Just for fun / Opinion

The Columbo Razzies: recalling the lowest lows of the 70s’ era

Columbo Make me a Perfect Murder
You won a Columbo Razzie for your episode? Gee whizz…

For every light there is a dark. For every Lieutenant Columbo there is a Sergeant Grover. For every hundred of the series’ masterful moments there’s a hideous misstep lurking in the corner of our memories – and that’s what we’re setting out to identify today.

Following on from the blockbuster success of the Columbo ‘Best Of’ Awards article of last week, there are 16 further gongs being handed out here – but no one wants to get their hands on these ones.

That’s because we’re considering the lesser Columbo episodes and killers of the classic era, the moments that make us cringe and the characters that we’d gladly never see again.

Just which guest stars and episodes will enter the Hall of Shame tonight?And, just as pertinently, can anything prevent Last Salute to the Commodore from making a clean sweep across all categories? Let’s take a deep breath and find out…

NB – as always when writing an article of this type I’d like to remind readers not to take it too seriously. If your favourite episode or character is lampooned here, please don’t take it personally. Life’s too short! Go and watch an episode instead.

This lot simply can’t wait for the fun to begin!

Worst episode – Last Salute to the Commodore

Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore Diane Baker
I’d be crying if I was in this garbage, too!

At best a failed experiment, at worst an affront to the series and an insult to the viewer, Last Salute to the Commodore is the one 70s’ episode that is almost universally panned – and deservedly so.

In the mistaken belief that this would be the last ever episode of Columbo, Peter Falk and BFF director Patrick McGoohan cooked up an adventure like no other, but this hugely indulgent debacle is the stuff of nightmares.

Packed with hateful characters, and lumbering the Lieutenant with two idiotic side-kicks, Last Salute attempted to be a classic whodunnit but instead delivered a tepid, confusing and deeply unfunny mess that culminates in what can only be described as the least satisfying parlour room reveal of all time.

Even worse, though, was the way Falk and McGoohan managed to make Columbo a total annoyance – not just to suspects, but to the viewer! Replete with weird mannerisms, stoned line delivery and outright creepy invading of personal space, this is a Lieutenant who’s impossible to love.

To sum up, Last Salutedisastrous outing, which isn’t just poor by Columbo standards – it’s simply a bad piece of television.

Worst of the rest: Dagger of the Mind

Worst gotcha – Last Salute to the Commodore

Columbo Last Salute Fred Draper

Columbo’s first foray into the world of Agatha Christie-style parlour-room reveals could have partly salvaged an otherwise dreadful episode. Yet the conclusion to this dross is as bad as anything that preceded it in the ponderous build-up.

Rather than gripping intrigue, we have 20 minutes of idle chat from Columbo and his stupid sidekicks, and a medley of couldn’t-care-less-about characters reacting to the Lieutenant holding cupped hands to their ears and stating: “The Commodore’s watch.” The guilty party – our mate Swanny – supposedly identifies himself by saying ‘Tisn’t.’

And that’s it.

I’m sure this absurdity tickled director Patrick McGoohan immensely but after wading through 90 minutes of bilge up to this point, for most viewers it’s a bewildering, possibly offensive, anticlimax.

Close but no cigar: Dead Weight, The Most Crucial Game

Most inept villain – Dr Marshall Cahill (Mind Over Mayhem)

Columbo Dr Marshall Cahill
“You’re looking for a cigar smoker, eh? No, I haven’t seen one anywhere…”

One of the most lifeless adversaries Columbo takes on in these early seasons, Dr Cahill totally bungled his attempt at committing the perfect murder. His course of action was entirely illogical for a so-called genius.

A hit-and-run-cum-robbery would have worked. But Cahill returning the corpse of Howard Nicholson to the living room and setting up a cosy scene to suggest pals have been chatting over brandy makes no sense at all – either in real life or a fictional mystery. And there was absolutely no logical reason for Cahill to leave the incriminating cigar-lighting match at the scene.

If he hadn’t left the match there, could Columbo have cracked the case? Certainly it would have been a whole lot harder. Yet Cahill compounds this stupidity by openly smoking cigars in front of Columbo, essentially screaming aloud “I’M THE MURDERER.” Making such basic howlers as these tears Cahill’s credibility as a Columbo killer to shreds.

Close but no cigar: Dr Eric Mason (How to Dial a Murder), Joe Devlin (The Conspirators)

Worst scene – Make Me a Perfect Murder‘s musical interlude

A decent episode was blighted by a prime example of the malaise that crept into a number of late 70s’ episodes in the shape of the above mind-numbing scene of Columbo tinkering with a TV studio control panel.

All the neck-braced Lieutenant does is push buttons, stare at patterns on a screen and look pleased with himself for more than 2 minutes, which, I can promise you, outlives its welcome by more than 2 minutes. It’s probably the worst example of padding seen in any classic era episode.

Close but no cigar: Murder Under Glass (banquet montage to music), Last Salute to the Commodore (creepy Swanny cuddles Joanna)

Weakest season overall – Season 5

Columbo Great Santini
Salvaging season 5 was a task too great even for Santini

Hindered in no small measure by the sub-par swill that is Last Salute to the Commodore, there’s a gulf in class between season 5 and the rest in terms of consistent quality.

To my reckoning, there’s one awesome episode (Now You See Him), two that are decent (Identity Crisis, Forgotten Lady), two forgettable efforts (A Case of Immunity, A Matter of Honor) and the DISMAL Last Salute. That’s a pretty poor strike rate for such a proud series.

Worst of the rest: Season 7

Worst Columbo characterisation – Last Salute to the Commodore

Last Salute to the Commodore yoga
Somebody lock this creep up!

As outlined higher up, Last Salute achieved the unthinkable by portraying Columbo as an irritating nuisance. It’s an unforgivable crime.

While director McGoohan is largely to blame for encouraging Falk to push the character in ‘interesting’ new directions, it takes two to tango and Falk must shoulder his share of the blame. After 36 outings in the crumpled mac, he was doubtless glad of the chance to mix things up, but I daresay his friendship with McGoohan clouded his judgement.

