Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 7

Episode review: Columbo The Conspirators

Columbo The Conspirators opening titles

May 13, 1978 truly marked the end of an epoch as the very final Columbo episode of the classic era, The Conspirators, hit the airwaves.

Starring Clive Revill as mercurial Irish poet Joe Devlin, set against a controversial backdrop of gunrunning for the Irish Republican Army and featuring more consumed whiskey than any other TV episode ever, all the elements are there for an explosive finale.

But is The Conspirators a celebration-sized ale of a send-off? Or were the studio and network execs right when they insisted the series would go ‘this far, and no farther?’ Let’s take a closer look…

Columbo The Conspirators cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Joe Devlin: Clive Revill
Vincent Pauley: Albert Paulsen
Kerry Malone: Michael Horton
Kate O’Connell: Jeanette Nolan
George O’Connell: Bernard Behrens
Chuck Jensen: LQ Jones
Angela (book store clerk): Deborah White
Written by: Howard Berk (based on an idea by Pat Robison)
Directed by: Leo Penn
Score by: Patrick Williams
Notable locations: O’Connell residence (Doheny Mansion, 10 Chester Place, LA); Port of Los Angeles; Vincent Thomas Bridge

Episode synopsis: Columbo The Conspirators

Cheeky Oirish poet Joe Devlin may appear to be a jovial leprechaun of a fella, but beneath the grinning exterior is a heart of steel. While professing to be an advocate for families torn apart by the troubles in Northern Ireland, the whelp actually raises illicit funds to put guns in the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

During a banjo-infused signing of his latest book, Devlin meets sinister gun supplier Vincent Pauley – the latter revealing his identity by handing over a book to be signed that has ‘Ourselves Alone‘ – the anglicised version of ‘Sinn Fein‘, the battle-cry of Irish rebels – written on an inside page.

Following the signing, Pauley makes a house call on Devlin to showcase his wares. The two strike a deal for 500 M11 machine guns at a cost of $150,000 – but there’s a catch. Devlin needs the guns to be ready by the 15th of the month in order for them to be shipped to Northern Ireland in time for operations. Pauley can only supply by the 30th – unless he gets an extra $50,000. Devlin has until that night to ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ the deal.

Disgusted by this treachery, Devlin has Pauley tailed and discovers the crooked gunrunner plans to take the money and run by boarding a flight to Lisbon immediately after their planned weapons exchange that evening. When Devlin confronts his foe at the rendezvous at Pauley’s hotel, Pauley reaches for a gun – but he’s too slow. Devlin drops his enemy with a shot from a silenced pistol.

As he collapses dead to the floor, Pauley clatters into a bottle of Devlin’s favourite tipple, Full’s Irish Dew, of which the mercurial poet has just been imbibing. With the whiskey maker’s tagline of ‘Let each man be paid in full’ in mind, Devlin symbolically rolls the bottle to Pauley’s side and makes good his escape.

Columbo The Conspirators
Pauley’s private lap dance for Devlin went down like a lead balloon

Reporting the outcome to his benefactors – and fellow IRA sympathisers – the O’Connell family, Devlin has to admit they’re now in a tight spot. The guns are desperately needed by the 15th, but the identity of Pauley’s gun supplier is unknown. Still, Devlin pinched every scrap of documentation from Pauley’s hotel room, so hope remains that the murderous cargo can still be secured in time.

That plan, of course, hasn’t factored in the wiles of one Lieutenant Columbo. Despite Devlin’s confidence that no one can connect either he or the O’Connells to Pauley, Columbo makes a house call to Devlin HQ seeking information on the murder victim. The detective even has evidence that Pauley and Devlin have met, in the shape of the signed book.

Devlin, shocked, pretends to have no recollection of meeting Pauley and denies recalling the ‘Ourselves Alone’ slogan, instead suggesting (rather feebly) that it must have been added in later by the victim.

“Pauley knew his killer at least well enough to know their preference for whiskey.”

Columbo’s next act is to visit the book store where Devlin and Pauley met. Here, in between ogling an erotic art book and chatting to a shop clerk who is clearly a dominatrix masquerading behind a bookish exterior, he uncovers no new information on Pauley, but does find out that ‘Ourselves Alone’ translates to Sinn Fein – the battle cry of the Irish rebellion. What it all means he doesn’t yet know, but it’s a useful snippet to tuck away.

It takes on greater significance shortly afterwards. While pondering what might have happened at the crime scene itself, who should interrupt Columbo but Devlin himself? The plucky Irishman wants to come clean and admits he does remember the inscription in Pauley’s book, but didn’t mention it earlier because he was flustered at having a policeman question him about a murder. Whatevs

Now that he has a captive audience, Columbo is able to think out some aspects of the case. He’s bothered by how and why the whiskey bottle was beside the body when it was spilled some metres away. But the booze has also been a source of inspiration. Turns out that Full’s Irish Dew wasn’t available in the hotel, so Pauley sent out for a bottle specifically. This means he knew his killer at least well enough to know their preference for whiskey. It’s a very telling sign.

Columbo The Conspirators
Geez, weren’t there any colours other than BROWN in the 70s?

He’s also found a scrap of evidence that eluded the ransacking Devlin on the night of the murder: a slip of paper hidden under a lamp with the initials LAP and numbers 213 written on it. What does it mean? Neither man knows, so they opt to lunch together to discuss things further.

This cosy tete-a-tete at an Oirish pub of Devlin’s choosing serves only one real plot purpose: to solidify Devlin as chief suspect. How? Because the serving wench ‘helpfully’ offers Devlin his personal bottle of whiskey from behind the bar, and, as sure as eggs is eggs, Columbo notices that it’s the same brand that was present at the killing of Pauley. Ergo, Devlin is da killer!

This setback doesn’t diminish Devlin’s resolve, though. Following up on a lead from Pauley’s paperwork, he makes a beeline for Jensen’s RV Yard, where he believes the proprietor could be in a position to fill his order for guns. Jensen, however, fails to respond to Devlin’s cryptic comments about being ‘in the market’ leaving the despondent Irishman to turn tail.

Reporting his failure to the O’Connells, Devlin receives a roasting for his bungling and addiction to drink but the down-dressing is interrupted by a visit from – you guessed it – Lieutenant Columbo! It’s little more than a fishing expedition, although the detective is impressed to learn he’s meeting the owners of the renowned O’Connell Industries, and finds time to compliment matriarch Kate O’Connell on her enviable needlepoint skillz.

We next see Devlin striking out in several attempts to secure guns from alternate sources, leaving him no option but to head to the Port of Los Angeles and beg the captain of the boat ship that will smuggle out the guns to delay his departure. Predictably, the skipper gives Devlin short shrift and his angst is exacerbated when (who friggin’ else?) Columbo miraculously turns up dockside.

The Lieutenant has cracked the LAP 213 conundrum – it stands for LA Pier 213, the spot where the gunrunning vessel is moored. Caught out, Devlin has to explain his presence there as conducting his own investigations into the crime after coincidentally also figuring out the code, so at this stage he might as well be wearing a luminous t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I DID IT!” in large font.

Columbo Joe Devlin
Is it his conscience that’s weighing Devlin down, or his CHUNKY KNITWEAR and MILE-THICK CORDUROY?

Devlin is able to shake Columbo off by fleeing to his next appointment – a live interview with actual radio talk show host Carol Hemingway (nice touch). Listening in to the show from, Columbo rings in and grills Devlin about a poem he had been quoting about delivering ‘justice to the many’.

The poem had in fact been penned by one Michael Dolan, and had been scratched on the wall of an Irish prison cell where Devlin had been jailed as an idealistic 14-year-old for attempting terrorist acts against The Crown. This info seems unimportant now, but it’ll come back to haunt Devlin as surely as ’twere the ghost of Dolan himself.

Immediately after his interview, Devlin is accosted in the radio station car park by RV salesman Jensen. The cowboy-hat wearing moustachio heard Devlin on air and screeched straight over to the station in an attempt to close a deal – but it ain’t the luxury RV he’s trying to shift, no sir, it’s the $150,000 worth of machine guns. Devlin was right all along – Jensen was Pauley’s dealer, and his bid to arm his IRA brethren is now back on track.

