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

  1. Sorry if this has come up before, but isn’t it odd that everybody downstairs heard the dictionary fall and assumed it was Bertie, but nobody heard when Bertie really fell a few minutes earlier?

  2. Love the site (and insights), and truly enjoy the comments. I learn something new from both with every viewing. That said, I’ve a slightly off-topic question: in this episode, at 4:49 as the Sigma Society’s formal meeting adjourns, is that not Gene Barry sitting in the back right?

    Thank you!

  3. ITs a difficult episode to assess , on one hand its very enjoyable with plenty of memorable scenes and funny moments , on the other theres a weird element and terrible plot holes and it dosent feel a typical columbo process best example of this i can give is by dawns early light where columbo slowly pieces all information and evidence
    Together and goes through the mill to nail his man and while its a top qaulity episode how many put it in the top 10
    THE bye bye has more humour and maybe some
    People prefer that but it wouldnt put the bye bye top Negative reavtion , try and catch me &swan song are better epidodes overall for me.

  4. Brandt is one of the quickest villains to unravel during the episode in the series, I think, but he wasn’t very ‘raveled’ to start with. I found it difficult to feel sympathy for him. He’s obnoxious and high-handed with everyone. The real surprise is that he’s such a lamb with Columbo, when other villains make a point of being sneering and disdainful. Where I think this episode excels in in the cinematography – especially the thunder and lightning, shadows and darkness of the final scene. Other scenes were lush and elegant, and the coloring is superb. I may have to watch it again to get the full impact of the opening scene where he sets up the murder scene.

  5. Try and catch me is my overall favorite , i always enjoy it anytime it comes on wich is not every weekend asc5 USA Know its a gem , i love the scene by the marina in particular and the ladies club, ruth gordon is superb , falk at his best , great clues , theresvan irish housemaid thrown in , veronica a nice addition , dog , , a squeaky chair , sergeant burke , a rolls royce some nice LA outdoor shots and i love the ending with the metal boxes and burnt matches overall one of the best
    And very watchable

  6. One of Jamie Lee Curtis’ very first acting roles (as the waitress) with only about ten seconds of screen time and a few short lines of dialog, and she complete steals the scene!

  7. I think this episode is above average, but definitely not great and certainly nowhere near Top 10 territory. I’d probably place it around 20-25 out of the original 45 episodes. Bikel is good, I will agree on that.

    The score in this episode is also interesting but at times sort of mildly irritating. I think this was the only score Prince did and I am sort of thankful that was the case.

  8. How do tell the the real gold from the artificial gold? Toss the scale, take the penny, and scratch the coins to reveal the fakes.

    Which of the four words doesn’t belong? “Leave”, the only one-syllable word.

    I’m a simple-minded genius.

    Enjoyable episode. Number 1? Not quite, but clearly top 10.

    Love the blog, Columbophile.

  9. Terrible episode shocked it’s anywhere near the top. It takes a really long time to get going, Columbo is barely in it. The tickling is weird. The high IQ society is so goofy. It goes out of it’s way to be bizarre sexist with the creepy 14 year old girl scene and the oh wow gee wiz a male secretary. Meanwhile we don’t even see Columbo go through his process and figure things out. He just randomly shows up and bugs the main characters, and then in the end just says how it was all done. Why did he go to the nightclub? What’s with all the cheesy comedy in this episode? Girl flirting with Columbo at the club.

    I’m so disappointed I was saving this episode since it was supposed to be the best, but it doesn’t even compare to suitable for framing. It was like watching a CSI episode with all the cheesy dialogue and convoluted plot. Also what was with the gun in the trash can? Meant nothing. Usually Columbo plays a great balance of intimidating the suspect into acting irrational, and slowly piecing together what happened, and being awe shucks. But he seemed like he was just bumbling around all episode being weird.

    This episode just wasted time until the final scene, could have chopped 45 minutes out.

    • While I wouldn’t assess it as terrible, I would rate it in the bottom ten of the 1968-1978 episodes. You’re spot-on about his presence lacking an investigative edge. It’s as if Columbo stumbled into an episode of “Murder She Wrote”.

