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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
“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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
- The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
- Suitable for Framing
- Publish or Perish
- Double Shock
- Murder by the Book
- Negative Reaction
- A Friend in Deed
- Try & Catch Me
- Death Lends a Hand
- A Stitch in Crime
- Now You See Him
- Double Exposure
- Lady in Waiting
- Troubled Waters
- Any Old Port in a Storm
- Prescription: Murder
- A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
- An Exercise in Fatality
- Identity Crisis
- Swan Song
- The Most Crucial Game
- Etude in Black
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Candidate for Crime
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Forgotten Lady
- Requiem for a Falling Star
- Blueprint for Murder
- Fade in to Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- A Case of Immunity
- Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
- The Most Dangerous Match
- Lovely but Lethal
- Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
- A Matter of Honor
- Mind Over Mayhem
- Old Fashioned Murder
- Dagger of the Mind
- Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here—
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!
This website reviewer always complain indentitarian-wise about misrepresentations. But this episode deliverers perhaps the best female character in the series, second only by the killer from only 2 episodes prior (old fashioned murder).
I don’t appreciate recent comments you’ve made about me re. supporting slavery and identitarianism. Hopefully something has been lost in translation and you’re not deliberately trying to insult me?
WARM GREETINGS – WHILE THINKING OF, A QUESTION I HAVE ABOUT “TRY & CATCH ME,” OF S 7, E 1 OF COLUMBO: ONE IS WHY DOESN’T THE CHARACTER “ABI” JUST LEAVE EDMUND’S KEYS ON THE CORNER OF THE DESK JUST SORT OF PUSHED UNDER A PAPER-EDGE OR SOMETHING? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT WAS THE THINKING BEHIND THE SCRIPT ON THAT? CLEARLY THREE THINGS ARE TRUE, I.E., SEEING THE KEYS THERE WAS AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE, AND SHE NEEDED TO RUSH TO THE CAR SO THAT THEY DON’T MISS THE PLANE. ALSO, FOR THE SCRIPT AND THE PLOT, THERE NEEDED TO BE SOMETHING (OR A SET OF THINGS) THAT ADDED TO CONCRETE PROOF THAT SHE LOCKED HIM IN THE SAFE, DID SO QUITE ON PURPOSE, AND PLUS LIED TO COLUMBO ABOUT VARIOUS THINGS, INCLUDING THE KEYS. ASIDE FROM THAT, DO YOU DETECT OR HAPPEN TO KNOW OF SOME OTHER LOGIC TO HER NOT THINKING MORE CLEARLY AND FASTER ABOUT THE KEYS AND JUST LEAVING THEM ON THE DESK, SINCE IT WOULD (OR MIGHT) BE UNLIKELY THAT SOMEONE WOULD SEE THEM THERE, DEDUCE EDMUND WAS IN THE SAFE, AND RESCUE HIM BEFORE HE WAS DEAD THAT NEXT-DAY MORNING? I SEEM TO BE MISSING A CHAPTER SOMEWHERE.
OH! … *ONE MORE THING*: BY THE SEA-SIDE, WHY DOES SHE SIMPLY SHOW AND GIVE THE KEYS TO COLUMBO INSTEAD OF TOSSING THEM IN THE OCEAN AT SOME OTHER TIME, WHEN DETECTIVE COLUMBO AND DOG ARE NOT THERE? GIVING UP THE CAR KEYS DOES NOT SEEM LOGICAL, SAFE, OR PRUDENT ON HER PART.
APOLOGY IF YOU ALREADY DISCUSSED THIS IN THE BLOG POSTING ABOVE, AND/OR IN THE BOOK—IF SO I MISSED THAT SEGMENT!
WAS RECENTLY RE-WATCHING THIS EPISODE AND STILL WONDER ABOUT THESE “KEY” ASPECT THINGS… JUST WHEN YOU HAVE A MOMENT TO GIVE YOURSELF “RECESS,” THINK ABOUT, AND SEND THOUGHTS AND ANALYSIS.
THANK YOU SO MUCH. JOYOUS TIDINGS.
I think the reply to this, the stupidity of the keys, is that Abbi clearly thinks she IS matching wits with with the detective, thinking he is no match for her. She’s a famous murder mystery writer after all! Who could possibly catch her at murder?! She displays her mocking arrogance toward Columbo throughout. But of course, she is out of her depth– the detective solves REAL murders all the time and her guilt and her crime is pitifully obvious to him. She is no real match for him.
Well spotted, that… / That’s true; however, at the same time the part about pushing them into the sand (prior to Columbo and Dog seeing her at the ocean-front) seems rather ill-conceived, illogical, and below Abi’s intelligence level–even if she was rushing out the door… Her two quick decisions & actions with the car keys just after locking Edmund in the safe constitute something i have not been able to “square away,” so to speak… // Or maybe the script-writing team quasi “dialed-it-in,” so to speak, for that episode regarding a couple of these aspects in the plot?
Might be another demonstration of her amateur level criminal thinking, and again arrogance, in contrast to Columbo’s professionalism.
Roger that; had not thought of this aspect.
I can appreciate why the episode is so liked, it has its moments, but I personally had really hard time overlooking the perpetrator endlessly doing stupid things with that key. Sticking it in the ashtray was inexplicably dumb and needless thing to do. Claiming she found it later on (instead of doing, oh I don’t know, literally anything else with it) was even more needless and stupid. The matching wits aspect of the episode could have been a great strength but there’s only so much stupidity on the part of the villain that I can overlook.
Honestly, I do not share your view about how enraging and nonsensical Columbo’s remark is… No pictures of his wife in their house, he must not have been in love with her. Have you considered that Columbo may have said that just to see Abigail’s reaction? He is good at reading feelings on people’s faces, I have always thought that he was trying to “irritate” and “upset” her, so that she may make a mistake. My guess, at least. I enjoyed that scene a lot.
Did Edmund do it? There, is nothing to indicate so. No hint of a mistress, not a single hint of discord between him and his dead wife. Finally, Abigail with all her contacts in high places was unable to persuade anyone of further investigations. So, in effect, she psyched herself up to murder Edmund and get back the copyright of her play.
Hetty, you’re right that there was really no way to know if Edmund killed his wife or not. But there are his facial expressions that make him seem guilty of something. One thing is certain: that sweet lttle old lady was his judge, jury and executioner!
I think that an actual fortune hunter would probably be satisfied with becoming Phyllis’s husband. Phyllis was Abigail’s heir, so he could just bide his time. Murdering Phyllis doesn’t seem like a guarantee of anything.
I just finished rewatching this one, I loved it a lot, another favourite of mine for sure. I agree almost 100% with the review, except I didn’t find anything wrong with Columbo’s characterization, but maybe I’m not savvy enough to notice the difference yet. I sure did notice the difference in Last Salute though.
Every single supporting character was brilliant. I’m not gonna go into detail since I would only be repeating the review.
At first I remembered the old lady’s face from my previous viewing years ago but not the story. When they were at the beach I thought she’d want Edmund to become her lover and kill him after being rebuffed !
If I had one critiscism to make at the episode, it would be about Abigail giving the keys to Columbo : what a stupid plot-driven move, written only to advance to story, regardless of any plausibility !
My bf and I also believe Edmund was innocent. There’s zero proof he’s guilty. Just because he didn’t always have to most stereotypical reactions doesn’t mean anything. Let’s just see the “clues” we have :
– his reaction to the “I know everything you did” line : honestly, who wouldn’t be taken aback by anyone telling them such things in such a tone ? Especially if they’re innocent, actually ?
– the “smirk” : I really don’t see how people can see this as any indication that he killed her. He just seems pleased to see her face. Maybe the picture reminded him of some fond memory. Seriously, nothing wrong with that smile.
– no pictures at his place : some people (such as myself) just find photos depressing and never display any at home. And maybe he was just trying to move on without a constant reminder of the wife he lost. Sometimes people deal with stuff in different ways, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I also thought Columbo’s comment about this was stupid, but maybe he was just trying to coddle the old bat in an effort to get her to talk about her motive, just like at the docks.
