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?


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

  1. One inconsistency maybe not mentioned here is that the Kittering character is the only one who makes a priggish remark about Otis and Lisa’s relationship, in spite of his meeting at a motel that he tells Columbo about. Or is that the point, to make him sound hypocritical?

    • That’s an interesting point, Grant. In defense of Wilfred Hyde-White’s character, perhaps he meant that Lisa was hypocrite, i.e. a gold digger, only pretending to love the Commodore, whereas the young lady with whom he did not exchange names was at least honest that she was only interested in his money. At any rate, it’s nice to read a comment that has nothing to do with lambasting this episode.

      • am confused why so much detail of an episode I feel is at the bottom of all episodes of Columbo…noisy, touchy, nasty episode a symbol of overacting. I thought episode was a satire of stupidity detective stories…only liked the early years episodes

        • Hello again Bob. This is an almost Universally derided episode, but there is some good stuff in there, worthy of comment and discussion.

          Your points about the noise, the touching and the overacting are well understood, but they are probably due to the way the episode was directed.

          Grant and I were discussing an interesting insight into a minor supporting character, which would have been in the original script.

          I recently tried to satirize both myself and the episode by coming up with a spurious new complaint that it did not contain a swimsuit scene, but even if it’s the worst episode of Columbo ever made, It’s still Columbo and therefore worthy of discussion on this thread.

  2. One of the advantages for my half of the Columbo series audience is that the California setting meant we would occasionally be treated to the sight of a pretty girl in a bathing suit or a bikini.

    But it just struck me that Last Salute to the Commodore is set entirely along the California coastline, but there is no such young lady in sight! Could this be because it was directed by Patrick McGoohan? I think that he was not averse to pretty women appearing in his TV shows, but didn’t like them to show a lot of naked flesh, even if the story or setting justified it.

    If any of the other’70’s Columbo directors had helmed this episode, Lisa might well have been, justifiably, in a swimsuit or bikini whilst meditating in the open air on a boat deck on a sunny day. Mind you, given the way that the scene was directed, it’s probably just as well that she wasn’t.

    Of course, a lot of people today might be quite glad of the lack of “beach bunnies”, but it’s certainly unusual for a show made in the 1970’s, and I wonder if that’s one of the things that subconsciously bother’s some of us? Something that we would expect to be there, but isn’t?

    • I don’t know why all the talk of woman – this is a detective show. The early years were fine without the overacting. The only conclusion I have is that this Commodore Show was a satire on stupidity acting with all the touchy touchy, cramming in a car, cramming in a both touching legs, cramming in the space of a woman at the dock, and what about the noise at the dock – wow, that must have been work to create obnoxious noise. The show was jus plain idiotic – and not a reflection of early shows – but as the years went by, Falk must have had much control with all the touchy touchy forced on women

      • Hi Bob. I guess you haven’t read some of my other comments. Yes, Columbo is a detective show, but there is usually a pretty girl or two along the way, and I usually find an excuse to mention them. So I thought I’d write a comment entirely on that subject as a way of sending myself up at the end of the year. Happy 2022!

        • OK…I’ve watched the Columbo Series when first on air, and did not realize how the overacting degraded, I feel, the episodes of later years. I seem to recall most shows people/woman of all ages and appearance– don’t really think Columbo was noted for swimsuit actresses – but he did cozy up to the young woman on the dock which I thought was a bit of sick acting by Falk

          • Hi Bob. No, Columbo was not noted for swimsuit actresses, but they are there, when it’s appropriate to the setting of the story. Hence my comment about how Lisa could have legitimately been seen in a swimsuit in that scene, and how it’s probably just as well that she wasn’t, given how Columbo cosies up to her.

            I always comment on the actual swimsuit scenes, and thought it would be a bit of a giggle to send myself up at the end of the year, by talking about the episode that could have had one, but didn’t.

  3. Oddly, I found the Dick Van Dyke episode far more excruciating to get thru. Funny that. I thought this was hilarious and don’t understand all the venom. Ah, to each her own

    • I think the problem is people expect their TV shows not to stray far from what has been working. By this time in the series, Columbo, the show and the character, were very set in their ways and people loved it. In a crazy changing world a person could find solace in Columbo remaining the same like visiting an old friend. Then this episode came along and it seemed familiar yet different. In a food sense it’s like your favorite restaurant replaced some key ingredients in your favorite dish so much so that you take notice. It tastes similar, it has many of the same notes you like but something is missing and it doesn’t give you the same comfort. And what is added isn’t enough to make it taste like a new dish so you’re confused as to why they changed it up in the first place. This episode is like that for me. But really, any Columbo is better than no Columbo in my book.

      • But does not explain why all the overacting and juvenile touchy nonsense after initial years of good acting – why not keep what works and not morph into immature acting

    • I started to watch the Columbo episodes the second time around as the first time I did not realize as much the overacting as Peter Falk became more comfortable as the leading role…but I thought The Salute was a Salute to the Rock Bottom…noisy, touchy in most scenes with Legs pushing into Legs and Falk pushing into the woman on the dock and stupidity scene in the car with the crowd and why the fuss about driving cramped in the car – like immature juveniles – so that why I thought that episode was a spoof or satire on stupidity acting

    • Hi Jilly. What was it about Negative Reaction that you didn’t like?

      (Pause for irony to sink in).

      I always thought it was one of the best episodes, and not just because of the nice secretary.

      • I'[m thinking The Salute to the Commodore was the worse detective episode I ever saw – when you include the top ten different shows from Baretta to Matlock to whatever…haranguing, juvenile, immature, basically stupidity acting and overacting, and maybe was done as a satire on stupid noisy shows?