Columbo and Devlin meet up later that day at another pub. Around a live ‘limerick off’, the Lieutenant provides an update on the case. As well as securing FBI assistance to thoroughly search the vessel at LAP 213, he believes he’s close to identifying Pauley’s murderer.

He’s more interested, however, in discussing Michael Dolan. Devlin spoke warmly of the man on radio, but a little research shows he was a cold-hearted IRA killer, with the blood of women and children on his hands. How could Devlin hero worship a monster like that? Not for the first time, the poet spins an unconvincing yarn about failing memory and not realising the true measure of the man. In Columbo’s eyes, though, Devlin’s now looking as guilty as an extraordinarily guilty thing!

Columbo is also witness to a habit of Devlin’s that is certain to cause him trouble. When he switches from ‘celebration-sized’ ales to Full’s Irish Dew, Devlin marks the bottle with his diamond ring. “This far and no farther,” he explains as being his way of ensuring he doesn’t overindulge in his favourite tipple. It’ll be the act that ultimately damns him.

Columbo The Conspirators
“Me? An alcoholic? Sure, whatever would give you such a notion?”

The Lieutenant has multiple fish to fry, though, trying to catch a killer and prevent a shipment of guns leaving LA. The latter seems to be beyond him as a search reveals no guns aboard ship leaving the Coast Guard with no choice but to allow the vessel to embark. Viewing the ship being tugged out to sea via telescope pays dividends for Columbo, though, and what he sees will sound the death knell for Devlin’s plans to bolster IRA fortunes.

It’s time for the final confrontation between detective and poet. Devlin has remained port side all afternoon, swigging his Full’s Irish Dew. Columbo drops by with big news. He knows Devlin is the killer – and he can prove it beyond doubt via the scratches on the whiskey bottles.

Columbo has had the scratches on the bottle at the crime scene compared against those on the other bottles Devlin drinks in various haunts across town. They’re all identical, created by the diamond in Devlin’s ring. It’s as good as fingerprint evidence, so Devlin’s luck of the Irish has finally run out.

True to form, Devlin takes the news philosophically. He has no regrets. And anyway, as he watches the fated ship chug away from the port he can relax in the knowledge that his greater goal has been achieved. That’s until the sound of helicopters and speed boats interrupt his reverie.

Columbo, you see, has figured out that the illegal guns are actually on the tug boat pulling the larger ship out to see and has called in the Coast Guard. He knows because the tug has the emblem of O’Connell Industries flying from its mast – the same emblem he noticed Kate O’Connell assiduously stitching earlier in the episode. The guns will never reach Belfast.

Columbo This far and no farther

Impressed, Devlin offers Columbo one last chance to share a drop of the good stuff with him. The Lieutenant agrees, marking the bottle himself and stating “This far and no farther,” as credits roll…

The Conspirators‘ best moment: RV having fun yet?

For all the frivolity and fun shared between Devlin and Columbo, the episode’s most truly entertaining moment comes courtesy of magnetic bit-part player, Chuck Jensen – the silver-tongued RV salesman perfectly captured by LQ Jones.

Columbo LQ Jones
Chuck Jensen is my kind of villain!

Jensen is the actual arms supplier for whom Vincent Pauley was acting as go-between and the scene when he tracks Devlin down to complete the deal is pure gold.

As Jensen gleefully reveals hundreds of machine guns stowed in the RV’s cupboards, drawers, oven and microwave, being wicked never seemed such fun. And in an episode packed with unconvincing Irish caricatures, this mesmerising southerner feels both authentic and intriguing.

Columbo as a show has always done secondary characters well and Jensen is a fine example. Here’s a man with less than 5 minutes’ screen time in the whole episode who somehow steals the show. I want to know more about this guy – and who wouldn’t? An RV-salesman-cum-gunrunner could have been one heck of an adversary for the good Lieutenant.

My take on The Conspirators

Before writing this review, I hadn’t watched The Conspirators for an estimated 5 years. One reason was that I wanted to view it with fresh eyes for the blog. But another was that, historically, it’s never really set my heart alight and isn’t one I casually choose to watch from the DVD set.

I don’t think Columbo, as a show, deals with international social and political issues very well. Season 5 duo A Case of Immunity and A Matter of Honor, which examine Middle Eastern skulduggery and Mexican bull-fighting respectively, are amongst my least loved 70s episodes, and I’ve traditionally lumped The Conspirators in the same bracket.

Alas, revisiting it after such a long hiatus has done little to change my overall opinion. The Conspirators is a perfectly fine piece of television when compared to most other shows of the day, but it falls a long way short of Columbo at its peak.

Columbo The Conspirators
Yep, Columbo’s in *that* kind of mood again…

My complaints will be familiar ones to regular readers: the longer running time hampers proceedings, with a lot of filler to churn through; and Falk’s central characterisation is indicative of a man who was desperately seeking inspiration in a role that had become too familiar.

Yes, the Lieutenant’s season 7 malaise is back in full swing here with oafish expressions and mannerisms galore, as well as that laboured way of delivering lines that has done so much to quell the pleasure of simply watching Columbo go about his business over the course of the season’s five episodes.

I won’t rehash all those old arguments again here, but if you’ve read my previous reviews of season 7 episodes you’ll know that I’m not overly enamoured with Falk’s current portrayal of Columbo, which has too often overstepped into an annoying parody. The same applies here.

Worse than this, though, are the foolhardy blunders Devlin makes in his approach to killing, while his his non-existent attempts to cover his tracks make for a hollow mystery. Like the season’s previous outing, the disappointing How to Dial a Murder, it’s far too easy for Columbo to crack the case.

Let’s first consider Devlin’s symbolic (and stupid) rolling of the Full’s Irish Dew bottle over to the corpse of Vincent Pauley. Who was this stunt for? In Northern Ireland such an act might have been understood to signal an execution for treachery. But in LA? It’s a meaningless act unless the killer deliberately wants to advertise their involvement in the crime – which Devlin most assuredly did not wish to do.

Since its inception Columbo has been rightly lauded for the quality of the clues created for the wily detective to unravel. This one’s a poor one and is reminiscent of the time Dr Cahill left a burnt match at the crime scene in Mind Over Mayheman illogical, entirely avoidable move that only served to incriminate him during police investigations.

Columbo Full's Irish Dew
Mmm, nice manicure!

We know Devlin has crime in his past (he served jail time for plotting terrorist acts), but his actions at Pauley’s hotel room smack of idiocy. He’s already aware that Pauley is planning to take the money and run, and he comes along armed, ready to kill. With this likely eventuality in mind, wouldn’t you then do absolutely everything to minimise the likelihood of your presence ever being discovered?

The cautious approach obviously isn’t in Devlin’s make-up. He not only accepts the offer of a glass of whiskey, but he leaves fingerprints all over it and marks it with his diamond ring before being unable to resist leaving it corpse-side as his calling card. A sensible man would have refused to touch a drop and taken the full bottle away with them. Columbo could never have caught him if he’d done that!

If we’re being generous, we could explain this away by citing Devlin’s poetic nature. There was certainly poetry, romance and idealism in the whiskey bottle placement – but it was still REALLY STOOPID!

“Devlin makes it so obvious he’s the killer that Columbo hardly has to break sweat.”

To compound this senseless act, Devlin later takes Columbo to lunch to discuss the case. Instead of taking the detective somewhere where nobody knows him (or his drinking habits), Devlin takes him to an Irish bar where he’s a known regular, and where he keeps a bottle of Full’s Irish Dew behind the bar! Naturally, the barmaid whips out the bottle and presents it to Devlin – at which point Columbo has only one viable suspect.

For all the back-and-forth banter between the two leads, the great disappointment is there’s no thrill of the chase with The Conspirators. Devlin makes it so obvious he’s the killer that Columbo hardly has to break sweat. Indeed he could and should have closed the case much sooner – through use of fingerprints.

As can be shown in the image below, Devlin had his trotters all over the bottle of Dew at Pauley’s hotel room. The first thing the cops should have done at the crime scene was dust the bottle for prints. Then it’s GAME OVER, MAN, GAME OVER before Devlin ever gets the guns, and we can all live happily ever after. Certainly that would make the episode a lot shorter, but come on, this is police work at its most shoddy and inept!

