Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 6

Episode review: Columbo The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case titles

May 22, 1977 was a red-letter day in televisual history. It was the day the best-ever Columbo episode hit our screens; it was the day The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case first aired.

Is there a hint of hyperbole about the above? Perhaps. But to my mind this is a truly special 70 minutes of television, deserving of the highest praise.

I hope to successfully make my case to you here about just why this Columbo outing has no equal. So let’s prep our robo-record players, fetch our umbrellas from the chimney and get ready to hang with Theo Bikel and his fellow geniuses down at Sigma Society HQ…

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Oliver Brandt: Theo Bikel
Bertie Hastings: Sorrell Booke
Vivian Brandt: Samantha Eggar
George Campanella: Howard McGillin
Jason Danziger: Basil Hoffman
Alvin Metzler: Peter Lampert
Sergeant Burke: Todd Martin
Waitress: Jamie Lee Curtis
Suzy: Kathleen King
Caroline: Carol Jones
Mike: Kenneth Mars
Mr Wagner: George Sperdakos
Miss Eisenbach: Dorrie Thomson
Written by: Robert Malcolm Young
Directed by: Sam Wanamaker
Score by: Bob Prince
Significant locations: Sigma Society (2501 9th Ave, Los Angeles, 90018); Brandt residence (10451 Bellagio Rd, Los Angeles, 90077)

Episode synopsis: The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

Genius accountant Oliver Brandt has been embezzling funds in order to keep his high-maintenance wife in fine frocks and tropical getaways. She has no idea he’s up to such skullduggery, but his business partner and life-long friend Bertie Hastings has just found out – and he ain’t happy.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case Theo Bickel
Setting up a murder has never seemed such fun!

In order to ensure his cover isn’t blown, Brandt uses his fiendish intellect to concoct a recipe for perfect murder. The ingredients? An umbrella; some squibs; a marker pen; alligator clamps; a record player; a heavy dictionary; and a concealed, silenced gun.

Using the side entrance to the Sigma Society – a club of geniuses where he and Bertie are members – Brandt sneaks up to the library and puts the pieces in place. The squibs are attached to the inner spokes of his umbrella, and attached, in turn, to little alligator clamps on a spool of wire. All of these items are left in various places around the room, along with the gun.

Oliver also leaves a window open and preps a state-of-the-art programmable record player to select a particular tune from a Tchaikovsky LP and balances the humongous dictionary precariously on a small table beside the record player. He leaves the marker pen by the record player, then bustles away and makes a show of entering by the real front door as if he’s simply late for that night’s lecture – cruelly tickling poor Bertie on the way.

Once the lecture’s over, the intelligentsia retire to the bar for highbrow chat. Bertie begs for a private audience with Brandt and the two head up to the library. It’s there that Bertie reveals that he knows all about his partner’s embezzling – and that he intends to expose the misdeeds to the wider world. “In that case,” Oliver says drily. “I intend to kill you.”

Columbo Bertie Hastings and Oliver Brandt
Does anyone else think Bertie’s head resembles an egg?

That takes the wind out of Bertie’s sails, but when Oliver delivers another tickling, the pint-sized egg-head goes berserk. “I’m going to tell the whole world what you are,” he screams, spittle flying. Oliver calmly reaches for the hidden gun and fires twice – Bertie’s face a picture of disbelief as he slumps dead to floor.

Taking the cash from Bertie’s wallet to make it look like a burglary gone wrong, and opening the secondary door to a stairway exit, Oliver cues up the auto-record player, which will play a single song before resetting. He attaches the wired clamps to the player’s arm rest and places the marker pen beside the arm. As for the gun, it goes into the umbrella, which is stashed up the chimney. Got all that? Good…

Brandt nonchalantly returns downstairs where he converses with fellow brainiacs. However, the convivial chat is shattered by the sound of gunshots and a heavy weight hitting the library floor!

The group stampedes upstairs to. Bursting in through the main door, the far exit slams shut – clearly someone has escaped them by milliseconds, and that person gunned down dear Bertie. Two society members investigate the stairs, while a supposedly distraught Brandt slumps by the record player. It’s a ruse, of course. In all the hoo-hah, Brandt slyly winds up the spool of incriminating wire and pockets it.

Police are soon on the scene, with Lieutenant Columbo chief amongst them. He’s having some problems making sense of the divergent opinions of the collected geniuses. Seems that no one can agree how quickly the burglar fled down the stairs, or whether they were heavy or light, man or woman.

No wonder Columbo can afford a smile when informed that the club’s membership is made up from the top 2% of the global IQ elite. “Here I’ve been talking with the most intelligent people in the world and I never even noticed,” he says.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High
Columbo concludes it was Brandt, in the library, with a revolver…

Once his questions are over for the night, Columbo departs – but not before Brandt sets him a mind-bending puzzle in order to test his IQ. Returning to his own home, Brandt hides the spool of wire under a potted plant in his garden and heads indoors to see his trophy wife, Vivian.

Vivian is more interested in showing off her new shopping than finding out about Oliver’s day. But when his hang-dog expression persists she pushes for information and Brandt divulges Bertie’s death. Vivian’s response gives us a true measure of the woman. “We must put Bertie out of our minds,” she says. “We’ll take a trip. We’ll buy some clothes!” Brandt has never seemed so alone…

We encounter him alone the next day, removing his umbrella from the Sigma Society library chimney before he vamooses to the park to dispose of the murder weapon. Just as he’s about the bin the offending item, he feels a hand on his shoulder. It’s Columbo, who has been directed to the park by Brandt’s secretary, Alvin.

In another scene of superior tension, Brandt waits until Columbo scoots off for an ice-cream before placing the gun in the trash. But he bungles it! The gun slips out of the paper bag and its handle is plainly visible through the wire mesh of the bin. Columbo returns with his cone and it seems certain that he’ll spot the gun – until a park attendant sidles over and takes the bin away for emptying.

A relieved Brandt puffs up with pomposity and delivers a stunning lecture to Columbo about the best place for a gentleman to keep an umbrella to maximise one’s chance of avoiding a drenching in seasonal rains. He then bids adieu, beaming and looking for all the world like a free man.

Columbo, meanwhile, tracks back to the Sigma Society, where members Caroline and Jason Danziger have both cooked up ideas to suggest that the death of Bertie was pre-planned. For her part, Caroline thinks the gunshots that were heard were actually on the record. But Columbo has already listened to the record several times – no gunshots.

Columbo Jason Danziger
At this moment in proceedings, we are ALL Lieutenant Columbo

Danziger’s idea is even more far-fetched. He believes that Bertie committed suicide using a gun on an elastic tether. The second shot was triggered in a death spasm, explaining why the bullets entered the body at the same angle – despite the fact the body was heard falling between the shots.

Danziger, bursting with excitement at the prospect of cracking the case, believes the gun will be found in the chimney, still attached to its tether. But Columbo has just looked up the chimney and there was no sign of the gun. Deflated, Danziger trudges sadly away.

Seeking further inspiration, Columbo drops in at Brandt HQ. It’s pouring with rain and for once he has no raincoat. Instead he’s cowering under an umbrella, leaving him drenched. He meets Vivian Brandt and notes with interest that the record player in their sitting room is the same type as the one at the Sigma Society, and that Brandt himself donated it.

“Brandt needed money to fund his wife’s spending ambitions after losing a fortune on stock options.”

Vivian even gives Columbo a crash course in how the player can be used to choose specific songs on a record – something the detective notes with great interest before he’s on his way once again to find Brandt’s former secretary (and now newly promoted accountant) George Campanella.

George is out at a trendy nightspot being chatted up by a wide-eyed ditz named Suzy. Columbo clomps in to cramp the young man’s style. George’s hated rival Alvin directed the Lieutenant to the venue and it’s clear that Alvin has also had a lot more to say on how George earned his promotion, and about the potential wheeler-dealing undertaken by Brandt.

Columbo broadly hints that he knows George is aware of Brandt’s embezzling – and that being an accessory to a felony is likely to put a quick stop to George’s meteoric rise. He then breezes out as quickly as he arrived leaving George a picture of dejection. “I wish I were dead,” he tells Suzy.

Columbo George Campanella
George didn’t get a look in once Columbo swaggered into Suzy’s heart

George evidently thinks long and hard about Columbo’s warning, because he’s ready to spill the beans the following morning. The accountant confirms that Brandt has been expertly sifting funds from his clients’ accounts. He needed money to fund his wife’s spending ambitions after losing a fortune on stock options – and Alvin and Bertie were on to him. George alerted Brandt to the danger, hence earning his promotion.

Brandt himself arrives and the tete-a-tete is over. Columbo wanders away and George again alerts Brandt to the dangerous situation he’s in due to loose-lipped Alvin. Columbo, however, spins things the other way when he meets Brandt up in his office, suggesting that Bertie may have been the one indulging in creative book-keeping.

“This comes as a terrible shock to me, Lieutenant,” says a secretly relieved Brandt. “You’ll have to excuse me.” “Oh yes sir, I understand,” says Columbo knowingly. “You’ll certainly need time to think.

Brandt’s only immediate thought, however, is to punish Alvin for his treachery. As soon as Columbo has left, Alvin walks in to give his boss a piece of his mind – but Brandt’s response has him scurrying for cover.

