Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 7

Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me

Columbo Try and Catch Me opening titles

Good things come in small packages. At least that’s what Columbo‘s creative team must have been hoping when the Lieutenant swept back onto screens on 21 November, 1977.

Try & Catch Me, the opening episode of the show’s seventh season, featured pocked-sized octogenarian Ruth Gordon as murderous mystery writer Agatha Christie Abigail Mitchell. Small in stature, but with a big reputation and personality, here was a Columbo killer like no other and a character so adorably cheeky that viewer sympathy was sure to be torn asunder.

But is Try & Catch Me as much fun as a scotch-fuelled flight to New York with Abigail Mitchell? Or does it need to be locked away in an air-tight safe to think about its failings? Let’s see…

Columbo Try and Catch Me cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Abigail Mitchell: Ruth Gordon
Veronica Bryce: Mariette Hartley
Edmund Galvin: Charles Frank
Martin Hammond: GD Spradlin
Annie: Mary Jackson
Sergeant Burke: Jerome Guardino
Dog: As himself
Written by: Gene Thompson and Paul Tuckahoe
Directed by: James Frawley
Score by: Patrick Williams
Significant locations: Abigail Mitchell residence (880 La Loma Rd, Pasadena); Ladies’ Club Lunch (Riviera Country Club, 1250 Capri Dr, Pacific Palisades)

Episode synopsis: Columbo Try & Catch Me

World-renowned murder mystery writer Abigail Mitchell has it in for her young nephew-in-law, Edmund Galvin. She believes, rightly or wrongly, that he murdered her only living relative, niece Phyllis, in what police have determined was a tragic boating accident. The body was never found.

Columbo Try & Catch Me
Is there some sort of weird symbolism going on here that I’m missing?

Still, in her murder-addled mind Edmund is guilty and if the police aren’t going to see justice done, Abi is willing to take things into her own ancient hands. So she makes Edmund her sole heir – a request Edmund is happy to facilitate – and makes a show of having her new will signed by Edmund in front of her lawyer Martin Hammond immediately before a trip to New York.

There’s a catch – but it’s no biggie. If octogenarian Abi outlives Edmund, all his estate will come to her, but with the old coffin dodger surely having only a short time left on this earth, Edmund signs his life away without even reading the small print.

Job done, Edmund drives away – but only after Abi urges him to secretly return via the service road and side entrance to discuss confidential matters. The dear old duck wants to teach Edmund the combination to her walk-in, air-tight, cash-filled safe in case anything happens to her, and the obliging young fella caves in to her demands.

After a quick demonstration of how it all works, Abi asks Edmund to stash the newly signed wills in the safe. Little does he realise he’ll never leave it alive. Dispensing with the lovable old dear act, Abi roars to Edmund: “You murdered my Phyllis. Did you really think I didn’t know?” before slamming the door on him, leaving him to lingering suffocation in pitch blackness. Tough break!

Of course there’s a fly in the ointment. Edmund left his car keys on Abi’s desk, which she spots only when Martin comes in to summon her to her flight. Sweeping them up, Abi desperately buries them in a large, sand-filled ashtray in the entrance hall before dashing to the plane, where she knocks back celebratory scotches with gay abandon.

Columbo Try and Catch Me Edmund
“Holy shiiiiiii…” quoth Edmundo

Abi’s trip is curtailed the next day after a desperate call from her PA, Veronica. She’s found Edmund’s dead body in the safe as part of her daily duties and pleads for Abi’s return. As a result, more congratulatory scotch is swug by the embittered old crone as she about turns and jets back to good old LA.

There’s a predictable hubbub at the mystery writer’s home as police rush hither and thither during preliminary investigations. Columbo, of course, is in charge at the scene and he’s already making deductive strides. For one thing, he doesn’t believe Edmund’s death was an accident, as Abi suggests. The burglar alarm was switched on, after all. How could Edmund have got into the safe when the alarm was on?

Edmund has also left detectives with matters to ponder. Why had he removed his belt, which was found with black paint on the buckle? Why had he laid out one of Abi’s manuscripts on the floor and burned six matches? Plus there are two scraps of paper with torn edges lying around. What could it mean?

Fortunately, few people on earth seem better qualified to help with the Lieutenant’s enquiries than one of the world’s leading mystery writers, and Abi is only too happy to help tie up some loose ends. She reveals that she herself had forgotten to turn the alarm on, and had rung maid Annie to ask her to do so. Edmund must have heard Annie’s approach, panicked, and shut himself in – sealing his own fate in the process.

Sounds plausible enough, but investigations continue out in the garden. A footprint out back is a match for Edmund’s shoe size, but how did he get in the house? Quick as a flash, Abi plays the doddery old dear act. Maybe Edmund used this key I keep hidden under a plant pot, she suggests, smothering it in her own fingerprints, rendering it useless to police. Oopsie!

Columbo Try and Catch Me
“What did Edmund pay for these shoes…?”

But keys remain forefront in Columbo’s mind. Police know Edmund drove back to the house, but his car keys were not on his body and are nowhere to be seen! It’s a very great puzzle that the Lieutenant is in no position to crack just now.

Abi, of course, knows full well where the keys are – or at least where they should be. But after digging around in the sandy ashtray the keys are nowhere to be found. Housemaid Annie has the explanation. Because of all the cigar butts Columbo left in it, she tipped the sand away. She found some keys in it which, interestingly, Veronica claimed as her own. But when Abi pops upstairs to chat to Veronica, her secretary doesn’t even reference the keys! What is going on?

It’s not until the following afternoon that Veronica comes clean. She catches up with Abi in the garden to let her know that Columbo has returned. “What does he expect to find?” muses Abi. “These?” suggests Veronica, whipping out the keys, which she uses as an indelicate means of suggesting Abi might want to match her wage ambitions PDQ! No fool, Abi agrees to let Veronica join her on an imminent luxury cruise, where the two will plot the PA’s presumably lucrative future career.

Now the keys are back in her wrinkled hands, Abi finally has the chance to rid herself of the incriminating evidence for good. After all, Columbo has told her that finding them is absolutely crucial to his chances of breaking the case. They must vanish off the face of the earth.

Columbo Mariette Hartley
Sure, it’s all friendly rose chat now but just wait till Veronica busts out the car keys and demands a 3000% raise!

So Abi does what any sensible mystery writer would do: she takes the keys to the docks to fling them into the drink. “Suck eggs, Columbo!” she’s clearly thinking, even as she reaches through the railings to carry out the deed. BUT NO! At the supreme moment she’s disturbed by Columbo, who is ‘coincidentally’ there walking his dog. It’s a wonder the aged dame’s ticker didn’t pack in on the spot, such was the extreme tension.

Columbo, however, is in an amiable mood, although he does reveal that the blessed keys are still playing on his mind. “When I find the keys, I’ll find the murderer,” he confides. It’s here that Abi commits virtual suicide as the audience screams for her to keep the keys hidden! “These are the car keys,” she says, dangling them in front of the stooping detective. “And I didn’t murder Edmund. He drove away, I went to New York.”

She goes on to explain that she found them beside a sprinkler head while gardening, the clear indication being that butter-fingered Edmund dropped them there while blundering through the flowerbeds. Surely this closes the case and she can head off on her cruise with a clear conscience? “The ship hasn’t sailed yet, ma’am,” is Columbo’s impassive response. Translation: Yo’ goin’ down, grandma

Still, when we next encounter Abi she’s having a roaring good time at a farewell party aboard ship. Even the usually taciturn Martin is all smiles, having doubtless knocked back a few too many piña coladas. It looks like Abi’s going to get away with murder after all! But just at the moment of departure who should turn up at her luxury suite door but Lieutenant Columbo. And he’s not here to say ‘cheerio’ – he has a warrant that will prevent her taking off into the deep blue yonder.

You see, police photographs of Abi’s back garden clearly show there were no keys near the sprinkler head where she claimed to find them. And even her ‘I’m a forgetful old woman‘ excuse isn’t going to help her now. Abigail has been officially grounded – and even her lawyer can’t prevent it.

Columbo Martin Hammond
Geez, drunk Martin is a RIOT compared to the uncompromising git we met earlier!