Columbo Joe Devlin
Leprechaun-sized Devlin!

And it actually would have been easy to right this fundamental flaw in the teleplay. If Devlin was so attached to the idea of placing the bottle beside the dead body, he could have been shown taking a few seconds to wipe his prints from the bottle. That would have made Columbo’s eventual brainwave to match the scratches on the bottles with Devlin’s ring feel a lot more revelatory.

The sometimes dodgy and implausible writing is tough on Clive Revill, who puts in an energetic, quasi-charming turn as Devlin. He comes across as a fun-loving and mischievous little imp and his level of expressiveness is invigorating. Certainly he convinces as a poet / entertainer and you feel that he and Falk had a good time filming together.

The character is let down, however, by the script’s heavy weighting towards his joviality ahead of his common sense and by constantly placing him in suspicious situations that could only result in providing a police officer with additional reason to suspect him.

Case in point: Devlin simply shows up unannounced at the murder scene where Columbo is investigating. He never explains why he’s there and Columbo doesn’t ask him – even though his uninvited presence virtually screams out that he’s frigging guilty! It’s another serious flaw that could have been easily remedied with tighter writing.

The script also makes Devlin come across, at times, as an annoying berk, whose silver tongue and penchant for quoting poetry (including awful limericks) and swigging whiskey mark him out as one of those irritating barflies who you can’t wait to escape after a minute or two’s conversation. Or maybe I’m just too hard-hearted…?

Still, Revill can’t be accused of not fully committing to the character and he handles the switches between darkness and light reasonably well as befits the duplicitous nature of his work as a fundraiser for a terrorist organisation that he espouses to abhor.

Columbo  Joe Devlin The Conspirators
Warning: this man’s accent is about as Belfastian as The Queen’s

What’s less forgivable is Revill’s dreadful accent. As the son of two Belfast-born parents, I can tell you with absolute confidence that his accent is all over the place. He has much more of a southern Irish lilt about him (as does Kate O’Connell), but its patchy application varies greatly throughout and sometimes lapses almost entirely.

Most viewers won’t care or notice, but Belfast natives (as Devlin claims to be) will be roaring their disapproval while watching this. On the plus side, Devlin’s chunky knitwear might have been plucked off the very back of a Kilkeel fisherman, giving an authentic feel to his wardrobe if nothing else.

Devlin’s cheerful nature and predilection towards alcohol-infused high-jinks allows The Conspirators to indulge in a goodly amount of nonsense to offset the darker theme – including the darts match and ‘limericks at 20 paces’ section of the episode, where Columbo and Devlin have the barmaid in stitches as they trade rhyming couplets.

However, much of the humour is hit and miss. Columbo’s visit to the book store to seek info on the identity of Vincent Pauley is a particularly bad moment. The Lieutenant ogling erotic art while a bookish assistant eyes him knowingly is a shudder-inducing glimpse of the heavy-handed humour the comeback episodes will be packed with 11 years later.

Personally I much prefer the bashful Columbo of the earlier seasons who couldn’t look at the life model, or bring himself to follow Viveca Scott into the nude sunbathing area. A leering fool gawping unashamedly at such forbidden fruit isn’t the Lieutenant I know and love…

Columbo The Conspirators
Columbo’s confidence has soared in the 7 years since he couldn’t look a nude model in the eye!

All of this points towards a distinctly disheartening final bow for Lieutenant Columbo, yet there is much to commend The Conspirators for – not least the scope and ambition of the story line. Tackling a real-world topic such as the Northern Ireland troubles was a brave move for the series – especially when you consider that the months preceding the episode airing was a brutal time in the conflict.

In December 1977, the IRA went on a ‘bombing blitz’ where more than 30 devices were used against transport, commercial and industrial targets. 1978 was ushered in with a deluge of violent attacks against British soldiers and the Ulster Defence Regiment. Worse still, on February 17 the IRA perpetuated one of the single worst events of the entire conflict – the La Mons restaurant bombing, which killed 12 and badly burned dozens more.

It was therefore pretty hardcore for Columbo to prominently feature IRA sympathisers and show the Lieutenant enjoying the company of a murderer and terrorist – yet it’s a move I applaud them for. It’s a much more interesting take on a baddie than the rather unadventurous portrayal of treacherous Arab Hassan Salah in A Case of Immunity.

The Conspirators is also one of the few episodes in which Columbo is part of a much bigger story than mere murder, and the scale of his accomplishment is at a much higher level. Although secondary to his task of nabbing a killer, Columbo figuring out where the guns were hidden and derailing the shipment was far more inspiring police work than collaring Devlin.

In preventing the shipment reaching enemy hands, Columbo potentially saved hundreds of innocent lives. It’s arguably his crowning achievement and the magnitude of his success is absolutely fitting for the 70s’ series’ final chapter.

So, too, is the closing scene, which beautifully draws a line under the series. When he said “This far and no farther,” Peter Falk didn’t whether Columbo would ever return to screens, but it gave the series a subtle and suitable sense of finality.

Columbo The Conspirators
This far and no farther: The Conspirators’ finale hits all the right notes

But was this the right time to call time on Columbo as a series? It’s a question that splits opinion to this day. The show was no longer pivotal to the network in the way it was when Columbo formed part of the ‘Mystery Movie’ wheel in earlier years, and NBC was increasingly reluctant to pick up the tab on the frequent budget over-runs.

As a result, negotiations on whether the Lieutenant would return for a further season simply petered out and the show was quietly shelved. Disappointing? Undoubtedly for many. But in my opinion, this was the right juncture to call it quits.

With the ratio of Columbo hits to misses (or middle-of-the-roads) substantially decreasing since season 5, and Falk obviously looking for ways to keep himself interested in the role while his big-screen ambitions soared, this really feels like the optimum time for an amicable separation.

“If not ending the series on a momentous high, The Conspirators is at least not scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

For me, having closely charted the evolution of the Columbo character on this blog, the very integrity of the good Lieutenant was at stake as Falk’s portrayal veered ever more towards overblown theatrics and clumsy humour. Season 7 Columbo was nowhere near as watchable as the perfectly honed character from seasons 2-4. Extending the series further would surely have had further detrimental impacts on our favourite sleuth.

So where does this leave The Conspirators? Well, if not ending the series on a momentous high it’s at least not scraping the bottom of the barrel. But I find it a strangely lacklustre outing, and for a series as revered as Columbo, near enough isn’t good enough.

I treasure the enduring excellence of Columbo above all other TV offerings, but at this point in the Lieutenant’s career ‘this far and no farther’ seems, to me at least, to be entirely apt.

Columbo Conspirators
Cheers Lieutenant! It’s been an amazing journey!

Did you know?

The Conspirators didn’t start its life as a Columbo episode at all – the basic premise was cooked up by Pat Robison and was originally intended to be a pilot for a completely different program (although I know not which). The man entrusted with Columbo-fying the adventure was Howard Berk, best known as the writer of season 4’s By Dawn’s Early Light.

How I rate ’em

For all the energy of Clive Revill’s performance, The Conspirators remains too flawed to take a place in the upper echelons of my leader board. I consider this a lower mid-tier adventure by 70s’ standards. How will it compare with the ‘new episodes’ that commenced 11 years later? Time, my dear friends, will tell…

Check out any of my previous reviews via the links below.

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Make Me a Perfect Murder
  20. Identity Crisis
  21. Swan Song
  22. The Most Crucial Game
  23. Etude in Black
  24. By Dawn’s Early Light
  25. Candidate for Crime
  26. Greenhouse Jungle
  27. Playback
  28. Forgotten Lady
  29. Requiem for a Falling Star
  30. Blueprint for Murder
  31. Fade in to Murder
  32. Ransom for a Dead Man
  33. Murder Under Glass —C-List starts here—
  34. A Case of Immunity
  35. Dead Weight
  36. The Conspirators
  37. The Most Dangerous Match
  38. Lovely but Lethal 
  39. How to Dial a Murder
  40. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  41. A Matter of Honor
  42. Mind Over Mayhem
  43. Old Fashioned Murder
  44. Dagger of the Mind
  45. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here
Columbo Clive Revill
Only 36th position? Where’s me dynamite, I’ll show ‘im!

