Columbo episodes don’t come much better than A Friend in Deed, which features a mouth-watering confrontation between the Lieutenant and his own boss – Deputy Police Commissioner, Mark Halperin.
Yes folks, many folks have threatened to report Columbo to his superiors in previous episodes – but this time our favourite detective has got to outsmart his superior officer to solve a murder and prevent an innocent man from being framed.
Featuring the brilliant Richard Kiley as the menacing Halperin, A Friend in Deed has so many good moments that choosing just five is a tall order – but rest assured I’m man enough for the challenge, so here’s my take on the episode’s stand-out scenes.
“Columbo episodes don’t come much better than A Friend in Deed!”
5. Margaret’s bath-time blues
We already know that Mark Halperin is a rather naughty chap (not least because of his evil beard and the fact he wears his hat at a jaunty angle), but we find out just how ruthless he is when he erases his dear wife Margaret.
Sick of his her charitable giving, Halperin has figured out a way of getting his hands on Margaret’s millions – and his approach is brutal and uncompromising. Disturbing her bathing, Margaret asks Halperin to leave but he coos some sweet nothings at her to keep her keen. “Have I told you recently darling that our marriage has been a constant joy to me?” he says before gripping her shoulders and pushing her under the water to commit the quickest death-by-drowning ever seen on TV.
If we were in any doubt before, we’re now certain that Halperin is absolutely hardcore and a very dangerous man to know – as neighbour Hugh Caldwell will swiftly find out when Halperin ropes him in to his diabolical scheme.
4. Action Man Halperin to the rescue!
An action sequence in Columbo is the rarest of beasts – and A Friend in Deed boasts two of them: the bar room bust late in the episode, and this rather epic example of stuntman heroics by Commissioner Halperin.
While ostensibly helping out on a chopper night patrol over the mansions of Beverly Hills, Halperin claims to spot someone lurking in the shadows round his own home. When the helicopter goes in for a closer look, Halperin spots his wife (whom he’d killed earlier in the day) in the arms of a masked man (wimpy co-conspirator Hugh Caldwell), who flings her into their back yard pool.
It’s now that things get really exciting as Halperin clambers out of the chopper cockpit and leaps into pool to drag his wife out and deliver mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. For a show that was really all about the mental sparring between detective and killer, this is a highly accomplished and commendable action scene that helps set the episode apart.
3. Strange bedfellows?
Nothing shows off Columbo’s everyman charms quite as effectively as his handling of a pressure-cooker situation with combustible jewel thief Artie Jessup.
Seeking information from the man most of his colleagues thinks is guilty of double homicide, Columbo’s visit to the dive bar where Jessup hangs out gets off to a bad start when the furious burglar flips out at the sight of a police badge.
Not only does Columbo manage to calm Jessup down, he’s swiftly able to make an ally of him, and Jessup will play a key role in helping to wrap up the case. This scene is so good because it’s a great example of how the real Columbo is able to effortlessly build rapport with almost anyone he wants to – even those from the wrong side of the tracks.
2. Who’s just lost their badge?
A truly magnificent moment, and one of the very best Columbo gotchas, the take-down of the crooked Commissioner is so darn satisfying – time after time.
Halperin has fallen hook, line and sinker for Columbo’s ruse of leading him to search an apartment he believes to be Jessup’s – having already planted some stolen jewels there to incriminate the thief. And while Columbo warns his superior officer that he’s making a mistake, Halperin charges ahead in a bid to clear himself of any suspicion.
As the scene unfolds, Columbo calmly outlines why he believes the Commissioner killed his wife, leading to Halperin’s icy response: “You just lost your badge, my friend,” – easily one of the best-delivered lines of the entire series.
When the jewels show up under a mattress, Halperin thinks he’s home and dry, only for Columbo to deliver the ultimate table turn: this isn’t Jessup’s apartment at all – Columbo has rented it to complete the sting operation, and only the Commissioner saw the false address in Columbo’s files.
In the space of 90 glorious seconds, Halperin plummets from triumph to silent resignation. It’s simply great TV from a series firing on all cylinders. I’d wager this probably most fans’ episode highlight and it’s just a whisker away from being mine, too. Instead that honour goes to…
1. Good cop, bad cop?
The episode’s greatest triumph is the portrayal of central antagonist – and our introduction to him is perfectly done.
When we first meet Halperin he’s cavorting with a scarlet-clad redhead, whom we already know is not his wife, while drinking, smoking and gambling in a vice den. There’s something of the devil in his looks and actions, and the clever use of mirror reflections is suggestive of a man with dual identities and a shadowy alter ego.
Given that we know Columbo represents all that is good about policing, this magnificent introduction sets the stall out early that Commissioner Halperin is a man we can neither like nor trust. And so it proves in riveting fashion. I can’t praise this scene enough.
“The episode’s greatest triumph is the portrayal of central antagonist – and our introduction to him is perfectly done.”
Those are my top picks – I’d love to hear yours, so fire me a comment below. As I said earlier, this is an episode high on highlights so it’s entirely conceivable your favourite moments could be quite different to mine.
Until next time my friends, keep outta trouble – and whatever you do, keep away from middle-aged, bearded men wearing hats at a jaunty angle…