        • The way that this episode was made is certainly off putting to most fans of the Columbo series, and it might even have turned people away from Columbo for life if this was the first one that they ever saw.

          But there is a decent story at the heart of it, struggling to get out and be appreciated for defying the viewers expectations. It’s just a shame that the off putting style and the different story approach coincided.

  4. I’m surprised that many viewers think this episode stray much from the usual format – in reality, when you watch it for the first time, it’s just like any Columbo episode: Robert Vaughn’s character is covering up the obvious murder, and the viewers expect to see how Columbo will get him (one difference being that we don’t see the actual murder on screen, but this will be important later on). Then, in the middle of the episode we’re witnessing the second murder, something that already happened in few Columbo’s episodes, but this time it’s with a twist, because the main suspect is killed. It’s from THIS point, that the show takes a different turn, and the audience is kept wondering whether the original suspect is indeed a killer. It’s a good narrative trick, IMO, and by itself not a reason to bash this episode.

    HOWEVER, where the episode does deserve to be criticized, is the level of fun it provides along the way. I’m a simple man, and I rate Columbo’s shows simply by the fact how fun they are from the get go, how the story is complicated YET easy to follow, something that will keep me on the edge of the seat every moment in it. With that said, I think the best episodes are something along the line of Troubled Waters, An Exercise in Fatality, Negative Reaction, Swan Song… because the story is gripping from the start, not hard to follow, and with a lot of fun in catching the killer. Here, the story is not bad, but like it was directed for the group of people who already knew everything about the story – we’re not properly introduced to characters, the background is not explained, everything is taken for granted in this show, and that’s why it’s so confusing to follow along. Also, it is true Peter Falk is overacting in this one, he was obviously going through a phase, but he got his character on track for the next season.

    • Regardless of the plot (and who can think there was a plot) all was overridden by the stupidity of acting, the noise, the touchy touchy Legs into Legs, touching, In Your Face, and the obnoxious acting. I realized this more and more as I watched a second time – can’t believe there was a rerun months ago as this puts a stupidity label on the show – his first years were fine, but the overacting consumed the later shows with the overemphasis of all actions

  5. I have the DVD box set Series 1-7. Someone bought them for me back in the mists of time, when I was still married to my first wife! Probably 15-20 years ago.

    I’ve been binge watching them over the last few weeks and just got to the end of Series 5. Not mentioned anywhere at all on the cover or the disks are three bonus episodes. Series 1 includes the two pilots, and Series 5 has an extra “feature”. Mrs Columbo starring Kate Mulgrew.

    Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse than “Last Salute to the Commodore”, along comes something that makes it look OK in comparison!

  6. I didn’t mind the episode being different in that it was more of a whodunit. I just found that with all the McGoohan-inspired tricks, I had serious problems keeping up with what was going on! I spent a lot of time re-winding sections and was none the wiser.

  7. Since I am a new poster I apologize in advance for harping on an episode that is evidently very unpopular. It can be a drag reading upbeat posts on shows one dislikes. This being football season I have been missing many of the COZI/MeTV shows of late so I won’t be dominating the thread with long winded comments to the relief of many I am guessing. Ha. A lot of the late episodes on COZI I have already seen anyway. And it seems to me part of the problem posters are having trouble with here is Columbo’s performance. Guilty as charged as I like Columbo in all modes including his more freewheeling performance here . I have issues with many shows but he is NEVER the problem for me.

    But I can’t help myself discussing this scenic episode. As far as foreshadowing yes I am speculating but I have a couple of more for the group. Before that the one truly baffling scene was the underwater scuba fellow who swam a mile at night. Now I am figuring the boat brigade gave him clearance (although i don’t recall that ever being specified) but still at night it seemed a rather dangerous assignment. And as far as I know his only reward was a warm handshake from Columbo.

    Now two more oddities. The comedic closeness scenes between Vaughn and Columbo were hilarious but it was almost a close but no cigar scenario ( which by the way was a theme throughout as the Sgt. was instructed to remind Columbo not to light up) whereupon I found it strange that it appeared the case was solved at the one hour mark with the “time” issue but unlike previous episodes Columbo didn’t take a straight line towards Vaughn and took a more scattered approach which as we come to find out was prescient. He is always steps ahead of me.

    Secondly the idea that he is letting green Mac handle his car appeared absurd. But look closely at the scenes and you can see Columbo “teaching” his two underlings throughout the show. He takes them through the paces and as in the case of Mac chides him when he thinks something is unimportant.

    Most strikingly was the scene in the crowded boat club where the daughter is being asked about her whereabouts during the crime(s). Columbo is seen darting around the room listening closely to the detectives questioning her. It reminded me of one of the best ever Columbo entrances to a show in a very early episode “Lady in Waiting.” Which by the way I rated as an A episode also. For the record I rate most episodes in the B+ or A- range.

    For those who recall in that great episode Columbo was in the big house looming about playing with a newspaper and eaves dropping on the detectives questioning the deceased’s sister. He just seemed like some meandering bystander but she would find out quick that was NOT the case. And then when everyone had cleared he spoke briefly with the woman where (and I love these moments) she recognized Columbo was not some shabby low level officer distraction but a sly higher up who will become a big problem for her.

    • Columbophile nailed it, big time, in his review of this trainwreck of a show, and by his (rightfully) putting it in the Z-List, in his rankings — all by itself.

    • Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, Artie, and you digging this episode will in no way get you blackballed here. (No Time to Die, on the other hand … lol)

      I agree with you that several scenes in LSTC have a “pass the torch” vibe to them, quite likely because Falk and McGoohan viewed this episode as a possible send-off to the series. Can’t join your club that any of this mess was executed particularly well. One wonders if Falk was attempting to preclude the studio from successfully spinning off the show to one of the newly introduced detectives by tanking every scene involving them.

