Opinion / Top 100

The 10 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s – FINAL PART of the top 100

Columbo A Stitch in Crime
If looks could kill I’m not sure which of these two would drop dead first
NB – If you’ve missed any of the previous instalments of the top 100 countdown, head here to check ’em out first.

Gee whizz, I was only a teen when this series of articles started, but the countdown of the top 100 Columbo scenes of the 70s officially ends here.

Every scene you see listed below cropped up in the top 20 lists of multiple members of the expert panel, with the top 4 moments particularly strongly represented. When you see them, I’m sure you’ll agree that some of the finest moments in the history of television have been chronicled here.

So without further ado, I invite you to get stuck in and enjoy this final selection. Can you resist the urge to scroll all the way down to find out the number one before reading the rest? If so, I congratulate you on your iron will. Enjoy…

10. Parting is bittersweet – Any Old Port in a Storm

Peter Falk’s own favourite scene from his favourite Columbo episode, the mutually respectful exchange of compliments and wine in Columbo’s car as he drives Adrian away from his winery to a life behind bars is a beautiful thing.

Two perfectionists, from completely different sides of the tracks, have found a genuine understanding and appreciation of the other. It’s the sort of TV moment that almost doesn’t exist any more and is all the more poignant because of it.

Mark Dawidziak expert analysis: “Perhaps Columbo never felt so unhappy about catching a murderer. In the course of his investigation, the dogged Lieutenant comes to appreciate Adrian Carsini’s love of the vineyards and honored traditions.”

9. Live cooking at its best – Double Shock

The legendary live cookery scene was almost entirely ad libbed by Peter Falk and Martin Landau – and it’s a masterclass in natural, comedic acting.

Called up on stage to be a reluctant assistant to Dexter Paris, Columbo is initially abashed and stunned, and barely able to string a coherent sentence together – much to the delight of the live studio audience. Yet he warms to the task, making a few wisecracks and milking the audience applause as his confidence grows.

The nature of the scene made it perfect for ad libbing, and Falk, in particular, absolutely nails it. He’s as warm and charming as we ever see him – just look at his face light up as he and Landau revel in playing off one another. This sense of fun is genuine and contagious. I, for one, find it impossible not to smile along. This is Columbo at his most adorable.

If this scene doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, then I’m sorry to break it to you this way, but you’re probably already dead…

8. The hypothetical debate – Prescription: Murder

The extended ‘hypothetical’ conversation about the killing of Carol Flemming is the Granddaddy of many similar Columbo encounters down the years. It was much emulated but never bettered in the show’s 35-year life-span.

Adopting the ‘You know I did it; I know you know I did it; but you’ll still never catch me’ approach, Flemming oozes arrogant self-assuredness as the two men mentally size each other up. With such conversational gems as Flemming telling Columbo he’s “a sly little elf”, it’s a scene boasting great writing and fine performances from the contrasting leads, and which leaves the viewer justifiably asking: how on earth is the Lieutenant going to outsmart this guy?

Dean Matthews’ expert analysis: “When the doctor perfectly dissects the Lieutenant’s character, it sets up every single episode of Columbo to come. Time and again we will meet self-assured, brilliant, suave, sophisticated villains trying to get away with murder and underestimating Columbo. And here, even though Flemming knows exactly how his opponent ticks, even when he knows just how shrewd and brilliant the Lieutenant is, he still succumbs. This is quintessential Columbo, and this is why the scene is so compelling more than 50 years after it first aired.”

7. The quickest way down – The Greenhouse Jungle

Peter Falk showed he’s an ace at physical comedy in Greenhouse Jungle’s legendary hill fall scene. Directed towards the ‘quickest way down’ to the crash site by the eager Sergeant Wilson, Columbo’s perplexed look at the steep slope is hilarious in its own right, but it can’t compare to the mad capering that follows as the Lieutenant careers down the hill and ends up in a near neck-breaking heap at the bottom. “I’ll tell ya – it was the quickest way down,” he concedes as Wilson helps him to his feet.

With multiple different camera angles in play, we’re clearly shown that Peter Falk did his own stunts – and it’s a helluva performance in which he appears to have risked genuine physical harm. Whether it was scripted or thrown in as an ad lib by Falk has never been revealed, but it’s become an iconic Columbo moment – and one that is universally cherished by fans.

Jenn Zuko expert analysis: “As a stunt person myself, this is one of my favourite Columbo scenes and one of the very rare stunts to appear in the show. I’m convinced that this is an actual fall, and that Falk really lost his balance and fell badly. You can see the moment where his weight goes too far forward and he can’t catch up with it—any of you who grew up hiking will know exactly how that feels, and how hard it is to regain your balance.

The landing, too, looks hard and painful. You can see that he tries to land on his feet but ends up crash-landing on his knees before rolling over. In other words, it’s not a self-cushioning fall the way a pro would set it up. I think he was supposed to appear to lose his balance and run down the hill too fast, but not to actually lose his balance and fall. I imagine he wouldn’t have wanted to do another take after landing like that! Ouch!”

6. “I knew you could do it.” Now You See Him

The entire scene of Columbo volunteering to assist Santini during his live act represents entertainment at its finest. So determined is he to test the magician’s lock-picking skills that Columbo virtually storms the stage, giving Santini no option but to accept his presence – a decision that plays a major part in sealing his fate.