Allowing the Lieutenant to evolve into the infuriating, discourteous, stoner weirdo he is in Last Salute is a betrayal of the Columbo we know and love. Falk might have been having a whale of a time, but the audience simply isn’t in on the joke.

Close but no cigar: Murder Under Glass, The Conspirators

Biggest waste of talent – Vincent Price (Lovely but Lethal)

Columbo Vincent Price

Before you start hissing, let me clarify. This award does not mean I’m panning Vincent’s performance in Lovely but Lethal. Far from it. I love him in it, and his presence may well be the best aspect of one of the 70s’ series lesser efforts.

However, I can’t help but feel that he wasn’t made the most of here. On the upside, it’s so cool that Vincent Price starred in an episode of Columbo! On the downside, he’s criminally underused.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to have Price at your disposal and not maximise your use of him. Who knows, perhaps he only had a couple of days spare to accept a small guest slot and we should count our blessings he appeared at all? But for a character as intriguing (and, lest we forget, potentially such a realistic murder suspect) to simply vanish halfway through the episode is such a shame.

Close but no cigar: Robert Vaughn (Last Salute to the Commodore), Ida Lupino (Short Fuse)

Most idiotic character – Tony Goodland (Greenhouse Jungle)

Columbo Tony Goodland
Buffoon alert!

Okay, Tony’s intentions may have been from the heart (he wants to fake his own kidnapping to get ransom money to buy back the affection of his wife), but floppy-haired victim Tony Goodland is an almighty simpleton. As a result, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him because it’s glaringly obvious to anyone with more cells than an amoeba that he’s being double-crossed by his bellowing, bewigged uncle Jarvis.

On top of that, Tony is a bona fide fruitcake. I mean, he signs photos that he gives to his loved ones – wife included! That’s a special kind of weird right there. Uncle Jarvis openly admits that Tony, his only living relative, is a dolt, delivering a magnificent line to Columbo: “I don’t mind revealing that my nephew isn’t worth a sack of peat moss. He’s a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.” Enough said…

Close but no cigar: Nadia Donner (A Deadly State of Mind), Hugh Caldwell (A Friend in Deed)

Least believable display of grief – Riley Greenleaf (Publish or Perish)

Columbo Riley Greenleaf


Need I say more…?

Close but no cigar: Paul Galesko (Negative Reaction), Commissioner Halperin (A Friend in Deed)

Worst representation of a killer’s profession – John Cassavetes (Etude in Black)

John Cassavetes may have been an actor of infinite talent, but he seems to have absolutely no sense of rhythm – at least as far as his impersonation of world-renowned concert Maestro Alex Benedict at work is concerned.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a baton supposed to be caressed rather than wielded? Benedict’s stiff arm movements and rock-solid grasp on his wand (double entendres 1000% intended) seem more akin to a club-carrying caveman, a lumbering robot, a golem of legend, or even the Incredible Hulk. Maestro? Don’t make me laugh…

Close but no cigar: ‘Chemist’ Roger Stanford (Short Fuse), ‘Actors’ Nick Frame & Lily Stanhope (Dagger of the Mind)

Worst attempt to appear inconspicuous – Hugh Caldwell (A Friend in Deed)

Columbo Hugh Caldwell

You can tell that Bel Air resident (and lily-livered murderer) Hugh Caldwell doesn’t spend a lot of time hob-nobbing with criminals in downtown dive bars, can’t you?

When completing his clandestine rendezvous with Artie Jessup in LA’s equivalent of the Mos Eisley cantina, our mate Hugh hardly dresses for the occasion. Wearing his finest three-piece suit and tie, Hugh sticks out like a swollen, gangrenous thumb – his attempts at disguising his identity through wearing giant sunglasses indoors only accentuating quite how much he doesn’t belong.

Just as well this was a pre-happy hour meeting, or Hugh would’ve been dead at the hands of one of the bar’s denizens before he could even order a pink gin and lemonade.

Close but no cigar: Alex Benedict (Etude in Black), Nora Chandler (Requiem for a Falling Star)

Worst haircut – Harold Van Wick (Playback)

Columbo Harold Van Wick
So ladies, what attracts you to MULTI-MILLIONAIRE gadget freak Harold Van Wick?

For a man at the coal face of technological advancements, Harold Van Wick’s hair styling is distinctly 16th century. More choir boy bowl cut than smart, modern exec, Harold’s dodgy coiffure is just about the only thing in this episode that isn’t cutting edge.

He definitely doesn’t go to Daryl’s…

Close but no cigar: Steve Spelberg (Mind Over Mayhem), Lloyd Harrington (Troubled Waters)

Most scurrilous stereotype – Miguel Hernandez (A Matter of Honor)

Columbo Matter of Honor Miguel
Booze? Check. Moustache? Check. Mexican hat? Check. Idle disposition? Check…

Surely, in the only episode set in Mexico, Columbo creators could resist the temptation to feature a moustachioed vaquero accepting a bottle of booze, drinking it all and falling asleep in a field instead of doing the job he was asked to do?

No. No they couldn’t. Hence why we have the talented Emilio Fernandez ticking every stereotypical box possible in the small role of Miguel in the cliche-tastic A Matter of Honor. Subtlety isn’t this episode’s strong point.

Close but no cigar: Tanner the butler (Dagger of the Mind), Hassan Salah (A Case of Immunity), Kerry Malone (The Conspirators)

Most inept police officer – Sergeant Vernon (Candidate for Crime)

Columbo Sergeant Vernon
Even though he was present at the finale, Vernon still pursued his human fly theory until being quietly pushed into early retirement

The Hayward case proved conclusively how lucky the LAPD was to have Lieutenant Columbo on staff. To put it bluntly, all the other cops in this episode appear to be absolute incompetents. Hayward’s guard detail seem particularly inept, letting the disguised Harry Stone easily escape their clutches and then taking an eternity to trace Hayward, at his home.

The most culpable seems to be arch-dunderhead Sergeant Vernon, who is essentially Hayward’s personal protector. Vernon’s low point is when he picks up Hayward’s gun-laden jacket at the hotel suite, only to helpfully hang it up rather than bust the plotting politician for carrying an undisclosed firearm.