While Veronica is left to enjoy the cruise by herself (assuming a juiced-up Martin isn’t galloping about deck in just his holiday posing pouch), Abi and Columbo return to her home to further nut out what happened on that fateful night. And now everything’s falling into place for the good Lieutenant as he uses the mystery writer as a sounding board.

Putting himself in Edmund’s shoes, Columbo postulates that the dead man would have wanted to find some way of alerting authorities as to who killed him, but not knowing whether the killer would be the one that next opened the safe, he’d have to very clever to keep the alert secret from them. So how would he achieve that?

“Deathbed testimony,” concludes Columbo. “That’s considered very strong evidence.”

The paint on Edmund’s belt buckle leads the Lieutenant to a stack of black deposit boxes Abi kept in the safe. On closer inspection they all have vertical scratches on them, which, when rearranged, appear to reveal an upwards-pointing arrow. This leads Columbo to investigate the light fitting, and remove the burnt-out bulb.

And there, hidden in the bulb socket is a strip of paper – and it’s a perfect fit for the two strips he found in there the day Edmund’s body was found. It is, in fact, a torn-out piece from the manuscript’s title page – and on it is Edmund’s message from the grave that will do in for Abi.

He had used one of his precious matches to score out part of the book’s title. All that is left is a statement that reads: I was murdered by Abigail Mitchell. “Deathbed testimony,” concludes Columbo. “That’s considered very strong evidence.”

Columbo Try & Catch Me gotcha
All this scene lacks is Edmund’s spectral laughter to complete the revenge-from-beyond-the-grave motif

Abi makes no attempt to deny it. Instead she tries to appeal to the sweeter side of the Lieutenant’s nature, becoming the first killer to outright ask him to overlook the crime. “I don’t suppose you would consider making an exception in my case? An old woman, quite harmless all in all?” But Columbo is firm. “You’re a very professional person in your work, and so am I,” he replies.

Abi’s final act is to lament that Columbo wasn’t the chief investigator in the death of Phyllis, before she submits to his custody as credits roll…

Try & Catch Me‘s best bit: can she count on Columbo?

As discussed in the review of The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case, one of the key features introduced there by new series producer Richard Alan Simmons was to allow Columbo to gain a level of understanding and sympathy with the killer through a genuine meeting of minds. As was the case in Bye-Bye, the writers absolutely aced this aspect of Try & Catch Me, too, and this scene at the docks is the prime example.

Columbo Try & Catch Me Dog
I simply can’t compute the CUTENESS going on here *spontaneously combusts*

Columbo clearly has his doubts about the old duck – so much so that he’s willing to trail her to the docks to catch her off guard at a supposedly coincidental meeting. And, naturally, it’s not long before the conversation turns to subjects relevant to the investigation – and to the death of Phyllis.

“That must have been very hard losing someone you love like that,” says Columbo. “I’ve been very lucky. I lost my parents, that’s the way of the world. But to lose someone that young, that’s like being cheated.”

Sensing a sympathetic ear, Abi is suitably charmed. “I’m beginning to be very fond of you, Lieutenant. I think you’re a very kind man,” she beams. But the detective’s response would have been enough to send alarms bells coursing through her tiny frame. “Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell,” he replies. “Don’t count on it.”

There’s no menace in Columbo’s tone, but the message is crystal clear: he may be courteous; he may understand her pain; but he’s still got a job to do – and that job is to bring her down. There’s a lot of meaning packed into a short exchange, making this a candidate for best scene of the entire season.

My take on Try & Catch Me

Who’d have thought that 1977 would be such a vintage year for Columbo? Throughout 1976, we only had a single really good outing for the Lieutenant in the magic-tinged Now You See Him. That was followed by the DISMAL Last Salute; the frankly average Fade in to Murder; and the rather tedious Old Fashioned Murder.

Columbo fans, therefore, could be forgiven for thinking that their favourite show was on the wane. But then along came 1977 and kicked that doubt into touch. May’s The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case brilliantly salvaged Columbo‘s sixth season. Six months later Try & Catch Me continued in the same vein, providing the strongest Columbo season opener since Murder by the Book.

Columbo Try and Catch Me Ruth Gordon
PS – Eat defeat Abi LOL – Love Edmund xxx

Ruth Gordon’s charming turn as diminutive mystery writer Abigail Mitchell helps boost this episode to genuine heights. Aged 80 at the time of filming, the venerable Gordon was the oldest Columbo killer by a stretch. This offered the opportunity to serve up a different type of detective/suspect dynamic, and the writers duly obliged.

The chief success at the heart of Abigail Mitchell is her playful nature allied with her shrewdness in playing the ‘doddering old dear’ trump card to convince those around her of her utter harmlessness. If this sounds familiar, it’s supposed to. Because, to put it succinctly, old Abi ‘pulls a Columbo‘ on a number of occasions to ensure her threat level is thoroughly underestimated.

Amongst the best examples is Abi ‘accidentally’ covering the spare key in the garden with her own fingerprints, denying police a chance to see whether Edmund himself used it to re-enter the house. What a mistake-ah to make-ah, eh Abi? Columbo lets her off the hook there, but no doubt made a swift mental assessment of her rascally ways.

Try & Catch Me delivers the strongest Columbo season opener since Murder by the Book in 1971.”

He’s certainly not going to let her get away with it twice. When she lies about finding Edmund’s car keys by a sprinkler head in the garden he pores through police photos to disprove it. Despite her attempts to blame the frailty of an old woman’s memory, it’s the evidence Columbo needs to get a warrant.

It’s just a pity for Abi that she’s matched against a master craftsman in the art of such subterfuge, because under no circumstances is Columbo going to be blind-sided by the same act he’s made famous. Despite this, the relationship between them is rather sweet and the rapport shared by the leads seems genuine.

Time and again, Columbo is amused or abashed by Abi’s antics, not least when she throws him under the bus by making him give an off-the-cuff speech to the Ladies’ Club. He does handle it splendidly, though, delivering some revealing insight into his own character in a monologue always worth revisiting.

Columbo Try and Catch Me speech
“Let me tell ya ladies, I get a real kick out of my work – even busting harmless old grandmas tickles me pink.”

“Even with some of the murderers that I meet, I even like them, too,” he says, pointedly staring directly at Abi. “Like them and even respect them – not for what they did, certainly not for that, but for that part of them which is intelligent or funny or just nice.”

Reminiscent of the heart-to-heart the Lieutenant shared with Oliver Brandt in Bye-Bye Sky High, this is a highly effective means of giving the audience a glimpse of the man behind the mysterious facade, while giving Abi reason to regard him hopefully as a sympathetic figure. All in all, a really good scene.

Further affability follows when Columbo gets behind the steering wheel of Abi’s Roller and the two speak about their respective childhoods. “Shall we compare poverty stories, Lieutenant?” she asks playfully. “Not in a Rolls Royce, ma’am,” his poker-faced response.

These examples, and more besides, paint such a pleasing picture of camaraderie between the two that it’s easy for the viewer to fall for Abi’s charms and really root for her. Her cause is helped by the fact that her crime was borne out of love for her lost niece and the desire for vengeance against the man she believed was responsible for that loss.

“The ambiguity around Edmund’s guilt is one of the episode’s great strengths.”

If you buy into Abi’s belief, then it’s quite likely you’re secretly hoping she’ll get away with it. But for me, the ambiguity around Edmund’s guilt is one of the episode’s great strengths. She clearly believes he offed dear Phyllis, but who knows? Perhaps after 60 years of writing murder mysteries, Abi sees foul play where none exists and her vivid imagination is what condemns Edmund to a slow, terrifying death.

Nothing we see of Edmund on-screen is overtly suggestive that he killed Phyllis. Sure there’s some double meaning in the conversation on the beach when Abi says to him “I know what you did – everything you did,” and he has an uncomfortable look on his face, but you can read that either way. It could be guilt, or it could be a heavy heart at the thought of his dear wife.

Likewise, some viewers believe that Edmund ‘sneers’ when he looks at a photo of Phyllis at Abi’s house prior to signing the new will. I enter into evidence Exhibit A below. What some see as a sneer could easily be a rueful smile tinged with gladness that nephew and great aunt have found a way to move forward after months of despair.