“You DARE to tell me your position in this firm?” rages Brandt. “You niggling little twit! You self-serving, ambitious lout! You’ll be a secretary here until you’re old and grey and if you try to work anywhere else, I’ll pull so many strings that you’ll strangle in them. Suddenly, Alvin, you’re a great choking stench in my life – GET OUT!

Columbo Alvin Metzler
Name: Alvin Metzler. Skillz: Snooping; snitching on colleagues; being great choking stench in boss’s life.

So powerful was Brandt’s riposte that it’s rumoured* actor Peter Lampert, who played Alvin, shed bitter tears and needed a cuddle from director Sam Wanamaker to get over it.

Still in a rage by the time he gets home, Brandt’s slamming of his front door brings Vivian galloping. The beleaguered accountant comes clean. “I have embezzled funds! And I did it for you! Do you understand what I am telling you?” he pleads, desperate for some human understanding. He’s to be disappointed with his wife’s response. “No,” she blankly responds. “And I don’t think I want to.”

The phone rings. It’s police HQ and Brandt is summoned to the Sigma Society to assist Columbo with his inquiries. Brandt arrives as a storm opens up above, lightning and thunder cracking the sky as he makes his way up to the library – where the same Tchaikovsky record that Brandt played after the slaying of Bertie can eerily be heard.

Gunshots ring out! A panicked Brandt turns tail and makes to escape the club – only to be blocked at the door by the sullen Sergeant Burke. Columbo then hails him. He’s been running an experiment up in the library and needs Brandt’s help. His heart still racing, Brandt heads on up to the scene of the crime.

Columbo has figured out several aspects of the murder, but not all. One thing he has fully figured out, though, is the IQ puzzle Brandt set for him days earlier, which he gleefully explains. The Lieutenant then sets a puzzle for Brandt – ‘a minimum information problem’ about how Man A could could kill Man B in this very library and make it appear that Man B was murdered later after being left on his own.

Columbo Oliver Brandt
Channeling Sherlock much this season, Sergeant?

The detective has surmised the use of a silenced gun and how the squibs were detonated by the movement of the record player arm. He’s even deduced that an umbrella was used to conceal the exploded squibs and gun – and that it was all stashed up the chimney to avoid prying eyes.

“You can’t be serious,” gasps Brandt. But Columbo isn’t just guessing – he has hard proof, gained by ‘accidentally’ taking Brandt’s umbrella rather than his own during that brief visit to his homestead the night before. “It was an honest mistake, sir, and we’re not allowed to get evidence that way. But as long as I had it… the lab found burns from the squibs. And lots of soot.”

It’s clear as day that Columbo knows Brandt is his man, but one elusive clue remains unsolved: how did the killer create the sound of a body falling between gunshots? Stoking Brandt’s ego, Columbo suggests that club President Jason Danziger came up with the answer: vibrations from the first squib unsettled the heavy dictionary, causing it to audibly fall prior to the second squib going off.

That’s Danziger’s a genius,” croons Columbo – much to Brandt’s disbelief. “Vibrations? That nit-wit! The man who conceived all this – you make him out to be a BUNGLING ASS!” roars the bearded accountant. “No! This is what he would have done…”

Snatching up the marker pen, Brandt places it alongside the record player arm. The arm unsettles the pen on its way to setting off squib one, sending it toppling onto the dictionary. Squib one explodes! The dictionary slams onto the floor! Squib two explodes! Brandt has filled in the final missing piece.

Slumping dejectedly into an arm chair, Brandt finally realises the game is up. Now freed from his tortured mental cage, he compliments the detective on his abilities. “Lieutenant, what did you say your IQ was? It must be very high. My own is….”

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case credits

Brandt rummages in a drawer for a mental poser – which Columbo solves in a heartbeat. Impressed, Brandt asks: “Lieutenant, have you ever considered another line of work?” “Me, sir? No. Never. I couldn’t do that,” replies the humble detective, as credits roll…

Bye-Bye‘s best moment: the meeting of minds

I could have chosen any one of 10 or more magnificent scenes, but my ultimate favourite is the heart-to-heart between Columbo and Brandt in the library, which reveals so much about both men.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
This scene is EVERYTHING!

For starters, Columbo talks at length – and for the first time in the entire series – about his background, his motivations and his work ethic. From a character we know so little about, it’s a fascinating monologue.

Brandt’s response is just as telling. He reveals his anguish about his troubled childhood, and how he’s had to disguise his intelligence through ‘painful, lonely years’. At some point it was important to him to be able to associate with others on a high intellectual plane. Not any more. Brandt is no better understood by the world at the end of the episode than he was in his childhood.

“Oliver Brandt is undoubtedly one of the series’ loneliest and most troubled souls.”

The power of this scene is that it helps firm up our sympathy for Brandt. Yes, he committed a terrible crime but his life has been largely joyless. Despite his supposed ‘gifts’ of intelligence, wealth and a nubile wife, Oliver Brandt is undoubtedly one of the series’ loneliest and most troubled souls.

Without this scene he’s just another callous killer. Because of it he’s a fragile shell, deserving of at least some level of sympathy. It makes for a truly special exchange between hunter and hunted.

My opinion on Bye-Bye Sky High

A wise man** once said that true perfection has to be imperfect. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case handsomely backs up that assessment. This is 70 minutes of television featuring major plot holes, an almost complete lack of cat-and-mouse suspense and, let’s face it, an episode title so contrived as to be ridiculous.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
“According to this police outline, Mr Hastings was sunbathing at the time of his death. Does that make any sense to you, sir?”

Yet Bye-Bye rises above all this to deliver a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining adventure that doesn’t just salvage Columbo‘s sixth season – it proves that the show could be as good as, if not better than, ever before.

Before I unpack the many wondrous elements Bye-Bye packs in, I feel I ought to DISCLOSE my own history with the episode, which has inevitably influenced my feelings towards it. For this is the first Columbo I ever remember seeing (and enjoying), at the approximate age of 10, sometime in the late 1980s, at my granddad’s house.

I recall being captivated by Theo Bikel’s immense bearded frame, and feeling sad for him when he was caught, although I can’t claim that I had some childhood epiphany and was a Columbo convert on the spot. It was only in the 2000s, when the series became available on DVD and I was able to revisit them all, that these memories flooded back.

“I have viewed Bye-Bye Sky High on dozens of occasions – and it still delights me every single time.”

Still, I don’t believe this clouds my judgement on the merits of Bye-Bye. Another episode I remember fondly from my youth, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, I’ve come to realise is a rather silly outing with a particularly outlandish ending.

As a result, every time I watch Bye-Bye I do so with slight wariness. Will this be the time when it doesn’t live up to the hype? Fortunately not. I have viewed the episode on dozens of occasions – and it still delights me every single time. There are several reasons why, including a huge ensemble cast to die for, a very different Columbo/killer dynamic and more magnificent scenes than you can shake an umbrella at.

Bye-Bye is also notable in that it was the first episode produced by Richard Alan Simmons – a long-time associate of Peter Falk, with whom he worked with as screenwriter on 1960’s The Price of Tomatoes (earning Falk his first Emmy Award), and later as a producer on The Trials of O’Brien in 1965-66.

Falk was big on trust. After the two rather lacklustre season 6 episodes that preceded this (Fade in to Murder and Old Fashioned Murder), and the departure of Everett Chambers as series producer, Simmons was an obvious choice to be entrusted with keeping the series’ leading man on the top of his game.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
A pencil-losing fool no longer, Bye-Bye’s Columbo makes an ominous entrance

Simmons introduced two significant thematic devices that would become a hallmark of the 70s’ remaining Columbo episides: that of the Lieutenant being a more fearsome adversary from the get-go; and having Columbo and the killer establish a level of mutual understanding through personal reminisces. On both fronts, Bye-Bye‘s delivery was never bettered.

Consider Columbo’s initial meeting with Brandt: a supremely tense scene in which the killer hears footsteps approaching the library as he struggles to rub a smudge of soot from his forehead. Even though the footsteps belong to young Caroline, not the detective, it’s marvellously done. Columbo’s subsequent appearance through a cloud of smoke via the other door has a power all of its own. This is a guy to take seriously.

This tension pervades their next meeting in the park, too. When Brandt bungles placing the gun in the rubbish bin and notices that the handle is plainly visible, we, the viewers, hold our breaths along with him until the trash collector removes it from harm’s way.

Better yet is the heart-to-heart between Columbo and Brandt at the Sigma Society, which I chronicle in greater detail in the ‘Best moment’ section above. It’s a superb scene, which humanises both men and allows them to gain a greater understanding of the other, while also nourishing the viewer with vital insight. As the best scene from the best Columbo episode, it necessarily equates that this is one of the finest TV scenes of all time.

I attribute much of my appreciation of this episode to the performance of Theo Bikel as tortured genius Oliver Brandt, yet he’s not an easy character to pin down and is an atypical example of a Columbo killer. Despite his sky high IQ, Brandt rarely seems like he believes himself to be superior to Columbo. He’s certainly never sneering, mean or condescending in the way the Dale Kingstons and Ken Franklins of the world were, and he keeps a lid on his pomposity for the most part.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder
Luckily for Brandt, Columbo only had eyes for ice cream at the park

If anything, Brandt is relatively easy prey for Columbo. Once the euphoria of fathoming how to get away with the perfect murder has passed, Brandt seems to wake up to the reality that his situation is even grimmer than it was before. Killing Bertie was an intellectual problem to be solved – but it hasn’t solved Brandt’s underlying problems of isolation and an almost total lack of emotional connection to those around him.