    • Completely agree. This episode was weird, and lousy.
      The accountant was a boring bully. He embezzled large sums of money because his wife spends large sums of money – like a negligee. Whoopee.

      The disco scene was bizarre and practically nonsensical.

      I am shocked that this is rated anywhere near the top ten. It shakes my belief in the Columbophile website to the core.. 🙂

      • I need only point out that this episode sits firmly in the top 5 most popular Columbo episodes of them all on a poll on this site that has had thousands of votes. That means HUNDREDS of voting fans place this as their #1 episode overall, so it ain’t just me who adores it.

        • This episode just misses my top ten….which means it is GREAT!!….Original screenplay, a young Jamie Lee Curtis in a funny scene, and a superb ending in which Columbo tells about his struggles as a young but not “brilliant” detective. An episode i could watch again and again.

    • I’m not sure it carried much significance beyond showing that once Brandt identified a person’s weakness, he was the type of egocentric bully who would use that knowledge against them and to elevate himself. It was obviously very important to him to feel superior to others, and demeaning Bertie in public view made him appear the stronger business partner/society mind.

      Early in I thought the episode might be setting up a gay subplot or subtext — as Brandt is strangely disinterested in his purring sexpot of a wife — but even with him professing his love for Bertie postmortem, nothing notable about their history as friends emerges to indicate a likely romantic relationship.

      The tickling was merely an obnoxious means of demonstrating Bertie was subservient to Brandt and perhaps how badly Brandt related to all people.

    • I think the tickling was an implied statement that overly intelligent people think & act differently than the majority of people. Eccentric behavior.

  10. I found it interesting that Columbo noted the oddity of Brandt carrying around an umbrella on a sunny day. This is the man who wears a raincoat every day of the year? In Los Angeles? Sure enough, just a bit later Columbo is remarkably caught out in the rain without his raincoat! When he showed up at the Brandts unannounced and ended up trading umbrellas – was this really an accident?

    Regardless, the sequence was funny.

    Gotta say more about Jamie Lee Curtis. Of course her most famous movie, Halloween, also starred Donald Pleasance of Any Old Port in a Storm. But what I find interesting is that, four decades later, she showed up in the whodunit Knives Out.

    I wouldn’t count this as the “best” Columbo, but it’s certainly a very good one.

  11. Great episode of Colombo. It’s one I hadn’t watched in a long while. One interesting thing is that unlike most of the murderers, Brandt seems to actually be dealing with a lot of guilt from his murder. From all of the smudges and marks he can’t seem to clean off his forehead to the constant looks of guiltiness until he breaks down to his wife and then finally confesses to Colombo. He finally looks relieved at the end when hanging up on his wife and giving Colombo his little final quiz.

  12. A fantastic episode. Definitely in my top five.
    I wonder if this episode, however, could have benefitted from a slightly LONGER running time?. This could have have given more insight into the great cast. (I still don’t fully understand the wife. I get that she likes shopping, but was she really greedy? I’m not sure she’s as awful as people make her out to be. But I could be wrong.)

    Speaking of the wife, I think I found a mistake.
    When Columbo “drops in” at the Brandt residence, Mrs. Brandt opens the door and just lets Columbo in without ever asking who he was and what he wanted? And I don’t think Columbo ever introduces himself to her formally.
    Minor. But strange.

    • It could have been a case where Columbo (or someone from the department) called ahead of time advising her that he’d be coming over to ask a few questions.

    • I have mixed feelings on the wife. The way Brandt “needed” Bertie, I think she get his death was a chance to reconnect with her husband. Why she wanted him to “forget all about Bertie” and do
      something with her. Cold yes, but I felt she wanted more from Brandt then to just spend his money.

