies, really shows off the majesty of LA living. And keen fans are treated to cameos by series regulars John Finnegan and Mike Lally.

The best, though, is saved till last. As referenced above, the final scene of Columbo hopping into a boat and rowing off across the sparkling blue water to meet Mrs Columbo at the distant yacht club is a beautiful thing.

Columbo Bruce Kirby
Last Salute‘s magnificent locations offer a crumb of comfort to desperate viewers

The on-running gag throughout the episode is that Columbo is giving up the cigars. In real life the rumour was that Falk was leaving the show. So the ‘I thought you were quitting’ question put to Columbo by Kramer, and the Lieutenant’s response of ‘not yet… not yet…’ had a delicious double meaning, leaving the door ajar for a sixth season.

Had it all ended there it would have marked a fitting and poignant closure for the series. As such the scene ranks as one of the show’s very finest moments. But is it worth sitting through the rest of this rubbish to get there?

Tisn’t…

Did you know?

Last Salute to the Commodore is sufficiently infamous to have secured a place in the UK Guardian newspaper’s ‘When good TV goes bad‘ series back in 2017.

The tongue-in-cheek series chronicles those ‘jump the shark’ moments when outstanding TV shows slip from their peak, with Last Salute described as ‘a truly berserk episode‘. A fun read, clearly written by someone with affection for and knowledge of the show’s proud heritage, you can read it here!

How I rate ’em

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m not much enamoured with Last Salute to the Commodore. Frankly the episode would’ve been more entertaining if the key players had all gone on a boat trip together and it had sunk with loss of all hands within the first 10 minutes.

As a result, it plummets to the foot of the current standings where it will doubtless remain for many moons until some of the worst pap from the 80s/90s challenge its stranglehold on the wooden spoon.

Feel the need to revisit previous, more positive, episode reviews? Then click on any link below with confidence!

  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. Now You See Him
  10. Double Exposure
  11. Lady in Waiting
  12. Troubled Waters
  13. Any Old Port in a Storm
  14. Prescription: Murder 
  15. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  16. An Exercise in Fatality
  17. Identity Crisis
  18. Swan Song
  19. The Most Crucial Game
  20. Etude in Black
  21. By Dawn’s Early Light
  22. Candidate for Crime
  23. Greenhouse Jungle
  24. Playback
  25. Forgotten Lady
  26. Requiem for a Falling Star
  27. Blueprint for Murder
  28. Ransom for a Dead Man 
  29. A Case of Immunity
  30. Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
  31. The Most Dangerous Match
  32. Lovely but Lethal 
  33. Short Fuse ———-D-List starts here—-
  34. A Matter of Honor
  35. Mind Over Mayhem
  36. Dagger of the Mind
  37. Last Salute to the CommodoreE-List starts here

Thanks for sticking with me through this treacherous voyage. Do let me know your own opinion on Last Salute below. If (horror of horrors) this episode ticks the boxes for you, PLEASE explain why because, try as I might, it gets worse for me with every viewing.

Still, I shall recover and will be back in the hot-seat to revisit Season 6 opener Fade in to Murder in the coming weeks. How will William Shatner’s particular brand of madcap compare to Mr McGoohan’s? Only time, that sweet, sweet healer, will tell…


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Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore
Let’s drink to forget all of this ever happened, shall we?

111 thoughts on “Columbo episode review: Last Salute to the Commodore

  1. Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in waiting for this review of the most disliked Colujmbo episode ever. Columbophile again shows why he stands alone in his ability to explore every aspect, including nuances of a show. An awesome review, thank you! There is so much to discuss about Commodore, I will just say that I agree that Anglophile Ms. Baker is too talented to turn in a bad performance, although I was annoyed early on with her constant grabbing for a glass or bottle and always waving a glass around merrily. My point is that she could have been a sympathetic character if drawn with any subtlety whatever. There are simply no likeable characters; most important of whom is Columbo himself. Another agreed upon point is the interminable drawing out of everything. When the show began this morning, I decided I would try to identify when it begins to show its flaws. For me the fissures develop right after the amusing scene with all the guys (I enjoy watching Vaughn’s controlled discomfort) in Columbo’s car. And that’s pretty early on. But its really an overall mood and pace issue. It just isn’t very entertaining; unlike the Columbophile review above which will hold up to many repeated readings!

    • Still its not all that bad–if you can disregard 80% of Columbo’s “uneven” (I’m being charitable) performance and have Columbophile’s plot explanation to follow along.

      • OK Just one more thing. I have to mention the Columbophile captions. While “Joanna took the news of Charlie’s death completely in stride” made me smile broadly, nothing prepared me for Lisa’s “UGH Make it stop”. One for the ages.

  2. I’m watching that episode right now—or trying to—and while I don’t exactly ‘hate’ it, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around everything that’s going on. And some parts of actually weirded me out, like that close up of Columbo leaning over Charles’ dead body.

    At the risk of smooching up, I have to say that this review was more entertaining than the episode! XD

  3. Is everyone in this episode stoned? If it weren’t for your review, I’d have thought it was me that was high. Columbo is downright weird and I don’t even like him! The way he keeps humping people makes me really uncomfortable. When he kept looking through the dot stencil, I figured it out. It’s a joke. The whole episode is a joke on us. It was all calculated so that, since it was to be the last episode, we wouldn’t miss Columbo so much. Well, in that case, this horrendous episode was very considerate. Thank you very much. I hated it a lot.

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

  5. Pingback: Trying to Salvage Last Salute to the Commodore | The Columbophile

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