      But hey, to each his own.

      • Great points.

        Something very strange was going on in order to have the poor judgment to perform the way they did, mix the sound the way they did, as write such drivel for such a great series.
        Oh, and then have the even poorer judgment to air it!

    • 😉 I’m not sure if we should be critiquing the episode or “Artie’s” review! 😉

      There’s a difference between putting together a highly intricate episode/plot and a traditional straight-forward sequential plot, as long as the viewer is already in on the “fun.” In Last Salute to the Commodore (LSTTC) the viewer doesn’t have a clue, and never does until the end. So how can the viewer appreciate the job that Columbo is doing along the way? And that’s because of not understanding what direction he’s going towards. Or what is his “ahhh, ha” moment? And basically I’m comparing this episode to Troubled Water, as a speciiic example of a cleanly written episode, sequentially speaking. And presenting his specific interactions with the characters.

      Solving the LSTTC mystery is going on all up inside Columbo’s head, right. As usual. And that’s fine and we usually watch him untangle the clues, but we do it together. (Example: Trouble Waters). But I’m not sure if the viewer in this case should be expected to be doing more work than even Columbo himself is already forced into be doing. Why? Because the ending isn’t very satisfying! Does anybody care who the real murderer is, by that torturous point 90 minutes later? Does the culprit have any redeeming value whatsoever? No, let’s get rid of him anyway. Now IF it had been Charles Clay (those RV fans at least) might’ve had a twinge of regret, making the plot resolution more significant (as in Troubled Water). But (Memo to Production Team: We have to LIKE these characters [actors] in the first place, to be really invested in the particular episode!! And exactly because it IS so tedious!!).

      Now the obvious reason is, viewers watch because of Columbo himself, of course. But in this episode, he’s interacting with so many characters/actors that his effectiveness (chemistry) is getting diluted! Those other two Officers (for example) seem so inept and unappreciative in the first place, who’d want them to continue (as in a spin-off opportunity) without Columbo anyway. So if they’re already unlikeable, then drop them. Like what purpose are they serving? They become two guys who Columbo gets to yell at for a change. And to demonstrate his own superiority towards. I actually felt badly for them, who turned into the episode’s sacrificial lambs of stupidity. Now, if that’s “novel” directing courtesy of Mr. McGoohan, why bother?? Also (if that was a “farewell” episode either for the 5th season, or forever) they had NO business being in that last scene with Columbo/Falk. Why? Because they hadn’t earned that place, over time. And “Mac” carrying the raincoat, was actually offensive, using such a throw-away excuse, which could’ve been written more poignantly than “never know when it’ll rain” (or something stupid like that) just made Columbo’s/Falk’s trademark a gimmick.

      The next glaring shortcoming is wasting what could otherwise be very interesting “bits” (aka interactions between the characters, intended for a significant purpose). Like Charles showing Columbo about the steering/auto-pilot mechanism of the boat, offered a stark contrast between master-sailor knowledge/enthusiasm and landlocked/bored detective. But I was NOT convinced of either one of the characters’ skill OR ineptitude, because it was such a clumsily directed scene. Too many people up there on the bow, too repetitious, too obvious, and Charles didn’t even care if he wasn’t convincing. (Given RV’s deep fear of water anyway, he seemed more uncomfortable than Falk doing that scene).

      If crowding the bunch into the same car served any purpose whatsoever, please explain. Not only was it unrealistic it was clumsy and bumbling. They seemed more uncomfortable/embarrassed being in an improbable position than ever being amused among themselves, especially as actors. So if they were going to feature those other two (new) detectives, at least they should’ve used one of their cars, as the second mode of transportation in that scene.

      Drunken wives seldom ever have any redeeming value to them. But this character was also clueless. Who are we supposed to believe, is the victim in the marriage and why? I couldn’t figure that out. About the MOST entertaining bit was Charles shouting as furiously as he could possibly muster to his wife “Don’t Drink!” (Bravo!) A strange and quirky bit of “emotion” coming from RV’s (disappointing and) exceptionally understated and restrained performance. (As much as I am an original RV fan) he could’ve displayed just a “tad” more affection along the way, to continue teasing us (the viewer) about who the real murderer is. Post-humorous memo to RV: no need to use the Poker Face all_the_time! Except it was Mr. McGoohan’s vision of the episode, and not your fault!

      I saved the worst for last, namely creepy Lisa S.. Yes, she probably had the hots for the Commodore, and only she would! But geeze, couldn’t they have made her just a little more attractive? Who wears a sweater or sweatshirt that ugly down on the dock, anyway??

      For the record I’ve seen this episode 3 times and still barely understand it. I had to once again read the official Colombophile Review, meaning those reviews are most frequently more entertaining than the controversial episodes themselves. But come on, NO viewer should have to “study” this stuff like a Term Paper. Television is supposed to be … entertaining and relaxing! I want to be along for the ride, not driving the car.

      • “So if they were going to feature those other two (new) detectives, at least they should’ve used one of their cars, as the second mode of transportation in that scene.”

        Mac was a new character, but Bruce Kirby had already appeared in at least two episodes as Sgt Kramer, “By Dawn’s Early Light” and “Identity Crisis”, both of which also involved Patrick McGoohan.

  8. I am quite surprised at the general vitriol aimed at this episode even if I factor in my “Columbo can do no wrong” groupie mentality. It isn’t as if I rate all of the episodes as terrific even if I think Columbo is uniformly great in every show including poor escapades like “Murder in Malibu.” Sure there are some lesser episodes but I never blame Columbo for the problems on those shows.

