Opinion / Top 100

The 100 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s, Part 2: 90-81

General, why don’t sailors like buying new hats? They’re afraid of CAP-SIZING!
NB – if you missed Part 1 of this countdown, I recommend starting there before reading this!

Well folks, the ball is well and truly rolling now on the countdown to reveal the 100 greatest Columbo scenes from 1968-78.

My sincere thanks to all who read, commented on and shared Part 1 of the list at the weekend. More of the same will be much appreciated to ensure as many fans as possible get to share in this celebration of the very, very best of Columbo.

Without further preamble, let’s dive in and savour #90-81 on the countdown. Again, I’d urge readers to take their time over this and enjoy the clips in their entirety (especially #90) to get the most of the article. So, grab a coffee or a bowl of chilli and settle back for half an hour of some of the most enjoyable TV ever filmed…

90. Volare without end – Troubled Waters

An inclusion that might surprise some fans due to its cheesy nature and interminable length, Rosanna Welles’ rousing rendition of Volare aboard The Sea Palace in front of an audience of enrapt pensioners nevertheless remains one of the most memorable scenes in Columbo history.

Not only does it absolutely epitomise the cruise ship experience of the 70s, it’s also effectively interspersed with scenes of killer Hayden Danziger busting free from the ship’s hospital and jalloping through the bowels of the boat ship so he can reach Rosanna’s cabin ahead of her mid-show break. It’s breathless stuff from all involved.

Alex Deane expert opinion: “This is, objectively, an appalling moment, both in television and in the history of music. The magnificently arrogant victim butchers a song over the course of eleven hours (or so it feels), in a ship’s lounge that looks like the offspring of a library mating with a retirement home. And yet, no single other moment so identifies a Columbo fan to another. The single word ‘Volare’, elongated slightly to echo the extraordinary punishment it took in the episode, is the password, the shibboleth, that identifies one aficionado to another.”

89. Columbo’s fishing trip – Dead Weight

A variation on the “we both know I did it, but you’ll never prove it, so CLEAR ORF” chit-chat so familiar to keen viewers, Dead Weight features a fine exchange between Hollister and Columbo on the jetty by the General’s house.

Returning from an early morning outing on his yacht, Hollister finds Columbo lying in wait for him. On the surface, the Lieutenant is just having a jolly fishing jaunt. In reality, he wants to unsettle the General by encroaching on his territory and asking a series of telling questions. A grizzled war veteran isn’t likely to be spooked by such tactics and so it proves as Hollister dishes out some advice laced with double meaning: “Find a different spot, or use a different bait. Otherwise you’re not going to catch anything, Lieutenant.”

It’s a good example of the episode’s sharp script and a loaded exchange even the Lieutenant seems to enjoy. To put it in Sherlockian terms, the game is afoot, our confrontation is just warming up and our interest is piquing very nicely indeed.

88. Chilli at Chasen’s – Publish or Perish

Columbo catches up with publishing duo Jeffrey Neal and Eileen McRae at fashionable Chasen’s restaurant, where the hungry detective finds the uppity options on the menu not quite to his taste. Instead, he requests a bowl of chilli, along with an iced tea – much to the disgust of the stereotypically snooty French waiter.

Columbo’s amazement at the high price of the bill for such meagre fare is classic Falk – even more so when the waiter adjusts the bill upwards for neglecting to add the iced tea at the first time of asking. All in all, then, it’s a rib-tickling scene, the great joke being that Chasen’s was revered for its chilli, which was a favourite amongst Hollywood luminaries.

The scene also works well in entertainingly delivering key information to the Lieutenant, notably that Mallory’s incomplete novel had already been picked up by Universal as a Rock Hudson vehicle, necessitating a re-write of the final chapters, because “For $100,000, you don’t kill off Rock Hudson.” It’s the info that will ultimately do in for Riley Greenleaf.

Bonus points for Mariette Hartley looking foxy in a red stetson, too!

87. Father loves his son – Mind Over Mayhem

Despite being one of the poorer episodes of the classic era, Mind Over Mayhem successfully manages to round out on a poignant note.

After deliberately fitting up Dr Marshall Cahill’s son, Neil, for murder, Columbo has deduced that a father’s love for his son will ensure that justice is done. After Neil is dragged off by police, Columbo lies in wait for Cahill, whom he correctly deduces will give desperate chase. And although they never saw eye-to-eye throughout the episode, the two men share a respectful smoke as the Lieutenant explains how he cracked the case.

