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Episode review: Columbo Cries Wolf

Columbo Cries Wolf opening titles

Columbo’s first foot in the 1990s was a thoroughly modern and unique outing, with the Lieutenant investigating a suspected murder within the Playboy-style ‘naughty magazine’ sector. Daring!

Starring the Cheshire Cat-grinning Ian Buchanon and Days of Our Lives legend Deirdre Hall, Columbo Cries Wolf is an episode apart from its peers in many ways. Awash with scantily clad models, and set against a Playboy mansion-style backdrop, the bashful detective can’t avoid getting an eyeful on multiple occasions. How will he cope?

More importantly, though, Columbo is thoroughly outsmarted – at least temporarily – for pretty much the first time in the series. A very brave move, but does it pay off? Let’s pack our tiniest swimsuits, leap into a stretch limo and shop till we drop like ’twere January 20, 1990 as we find out…

Columbo Cries Wolf cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Sean Brantley: Ian Buchanon
Dian Hunter: Deirdre Hall
Tina: Rebecca Staab
Sir Harry Matthews: Alan Scarfe
Cosner: Mark Margolis
Mayor: David Huddleston
Police Chief: John Finnegan
Sergeant Kramer: Bruce Kirby
Written by: William Reed Woodfield
Directed by: Daryl Duke
Score by: Dennis Dreith

Episode synopsis: Columbo Cries Wolf

Millionaire founder of men’s magazine Bachelor’s World, Sean Brantley is in hot water with business partner / lover, Dian Hunter. She’s sick of him drooling over the live-in models that share their luxury mansion – and the final straw is when he announces on a live TV interview that he’s engaged to upcoming ‘Nymph of the Month’, voluptuous blonde bombshell Tina.

Summoning Brantley to see her via the medium of PAGER (Google it, Millennials), Dian lays down the law as her secretary earwigs in from the outer office. She’s going to put a stop to his philandering by selling her majority share in the title to British media mogul, Sir Harry Matthews. Brantley claims his engagement to Tina is merely a publicity stunt to drive up sales, but Dian won’t be turned. She’s flying to London that night to close the deal – and Brantley can kiss goodbye to his life of luxury.

Columbo Sean Brantley Dian Hunter
Gissa kiss darlin’…

Later that evening, Dian departs the mansion (where a glitzy shindig is unfolding) and heads to the airport in her kilometre-long stretch limo. Her obedient driver, Cosner, stops off at her favourite restaurant on the way to pick her up some smoked salmon for the flight, and while he’s chatting to the chef he’s startled by what sounds like a gunshot outside.

Dashing out to the alleyway, Cosner sees no sign of trouble and returns inside. Two minutes later, salmon in hand, he’s back behind the wheel and a glance in his rear-view mirror confirms that Dian is still tucked away in the back – albeit now swaddled in a hat, scarf and huge sunglasses. The airport drop proceeds without further delay and for all intents and purposes, Dian is on her way to jolly old London.

Something goes wrong, though – a something that necessitates Lieutenant Columbo to pay a visit to the Bachelor’s World mansion three days later at the request of his old London-based Dagger of Mind mate, Chief Superintendent Durk. Dian, you see, cleared customs in the UK, but never showed up to be collected by Harry Matthews’ driver. She’s currently AWOL and no one knows where she is.

Smug Brantley appears utterly unconcerned. He knows Dian’s habits well and says that her slinking away on solo adventures is nothing new. Columbo’s interview with Cosner is more revealing as the ace chauffeur reveals all the occurred on the night of the flight. However, despite a possible gunshot, there seems not to have been enough time for an assailant to drag a corpse away and replace it with a decoy woman. It’s a puzzle, alright…

Columbo Cries Wolf
Columbo certainly enjoyed the ‘view’ from the mansion’s hilltop location

The detective’s contemplation is disturbed, however, by a helicopter landing on the mansion lawns. No one knows who the what now, but Columbo is summoned aboard and choppers off into LA at the behest of no less a luminary than Sir Harry Matthews. The publishing kingpin is certain Dian is dead – and he’s in no doubt that Sean Brantley is responsible in order to prevent the sale of Bachelor’s World. There’s no evidence to back up this claim, but the Lieutenant is duty-bound to investigate.

The first real suggestion of foul play shows up as a forensics team investigates the alley behind the restaurant. A bullet casing is found amidst the detritus, and it’s from a .25 automatic. And guess what? Brantley owns just such a gun, and when Columbo takes a look at it, the old nose tells him that it’s recently been fired.

Brantley is looking decidedly less smug now and his face continues to fall when Columbo shows him videotape footage that supposedly shows Dian drinking a coffee in the airport lounge; only it’s almost certainly not her because Dian always took her coffee black. The lady in the footage is adding cream to it. Ergo, she’s a phony!

Using his unparalleled deductive skillz, Columbo figures out a plausible means for Dian’s disappearance. He believes an unknown woman was hiding under the bench seat in the limo. When Cosner nipped out for salmon, the mystery woman emerged, slew Dian, and bundled her body under the seat. Once the limo was back at the mansion, the woman’s accomplice, i.e. our mate Brantley, stashed the corpse somewhere on the property’s sprawling, llama-strewn five acres.

Columbo Cries Wolf
That’s a good look, Harry High-Pants!

Irked, a simmering Brantley challenges the Lieutenant to unearth the body and subsequently takes delight in the police team’s fruitless search. And, being a consummate publicity hound, he also milks the occasion for all its worth, tipping off the media to the search and forcing Columbo to confront the thronging press masses.

The media hoo-hah surrounding the case becomes a global circus. The Mayor of LA even demands a showdown with the Chief of Police to receive assurances that the hunt for Dian is not just a wild goose chase. Columbo manages to convince him but all agree that unless Brantley’s accomplice can be identified, the case will go nowhere. Luckily, our favourite Lieutenant believes he knows just who the decoy woman is: the lovely Tina.

Although she claims to have been at the party on the night Dian vanished, no one recalls having seen Tina there. In fact Columbo’s investigations have turned up a 28-hour black hole in her whereabouts – more than enough time to fly to London as Dian and return home using a different identity. It sounds far-fetched, but Columbo believes Tina and Brantley did in for Dian together. But until he finds a body, he can’t tie anything to them.

A spanner in the works soon emerges, too, when Brantley reveals that he’s received a postcard from Dian sent from Milan, Italy, several days earlier. Although police handwriting analysts can’t confirm it was written by Dian, smug Brantley is able to spin the development to his advantage in the eyes of the press.

Tiring of the games, Columbo has Tina arrested for questioning but before she can be taken away he is given the shock of his life when Dian Hunter herself pulls up in a taxi outside the mansion with the world’s cameras pointed directly at her. She faked her own disappearance, right down to deliberately creaming her coffee at the airport. Not only is she not dead, Dian even publicly thanks Columbo for all he’s done to boost Bachelor’s World’s global profile. The detective has been made an absolute fool of.

Columbo Cries Wolf
Columbo’s developed a drinking problem!

Co-conspirators Brantley and Dian then explain their stunt to Harry Matthews. Her disappearance, coupled with the murder investigation, has had a major impact on the magazine’s circulation and profile. Bachelor’s World has never been a more valuable asset, and Matthews has been duped just as badly as Columbo.

However, rather than raging about being used as a pawn in their game, Matthews instead ups his bid for Dian’s share of the business by $2 million. Brantley, smug as a very smug thing, tells him it’s not for sale. But Dian interjects. If Matthews will up his bid by two million pounds, then she’ll consider his offer. For Brantley, it’s the ultimate double-cross. The perma-grin is gone, his face now as droopy as a cocker spaniel’s ears/granny’s boobs (delete as applicable).

Brantley is left with a small window of opportunity to put a stop to the sale before Dian’s meeting with Matthews the next morning. He gives his nymphs 10 minutes to prepare for a shopping spree, then heads up to Dian’s luxury suite at the mansion. Finding her at her dressing table, he swiftly snaps her neck. Revenge is SWEET!

While we don’t immediately see what happens to the corpse, what we do see is a woman swaddled in Dian’s clothes (again) driving out of the mansion gates and being clocked by the security team. And next day the police are stunned to learn that Dian is missing (again) and that her car has been abandoned.

Against orders from the Police Chief, Columbo races over to the Bachelor’s World mansion in an attempt to prove belated foul play. He secures CCTV footage from the security gate that interests him greatly. Dian is shown waving farewell to the guards, but her prominent and ever-present WRIST WATCH/PAGER is conspicuous by its absence. Even stranger, there’s no sign of it in her jewellery boxes.

The wily Lieutenant also notices that one of Dian’s fur coat storage bags is missing from the clothing rack. The lady on the CCTV footage was wearing Dian’s mink coat. So why would its bag be missing? Just one reason, Columbo deduces: because this time Brantley really did kill her.

Columbo Cries Wolf gotcha
Translation: You’re nicked, me old China!

The raging killer denies the claim and brays at Columbo to ‘get the hell out’, but before he goes the Lieutenant requests to make a quick phone call. Brantley agrees, sealing his own fate in the process. Columbo, you see, sends a message to Dian’s pager. The audible beep leads him to her bathroom, in which workmen are finishing a refurb job. Levering a panel aside with a crowbar, Columbo makes the macabre discovery of the corpse of Dian enclosed in her mink coat storage bag.