Little wonder, perhaps, that Hayward had the confidence to attempt his audacious final stunt, which included setting off an instantly-findable firecracker on his suite balcony. True to form, when Vernon lollops in and gives the balcony a cursory once over, he completely fails to see the firecracker debris, simply mourning that Hayward’s fictitious assassin ‘must have been a human fly’. Good work, Vernon!

Close but no cigar: Sergeant Grover (Greenhouse Jungle), Theodore ‘Mac’ Albinsky (Last Salute to the Commodore)

Least convincing wig – Jarvis Goodland (Greenhouse Jungle)

Columbo Jarvis Goodland
Jarvis’s entire head combusted if he moved within 10 yards of a naked flame

Life must have been terrifying for Jarvis Goodland, knowing, as he did, that any second could be his last should a stray spark, ember or carelessly held cigarette send him up like a tinderbox.

Yes folks, Goodland’s combustible hairpiece was as dangerous as it was conspicuous, giving rise to his irascible temperament and hatred of others, while explaining why he only felt safe in the presence of his beloved orchids in their very humid greenhouse.

Close but no cigar: Gloria West (Greenhouse Jungle), Ward Fowler (Fade in to Murder)

Worst-dressed guest star – Roger Stanford (Short Fuse)

columbo short fuse tight trousers
Look away, mother!

As referenced more often than ought to be considered healthy in my review of Short Fuse, Roger Stanford’s wardrobe choices are probably the episode’s enduring memory. But that’s NOT a good thing. He double denims at one point, but the bigger crime is the unforgettable – some might even say unbelievable blouson shirt and skin-tight trouser combo he sports quite merrily on a standard work day at the chemical plant.

Word on the street is that the trousers were so snug that Roddy temporarily went mad, which might explain Roger’s descent into sheer lunacy at episode’s end.

Highly Discredited: Billy Fine (Any Old Port in a Storm), Sam Franklin (Suitable for Framing)

Thank you, ladies and germs, for that large round of indifference and those hearty Bronx Cheers. The award winners tonight certainly deserve them!

As always, your own thoughts on deserving alternate categories and winners would make for interesting reading, so please bust your comments below. Oh, and before I forget, will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?

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108 thoughts on “The Columbo Razzies: recalling the lowest lows of the 70s’ era

  1. Good evening all,
    First time contribution to a fantastic website, you (and the Lieutenant) are single-handedly distracting me from the misery of self-isolation.
    I’d add a category to the razzie list: ‘Least Believable Motive for Murder’. In my opinion it would have to be awarded to Leon Lamarr in ‘Jackpot’. He was offered 10% of the winnings outright – $3million – and I’m pretty sure he could have convinced/tricked Freddie into parting with a good chunk more of his lottery win. No murder is necessary, but this one is the least likely in my opinion. A more than watchable episode though.
    Keep up the great work.

  2. I like kay freestone and perfect murder , joe devlin is a far more annoying charachter and the conspiratiors is a far lesser episode but while were in the subject of irritaing charachters from the seventies here is a quick list of those i wish i could tie up with duck tape.

    Margaret , ransom for a dead man

    Helen stewarts mother , Dead weight

    Joe devlin , the conspirators

    Nadia donner , a deadly state of mind

    The entire cast from last salute
    To the commodore

  3. How about Most Implausible Murder and Worst Motive for Murder? My votes would go to Murder, Smoke and Shadows and The Most Crucial Game, respectively.

  4. I am currently watching “Make Me a Perfect Murder”. I’m sorry but this episode just plain irritates me. Trish Van Devere’s character is so annoying. I can’t tell whether that means the acting is good or if she just comes off like that in real life. Either way, this lack of appeal assists with making this one of the worst episodes of the series.

    • Talk about annoying. How about the Faye Dunaways fawning over our hero in All in the Game. Her attempts to distract C by pretending to be falling in Love with him are beyond belief. I literally can not stand to watch the great Faye Dunaway from classic movies like Network in this role.

      • I agree , faye dunaway is a top actress but i hate her role i this , im not a fan of its all in the game in general its actually one of my least favourite new ones mainly because i dont like all the romantic shenbagans both leads are using all be it false and i never warmed to this one much and i like most of the new batch and i am a bit surprised columbophile rates it so highly although undercover is much worse .

    • How about most boring or least charismatic killer , i thougjt cp might have included this nut heres my 5 contenders

      Dr cahill , mind over mayhem

      Gener hollister , drad weight

      Emmet clayton most dangerous match

      Ruth lytton , Old fashioned murder

      Im hard pressed for 5th spot so il let you decode between these bores
      The matador in a matter of honor ( episode is so forgettable his name slips my mind)
      Jarvis goodland greenhouse jungle , Vera miles lovely but lethal ( i dont count colnel rumford , by dawns early light inthis list as the epusode is far more straight laced and serous in nature in comparison )

  5. A sort of inverted honourable mention for Least Convincing Wig has to go to Patrick McGoohan’s hair in “Identity Crisis,” which is a wig in the story, but not in real life. Columbo notices an old photo of Brenner in which he is balding and Brenner pats his present-day hair and says it’s a weave. I’m not buying it! 🙂

  6. Fantastic razzies. About the conducting, could someone who knows for sure please weigh in? I’ve been to dozens of orchestral concerts, to my ignorant eyes the conductor’s arm movements very often seem unrelated to the melodic line of the moment. Just how bad a job did John Cassavetes do?

    • I can give you a couple of specifics, but won’t assign poor Cassavetes a score to because dramatic depictions of conductors are so rare! Each of his arms should trace lower/outer two sides of a square – the right arm the right and bottom and the left arm the left and bottom, with the two arms meeting in the center the 2nd of every 4 beats. The waving and flailing every imaginable which way – that’s exactly what you would not be seeing a real conductor doing. Also, he should be moving his arms 1/2 as fast as he is. In, say, those faster parts where it’s going DEE-dee-dee-dee DEE-dee-dee-dee – he should move his arms every fourth “dee”, not every other “dee”. If you’re serious about comparing reality to John’s non-facsimile facsimile, the piece is the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony. In poor John’s defense, he didn’t have you-tube then! His other defense is he’s good-looking, so who cares!

