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Coming soon: the 100 greatest Columbo moments of the 70s

Columbo Most Crucial Game
I wonder if this lovable chap will feature?

Here’s some news that is guaranteed to make the hearts of Columbo fans SING: a panel of experts and enthusiasts have got their heads together to compile a (reasonably) definitive list of the Lieutenant’s greatest moments from his classic era.

While there are hundreds of memorable moments across the first seven series, there are many select scenes that resonate with pretty much every viewer. Being able to assess the popularity of these scenes and rank them in some sort of meaningful order has been on my priority list for many a moon – and now it’s becoming a reality.

With the help of 11 other Columbophiles, the votes have been cast and the list of Columbo’s 100 greatest scenes has been shaped. The purpose of this article is to introduce the panel and outline just a little bit about how the process worked…

NB – while I’ve titled this article ‘the 100 greatest Columbo moments of the 70s’, it will also incorporate Prescription: Murder from 1968 – and we all know there are some cracking scenes in that one that are sure to crop up!

The expert panel

From left, Steven Moffat, Mark Dawidziak, Theo Solorio, Dean Matthews, Jenny Hammerton

Alongside myself, I’m pleased as punch to reveal I’ve managed to secure the assistance of a range of knowledgeable and passionate Columbo experts and fans from across the globe. You’ll know of some of them already, but by way of introduction here are brief pen pics of them all:-

Steven Moffat – The TV writer and producer behind such global hits as Doctor Who, Sherlock and Dracula is as passionate about the Lieutenant as any man on earth, and revealed in 2019 he’d had a good (but ultimately fruitless) crack at securing the rights to Columbo in a bid to bring him back to screens. It’s a real thrill that so busy a chap could find time to contribute to this enterprise.

Mark Dawidziak – TV/film critic and author, whose iconic The Columbo Phile book was first published in 1989, Mark is the globally recognised doyen of Columbo writing who became firm friends with Peter Falk. The Columbo Phile was reissued last year to mark its 30th anniversary. Aside from his writing, Mark is also an adjunct professor at Kent State University.

Aurora Bugallo – By day Aurora works in higher ed administration. By night she watches movies and Columbo. A prolific blogger, you can read her work at Once Upon a Screen, and connect with her as @CitizenScreen on Twitter. Aurora’s also an Advisory Board Member of the Barrymore Film Center in NJ; a Brand Ambassador for Turner Classic Movies; and was one of the initiators of the #ColumboTV livetweet phenomenon of the 2010s.

Alex Deane – A commentator on political events on national and international television (often reviewing the headlines on Sky News or BBC Dateline London), Alex is a former aide to the Conservative Party and a non-practising barrister. He is now a partner at a London-based consultancy firm and squeezes in as much Columbo as he can in his free-time. Alex tweets at @ajcdeane

Jenny Hammerton – An obsessive collector of the favourite recipes of film and TV stars of yesteryear, London-based Jenny is a cooking sensation and voracious blogger at Silver Screen Suppers. She has published a number of recipe books based on her collection – including Cooking with Columbo, which was released to global acclaim in 2018.

Paul Hughes – A writer based in Southern California, Paul is a devout Columbo aficionado and author of The Columbo Case Files – a complete guide to all seven Columbo seasons from the 1970s. Paul tweets at @PoetAndPriest.

Dean Matthews – Man of the people Dean is based on the UK’s south coast and has a love for Columbo like few others, creating a series of rib-tickling homage videos in the 2010s and being interviewed about his fandom on radio and in the print press. He tweets as @DastardlyDeano.

Theo Solorio – Our millennial voice, 22-year-old Theo is a cartoonist from California, a 70s/80s general retro enthusiast and a keen cosplayer. Amongst other things, Theo created the “Peter Fox as Columbo” toon universe and she’s been an ardent Columbo fan since childhood. Better known as @Kosperry online, catch Theo on Twitter and Instagram.

David van den Bosch – A Dutch writer, storyteller and drama teacher, David was the first city poet of Amersfoort and is the author of the Connla Quinn mystery novels, the third of which is due to be published in 2020. He is also one half of international storytelling duo Dá Fhili and in 2010 created the play The Versatile Death of Mr Martens for Theatre Company Kanalje, playing homicide detective Peter de Valk as a tribute to Columbo.