And if Edmund really didn’t love Phyllis, why not just divorce her ? It doesn’t make sense he’d have killed her to inherit from Abigail later, because when Abigail makes him her heir he doesn’t come across as greedy at all, he even tries to make her change her mind. Nothing hints at him being calculating enough to fake it. He clearly trusts Abigail 100%, if he actually were guilty he’d be wary of her given her odd speech at the beach.
To be honest, watching the gotcha scene I was sure there would be some twist in the end proving Abigail and the audience Edmund was indeed innoncent.
As mentioned in the review, just look at Edmund’s actions over the course of the episode : there’s absolutely nothing indicating he’s anything less than a very nice guy. NO-THING. I’m 100% sure he’s innocent.
I LOVED this episode. I loved the Columbo character in it: to me, he was the most human and wise – emotionally, as well as his intellect – that he’s ever been (and the opposite of the idiotic characterization in “Last Salute”). And the interchanges and energy between RG and him were priceless.
Question: When Abi closed the security panel after locking Edmund in the safe, the security lock was in the off position, and the light was off. How is it that Columbo said he found the security switch in the on position and the light was on? Did I miss something? If Veronica opened the safe, that means she would have had to have either, turned it off (if it was indeed on when Abi left, which I don’t think it was) or she would have noticed it was off, and left it off and just opened the safe.
So with this, I don’t see how Columbo could figure Edmund was ever in the safe with the alarm on other than the presupposition the show makes in stating they found him in the safe with the alarm on. Columbo’s “non accident” theory is based on the security switch being on when they found it. Did I miss something?
I thought about this. In fact I had to do a double take, rewinding to make sure Abi left it off.
My assumption is that Veronica found the alarm off and turned it back on after she found the body and closed the safe.
Who is to say how soon Veronica suspected Abigail?
Abi did call her “maid” to have her turn the alarm on… (She says so and it’s easily check-able by Columbo, so although we don’t see it on-screen, the maid had turned it on while Abi was still in travel mode!) …. i too needed to puzzle this aspect out a few years ago… 🙂
I worked on Columbo in the 70s and 80s, and have a distinct memory of the sweet Ruth Gordon while doing This episode. I was carrying a big stack of paperwork…old scripts and folders…to put in the Vault. I passed Ruth with the load, from my fingertips to my chin, and she, surprised at my ability I guess, said, ‘Oh…My!’ Good times, The Biz of the 70s and 80s!! ^^x^^
“her writing was always a side effect of her arrogance, not the other way around.” OK.
I know for a fact that EDMUND DID NOT KILL HIS WIFE!!! How do I know this? Because Charlie Frank, the gifted actor who played Edmund, has been my best friend since we were students at Middlebury College in 1966. Five years later, ABC-TV hired Charlie, then 24, to play Jeff Martin in “All My Children” where he met, fell in love with, and married his co-star Susan Blanchard; they’ll be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary next month (6/25/2022). I encountered Ruth Gordon in 1970 when Show Magazine assigned me to write a production story on the filming of the outrageous black comedy “Where’s Poppa”. George Segal, Ron Leibman and director Carl Reiner were wonderful people. Ruth Gordon was not!
OK, but I still think he owes Wonder Woman’s kid sister Drusilla an apology . . .
I remember him from that and AMC. He was a very handsome man.
I still love Ruth Gordon. Maybe not as a kind person, but as a wonderful actress.
That’s great! But I’m not sure how that tells us Edmund didn’t do it…
You leave US hanging; how and why was Ruth not a wonderful person? Thanks.
Did Charlie give you any information about Edmund that wasn’t shown onscreen ?
I think he means the real life Charlie Frank did not kill his wife, since they’ll now be celebrating their 46th anniversary.
Wait, this episode is not a true story. The writers clearly don’t want the viewer to know for sure if Edmund killed his wife, thus the conflicting clues. There’s no “truth” in this, only opinion. It didn’t really happen after all. The writers mean for you not to know- it’s a part of the story.
“Wanted us to know the light doesn’t work. He was always a bit of a complainer”
Ha. Classic Ruth Gordon sass. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she ad-libbed a few lines like this one. She was so great. Miss you Ruth =)
Ruth Gordon was fantastic. She could literally do it all, especially at her advanced age: from an evil witch to an badass granny taking on bikers with Clint Eastwood, she was the bomb!
Why didn’t Edmund just tear off the first two words of the title (The Night…) instead of using a matchstick to rub them out?
He could have lit the match so he could see what he was doing when tearing off the words.
I thought that was odd.
He only had one chance and couldn’t be certain of tearing them off neatly, especially under those circumstances.
Would Edmund really have suffocated over the course of just one night?
I’m not so sure.
He was also burning up his oxygen with the matches.
Abby reminds me of the unreliable narrator in Poe’s A Cask of Amontillado who satisfyingly seals up what he claims is his insulting rival behind a brick wall, much like she does her niece’s husband in a safe. In both stories, it’s not clear the victim did anything wrong — we have only the word of the murderer — the implication in Poe’s that he could actually be a friend killed by the delusional narrator.
Nice try. But there is no “narrator” in a Columbo episode, unreliable or otherwise. In this case, we have Edmund’s worried reaction to “I know what you did”. An Innocent man would have looked confused, or smiled ruefully.
And we see what nobody else sees, Edmund smirking at the photo of his dead wife when he’s alone in Abi’s study. This bears out Columbo’s comments about Edmund and Phyllis having a bad marriage, as there are no photos of her in his home. (If there had been, Edmund’s face would have ached from the continuous smirking).
Abi doesn’t tell us about these things, we can see them for ourselves. Some viewers, including CP, are mistaking subtly for ambiguity. Edmund is guilty.
I always wonder how different Columbo and the crimes would be different in a more modern world? For one thing, we have a big walk in safe at my job and I am always super careful on a Friday afternoon that I don’t get closed in there. But I always take my cellphone with me. And i checked that I could get a signal from there. Many Columbo crimes could have been solved a lot quicker with phone records which didn’t exist for local calls back then. And DNA evidence had not even been dreamed about yet. If they ever reboot the series again it would be interesting to see how it would be adapted to newer technology.
Good point. Many of Columbo’s cases involved what were, at the time, cutting edge technology such as video recorders and electric typewriters.
The late British comedian Victoria Wood wrote a TV play in which the main characters are trying to find a telephone to get in touch with each other. She explained that it had to be set in the past, as modern mobile phones would have solved the situation a in few minutes.
Columbo always took place in the “present”, so any new version would have to show the lieutenant scratching his head at apps, or whatever.
And speaking of walk in safes, are the doors actually of the same sort as Adrian Carsini’s wine vault? In other words, can you can just push them open from the inside? Don’t try this at home! (Or at work).
Likewise Romeo and Juliet would have ended differently if they each had a cell phone.
Juliet would have fallen off the balcony, trying to get a signal. (Too soon?)
That’s funny because I always think the same thing. Like in “Candidate for Crime” and “Exercise in Fatality” the murderer is caught in part because of their phone set-up. Now they’d just do everything on their cell phones so they’d have to figure out a different “gotcha”. It’s a good reminder of how much things have changed.
Yes, these technical details can look quaint now, but in the time they were made, and crucially the time they are set, this is how a clever murderer could have been caught by an even more clever detective.
A reboot would either have to be set in the past, when things we take for granted now didn’t exist, or be bang up to date with plausible takes on modern technology.
Even in one of the late ’90’s episodes, Columbo realises immediately that the time on somebody’s computer could be set back to make it appear they had written something before they died, and then changed back to the correct time.
This is a really
My main quibble is that as good
a mystery writer as Abigail is,
as Agatha Christie’s peer, would
have beaten Columbo to the final
zinger – Edmund’s message to
police – and removed it.
Then too, Columbo must have
wondered why she would insist
on Edmund’s will, leaving her
everything, if she expected to
Still, her big blunder was the
car keys. Not for stopping her
lawyer from seeing them, or
burying them in the ashtray.