      • And so I just confirmed with a clip from Bernstein. Besides the orderly arms the noticeable thing is the real conductor keeps time *slowly* – the real musicians have internal metronomes and can mark off time for themselves without all that frenzy!

  7. “A Case of Immunity” is superb, definitely one of the top 20 Columbos of all time.

    “Salute” may be a weak entry, but for any match between the razziest Columbos of all seasons and decades, that pile of garbage “Undercover” should collect the disgraceful antiprize. That’s not even Columbo, it’s a bad falsification. The real Columbo should have summed up that episode with “There’s a crook going around, pretending to be me…”

  8. Jack Cassidy’s character saying “But, Who . . Why!” in [i]Publish or Perish[/i] is in keeping with his character as a tightly-wound guy.

    It’s not as much a give away as Leonard Nimoy in Stitch in Crime setting the clock, or the very first Columbo episode in which Gene Barry arrives at the crime scene to be watched by the good Lieutenant.

  9. It was a great idea, CP, to write these Columbo Razzies. I take pleasure to review some episodes I didn’t view for long, including Dagger of the Mind. It’s still worse than it was in my mind. With one exception: I like the scene in the club with the pathologist (or autopsy surgeon). The episode is overcharged with stereotypes (as an English breakfast is charged with beans, sorry!), and it takes 25 minutes (twenty-five!) before the story really begins (the villains have a lot of work to do, and the lieutenant a lot of time to waste in annoying scenes), and then slowly, very slowly goes on. But Scotland Yard has remarkable cars: they leave London with white colored tires (more a phenomena of the sixties), and arrive at the manor with black ones.
    For the Most scurrilous stereotype, Joe Fenwick is an excellent candidate too. I must have seen that kind of guy in one hundred movies or more.

    • i JUST HATE Dagger of the mind full stop ,I actually think marginally its worse than last salute because I cant stand those 2 murderers characters ( i cant ever remember their stage names I dislike the episode so much) and its on tomorrow on 5 USA even though the world has come to a halt but i certainly wont be staying in to view it , Here is tomorrows line up on 5 USA

      9.25 am Make me a perfect murder ( Top/Star pick}
      11.20 Dagger of the mind ( bottom pick)
      1.20 How to dial a Murder (3rd choice)
      2.55 Its all in the game (4th choice saved from bottom pick only by dagger)
      4.55 Candidate for crime ( second choice pick )
      6.55 BY dawns early light (4th choice of watch )

      as nothing exists in the outside world these days and i have to stay inside these are the columbos i will be watching Make me a Perfect murder one of my favorites and dagger one of my least . make the best out of your Sunday.

      • Really only one bad ep on that list-Dagger. Part of the reason why it sucks so bad is because when shows pay out a ton of money to shoot on location like that they waste a lot of time showing us the character in various spots around the area to get their moneys worth & prove they’re not on a set. Hence the meaningless shots of Columbo in front of Buckingham Palace, Westminster tower (Big Ben), etc. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

        All in the game, on the other hand, is one of the absolute best of the newer episodes. Really great.

        • Dagger of the mind is the most underrated episode ever. There’s so much to enjoy: the continuous intertwining of stagevand real world: the Shakespeare references; to see Columbo out of his comfort zone; the funny way in which stereotypes are used… Hate it, fall asleep whatever; since I have every episode on dvd I can choose whatever episose I want and really feel likevwatching Dagger now. Won’t have to wait till Tomorrow, and tomorrow…

          • Thanks, David – finally someone who speaks up for “a ham and a tart”! I just love the way the stereotypes are played off against each other- Heathrow, Scotland Yard, the club, etc. Plus of course Shakespeare… so the other guys can nag, nag, nag (instead of “knock, knock, knock”) as much as they like – still enjoying it 😉

      • My top picks would be Make Make a Perfect Murder and Candidate for Crime, two of my favourite episodes, while By Dawn’s Early Light would rank third.

  10. Bravo! Constructive criticism and critical thinking at its finest. I agree with all your critiques, some of which I had never pondered before. Now when I re-watch those episodes, I’ll have new insights.

    One of my favorite episodes, Negative Reaction, has a sub plot that just seemed ‘wrong’, and always gnawed at me. It starts when Columbo drives his Peugeot out to the junk yard to observe Deschler’s crime scene. He’ asks a flatfoot for Sgt. Hoffman, so obviously he doesn’t know who Hoffman is, and Hoffman seems to have to have never met Columbo. Come on, man, LA ain’t that big. Due to the nature of Columbo’s confirmed arrests, he would have reached hero status amongst his peers at every LA precinct, and probably the whole state…..like Perry Mason, who always won his cases.

    At the police station, Columbo is wracking his brain after not sleeping or shaving the night before. Hoffman struts in like he owns the place and yells at Columbo to get some sleep….”and a shave”. Hoffman then berates a uniformed officer to procure some coffee for him. My question is, doesn’t a Lieutenant/Leftenant outrank a Sergeant? If I was Columbo, I’d tell Hoffman to pack sand, and the other flatfoot copper should have told Hoffman which orifice he could stick his coffee demand. The character of Sgt. Hoffman has always bugged me on an otherwise masterful episode. Also, when they’re at Deschler’s motel, Hoffman states “I’ll be back”, as if someone’s life depends on it. Puhleeeze. I think Hoffman should have been the murder victim, along with Frances (who definitely deserved it just for being…..Frances), and add busy body Mrs. Moyland to the death toll, just for kicks.

    The ever popular Riley Greenleaf’s “But, who….why?” has to be one of the hammiest lines ever. Typical for Cassidy who was Broadway trained. I love when actor’s call what they do, their “craft”. I always heard that Jack Cassidy thought that the small screen was beneath his talents, and he always resented the massive success of his son, David.