The scene humanises the otherwise unlikable Cahill, who, in killing to protect his son – and in now admitting his guilt to free his son – was, at last, acting out of love. Can we consider this the first step on the path to redemption for Cahill after years of dominating and browbeating his son? Perhaps. And that may ultimately be the episode’s biggest success: leaving the reflective viewer with deeper questions to ponder well beyond the closing credits.

86. Beth’s boardroom coup – Lady in Waiting

Beth Chadwick takes the concept of power dressing to a whole new level as she essentially stages a hostile takeover of her family advertising agency by placing herself in charge after her killing of hated brother Bryce – all while dressed in an unforgettable all-pink-and-purple hatted ensemble.

Beth’s message is clear from her appearance and her domineering tone: there’s a new cat in town – and she’s going to rock the establishment. Anyone within the company’s old boys’ network not willing to dance to the beat of her drum may as well hit the road now before she sweeps the rug out from under them.

Beth’s boldness here is such good TV because it shows us the double-edged sword of her recent emancipation. It may very well be just what the business needs to have a challenging, progressive woman in charge, but the damage being done to her relationship with the noble Peter Hamilton has never been more apparent. Here we see with crystal clarity that Beth won’t be able to have her cake and eat it. Was it worth her killing Bryce, after all?

Jenny Hammerton expert opinion: “Have you ever worn a huge, pink, broad-brimmed baker boy hat and a floral suit with massive lapels to a board meeting? Beth Chadwick does and I love her for it.  The moment she starts bossing all the blokes around after she has staged a corporate coup thrills me every time I see it. Girl power, early 70s’ style!”

85. Chadwick’s challenge – Candidate for Crime

In his second of his six guest star appearances, Vito Scotti delights once more in the role of Nelson Hayward’s snooty tailor, Mr Chadwick.

Scotti is on vintage form and it’s a blast to watch his reaction to the shabby detective, which is just on the polite side of disdain as he attempts to help Columbo find a jacket for an impending bowling league dinner dance – ultimately being unable to help due to the quick turnaround time required.

The humour of the scene works perfectly but it also has a pay-off in that Columbo learns just how far in advance Hayward had to order his own replacement jacket for the one Stone was killed in (10 days). While not conclusive, the revelation is a key element in Columbo’s strengthening case against the crooked candidate.

84. The tragic end of Lily La Sanka – Murder by the Book

Lily’s demise was clearly telegraphed earlier in the episode when her dinner for two with Ken in a scarlet-hued LA restaurant essentially portrayed the lonely widow making a pact with the Devil himself. Their second date at Lily’s country shack proved just that, with Devil Ken dispatching her with a Champagne-bottle bludgeoning.

The beauty of the scene, as with many Columbo murders, is that much is left to our imagination. In this instance, we see Ken wrap the bottle tightly in a napkin and stealthily approach Lily, who is distractedly counting her blackmail money. We then cut to her turning to the camera and screaming in terror as she realises too late what fate has in store for her.

Made even more powerful by director Steven Spielberg’s decision to cut the sound of the scream and have only music before fading out to a commercial break (a decision he had to fight for against a sceptical Levinson and Link), it’s a moment that almost out-Hitchcocks Hitchcock.

83. The garden party showdown – A Case of Immunity

Eschewing his normal pleasantries, Columbo gets straight to the point during his conversation with Hassan Salah and details precisely how he knows the Suari Legation First Secretary committed double homicide.

Given how dangerous a foe Salah is, this is an extremely ballsy move on Columbo’s part – especially since the confrontation essentially happens on foreign soil where Salah’s word is law. There’s no doubt that the First Secretary has the power to make good on his threat to have Columbo thrown off the force, yet our man refuses to back down even when armed guards are called to escort him off the premises.

That Columbo breaks free from the guards to hand Salah an “official letter of apology” after all this makes it one of the best f*** yous of the entire series. Better still, he’s rocking a tuxedo as he does it, giving this scene a Bond-esque flavour with Columbo dabbling in international affairs well beyond his usual pay grade.

82. The leap of faith – Forgotten Lady

Columbo’s leap from Dr Willis’s balcony onto the adjacent tree combines ace deductive reasoning with Peter Falk’s natural comic gifts to deliver a scene that works on multiple levels.

His tree-dangling and cavorting with Dog warm the cockles, but the heart of the scene is the glimpse we’re given into Grace Wheeler’s increasingly shaky grasp on reality. She ought to be feeling the heat of a detective for all intents and purposes proving that her husband could have been murdered – by her. Instead, she assumes Columbo is only there because of her magnetic allure and his attraction to “the MAGIC of show business!

All credit to Janet Leigh, whose wide-eyed portrayal of Grace becoming ever more lost in a world of her own is entirely convincing – and increasingly heartbreaking.