Rich Weill – A practising lawyer and former prosecutor in the US, Rich is a life-long Columbo devotee who has contributed several articles to this blog and recently created two scripts for a Columbo prequel series set in 1957 New York. Rich is also a playwright and author, and one of the most knowledgeable commentators on Columbo that I’ve ever encountered.

Jenn Zuko – Alphabetically last but definitely not least, Colorado resident Jenn is an English and theatre professor, and also (excitingly) a fight director for stage combat. A super-fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Lieutenant Columbo, Jen tweets as @bonzuko.

How it’ll work

Columbo Matter of Honor
Montoya is jealously guarding the list until it’s ready to be published

I’d long harboured ambitions of creating a list of Columbo’s 100 greatest moments and was initially going to do it all by my lonesome. However, having encountered so many knowledgeable fans over the years via social media, it made sense to spread the net and seek additional opinions to make sure I could better gauge the most critically acclaimed scenes.

We all have our own prejudices and favourites, after all, and left to my own devices I’d likely have packed the list with scenes from The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case that the majority of viewers might (crazily) find less compelling than I do.

So I asked my fellow experts simply to produce a list of up to 20 of their very favourite Columbo moments. These could be iconic scenes known to every fan, or fleeting moments special to them; they could be humorous asides, character insights, personality clashes, meetings of minds, or examples of Columbo’s mental acuity. Whatever ticked their boxes was worthy of consideration.

I added these to my own provisional list of 100 great moments and ended up with a directory of more than 150 amazing moments all vying for inclusion – and I can assure you that whittling the list down to just 100 has led to much hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and fevered dreams of wronged fans booing me from my front garden.

Columbo Bye-Bye Sky High
I *so* wanted to include Alvin’s verbal lashing from Bye-Bye Sky High

A number of scenes shared almost universal acknowledgement, making it relatively easy to rank the top echelons of the leader board. It was much more difficult to evaluate what should go where in positions 50-100 given the huge variety of ideas put forward. I haven’t been able to include every scene suggested by the panelists – just as I haven’t been able to include every scene that is personally important to me.

Nevertheless, the list is now complete and will be delivered in a classic countdown style over several instalments on the blog over the (northern hemisphere) summer months. Hopefully it’ll stimulate plenty of friendly debate amongst the fan base.

Of course there are bound to be disappointments, so readers should steel themselves for the possibility that their own favourite moments might not make the list. As an indicator (and light spoiler), below are just some of the awesome moments I couldn’t squeeze in:

  • Columbo the tourist in London
  • Tommy Brown’s live rendition of I Saw the Light
  • The cocker spaniel discussion in Negative Reaction
  • Roger Stanford necking at the nightclub in Short Fuse
  • The confused geniuses offer their opinions on the crime in Bye-Bye Sky High

As is also to be expected, some episodes will have numerous inclusions in the top 100. Others will have none at all. C’est la vie

It’s rough justice that I couldn’t find space for the cocker spaniel exchange in the top 100

The articles will come complete with video snippets of the moments in question to help jog memories and ensure we can all share in the debate without having to dig out the DVDs or forlornly wait in hope for the right episodes to be screened on TV. It’s taken an AGE (and much fury) to edit and upload all the clips, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

Look out for the articles from June onwards! In the meantime, please feel free to hazard some guesses about which scenes you’d hope/expect to see in the list – and what omissions would make you howl with rage.

Before all that, you can expect to see a review of Columbo Season 8 finale Grand Deceptions on the blog next week. Until then, keep outta trouble!

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Columbo perfect Murder
If you want to see this list before June, you’re just going to have to shoot me. Oh… wait…
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67 thoughts on “Coming soon: the 100 greatest Columbo moments of the 70s

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  5. Some of my personal favorites in no particular order, most of which I hope will make the list:

    1. Murder by the Book – Gotcha scene

    “Well you’re always in the neighborhood”
    “Whoever thought that idiot would write it down”.

    2. Double Shock – Cooking show scene with Dexter Paris

    3. Publish or Perish – Riley Greenleaf’s drunken antics at the pub to establish his alibi

    “Go buy yourself a personality”
    “”Madam in your condition I’d call a plastic surgeon”

    4. Publish or Perish – Gotcha scene

    Cassidy was fantastic in this episode

    5. Now You See Him – Magic act scene with Columbo as the volunteer

    6. Now You See Him – Gotcha scene

    As you can tell, I love Jack Cassidy episodes

    7. Lady in Waiting – Scene where Beth Chadwick shuts Columbo up when he tries his “one more thing” shtick

    8. Lady in Waiting – Gotcha scene

    Among all killers in the entire series, Beth came closest to killing Columbo.