Columbo had wagered on the fact that Brantley had forgotten to remove Dian’s pager before hiding her body. He was right. The camera zooms in on the single word ‘GOTCHA’ on the pager’s screen as credits roll…

My memories of Columbo Cries Wolf

Another episode on the periphery of my awareness prior to owning the DVD collection, I must have initially caught Columbo Cries Wolf sometime in the mid-2000s.

Columbo Ian Buchanon
PLEASE someone wipe the smirk off that toad’s face!

Being a 70s’ purist, I remember it being quite an attack on the senses, from the poppy soundtrack to the garish fashions, as well as being replete with loathsome characters, trashy women and an oily villain who may be the series’ most punchable.

I was sucked in by the twist of Dian showing up alive, although always found the ending, with Columbo paging the word ‘Gotcha’ to Dian’s pager, to be a little too on the nose. Overall, my memories of this one are that it’s OK but not great. However, with a number of fans telling me they rate it very highly by ‘new Columbo standards’, I was keen to watch again after a break of several years.

Episode analysis

From its opening seconds, featuring The Fine Young Cannibals’ pop hit She Drives Me Crazy, as well as a bevy of scantily clad hotties being snapped poolside, Columbo Cries Wolf fairly screams to the viewer that it’s taking the series in a daring new direction.

I’m no fan of change for the sake of change but given the rather lacklustre start to Columbo’s reincarnation in the 80s, giving the series a shot in the arm to mark its 90s’ debut seems like a sensible move. But more than just fully committing to a contemporary setting, Cries Wolf also smashes viewer expectations with one of the biggest twists in the show’s history, and one of the extremely rare examples of Columbo being absolutely outfoxed.

Columbo Deirdre Hall
Orange was in vogue for 5 seconds in January 1990 it seems…

Until the moment Dian Hunter emerges, unharmed, from the taxi after enjoying her European vacation, we, like the good Lieutenant, surely never doubted that she was dead. Granted, we never actually saw her killed, but if Columbo believes a murder has taken place who are we to doubt it? Instead of a whodunnit, we get a neverdunnitatall. It’s a brilliant twist, a complete sucker punch, and the series’ most successful surprise since chief suspect Charles Clay turned up dead in 1976’s Last Salute to the Commodore.

A brave move, then, but it absolutely pays off. And while Columbo Cries Wolf is far from perfect (and still adrift of matching the best 70s’ episodes), it’s a big return to form for the series and the first real indication that, just maybe, the Lieutenant does belong in this era after all.

I’ve previously written that a big issue I have with the ‘new’ Columbo episodes are the calibre of the guest stars, who, as a rule, were a few rungs lower on the stardom ladder than they were in the 70s. The same should apply to Columbo Cries Wolf, with leads Ian Buchanon and Deirdre Hall best known at the time (and probably still) as day-time soap stars in General Hospital and Days of Our Lives respectively. However, a potential defect is made into a virtue here with the pair totally nailing the roles of Sean Brantley and Dian Hunter.

Columbo Cries Wolf smashes viewer expectations with one of the biggest twists in the show’s history.”

The trashy, unreal world the two inhabit seems tailor-made for soap opera stars to shine in and so it proves as Buchanon gives us one of the most loathsome killers ever seen in the Columbo universe, with the high-falutin’, manipulative Hall a perfect foil. I’m not convinced the pairing would have worked in a more subdued episode, but in the sleazy realm of top shelf magazine publishing, their casting feels inspired.

Brantley is the type of yuppie oik that sends chills down my spine. Lecherous, smarmy, full of himself and wickedly insincere, the man is the very personification of ‘sleazeball’, with his wet-gelled hair and perpetual 1000-watt smile constantly invoking viewer incredulity at just how this slimy Hugh Hefner wannabe could be considered the world’s most eligible bachelor.

Columbo Cries Wolf Sean Brantley
So, Tina, what is it that attracts you to MULTI-MILLIONAIRE Sean Brantley?

It’s easy for the viewer to despise Brantley for who he is and what he represents, but it’s his cavalier treatment of Columbo that most gets our goat – and is also a major reason why this episode sizzles. The Lieutenant is an unwitting puppet and is duped so completely that it’s as stunning a blow for us as it is for him. This is, after all, the man who has outwitted bona fide geniuses time and again. How has grinning goon Brantley, of all people, got the better of Columbo when Oliver Brandt, Ray Flemming, Marshall Cahill et al failed to do so?

Predictably, when Brantley’s downfall comes it feels suitably sweet because he’s been such a douche throughout. However, the episode finale doesn’t match the excellence of the twist and actually feels rather shoe-horned in after the extended intrigue we’ve enjoyed up to this point. Although pleasingly reminiscent of 1971’s Blueprint for Murder, it’s all wrapped up in a hurry, and Columbo’s lightning-fast deduction that Dian really was dead this time round feels a little forced. The close proximity of Dian’s body to where Columbo called her pager is all a little bit convenient, too.

The ending also erodes any suggestion that Brantley was, in fact, a worthy adversary for Columbo. His error in leaving Dian’s pager watch on her wrist was incredibly amateurish, showing that he himself was just another pawn in Dian’s great hoax – something that was subtly foreshadowed earlier in the episode when Brantley told Columbo that Dian was ‘the brains’ of their operation. At the end, we can see just how true that statement was.

“The Lieutenant is duped so completely that it’s as stunning a blow for us as it is for him.”

I’m not crazy about the Lieutenant sending the word ‘GOTCHA’ to Dian’s pager, either. It’s another ‘new Columbo’ example of a needlessly flamboyant flourish being added where it wasn’t needed. It’s certainly nowhere near as ghastly as the toy soldier Columbo from Grand Deceptions, or the Ringmaster suit from Murder, Smoke and Shadows, but the point didn’t have to be underlined in such a heavy-handed fashion.

Still, a lesser gotcha doesn’t have to damn an episode, and Columbo Cries Wolf has more than enough going for it to be considered a compelling addition to the canon. Peter Falk is on particularly good form, his Columbo displaying a gritty edge without ever fully succumbing to the sort of tomfoolery that blighted the likes of Sex & The Married Detective. There are only two silly moments that I’d have cut: Columbo jogging along with Tina in a short-lived attempt to unsettle her; and his bewilderingly wooden reaction to her splashing him with a bomb dive.

I’d have preferred a bit more discomfort at his being surrounded by partially clothed women for so much of the episode, too (he even indulges in an uncharacteristic ogle at one swimsuit model), but this is certainly the best characterisation since his 1989 comeback. The mutual dislike between the two leading men is also nicely portrayed and makes for gripping viewing.

Columbo Cries Wolf Dian Hunter
No YOU’RE creeped out and cringing

The hard edge shown by the detective is also mirrored in some of the episode’s set-pieces, notably the brutal snapping of Dian’s neck, and the subsequent reveal of her bagged body behind the wall insulation. This is a genuinely creepy moment and a nice nod to the plastic-wrapped corpse behind the revolving wall panel in Season 1’s Dead Weight.

I also enjoyed the Easter Egg reference to Chief Superintendent Durk, who has asked Columbo for some LA intel to help his own London-based investigation into Dian’s disappearance. There had to be a valid, plausible reason for Columbo to become involved in the case and this was a very good way of doing it, doubling up as a reward for fans who know Durk from his 1972 appearance in Dagger of the Mind. References to Columbo’s previous cases are rare, so this is something of a collector’s item.

Keen fans of the 70s’ series will also enjoy seeing regular bit-part players John Finnegan and Bruce Kirby reappearing in the series. Although uncredited, Kirby was reprising the Sergeant Kramer role that endeared him to millions at Columbo’s peak. It’s nice to have them both back.

Columbo Cries Wolf is so unashamedly a product of its times that it’s really rather endearing.”

Those hark backs, though, are probably the only things about Columbo Cries Wolf that don’t thoroughly represent a love-in with the ‘ultra-modern’ world of the late 80s/early 90s. CCTV and pagers are technical wonders Columbo has to get his head around, while we also see mobile phones (in the form of humongous bricks) in use for the first time in the series by the nouveau riche pillocks of the day.

The fashions are ridiculously 80s, with Brantley’s wardrobe, in particular, a dodgy assortment of oversized double-breasted blazers, puffy-sleeved shirts and collars the size of Italy. What a time to be alive! The women fare little better, with Tina, especially, guilty of fashion crimes against humanity. Her barely-covering-the-chest scarlet crop top, allied with multicoloured skintight leggings, has to be seen to be believed. Can any reader confirm that people ever wore outfits like this in real life without inducing strokes?

(As an aside, Rebecca Staab, starring as Tina, is H-to-the-O-to-the-T in that tacky 80s/90s way, which I mean as a compliment to her appearance and performance. She’s no Kay Freestone, Beth Chadwick or Jessica Conroy, but if you dig bottle blondes in figure-hugging attire, Tina will almost certainly float your boat.)

Columbo Rebecca Staab
Put that underboob away, this is a family show!