The array of card tricks Santini plays on Columbo is delightful enough but the piece de resistance is the tense build-up to Santini escaping from the unbreakable handcuffs. As the camera draws in on Columbo’s face, we see that all the jollity has gone, replaced by a grim and intense satisfaction as his hunch that Santini could have picked the lock on Jerome’s office door is proved right.

From this point on, you just know there’s no way Santini’s going to elude the detective’s clutches – whether he’s a master of escapology or not.

Alex Deane expert analysis: “For Santini to fail to escape from the cuffs would mean failure before his audience. Unfortunately for him, to succeed will prove to Columbo that he broke into Jerome’s office on the night he was murdered. Columbo closely watches the meaning of the moment as it impacts upon him, and then, as the audience whoops at his release from the chains, he winks and says – with perhaps the best double meaning in television – “I knew you could do it.” It’s probably the series’ most perfect cinematic moment.”

5. Murder by the Book’s opening minute

An intro so arresting it still has the power to amaze nearly 50 years later, Murder by the Book‘s opening minute is a masterclass in film-making.

All due credit to director Steven Spielberg and director of photography Russell Metty for the dizzying opening pull-back shot that immediately provides a sense of scale and majesty usually reserved for the silver screen.

We’re also given a faultless, efficient introduction to murderer and victim within the episode’s opening 60 seconds. The diligent Jim Ferris is typing away, completely absorbed in a world of his own making. Carefree Ken Franklin, meanwhile, drives his Mercedes up the car park’s ‘Exit Only’ ramp in a clear indication that he’s a hedonist who plays by his own rules.

It’s simply terrific storytelling, all achieved without a single word being spoken. No wonders viewers of the day were riveted from the very start.

Rich Weill expert analysis: “Total silence except for Jim Ferris typing his Mrs. Melville denouement. It is Columbo serving aural notice to the audience that something special is in store.”

4. “LIQUID FILTH!” Any Old Port in a Storm

No one reading this needs to be told why this is a great scene. The Carsini meltdown is one of the most enjoyable scenes of its type ever filmed, culminating in the explosive “LIQUID FILTH” line of legend – a line that no actor could have delivered better than Donald Pleasence.

Beyond that, though, the scene has many aspects to treasure: Carsini’s surprise and delight at Columbo’s wine selections, and his masterful warning to Karen not to smoke and ruin the vintage port; Vito Scotti’s simpering Maitre D’; and the Lieutenant sneaking back in after the hullabaloo to slip the humiliated waiting staff a couple of dollars.

It also represents another superb example of Columbo knowing exactly how to pull the strings to force his suspects into action when he arranges to have the spoiled wine served. Carsini’s exemplary palate and insistence on excellence means he simply cannot resist the in-built urge to explode with rage – incriminating himself in the process.

Jenny Hammerton expert analysis: “One of my favourite lines in the whole series occurs in this, my all-time favourite episode. I laugh like a drain whenever I think of wine snob Adrian Carsini blowing a gasket over a sub-standard bottle of Ferrier Port at a fancy restaurant. I, too, am waiting for the right opportunity to yell at a waiter: An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this liquid filth!”

3. A flash of anger – A Stitch in Crime

Columbo’s flash of anger at Dr Mayfield’s callous arrogance is one of the best, most important Columbo scenes of all because it’s such a rare sight to see him drop the veneer and show us what he really thinks about another character’s actions and personality. Indeed, this was the first such instance in the series proper, making it especially memorable.

Genuine displays of anger from the Lieutenant are few and far between, which makes them all the more powerful. Here, it marks that the game has changed. From here on out, Columbo is out to get the doc and he’ll take no small amount of pleasure from besting a foe he so clearly loathes. And you know what? We’ll share that pleasure immensely as Mayfield proves himself to be the most loathsome Columbo killer of them all.

David van den Bosch expert analysis: “Columbo episodes are such a joy and a comfort for me to watch that I hardly ever feel any true resentment even to the worst of killers. This scene, where Columbo confronts Dr Mayfield, actually shocked me and it makes Mayfield’s undoing all the more satisfying.”

2. The downfall of Commissioner Halperin – A Friend in Deed

A truly magnificent moment, the take-down of crooked Commissioner Mark Halperin 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.

Aurora Bugallo expert analysis: “The final showdown with the murderer is particularly tense, and the look on Kiley’s face when he realizes he has been tricked, and cannot avoid a lengthy jail sentence, is unforgettable.”

1. The gloved-hand reveal – Suitable for Framing

When just about every member of an expert panel rates a scene in the upper echelons of their favourite Columbo highlights, you know you have a truly special, even transcendental, televisual moment. The thrilling denouement to Suitable for Framing is just that.

A moment so marvellous it’s hard not to roar with approval, the wordless revelation that seals Dale Kingston’s fate is a work of art in its own right. It’s such a clever conclusion and is arrived at so startlingly – nicely mirroring the opening scene – that there’s nothing Kingston can say in his defence.

Up until the fingerprints revelation, Kingston still believed he was in total charge of the situation. His descent from smarmy assurance to rising panic is fabulously portrayed by Ross Martin, whose lip-quivering silence when Columbo’s gloved hands come out of the raincoat pockets is one of TV’s greatest “oh sh*t” moments.