Columbo Try and Catch Me Edmund
Incidentally, I’m the founder (and only) member of the EDMUND IS INNOCENT Society

Consider, too, what we do see of Edmund (who is nicely portrayed by Charles Frank). He’s a polite young man who is happy to acquiesce to Abi’s requests, and who seems to have genuine affection for her. He states clearly that he doesn’t want anything from her and hopes she lives for ever. He even has sufficient trust in her good nature to sign a will she has drawn up on his behalf without even reading it.

Not only that, he returns to the house in good faith at Abi’s request, not because he has any intention of stealing from her. In fact he tells her he doesn’t want to know the combination to the safe that she’s so desperate to give him as part of her fiendish plan. I ask you: are his actions those of a calculating killer, or of an obliging young chap keen to put a terrible chapter of his life behind him?

Personally, I like not knowing, which is why the scene between Columbo and Abi at Edmund’s apartment comes close to enraging me. It seems to have been included solely to ensure the audience sides with Abi’s worldview on Edmund’s guilt. To that I say: WAKE UP SHEEPLE! I, for one, refuse to comply!

Columbo states that Edmund and Phyllis must have had ‘a very poor relationship’ based on the fact that no photos of Phyllis were on show at the apartment. What a senseless observation! What if Edmund felt her loss so keenly that he couldn’t bear to even see images of her? That would be entirely plausible, so for once Columbo can take his opinion and shove it! The discerning viewer doesn’t need to be clumsily guided in this way.

Far more daring would have been to go the other way completely and have Columbo tell a colleague at the end that the saddest part of the whole case was that he took a look at Phyllis’s file and saw no evidence of foul play. That would have given proceedings a fascinating, bitter finish that could have left searching questions in the mind of the viewer long after the closing credits. Alas, it wasn’t to be…

Columbo Try and Catch Me Veronica
Smiling assassin: Mariette Hartley’s Veronica is delightfully duplicitous

As you can tell, I’ve given the Edmund conundrum a lot of thought but I shall now put it behind me in order to focus on wider aspects of the episode – and what better time to consider a belting performance by Mariette Hartley as Abi’s duplicitous secretary Veronica?

Hartley previously appeared in season 3’s Publish or Perish, although her character wasn’t much to write home about. Veronica, though, is a whole different animal. She is ICE COLD and wonderfully calculating, keeping hold of Edmund’s car keys until she figures out to use them to her best advantage i.e. to GET RICH!

Veronica puts Abi in a seriously tight spot, yet handles negotiations with a smile on her face as she dangles the Sword of Damocles over her boss’s head. Hartley does this so well that one senses she could have been an excellent Columbo killer in her own right. Clearly a friend of the show, it seems a missed opportunity not to have made a murderess of her in subsequent seasons.

“Just about the only characterisation I’m not crazy about here is the Lieutenant himself.”

Staying with the cast, also excellent is GD Spradlin as Abi’s lawyer-cum-handyman, Martin Hammond. He plays the stern legal eagle to a tee, but his best bit is unquestionably aboard ship. “Take care love,” he smiles, just before his face assumes its normal, serious mask. “And call me anytime you find a body in your safe.” Seems like everyone knows Abi’s guilty in this one – a pretty poor show for such a prolific mystery writer.

Just about the only characterisation I’m not crazy about here is the Lieutenant himself, because season 7 Columbo is a far cry from his best incarnation. He’s far more theatrical and seems less of a real person, with his bigger gestures, more forced facial expressions and a more laboured way of speaking. The impression I get, dare I say it, is of someone impersonating Columbo, rather than being Columbo. It’s an important distinction.

Peter Falk Try and Catch Me
Season 7 Columbo is a likable enough chap, but he’s veering towards pastiche

From a Columbo in-universe perspective, we could interpret this as being an example of the Lieutenant evolving the ‘act’ he uses to unsettle suspects. The reality, of course, was that Falk was likely tiring of the role and looking to mix things up as he sporadically did throughout the 70s.

Consider: in season 1 he was getting to grip with the role. His Columbo there is more direct and more openly knowing. In seasons 2-4 (what I consider Prime Columbo), he has mastered every nuance of the character and delivers the most natural, easy and charming characterisation.

Then we came to season 5, when perhaps a shade of over-familiarity had crept in. The first signs of tinkering with the Columbo character’s make-up came in Identity Crisis, where director and co-star Patrick McGoohan was keen to push the Lieutenant in ‘interesting’ new directions (weirdness, distractedness, shouting, odd mannerisms/expressions, invading personal space, more cryptic with colleagues etc) – few of which were an improvement on the Columbo we knew and loved.

These undesirable traits were more or less evident for the rest of the 70s, (most noticeably in the LAMENTABLE Last Salute), and Try & Catch Me features its fair share. Much as I admire this episode, I do think how much more enjoyable it could have been with a season 2-4 Columbo in the lead role. I suspect this will become a consistent refrain from here on out in these reviews.

Not convinced? Then view the clip below of Columbo’s first meeting with Abi and note the deliberate facial expressions, mannerisms and the low, lethargic style of line delivery. Hopefully you can see what I mean about the character now being a distant echo of the Lieutenant from the early 70s…

Try & Catch Me also suffers from a rather gaping plot hole that has a major impact on the whole episode, so is worth examining here – namely Abi’s actions regarding Edmund’s car keys, which were, to put it mildly, REALLY STOOPID.

Fresh from locking Edmund in the safe, Abi is startled by lawyer Martin entering the room to hurry her away to the airport. At this crucial stage Abi realises Edmund’s car keys are in plain sight on the edge of a table. She has two options: leave them and hope Martin didn’t see them (risky!), or swipe them up to dispose of later. She chose the latter, which I believe was the sensible choice.

What was not sensible, however, was to hide the friggin’ keys in a giant sand-filled ashtray in her entrance hall when there were literally millions of better options available. Here’s a few I just came up with off the top of my head: –

  • Stow them in her coat pocket or handbag, take them to Noo Yoik and fling ’em in the trash / river / Atlantic
  • Drop the keys in the front garden on way to her car
  • Fling them from the car window while en route to the airport
  • Flush them down the bogs at the airport or – better yet – while airborne
  • Swallow the keys and allow nature to take its (painful) course in Noo Yoik – ain’t nobody going to be searching there!
  • Secret them in her snake-like coil of ancient hair
  • Take the long and dangerous path to Mordor and cast the keys into the fires of Mount Doom. Problem solved!

Anyway, you get the picture. Burying the keys in the sand was a bad call, Abi, a bad call. And it would ultimately prove to be her undoing. The saving grace is that Columbo makes it clear that Abi writes her murder mysteries from the point of view of the detective, not the killer. So perhaps it was her subconscious that overruled her good sense in leaving such a dangerous clue to scupper her perfect murder.

That aside, there’s not a lot wrong with Try & Catch Me. If one was to be ultra-critical, one might reference the poor police work in not discovering the obvious arrow mark on the safe deposit boxes; or in not replacing the burnt-out bulb in the safe and discovering Edmund’s note straight away, but this is only TV, so where would be the fun in that?

For that, ultimately, is what Try & Catch Me is all about. Interspersing the fun are some outstandingly tense scenes, and numerous nice, subtle touches in the script to enhance the humour, such as Abi regularly using Columbo’s ‘just one more thing’ catchphrase against him.

Columbo Abigail Mitchell
If a talented graphic designer can create me a mock-up of this poster I’ll be eternally grateful!

Throw in a Dog cameo and one of the best, most atmospheric episode scores of the 1970s (kudos to Patrick Williams, who would ultimately score nine Columbo outings) and you have an episode to treasure. Best in murder? Not quite, but it’s a highly commendable outing that gladdens the heart and proves that Columbo, as a show, still had it where it counts.

Did you know?

Try & Catch Me features a very rare example of Columbo actually referring to one of his previous cases – although you’d have to be pretty quick on the uptake to notice it.