    9. The Greenhouse Jungle – Scene where Columbo runs down the slope the falls; also Sergeant Wilson’s intro

    10. Suitable for Framing – Scene where Columbo talks Dale Kingston into giving him his house key

    11. Suitable for Framing – Gotcha scene

    #1 Gotcha in the entire series for many fans

    12. Etude in Black – “Suppose it was you” scene

    13. Identity Crisis – Scene where Columbo has a chat with Nelson Brenner in the living room of his mansion

    To be honest, all the scenes featuring interactions between Falk and McGoohan were solid gold here to a point where it’s hard for me to pick one.

    14. Swan Song – “I saw the light” song

    Very catchy song. Shame that this won’t make the list

    15. Swan Song – Gotcha scene

    The part where Tommy confesses that the cat and mouse game was getting to him and asks Columbo if he isn’t afraid to be alone with a murderer, to which Columbo replies with something along these lines: “Any man who can sing like that, can’t be all that bad”.
    Reminiscent of the finale to Any Old Port in a storm, yet unique in its own right. I saw this episode long before I saw Any Old Port, which makes this one stand out more to me.

    16. Negative Reaction – Scene where Paul Galesko says he doesn’t just “drop by and click pictures”

    17. Negative Reaction – Gotcha scene

    Dick Van Dyke was fantastic.

    18. Blueprint for Murder – Scene where Columbo first meets Goldie Williamson

    19. A Stitch in Crime – Harry Alexander’s death

    To me, this scene established Dr. Barry Mayfield as THE most despicable and dangerous murderer in the entire series. He could have easily been the first (and only) murderer in the series to kill three people in one episode, all of which were likable people too. I was genuinely shocked and angry when I first watched this scene. It’s a shame indeed that the Gotcha for this episode turned out to be one of the biggest letdowns in the series, in my opinion. I really wanted Columbo to nail this guy. Nimoy was fantastic though.

    20. A Stitch in Crime – Scene where Columbo slams the flask on Dr. Mayfield’s table

    I like to believe that even Columbo thought Dr. Heideman’s life was in danger and that he had to act in order to save him.

    To be continued…

  6. I’m a huge fan of understated lines and the reactions to them, as with “They’re on the ten, sir” (The Most Crucial Game), “I’ve got to come up with something concrete” (Blueprint for Murder), and “When I grow, you grow” and “There’s something wrong with this orange juice” (An Exercise in Fatality). Almost anything said by Vito Scotti qualifies, my favourite might be “Perhaps I should see my barrister” (Negative Reaction).

    Also must-mentions: Columbo’s response to Thayer David’s magic trick that almost chops off his hand (Now You See Him). And, forgive me, Gretchen Corbett answering the door.

  7. The greenhouse jungle airs tomorow
    On 5usa , not one of my favourites overall i am afraid i find it very mid tier but i just love
    The hill fall scene definetley worthy of a place on the list, also the most dangerous match airs i wonder what scenes from that episode will be included not too many i imagine for me it would be clayton s misreaction to the phone call from the vet .

      • I dont have a particular fondness for that scene in the hairdressers it dosent quite do it for me but compared with any other dreary scene in Old fashioned murder its a gem
        I like it when columbo got his Nails manicured showing his feminine side but the whole episode I Find astonishingly dull .

  8. Columbo asking Honor Blackman if there’s any way to get tickets to her show while she’s prostrate over Sir Roger’s casket.

  9. ‘Try and Catch Me’ When Abigail Mitchell says ‘Oh Lieutenant Columbo, one more thing…’

    Alot of the exchanges between Hayward and Columbo in ‘Candidate for Crime’. The telephone conversation (‘no sir the station ran out of gas’) and the diagram (‘I thought you’d be relieved…’)

    Clayton losing a chess game to a member of the public in just two moves. (‘The Most Dangerous Match’)

    Tommy Brown being knocked to the ground by his victim’s brother in ‘Swan Song’.

    And of course the gotchas.