    I enjoyed the stencil scene as it showed three detectives actively trying to solve a puzzle. And then when it finally “hit” Columbo after he saw a boat with a name on it that SAILS was NOT what the stencils spelled out but a name (that turned out to be LISA.S) was sheer genius. Columbo kept looking and playing with the stencil that just had a hole in it and that turned out to be the period and the most revealing piece of the puzzle. Bloody great stuff and why he is the best detective in the world.

    Another foreshadowing was Columbo repeatedly asking “Mac” if he had any Irish in him. “Are you sure” Columbo kept asking. This reflected the assumption that Robert Vaughn was the killer but as we come to find out that was not the case. Just like figuring anyone nicknamed Mac would have some Irish in them. More brilliance.

    Peter Falk looked like he was having a ball on this episode and his joy in the pursuit of the truth here is very infectious.

    Posters can disagree fine. But for me this was a hoot of an episode and as I previously mentioned I get a kick out of seeing Columbo work with other police officers and I also dig shows that have Columbo interacting with a lot of characters and on the Commodore episode we get all of those things in spades.

    And I appreciate the very few here who did find this episode very entertaining.

    • “Another foreshadowing was Columbo repeatedly asking “Mac” if he had any Irish in him. “Are you sure” Columbo kept asking. This reflected the assumption that Robert Vaughn was the killer but as we come to find out that was not the case. Just like figuring anyone nicknamed Mac would have some Irish in them. More brilliance.”

      I wouldn’t have thought of that. I assumed it was a nod to “Anyone ever call you Mac?” in “A Stitch In Crime”.

      And couldn’t “Mac” just as easily imply Scottish heritage? Like on the Rock Hudson Show?

  9. Just saw the episode this evening. I give it an A rating and I don’t hand that high a rating out like candy either. Loved it. I am especially fond of episodes where Columbo interacts with other police officers and here he has not just one but two helpers. I just love the way he converses with other officers and the fact that both youngster “Mac” and Sgt. Kramer were basically with him throughout the show sure was a lot of fun to watch.

    This one was especially twisty as it looked like Robert Vaughn was the sure killer. I appreciated the marine environment and the open sky nature of the episode. Very pretty scenery. I am such a huge fan of Columbo I suppose I fall into the “groupie” category. He can basically do no wrong in my eyes. He is just plain wonderful.

    But this had a different tone from many episodes some of which border on claustrophobia. Here things sail along with the wind which took it into refreshingly uncharted territory.

    Someone above mentioned Columbo as a stern task master and here we see despite his surface charm he is all business when it comes to finding out who did what. Beneath that charm is a no nonsense first class detective.

    I would have given this episode a rare A + rating ( to date and having not nearly seen every episode the only one I have given an A + rating to is “Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo”) but I thought the final resolution was too threadbare with the watch being the “big reveal.”

    I enjoy the very astute owner of this sites reviews and generally I can nod in agreement with much of what he has to say but I disagree with his verdict on this seaside adventure. To me this was a different and very fun episode and yes that was a very beautiful and wistful ending with Columbo rowing a boat across the water.

    • The ending of this mess (Columbo rowing away in the boat) was the ONLY tolerable part. Everything else was rife with truly lazy writing and even worse action. Even the soundtrack of this waste of time was awful.

    • I am never going to like this particular episode, but it is nice to hear that some viewers can genuinely appreciate it for it’s (very) different approach. It is Columbo after all, and that is something pretty special as far as TV shows go.

  10. This episode isn’t bad at all! I always postponed watching it because of the bad rep, but I really enjoyed it. It’s certainly off-beat but I consider it Columbo’s “David Lynch” episode, filled with meta-moments (like the boat called “Cameo” appearing). I also think the crime curveball is actually well done. Pity about the gotcha, and some questionable camera and cut work in the beginning of the episode. But man, this is still A-tier to me!

    • Perhaps the style of this episode was years ahead of its time, and it can now be appreciated and enjoyed by younger viewers.

      Those of us who first saw it in the 1970’s were left almost as baffled as by “Fallout”, the final episode of Patrick McGoohan’s 1960’s series, The Prisoner.

      This too was a series that I enjoyed, but “Fallout” was definitely the “Last Salute to the Commodore” of it’s day.

      • I can only think that I must have missed this episode in the 1970’s…as I did watch. many of the shows, and most were ok except as years went by and then came all the overacting. Salute To the Commodore has to be right down there in the Cesspool of Acting…why was the story made so corny and stupid – touchy feely, bodies pressing into another, face obnoxious in the face of others, all the noise, stupidity segments that have no bearing on the story – Columbo always grabbing or touching others and putting his Face in the Face of the woman on the dock – another useless scene. Why was this episode made…maybe as a satire on poorly produced stupidity shows?

  11. The episode to watch when more traditional Columbo episodes get predictable. Here is where the straitjacket of professionalism is loosened: where the professional gets to show the hack or prostitute, the futile absurdity, at the core of any profession: where the doctor gets to bludgeon the patient; the teacher kick the pupil off a cliff; the dentist drill a hole in his client’s skull; the chef poison the gourmet; the priest praise Satan. Here entertainment professionals unwind from their daily grind, and get to spit in the faces of their audiences and fans. It isn’t pretty but it isn’t supposed to be. The viewer seeking a comforting hour of murder and intrigue, all neatly packaged and tied up, is handed a wet hanky full of snot: ‘Here you are. Surprised?’
    I am not even sure it was done to make us think about why we watch crime on TV or any deeper motive than that of the exhausted professional wanting to let out a cry of deep frustration and set themselves free.