The episode’s wholehearted embrace of the late 80s may be the reason why my subconscious has, historically, tried to resist the urge to like Columbo Cries Wolf. So many elements are so jarring that it can be hard to take seriously, especially for viewers, like me, who treasure the enduring class of Columbo’s 70s era. But while it has aged terribly from an aesthetic standpoint, Wolf has done so in a way that manages to make it an awesome snapshot of the times rather than an out-and-out joke.

Indeed, Columbo Cries Wolf is so unashamedly a product of its times that it’s really rather endearing. It’s as cheesy as Sean Brantley’s grin and as sleazy as an ageing male in a limousine full of lithe, young beauties, but it works – helped in no small measure by the cleverness of the bait-and-switch, and an entirely successful mix up of the formula.

This is an episode sure to divide opinion, but if the viewer can overcome their natural repulsion at the characters, settings and stylings, there’s a cracking mystery to savour. It’s taken a while for the Lieutenant to truly make his mark since coming out of his 11-year hibernation, but he does so here in arresting fashion that raises hopes that the second coming of Columbo could yet blossom into a golden age.

Did you know?

The opening sequence of Columbo Cries Wolf contains two very obvious continuity bloopers within its first minute.

Firstly, Columbo’s car can be seen pulling a U-turn on the road behind the Bachelor’s World stretch limo within 20 seconds, while the Lieutenant himself can soon after be seen wandering by the mansion pool behind the frolicking models. Try harder, editing team…

How I rate ’em

Hot diggity! It feels good to be enjoying Columbo again after a quintet of more or less average efforts. It’s a shame that Columbo Cries Wolf wasn’t in the can a year earlier because it would have been a brave way to reintroduce the Lieutenant to a new audience and era. It’s much better than I remember and sits head and shoulders above the rest of the comeback outings so far. HUZZAH and HURRAH!

Missed any of my earlier new Columbo episode reviews? Then simply click the links below.

  1. Columbo Cries Wolf
  2. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  3. Sex & The Married Detective
  4. Murder, A Self Portrait
  5. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  6. Grand Deceptions

If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them in order, they can all be accessed here. And if you’re a lover of Mr Brantley and his Nymphs, you can vote for Columbo Cries Wolf in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.

Columbo Cries Wolf
A high quality new Columbo episode? I’ll drink to that…

Now it’s over to you. What do you make of Columbo Cries Wolf? A step too far into 80s cheese, or an ideal time capsule of the day? All (polite) views are welcome, so get typing away into the comments section below.

Imbued by a new-found enthusiasm for the task in hand, I’ll be back soon for a deep-dive into Agenda for Murder – the episode that reintroduces Columbo icon Patrick McGoohan back into the series. That has to be a winner, right? Check back soon to find out…

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Columbo Cries Wolf nymphs
What would Mrs Columbo say?
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171 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Cries Wolf

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  2. Like Columbophile, I very much consider myself an ‘Old Columbo’ purist, but as far as New Columbo episodes go, I found this to be a very enjoyable watch, even if the trashy backdrop of scantily clad Playboy-esque models and dodgy late 80’s fashion hasn’t stood the test of time very well.

    This episode is somewhat reminiscent of Blueprint for Murder in the sense that we’re lead to believe that Dian is dead, and Columbo / LA Police go to extensive measures to try and locate the body, only to be left with egg on their faces when no body is actually found. The only difference being that unlike Bo Williamson who turned out to be dead all along, Dian turns up alive and well, having returned from her trip to London.

    My only criticism is that the actual murder towards the end of the episodes appears somewhat rushed and amateurish, and raises a few questions – how was Sean able to conceal the body behind the wall insulation without any of the builders noticing? And why did he not remove the pager from Dian’s wrist prior to hiding her body? Other than that, i found ‘Columbo Cries Wolf’ to be a very good episode and the best one so far since the ABC reboot.

    • Yes, this is one of the best later episodes, but I don’t mind the scantily clad models! Columbo always has at least one pretty girl in each episode, and this one just has more than most. I do agree that the fashions look dated, as I think this was a problem with the later episodes in general: trying to look “new” and soon going out of fashion. Whereas the 1970’s episodes don’t look dated by comparison, because they are just of their time.
      In the later episodes, the older Columbo is constantly baffled by new technology, which we now take for granted. The only example of this I can think of in the 1970’s is the VCR in “Fade In To Murder”.

      As to the actual murder, I think Sean killed Diane at night, after the builders had finished for the day, carefully removed a new panel they had just installed, hid the body and replaced the panel. (Remember, he had been planning to do away with Diane all along as he expected her to take Sir Harry’s offer). And he forgot to remove the pager either because he’s a cocky, overconfident sod, or because he’s an amateur and only has one chance to get this right, i.e. he simply forgot about it in all the adrenaline fuelled excitement. He also forgot about the clothes bag being missing from the wardrobe for the same reason.

      • Incidentally, I always like the way that Sean thinks he’s the business, but he’s seen as a joke at the conference with the mayor, being dismissed as “this Sean character”.

  3. I enjoyed this episode, but let’s not get carried away with the praise simply because the 5 episodes immediately preceding it weren’t good. To use a golf analogy, this episode is like simply making a par on the 6th hole after going bogey, double-bogey, bogey, double bogey, triple bogey to open your round.

    • Its not one of the very very best new ones but its defietley the best reviewed so far and is
      a lot better than at least 10 new ones that i could mention I prefer this a lot to murder a self portrait , goes goes under the guillotine , Grand deceptions Murder with too many notes No time to die undercover and the likes .

      • Agree, that’s why I gave Murder a Self Portrait a triple bogey compare to par for this. Definitely the best of the first half dozen episodes.

  4. I really, unapologetically love this episode! I even rate it highly in comparison to some of the 70s episodes (which I agree, are better overall than the later offerings). Columbo Cries Wolf is probably one of my top 10 episodes. It gets knocked down my personal ranking because I put all four Robert Culp episodes first, in no particular order, followed by Publish or Perish.

    I’ve been eagerly waiting for your review of Cries Wolf 🙂 It’s a standout episode for me and one I always enjoy when I do these periodic binges of the entire run of episodes. I absolutely love the characters of Sean and Dian. Sean in particular is completely despicable and it is so much fun to see Columbo nab him in the end and knock that smug, self-satisfied smirk off his face. I really enjoyed Dian’s devious behaviour and 80s fashion, and found her to be a really memorable character. It was awesome to see her double-cross Sean–that betrayal couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character.

    Thank you for all the reviews; I always enjoy reading them! Looking forward to the next one…

  5. I enjoyed this one a lot. The twist was really clever. And I thought Buchanan and Hall were first rate. But I did think the ending was a bit sloppy. For one thing, it was obviously Sean who pretended to be Dian after the murder while driving out of the gate. Tina had already left and we saw Sean laying out the clothes he would wear. Also, taking that scene one frame at a time, to my eyes it was obviously Sean all bundled up and with dark glasses on. But Sean also wore a pager on his left wrist. So why didn’t he have it on? This just seems a contrivance. Also, Sean not thinking to remove Dian’s pager seems way too heavy handed a set up for Columbo’s gotcha. They could have gotten around this by having Dian removing the pager and slipping it into her coat pocket before applying lotion. Sean not noticing it would then have been less obvious. Still, all in all, a very fun episode which went in a welcome unusual direction.
    I was wondering. As Dian actually died of a broken neck, wouldn’t faking a car over an embankment accident have been a better plan than hiding the body in your house. Wouldn’t the most likely police conclusion be that she just suffered her broken neck in the accident?

  6. I rate this in my top 5. It’s believable and original. The ending is excellent, and the story is well structured, with several strong twists, that one doesn’t see coming. In fact it’s the only time I remember Columbo being quite wrong about a murder. The point of this is well setup for the ending, when Columbo eventually gets his man and comes out on top. The villain is also very annoying and very believable.

    The story revolves around rich people using the police for their own ends, but in the end succumbing to their own internal failings. It’s all quite relatable and quite a believable story about the over-rated and inflated egos of the fashion elite.

    The main reason it’s one of the best Columbos is the believable acting and the difficult-to-see ending. They actually didn’t need all the girls in bikinis, as the typical viewer is more interested in nailing the villain than eye candy. But it doesn’t matter. The main point is the fashion playboy wanker eventually succumbs to his moral failings, and gets caught in the end, primarily because he can’t treat people as fellow human beings. No name actors doesn’t detract from an excellent well structured episode.

  7. Despite the debate going on in this comment section about the virtues of “New Columbo” in comparison with the NBC run, the truth is that we had to wait until the sixth entry for the first stand-out episode. Fortunetely, there are

  8. Wayne jennings and murder in malibu are very
    Dull and uniteresting compared with sean brantley and cries wolf plus some of the chatachters in malibu are very annoying and the acting is b list a lot of the time bar falk that is

  9. Glad to see the reviews up and about again and cries wolf is deffinetley an improvement on the previous 5 new ones reviewed , Cries wolf may be trashy and a t times so far away from the classic 70s that it could be considered off putting but the good outweighs the bad here for me and its refreshing For me at least to see guillotine no longer as its an episode iI have never warmed to. cries wolf is exciting and colourful , Nice outdoor shots plus a helicopter scene , decent clues excellent opening soundtrack she drives me crazy , great taste in music and throughout , unlikable characters in this one but that only adds to the fun and a well i will say decent but not excellent Gotcha its not one of the truly funny episodes though but that will come next with Patrick mcgoohan and agenda for murder which is superior again to cries wolf and strongly suspect it will top the Chart .