  11. Oh no! I hope you’re not going to bash Rip Torn in Columbo Wins the Jackpot. Yes, his performance is massively hammy, but it’s so enjoyable–his usual oily manner, displays of false grief, occasional fireworks, and moments of cold action are fun to watch.

    • I agree! No teacher would ever recommend Rip Torn’s acting style to a student, not because it’s bad, but because Rip Torn was the only person who could show how good it really was. And in Death Hits the Jackpot, it’s very good indeed. His performance all by itself pulls that episode into the upper echelon of the ABC series.

  12. Great article! Can we ever talk about the murders that are the biggest slap in the face to the intelligence of the viewer? I know they are designed to be sanitized, but:

    1) Richard Kiley drowning his wife in the tub. He relaxes after she’s finally dead. Finally, that is, after about THREE SECONDS MAX.

    2) The buisiness with Dick Van Dyke tying his wife into the chair. Is that supposed to be even a little believable? And she’s calmly continuing to nag him in that proper British accent, informing him he’s never had a sense of humor? Makes me sick.

    3A) Yes, the infamous jar of cold cream. What an insult, every time I watch it.
    3B) Not to be outdone, how about the second murder? Exactly how is that supposed to work with the butler conveniently showing up hanging? How did Nicholas accomplish that? HOW??
    Now for balance, I’d like to mention my absolute favorite murder: C Likes the Nightlife, the second killing (the sleazo tabloid guy). A truly believable FIGHT not to die that is genuinely rough, and goes on for a long time. He even comes back after it looks like he is dead! What a breath of fresh air!

    I know you Columbo geeks will come up with others that I’ve missed. That’s why it’s so much fun reading these comments. 🙂

  13. The most inept police officer was Ed Begley Jr.’s character in How to Dial a Murder. It was unbelievably stupid that he left Dr. Mason alone with the dogs so he could go ask someone if it was OK to leave Dr. Mason alone with the dogs.

  14. Check out the Rockford episode “Never Send a Boy King to do a Man’s Job” if you want to see Dennis (Mac) Dugan in a more entertaining light. Just about every actor suffered in Last Salute.

    • Ah yes, i fully agree. This was a scene that was so corny it was true 70’s greatness.. The over the top food (that looked pretentious and gross) and the goofy looks from the help made this a classic!

  15. Bravo, Lieutenant! This was joyous reading. I literally howled with laughter at the Hugh Caldwell photo caption and the depiction of Jarvis Goodland’s life on the edge. At a time when all other media seems fixated with the corona virus this site is worth it’s weight in gold.

  16. Beth Chadwick was by far the worst dressed villain. The fashion police ought to have arrested her the moment she walked into the boardroom with that ghastly pink outfit.

  17. The only interesting aspect in “Last Salute to the Commodore” is the curve ball the writers throw at the viewer by killing the main suspect midway through the episode.

  18. Well….we seem to agree on worst episodes….Commodore…Dagger….Mayhem

    Also..glad im not the only one who thought Cassevettes’ Baton Skills were brutal…truth be told i found his entire portrayal quite wooden…

    And..yes..that electronics “display” in Make Me…along with their meeting at her childhood home…ultra lame….is that a two hour episode?

    And…agree with assessment of Ray Milland’s hair…looked 100x better ..Au Naturel…in Death Lends a Hand

    Yes…Vincent Price..i mean cmon…such a waste…Martin Sheen in that one too

    • Cassavetes was a terrible actor : he stunk in Rosemary’s Baby toi. Third-rate hack. As Maestro, his downbeats went up / always the wrong beating direction. Not even in the same tempo. Then Blythe Danner stupidly explains ‘quasi come una Fantasia ‘ as being in Latin : it’s Italian.
      And the soundtrack for Comer’s Chopin playing on the piano was played by a heavy-handed unmusical butcher. Mistake after mistake, topped off by the has-been sub-mediocrity of the embarrassing Myrna Loy, who had zero talent. And Cassavetes’ character can’t even pronounce Tchaikovsky correctly.

  19. Actually, I speed read this article so much. I didn’t realise that our author thinks that ‘The Most Crucial Game’ is one of the worst ‘gotchas’

    For actual TV drama, it’s arguably the best and I’ve replayed those final five minutes numerous times

    I cannot imagine how on earth this can be ranked so low – take any of the ‘gotchas’ in the final three series, with the exception of ‘Make me..’ and they are all poorer than this

    • My full review of the episode sets out my reasons clearly. Columbo spends a lot of time and energy in this episode just to prove possible opportunity. He has no weapon and no motive. There’s no case to answer, which is why I rate the gotcha so low. I certainly enjoy the episode overall, though.

  20. There’s far worse 2 minutes than Columbo’s tv director role in ‘Make me’.

    It’s far better than that ‘look at us aren’t we great actors’, totally unwarranted TV Chef scene with Martin Landau in ‘Double Shock’ and episode that would probably have been in my Top 10 if it hadn’t been for that dross

    And it’s still more relevant than the ham acting of Jack Cassidy, in ‘Publish or Perish’

    Seems to me, you love the theoretical side of Columbo, but forget that it’s about the authenticity of catching the murderer. These episodes, which just have guest actors showing off (i.e. Landau and Cassidy) simply distract from the plot – they don’t enhance it

    Columbo bumbling around in the TV studio at the end of ‘Make me’, add to the ever so gently wearing down of the suspect – which is what it’s all about

    Ah well, each to their own, I suppose!!

  21. Worst-dressed villain: All of them, it was the 70s
    Worst everything else: ‘Last Salute to the Commodore’

    (OK, I’m kidding. But not much. 😉 )

  22. Oh, I SO needed this right now! Thanks for the post, the smiles it generated, and the wonderful comments by fellow Columbophiles! Bravo!

  23. How about yet another category to rate here: The Least Likely Episode (and it’s evidence) which Columbo gathers that could actually stand up in court and get a CONVICTION…

    • Putting aside the two non-American cases, and assuming that everyone who agrees to confess actually does, I lean toward Emmett Clayton (“The Most Dangerous Match”) as the leading contender in this category. What’s the evidence Dudek didn’t fall into the trash compactor? What’s the evidence he was pushed at all — by anyone? And that’s not what killed him! What’s the evidence that Clayton monkeyed with his medication? Even if Clayton couldn’t hear the compactor shut off, nothing makes that fact relevant, because nothing puts him in the room at the time.