  12. Learning a little about McGoohan’s late sixties British series “The Prisoner” goes a long way towards explaining the “Curveball-Columbo” episodes in season five. The most striking thing about the Commodore is the camera work. It seems that someone just left the thing on the the floor during some of those shots! What’s the deal with the claustrophobic scene where the five (or six) police officers squeeze onto the deck of that boat? Or the bit where there were three people in the front seat of Columbo’s car – it was like a circus in a Fellini movie. I appreciate that the show took some chances; the deviance doesn’t undermine the earlier stories. There will always be somebody somewhere receiving a broadcast of a classic Robert Culp performance – probably in some other galaxy by now…

  13. Columbo’s mumbling entrance is noticably off brand, but there was something more story-related that really bugged me about this scene. Mrs. Clay answers the door in her hungover haze, Columbo says hi. Mr. Clay promptly joins them and introduces himself. Within seconds Falk is shooting the look he usually gives when he has identified his prime suspect. Huh? Other than being Robert Vaughn, there was nothing about that doorway meeting to raise suspicion. The scene was downright ridiculous.

    This may have been the first sign to the viewer that Falk/McGoohan’s intent was to send up all the Columbo tropes that formed over the years. In that light, I’ll grant the defenders of the episode that Salute should be properly viewed as an intentional spoof.

    Where I agree with CP is that I did not find this spoof remotely funny. Comedy is highly personal and subjective so more power to those that do, but there are few viewing experiences more painful than an unfunny spoof. Hence the widespread hate.

    • Purely within the confines of the story, why does Columbo “shoot the look” at Charles Clay the moment he meets him?

      Well, it’s possible that, given his wealth, the Commodore’s “accidental” death already looks suspicious to Columbo before he ever gets to the Clay residence. The family would therefore be the prime suspects and of the two he’s just met, it’s more likely to be the suave and sober Mr Clay than the smashed Mrs Clay.

      I think a similar situation exists in “Try And Catch Me” when Columbo already knows before he meets her that if anyone could make a murder look like an accident, it would be Abigail Mitchell.

      • lol Are suave and sober individuals really more prone to committing murder than drunks? Only in the Columbo universe, methinks.

        Joking aside, an essential (considering the show’s dramatically ironic conceit) moment in any Columbo episode is when we the viewers get to appreciate what meager clue tips off our hero to the killer (whom the viewer knows is the correct suspect and is thus anticipating this revelation). Last Salute completely mails in that special moment.

        As Vaughn was not the actual killer in this bizarro style ep, it’s true that any real clue Columbo picked up on would have wound up a red herring. But since he ends up chasing the wrong suspect for most of the running time, that’s even more reason to provide a concrete trigger for his suspicion.

        Columbo Cries Wolf handled this bit of misdirection far far smoother.

        • Yes. Well done. In the Columbo universe, the heavily inebriated Mrs Clay could not possibly have carried out the elaborate cover up of the murder, whereas her suave and sober husband could have. And Charles would not have taken the risk of having a few after he got home and letting the booze loosen his tongue.

  14. I was surprised to learn that this episode was supposed to be a great ending to the series. It looks more like an unwanted addition, like a pie made of leftovers, so a stingy cook doesn’t have to throw them away. Familiar characters, familiar plot twists, all mixed into something ridiculous – and I really had a pity to the familiar actors who look like they’ve lost in a card game to Falk.

  15. Has any detective in the making yet deduced that you wouldn’t need two letter S stencils? You would just reuse the first one, particularly if you’re the four faced Commodore. He didn’t get rich being frivolous with money. I think he looked so unhappy because he had to keister that famous watch of his.

    • I think you would need two “S” stencils to make sure that everything lined up and could be painted in one go? And of course, the second “S” is a vital clue. Without it, the whole plot wouldn’t make any sense at all.

  16. This is my first time visit to your site which was occasioned by my searching the title of this episode for confirmation that this is recognized as one of those “jumped the shark” moments in the series. This episode was painful to watch, luckily I slept through part of it, I just wished I’d slept through the ending. I wholeheartedly agree with your review.

    • I don’t pretend to be the welcome wagon here (as the site owner can do that very well enough) but IMO this site is enjoyable (for many reasons) particularly because it seems to represent a consensus of opinion (in general). The Columbophile reviews are common sense, humorous and filled with relevant observations and examples! The reviews are as much fun to read as are some of the episodes to watch. At least they don’t make you feel like, “okay, what did I miss!” And the general conversations are entertaining! Welcome!

  17. I read your scathing review first, but still watched it tonight with an open mind. I found this episode hilarious! I loved the scene of Columbo, Vaughn, etc. all piling into Columbo’s vehicle like clowns at a circus. The shipyard shouting scene was funny too, as was the meditation scene. The anticlimactic ending scene was funny too. It’s obvious to me that you just didn’t get it. “What?”, you may ask. “It.”

    • I just saw a comment that one thought this episode was over the top funny – yes, over the top but stupid and weird…unless I missed the satire – there was so much childish behavior…noise…touchy touchy like Peter Falk had so much influence after years so he overacted and acted in a weird sexual predator way…Arms around people, legs over people, close to the woman on the dock…I thought the entire episode was sick – I liked the earlier years when Falk did not overemphasize the actions. This was first grade production

      • I agree with the impression you have of that episode. Well characterized. But don’t blame the actors. It’s the Director’s fault for not having the production more under his command. Perhaps he fancied himself worthy of experimentation. Perhaps they all fancied themselves as “Artists d’Jour.” Or maybe the collection of them just didn’t care at that point. Hopping to escape their Columbo obligation. But I still hold Directors and Producers accountable. Yeah, sure, Peter Falk had the clout and the privilege, but geesh, somebody should’ve reasoned with him by utilizing an objective eye on what was going in the episode!!! It made everyone look bad!

        • But he was using an objective eye – unfortunately, it was the glass one.

          Low-hanging fruit right there, that joke.