    • Forgot too add Grand deceptions for me boasts none of the things good i said about cries wolf even worse it has the most uninteresting characters of the new one and is deservedly bottom of the current list where i imagine it will stay until Well Murder in Malibu which is worse which i believe is 2or 3 episodes down the line which should be bottom and the probably undercover then will take the wooden spoon ,, many dislike Strange bedfellows and a Bird in the hand but it not totally bad at least rod steiger is a positive in it overall I prefer those 2 to murder with too many notes .and ashes to ashes .

  10. It’s amazing how our, Swamie, our Pope, our Guru, alway says he hasn’t seen any newer episodes in years and years, some since he was a kid, and now that he has revisited them, he doesnt like them. What a shock. How predictible is this guy? The acting is bad, the writing is bad,the music is bad, this is bad, that is bad. Bla Bla Bla. This guy has such refined pristine taste in television, he is hard to please. I enjoy most of the Seventies, just like anyone else, but also enjoy several episodes from 89 on and don’t make a point of pissing all over Peter’s later work. Who gave this man a platform to spit out this drivel? He has influenced a plethora of fans into thinking that only efforts from 71 to 78 are worth watching.I am forever reading, “I don’t do reboots” etc. etc. His reviews are very good, it’s his commentary afterwards, I could do without

    • As if it’s not self-evident, Columbophile puts an enormous amount of time and effort into this site, and he is extremely well-informed on his subject matter. He knows that not everyone will agree with his opinions – I, for one, am not a huge fan of his favorite, “Sky High IQ”. But to visit his home, as you are, and spit in the punchbowl with insults, invective and abuse is rather sad. It is particularly baffling, since he seems to be basically OK with “Cry Wolf”! You are certainly free to stay away from this forum and start your own “platform” that can tout your favorite era of Columbo to your heart’s content. Good luck, sir.

      • I’m looking for a place to plug in my review of “Columbo Goes to College”
        which I am watching but has always bothered me about the age of the actors playing college kids. Nevertheless, it is clearly–well I will wait for Columbophile to comment about this episode. He will have to agree with me and all the other perceptive contributors to this site.

    • Did you even read this review? It’s full of praise for what is a very decent episode. I’ve deliberately not watched the ‘new’ episodes since I started the blog in order to view them with fresh eyes. The newer episodes have been comparatively disappointing compared to most of the 70s classics, but I’ve certainly never been one to shy away from honest critique of the weaknesses of the 70s episodes either. I say it as I see it, regardless of the era. If you don’t enjoy this ‘drivel’ it’s best to just stay away rather than penning poison and unwarranted personal attacks. Good day.

    • I greatly appreciate Columbophile’s work at this site, but I disagree with his excessive criticisms of the 1989-2003 run (although, to be fair, he does offer praise here and there, like for this episode).

      In 2019-2020 I rewatched the entire series starting with the newer episodes and then went back to the original run from 1968-1978. I failed to see any great difference in quality. The latter series just shows Columbo in his older age — naturally with more pronounced quirks — still tackling and effectively solving murders. He’s no longer in his prime physically, obviously, but he still has what it takes mentally.

      There are duds in each batch, but Falk & team knew how to make a quality product and did so up to the very last episode, “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” Yes, there’s more filler in the latter run, but that’s simply because all the episodes ran about 95 minutes. ANY episode that runs that long is going to have a bit of padding, older or newer.

      I chalk up the inordinate preference for the 70’s run to nostalgia.

      Personally, I view the Columbo TV movies as ONE SERIES from 1968-2003 with a decade break from the late 70s to late 80s. This is the best way to regard the series IMHO.

      • I think the main problems with the ABC era, as CP has correctly and fairly pointed out prior, is that;

        – it’s played much more broadly than the NBC episodes, to the point that sometimes the good Lieutenant almost comes off as a caricature without the nuances of the NBC episodes, where we got occasional and tantalizing glimpses of the real Frank Columbo behind the badge and The Act… in addition to the increasing over-use of the ‘This Old Man’ motif in the ABC run, which made the character almost come across almost like a doddering buffoon, however good a detective he was.

        – the lack of the star power (largely) that the NBC run had in spades.

        – the fact that Peter Falk essentially ran the ABC era (no matter whose name was on the showrunner office door) and perhaps what was needed was a strong, objective, and independent executive producer.

        I wonder sometimes how different the NBC and ABC era were in terms of the production aspect; was Falk able to push for perfection in the later era than he admirably did in the earlier one, or did ABC insist on no costly schedule overruns and repeated takes like before?

        It could certainly explain the difference in quality between the two eras… and there WAS a difference, make no mistake… not to bash the ABC run though, because as we’ll see in the very next reviewed episode, when they got it right, they REALLY got it right…

        • Yes, I’m aware of Columbophile’s claims of why the 1989-2003 run is (supposedly) so lousy compared to the first 45 Columbo TV flicks.

          1. Like there wasn’t some caricature — amusement at the detective’s expense — in the 70’s episodes (sarcasm). The series is played more broadly in the latter-day run because there’s more time per episode, about 95 minutes. The “old man” motif was used because — *revelation* — Columbo was an old man by this point (and it couldn’t be hidden). Like I said, it’s the same person, albeit in his quirky older age. You have to accept the latter run on this level because Falk is no longer in his 40s, as he was throughout the 70s. He was in his 60s-early 70s.

          2. There were only 24 episodes between 1989-2003 and there are some quality “stars” for TV movies — Foxworth, McGoohan, Hamilton, Coleman, Torn, Daly, Dunaway, Shatner, Wendt, etc. It’s not like you could expect Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Robin Williams and Samuel L. Jackson to show up.

          3. Like I said, Falk was a renowned veteran by this point and knew how to make a quality product with his team. He was no longer in his physical prime and therefore the earlier episodes are understandably preferable for most Columbo fans, but that doesn’t make the latter episodes worthy of contempt.

          Think of it in terms of a great band that released phenomenal albums in the 70s. They were avant-garde and had myriad hits. After their heyday they took a decade break but decided to get back together because they recognized the band as their greatest contribution, as far as music goes. Their latter-day albums showed the same genius, but the band was now considered old-hat, even quaint, but that didn’t make their music rubbish; and the true fans appreciated the fact that they had additional quality music by one of their favorite bands.

          It’s the same thing with notable auteurs of the 70s, like Francis Ford Coppola. Sure, his best films were from that period, like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now,” but that doesn’t make his output of the 90s-2000s worthless pieces of excrement to be denounced ad nauseam.

          Open your mind and enjoy what the latter-run has to offer. By all means, criticize where appropriate, but please cut the excessive bellyaching. They’re not THAT bad.

          • No-one said the ABC episodes were lousy (well maybe a couple are, but even that’s debatable) as a whole… not CP, not me, not anyone as far as I remember. They’re actually very solid, occasionally superb, always well-made murder-mysteries… but they’re not up there with the NBC run, and that’s no insult because very, very few murder-mystery shows could compete with the NBC run of ‘Columbo’.

            Just a few points and clarifications if I may;

            – the broadness has nothing to do with running time; there were longer episodes in the NBC run that weren’t played nearly as broadly… the magisterial ‘A Friend In Deed’ for example.

            – the ‘This Old Man’ motif has nothing to do with the character’s age in the ABC run as it actually started being used during the NBC run.

            – there are undoubtedly some high-quality guest stars in the ABC era, but c’mon, compared to the NBC era, the ratio of that star power was considerably less. And the NBC run didn’t have Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, or Robert Redford as guest villains, so of course the ABC era wouldn’t feature the likes of Arnie, Sly, or Bruce Willis. Mind you, the thought of Robin Williams as a ‘Columbo’ guest villain is a BRILLIANT idea, alas…

            – Columbo was never a physical character so “not being in his prime” has very little bearing on Falk’s later portrayal thereof.

            All this is just my own humble, fallible, and entirely subjective opinion, of course… no-one is “bellyaching” about the ABC era, I’m certainly not, but simply critiquing where you think it falls short in certain areas compared to the NBC era does not equate to denying or lamenting it’s very existence… at least ‘Columbo’ – of whatever era – never had an entire season that could be deemed a trainwreck… unlike the sixth season of ’24’… and I still love that show just as much!

            It’s all ‘Columbo’… it’s all good… but some of it was just better than others and the ‘better’ just so happened to be weighed more heavily on the NBC side of the scale, that’s all.

            • Thanks for the feedback, my friend. It’s all good.

              You’ll noticed that I qualified the usage of “lousy.” I said “lousy COMPARED TO the first 45 Columbo TV flicks.”

              – There’s quite a bit of broadness in the 1968-1978 run. So they branched out in the later episodes because they had the runtime to do it, so what? It offers dimension. People who create need to experiment to keep things fresh and interesting. Of course not all experiments work.