It’s spellbinding stuff, absolutely perfect drama, and I’ve long considered it to be the single-best TV moment ever recorded. I’m heartened that so many of my most-respected commentators share a similarly high opinion of it.

“A moment so marvellous it’s hard not to roar with approval, the wordless revelation that seals Kingston’s fate is a work of art.”

Well folks (sob), the countdown is over and it’s been an emotional journey. I do hope you’ve enjoyed the top 100 and are at least reasonably satisfied with how it’s panned out. Naturally, there’s no way to please everyone when compiling lists of this sort, so if your personal favourite scenes didn’t make the top 100, please don’t take it to heart. That notwithstanding, I’d love to hear from you if you believe there have been any glaring omissions in this pantheon of greatness.

I’d like to take one last opportunity to thank my fellow expert panellists for their contribution to this series. I doff my hat to 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. Columbo heroes, each and every one of ’em…

Sincere thanks, too, to everyone who has engaged with the top 100 countdown through reading, sharing, commenting and generally being a fabulous human being doing your bit to keep the Columbo legacy alive. I salute you and look forward to our next meeting as I get my episode review bandwagon back on the road. Until then, adieu

Top 100 previous installments

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84 thoughts on “The 10 greatest Columbo scenes of the 70s – FINAL PART of the top 100

  1. Columbo’s assertiveness at the end of ‘A Friend In Deed’ where he simply points at Jessop and says ‘YOU!!’ is only matched by his look of utter disgust and contempt for Halperin in the last scenes

    We forget that it’s the subtle relationships Columbo often builds with key allies, that i makes him and the series so brilliant. Forget the bumbling, supposedly forgetful buffoon he loves to portray – it’s his everyman connection people, which then have them eating out of his hand.

    For instance the Leslie Nielsen character in the excellent ‘Lady in Waiting’ only gives Columbo the key clue, because of the relaxed relationship they’ve formed

    • Yes, by the end of Lady in Waiting Nielsens character had a sincere fondness of Columbo and started to realize his suspicions weren’t that far fetched. Columbo had a gift for morphing into whatever character traits fit the need for the situation whether it be aggressive, folksy, friendly, or what have you.

  2. Colunbophile is the definitive source for Columbo fans, But he is hopelessly biased in favor of Suitable Framing because of the gotcha moment.. Most of us who grew up with Columbo don’t even have this inside out top ten because Ross Martin was not a memorable villain compared to Jack Cassady, Robert Culp, Patrick McGoogan, Dick Van Dyke, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Conrad etc.

    • Incorrect, the gotcha is just one of many truly marvellous scenes in an episode packed with greatness. I think Framing probably had the most scenes included in the top 100 scenes countdown based on expert feedback (plus a couple more that were desperately close). The episode is generally in or around the top 10 in the fans’ top episode poll and Dale Kingston was in the top 10 of the fans’ favourite killer poll. Contrary to your stated opinion here, all this equates to a whole lot of fan love for the episode and the killer. Perhaps your dislike of Ross Martin has prevented you enjoying this episode to the max?

    • Ross Martin was up there with the best and combined with that amazing gotcha, is why ‘Suitable’ is my 2nd favourite episode (behind ‘A Friend In Deed)

      I actually never understand why so many love the Jack Cassidy villains, I just find them too cliched and obvious – but I appreciate that as so many do, it has to be me missing something

      • Why wasnt there a cut off switch or enbling switch marked or no animals or dogs in the1970s during the most dangerous match .

    • I partly agree, partly disagree – I think the finale exalts Suitable Framing above several episodes that are superior. There are many better villains than Ross Martin, and Vic Tayback as an artist is hilarious.
      But it’s still a good episode.
      And, FWIW, it’s not “bias” to have a preference. Unless our Columbophile has some outside reason to favor Suitable Framing, such as a familial tie to Ross Martin.

  3. Cracking line up on 5 usa this sunday
    From 9.10 am
    Make me a perfect murder
    By dawns early light
    Candidate forcrime
    Publish or perish
    Negattive reaction ( star pick )
    Now you see him

    If thats not a healthy line up i dont know what is , candidate for crime is my least fav of these and thats still a
    Very decent episode

    • Wow!! Only the Jack Cassidy ones are not in my Top 10. Impressive TV line up

  4. Me and my dad actually like a lot of the new ones and we consider cries wolf one of the better and falks performancez so please hurry up and dina hunter plus barney john finnegan

  5. This is the greatest columo website ever and we appreciate undervutting new episodez but i find it wrong putting classic episodez wich were the best we know but delaying the new episode reviews

  6. While cp and co decided a 100 moments had to be done and all that ,
    The best aspect of this site is the episode reviews and we are need a fresh review wich is trashy but still better than the80d or 90s ribish reviewd so far

  7. Theres also a relativley funny scene in make me a perfect murder when columbo goes to collect his tv from the repair shop carrying dog and the tv needs longer to fixand they refer to dogs taste in tv shows ,
    The scene also provides a central clue , this scene wouldnt be near top 10 but would make the list lower down for me .

  8. There wasn’t too many scenes From Lovely but lethal or fade in to murder but there lower leaugers of the seventies although lovely but lethal had a great cast its not in the elite club although martin sheen and Vera miles was excellent in this and a gorgeous redhead also.