      • Your assessment is right on target. This episode was a blot on the character and the entire series. Thank goodness it did not turn out to be the last one, which would have left a sour taste behind it, and we were still able to enjoy such great episodes as “Try and Catch Me,” “Sky-High IQ,” and “The Conspirators.”

  18. This episode is broadcast this evening in the US on “MeTV”, and I believe I have spoken before that I like Diane Baker overall. This episode is best viewed in the background on your 2nd or 3rd cocktail while preparing dinner (which I am). However, you do run the risk of actually watching and listening during one of the extremely annoying scenes which lend NOTHING to the plot development, like the repeated introductions made by Columbo, or the detailed nautical lessons, of which about 15% are pertinent. Maybe this is tolerable on a 1st viewing, but by this time, we have all seen this and all Columbos at least 3-6 times. Hard to take in a sober state. If I hadn’t recalled Columbophile’s sidesplitting caption “Please Make it Stop”, I probably wouldn’t have tuned in. That scene however is not the worst. It’s the time fillers overall. Weak writing brings out the worst in everyone. I think (for the most part) Ms. Baker is one of the few doing her job.

    • I love your comment! Lesson learned, let us not take ourselves so seriously. Because sometimes it seems like (through endless discussion) that we’re wishing certain episodes into being better than they ever will be. I am seldom disappointed with RV’s performances, except for this guest starring role. My comments are plastered everywhere. But to the point in this case, meaning any excuse for wine with dinner is well taken. I mean why waste any occasion “just” watching a bad Columbo episode, without rewarding yourself in some way.

      Since you referenced MeTV (in the USA, a Weigel Broadcasting network) let me add that the MeTV website has given this episode the best send-up possible! No spoiler alert here, so you will need to follow this link! Did I hear the glasses clink!!


  19. Just re-watched this episode in Peacock. (Shudder)

    This could have been a pretty good episode. They could have run with the transformation from “howcatchem” to “whodunit” and really made something memorably. But I agree that the buffoonery really destroys the story’s appeal.
    Our host aptly recounts all the silliness of Columbo’s exaggerated shtick here. I tried to think that this Lt. Columbo is the same one who lectured numerous suspects about the seriousness of murder. But I just couldn’t. The character’s continuity was thrown out the window.

  20. First comment ever on this AWESOME website!!! this episode feels like Knives out and Murder On The Orient Express must have been inspired by this!! I’d like to think so…such common elements (parlour room reveal) and large group of familial suspects.

    • Welcome Sindhu. A very helpful first comment. Your theory helps me stop disliking this episode much!! But yes, it does have that over acting element you got on those classics

    • The parlor reveal is an old staple of Agatha Christie’s, and Orient Express came out a couple years before this episode. I mean the good one (Lumet’s) not the dreadful one (Branagh’s).

    • I would definitely put Last Salute in the same category as Knives Out: terrible with over-acting. Thankfully in 1976 we didn’t feel obligated to shower Last Salute with award nominations like the Academy did with Knives Out. As for Orient Express, the excellent Lumet movie was based fairly closely on its source material, the Agatha Christie novel.

  21. If I didn’t work in the film biz and know what a grueling daily slog it is to produce a show, I’d think cast and crew were merrily stoned during this. But alas, clear-headed thinking produced this. I don’t know much about McGoohan but just from the way he acts and the stories I’ve hard about the Prisoner, he was one of those people who though he could do no wrong. As an actor he’s fine but he pushed his talents too far in directing. He did a good job directing the episode where he was a spy, but even that one foreshadowed this mess. (the scene with Columbo more into the belly dancer than the case)

  22. I am happy — I think — to see that I am not alone in being perplexed, appalled and finally angered at this TERRIBLE episode. I am so glad that it’s not Lieutenant Columbo’s swan song. The first time I saw it, I thought maybe the whole thing had been ad-libbed, like a movie directed by Peter Falk’s buddy John Cassavettes. I wonder what Levinson and Link thought of it? Columbo is so entirely out of character here — when he’s not being creepy around the women, he’s yelling and generally unpleasant. This is just a total misfire in every regard.

    • Character inconsistencies are easily explained. Most episodes are about Lt “Frank” Columbo, but A few episodes, including this one, take place on a parallel Earth and are about Lt “Philip” Columbo. Looks the same, sounds he same, but a different person altogether.

  23. Besides being a dreadful script and production, a major confusion (for me at least) was making the Swanny character the NEPHEW of the Commodore. There didn’t see to be too much of an age difference. It threw me off, and not in a good “Columbo” way,

    • This is quite possible. My sister’s youngest is only 5 years older than his big sister’s eldest. They are uncle and nephew, but look and behave more like brothers.

  24. So we just watched this one tonight, going into it completely cold. MAN was that weird. I have to say I really enjoyed the first 30-45 minutes or so; I thought the comedy bits at the beginning (particularly Columbo in the car) were very funny. Seeing a different side to Columbo was a blast…for awhile. But the episode did wear out its welcome, and by the end I was definitely ready for it to be over. I think the basic idea of the crime (nephew commits the murder, but convinces his drunken cousin it was her, so her husband covers up the crime) was clever but wasted. We had no idea that this was intended to be a possible ending to the series until the end; I wonder if Mac was being presented as a possible replacement (or as a red herring for a possible replacement). In any event, I think this episode is worth watching once as a novelty…but only once.

  25. I too have been watching all Columbo episodes during lockdown. This is the first episode I have truly disliked. I didn’t even think Dagger of the Mind was that bad lol.