Brandt’s insecurities run deep. For decades, Bertie seems to have been his only friend. Familiarity breeds contempt (and in this case murder), but I see Bertie and Oliver as being like R2-D2 and C-3PO, or even Bert and Ernie. Despite the bickering and niggling, they need each other to get by. Oliver without Bertie is an empty soul. For that reason, I sense it was a relief to him when he was caught.

Speaking of which, detractors of this episode find it ridiculous that a genius would give himself away to Columbo in the way he does. I interpret it as Brandt feeling so alone and so desperate to feel superior to anyone at that moment that he allows Columbo to lull him into revealing how the marker pen caused the dictionary to fall, rather than let ‘that nitwit’ Danziger and his vibrations theory take credit for it.

Lest we forget, Columbo already had enough evidence to suggest pre-meditated murder and as Brandt was the last man to see Bertie alive, he’s really the only viable candidate as murderer. Motive and method are quickly established and even without a murder weapon Columbo has a strong case. Brandt’s exhibition of guilt was the icing on the cake, but he was going down all the same.

Columbo Theo Bikel
Theo Bikel excels to make Brandt a sympathetic killer

The late, great Bikel brought a sad vulnerability to Brandt that never fails to impress. But he’s just as good when required to boom and bark – as he shows when berating poor, luckless Alvin. It’s a quite astonishing tirade. Later, as he works himself into a frenzy in the episode’s climax, Bikel summons a desperate energy that takes the breath away.

Regular readers will know that I’ve had my concerns about the Columbo characterisation since Falk and McGoohan tinkered with the essence of the Lieutenant in Identity Crisis and then booted him into the left field in Last Salute to the Commodore. Fortunately Falk is firing on all cylinders here.

The sparkle is back, and credit must go to producer Simmons for injecting new life into the jaded star. Columbo has a twinkle in his eye throughout and seems wryly amused at much of what goes on around him, yet he never oversteps the mark into weirdness or self parody, while the warmth and charm we’ve always loved about him is apparent in spades.

I love a sprinkling of humour in my Columbo – and Bye-Bye has plenty. I particularly enjoy the scene where the Lieutenant grills the geniuses following the murder. No one can agree on how fast the burglar escaped down the stairs. Was it a heavy man, Columbo asks? One boffin thinks so. Another thinks an average man. A third thinks it was a woman. “Well that clears that up,” the detective says with a contagious smile. Enjoy the scene below…

He’s on similar form when crashing George’s party at the nightclub – even exchanging hair compliments with crazy Suzy in between laying down the law. Meanwhile, the ‘doughnut confiscation’ scene, featuring a young Jamie Lee Curtis, is a joy to behold. Given that the Lieutenant’s character of season 7 is very much more theatrical and overblown in his mannerisms, this is likely the last great Columbo performance of the 70s.

The last couple of paragraphs touch on the true strength of the episode: the abundance of brilliant scenes. Bye-Bye hands out goodness like candy on Halloween and has 10 or more of my favourite-ever Columbo scenes. I can’t detail them all, but just consider the quality of the following: –

  • The gun disposal in the park
  • Brandt tearing Alvin a new one
  • Columbo cramping George’s style at the nightclub
  • Danziger’s crazy suicide theory
  • “Well that clears that up!”
  • Columbo’s tense intro
  • The library heart-to-heart between Columbo and Brandt
  • Columbo in the rain without his coat
  • Brandt’s umbrella lecture
  • The forbidden doughnut

On top of those, the gotcha scene itself is also a marvel. Set against thunder, lightning and Tchaikovsky, there is majesty in the editing of the sequence. Employing simple cuts between the faces of the two leads, director Sam Wanamaker ramps up the tension and accelerates the confrontation to its conclusion as an increasingly agitated Brandt is driven to prove his intellectual superiority by showing Columbo exactly how the murder was committed.

This denouement also features a cracking script, none more so than when Brandt, driven to a frenzy, brays at Columbo: “The man who conceived all this, you make him out to be a BUNGLING ASS!” It’s terrific stuff, and well worthy of its place in my top-10 Columbo gotchas list.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case gotcha
Who’s the BUNGLING ASS now, Ollie?

The quality of the writing is matched by the performances of a huge cast that epitomises strength in depth. Columbo is famed for this, but Bye-Bye is on a new level. After Falk and Bikel, we have Sorrell ‘Boss Hogg’ Booke as Bertie and Oscar-nominee Samantha Eggar as Vivian Brandt, while veteran character actor Kenneth Mars has a throwaway role as a society member.

Basil Hoffman is hilarious as manic club President Jason Danziger and Howard McGillin superb as suave George Campanella. But beyond them there’s class everywhere, whether that’s Peter Lampert as the wronged and noble Alvin, Todd Martin as the gruff Sergeant Burke, or Jamie Lee as the surly waitress. Throw in a Mike Lally cameo and everyone’s a winner!

These glowing positives help off-set the episode’s plot holes – some of which would blight a lesser outing. The biggest is the argument between Bertie and Brandt in the library. Given that their fellow society members clearly hear the thud of a dictionary hitting the ground as part of Brandt’s elaborate alibi set-up, it’s fanciful to suggest that Bertie’s post-tickle hollering would have gone unheard.

Bye-Bye hands out goodness like candy on Halloween and has 10 or more of my favourite-ever Columbo scenes.”

There’s also the issue of Brandt’s umbrella. He takes an enormous chance leaving such an incriminating piece of evidence up the chimney at the crime scene before fetching it the next day. Quite aside from the fact that it suggests shoddy police work in leaving it undetected, Columbo later tells Danziger that he’s already looked up the chimney for evidence. If so, when, and why? Certainly it would have been easy to show him having a glance up the chimney to satisfy this point.

The alternative is that Columbo did find the umbrella on the eve of the killing, and later knew it had been removed and was looking for who took it, thus establishing Brandt’s likely guilt when he met him in the park. The Lieutenant’s certainly wily enough to do this, but it’s never revealed to the audience so we must assume not.

I also have a slight beef at what appears to be a toxic culture at the Sigma Society. There’s some sort of weird collective bullying of poor Bertie, in which the poor fella is mercilessly ticked by Brandt to elicit a girlish giggle that amuses their fellow members. Isn’t there some sort of society constitution they’re all in breach of here? Geez, you guys!

Brandt also treats 14-year-old Caroline like she’s an unfeeling automaton, and later refers to the other members as ‘dunces, the lot of them‘. Combine that with his unfeeling wife and no wonder Brandt realises how wretchedly lonely he truly is by episode’s end.

The Sigma Society doesn’t seem the sort of place where precocious teens are welcome

Columbo’s complimentary words about young Caroline’s good looks bother some viewers, and admittedly they haven’t aged well considering the #MeToo movement. I see it as an example of Columbo telling someone something they need to hear to brighten their day rather than him being a mac-wearing old creep. We know Columbo to be pure of heart, after all, although the scene might have worked better if the Lieutenant had seen Caroline on the receiving end of some meanness from her fellow members.

However, it is what it is, and these quibbles can be set aside because the episode as a whole is so gosh-darned good. And it seems like Peter Falk agreed. As usual at the end of a season, the rumour mill was circulating that he’d solved his last case. Presumably buoyed by the presence of Simmons as producer, he would commit to another year.

So we end season 6 on a stellar note. Columbo has proved what we’ve always known deep down: that the humble, dishevelled Lieutenant has one of the great minds of his time. And just three days after Bye-Bye aired, on 25 May 1977, came another red letter day, this time in cinematic history, with the release of Star Wars. All in all, then, a pretty good few days for popular culture…

Did you know?

The famous Mrs Melville portrait from Murder by the Book evidently found a new home following the arrest of Ken Franklin as it can clearly be seen lurking at the back of the main sitting room at the Sigma Society.

It seems fitting that one of the great minds of the fictional fictional detective world should find a resting place amidst so many other towering intellects, and it’s a lovely call-back to where the series so memorably kicked off 6 years earlier. Where is she now? I’d love to know…

Theo Bikel, incidentally, was well cast as a genius having himself been a member of Mensa earlier in his life.

How I rate ’em

I haven’t exactly hidden my admiration for this episode, so it oughtn’t to surprise you to see it’s perched tippety-top of the standings, where (spoiler alert) it’s set to remain in perpetuity. It’s not perfect, but every aspect is sufficiently strong to see it oust long-time leader Suitable for Framing. Tough luck, Dale…

Feel the need to revisit previous episode reviews? Then click on any link below and saddle up!