  13. I promise to buy you a cup of coffee on 8 January (totally boracic at the moment…) MeToo notwithstanding, a *sincere* compliment to a beautiful girl on her brains and vice versa will always go down well! I have been lurking here a while, as a lifelong Columbo/Peter Falk fan I was delighted to discover this. 5USA has been showing Columbo for a while now and I’m loving it (and recording them too…)

    • She was 14. This was a really good episode, but that scene REALLY did not age well. To me it means in cannot be the best episode ever.

  14. Thanks again for your deep analysis and thought provoking ideas. Personally I am a great Columbo fan but don’t analyse too much. Or rank the episodes. Can’t say that this one was very special to me. But it was enjoyable. These days I don’t watch any drama apart from Columbo. And although I was an avid Columbo watcher in the 70’s I don’t remember any of the episodes.
    Being a nitpicker I couldn’t help testing the challenge given to Columbo about the bags of gold, and according to my calculations the answer is flawed. Or maybe the puzzle is. E.g. Say there are four bags and the real pieces of gold weigh 1 kilogram. If you took four from one bag etc the weight would be 4+3+2+1=10. Right? But what if the weight were 9? Which bag had the fake pieces? Answer is that it could be either of two bags. If the pieces in bag four weigh 750 grams, the four pieces add up to 3 instead of four, reducing the total to 9. Likewise if the pieces in bag 2 weigh 500 grams, the total is reduced by one. So maybe Columbo (and Brandt) are not so smart after all !

  15. I remain staggered that this episode ranks top despite the nostalgic feelings it conjures up from the youth of the author.
    There are certainly some high points and this is an above average Columbo but nowhere near the top ten for me nor, according to polls on other sites the majority of others
    The episode is full of too many stereotypes of high IQ people (which sadly does not include me so no personal grudge here) and cringeworthy moments. The infantile “Oh Bertie” scenes more befitting of the type of programme the author probably should have been watching at ten years old when visiting Grandlpa.
    While I appreciate the need for the investigation to be primarily focused in the building the murder took place, the depressing interior of Geek HQ, as we are influenced to believe would be a more appropriate name makes for a depressing backdrop. Finally, by this point in the series the murderer effectively saying “Wow you are more clever than you first seem” is somewhat predictable, moreover tedious.
    In conclusion, a criminally (pun intended) overrated episode but nevertheless a watchable one. As a final word I want to say a huge thank you to the site owner for very informative, entertaining and readable reviews. It’s a superb site and streets ahead of copycat and predecessor sites but on this particular outing we are streets apart.
    Coffee just bought for your work though. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the coffee, Rob! We may not agree on the brilliance of this episode, although I must post out that the episode is in the top 5 of the most popular Columbo episodes of all time as voted for by readers. Many thousands of votes have been cast over the last four years, so it gives a very clear indication of the popularity of the episode given that so many voters rate it as their number one.

        • Leave doesn’t belong because it ends in a vowel.

          No, wait, Leave doesn’t belong because it has only one syllable.

          No, wait, Leave doesn’t belong because it has 3 vowels instead of 2.

          No, wait, Leave doesn’t belong because its L is spoken at the very beginning of the word.

          No, wait, Uncle doesn’t belong because the other three are clearly “outside” things…asphalt on the road, de light from de sun, and the leaves on the trees.

  16. I enjoyed the episode, its a great outing for Columbo. I couldn’t help but feel that the method of murder (or rather, the alibi) was heavily influenced by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the famous Agatha Christie novel.

  17. Great blog. I have enjoyed reading your analysis of episodes. Bye-Bye is one of my faves as well. I think Mrs. Vivian Brandt deserves a mention for her bizarre reaction to Bertie’s death ” We’ll buy some clothes, take a trip etc. we must put him out of our minds”

  18. I just watched this episode (“The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case”) for the first time, and then read your Columbophile review and comments from other fans. My initial impression is that the murder itself was intricately devised and only a genius could have concocted such a brilliant setup. I enjoyed that part of the plot very much. I agree with Columbophile that Oliver Brandt is a sympathetic killer, and I too found the conversation between Columbo (revealing his own initial feelings of inadequacy when he joined the police force and aspired to be a detective) and Brandt (who hid his intelligence from bullies and others who wouldn’t understand him, for much of his life) to be outstanding. The acting of Theo Bikel and Peter Falk is superb, and this great scene reveals a lot about both characters.