              – The ‘Old Man’ motif had everything to do with the character’s age in the later run. The only reason some late 70’s episodes riffed on this was because Falk was closing in on 50.

              – IMHO you put too much emphasis on the “star power” of the guest cast in the 70s. They’re fine actors, sure, but — as you say — they weren’t exactly stellar box office draws at the time, like Brando and Redford. Let’s not kid ourselves, they were taking gigs for TV movies because that’s what was available for them at the time.

              – You don’t have to be an action star to have a physical presence. Our culture essentially worships youth and there’s a huge difference between Falk in his 40s and Falk in his 60s-70s.

              • Fair enough… hope you stick around for the reviews of the ABC episodes. I look forward to an ‘alternative’ view of them… there are some very good episodes and some pretty terrific scenes in there.

                Roll on ‘Agenda for Murder’ up next… arguably the best of the ABC run…

                • Yeah, “Agenda” is one of my favorites of the latter-day run, along with “Columbo Goes to College” and “Columbo Cries Wolf” (amongst a few others). There’s just something about McGoohan’s chemistry with Falk that almost guarantees a quality installment

      • I agree 100%. Love each and every season; some episodes less than others. Star power meh….I tune in to watch Peter Falk. I really enjoy the website and getting everyone’s perspective on each episode. Wish I could find a Murder She Wrote website.

    • I see Columbophile as a kind and gentle critic who is having fun expressing his intellligent and well thought out views to an eager audience, and who has even made me laugh out loud. ( I will be forever grateful for that.) He also has to tolerate those who have made regrettable statements from those who have had a bit too much sherry (or Manhattans in my case–come on you know who you are!) and I hope we can continue in a positive direction for many months to come. NOW about “Columbo Goes to College” where none of the actors appears to be young and or callow enough to be an undergraduate college student; yet does not detract from an otherwise um—-oh yes, I’m waiting for Columbophile’s review of this one…

        • Columbo Goes to College is my favourite of the “new” episodes, and I look forward to the Columbophile review. The age of the actors playing the students has never bothered me. Coop is supposed to “nearly 22 years old” and to me, he looks it. There is a long tradition of actors well into their 20’s playing teenagers (Grease, Happy Days) which goes back until at least the 1940’s.

          Superman actress Noel Neil was born in 1920 and first played Lois Lane in 1948, but throughout the ’40’s she was known for playing teenage characters in movies, notably the recurring role of Betty Rogers, one of a group of comedy characters known as “The Teenagers”. I’ve enjoyed the recent TV series Stargirl about a 15 year old superhero (set at “Blue Valley High School”) even though most of the students look older than15 or 16.

          • Rethinking my Columbo Goes to College” posts, those two fellows seeming older to me would not have been noticed by most. There are far more egregious violations everywhere. I think my college mates back in the day were so intellectually immature compared with those two–but 1) my mates were 18 for the most part, and 2) the leader was exceptionally bright, if not soulless. Great episode.

            • Yes, I think that Mr Roe and Coop are highly intelligent, but lazy and snobbish. Looking forward to the CP review, which should be coming up next. We could have just skipped Murder In Malibu and gone straight to Columbo Goes to College.

  11. Perhaps to the viewers expectations of a married man, Columbo acts old fashioned and prudish in many episodes including this one, but like other episodes (walking in on nude model, seeing belly dancers etc) Columbo usually tries to sneak a peak, letting us know he is still a red blooded man. Am I the only one to notice this.

  12. My second favorite thing about this episode is, yes, Sean Brantley’s smug grin after Columbo realizes how he’s been tricked. Such a reversal of routine.

    Have we thought about how Rebecca Staab is supposed to have gotten back from England–or rather, how Diedre Hall did get back from England? Fake ID?

  13. I have to disagree with Columbophile about the ending–the “Gotcha” made me smile, and Columbo had been jerked around so much this episode that I can quite easily see him gloating with his message.

  14. This is an episode I’ve been eagerly awaiting a ColumboPhile write-up. CP absolutely NAILS it in (his?) review!
    The episode aired in early 1990, so it was shot in a horrible time for fashion (the late 80s)
    I should also add that I never cared for the song “She Drives Me Crazy,” and it didn’t fit the theme very well in my opinion.
    By pure luck, this is the episode in which I’ve probably seen the most times. For some strange reason, this episode always seems to be on television!
    This is definitely a confusing episode if you missed any small part of it.
    Having said that, I rate this episode in the top third of the “new” Columbo episodes.
    Seeing Columbo “fail” was actually refreshing. I loved the plot twist.
    I agree with CP, the ending/gotcha happened far too quickly and felt “forced” and “too convenient.”
    Seriously, the turnaround from when Columbo puts his empty champagne glass on the car and walks away dejected, to Sean snapping the neck of the victim (after hearing that Sir Harry was upping his ante was FAR to quick. I’m talking like a matter of less than five minutes screen time.
    I wonder if this were filmed in 2020 if we would have to here “nymphs” said and repeated over and over. I’m no prude, but calling these girls “nymphs” is a little harsh, no?
    I have yet to read the comments below about this episode. I will do so when done with this post. But did anybody else find it odd that Sean never seemed worried about Dian’s disappearance? Was it because he knew he didn’t kill her or have her killed? Did he really believe that Dian was “just being Dian” after arriving in London?
    Forgive my ignorance, but what really happened in that alley while the salmon was being picked up? Who fired the bullet? Was it Dian? And why did Dian get all covered up in the limo? Why did she pit cream in her coffee? Was it her, or Tina? Please help me remember. Was Tina in on anything BEFORE the end when she dresses up in Dian’s mink and fools the guards? I think I’m confusing MYSELF! Ha!
    Also, I thought the secretary was going to play a much bigger part than she did.
    Strange episode, but interesting. Great title.
    I liked the scenes with Columbo with the media and Columbo with the L.A. brass in the bathroom.
    The plastic coat bag with the dead body was a bit creepy.
    Okay, that’s about it, for now,
    I’m going to go read the comments now and see if people liked this episode as I did.

    • Sean was in on the stunt all along, so he had no fear for Dian at all. The only thing he wasn’t aware of was that she was using the stunt as a means of driving up the price before she sold the magazine to Sir Harry. We are shown what happens in the alley in a flashback. Dian fired the gun in the air from the car, then swaddled herself up and put cream in her own coffee to create the possible illusion that she had been killed / abducted. Tina probably knew about the original stunt but wasn’t directly involved, so that she could play her part in the deception easily enough.

  15. I, too, like this episode despite it’s flaws. I find the leads very engaging.

    However, it does trigger one of my usual reactions: What the hell is Columbo doing here, anyway? Just 28 seconds into the opening credits, we get an establishing shot that places “The Chateau” in Beverly Hills, a completely independent municipality in Los Angeles County and in no way a part of the City of Los Angeles or subject to the normal operations of the LAPD. The City of Beverly Hills has its own very competent and very well financed police department.

    True, Columbo enters the case as a favor to Chief Superintendent Durk, but this kind of informal inquiry would only have carried him so far. Once there was evidence of an actual crime, it would have been a different ballgame (kind of like a soccer match).

    Let’s assume that the restaurant where the alleged shooting occurred was, in fact, in the City of Los Angeles. Columbo would certainly have been a logical choice to take charge of that investigation, but once it led to intrusive physical activity on the premises of a prominent resident of Beverly Hills, the decision making would have shifted to the Beverly Hills police, presumably as part of an inter-agency team that included Columbo. Most likely, it would have been led by a local BH detective.

    All of this could have been avoided if the director had eliminated that establishing shot. After all, the “real” Playboy Mansion was not in Beverly Hills. It was in the Holmby Hills section of the City of Los Angeles, very much a part of Columbo’s beat.

    If you think this is nit picking, just wait until we get to “Murder in Malibu”.

  16. Just godawful, is all I can say. This and ‘No Time To Die’ are below the bottom of the barrel.

    But, I have never seen Detective Chief Superintendent Durk make an appearance in this episode. Apparently that bit is routinely cut out of the reruns we get here in the US. THAT I would have smiled at.

    • Dagger of the mind is one of my favorites too. Actually any of the episodes where he is outside of his balliwick/ home zone are my favorite episodes. Having Dirk work with Columbo in the U.S. would have been a blast.

  17. This is one of three episodes written by William Read Woodfield. I noted in the comments section for “Goes To The Guillotine” that Woodfield’s peak writing was as co-scribe for many of the best Mission: Impossible stories in its’ early years. He was a fan of magic and based his plotting on elaborate con jobs, and it was Woodfield’s template that was the foundation for Mission’s TV popularity. This is appropriate because that’s what “Cries Wolf” is – an elaborate con job by Brentley and Hunter. The mark, though, is Columbo, and this has the unfortunate effect of diminishing our beloved lieutenant.