  9. Thanks for all the hard work put into this, I’ve really enjoyed working through the top 100. Here in the UK we have a freeview channel called 5USA, and every Sunday is “Columbo” day, usually 4 or 5 episodes screened back to back. A week or two before your top 10 was announced, it screened both “Suitable for Framing” and “A Friend in Deed” so I had the chance to view both again…thought the endings of both would be near or at the top of the list, on balance I agree with the order you put them in! But from “Any Old Port” I much prefer the final scene to “liquid filth”, even starting a little earlier at the point Carsini confesses to Columbo that his secretary has him over barrel …

    …not a fan of the cookery scene in Double Shock though I have to say…..

    …pleased the opening of “Murder by the Book” made the top 10 it’s slickly shot and well paced, but I never noticed he drives into the car park through the exit until you pointed it out….!

    ps this afternoons viewing here on UK TV includes “Make me a Perfect Murder” and “By Dawn’s Early Light”, so more top 100 scenes to catch up on …

  10. Beth Chadwick, with her colorless lashes and granny gown, eating BonBonsin bed while she fantasizes about killing her brother….

    Great list. I have been looking for the downhill plunge.

  11. After feeling somewhat dubious about the list series I must confess to enjoying it thoroughly. For me it wasn’t so much about the ranking as the memories and insight provided. CP always manages to add something that I didn’t notice. I like the reviews too, although I can get a bit argumentative over them.

    I can tell that CP is a dedicated fan in every sense of the word and takes his mission seriously.

    I personally liked the ending of Any Old Port In A Storm(and there was some port in a storm of anger too).

    I think Columbo’s sympathy for the killer was already evident when he caught him throwing the wines away.


    My wife and I always say the same thing when watching Columbo:

    If you see Columbo then either

    A) Confess
    B)Buy a plane ticket.

    It is also recommended not to shake hands, give him a light or indeed anything whatsoever.

    • If I watched Columbo with you and your wife, I’d reply:
      Option B is no good. Look at Tommy Brown in “Swan Song”. Escaping by plane did not prevent him from getting caught 🙂

      • But then Tommy Brown didn’t buy a ticket…
        By the way, the amount of Davids here is overwhelming.

      • Im,pressed with the list in general but I thought there would be more scenes from swan song and negative reaction , I E The blazing row between Edna and Tommy, The squire ll meat chilli scene and the plane parachute jump scene Swan song and Negative reaction comfortably make my overall top 10 .

  12. “Double Shock” is a great episode but as I watched the cooking scene I thought God, when will this end. Seemed like padding. Maybe I just don’t like cooking shows.

    I think I might have to pick Columbo yelling at Leonard Nimoy as my favorite scene.

  13. awesome job- I know it took CP some hard work to put this list together. Am I the only one that tries to figure out the first second Columbo becomes aware he’s facing the killer? You can sometimes see it on his face, like with Investigator Brimmer when he feels the shape of his ring during the ‘palm reading’. So many great moments. Thanks!

    • I thought I was the only one who did this 🙂 I was watching ‘Any Old Port in a Storm’ and it happens in the first scene between Columbo and Carsini. The look on his face as he watches Donald Pleasence decant the wine 🙂

    • Yes! I do this, too. Sometimes it’s a bit too “convenient” that Columbo is introduced to the killer (and suspects him/her over others) right away. But it’s still such a great show!
      I think there were a few episodes (during the “gotcha” scenes at the end) when Columbo says something like “I knew it was you right away.” He always explains to the murderer at the end why he knows it was him/her….but I’d to know the exact moment in the episode where Columbo is on to him/her.
      I give so much credit to Peter Falk’s acting. WE know who did it. But I think Falk (who OBVIOUSLY knows who did it…LOL) does such a great job of not revealing to the audience that he definitely knows who did it.

      • There’s always a reason, although some are more compelling than others. The best of these initial clues are the ones Columbo understands, but we don’t — not until the end, not until he explains about the cigar-smoker’s match in the ashtray (“Mind Over Mayhem”) or the feather in the ship’s sick bay (“Troubled Waters”), or the suspect returning to the scene when he should have gone to a hospital (“Murder Under Glass”). If I could change one thing in one Columbo, it would be in “A Friend in Deed” (already my second favorite episode). The fact that Halperin, when first calling police from his bedroom after supposedly witnessing an escaping burglar, asked specifically for Columbo? A homicide detective? Instead of raising this with Halperin earlier, I would have held it to the very end — until after the gotcha. It would have made a wonderful “how did you know” moment. An exclamation point topper at the end of an already great scene.

        • If I could change anything about ‘Columbo’ overall, I’d;

          – add a couple more episodes to Season 6 after Richard Alan Simmons became the new showrunner following ‘Old Fashioned Murder’.

          – order one more (eighth) season of about 5 episodes.

          – end the series permanently following that, after a near-unimpeachable run of 52 classic episodes total and leave ‘Columbo’ to posterity with no subsequent ABC run a decade thereafter.

          It’s not that the ABC era didn’t have some pretty good episodes – it did, albeit not a whole lot – it’s just that U.S. network television had become more rote, more formulaic, less inventive or innovative, and frankly more boring by the late 1980’s/early 1990’s… and the ‘Columbo’ episodes of the time reflect that.

          It says everything when a script from the 1970’s run – namely ‘Uneasy Lies the Crown’ – that was seemingly rejected for not being good enough, was then used virtually unchanged for the ABC run… that alone typifies the difference in approach and quality between the two ‘Columbo’ eras.

