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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- 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.
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…
The above review is a bit amusing complaining about the late 80s aesthetics being torturous… as if all those 70s haircuts and fake wooden paneling were utterly timeless.
The episode’s major problem is what most people have already noted–a very rushed ending that is very anticlimactic compared to the twist. I glanced over at the clock when the twist was revealed and there were only 18 minutes left, out of a commercial-less runtime of 90 minutes.They had to set up the motivation for the real murder, show the murder and immediate aftermath, *and* have Columbo quickly solve it all in those 18 minutes, with time left over for a denouement and a few credits.
It’s such a glaring example of one of the persistent flaws that spans all of Columbo’s incarnations–they never, ever managed to do episode pacing properly. Having a more leisurely pace than modern TV can sometimes be fine; it’s what adds to the show’s charm. But having a leisurely pace and then rushing and handwaving stuff at the last minute is *not* fine. It could’ve been really interesting and dramatic to have Columbo really strain, argue with his superiors and be shot down, then try to figure out how he was going to catch him when he knew he couldn’t search a second time. Pity.
I didn’t remember this one very well…have not re-watched all that many of the comeback episodes. But it was on tonight and while I thought it started slow, it sucked me in, and the twist was a real kick in the pants. Not seeing the corpse at the onset of the episode is probably the tip off, eh? That felt a little odd for Columbo. I actually enjoyed the beeper ‘gotcha’ at the end. All a little rushed (15 mins) but still satisfying. This stands up pretty well, fashions aside. It’s better than several of the clunkier 70’s episodes, honestly.
I think the driveway and grand gate where Columbo and Brantley emerge in the white limo to retrace the route, was also used in A Case of Immunity.
Surprised to see some here say there’s not enough evidence to convict Sean. I don’t think he wore gloves when he killed Dian?
Fingerprints/indentations around her neck and jaw? Maybe? Fingerprints on the bag too.Tools?
Motive, certainly. I suspect Tina would’ve sung like a bird at this point, at the very least.
Yes I agree with your surprise: the debate around not “enough evidence to convict” is an nice “purists” debate, but: Once the body is found in the wall, the motive, the cause of death, there would be enough circumstantial evidences to convict Brantley in a court of law: everyone accessing the guarded and high walled mansion is checked in & clocked, there was no breaking in reported to the police, no other killer would have a motive to hide the body, or the knowledge of the remodeling schedule and the time to hide her within the wall, then leave without leaving any clues… Also, even it’s not verbal, I would interpret Brantley latest face expression as an admission for the sake of the movie (compare to his usual bragging demeanor). So while interesting for wit of it, this is a bit besides the point, and would have made a long show even longer…
I’m on record as liking this episode but in rewatching on Cozi am now noticing some rather dirty feints in the set-up of the twist. Ian and Dian have a private blowout before she goes missing, giving viewers ample reason to suspect him. But when she returns, Ian acts as if all is hunky dory. So was the argument fake? If so, for whose benefit? The scene exists solely to fool us. Same goes for when Dian is en route to the airport, Ian makes a call to an unknown someone, instructs that person to “just do it” and hangs up. Who the hell was he talking to (if not orchestrating a murder)? Since we know it has nothing to do with Dian, why are we seeing it? Clearly another deke.
These scenes really help the twist land for first-time viewers, but they make very little sense in hindsight.
New guy here (Hi), just watched this on Cozi last night.
Disagree on both points. 1.) The argument was for the sake of the receptionist, who, as noted, always recorded via the phone when Dian wanted her too. Presumably, this was one of those times.
They played her as much as Columbo, and she told the Lt. about it and presumably played him the tape.
2.) Sean’s call was to Dian, obviously. Who else?
It would make sense they discussed the plan already, but perhaps she was concerned about the timing of pulling off the fake out. This one’s a bit harder to justify, but it’s the only plausible explanation.
Thanks Guy. I forgot about the receptionist. My mistake.
I can’t stand the 90s Columbo but I’m a sucker for punishment and checked out Cries Wolf during the Sundance marathon. I was left wondering: was Deirdre Hall one of Ian’s nymphs? Or was she just another trollop running an overpriced bordello?
Excellent Columbo episode, right up there with the ‘70s run. Not perfect perhaps, but pretty close. Overall I think the comeback Columbos are very underrated.
Columbo episodes often lift a plot element from Agatha Christie: this one has two — The Mystery of the Blue Train for one lady apparently murdering another in a transportation compartment, and more strikingly for the main element of this episode, Agatha Christie’s own real-life mysterious disappearance during the breakdown of her marriage for 10 days in 1926, leading to a massive police operation and newspaper interest.
Soap operas stars weren’t second tier in the 1980s. It was the age of the VCR, and even though they didn’t have the technology to track it, it didn’t take the industry long to figure out that the most recorded shows were the soaps.
Deidre Hall is arguably the equivalent of a Shatner, or even the good lieutenant himself. She’s goddess level in the soap world.
The main difference is in the production techniques and the demands on the actors. The style clearly shows in the acting, but it’s safe to assume that’s what was wanted.
The reason, why the change of concept works here where the Commodore just got messy, might be that the ending is indeed a very classic Columbo question of finding the mistake, whereas everything before pretends to be a whodunnit just to turn out to be an elaborate three act setup for that mini-case. This makes it surprisingly satisfying.