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Death Lends a Hand
  9. A Stitch in Crime
  10. Now You See Him
  11. Double Exposure
  12. Lady in Waiting
  13. Troubled Waters
  14. Any Old Port in a Storm
  15. Prescription: Murder 
  16. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  17. An Exercise in Fatality
  18. Identity Crisis
  19. Swan Song
  20. The Most Crucial Game
  21. Etude in Black
  22. By Dawn’s Early Light
  23. Candidate for Crime
  24. Greenhouse Jungle
  25. Playback
  26. Forgotten Lady
  27. Requiem for a Falling Star
  28. Blueprint for Murder
  29. Fade in to Murder
  30. Ransom for a Dead Man
  31. A Case of Immunity
  32. Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
  33. The Most Dangerous Match
  34. Lovely but Lethal 
  35. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  36. A Matter of Honor
  37. Mind Over Mayhem
  38. Old Fashioned Murder
  39. Dagger of the Mind
  40. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here
Detractors of this episode will have their doughnuts confiscated – you have been warned!

Where do you stand on The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case? I can’t be alone in my love of it, because it currently stands in third place overall in the fans’ favourite episode poll on this very website.

Love or hate it, share your opinion below. And as we’ve now knocked off season 6, the next episode under the microscope will be season 7 opener Try & Catch Me, starring the irrepressible Ruth Gordon. Will it get close to Bye-Bye‘s brilliance? Check back soon to find out…

* I’m sure you realise this is pure fiction!
** Well, Noel Gallagher. Does he count?

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106 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

  1. Theo Bikel’s performance really does make this an episode to remember, as his bluff heartiness gives way and reveals the sadness inside. He gets no real satisfaction from his intelligence and regards the other Sigma members as “eccentric bores”. He sacrifices his professional integrity to pacify a greedy wife and it is painfully obvious she will turn away as soon as the goodies dry up. As good a piece of acting as you can find anywhere.

     
  2. Very good episode… my two minor humorous (to me) observations:
    1) Vivian Brandt’s first scene she comes downstairs at night wearing her nightgown. That is fine, but she is also wearing high heel shoes. I do not imagine most women walking around the house wearing their nightgown with high heels. That is like a man wearing his pj’s or boxers and a t-shirt with dress shoes. No one does that.

    2) Why does Columbo immediately focus on Oliver Brandt? Why not any of the other club members? I know it is for sake of moving the story along, but I just found it interesting that you have a house full of suspects and the detective automatically & immediately focuses solely on one of the house members who just happens to be the guilty one. Even the fictional Detective Poirot shows why each suspect was innocent before telling who’s the murderer.

     
    • I’ve thought this too.
      The more I’ve watched it the more I’m convinced Columbo is watching Brandt from the side door when he has his panic attack over the soot on his head.
      Otherwise what was the point of the scene? It struck me that Columbo has simply got the last person known to see Bertie alive up into the room with the intention of seeing how he reacts under a bit of pressure (given the manner and how elusive the escorting policemen are when they request that he is wanted upstairs ) it seemed to me that getting the last person to see him alive in the room alone and not tell him why he is there was a bit of a set up by Columbo and Brandt walked right into it by moping his brow with a soot stained handkerchief
      What you think ?

       
  3. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  4. Great episode! Two things for some reason that always irked me about it though:

    1. That awful “Boohoo” song. Was that made just for Columbo??

    2. The woman at Brandt and Hastings who says “Girl-type secretaries”. This one may be irrational, but her, the dog trainer in “How to Dial a Murder, and the woman at Tricon Industries in “An Exercise in Fatality” are, to me, the most annoying female side characters in the series

    And that is my poetic rant for the day

     
    • The ‘Boo Hoo’ song featured in Bye-Bye was performed by session musicians and was recorded solely for use in Columbo. It was a cover of a 1937 hit by Guy Lombardo.

       
      • how do you know? This is crazy, because it is the best version of this song by far, very original, relaxed, smooth, not rushed, sadly nowhere on a recording

         
          • I enquires about the song some years ago to a music expert (forget who) who said it was very likely a session musician track made specifically for the episode. I agree with you, it’s a lovely, jaunty ditty and I’d love to have a full recording of it!

             
    • Nadia Donner in a Deadly state of mind and that drinking woman in last salute cant remember her name as I hate the episode and Helen Stewart s mother in the forgettable Dead weight are much more annoying. I love the Bye Bye , I Always enjoy it and have looked forward to this review more than most other reviews , mainly because it has noticeable flaws yet at the same time is rated the best , However these flaws dont do too much damage , a lesser episode would have been knocked a lot more , The most dangerous match and Mind over mayhem spring to mind . plus a few others
      My absolute Favorite is Try and catch me which is up next we Look forward to it and hope it is reviewed long before Christmas .

       
  5. Hi columbophile sorry im late , Great review and very refreshing to see a Heavyweight episode reviewed as we have had some low leagers of late such as the forgettable Old fashioned murder , The not great and a bit silly Fade in to murder and the plain awful Last salute .
    On that note before i make any comments on the bye bye i will analyse season 6 which will be a piece of cake as it only has 3 episodes and one obvious winner .

    1st or best The bye bye sky high high IQ murder

    2nd Fade in to murder

    3rd/worst or least memorable Old fashioned murder

    There you go im sure most will agree , while The bye is not my Absolute favorite its in my top 10 and is leauges better than that weird and silly fade in to murder and is galaxies better than Old fashioned murder .

     
  6. I’m pleased and excited to read that you rate Bye Bye as highly as I do. Being a lonely genius myself I’ve always felt drawn to Oliver Brandt and despite his crime I do feel more than a little sympathy for him. I mean, with a wife as shallow as Vivian he needs at least some viewers to go into bat on his behalf. I like that this is an atypical Columbo in the sense that the mystery element is less dominant than in others, but I figure that the Lieutenant must get involved in all manner of cases, some easier to break than others, so if that’s what we see unfold in Bye-Bye that’s OK with me. Overall I think it’s a magnificent entry in the series, perhaps only bettered by Murder by the Book in terms of pure enjoyment. Special praise to Basil Hoffman, who is simply wonderful as ‘that nit-wit’ Jason Danziger (which Columbo erroneously pronounces as DanZINGer in the very satisfying gotcha scene).

     
  7. Wow… I’m genuinely blown away that THIS is the episode you shower with so much praise. It has some interesting scenes, but I wouldn’t even rank it in the top 10. I think it’s a fine and representative episode with some solid acting and unique elements, but to elevate that beyond “the pack” is truly surprising to me.

    I’ll agree with many of the commenters here that Brandt is far from a sympathetic character. While he exposes some vulnerability at the end of the episode, that was only after years of criminal behavior, indulging his selfish wife, bullying, and finally murdering his hapless partner.

    I do empathize with you for acknowledging that sentimentality plays a part in you rating this so favorably, because I feel the same way about “Now You See Me”, which is the first episode I recall seeing and the one that my Mom would quote most often to me. However, that also happens to be an episode which is far more universally praised, which makes the fact that it was my first viewing a mere coincidence, and not a reason for giving it such a high rank.

     
    • I’m not alone in adoring Bye-Bye. It ranks third in the overall fans’ favourite episode poll on this website – ahead of Now You See Him. Thousands of votes have been cast, so it’s an excellent barometer of fan opinion.

       
      • on various other blogs , Etude in Black always comes up in the top 15 or higher of the seventies , even above the Bye Bye ,But I am with columbophile who is an expert and of the opinion that despite being a classic etude in black is a tad overrated , Etude dosent scratch my own top 10 and for me Identity crisis is a little underrated , I always enjoy it despite not having the best gotcha , By dawns early light is excellent but too drawn out and i Have never been a big fan of Candidate for crime , An exercise in fatality or lady in waiting , however I love Try and catch me , Swan song , Negative reaction , The bye bye, Now you see him Troubled waters , Make me a perfect murder and One from the new batch Death hits the Jackpot.

         
    • Correction Jason, it was Now You see him , not Now you see me , Its among my favorite episodes and many others , I love the bye- bye very much but I wouldn’t quite put it top of the pile , in Contrast I watched Murder in Malibu last Saturday which is from the new batch and I nearly lost the will to live halfway through its a reasl stinker along with Murder with too many notes which I almost vomit while watching bar the first 15 minutes , I wonder where they will rank in columbophiles standings , Then By Dawns Early light came on which is a much much better episode and I enjoyed it very much even though its not in my top 10.

       
    • I don’t what’s more surprising, this ranked in the Top 3 or ‘Now you see him’!! I can think of at least 20 other episodes better than either and three of those are from the poorer ‘new’ seasons

      It’d be boring if we all liked the same though!!

       
  8. This episode is not in my top 10, but love love love Sorrell Booke. Some nice moments but just not a fave. Great review though. I always watch the episode after reading the review here and it certainly makes me catch something new every now-n-then.

     
  9. It’s interesting how for many of us, the first episode we saw holds a special place in our hearts. For me it was ‘Make Me a Perfect Murder’, and I feel the same way about that episode (which I think is justified after rewatching it recently, but you may disagree!) OTOH, ‘Bye Bye Sky High’ didn’t really make much of an impression on me, and I don’t remember much about it. Maybe I should try rewatching that one sometime as well!