Columbo Try and Catch Me
Good old Columbo: ruining murderers’ cruise trips since 1975

When the Lieutenant gatecrashes Abigail Mitchell’s cruise ship departure to drag her back to ‘help’ him close the case at her house, Abi asks whether the Lieutenant is planning to join the voyage himself. “Oh, it’s not that I wouldn’t like that, ma’am, ” Columbo explains. “Mrs. Columbo and I tried it. It was terrific.”

This is, of course, a reference to his adventure on the high seas in Troubled Waters in 1975. According to my reckoning it’s one of only seven occasions when Columbo alludes to his previous cases. You can check out the other six here.

How I rate ’em

Massively enjoyable, and boosted by a delightful turn from Ruth Gordon, Try & Catch Me gets Columbo‘s seventh season off to a cracking start. It’s a firm favourite with many fans and I’m no exception. Time will tell, but I have a feeling Try & Catch Me may ultimately be the last truly great Columbo episode ever made once all the rest have been reviewed.

Missed any past episode reviews? Then revisit any of the links below…

  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. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Identity Crisis
  20. Swan Song
  21. The Most Crucial Game
  22. Etude in Black
  23. By Dawn’s Early Light
  24. Candidate for Crime
  25. Greenhouse Jungle
  26. Playback
  27. Forgotten Lady
  28. Requiem for a Falling Star
  29. Blueprint for Murder
  30. Fade in to Murder
  31. Ransom for a Dead Man
  32. A Case of Immunity
  33. Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
  34. The Most Dangerous Match
  35. Lovely but Lethal 
  36. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  37. A Matter of Honor
  38. Mind Over Mayhem
  39. Old Fashioned Murder
  40. Dagger of the Mind
  41. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here
Columbo Try & Catch Me
This episode is definitely my cup of tea *yells with laughter*

Please share your own opinions on Try & Catch Me‘s hits and misses – and do let me know your thoughts on Edmund. Was he guilty of Phyllis’s death, or was Abi’s mind so mired in murder mysteries that she condemned an innocent tyke to a gruesome demise?

Thanks, as always, for reading and do come back to play again soon when I turn my attentions to Murder Under Glass – an episode so full of food that my waistline expands simply by watching. Until then, take a leaf out of Edmund’s book and STAY SAFE!


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Columbo Mariette Hartley
Whatcha looking at, Lieutenant?
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89 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me

  1. A quick note of my personal favourite moment: when lawyer Martin tells Abi “Just call me whenever you find a body in your safe.” Ouch!

     
  2. Love Try and Catch me , Abigail Mitchell is one of my favorite killers along with Kay freestone from Make me a perfect Murder also one of my favs m , heres some trivia for columbophile and co , Did you know Ruth Gordon and Trish van devere starred together in lead roles in a comedy film from the seventies called wheres poppa ? you can check it out on you tube , Theres a considerable age gap by the way.

     
  3. Thank you for another entertaining review. Columbo gets a very early jump on his suspect, shown in the clip provided and continued soon thereafter at the wall switch for the safe. Perhaps, having written so many murder mysteries, her attempt to classify it as an accident is an effort to author and drive the script; however, as soon as this fails, she takes on a position of confusion, and Columbo immediately calls her out on it – because she IS a mystery author. Then in the tea room, she gets another crack at it from the “detective’s shoes” angle but again she’s pushing the accident script instead of being more open minded, like a true detective. The accident card is no match for a homicide detective. Thus, through these early interactions, the cat-and-mouse dynamic that marks so many superior episodes, doesn’t factor into this one. Nevertheless, this episode shines in many other ways, including the lieutenant’s mannerisms that continue to evolve and not be overwrought. Not until the post-hiatus episodes do we see Columbo trying to be Columbo. I’ll keep an eye out in Murder Under Glass, but I rather appreciate much of his behavior here in Try and Catch Me. In addition to pondering any ambiguity of Edmund’s innocence vs. guilt is the curious topic of Abigail’s conviction that he is guilty. Perhaps she could’ve used an editor on that one.

     
  4. Mariette Hartlety in the belly dancer outfit, as well as the rest of the trollops in the dance class are stupefying. I am at a rare loss for words….so was Columbo.

     
  5. Yes Try and catch me is my Absolute favorite mainly because of the interactions between columbo and Abigail , particulary these 3 scenes The speech at the ladies club, The scene at the pier (dont count on that mrs Mitchell dont count on it ) and the memorable end scene where she admits her defeat and admires columbo plus lots of other bits and pieces throughout .

    so now my favorite has been reviewed i will give a revised top ten 70s list Excluding one of my other favorites Make me a perfect murder which is yet to be reviewed ,

    1 – Try and Catch me
    2 – Negative Reaction
    3 – Swan Song
    4 – Identity Crisis
    5 – The Bye Bye Sky high IQ Murder
    6 – suitable for Framing
    7 – Now you See Him
    8 – A Stitch in Crime
    9 – Troubled Waters
    10 – Double exposure

    I may reshuffle them in the long run

     
    • he had nothing to write with and only had 6 matches allowing only enough time to see in the dark for a minute or two max and then erase the two words The night , it truly is a memorable episode .

       
  6. Great review of one of my favourite episodes.

    Columbophile—that picture you have of Edmund looking at a framed photo of Phyllis, in that scene his facial expression switches between warmth to cold. More than once he displays that coldness right after showing warmth (or vice versa)…I feel he’s clearly NOT to be trusted. I think he did it.

    That’s a good idea about having Veronica play a villain in another episode—a missed opportunity in truth!

    And in the end, why didn’t Abi stuff the paper into her mouth, chew it up and swallow it, instead of handing it back to Columbo!?! I think the ending would’ve been perfect if she kept clutching it, while the credits rolled.

     
  7. I’m of the mind that Edmund’s guilt is as close to a certainty as can be achieved without him having confessed. Columbophile’s assertions (presented in an always entertaining and enjoyable review) are rooted in wish fulfillment, in my opinion. One need only take a step back from sifting through the details and look at the bigger picture. As brilliant and original as Columbo was as a series, it’s still firmly rooted in the constructs of 1970’s television production. Nowhere in the 69 episodes in the show’s totality did it deviate in such a way as to be not only ambiguous with interpreting guilt, but ambiguous in the presentation within the episode’s production. For the most part, plot points and motivation in the Columbo series are spelled out and not left to interpretation. Knowing what we know about the series, if there WAS intended ambiguity, THAT would be spelled out and not left to interpretation.

    First, we need to go back to the developments unfolded from the perspective of a first-time viewing. Abi’s condemnation of Edmund and the snuffing of his life are to be shocking. So Edmund’s joviality and ease with Abi is a writer’s aim at misdirection. It would feel more perfunctory if Edmund had been clearly cast as the back-story villain from the beginning and then we watched the clock tick until his demise.

    I work in the television and film industry and I know how much effort went into the filming of Abi and Edmund’s stroll on the beach, coupled with galloping horses. The lingering close-up of Edmund’s face when Abi says she knows what Edmund did is for a reason. Edmund is positively stricken! If there was a visible thought balloon during Edmund’s silence it’d be “Oh s**t! I’m f***ed!” If Edmund WAS innocent, he would have interpreted Abi’s line as positive acknowledgment of Edmund’s devotion to Phyllis and smiled. Or even hugged Abi. If he was a little confused by her words, he’d have perhaps a half-grin or quizzical expression. Instead, he’s….wait for it…STRICKEN! The director purposefully lingered on Edmund’s face to convey this and build the tension until the horses galloping past broke it and we hit reset.

    Columbophile posited “What if Edmund felt her loss so keenly that he couldn’t bear to even see images of her?” I don’t think this holds water. If Edmund was so distraught by Phyllis’s death as to remove all photos from his home, and this is a key clue to his innocence, why then would he suddenly seek out her framed picture in Abi’s study to gaze upon it? And not just study with a look reminiscent of Mario at Vittorio Rossi’s funeral, while perhaps clutching Phyllis’s photo to his chest, but with a sly, self-satisfied grin, which again, the director purposefully included? I believe it’s to show Edmund’s satisfaction at how Phyllis’s death has not only freed him, but will now make him obscenely rich.