Rest assured you won’t have to wait 11 years until I start tackling Columbo’s comeback episodes, so check back soon as I lurch in time to 1989 to give Columbo Goes to the Guillotine a damn good going over.

In the meantime, please share your own views on The Conspirators below. From social media interactions with fans, I’m aware this is one that many love, but almost as many don’t care for. Where do you sit on the subject? And how does Joe Devlin compare to the killers that came before him?

As always, thanks so much for reading. And if you can bring yourself to make a small donation to the American Friends for Northern Ireland I’m sure they’ll put the cash to very good use…


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Columbo The Conspirators
Nothing on earth is as funny as this woman makes average limericks out to be – GO FIGURE!
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81 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo The Conspirators

  1. I think you were spot on in your write up.

    Episode ‘Meh.’

    This ends my 45 episode binge. The entire galoot, 1968-78.

    First time through… evah. How fun.

    Really enjoyed them and will watch them again someday.

    I enjoyed this episode’s filler nugget at the bookstore where both he and the store gal took a turn on the naughty art book.

     
  2. I liked this episode. A charming villain, and a nice episode visually. I didn’t notice the wandering accent but I have an Irish friend who is sensitive to those sort of things so I’ll have to ask him about it. I didn’t know when I watched it that it was the final episode of the classic era. I also completely missed that the name of the brand of the whisky is Full, so “Let Each Man Be Paid in Full” is a pun!

     
  3. dear Columbophile,
    (a detail in your comments)
    You wrote: ” Devlin simply shows up unannounced at the murder scene where Columbo is investigating. He never explains why he’s there and Columbo doesn’t ask him – even though his uninvited presence virtually screams out that he’s frigging guilty!”
    I understood the scene and the words otherwise, Devlin being invited by Columbo (what he often does towards the suspects), but arriving sooner than attented. That explains why Columbo is still on the ground.
    If you’re invited for that kind of meeting, arriving sooner can be a clever attitude.

     
  4. I must commend you on the line: ‘A leering fool gawping unashamedly at such forbidden fruit.’ You have a lovely turn of phrase. Perhaps you should write a novel?

     
  5. A strength of The Conspirators is Albert Paulsen’s Mr. Pauley: clearly a guy who was comfortable on the dark side of the streets, and Paulsen’s nasty face graced many a TV show and movie and he was always convincing. The moment he shows up here, sneering through the bookstore window, I was hooked, and when Revill’s Devlin began jousting with Pauley, it seemed to be the start of a legitimate thriller. The fact that it segued into a Columbo episode delighted and intrigued me. I continued to enjoy the novelty of “The Troubles” being a backdrop to a Columbo episode despite some of the plot weaknesses pointed out here. (Can I admit I was so well along for the ride I didn’t even notice them?) And Devlin makes a formidable villain, a guy with a twinkle in his eye who can charm a crowd; a musician; a poet; a killer. Count me as one who loves this episode.

     
  6. Hello folks Still Very cold and windy here in The UK so if your planning to stay indoors this Sunday here is 5 USA line up , it starts early

    9.00 Dead Weight
    10 35 Grand Deceptions
    12.35 Murder smoke and shadows
    2.35 Suitable for framing (top pick)
    4.00 Playback
    5.35 The most crucial game

    A very very decent line up with suitable for framing the best on the menu for tomorrow , my second choice would be playback , followed by the most crucial game , then it would be Murder smoke and shadows for me comfortably over Grand deceptions and Dead weight the least appealing but as its on so early I might watch it if i am not hangover d .

     
  7. I think the review hits the right note – a decent episode to bow out on, and L Q Jones is the standout performer, but not a classic in the ranks of “A Friend In Deed” (personal favourite).
    I’ve always thought that if Brendan Behan had still been alive he could have sued NBC for libel over this episode. The IRA lad who did time in a British borstal (a prison for young people focussed on rehabilitation) after trying to blow up a shipyard with a couple of fire-crackers and emerged as a working-class literary genius in the 1950’s. (“Up From Ignorance” indeed! He came from a very cultured family, his brother wrote the song “The Patriot’s Game”.) Behan was always an Irish nationalist, but never fronted for the IRA by posing as a philanthropist.
    It has to be said there were American Irish who supported the IRA in 1970’s, probably due to misguided patriotism without realising the indiscriminate carnage they were causing in Ireland and mainland Britain. This episode acted as a useful alert to the true nature of the IRA at that time.

     
  8. Thanks for all of your entertaining recaps. The best half dozen or dozen Columbo episodes are among the finest TV shows ever. Though the quality of the show, even in the ’70s, was sometimes all over the map, your recaps have always been enjoyable. I agree with most of your rankings, and in the cases where we disagree, you make a better case for your opinions than I think I’d be able to make for mine. And your photo captions are hilarious. What more could one want from a set of recaps?

     
  9. I don’t have much to add to these many interesting and insightful comments, but despite the well-documented shortcomings, this is an episode I enjoy watching and re-watching. Maybe it’s Clive Revill’s portrayal of the two-faced Joe Devlin, switching between clownish entertainer (he IS entertaining) and soul-less gun-runner. (I never knew he was a Kiwi.) I do agree that the cartoonishly overdone Columbo mannerisms get a bit wearing. I had to laugh when he bent over to look at Mrs. O’Connell’s needlepoint… with the lit cigar in his hand… if he tried that with my wife’s needlepoint, she’d punch him right in the nose.

     
  10. It’s interesting, both this and “How to Dial a Murder” both feature killers that make so many mistakes it’s surprising the episode doesn’t end in a half hour. I enjoy both episodes, but prefer this, mainly because Revill is “Revilling” in his opportunity to guest star, whereas Williamson was good, but sometimes seemed bored to be there.

    It’s interesting what a difference writing makes. I think back to my favorite episode, “Double Exposure,” and that’s an episode where Columbo pegs Culp’s Bart Keppel as the killer pretty quickly. The difference is that the script allows Keppel to cover his tracks very well, so Columbo knows it’s him, and Keppel knows he knows, but they both know his instinct isn’t enough to convict.

    It’s almost like Columbo is purposely letting Devlin wander free to unravel the mystery of the guns. He arrests Devlin shortly after he deduces the location of the weapons, and allows Devlin to watch the ship get stopped as he’s telling him how he knows he did it.

    Not the best of the episodes, but the energetic performance by Revill goes a long way to making it one of the better episodes of the series. It’s rewatch it 10 times before sitting through “Mind over Mayhem” again. I may have knocked Williamson earlier, but I enjoyed his performance far more than Ferrer, who not only looks bored, but also seemed a bit wooden. He was a long way from “The Caine Mutiny.”

     
    • According to the Columbo File book, Nicol Williamson had no memories to share of How to Dial a Murder, as he had been going through a difficult time in his personal life when they filmed it and just did it for the money. He wasn’t negative about being on Columbo, but it was just a job he’d done a decade earlier.

       
    • This episode would have been so much better if Columbo had gotten a visit from an ATF agent (or from whatever Federal agency investigated terrorism in the 70s). The boys in the lab found Devlin’s prints on the bottle next to the dead guy and Columbo is ready to make an arrest. The agent asks him to hold off until Devlin leads them to the guns that well meaning but misguided Americans had paid for, not realizing they were funding the murders of innocent people in the British Isles. The agent might even explain the symbolism of the whiskey bottle. That way, they could cut some filler and explain why Columbo wasn’t arresting the clearly guilty Devlin.

       
  11. While there were certainly earlier better episodes, I don’t mind this one badly. I do agree with your synopsis that Joe Devlin was screaming to be found and that the real mystery was how were they going to get the weapons onboard. What made this villain so easy to trap was the wearing of his sympathies on his heart sleeves when it came to his respect for the IRA terrorist Michael Dolan. From there he was as good as caught, with so much physical evidence they could have thrown some away.

    We’re reminded finally in this episode of how an actor can take a bit part and make it sing. I mean of course, LQ Jones, our favorite gun runner. He always seems to take small parts and turn them into show stealers (I’m thinking of his role as the county commissioner in “Casino”).