  10. Quite too many for me to list here but I will give you a handful such as the final suture gotcha moment with Leonard Nimoy’s evil doctor, I love when Nimoy takes a deep breath of relief then Columbo runs back in and takes him down. Same episode when Columbo gets pissed and slams the coffee pot down in front of him when he laughs at him. The gotcha of A Friend in Deed, The shoe lace gotcha in An Excersise in Fatality, Columbo trying to keep up with Janus in the run and then pouring sand out of his shoes in the same episode, Too many to list in my absolute favorite Try and Catch Me but I will say the touching ending of the episode with Abigail admitting that if he were the one on her niece’s case none of this would’ve ever had happened. The entire final scene between Oliver Brandt and Columbo from the perfect set up and win from Columbo tricking Brandt to revealing himself to their poignant conversation of their pasts to Columbo solving Brandt’s riddle proving that Columbo truly is a genius. Plenty more but of course that’s all I can give without going on forever and a day lol.

  11. I love swan song and I dont know does the blazing row between Tommy and Edna count as a scene or a single moment but its one of the best pre -murder scenes of the seventies and it really explains the motive and sets the tone for the whole episode plus cash and Ida lupino were excellent in this scene also the squire ll meat chilli scene is funny and the undertaker scene .

  12. ‘Etude in Black’… when Alex Benedict announces he’s going off for a nap after briefly discussing the identity of the murderer with the good Lieutenant. As Benedict walks away, Columbo openly surmises “Suppose it was you…” and Benedict immediately turns on his heels back to face this troublesome little detective… the game is afoot thereafter!!!

    Wonderful moment… classic episode… John Cassavetes is SO missed…

  13. I can think of so many times in “Last Salute to the Commodore” when Columbo…….oh wait, this is a list of 100 BEST moments. My bad.

  14. Will be interesting to see , how many moments from old fashioned murder if any make the list , watched it last week , i never enjoy it much and i find it frightfully dull and forgettable.

    • It is a very weak episode; a dull killer, a boring setting and the murder was not nearly as clever as some of the others. A detective without Columbo’s skills could have believed some of the stories spun by the killers (especially the really cunning people like Nelson Hayward). But even Trigger would struggle to believe that two guys had simultaneously shot each other in the dark.

      • Old fashioned murder is a very forgettable episode , it has a couple of good clues during the investigation but is spoiled by the silly and annoying repetitive fainting scenes and colunbos cold , it may have been salvaged a little with a decent gotcha but instead it just falls flat, I find it so dull I honestly couldn’t pick a stand out moment for this one .

        • I love that scene with Michael Lally in the museum phone booth- “Look at that shirt!” and they all cram in and Columbo makes a comment about his cheap watch- then says, ‘what do you expect for 30.00’ classic!

          • The episode is very weak, but IMO the first conversation between Columbo and the murderer (in this case murderess) is as good as any. Later, the moments when he tells her about the light being off and she realizes her lifelong persnicketiness has doomed her scheme, and when the silly woman scolds Janie for not knowing antique belt buckles, have their charm. May I take your arm?

  15. Dale Kingston: “My fingerprints are all over those paintings…”
    Columbo: “No…we’re not looking for your prints…”
    That’s gotta be somewhere near the top!

    My wife and I have had a Sunday evening ritual for years: blue cheese, crackers and Columbo, alternating who gets to choose the episode. The imminent top 100 moments and subsequent discussions will provide fuel, if any more were needed, to spend many more years watching this wonderful TV show.

    • If the gotcha from ‘Suitable for Framing’ isn’t included somewhere in the list, I think there may be a riot. 😉 Ditto for “LIQUID FILTH!” and a few other things.

    • Definitely agree with that moment. One of the very best episodes overall with the badass Robert Conrad and yummy Gretchen Corbett aka Beth Davenport, Jim Rockford’s sharp and gorgeous lawyer from The Rockford Files. The gotcha scene with the shoelaces is also on my list. Columbo ripped into ole boy.

  16. When Louis Jordan tries the scallopini, likes it, and then says, “Lieutenant, I wish you’d have been a chef,” to which the reply comes, “I understand completely, sir.”

  17. At the end of A Trace of Murder where Columbo says “That cat’s out of the bag” on both sides of the street. The expression on Shera Denese’s face! (Columbo’s real life wife).

  18. ‘You cant win them all’ is one of my favorites because you didnt expect him to say it!
    Will read up on this week.

  19. This is the content the world has been waiting for! Off the top of my head, so hard to think what the best moments could be. It’s easy when you’re watching an episode, but trying to remember them much less so. What springs to mind? Hmm… “Liquid Filth!”, “Hey Mister, Stop I Want an Ice Cream!”, Banging the thing (paperweight possibly? can’t remember) on Spock’s desk, Dick van Dyke being “done up like a kipper” when he picks up the camera, the frankly ridiculous (but i still like it) assorted condiments chess match, hair by Daryl, Janet Leigh watching her old movie in blissful ignorance, “Rosebud!” kisses, Columbo pretending he’s dying from poison, I was murdered by Abigail Mitchell.