    As for Columbphile’s next take that after hundreds of keen observations on Columbo’s part in previous cases, his assessment about the condition of Edmund’s marriage must be false! If anything, I think the writer created this to ensure that we knew Edmund was guilty. Otherwise, what’s the point? Columbophile wrote: “The discerning viewer doesn’t need to be clumsily guided in this way.” While I agree in general, again, this is Columbo, where everything is spelled out. Remember in “Blueprint for Murder” when Columbo tells Elliott Markham that he believes he’ll need something concrete? Ba-Boom, pun territory! But that’s not enough! Columbo then turns to look at a large concrete pile and the camera fills the frame with said pile. This just came short of Columbo pointing and saying “Get it? Get it? Concrete?” Ambiguity is not in Columbo’s wheelhouse. Besides, Columbo’s observation is a keen one and hardly clumsy. (If you want clumsy guiding, look upon his pantomiming of Carl Donner’s death with insipid car sounds and large hand gestures in “How to Dial a Murder”, or a little more subtly, Columbo assessing the distance between the bullet hole in Claire Daly’s blouse and the one in her body in “Fade in to Murder”.)

    As for Edmund being so at ease with Abi and the will that he’s not only willing to not read it, and earlier professing to not wanting to hear about his inheritance and her death, I think it’s clear. Edmund knows Abi, and hence knows that she’s strong-willed and her mind is made up. So his false, polite protests of not wanting her money are by rote. Put another way, if the conversation happened over a meal in a Beverly Hills restaurant, Edmund would have made a token reach for the check, knowing full well that Abi would pay. Edmund’s “Oh Abi, I want you to live forever” bit is just a put on. And, as Edmund signing the will could only benefit him with nothing to lose, why would he pore over the legalese of the will and potentially insult Abi, his benefactor? It’s not like some agreement between two businesses full of concessions and contingencies. Edmund, again, has everything to gain and nothing to lose. His eyes widening when he sees Abi open the safe box and exclaiming “Good God, Abi” is also there for a reason.

    Anyway, that’s my take. 99.999999999% convinced of Edmund’s guilt.

     
    • It never occurred to me that Edmund was anything but guilty but now I too have that tiny smidgen of doubt.. you did say you were 99.99% certain of his guilt so there is that tiny bit of doubt!

       
      • Haaaa! Well, to concede 100% would mean to imply that I knew categorically that Edmund was guilty. But yes, I’ll allow that there is a 0.00001% chance the poor little feller was innocent all along.

         
    • Law enforcement is trained not to touch ANYTHING at a crime scene, if not necessary. They might ask someone to replace the light bulb, so they can see inside the safe, but I don’t think they’d change it themselves.

       
      • But they’re likely to investigate why it doesn’t work. In a crime scene, anything out of place is ripe fodder for investigation. A light that doesn’t work falls into that category.

         
        • Not only do crime scene investigators take an interest in burned-out light bulbs in reality, but it’s already established in “Lady in Waiting” that such is also true in Columbo’s universe.

           
  8. A great review, as always. Alas, I also belong to the “Edmund is guilty” camp, but I agree that the slight ambiguity about his guilt enhances the episode. Abby is driven to take the law in her own hands because there is no real evidence — but it is just possible that she might be mistaken. Charles Frank deserves credit for providing a performance that could be interpreted as a portrayal of a pleasant, amiable young man or of a cunning schemer with equal plausibility.

    The scene in Edmund’s apartment certainly does contain Columbo’s heavy-handed comment about the lack of photographs pointing to a poor marital relationship (disputable, to say the least), but it does reinforce the case against Edmund in another, subtler way. It is quite apparent from Abby’s comments about Edmund’s possessions that he is a young man with a very expensive lifestyle (skiing and sailing can eat up a lot of money) and no discernible source of income outside of what he inherited from his wife — which means that at the very least he had a strong motive for arranging her premature demise.

    Those car keys are the main drawback to the episode, though. Even after Abby got them from Veronica she could have disposed of them easily. What is to stop her, for instance, from going to the ladies’ room at a shopping mall or some other public place and putting them in the trash? Even in the (very unlikely) event of the police finding them, there is no way that they can be traced to her.

    It’s an irritant and I believe it prevents the episode from being rated as the best of the Columbo series. But it’s not a major flaw. The performances are so wonderful all around — not only Ruth Gordon in splendid form, but Charles Frank, Mariette Hartley, G.D. Spradlin, and Mary Jackson all provide distinctive and vivid characterizations. The musical score must be one of the best for any television episode — the Baroque pastiche fits in perfectly with Abby’s elegant house, and the Mid-Eastern dance at Veronica’s exercise class provides a lovely contrast. To say nothing of the fact that it gave Marietta Hartley and her exercise companions an opportunity to display their — er, dancing skills. I’m sure Lieutenant Columbo wasn’t the only observer who was a trifle distracted by that scene.

     
  9. “If octogenarian Abi outlives Edmund, all his estate will come to her, but with the old coffin dodger surely having only a short time left on this earth, Edmund signs his life away without even reading the small print.”

    No, he does not read what he signs, but she told him this part up front.

     
  10. I always thought Edmund was guilty so after reading your article I rewatched the episode and wouldn’t you know, you’ve changed my mind! If you assume he is innocent it is like watching an entirely different episode and Edmunds actions (ie: signing the will without reading it, secretly returning to the house, smiling at the picture of his wife, etc.) seem more like the actions of a gullible, grieving husband desperate to win Abigail’s approval after they’ve been through such a traumatic event. There are so many ramifications to the rest of the episode it makes it more interesting all be it a bit darker. I think that is why ultimately the viewer is predisposed to believe spunky Abigail had good reason for what she did. Otherwise it’s a tragedy as senseless as the first.

     
  11. Fabulous review, as ever, and I agree that the quality of the episode is because of the unresolved issue of Edmund’s guilt or innocence. I think Phyllis died in an ‘honest’ boating accident that Abigail’s grieving mind contorted into murder. My logic is there’s no way Edmund would murder Phyllis and then spend alone-time with Abigail. Later, when she’s telling him about the mutual wills and the safe and to secretly return to discuss confidential matters, if he was murderously inclined the first thing that would occur to him is she’s got some nasty revenge plans in gear. He would leave her home and (if he was smart) put a continent and an ocean between them.

     
  12. Hi columbophile Great to see my absolute favorite Try and Catch Me rolled out its the one i have most looked forward to and as always it is a great review and i am glad that columbophile likes it too , There is so much to like about this one and I always enjoy it anytime i watch it as much as the very first time , It just seems to stick in my memory more than any other episode Running out of time now but for know great review columbophile also glad to see them speeding up .

     
  13. I too believe Edmund was innocent, and assumed the lack of pictures in the apartment was because of grief. I think Columbo’s comment about their poor relationship was just to make Abi think he was in line with her thinking.
    The car keys plot hole always drove me crazy! Overall a great episode, but the keys are difficult to overcome. It’s hard to believe a murder mystery writer would incriminate herself like that.
    In a later episode, Butterfly in Shades of Grey, keys were also a plot point. I think the writers handled those keys better.

     
  14. > I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it

    This episode ran on television 42 years ago. And are you aware that the reviews discuss the plot in compete detail?

     
  15. I wasn’t sure why Abigail felt the need to hide the keys at all. What did the keys being on the desk supposedly prove?

     
  16. What happened to Phyllis’ body? People who drown generally float to the surface as gases in their body accumulate. How far from shore did she “disappear”? Where would the currents have taken her? Of course, if she never surfaced because she was weighed down with the boat’s spare anchor …

     
    • Good point. I’m no expert at this, but having read a lot of detectives,I think I’ve read once that a drowned body doesn’t float to the surface as easily in sea water as when it was drowned in a river, because of the salt. And if there was blood and movement, the body will probably have been eaten by sharks, especially if it was weighed down in any way?

       
  17. I enjoy this one, but I have to agree with other commentators that the actual mystery element is fairly weak.

    I also agree that the vagueness about Edmund’s guilt or innocence is a strength of the script—and I love that Columbo never even looks into it.

    He’s a pro with a job to do, and that case wasn’t it.

     
  18. Another great review! I like this episode, mainly because Ruth Gordon is so awesome. I can’t add much to your coverage but I do have a couple of comments.