    As far as the Columbo storybook goes, this was a good time to close shop. The NBC made-for-tv movie wheel had run its course. It was a grand run and it was time to call it a series. The later Columbos may not have matched the earlier run but there were a few episodes that are watch-worthy. Can’t wait till you get to them!

     
  12. One of the strengths of Columbo is that Columbo IS Peter Falk as much as Peter Falk IS Columbo. You’ve said of the last few years his acting was more pronounced and emphasized in terms of Columbos mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, and attributed it to over acting. I don’t believe it is. What happens as people age? That’s right. Everything about who they are gets more pronounced and defined. It’s never bothered me that all his quirks became more accentuated as the series progressed because that’s what happens in real life.

    This is a stellar episode, easily the best of Season 7.

     
    • This explanation works especially well if you assume that Columbo’s mannerisms and idiosyncracies were themselves an act. Then it makes even more sense that his theatrics would exaggerate over time. [Use his private telephone calls to his wife in “An Exercise in Fatality” and “Troubled Waters” for comparison. He’s a much different guy here.]

       
  13. I have always enjoyed this episode, due to the excellent performance by Clive Revill as the two very different sides of the charming, but deadly Joe Devlin, literally the ultimate Columbo villain. As to his fine broth of a boy accent, it may be an affectation on the character’s part (note the variety of voices Devlin uses in the opening scene) or it may simply be it was felt that American audiences wouldn’t understand a Belfast accent.

    One thing that has always puzzled me though is if friend Pauley really is planning a double cross, or has Devlin jumped to conclusions, realising far too late that the execution was unwarranted? First of all, the guns really do exist, hidden in the RV. If a double cross was planned, why even bother contacting the supplier and sourcing the guns? Secondly, Pauley’s reaction to Devlin’s accusation is not fear, but anger, possibly at his deserved reputation for reliability being questioned. And finally, if Pauley was planning to double cross a member of the IRA, it was pretty stupid of him to give Devlin an untraceable gun!

     
    • He jumped to a conclusion. Jensen wanted more money, because he quoted the higher price when showing Devlin the guns in the RV.

      Also remember the conversation he had with Kerry at the back of the bar about

      Kerry: “It’s a pity about Mr. Pauley”
      Devlin: “pity about us all, isn’t it Kerry; but he’s not the 1st innocent victim of war, is he”

      And yes, Pauley was pissed about his integrity being questioned.

       
          • Thanks for your comments. I think I understand what happened now. Pauley already knew from Devlin’s “friends” that the 500 guns needed to be ready by the 15th and had already made arrangements with Jensen to provide them by then for $150,000.00. He got greedy, asking for an additional $50,000.00 for his dealer (but actually for himself) to provide the guns by the 15th instead of the 30th, which immediately aroused Devlin’s suspicions. When Devlin confronted him, Pauley got angry, and loaded a sample gun to demonstrate that he was an arms dealer. Devlin was planning to execute him anyway, and thinking that Pauley might be about to shoot him, shot him first with the silenced gun Pauley had given him. It was only when Devlin was contacted by Jensen with his RV full of 500 guns for $150,000.00 that he realised he had not given Pauley a chance to explain that the original deal was valid and he must have explained this to Kerry just before their discussion in the pub. Jensen is not bothered, as he won’t have to pay Pauley a commission and he is keen to get shot of the guns. I think it was the lines “It’s a shame about Mr Pauley” and “he’s not the first innocent victim” that first made me think Devlin had realised he had not been double crossed and there was no need to execute Pauley.

             
            • Right. Remember the scene outside the morning after when O’Connell chews him out and says “What supplier? According to you, Pauley was going to steal our money and run.” He doesn’t find out til later that he was only greedy, not going to rip them off in total.

               
  14. Absolutely dreading the reviews of the new episodes. I wouldn’t say that Columbophile should stop reviewing…but those reviews are going to be ugly. And I am one of those weirdos who like most of the “new” episodes, although it’s true that the bad ones (“Murder in Malibu”, the two taken from Ed McBain novels) are really terrible.

    Some times I think that one has to take an episode on its own terms. Why wasn’t Devlin arrested after they dusted the bottle for prints? The bottle must not have had any readable prints, or they *would* have arrested him.

    Surprised that this review did not call out the biggest logical problem in this episode, namely, all the “oh no, the boat’s leaving! We have to find the guns before it’s too late!” All they have to do is search the ship in Belfast.

     
    • You’re not a weirdo at all for liking the new episodes, don’t worry. I rank many 70’s episodes above many 90’s ones, but I still love most of the 90’s bunch as well (2 are even in my overall top 5). As Columbo episodes go, there are just a handful I don’t like. That’s why I look forward to AND kind of dread the reviews of the new one’s as well. But we’ll see what happens.
      To get back to the logical problem in The Conspirators you mention: I’m not an expert I think it could have been hard to get a permission to search the ship in Belfast when it has been cleared in the US at least twice. Anyway that’s what I used to think.

       
    • I like the ABC episodes just fine, in fact 6 of them are in my top 20 Columbo episodes. But I’m also worried I’m not going to like reading the 90s reviews as much, especially after CP’s comment that he prefers The Conspirators to 80% of them.
      Then again, I disagreed with his opinions a lot of times and still think his reviews are very well written and worth reading. And I commend him for giving credit to the highly underrated Lady In Waiting and A Deadly State Of Mind.

       
    • Hi I agree
      I wouldn’t go as far as to say i am dreading the new episode reviews but they wont be read in the same light as the classic 70s era reviews which I thoroughly enjoy along with the 5 best moments in second .
      However I do like the majority of the new ones and I would have suggested to columbophile to rate them in the rankings seperatley but I can name at least 10 new ones that are better than 70s episodes ( Which includes this one The conspirators im afraid , Just never been a fan of this one , I notice its below The most dangerous match which isn’t columbos finest but given a choice id watch it over the conspirators just never got to like it ) episodes such as dagger of the mind , dead weight , murder under glass last salute and Mind over mayhem and old fashioned murder are relatively poor episodes and I enjoy new ones such as A trace of Murder , Death hits the jackpot (my favorite new one) , Murder can be hazardous to your Health ( which I actually prefer than Hamiltons 7o s episode A deadly state of mind ) Agenda for Murder , columbo goes to college , Murder smoke and Shadows, Uneasy lies the Crown and even Sex and the married detective more than those seventies episodes
      However I am going to save my self a lot of trouble and say I Dont enjoy Columbo goes under the guillotine next to be reviewed at all one of the worst new ones very un columbo like rather boring and I hate the ending with columbo putting his head in the guillotine , I am surprised columbophile is a fan of it .

       
    • Always like to see examples of cultural happenings that were occurring at the time an episode was created. Columbo knew about needlepoint because of his nephew. At the time, needlepoint was making a comeback. We alive at the time will recall how Rosy Grier (big football player) and his needlepoint was a constant subject in media of the day. Recently saw an episode of Match Game from that time. Rosy was a panelist and the topic was brought up. Then Gene Rayburn (the host) discussed how he does needle point when traveling between east and west coasts by air.

       
  15. Jeanette Nolan gives a very subdued performance as Kate O’Connell. You would hardly know this is the same actress who played the ferocious Mrs. Peck in “Double Shock” five years earlier.

     
      • I am not a big fan of the Mrs peck scenes in double shock but I dont dislike them either, they added a touch of humor to the episode but are a tad overrated for me but Double shock is a much better episode than the conspirators overall and I never even noticed she was Mrs O’Connell in large as the conspirators is one I generally dont make it my business to watch.

         
  16. I rank The Conspirators a tad higher, mostly on the strength of the Devlin character – but then I’m a sucker for a wannabe poet-warrior-gunrunner. I agree totally that the RV dude steals the show (I theorize that Sam Elliott got his latter-day career look and persona from Mr. RV). My plot-point complaint about the episode is that Pauley would not be so stupid as to expect to be able to rip off Devlin and his IRA cohorts merely by taking the money and flying off. It’s even debatable whether Pauley would want to, or was he planning to get out of the business and go underground forever?