    This is a byproduct of not having steady hands at the wheel of the revival, including Peter Falk. Obviously, updating a classic series many years later inevitably means that not everything is going to stay the same. And there’s a temptation to fiddle with successful formulas, which yes, can have some degree of success. But one thing above all should be inviolate – Columbo should never ever ever ever appear to be stupid. He may seem like the befuddled everyman, but the viewer knows this is his schtick to put the murderer off-guard, because our lieutenant really is a sharp tack. That conceit is picked at in “Cries Wolf”. The huge shame is that Columbo didn’t have to be written as falling for the con hook, line, and sinker. In trailing the “breadcrumbs”, as Richard describes below, there could have been one that didn’t quite feel right, that sets Columbo on his guard. Or, he could have been pressured by his superiors to solve the case quickly, and the superiors pressured by Sir Generic British Mogul. But no, its Columbo who spearheads the excavation activities, going so far as to climb a shaky ladder on a high roof to look down a chimney, and wear some comic waders to do….what, exactly?

    The two hits of coffee creamer is given to The Mayor as the reason that Columbo and the entire LAPD are convinced that the estate needs to be dug up. And that’s as ridiculous said out loud in that bathroom as it appears on paper. In the old days, those kinds of clues would be little signposts for Columbo to suspect the killer, plant the seeds, and a few of these in concert would set the murderer up for the final Gotcha. But here, everyone agrees (perhaps because of Columbo’s stellar reputation) that its enough to show that there are two Dian Hunters and the city government and LAPD should risk its reputation. Its only later at the tail end of the episode when we see the old, smart Columbo appear when he observes the missing garment bag and starts deducing.

    I don’t want to rain too hard on this episode, because it does have entertainment value and isn’t half-bad, but a few more points:
    • If Brentley was swimming and, as Columbo says, could not have fired the gun, then why would his prints on it be important?
    • Couldn’t we have seen some of the old Columbo fire and brimstone when interrogating Tina? We’re quite a long way from “Prescription: Murder”.
    • Did the LAPD forget that it’s a crime to be pulling elaborate con jobs on them?
    • When the viewer is watching the initial argument between Hunter and Brentley behind closed doors and overheard by the airhead (her own description, not mine!) secretary, it is totally and absolutely clear that this is a real argument. There is no need to act out facial emotions when nobody’s watching. But it’s all part of the con on the viewer, too. That’s a cheap shot and a lack of respect for us.

    The good news is, “Agenda For Murder” has a bit more going for it and is next on the CP Review list.

    • Excellent point about when the secretary was eavesdropping on the argument via phone. That was a REAL argument, correct? It was a cheap shot and lack of respect for the audience.
      Another thing I found far-fetched…how is 97-pound Tina doing a cannonball in the pool going to absolutely drench Colombo, some 15-feet away? Nit-picking, I know,

      • Although nobody in the story could see the argument between Sean and Dian, there was genuine bad feeling between them, which they used to employ method acting. I expect they found it cathartic. Of course, Dian had no idea just how cathartic it would be for Sean . . .

    • except that this *technically* isn’t really a con job being pulled on the LAPD–Sean has plausible deniability. Sir Harry pulls a few strings when Dian doesn’t show for their meeting, kicking off the investigation. Sean consistently insists that Dian is fine, that no crime has been committed, and that she’ll show up any day now. Which she eventually does. Sean’s reaction, to Columbo: “I tried to tell you.” Which he did.

      • Well, I’m just an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, but I think I have a decent case with the physical evidence that was planted with intent to deceive, and the complete backing of the LAPD, who I don’t think will want their considerable waste of time and taxpayer money to pass without consequences.

    • • Did the LAPD forget that it’s a crime to be pulling elaborate con jobs on them?

      YES! THIS SO MUCH! This pissed me off so much about this episode.

      It really took me out of immersion that the victim and killer wouldn’t be in prison that very night awaiting bail for multiple fraud and obstruction of justice charges (all felonies; probably federal since it involved an international airline).

      The killer wouldn’t have had the chance to murder his partner, since they would have been in a jail cell.

      It really had the smell of “lazy and substandard Hollywood elitist writer has no clue how the real world worked” that we got so much of in the late 80s and early 90s.

      • But how could the LAPD prove that it was a con job? Sean had said all along that Dian had caught a flight to London and then traveled around, sending him gifts and postcards. And that is exactly what she did do, returning safe and sound to the mansion.

  18. I think we can draw an interesting parallel between this episode and one of the best Columbos ever, i.e. “Old port”. In both cases there is essentially a corporate conflict at the center of the whole affair – one partner kills the other to prevent selling out to hostile third party. But (perhaps as a sign of the times) there is a huge difference in motives and characterisation. Both Carsinis are at least partially motivated by love (one for his fiancee, the other for his beloved vineyard). In the Wolf all we see is greed and struggle for power (Columbophile very appropriatly calls Sean a yuppie in the review).
    By the way Columbo’s reboot could have benefited a lot in my view if the writers were to create an episode with an actual quintessential corporate yuppie type as a killer, Gordon Gekko-style (if you can invent a plot device to somehow transplant a character like that to LA of course),

  19. I remember watching this when it first aired. Having been a fan of Days of Our Lives during my misspent youth, I became quite good at recognizing Diedre Hall’s real-life twin sister (Andrea Hall), who played her character’s “evil twin sister.” Of course I expected Andrea to show up as Dian to fool Columbo into believing that Dian was still alive. All three of us watching thought we spotted Andrea when Dian turns up alive and well. When it ended without an appearance of the “evil twin,” we were heartily disappointed and very much deflated. I wonder if anyone else was expecting a plot twist involving Diedre and Andrea switching places?

  20. It’s ironic perhaps considering the fact that there is such a pleasurable continuity easter egg with the Durk reference, that the one thing I find most irritating about this episode is what I find to be a glaringly bad example of discontinuity.

    It’s the scene where Sir Harry sends a helicopter for the Lieutenant and he happily gets in without a care in the world and then proceeds to seemingly enjoy the whole trip over LA. Now as we all know, if there’s one thing the 70s Columbo downright feared and hated it was anything involving heights and flying. And for that matter seeing his lack of sea legs, any form of unconventional transport.

    So yes, I know it’s pedantic but it always sticks out to me as being careless and I must say disappointing that Peter Falk didn’t think to keep that part of his character alive. Who knows, perhaps Mrs C sent the detective to a phobia school in the intervening years but I would have preferred to see his usual reaction when taken more than 10 feet up in the air….

  21. One detail that doesn’t make any sense to me (both before the big reveal and after) is Sean’s phone call at the time when Diane is leaving for the airport. Who is it he is speaking to? Before the twist we are supposed to think it’s Tina, but she must be hiding under the seats of that stretch mostrosity at the time, hardly a place to recieve phone calls. After Diane’s return we must think it was her, but again she is riding in the limo whith the partition down, talking to Costner. She can’t discuss their scheme with Sean while Costner can overhear them.

    • I love this episode, but there are some minor quibbles. I assume that Tina was never actually hiding in the limo, as it was Diane Hunter who fired the shot that Cosner heard into the air. And it was Diane Hunter that got out of the limo, walked into the airport, put cream in her coffee, and caught the plane to London. (Tina was staying with a famous producer the whole time).

      Another point is that the police find the shell casing from the single shot in the alley, but what about the bullet? What goes up must come down, so did Diane just fire a blank?

      And it annoys me how badly Diane treated Cosner, given that he is so very loyal to her and genuinely concerned for her safety. We never see his reaction to her return, but I hope he told her what she could do with her imported salmon.

      • Being slightly more cynical you might say that for real detectives finding a shell casing in some back alley in early 90’s LA wouldn’t necessarily signify anything in particular at all with regards to Diane’s case. With all the gang shootings you probably could find any number of casings in any number of alleys if you search hard enough.

      • I agree with you. I think it was Dian (and Dian alone) in the limo the entire time. I think it was her who put cream in her coffee at the airport and her who covered herself up.
        Did Sean know she was going to do all this? I don’t think so.
        I don’t think Tina was involved until the very end. Her being unaccounted for for 28 hours had nothing to do with Dian.

  22. CP says that the ending is too fast. I would go further, and say that the whole episode is poorly paced. The non-murder story moves at a glacial rate, then they race through the murder story.

    I also agree with Richard Weill’s remarks about Columbo simply following where Brantley leads in a way that he never does in the superior episodes. When he plays along with the villain’s little games, it’s because he’s on the right track and is giving the suspect an opportunity to incriminate himself. Even when he makes mistakes, they are mistakes the villain didn’t see coming. In the first 8/9ths of this episode, he’s just Brantley’s puppet.

    I’d say that very similar material was handled far better in a 2003 episode of MONK, “Mr Monk Meets the Playboy,” in which Gary Cole plays the Hugh Hefner clone. Honestly, every time I see “Columbo Cries Wolf,” I’m disappointed it isn’t that show.

  23. I love this episode. So clever, with a great twist and a douchey murderer. However, AGENDA FOR MURDER is first class, 70s style COLUMBO. McGoohan won a Emmy for it, and it’s well deserved. Great lines and delightful chemistry with Falk. It’s the best of the revival.

    • I just watched on ME TV here in the U.S. The episode get’s a lot of flak but it’s entertaining and not really that bad. Durk (Bernard Fox) did a great job in it as well as in Troubled Waters and of course as Dr. Bombay in the superb sitcom Bewitched.