    I wish that the members of the Sigma Society were featured more prominently into the episode more prominently, however. We never get a sense of what their personalities or quirks are, other than the ridiculous scene with Danzinger explaining his preposterous theory of the murder (I personally found that scene to be too silly for inclusion in this episode), and several short scenes with the precocious 14-year old genius, Caroline. I personally thought (and hoped) that Caroline’s photographic memory would play into the unravelling of the murder. At the very least I wished that something that she suggested or said would enlighten Columbo to unraveling the murder plot.

    I have two issues with the murder planning. First, as mentioned above by Columbophile, Hastings’ screaming would have clearly been heard by the guests downstairs. Additionally, after Hastings was shot he fell to floor more silently than if he’d climbed into bed – I think his body would have been much louder – at least as loud as the sound the dictionary made several minutes later when it fell. I feel that another shortcoming was the idea that the red marker causing the gigantic dictionary to fall. Even when watching Columbo’s re-creation in slow motion, you can see that the dictionary begins to tumble BEFORE the marker falls on it. I think a much heavier object would be needed to make such a large, heavy dictionary fall than a small plastic marker.

    I do have one question I have about the elaborate setup by Brandt that is not explained – unless I missed it. Can someone please explain how Brandt ensured that the back door to the library would slam as the guests ran into the room, creating the illusion that the killer had just escaped moments beforehand? I don’t think that this part of the ruse was addressed in the re-creation that Columbo showcases to Brandt at the episode’s end.

    Despite this minor shortcomings, I did enjoy this episode very much, overall, but personally I prefer “Troubled Waters” and several other episodes over this one in my personal rankings. I love this Columbophile blog, and thank you for posting such fantastic (and incredibly funny photo captions!) comments and critiques of each episode. This must take a LOT of time, and I (and many, many other Columbo fans) appreciate it very, very much.

    • The far door of the library closed because Brandt left a window open to create a draft that closed the door when the main door was opened. Columbo doesn’t reference this, but we do see him notice that the doors do this later in the episode, right before his conversation with Caroline in the library.

      • I have no problem with thedfoor slaming good clue , my beef is with the
        chalk line halfway on the dictionary , its basicslly the most obvious clue and i wish they had shown oliver wiping it or getting rid of it or some other way of including it
        Plus the fact it was lying on the floor, i really struggle with this and for me relegates it lower than episodes like swan song , try and catch me and negative reaction which i consider top 3 of the seventies

    • I managed several properties in which each had a door that would slam if it was open when a second door to the room was opened. It is a very weird phenomenon despite my knowing it would happen .

  19. Can’t agree about the gun disposal in the park trashcan which you list as No 1 best scene. It was ludicrously out of step for what we are led to believe is such a high end genius. In fact it made him appear to be a dunce. Of all the places in LA to dump the weapon he put it very clumsily in that bin. Uncovered and waiting detection by the pestering super detective. Utterly ridiculous and undermined what was a decent episode?

    • I don’t rate that as the best scene in the episode, although it’s a very good one. Top scene is the heart-to-heart between Columbo and Oliver in the library prior to the gotcha.

      • Agreed. That was beyond just acting. It became more personal. The scene in the nightclub with George’s girl friend gazing almost lovingly at Columbo as he stuck his beak and cigar right in their faces lol. On the ice cream moment do you agree or not on the lameness of it as I described or what is your view of the scene. As you obviously rate it.
        Great site by the way friend. Keep up the good work.

        • I disagree completely about the ‘lameness’ of the scene. I think it’s excellent and a real episode highlight. The tension is almost unbearable until the bin is taken away for emptying, and the way Oliver’s relief gives over to his pompous monologue on umbrellas makes my heart sing!

        • He doesn’t just leave it uncovered in the trash can. He had it in a paper bag, but the lady with the baby stroller jammed her own trash in top of it which dislodged it from the bag and exposed it.