     
  17. This is how at long last I rate season 7 overall

    1 – Try and catch Me

    2 – Make me a perfect Murder
    3 – How to Dial a Murder
    4 – The Conspirators
    5 – Murder Under glass

    In conclusion Try and Catch me miles the best and most memorable of the entire and is also my favorite overall episode , Make me a perfect murder with the excellent trish van devere a very comfortable, second the Not so great How to dial a murder 3rd but still preferable to the conspirators in 4th and Murder under glass one of the poorest episodes overall certainly of the seventies run in 5th place .

     
  18. Hi columbophile good to see we have reached the end of the seventies episode reviews I can now say I have seen em all fully reviewed what a momentous and slightly tearful landmark , However it to me at least is a shame columbo had to bow out from the classic era with such a poorly written episode, Im going to be frank here and say I just dont like this one, as much as I would like to become a fan of the conspirators I simply cant, any time I watch this things just dont seem to improve mainly for all the negative reasons as stated above but the main one for me is placing the whisky bottle next to the victim , this has always troubled me and really spoils the episode , devlin might as well have hand written a confession signed it and personally delivered it to columbos office , I just cannot get past this .
    There are a few funny scenes in the pub and a few good limericks which add a bit of flavor and color to the episode but on the whole I find devlins character a little UN convincing and at times annoying and although the ending is adventurous its also bothered me about devlin forgetting to remove the company emblem/flag from the tugboat especially after just loading it with illegal firearms under the nose of the FBI and LA s finest detective , I know a lot of people like this one but i will never be one of them coincidentally An exercise in fatality was aired yesterday perhaps in tribute to Robert Conrad which I watched and is a much better written episode than the conspirators ,
    we go into a new dawn with the new batch we look forward , great work columbophile .

     
  19. “The Conspirators didn’t start its life as a Columbo episode at all – the basic premise was cooked up by Pat Robison and was originally intended to be a pilot for a completely different program…”

    This explains everything! Thanks for the post, as usual, the commentary is such a good read. And here’s my comment about the episode:

    There once was a fellow named Devlin,
    Whose show host was Carol, not Evelyn.
    In fact, I would rather,
    The show got no farther,
    As this episode is not one to revel in.

    🙂

     
  20. Seconding Richardweill on episodes with other little mysteries. And looking forward to your steady hand on the second run. Someone needs to say something, darn it. It’s a thornier diet, but some insights and glimmers. I think it’s got one of Jackson Gillis’s best scripts (A Bird in the Hand), and he used to write Perry Masons. (And, Suitable for Framing.)

    LQ Jones was also in Mason a couple times, but Jeanette Nolan was in a lot. She usually played little old European ladies saying, “He’s a good boy, Papa!” It always seemed like her role in The Conspirators was to kind of make-up for making her the butt of that weird comic-relief in Double Shock. (Was Columbo’s unintentional emotional goading of her supposed to be funny or something?)

    The Three Stooges of arms dealers also probably deserve a mention, though I’m not sure what. They were certainly very 1970’s Universal Studios-types of thugs. Maybe they were trying out for Rockford. I think the guy who told him to go to hell also appears in another episode as a cop. (By the way, the man who gets a neck rub from Kay Freestone in Perfect Murder– Milt Kogan– actually was a Rockford thug, and he gets to come back as the Medical Examiner, in the later ones.)

    The bookseller scene– yeah, that’s definitely an augur of the future. That “cute” music. OMG. Next thing, he’ll be leading a parade of kids with a tuba, and– what? Oh. Well, you gotta love the guy.

     
  21. I always quite enjoyed this episode and the ending ranks as one of my favorites. “This far and no farther” is a beautiful final line.

     
  22. This is another fav. episode of mine. A murderer who is also a terrorist with convictions, but still likeable.and Columbo and Devlin enjoy each others company But being a gunrunner, it is very satisfactory when he is brought down. I love the boozing and limerick competion. “I don’t know how the hell he can”..
    A shout out to Jeanette Nolan. She is an amazing character and so different in every role she is in. She was very sinister in this episode. Smiling villian.
    I love reading the blogs but I love Columbo’s mannerisms and enjoy most of the later shows.This was a fitting end to the 70’s shows.
    Columbo almost always seemed un-American because he does not like guns. This far and no farther

     
  23. The poet Irishman grates after a while with the whiskey,perhaps the writers realised the end was coming and ran out plots .It was great run perhaps the writers could have come up with a master criminal for Colombo to catch that taunts the detective with his crimes like a moriarty to columbos Sherlock Holmes .

     
  24. This is indeed the end of an era. I’ve always enjoyed the CP reviews, insightful comments, and incisive critiques. And it’s exactly for this reason that I have a request, Columbophile….please do not make your reviews of the “second” era episodes of Columbo very long.

    There’s a commenter below who “looks forward to you tearing the later episodes to shreds”. I respect this opinion, but personally, I don’t look forward to it at all. I wish that those behind the revival of this revered and classic series had simply left well enough alone. Being reminded of their ineptitude is not very pleasant, although critically ravaging a piece of work may be satisfying as a writer. I do realize that there are folks on this blog who actually like a number of the later episodes. But I believe most of us already are well aware of their many shortcomings: middling writing, ham-handed “humor”, Falk’s portrayal, generic guest murderers (there are a couple exceptions, of course), and poorly-conceived attempts to juice the Columbo “formula”. This makes me sad, but also a bit angry that this later run of episodes isn’t given a real attention to detail, and sometimes seems like a cash grab by all involved….yes, including Peter Falk.

    I haven’t watched all of these episodes, as I too often found myself cringing during their original run. But there are a small few that I do find OK and could view again. My suggestion: Instead of long and comprehensive reviews of every element of these episodes as you’ve done up until now, CP, you could do a brief synopsis of the plot and a short summary of the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” elements of the episodes, with a final verdict on whether or not its worth the time of us “classic” Columbo watchers. I respect your opinion enough that if you like it overall, then I will give it a shot, even if I ignored or avoided it earlier.

    And please keep up the “Best Moments” mini-blogs about the classics…this will continue to remind us of the high Columbo standards that generally disappeared later on. Thank you!

     
    • I’ve never watched the second generation Columbo episodes and never will. I won’t be reading any of the reviews although I throughly enjoy these I don’t usually agree With the ratings. For example The Conspirators is one of my favorites.

       
    • I’ll likely include a couple of new features for the new episode reviews, although I’m not planning on giving them any less attention than I have for the 70s’ eps. I won’t tear them to shreds for the sake of it, although of course if there are aspects that need to be slammed, I’m the guy to do it!

       
    • As someone who eagerly awaited Columbo’s return in 1989 and had high hopes for every new episode thereafter, I’ll be very interested to read a full analysis of the later Columbos. In particular, I’m looking for an answer to the question: why aren’t the later Columbos generally as good? We know that funding constraints meant that the casting had less overall star quality (although we still got Dunaway, McGoohan, Hamilton, Shatner, and others). We know that Columbo was at its best at 90 minutes, and later financial considerations made this impossible (although excellent 120-minute episodes abound). Was there another creative shift somewhere? In the plots? In the cleverness and originality of the clues? In Falk’s performance? Was Columbo unable to attract an equivalent stable of extraordinary writers to the workhorses of the 1970’s (including the many one-time writers)? Did the later Columbos become too stylized, too artsy?

      I recently saw a revival of a favorite play and was greviously annoyed at directorial changes made to the original. I blamed the zeal of the new creative team to leave a signature mark on the production. Merely recreating the play’s original greatness clearly wasn’t enough for them. They had to do it their way, add their vision. Perhaps some of that thinking gave us ringmasters, tubas, and the like in the later Columbos?

      Or did concessions to the modern world of CSI, DNA, CCTV, etc. lessen the credibility of an intuitive detective like Columbo? (This is one reason I believe that any Columbo revival has to be a prequel. Put Columbo back in the day when psychology played a greater role in crime-solving than science.)

      So I, for one, look forward to the next batch of insightful Columbophile reviews.

       
    • Hello,
      I’d like to ask CP to continue his beautiful job. First because it’s always pleasant to read what and how he writes, second because it’s interesting, and third because I can agree or disagree.
      Yes, there are several very bad episodes in the second series, but there are also some very good. I know you don’t agree, but for me “Sex and the Married Detective” is one of them. “Agenda for Murder”, “Rest in Peace…”, “Columbo goes to College…” etc.
      It will be very interestinf (for me!) to read why we disagree.

