Five best moments from An Exercise in Fatality

Columbo An Exercise in Fatality
Keep up, buddy…

Featuring a heavyweight clash between Columbo and Milo Janus, Season 4 opener An Exercise in Fatality is a muscular beast of an episode that packs quite a punch (fitness puns conclude here, you’ll be glad to hear).

With Janus easily being amongst the most despicable Columbo baddies of all, Fatality features many a memorable moment as the two antagonistic leads lock horns. But just what are its very best moments? That’s a tough question to answer.

Undaunted, I huffed and puffed on my rotten cigar until I was able to bring this list of episode highlights to you. Will you agree with my choices or roundly reject them like a fuming Gene Stafford flinging away Milo Janus brand paperclips? Read on to find out…

NB – I insist you read this with the Milo Janus jingle playing on loop in the background.

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Now read on – and this time I really mean it.

5. A cold-blooded killing

Columbo Milo Janus
Gene wasn’t a fan of Milo’s interpretation of a man hug

Gene Stafford may have been rather an abrasive character, who perhaps should have exercised a shade more caution when outlining his plans to expose Milo Janus’s shady business dealings, but he still deserved a lot better than the terrifying way he ultimately checked out at the gym franchise kingpin’s muscular hands.

After dodging Janus’s first attempt to crush his windpipe by tipping a pot of coffee over his arm, Gene took flight through his deserted health club in a doomed bid to outdistance his pursuer. It didn’t take long for Janus to track him down and choke him to death with an iron pipe, though, in what represents one of the series’ most ferocious, frightening and high-impact crimes.

4. Addled on the doorstep

Columbo Gretchen Corbett
Now what was I thinking about…?

What could have been a meaningless moment achieved iconic status when Milo J’s stunning lover Jessica Conroy opened the door to Columbo while wearing just a tiny, cherry-print bikini.

Echoing the likely reaction of a high proportion of viewers, the addled Lieutenant loses his chain of thought and burbles away on the doorstep while a smiling Jessica gently prods fun at his momentary lapse. It may not be one of the most important Columbo moments but it’s a whole lot of fun and goes a long way to explaining why Gretchen Corbett maintains a special place in the heart of millions of fans to this day.

3. Keeping up with the Janus

An Exercise in Fatality Columbo
Are shorts that short and tight legal?

Too many cigars and too much chilli take their toll on Columbo when a Q&A session with Milo Janus takes an unwelcome twist. Collaring Janus during his morning workout at the beach, Columbo is unwittingly drawn into a long and arduous jog across punishing sands while fully attired in his usual wok outfit – raincoat and all.

The red-faced and sweaty Lieutenant that emerges at Janus’s home at the end of the jog is a spent force, while his foe symbolically remains bursting with energy. Luckily for Columbo, cracking the case is a marathon, not a sprint – and in the long run, we can be confident he’ll ultimately prevail.

2. Taking out the trash

Columbo Exercise in Fatality
When the finger wag comes out, you know you’re in trouble

Columbo can’t stand Milo Janus – a fact he doesn’t even try to hide, such is the low esteem he holds the man in. It makes the gotcha scene spectacularly satisfying, for both the viewer and the Lieutenant, as Columbo reveals a lengthy list of damning evidence.

From the broken alibi and shoelace knots that prove somebody else dressed Gene in his gym gear to the splices found in a tape recording of Gene ringing the office, Columbo has compiled a complete case that will give Janus no wriggle room in a court of law.

The best bit? Janus’s own sworn testimony that Gene was already in his gym clothes during the phony conversation after the murder is what will prove to be his undoing. “You tried to contrive a perfect alibi, sir,” Columbo chides. “And it’s your perfect alibi that’s going to hang ya.” That’s karma, baby!

1. The hospital showdown

Columbo losing his cool is such a rare thing that when it happens, it really matters. And when he loses his cool with Milo Janus at the hospital following Ruth Stafford’s overdose, it’s as angry as we ever see him.

We’ve seen flashes of temper from Columbo before, notably in Prescription: Murder and A Stitch in Crime. The first – his tirade at Joan Hudson – was not real rage at all, but a calculated act designed to intimidate the weak link in his investigation. The latter, when he slammed a pitcher down on the desk of the laughing Dr Mayfield, seemed genuine, although Columbo’s ulterior motive of forcing Mayfield into showing his hand was certainly a factor in his reaction.

There’s no such subterfuge here as the disgusted Lieutenant enters into a prolonged diatribe against Janus that has nothing to do with furthering his case and has everything to do with letting the world know what he really thinks of his chief suspect. It’s raw, it’s authentic and it makes for utterly gripping viewing.

“Columbo losing his cool is such a rare thing that when it happens, it really matters.”

Well guys and gals, that concludes our exercise program for today. As always, I’d be most interested to hear from you about your own highlights. This is an episode packed with ’em, so narrowing it down was quite a challenge.

If you’re now desperate for more of a fitness fix, you can read my full review of An Exercise in Fatality here. You can also read up on where the dastardly Milo Janus ranks in the list of most loathsome Columbo killers right here. Spoiler: it’s very high.

Until next time, farewell. If you’d care to share this article on your social media channels, I’d be most grateful. After all, when I grow, you grow. Oh, and those cigars you smoke? They’re gonna kill ya…

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Conrad, who died in February at the age of 84.

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