Also the body behind the wall feels like one of the few occasions where the added drama fits the story, instead of the desperate attempt of elevation of the third act in the other new episodes using unnecessary gimmicks (like the woman wearing the murderers clothes or the guillotine scene).
I like the “Gotcha” moment, as it felt like revenge for fooling Columbo before. A bit of bravado is fitting payback. But then again, I don’t mind the slightly expressionistic moments either (like the short ringmaster flash, leaving open whether it shows Columbo’s imagination or the director’s, and the toy soldier which is kind of detached from the story), unlike out of character moments just for the end frames sake (like the fake gun).
The first two episodes also feel more daring and comfortable in their approach, toying with the Columbo conventions but not breaking them solely for the sake of being different.
How do you deduce that Abigail Mitchell is my favourite killer? “Try And Catch Me” is good, but it’s not even my favourite episode. Dale Kingston in “Suitable For Framing” is my favourite by far. I love it when Columbo takes him down.
The current BBC Father Brown series has very little to do with the books, but the Father’s personality and ability to solve crimes remains pretty much intact. And we often see Columbo in situations which have nothing to do with solving a murder, where he is truly innocent, such as his first conversation with the Robert Vaughn character in “Troubled Waters”.
Oh my posts were deleted here too?
Considering the actual Father Brown is Catholic, and the bbc one is a Unitarian minister, no. Actual Father Brown is not one to suffer fools either, and is always making fun of the world with biting commentary (just in a way those who are worldly cannot notice).
I think “columbo” makes it clear that the titled detective is never what he seems; even outside of the job.
Please treat all fellow users of the site with courtesy at all times. There’s more than enough aggro in the world without Columbo fans in conflict.
Thank you, CP. Good point, well made.
I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for saying this!
I thought the pacing was a little off, with the “actual murder” part feeling a little rushed but overall a decent episode. It was fun seeing Mark Margolis before his Hector Salamanca days in Breaking Bad, with a totally different and unrecognizable accent.
I think that the twist is supposed to be as sudden and unexpected for us as it is for the victim.
No one is going to mention the awesome shots of the Library Tower still under construction? That scene had to be filmed in early 1989 as it was finished in late 1989
Columbo Cries Wolf is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. It’s interesting to see the Lieutenant outsmarted for once, and it makes it all the more satisfying when he catches the murderer.
Quite a low episode. The adult magazine editor smarter than Columbo? Puleezzz!
The ending which shows Dian dead and Columbo finding the body (forget that “Gotcha”nonsense) was rushed and sloppy because they needed to show Columbo catching him anyway! Very poor!!!!!
I recently watched a 1980 episode of The Love Boat (season 4, episode 4) solely because it guest starred the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and I would therefore be able to recommend it to fans of Columbo Cries Wolf.
Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that “The Major’s Wife” story line featured Robert Culp as the major! And imagine my further surprise when I saw what he wore about halfway through the episode! (Hint: It was yellow).
Another tenuous Columbo link is that one of the other story lines in this episode featured Jack Cassidy’s son, David Cassidy, but I really only watched this for the girls (Oh, what a giveaway!).
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.
There is only one word to best describe this episode:
Cue the music for the Lieutenant: “She drives me crazy!”
Sorry Mrs. C, couldn’t resist…hehe
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 !!
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.
It’s Dick Tremayne from Twin Peaks!! (Ian Buchanon later that fall of 1990)
Ian’s smile from this episode still gives me nightmares!
I wonder if he ever played The Joker.
Apologies for nit-picking:
It’s Ian BUCHANAN, with two ‘a’s.
Check the DVD, fer cry-eye …
This was about the time that Mr. Buchanan joined the cast of All My Children, playing a character who was even more despicable.
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.
This is the first episode I’ve seen in which Columbo does not make any reference to Mrs Columbo. Is/Are there any other episode/s?
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!”
That was in Bachelor’s World two years ago.
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.
I don’t know what was more creepy about this episode: seeing Columbo all cozy with those hot nymphs or Ian Buchanon’s smile!
“I didn’t know he was coming.”
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.
A bullet fired into the air would travel thousands of feet up and the likelihood of it coming straight down and landing in the same area is small.
Thousands of feet? Really? Not hundreds? And unless there was a strong wind or it hit a bird, why would the bullet not come straight down? Lets all just agree that it was a blank that Dian fired into the air (which, incidentally, I am guessing is not in itself illegal).
Chris Adams, question? Could the fake gunshot be fired in the air at an angle? I know nothing about muzzle velocity; I am just speculating that the bullet could have flown in an arc and landed at a distant point, say the roof of a nearby building. And the cops won’t be looking for a spent bullet if they have no reason to.
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.
Finding a dead body is good enough for an arrest. Columbo never gives us enough evidence for proof beyond a reasonable doubt conviction. That’s another series which has yet to be made.
“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.
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.
You’re right, I had the time period wrong. Nevertheless, my point is still valid.
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.
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!
That is a STUPID moment, terribly acted by all parties.
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.
Bravo for an honest man!
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.
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.”
You missed the point. He is telling the chump he was replying to not to be so petty and shallow.
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.
Wah! I stop watching because the women in film are not pretty enough. Wah!
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.