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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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170 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Cries Wolf

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Murder, A Self Portrait | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  2. The ending was total crap, imo. In addition to everything else mentioned—which was a lot by itself—we are to believe that a filthy rich playboy just happens to know how to tear out and install drywall, all by himself? Utterly absurd!

    • The ending is a bit slapdash (no pun) it dosent compare with the genius of elliot markham burying the body under the foundations of an already excavated and police searched development in the dead of night , i cant get past
      Leaving the watch on the body and the timeframe is a bit off its all a bit quick ,brantley wouldnt have time to brick up over the plywood wich he didnt the builders would have unknowingly done the rest but it just too convenient for columbo at the end after suvh a game of cat and mouse i cant think of an alternative place or way dianes body could have been buried but
      I feel there could have been a more satisfying gotcha

      • I don’t think that Sean was always a “filthy rich playboy”. He only became wealthy after Bachelor’s World was founded, which was with Dian’s money as I recall. He could have started out poor and had to do his own DIY. Or worked his way through college as a handyman. This (and the girls) would be a good motive for him not wanting to go back to his old way of life.

        And he had been planning on really doing away with Dian all along, knowing well in advance how and where he would hide her body and how long he would have to do it.

        As to leaving the pager on her body, this goes back to the basic premise of the Columbo stories (a blueprint for murder, to coin a phrase) as he explains to Ray Fleming in Prescription Murder. The killer is a very clever individual, but they are an amateur, with only one chance to get it right. Whereas the police are professionals who do this a hundred times a year.

        Sean is clever, but he’s a particularly smug and overconfident individual who make a silly mistake.

        • Come to think of it, leaving the pager on Dian’s wrist might have been deliberate, as it was the one item that Sean could not afford to have turn up later (except possibly for Dian’s passport).

          The real mistake was in having Tina wave to the security guard and this being caught on camera.

          This is from memory, but I think that Dian wore long sleeves at the airport, so the security footage would not confirm if she was wearing her pager or not.

  3. Hello, do you know what the Colombo episode is called where the murderer was killed with a dumbbell? Do you know the MONK series (very particular inspector)? well in the episode Monk and the playboy, it was almost entirely copied from the Colombo series !!

  4. This one felt a lot more like a ‘classic’ Columbo – primarily because the killer doesn’t have his own plot that runs independent of the main story (Lindsey Crouse’s sexual obsession, Fisher Stevens’ love affair. The only classic Columbo I recall with an extra plot for the killer was Trish Van Devere juggling Lainie Kazan and her own career in Make Me a Perfect Murder.

    Nitpicks: That pager ‘watch’ was impossibly small, and the text obviously a pasted-in printout. Wouldn’t Tina’s 28-hour absence, if she had truly impersonated Dian, be checkable by her having to use her passport to fly back from London?

    Music: “This Old Man” gets a synth-rock, hip-hop instrumental version that plays twice during ‘Columbo investigates’ far-shots. I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it, given your dislike of the piece. I liked the main dramatic instrumental music in this one, however.

  5. Cries Wolf is on TV in the US again tonight and again I have to appreciate Peter Falk’s focus; the channeling of his character. But the sleazebag Brantley was also at the top of his game. The whole episode is well done. When the principals are this good, I think, like on a sports team, the others rise to the occasion. But I say it starts with Columbo himself.

    • What a good question! I have no idea what the answer is, other than that we can rule out “Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo”, “Lady In Waiting” and “An Exercise In Fatality” so that just leaves the other 65 episodes. Complete guess: Mind Over Mayhem? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s wrong.

    • Mrs. Columbo didn’t exist in this episode because of one thing: Ian Buchanon’s hot nymphs! How else was he supposed to get all hot and heavy with them while the good missus was home preparing his usual chili?

    • “My wife is a big fan of your magazine, Mr. Brantley. In fact, sometimes she takes stacks of them and locks herself in the bathroom for hours! I guess she really loves your articles, sir!”

  6. Did people dress like this back then? Yes! Have you ever heard of MC Hammer with his MC Hammer pants? I used to own such a pair, with an 8-Ball Puddy from Seinfeld jacket, thinking I was so cool as I rode my Johhny from Karate Kid motorcycle to school. The crotch of the pants would ride up so high it looked like I was wearing Urkel shorts. Fashion back then was a mystery even Columbo couldn’t solve.