      • I believe having Bernard Fox come to the U.S. to work alongside Columbo would’ve been a real treat and lively homage to the early episodes. I 🧡 Dagger of the Mind even though CP doesn’t.

        • Yes Fox lived a long life, i would have also liked to see him reappear in a later years episode such as this one not just by name. He had a great personality which worked well with Falk.

  24. And let’s be honest here – Ian Buchanan as slimy Sean, is one of the best COLUMBO villains ever!
    He played the role to perfection!
    Bravo Sir.

    • When the “new” Columbo’s first started airing in the UK in the early 1990’s, I recall reading that instead of guest starring very famous movie actors as the killers, they were now played by TV actors who were not as well known, but were very well cast in their roles.

      Whatever we might think of the later episodes, I always find these “unknown” actors to be convincing. I don’t know Ian Buchanan from anything else, but he is superb as this Sean character in Columbo Cries Wolf.

      I know a lot of fans don’t like the Wayne Jennings character in Murder in Malibu, but it’s Wayne who is a bad actor, no the actor playing him.

  25. Cries Wolf is just fantastic!!
    That ending is superb.
    The gotcha is superb!!
    And you get to hear the “This Old Man” melody on a fretless bass.
    Hell you were even driven crazy by the opening of Fine Young Cannibals
    Great, great episode!!!

    • I saw this episode a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it holds up to any 70s episode. It’s easy to see why the original show had such appeal but its brilliance has definitely been somewhat overstated. Plenty of the 70s episodes have lazy writing and show Columbo catching on too quickly or dragging out his friendly relationship with the killer too long. Columbo Cries Wolf has an intriguing “murder,” a great surprise, a slimy killer that we love to hate, and a ton of beautiful women. No complaints here. And I love to say about the episode, why is Columbo mad when the victim turns up alive? Sean Brantley said he was innocent all along 😄

  26. What i rely like sbout this one
    Is that sean brandley was actually ahead of colunbo made a nice twist something never done but its stiill not one of the very best new epusodes ,
    Agenda for murder and death hitts the javkpot

  27. I think sean brandlys cjarachter
    Was just what the docordered
    Here its weird , funny , clevrr charismatic and badly dresed wocj is all the thins that habent exidtex sofar but wjy i like this
    more is the clues are more solid

  28. I used to have this recorded on an old vcrtape in my old home and it was ome we ised to avoud but however i viewed it with my old man and ut was still crappy but we watched it both ladt week and its far bettwr than any new episode cp has revoewedso far
    Ots quite entertaining

  29. Cp took my words,i used to think this was a loadof new episode tripe , trashy and unconcoventional all of wich remain but and this is is a massive but this does have a inteesting twist a good music score and interesting moments
    I watched thisctwice latley with my pa ans we agreed its not at allamong the worst newvones but
    But ageda for murder and death hits the jackpot are still superior

  30. Sean Brantley is a carbon copy of Hugh Hefner. Note how Brantley is getting engaged to one of his Nymphs–Hefner married one of his Playmates, Kimberly Conrad. The difference of course is that Hef had sole control of his magazine and Brantley does not.

    My favorite moment in this episode is when Rebecca Staab is out for a jog, and Columbo is trailing along behind her doing his “Sorry to bother you” thing. She says “If you’re sorry, why don’t you stop doing it?” Columbo pauses, says “You know, I think I will,” and instead has her arrested. That was a clever bit and a great way to tweak with our expectations.

    • I think this is actually two different scenes. The first is where Rebecca Staab is jogging and leaves Columbo trailing behind (just like Milo Janus). The second scene is where she is just strolling, and Columbo has two uniformed cops pick her up and take her to the police car.

      • You’re probably right. It’s been a while since I watched it. The main thing, and my favorite part of this episode, is how he stepped out of his usual routine to drag a suspect down to the precinct rather than just annoy them. That was a nice moment.

  31. The 2 main characters were famous in their own right because of the soap operas they were on but Rebecca Staab who played Tina was also on 2 soap operas, guiding light and port Charles.

    • Most people might know Rebecca from the Seinfeld episode “The Pledge Drive” where she played, Kristin, an employee of PBS Jerry was dating. Kristin got mad when she discovered that Jerry prematurely threw away the card she sent him in the mail. For superhero geeks, Rebecca is also known for playing Sue Storm in the 1994 version of “The Fantastic Four.”

  32. I find Columbo’s reactions to pretty/naked/half-naked girls is charming in small doses, but was sometimes used by the writers as comedy schtick for an easy chuckle, or, unfortunately, a chance for male viewers to engage in covert ogling. And hey, I get it – guys (of which I am one) like to look at pretty girls. Sometimes, their place in the episode might seem gratuitous, but is really not. Girls in states of dress or undress can give us clues….not to the character of the woman, but to the character of the man. This is sledgehammer-obvious for playboy Brantley in Cries Wolf, but can also be more subtle. For example, the bikini appearance of Jessica Conroy in Exercise in Fatality actually tells us something about Milo Janus and his own vanity and emphasis on physique and appearance. Contrast Columbo’s reaction to her and Janus’, and that is just one hint of the looming conflict of values between the two. Likewise, Julie Newmar as Lisa Chambers in Double Shock tells us something about, not the killer, but the victim, Clifford Paris. It signals why he is grinding away to stay in shape – it’s for Julie Newmar, so most guys would – but also sets up the murder.

    Episodes where the appearance of lightly-clad ladies is natural to the episode make sense, and Columbo’s reactions are appropriate – think the still-can’t-be-identified nude actress in Suitable For Framing, or “Don’t Be So Cincinnati” in Most Crucial Game. My gripe comes when such women are shoehorned into the episode without any thought, seemingly just for the eye candy. Columbo’s history with belly dancers in Identity Crisis and Try and Catch Me is, frankly, embarrassing. The lieutenant’s reactions in those episodes are just this side of a leer, even more infuriating because their appearance had no relevance to the plot, to anyone’s character, or the murder itself.

  33. This is easily the best entry of “New Columbo”, up to now. Columbo in fine fettle, a great twist and almost no padding, giving the episode a flowing quality.

  34. Thanks for the review, I really enjoyed it. On the strength of it I rewatched the episode and enjoyed it even more than I was expecting. This is a real Columbo episode rather than the parody Columbos we have seen so far, and the twist is a delight. Perhaps when you merge the lists this one will squeeze into the B zone …

  35. A very enjoyable later years episode despite the corny early 90’s acting and outfits. This was definitely not your fathers Columbo but you have to go with the times. Good plot twist and great job by Deirdre Hall. This cracks my top 10 for the later years at around #6. Always a fun watch.

  36. Just one more thing …

    I freely admit to being being one of the few defenders of (or apologists for) “Last Salute to the Commodore.” And while “Columbo Cries Wolf” does play significantly with the Columbo formula, no episode better disguised the trick it was playing on both Columbo and the audience for its first hour than LSTTC. In “Columbo Cries Wolf,” we’re given very little reason to think Dian Hunter was murdered before Columbo gradually reached this conclusion. In LSTTC, we believe Charles Clay murdered the Commodore immediately — first, as we watch him engage in a classic Columbo-style cover-up, and then as he acts the formulaic part of the helpful murderer to Columbo. (Using Robert Vaughn helped a lot; the ‘90’s Columbos didn’t have a comparable stable of presumed villains to call upon for this purpose.) In both cases, Columbo is fooled. But in “Cries Wolf,” Columbo gobbles up the trail of false breadcrumbs left for him to find. In LSTTC, Columbo isn’t fooled by Clay’s cover-up. As in any classic Columbo, our hero finds, not what Clay wants him to find, but the clues we watched (but may not have noticed) Clay unavoidably leave behind.

    For me, the “Cries Wolf”-“Last Salute”
    comparison dramatically underscores what “Last Salute” did so exceptional well (its other deficiencies notwithstanding).

  37. Along with “Columbo Goes to College,” this ranks with the best episodes of the 1989-2003 run.

    The two guest-stars are soap opera actors, but who cares? The plot follows the Columbo formula up until the last act and pulls the rug out from under you.

    I thought it was good up to that point with an interesting murder scenario that includes an element of the original Columbo movie “Prescription: Murder” (1968), but the unexpected twist takes it to the next level, even though it’s pretty preposterous.

    Entertainment is the name of the game and this episode entertains. It is also perhaps the best showcase of beautiful women in the show’s history, rivaled only by the outstanding “Now You See Him” (1976).

  38. Said this on Twitter, loved it immediately (I taped it the night it aired, hey I was 21 at the time and it was Saturday night) and while I noticed flaws on repeat viewings, some of the classic episodes show imperfections under close scrutiny too. I revisited it just yesterday in anticipation of the review, and I think I can pretty much love it flaws and all. Might well end up being the best of the revival, though I imagine Columbo Goes to College (among a few others) will provide strong competition.

  39. As someone old enough to remember the ‘70’s Columbo when they first aired, I often wonder about the viewers who first encountered Columbo in the ‘90’s, never having seen the classic episodes, and who thus were free to form their opinions of the ABC run outside the shadow of that comparison. I’m sure I would have enjoyed these episodes more if I were ignorant of the classic era. (The DVD/streaming generation discovered all the episodes together, so was likely to make the same comparison I made).