     
    • I am a fan of both Make me a perfect murder and The bye bye but I dont rate the bye bye quite as highly as columbophile mainly because The plot holes or flaws are too obvious for me mainly the failure to notice the gun in the chimney , Berties shouting which could nearly be heard in new York let alone a private house in the evening the reappearing soot the and the real blooper for me the line drawn in the dictionary then left open lying casually on the floor maybe the supposed burglar stopped for a spot of word checking after slaying Bertie , Oliver may as well have graffiti-ed over LA County hall with spray paint l columbo Me Oliver I killed poor Bertie come and arrest me , However i do love this episode it full of funny scenes and good music memorable moments and i am happy to watch it any time ,

      Every episode has a law or 2 but I find these episodes more satisfying Try and Catch Me which is my overall favorite , Negative reaction My 2nd Swan song my third Suitable for framing which has the ultimate gotcha , Identity crisis and one new one which I find perfectly satisfactory with a great gotcha Death hits The Jackpot , The bye still makes my overall top 10 though maybe 7th or 8th

       
  10. Not a big fan of this episode. Find the character of Theo Bikel just too irritating and you can’t wait for him to be caught and go away. But the scene with the donut was funny, and Columbo at a night club was a hoot. It is one of the few episodes I remember as a kid, but I wouldn’t rate it highly.

     
  11. Great review of one of my fave episodes. I think Brandt is one f the mostly welm characterized killers in the Columbo series, and one of the most pathetic. When he says to his victim “i really loved you, Bertie” we feel how devastated he is by his own crime, and why he will ultimately confess. As for Columbo complimenting young Caroline on her looks, he evidently saw how having her theory discarded saddened hed so he complimented her making her happy, ant that was pure kindness on the good Lieutenant part

     
  12. My fave too! And for years the only one I kept recorded on VHS. (Luckily I have the entire run, now. 😉 )

    And yes, I agree, Columbo’s “I wasn’t smart so I had to be thorough” speech is amazing. As someone who DID get by on “being smart” for a long time, that speech was both humbling and inspiring to me.

     
  13. I hesitate to comment further on this episode, because it feels like I’m criticizing one of CP‘s children. However, I do think it’s worth noting that each of the top-10 scenes in the review’s bullet list has little to do with Columbo solving Brandt’s crime. To be sure, a great Columbo episode always has more to it than just the crime, its investigation, and its solution. But Columbo is a detective show, and would not have had the longevity it enjoys were its core not about clever crimes and even more clever solutions by TV’s cleverest detective.

    “The gun disposal in the park”? Many Columbo episodes have touch-and-go moments adding to the suspense (like Elliot Markham’s flat tire in “Blueprint for Murder”). Whatever their atmospheric contribution, they’re still tangential to the plot, and never substitute for essential plot points. The same is true of Oliver Brandt’s disposal of the gun (not to mention all of his head wiping). These moments are set pieces. [After all, Markham’s flat tire originally was Ken Franklin’s flat tire in “Murder by the Book.”] They don’t lead anywhere.

    The real question for me is: what did all of this frolic cost us? Are there investigative plot holes in TBBSHIQMC that more cat-and-mouse time could have filled? Consider this: Columbo confronts Jason Danziger with the fact that both bullets entered Bertie’s body at the identical angle, inconsistent with the shot-fall-shot sequence the Sigma Society witnesses all heard. Why do this with Danziger? Isn’t this something Columbo ordinarily would broach with his chief suspect? Wouldn’t he ordinarily do the same once discovering the soot and the scratches? Ditto with the draft that blows the back door shut? Instead, he leaves everything (except the 40-second time gap between the shots and the slamming door) for the final scene.

    We’re left to wonder how Columbo put this all together. Because of the cuing on the turntable, as he claims? That seems unlikely. I wish, when asked by Brandt at the end what first made him suspicious, Columbo had said, “It was your endless, cockamamie explanation for why you were carrying an umbrella in southern California on a bright, sunny day. In my experience, innocent people keep it simple. All you should have said was, ‘For the same reason you always wear a raincoat.’”

    As I reconstruct it, this suspicious explanation prompted Columbo to get his hands in Brandt’s umbrella. (Taking the wrong umbrella was an “honest mistake,” my eye. Query to all those who tut-tutted at Columbo flicking a bead into the umbrella in “Dagger”: Stealing one is better?) What he found inside, coupled with the cuing and scratches on the turntable, started him down the road to the solution. But, even with that, putting all the Rube Goldberg pieces together without further clues seems far-fetched.

    Most of Columbo’s investigation centers on the “why” question: Brandt’s financial misdeeds, Bertie’s snooping, and hence Brandt’s motive to silence Bertie. Relatively little time is spent on the “how.” In this respect, TBBSHIQMC is very unusual (and, as a result, less than fully satisfying). Sure, the final “gotcha” should catch us off guard. But we’re supposed to see Columbo building his case, leading to the final surprise reveal. Instead, he spends too much of his time here debunking the nutty theories of Sigma Society kibitzers.

    I guess what I’m getting at is this: how good a mystery is TBBSHIQMC? Not how good a character study or entertainment, but mystery? That’s why TBBSHIQMC isn’t among my 10 favorite Columbos. It’s a fun episode, very much so, but really not a very credible mystery, and one that Columbo solves without much explanation.

     
    • Good analogy. Rather like a beloved child, Bye-Bye brings me so much real joy that I can overlook its numerous shortcomings. I don’t view it with a prosecutor’s eye, but I’m satisfied with the detective work he puts in to make his assumptions, even if I do think the episode could have been more overt in showing how he reached some of his conclusions.

       
      • Much like “Murder by the Book” brings me so much real joy. Although, in my case, I need not overlook any shortcomings. My beloved child is perfect.

         
    • Excellent analysis. The lack of methodical case-building by Columbo is exactly what takes the steam out of this episode and dumps it in the middle of the pack.

       
  14. As usual, CP, I cannot decide what amazes me more – the amount of detail and aspects that you manage to pack into a single review, or the fact that you make the review so interesting and enjoyable to read despite its incredible length and amount of detail. I have a bunch of odds-and-ends comments to make, but first let me state my overall view of the episode. I have really gotten to like this episode more and more over the years for two reasons – the extraordinary acting of the great Theodore Bikel, the brilliant and detailed murder plot, and the incredibly satisfying Gotcha. However, the one thing that makes it truly great for you – the depth of secondary characters and the small scenes – are what make it less than a great episode for me. Yes, some scenes are really touching and some are funny. But a whole lot of them are ridiculous, overdone and at times painful to watch. The doughnut scene is way overdone and makes no sense. Not only does a minimum wage waitress not have the gall to treat a customer so rudely, but why would she risk her job over his eating outside food, when she is clearly not the owner? The tickling scenes are infantile and painful to watch. And while depicting a Mensa Club as a bunch of pompous bores may be understandable, turning them into a bunch of infantile nitwits is ridiculous.

    Finally, a bunch of odds-and-ends.
    1. I have no problem with Brandt giving away the missing clue. Indeed, that is the most brilliant part of the writing. Columbo knows that all he has to do is tell the pompous Brandt the suggested solution of “the genius Danziger” and Brandt will not be able to resist blurting out what he, the real genius did!
    2. As an orthodox rabbi, I find plenty to criticize in the manner of how women are treated in movies and TV, but turning the Caroline comment into a MeToo issue is insane IMHO. It is painfully obvious that Brandt and the others treat her like some underage freak, rather than a prematurely brilliant young girl, and that she is desperate to be treated as a real 12-yr-old girl just once in her life. It is thus only natural for the ever sensitive Columbo to seek to make her feel special as a young women, and based on her smile and statement, he clearly hits a home run.
    3. It seems odd that a man who puts down the talent and brains of everyone but himself, would never talk down to Columbo as so many other arrogant murderers did. My guess is that the writers viewed him as so sure of his superior intellect that he never even realized how smart Columbo is and that he was onto him as the murderer, before it was too late.
    4. How can a writer have Columbo use a cloth to wipe clean the outside of a gun, yet fail to clean the trigger that he just pulled twice to kill his buddy?
    5. Could the writers have meant to allude that Ken Franklin, a likely Mensa member himself, donated his “Mrs. Mellville painting” to the Mensa Society before heading to prison for life?
    6. CP, I get that you are not a classical music fanatic. Still, a “tune from a Tchaikovsky LP?” Ouch! That is the final climactic repeat of the famous Romeo and Juliet love theme! It is precisely because it is in middle of a 20-minute long tone poem that Columbo is surprised to hear it begin there!
    7. Speaking of brilliant guys making silly mistakes, how do you write “alas my dear readers, I shall not be needing you anymore…” right before the line, ” Contribute to its upkeep from just $3. You won’t regret it!”?

     
    • I imagine the surly, minimum wage waitress is simply adhering to company policy after being roasted by her boss for negligently allowing a child to enjoy a contraband snack in the cafe the day before. Such staunch enforcement of company doctrine marks her as one to watch in LA’s cafe culture. If I’m any judge she runs a chain of successful coffee shops of her own by now, all of which fiercely reject the concept that ‘the customer is always right’.

       
  15. It became obvious after a year or two that you weren’t putting this in your favorites due to the fact it was so precious in the extreme to you!
    It is my absolute favorite also; I want to add that Columbo being shot by a camera angle placed at an angle sightly higher than himself, and his slowly unbending from staring at the fallen book up to Oliver, having incriminated himself by having to prove himself is a Shakespearean AND important psychiatric moment–the ultimate reaffirmation that Oliver has low self esteem and Columbo has no need to prove himself at all (other than to solve the case!).