But for saying she found them
in a spot where any decent mystery
writer would know, police would have
blanketed with photos. Big enough
a gaff to stop her departure.
In the end, the only motive
Columbo gets is the one Abi
herself supplies, after he tells
her he knows why she did it.
I have said this before elsewhere, but as Columbo explains in Prescription: Murder, the murderer is a very clever person, but an amateur, with only one chance to get it right, whereas the police are professionals, who do this a hundred times a year.
Abigail Mitchell is just as clever as Columbo when it comes to murder, but even she is still just an amateur when compared to him, and her reputation for being “The Best In Murder” gives her away.
My view is that she never stood a chance from the start because, as you rightly say, Abi is Agatha Christie’s peer. If a dead body had been found in Agatha Christie’s walk in safe, while she had an airtight alibi by being 3000 miles away, Inspector Corner of the Yard would have known instantly that she had done it, before he had even met her.
He wouldn’t know why, or how, but just being Agatha Christie would have told him that she was guilty. When Columbo meets Abi for the first time he is very polite, but he has the same immediate suspicion of her that he has later for Paul Gerard in Murder Under Glass.
Yes, I agree. Mystery
writers, TV detectives,
would be immediately suspicious to the
lieutenant, because of who they are.
In addition, it was her house, her vault,
her nephew. After the burglary-accident
explanation begins to crumble, she becomes
the number one suspect out of circumstance.
And like in How To Dial A Murder, the killer
being so far away at the time of the murder,
Columbo needed a very strong gotcha to
close the case.
I have several issues with this episode.
First, why would Edmund kill his wife before the rich aunt dies? So I think he was innocent of Phyllis’s death.
Second, AM is a famous writer who could certainly prevail upon the police to further investigate her niece’s death – and it’s only been 4 months – so I think she is way off base blaming Edmund. Is that because she is a mystery writer?
I agree that the keys in the sand was unbelievably stupid and totally unworthy of such a clever woman. Just lots of things that make this a hard episode to swallow. Fortunately Ruth Gordon is adorable.
Hi Roberta. Edmund was a young man who could afford to play the waiting game. By killing his wife and making it look like an accident, he could legally inherit Abi’s wealth when she eventually died of natural causes. It would look more suspicious if Phyliss had died shortly after Abi and Edmund started to behave like Tommy Brown did in Swan Song.
And I think that Abi did prevail upon the police. Columbo says that he checked the reports and the official view was that Phyliss died in an accident. Abi says at the end that if Columbo had investigated her niece’s death, there would have been no need for her to kill Edmund, i.e. abi knows that Columbo knows that Edmund killed his wife.
And finally, as I have said many times before, the blueprint of the series is set out in Prescription: Murder, where Columbo explains that the killer is a very clever individual, but they’re an amateur (even Abi) whereas the police are professionals who do this a hundred times a year. Abi set a very clever trap for Edmund, but she overlooked his habit of leaving his keys about, and had to hastily improvise when she didn’t spot them on the table until after she closed the safe door.
Indeed, Abby is such an amateur murderer that Edmund, no brain surgeon, outwitted her with a crime-novel resolution. This dim bulb figured out that Abby would never be the one replacing the lightbulb, and that whoever did would find his testimony.
I love this ep because we watch Abby constantly belittle and mock Columbo because she thinks she’s just so much cleverer snd he’ll never figure out her genius plan, while we see that Columbo knows from the start and is stringing her along. Her arrogance blinds her to the outrageously obvious conclusion to be made.
I think you have summarized this episode rather well.
The murderer is always a clever person, but not a professional criminal. They make several (often stupid) mistakes, which is how Columbo catches them.
And as I have said before, Columbo is on to Abi before he even meets her.
There’s a saying police
have in homicide cases.
There’s 20 mistakes waiting to be made,
and the killer usually makes 4 of them.
I’m not sure that it is her
arrogance that brings her
down. The light bulb was left out to confound
any attempt by Edmund to leave a coherent
message. She underestimated his ingenuity
in making do with whatever tools he had at
hand. Her mocking Columbo expresses her
confidence that Edmund couldn’t have left
any message that would conclusively
I also think that Edmund dropped his keys
on the table purposely before entering the vault.
Just in case the old gal was up to something,
they would be hard for her to explain when
found. After all, she had already all but accused
him of Linda’s death during their beach walk.
After Abi’s keys blunder, Columbo seems to
have concluded as much, as he seems confident
that Edmund has left a very incriminating
On the other hand Try and Catch Me, does
suggest she is arrogant. Edmund, Columbo,
and maybe also her arrogance, all brought
“I also think that Edmund dropped his keys
on the table purposely before entering the vault.
Just in case the old gal was up to something,
they would be hard for her to explain when
found. After all, she had already all but accused
him of Linda’s death during their beach walk.”
If Edmund had suspected for one moment that Abi intended to shut him in the safe, he would have done a darn sight more than just deliberately leave his keys on the desk.
He would have used something heavy (like one of the metal drawers) to prevent the door from being closed. He is taken aback on the beach when Abi says “I know what you did”, but is reassured when she explains she meant what he (supposedly) did to save Phyllis.
Thus, he suspects nothing when he walks into her parlour, even triumphantly smirking at the photo of the wife he murdered. (And for what it’s worth, the actor Charles Frank played a similar character on an early episode of Wonder Woman. In other words, you don’t cast this guy unless his character is a baddie).
You’re right only here:
Edmund doesn’t suspect
a thing when he walks into the safe.
Dropping the keys to block the vault
door from closing might have worked
Also, a person guilty of Phyllis’s
murder might have been more wary
of the danger, and Abi’s potential
trap. But again, his behaviour
really is ambiguous as to his guilt
Nor is there clarification after
Abi’s remarks on the beach after she
tells Edmund she knows what he did.
She just switches gears, and tells
him she is leaving him everything.
Her question about him doing what
he could to save Phyllis came
But as has been said before, the
Columbo show is not a whodunnit.
If the writers don’t show us how
Phyllis died, then we’re not
supposed to know.
Columbo himself didn’t investigate
that case, so he really has no
opinion, despite what he says
to elicit a motive from Abi.
That’s been established in many
episodes before this one, where
he’s refused to conclude anything
too early in cases he IS
Oh, I’m right about a lot more than that as far as this episode is concerned, but you do make a good point that the keys could have been used to block the door, if indeed Edmund had suspected anything, which he didn’t.
The reason why we don’t see Edmund kill Phyllis is because the Columbo series does not work that way. They don’t show us a scene at the beginning, then put up a caption saying “Six Months Later”. (We know that there was an earlier murder in “Old Fashioned Murder” without having to be shown it).
Edmund’s guilt is not ambiguous, nor was it it ever meant to be.
It is showed to us subtly by his reaction on the beach to “I know what you did” and to an evil smirk when he looks at his wife’s photo. And I know that in real life people mourn in different ways, but within the confines of this story, Lt Columbo deduces that Edmund never loved his wife because of the lack of photos of her in his apartment, whereas Abi has one prominently on display, i.e., Columbo realises that Edmund murdered Phyllis and that Abi knows it.
As to your observation (ahem) about Abi switching gears on the beach, so what? Abi throws a scare into Edmund by making him think she knows what he really did, then reassures him by letting him think she’s fooled, and panders to his ego by letting him think that his evil scheme has worked, and he will legally inherit her wealth when she eventually dies.
That’s why he doesn’t suspect a thing, even when he walks into her safe, because he’s an arrogant SOB.
There’s one thing I always kind of wonder about that. Even if pressing the police about it didn’t get Abigail anywhere, it might have gotten back to Edmund that she did. If that happened, then any talk from her about making him her would be a real red flag for him.
Good news. My previous
deduction of 0.5 from this
episode is an error. Abi had no chance of removing
Edmund’s message from the vault thus preventing
Columbo from finding it. Police would have sealed it
off as a crime scene by changing the combination.
Nor is there any substance to the argument that police
should have found the message right away. No one
would have checked under a light bulb in a socket,
until the first part of his message was decoded.