  7. I am afraid this episode has a huge plot hole. In the first part, they had the shell casing that matched Brantley’s gun, but not the bullet which would still be in the body. That was why they searched the mansion and grounds. But the second time Dian went missing, even though they found her, what is the proof that Brantley is the one who killed her and hid the body?

    • Fingerprints? I don’t know if there would have been any on Diane’s body or clothing, but Sean probably left fingerprints on the bag he put her body in, as well as on the tools needed to hide her body in the wall. (Of course, he could have wiped the tools clean, and Columbo uses one of them to open the wall up . . . )

      Sean’s a smug git, expecting everyone to believe that Diane went off globe trotting again, and not expecting anyone to even look for her body, so he probably didn’t bother to wear gloves.

      There’s also the weak link of Tina impersonating Diane for real this time, at Sean’s behest, but crucially without the gold bracelet. Just a staab in the dark.

      • I have always assumed that Tina thinks the second “disappearance” is another jolly lark of Sean and Diane, and that when confronted by the evidence of Diane’s dead body, she will sing like a canary.

        • Oh, just one more thing. It’s possible that Sean’s fingerprints might be on the bag Diane was found in if he had innocently helped her store her furs at some point, but my guess is that they would not be on any of the other bags in her closet.

      • I have thought about it a lot more, and I think the police would probably have no trouble getting conviction. I need to rewatch the show again, but I think Brantley pretty much confessed the second time that if Columbo’s could find the body it would prove he was guilty and dared him to dig up the grounds for the second time and even tear down the whole house.
        There is a similar plot in another episode when the architect-killer got Columbo to dig out the foundation of a giant development building with full media coverage, Well he had stored in the body in another location. That time Columbo called him trying to dump the body the second time.
        I think I would revise my comment to say that instead of a ‘plot hole’ that the ending was just not as tidy as they expected viewers to accept. The young model could easily have been made to confess that Brantley recruited her to impersonate Dian this second time, and there would be no reason for him to do it if he didn’t know she had been murdered. What do you have circumstantial evidence and lack of alibi and Brantley would’ve been the last person to see her alive and so forth – – – pretty strong case.

        • Hi Charlie. Thanks for giving this some more thought. I think you are right in comparing Sean with the architect, in that when the bodies are discovered they realise that there is no longer any point in protesting their innocence.

          What I have never been clear on is if Tina is actually a knowing accomplice to the real murder. I like to think that she believes this to just be another publicity stunt, but as Columbo says she thinks that Sean is going to marry her, and might be willing to go along with anything, even murder.

    • In regards to the shell casing: Columbo comes up with a hypothetical scenario where Tina hides in the stretch limo seat and shoots Dian while the limo driver is in the restaurant. He is ready to have Tina brought in for the murder. But, the casing is found outside the limo! If she shot her inside the limo, how did the casing end up outside? Not very logical, and I find it hard to believe he didn’t think this through.

      • As you say, it’s a hypothetical scenario. But if Tina had shot Dian inside the limo, she could also have thrown the shell casing into the alley to make it look like the shot came from outside. Another point is that a shot inside the car might not have sounded as loud as the one heard in the restaurant kitchen.

        • As we know, what actually happened was that Dian opened the limo door and fired into the air, presumably so that the shot would be heard and the shell casing found. She probably used a blank cartridge, otherwise the bullet would have fallen to the ground and been found in the alley.

      • Expended shells from semiautomatic pistols are ejected forcefully from the side of the pistol and may fly and upon landing roll several feet. The window or door of the car would have to be open.

    • I watched the ending again, and I am more convinced than ever that the ending is completely bogus. The young model could not have been the one who impersonated Dian the second time, because, as Columbo himself says, she and Brantley and all of the ‘nymphs’ were on a shopping spree at the time that Dian’s car was videoed leaving the mansion. Brantley never gives in an inch when Columbo accuses him of murdering her the second time with absolutely no evidence. He does not taunt Columbo. He acts exactly as someone would when being falsely accused with no evidence. The only thing that is established was that he had a motive. No one saw him with Dian before she was murdered. There was a ten-minute period during which the nymphs were waiting for him in the limo (the time he did actually commit the murder) but there is no way such a precise time of death could be established given that the body was found much later.