    • In “Short Fuse” I don’t think Roger Stanford’s hysterical crawling around the tram floor with the cigars could possibly result in a conviction.

  24. Hard to disagree with most of that, the worst hair could have been almost anybody though! Only thing i don’t agree with, is the worst gotcha footnote of The Most Crucial Game. Really?? I like that bit! I like the entire episode. I’m not sure it would stand up in court, but i don’t really worry my pretty little head about that sorta thing! When i was a teenager, that clock chiming was one of my favourite endings of any episode. Therefore, it will always remain so. I wonder, did you really mean to put The Most Dangerous Match? Fairly absurd that he wouldn’t notice the vibrations stop when the machine shut off. As I seem to think you flagged up in your review of that episode.

  25. My bro feels the worst “gotcha” was the episode with Pat McGoohan in Agenda for Murder where the villain gets nailed because his bite marks in a piece of cheese left at the crime scene incriminate him. Anyone else agree that this couldn’t convict anyone??

    • Actually, I think Falk read an article where someone was placed at a crime scene with a piece of chewed gum and loved it as a clue. This was then used in the form of the cheese. (If I’m remembering it right, he wrote about it in his book.) So technically, it could work.

  26. Great list!

    If I may nominate Viveca Fox for having the worst hair style for a female murderer. I’d say Darryl the hair stylist was the worst cooperating witness. Columbo should have reacted to him the same way he did to Dr. Borden. Finally, the worst “how did he do it” is from “Murder Under Glass”. We never saw Girard swap the cork openers so we had no idea if Columbo was ever on the right track. I’m pretty sure it’s the only murder in which we never saw how it was done.

    • Actually, I like when a piece of the “how” is concealed. It happens in “Double Shock.” It happens to a small, but crucial (to the gotcha) degree in “Sky High” — you never see the precise role the red marker plays. This technique works best when its reveal adds to the solution. That’s less true of “Murder Under Glass.”

  27. most obvious killers definetley between Dr cahill Mind over mayhem and Joe Devlin The conspirators but Joe devlin wins it wor me kicking the whiskey bottle across the floor next to the victim instead of getting rid of it ,, this I can never get over and really damages an episode which I have never liked that much overall.

    • No real harm done then, since you didn’t like the episode anyway… I think the kicking of the whiskey bottle is a great touch, Full of poetry and something Columbo is really puzzled by.

  28. I thought there might have been an award for most boring or un interesting killer male or female ,
    Having watched a 3rd of mind over mayhem this afternoon before deciding to go out onto Londons streets and transport system despite the world grinding to a halt over coronvarius virus which i dont have and all football and sporting events being cancelled , which does not say a lot for Dr ca hill and mind over mayhem which I DONT hate but never really enjoyed either . I cant decide between DR cahill , general holister Ruth lytton Old fashioned murder and the fella in a matter of honor , There all pretty poor episodes along with Murder under glass I wonder who columbophile would give this trophy to ?

  29. This is fucking hilarious! Back when I was watching these episodes, without the benefit of Internet or explanations or ANYTHING I thought it was probably just *me* who was thinking many of the same things that you wrote. “Umm, Columbo isn’t supposed to do that, is he?” would be a typical thought-bubble. Or, “This plot sure is goddamned weird!”

    That awful dreck that was “Dagger of the Mind”—bizarrely, also a Star Trek Original Series episode, on a *totally* different subject, but also umm, *light years* better than Richard Baseheart—who, through many connections, also had dealings with the members of Star Trek!—who was possibly so drunk during the filming of the episode that his bumbling pseudo-British accent has a whisky tinge to it—was just a summing up for what Columbo had become.

    “I know, let’s have a ‘Columbo Meets Sherlock Holmes’ episode!” some stoned TV exec was proposing in some late-night Jacuzzi meeting. “Hey, yeah! Good idea! Honey, willya get me another Miller, here?”

    Yes, you have informed me that it was *not* only me who was thinking those things all those years ago . . . all those thought bubbles about jacuzzis were not mine alone!



  30. While I really can’t defend the Last Salute To The Commodore gotcha even as someone who loves the episode, it’s definitely not as bad as the absolute non-gotcha in A Matter Of Honor, which is probably the worst one in the entire series.

  31. Yet another category desperately cries out for inclusion: Worst Police Work (including by Columbo). The three runaway contenders are:

    — “Dead Weight,” for not seizing and testing all of General Hollister’s guns as soon as there was an eyewitness report of the murder;
    — “Lady in Waiting,” for failing to read Peter Hamilton’s initial statement; and
    — “Try and Catch Me,” for an abysmal crime scene investigation, with a manuscript torn apart on the safe floor and the light bulb out.

    Or the category “Episodes That Should Have Been Solved by the First Commercial” — with the same nominees.

    • Or “Old Fashioned Murder” where the staging of the murder would have quickly fallen apart if a medical examiner had determined the time of death or someone had checked the phone records.

    • Try and Catch Me in my opinion- a top episode with a very witty twist at the end for the evidence found, although slightly unbelievable

  32. And the Joe Biden award for space invading goes to Columbo in his denture slurring hair sniffing performance in Last Salute to the Commodore P.S. the Commodore probably wishes he would have stuck to cartoon voice-over work.

    • The Donald Trump Award goes to … all the villains, especially any used as a dupe by an evil mastermind, accustomed to cheating and lying or grabbing women by their privates and then bragging about sexual assault. He is the “Last Salute to the Commodore” of presidents.

      • Although I agree with one of you and was amused with your comment, I do appreciate the absence of politics here. I know Columbophile must have an opinion on American politics, but I’m not able to detect what it is. Since he works hard to avoid politics, maybe we can agree to do the same.