       
  25. Most Columbo murderers either attempt to pull off a “perfect crime” or at least make every effort to cover their tracks. I’ve never considered these among Joe Devlin’s priorities. He clearly conceives of himself as a soldier on a mission. Completing the mission is his goal. Getting away unharmed is secondary.

    If you start from that premise, some of the plot holes in this episode don’t seem so gaping. Devlin leaves calling cards behind, acts without regard to the case against him, and interjects himself into Columbo’s investigation in seemingly suicidal ways, because he is an atypical Columbo villain. Unlike his predecessors, his principal concern is not getting away with Pauley’s murder. It’s the cause. He doesn’t mind getting caught as long as the guns reach their destination on time. Thus, he needs to find out the identity of Pauley’s supplier. He needs to find out what Columbo knows that might interfere with the larger operation. Etc. These things entail risk.

    One final point: I appreciate any Columbo that, in addition to the hallmark open mystery, also contains a true mystery to solve, even as a subplot. Which Paris brother killed Uncle Clifford (“Double Shock”)? How did Oliver Brandt make the dictionary fall at exactly the right time (“Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case”)? How did Paul Gerard poison the wine (“Murder Under Glass”)? Where Devlin and the O’Connells are hiding the guns is another such mystery. And given that maintaining that mystery is more important to Devlin than a murder rap, a particularly good one.

     
    • You said almost verbatim what I was about to add about the mysterie aspect of the episode, wholeheartedly agree.

       
    • There’s merit in what you say, but any good soldier also knows the importance of preserving manpower and avoiding stupid mistakes that will give the enemy an advantage – both of which he massively fails at, despite having every opportunity to succeed. Devlin is a poor solider – perhaps explaining why he did jail time as a youth and will again as a man. The O’Connells will be spitting feathers…

       
      • And of course the O’Connells will be going to jail, as will Chuck Jensen- a huge setback to the cause Joe had set out to promote.

        I’m fonder of Clive Revill’s performance than you are- some of the moments when his accent slips into that of the Leprechaun complaining that “They’re after me Lucky Charms!,” and some of the other preposterous moments of Oirishness do come when he’s performing for an American public that doesn’t really know anything at all about Ireland. I think that’s part of the point of the episode, that people who knew what was going on wouldn’t give money to groups like NORAID. Anyway, I’m in total agreement about everything else, including the overall ranking.

         
    • Good post, Richard, and I wholeheartedly agree… the clue is in the title; ‘The Conspirators’ – plural not singular – Devlin’s murder of Pauley was an unexpected event not the central intent… it was always about getting the guns out that was the aim of the game.

      I’ve always believed that’s why Columbo didn’t nail Devlin earlier… he was tagging him along to ultimately nab the arms shipment he knew they were planning.

      Contrary to what another poster wrote, I think the line “politics makes liars of us all” was a great line and was perfectly in-character for a man like Devlin… I heard that kind of justification for years back in Norn Iron.

       
    • I agree. I found this episode thrilling, exciting. Not about the murder, but about the weapons. You see how Columbo is loosing the game and… suddenly wins. You may find he’s lucky. Yes, but he also is a good observer. I really liked the end of the episode, and I like the harbour-townscape where it happens. It even inspired me to look for the bridge on Google Maps: Vincent Thomas, isn’t it? If ever I go to L.A., I’m sure I’ll go there. (As I will go to the concert hall of “Sex and the Married Detective” (!).)

       
  26. The subject of this episode has always surprised me. A commercial television series with a very popular hero treating of a hot political item in which a lot of Americans are concerned, I found it, and still find it a very courageous initiative.

     
  27. A great read and a fair review of the episode. I’ve heard this episode called ” The worst ever!” , It has it’s flaws but it’s far from that, overall it stands up as a good entertaining episode. I think the relationship between Devlin and The Lieutenant is interesting. This time the murderer is more Columbos peer and columbo seems to genuinely enjoy his company.
    Clive Revill plays the light and darkness of Devlin well ( he also had to learn the banjo for the role) and accent aside ,created a memorable character.

     
  28. Regulars on this site might know me as the guy who typically writes looooong comments that are sort of my own reviews of the episode. As a writer and editor, I am also a vehement hater of plagiarists. However, since I have a work deadline and am pressed for time, and since the middle paragraph of Stevo the Magnificent’s magnificent response below literally took the words out of my mouth, I will simply cheat this time and plagiarize his words (sorry Steve, please don’t sue me):
    “It’s not the best or even top-tier ‘Columbo’ episode, and many of it’s weaknesses you pointed out are correct… but dang it, it’s just such a sprightly and enjoyable slice of murder-mystery television that it gets by on sheer charm alone… Clive Revill is great and surprisingly very likable as Joe Devlin, and it’s because of that charming performance that when he see his darker side at times, it’s all the more impactful. It’s not one of the best but it IS one of my favorites… like ‘Identity Crisis’ before it, it seems I have somewhat of a taste for the more bonkers ‘Columbo’ episodes… they take nothing away from the towering achievements by the likes of ‘A Friend in Deed’ or ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’ et al… that’s the strength of classic-era ‘Columbo’, there’s something for all tastes.”
    Now, just a brief addendum. Many thanks to CP for all the time and effort he has invested in producing these insanely detailed, remarkably entertaining, brilliantly written and exquisitely and hilariously photo-captioned episode reviews, which I was lucky enough to join about half-way thru when I happened upon his great blog while Googling Columbo.
    Finally, one last note on this review. As I have long argued, how much we enjoy the murderer is probably more critical to our love of an episode than any other factor. I suspect (and I may be wrong) that CP’s giveaway about his Irish heritage and being bothered by the accent throughout, had a greater effect on his lowly opinion of this episode than he realizes. My enjoyment of seeing Revill and Falf’s time together is what makes it for me, giveaway clues and all.

     
    • “Many thanks to CP for all the time and effort he has invested in producing these insanely detailed, remarkably entertaining, brilliantly written and exquisitely and hilariously photo-captioned episode reviews…”

      Agreed.

       
  29. This is in my bottom 10 of the 70’s episodes, but still somewhat entertaining. The episode is fairly ambitious but seems like it could have been a little better written. Yes the clues left by Devlin are almost ridiculous for such a supposed intelligent man, Perhaps as Rainbowman56 puts it, due to his alcohol dependency. Agree the RV salesman character did a great job. It will be very interesting to see the jump to the 1989 to 2003 episode reviews. Here in the states we have Columbo every Sunday night on ME TV, tonight is Blueprint For Murder, always good with a few glasses of wine….cheers!

     
  30. Devlin: I grabbed every scrap of paper in the place!

    Columbo literally one minute later: Hey, I found this book with your signature in it at the crime scene…

    Agreed that episodes where Columbo is handed evidence that shouldn’t exist tend to fall flat. At least pretend there was some effort to hide it! Like maybe show Pauley gifting the signed book to the waiter who got him the bottle of Fulls Irish Dew for Columbo to discover later.

    It’s not a terrible episode, just disappointing for a final outing. I enjoy the RV scenes and the pinball scene is fun too. “…someday the whole sky is gonna light up, and it’s gonna say “tilt,” and that’s gonna be the end of the world.“

    Congratulations on getting through the original series! I always enjoy hearing your take on the episodes. It’s quite the accomplishment!

     
  31. As you have with all of the other reviews, you’re critiques are spot on and on a factual basis difficult to argue. I don’t think the episode is as weak you said, but that’s a respectful disagreement and not the first such disagreement.