Also, another commentator has removed the apparent
carelessness in Abi’s requiring Edmund to will everything
to her, when nothing was to be gained. In fact, she stood
to regain the rights to her long-running play that she’d
given to Phyllis, and that Edmund had inherited.
My marking for this episode now stands at:
Entertainment (acting, locale, humour, drama, plotting…) 5/5
Clues Leading Columbo To The Killer: 2.5/2.5
Final Gotcha (surprise, ingenuity, deducible, irrefutable)
2.5/2.5, and worthy of a tie-break bonus of 0.5
New Rating: 10/10
A PROPOSED THEORY REGARDING THE MURDER AND ITS SOLUTION.
In comments posted in Nov. 2019, Richard Weill makes a very original and interesting argument as to why he does not like T&CM – the final proof was available from the start and could have been solved immediately. It was only postponed to the end to allow the writers to use an hour of filler scenes that are unconnected to and do not lead to the final clue. It’s a strong argument that made me re-view the episode. At the end, I think I figured out the writer’s logic, which also serves to answer 2 other unexplained issues:
1) Columbo tells Abi on at least 3 occasions that if he could only find the keys, he’d solve the murder, yet there seems to be no logical reason why finding the keys would solve anything.
2) Why does Columbo suddenly decide at the end (and not way before) that Edmund must have left a clue that was not apparent to all, lest the killer finds it first?
I think the writers had the following logic. Columbo faced a difficult situation. He was certain Abi was the murderer, but she designed the murder plan so smartly that he would have a very hard time proving it (he didn’t think there’d be such a strong deathbed confession). Somehow, she was there when Edmund came back, but in actuality it was barely 3 minutes that she timed perfectly and managed to keep Martin preoccupied, and it would be hard to convince a jury without extra circumstantial evidence. Finding the keys would not solve the case, and it would certainly not absolve Abi. The only thing it could do is provide another bit of circumstantial evidence against Abi, as a juror would be more likely to believe his story that she got the keys from him when she killed him, than that she happened to find the keys that all the police searches couldn’t find. Moreover, since he just discovered that Abi changed course and suddenly awarded Victoria a free cruise, he figured Victoria found the keys and used them to blackmail Abi, So if Columbo got hold of them and eventually broke the case, he could probably get Victoria to spill the beans. So he had Abi followed to the beach and waited for her to try to get rid of them, shouting out from the middle step just as she gets ready to do so (I think they erred and waited a second too long). Then, he eggs her on into producing the keys, once again telling her it would get him the murderer, and since she was so convinced that her alibi was airtight, she ultimately blinks and produces the keys. The fact that she then asked if he was now prepared to “drop his murder theory” indicates how badly she was suckered into his trap (kind of like Oliver Brandt). Indeed, he immediately used it to get a bench warrant, which had previously been rejected by the judge.
The other aspect is the motive, which Columbo needs to convince himself and the jury. After all, this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment murder, but a masterful, well-planned murder that wouldn’t be possible w/o real long-brewing hatred. The visit to Edmund’s apartment was not solely to ensure that the audience sides with Abi’s worldview on Edmund’s guilt, as CP argues. I think it was to convince Columbo that this was a long and ugly fight, and that Abi therefore truly hated Edmund and had a strong reason to want revenge (as he says at the end, “I understand why you did it”). Moreover, since he now knew that Abi had a longstanding hatred of Edmund due to his terrible relationship with her niece and thus her suspicion that he killed her and got away with it, the moment Edmund realized he had been played like a fool to walk into his own death trap, he himself would be thinking of nothing else in his dying moments but of how he could nail her. And considering how wily she was, he had to really create a clever subterfuge that would not be noticed by her if she returned first, but only by painstaking police work.
As for why Columbo didn’t find the clue earlier, I think his mentioning that the order of the boxes had been switched multiple times was meant to alert the viewer that he did not immediately see the stacked boxes with the arrow pointing up. But even if he did, I don’t think it would be obvious even for Columbo that this meant to look in the light bulb in the middle of the room. Only when he started thinking with the assumption that the clue could not be obvious, did he think of the bulb, as you see on his face that the “light bulb” suddenly goes off in his head (pun intended). Also, the fact that Columbo emphasizes at the beginning that we found all the manuscript pages messed up, but “no pages missing”, seems to indicate that he did not notice a missing cover page. This would make it easier to understand why he does not immediately realize that the missing piece between the two page strips is the title of the book dealing with murder.
Finally, two unrelated points:
1) I don’t think Columbo overdoes the acting shtick in this episode at all, other than his awe for meeting a celebrity, which is a consistent trait of Columbo, he plays it pretty seriously and w/o overdone mannerisms.
2) Could someone explain the meaning of Abi asking Viktoria at the beginning if she hears any nightingales, and her saying a few minutes later that she indeed heard nightingales? What does all that mean, and what is its purpose?
“2) Could someone explain the meaning of Abi asking Viktoria at the beginning if she hears any nightingales, and her saying a few minutes later that she indeed heard nightingales? What does all that mean, and what is its purpose?”
Abi plays a tape of her dictation on her portable recorder, places it inside the safe and closes the door. She wants to check if the safe is truly soundproof by asking Veronica if she can hear anything (i.e. a human voice muffled by the safe door).
If she had, Abi could have explained that she had forgotten that she left the tape playing when she closed the safe. Veronica is probably humoring Abi when she says that she can hear a nightingale. (But maybe she can).
It is only after she discovers Edmund’s body that Veronica understands the significance of Abi’s question, and the keys in the sand, and starts her blackmail scheme.
Thanks a lot. You are absolutely right. I went back to see and she actually stands as close as possible to the safe door when Veronica comes in (although one can question whether a quiet dictation tape is comparable to someone shouting and banging on the door). Because Abi asks her to call Edmund and set up the beach walk, I assumed that’s the only reason that she called her in, and I didn’t realize it had a dual purpose.
You’re welcome Leo. Yes, I suppose that Abi could have played a tape of some loud classical music as a better test, but if Veronica had heard the dictation tape it could easily be explained.
On this re-watch of Columbo I find season seven to be somewhat of a problematic season for me. It began in season six, especially with the Theodore Bikel episode, but I feel like Falk’s portrayal of Columbo altered somewhat in this era. He went from projecting a sense of humility that would lure people into a false sense of security, to projecting a certain confidence that he was the smartest guy in the room.
His line delivery this season a lot of the time was quite condescending and left us in no doubt that he didn’t believe what the person was saying. He became almost Holmesian, rather than being his unique self.
Still enjoyable, but I always mark the change, and miss the Lt. of old.
Ruth Gordon was a national treasure. Don’t miss Where’s Poppa if you’ve never seen it.
The easiest option for Abi regarding disposal of the keys?….simply leave them untouched. Abi was following Martin out when they turned to leave, so she just could have walked in front of the table as she left, thus safely obscuring his view of the keys. In any case, he was ahead of her and wouldn’t have looked back, as his mind was clearly set on getting to the airport – it’s highly unlikely he would have noticed them. To me, there are also some added benefits to Abi if she’d left the keys there…1. Police fingerprinting would show that only Edmund touched his keys, thus making the ‘accidental safe lock-in’ explanation look more plausible; 2. Leaving his keys behind appears as an innocent thing Edmund might well do if he was alone & focused purely on getting into a safe nearby, and 3. In a subtle way, keys left more strongly suggests that no ‘murderer’ was involved, since most killers would want to grab the keys on the way out (as Abi did). To me then, Abi feeling that she HAD to take the keys was the one excess action which ultimately tripped her up. *Moral: Potential killers, don’t ever depart with physical evidence that you’ll later need to dump!
Hi David. Everything you say is true, but Annie and Veronica would still have been in the house. If either of them had gone into the study for any reason before morning, they would have seen the keys and, with no sign of Edmund anywhere about, Veronica might well have have opened the safe way too early, while Edmund was still alive.