  33. I know you dont like Dagger of the mind, and it slows way down ar the end, and I personally don’t like the contrived pearl flick into the umbrella. ( because everyone knows that when you cough it makes what you do with your hands seem invisible.) ( Sarcasm)
    But for me Nick and Julia are “simply smashing” The cold cream murder weapon sets the standard for incredulity and human frailty simultaneously.

  34. Roger had some serious Moose knucke.
    I really liked make me a perfect murder. But it did really slow down at the end.
    Tony Goodlands’ hair was as pointless and stupid as he was. ( including playback I think there are several times in Colombo when it seems the hairstylist was either off duty or drunk.)
    The best aspect of that episode, (Greenhouse Jungle) was the casting. William Smith and the two chicks. The best part of that episode is when William Smith gets busted on a yacht and you see his Adams Apple move as he swallows his guilt. It’s fantastic. The truth is there are a lot of times in Colombo when you have to suspend disbelief in order for the plot to work. With that being said we should not do this too much or we could tear apart a show that is very good and deserves to be lifted up and not torn down. Great article as usual.

  35. You are entitled to your opinions. I quite like season 7 with some of my fave episodes, Try and Catch me, Make me a perfect murder and Murder Under Glass, to me one of the best episodes!

    • I agree season 7 has great episodes, it’s not the highest ranked season on imdb for nothing. But Columbo has no weak seasons at all, it’s that great a show. The only reason season 5 can be judged to be the weakest (and it’s all relative), is that it contains the one bad episode of the series, in my opinion of course.

    • Season 7 is one of the better seasons I think. Worst season definitely has to be season 6, one great episode and two minor ones is definitely a weaker record than any other season.

    • Try and Catch Me IS THE best episode regarding an ingenious way of the victim finally letting the police know “who done it”. How ingenious ! And Make Me A Perfect Murder also rates highly with me.

  36. I disliked salute to the commodore very much! Diane Baker played such a drunk she annoyed the hell out of me! I agree with the rest of these they weren’t columbos best and I loved this show. I’ve seen every episode made and I have boxed set of whole series! I loved everything jack Cassidy did he was the best villian!

  37. Mark Dawidziak thinks very highly of ‘Last Salute….’ in Columbophile and claims Richard Link liked it when he eventually saw it! ( I suppose life would be boring if we all thought the same.)

    Is that Rip Torn in that picture at the end? I’m almost afraid to ask but what episode is that from?

    • Rip Torn is the killer in Death hits the Jackpot, from the 90’s episodes. If there will ever be a 90’s razzie award for least believable display of grief, by the way, it will be for Nancy Bower in that episode. Even Columbo, not one to show his inner feelings rapidly, is visibly unimpressed when she breaks down

    • I find it amazing that Link could ever enjoy Last Salute. I l’d have thought it would enrage him to see his beloved creation so mistreated. As for the pic, yes it’s Rip Torn but it’s from a 90s episode, Death Hits the Jackpot. The costume was so ridiculous I had to include it somewhere.

    • I’m sure Paul’s reference to “Richard Link” meant Richard Levinson, not William Link (as Levinson’s reaction is the only one quoted by Dawidziak). Here’s what The Columbo Phile says:

      “Richard Levinson didn’t catch up with the episode until 1985. He was delighted. Columbo’s co-creator particularly liked the scene in which a young woman named Lisa (guest star Susan Foster) tries to get the detective into a cross-legged position on the deck of Charles Clay’s yacht.
      “’A station was running it out here [Los Angeles] the other night,’ Levinson said. ‘There’s Columbo trying to do transcendental meditation. I thought it was hilarious.’”

      I would also note that the Jon Morris-R.J. White podcast “Just One More Thing” has a favorable view of the episode as well, as you can hear here: http://thecitydesk.net/justonemorething/2017/02/ohhh-the-mizzen-boom/

      • Reading the words “He was delighted” in the section you quote above, I instantly heard the voice of the architect who kills the oil man in Blueprint for Murder. Murderous architect Elliott Markham tells Columbo that after Bo Williamson screamed at him and smashed the model of Williamson City, he calmed down. And then, “He was delighted.” Perhaps Levinson was “delighted” with this episode in the same sense that Bo Williamson was “delighted” with Williamson City.

        • Markham had lots of reasons to misquote Williamson. Dawidziak had none. More interesting to me was the fact that Levinson didn’t watch the show he created after surrendering control to others. A 1976 episode first seen in 1985?

          • Perhaps “He was delighted” was a deliberate reference to Markham, either on Levinson’s part or Dawidziak’s. A signal to those in the know that when he finally saw the episode he wanted to take a page from Williamson’s book and smash things up.

  38. Thanks, and bravo! Columbophile.
    But you just forgot ont thing: the saddest typewriting error: having written The Most Crucial Game instead of The Most Dangerous Match for Worst Gotcha.
    The clock is one of my favourites. Really, it’s very strong. I liked it when I first saw it, and I still like it a lo.

      • Hello, CP.
        There are different ways to look at Columbo episodes, and different ways to appreciate them. One can, for instance, question the probability that a court and a jury accept the evidence Columbo assembles. Does the gotcha prove in an indisputable way the guilt of the murderer? It’s the great quality of the Columbo-series that that kind of analyses can be made, and are still made (and read with a lot of interest!) some 50 years later.
        However, in my mind, Columbo is primarily a television series, made to be seen by television-spectators. The most important criterion of the quality of an episode is the effect it makes on the spectator the very first time he sees the episode (ideally on the occasion of the first airing of it).
        For The Most Crucial Game, the effect of the gotcha on the television-viewer is immediate and very strong. It hits him as well as it hits Paul Hanlon, the murderer. The fact that a jury will find this evidence to weak to sentence Hanion is an interesting point (yes, it is!), but it is not important at that moment. It doesn’t impact the viewer’s sensations when he hears and sees the clock. The spectator is stunned, and stays so after the episode ends.

        • Great point. I’ve always been bemused by Columbophile’s criticism of this ending. The episode is brilliant – so what if the killer will get off with a smart lawyer. We’ve not watching ‘LA Law’!!