    • On the contrary, sir. As Columbo explained in Prescription Muder: “You’re probably right. He sounds just too clever for us. What I mean is, you know, cops, we’re not the brightest guys in the world. Of course, we got one thing going for us: we’re professionals. I mean, you take our friend here, the murderer. He’s very smart, but he’s an amateur. I mean, he’s got just one time to learn. Just one. And with us, well, with us, it’s – it’s a business. You see, we do this a hundred times a year. I’ll tell ya, Doc. That’s a lot of practice.”

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  22. This episode didn’t wow me the first time I saw it, but if Columbophile thinks that highly of it, I’ll definitely give it another shot. Fortunately, I think it’s the next episode that will air on MeTV, so I’ll get my chance soon.

    This has to be my favourite Sorrell Booke role. Bertie Hastings is cute! Yes, his head does resemble an egg, as do a lot of people’s. Maybe that’s where we get the term “egghead” meaning “intellectual.” I have somewhat of a weird big head myself so I don’t cast aspersions on anyone else’s head!

    Sam Wanamaker was also an actor as well as a director, and played several powerful villains. I think he would have made a good “Columbo” villain.

    I seem to be alone in not having a “first” episode of “Columbo” to become attached to. Technically, the first one I saw was “Columbo Cries Wolf” when it was on A&E in the 1990s, but I didn’t clue in to how great “Columbo” was then. The episode has no sentimental value. Some 35 years later, what got me to start watching “Columbo” regularly was stumbling upon “Double Shock” on TV in a hotel room, and while it was a good enough episode to make me a fan of the series, I’d say it’s only a medium-good episode. It does have some nostalgic value as I have pleasant memories of watching it for the first time in that hotel room that night.

    Is Todd Martin the second actor to play Sergeant Burke, after Jerome Guardino, or are there two separate Sergeant Burkes in the LAPD? It’s not impossible. I’m curious as to which way Columbophile leans!

    Unfortunately, the toxic culture at the Sigma Society is no surprise to me. I have found there is nowhere in life where you can escape bullying, neither among fellow intellectuals nor among fellow misfits and outcasts. Humans are basically bullies by nature and will do it when they can get away with it.

    Caroline enjoying being treated like a regular girl instead of a girl genius is kind of like Steven Spelberg from “Mind Over Mayhem” enjoying being treated like a regular boy instead of a boy genius. They should hang out together! They could go see “The Loves of Frankenstein” at the drive-in and then Steven could trundle MM7 over for a demonstration at the Sigma Society!

    Since we now know Columbophile’s top episode of all time, I’m going to take this chance to decide my favourite episodes out of just the 1970s ones I’ve accumulated on my PVR so far. In descending order of favouriteness, they are:

    1. “The Most Dangerous Match”
    2. “Double Exposure”
    3. “Publish or Perish”
    4. “Mind Over Mayhem”
    5. “Double Shock”
    6. “A Case of Immunity”
    7. “Fade in to Murder”

    All of the above are good episodes I actively enjoy watching, and it was tough to sort some of them. “Lovely But Lethal,” “Playback,” “A Matter of Honor,” and “Old-Fashioned Murder” are the other 1970s episodes I have but which I find less entertaining. Of those, “Playback” is the one that almost that made the favourites list, thanks mainly to the snarky banter between Margaret Midas and Harold Van Wick.

    I may change my mind about some of the non-favourites as time goes on. Originally I wouldn’t have put “Mind Over Mayhem” in there, but I discovered I enjoy listening to it while I lie down and go to sleep. Maybe José Ferrer’s deep voice is soothing. He has soft fluffy consonants like Donald Sutherland. And every time I listen to the episode I’m impressed at how he takes the long, unwieldy, and expositional line “Howard, you’re a chemist, and I would say that your ability to analyse a man’s intellectual capacity is way beyond your powers, or is this psychological deduction something your wife came up with, considering that Neil’s been in therapy with her?” and wrestles it to the ground! That’s almost a Bulwer-Lytton Contest sentence! Go José! 🙂


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