Chris, you make a good point which I appreciate. Speculating ‘after the fact’ by me & other viewers is fun but always dubious, I admit. The screenwriter(s) in most Columbo episodes had to make the plotline (incl. crucial small details) credible yet still leave enough freedom for the killer to seemingly get away with the crime – not an easy job. It just irked me that Abi took the keys, more so when I saw what she did with them.
Hi again David, and thank you for your comments.
I think the point is that Abi had planned the perfect murder well in advance , but panicked when she saw the keys and, during the all too brief period that her lawyer friend had unwittingly given her, could not think of anything better than hiding them in the sand.
The only thing I can think of would have been to drop the keys out of the window, but there would not have been enough time even for that, and her prints would have been on them.
Again Chris, good point – not much time for Abi to think of what to do, so I guess taking the keys was easiest for her. Regarding fingerprints, I never liked their use as a key piece of evidence in any of these shows, as they are such an obvious incriminating factor, either being found where they should not be or vice versa. Yes, ‘prints’ are a routine forensic tool, but to me it shows lazy plotting and makes solving cases a bit too easy in crime shows. I always liked my Columbo killers to wear gloves, and quite a few did!. Cheers…
Hi David. I see what you mean about fingerprints, but in this case (and not to belabor the point) had things gone according to plan, Abi would have had no need to wear gloves. Nice talking to you.
She was damned if she did,
and damned if she didn’t.
One of the ironies is that it was Columbo’s cigar
smoking habit that caused the ashtray to be
emptied, and the keys discovered. Yet he himself
was unaware of what caused them to show up
OK, I’m guessing Try and Catch Me was on in the UK somewhere last night? I feel like every once in a while I see a surge of posts and I’m thinking, “That wasn’t on recently” but then I figured out it must have been on over there. Though I think in this group I’m the one that’s “over there”. LOL
I agree with your moral of the story. Don’t take evidence you’ll later have to dump- unless you’re able to dump it ASAP! From a moral standpoint I’d never kill anyone, but after watching Columbo I also would never do it from a purely self-interested standpoint. All these smart killers with these great plans get jammed up in 90-120 minutes so I wouldn’t stand a chance. Columbo wouldn’t even have to do the “just one more thing” on me- he’d show up and say, “Geez, my basset hound can figure this one out.” 🙂
It’s one of my wife’s favorites, but #8 is rather high for me. Of course, that’s coming from someone who was not a particular fan of Bye High Sky Club. Now, I like your take on Edmund. In fact, we kind of feel sorry for him in the safe, and by the end, are rooting for him to rat out his killer. If nothing else, it allows us to justify Columbo arresting Abi since most of us would feel Edmund got justice served if he were guilty. If Edmund was innocent, then shame on you, Abi, to the clink you go!
Regarding those horses, I got back to you (per usual) when Googling, “horses running on beach columbo catch me”. Something must be there if 2 geniuses like you and me are thinking the same thing.
Good writing as usual!
I don’t think the title
is a cryptic puzzle.
“Try and Catch Me” is simply to remind us,
that Edmund is not killed outright, as his
killer is challenging him to leave some proof
in his dying moments that will incriminate
Which he could have done by just tearing
out words from the manuscript. Abi would’ve
been quickly on to that. So instead,
he uses the title page, and shuffles the
remaining pages in the hope it will be
overlooked or forgotten.
As to the horses on the beach, it might be
foreshadowing that these two free-spirited
people, Abi and Edmund, are soon
coming to their ends. Once their fates
are known, the scene has a bit of a wistful
feel to it.
I have always assumed that the title “Try And Catch Me” is symbolic of the relationship between Abi and Columbo.
Abi is every bit Columbo’s equal, and even though he knows she did it before he meets her, she is challenging him to prove it.
At the very least, the
title’s meaning is enigmatic.
I am wrong in my previous point. Abi has no
chance of destroying a message that Edmund
left, but he had to assume she might.
It seems to me though, by telling Edmund
she knows he killed her niece, then locking
him in, Abi is challenging him directly.
Relying on the vault’s missing light bulb
to stymie any attempt by him to leave a
But with Columbo, she maintains her innocence
throughout, and doesn’t dangle her guilt in his
face. Giving away her motive only after she’s
Can I just say how much I love this discussion? Here we are having such a deep dive on a 45 year old TV episode and it’s such great fun. BTW, I don’t for a second believe Edmund is innocent- Columbo believed in his probable guilt so that’s good enough for me. LOL
Yes, the most recent Columbo was made nearly 20 years ago, but the show is as popular today as ever, at least if 5USA’s all day Sunday schedule is anything to go by.
That said, it would be nice if they added Peter Falk’s two comedy movies, “The Cheap Detective” and “Murder By Death” to the rolling catalogue of 69 Columbo movies. Does any other TV station outside of the UK do this I wonder?
I’m not convinced Columbo
believes Edmund is guilty.
Columbo’s little speech at Abi’s fans meeting, also
suggests to me he wouldn’t care anyway. Murder is
Columbo’s negative remarks about Edmund, I think
are to cajole a motive out of her. For instance, he
contradicts Abi’s description of Linda and him being
a loving couple after visiting Edmund’s apartment,
just to see what she says. Someone as smart as
the Lieutenant doesn’t believe that the absence of
photos of a deceased loved one means a lot.
People grieve in different ways.
Again, Columbo attempts to get Abi’s reaction when he
talks about how hard her nieces’s death must have been
on Abi. But Abi keeps her motive close to her chest
until she’s been caught.
Nothing in Edmund’s behaviour suggest guilt to me.
His expression on the beach: “Holy cow, she thinks I
killed her.” Smiling at Linda’s photo may be just a
reaction to Linda’s expression in it. His courteous-
ness to Abi, etc.
In the end, he may’ve just been a victim of her
Personally, like Columbophile, I like not knowing.
I disagree with all who think Edmund guilty of Phyllis’s “murder”. If he was really after the money he would have killed Abigail first, THEN his wife. And the keys! Yes. Owner of this site is right – chuck them in NYC. Other than Ruth Gordon’s adorableness, the whole episode is lacking. Not one of my favorites
The belly dancing scene-what was that for??? Plus I recently watched an Alfred Hitchcock episode with the same story line: a woman gets trapped in a safe by a conniving relative and she spells out his name with objects she finds in the safe (she does get rescued).
That’s interesting. I wonder if the writers consciously “borrowed” that plot line or if it’s a coincidence.
The belly dancing scene gives us blokes an excuse to look at pretty girls without many clothes on. Rather like the swimming pool scenes in Columbo Cries Wolf.
How ’bout the swimming lovelies in Identity Crisis and Swan Song?
Yes, and the fiancé in Any Old Port In A Storm, who just happens to be in her swimsuit when Columbo visits her at the beach club. Even today, the many lovely young actresses that graced Columbo (whether as a character or an extra) are still a good further reason to watch the show.
Nothing to do with you comment but had to post this : Carl Stewart was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison. Merseyside Police
He made it too cheesy for cops.
A British drug dealer was busted after he shared a photo of his hand holding a block of cheese — and police were able to analyze his fingerprints.
You might also ask
did Hitch’s “Dial M
For Murder” inspire “Columbo: How To Dial A Murder”,
in which a murderer’s phone call sets the remote killing
Yes, I think so. But that is inspiration. Whereas what
you’ve described sounds like copyright infringement.
Almost certainly, you’re describing an early British film.
NBC’s parent might have bought the company, or their
film catalogue, hoping to reuse some of Hitch’s early
My mistake. You mean
“The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow”
from season 2 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
As Universal now owns both the Columbo and
T.A.H.H., I suspect there was no copyright
infringement way back in 1964 either.
Incidentally, the lady from “The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice” didn’t come out nearly as well.
But that would have meant taking the risk of committing two murders, with the second one looking suspicious. Better to commit one murder and wait for Abi to die from natural causes. Edmund didn’t want to share the money, and being a young man, he could bide his time and be in the clear when he inherited from Abi’s estate.
And the keys never being found would indicate that somebody other than Edmund had hidden them or disposed of them. Not evidence in itself perhaps, but suspicious.