    • I’ve got to agree with Jef here, CP. This was a brilliant negative gotcha (the series’ first, I believe). A “million reasons”? Not when Columbo showed up in Hanlon’s skybox just an hour or so after the murder and the clock chimed, chimed loudly, and chimed on time. Not with Hanlon offering no immediate reason when confronted with the chime less recording. If he’d had the broken clock fixed during the second half of the game (while sitting beside it), he would have said so spontaneously.

      • Many clocks like that have switches that allow you to choose various chime tones, with an option for silent. The clock my parents had on their mantle in the 70s and 80s had such an option, in fact. Hanlon’s clock looks like a higher-end product of the same period, so I would expect it to have all the options theirs did, and more besides.

        If, as is likely, Hanlon’s clock had a silent setting, all his lawyer will have to do is point to that setting. Then the obvious conclusion to draw is that he just turned the chimes off while he was on the telephone. As for his not telling Columbo about that immediately, well, he was shocked at being arrested for murder, as any innocent man would be. Besides, Columbo himself has remarked on Hanlon’s unconscious habit of turning the radio down, but not off- perhaps muting the chimes while on the telephone is another unconscious habit. Surely Hanlon could produce a witness who had at some point talked to him on the phone for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch and not heard chimes in the background.

        If the clock did not have a silent setting, then things get a little stickier, but not much. The jury has to be certain that the radio station’s time logs of the game and Hanlon’s clock are both accurate to the second for the absence of the chimes from the recording to be evidence that Hanlon wasn’t in his box at the time in question.

        And there’s a big difference between being absent from the box and being present beside Eric Wagner’s pool at the fatal moment. If the boy who tried to buy ice cream from him can positively identify Hanlon, that might be evidence that he was in the area of the Wagner house at the time, but even that doesn’t prove that he was actually at the scene of Eric’s accident. Still less does it prove that he witnessed the accident, much less that he caused it.

        • Columbo was in Hanlon’s box twice. Both times were during a game. Both times the clock chimed. Hanlon may have had a habit of turning the radio down (although not when calling Eric, obviously), but the evidence refutes any theory that he also habitually turned the clock’s chimes off. Furthermore, Columbo gave Hanlon a very lengthy opportunity to respond at the end, and Hanlon made no such claim.

          The “witness” you suggest would be meaningless. It just means Hanlon again wasn’t in the box during the call. How does the witness know otherwise.

          Absence from the box IS different from presence at the pool. However, that difference gets smaller when you’re absent from the box while claiming you’re in the box. It gets smaller still when you repeat that false claim over and over again, including seconds before you lie is demonstrated. Please do no minimize the force of a defendant’s chronic false statements.

          • Columbo was in Hanlon’s box twice during a game, but never while he was making a phone call during a game. So if the clock did have a silent function, as we would have to assume it does, and the kid doesn’t cone forward to identify Hanlon, which he has not done when the credits roll, Columbo can’t prove that Hanlon’s statements were false.

            All in all this is one of the episodes where Columbo’s case is so weak that I start to discount the fact that they showed us the murder and wonder if the guy might not be guilty!

            • If Hanlon isn’t claiming he turned the clock off, why should you? Look at the episode’s final minute again. Look at Hanlon’s reaction when the clock chimes in the box but not on the tape. It’s not the picture of an innocent man trapped in a web of unreliable evidence.

              • He may not have claimed to silence the clock during the episode, but you can bet he will have claimed it long before he sees the inside of a courtroom. Probably before they get the boy who tried to buy ice cream to look at a lineup.

                • Defendants make a lot of false claims well after the fact. Time breeds creativity. Truthful claims don’t need time to invent. Juries understand that.

            • Dear friends, dear Columbo-friends. We are talking about a television-series. Your discussion about the (silent?) clock, the lawyer and the jury is an interesting discussion. Yes, it is, and I like reading it. However, it doesn’t concern the question: is the gotcha of “the Most Crucial Game” a good one, or is it a bad (as CP thinks). The question is not if Columbo is a good and professional police-man. The question is not if Columbo will be able to convince the jury. The question is if the gotcha-scene convinces YOU, when you (first) see it. If that scene has convinced Acilius half as much as it convinced me, when I first saw it, than it must have pleased him verrrry much. (The scene still pleases me a lot. Even thinking about it pleases me.) The chiming of the clock was for me (and I hope for everyone of you) a great moment of television, strengthened by the facial expression of Paul Hanion (who loses his self-confidence) and of Columbo. Their eyes say “I gotcha / You got me”.

              • Exactly!! It’s one of the best gotcha’s ever, simply because it slowly builds up in the last few minutes.

                Columbo’s “You’ll miss the best bit” as he puts his finger to his lip to silence Hanlon is brilliant. As is Hanlon’s reaction (easily the best episode starring Robert Culp). There’s then that brilliant moment of silence, which is always a great acting tool when using great actors, before the chime goes. Hanlon’s face is a picture – he looks nearly as spooked as Dale Kingston in ‘Suitable for Framing’

                It’s these gotcha’s which are the best. The ones where the perp realises the game is up and it’s also why the much maligned ending in the ‘The Dangerous Match’ is also up there for me.

                It’s irrelevant that a smart lawyer would get them off – a smart lawyer would get most of them off, who decided to fight

                And yes, this is an entertainment show where certain poetic license is taken

                But I dislike the culture where every fictional film / series is judged on reality before entertainment. Yes let’s have both, but the latter is more important and if that’s good the former, which might be questionable, is still OK

                • Yup, thumbs up — the clock scene rocks. He doesn’t deny it but takes that strong pull on the cigarette = classic.

  39. Really like the way you chose to do this, awarding the razzies, nice observations and can’t disagree with any of them. Love the category Least believable display of grief, that one could only have one outcome!

    • In Sergeant Grover’s defense, I don’t think he’s actually responsible for any police bungling, just oft-accused of it by the young upstart Sergeant Wilson, who proves to be the real bungler … and never assigned to work with Columbo again. LOL

      In the end greenhouse scene, Grover brings Columbo the gotcha ballistics report just in time. A whipping boy no longer.


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