81. Caught in the rain – The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case

When Columbo became a series back in 1971, creators William Link and Dick Levinson had the notion that when the show finally ended, the very last scene should be the Lieutenant caught in a rain shower without his ever-present mac.

Although that never eventuated, we did get this brilliantly subtle riff on the idea as Columbo closes in on Oliver Brandt in Bye-Bye Sky High. It’s the first time in the series that we’ve been shown rain in LA and – wouldn’t you know it? – Mrs Columbo is testing out a new spot remover on the famous coat. As a result, the good Lieutenant is given a darn good soaking as he dashes down the Brandt residence driveway with an ineffectual umbrella.

Columbo being Columbo, of course, there’s some subterfuge at work and we must assume it was all a deliberate ruse to enable the detective to nab Brandt’s own umbrella and take it for testing. Nevertheless, it’s a lovely moment and a great Easter Egg for keen fans.

OK fellow Lieutenant Lovers, that’s all for today. As always, your thoughts on the list so far are to be encouraged, so get amongst it down in the comments section. There’s no such thing as a ‘best of’ list that will please every fan, but I hope you’re at least enjoying the ride so far.

Check back this coming Sunday for Part 3, which will count us down from #80-71. Until then, PEACE OUT!


Top 100 previous installments

Thanks to my fellow expert panellists: Steven Moffat, Mark Dawidziak, Aurora Bugallo, Alex Deane, Jenny Hammerton, Paul Hughes, Dean Matthews, Theo Solorio, David van den Bosch, Rich Weill and Jenn Zuko. Read more about ’em all here.

I don’t claim to own the copyright of the videos featured in this article, which are the property of NBCUniversal. The clips accompanying this article are either already in the public domain via the official Columbo YouTube channel, or being used under Fair Use legislation as part of my on-going efforts to thoroughly critique and analyse the series. I encourage readers to invest in the DVD box-set if financially viable.

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Even Peter didn’t like Beth’s baker boy hat…
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23 thoughts on “The 100 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s, Part 2: 90-81

  1. Pingback: The 100 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s, Part 5: 60-51 | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  2. Pingback: The 100 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s, Part 3: 80-71 | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  3. i folks , happy weekend heres this weekends Sundays line upon 5 USA
    Saturday Channel 5
    12 .30 A stitch in crime ( top pick I missed it as i didn’t tv guide till i left my flat
    what a shame A stitch in crime one of the best seventies episodes )

    9.00 Lady in waiting
    12 .35 Last salute to the commodore
    2.00 Lovely but lethal
    3.35 A bird in the hand
    5.30 prescription murder
    7.30 Blue print for murder (top pick )

    Not too bad a line up if you disregard last salute which i am sure many will ,
    Blueprint is my favourite from Sundays run with prescription murder 2nd and lady in waiting which i am not a big fan of I prefer marginally over lovely but lethal . A stitch in crime Aird on channel 5 un expectedly for the first time in like years which i would have liked to watch and i missed it but thats life .

    • A Stitch In Crime is a top 5 episode for me and one that i could watch again and again. I would probably pass on A Bird In The hand also along with Last Salute. Is 5USA a channel in the UK that shows all U.S. shows? If you have checked out the other 2 shows from the NBC Mystery Movie series from the 70’s (McCloud and McMillan & Wife) you can see how Columbo was so much better. I remember being disappointed when it would be one of those other 2 shows on instead of Columbo, they just didn’t compare.

  4. This is brilliant, the internet experience of the year so far thank you! I’ve taken your advice and set aside enough time to really enjoy these scenes in their entirety. I recommend other readers do the same because I’m enjoying some of these scenes like never before, even those scenes I’ve never really cared for. Thanks to CP and the other panellists.

  5. The moment I first saw Beth Chadwick wear that garish outfit I thought Columbo should have arrested her right then & there. Contrary to this being a display “girl power”, it was a demonstration of what happens when a meglomaniac takes charge whether it be in the boardroom or the Oval Office. Perhaps Beth’s brother & mother had been right about her all along. All of which makes Beth Chadwick the most tragic figure in the Columbo canon.

    • Beth’s manner leaves a lot to be desired (blame that on the years of suppression she faced from father then brother) but what she’s saying makes excellent business sense. Of course an agency should be looking to bring in new accounts and promote themselves more. If Bryce wasn’t advocating that (and it appears he wasn’t) then Beth is absolutely right to expect it.

  6. All great scenes; I think we’re seeing Lily a little early on the list. I’m glad to see Dead Weight get some appreciation. Eddie Albert is such a good guy in Green Acres, but he makes a great baddie as seen here and in The Longest Yard.