    Is there a direct correlation between your opinion of the “new” Columbos and whether these were the first Columbos you watched? That’s a question only others can answer.

    • A good question in deed. Funnily enough my first experience of Columbo was in the mid to late 80s when the classic era episodes were repeated in the UK – the newer Columbo took till the early 90s to be shown.

      There’s no getting away from the fact that classic Columbo was so classy and well produced – even dire ‘Last Salute….’ can’t be faulted on that score. Whereas the newer episodes have a cheaper, occasionally slightly sleazy quality to them.

      I suppose ‘Columbo Cries Wolf’, considering its setting, is supposed to be sleazy so gets way with it a bit more and there is a neat plot twist in it
      so I can see why CP rates it top of the episodes reviewed so far – but it won’t be till ‘Agenda’ that we finally get a truly decent episode of the new run.

    • I’m glad you posed this question. There would have to be. If like me you grew up with Suitable for Framing, and all the other great Columbos, the new series has high standards to live up to. I was really excited when the reboot was announced. I remember watching Mystery Movie and the great shows and Columbo was always at the top of the list. There was a “class” to it and a style and production value that I’m glad I saw on the original run. The new era episodes really do have a feeling for me of being pretenders. But, if you’d only seen them, maybe they are excellent, for what they are. I personally don’t enjoy them.

    • The Abc episodes were the first ones I watched in the late 90s early 2000s. I was only born in 1988. At the time I thought they were great but on reflection I can see the majority of these newer episodes aren’t a patch on the originals.

  40. I was not a fan of the new era of episodes. I thought Peter Falk had been away from the role for too long and seemed to be working really hard to recapture the Columbo mystique. i thought most of the new era episodes were much too jokey and didn’t have the cache of the original series. I also didn’t like that it was on ABC. ABC to me has never focused on the quality of the shows they produce. And I don’t think they did justice to Columbo. The Perry Mason Movies on NBC were very successful and were, I believe, the impetus for bringing back Columbo. The Perry Mason Movies also were much better produced. They too weren’t of the quality of the CBS episodes, but Perry Mason in movie form was given much better care and treatment than Columbo which is too bad. Columbo IS the greatest television detective of all. (My wife thinks he’s second behind Poirot) As for this episode, it was one of the better ones of the new era, but with the exception of “Commodore” which is the absolute worst episode, none of the new era episodes stand up well to any of the classic era episodes, despite a strong twist.

    • I would agree that the ABC episodes lack not just the quality, the class, or the caliber (largely) of the guest villains of the NBC ones, but also the production values… although there could be a technical reason for the latter.

      From the 1950’s through the late 1980’s, television shows were both shot and edited on 35mm camera negatives… from about 1987 onward, shows were still shot on film but the negatives were transferred by telecine to broadcast-quality video tape and edited on that… it was quicker and cheaper to do so than editing on film, but quality was not as sharp.

      The ‘Columbo’ ABC episodes were shot on film and edited on tape, and when Universal Video Services remastered the whole series about a decade ago, the ABC-era tapes were given new 1080p HD transfers (and reformatted to 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen televisions)… whilst the NBC era that was shot and edited on 35mm film was scanned directly from the original camera negatives (I’ve been told by an industry source they was scanned on a 4K scanner but the final color timing was done in HD)… and boy, is there a difference in quality there to be seen!

      The remastered NBC episodes are just stunning in their clarity, contrast, and colors, they literally look like they were shot yesterday (‘Prescription Murder’ alone is a knockout presentation and looks better than most modern shows!)… whilst the ABC ones look pretty good overall, but not nearly in the same league as the NBC episodes… which pretty much sums up the ABC era as a whole, don’t you think?

    • I believe Sean leaving the watch/beeper on Dianes wrist is classic villain underestimating Columbos tenacious bulldog never give up trait. So the “gotcha” was classic.

  41. One of the first episodes I remember watching as a young teen. Loved it then and upon rewatching it again recently it’s still just as good.
    Love the twist in the story, proving that tweaking the usual Columbo formula can work. I recall a couple of other season 9 episodes mixing the formula up to good effect too.

  42. The latest first murder in any real Columbo. “The Greenhouse Jungle” was at 37:18 (of a 75-minute episode); this was at 1:21:50 (of a 95-minute episode).

    It is also one of William Link’s three favorite endings (along with “Suitable for Framing” and “Death Hits the Jackpot”). Link said the final clue was suggested by someone interviewing him for a mystery magazine; the producers paid the interviewer $500 for the clue. See https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/william-link (at 22:40).

    Besides the express cross-reference to “Dagger of the Mind” and Det. Chief Superintendent Durk, I was also hoping for a direct tip-of-the-hat to “Blueprint for Murder.” I was waiting for Columbo to tell Brantley, in the final scene, the story of the architect who dared him to dig up the concrete pile of a building under construction, intending to bury the body there once his fruitless search was finished. It would have been a nice touch. But alas, no.

    I was further reminded of “Murder by the Book,” “The Greenhouse Jungle,” and “Candidate for Crime.” There, too, the victim cooperates in a deceit that is essential to the killer’s murder plot. Although here it’s unclear if the Brantley-Hunter disappearance scheme was always intended as the run-up to Brantley’s murder scheme, or (unlike these prior cases) did not become a murder scheme until Dian returned, renewed her negotiations with Sir Harry, and Sir Harry gave Sean his one-month notice. If it’s the latter, then it is also the latest in any Columbo before murder was ever even contemplated.

    Two final notes: (1) The coffee clue, in my opinion, is unpersuasive. Someone may drink her excellent home-brewed coffee black, yet put something in a cup of bitter, over-brewed airport coffee. I’ll accept that two amateurs, trying to fool the police, might think this ploy would cinch the deal. I’m less convinced that Columbo and his police pals would give it the tremendous weight they did. (2) Who smokes a cigar in a helicopter? At least Columbo has overcome his fear of flying (“Ransom for a Dead Man”; “Swan Song”) and heights (“Murder, Smoke and Shadows”).

    • This is one of my top 3 “New” episodes, just after “Columbo Goes to College” and before “Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo”. This Sean character is a real creep, not because he runs a girlie magazine (I have no problem with that) but because of the way he treats people, and his comeuppance is richly deserved.

      I also like the references to Inspector Durk from “Dagger of the Mind” (my second favourite ’70’s episode) and of course, the goils! One of the nice things about Columbo is that there is usually a comedy scene with a pretty girl, and this episode is full of pretty girls, especially Deidre Hall and Rebecca Staab. But the best part of this episode is the twist at the end . . .

      I used to think that Diane Hunter’s disappearance was only ever intended as a money making hoax, and that Sean only plans her murder after she double crosses him at the end, hence the look on his face as she leaves the room on Sir Harry’s arm.

      But I’ve recently noticed that during the murder scene, he says to her something like “You still don’t get it” before killing her. I think this means that he had the murder planned all along, as he knew that she would probably double cross him, but he would have spared her if she hadn’t. The look on his face when she walks out is one of “Oh well, if I must, I must”.

      The only problem I do have with this episode is the one that I have for most of the earlier ones, and nearly all of the subsequent ones: Columbo has solved a string of high profile murders involving very famous people, and nobody has ever heard of him! (An exception is “A Matter of Honor”, but only because it’s crucial to the story).

      As a result of Diane Hunter’s disappearance, Lt Columbo is in the news all over the world, and Sean even tells him “You’re famous!” but in later episodes the only person who knows him is the killer in “Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo”, as this time, it’s personal. He should be known to everyone involved in “Columbo Goes to College”, but it’s essential to that favourite story of mine that nobody does, so I’ll overlook it.

      • I agree that Columbo’s apparent anonymity despite him solving a number of supposedly high-profile cases is a bit unrealistic and requires some suspension of disbelief. And especially with this episode I believe the writers missed an opportunity to subvert this trope. They easily could have presented Diane and Sean as being aware of Columbo’s reputation and banking on his involvement in the case (because obviously their plan presumes that the case would be put in the hands of a very perceptive detective capable of picking up the clues they left for him).

        • Yes, I used to think that Sean and Diane were expecting the famous (infamous?) Lt Columbo to turn up, but I think that only happens in “Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo”. On the other hand, perhaps they knew about the LAPD detective who solved a murder in London, and that Sir Harry would call in a favour from Durk of The Yard, who would in turn ask that LAPD homicide detective to investigate a missing persons case as a favour?

      • IMHO #1 I see no reason for them to know who Columbo is. They would not move in the same circles and I doubt they kept up with the crime reports. He would have been considered beneath them.
        #2 Most of the charm of the series is that nobody knew who he was so he was constantly underestimated.

    • Richard, as always some excellent points. Especially your second final note deserves an answer. Offhand I can think of 2 characters: Major Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Predator in probably his first scene. And Hannibal Smith in at least one episode of The A-Team.

  43. This is one of the best new episodes. I was shocked by the twists and turns in this episode and the loved the ending. Casting was perfect , especially Buchanon as a true piece of scum!

  44. This is my favourite ‘new’ Columbo episode….when I first saw it I was gripped with the twists and genuinely shocked. LOVE. IT. If only the new ones were all this good……


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