    GD Spradlin was a great in minor character roles (Godfather II, North Dallas Forty), had a very distinctive voice. I would like to have seen him re-appear in other Columbo episodes, but apparently unless you’re a FOP (Friend of Peter) you don’t get a lot of repeats.

    About your last option for getting rid of the keys… forget it. One does not simply enter Mordor…

    Put me in the “Edmund is guilty” camp. They gave no details on the niece’s demise, but how exactly could she have fallen off the boat and drowned? If she can’t swim, why is she out on a boat without a life jacket? If she can swim, why couldn’t she have stayed afloat long enough for Edmund to jump in and rescue her? If he can’t swim, why is HE out on a boat without a life jacket? No, something untoward had to have happened, and since he was the only one out there with her… [It reminds me of “Murder With Too Many Notes”… Gabriel didn’t scream as he was falling from the roof because he was unconscious. Phyllis didn’t swim after falling in because she was unconscious… you feeling’ me?]

     
    • I’m feelin’ ya, but I’m feeling charming, clean-cut Edmund’s air of innocence even more! Luckily this being fiction we’re free to interpret it as we like, hence Edmund is an innocent young lamb to me, viciously slain by a dirty old mystery writer because Phyllis was too foolish to wear a life jacket despite Edmund’s desperate pleas for her to do so.

       
      • Oh man! Now that’s a cherry upon delusional frosting atop the cake of wish fulfillment! Perhaps Edmund was leaning over in the boat to free a harp seal from tangled refuse and Phyllis fell in to the water. Or maybe Edmund was reciting Bible verses and Phyllis was so moved by Edmund’s piety that she swooned and fell overboard.

         
  19. I stay in the Edmund is guilty camp and he’s just playing the good nephew. I also disagree because I think Peter Falk as Columbo was at his best here. By now he has that character’s quirks, idiosyncrasies, mannerisms down pat and he was never better than he was here. Especially sharing the screen with Ruth Gordan who had the best chemistry with Falk. But still a great review worth the longggg wait lol .

     
      • Agreed. And possibly the main reason why Paul Gerard concludes that he doesn’t care very much for the Lieutenant!

         
          • Really now, is it that bad?
            In Murder Under Glass he’s as much Columbo as he ever was or will ever be. So when you say ‘even I’ what’s that saying exactly?
            Naturally you are as much a fan as any of us, however here you seem to like only a part of Columbo, and can’t stand any development of character(istics). But that’s also who he is, that’s the way he has developed. How can you stop caring? See it like a marriage: after 20 years or so the two people who got married cannot be the same as 20 years ago and maybe some things haven’t aged as you would have prefered. Does that mean you’d stop loving your wife/husband? Perhaps, but not self-evidently.
            I can recognise some changes in character, in mannerisms, but I love Columbo in Murder Under Glass as much as in Murder by the Book and think the way he acts is very natural and works great opposite the arrogant Paul Gerard. Clearly you don’t, which is, of course, okay, but that means you can’t say ‘even I’ when it comes to this, because you have made it clear that you love Columbo only when he refrains from acting as he does in, for instance, Murder Under Glass.

             
            • I think it’s the worst Columbo characterisation since Last Salute, and I find everything about Falk’s performance unnatural and overblown. That’s what I object to. A bit of evolution is one thing, but we see a near-complete overhaul of the Columbo we know and love in ‘Under Glass’ and I do find it rather irksome. Still, I’ll save the more detailed critique for the review itself.

               
              • “How to Dial a Murder” gets my vote as the most exaggerated Columbo portrayal. Talk about Falk “doing Columbo” instead of being Columbo!

                 
                • I haven’t watched that one for ages to keep it ‘fresh’ for the review, but it’ll need a superhuman effort from Falk to outdo his Murder Under Glass theatrics. I await with trepidation…

                   
                  • I agree with you on this count. Excepting Louis Jordan, nearly every aspect of this episode, from supporting characters to the score, is riddled with annoying touches.

                     
            • I have seen MUG at least 20 times and I don’t get the dislike of Columbo either. What sticks out the most is, he eats his way through the episode.

               
          • I dont have any problem with any so called mannerisms in this , columbo was treating the old lady whith respect and acknowledgement as shes elderly and supposedly such a good crime writer while at the same time allowing her to underestimate him and i love the entrance from the safe scene it sets the tone for the whole episode, but sorry I just dont like Murder under glass . Very silly and forgettable episode and I dont really buy into this trying to kill columbo ending which was also done in How to dial a murder and columbo goes under the guillotine , RIP mrs columbo however It fitted in to Lady in waiting well enough though .

             
  20. This is my favourite episode ever, I love the interplay between falk and Gordon, the ambiguity if Edward did it or not, I think he did it myself, I love the don’t count on it line so much I’ve used it myself in a situation where someone told me I was very kind and I would do anything for anyone. The best for me though is the very end, abigail stating if you had investigated the original case, that is I credible, the twists of fate, was columbo on holiday, day off, why was he not given the case that is right up his street. I love that line, I love this episode.

     
  21. My only disagreement is about the scene in Edmund’s apartment. Of course anyone could explain his failure to display pictures of his late wife without assuming that they had a “poor marriage.” A novelist specializing in murder stories should have a particularly easy time producing such explanations. That Abigail does not challenge this apparently foolish remark shows Columbo that she is obsessed with the idea that Edmund killed her niece. Not only does that confirm Columbo’s theory of Abigail’s motive, it also allows him to ingratiate himself with her by playing along with her, leading her to believe that he will be her ally in an investigation that will expose Edmund’s guilt. That in turn carries us right through to Abigail’s surrender when Columbo shows her his evidence at the end of the episode.

     
    • To be honest I dont entirely agree that the lack of pictures in Edmund’s apartment scene was bad writing , it has never bothered me , I Think it was a nice touch and put Abigail on the spot failing to notice it , as she was supposedly such a good crime writer , columbo is miles ahead of her and I am of the opinion that most people would keep pictures of their lost ones around, at least one or two , This does very little to damage the episode and Try and Catch me will always be my Absolute favorite .

       
      • I think that was a cool scene. Columbo uses this detail to highlight something that he already suspects, that Edmund and his wife had a poor relationship. It’s a small detail, a piece of the puzzle, that helps put the picture together for him. On its own it’s not dispositive but as Columbo starts to figure things out it’s part of it.

        Also, I never doubted Edmund’s guilt, FWIW. Abigail saw him for what he was long before we came into the picture as viewers. Columbo, with his keen eye, realizes it as well as he gathers up information.

         
  22. The belly dancing scene was just bizarre, must have been a Peter Falk quirk, there was another belly dancer, in Identity Crisis…

     
  23. As always, entertaining and funny review. I love all the Columbos and this is a favorite. Abigail cracks me up with her prancing and remarks about poor Edmund. (Calling attention to his shoes? Heaven is my destination? Burning up his oxygen?) Cold! As for the mannerisms, etc of Columbo, most characters, like most people, evolve and mature as time goes on. Even your mood can affect your behavior day to day.Some changes are to be expected.
    I think Edmund was guilty. Abigail believed strongly in his guilt; there must have been reasons she felt that way. When caught, she didn’t rat out Veronica about the keys so she wasn’t vindictive in general.

     
  24. Another day, another excellent review.

    I’m glad you didn’t try to make an argument that Abigal Mitchell was a “sympathetic” killer because she isn’t. We don’t need to make a list of charming killers because we know who they are, but they weren’t old women so they are not considered sympathetic. Mitchell is as cold and calculating as any of them. I’ll say this for Abi, she knows how to pick her employees. Veronica is not a symbol of virtue either. She can be charged with withholding evidence and obstructing justice in this case. I much prefer Mariette Hartley in a belly dancing outfit instead of a Stetson hat, but that’s another topic 🙂

    The scene on the dock is a seminal moment. The line, “Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell, Don’t count on it.” could be applied to any number of killers he caught through the years and it should serve as a warning to anyone whom Lt. Columbo suspects. That’s Columbo in a nutshell. The series was built on the premise that the killers underestimated Columbo and mistook his politeness as a weakness.