    Columbo’s greatest mystery–how to be that at one with himself as a lower middle class detective!!

     
  16. A great review, sir! This is one of my favorite episodes as well. I think Theodore Bikel’s masterful acting job is the main thing that separates it. Most of the guest stars in Columbo – especially the 80s-90s episodes – knowingly and gleefully play over the top, or caricatures of their characters. But Oliver Brandt seems like a real person, and yes, I found him sympathetic.
    And the denouement was really well done. As a smarmy know-it-all, I can assure you that is exactly how a smarmy know-it-all would react. He could not resist showing how is was really done, because it was HIS idea!

     
  17. I couldn’t get to the end of this review due to tears of laughter from the photo captions! You have a real knack for it.

     
      • Can’t work out why this ‘gotcha’ that you praise is any better than the similar ‘Require one you poor scorn on

        Both of them have similar settings, the killer feels enourmous guilt about the crimes and in reality expects to get caught

         
        • I don’t think it’s very plausible that Columbo would deduce that a Shriner’s ring would force Nora into revealing her hand the way it does. Plus it’s more like he’s investigating the murder of Nora’s husband than the death of Jean.

           
          • On the contrary, both murderers have a lot in common – arguably the highest amount of open guilt of any of our killers (i.e. Dale Kingston is at the other end of this spectrum!!)

            That leads both to been easily spooked. They are expecting to get caught because, they feel, that’s what they deserve. Both have a palpable sense of relief that it’s over, the thought of what they’ve done is destroying them – particularly when evidence might have been ‘unearthed’ so to speak

            I don’t ‘Bye Bye’ been any more authentic than a number of episodes and I’m not particularly sympathetic to him as a killer or raging about him. Indifferent, is my feeling – which is easily the worst emotion when ranking how good something is

             
    • As I mentioned in an earlier episode, that is true in almost every review. I can hardly recall a single caption that did NOT crack me up!

       
  18. Definitely in my top 5 favs. For all the reasons you listed. Its not perfect but nothing is lol and if some folk do have an issue with Columbo’s compliment to Caroline clearly have issues and can’t seem to watch anything without seeing some mess that’s not there. Anyway. I’m excited as hell for the Try and Catch Me review. The best Columbo episode all of time bar none .

     
    • Actually, that moment is 100% cringeworthy. Particularly as Columbo’s statement (“And I’m gonna tell you something else. You not only have a terrific mind, you’re also a remarkably pretty girl.”) has zero to do with the subject of the conversation (“Well, you keep thinking, Caroline. I can use all the help I can get. And anyone who can come up with an idea as good as the one that you just had can also come up with the answer.”). Why does Columbo go there? Applying 2019 sensibilities, it is quite creepy.

      But this was 42 years ago. Standards were different then. Columbo gets a kind of pass as a result. That said, show this episode to a millennial (as I did) and the reaction will be decidedly unfavorable.

       
      • Well all i’ll say is that I’m not watching a show using 2019 standards I watch it as the brilliant series it was. If I did look at it looking for some kind of “violation” against the type of things we’ve been dealing with I’d never be able to enjoy myself watching the show.

         
        • Agree with you. There seems to be this new sport, where we now view all old TV/Books/Culture etc as if they were made today

          We don’t. Ian Fleming’s Bond books are terrible for their racism, sexism, everything ‘ism’!! But ot this black man, terrific reads – a person simply puts themself into that era

          Next we’ll have a program about the slave trade, which has to adhere to the race relations policies of today!!

           
      • The Caroline actress was 22 years old when the episode was shot, so clearly a miscast for a 14-year-old, yet some people feel the need to invent a problem where there is none. After all Caroline left the scene of the crime with joy in her heart.

         
          • Irony modus on: A 14-year-old girl which is surrounded by elitist grown-ups who do not belong to her family – this doesn’t seem to trouble anybody’s mind, although nowadays we know that some of the highest ranked celebrities in the world are involved into the most evil crimes against children – but a fictional, handsome, married middle-class detective making a charming compliment to brighten up a lonely child’s day, this certainly has to be a no-go. Irony modus off.

             
            • I’m with you on this. I cannot even begin to fathom how people could turn this into a sexual issue. Clearly, the fatherly and always sensitive Columbo realizes she is treated by all like a young freak and he wants her to feel more, not less human.

               
              • This exchange is the only thing I really remember about the episode, which I saw when I myself was about Caroline’s age. It didn’t bother me as such, but I do remember thinking “yeah, you wouldn’t get away with that these days.” I fully agree that there’s no sexual intent here – he’s just trying to be kind, and she’s clearly pleased by the compliment – but even to a 90s kid like myself it seemed a bit off. (Though nowhere near as bad as the episode where he approaches a pre-teen kid and starts telling her how pretty she is…)

                 
      • My chief objection to that line is that it just seems to come out of nowhere. If she were in some kind of fragile emotional state and her displays of intelligence weren’t helping her to get out of it, then a compliment on her looks might be a pleasant way of changing the subject. But that isn’t the situation; there is no reason at all to think she would need, or appreciate, anything other than a remark relevant to the topic at hand. So the line falls embarrassingly flat.

         
        • The line doesn’t bother me much, but I agree there ought to have been a compelling reason for Columbo to say it to her. Maybe on his way to the Sigma Society prior to meeting her, he could have overheard some snooty school kids seeing Caroline entering the building and saying some cruel comments about her nerdiness and geeky glasses. That way he could have had a glimpse into the life she probably leads on a day-to-day basis and it would even serve to parallel her with Brandt when he refers to his own ‘painful, lonely years.’

           
      • I think that what makes the exchange cringeworthy is Caroline’s part. There is nothing smutty about the way Columbo calls her pretty, yet she interprets the comment as a middle aged man admiring her body. Yikes! I think he recognizes what a lonely, socially awkward child she is and wants to bring a smile to her face.

        As lonely and isolated Brandt is, Caroline’s life might be worse. She must not have any friends her own age if she has to hang out at the Sigma Society. That wouldn’t be so bad if they accepted her but they seem to treat her with barely concealed irritation. She might have to hide how smart she is at school, like Brandt did, which would explain why she constantly shows off what she knows to the Sigmas. It would be nice if Brandt would lend her a sympathetic ear since he can relate but no part of Brandt has sympathy for anyone other than Brandt so he won’t.

        Her home life can’t be that great either. After all, her parents don’t have a problem with their 14 year old daughter spending her free time with the adults at the Sigma Society. Even after Bertie turns up dead, they do not rethink the wisdom of letting her be there by herself. Poor Caroline! Lt. Columbo seems to be the only person interested in what she has to say and he is going to solve the murder and get out of her life.

         
        • This raises a somewhat related point: in how many Columbos (particularly the ‘70’s edition) does an ensemble play this much of a role? We encounter Oliver Brandt not as an individual killer, not so much as an accountant, but as a member of the Sigma Society. The presence of the other Sigma Society members is a key to his murder plan. They have to be part of the story, eating up time that ordinarily would be spent solely between Columbo and the killer. That’s why we give this much thought to Caroline, her psyche, and her sensibilities. I’m trying to think of another Columbo in which an enclave figured as prominently. “A Case of Immunity”? Later, “Columbo Cries Wolf”?

           
          • I think of two episodes immediately. “Dagger of the Mind” devotes most of its time to allowing various actors who have made a career of embodying particular English stereotypes to take those stereotypes to their logical, ridiculous extremes. In that one, Columbo and the murderers serve primarily as foils against which the stereotypes can be brought into stark relief. England is rather a large enclave, but considering that the audience knows that the series is properly set in California, that future episodes will be set there, and that the characters are depicting so cartoonish an idea of Englishness that the whole thing feels more like a dollhouse than like a country, an enclave it is.

            “Last Salute to the Commodore” is also tightly confined to a little world, in its case that of the Swanson family and its hangers-on. That is surely the ultimate ensemble episode. Columbo seems to be starting his usual method of breaking open the little worlds within which the killers have tried to enclose themselves, but when Charlie Clay turns up dead, not only does his method fail, he himself recedes into the background as just one more befuddled member of the group. The story from that point on is so desultory, and its resolution so feeble, that he never really emerges from that position. Whatever interest there is in the episode comes from the cast working together to show how things work in the little world the Commodore left behind, not in the relationship between Columbo and any one suspect, nor in his efforts to solve the murder.

             
            • By necessity, LSTTC has to have a group of suspects, as it transforms into a whodunnit 60% through the episode. To equate an ensemble with an entire country (or everyone on a cruise ship, for that matter) is a bit of an exaggeration.

               
          • In “By Dawn’s Early Light”, Columbo actually stayed at the Haynes Academy and interacted with many of the people there. Patrick McGoohan committed murder in front of the entire school and tried to pin it on Cadet Springer. Brandt was very unlikeable but at least he never tried to frame Caroline.

            Caroline no doubt passed whatever IQ entrance exam the Sigma Society used but really wasn’t part of the group. The other Sigmas were probably trying to change the bylaws to exclude children. Springer got into the Haynes Academy but didn’t fit in there either. The difference was that Caroline wanted to be accepted by the group while Springer could not have cared less.