I’m glad to see that Columbophile, in an earlier article, recognized the positive impact that producer Richard Alan Simmons had on the Columbo series during this period, in his review of “The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case.” But what Columbophile and other Columbo fans may not have been aware of is that Simmons played a very special other role in “Try and Catch Me.” But before I get that, let me repeat Columbophile’s spot-on earlier comments:
“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.”
After I just finished watching “Try and Catch Me” this evening, which I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, I noted that virtually everything in the episode was much better than I remembered it, with the writing, the acting, and the music showing particular strength. This episode stands the test of time.
But when the credits went up, two names puzzled me. Gene Thompson was credited for the story. And Thomson and Paul Tuckahoe were credited as the teleplay writers. I never heard of these guys before. I checked IMDB to find out more about them, but this was pretty much a dead end. After some additional internet sleuthing, I quickly discovered why I never heard of them before. Gene Thomson and Paul Tuckahoe were pseudonyms for Richard Alan Simmons and Luther Davis, respectively. We already know some key facts about Simmons, thanks to Columbophile. Davis, it turns out, wrote the screenplay for “Lady in a Cage” (1964), a number of musicals (including Kismet and Grand Hotel), and won two Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards, among many other accomplishments. Know I know why this episode stands the test of time.
I was a kid when this episode originally aired, I knew who Ruth Gordon was at the time but was never a fan of anything she did because of my age and ignorance. Watching this episode, she was an amazing actor. The ending is so tragic, I have never felt sympathy for a Columbo villain except for this episode. First time I saw the words on the page, my heart sank for Abigail, Edmund, even Phyllis who we never met. What a doomed family. It was very powerful, one of my all-time favorite endings for the show.
It’s a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare
or Miller. Which is why I don’t think
the writers want us to believe Edmund was guilty, or
let us think that Abi is venal. Edmund is himself a victim,
and Abi’s bitterness badly misguides her. The death
of the much loved Phyllis sets the episode’s sombre tone,
as do the lonely deaths by circumstance of Edmund, and
soon enough, Abi’s own in prison.
John Cassavetes, who detest method acting, held the best guest role in the show until I saw Ruth Gordon. She takes the first place. Such a unique, funny and intensely dramatic character; all very believable.
The motive was the most complex, and perhaps leading to psychology essays, brutal and multidimensional Columbo has ever shown us until that point. It is really a talented work to make the audience be half disliking the victim, be half liking the perpetrator.
I did love to the missing paper locked-chamber mystery, it was something not typical for the TV series and kept us intrigued in figuring out with the police officer.
Oh, and I forgot to say: this episode has the best opening/murdering scene of the entire series, not only by the beautiful and poetic beach-with-horses scene, but by the mystery of a safe (that fall under the locked-chamber sort of detective fiction) and who the she would be trying to kill. And obviously none of this would mean a thing if not led by the spectacular portray by Ruth Gordon.
I forgot to say. This eps has the best opening/murdering scene so far. the poetic beach-with-horses scene, the locked-chamber subcategory of detective fiction, who she would actually want to kill (maybe even suicide); and none of this would mean a thing if it wasnt the leading acting of the spectacular Ruth Gordon.
P.S. Have a coffee, on me.
Having skipped Columbophile’s take on this episiode, here’s mine, a succint one: Beautiful—just beautiful. It makes up for several preceeding duds! Columbo as he should be. The music—a Bach style orchestral fugue—tops things off nicely.
I don’t understand the part at beginning when she has a tape recording in safe closed the door then after secretary comes and goes she takes it out again ?
She’s testing to make sure the secretary can’t hear the recording in the soundproof safe so she can be confident Edmund won’t be heard when he’s locked in there.
Abi is testing to see if the safe is soundproof. All that her secretary can hear is a nightingale.
It is a reality-check to see if anyone (in this case her Assistant) can hear sound coming from inside the safe…
Just had a small eureka moment about this episode. In the final scene, Columbo mentions that two words are rubbed out BY THE BURNT MATCH. So I flashed back to Edmund, in the safe, in the dark. When he finally accepted that he was going to die, he worked pretty hard to leave his testimony to be found in the light socket….Back when the Lieutenant first presents Abby with the evidence found, there are the ripped page and those several burnt matches. There is the paint under his nails.
Edmund was in total darkness. He used the matches to find that manuscript and rub out the words, then hide the paper in the socket. Which someone other than Abby would discover– shes too short, and already demonstrated that she was waiting on someone else to change the bulb.
Columbo, in typical modus operandi , was putting together all those little elements in his mind, in order to be able to present irrefutable evidence of guilt. THE KEYS WERE A RED HERRING. He was putting together his case with the evidence from the safe and purposely misdirecting Abby’s focus to the keys. He even puts on a little performance, telling the officer to look in the garden, “You know what we’re looking for…” for her benefit.
Meanwhile Columbo is thinking things like: what did he use the matches for? Where is the paint under his nails from? Why is the page ripped? What was this murdered man working so hard at?
I just rewatched this episode. I hadn’t recalled that Columbo misleads, not only Abigail but also the audience, when he first confronts her with the disassembled manuscript found with Edmund on the safe floor (which she identifies immediately as her novel “The Night I Was Murdered”). Columbo tells Abigail (and us): “Well, it was pulled apart, ma’am. Nothing missing. All the pages are there, but pulled apart.” But the title page is missing, and that should have been apparent to whomever found it. A manuscript without a title page looks incomplete. And yet, Columbo steers us away from this obvious trail of evidence by telling us in no uncertain terms that “all the pages are there” with “nothing missing.”
If he had said: “Nothing is missing except the title page. All the other pages are there” — it would have been a very different (and probably shorter) episode. The writers could have obfuscated the issue: “We put the pages in number order. All the numbers are there.” But they didn’t misdirect, they misrepresented.
Mysteries are supposed to “play fair” with the audience. You can withhold information from us, but not lie to us. If there’s a reason for the detective to lie to another character, and we overhear the lie, that’s okay — but I can’t see how this could have been Columbo’s purpose here. I’m also trying to think of anything similar in another episode, but nothing occurs to me.
Not exactly the same flaw, but I really hated the gotcha in Most Crucial Game of the clock chime because when Columbo first meets Culp/Hanlon, Falk shows no reaction to or acknowledgement of the clock whatsoever. He appears to not hear it at all (probably was a sound effect added in post). So when the cuckoo clock in the gambling parlor triggers him to figure out that’s the sound missing on the tape, the clue has not been properly established.
It feels like the director purposely misdirected the viewer away from the clock so we wouldn’t figure out the gotcha too quickly. But I think it’s more important that we believe Columbo’s observations are authentic.
I disagree. The fact that Columbo doesn’t appreciate the significance of the chiming clock until later doesn’t change the fact that the clock is shown chiming early and often. And Columbo is there when it chimes only an hour or so after the recorded phone call where its chime wasn’t heard — negating any possibility that the clock wasn’t chiming properly at the time of the call. I think that clue is very well established. It just took some later event for Columbo to realize its importance (like his seeing the mother tying her son’s shoes in the hospital in “An Exercise in Fatality”).
But Columbo interviews him in office for only 10 minutes so it only chimes once in his presence and Falk displays ZERO notice of its sound. If he would have turned his head ever so slightly, that’d be enough for me. But he stares straight ahead and doesn’t flinch an inch as it chimes. I just don’t buy that the clock sound registered with Columbo, much less burrowed into his subconscious to spring to the surface later.
If I’m forgetting a follow-up interview he conducts in which it chimes again, I’ll happily eat crow.
Otherwise, while it’s not a “lie” like the pages, I still see it as a false action staged to obfuscate the main clue from the viewer. Harrumph.
Does Columbo “flinch an inch” when Jarvis Goodland mentions firing his gun but hitting only dirt? When he finds Gene Stafford’s shoes in his locker? The only time he sees Joe Devlin mark a bottle with his ring? No times three. But he takes everything in all the same. That’s also true of Hanlon’s clock.