      So, I repeat my initial assessment: there is no evidence that Brantley killed Dian. Finding the body does not prove anything like it would have in the first murder/disappearance when he and Dian left clues on purpose for him to be falsely accused as a publicity stunt. Finding the body then meant that the bullet inside would be linked to him – – – direct physical evidence then that is completely lacking the second time. My feeling is that everyone has been so distracted by the clever way that Columbo used the pager to find the body that they miss the difference.

      It is true, as mentioned in other comments, that Brantley may have left his fingerprints somewhere that could incriminate him. Only after finding them or other trace evidence of Brantley could Columbo say, “Gotcha!”

      Another plot hole:
      Columbo and ‘the boys in the lab’ (heard of but not seen almost as much as Mrs Columbo) said the the bullets in the gun were hollow-point and the bullet would have fragmented so much that it might not be traceable to a specific gun. Columbo said he knows Brantley chose that ammo on purpose so that the bullet would not pass through the body and leave blood evidence in the limo. But it also means finding the body does not prove Brantley killed her.

      • I’m going to have to watch the ending again, but if Tina was not the one who impersonated Dian when her car was caught on video, (and Columbo only says that it was probably that girl who thinks Sean is going to marry her) who was it? With so many Nymphs, maybe one (i.e. Tina) was missed? Maybe there was more than one car and everyone assumed Tina was in the other one, with Tina making her own way to the fashion centre?

        You make a good point about the hollow point bullet, and how it could not be linked to Sean’s recently fired gun. And now that I think of it, if Dian fired a live round up into the air, the falling bullet would have shattered on impact when it hit the ground, although the lab boys might still have found traces of it.

      • OK, I’ve watched the last few minutes again. We see Tina with the other girls when Sean tells them that the shopping trip leaves in 10 minutes. Tina gives him a quick kiss and leaves with the other girls. Sean then goes upstairs, kills Dian and prepares the fur coat storage bag for her body.

        The next scene is Tina (I’m sure it is her) disguised as Dian and driving her car, waving to the security camera, sans bracelet. I am assuming that this scene takes place some time after the murder, as we can also assume that Sean, Tina and all the other nymphs were driven to the fashion centre by Cosner in the one stretch limo, as seen earlier when Columbo accompanies them.

        Upon returning to the mansion, Tina changed into Dian’s clothes and drove her car to some unrevealed location. And whoever it was that drove the car was not wearing gloves, so her fingerprints would be all over the door, steering wheel, etc.

    • One word: motive. Columbo broke it down when he read who gets power of attorney if one partner goes missing. Motive is all he needs.

  8. “Columbo Cries Wolf” is one of the best of the later-period Columbo episodes and was written by Billy Woodfield, a very interesting fellow, who was not only a fine writer, but a first-rate photographer and a talented magician as well. (He also penned another excellent later-period episode, “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star.”)

    The great “gotcha” scene was inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Black Cat,” wherein the sounds of the cat walled up in the murderer’s home in the presence of the police gave the murderer away. Poe, of course, was the inventor of the modern-day detective story as well, and the character he created, Auguste Dupin, was the model for virtually every fictional detective since, as the Dupin character would solve murders by observing “little details” overlooked by conventional police methods.

    Billy Woodfield was also friends with Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, and became involved in events surrounding Marilyn’s death. After one of Marilyn’s visits to the Cal-Neva casino-hotel (uniquely bordering both California and Nevada), then part-owned by famed Chicago-based gangster Sam Giancana, Sinatra gave Woodfield a roll of film to develop and to share with nobody else. Woodfield developed the images for Sinatra, showing a drugged, unconscious Monroe, essentially getting raped. Woodfield and Sinatra realized that Giancana wanted the photographs to blackmail Marilyn with because of her relationships with both the Kennedys and Giancana. Woodfield gave the prints and negatives to Sinatra, but by that time the point was moot. Marilyn was dead shortly after this incident and corpses can’t be blackmailed. Sinatra asked Woodfield what he thought should be done with the prints and negatives. Woodfield told Sinatra that it would be best if they were destroyed. Sinatra took out his lighter and did just that, according to Woodfield.

    • Columbo is based on Father Brown (though not entirely successfully, but close) which was made to mock Holmes. Holmes was written by Doyle to mock Poe’s Dupin because Poe’s stories made no sense.