             
            • That’s an interesting example. I’d say that it’s less of a deviation from the usual run of the show than are Bye Bye Sky High IQ, Dagger of the Mind, and Last Salute to the Commodore for two reasons.

              First, the relationship between Columbo and Colonel Rumford quickly comes to dominate the drama, while in those other three the ensemble has a life of its own throughout.

              Second, Columbo breaks down the barrier between the enclave of the academy and the outside world in ways that he never breaks the barriers isolating the other three enclaves. He breaks the physical barrier by going off campus to see Springer’s girlfriend, and he breaks the behavioral barrier by bringing the demeanor of a reluctant draftee soldier into the hypercompetent world Rumford has created and has killed to preserve. Furthermore, the scene between Columbo and the colonel at the empty barracks shows that the academy is a lost cause in any case, directing our attention to its impending demise in a way that we are never led to envision the dissolution of the Sigma Society, or of the Swanson family, or of the Disney-fied England of “Dagger of the Mind.” And, while the colonel may still be on the parade ground at the end, the compelling gotcha at the climax shatters his position more convincingly than do the whimpers at the end of of the other three.

               
              • I have a different take. Columbo left the Academy to retrieve Cadet Springer, who had escaped the enclave. Bringing him back preserved the enclave rather than broke any barriers. Also, Columbo’s rumpled appearance broke no behavioral barriers. Cadets are still going to shine their shoes while the Colonel is in charge. Columbo is not a member of the enclave and nobody is going to emulate him.

                Yes, it looks like the Haynes Academy will either have to shut down or go co-ed. Either way the enclave will be destroyed. That makes it different from the enclaves in the other examples but doesn’t negate the fact that it was an enclave.

                To address your first point second, I agree that the interplay between the suspect and the detective is foremost but the rest of the enclave adds to the drama as well. Springer is busy trying to escape, the cider boys are breaking the rules, and everybody answers Columbo’s questions. In “Sky High”, the enclave gave witness statements and came up with a couple of crackpot theories but not much else.

                I can’t discuss “Dagger” or “Last Salute” because I have a very poor memory of episodes I don’t like.

                 
              • yes columbo really broke the enclave of the military academy in By Dawns Early light which was very strict and straight laced which really makes it a great episode Also in the Bye Bye for such great minds they do very little to help columbo solve the case which for me is a bit of a let down Barr Caroline giving columbo a a theory into the fake gun shots they just seem a bit like fools , which lets it down for me , I am with a lot of others and think that columbophille overrates the bye bye a little bit , Still a very good and top 10 episode though .

                 
    • Love we love Columbo but view the episodes so differently. ‘Catch me’ is another episode for me, that showed just how poor the later episodes (i.e. of the old Columbo had become)

      But then again, maybe I’m wrong. Columbophile seems to think that all the longer episodes are flawed – I think just the opposite. My Top 11, has just two of the shorter format (and even worse actually has one from the ‘New’ seasons!!)

      ‘A Friend In Deed’ is my favourite and only ‘Suitable for Framing’, ‘The Most Dangerous Match’ and ‘Requiem For a Fading Star’ make my list those I rate 9 or above (out of 10)

      Each to their own, I’m one of the few who thinks ‘Quantum of Solace’ is one of the best Bond films!!

       
  19. My favorite episode is the Irish gunrunning poet who “pays in full” his corrupt connection. Don’t know the name of the episode, but how can it not be on your best of list?

     
      • I remember The Conspirators fondly, despite its less than stellar reputation. I’ve read criticisms about the accents being too broad, or from the wrong region, and that the episode stereotypes the Irish. It always struck me as overly-sensitive quibbling. I’m sure there similar missteps in other episodes that are overlooked.
        The Conspirators remains in my Top 10.

         
      • Nor me I’ve never enjoyed The conspirators much bar the dramatic ending , I’ve never actively chosen to watch it .

         
  20. You are right; this is a terrific episode. And, if I remember correctly, it may have been my first Columbo too. I would emphasize:
    1. The ensemble cast is wonderful; exactly the array of kooks and eccentrics one might envision.
    2. The house setting is good too. It goes a long way towards creating the mood.
    3. My favorite line: “Here I was with the smartest people in the world and I didn’t even notice.” A masterpiece of double entendre.
    Columbo spent his whole life defying “smart people” whether in the force or the killers he’s brought down. Lots of episode villains would qualify for the Sigma society.He wins every time.
    4. I ran into someone from Mensa the other day; all I could think of was the Sigma society and try to control my chuckle.

     
  21. You identify the bullying atmosphere of the Sigma Society as a weakness of the episode. For me, it dominates the episode from beginning to end. While I usually like everything Theo Bikel does, I can’t enjoy Brandt. His pomposity and quick temper are so much bound up with his tickling of Bertie and his other bullying behavior that he isn’t sympathetic, and his wife’s coldness and the other signs of his loneliness keep him from the gleeful wickedness of a Mark Halperin or a Ken Franklin. The twee eccentricities of the rest of the Sigma Society, except for Kenneth Mars’ character, play as responses to Brandt’s bullying, casting a dreary light on all of their scenes. And the use of “Boo-Hoo” as the closing title music harks back to Brandt’s mockery of Bertie and the rest of them, so that his bullying is the last impression the episode leaves us.

    Add to that Brandt’s failure to set a puzzle worthy of Columbo’s investigative skills and the lack of a true gotcha, and you have an episode that belongs nearer the bottom than the top of the 70s run.

     
    • Far from being sympathetic. You hit the nail on the head. Brandt is a creep of the highest order, willfully putting down his partner and “best friend” in front of his peers. Violating his person by tickling him is like treating someone like a prop. You’re right, this episode is very dreary. All of them seemed to be stunted socially as well to compensate for their alleged Sigma brilliance, from super-genius Caroline to Danzinger to poor Miss Eisenback desperately waiting for a call from her father.

       
  22. Loved your article as usual. This is also my favorite episode! I was excited to see they were showing it yesterday. On my list however, you will find one of the later episodes Catch Me is one of my favorites as well, I love to see Columbo mixing it up mentally with that tiny innocent looking stick of dynamite!
    Cheers .

     
  23. I can understand the power of a first Columbo resonating deeply. That said, while enjoyable, BBSKIQMC resides around #35 for me surrounding the 1970’s episodes. I think it’s the high number of annoying/repellent supporting characters that weighs it down. Even the likable Jamie Lee Curtis clanks in the dumb exchange where she confiscates the donut. Yes, she can’t be blamed for the script, but the moment feels very forced. Bikel is fantastic. I’ll certainly watch this over “Last Salute” and “How to Dial a Murder,” however.

     
    • I agree with you Tim. Truthfully I can’t stand the bullying, even in a TV show. Brandt is a major creep, sadistically torturing his poor partner. For someone who is ticklish like that I can tell you how violated you feel when someone does that to you. When he says, “I really did love you, Birdie”, it makes me despise him more.

       
  24. Super enjoyable episode…..just misses my top 10 which is a testament to this superb series. One of those episodes i could watch several times a year. The final scene is one of Falks finest.

     
  25. It’s a fine episode, and I enjoy watching it, but I wouldn’t consider it to be among the Top 10 best episodes. But I like your insights and your – absolutely deserved – praise. I also agree that Theodore Bikel does a great job portraying Ollie Brandt, and making him a killer we can feel sorry for.

    A small piece of trivia: Theodore Bikel and his ‘wife’, Samantha Eggar both appeared in the Star Trek: Next Gen episode “Family” 13 years later, however they did not share any scenes.

     
  26. An insightful retelling, as always. IMO this episode overall is less enjoyable then the sum of its often outstanding parts (including every interaction between Columbo and Brandt). My objections: Bertie’s cartoon laugh is unworthy of the show. So too is the stereotyped portrayal of all the club members as being social misfits. And I cringe through every moment when George or Alvin are onscreen – their characters are just too weasel-like to give the scenes any substance.

    My biggest objection is in making Brandt’s motive the keeping secret of his embezzlement to get money for his trophy wife’s excessive shopping. If for purposes of the plot, Brandt’s wife has to be his money pit, can she not instead be pouring money into a social cause dear to her heart, or be editing a vanity publication, or even have it be something like she has a gambling addiction? Having her merely wanting to buy clothes is the show’s creative braintrust lasping into laziness. [This criticism has nothing to do with contemporary political correctness. However, I admit it may be related to my lifelong crush on Samantha Eggar, and I resent her having to portray someone who is merely frivolous.]

    Final quick point, I do not think Brandt is a sympathetic murderer. Yes, he had serious wounds. But he was sadistic to Bertie and hostile (bordering on nasty) in general, and we should not let him off the hook for his taking of a trophy wife.

     
    • My take on Brandt’s wife: The reason she is shallow is because it isolates Brandt even more. If she is contributing to a social cause or editing a vanity publication, she had substance to her, something that might not keep Brandt feeling alone.

      A gambling addiction, as you mentioned, could be better for character purposes and a more substantial reason for a money drain, but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily isolate Brandt. The shopping spree just paints her as a polar opposite of Brandt.

       
      • I agree. You can envision a time where he was proud (and maybe surprised) at attracting a sexy wife, which devolved into a “careful what you wish for” scenario. I find her appalling and Samantha Egger does a great job portraying a wife who really really doesn’t care for anything but her husband’s money. It takes her literal seconds to move him away from the real grief he feels for the man he murdered.