          I’m not saying the ABC era is comparable to a box of wine produced by the Marino Brothers (there’s still quality there, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it)… but the NBC era is most definitely comparable to a nice bottle of burgundy pinot noir from the Carsini winery… that’s for darned sure.

          And like any fine wine, the NBC era of ‘Columbo’ has aged gracefully and beautifully over the years… more so considering the filth (liquid or otherwise) that passes for much of televisual entertainment these days, alas…

        • Although it does help to trip Halperin up, which is sweet to watch. All that pompous bluffing. A real loser, as we shall see.

    • Mind over Mayhem has just such a moment in the garden by the lab, when Cahill unwraps his cigar and Columbo looks so sadly and sympathetically aware.

  14. Some time in the future i will do a count of to see how many scenes from each eposoide made the list as i can remember every episode had at least 1, if im right dagger of the mind had only one and thats one too many as its such a bad episode same goes for last salute , there wasnt too many from weaker episodes such as dead weight ,short fuse , old fashioned murder murder , most dangerous match and a matter of honor and requiem for a falling star but i will wait and do a full tally chart

      • It comes as no big surprise that there weren’t any from those 2 episodes
        Dagger of the mind is way too silly for its own good and I really couldn’t pick a scene worthy of the list , I totally Cannot stand Nick and Lillys charachters ( if thats even there names ) I dislike the episode so much I sometimes struggle to remember aspects of it)
        there characters really turn me off and the ending dosent nearly satisfy either.

        As for a Matter of honor , also hard to pick a stand out scene but if one were chosen best candidate would be one of the scenes shared between Sanchez and columbo maybe the one where they have a coffee together early on in the episode but it wouldn’t be very high up the list and theres not a lot else to choose from , However this formula is NOT 100 % accurate as I counted 3 entries from Last salute that is widely considered the worst of the seventies . The most dangerous match managed one which was technically an opening scene with credits but still counts
        Short fuse managed one which was its closing scene and I think dead weight 1 , if i am incorrect with any of these stats please rectify .

        • At least within a selection of Columbo’s 100 best editorial cuts, “A Matter of Honor” would certainly rank in the Top 10: The sudden switch from Hector’s killing to Columbo’s car accident is hilarious.

  15. ALL great moments my favourite of the top ,10 BEIng i knew you coul do it from now you see him , i am not a big fan of any old port in a storm , it actually dosent even make my top 20 seventies so the top 10 looks different from my own or what would be my own and i dont agree woth the hypothetical murder talk from prescription murder being included as i find it too long a tad boring and not crucial to the overall case .

  16. Great list of perfect Columbo shows. While #1 was a good choice any scene from An Exercise in Fatality would have to be #1. Oh well all in all an excellent compilation of the show. Bravo!!

  17. Is it me or does the esteemed Dr Flemming spill his drink – around the 3:32 mark – while talking to the good Lieutenant…?

    I haven’t watched ‘Prescription Murder’ in a while and had completely forgotten about that scene… but what a scene it is!!!… two formidable opponents sizing each other up with both knowing full well the truth of the case. I’ve already watched it about half a dozen times and it’s an instant top five ‘Columbo’ scene for me already…

    Great list… kudos to all involved.

  18. The beauty of Columbo is that we could all easily come up with a Top 20 – where only around five are in everyone’s list, such is the quality

    For instance, I’ve a hard time been convinced that any of the scenes ranked 61 to 69 (apart from 66) aren’t at least worth Top 30 status

  19. This was epic! Certainly the internet highlight of 2020 and if your blog is eligible for some awards I’d happily give a testimonial. I commented to my wife at the start of the countdown series that I hoped I lived long enough to find out the top 10 and I’m delighted with the result. The Framing gotcha is perfect television and never diminishes with age. But all of your top 10 are deserving of their places. It doesn’t trouble me in the least that the Double Shock and Greenhouse Jungle scenes do little to progress the plot. The same can be said for many scenes in the top 100, but there are many reasons a scene can be considered great and these two moments are amongst my favourites. The cookery scene would even crack my top 5. I don’t think that every moment of a great program needs to further the plot. I liken it to my walk to the car in the morning. I could just jump in and drive to work, or I could stop and appreciate the roses and the birds singing before I do so and feel my day has been enriched just a little bit. Superb work, CP and collected experts. I hope the year won’t do downhill from here.

  20. Thank you CP for a great look-back at the early episodes.
    Looking ahead, I think the 90s episode with Faye Dunaway as the co-killer can rank up there with the top episodes of all-time. I think it was called “It’s all in the Game.”
    For me, when it was finally revealed that Dunaway was the MOTHER of the other killer was my favorite “WOW…I did not see that coming” moment of the ENTIRE series for me.
    I know you haven’t reviewed that particular episode yet, but I am really looking forward to your thoughts and the thoughts of fellow readers about that episode. It’s definitely in my top 10,and my favorite of the “later” episodes. The back-and-forth “chemistry” between Falk and Dunaway is absolutely charming and spectacular.
    One blooper from this episode though: when they show the victim laying “dead” on the floor, you an clearly see him open his eyes and also blink.