I think it would have worked better if Columbo had paid attention to the clock at the first meeting, too. Perhaps it could have stopped him mid-sentence and commented about how Mrs Columbo would love a clock like that, and how their anniversary is fast approaching etc. That would have been authentically Columbo, as well as strengthening the finale.
In an open mystery, where the audience already knows who did it (and usually how it was done), the gotcha must be a surprise. It’s the only surprise left. Give that away and there’s no mystery. So the key clue must be introduced subtly. Shown but not dwelt upon. If you call excessive attention to the key item early on, you telegraph its importance, and risk ruining the surprise. It’s a very delicate balance.
I must agree.
I think that a
cuckoo clock in Hanlon’s office
that blurts out:
“Don’t forget about me, Paul!
Don’t forget about me, Paul!
would have been way too easy.
Regarding the chiming clock clue in “The Most Crucial Game”, I think this is where “Last Salute to the Commodore” finally comes in useful: “Hanlon’s clock.” “So what?” Big Deal.” When Columbo meets Hanlon for the first time, he probably has an idea of the time, because he has been following the football game. When the clock chimes, there is no need for Columbo to react to it (whether it was dubbed on or not) as it just means that it’s the half hour, which he knew anyway. Columbo is not trying to establish an alibi by making a remark about the time, or saying that an expensive clock like that is only a minute fast. The clock chiming the half hour only becomes relevant to Columbo when he finds out about the tapes. What matters is that we see Columbo is present when the clock chimes, and he would remember later that it does that, even if he didn’t remark on it at the time. I’ve always felt Hanlon got lucky that when he was making the phone call from a roadside payphone, a truck or motorbike didn’t go roaring past, or a flock of crows didn’t fly overhead.
Muted or absent crowd noise on the tape (as if coming through a radio broadcast as opposed to an erupting stadium) would have been a far superior gotcha. Columbo was listening to the game when he arrived at murder scene so the writers had already established that he is a fan who could notice the difference.
Hmm. But Hanlon made sure to turn the radio up so that his victim would think he was still in his private box at the stadium while the game was on (“Oh, you’re at the game”).
I don’t know- if there was no title page and it started with Chapter 1 on Page 1, then it might not look strange at all.
To address your original
observation (ahem), I think
the police would have left the pages in jumbled order
to preserve evidence, as there may be something
significant in it.
Edmund’s purpose in jumbling the pages was probably
so the absence of the title page was overlooked. As it
is usually not included in the page numbering in a
manuscript. Also, the title is usually repeated on the
first numbered page, so someone counting the pages
would not have noticed there was a title page. Only
two unexplained blank scraps of paper.
The devil being in the details, I would need to rewatch
the episode to be sure there was no deliberate
misrepresenting there. I don’t think there was though.
Thank you so much for pointing out the ambiguity around Edmund’s guilt! That aspect of the script is one of its most powerful points. Ruth Gordon plays Abigail so perfectly (Miss Marple on a rampage) that Edmund’s conclusive guilt isn’t necessary–only Abigail’s belief in his guilt.
I think Columbo’s deduction at the apartment still allows for the ambiguity. I imagine that the marriage had hit a rough patch (which Abigail may have known about). Then Phyllis drowns. Edmund feels survivor’s guilt and the guilt of a man who isn’t entirely sure the marriage would have lasted. He does have mixed feelings on the beach because he had mixed feelings about his marriage.
Still doesn’t make him a murderer!
Though he could be.
Great characterizations all around.
I’m sorry Kate, but there is NO ambiguity about Edmund’s guilt! If there had been, Columbo would have come out and said so. His observation to Abi that Edmund and Phyllis must have had a very poor marriage is his way of telling her that he knows what she did, and why she did it. When Abi tells Columbo at the end that if he had investigated her nieces death, none of this need have happened, he does not contradict her. The whole point of this story is that Abi is Columbo’s equal, i.e. she knows that he’s guilty.
I totally agree with you, Chris. I think Edmond was totally guilty and the reason you state tells us Columbo thinks so, too. Also, remember in that great final scene where Columbo tells Abigail, “I know why you did it, ma’am”? His unerring nose for murderers sniffed out Edmond early on and, like you said, Abigail was his equal. As she said, “Just think, Lieutenant. If you had been assigned to the case, none of this need have happened” or something along those lines.
Yes, that was a tacit agreement on his guilt. I challenge anyone to interpret Edmond’s smirky toast to this wife’s picture as anything but triumph. Not only is he guilty, he feels no remorse.
Absolutely. The flip-side to his smirk is his positively stricken look on the beach when Abi says “I know what you did.” If Edmund was innocent he would have interpreted that in a positive way and smiled. Instead he looked, well…stricken. There are numerous pieces of evidence, not just on the screen, but in the macro accounting of the Columbo universe, that Edmund was undeniably guilty.
In an earlier comment, I compared Edmund’s obvious guilt with that of the Eddie Albert character in “Dead Weight”. We never actually see Eddie Albert shoot the victim, or dispose of the body, but there is as much ambiguity over his guilt as there is Edmund’s, i.e. none.
Exactly. I’ve commented elsewhere that “Columbo” has never dealt with subtlety and nuance to that degree. If they were intending to make Edmund’s guilt uncertain then they would have made THAT clear and it would have been a more defining aspect of the plot. It’s just the way the stories are crafted. Columbo’s last line to Abi after she spoke of a different outcome had he been on the case, would be something along the lines of “Well, we can’t be sure of that ma’am…from what I know.” I think fans who are contorting themselves to rationalize Edmund’s innocence have been duped by a bit of lazy writing. Or it could be that writer Gene Thompson felt that it was so obvious that Edmund was guilty that’d it have been insulting to make it overtly so.
I think the only way around this would have been for the episode to open with Edmund murdering Phyllis, leading us to believe that this is the murder that Columbo would solve.
Then the rug would be pulled out from under us when a caption comes up saying “Six Months Later” and we see Edmund and Abi on the beach and hear her say “I know what you did”.
I agree that ambiguity over Edmund’s guilt or innocence would have been an interesting idea (did Abi in her grief make a ghastly mistake?) but it just isn’t there. It really isn’t.
This is because, as I’ve said before, Abi is intended to be Columbo’s equal, as symbolically demonstrated when for the first and only time in the series, she catches him out with his own “Oh, just one more thing” trick.
We cannot condone her actions any more than Columbo can, but at least we can be certain, just as he is, that Phyllis was murdered and that Edmund did it.
That’s a big stretch.
We see Eddie Albert pull out the gun on his colleague, we hear a gun shot, and we immediately switch to Susanne Pleshette saying “I just saw somebody shoot a man!”
That’s a huge contrast to a vague reference to a “boating accident” that happened several months before.
Whether Edmund _actually_ killed the niece just isn’t relevant to the story. That’s why it’s left ambiguous. Abby Mitchell’s motivation is what she _thinks_ happened.
Except there is absolutely no ambiguity over Edmund’s guilt.
I think there’s plenty of ambiguity if your mind’s open to seeing it. Yes we’re supposed to believe he’s guilty, but it’s far more interesting to me because we don’t know for sure.
I’ve gone over the numerous points illustrating Edmund’s guilt, from on screen to off screen during the writing and production of his episode, both here and on the Columbo TV page, so I won’t bore folks by rehashing it again, but… Edmund’s guilty. We also don’t see Columbo eat chili in “Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case”, only ice-cream, but we can logically deduce that he hasn’t become a vegetarian. Either way, they’re shows to be enjoyed by whatever lens in which they’re viewed.
Whether Edmund actually killed Phyllis is certainly relevant — to the viewer — as they watch it, but not to the outcome of the story.
Yes, it’s a big stretch. I was trying to illustrate that there is absolutely not meant to be any ambiguity over Edmund’s guilt by taking it to a ridiculous extreme with my comparison to “Dead Weight”. In Columbo, we are used to seeing the murder being committed in the “present”, rather than in a flashback (I think that Columbo Goes to College is the only exception). We usually know who did it, because we are shown it. Here, Edmund’s guilt over a murder in the recent past is subtly, but clearly, conveyed to the audience.