    And pretty much everything Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp did, because they were incredible. How you even begin to go about picking out their best moments is beyond me . It’s like trying to pick your favourite bands best songs, when you like all of them!

  20. This is going to be great! It does, however, reemphasize that there’s nothing that pleases everyone – Columbo as a tourist in London is probably my least favorite thing from the entire run!

    • Certainly not my least favourite episode, but it’s probably in my bottom 10. Maybe being British has something to do with it, it’s so stereotypically innacurate it makes The Simpsons showing football hooligans running around with cricket bats look realistic!

    • Strange, actually location filming in London, but on throw-away scenes. Odd as well that Sir Roger’s English country house is really the Beverly Hills Greystone Mansion, a Doheny family residence, the other being the “museum” in An Old Fashioned Murder. Both houses are open to the public. Sad that many 70’s Columbo filming locations have been torn down.

  21. Which scene from Dagger of the Mind did you do pick then, I wonder, if not Columbo as a tourist in London? Columbo having lost his luggage? That one’s awesome as well.

    • Since they have been eliminated from consideration, I wonder if anyone else thinks that the London Tourist shots were filmed on the sly, without official permission (and quite possibly improvised)? They are uncharacteristically grainy with washed-out color.

      Every time I watch the episode, I imagine some guy, possibly not even a professional cameraman, using amateur Bell-and-Howell equipment to surreptitiously film Falk traipsing around (“Just another tourist here. Nothing to see.”) It is even possible that these shots were blown up from 16 mm to 35 mm stock..

      I can imagine Falk spontaneously saying, “Hey, before we leave, let’s get some shots of Columbo bumming around London!” After being informed that it would take undue time to get official permission, he or someone else came up with the scheme of covertly filming the sequence. Falk’s exaggerated miming in these shots supports an inference of improvisation.

      While we know that much of the episode was filmed in Los Angeles, including the action at Sir Roger Haversham’s chateau, crucial scenes were filmed on location in the U.K. Apart from the Columbo-at-Large sequence, these are up to the usual Colombo cinematic standards.

      P.S. In “It Came from Beneath the Sea”, Roy Gordon and Ray Harryhausen shot some of the the live-action sequences on the Golden Gate Bridge from an unmarked panel truck because of similar permission issues. I am sure that it is far from the only example.

      • Very good point, never thought of that possibility. I’ve always thought the scene was filmed deliberately that way, like a tourist filming London. Could well have been thought off on the spot.

      • Yes, I know, and to be fair: in my top 20 of best Columbo scenes wouldn’t feature a scene from Dagger.
        Incidentally, I would have loved to be on this panel.

      • It wouldn’t surprise me if ther e were no dagger scenes at all its far too silly for its own good and I will never be a fan of it on any level , some episodes will have very few or none at all memorable scenes and those for me would be Old fashioned murder , Mind over mayhem , Dead weight , A case of immunity , A matter of honour , Short fuse and of course Last salute .

        • It’s a stretch I concede, but one might be able to come up with a worthy moment or two from the scenes involving Joe the cranky doorman and things to do with the umbrella.

  22. There’s not contest it’s gotta be Columbo slipping down the steep cliff in ‘Greenhouse Jungle’ for #1

    • The absolute worst Columbo scene, writing/direction wise, is also in this episode: the very vocally distinctive Ray Milland, not making any attempt to disguise his voice,making the threatening call to Tony’s wife, and her “buying it.” And then……… her calling Milland, scared. Ugh!

    • Definitely this one. The countdown sequence from ‘Make Me a Perfect Murder’ is my personal favourite – though I’m not sure it counts if Columbo himself isn’t in the scene?

        • I love the countdown scene in make me a perfect murder also columbo interrupting the funeral in Negative reaction , I am not a huge fan of excercise in fatality bu i like the scene where columbo mistakes the carrot juice for orange juice is quite funny .

      • For some reason I always laugh at the exchange: Let me know if we can be of help, Thanks, No we think it is a whiplash.

      • i love the countdown scene. i also love the scene where Kay tries to retrieve the gun from the roof of the elevator and the scene when Columbo hounds her on the TV screens and she can’t get rid of him. Great episode that one.


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