    • “It’s All In the Game” is easily the best of the 90’s ones and actually makes my Top 10 list of all time

      “Butterfly in Shades Of Grey” is also good and I think is the better of the two Shatner ones

      It’s wasn’t all bad – oh hang on a minute, some was, i.e. ‘Undercover”!!

  21. The entirety of Now You See Him is marked by superb direction from Harvey Hart. We see it distinctly in the “I Knew You Could Do It” clip, which builds in tension throughout. Note that the close-ups don’t come until the very end, when the camera tightens up on Columbo’s face as he drops his everyman-schtick, and Santini’s response. When Columbo interrupted the act to introduce the handcuffs, we might have expected a close-up of a peeved Santini, but Hart doesn’t let this happen – Santini is happy to play along. Also of note in this scene (and during the tricks Santini uses to open his act), are the brief cut-aways to the audience; mixed in are shots of Mike Lally at the bar. These are not close-ups, nor do they scream of anything more than standard audience reaction and applause, but they cleverly familiarize us and lay the groundwork for Lally’s re-appearance later in the episode.

    Finally, find some time to rewatch the opening credits and the first appearance of Santini. There was a time when I thought it was a bit of a reach to have Cassidy play a Nazi camp guard, but as the credits introduce the episode, Santini gets his gun and the camera pans up to see Cassidy’s face in shadow with a truly scary expression. Again, a great way to foreshadow the Nazi revelation.

  22. This has been just great, watching all these scenes week after week. If I needed to be reminded of the quality and greatness of Columbo in all its (or his) glory, this top 100 would do it. Watching the top 10 actually moved me. So let me take this opportunity to thank Columbophile for initiating and executing this formidable project. And a more personal big thank you for letting me be part of the panel. It has been a great pleasure and an honor.

  23. I cannot argue with any of the top ten; indeed, I would only have some minor ranking changes throughout the whole 100. Terrific read! Thanks to you CP, and to your panelists, for the time and thought that went into it. No LIQUID FILTH here at all!!

  24. I just loved the list, and the top ten are excellent. “I knew you could do it” might be my personal #1, but I can’t really argue with the top ten as listed.

    • 9 of the top 10 are great moments. The only one that I think is not worthy of inclusion is 7. There were many other scenes ranked lower that surpass this one. However, bravo! A great undertaking and incredible and fun reading. Will this perhaps be a yearly undertaking?

      • Thanks MaxP! This certainly won’t be a yearly undertaking. Once is enough for a project like this. There might be a shorter equivalent for the 1989-2003 episodes in due course.

        • You’re not surely suggesting that there aren’t 100 classic scenes from the ‘new’ series??!!

    • My number one moment would have been Columbo trapping Oliver Brandt in Bye Bye Sky High IQ Mystery

  25. Selecting the 100 best Columbo moments is a sensational idea. Therefore I wanted to wait until the ranking list would be completed, so I started and finished reading the articles today at one visit. And I punched my fist when I reached the peak to see that my most cherished top moment made the number 1 of the experts’ list as well. Thanks for the two tense hours it took me to climb up the Columbo mountain.

  26. The beauty of Columbo has its roots in the structure of its stories — how the inverted mystery (where we see the murderer committing his “perfect crime,” or at least his “perfect” coverup) allows us to witness a prolonged cat-and-mouse game between Columbo and his prey. Thrust and parry, thrust and parry, until Columbo is able to deliver the final, fatal blow. The relationship Columbo forms with his adversaries furthers this process: as Columbo learns more about the killer, he finds weaknesses to exploit; as the killer learns more about Columbo, he is forced to take evasive action (which often proves to be his undoing).

    The best Columbo scenes advance some aspect of this formula. We remember the “gotcha” scenes best, but other scenes equally advance the story, including by letting Columbo feel out his suspect, by giving Columbo crucial information, or by letting him “plant a seed” (as he said in “Swan Song”).

    Even some of the lighter moments contain critical information to advance the story. We may remember two scenes in “Negative Reaction” — the nun and driving instructor scenes — most for their humor, but each revealed critical facts: about the spacing of the shots, on the one hand, and the patsy Deschler’s likelihood of being the murderer, on the other.

    Can this be said about every favorite scene? Unfortunately not. There are some that don’t further the plot or relationship of the characters at all. Two such scenes (in my opinion) made the Top 10 list: the “fall” in “The Greenhouse Jungle” and the cooking scene in “Double Shock.” One could argue that the cooking scene was Dexter Paris’ attempt to gain an upper hand on Columbo, with Columbo letting him labor under that illusion. And it does end with some ambiguous information about Dexter’s electric mixers. But it’s still quite a stretch to say that either of these scenes advances the story.

    Am I saying they shouldn’t have been included? Am I “probably already dead,” as CP suggests? Let me put it this way: whether or not they rank among Columbo’s “best scenes,” they are not good examples showing why Columbo ranks as the best series of its kind.

    • I’m not crazy on the cooking scene either – it just goes on a bit too long for my tastes. However I can see why other people like it, and I wouldn’t argue with any of the choices for Top 10. Glad to see the endings to ‘A Friend in Deed’ (my favourite episode) and ‘Suitable for Framing’ (my favourite gotcha) at the top of the list!

        • Yes, I agree they belong in the top two spots. I’d reverse the order, since the gotcha at the end of A Friend in Deed brings together all and only those elements of the case that were rooted in Commissioner Halperin’s position as Columbo’s superior in the police department, while the buildup to the climax of Suitable for Framing is a little bit looser.