         
      • I’m with you, Ellgee. Mrs Brandt’s absolute indifference to the death of Bertie and her lack of care for her husband’s precarious mental state are ideal in showing how isolated he is from everyone – including those closest to him.

         
  27. I, too, have fond memories of watching TBBSHIQMC for the first time — in my case, when it aired originally in 1977. It’s a lot of fun from beginning to end, with lots of wacky characters, a somewhat cartoonish plot, and a bonus “minimal information puzzle” you can solve if your lateral-thinking muscles are strong enough. While the episode is not on my top-ten list, it is a very good example of Columbo’s enviably wide range.

    TBBSHIQMC is an episode rich in over-the-top theatrics. From the elaborate (and fairly incredible) mechanism designed to give Oliver Brandt his alibi, to Brandt’s constant battle with dirt on his forehead, to Columbo’s door-framed entrance in a cloud of smoke (like Sherlock Holmes emerging through a heavy London fog), to the denouement amid thunder and lightning, the episode is far more blatantly melodramatic than most Columbos. For this reason, I find it curious that our host loves TBBSHIQMC while hating the similarly unrealistic, overly theatrical “Dagger of the Mind.” At least I’m consistent. I recognize the flaws of both but find both highly entertaining.

    Where did writer Robert Malcolm Young get the idea for this episode (his only Columbo) and its complicated mechanics? I saw nothing in his other credits that suggests this story is something up his alley. Once again, I’m struck by a similarity to the Frederick Knott play “Write Me a Murder” (which I’ve referenced previously on this site because of its plot connection to “Murder by the Book”). Knott’s play features a similarly elaborate device called a “bang contraption,” also designed to give the murderer an alibi for his crime.

    I do think less time should have been spent on Brandt’s rather inane monologue about umbrellas, and less time with George and Alvin, and more showing Columbo pecking away at Brandt and his alibi. As CP notes, there is very little cat-and-mouse in this episode. Columbo asks more questions of the other Sigma Society members than he does of Oliver.

    However, I love to rewatch TBBSHIQMC and play “follow the marker.” Director Sam Wanamaker does such a great job teasing us about the red marker without showing us its true significance until the end. (Director Jeremy Kagan does the same thing with the clock in “The Most Crucial Game.”) It’s shown in Oliver’s attaché case, next to the stereo, and on the floor beside the dictionary. (I must correct CP on one point. Our view is blocked when Brandt presumably “places the marker pen beside the [turntable] arm.” We never see this. We see him pick up the marker, but not what he does with it.) In the final scene, Columbo uses it like a pointer when illustrating to Oliver other facets of his scheme. I’ve always interpreted this as proof that Columbo knows exactly the marker’s function. He’s waving it in front of Oliver so that Brandt will know precisely where the marker is when the moment of truth comes. After all, Oliver can’t grab and carefully place the marker in an instant if he can’t find it.

    Many people gripe about the ending. Why would a genius like Brandt give in with almost no proof against him (except from his umbrella, which evidence Columbo claims he can’t use)? But, in this respect, he and Adrian Carsini have something in common. Both find their fates tied to women they have come to despise. Brandt likely would agree with Carsini that “freedom is purely relative.” In the end, prison may be a welcome respite. Maybe he’ll get a cellmate with whom he can play the dictionary game.

    Finally, I thoroughly enjoy the subtle break from the standard Columbo formula. Yes, from the beginning we know who did it. But we don’t know initially everything about how it was done. We don’t know what made the dictionary fall. Just like we didn’t know early on how Dexter Paris was able to do everything necessary in “Double Shock,” and won’t be shown initially how Paul Gerard poisoned Vittorio Rossi in “Murder Under Glass.” In all three, this revelation is entwined in the “gotcha.”

    So there are lots of very good things in TBBSHIQMC. Not great, but very good. Good melodramatic fun.

     
    • I myself would probably put this episode in my top ten, but other than that, I couldn’t agree more. The combination of Theodore Bikel, writer Robert Malcolm Young and director Sam Wanamaker was serendipity of the highest order. Like you, I researched the prior credits of the latter two and found nothing that would point to such an enjoyable and entertaining piece.

      Young clearly gets credit for the large number of memorable scenes identified by Columbophile in his review. For me, however, the most satisfying scene is the final reveal. I would love to see a copy of the script to see how much of the tightly woven inter-cutting was dictated by the screenwriter and how much was introduced on set or in post production by Wanamaker.

      Kudos as well to film editor Jerry Dronsky and to the neo-Tchaikovskian musical cues of Robert (Bob) Prince. Once again, there is nothing that I can see in the career of either of these that points to this level of performance. (Prince had previously written the theme to The Bold Ones, a pretty generic, late-60’s intro to a crime/legal show.)

      It is interesting that none of the people mentioned above ever contributed to another Columbo episode. A serious lapse on the part of the producers, I think.

       
  28. Columbophile, I’m usually in agreement with you on episode quality and general ranking, but not here. This is an OK show, but hardly in the top 10 (maybe top 20). I find it ironic that the 2 Columbo episodes taking place in the presence of geniuses (this and Mind Over Mayhem) are both so lacking in memorable killers. I know that you think highly of Theo Bikel, but the very traits that, to you, make him seem more lonely and sympathetic actually make him, for me, seem so pathetic and easily caught. He never, for a moment, seems to provide any match for Columbo, and the best villains seem like they may yet be able to get away with the crime (although we of course know that they won’t). This is why the gotchas against the slick and steely killers are so satisfying, and this one is so anticlimactic. If Dr. Cahill of Mind Over Mayhem is, to quote you, “supposedly a genius but does knack-all to support that premise”, what does Oliver Brandt do to improve upon that description beyond the opening ingenious crime? In each of these “genius” episodes, an opportunity is wasted for the killer to condescend with their intelligence, which would be obviously satisfying at the point of the gotcha. Instead, they each provide very little pushback when the moment of truth comes. Providing a little humanity in the villains is not always a bad idea (Ruth Gordon comes to mind), but Brandt comes across as a simpering fool who can’t even control his wife. Oh by the way…..wouldn’t Brandt’s motivations have made more sense if he had offed her – the reason for his embezzling – instead of Bertie? I’ll throw that out there as my exit thought.

     
  29. I wouldn’t rank this #1, but it’s in the top 10.

    As usual your review was spot on, and as usual I have to quibble a bit in respectful disagreement. I don’t feel any sympathy at all for Brandt. Perhaps he has no real friends because he’s an arrogant jerk. If how he treated Bertie is indicative of how he treats “friends”, there is your answer. To Brandt, everyone is beneath him. He tolerates others at best. He makes no effort to hide his contempt for the other members of the Sigma Club, all of whom appear to be nice people. It reminds me of Homer Simpson saying, “Everyone is stupid but me.” So he didn’t have a real childhood because he was smart. Cry me a river Oliver. Get over it. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated and you won’t feel so all alone. Try your tirade against Alivin on your cell mate at San Quintin and let us know what happens next.

    What I’m most glad about as far as this episode is concerned is that Falk returns to playing Lt. Columbo instead of whatever character he was supposed to be in “Old Fashioned”.

     
  30. Definitely not my favorite episode. For me it’s on the fringes of Columbo greatness. It ranks low on my list right there with the other one about the think tank ( with robbie the robot) .
    I’m more into the rich professional killer class with their designer clothes and well kept homes.
    Lady in waiting comes directly to mind.
    If I want intrigue I’ll watch identity crisis and yell ” GERONIMO!” But I’ll re watch it for the sake of your enthusiasm.

     
  31. In my country (Germany) “The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case” was aired as the very last episode of all 70’s-Columbos, 15 years after it was shown in the US. I always thought, to put it last matched the quality of the case. Although running for only 69 minutes, it still seems to be too short a script for such a long mystery. The sub-plot about Alvin could have been shortened, because it totally lacks in suspense and humour. The Sigma Society should have appeared like a real bunch of geniuses. Instead the members appear like a caricature of themselves, low on character and without any human spirit. The meant-to-be highly intelligent murderer Oliver Brandt should have been on an intellectual eye-level with Columbo, instead he is one of the easiest-to-catch opponents, never a tough nut for the Lieutenant, of whom Brandt is afraid of since the very first confrontation.
    In my ranking the episode is among the ten weakest entries of the series and I fail to see how it can be regarded as the best of all. But I haven’t read this new post yet and I will start to do so now, and will hope to learn how to watch the episode through different eyes tonight.

     
  32. Not one of my favourite episodes, a little too contrived for me but as it was the first episode you ever saw I can understand your fascination. By season 6 Peter Falk had left quirky oddball Columbo behind and given the character a more respectful air. I much prefer the earlier characterisation.

     
  33. I like this episode but don’t rate it quite as high as you. I understand why you love it so much if it was your first episode ( we all remember our first Columbo ) – that’s why I rate my first higher than most, but in my case it was Dagger of the Mind!

     
  34. I’m certaily not the one to spoil the conclusion of your review. I like this episode very much, but love the joy with which you wrote this piece even more. Though not an episode in my personal top 10, well done to Oliver Brandt and the whole bunch to make it top of your list. Loved reading it!

     

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