  26. All I can add is that I like the idea that Columbo is going to meet his wife at the club at the end. This made me imagine that he has his wife wait for him somewhere related to the crime after every single gotcha he’s ever done. She’s in the movie theatre after he reveals the subliminal cuts, is camping in the mountains after he drives Johnny Cash to headquarters, is shedding some pounds in the fat farm…

  27. Thanks so much for your blog. And you certainly help to explain why this episode is such a disaster. Like you, for the first time since watching all the previous episodes, I was ready to press the stop button very early on. With Columbo being so out of character, the weird direction and the endless scenes of nothing I had to steel myself with the hope that it might get better. But sadly it didn’t. It was like watching Carry On Columbo, in ultra slow motion. Of course you described this train wreck perfectly. How did the network let it out? Did Peter Falk do Johnny Carson to plug it? Can’t imagine he did. And was Patrick McGoohan trying to create the weirdness of the Prisoner ? And had they wanted to do a Columbo send-up it could have been done so much better.
    What they ended up with was a self-indulgent pile of crap with huge disrespect for the viewers. Maybe Columbo should have rowed off into the sunset never to be seen again.

    • ….having now read many of the other comments, I’m now convinced that this was a send-up. It was also Peter Falk escape from being held Prisoner by Columbo. Imagine playing the same character for years, having to wear that stupid raincoat come rain or shine. It must do something to your mind. There’s a British soap opera called Coronation Street that in a few days celebrates the 60th anniversary of its continuous run. And an actor called William Roache is still playing Ken Barlow, from day one. Is that weird or what? So maybe Falk was trying to send up brand Columbo by making him a kind of buffoon. Groucho Marx doing art house. E.g. was the exaggerated invasion of people’s space an allegorical rendition of the way the real Columbo hounds the perpetrator and associates until the gotcha? And also the departure from showing the murder at the start of the episode. Overall a kind of therapeutic exercise and Falk telling the world and himself “I’m not Columbo”

      • It’s certainly unusual for an actor to play the same role for 60 years, but I don’t think it’s “weird”. The character of Ken Barlow has aged and developed along with William Roache. (It’s not as though Coronation Street is a play, and William Roache is still playing a man in his 20’s).

        And there are actors who have been in the BBC radio series The Archers for decades. The character of Tony Archer was born on the show, and is still in the story today (having been played by various actors). It all adds to the “realism” of the series, without going as far as the Truman Show.

  28. Really disagree with the moderator. I loved this episode. I liked that we didn’t know who the murderer was for a change as well as the sleazy quality of pretty much everyone on the ship. I also thought the riff on Mac’s name was a hoot–kind of a veiled snark to the awful MacMillan and Wife which shared the Mystery Movie series. And…I thought the Yoga seen was great…And the Commodore’ Watch conclusion–awesome. I also liked that we saw the other side of Columbo, the stern task master. “We all know where we are.”

    • I would like to respectfully request (just a small portion of) what you were smoking (or drinking) when you watched this yawn-a-minute cringe-fest. Maybe I, too, can find assorted “hoots” in this 90-minute Sominex substitute. 🙂

    • Unfortunately, it was slow-paced and dreary. My very LEAST favorite episode. Robert Vaughn acted bored most of the time, like he wished he was ANYWHERE else besides where he was. When Columbo gathered all the suspects together and went to each for their response to the watch, the suspects’ responses sounded so scripted, as though they were rehearsed in advance. It didn’t feel spontaneous or natural. The scene gave me the impression that Columbo was fully expecting the responses that he got. I dunno, it just seems staged.

      As for that last scene when Columbo rows away whistling “This Old Man”, did anyone besides me notice that he had his cigar in his mouth at the time? Try whistling with a cigar in your mouth. Y’think it’s easy? ‘Tisn’t!

      • If you’re talking about Last Salute to the Commodore, I never did understand the episode, as much a fan of Robert Vaughn as I am.

        But don’t fault him.

        An interesting thing about Robert Vaughn (like Robert Conrad for example) is that when you have a role for either of them, that’s who you get! Meaning their personality! However if you want an actor who’s going to mold a role into their own liking (such as in doing the job of the Director) then you find a Patrick McGoohan who’s just going to run with it.

        A lot of it has to do with the actors’ billing (status). Whether “starring” or “supporting”, it’s about just showing up to do what’s required (and expected!). Because there often isn’t time for everyone in the cast to do their favored interpretation of stage work. A good guess is that if Robert Vaughn seemed bored with the material, he probably was. Buts that’s because the Director wasn’t asking enough from the ensemble! Which is not a failure of the actor. For the most part a “working actor” shows up doing what’s required, particularly so they will be hired for the next role. Because becoming any kind of an “issue” (for whatever reason) isn’t the best way to go about lining up the next job.

        • I think Vaughn’s character was conditioned to smiling through gritted teeth. His misanthropic father-in-law, tenuous business footing and disaster of a wife while trying to project eternal optimism probably contributed to his drained appearance.

    • Bless You John. I am sometimes influenced by the almost universal disdain of other Columbo fans, until I’m not sure how “bad” an episode really is. I am viewing it now with a critical eye to see just how “bad” it is, and I can say with confidence that until Columbo shows up, it is PERFECTLY fine. If my other posting today had been heeded by the writers, (about padding with irrelevant scenes) we would not be reading all the hate mail. I did laugh out loud(guiltily-as at a Joan River’s joke about Liz Taylor’s weight gain) at Columbophile’s caption of the scene depicting the trancendental meditation (or “TM” to us meditators) I found that scene quite accurately portrayed, including the actresses’ failure to let Columbo annoy her.
      Bravo. However, what did Mrs. Clay’s sad alcoholism really add to the story? That IS difficult characterization.. I think I will join you in at least enjoying this episode, flaws and all.

      • Joanna Clay’s alcoholism is essential to the story. It makes her perfect for the frame up, as her drunken blackouts mean that she honestly would not be able to remember if she had killed the Commodore or not.