          • AFID is a superior episode overall in my book. But there’s something incredibly special about a conversation-ending moment where not a word is spoken. A single image truly is worth a thousand words.

      • After several viewings of the cooking scene I noticed a couple bloopers. Columbo unbuttons and rolls up his left sleeve twice. Drexler says, “here are four eggs,” yet Columbo cracks eight eggs into the blender. And at the end he pours the raw egg mixture over what appears to be a lump of spinach for consumption. While it’s not a blooper, what kind of dish requires consuming raw eggs? Ick. It’s a testament to the informality of the scene and the natural acting of Falk and Nimoy that it appears to be one long, fluid, unbroken take.
        Thank you CP for this Top 100 countdown. I enjoyed the heck out of it and will revisit it again from time to time.

        • My favorite Caesar salad dressing recipe calls for a raw egg, but you would need a lot of spinach for the amount of dressing resulting from incorporating eight eggs!

  27. Hearty congrats CP, your top 100 moments has made for great fun, some list re-ordering, and only a few smiling dissensions. I raise my glass of prohibitively expensive port in a toast to you.

    • Thanks Alistair, the port tasted terrific to me, although my palate isn’t sensitive enough to know for sure whether it’s been heated in excess of 150 degrees.

  28. Great memories and 100 scenes that are not only the best of Columbo, but any TV in history

    Thoroughly agree with the Top 2. But never ever understood why so many love the cooking scene in ‘Double Shock’ – it doesn’t enhance the mystery one iota, which is normally used as a justification (to criticise) for so many other episodes

    For me how the gotcha for ‘The Most Dangerous Match’ can’t make the 100 is mystifying (let’s not get into the plausibility or else half of the gotchas in this 100 wouldn’t be valid!!)

    I’d also think the touching words Alex Benedict has for his wife in the ‘Étude in Black’ gotcha, coupled with the sheer look of horrific realisation, of what he’s done on the excellent Blythe Danner’s face and Columbo’s excellent taking down of the killer (here we have a more assertive, confrontational, sharp questioning hero) – can’t possibly be outside the Top 100

    But generally excellent. They must be, as I’ve played about two-thirds of them at least twice!!

    • Just watched Étude in Black’ for the first time in many years (because of the recent addition on the Sundance Channel), and the scene where he apologizes to his wife was amazing, because it was so unexpected.

      So we have the aging Lothario character – cheating on his wife with a younger woman. But in the end, declares his love for his wife as he’s being led off for a life in prison. It was a unique scene for a few reasons, not the least of which was that he seemed like he meant it!

      Which is a surprise because the story allows the viewer to presume that Alex Benedict is 100% callow and 1000% driven by self-interest (and a lier, cheat and murderer). So we easily assume up to now that the only reason he married the beautiful, heiress daughter of the widowed owner of the symphony he conducts was because she is…the beautiful, heiress daughter of the widowed owner of the symphony he conducts…

      But many elements of this story are upside down: the mistress is an accomplished musician (not a himbo/bimbo, not just younger and prettier than his wife – who is played by a stunning, if confidence-starved, Blythe Danner). The mistress is also shown to be a troublemaker, and had been threatening to call the wife – not clear if this meant she was acting out of frustration because Benedict had been stringing her along (unintentional violin pun) and making false promises to her about their future), or if she was just a bit too reckless and delusional. Either way, the story shows that Mr. Benedict liked dancing on the razor-edge. (I had first written “dancing on the edge of danger” but it seemed like there is 74% chance that’s an actual ABC-era Columbo episode title.)

      Another (slightly) upside-down story element, is that it’s the mistress he wants to kill, not the wife.

      The reason shown is that he doesn’t want the mistress to upset his home/work life. It’s certainly never implied that he has had some sort of true-love epiphany

      Partially because it’s hard to not be truly frightened by John Cassavetes playing ANYTHING, the character is played as totally remorseless and actually deriving some intellectual amusement playing cat-and-mouse with Columbo. Cassavetes plays him as the world’s most tightly-wound man trying appear (to anyone but his underlings) that butter wouldn’t melt in mouth. The story does, at least, show that he is a very talented, passionate, hard-working conductor.

      So, that last scene with Blythe really was interesting. And Cassavetes actually made his declaration of love seem real, after 2 hours of seeming like he could care a less.

      So….that scene was definitely a surprise.

      But…now that I think about it…… is he just going for one more scam? To get his wife to stay with him, if only for a companion (driven by his own selfish needs), if only for a way to have money in prison, if only for a way to get the power-attorneys to do….something? In that scene, with all his subdued intensity….is that maybe how he spoke to the mistress when he needed to? Was that the first time he had played that “moment of truthful clarity” card to her? Or had she seen it before – too many times – and it was just one last heap of sociopathic BS to leave her with?

      Or…maybe he really DID mean it? They both, in their own ways, were prisoners of the no-nonsense, hard-ass mother/mother-in-law, who had, in effect, infantilized her daughter (and a key attraction of the mistress was the fact that she was just the opposite). And while the mother-in-law was never shown to act unfairly to the son-in-law, she sure as hell made everyone know that she was the boss and would fire anyone, including the conductor (“especially the conductor”) if needed. (Of course, he would still be married to a beautiful heiress living in a Holmby Hills house with a yard larger than the Hollywood Bowl.)