    From where I’m sitting, I think the creators knew the show had come off the rails and that the series was winding down. With that in mind, they made an effort to finish the series on a high note which is why some of the episodes starting with “Bye Bye” are among the best. This episode is placed about where it should.

     
    • On the subject of “cold and calculating,” let’s not forget that murdering Edmund was not mere vengeance. Abigail wanted to get back the rights to her mega-hit play “Murder of the Year” (that Abigail had given to Phyllis as a fifth birthday present, and thus Edmund inherited from Phyllis). That’s what all the “You’re my heir, I’ll be your heir” business was about. Mitchell’s financial motive cannot be discounted.

       
      • Yes, right! Abby didn’t just want revenge, she wanted back the rights to her play. There was a big financial motive for murder that strangely was not elaborated upon in the episode. Columbo doesnt discuss it.

        And, notice how Edmund and Phyllis lived in a weirdly small and simple apartment? That sure didnt look like the home of a wealthy young woman, which Phyllis must have been. That said to me that Edmund must have lived very extravagantly and blown through lots of Phyllis’ money, for them to live in a modest, small apartment.

         
  25. Beautiful review ofoneof the best episodes, but I thint the AUTHORS here have deliberately left the question of Edmund’s guildt or innocence undecided. We don’t know the details of what happened, and facia expressions and lack of photographs can be interpretedboth ways.. The focus is on Abigail and her taking justiceinto her own hands.Even if she was right, and that we don’t know, she had noright to do so. However, if Edmund was innocent wouldn’t he have added a protestation of his innocence? an ” I didn’t do it” scratched on the boxes, perhaps?

     
  26. Your reviews are, as always, thoughtful and well-reasoned but I have a slight disagreement.

    I think this is one of the best episodes because it represents a transition for Columbo into more of a recognized equal to his quarry. In most of the episodes Columbo trades on the murderer seeing him as an intellectual and social interior. In this episode (and some others, like “The Conspirators” and “Identity Crisis”) the murderer sees Columbo as a worthy interlocutor and I found that a refreshing change to the usual format.

    Of course, in real life I doubt this all plays out this way. I have never murdered someone but I’m guessing if I did and some cop started crowding me I wouldn’t find him or her all that charming. And there’s always the issue of whether any of this would play in court. But my answer, as always, is “Who cares? It’s Columbo! It’s not Law and Order.”

     
  27. I’ve just watched this episode again ( for the umpteenth time – a sure sign of a good episode is the frequency of re-watching and this episode almost tops the list ).
    If a few of the very minor flaws mentioned by others had been ironed out it would be a contender for best ever episode, as it is I think your ranking is about right.

     
  28. Excellent review, thank you as usual! And I agree with most of your points. Ruth Gordon is doing a fine job and Columbo’s speech and the dialogue by the water are memorable as any and I love how we as viewers get to know our beloved lieutenant a bit better again.
    I’m also glad to see your views on Abigail’s motive. Like you I’d have prefered to not know what actually happened in the past. For me there’s only suggestion as to what has happened between Edmund and his wife (or is the Edmund reference to King Lear no coincidence..?) and we should let it go at that. For all I know the marriage was a good one and Edmund a truly berieved widower.
    Still, I would never put this episode in my personal top 10, but in this respect we seem to have different views in one area: I think in the even better episodes than this one, the murderer should present to be a challenge for Columbo and Abigail Mitchell, like Oliver Brandt, isn’t, not in the slightest. No matter how great Columbo’s line ‘Don’t count on it’, it’s telling us that he knows, has known from the start and that putting her away is only a matter of time. And no wonder, the murder itself is clumsy at best, not worthy of a famous detective writer. But you value other aspects more than I do so this is only a matter of taste.
    What does bother me though, is part of your conclusion, telling us that this one may have been ‘the last truly great episode’. I couldn’t disagree more.
    Maybe apart from season 1 I think season 7 is arguably the best season of all. I know you have a problem with Columbo’s mannerisms in later episodes (they don’t bother me at all) but all episodes still to come are better episodes than Try And Catch Me, because in every single one the murderer is a greater challenge for Columbo.
    I’m dreading your next reviews, because you (and others) seem to dislike Murder under Glass for some reason, but I think Robert Jordan is an excellent killer whose arrogance and intelligence provide for great chemistry with Columbo. Not to mention Make Me a Perfect Murder (great killer, great tension, great chemistry between killer and Columbo, and even a moving story with some great and memorable scenes); How to Dial a Murder (very intelligent killer and using the element of psychology in a break through way to set an example for future tv detectives); and the grand finale of the 70’s, The Conspirators, which has everything we could possibly wish for, taking Columbo out of his comfort zone and having an as fiendishly clever as entertaining killer for an opponent.
    So as much as I like Try and Catch Me, this is not the last great episode. On the contrary, the best (of season 7) is yet to come.

     
  29. Great Review. Pretty much on target with respect to its strength and weaknesses.

    I couldn’t agree more about the evolution of the Columbo character, though I find it less disappointing here than in later episodes. When I watch the 80’s/90’s episodes clinically, I tend to think that scripts are not all that better or worse than the ’70’s series. It’s the Columbo I know and love who’s missing.

     
      • Murder under Glass is a Dud from the seventies in my opinion not the absolute worst but does very little for me , However I love Make me a Perfect Murder with Kay Freestone/Trish van devere love her character , script and excellent music score and the best actual murder scene of the whole series , How to dial a murder , Good solid episode without being among the very best happy to watch it whenever I come across it , However Not a big fan of The conspirators by any Means .

         
    • Some of the scripts in the 70’s series are excellent (this one, Death Lends a Hand, Now You See Him, etc.) and some represent bad writing (Dead Weight, Mind Over Mayhem, A Case of Immunity) so there is a wide gap. I find the acting in 70’s Columbo episodes to be high level and more so than the later ones.

       
      • Yes Dead weight and Mind over mayhem were poorly written episodes along with Old fashioned murder And Last Salute to the commodore although A case of immunity was not too bad , Murder under glass which is next up is a poor episode in my opinion .

         
  30. Put Ruth Gordon aside for a moment. This Academy Award-winning actress (“Rosemary’s Baby”), and three-time Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (“A Double Life”; “Adam’s Rib”; “Pat & Mike”), captures the essence of mystery writer Abigail Mitchell wonderfully: she’s charming, clever, a bit elfin, highly manipulative, sharp as a tack, with an added savage streak. Few could disagree that Gordon’s performance is superb. It’s right up there with Patrick McGoohan’s Col. Lyle Rumford (“By Dawn’s Early Light”).

    Plus, in the year after Agatha Christie’s death, featuring an Agatha Christie clone (Mitchell has written 32 mystery novels and a mystery play with a 19-year run on Broadway) made for a most promising Columbo villain. And the backstory: avenging her beloved niece’s unsolved murder, provides an excellent motive (although Abigail’s talents would have been more productively utilized catching Edmund than killing him).

    So why don’t I like “Try and Catch Me” more? Because it’s a very poorly developed mystery, Edmund’s dying clue and all.

    First, a few words about the dying clue: Link and Levinson’s 1975-76 “Ellery Queen” series did dying clues well. Dying clues were a Queen trademark. But the “Ellery Queen” series was a somewhat campy period piece, with Ellery challenging the viewer directly to solve each crime. Dying clues are campy, too, so they fit the style. That style — dying clue included — doesn’t translate well to Columbo. Understandably, Columbo never used this device before. In “Trouble Waters,” Danziger leaves a phony dying clue behind (a red “L” in lipstick on the mirror), but Columbo promptly recognizes it as a red herring. That’s more appropriate for a Columbo.

    However, my bigger problem with T&CM is that the solution has absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens between Columbo’s first and final scenes. The solution was present all along, and nothing Columbo learns in the interim makes uncovering that solution either more or less likely. The keys? Irrelevant to the solution. The alarm? Irrelevant to the solution. The condition of Edmund’s apartment? Irrelevant to the solution.

    In “Murder by the Book,” the solution — Jim Ferris’ note — was there all along, too. But during the course of the episode, Columbo learns crucial facts about Ferris, Franklin, and the Ferris-Franklin relationship that prompts him to look for that note. Without those developments, Columbo never would have perceived the significance of Ferris’ ubiquitous little notes. Here, the significance of the missing section of (likely) the manuscript title page, hidden somewhere in the safe, was apparent from the outset.