  29. I loved it! It was pure comedy from start to finish and Falk looks like he was having a ball. I love the throwback to the old timey mysteries when they gather all the suspects in the room for the big reveal of whodunnit. I thought the addition of Mac was very sweet. Loved watching his admiration for Columbo grow when he realized that underneath the comic antics and total buffoonery he was watching a genius at work. I even liked the over the top drunk daughter who just wants to have fuuuunnnn! What a hoot.

    • The Mac bond, is one of the few things that worked. I’m afraid I’ve only just recovered from last nights viewing

      It’s a terrible Columbo performance, compared to his best

      “DUST. DUST. DUST. DUST. NO DUST!!” as if talking to a 5 year old, rather than a smart young cop, summarises the problem. A classic Columbo performance – like say the one in ‘An Exercise in Fatality’, would simply have said, quietly, ‘Have you seen this one’s got no dust, Mac’

      There are certain aspects that are OK. Diane Baker is superb. Robert Vaughan looks shifty enough for us to believe he’s the killer and then there is that great twist. I didn’t think the parlour room scene, was that bad

      But everything else is terrible. Whether it’s the creepy Columbo, lazy British caricatures or the terrible gotcha – it’s arguably the worst

      Glad you enjoyed it though!!

    • I left similar comments. I think people have been conditioned nowadays to expect a laugh track to tell them if something is funny. I appreciate all the little comic touches normally in Columbo, but this one was just over-the-top funny.

      • I agree with part of your comment:
        “this one was just over-the-top”
        Just one minor edit: I’d just substitute “Cringe-worthy” for funny.

  30. Just about to watch this and ruin my Monday

    But when you’re a Columbo freak and are rewatching every episode – it of course means watching the bad ones as well as the great one!!

    I survived Dagger of the Mind, so I’m sure I’ll be fine

    • Perhaps the saddest casualties (besides the suffering viewers) of “Commodore” are the wasted efforts by Columbo alums: Robert Vaughn, Fred Draper, John Dehner, Wilfrid-Hyde White and Joshua Bryant.

      • Christ!! This is terrible and I’ve just got to the dreaded stencil bit

        It actually starts OK in what looks like a good mystery and then, amazingly is ruined by Columbo’s entrance, who’s decided to be larger than life in this episode and is terrible!!!!!!

        I forgive ALL the new episodes

        • Dagger of the mind is just as bad as last salute in my opinion a total stinker for me it was on last night on 5 USA again i tried to watch it in fulland couldnt stomach it mainly lily and nick ( i think thats there names i ts an episode i dislike so much i cant remember )they really turn me off every line , its very , silly its poorly acted and the ending is a load of tosh also
          2 terrible episodes, sorry to those who like dagger and last salute but there definetley z list

          • Hi Steve. I’m not keen on Salute, but I love Dagger, one of my all time favourites.

            Try thinking of it as the deliberately comic episode of Columbo and see if it works for you then.

            I have always thought that the characters of Lilly and Nick are not “badly acted”, but rather that they are meant to be larger than life, over the top buffoons, who are totally out of their depth in the “real” world.

          • I think the first years of Colombo were mainly good – but as Peter Falk became more comfortable and in control…as happens with actors who turn directors…then the over acting starts and over emphasis of words and the to much of one more thing…and then the tuchy feely action of sick touching of people and pressing into their private space

  31. Ok, I’ve been watching Columbo episodes sequentially over the course of the COVID lockdown. I also discovered this excellent blog. My habit when I start watching an episode is to open up the episode guide and sort of follow along, keeping pace with the episode I’m streaming, but not getting ahead so as to spoil the outcome. I am currently at about the 50 minute point of this turd. I find it completely excruciating. So much pointless drivel taking up space. I feel like the 50 minutes I’ve seen could have been accomplished in 10. I feel like the most representative scene in the whole episode is the scene where “Mac” is driving the crew around the circle driveway. (Why on earth does Mac need to learn to drive the Renault?) This episode just seems to be spinning around in circles, going nowhere.

    Now I’m at a crossroads. I know I need to just step away from the episode for at least a few hours to clear my head. I also feel duty bound to watch the rest for posterity. Do I? Or do I just read the rest of the summary and bag it?

    • If nothing else the closing moment is truly delightful to me but just set your expectations to zero for the rest lol.

      We’d have no mountains without the valleys and this episode is at the bottom of a valley for me lol.

    • Just completing my viewing of this televised episode (my 3rd comment tonight) . I wouldn’t be commenting again except that you hit on my biggest problem with it. Yes, it opens with major promise but seems to have problems at about the time Columbo shows up. Diane Baker does NOT overact, she is in a tough spot, playing a hapless drunk. My first question is what does that characterization add. But my biggest problem with the episode is the PADDING and that’s what you alluded to Scott. All those introductions of characters in the dock area, and all those nautical lessons. As the show progressed it became oven more obvious. In between there were some solid action scenes. But to enjoy this episode you have to be otherwise occupied during the meaningless stuff.

      • I think her characterization offers a red herring and misdirection when we believe that Robert Vaughn is the killer. It’s easy to (seemingly) connect the dots surrounding the question of why Vaughn is with her, as we look at Daddy’s wealth. For all we know, she could have been victim #2, until the rug is yanked out from us with our chief suspect dead. What’s a shame about this appalling disaster of an episode – all the attempts at humor are cringeworthy: the lesson in the driveway, shouting to the foreman, Lisa’s meditation scene, etc. – is that the clever misdirection with Vaughn is wasted, as is Vaughn himself, Hyde-White, Dehner and Kirby. That kind of quality in the supporting cast deserves a better vehicle.


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