      So maybe this shared emotional connection created the glue that…. (sorry, I’m boring myself).

      Either way….that was an AMAZING scene!

      And, CP – thanks for this!

      • That’s my take on it and I think it connects because it’s a tale we can all relate to

        I think he genuinely loves his wife and deeply regrets the affair. Clearly, he’s done this before (as Blythe’s scornful put down to his protests of innocence, showed) but it could be that this was far too fiery and dangerous in comparison to what he’d normally ‘got away with’

        Consequently, I believe his words at the end were heartfelt and very moving. Even Columbo’s reaction shows this (it’s similar to when he trapped Galesco in ‘Negative Reaction’) and his lack of glee (compare to when he gets Milo Janus). Plus, apart from Mrs Peck in ‘Double Shock’, I can’t remember him been so caring with the affected family member and certainly not apologising to them

        As he says in other episodes, some of the villains aren’t necessarily bad people and this one shows that perfectly

        It also shows how vital having great actors. All three are hailed as some of the best of their generation. Danner, aged 75, received rave reviews for a film called ‘What They Had’ – a 2018 release (which I must watch sometime). For me her performance was the best supporting one in any of the Columbo’s

        If it wasn’t for that ridiculously added scene (where Cassavetes’ hair is suddenly shorter and then back to it’s old length in the next scene!!) which adds absolutely nothing and isn’t even interesting – this would be a close second to my all time fave ‘A Friend In Deed’

  29. There seem to be a lot of different variables that can go into what makes the best scene but so many of them involve our interaction with the murderer through Lt. Columbo. What makes these scenes great is the development of our relationship to the characters as the story unfolds before us and not so much each scene as it stands on its own. This is the unique magic of the Columbo series – revealing the perpetrator at the beginning instead of waiting for the reveal at the end allows us to more fully engage with the murderer. Yes, we are amazed at how the lieutenant uses his intelligence and skill to hone in on the proper suspect (and/or set up the trap reveal at the end), but for me, as satisfying as those elements are, it is always secondary to the insight into the murderer’s character as a flesh and blood human being that the cat and mouse game so fundamental to the show allows us to develop. For this reason, the hypothetical conversation in Prescription Murder stands out to me most on this list. If Columbo had been done in novel form instead of a TV show, the author could have simply directly stated to us the inner workings of Dr. Flemming’s mind in a way that could not be done as effectively on the TV (or big) screen. So I think a good follow-up to this would be a list of our most sympathetic villains and of our most reviled murderers.

  30. Number 2 would have been my number 1……this top 100 series was as the L.T would say “tay-rif-ic”….

  31. Not making the cut, alas:
    * Lady in Waiting: Columbo drags in Mrs. Chadwick’s suitcases and pays her taxi driver (with a 50 cent tip!)
    * A Stitch in Crime: Columbo uses the murder weapon to crack his hard-boiled egg.
    * Negative Reaction: Columbo asks Paul Galesko if he has a photo of a cocker spaniel to show Dog.

    • Three favorites of mine that didn’t make the list: (1) the meeting with Arthur Brimmer in “Death Lends a Hand,” in which Columbo explains why the killer was a lefty with a ring and temper, just like Brimmer himself, prompting Brimmer to drop the file like a hot potato the moment Columbo leaves; (2) Columbo’s meeting with Commissioner Halperin the morning after the supposed drowning in “A Friend In Deed”; and (3) Mary Wickes’s schtick in “Suitable for Framing,” in which Columbo is the victim rather than the perpetrator of discursive buttonholing.

  32. Thank you for an excellent compilation of 100 great scenes. I absolutely agree with the “gloved hand reveal” at the top of the pile, but the quality of the series shines through all of your selections. Even the poorer episodes are better than much of what is produced for TV nowadays. What I particularly liked about your selection was that we got to see many of the co-stars in their finest moments, e.g. Riley Greenleaf, Commissioner Halperin, Goldie Williamson. Great memories of an outstanding TV series.

  33. Bravo! Excellent list, I enjoyed each entry immensely. I’m going to go back and reread the entire list, now that it’s complete. Savor it again.
    Note, we are ALL waiting for the opportunity to shout “LIQUID FILTH” at the right moment.
    Thank you for compiling the list and thank you to the 0anel of experts!

  34. First of all great job, this was probably the most interesting subject so far and quite well done. The two Any old Port scenes were a must, Vito Scotti was gold as always and the final scene between Falk and Pleasence was really well done. The “I knew you could do it” scene with Cassidy just reminds us how well written and acted this show was compared to other shows then and now, Falk is a true icon. Lastly who could argue with the #1 scene, it was perhaps the best gotcha of the series and the perfect ending to a top notch episode.

  35. I’ve always loved “Any Old Port in a Storm”, Donald Pleasence was a distant relative and I have fond memories of him from my childhood from a few large family get togethers in the 80’s. A lovely gentle and kind man, and some of that can’t fail to come over in this scene despite the fact he’s playing the bad guy, as he often did, very much at odds with his own personality.

  36. Two entries for Any Old Port could not be happier. Personally I would swap the entries – as entertaining as Liquid Filth is and a tour de force of acting it is, the emotional finish the last scene provides lifts one of the great episodes into the greatest episode.


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