    • Oh and my earliest recollection of Volare was Sergio Franci singing it on the car commercial. Love the scene and Troubled Waters is a top notch episode.

      • I, too, have no problem with the “Volare” scene in “Troubled Waters.” It’s not as if the camera was on Poupee Boucar for 6 1/2 minutes. The song was mostly background music as Danziger prepared for his crime. And because it was being played throughout the ship, it explains why Nurse Melissa didn’t hear any of what Danziger was doing.

        As for the song itself, I also remember the Sergio Franchi version (before he did the car commercial) — maybe on the Ed Sullivan show. It was perfectly fine in its day.

  7. Great fun this is and some surprising scenes as well. For instance I’d never have picked the Volare scene myself, but after reading Alex Deane’s comments it makes perfect sense to include it in the top 100.

  8. Re:88 Chili at Chasen”s…i always felt the very humorous but quick
    …”hard time getting up”.
    was an ad-lib….

    Columbophile….i love and appreciate the time you invest keeping all things Columbo current and so detailed.

  9. Superb choices so far, your panel is very good. LOVED the cheesy but gorgeous Rosanna Welles singing to the (as you correctly put) retirement home patrons, it was as 70’s as it gets. Also my favorite repeat non killer Vito Scotti as the uppity Taylor, i’m assuming this won’t be the last we see of him. Again, great job.

    • yes I’m pretty sure Vito’s Swan Song scene – a shining example of clever Columbo scripting – is yet to come. I bet it lands in the top 20. (I hate Swan Song, except that scene.)

      • Looking like you are right…..such a great scene, you can just see how Falk and Scotti were truly enjoying that scene together, it was a classic. I really liked Swan Song though, Cash wasn’t a bad actor.

  10. Ok, great analysis done here. I do have to say that Poopi Bocar was excellent in her show scene. For T.V. standards her rendition of Volare was very good. Her voice is pleasing, and she created a very realistic scene. Even the extras were charming as they watched her voluptuous form glide through the crowd. To label it as “cheesy” is too easy as well as inaccurate. And as if to add insult to injury the wardrobe must be insulted too? It’s always so easy to label everything cheesy and to cast distain upon a past style is Monday morning quarterbacking. It’s only my opinion to say that in the 70s people dressed much better than they do now. And that’s excluding the hippie set. Nowadays you can’t even get people to wear shoes. Formal Wear is a black baseball hat. And to go further as to insult the actual room they’re in shows a shallow criticism that is not realistic. Unless you’ve tried to build a show and create a fantasy world you’re stepping over the line. We’re here to pick up the show and to laud it, not to tear it apart. Frankly, if Miss Bocar is gliding around the room in a plunging neckline and you’re looking at the walls there’s something wrong. This is art, not a dart board for gratuitous target practice.
    I would say the analysis of the Beth Chadwick scene was very good and it was enjoyable to read. It was honest and it buttressed a very stylish scene which was wrapped around a really enjoyable episode. The chance to enjoy Beth Chadwicks new wardrobe for me was a exciting. And that includes the Hat. That woman had style and beauty and she could pull off just about any outfit that she chose to wear. Being able to go shopping with her in that high-class Beverly Hills Boutique was an added treat. Also you can look for her in a Barnaby Jones episode where they showcase her flawless face to great advantage.

    • I also lived the 1970s and wore the clothes. The fabrics were petrochemical disasters just waiting for any nearby spark to ignite them into an inferno. They did not breathe and held on to stains and odors that defied the cleansing ability of the phosphate-laden detergents we all used at the time. If suffocating under the influence of stale cigarette smoke and fried onions from long since consumed meals trapped in the plastic fibers wasn’t enough, you were terrified comatose when you glimpsed your reflection if you passed by a mirror or window. The patterns and colors of the fabrics were just awful. The styles, well, I liked them even less. They flattered no figure. I was a svelte young thing at that time and none of it looked good on me or any of my friends. So, I’m with CP here. Those clothes are long gone and I am not nostalgic about them in the least.

  11. I am something of an amateur cocktail maker at home and one of the essentials that no wannabe mixologist can ever be without in their cabinet is Triple Sec. There are various brands of varying costs on the market but I am sure it will come as no surprise that there’s only one I will ever have on my drinks trolley: the Italian brand Volare. Which may I add comes in a wonderfully retro bottle and does the job perfectly well.

    So with every shake and every dash, for a moment in time I am transported to a heady world of partying pensioners and frightening fancy dress. My only complaint is that whenever I pick up the bottle, I get an uncontrollable urge to sit on the laps of bald headed gentlemen and titillate their scalps with a boa….


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