    In fact, this case could have been solved while Abigail was still in the air, flying back from NYC. Columbo concluded immediately that Edmund’s death wasn’t an accident. He suspects Mitchell as quickly (“Oh, I can’t really imagine you confused, Miss Mitchell. Not someone who can plan a murder like you.”). He found her manuscript of “The Night I Was Murdered” pulled apart and spread out on the floor of the safe. (Before Abigail returned, her secretary certainly could have identified that.) The title page obviously was missing, with two torn parts of a missing page (probably, the same page) left behind. Since it’s unlikely Mitchell left her safe in this condition, it’s a fair bet that this was Edmund’s doing. So the missing part of the missing page, clearly significant, must still be in the safe.

    This is all known before Columbo’s and Mitchell’s first encounter, and these basic facts remain unchanged until the “gotcha” scene (a scene that relies on no new information).

    When Abigail Mitchell walks into the room, having just returned from NYC, and Columbo then walks out of the safe, there is no apparent reason why he isn’t holding Edmund’s “deathbed testimony” in his hand and immediately arresting Abigail. It would be the shortest Columbo ever.

    This being the case, in retrospect, the rest of the episode feels like filler. Entertaining filler, maybe, but filler nonetheless. The writers set up an easily solved mystery, paused for ninety minutes, and then solved it. I’m used to better from Columbo.

    P.S. Abigail couldn’t dispose of the keys. She was trying to create the illusion that Edmund drove away but later returned by car, entered the house, but never left. That illusion required that he have his car keys (even if he used the house key under the flower pot); that they be somewhere between the car and the safe. No keys and her portrait of an accidental death falls apart. [If leaving the keys where they were was too risky, she should have pushed them behind something (a la Ken Franklin and his cigarette lighter).]

     
    • Abi was about to drop the keys in the ocean before being interrupted by Columbo, so she invented the ‘I found ‘em by the sprinkler’ excuse on the spur of the moment. If she was willing to ditch them in the ocean, then they couldn’t have been part of her master plan. Presumably if the keys had never showed up, the law would have had to conclude Edmund had dropped them somewhere out of sight, and it would forever remain a mystery.

       
      • I’m sorry, Columbophile, your comment is a good one, but Richardweill’s is the best. What he writes is very pertinent.
        In some ways, this episode is as if we are looking to a very long cookery “sauce hollandaise” scene. It may be amusing, and it is (much more than the cookery scene, in Double Shock, which I don’t like at all), but it isn’t relevant. There is no link between the episode and it’s conclusion.

         
      • Because (1) several days had now passed without the keys being found where they should have been found, and (2) Columbo already doubted the accident theory for other reasons, so there was less to lose. But neither of these things were true when Abigail grabbed the keys initially.

         
          • I don’t agree. She wanted police to believe Edmund returned after she had gone. He needed car keys to do that. How can she explain his return with no keys? I’m a bit surprised Columbo didn’t break out the same metal detector he last used in Jarvis Goodland’s greenhouse.

             
            • She should have then dropped the keys in the front garden on the way to her car to the airport. It would have looked like Edmund had circled the house to find a way in.

               
              • That would have been by far the best solution. But it’s probably hard to improvise when you’ve just murdered someone. Still, I’d have loved to see Columbo solve this case without Edmund having put his keys on the desk. He would have managed to anyway, but it would have made the case more interesting as an intellectual challenge.

                 
    • And you also made a similar excellent observation about the Oliver Brandt episode…namely, that most of Columbo’s time is spent with character interaction and not with clue-gathering and case-solving. The methodical cracking of the case isn’t there (and will be less frequent in the later batch of 70s shows), and I think we can attribute much of this to the number of first-time writers who are trying to put together a Columbo mystery. Many of the key elements are lacking, elements that experienced writers like Peter Fischer developed over time with practice. Of course, even Fischer had to write a “first Columbo”, but the one-time-only scribes who tried making Columbo mysteries were usually average at best. The sharpest and most prominent exception to this was Stephen J. Cannell’s “Double Exposure”. I appreciate the good character development, but when its not in the context of a good mystery and nifty clue-solving, the episode doesn’t pack quite the same punch.

       
    • I think of Abi as the American Miss Marple rather than the American Agatha Christie. Miss Marple comes across to strangers as a dotty old lady but everyone who knows her has a much different impression.  Like Miss Marple, Abi can easily slip into her dithering alter ego whenever it suits her to do so.

      You are quite right about how trivial the mystery is.  In order to string it along, both Columbo and Abi have to do stupid things.  Columbo searches the safe without a light so as to not find the arrow clue.  Abi puts the keys in the sand ashtray rather than behind it where it would not have been a problem at all.

      So why are people so fond of this episode?  I think I can answer:  it’s the dance!  The wonderful, soaring, entertaining dance between our detective who sees through the ditzy old lady act and the mystery writer who sees through his rumpled detective act. Both recognize in each other first class minds and it is great fun to watch.
       
      I think that Abi knows it is coming to an end in the scene at the pier.  She is making a Hail Mary pass when she tells him how kind she thinks he is.  Watch her face fall when he tells her not to count on it.  The scene showed the chemistry between the two so well and it even had Dog doing his tricks!

       
        • Abi was most like Agatha Christie in her professional life and like Miss Marple in her personal life. Perhaps the TV writer started off paying tribute to a great mystery writer when traits of one of her characters influenced him when creating Abi.

           
  31. Thank you Columbophiles…this is an absolute gem and BY FAR one of my favorites, in the last season and particularly for the whole series (old and new). I love Ruth Gordon as the clever, crafty villainess, her Abagail Mitchell was the oldest and arguably one of the best villains ever, with arguably the best working knowledge of the inner workings of a murder plot one would have penning decades of mystery novels and plays, and one of the most sympathetic of all the Columbo baddies too; I love the score written for the episode by Pat Williams. Great plot, how she lures poor Edmund through the back entrance with the promise of her inheritance, only to trap him in her safe to die for throwing her niece Phyllis overboard from a boat to drown several months ago. Next to Barry Mayfield’s dissolving suture scheme, this is the most diabolical modus operandi and “near-perfect crime” used in the series. That is until our beloved Lt. Columbo reveals at the initial scene how he doesn’t believe it was an accidental death, as Abby had planned it to be. I absolutely love Mariette Hartley as Veronica Bryce and she was terrific in this one, holding out for more money and asking to tag along on Abby’s cruise when Abby realizes she knew about Edmund’s keys hidden in the ashtray (her one little mistake). Even the housekeeper Annie’s performance (“That policeman ma’am! He doomped his cigar boots in the ashtray!!”) here must have been noticed by Stephen J. Cannell because she wound up being the housekeeper Sarah on Hardcastle and McCormick. One of the best Columbo episodes ever, for sure. The quip she makes about him sitting in the antique chair was priceless, revealing a thin veneer of annoyance (“well that’s what it was made for 400 years ago”).

    The best scene is when Columbo addresses the ladies group, and how he reveals even his worst villains have at least one good quality (I would agree…err, Tommy Brown: musically talented, Spock Mayfield: highly logical and controlled under pressure, takes lonely middle aged single females for walks on the beach and drives them back home, Dr. Bart Kepple: great motivational research specialist and guesses Columbo does all the food shopping, Oliver Brandt: Sigma-society caliber smarts, Dr. Eric Mason: Can’t think of one…I could go on all day 😆). I love that they put G. D. Spradlin (the corrupt senator from The Godfather II) in this one too. You can tell he dislikes Edmund, and is intelligent enough to know what Abby really did. And then there’s Dog, looking at the boats with Columbo. (One of Falk’s best lines in the entire series, as he replies to Abby’s compliment: “You’re very kind.” “Don’t count on it, Mrs. Mitchell. Don’t count on it.”)

    The ending truly has one of the best twists of all the shows, at least I found the ending to be unexpected and very clever (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it). It’s in my top 3 favs and Mariette plus the score helps it get there.

     

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