The story is about Abi as murderer no matter her motives. It’s interesting to get caught up in speculation about Edmund but it’s really about a murder that we do see as it’s being committed.
“Shall we compare ‘Edmund is innocent’ theories, Lieutenant?”
“Not in a Rolls Royce, ma’am”.
Just one more thing on this sub topic. At the end, Columbo says to Abi, ” I know why you did it.:
Case closed. Columbo has no doubts about Edmund’s guilt. It is not a question.
Bravo to logic and clear thinking! Those who are twisting and contorting themselves to justify any ambiguity clearly aren’t fully familiar with the ethos of the show. Or they just might be the types who clicked their heels three times and wished for a certain someone to descend on D.C. upon a golden chariot on March 4th.
Um, the ethos of the
show is to show us
the killer committing the murder.
Otherwise we don’t know who did it.
The show’s not a whodunnit.
As for the many who say Columbo
thought Edmund was guilty, show
me where he says that. He is not
investigating Phyllis’s death. In
many of the deaths he does
investigate, he tells the curious that
it is too early to draw conclusions.
All that sentence proves is that Columbo knows Abi killed Edmund because she thought he was guilty.
Or, he says it to elicit
a motive from Abi.
Which is what she tells him, when she
says she wished he’d been the one who
investigated Phyllis’s death.
And it could meant Frank C. knew Abbie “suspected” Edmund murdered his wife.
well I think Edmund was guilty, and I get annoyed when people say no photos doesn’t mean anything. It certainly does – if it was so painful for him, why was he staring at his wife’s photo at Abby’s house – and smirking at it.
Edmund was absolutely guilty! It’s evident in numerous ways, both from a storytelling aspect AND a production aspect. To suggest otherwise would be akin to believing that because we see Columbo “only” eating ice cream in “Bye-Bye Sky High…” that he’s sworn off chili and has become a vegetarian.
THANK YOU. That is a smirk of triumph.
Yes, Edmund is guilty and the programme makers never intended us to think otherwise. Had this episode been made at a different time, then perhaps it would be ambiguous as to how Phyllis died, or there would be outright proof that her death was an accident and Abi has made a ghastly mistake. But the point of the episode is that Abigail Mitchell is just as good at finding killers as Columbo is.
I think the point of the
episode is that Abi is out
to get old fashioned justice for her dead
Phyllis. As she herself remembers when
murderers got capital punishment for their
crimes. But unaware that she is making the
same mistake of punishing the innocent
that was often the case with old time justice.
Ironically, she may yet be pardoned because
of her advanced age, That is new time justice,
where the jury, not law enforcement, often
decides on the punishment.
Even though Columbo gathered the evidence against Abigail it’s up to the D.A. to decide if he or she had a case that was winnable.Plus if there had been a trial Columbo would be called to testify of course and it would have been interesting to see if he might have tried to help Abigail.I’m sure Columbo wouldn’t have lied if he testified but maybe he in his own way might have made Abigail look sympathetic to the jury by explaining her motive.
I think the scene between Abigail and Columbo at the docks ranks as one of the best scenes of all time, (how cute is dog here). I also love Columbo’s speech in front of all the ladies. A very strong episode, my only niggle, similar to Lady in Waiting is that Columbo had all the facts he needs to solve the case in the first five minutes. I think Columbo’s natural curiosity would have had him unscrewing that light bulb as quick as possible – but then I suppose we wouldn’t have had the chance to watch what is a very re-watchable episode.
Interesting that both Lady In Waiting and Try and Catch Me involve light bulbs that don’t work. In Lady In Waiting, Columbo checks the lightbulb as a possible reason why the victim could not enter the house by the front door, but the light not working in Abi’s safe had nothing to do with the actual murder.
It’s true that Columbo could have simply unscrewed the lightbulb in Abigail’s safe at any time, but he had no reason to do so until the end. Even Abi has overlooked what is above their heads.
I have always felt that Columbo knew before he ever got to the house that Edmund’s death was no accident and that Abi had killed him, precisely because she is America’s answer to Agatha Christie and she has an airtight alibi.
He knows she did it before he even meets her, but he cant put the cuffs on her right away as he has to find out why. And, as with an Agatha Christie story, he cannot overlook that there are other suspects in the house who could have done it.
In most episodes, you have to imagine that a lot goes on that we don’t see. Columbo already knew the paper was in the light socket, and he was just making a show of finding it. He probably found it soon after he noticed the scratches.
But if he did, and that’s such an important bit of evidence, then why not arrest her immediately?
A first I thought that Columbo
was just reenacting his discovery
for Abi’s sake too. But after he concluded that the keys
were left by Edmund outside of the vault probably on
purpose, he knew that Edmund’s message would be truly
incriminating. So he wanted Abi to be there when it was
The scene was also a nice demonstration of Columbo’s
swift detection and deductive powers. Truly awesome!
Even if Columbo knew the paper was in the light socket maybe he wanted to Abigail to be there when he found it because Columbo knowing the paper was in the light socket and him actually finding it there are two different things.Plus he might have wanted to gather other evidence first in regards to finding a motive for why Abigail killed Edmund and how she did it because Edmund was seen driving away.Plus Abigail could have claimed that Edmund did accidentally get himself locked in the safe and knowing he was going to die made it look like Abigail killed him.
But as Columbo says, Edmund’s note is a deathbed testimony, which is considered very strong evidence. If Edmund really had locked himself in the safe by accident, why would he frame Abi for his murder?
Edmund had try to frame Abigail for murdering him his motive might have been him wanting to hurt her.Plus even if Abigail wasn’t arrested for supposedly killing Edmund the scandal might have ruined her.As for Edmund’s deathbed confession, lets Columbo found it earlier and then he set up that scene so he could find it with Abigail any good lawyer could claim Columbo planted it after he found those scratches inside the safe.Wouldn’t Columbo have to prove Edmund wrote that deathbed confession and he put it in the light socket?For example since i think it was Abigail’s assistant Veronica f who found Edmund’s body Abigail could claim Veronica had ample time to forge Edmund’s deathbed confession to frame Abigail because she’s the one who killed and since Veronica found Edmund’s car keys in that astray Abigail could claim it was Veronica who planed the car keys in the garden.As for Veronica, my guess is she would have been brought back from the cruise as a witness at Abigail’s trial.
I’ve actually never seen this episode until last night. Because of this website, I am now keenly aware of the mannerisms developed by Falk post-Last Salute to the Commodore. I thought this was a terrific episode, and I love Ruth Gordon, but it is somewhat marred by the weird delivery that Falk gives throughout much of it. It’s not as wacky or consistent as Commodore, but there are traces of the monotone and slow inflection, and Falk seems oddly on the verge of laughing nearly the entirely time (take a look at his expression in the scene in the victims apartment).
In context, I think Columbo’s behaviour can be put down to his delight and frustration at meeting the great Abigail Mitchell, who is every bit his equal, except that she is an amateur and he’s a professional. In Edmund’s apartment, he’s trying not to smirk as he has managed to get one step ahead of her by subtly implying that he knows neither Edmund or Phyllis died by accident, leaving Abigail lost for words.
I Have Delivered To The Home Where This Was Filmed Lots Of Times, 880 La Loma Rd, Pasadena .Ca, Nice Place! Never Been Upstairs. Bit By Former Owner’s Dobermans At Least 3 Times! The Black Dog Statues At The Front Door Are Still There, When The Owner Had A Big Party. The Budweiser Truck Would Take Huge Load Of Beer To Her! ,,,Her Last Name Was Busch!
Fans of Abigail Mitchell might enjoy the first season episode of TAXI “Sugar Mama” that Ruth Gordon appeared in at around the same time that “Try and Catch Me” was made. She plays a very likeable, very wealthy old lady (from a poor background) who travels around New York by taxicab. It’s not intentional of course, but “Dee” could very easily be Abigail using an alias, having a good time in New York while Edmund is locked in her safe 3000 miles away . . .