      Chesterton mocked Holmes saying that the common detective is someone who can listen to someone else in the other room, and tell by their footsteps that their grandmother is Romanian.

      That is the kind of story you mention here.

      Columbo at its best can’t match Father Brown (the real books, not that terrible bbc series), but at its worse it’s just maudlin silliness like Dupin or pretentious without Substance like Holmes.

      • So, do you actually like Columbo then?

        I can see what you mean about Columbo and Father Brown having similar personalities and being underestimated, etc. But I have always considered Columbo to be like Holmes, who (like Brown) had extensive knowledge and powers of observation.

        Everything Holmes does is explained, making what seemed at first to be a wild guess quite obvious when you think about it, and nothing at all to do with Romanian grandmothers.

  9. Although this is only the sixth of the new episodes, and I still have more than a dozen left to watch, I don’t think the new ones are all that bad. Sure, they aren’t quite as good as the original series, but compared to other shows that had an extended hiatus, I think they are acceptable. Before I was bingeing on Columbo, I binge watched another show of comparable entertainment quality that had it’s heyday in the 60s and 70s: The Avengers. If given a choice between watching an episode of Columbo from the 70s or watching one of The Avengers from the same period, it would be a difficult choice. But if the choice was between a newer episode of Columbo or an episode of The New Avengers, that choice would be far less difficult. At least Columbo is watchable. Not picking on The Avengers, but I’m just saying considering the quality of shows in the 90s, it could have been far worse.

    • I might be misunderstanding you, but The New Avengers (with Gambit and Purdey as the sidekicks) was made in the 1970’s.

        • If I may, I think your point is valid if we compare the 1960’s Avengers/1970’s New Avengers TV series with the 1990’s Avengers movie starring Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. Apart from Uma, who was charming, the movie was a disappointment.

          I like some of the “new” Columbo’s very much, including “Cries Wolf” but I agree that overall, they were not as good as the original run.

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  12. I mentioned below why I liked this episode…but another thing I found corny/unrealistic:
    A 105-pound female jumping (from that low height) into a swimming pool would not have made nearly the giant “splash” she made on Lt. Columbo.

    • Sorry…I am rewatching the episodes and saw I made this same comment last summer about the pool splash.
      Only I called Tina a 97-pounder instead of 105!

      • It doesn’t matter if it’s badly done. It’s an excuse to look at pretty girls in bikinis.

        I remember watching an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man with my brother, where Steve Austin goes undercover at the lavish home of a “Mr Big” type gangster, who’s throwing a garden party next to his swimming pool.

        We both said “Where are the girls in bikinis? They always have girls in bikinis in this type of scene!”. I guess it might have been something to do with SMDM being a family show, but I like to think that “Cries Wolf” makes up for it.

      • Right, as if the splash would be concentrated in one precise direction and that that direction could be controlled by the cannonballer. Possibly the most 80s TV/cinema thing in an episode that absolutely bleeds 80s aesthetics.

        So dumb I almost might believe it was intended as an ironic homage to the Revenge of the Nerds/Caddyshack/snobs vs slobs trope.

  13. Sorry, but I could not finish this episode. Once Dian came back from wherever she was, I lost all interest. I felt ripped off. In addition, looks like the used a bunch of B list models as extras and background; not impressive eye candy. A really putrid episode.

    • Joel, I think you are being unnecessarily unkind to the models. And you really should have stuck around for the twist at the end.

    • Why should it have “impressive eye candy”? This is supposed to be Columbo not soft porn. Half the viewers don’t fancy women. The slow panning perve camera is already uncomfortable.

      • With all due respect, try not to be so puritanical. It’s only one episode and the alluring models are linked to the villain’s occupation, so they’re not inappropriate to the story. Besides, it’s not like earlier segments didn’t include this element, e.g. “Now You See Him” and “An Exercise in Fatality.”

          • Regardless of whether viewers like or dislike the nymphs, my concern is that Joel missed the clever ending to this episode by losing interest and switching off too early.

  14. Am watching “Columbo Cries Wolf” as I write this, and think Columbo is at the top of his game–sharp, convincing and real. Acting is fine. It seems as though this episode takes the standard American cop/killer suspense formula and adds the offbeat Columbo element, making for a fully diverting evening of TV. I could be more specific but commercial break is over. One thing for sure, Peter Falk is A-1 tonight.


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