    I hate Joe Devlin. Among all of the killers in the classic 70s episodes I can’t think of a killer I despise more. Oh sure, Milo Janus was a contemptible jerk and Dale Kingston was as arrogant as they come, but neither made any pretense of being anything else. They weren’t acting as a charming poor poet to hide their terrorist heart and they weren’t stealing money from suckers under the pretense of being a pacifist. Nope only Joe Devlin, who was going around as a prophet of peace and mercy, was actually plotting mass murder. I get your criticisms of the episode (Devlin making it an easy case to solve) but I’m able to look past all of that. Some very good episodes had some easy cases to solve. Riley Greenleaf, for instance, handed Columbo the case on a platter. For me, the biggest letdown came at the end. Columbo nails Devlin and all Devlin can say is, “Politics makes liars of us all.”. Pretty weak and dismissive in my book. Rather than confront Devlin and nail his sorry terrorist butt to the wall and call that comment BS, Columbo just lets it go. I wouldn’t have been so polite in that situation. Not seeing the equally treacherous O’Connell’s get arrested was also a letdown.

    I look forward to you tearing the later episodes to shreds. Keep up the great work.

     
  32. Also, I am so grateful this was not the end of Columbo and wish some lost episodes were in a vault waiting to be discovered!

     
  33. A very fair review – many thanks for all your hard work.

    I must admit to being initially rather critical of making potential mass-murder the topic for a Columbo episode, but with hindsight perhaps it was actually beneficial. If it had the effect in ’78 of raising the veil to just one misty-eyed supporter of ‘The Old Country’ so that they could see where their money was really going, then it would have been worthwhile.

    Personally, I could just about take the bottle-rolling as being a bit of Oirish idiosyncrasy, although really stupid as you say. Why Devlin returns to the murder scene though is a complete mystery, it was definitely a clue too far.

    You suggest that perhaps foiling the gun-running attempt is as important as catching the killer but in this instance, perhaps because it was the final episode they wanted to go out on a moral high. Maybe it became actually more important and although Columbo could have caught him earlier from the fingerprint evidence, he needed to give him enough leeway to take him to the arms stash. He was perhaps harrying him to force him to make a mistake?

    The accent was ‘interesting’ and I always assumed it was intended to be from the south, not Belfast which it clearly wasn’t. As Clive Revill is from New Zealand (and apparently still alive as of Feb 2020), I think we can forgive him.

    Anyway, I found it much more enjoyable a second time around although the limericks were almost unforgivable!

     
    • PS – I hope no-one thinks from the above that I am being in any way anti-Irish and am so glad that for the past 20 years we have had relative peace. I am however critical of stereotypical national character portrayal and Devlin’s script does come dangerously close on occasions in my view.

       
  34. This was the first Columbo episode I ever saw, so it hold a special place in my head. My Grandfather was from Southern Ireland but I ever got to ask want he thought of it.
    Having said that it does suffer from what I call American lazy, the writer has an idea of they want to say and do. But then have to make it easy and simple for the viewers to understand as at that time (1970’s) America still believed England and Ireland were just made up of thatched cottages, rolling hill and Castles. And they could solve the problems of the world.
    If the episode was made today (discounting the Irish problem) I don’t think Devlin would have left the bottle, and we would have had Columbo track him down by the whisky stain and then have dig out the bottle from the hotel bin. The ring reveal would have been be more dramatic

     
  35. Fantastic job done….your wonderful insight to these episodes makes me want to review them myself….Channel 21 (uk) has constant repeats every Sunday afternoon…I see them in a different light after your reviews and are more enjoyable for that….Richard…..

     
  36. Spot on review. For once we agree eniterely 😎

    If you think this was poor, make sure you take a good shot of Full’s Irish Dew before any of the ‘new episodes, where only five at most get anywhere near to average ‘old episodes

     
  37. Hi there, just a few comments and observations if I may;

    Firstly; congrats on not only a GREAT blog, but on finally reaching the end of the ‘classic’ era reviews… what a wild ride it’s been (I’ve been reading if not commenting). I think it’s fair to say the golden age is over and from here on, things get a little more… uh, mixed… oh well, c’est la vie as the frogs say.

    Secondly; as someone not only born and, until a few short years ago, living just outside Belfast, but also had two family members directly impacted by ‘the Troubles’ – one member grievously wounded in an IRA bombing whilst another went to prison for gun running – I’ve never had a problem whatsoever with the subject matter of ‘The Conspirators’ myself… it was a world event like any other and no reason why it shouldn’t be included as subject matter… I’m not touchy or sensitive about it in any way, except where justification (implied or otherwise) is being presented for an absolutely horrific-beyond-words and completely unjustifiable reign of terror by BOTH sides in that conflict (loyalist and republican paramilitaries alike), or for that matter when one community is portrayed on stage or screen (as frequently happens) as stupid, bigoted, and racist while the other is so oppressed, so noble, so stoic in their sufferings… a poisonous cliche that led to much money being sent to my country from Uncle Sam by naive Oirish-Americans… and many good Irish people – men and women, Protestant and Catholic alike – paid for it with their lives and limbs… at least ‘The Conspirators’ shows Devlin and his cause for they are; murderers not freedom fighters… ’nuff said.

    Thirdly; it’s not the best or even top-tier ‘Columbo’ episode, and many of it’s weaknesses you pointed out are correct… but dang it, it’s just such a sprightly and enjoyable slice of murder-mystery television that it gets by on sheer charm alone… Clive Revill is great and surprisingly very likable as Joe Devlin, and it’s because of that charming performance that when he see his darker side at times, it’s all the more impactful. It’s not one of the best but it IS one of my favorites… like ‘Identity Crisis’ before it, it seems I have somewhat of a taste for the more bonkers ‘Columbo’ episodes… they take nothing away from the towering achievements by the likes of ‘A Friend in Deed’ or ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’ et al… that’s the strength of classic-era ‘Columbo’, there’s something for all tastes.

    Fourthly; I think it’s a real shame that NBC didn’t know what they had with ‘Columbo’… I’m sure it was still pulling in the ratings (and valuable advertising revenue) and was still appointment viewing even by 1978, so why they cancelled it and instead produced a worthless ‘spin-off’ series that no-one wanted, liked, or even watched is a mystery to me that not even the good Lieutenant could crack. When a show is still producing quality episodes like Season 7 was producing, that’s not a show on a creative wane even if those episodes don’t match some of what came before. Did Peter Falk ever indicate he was bored of the role by Season 7? If not, I think two more seasons of 5-6 episodes each before the good Lieutenant hung up his mac permanently in 1980 would have been the preferable outcome… the writing, directing, production values, and even the villains (for the most part) were so much better during the NBC run that if Falk had signed on for an 8th and 9th season and ended it thereafter, never returning to his signature role again, I don’t think anybody would have thought the show went before it’s time or should have necessarily returned. The ABC run had a very few standout episodes but… well, you know…

    Anyhoo… that’s my contributions, such as they are… sorry for a rather long post… keep up the great work, I’ll always be reading what you have to offer.

    Hopefully not “this far and no farther” quite yet ;-)…

     
    • Thanks for the eloborate comment. I enjoy this episode too, very much so and I think Joe Devlin is one of the best murderers in the series. Because that’s what he is, a coldblooded murderer, but also a very nice guy to have a drink with. Personally I loved the boozed limerick scene. He has become the act he performs but it’s still an act… and that’s why the line on the whiskey bottle, Let each man be paid in Full, is a wonderful piece of storytelling, because that intuitive gesture of poetic justice (shoving the bottle towards the corpse), sort of completes the character. And that’s where Columbo, the series, is at its best, in humanizing the murderers because of the way Columbo (the lieutenant) interacts with them.

       
  38. Can’t believe we’ve finally reached the last review of the classic era – well done on a magnificent achievement!

    Look forward to the reviews of the ‘new’ episodes ( a very mixed bag compared to the classics ) but a little part of me is a bit sad we’ve reached this point.

    Maybe I’ll drown my sorrows in a few drops of Irish Dew!

     
  39. If I’m not beaten to it while writing this, let me be the first to congratulate you with completing all the 70’s episodes’ reviews. A milestone and a great accomplishment, very well done!
    On your views of this great episode I disagree. For instance, Abigail Mitchell is a far more obvious killer than Fevlin, in my opinion, but maybe I’ll go into that some other time. For now, just a huge thank you for al al the great work!

     
      • The Conpirators is a fairly good episode, and Devlin’s errors may be blamed i his dependency on whiskey. And about your alleged manierisms and theatralization of Columbo ; for me is simply character evilution, so far. Nothing like some excesses we see in some of the Nineties batch’s episodes

         

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